Origin of Shakti worship

One has to understand the origin and history of mother goddess religion ( Sakthism) in global perspective before attempting to practice the dharma stipulated. No study would ver be able to deany that Mother goddess worshipping was practiced along all ages and famous civilizations in the world. In the study of origin of sakthi worship, due to overlapping of prehistorical period of different region in the world, we shall generalize the human history into :

1) Pre historical period

  • Paleolithic age – approx 50,000 – 120,000 years ago
  • Mesolithic age – approx 32,000 – 48,000 years ago
  • Neolithic age – approx 5,000 – 30,000 years ago

2) Ancient historical period

  • Indus Civilization – approx 3,500-5,000 BC
  • Vedic Period – approx 2,500 BC
  • Jain & Buddism Period – approx 450-600BC
  • Roman Period – 100 BC
  • Modern Christianity Period – now

 

1) Pre Historical Goddess

The Venus of Willendorf ,or Great Goddess of Willendorf,  was found in Austria. At a time when food had to be hunted, gathered or grown by great physical effort, a voluptuous body would have been considered a sign of luxury, abundance and fertility.This goddess represent  powerful, uncompromising femininity highly fertile but lotus headed. Surprisingly this image has strong resemblance to Aditi Devi also known as Lajja Gauri in Rig Veda also lotus headed. She is the most ancient Goddess form in the religious complex that is today referred to as Hinduism.

In Sumerian civilization , we find the goddess Inanna or Ishtar was the patron and special god/goddess of the ancient Sumerian city of Erech (Uruk), the City of Gilgamesh. As Queen of heaven, she was associated with the Evening Star (the planet Venus), and sometimes with the Moon. She may also have been associated the brightest stars in the heavens, as she is sometimes symbolized by an eight-pointed star, a seven-pointed star, or a four pointed star.

Inanna could be wily and cunning. She was a powerful warrior, who drove a war chariot, drawn by lions. We see the resemblance of Inanna and Durga here with the sacred vehicle to be lion. In the duality of our reality she is portrayed as gentle and loving, a source of beauty and grace, a source of inspiration. She endowed the people of Sumer with gifts that inspired and insured their growth as a people and a culture. She is also depicted as a passionate, sensuous lover in The Courtship of Inanna and Damuzi, which established the principle of Sacred Marriage. ( a concept of Siva Sakthi perhaps )Indeed, one aspect of Inanna is as the Goddess of Love, and it is in this aspect that she embodies creativity, procreativity, passion, raw sexual energy and power.

We find  the worship of a great mother goddess independent of any association with a male counterpart flourishing in the oldest period of Babylonian history as old as 3000 BC. Inanna or Ishtar is the one goddess in the pantheon who retains her independent position in whole Sumerian history.

As for Egyptian civilization , we find the goddess of Isis takes a important role in the goddess mythology in 3500 BC . Isis or Aset is the goddess of motherhood and fertility in ancient Egypt. She is a life-death-rebirth deity. Isis is often symbolised by a cow, or also a cow’s head or horns . This goes to indicate a close connection between Gomatha           ( Mother Cow ) in Hinduism and Isis. Egyptian mythology  hold the worshipping of Isis an important element of beliefs held by the people of Egypt until Islam .

Also another goddess called Sekhmet, known as “The Powerful”, was portrayed as either a lion or a woman with the head of a lion, often holding an ankh or sistrum. The same goddess also seem to be powerful with a sacred animal which is in form of lion.

Another goddess of Egypt , Tefnut helped support the sky, and each morning received the sun on the eastern horizon. She was one of the “great nine” who sat in judgment of the dead. She was considered the goddess of the second hour of the night of the fourteenth moon. In art, Tefnut usually appeared as a lion-headed goddess with a solar disk on her head, or as a woman, or as a lion.

 

2) Ancient Historical Period Goddess

a) Indus Goddess

Archeological evidence from related cultures suggests that Indus Valley mythology was centered in the idea of female power and Goddess. There is direct evidence of Goddess dominance on Indus seals, which, like the seals of ancient Sumerians, bring together goddesses, sacred snakes, and such symbols of male power and virility as horned bulls and rams and mythical animals such as unicorns. There is also ample indication on the seals of rituals involving sacrifice to what appears to be a horned goddess. At the ruins at the ancient settlement of Mehrgarh, dating back to as early as 6000 BCE, goddess figurines have been discovered that would seem to confirm the importance of the female power during the 600–2500 BCE period

The predominance of female figurines and seals depicting a horned goddess in association with the sacred pipal tree are generally regarded as evidence of the worship of a mother goddess who presided over fertility and birth and who may have acted as guardian and protector of the residents. These evidences goes to prove that Sakthi worship started way back 2500 BC . Harappa seals belonging to the Indus Valley civilization have large numbers of pictures of fish. According to legend and some literary references, Pandyan kings established their kingdom in southern India with Madurai as their capital. They ruled from Madurai as late as the 14-th Century AD. The royal emblem of the Padya dynasty is fish. Tamil word for fish is “meen”. Pandyan king is sometimes referred to as “meenavan”. Their deity is Meenakshi .Thus fish is an important symbol in Sakthi worship and the fish symbols in Harappan seals shall be closely connected to Sakthi worship in this oldest civilization of India. Some may try to connect these goddess figures to the worship of Shiva-Sakthi as some seal were found to have pictures of male god in meditative posture where they link these seal to the worship of Pasupathi. However one may later understand the redundancy of such arguments as seal and figures of Goddess found are in single form and does not resemble the concept of dual worship (Siva-Sakthi) in Indus Valley.

In its contemplation, the Rigveda, which seems to have conceded to the idea of the Divine Female, takes two different lines, one mystic and the other traditional. The traditional line was the same as prevailed amongst the primitive Indus community, which perceived the Divine Female as Mother Goddess. The Rigveda calls the Female power Mahimata (R.V. 1.164.33), a term which literally means Mother Earth. At places, the Vedic literature alludes to Her as Viraj, the universal mother, as Aditi, the mother of gods, and as Ambhrini, the one born of Primeval Ocean.

The Rigveda takes a mystic line, when it perceives the Proto Female as Vak or Vani, which, as the creative speech, manifests the cosmos and all existing things. In Vedic mysticism the cosmos and all things pre-exist but are unmanifest. The Vak, or Vani makes them manifest.

 

b) Vedic Goddess

Since this primordial power of the ultimate is the base of all creation, She is worshipped as Mother from time immemorial. In Vedas she is worshipped as Sarasvati, Ushas & Aryamaa (Rig Veda), Sri Gaayatri (Yajur Veda), Mahalakshmi & Durga in some places and in Upanishads as Uma and Haimavati.

One of the most powerful gods in Rigveda shall be Indra and Varuna. In this regard, Indra’s powers or “indriyas” are mentioned in the Rig Veda (VI.31.3) as “vishva indriyas” or “cosmic senses or powers” of the God, from which his own sahas or “power or strength” is said to emerge.

Sahas means “force or power or strength”, and is hence synonymous with Shakti. This verse hence connects these ideas with later Yogic thought, which understands that by controlling or having mastery over one’s indriyas (or senses), one gains “shaktis” (powers) of Yoga, known as siddhis (mystical powers).

These “mystical powers” include clairvoyance, levitation, spiritual healing, invisibility and so forth. They are often personified, or powers granted by forms of the goddess, as Shakti, or power in her many manifest forms.

In fact, one verse lauds Indra as “Shaktivan” (V.31.5), which means “Possessor of Shakti ”, which itself is a feminine term in the Rig Veda, implying the Goddess. This term Shaktivan itself is comparable to later “Shaktiman”, meaning the same, and is a term applied to powerful Yogis and also the god Shiva (Vedic name Indra) himself. It refers to them having these mystical powers of yoga, or “siddhis”.

On this note, the term “Shachi”, an old Sanskrit term meaning “Shakti” and denoting the same, is lauded in the Rig Veda (I.112.8) as being the power given to the twin Ashwin gods (who possess mystic powers)  to allow them to heal the crippled and help the blind see again. Shakti here is hence invoked as a feminine and yet positive term, in relation to Yogic powers or siddhis again.

In fact, these Ashwin gods are also invoked in another passage, which reads:

“Bring into creation, my tireless meditations and thoughts that ask for wealth, Shining Ashwins. Grant us high spirits in battle, and with your Shaktis, Lords of Shakti, assist us.” (Rig Veda.VII.67.5)

The terms used here are “shaktam” and “shachipati” which mean “Power or force” and “Lords of power and force”, similar again to Shaktiman of later times, as a term for a Yogi possessing yogic powers. Yet again here however, the term “Shachi” is used in a feminine tense. It also asks these gods to grant us powers in warfare, with their “shaktis” or powers. We know in later texts as the Puranas, the Devayudhas or “weapons of the Gods”, were manifestations empowered by the force of the Divine Mother in the form of Shakti to power also.

These are powers of the Self (sva or atman) employed by the Gods, who derive their powers from the Goddess Shakti to do so. On this note, one verse to the Vedic gods of War, who are manifestations of the god Shiva or Indra, are lauded as possessing “svayudha” or “weapons of the Self or soul” (RV.V.57.2), showing their importance, even in Vedic times. The same verse calls them “Sons of Prishni”, who is a Goddess later associated with the Goddess Kali in India – herself commonly portrayed as the goddess Shakti, in her most supreme form!

Although dark, she destroys spiritual darkness, known as “tamas”, which she merges into her own dark formlessness. Kali (meaning black or time) is also called Ratri (Night), which also refers to her name Prishni (spotted; Meaning spotted with stars, which later become her garland of white skulls on her black body. The moon is the symbol of ego and the severed head Kali holds).

 

The immortal Goddess, she fills the vast, high and low places: She destroys tamas (spiritual darkness) with her Light. (Rig Veda : X.127.2)

In regards to Indra or the god Shiva, he is invoked along with his wife, Shachi or Power in the Rig Veda (III.60.6), and worshipped along with her, again showing her importance.

In the tenth and last book of the Rig Veda, we also know of a famous hymn to Shachi or “Goddess Power”, which tells us of her Supreme Nature as in later times (X.59). The same hymn (verse 3), extols her as “Jaya” or Victory, and states that her lord (pati) is submissive unto her will-power.

This also asserts her power in the Vedas, and this hymn is at the end of the Rig Veda, perhaps to “remind the Rishi (Seer)” of her importance in the text, although she may be contained within the hymns. Her secret power however is well-known.

In later text , especially in Puranas she is worshipped as Lalitha, Kali and in Agamas as Tripura Sundari, Raajaraajeshwari, Maha Kali and other forms. The most famous purana of Sakthism shall be Devi Bhagavata Purana . Devi Bhagavata Purana consists of 12 skandhas (books), 318 adhyayas (chapters) and 18,000 verses and it is ascribed to the mythical sage Krishna Dvaipayana Veda Vyasa,who is also regarded as the author of the Mahabharata and who is credited with dividing the Vedas into four parts.

The last nine chapters (31-40) of the seventh skandha is known as the Devi Gita. It is a dialogue between Parvati and her father Himavat. It deals with the universal form of the Devi, meditations on the major texts of Upanishads, ashtanga-yoga, the yogas of jnana, karma and bhakti, locations of the temples dedicated to the Devi and the rituals pertaining to her worship. The eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth skandhas have 24, 50, 13, 24 and 14 chapters respectively.

Like other Puranas, the Devi-Bhagavata Purana contains narratives, sections praising the Devi as supreme, and instructions in various types of sadhana. Parts of it have worked their way into popular Hinduism, such as the narrative of the goddess Durga in her fight against the buffalo-demon Mahishasura (Book 5, Chapters 2-18), which is also described in the Devi Mahatmya. This narrative provides the mythological backdrop for the annual ritual called Durga Puja and Navarathri which is celebrated widely in Bengal.

Within the Hindu genre of Sahasranamas (literally, “thousand-name” hymns, extolling the names, deeds and associations of a given deity), the Sri Lalita Sahasranama Stotra, or “Hymn to the Thousand Names of the Auspicious Goddess Lalita”, is “a veritable classic, widely acknowledged for its lucidity, clarity and poetic excellence.”

The Lalita Sahasranama is part of the Brahmanda Purana, but its specific origins and authorship are lost to history. Based upon textual evidence, it is believed to have been composed in South India not earlier than the 9th or later than the 11th century CE. The text is closely associated with another section of the Brahmanda Purana.

 

The text operates on a number of levels, containing references not just to the Devi’s physical qualities and exploits but also an encoded guide to philosophy and esoteric practices of kundalini yoga and Srividya Shaktism. In addition, every name and group of names within the Sahasranama is considered to have high mantric value independent of its content, and are often prescribed in sadhanas or prayogas to accomplish particular purposes.

In all above text , two aspects of Shakthi can be clearly distinguished, one the fierce form of the deity which is dreaded and propitiated and the second the benign aspect of her love and kindness. The first one is more primitive and is a ‘Tamasic’ or ‘Rajasic’ personification of Sakthi. Fear is the predominant emotion of the saadhakaa in worshipping this aspect, fear of natural calamities, ill health, enemies, poverty, death and even ignorance. Her form is imagined with many heads and hands, each carrying deadly weapons like sword and mace riding on wild animals.

The second is the satvic form. A more sublime concept which is the product of Upanishadic thoughts. Here the saadhakaa through great knowledge largely sheds the fear of the deity and loves her as his mother. She is imagined as seated on a lotus and resides in beautiful surroundings with a book, japamaala, parrot, sugarcane or veena in hand. She is worshipped with the object of realizing higher and higher reaches of consciousness and knowledge with offerings of flowers, milk and honey.

Some Tantras and Agamas as sacred texts are held in the same high esteem as the Veda and Upanishads. There are some Tantras like the Yamala tantra, which are claimed to be older than even Vedas. There is an impression that Tantra is some sort of black magic or immoral practice associated with mystic practices that are condemned by orthodox Hinduism. Before identifying the Tantras as black magic , we need to understand that  there appear two forms of rituals mentioned in Tantras, known as the “Vaamaachara” (also known as “Kaulachaara” ) or the left hand ritual and the “Dakshinachaara” ( also known as “Samayachaara”) or the right hand ritual . These two modes of rituals have again some relation to the dual aspect of Sakthi discussed earlier.

The Vaamaachara is probably an echo of the primitive ritual with which the terrible aspect of the mother goddess was worshipped in pre historic times. There were different clans of people who practiced this method. Some of those worshippers were Digambaras and Kaapaalikas. Mahakaali is their deities. Sacrifice of humans that too most revered ones is the effective way of pleasing the deity according to them. We come across such a Kaapaalika in Shankara’s biography. A later modification of this clan who shed human sacrifice but lived in graveyards and dressed with animal skin known as “Kaalaamukhas” lived during mid Chola rain in south. In Vaamaachara, Pancha Makaaras are offered to the deity in the ritual. They are meat (maamsa), wine (madya), parched rice (mudraa), fish (matsya) and sexual intercourse (Maithuna).

It is an important matter to note that Jagat Guru Sri Shankara did not acknowledge any part of Vaamaachara. Sri Shankara rescued various schools of hindu religious worship more especially the Sakthi worship from these odious practices and establishing it in its pristine vedic purity as “Dakshinaachara” or also known as Samayachara. This Samayachara is the ritual adopted in the monastic institutions established by Shankara and prescribed to Hindus since his time. Shankara calls the discipline of Samayachara as “swatantra tantra”. This like all other systems is a system integrated within itself the Yogas of Mantra, Laya, Bakthi and Jyana. Samayachara is carried out through the five sacred text Shubaagama Panchakam. Sanaka Sanaadana, Satkuraara, Shuka and Vasihta Samhitas.

 

c) Jain and Buddism Goddess

In Jainism , Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, is considered to be the source of all the learning. This divine energy is the source of spiritual light, remover of all ignorance and promoter of all knowledge. She is respected and adored by all the faiths, worldly persons and saints. She has four arms, one holding a book, the other a rosary and two hands holding a musical instrument Veenä. Her seat is a lotus and the peacock is her vehicle representing equanimity in prosperity.

Per Hindu belief , in some places it is mentioned that the swan is her vehicle. There are many images of Saraswati created for a temple of the Jains, a faith that originated in the fifth century B.C. The great jain saint Yashovijayji sought the blessing of Goddess of knowledge, Saraswati to formulate and construct Jain scriptures, which he mentioned in the second stanza of Jambuswami Raas. It is also said that once Acharya Umasvami (Umasvati) made a stone-image of saraswati, the goddess of learning, to speak.

The female deities of Buddhism are of many types.   There are buddhas in female form and goddesses who are bodhisattvas.  There are also historical figures such as lineage founders, and they all can function as goddess. The most prominient goddess of Buddism is Tara who is a Buddhist savior-goddess especially popular in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. In Tibet, where Tara is the most important deity, her name is Sgrol-ma, meaning “she who saves.” The mantra of Tara is the second most common mantra heard in Tibet, after the mantra of Chenrezi (om mani padme hum).

The goddess of universal compassion, Tara represents virtuous and enlightened action. It is said that her compassion for living beings is stronger than a mother’s love for her children. She also brings about longevity, protects earthly travel, and guards her followers on their spiritual journey to enlightenment.

Before she was adopted by Buddhism, Tara was worshipped in Hinduism as a manifestation of the goddess Parvati. The feminine principle was not venerated in Buddhism until the fourth century CE, and Tara probably entered Buddhism around the sixth century CE. According to Buddhist tradition, Tara was born out of the tears of compassion of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. It is said that he wept as he looked upon the world of suffering beings, and his tears formed a lake in which a lotus sprung up. When the lotus opened, the goddess Tara was revealed.

d) Roman Goddess

Unlike the Greek deities the original Roman goddesses did not have distinctive personalities, human form, family histories or myths about their lives. Instead these deities were manifestations of what the Romans termed “numina”, the divine essence that could be found in all living things and places. An example of the Numina is Pomona the Goddess of Fruit trees, orchards and gardens.

This belief in numina helps explain why there were so many early Roman deities, as each represented different aspects of the natural world. Early Roman mythology did not contain tales of the lives of magical gods. Instead they were presented as the history of Rome’s creation and concerntrated on the rituals and religious practices.

The nature of these early Roman deities was also closely linked to the physical needs of people, concentrating on areas like the agriculture and motherhood. Remaining accounts of early worship of these beings suggests it was highly ritualized to reflect the complex relationships between different groups of gods.

The Romans also had numerous festivals dedicated to their different gods and goddesses. Later the Romans borrowed heavily from other traditions especially the Greeks. However it was the rule of Rome by the Etrusian kings that was first to influence Roman worship. They began by adapting three of the Etruscan gods and making them the focus of their religion.

One of the goddess which is similar to parvathi is Juno who was the wife of the King God – Jupiter. Goddess Juno is said to be the queen of the gods. She was the goddess of women and marriage. Her sacred animal was the peacock.

The Romans believed that every man had a spirit that looked after him all his life. This was called his genius. Some people believed each man had both a good genius and a bad genius. Women didn’t have a genius, they had a juno instead.

The other goddess which is quite important in roman goddess devotion is Venus. She was born in the sea and first came to shore at Cyprus, floating on a scallop shell. There was a Golden Apple with “For the Fairest” written on the side. Venus, Juno and Minerva all wanted it. They decided to let a man, Paris, judge between them. They were all so beautiful that he couldn’t make his mind up. So Juno said she would make him powerful. Minerva said she would make him wise. Venus offered him beauty .

 

C) Christianity Goddess

 

Both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians venerate Mary. This veneration takes a number of forms, including composing poems and songs in Mary’s honor, painting icons or carving statues representing her, bowing or kneeling before such images and making prayers

Catholics and the Orthodox maintain Mary is the most important being in God’s plan, except for her Son, the God-Man, Jesus. Others think that by honoring Mary we take away from the worship of Jesus. However, Catholics and the Orthodox say Mary will lead a person to Jesus, just as all good Christians try to lead their friends to the Lord. After all, Mary’s last recorded words in the Bible were: “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you”

Mary is not just the average person; she is God’s mother, having conceived Jesus by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. If we understand God’s holiness and the intimacy of the Holy Spirit with Mary in conceiving Jesus, we see that Jesus’ incarnation presupposes that Mary was immaculate from the beginning of her life. Because Mary was free from sin, she was free from the wages of sin, that is, death . Thus her immaculate conception implies her assumption into heaven. This does not take away from the glory of her Son or imply she did not need to be redeemed

 

 

In the Bible, Mary is called “full of grace” and “blessed among women” We have begun to appreciate how blessed and graced she was and why “all ages to come” shall call her blessed. In many part of Christian world , she is named goddess mary.

The Virgin Mary is also venerated at major religious sites around the world where it is believed that apparitions or appearances of the Virgin have occurred. In many places the witnesses to these appearances have said that important messages for humanity were delivered by the Virgin.

Popular devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with Marian apparitions include the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The term Marian apparition is normally used in cases where visions of just the Virgin Mary herself are claimed. There have also been visions, such as those of Padre Pio and Sister Maria Pierina De Micheli, where visions of Jesus and Mary and conversations with both have been reported.

Thus , from all above evidences , the worship of goddess was a truly universal Religion. Not only did She comprise all god within Herself, her worshippers comprised the entire known world in their linguistic, ethnic, geographic and political diversity. There were even temples and idols found in various parts of the world dated back to 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

We may realize that the worship of goddess is however, clearly Hindu in origin. The spread of Her cult through the lands of Middle east , China , India and beyond is an indication of the high regard that all ancient peoples had for Goddess culture in general – and Saktha spirituality and philosophy in particular. The pictures and name of “mother” in native language seem to appears over two dozen times in the “Pyramid Texts” which date from before 2,000 BC and writings found at Indus valley. By the time Her worship spread to the the rest of the world, Her cult was already a very “old religion” indeed.

Myths of these goddesses have changed over centuries and sometimes blended with those of other male deities. Their worship has been revived as the image of the Great Mother or Earth Mother deep within the collective unconscious and the importance is reemerging. As a result of her association with earth fertility and agriculture, one of the most recognizable symbols of her in goddess worship discussed above was the form of Venus of Willendorf. This statue which was found 22,000 to 30,000 BCE further proofs that mother goddess in form of “Booma Devi” was worshipped by the earliest known man on earth. Thus within Hinduism , the longest surviving religion amazingly is none other than saktha religion ( sakthism) which focuses and propagates the importance of female god worship.

 

Saktha – A Religion ?

Sakthism or Saktha is a very important religion among the all religions in Sanathana Dharma ( Hinduism)of the present day. Those who worship the Supreme Deity exclusively as a Female Principle are called Śaktha. Śakthi is worshiped in various forms and numerous shrines are dedicated to Her images.

Shaktas conceive the Goddess as the supreme, ultimate Godhead. She is considered to be simultaneously the source of all creation, as well as its embodiment and the energy that animates and governs it. It has been observed that “nowhere in the religious history of the world do we come across such a completely female-oriented system.

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. As set out in the first line of Adi Shankara’s renowned Shakta hymn, Saundaryalahari (c. 800 CE):

“If Shiva is united with Shakti, he is able to create. If he is not, he is incapable even of stirring.”

This is the fundamental tenet of Shaktism, as emphasized in the widely known image of the goddess Kali striding atop the seemingly lifeless body of Shiva.

The Sakthas conceive their Great Goddess as the personification of primordial energy and the source of all divine and cosmic evolution. She is identified with the Supreme. The mass strength behind the Female Principle placed goddesses by the side of the gods of all religions; but by doing so, the entire emotion centering round the Female Principle could not be entirely channeled.

 

 

 

 

So the need was felt for a new religion, entirely female- dominated; a religion in which even the great gods like Vishnu or Shiva would remain subordinate to the Goddess. This new religion came to be known as Shaktism. This religion gave paramaount importance to female deities and goddess.

 

 

 

 

 

“ The religion followed by those who worship the Supreme as the Divine Mother (Shakti or Devi) in Her many forms, both gentle and fierce. Shaktism is one of the four primary sects of Hinduism. In philosophy and practice, Shaktism greatly resembles Saivism, both faiths promulgating, for example, the same ultimate goals of advaitic union with Siva, and moksha. But Shaktas worship Shakti as the Supreme Being exclusively, as the dynamic aspect of Divinity, while Siva is considered solely transcendent and is not worshiped. There are many forms of Shaktism, with endless varieties of practices which seek to capture divine energy or power for spiritual transformation ”

 – Satguru Shivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001), “A Hindu Lexicon.”

 

 Saktha – Who is Sakthi

The one who rules this world. Everything in this world is contained in HER. All forms in the world are HER forms. This would be a pure Vedantic philosophy on which it goes to say that all living things are part of HER. She is All pervading in All actions. It is Devi Adi Parasakthi who performs the tasks of the Tri-Moorthy : Siva, Vishnu and Brahma. She is the 8 Siddhis, 7 Rishis, Lords of the 8 directions, 11 Rudras and many more. She is not only worshipped by men but also by the devas. She is present in everything we see. She is represented in plants, the animals, the birds, the sea, the sky and the holy river. Answering her child about herself , she says in various texts as follows :

 

I am Manifest, Unmanifest and Transcendent Divinity,

I am Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

As well as Saraswati, Laksmi and Parvati

I am the Earth, The Sun and the Stars

And I am the also the Moon

I am all animal and birds,

And I am the outcast 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

 

In the Devi’s Supreme Cosmic Form,

The Satyaloka is situated on the topmost of Her head;

The Sun and Moon are her eyes;

The quarters of the sky are Her ears;

The Vedas are Her words;

The Universe is Her heart;

The Earth is Her loins;

The space between earth and sky is Her navel;

The constellations are Her Thighs;

The Maharaloka is Her neck;

The Janarloka is Her face;

Indra and the Devas of the Svarloka are her arms;

Sound is the organ of Her ears;

Fire is within her Face;

Day and Night are Her wings;

The mountains are Her bones;

The rivers are Her veins,

And the trees are the hairs of Her body.

Childhood, youth, and old age are Her finest modes;

The two twilights are Her raiment;

And the Moon is the mind of the Mother of the Universe.

~ Devi Bhagavata Purana, VII.33.1-21~

 

I travel with the Rudras and the Vasus, with the Adityas and All-Gods I wander. I hold aloft both Varuna and Mitra, Indra and Agni, and the Pair of Asvins.

I cherish and sustain high-swelling Soma, and Tvastar I support, Pusan, and Bhaga. I load with wealth the zealous sacrificer who pours the juice and offers his oblation

I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship. Thus Gods have stablished me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.

Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them,-each man who sees, brewhes, hears the word outspoken. They know it not, but yet they dwell beside me. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.

 

I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that Gods and men alike shall welcome. I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him a sage, a Rsi, and a Brahman.

I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion. I rouse and order battle for the people, and I have penetrated Earth and Heaven.

On the world’s summit I bring forth the Father: my home is in the waters, in the ocean. Thence I extend o’er all existing creatures, and touch even yonder heaven with my forehead.

I breathe a strong breath like the wind and tempest, the while I hold together all existence. Beyond this wide earth and beyond the heavens I have become so mighty in my grandeur.

~Devi suktha-Rigveda, mandala 1,suktha 125~

 

Let my every word be a prayer to Thee,

Every movement of my hands a ritual gesture to Thee,

Every step I take a circumambulation of Thy image,

Every morsel I eat a rite of sacrifice to Thee,

Every time I lay down a prostration at Thy feet;

Every act of personal pleasure and all else that I do,

Let it all be a form of worshiping Thee.”

~From Verse 27 of Shri Aadi Shankara’s Saundaryalahari~

 As Saktha , we need to understand that the creation that we are performing is caused by Sakthi. When one is endowed with that Shakti, anyone would be able to create the world. Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, Agni, Moon, Sun, Death, and all the other deities,sages ,saints are able to do their karmas only when they are united with their respective Shaktis.

This earth, when united with Shakti, remains fixed and becomes capable to hold all beings inhabiting it. If it be devoid of this power, it cannot support even an atom.”

~Devi Bhagavata Purana: 3.6~

 

Saktha – Sacred Texts

Generally Saktha accept all common scripture that is considered holy by all religions of Hindus. The vedas are the common holy scripture for the Hindus. In fact many scholars gave Hinduism the name Vaidika Dharma, one of its old names.  Vedas, refer to the knowledge.

That is the knowledge heard by the sages in their spiritual domain and passed across as it is as mantras. Mantras are the words of super-power, that produce grand effects when chanted. Vedas have four parts that is Samhita, Braahmanaa, Aaranyaka & Upanishad. The Samhitas are the core part of Vedas. They are full of mantras. Braahmanaas help in the application and the interpretation of the Vedic Samhitas. Aranyakas and Upanishads are the philosophical part. The essence of the Upanishads is brought out in Brahma Sutra composed by Veda Vyaasa, the one who organized and categorised the Vedas into Rig, Yajur, Saama, Atharva.

In the Rig Veda (the earliest known text- the first book of Knowledge) specifically in the tenth chapter, which includes the Sri Sukta describing Devi’s glory, appears to be a late supplement to the Rig Veda differing both in language and in subject. Khilaratri Sukta – mentions the Goddesses Mahalaxmi ,Mahasaraswati and Mahakali . Yajur Veda (the second book of Knowledge) – also has many parts mentioning about the goddess especially in Taittirya aranakyas. In Sama Veda (Kena Upanishad) dated 7th Century BC tells of how the goddess was recognized and even worshipped by other Gods. Puranas were  written during the Gupta Period beginning 320 AD. She now evolved into two main forms of  Mahisasura Mardini and Uma in Markandya Purana , Vamana Purana , Devi Bhagavatha Purana , Siva Purana  , Skanda Purana , and Mahatyama Purana.

In one of Sri Adhi Sankara’s contribution to Saktha texts , Saundarya Lahari is an unparalleled masterpiece. Sankara proves here, the supremacy of Devi, over even the holy Trinity. Tradition has it that Sankara received from Lord Siva in Kailas the Saundarya Lahari along with five Sphatika Lingas. The first part of Saundarya Lahari (1-41 verses) is called “Ananda Lahari”. It describes most comprehensively the forms of Devi, the Divine Mother. She is an incarnation of compassion and forgiveness. This part offers a complete picture of the Kundalini discipline. The spiritual power in an individual lies torpid, coiled like a serpent asleep, and completely motionless. It has to be woken up and taken step by step to the stage of pure consciousness. Though this part is full of technical details of a complicated subject, it is in the form of beautiful poetry. The second part containing 59 verses is a wonderful description of the physical frame of the Goddess from head to foot. It concludes with a prayer for the grace of Devi.

Tripura Rahasya is another important scared text of Saktha religion. Here the Secret of the Supreme Goddess is a dialogue of instruction given to the seeker Parasurama by his guru, Dattatreya. The story unfolds through the medium of tales which delight and amuse, but they also open the door to the cave of wisdom and invite entry to all, regardless of religious affiliation. The work was thus written by Haritaayana and is also called after his name Haritaayana Samhita. It is said to consist of 12,000 slokaas in three sections – The Maahaatmya Khanda (Section on the Greatness of Sri Devi), Jnaana Khanda (Section on Supreme Wisdom), and Charyaa Khanda (Section on Conduct). Of these the first consists of 6,687 slokaas; the second of 2,163 slokaas; and the third is not traceable. The section on Greatness contains the prelude to the work and later treats mostly of the manifestations of the Supreme Being as Durga, Kaali, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Lalita, Kumaari, etc. and their exploits and found in Brahmaanda Puraana, Maarkandeya Puraana and Lakshmi Tantra. Its contents mostly cover the ground of Durga Saptasati and of Lalita Upaakhaayana.

Sri Vidya doctine which is the worship of the Supreme Being as Goddess has a very holy tradition traced to the Vedas. There are two principal divisions, known as “Kaatividyaa” and “Haatividyaa” former was practised by Indra, Chandra, Manu, Kubeera, etc.; it is the simpler of the two and also more common. The other was practised by Lopaamudra and approved of the wise. Sri Tripura Rahasya, otherwise Haritaayana Samhitaa, begins with “OM Namaha” (“Salutations to Aum”) and ends with “Shri Tripuraiva Hrim” (“Tripura is only Hrim”). Aum is well known as the sacred syllable signifying the Highest Being in the abstract; so also “Hrim” is the sacred symbol of the same as the Goddess. The contents of the book are thus enclosed by these two symbols – the most sacred in the Vedas and the work is equally sanctified.

 

Devi Gita , This is an excerpt from a much larger work, the the Srimad Devi Bhagavatam. This self-contained text describes an incarnation of the Devi, the Goddess. She discourses on her nature, and how she wants to be worshipped, particularly with Yogic practices, meditation and rituals.

In many part of the world , Saivites and Vaisnavites underestimate the influence of Saktha texts in overall Hindu hard manuscript. It would be a wrong impresion to believe that Saktha religion is without sacred texts. All procedure relating to rituals , mantras , yoga and other discipline has been extensively elaborated in these texts mentioned above.

There are also endless Puranas and other supporting texts about Sakthism on which not to be discussed here as it is not the intention of author to emphasis  on the ritual and ceremonial aspect of the religion which is stipulated quite detail in Puranas, which again would require a book of its own. Perhaps no religious literature has raised so much significance in evaluation as the Saktha texts known as Tantras. In summary , the practical side of the Saktha cult of the Goddess, lays special emphasis upon:

  • mantras (prayers and formulae)
  • bijas (syllables of esoteric significance)
  • yantras (diagrams)
  • mudras (special positions of the fingers), and
  • nyasas (feeling the deities in different parts of the body).

Saktha – Dasa Maha Vidya

In Saktha worship , Dasa Maha Vidya which consist of Goddesses, ten in number would be the core worship. One of them is shown holding her own freshly severed head, another holds a pair of scissors while sitting triumphant atop a corpse; a third is depicted as an old and ugly widow riding a chariot decorated with the crow as an emblem. The story behind their birth is equally interesting .Once during Shiva-Parvati games, things got out of hand between them. What had started in jest turned into a serious matter with an incensed Shiva threatening to walk out on Parvati. Left with no choice, Parvati multiplied herself into ten different forms for each of the ten directions. Thus however hard Shiva might try to escape from his beloved Parvati, he would find her standing as a guardian, guarding all escape routes.

Each of the Devi’s manifested forms made Shiva realize essential truths, made him aware of the eternal nature of their mutual love and most significantly established for always in the cannons of Indian thought the Goddess’s superiority over her male counterpart. Not that Shiva in any way felt belittled by this awareness, only spiritually awakened. This is true as much for this Great Lord as for us ordinary mortals. Befittingly thus they are referred to as the Great Goddess’s of Wisdom, known in Sanskrit as the Mahavidyas (Maha – great; vidya – knowledge). Indeed in the process of spiritual learning the Goddess is the muse who guides and inspires us. She is the high priestess who unfolds the inner truths. The spectrum of these ten goddesses covers the whole range of feminine divinity, encompassing horrific goddess’s at one end, to the ravishingly beautiful at the other.

These Goddesses are:

a) Mahakali – The Eternal Goddess

Over the centuries, the macabre figure of Goddess KALI has been Mother and Supreme Brahman to countless millions. Encoded in her symbolism and mythology, we find the path of liberation from the Ego that so deludes us, from the illusion of Duality that it creates. She is a Goddess who embodies all of our worst fears — Death, Infinity, the Unknown

In most artistic representations, KALI stands with lolling tongue over the prone, often lifeless form of Shiva, in the midst of a cremation ground. She wears a garland of severed heads and a belt of freshly severed arms. Her hair is matted and wild, cascading over Her shoulders and back; both skin and hair as black as the night. Her form is emaciated is many older conceptions, though She is often conceived as beautiful and even voluptuous in more modern renderings. She is agitated with activity, moving steadily forward upon the gray corpse of her consort.

“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 Sakti or Kali. What you call Brahman I call Kali. Brahman and Kali are not different. It is Brahman whom I address as Sakti or Kali”.

 Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,

 

 

b) Tara – The Compassionate Goddess

 

The similarities in appearance between Kali and Tara are striking. Both wear minimal clothing or are naked. Both wear a necklace of freshly severed heads and a girdle of human hands. Both have a lolling tongue, red with the blood of their victims. The distinguishing feature in Tara’s iconography is the scissors she holds in one of her four hands.

The oral tradition gives an intriguing story behind the Goddess Tara. The legend begins with the churning of the ocean. Shiva has drunk the poison that was created from the churning of the ocean, thus saving the world from destruction, but has fallen unconscious under its powerful effect. Tara appears and takes Shiva on her lap. She suckles him, the milk from her breasts counteracting the poison, and he recovers. This myth is reminiscent of the one in which Shiva stops the rampaging Kali by becoming an infant. Seeing the child, Kali’s maternal instinct comes to the fore, and she becomes quiet and nurses the infant Shiva. In both cases, Shiva assumes the position of an infant vis-à-vis the goddess. In other words the Goddess is Mother even to the Great Lord himself.

Literally the word ‘tara’ means a star. Thus Tara is said to be the star of our aspiration, the muse who guides us along the creative path. These qualities are but a manifestation of her compassion.

 

 

c) Shodasi – The Virgin Goddess

Iconographically this Goddess is shown seated on a lotus that rests on the supine body of Lord Shiva, who in turn lies on a throne whose legs are the gods Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Rudra. This is a direct and hard-hitting portrayal of the Goddess dominating the important male deities of the Hindu pantheon, a central belief of the Mahavidya ideology. She is the savior of all, the Last Refuge

Shodashi, or Tripura-Sundari, is believed to have taken birth to save the gods from the ravages of a mighty and wrathful demon. The tale begins when Shiva burnt down Kama, the god of love, who tried to distract Shiva from his meditation. One of Shiva’s followers then scooped off Kama’s ashes and formed the image of a man out of them. But because he was generated from the ashes of Shiva’s wrath he is transformed into a fierce demon. Intoxicated with his new found power he proceeded to rampage the kingdom of the gods. Apprehending defeat and humiliation, the gods all propitiate Goddess Tripura-Sundari to seek her help. The goddess appears and agrees to help them. Taking the battlefield she heaps a crushing blow on the mighty demon, thus saving the gods. She holds in her hands a pair of bow and arrows. The bow significantly is made of sugarcane, a symbol of sweetness.  One of her epithets is ‘Tripura-Sundari,’ meaning ‘One who is beautiful in the three realms.’

 

 

 

 

d) Bhuvaneshvari – The World Creator

Before anything existed it was the sun which appeared in the heavens. The rishis (sages) offered soma the sacred plant to it so that the world may be created. At that time Shodashi was the main power, or the Shakti through whom the Sun created the three worlds. After the world was created the goddess assumed a form appropriate to the manifested world.

In this form she came to be known as Bhuvaneshvari, literally “Mistress of the World.” Bhuvaneshvari thus remains un-manifest until the world is created. Hence she is primarily related with the visible and material aspect of the created world.

Bhuvaneshvari is associated and identified with the energy underlying creation. She embodies the characteristic dynamics and constituents that make up the world and that lend creation its distinctive character. She is both a part of creation and also pervades it’s aftermath

Bhuvaneshvari’s beauty is mentioned often. She is described as having a radiant complexion and a beautiful face, framed with flowing hair the color of black bees. Her eyes are broad, her lips full and red, her nose delicate. Her firm breasts are smeared with sandal paste and saffron. Her waist is thin, and her thighs, buttocks, and navel are lovely. Her beautiful throat is decorated with ornaments, and her arms are made for embracing. Indeed Shiva is said to have produced a third eye to view her more thoroughly

 

 

e) Chinnamasta – Self Sacrice Goddess

 

One day Parvati went to bathe in the Mandakini River with her two attendants, Jaya and Vijaya. After some time, her two attendants begged her, “We are overpowered with hunger, O Mother of the Universe. Give us food so we may be satisfied, O Merciful One, Bestower of Boons and Fulfiller of Desires.” Hearing this true statement, the merciful goddess smiled and severed her own head.

In visual imagery, Chinnamasta is shown standing on the copulating couple of Kamadeva and Rati, with Rati on the top. They are shown lying on a lotus.

The most common interpretation is one where she is believed to be defeating what Kamadeva and Rati represent, namely sexual desire and energy. In this school of thought she signifies self-control, believed to be the hallmark of a successful yogi.

The decapitation of her own head also suggests that spiritual success and self-control are intrinsically connected with the losing of the head, which is symbolic of the ego. The three spurts of blood may also represent the three main subtle channels, the Ida, Pingala and Sushmana flowing free, and the three somewhat secret Chakras that exist outside of the body, above the head, as opposed to the other 6 which are connected to some point of the body.

 

 

f) Bhairavi – The Goddess of Decay

Creation and Destruction are two essential aspects of the universe, which is continually subject to their alternating rhythms. The two are equally dominant in the world and indeed depend upon each other in symbiotic fashion. Bhairavi embodies the principle of destruction and arises or becomes present when the body declines and decays. Anger, jealousy, and other selfish emotions and actions strengthen Bhairavi’s presence in the world.

She is also identified with Mahapralaya, the great dissolution at the end of a cosmic cycle, during which all things, having been consumed with fire, are dissolved in the formless waters of procreation. She is the force that tends toward dissolution. This force, furthermore, which is actually Bhairavi herself, is present in each person as one gradually ages, weakens and finally dies. Destruction is apparent everywhere, and therefore Bhairavi is present everywhere. A commentary on the Parashurama-kalpasutra says that the name Bhairavi is derived from the words bharana (to create), ramana (to protect), and vamana (to emit or disgorge). The commentator, that is, seeks to discern the inner meaning of Bhairavi’s name by identifying her with the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction

 

 

 

 

 

g) Dhumavati – Window Goddess

Dhumawati is ugly, unsteady, and angry. She is tall and wears dirty clothes. Her ears are ugly and rough, she has long teeth, and her breasts hang down. She has a long nose. She has the form of a widow. She rides in a chariot decorated with the emblem of the crow. Her eyes are fearsome, and her hands tremble. In one hand she holds a winnowing basket, and with the other hand she makes the gesture of conferring boons. Her nature is rude.

The legend behind Dhumawati’s origin says that once, when Shiva’s spouse Sati was dwelling with him in the Himalayas, she became extremely hungry and asked him for something to eat. When he refused to give her food, she said, “Well, then I will just have to eat you.” Thereupon she swallowed Shiva, thus widowing herself. He persuaded her to disgorge him, and when she did so he cursed her, condemning her to assume the form of the widow Dhumawati. This myth underlines Dhumawati’s destructive bent. Her hunger is only satisfied when she consumes Shiva, her husband and who contains within himself the whole world. Ajit Mookerjee, commenting on her perpetual hunger and thirst, which is mentioned in many places, says that she is the embodiment of “unsatisfied desires.” Her status as a widow itself is curious. She makes herself one by swallowing Shiva, an act of self-assertion, and perhaps independence

 

 

h) Bhagalamukhi – The Goddess Who Seizes The Tongue.

The legend behind the origin of goddess Bagalamukhi is said to be originated from a demon named Madan who undertook austerities and won the boon of vak siddhi, according to which anything he said came about. He abused this boon by harassing innocent people. Enraged by his mischief, the gods worshipped Bagalamukhi. She stopped the demon by taking hold of his tongue and stilling his speech.

She is almost always portrayed in this act, holding a club in one hand, with which she is about to strike her enemy, and with the other hand pulling his tongue. In this myth, by stopping the demon’s tongue, she exercises her peculiar power over speech and her power to freeze, stun, or paralyze.

 

 

The pulling of the demon’s tongue by Bagalamukhi is both unique and significant. Tongue, the organ of speech and taste, is often regarded as a lying entity, concealing what is in the mind. The Bible frequently mentions the tongue as an organ of mischief, vanity and deceitfulness. The wrenching of the demon’s tongue is therefore symbolic of the Goddess removing what is in essentiality a perpetrator of evil.

 

 

i) Matangi – Pollution Goddess .

The key to this legend is the essence of the word “Chandala” The Chandalas are believed to constitute the lowest strata of the caste hierarchy in orthodox Hindu belief. Associated with death and impurity they have always survived on the fringes of mainstream society. The Chandala identity is sacralized therefore, in the establishment of Goddess Matangi. This goddess summarizes in herself the polluted and the forbidden.

In one of the lagend , Parvathi is said to disguise herself as Chandalini to attract Shiva. Her body was lean, her eyes wide, and her breasts large.Thus by disguising herself as a Chandalini, Parvati assumes the identity of a very low-caste person, and by being attracted, Shiva allows himself to be identified with her.

Both deities self-consciously and willingly associate themselves with the periphery of Hindu society and culture. The Chandala identity is sacralized therefore, in the establishment of Goddess Matangi. This goddess summarizes in herself the polluted and the forbidden. Some legend also stresses Matangi’s association with leftover food, which is normally considered highly polluting. In some part of India , we find some devotees eat leftover food (uccishtha) as form of vow to Matangi goddess.

 

 

j) Kamala – The Wisdom Goddess.

Kamala as the tenth and last of the Wisdom Goddesses shows the full unfoldment of the power of the Goddess into the material sphere. She is both the beginning and the end of our worship of the goddess. She has a beautiful and golden complexion. She is being bathed by four large elephants who pour jars of nectars over her. In her four hands she holds two lotuses and makes the signs of granting boons and giving assurance.

The name Kamala means “she of the lotus” and is a common epithet of Goddess Lakshmi. Indeed, Kamala is none other than the goddess Lakshmi. Though listed as the last of the Mahavidyas, she is the best known and most popular. Several annual festivals are given in her honor. Of these, the Diwali festival is most widely celebrated. This festival links Lakshmi to three important and interrelated themes: prosperity and wealth, fertility and crops, and good luck during the coming year.

The elephants pouring nectar onto her are symbols of sovereignty and fertility. They convey Kamala’s association with these highly desirable qualities.Though equivalent to Lakshmi, important differences exist when Kamala is included in the group of Mahavidyas. Most strikingly, she is never described or shown accompanying Vishnu, who otherwise is her constant and dominating companion in all representations. In this respect unlike Lakshmi, Kamala is almost entirely removed from marital and domestic contexts. She does not play the role model of a wife in any way, and her association with proper dharmic or social behavior, either as an example of it or as the rewarder of it, is not important in the Mahavidya context.

Here a premium seems to be put on the independence of the goddesses. For the most part, the Mahavidyas are seen as powerful goddesses in their own right. Their power and authority do not derive from association with male deities. Rather, it is their power that pervades the gods and enables them to perform their cosmic functions.

“She has a beautiful golden complexion. She is being bathed by four large elephants who pour jars of nectar over her.

 In her four hands she holds two lotuses and makes the signs of granting boons and giving assurance.

 She wears a resplendent crown and a silken dress. I pay obeisance to Her who is seated on a lotus in a lotus posture.”

We may realize by now that female imagery and women are central to the conception of the Mahavidyas. Iconographically, they are individually shown dominating male deities. Kali and Tara are shown astride Shiva, while others like Shodashi sit on the body of Shiva which in turn rests upon a couch whose legs are four male deities! Most significantly none of the Mahavidyas is shown as the traditional wife or consort. Even Lakshmi, who is widely known for her position as Vishnu’s loyal wife is shown alone. It is also noteworthy that the severed heads that decorate the goddess’s bodies are male, as are the corpses that lie beneath them.

Moreover, since Saktha is related Tantric texts , its always give importance to honoring women. The Kaulavali Tantra says that all women should be looked upon as manifestations of Mahadevi (the Great Goddess). The Nila-tantra says that one should desert one’s parents, guru, and even the deities before insulting a woman.

Other question that we may have is why would one wish to worship a goddess such as Kali, Chinnamasta, Dhumawati, Bhairavi, or a Matangi, each of whom dramatically embodies marginal, polluting, or socially subversive qualities? These goddesses are both frightening and dangerous. They often threaten social order. In their strong associations with death, violence, pollution, and despised marginal social roles, they call into question such normative social “goods” as worldly comfort, security, respect, and honor. The worship of these goddesses suggest that the devotee experiences a refreshing and liberating spirituality in all that is forbidden by established social orders.

The central aim here according to Tantric belief is to stretch one’s consciousness beyond the conventional, to break away from approved social norms, roles, and expectations. By subverting, mocking, or rejecting conventional social norms, the adept seeks to liberate his or her consciousness from the inherited, imposed, and probably inhibiting categories of proper and improper, good and bad, polluted and pure.

Living one’s life according to rules of purity and pollution and caste and class that dictate how, where, and exactly in what manner every bodily function may be exercised, and which people one may, or may not, interact with socially, can create a sense of imprisonment from which one might long to escape. Perhaps the more marginal, bizarre, “outsider” goddesses among the Mahavidyas facilitate this escape. Indeed a mystical adventure, without the experience of which, any spiritual quest would remain incomplete.

God is compassionate thus God cannot be “He” – and is fully “She. “. Many has the perception that Tantra is simply a medieval cult which arose in revolt against the rigid Brahmanical mold and hold on Hindus. What was not known is that the revolt within the existing religious tradition was to re-embody a woman with her inherent power. Thousands of texts were rewritten, and new ones added, to give renewed importance to women and the female principle. Shakti assumes the form of Goddess in every single woman of this world. Not only is each woman a physical incarnation of Shakti, but the very fact that she is born a woman automatically empowers her. In mainstream Hindu writings the female is always inferior and looks upon her husband as pati, “The Lord” but in Tantra tradition, which the fundamental of Saktha worship , the husband is looked to as Sakha, a friend.

In Tantra, transmission of spiritual knowledge from a woman is considered especially potent and sacred. It is called yogini mukha and a classic example of this is Sri Ramakrishna’s learning kundalini yoga from a young yogini.  In Tantra, any woman can become a priestess. In fact, there are less codes for women following the Tantric path than for men. The significance of Mahavidyas goes beyond male domination where we find they are individually shown dominating male deities. Kali and Tara are shown astride Shiva, while others like Shodashi sit on the body of Shiva which in turn rests upon a couch whose legs are four male deities. Most significantly none of the Mahavidyas is shown as the traditional wife or consort. Even Lakshmi, who is widely known for her position as Vishnu’s loyal wife is shown alone. It is also noteworthy that the severed heads that decorate the goddess’s bodies are male, as are the corpses that lie beneath them. Thus it would be a fact that Tantra uplifted the status of women in Hindu society which was dominated by the male ideology. Tantra or Sakthism changed the way Hindus treated women and attached great importance in worshipping Devi.

 

Saktha – Sapta Matrikas

Sapta Matrikas – 7 Mothers are a group of Hindu goddesses who are always depicted together. Since they are usually depicted as a heptad, they are called Saptamatrikas which consist of Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi and Chamunda or Narasimhi. The Matrikas assume paramount significance in the goddess-oriented sect of Sakthism . In Shaktism, they are “described as assisting the great Shakta Devi (goddess) in her fight with demons.

According to great scholar Jagdish Narain Tiwari and Dilip Chakravati, the Matrikas were existent as early as the Vedic period and the Indus Valley civilization. Coins with rows of seven feminine deities is the very proof for the theory.In Rigveda chapter IX 102.4 speaks of a group of seven Mothers who control the preparation of Soma, but the earliest clear description appears in some layers of during the epic Mahabharata which is dated to 1st century AD. Many scholar believes that Matrika description in Mahabharata, is rooted in the group of seven females depicted on Indus valley seals.

The iconographical features of the Matrikas have been described in Hindu scriptures such as Puranas and Agamas and the epic Mahabharata. Puranas like Varaha Purana, Agni Purana,Matsya Purana, Vishnudharmottara Purana and Devi Mahatmya, a part of Markandeya Purana as well as Agamas such as Amsumadbhedagama, Surabhedagama, Purvakarnagama and Rupamandana describe the Matrikas.

The Ashta-Matrika or Ashta-Matara as described in Devi Mahatmya is given below.

Brahmi is the Shakti (power) of the creator god Brahma. She is depicted yellow in colour and with four heads. She may be depicted with four or six arms. Like Brahma, she holds a rosary or noose and kamandalu (water pot) or lotus stalk or a book or bell and is seated on a Hamsa (identified with a swan or goose) as her vahana (mount or vehicle). She is also shown seated on a lotus with the hamsa on her banner. She wears various ornaments and is distinguished by her basket-shaped crown called karaṇḍa mukuṭa.

Vaishnavi  , the power of the preserver-god Vishnu, is described as seated on the Garuda (eagle-man) and having four or six arms. She holds Shankha (conch), chakra (Discus), mace and lotus and bow and sword or her two arms are in varada mudra (Blessing hand gesture) and abhaya mudra (“No-fear” hand gesture). Like Vishnu, she is heavily adorned with ornaments like necklaces, anklets, earrings, bangles etc. and a cylindrical crown called kiriṭa mukuṭa.

Maheshvari is the power of god Shiva, also known as Maheshvara. Maheshvari is also known by the names Raudri, Rudrani and Maheshi, derived from Shiva’s names Rudra and Mahesh. Maheshvari is depicted seated on Nandi (the bull) and has four or six hands. The white complexioned, Trinetra (three eyed) goddess holds a Trishula (trident), Damaru (drum), Akshamala (A garland of beads), Panapatra (drinking vessel) or axe or an antelope or a kapala (skull-bowl) or a serpent and is adorned with serpent bracelets, the crescent moon and the jaṭā mukuṭa (A headdress formed of piled, matted hair).

Indrani or Mahendri is the power of the Indra, the Lord of the heaven. Seated on a charging elephant, Mahendri is depicted dark-skinned, with two or four or six arms. She is depicted as having two or three or like Indra, a thousand eyes. She is armed with the Vajra (thunderbolt), goad, noose and lotus stalk. Adorned with variety of ornaments, she wears the kiriṭa mukuṭa.

Kaumarī is the power of Kumara , the god of war. Kumari rides a peacock and has four or twelve arms. She holds a spear, axe, a Shakti (power) or Tanka (silver coins) and bow. She is sometimes depicted six-headed like Kumara and wears the cylindrical crown.

Varahi is described as the power of Varaha – the boar-headed form of Vishnu or Yama – the god of death, has a boar head on a human body and rides a ram or a buffalo. She holds a Danda (rod of punishment) or plough, goad, a Vajra or a sword, and a Panapatra. Sometimes, she carries a bell, chakra, chamara (a yak’s tail) and a bow. She wears a crown called karaṇḍa mukuṭa with other ornaments.

Chamunda who is also known as Chamundi and Charchika is the power of Devi (Chandi). She is very often identified with Kali and is similar in her appearance and habit.The identification with Kali is explicit in Devi Mahatmya.The black coloured Chamunda is described as wearing a garland of severed heads or skulls (Mundamala) and holding a Damaru, trishula, sword and panapatra. Riding a jackal or standing on a corpse of a man , she is described as having three eyes, a terrifying face and a sunken belly.

Saktha – The Sakthi Pithams 

According to legend, at some time in the Satya Yuga, Daksha performed a yagna (named Vrihaspati) with a desire of taking revenge on Lord Shiva. Daksha was angry because his daughter Sati had married the ‘yogi’ God Shiva against his wish. Daksha invited all the deities to the yagna except for Shiva and Sati. The fact that she was not invited did not deter Sati from attending the yagna. She had expressed her desire to attend to Shiva who had tried his best to dissuade her from going. Shiva eventually allowed her to go escorted by his followers.

But Sati, being an uninvited guest, was not given any respect. Furthermore, Daksha insulted Shiva. Sati was unable to bear her father’s insults toward her husband, so Dākshāyani (the other name of Sati meaning the daughter of Daksha) invoked her yogic powers and immolated herself.

Enraged at the insult and the injury, Shiva destroyed Daksha’s sacrifice, then he picked up the remains of Sati’s body, and danced the dance of destruction through the Universe. The other gods intervened to stop this dance, and the Vishnu’s disk, or Sudarshana Chakra, cut through the corpse of Sati. The various parts of the body fell at several spots all through the Indian subcontinent and formed sites which are known as Shakti Peethas today. Out of 52 sakthi peethas , the 4 athi sakthi peethas are highly regarded sacred and divine.

Some of the great religious texts like the Shiva Purana, the Devi Bhagavat the Kalika Purana and the AstaShakti recognize four major Shakti Peethas – Inside the Jagannath temple of Puri , Tara Tarini near Berhampur, Kamakshi near Kanchipuram and Dakhina Kalika near West Bengal. These are mentioned clearly in the Astashakti and Kalika Purana:

 Bimala Pada khandancha,

Sthana khandancha Tarini (Tara Tarini),

Kamakshya Yoni khandancha,

Mukha khandancha Kalika (Dakshina Kalika)

However due to many interpretations of sastras and locations of sakthi peethas , writer seem to dispute on total numbers of sakthi peethas. First relating to Brahmanda Purana, one of the major eighteen Puranas, it mentions 64 Shakthi Peeta of Goddess Parvati in India . However as author, it must come to evidence that the location mentioned by Jagat Guru Athi Sankara in Sakthi Peetha Stotram could throw light to the modern city and it’s affiliation to sakthi peetham.

Shakthi Peetha Stotram by Adi Shankara containes 18 Maha Sakthi Peetham as follows :

Among these, the Shakti Peethas at Kamakhya, Gaya and Ujjain are regarded as most sacred as they symbolise three most important aspects of mother Goddess viz. Creation (Kamarupa Devi), Nourishment (Sarvamangala Devi/Mangalagauri) and Annihilation (Mahakali Devi). When observed carefully one can see that they lie in a perfect straight line from Kamakhya to Ujjain via Gaya symbolizing that every creation in this universe will annihilate one day without fail.

Saktha – Brief Ideology 

As mentioned previously , Saktha religion will still fall into the main fold of Hinduism which mean they still abide to general ideology of Veda. The meaning of Veda is not commonly rightly understood. But this is a vast subject which underlies all others, touching as it does the seat of all authority and knowledge. There are four main classes of Brahmanical Scripture, namely, Veda or Shruti, Smriti, Purana, and Agama. There are also four ages or Yugas the scriptures and duties are linked to each other. Kalpa or Day of Brahma of 4,320,000,000 years in which this period is the life of an universe, on the expiration of which all re-enters Brahman and thereafter issues from it.

A Mahayuga is composed of the Four Ages called Satya, Treta, Dvapara, Kali, the first being the golden age of righteousness.For each of the ages a suitable Shastra is given. For Satya or Krita the Vedas, for Treta the Smritishastra, for Dvapara the Puranas, and for Kaliyuga the Agama or Tantra Shastra. So the Kularnava Tantra says:

Krite shrutyukta acarastretayam smriti-sambhavah

Dvapare tu puranoktah, kalavagamasammatah

As previously mentioned , Tha Sakthas are the worshipper of Shakti   , that is, God in Mother-form as the Supreme Power which creates, sustains and withdraws the universe. A Saktha rule of life is Sakthadharma, his doctrine of Sakthi is Sakthivada or Saktha Darshana. God is worshipped as the Great Mother because, in this aspect, God is active, and produces, nourishes, and maintains all. God is Mother to the Sadhaka who worships Her Lotus Feet, the dust on which are millions of universes. The Power, or active aspect of the immanent God, is thus called Sakthi. In Her static transcendent aspect the Mother , manifest as Shiva , the  unchanging Consciousness, and Sakthi is its changing Power appearing as mind and matter. Shiva-Sakthi is therefore Consciousness and Its Power. This then is the doctrine of dual aspects of the one Brahman acting through Its Trinity of Powers which is Iccha (Will) , Jyana, (Knowledge) and Kriya (Action).

Saktha Darshana is therefore a form of Monism – Advaita. In creation an effect is produced without change in the Producer. In creation Sakthi “goes forth” –Prasharati  in a series of emanations or transformations, which are called, in the Saktha Tantras, the 36 Tattvas. These mark the various stages through which Shiva-Sakthi  presents itself as object to itself as subject, and then through the operations of Maya Sakthi as different from the Self. This is the final stage in which every Self or Purusha is mutually exclusive of every other. Maya, which achieves this, is one of the Powers of the Mother or Devi. This Maya Sakthi assumes the form of Prakriti Tattva, which is composed of three Gunas or Factors called Sattva, Rajas, Tamas. The function of Prakriti is to veil, limit, or finitize pure infinite formless Consciousness, so as to produce form, for without such limitation there cannot be the appearance of form. These Gunas work by mutual suppression.

The function of Tamas is to veil Consciousness, of Sattva to reveal it, and of Rajas the active principle to make either Tamas suppress Sattva or Sattva suppress Tamas. These Gunas are present in all particular existence, as in the general cause or Prakriti Sakthi. Evolution means the increased operation of Sattva Guna. Thus the mineral world is more subject to Tamas than the rest. There is less Tamas and more Sattva in the vegetable world. In the animal world Sattva is increased, and still more so in man, who may rise through the cultivation of the Sattva Guna to Pure Consciousness (Moksha) Itself. A truly Sattvik man is therefore a spiritual man. The aim of Sadhana is therefore the cultivation of the Sattva Guna. Thus the upward or revealing movement from the predominance of Tamas to that of Sattva represents the spiritual progress of the embodied Spirit or Jivatma.

Those, who have rid themselves of all self-regarding desire and work selflessly or being Nishkama Karma realize the Devi’s nature which is Saccidananda. Such are liberated, that is never appear again in the World of Form, which is the world of suffering, and enter into the infinite ocean of Bliss Itself. This is Moksha or Mukti or Liberation. As it is freedom from the universe of form, it can only be attained through detachment from the world and desirelessness. For those who desire the world of form cannot be freed of it. Life, therefore, is a field in which man, who has gradually ascended through lower forms of mineral, vegetable and animal life, is given the opportunity of heaven-life and Liberation. The universe has a moral purpose, namely the affording to all existence of a field wherein it may reap the fruit of its actions. The forms of life are therefore the stairs (Sopana) on which man mounts to the state of infinite, eternal, and formless bliss. This then is the origin and the end of man. He has made for himself his own past and present condition and will make his future one. His essential nature is free. If wise, he adopts the means (Sadhana) which lead to lasting happiness, for that of the world is not to be had by all, and even when attained is perishable and mixed with suffering. This Sadhana consists of various means and disciplines employed to produce purity of mind (Cittashuddhi), and devotion to, and worship of, the Magna Mater of all. It is with these means that the religious Tantra Shastras are mainly concerned. The Saktha Tantra Shastra contains a most elaborate and wonderful ritual, partly its own, partly of Vaidik origin. To a ritualist it is of absorbing interest. A step by step manual that will gradually ascend a Saktha from lower form worship to formless bliss.

The Maha Meru, or Sri Meru Chakra, is a three-dimensional projection of the great yantra known as Sri Chakra, said to be the Mother of all Mandalas. The sublime geometry of the Sri Chakra is revealed wisdom.

It is not of human origin. It is nothing less than the genetic code of the Cosmos. It is intelligent. As one commentator aptly explained, Sri Chakra is the technology of the Absolute. Every yantric shape emits a very specific frequency and energy pattern. Sri Chakra is said to contain within itself the essence of all other yantras, and thus it contains the essence of all traditions. Certain powers, for example, are ascribed to the sixpointed Star of David, the Christian cross, the five-pointed star, the Egyptian and Meso-American pyramids, and so on. The Meru’s particular configuration is revered in all Eastern traditions: It integrates the essence of Indian Mother Goddess worship, Mahayana Buddhism, Chinese feng shui, the Eleusinian mysteries of the Ancient Greeks, and so much more. Once received from a proper and well-intentioned Guru, the Maha Meru can bring unbounded happiness and every good thing in life.

In its Maha Meru form, Sri Chakra radiates an aura of Love and Order, literally creating a sacred space around itself. Wherever it is placed, it brings order, peace, happiness, health, and wealth – in short, everything that is needed. Just keeping it in one’s home will confer great blessings, because the Meru subtly connects itself to the other major yantras in the world. Its mere presence is said to cleanse the home of defects under both the vaastu and feng shui systems; to ward off and neutralize negative energies and the “evil eye”; to protect against unfavorable planetary influences; and to bring about healing, prosperity and peace of mind.

People of all beliefs, religions and sects may reap the benefits of peace, healing and prosperity by installing the Maha Meru in their homes, offices, shrines and places of worship, as well as in hospitals, healing centers, prayer halls and wedding centers. It may be given as a loving and auspicious gift for newlywed couples embarking on their lives together, for adult children setting out on their own, for friends and relatives moving into a new home or embarking on a new endeavor; even as a corporate gift from employers to valued employees – in each case, it will empower the recipient in every possible way.

For Hindus particularly Sakthas  , Meru is worshiped as the source of the Cosmos and of all power. It creates and sustains the entire Cosmos, and we should therefore strive to understand, worship and realize this power and intelligence that runs the world. The Khadgamala yoginis emanate like rays from Sri Lalita, the Maha-Devi at Sri Meru’s center. All gods worship Her power in order to share it and to do good; all demons worship Her power in order to loot and exploit. The Meru is one form of the power and beauty found in the principles of geometry and symmetry that govern the world. Aspects of Her immense powers are variously called Yoga-Maya, Durga, Kali, Vaishnavi, Chandika, Lakshmi, Saraswati, and so on; like the fruits of a wish-fulfilling tree.

Various scriptures – such as the Shakti Upanishads, the Brahmanda Purana, the Sri Chakra Samhita, the Sri Chakra Yoga Sara, the Sri Chakrartha Sara and others mention very clearly and in a single voice that merely seeing the Sri Chakra washes away all sins and grants auspiciousness. A mere touch burns away sin like a wad of cotton wool consumed by a fire. Even if one does no puja, just keeping it in the home attracts all good to the home. And if one worships the Supreme Power in the Meru with devotion, there remains no desire unfulfilled; one experiences infinite enjoyment, both here and in the hereafter. People of all castes and religions, especially women, may – without the slightest doubt – keep it in their homes and worship it in any way they can. There is no siddhi that cannot be attained by regular worship of a faultless Meru.

The form of Devipuram’s Maha Meru is both beautiful and deeply significant. Its every curve and line is charged with layer upon layer of wisdom and meaning. As a first step toward gradually fathoming these depths, its important for anyone to look at the structure of meru. We may note that it is comprised of nine avaranas (enclosures or divisions). Each of these successive avaranas has its own distinct shape, name and guardian deities. Each is raised in graded elevations, with those lower and closest to the outer edges being the Devi’s more tangible and concrete manifestations, and those higher and closer to the center becoming progressively more subtle and transcendent in nature.

The ground-level enclosure of Sri Chakra is known as the Bhupura; literally, the earthworks, as would surround an ancient walled city. It is visualized as a square chaturasra consisting of three parallel lines or walls, one inside the other.

Each side of this enclosing square has a door or portal at its midpoint, through which one may visualize entry into the Meru’s precincts.

 

The concentric circles or girdles shall be as follows :

  • The Trailokya Mohana Chakra or “Wheel Enchanting the Three Worlds.” Inside these three circles rise, in successive levels:
  • The Sarvasa Paripuraka Chakra or “Wheel Fulfilling All Desires,” consisting of Sixteen Lotus Petals;
  • The Sarva Sanksobhana Chakra or “Wheel Agitating/Churning All,” consisting of Eight Lotus Petals;
  • The Sarva Saubhagyadayaka Chakra or “Wheel Granting All Auspiciousness,” consisting of Fourteen Triangles (Chaturdasa Kona)
  • The Sarvartha Sadhaka Chakra or “Wheel Accomplishing All Purposes,” consisting of Ten Triangles (the so-called Outer Dasara)
  • The Sarva Raksakara Chakra or “Wheel Granting All Protection,” consisting of Ten Triangles (the so-called Inner Dasara);
  • The Sarva Rogahara Chakra or “Wheel Removing All Diseases,” consisting of Eight Triangles (the Ashta Kona);
  • The Sarva Siddhiprada Chakra or “Wheel Granting All Powers,” consisting of the Inverted Primary Triangle (the Trikona); and finally
  • The Sarvanandamaya Chakra or “Wheel of Complete Bliss,” which is the peak (koota) of the Universe – or the yantra’s Maha-Bindu.

Bindu in Sanskrit means point or center; it also means seed or drop. A drop contains forces, the interplay of gravity and surface tension, which emanate from its center and hold it in a spherical shape. Thus, the concept of Bindu encompasses not only the center but also that which surrounds the center. Maha means Great or Eternal. Thus the term Maha-Bindu indicates the Great or Eternal Point; the Seed of all Creation, as yet unmanifest. The sage Punyananda explained in his Kamakalavilasa that the supreme nature of the Sri Chakra is fully contained in the Bindu – that it is the cause of the nine successive avaranas and the source of the initial phonic emanations of Shakti as Brahman.

One modern adept states it thus: “The Bindu alone is the Sri Chakra. All the rest is just an addition. The Bindu is the true form of Shiva and Shakti since it is One, and naturally the whole chakra is within it. Everything is contained in the Bindu.” This Maha-Bindu is also identified with the body’s uppermost yogic center, the Sahasrara Chakra – the Thousand-Petaled Wheel at the crown of the skull. It further corresponds to the seat or throne (peetha) of the Maha-Devi Sri Lalita, located in the city of Tripura atop Mount Meru at the center of the Universe. As the great sage Bhaskararaya wrote in Saubhagyabhaskara, his authoritative commentary on the Sri Lalita Sahasranama:

Outside and beyond the countless myriads of world systems, in the center of the Ocean of Nectar, upon the Isle of Gems (Ratna-Dvipa), more than tens of millions of miles in extent, there rises the supreme city of Srividya  , Sri Nagaram , which is called “ Sri Chakra Samragya”.