By Swami Harshananda
Alakṣmi literally means ‘goddess of misfortune’.
The created universe, having been projected out of God and sustained by Him, is naturally identified with Him. Hence evil and good are both seen as a part of God.
If Lakṣmī is the goddess of wealth beauty and splendor, Alakṣmī, her opposite, is misfortune personified. According to mythological accounts she was also born during samudramathana (‘churning of the ocean’). Since she appeared earlier than Lakṣmī, she is also called ‘Jyeṣṭhā’ (the elder one).
Alakṣmī is usually shown as an old hag riding a donkey. She has a broom in her hand. A crow adorns her banner. Her image finds a place in some temples. When propitiated, she can dispel evil and grant prosperity.She is sometimes identified with Lakṣmi herself.
Being a part and parcel of this creation and hence of our life, misfortune is no less divinely ordained than fortune. It is perhaps to teach this great fact of life that even misfortune is deified.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore