Lakshmi: The Goddess of wealth, prosperity and well-being

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In the Vedic age, there were a number of female deities. Usha (the dawn), Ratri (the night), Prithvi (the earth mother), and Vach (mother of the Vedas) are some examples. 

In post-Vedic times, a trinity of goddesses arose, just like a trinity of gods. These are sometimes referred to as Tridevi. Some scholars believe that the Trimurti of male gods came from the male-dominated Aryan society while the Tridevi of female gods is a continuation of the mother goddess that was worshipped in the matriarchal society that existed in India before the Aryans.

The first goddess of this trinity is Lakshmi. She has been associated with wealth, prosperity and well-being. The name Lakshmi does not occur in the Vedas. Instead, she is referred to as Sri. In the Rigveda, Sri-Sukta is a hymn in praise of Sri-Lakshmi. Lakshmi was born when devas and asuras decided to churn ksheersagara (the ocean of milk). Lakshmi came out of the ocean bearing a lotus. She became the wife of Vishnu. She is believed to have incarnated along with Vishnu several times. She was Sita when Vishnu took avatar as Rama. She was Radha when Vishnu took an avatar as Krishna.

It was believed that Kings who were blessed by Lakshmi achieved prosperity. There were even some demons like Bali and Prahlada, who had noble qualities and hence Lakshmi blessed them with her grace. Due to this, these kings were able to rule smoothly, lands were fertile, and people were happy.

Lakshmi has four arms and is shown standing or seated on a lotus flower surrounded by elephants. In most pictures, the elephants are showering her with water from their trunks or from pots held in their trunks. This symbolises that Lakshmi brings rain that helps crops to grow and provides food for everyone. She is said to live with those who are truthful, generous, and have clean bodies and minds. Interestingly, she is believed to have a sister called Alakshmi who is like the goddess of misfortune—associated with poverty, hunger and thirst. Devotees worship Lakshmi to visit them and banish Alakshmi from their homes.

Lakshmi worship is a major part of Diwali, the biggest Hindu festival. She is also worshipped during Durga Puja. Lakshmi is worshipped by businessmen at the start of the new year. Lakshmi has a huge following as a benevolent goddess in southern India. Lakshmi is probably the most widely worshipped goddess in India today. Her fame extends to the remote nooks and corners of the country. Her idols and images are found in almost every temple and every house. Perhaps, it has something to do with her association with good luck, fertility, wealth and well-being.

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