and beauty. She is mentioned once in the Rig Veda and more frequently in the
Atharva Veda and other works. Later she became linked with the post-Vedic
goddess Lakshmi, who emerged from the ‘Ocean of Milk’ when the devas
and asuras churned it. The association of the two goddesses and the varied
myths associated with them suggests the assimilation of numerous folk
traditions. Sri is said to dwell in garlands and hence prosperity, good fortune
and victory are ensured for those who wear them.
Spirits, Sprites and Godlings
Alongside the Vedic cult and the Vaishnava, Saiva and Sakta cults, countless
forms of animism and nature worship exist in India. Most of these local
spirits stem from the aboriginal past and many have been absorbed gradually
by the higher cults.
    The mysterious beings calIed yaksas (also common to Buddhism and
Jainism) are apparitions or manifestations of the numinous. They frequent
lonely places and were probably the vegetal godlings of pre-Aryan
communities. Yaksas are often honoured by a stone tablet or altar placed
under a sacred village tree, their presence ensuring the prosperity of the
vilIage. Their feminine counterparts, the yaksinis, symbolise the life sap of
vegetation. Some yaksas cause insanity and other diseases. Like other
supernatural beings, yaksas may be benevolent or malevolent towards man.
As protectors of the community they are often depicted on local shrines and
doorposts as virile and powerful men. In later mythology the leader of the
yaksas is Kubera, god of wealth. Included among the multitude of spirits are
the pretas, ethereal forms of the newly dead. Spirits of the long dead people
become ancestors or fathers (pitrus), yet both pretas and pitrus remain active
in the world and occasionalIy assist their descendants. The deceased cannot
be united with his ancestors and raised to the status of a pitru until the correct
funerary rites (sraddhas) have been performed, rites which include the
offering of water and funerary cakes (pindas) to the three immediate
generations of the deceased’s forebears.
    The souls of those who die violent deaths become malevolent bhutas
(night-wandering ghosts) who are assimilated to particular pretas, especialIy
those who have died unnatural deaths or whose funerary rites have not been