Shakta Tradition (Shaktism )

Shakts are the devotees of Shakti or Mother Goddess. The goddess is generally called Devi. Almost all Hindus worship the goddess in some form or the other and even Vaishnavism and Shaivism. Incorporate her as the consorts or Shakti of their male deifies. Most of the ideology of Shaktism comes from Shaivism. Shiva embodies the male principle and Shakti embodies the female one, and thus the two principles are complementary . Shakta tradition considers Shakti as the Supreme Being, as divine power. It is the female energy, a dynamic aspect, creative principle that expresses in different forms and names.

Goddess tradition in India can be traced back to pre-historic times, if the various female figurines found in excavations at Mohenjo-Daro (2500 BC-2000 BC ) can be taken as being used for rituals. There were numerous local goddesses in villages in ancient times throughout the country and vollage goddesses (gram devata) of present day India are descendents of those ancient traditions. Rig Veda has some hymns for goddesses, such as Vaksuktas (hymn to  the goddess of speech, called Vak). Originally, the goddess traditions  were considerd to be for the low  castes at village level, but gradually it became absorbed in Brahminical tradition as evidenced in various scriptures, like epics (Mahabharata and  Ramayana ) and Puranas. It led to the establishment of the notion of Mahadevi, the Great Goddess, having several names, such as Devi, Durga, Kali Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parvati, Chamunda, and Chandika etc.

Glories of the Goddess are narrated in a scripture called Devimahatmya, a part of Markandeya Purana dating back to 5th and 6th century AD. The great Goddess is depicted as a personification of Prakriti, which is the force or power (Shakti) of all activities in the Universe. Upanishads mention that Prakriti, the primordial and active power in all creation is made up of three threads called gunas –Sattva (pure thought) Rajas (pure energy) and  Tamas (pure material stuff ) Thus the great Goddess shows herself in three creative modalities, namely Mahasaraswati (Pure sattva, the goddess of learning and thought ) , Mahalakshmi (pure rajas, the goddess of energy , prosperity, and productivity ) and Mahakali (pure tamas, the goddess of finite manifestations, the goddess of endings, and the goddess of destruction of evils ) This concept of the great Goddess gets assimilated in the two main theological traditions, Vaishnavism and Shaivism . Mahalakshmi is believed to be the consort  of Brahma, Mahalakshmi is the consort of Vishnu , while Mahakali, variously identified as Parvati, Uma, Devi , Durga and Kali is the consort of Shiva .

The myth of Durga, mentioned earlier in Chapter  Three of this book, as being the deity in whose honour the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated is described in Devimahatmya. Another scripture called Devibhagavata Purana places Goddess as the Absolute source of the cosmos and the Ultimate Reality, or the ultimate manifestation of Brahman.

The great Goddess appears to be dramatically ambivalent. On one hand , she is the source of life a benevolent mother , and on the other hand she is a terrible malevolent force, demanding offerings of blood, meat and alcohol to please ger. These features are well represented in the icon of Kali, She has four arms. In her raised upper left hand she holds a sword, and in her lower left hand a severed head. In her upper right hand, she makes the positive hand gesture (Abhaya  Mudra ) and with her lower right hand she exhibits the gesture known as gift giving (Varada Mudra) Hence Kali s  left side depicts her destructive power and the right side depicts her  benevolent and life giving power. She wears s garland of skulls around her neck and a girdle of severed hands around her waist . Her tongue is hanging out and dripping with blood. She is also depicted as dancing on the corpse of Shiva . The corpse has an erect phallus, suggesting that the God is not really dead, but being enlivenend by the incredible power of the Goddess dancing on his body. Thus, Kali is the power or Shakti of the male deity Shiva. In other words, Shiva  without the Shakti is  like a  Shava  or a corpse.

Interestingly, Devimahatmya offers  three different origins of Kali . First is , that Kali was formed from ear wax of Vishnu, to destroy the, demons trying to attack him while asleep in the cosmic ocean. Second is that Kali was generated as Durga from the energies of the male deities to kill the buffalo –demon Mahishasur. Third is, that she was born from the forehead of  Durga when she was struggling against the demons Chanda and Munda. Every drop of blood from these demons which fell on the ground immediately replicated into another demon. Kali who emerged from Durga s forehead , proceeded to drink each drop of blood before it dropped on the ground so that the demons (power of evil) could no longer replicate.

37 thoughts on “Shakta Tradition (Shaktism )

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