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Laksmi is a major Hindu goddess, perhaps originating as a Mother Goddess, who now represents wealth and prosperity, and epitomizes the later Hindu (Brahmanical) concept of the active female principle, or Shakti, in the male deity. According to the Ramayana she arose from the primal Hindu sea of milk. Identified as the consort of Vishnu, from about 400 BC onward, she is generally depicted as a beautiful golden-skinned possessing four or, more commonly, two arms. She stands or rests on a lotus that may be watered by two attendant elephants. Another favored portrait finds her washing the feet of Vishnu as he reclines on the thousand-headed serpent, Sesha, an action that is said to bring Vishnu dreams. She emerges in many guises, changing form as Vishnu changes his own incarnations. She is perceived also to emerge as the black-skinned and destructive Kali. She possesses many attributes, but the most common is the lotus.
This consort of Vishnu embodies the model Hindu wife, faithful and subservient. She may be depicted on the knee of Vishnu's avatar Narauana, as Laksmi-Narayana; and is reincarnated with each of his other avatars: beside Rama she becomes Sita, and with Krishna she was first Radha and then Rukmini. She is particularly worshipped at the beginning of the business year in India. In the Divali (Feast of Lamps) on the last day of the dark lunar period toward the end of October or early in November, every household lights a lamp in honor of Laksmi. Gambling also conciliates her. She is mentioned in both the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other Puranic literature. A.G.H.
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, pp. 142-143