Shaktism regards Devi (lit., 'the Goddess') as the Supreme Brahman itself, 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 Shaivism. However, Shaktas (Sanskrit: , शाक्त), 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 usually relegated to an auxiliary role.Subramuniyaswami, p. 1211.
Over the course of its history, Shaktism has inspired great works of Sanskrit literature and Hindu philosophy, and it continues to strongly influence popular Hinduism today. Shaktism is practiced throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond, in numerous forms, both Tantric and non-Tantric; however, its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (lit., family of Sri), strongest in South India, and the Kalikula (family of Kali), which prevails in northern and eastern India.
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."Subramanian, p. 1. This is the fundamental tenet of ShaktismDikshitar, p. 85., as emphasized in the widely known image of the goddess Kali striding atop the seemingly lifeless body of Shiva.
Broadly speaking, Shakti is considered to be the cosmos itself – she is the embodiment of energy and dynamism, and the motivating force behind all action and existence in the material universe. Shiva is her transcendent masculine aspect, providing the divine ground of all being. "There is no Shiva without Shakti, or Shakti without Shiva. The two ... in themselves are One."Subramanian, p. ix.
As expressed by the historian V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar (here referring to Shiva as Brahman),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." "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 himself. In the Devi-Bhagavata Purana, a central Shakta scripture, the Devi declares:
"I am Manifest Divinity, Unmanifest Divinity, and Transcendent Divinity. I am Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, as well as Saraswati, Lakshmi and 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" 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.
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 practice ( sadhana) involving mantra, yantra, nyasa, mudra and certain elements of traditional kundalini yoga, all practiced under the guidance of a qualified guru after due initiation ( diksha) and oral instruction to supplement various written sources.Brooks(a), pp. 47-72.
In its social interactions, Shakta 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 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 ritual practices, 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 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'," 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 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, goddess cults, any attempt to distance Shakta Tantrism from the Sanskritic Hindu traditions ... will lead us astray."Brooks(a), p. xii.
With the many names used to refer to her – Devī, Caṇḍikā, Ambikā, Kālī, and a profusion of others – it is easy to forget that the Devi is indeed one. In, the Devi reveals that she is one without a second, saying, "I am alone here in the world. Who else is there besides me?" Following this proclamation of divine unity, which has been called the mahāvākya, or great dictum of Devīmāhātmya, she explains that all other are but projections of her power, as are all the other forms she inhabits.Kali, p.149.
The primary Devi form worshiped by a Shakta is his or her ishta-devi. The selection of this deity 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. 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:
The majority of the worship is to Durga or Kali. Durga as such is rarely worshiped, Durga is rather a general terminology for mother goddess, mostly her deity are worshiped in temple the name of Bhagavathy or Mahadevi (A generalized term used in temples for worshiping Mother Goddess)etc. In that, most of the temples for doing rites assume certain forms of Durga as the deity, E.g. The Bhagavathy Temple of Kanyakumari is a Durga or Devi temple, but the Sankalpa is that of Devi Kathyayani. Any of the Navadurga is considered as Sankalpa while worshiping Devi Durga. The Navadurga are Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Kathyayini, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, Siddhidaatri; these are the forms of Durga for worshiping. Kali is directly worshiped as such in the form of Bhadrakali (Translation: Mahamaya Kali ('Bha' means delution or maya and 'dra' is a superlative means the most or the mightiest))http://sanskritdictionary.com/ in south India and Maha Kali in Bengal region.
Other major goddess groups include 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", and the 64 .Bhattacharyya(a), p. 126.
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 Bhattacharyya(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 SaundaryalahariBhattacharyya(a), p. 124. and the Tantras.Bhattacharyya(a), p. 154.
Elements of Shaktism – most notably, the ubiquity of goddess worship in some form – has infused popular Hinduism.Bhattacharyya(a), pp. 203-204. Its pervasive influence on the religion is also reflected in 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.
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 Mata following 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. Linda Johnsen in 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism' 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.
The Srikula's best-known school is Srividya, "one of Shakta Tantrism's most influential and theologically sophisticated movements." Its central symbol, 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 largely views the Goddess as "benign saumya and beautiful saundarya" (in contrast to Kalikula's focus on "terrifying ugra and horrifying ghora goddess forms such as Kali or Durga). In Srikula practice, moreover, every aspect of the Goddess – whether malignant or gentle – is identified with Lalita.Brooks(b), pp. 59-60.
Srikula adepts most often worship Lalita using the abstract Sri Chakra yantra, which is regarded as her subtle form. The Sri Chakra can be visually rendered either as a two-dimensional diagram (whether drawn temporarily as part of the worship ritual, or permanently engraved 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 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 8th century in central India,White, p. 219. and its most revered theorist is the 18th-century philosopher Bhaskararaya, widely considered "the best exponent of Shakta philosophy."(a)Bhattacharyya, p. 209.
The Samaya or Samayacharya finds its roots in the work of the 16th-century commentator Lakshmidhara, and is "fiercely puritanical in attempts to reform Tantric practice in ways that bring it in line with high-caste brahmanical norms."Brooks(a), p. 28. Many Samaya practitioners explicitly deny being either Shakta or Tantric, though scholars argues that their cult remains technically both. The Samaya-Kaula division marks "an old dispute within Hindu Tantrism," and one that is vigorously debated to this day.Active (and non-commercial) discussions of Samaya theory can be found at the Sri Rajarajeshwari Kripa, while lively (and also non-commercial) Kaula discussions take place at the Shakti Sadhana website and its associated mailing list.
The main deities of Kalikula are Kali, Chandi and Durga. Other goddesses that enjoy veneration are Tara and all the other Mahavidyas as well as regional goddesses such as Manasa, the snake goddess, and Sitala, the smallpox goddess – all of them, again, considered aspects of the Divine Mother.
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 Durga Puja. Worship may involve contemplation of the devotee's union with or love of the goddess, visualization of her form, chanting of mantras, prayer before her image or yantra, and giving of offerings."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 yogic and tantric than devotional, and they often involve sitting alone at the cremation ground, surrounded by ash and bone. There are shamanic elements 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.
While Hindus of all denominations celebrate the autumn Navratri festival, Shaktas also celebrate two additional Navratris – one in the spring and one in the summer. The spring festival is known as Vasanta Navaratri or Chaitra Navatri, and celebrated in the Hindu month of Chaitra (March/April). Srividya lineages dedicate this festival to Devi's form as the goddess Lalita. The summer festival is called Ashada Navaratri, as it is held during the Hindu month of Ashadha (June/July). The hugely popular Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu observes its major Navaratri celebration during this period."About Vasanta Navratri," About Hinduism. Ashada Navaratri, on the other hand, is considered particularly auspicious for devotees of the boar-headed goddess Varahi, one of the seven Matrikas named in the Devi Mahatmya."Regaling Varahi with different 'alankarams' in 'Ashada Navaratri'," July 24, 2007, The Hindu.
Jagaddhatri Puja 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.
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," Saraswati Pooja.
Major Shakta temple festivals are Meenakshi Kalyanam and Ambubachi Mela. Meenakshi Kalyanam observes the auspicious occasion of Devi's marriage (as Meenakshi) to Lord Sundareshwara (Shiva) is centered around the Meenakshi Amman Temple in 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", 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." Boloji.com
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 consorts."Bhattacharyya(a), p. 171.
"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 sic 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.
Scholars variously attribute such criticism to ignorance, misunderstanding or sectarian bias on the part of some observers, as well as unscrupulous practices by some Shaktas. "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.
Within Hinduism, it is not uncommon to encounter assertions that the Shaiva and Vaishnava schools of Hinduism lead to moksha, or spiritual liberation, whereas Shaktism leads only to siddhis (occult powers) and bhukti (material enjoyments) – or, at best, to Shaivism. For example, the late Shaiva leader Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami taught that worship of the feminine manifest is merely a vehicle for reaching the masculine unmanifest, or Parasiva. Subramuniya's successor, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, recently published an essay on different Hindu approaches to God that did not discuss Shaktism at all.Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, "Who Is the Greatest God?," Hinduism Today.
Shakta theologians counter that each of the Divine Mother's forms is a Brahma Vidya, or self-contained path to supreme wisdom. The sadhaka of any one of these goddess forms "attains ultimately, if his aspiration is such, the supreme purpose of life – Self-realisation and God-realisation."Shankarnarayanan(a), p. 5. Mataji Devi Vanamali of the Vanamali ashram in Rishikesh summarizes the Shakta position as follows:
"In her transcendental aspect she is Prakriti, the form of the absolute Brahman. Therefore, when we worship the Divine Mother, we are not only offering adoration to the supreme in its aspect of motherhood but also adoring the supreme absolute. She is that aspect of the supreme power by whose grace alone we shall ultimately released from the darkness of ignorance and the bondage of maya and taken to the abode of immortal knowledge, immortality, and bliss."Vanamali, p. 10.
Shaktism has also become a focus of some Western spiritual seekers attempting to construct new Goddess-centered faiths.For example, "Shakti Wicca" and 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 cultural appropriation.
Some writers and thinkers, "notably feminists and participants in New Age spirituality who are attracted to goddess worship", have explored Kali in a new light. She is considered a "symbol of wholeness and healing, associated especially with repressed female power and sexuality." These new interpretations mainly originate in "feminist sources, almost none of which base their interpretations on a close reading of Kali's Indian background," and tend to demonstrate the difficulty of "importing the worship of a goddess from another culture ... 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 is 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 superseded in the West, as well as the Near and Middle East, with the rise of the :
"Of these 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.