Power, wisdom, and compassion are viewed as separate entities in the West.  For example, a man in power generally lacks the other two.  Let us take President-elect Donald Trump as a case in point.

I often wonder the significance of three Hindu deities—Saraswati, Lakshmi and Ganesha—sitting together as a trio.  What’s the reason?  Why not pair them with other deities?  Each time I teach my Introduction to Hinduism course at the university, students question why the deities are grouped together in this fashion.  Of course, as a professor of Hinduism I should know the answer.  I do know who they are and what each of them represents; however, I never cared to analyze the significance of the deities in a group.  Why they are grouped together in this way?

After a few lectures on Hindu pantheon, the students begin to recognize each deity and the qualities they represent.  The challenge arises when I show a picture of Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Ganesh sitting together as a trio.  While I normally don’t see meaning in the grouping, my students push me to find meaning.  When probed, my brain starts to work and I begin to see significance.  One needs knowledge, wealth, and the absence of obstacles in life to be successful, and these deities represent all of those qualities. Hence, a shopkeeper might hang a picture of these deities so he may be graced by all of them, giving him an abundance of wealth and wisdom to grow without obstacles.  What better way to ask that his wish be fulfilled than to hang a poster of the trio who are likely to grant what he wants?

This article is an exploration into the meaning of Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Ganesha as a trio in Hinduism and what they represent together.  I was surprised to see the profound meaning hidden in the grouping—all I had to do was connect the dots.  With a little prodding from my students, here is what I was able to discover.

We know Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, Saraswati is the goddess of wisdom, and Ganesha is the remover of obstacles.  If we want to be successful in life we must have all three.  Let us equate these goddesses and god to modern society.  Assume that the goddess Lakshmi represents business, because business generates wealth.  Similarly, one who is a devotee of Saraswati is blessed with intellect and creativity, which are found in philosophers, scholars, and artists.  The devotee of the god Ganesha is one who is practical-minded and blessed with problem solving abilities, such as the CEO of a corporation or an IT programmer who troubleshoots issues.

Someone in just one of these silos will be successful in only one field, like a nerd who can’t cross over and bridge the other two.  There are plenty examples of such people in the world—those who are strong in just one of the realms represented by Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Ganesha.  We have yet to see a modern-day ruler like Plato imagined as the philosopher king in his Republic, composed in the 5th century BCE.  In Hindu epics, on the other hand, there is the famous case of King Dasaratha of Mithila, now in Nepal.  He was not only a king (Ganesha), but also a wise man, a great philosopher (Saraswati), and wealthy (Lakshmi).  Graced by all three members of the trio, he was a successful king who was respected by all for synthesizing the qualities of these deities.

Sadly, this is utterly lacking in modern society—both in the East and in the West.  Mahatma Gandhi considered “business without ethics” one of the seven deadly sins.  We have so much inequality and injustice in our world because our leaders—the CEOs of big corporations, our neighbors, and our friends—don’t know how to combine all three.  The picture of Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Ganesha together is a message for us to imbibe the aspects that these deities represent for a successful life.  The careful balance of these three qualities is the road to an ideal society.  If President-elect Trump clings to his business empire while he is in power, it would be out of character for an American President.  I certainly hope he is able to balance the three without giving more importance to his personal business.

I’m glad to teach at an institution of higher learning where students challenge me with one simple question: why.  Through many years of teaching, I’ve discovered that one should never take things for granted.  I have learned that teaching is actually learning. I am always on my toes in class because I never know what questions I might be asked.  The answers to the questions can’t always be found in books, so I must turn elsewhere.


Teaching is a balance between give and take; it’s never a one-way street, if I may compare it with Southern California’s intricate traffic system.  I have grown with my students and I thank them for making me wiser.  In that sense, I will remain a student until I die.