(The samudra manthana story is given in great detail in the Ramayana and the Mahabharataa. As for Lakshmi, some of the Puranas state that she was born as the daughter of Khyati and the sage Bhrigu. She was then married to Vishnu. But the demons defeated the gods and Indra. The sage Durvasa therefore cursed Lakshmi that she would have to live in the ocean. And when the ocean was churned, Lakshmi emerged yet again.)
Indra, the other gods, and the sages were charmed at Lakshmi’s beauty when she appeared. “Who is this wonderful goddess?” they asked Vishnu.
“This is Lakshmi,” replied Vishnu. “She is also known as Shakti. It is with her help that I delude the universe and its inhabitants with my illusions (maya). It is Lakshmi who gives me all my powers, although she is no different from me in essence.”
Vishnu then proceeded to tell the gods and the sages the story of Indradyumna.
Many years ago, there was a king named Indradyumna. He ruled the world well and, when he died, was reborn as a brahmana, (The brahmanas constitute the first of the four classes, their primary duties are to study the Vedas and perform sacrifices.)
As a brahmana, Indradyumna observed religious rites and meditated. He also stared to pray to the goddess Lakshmi. When Lakshmi appeared, Indradyumna begged of her, “Please tell me about yourself. Please give me insight into what constitutes true knowledge.”
“Even the gods and the sages are unable to comprehend my true nature,” replied Lakshmi. “I an Vishnu’s illusions and there is no difference between him and me. As for knowledge, it is beyond my powers to grant you that. You will have to pray to the great Vishnu himself.”
Having said this, Lakshmi disappeared, and Indradyumna started to pray to Vishnu. Several years passed, but Indradyumna continued to meditate. Finally, Vishnu appeared and instructed Indradyumna on the path to true knowledge.
“What did you tell Indradyumna?” asked the gods and the sages. “What was this wonderful knowledge?”
“I will repeat it for your benefit,” replied Vishnu.
Since Vishnu repeated his teachings while in the form of a turtle of Kurma, these sacred words are known as the Kurma Purana. There are many subjects that Vishnu’s instructions covered, but let us first start with the concept of varna ashrama dharma, Dharma means righteousness and these precepts lay down the fundamental principles of righteous conduct. This is typified in the system of four varnas (classes) and four ashramas (stages of life).
Vishnu said that before creation began, there was only water in the universe and Vishnu slept on these waters. When it was time for creation to begin, Brahma emerged from Vishnu’s body. And Shiva emerged from Vishnu’s anger. Lakshmi too was created from Vishnu’s body and took her place by Vishnu’s side.
Brahma told Vishnu, “Please use this goddess to delude the beings whom I will create. Tell her to sow the seeds of illusions in their minds. Please tell her to make the righteous prosper.”
Vishnu complied. He requested Lakshmi, “Please delude and destroy gods, demons and humans who are about to be created. But please leave the righteous alone and make them prosper. I will tell you how to know the righteous. They are those that follow the precepts of varna ashrama dharma.”
The brahmanas constitute the first of the four classes. Brahma created nine sons from his mental powers. Their names were Marichi, Bhrigu, Angira, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Daksha, Atri and Vashishtha. These sons became sages and they were the first brahmanas. They were created from Brahma’s mouth. There are six types of action that are recommended for brahmanas. These are yajana (performing sacrifices), yajana (acting as priests at sacrifices), dana (donation of alms), pratigraha (receiving gifts), adhyapana (teaching and adhyayana (studying). A brahmana who performs these tasks well, attains the wonderful place known as prajapatya. (This would seem to be synonymous with Brahma’s residence of Brahmaloka).
The kshatriyas constitute the second of the four classes. They were created from Brahma’s arms. The duties of kshatriyas include dana (donation of alms), adhyayana (studying) and performing yajnas (sacrifices). But their primary duties are to take up arms and fight. It is their job to punish the evil and protect the good. A kshatriya who performs these tasks well, attains Indra’s residence of Indraloka.
The vaishyas constitute the third of the four classes. They were created from Brahma’s thighs. Like the kshatriyas, the vaishyas can also donate alms, study and perform sacrifices. But their primary duty is agriculture, (In many other Puranas, trade and animal husbandry are mentioned in addition to agriculture). A vaishya who performs these tasks well, gets to live with Vayu, the god of the wind.
The shudras constitute the last of the four classes. They were created from Brahma’s feet. Their primary duty is to serve the other three classes. In addition, a shudra can adopt artisanship as an occupation, A shudra who performs these tasks well, will live with the gandharvas (singers of heaven).
Generally speaking, all four classes have to observe the religion that is prescribed in the vedas. There are various other shastras (religious texts) that circulate on earth. But many of them are against the Vedas. The religion that is prescribed in such anti-Vedic texts must not be followed. Only sinners follow such religions, and they are doomed to eternal damnation.
There are four ashramas (stages of life). The first one is brahmacharya (celibate studenthood). The primary duties of a person who is in this stage of life are studying the Vedas and serving one’s guru (teacher) well. He has to live on alms that are obtained through begging. When this stage of life if over, there are two options that are available to the individual. In rare instances, he may desire to devote the rest of his life to studying and meditation. Such a person is known as naishthika. More commonly, individuals wish to step into the next stage of life. An individual who does so is known as an upakurvana.