Sanskrit: IAST|Śāktaṃ, _sa. शाक्तं; lit., "doctrine of power" or "doctrine of the Goddess") is a denomination of Hinduismthat focuses worship upon " Shakti" or " Devi" – the Hindu Divine Mother– as the absolute, ultimate Godhead. It is, along with Saivism, Vaisnavism, and Smartism, one of the four primary schools of Hinduism.
Shaktism regards Devi (lit., "the Goddess") as the Supreme
Brahmanitself, the "one without a second", with all other forms of divinity, female or male, considered to be merely her diverse manifestations. In the details of its philosophy and practice, Shaktism resembles Saivism. However, "Shaktas" ("Sanskrit: IAST|Śakta, _sa. शक्त"), practitioners of Shaktism, focus most or all worship on Shakti, as the dynamic feminine aspect of the Supreme Divine. Shiva, the masculine aspect of divinity, is considered solely transcendent, and his worship is generally relegated to an auxiliary role.Subramuniyaswami, p. 1211.]
The roots of Shaktism penetrate deep into India's prehistory. From the Goddess's earliest known appearance in Indian paleolithic settlements more than 22,000 years ago, through the refinement of her cult in the
Indus Valley Civilization, her partial eclipse during the Vedic period, and her subsequent resurfacing and expansion in Sanskrit tradition, it has been suggested that, in many ways, "the history of the Hindu tradition can be seen as a reemergence of the feminine." [Hawley. p. 2.]
Over the course of its history, Shaktism has inspired great works of
Sanskrit literatureand Hindu philosophy, and it continues to strongly influence popular Hinduism today. Shaktism is practiced throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond, in countless forms, both Tantric and non-Tantric; however, its two largest and most visible schools are the "Srikula", or family of " Sri", strongest in South India, and the "Kalikula", or family of " Kali", which prevails in northern and eastern India.
hakti and Shiva
Shaktas conceive the Goddess as the Supreme Deity, who is the source of the cosmos and the energy that governs and controls it. But, "nowhere in the religious history of the world do we come across such a completely female-oriented system." [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 1.] Shaktism's focus on the Divine Feminine does not imply a rejection of Masculine or Neuter divinity; however, both are deemed to be inactive in the absence of Shakti. In Shakta worship, Shiva is cast in an "inferior or dependent role as a servant or gatekeeper of the goddess". Shaktas declare that Shiva would be a "shava" (corpse) without the power of the goddess to guide him. This doctrine is emphasized in the images of Kali standing on a seemingly dead Shiva."Bengali Shakta."]
As set out in
Adi Shankara's renowned Shakta hymn, " Saundaryalahari" (c. 800 CE), "Shiva when united to Shakti permeates and sustains the Universe, but [he] cannot have an iota of activity when dissociated from Shakti. This is the basic and fundamental tenet in Shaktism."Dikshitar, p. 85.]
Shakti (the Supreme Goddess as Power or Energy) is considered the motivating force behind all action and existence in the phenomenal cosmos. The cosmos itself is
Brahman: the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality that provides the divine ground of all being. Masculine potentiality is actualized by feminine dynamism, embodied in multitudinous goddesses who are ultimately reconciled into one.
The noted historian V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar [ V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar (1896-1953) was in the 1920s-1940s a professor of Indian History at St. Joseph's College, Bangalore; then (from the mid-1940s onward) Lecturer, later Reader, and finally Professorial Chair of the Department of Indian History and Archaeology at the University of Madras. He was also Honorary Reader in Politics and Public Administration at the same institution, and General Editor of the Madras University Historical Series. A posthumous bio notes that he belonged to a group of "avant-garde historians who introduced a new methodology into the study of Indian history"; he contributed "innumerable" articles on "various dimensions of Indian history" to scholarly journals both in India and abroad, including "original treatises, translations, and volumes edited by him."] expressed it thus: "Shaktism is dynamic Hinduism. The excellence of Shaktism lies in its affirmation of Shakti as Consciousness and of the identity of Shakti and Brahman. In short, Brahman is static Shakti and Shakti is dynamic Brahman." [Dikshitar, p. 77-78.] In religious art, this cosmic dynamic is powerfully expressed in the half-Shakti, half-Shiva deity known as
Ardhanari. [See, Yadav.]
Shaktism views the Devi as the source, essence and substance of virtually "everything" in creation, seen or unseen, including Shiva. Indeed, in the "
Devi-Bhagavata Purana", a central Shakta scripture, the Devi declares:
"I am Manifest Divinity, Unmanifest Divinity, and Transcendent Divinity. I am
Brahma, Vishnuand Shiva, as well as Saraswati, Lakshmiand Parvati. I am the Sun and I am the Stars, and I am also the Moon. I am all animals and birds, and I am the outcaste as well, and the thief. I am the low person of dreadful deeds, and the great person of excellent deeds. I am Female, I am Male, and I am Neuter." ["Srimad Devi Bhagavatam", VII.33.13-15, cited in Brown(a), p. 186.]
The religious scholar C. MacKenzie Brown explains that Shaktism "clearly insists that, of the two genders, the feminine represents the dominant power in the universe. Yet both genders must be included in the ultimate if it is truly ultimate. The masculine and the feminine are aspects of the divine, transcendent reality, which goes beyond but still encompasses them. Devi, in her supreme form as consciousness thus transcends gender, but her transcendence is not apart from her immanence." [Brown(a), p. 217.]
Brown's analysis continues, "Indeed, this affirmation of the oneness of transcendence and immanence constitutes the very essence of the divine mother [and her] ultimate triumph. It is not, finally, that she is infinitely superior to the male gods – though she is that, according to [Shaktism] – but rather that she transcends her own feminine nature as "
Prakriti" without denying it." [Brown(a), p. 218.]
Association with Tantra
One widely misunderstood aspect of Shaktism is its close association with "Tantrism" – an ambiguous, loaded concept that suggests everything from orthodox temple worship in the south of India, to black magic and
occultpractices in North India, to ritualized sex in the West. ["Mohan's World".] In fact, not all forms of Shaktism are Tantric in nature, just as not all forms of Tantra are Shaktic in nature. [Brooks(a), p. 48.]
When the term "Tantra" is used in relation to authentic Hindu Shaktism, it most often refers to a class of ritual manuals, and – more broadly – to an esoteric methodology of Goddess-focused spiritual discipline ("
sadhana") involving " mantra", " yantra", "nyasa", " mudra" and certain elements of traditional kundalini yoga, all practiced under the guidance of a qualified guruafter due initiation (" diksha") and oral instruction to supplement various written sources. [Brooks(a), pp. 47-72.]
In its social interactions, Tantra is "free from all sorts of caste and patriarchal prejudices. A woman or a "
shudra" is entitled to function in the role of [guru] . All women are regarded as manifestations of "Shakti", and hence they are the object of respect and devotion. Whoever offends them incurs the wrath of the great goddess. Every [male aspirant] has to realize the latent Female Principle within himself, and only by [thus] 'becoming female' is he entitled to worship the Supreme Being" [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 131.]
More controversial elements, such as the "Five Ms" or "
panchamakara", are employed under certain circumstances by some Tantric Shakta sects. However, these elements tend to be overemphasized and sensationalized by commentators (both friendly and hostile) who are ill-informed regarding authentic doctrine and practice. Moreover, even within the tradition itself there are wide differences of opinion regarding the proper interpretation of the "panchamakara", and some lineages reject them altogether. [Woodroffe, pp. 376-412.]
In sum, the complex social and historical interrelations of Tantric and non-Tantric elements in Shaktism – and Hinduism in general – are an extremely fraught and nuanced topic of discussion. [Hauser, Scott, "Rediscovering a Lost Spiritual 'Book'," [http://www.rochester.edu/pr/Review/V68N3/feature3.html Rochester Review] , Spring 2006, Vol. 68, No. 3.] However, as a general rule:
"Ideas and practices that collectively characterize Tantrism pervade classical Hinduism [and] it would be an error to consider Tantrism apart from its complex interrelations with non-Tantric traditions. Literary history demonstrates that Vedic-oriented
brahmins have been involved in Shakta Tantrism from its incipient stages of development, that is, from at least the sixth century. While Shakta Tantrism may have originated in [pre-Vedic, indigenous] goddess cults, any attempt to distance Shakta Tantrism from the Sanskritic Hindu traditions [...] will lead us astray." [Brooks(a), p. xii.]
Shaktas may approach the Devi in any of a vast number of forms. The primary Devi form worshiped by a devotee (i.e., his or her "ishta-devi") can depend on many factors, including family tradition, regional practice, guru lineage, personal resonance and so on. There are literally thousands of goddess forms, many of them associated with particular temples, geographic features or even individual villages. However, they are all considered to be but diverse aspects of the One Supreme Goddess.See Kinsley(a).]
Nonetheless, several highly popular goddess forms are known and worshiped throughout the Hindu world, and virtually every female deity in Hinduism is believed to be a manifestation of one or more of these "basic" forms. The best-known benevolent goddesses of popular Hinduism include:
#"Adi Parashakti": The Goddess as Original, Transcendent Source of the Universe.
Durga" ("Amba", "Ambika"): The Goddess as Mahadevi, Supreme Divinity.
#"Sri-Lakshmi": The Goddess of Material Fulfillment (wealth, health, fortune, love, beauty, fertility, etc.); consort (
shakti) of Vishnu
Parvati" ("Gauri", "Uma"): The Goddess of Spiritual Fulfillment, Divine Love; consort (shakti) of Shiva
Saraswati": The Goddess of Cultural Fulfillment (knowledge/education, music, arts and sciences, etc.); consort (shakti) of Brahma; identified with the Saraswati River
Gayatri": The Goddess as Mother of Mantras
#"Ganga": The Goddess as Divine River; identified with the Ganges River
Sita": The Goddess as Rama's consort
Radha": The Goddess as Krishna's consort
#"Sati": The Goddess of Marital Relations; original consort (shakti) of Shiva
Goddess groups – such as the "Nine Durgas" ("
Navadurga"), "Eight Lakshmis" ("Ashta-Lakshmi") or the "Fifteen Nityas" – are very common in Hinduism. But no group better reveals the elements of Shaktism better than the Ten Mahavidyas ("Dasamahavidya"). Through them, Shaktas believe, "the one Truth is sensed in ten different facets; the Divine Mother is adored and approached as ten cosmic personalities." [Shankarnarayanan(a), pp. 4, 5.] The Mahavidyas are considered Tantric in nature, and are usually identified as: [See Kinsley(b).]
Kali": The Goddess as Cosmic Destruction, Death or "Devourer of Time" (Supreme Deity of systems)
#"Tara": The Goddess as Guide and Protector, or Who Saves
Lalita-Tripurasundari" ("Shodashi"): The Goddess Who is "Beautiful in the Three Worlds" (Supreme Deity of "" systems); the "Tantric Parvati"
Bhuvaneshvari": The Goddess as World Mother, or Whose Body is the Cosmos
Bhairavi": The Fierce Goddess
Chhinnamasta": The Self-Decapitated Goddess
Dhumavati": The Widow Goddess
Bagalamukhi": The Goddess Who Paralyzes Enemies
Matangi": The Outcaste Goddess (in "Kalikula" systems); the Prime Minister of Lalita (in "Srikula" systems); the "Tantric Saraswati"
#"Kamala": The Lotus Goddess; the "Tantric Lakshmi"
Another major goddess group is the "Sapta-Matrika" ("Seven Little Mothers"), "who are the energies of different major gods, and described as assisting the great Shakta Devi in her fight with demons." [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 126.] According to Bhattacharyya:
"The growing importance of Shaktism [of the "matrikas" and "yoginis" in the first millennium CE] brought them into greater prominence and distributed their cult far and wide. [...] The primitive "Yogini" cult was also revived on account of the increasing influenced of the cult of the Seven Mothers. In Sanskrit literature the "
Yoginis" have been represented as the attendants or various manifestations of "Durga" engaged in fighting with [various demons] , and the principal "Yoginis" are identified with the "Matrikas"." [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 128.]
Historical and philosophical development
The beginnings of Shaktism are shrouded in the mists of prehistory. The earliest Mother Goddess figurine unearthed in India, belonging to the
Upper Paleolithic, has been carbon-dated to approximately 20,000 BCE. [Joshi, M. C., "Historical and Iconographical Aspects of Shakta Tantrism," in Harper, p. 39.] Thousands of female statuettes dated as early as c. 5500 BCE have been recovered at Mehrgarh, one of the most important Neolithicsites in world archaeology. [Bhattacharyya(b), p. 148.] While it is impossible to precisely reconstruct the religious beliefs of a civilization so distantly removed in time, it is widely believed, based on archaeological and anthropological evidence, that the great Indus Valley Civilizationis probably a direct predecessor of the modern Shakta religion. [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 6.]
As the Indus Valley Civilization slowly declined and dispersed, its peoples mixed with other groups to eventually give rise to Vedic Civilization (c. 1500 - 600 BCE). Shaktism as it exists today began with the literature of the Vedic Age; further evolved during the formative period of the Hindu epics; reached its full flower during the Gupta Age (300-700 CE), and continued to expand and develop thereafter. [See Bhattacharrya(a).]
The most central and pivotal text in Shaktism is the
Devi Mahatmya(also known as the "Durga Saptashati", "Chandi" or "Chandi-Path"), composed some 1,600 years ago. Here, for the first time, "the various mythic, cultic and theological elements relating to diverse female divinities were brought together in what has been called the 'crystallization of the Goddess tradition.'" [Brown(a), p. "ix".]
Other important texts include the canonical "Shakta Upanishads", [Krishna Warrier, pp. "ix-x".] as well as Shakta-oriented Puranic literature such as the "Devi Purana" and "
Kalika Purana", [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 164.] the "Lalita Sahasranama" (from the " Brahmanda Purana"), [See Dikshitar, Ch. I and II.] the"Devi Gita" (from the " Devi-Bhagavata Purana"), [Brown(b), pp. 8, 17, 10, 21, 320.] Adi Shankara's " Saundaryalahari" [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 124.] and the Tantras. [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 154.]
In recent times, Bhattacharyya notes, Shaktism has so infused mainstream Hinduism that it has in certain respects "ceased to be a sectarian religion," in that it presents "no difficulty for anyone to accept its essence." [Bhattacharyya(a), pp. 203-204.] Recent developments related to Shaktism include the emergence of
Bharat Mata("Mother India") symbolism, the increasing visibility of Hindu female saints and gurus, [Pechilis, pp. 3.] and the prodigious rise of the "new" goddess Santoshi Matafollowing release of the Indian film " Jai Santoshi Maa" ("Hail to the Mother of Satisfaction") in 1975. [Hawley, John, "The Goddess in India," in Hawley, p. 4.] As Johnsen notes:
"Today just as 10,000 years ago, images of the Goddess are everywhere in India. You'll find them painted on the sides of trucks, pasted to the dashboards of taxis, postered on the walls of shops. You'll often see a color painting of the Goddess prominently displayed in Hindu homes. Usually the picture is hung high on the wall so you have to crane your neck backward, looking up toward her feet. [...] In India, Goddess worship is not a 'cult,' it's a religion, [...] an extraordinarily spiritually and psychologically mature tradition. Millions of people turn every day with heartfelt yearning to the Mother of the Universe." [Johnsen(b), p. 11, 13, 19.]
Shaktism encompasses a nearly endless variety of practices – from primitive animism through philosophical speculation of the highest order – that seek to access the Shakti (Divine Energy or Power) that is believed to be both the Devi's nature and form. Its two largest and most visible schools are the "Srikula", or family of "
Sri", strongest in South India, and the "Kalikula", or family of " Kali", which prevails in northern and eastern India.
rikula: Family of Sri
The "Srikula" (family of "Sri") tradition ("
sampradaya") focuses worship on Devi in the form of the goddess "Lalita-Tripurasundari", who conceived as the great Goddess ("Mahadevi"). Rooted in first-millennium Kashmir, Srikula became a force in South India no later than the seventh century, and is today the prevalent form of Shaktism practiced in states of South India such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Naduand Tamil Sri Lanka. [Brooks(b), back cover.] The Srikula "family of the Goddess Sri (or Lakshmi)," , unlike Kalikula, the other school of Shaktism, respects the brahminical tradition (a mainstream Hindu tradition which respects caste and purity rules) and is strongest in South India. [http://www.himalayanacademy.com/resources/lexicon/#Shaktism%20(Shakta). Hinduism's Online Lexicon ] ]
The Srikula's best-known school is Srividya, "one of Shakta Tantrism's most influential and theologically sophisticated movements. Its central image, the "
Sri Chakra", is probably the most famous visual image in all of Hindu Tantric tradition. Its literature and practice is perhaps more systematic than [that of] any other Shakta sect." [Brooks(a), p. "xiii".]
Srividya perceives the Goddess as "benign ("saumya") and beautiful ("saundarya")", a contrast to Kalikula's perception of the Goddess as "terrifying ("ugra") and horrifying ("ghora")" Kali or Durga. However, every aspect of the Goddess - malignant or gentle - is identified with Lalita. [Brooks(b), pp. 59-60.]
The "Sri Chakra" is worshiped as Lalita's subtle form, either as a two-dimensional diagram (sometimes drawn temporarily as part of the worship ritual; sometimes a permanent engraving in metal) or in the three-dimensional, pyramidal form known as the "Sri Meru". It is not uncommon to find a "Sri Chakra" or "Sri Meru" installed in South Indian temples, because – as modern practitioners assert – "there is no disputing that this is the highest form of Devi and that some of the practice can be done openly. But what you see in the temples is not the "srichakra" worship you see when it is done privately." [A senior member of Guru Mandali, Madurai, November 1984, cited in Brooks(b), p. 56.]
The Srividya "
paramparas" can be further broadly subdivided into two streams, the " Kaula" (a "vamamarga" practice) and the "Samaya" (a "dakshinamarga" practice). The "Kaula" or "Kaulachara", "first appeared as a coherent ritual system" in the eighth century in central India, [White, p. 219.] and its champion is the 18th century philosopher Bhaskararaya, who is widely considered "the best exponent of Shakta philosophy." [(a)Bhattacharyya, p. 209.]
The "Samaya" or "Samayacharya" finds its roots in the works of a 16th century commentator, Lakshmidhara, and is "fiercely puritanical [in its] attempts to reform Tantric practice in ways that bring it in line with high-caste brahmanical norms."Brooks(a), p. 28.] Many Samaya practitioners, in fact, explicitly deny being either Shakta or Tantric; however, Brooks argues that their cult remains technically both, "even if Samayins would reject this appellation."
Outside brahamanic circles, Kaula lineages remain alive and well – though their practitioners generally prefer to worship in private, in keeping with the Hindu adage, "When in public, be a Vaishnava. When among friends, be a Shaiva. But in private, always be a Shakta." [Johnsen(a), p. 202.] The Samaya-Kaula division marks "an old dispute within Hindu Tantrism," and one that continues to be vigorously debated to this day. [Active (and non-commercial) discussions of Samaya theory can be found at the [http://pub37.bravenet.com/guestbook/show.php?usernum=3141052796&cpv=1 Sri Rajarajeshwari Kripa] , while lively (and also non-commercial) Kaula discussions take place at the [http://www.shaktisadhana.org/ Shakti Sadhana] website and its associated mailing list.]
Kalikula: Family of Kali
The "Kalikula" (family of "Kali") form of Shaktism is most dominant in northern and eastern India, and is most widely prevalent in
West Bengal, Assam, Biharand Orissa, as well as parts of Maharashtraand Bangladesh. "Kalikula" lineages focus upon the Devi as the source of wisdom ("vidya") and liberation (" moksha"). They generally stand "in opposition to the brahmanic tradition," which they view as "overly conservative and denying the experiential part of religion." to be one of the five equal forms of the Divine. [http://hinduism.iskcon.com/tradition/1102.htm.] ; [http://hinduism.iskcon.com/tradition/1204.htm.]
The main deities of Kalikula are "Kali", "
Chandi" and "Durga". Other goddesses that enjoy veneration are "Tara" and the all other " Mahavidyas" as well as regional goddesses such as " Manasa", the snake goddess, and " Sitala", the smallpox goddess - all considered aspects of the Divine Mother.
Two major centers of Shaktism in West Bengal are
Kalighatin Calcuttaand Tarapithin Birbhum district. In Calcutta, emphasis is on devotion ("bhakti") to the goddess as "Kali":
She is "the loving mother who protects her children and whose fierceness guards them. She is outwardly frightening – with dark skin, pointed teeth, and a necklace of skulls – but inwardly beautiful. She can guarantee a good rebirth or great religious insight, and her worship is often communal – especially at festivals, such as "Kali Puja" and "At Tarapith, Devi's manifestation as "Tara" ("She Who Saves") or "Ugratara" ("Fierce Tara") is ascendant, as the goddess who gives liberation ("kaivalyadayini"). [...] The forms of "sadhana" performed here are more "
Durga Puja". Worship may involve contemplation of the devotee's union with or love of the goddess, visualization of her form, chanting [of her] "mantras", prayer before her image or "yantra", and giving [of] offerings." yogic" and "tantric" than devotional, and they often involve sitting alone at the [cremation] ground, surrounded by ash and bone. There are shamanicelements associated with the Tarapith tradition, including 'conquest of the goddess', exorcism, trance, and control of spirits."
The philosophical and devotional underpinning of all such ritual, however, remains a pervasive vision of the Devi as supreme, absolute divinity. As expressed by the nineteenth-century saint
Ramakrishna, one of the most influential figures in modern Bengali Shaktism:
"Kali is none other than Brahman. That which is called Brahman is really Kali. She is the Primal Energy. When that Energy remains inactive, I call It Brahman, and when It creates, preserves, or destroys, I call It Shakti or Kali. What you call Brahman I call Kali. Brahman and Kali are not different. They are like fire and its power to burn: if one thinks of fire one must think of its power to burn. If one recognizes Kali one must also recognize Brahman; again, if one recognizes Brahman one must recognize Kali. Brahman and Its Power are identical. It is Brahman whom I address as Shakti or Kali." [Nikhilananda, p. 734.]
Shaktas celebrate most major Hindu festivals (albeit sometimes with a slightly different emphasis), as well as a wide variety of local, temple-specific, and/or deity-specific observances. [Pattanaik, pp. 103-109.]
The most important Shakta festival is "
Navratri" (The "Festival of Nine Nights", or "Sharad" [Autumn] "Navratri"), which together with the tenth day, known as "Dusshera" or " Vijayadashami", commemorates the Devi's victory over various demons in the Devi Mahatmya. ["5 Things You Need to Know About Navratri: The 9 Divine Nights," [http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/navaratri.htm About Hinduism] .] In Bengal, the last four days of Navaratri are celebrated as Durga Puja, marking slaying of buffalo-demon Mahishasuraby Durga. ["Durga Puja," [http://www.durga-puja.org/ DurgaPuja.org] .]
Other Navaratris include "Vasanta Navaratri" ("The Spring Festival of Nine Nights" or "Chaitra Navatri") - celebrated during late spring to summer (March-April) in the Hindu month of
Chaitraand "Ashada Navaratri"("The Summer Festival of Nine Nights") in the Hindu month Ashadha. Srividya lineages celebrate "Vasanta Navaratri" as goddess Lalita's Navratri as opposed to Durga's Navratri in the autumn. The Vaishno Devitemple in Jammu observes its major Navaratri celebration during this period. ["About Vasanta Navratri," [http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/vasantnavaratri.htm About Hinduism] .] "Ashada Navaratri" is particularly important for devotees of the boar-headed goddess Varahi, one of the seven Matrikasof the Devi Mahatmya. ["Regaling Varahi with different 'alankarams' in 'Ashada Navaratri'," July 24, 2007, [http://www.hindu.com/2007/07/24/stories/2007072456270200.htm The Hindu] .]
Most Shaktas worship Lakshmi ceremonially at home on this, the full moon night following Durga Puja this is also called as "Khojagiri Lakshmi Puja". ["Lakshmi: Goddess of Wealth & Beauty! What You Need to Know," [http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa100900a.htm About Hinduism] .] Another festival dedicated to Lakshmi is "
Diwali" (or "Deepavali"; the "Festival of Lights"). The major Hindu holiday of Diwali, the North Indian New Year, is held on the night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik(usually October or November). Shaktas (and many non-Shaktas) consider it as another Lakshmi Puja, placing small oil lamps outside their homes and praying for the goddess to come and bless them. ["Diwali Festival", [http://www.diwalifestival.org/ DiwaliFestival.org] .] Diwali coincides with the celebration of Kali Puja, popular in Bengal, with some Shakta traditions focusing their worship on Devi as Kali rather than Devi as Lakshmi. ["Kali Pooja in Bengal," [http://www.diwalifestival.org/kali-pooja-in-bengal.html Diwali Festival.org] .]
JagaddhatriPuja" is celebrated on the last four days of the Navaratis, following Kali Puja. It is very similar to Durga Puja in its details and observance, and is especially popular in Bengal and some other parts of Eastern India.
"Gauri Puja" is performed on the fifth day after
Ganesh Chaturthi, during GaneshaPuja in Western India, to celebrate the arrival of Gauri, Mother of Ganesha, to come and bring her son back home.
There are variant dates for "Saraswati Puja", depending upon region and local tradition. Commonly, on the fifth day of the Hindu month of
Phalguna(January-February), students offer their books and musical instruments to Saraswati and pray for her blessings in their studies. In some parts of India, Saraswati Puja is celebrated in the month of Magh; in others, during the final three days of Navratri. ["Saraswati Pooja," [http://www.mantraonnet.com/saraswati-pooja.html Saraswati Pooja] .]
Major Shakta temple festivals are "Meenakshi Kalyanam" and "Ambubachi Mela". "Meenakshi Kalyanam" observes the auspicious occasion of Devi's (as
Meenakshi) marriage to Lord Sundareshwara ( Shiva) is centered around the Meenakshi Amman Templein Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It runs for 12 days, counting from the second day of the lunar month of Chaitra, in April or May. ["Celebrate Meenakshi Kalyanam", [http://www.blessingsonthenet.com/temple/currfestival.asp?festivalid=F0439 BlessingsontheNet.com] ] "Ambubachi Mela" is a celebration of the yearly menstruation of the goddess, held in June/July (during the monsoon season) at Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, Assam. Here the Devi is worshiped in the form of a yoni-like stone over which a naturally red-tinted spring flows. ["Celebrating the Divine Female Principle." [http://www.boloji.com/wfs/wfs082.htm Boloji.com] ]
There are thousands of ; vast or tiny, famous or obscure. Moreover, countless cities, towns, villages and geographic landmarks are named for various forms of the Devi. [Pattanaik, pp. 110-114.] "In this vast country, holy resorts of the goddess are innumerable and the popularity of her cult is proved even in the place-names of India." [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 172.]
At various times, different writers have attempted to organize some of these into lists of "
Shakti Peethas"; literally "Seats of the Devi", or more broadly, "Places of Power". Numbering anywhere from four to 51 (in the most famous list, found in the "Tantra Cudamani"), "the "peethas" [became] a popular theme of the medieval writers, many of whom took the greatest liberty in fabricating the place names, the goddesses and their " bhairavas" [consorts] ." [Bhattacharyya(a), p. 171.]
Criticism and misuse
Shaktism has at times been dismissed as a superstitious, black magic-infested practice that hardly qualifies as a true religion at all. Typical of such criticism is this broadside issued by an Indian scholar in the 1920s:
"The Tantras are the bible of Shaktism, [...] identifying all Force with the female principle in nature and teaching an undue adoration of the wives of Shiva and Vishnu to the neglect of their male counterparts. [...] It is certain that a vast number of the inhabitants of India are guided in their daily life by Tantrik teaching, and are in bondage to the gross superstitions inculcated in these writings. And indeed it can scarcely be doubted that Shaktism is Hinduism arrived at its worst and most corrupt stage of development." [Kapoor, p. 157.]
Statements of this kind, White notes, are based principally on the ignorance, misunderstanding and prejudice of some outside observers, as well as the unscrupulous practices of certain insiders. "It is in this context that many Hindus in India today deny the relevance of Tantra to their tradition, past or present, identifying what they call "tantra-mantra" as so much mumbo-jumbo." [White, p. 262. See also Urban.]
Further muddying the waters, "a number of Indian and Western spiritual entrepreneurs have been offering 'Tantric Sex' to a mainly American and European clientele for the past several decades. Presenting the entire history of Tantra as a unified, monolithic 'cult of ecstasy' and assuming that all that has smacked of eroticism in Indian culture is by definition Tantric, New Age Tantra eclectically blends together Indian erotics, techniques of massage,
Ayurveda, and yoga into a single invented tradition [...] pitched at a leisured populace of seekers who treat 'Tantric sex' as a consumer product." [White, pp. "xii - xiii".]
Nor is it uncommon to encounter assertions that the Shaiva and Vaishnava schools of Hinduism lead to "
moksha", or spiritual liberation, whereas Shaktism leads merely to " siddhis" (occult powers) and "bhukti" (material enjoyments) – or, at best (according to some Shaiva interpreters), to Shaivism; for example, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswamihas stated that in Shaktism, emphasis is given to the feminine manifest by which the masculine Un-manifest Parasivais ultimately reached. Such claims are dismissed by serious theologians within Shaktism:Shankarnarayanan(a), p. 5.]
"Each of the [Divine Mother's] "vidyas" [aspects of wisdom, i.e. forms] is a "Brahma Vidya" [path to Supreme Wisdom] . The "sadhaka" of any one of these [Shakta paths] attains ultimately, if his aspiration is such, the supreme purpose of life – self-realisation and God-realisation, [for] realising the Goddess is not different from [realising] one's self."
Expansion beyond South Asia
The practice of Shaktism is no longer confined to South Asia. Traditional Shakta temples have sprung up across
Southeast Asia, the Americas, Europe, Australiaand elsewhere – some enthusiastically attended by non-Indian as well as Indian diaspora Hindus. Examples in the United Statesinclude the "Kali Mandir" in Laguna Beach, California; [ [http://www.kalimandir.org Kali Mandir] ] and "Sri Rajarajeshwari Peetam", [ [http://www.srividya.org Sri Rajarajeshwari Peetham] ] a "Srividya" Shakta temple in rural Rush, New York. The Rush temple was, in fact, recently the subject an in-depth academic study exploring the "dynamics of diaspora Hinduism," including the serious entry and involvement of non-Indians in traditional Hindu religious practice. [See Dempsey.]
Shaktism has also become a focus of some Western spiritual seekers attempting to construct new Goddess-centered faiths. [For example, [http://shaktiwicca.tripod.com "Shakti Wicca"] and [http://www.maabatakali.org "Sha'can"] ] An academic study of Western Kali enthusiasts noted that, "as shown in the histories of all cross-cultural religious transplants, Kali devotionalism in the West must take on its own indigenous forms if it is to adapt to its new environment." [Fell McDermett, Rachel, "The Western Kali," in Hawley, p. 305.] However, these East-West fusions can also raise complex and troubling issues of
Writers and thinkers, "notably feminists and participants in
New Agespirituality who are attracted to goddess worship", have explored Kali in new light. She is considered as a "symbol of wholeness and healing, associated especially with repressed female power and sexuality." These new interpretations have originated from "feminist sources,almost none of which base their interpretations on a close reading of Kali's Indian background". "It is hard to import the worship of a goddess from another culture: religious associations and connotations have to be learned, imagined or intuited when the deep symbolic meanings embedded in the native culture are not available." [Fell in Hawley, pp. 281-305.]
A powerful motivation behind Western interest in Shaktism has been suggested by Linda Johnsen, a popular writer on Eastern spirituality, who asserts that many central concepts of Shaktism – including aspects of kundalini yoga as well as goddess worship – were once "common to the Hindu, Chaldean, Greek and Roman civilizations," but were largely lost to the West, as well as the Near and Middle East, with the rise of the
four Great Ancient Civilizations, working knowledge of the inner forces of enlightenment has survived on a mass scale only in India. Only in India has the inner tradition of the Goddess endured. This is the reason the teachings of India are so precious. They offer us a glimpse of what our own ancient wisdom must have been. The Indians have preserved our lost heritage. [...] Today it is up to us to locate and restore the tradition of the living Goddess. We would do well to begin our search in India, where for not one moment in all of human history have the children of the living Goddess forgotten their Divine Mother." [Johnsen(b), pp. 176, 181.]
*Anonymous (author), Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy (translator), "The Rig Veda: An Anthology". Penguin Classics Books (London, 1981).
*"Bengali Shakta," [http://www.everyculture.com/South-Asia/Bengali-Shakta.html World Culture Encyclopedia, South Asia] .
*(a) Bhattacharyya, N. N., "History of the Sakta Religion", Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. (New Delhi, 1974, 2d ed. 1996).
*(b) Bhattacharyya, N. N., "The Indian Mother Goddess", South Asia Books (New Delhi, 1970, 2d ed. 1977).
*Bolon, Carol Radcliffe, "Forms of the Goddess Lajja Gauri in Indian Art", The Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, Penn., 1992).
*(a) Brooks, Douglas Renfrew, "The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Shakta Tantrism", The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1990).
*(b) Brooks, Douglas Renfrew, "Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Srividya Shakta Tantrism in South India", State University of New York Press (Albany, 1992).
*(a) Brown, C. MacKenzie, "The Triumph of the Goddess: The Canonical Models and Theological Issues of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana", State University of New York Press (Suny Series in Hindu Studies, 1991).
*(b) Brown, C. Mackenzie. "The Devi Gita: The Song of the Goddess: A Translation, Annotation and Commentary." State University of New York Press (Albany, 1998).
*Coburn, Thomas B., "Encountering the Goddess: A translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of Its Interpretation". State University of New York Press (Albany, 1991).
*Dempsey, Corinne G., "The Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple." Oxford University Press (New York, 2006).
*Dikshitar, V. R. Ramachandra, "The Lalita Cult", Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. (Delhi, 1942, 2d ed. 1991, 3d ed. 1999).
*Erndl, Kathleen M., "Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol", Oxford University Press (New York, 1992).
*Harper, Katherine (ed.), "The Roots of Tantra", State University of New York Press (Albany, 2002).
*Hawley, John Stratton (ed.) and Wulff, Donna Marie (ed.), "Devi: Goddesses of India". University of California Press (Berkeley, 1996).
*(a) Johnsen, Linda. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism". Alpha Books (Indianapolis, Ind., 2002).
*(b) Johnsen, Linda, "The Living Goddess: Reclaiming the Tradition of the Mother of the Universe." Yes International Publishers (St. Paul, Minn., 1999).
*Joshi, L. M., "Lalita Sahasranama: A Comprehensive Study of the One Thousand Names of Lalita Maha-tripurasundari." D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd (New Delhi, 1998).
*Kali, Davadatta, "In Praise of the Goddess: The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning". Nicolas-Hays, Inc., Berwick, Maine, 2003).
*Kapoor, Subodh, "A Short Introduction to Sakta Philosophy", Indigo Books (New Delhi, 2002, reprint of c. 1925 ed.).
*(a) Kinsley, David. "Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition". University of California Press (Berkeley, 1988).
*(b) Kinsley, David. "Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas". University of California Press (Berkeley, 1997).
*Krishna Warrier, Dr. A.J., "The IAST|Sākta Upaniṣad-s", The Adyar Library and Research Center, Library Series, Vol. 89; Vasanta Press (Chennai, 1967, 3d. ed. 1999).
*Kumar, Girish, "Introduction to Tantra Sastra, Part I." Interview with Sri Girish Kumar, former director of Tantra Vidhya Peethama, Kerala, India, [http://www.heritageindianews.org/Streaming/Audio/Murthy/Thanthrasastra_1.MP3 "Mohan's World"]
*Müller, F. Max (translator), "The Upanishads". [http://www.realization.org/page/namedoc0/kena/k_0.htm Realization.org]
*Nikhilananda, Swami (trans.), "The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna", Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center (New York, 1942, 9th ed. 2000).
*Pattanaik, Devdutt, "Devi the Mother-Goddess: An Introduction". Vakils, Feffer and Simons Ltd. (Mumbai, 2000).
*Pechilis, Karen (ed.), "The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States". Oxford University Press (New York, 2004).
* Sarma, Dr. S. A., "Kena Upanisad: A Study From Sakta Perspective". Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Mumbai, 2001).
*(a) Shankarnarayanan, S., "The Ten Great Cosmic Powers: Dasa Mahavidyas". Samata Books (Chennai, 1972; 4th ed. 2002).
*(b) Shankarnarayanan, S., "Sri Chakra". Samata Books (Chennai, 1971; 4th ed. 2002).
*Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya, "Merging with Siva: Hinduism's Contemporary Metaphysics", Himalayan Academy (Hawaii, USA, 1999).
*Suryanarayana Murthy, Dr. C., "Sri Lalita Sahasranama with Introduction and Commentary." Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Mumbai, 2000. Rep. of 1962 ed.).
*Urban, Hugh B., "Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion", University of California Press (Berkeley, 2003).
*White, David Gordon, "Kiss of the Yogini: "Tantric Sex" in its South Asian Contexts", The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 2003).
*Winternitz, M., "History of Indian Literature", 2 vols. (Calcutta, 1927, 1933, rep., New Delhi, 1973).
*Woodroffe, Sir John, "Sakti and Sakta: Essays and Addresses", Ganesh & Company (Madras, 9th Ed. 1987, reprint of 1927 edition).
*Yadav, Neeta, "Ardhanārīśvara in Art and Literature." D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd. (New Delhi, 2001).
*McDaniel, June, "Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal", Oxford University Press (2004). (ISBN 0195167902)
*Ostor, Akos, "The Play of the Gods: Locality, Ideology, Structure and Time in the Festivals of a Bengali Town", University of Chicago Press (1980). (ISBN 0-226-63954-1)
*Satyananda Saraswati, Swami, "Cosmic Puja", Devi Mandir (2001). (ISBN 1-877795-70-4)
*Sen, Ramprasad, "Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair : Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess". (ISBN 0-934252-94-7)
* [http://www.pgeu.net/dirs/pge/pge06/100198/e100198-h.html Bengali Religious Lyrics, Śākta]
* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/sas/sas20.htm The Indian Magna Mater]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.