Shaktism
Overview
Shaktism is a denomination
Hindu denominations
Hinduism comprises numerous sects or denominations. The denominations are roughly comparable to different religions. The main divisions in current Hinduism are Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism...

 of Hinduism
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 that focuses worship upon Shakti
Shakti
Shakti from Sanskrit shak - "to be able," meaning sacred force or empowerment, is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes...

or Devi
Devi
Devī is the Sanskrit word for Goddess, used mostly in Hinduism, its related masculine term is deva. Devi is synonymous with Shakti, the female aspect of the divine, as conceptualized by the Shakta tradition of Hinduism. She is the female counterpart without whom the male aspect, which represents...

– the Hindu Divine Mother
Divine Mother
Divine Mother or Mother Divine may refer to*Adi parashakti, a goddess of Hindu Mythology*Blessed Virgin Mary, of Roman Catholicism religion*Father Divine, an American religious leader active in the 1930s, and either of his wives:** Edna Rose Ritchings...

 – as the absolute, ultimate Godhead. It is, along with Shaivism
Shaivism
Shaivism is one of the four major sects of Hinduism, the others being Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. Followers of Shaivism, called "Shaivas," and also "Saivas" or "Saivites," revere Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer,...

 and Vaisnavism, one of the primary schools of devotional Hinduism.

Shaktism regards Devī (lit., 'the Goddess') as the Supreme Brahman
Brahman
In Hinduism, Brahman is the one supreme, universal Spirit that is the origin and support of the phenomenal universe. Brahman is sometimes referred to as the Absolute or Godhead which is the Divine Ground of all being...

 itself, the "one without a second", with all other forms of divinity, female or male, considered to be merely her diverse manifestations.
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Shaktism is a denomination
Hindu denominations
Hinduism comprises numerous sects or denominations. The denominations are roughly comparable to different religions. The main divisions in current Hinduism are Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism...

 of Hinduism
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 that focuses worship upon Shakti
Shakti
Shakti from Sanskrit shak - "to be able," meaning sacred force or empowerment, is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes...

or Devi
Devi
Devī is the Sanskrit word for Goddess, used mostly in Hinduism, its related masculine term is deva. Devi is synonymous with Shakti, the female aspect of the divine, as conceptualized by the Shakta tradition of Hinduism. She is the female counterpart without whom the male aspect, which represents...

– the Hindu Divine Mother
Divine Mother
Divine Mother or Mother Divine may refer to*Adi parashakti, a goddess of Hindu Mythology*Blessed Virgin Mary, of Roman Catholicism religion*Father Divine, an American religious leader active in the 1930s, and either of his wives:** Edna Rose Ritchings...

 – as the absolute, ultimate Godhead. It is, along with Shaivism
Shaivism
Shaivism is one of the four major sects of Hinduism, the others being Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. Followers of Shaivism, called "Shaivas," and also "Saivas" or "Saivites," revere Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer,...

 and Vaisnavism, one of the primary schools of devotional Hinduism.

Shaktism regards Devī (lit., 'the Goddess') as the Supreme Brahman
Brahman
In Hinduism, Brahman is the one supreme, universal Spirit that is the origin and support of the phenomenal universe. Brahman is sometimes referred to as the Absolute or Godhead which is the Divine Ground of all being...

 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: , ), practitioners of Shaktism, focus most or all worship on Shakti, as the dynamic feminine aspect of the Supreme Divine. Shiva
Shiva
Shiva is a major Hindu deity, and is the destroyer god or transformer among the Trimurti, the Hindu Trinity of the primary aspects of the divine. God Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power lives a life of a...

, the masculine aspect of divinity, is considered solely transcendent
Transcendence (religion)
In religion transcendence refers to the aspect of God's nature which is wholly independent of the physical universe. This is contrasted with immanence where God is fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways...

, and his worship is usually relegated to an auxiliary role.

The roots of Shaktism penetrate deep into India's prehistory. From the Goddess's earliest known appearance in Indian paleolithic settlements more than 22,000 years ago, through the refinement of her cult in the Indus Valley Civilization
Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that was located in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, consisting of what is now mainly modern-day Pakistan and northwest India...

, her partial eclipse during the Vedic period
Vedic period
The Vedic period was a period in history during which the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, were composed. The time span of the period is uncertain. Philological and linguistic evidence indicates that the Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedas, was composed roughly between 1700–1100 BCE, also...

, and her subsequent resurfacing and expansion in the classical Sanskrit tradition, it has been suggested that, in many ways, "the history of the Hindu tradition can be seen as a reemergence of the feminine."

Over the course of its history
History of Shaktism
The roots of Shaktism – a Hindu denomination that focuses worship upon Shakti or Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother – penetrate deeply into India's prehistory...

, Shaktism has inspired great works of Sanskrit literature
Sanskrit literature
Literature in Sanskrit begins with the Vedas, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India; the golden age of Classical Sanskrit literature dates to late Antiquity . Literary production saw a late bloom in the 11th century before declining after 1100 AD...

 and Hindu philosophy
Hindu philosophy
Hindu philosophy is divided into six schools of thought, or , which accept the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures. Three other schools do not accept the Vedas as authoritative...

, and it continues to strongly influence popular Hinduism today. Shaktism is practiced throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond, in countless forms, both Tantric
Tantra
Tantra , anglicised tantricism or tantrism or tantram, is the name scholars give to an inter-religious spiritual movement that arose in medieval India, expressed in scriptures ....

 and non-Tantric; however, its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (lit., family of Sri
Tripura Sundari
Tripurasundarĩ or Mahã-Tripurasundarĩ , also called Śoḍaṣĩ , Lalitã and Rãjarãjeśvarĩ , is one of the group of ten goddesses of Hindu belief, collectively called Mahavidyas.As Shodashi,...

), strongest in South India
South India
South India is the area encompassing India's states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, occupying 19.31% of India's area...

, and the Kalikula (family of Kali
Kali
' , also known as ' , is the Hindu goddess associated with power, shakti. The name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, lord of death, Shiva. Kali means "the black one". Since Shiva is called Kāla - the eternal time, Kālī, his consort, also means "Time" or "Death" . Hence, Kāli is...

), which prevails in northern and eastern India.

Shakti and Shiva

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
Adi Shankara
Adi Shankara Adi Shankara Adi Shankara (IAST: pronounced , (Sanskrit: , ) (788 CE - 820 CE), also known as ' and ' was an Indian philosopher from Kalady of present day Kerala who consolidated the doctrine of advaita vedānta...

's renowned Shakta hymn, Saundaryalahari
Saundaryalahari
The Soundarya Lahari meaning "Waves Of Beauty" is a famous literary work in Sanskrit believed to be written by sage Pushpadanta and Adi Shankara. Its hundred and three shlokas eulogize the beauty, grace and munificence of Goddess Parvati / Dakshayani, consort of Shiva.The Soundarya Lahari is not...

(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.
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."

As expressed by the historian V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar (here referring to Shiva as Brahman), "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." In religious art, this cosmic dynamic is powerfully expressed in the half-Shakti, half-Shiva deity known as Ardhanari
Ardhanari
Ardhanarishvara , is a composite androgynous form of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort Parvati . Ardhanarishvara is depicted as half male and half female, split down the middle...

.

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
Devi-Bhagavata Purana
Devi-Bhagavata Purana , also known as Shrimad Devi Bhagvatam or Devi Bhagavatam, is one of the most important work in Shaktism, the veneration in Hinduism of the divine feminine, next to Devi Mahatmya...

, a central Shakta scripture, the Devi declares:

"I am Manifest Divinity, Unmanifest Divinity, and Transcendent Divinity. I am Brahma
Brahma
Brahma is the Hindu god of creation and one of the Trimurti, the others being Vishnu and Shiva. According to the Brahma Purana, he is the father of Mānu, and from Mānu all human beings are descended. In the Ramayana and the...

, Vishnu
Vishnu
Vishnu is the Supreme god in the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God....

 and Shiva, as well as Saraswati
Saraswati
In Hinduism Saraswati , is the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and technology. She is the consort of Brahma, also revered as His Shakti....

, Lakshmi
Lakshmi
Lakshmi or Lakumi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity , light, wisdom, fortune, fertility, generosity and courage; and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm. Representations of Lakshmi are also found in Jain monuments...

 and Parvati
Parvati
Parvati is a Hindu goddess. Parvati is Shakti, the wife of Shiva and the gentle aspect of Mahadevi, the Great Goddess...

. I am the Sun and I am the Stars, and I am also the Moon. I am all animals and birds, and I am the outcaste as well, and the thief. I am the low person of dreadful deeds, and the great person of excellent deeds. I am Female, I am Male, and I am Neuter."


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's analysis continues, "Indeed, this affirmation of the oneness of transcendence and immanence constitutes the very essence of the divine mother [and her] ultimate triumph. It is not, finally, that she is infinitely superior to the male gods – though she is that, according to [Shaktism] – but rather that she transcends her own feminine nature as Prakriti without denying it."

Association with Tantra

A widely misunderstood aspect of Shaktism is its close association with Tantrism
Tantra
Tantra , anglicised tantricism or tantrism or tantram, is the name scholars give to an inter-religious spiritual movement that arose in medieval India, expressed in scriptures ....

– an ambiguous, often provocative concept that suggests everything from orthodox temple worship in the south of India, to black magic and occult
Occult
The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus , referring to "knowledge of the hidden". In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g...

 practices in North India, to ritualized sexual practices (sometimes referred to as "Neotantra
Neotantra
Neotantra, or Tantric sex, is a term used for the modern, western variations of Tantra. The term refers to both the New Age and modern Western interpretations of traditional Indian and Buddhist tantra...

") in the West. In fact, not all forms of Shaktism are Tantric in nature, just as not all forms of Tantra are Shaktic in nature.
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
Sadhana
Sādhanā literally "a means of accomplishing something" is ego-transcending spiritual practice. It includes a variety of disciplines in Hindu, Sikh , Buddhist and Muslim traditions that are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives.The historian N...

) involving mantra
Mantra
A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation"...

, yantra
Yantra
Yantra is the Sanskrit word for "instrument" or "machine". Much like the word "instrument" itself, it can stand for symbols, processes, automata, machinery or anything that has structure and organization, depending on context....

, nyasa, mudra
Mudra
A mudrā is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. While some mudrās involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers...

and certain elements of traditional kundalini yoga
Kundalini yoga
Kundalini yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline for developing strength, awareness, character, and consciousness. Practitioners call Kundalini yoga the yoga of awareness because it focuses primarily on practices that expand sensory awareness and intuition in order to raise individual...

, all practiced under the guidance of a qualified guru
Guru
A guru is one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom, and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others . Other forms of manifestation of this principle can include parents, school teachers, non-human objects and even one's own intellectual discipline, if the...

 after due initiation (diksha
Diksha
Diksa also spelled deeksha or deeksa in common usage, translated as a "preparation or consecration for a religious ceremony", is giving of a mantra or an initiation by the guru in Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism...

) and oral instruction to supplement various written sources.

In its social interactions, Shakta Tantra is "free from all sorts of caste and patriarchal prejudices. A woman or a shudra
Shudra
Shudra is the fourth Varna, as prescribed in the Purusha Sukta of the Rig veda, which constitutes society into four varnas or Chaturvarna. The other three varnas are Brahmans - priests, Kshatriya - those with governing functions, Vaishya - agriculturalists, cattle rearers and traders...

is entitled to function in the role of [guru]. All women are regarded as manifestations of Shakti, and hence they are the object of respect and devotion. Whoever offends them incurs the wrath of the great goddess. Every [male aspirant] has to realize the latent Female Principle within himself, and only by [thus] 'becoming female' is he entitled to worship the Supreme Being"

More controversial ritual practices, such as the "Five Ms" or panchamakara
Panchamakara
Panchamakara, also known as the Five Ms, is a Tantric term referring to the five substances used in a Tantric puja or sadhana:...

, 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.

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. 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
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

-oriented brahmin
Brahmin
Brahmin Brahman, Brahma and Brahmin.Brahman, Brahmin and Brahma have different meanings. Brahman refers to the Supreme Self...

s have been involved in Shakta Tantrism from its incipient stages of development, that is, from at least the sixth century. While Shakta Tantrism may have originated in [pre-Vedic, indigenous] goddess cults, any attempt to distance Shakta Tantrism from the Sanskritic Hindu traditions [...] will lead us astray."

Principal deities

Shaktas may approach the Devi in any of a vast number of forms; however, they are all considered to be but diverse aspects of the one supreme goddess.


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 central Shakta scripture Devi Mahatmyam], 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 goddesses] are but projections of her power, as are all the other forms she inhabits.


The primary Devi form worshiped by a Shakta is his or her ishta-devi
Ishta-deva
Within Hinduism, an Ishta-deva or Ishta devata is a term denoting a worshipper's favourite deity.It is especially significant to both the Smarta and Bhakti schools wherein practitioners choose to worship the form of God...

. 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:
  1. Adi parashakti: The Goddess as Original, Transcendent Source of the Universe.
  2. Durga
    Durga
    For the 1985 Hindi Film of Rajesh Khanna see DurgaaIn Hinduism, Durga ; ; meaning "the inaccessible" or "the invincible"; , durga) or Maa Durga "one who can redeem in situations of utmost distress" is a form of Devi, the supremely radiant goddess, depicted as having eighteen arms, riding a lion...

    (Amba, Ambika): The Goddess as Mahadevi
    Mahadevi
    In Hinduism, Mahadevi or "Great Goddess" is a term used to denote the Goddess or Devi that is the sum of all other Devis - an all encompassing Female Deity as the consort or complement to an all encompassing Male Deity or the Ultimate Reality in Shaktism.She is often identified with a specific...

    ,Material Manifestation of Supreme Divinity (Brahman)
  3. Lakshmi
    Lakshmi
    Lakshmi or Lakumi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity , light, wisdom, fortune, fertility, generosity and courage; and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm. Representations of Lakshmi are also found in Jain monuments...

    (Sri): The Goddess of Material Fulfillment (wealth, health, fortune, love, beauty, fertility, etc.); consort (shakti
    Shakti
    Shakti from Sanskrit shak - "to be able," meaning sacred force or empowerment, is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes...

    ) of Vishnu
  4. Parvati
    Parvati
    Parvati is a Hindu goddess. Parvati is Shakti, the wife of Shiva and the gentle aspect of Mahadevi, the Great Goddess...

    (Gauri, Uma): The Goddess of Spiritual Fulfillment (divine love; the saguna [i.e. having material qualities] form of Adi-Parashakti); consort (shakti) of Shiva
  5. Saraswati
    Saraswati
    In Hinduism Saraswati , is the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and technology. She is the consort of Brahma, also revered as His Shakti....

    : The Goddess of Cultural Fulfillment (knowledge/education, music, arts and sciences, etc.); consort (shakti) of Brahma; identified with the Sarasvati River
    Sarasvati River
    The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas as well as the Mahabharata...

  6. Gayatri
    Gayatri
    Gayatri is the feminine form of , a Sanskrit word for a song or a hymn. Gayatri is a consort of Brahma and the goddess of learning. Brahma married her when there was a need for a companion during a yajna. Brahma had to start the yajna along with his wife...

    : The Goddess as Mother of Mantras
  7. Ganga: The Goddess as Divine River; identified with the Ganges River
  8. Sita
    SITA
    SITA is a multinational information technology company specialising in providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry...

    : The Goddess as Rama
    Rama
    Rama or full name Ramachandra is considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism, and a king of Ayodhya in ancient Indian...

    's consort
  9. Radha
    Radha
    Radha , also called Radhika, Radharani and Radhikarani, is the childhood friend and lover of Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana, and the Gita Govinda of the Vaisnava traditions of Hinduism...

    : The Goddess as Krishna
    Krishna
    Krishna is a central figure of Hinduism and is traditionally attributed the authorship of the Bhagavad Gita. He is the supreme Being and considered in some monotheistic traditions as an Avatar of Vishnu...

    's lover
  10. Sati
    Dakshayani
    Dākshāyani or Satī is a Hindu Goddess of marital felicity and longevity. She is worshipped particularly by Hindu women to seek the long life of their husbands...

    : The Goddess of Marital Relations; original consort (shakti) of Shiva

Tantric deities

Goddess groups – such as the "Nine Durgas" (Navadurga
Navadurga
Navadurga , which literally means nine Goddess Durgas, constitute, according to Hindu mythology, the manifestation of Durga in nine different forms...

), "Eight Lakshmis" (Ashta-Lakshmi
Ashta Lakshmi
Ashta Lakshmi, also spelled as Ashtalakshmi , are a group of eight Hindu goddesses, secondary manifestations of Shri-Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, who preside over eight sources of wealth: "Wealth" in the context of Ashta-Lakshmi means prosperity, good health, knowledge, strength, progeny,...

) or the "Fifteen Nityas" – are very common in Hinduism. But perhaps no group reveals the elements of Shaktism better than the Ten Mahavidyas (Dasamahavidya). Through them, Shaktas believe, "the one Truth is sensed in ten different facets; the Divine Mother is adored and approached as ten cosmic personalities." The Mahavidyas are considered Tantric in nature, and are usually identified as:
  1. Kali
    Kali
    ' , also known as ' , is the Hindu goddess associated with power, shakti. The name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, lord of death, Shiva. Kali means "the black one". Since Shiva is called Kāla - the eternal time, Kālī, his consort, also means "Time" or "Death" . Hence, Kāli is...

    : The Goddess as Cosmic Destruction, Death or "Devourer of Time" (Supreme Deity of Kalikula systems)
  2. Tara
    Tara (Devi)
    In Hinduism, the goddess Tara meaning "star" is the second of the Dasa Mahavidyas or "Great Wisdom [goddesses]", Tantric manifestations of Mahadevi, Kali, or Parvati...

    : The Goddess as Guide and Protector, or the Goddess as Savior
  3. Lalita-Tripurasundari
    Tripura Sundari
    Tripurasundarĩ or Mahã-Tripurasundarĩ , also called Śoḍaṣĩ , Lalitã and Rãjarãjeśvarĩ , is one of the group of ten goddesses of Hindu belief, collectively called Mahavidyas.As Shodashi,...

    (Shodashi): The Goddess Who is "Beautiful in the Three Worlds" (Supreme Deity of Srikula systems); the "Tantric Parvati"
  4. Bhuvaneshvari: The Goddess as World Mother, or the Goddess Whose Body is the Earth/Cosmos
  5. Bhairavi
    Bhairavi
    Bhairavi is a fierce and terrifying aspect of the Devi virtually indistinguishable from Kali, except for her particular identification as the consort of the Bhairava.-Symbolism:...

    : The Fierce Goddess
  6. Chhinnamasta
    Chhinnamasta
    Chhinnamasta , often spelled Chinnamasta and also called Chhinnamastika and Prachanda Chandika, is one of the Mahavidyas, ten Tantric goddesses and a ferocious aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother. Chhinnamasta can be easily identified by her fearsome iconography. The self-decapitated goddess...

    : The Self-Decapitated Goddess
  7. Dhumavati
    Dhumavati
    Dhumavati is one of the Mahavidyas, a group of ten Tantric goddesses. Dhumavati represents the fearsome aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother. She is often portrayed as an old, ugly widow, and is associated with things considered inauspicious and unattractive in Hinduism, such as the crow and...

    : The Widow Goddess
  8. Bagalamukhi
    Bagalamukhi
    Bagalamukhi or Bagala ,, is one of the ten mahavidyas in Hinduism. Bagalamukhi Devi smashes the devotee's misconceptions and delusions with her cudgel...

    : The Goddess Who Paralyzes Enemies
  9. Matangi
    Matangi
    Matangi is one of the Mahavidyas, ten Tantric goddesses and a ferocious aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother. She is considered as the Tantric form of Sarasvati, the goddess of music and learning. Like Sarasvati, Matangi governs speech, music, knowledge and the arts...

    : The Outcaste Goddess (in Kalikula systems); the Prime Minister of Lalita (in Srikula systems); the "Tantric Saraswati"
  10. Kamala
    Kamalatmika
    In Hinduism, Kamalatmika or Kamala is the Devi in the fullness of her graceful aspect. She is believed as the tenth Mahavidya .-Iconography:...

    : The Lotus Goddess; the "Tantric Lakshmi"


Other major goddess groups include the Sapta-Matrika
Matrikas
Matrikas , also called Matara and Matris , are a group of Hindu goddesses who are always depicted together. Since they are usually depicted as a heptad, they are called Saptamatrikas : Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi and Chamunda or Narasimhi...

("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 Yogini
Yogini
Yogini is the complete form source word of the masculine yogi- and neutral/plural "yogin." Far from being merely a gender tag to the all things yogi, "Yogini" represents both a female master practitioner of Yoga, and a formal term of respect for a category of modern female spiritual teachers in...

s
.

Historical and philosophical development

The beginnings of Shaktism are shrouded in the mists of prehistory. The earliest Mother Goddess figurine unearthed in India, belonging to the Upper Paleolithic
Upper Paleolithic
The Upper Paleolithic is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly it dates to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity and before the advent of...

, has been carbon-dated to approximately 20,000 BCE. Thousands of female statuettes dated as early as c. 5500 BCE have been recovered at Mehrgarh
Mehrgarh
Mehrgarh , one of the most important Neolithic sites in archaeology, lies on the "Kachi plain" of Balochistan, Pakistan...

, one of the most important Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 sites in world archaeology. While it is impossible to reconstruct the spiritual beliefs of a civilization so distantly removed in time, current archaeological and anthropological evidence suggests that the religion of the great Indus Valley Civilization
Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that was located in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, consisting of what is now mainly modern-day Pakistan and northwest India...

 is probably a direct predecessor of modern Shaktism.

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
Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the...

 (300-700 CE), and continued to expand and develop thereafter.

The most central and pivotal text in Shaktism is the Devi Mahatmya
Devi Mahatmya
The Devi Mahatmyam or Devi Mahatmya , or "Glory of the Goddess") is a Hindu text describing the victory of the goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. As part of the Markandeya Purana, it is one of the Puranas or secondary Hindu scriptures, and was composed in Sanskrit around c...

 (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.'"

Other important texts include the canonical Shakta Upanishads, as well as Shakta-oriented Puranic literature
Puranas
The Puranas are a genre of important Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religious texts, notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.Puranas...

 such as the Devi Purana and Kalika Purana, the Lalita Sahasranama
Lalita sahasranama
Lalita sahasranama is a sacred Hindu text dated to the 12th century A.D. for the worshippers of the Goddess Lalita Devi, i.e. the Divine Mother, in the form of her and the male gods' feminine power, Shakti. Lalita is the Goddess of bliss, an epithet for Parvati. Etymologically, "Lalita" means "She...

(from the Brahmanda Purana
Brahmanda Purana
The Brahmanda Purana is one of the eighteen Mahapuranas, a genre of eighteen Hindu religious texts and has been assigned the eighteenth place in almost all the lists of the Puranas.Brahma in Sanskrit means "the biggest", anda/andam means globe...

), the
Devi Gita (from the Devi-Bhagavata Purana
Devi-Bhagavata Purana
Devi-Bhagavata Purana , also known as Shrimad Devi Bhagvatam or Devi Bhagavatam, is one of the most important work in Shaktism, the veneration in Hinduism of the divine feminine, next to Devi Mahatmya...

),
Adi Shankara
Adi Shankara
Adi Shankara Adi Shankara Adi Shankara (IAST: pronounced , (Sanskrit: , ) (788 CE - 820 CE), also known as ' and ' was an Indian philosopher from Kalady of present day Kerala who consolidated the doctrine of advaita vedānta...

's Saundaryalahari
Saundaryalahari
The Soundarya Lahari meaning "Waves Of Beauty" is a famous literary work in Sanskrit believed to be written by sage Pushpadanta and Adi Shankara. Its hundred and three shlokas eulogize the beauty, grace and munificence of Goddess Parvati / Dakshayani, consort of Shiva.The Soundarya Lahari is not...

and the Tantras
Tantras
Tantras refers to numerous and varied scriptures pertaining to any of several esoteric traditions rooted in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Although Buddhist and Hindu Tantra have many similarities from the outside, they do have some clear distinctions. The rest of this article deals with Hindu...

.

Elements of Shaktism – most notably, the ubiquity of goddess worship in some form – has infused popular Hinduism. 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."

Recent developments related to Shaktism include the emergence of Bharat Mata
Bharat Mata
Bhārat Mātā , Mother India, or Bhāratāmbā is the national personification of India as a mother goddess...

 ("Mother India") symbolism, the increasing visibility of Hindu female saints and gurus, and the prodigious rise of the "new" goddess Santoshi Mata
Santoshi Mata
Santoshi Mata or Santoshi Maa is a relatively new goddess in the Hindu pantheon. She is venerated as "the Mother of Satisfaction", the meaning of her name. Santoshi Mata is particularly worshipped by women of North India and Nepal...

 following release of the Indian film Jai Santoshi Maa
Jai Santoshi Maa
Jai Santoshi Maa is a 1975 low-budget Hindi film that became one of the top blockbusters of all time. Santoshī Mā , a goddess of satisfaction, was not widely known prior to the release of this film, but immediately after the release, became a huge phenomenon...

("Hail to the Mother of Satisfaction") in 1975. A modern commentator 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."

Worship

Shaktism encompasses a nearly endless variety of beliefs and practices – from primitive animism to philosophical speculation of the highest order – that seek to access the Shakti (Divine Energy or Power) that is believed to be the Devi's nature and form. Its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (family of Sri
Sri
Sri , also transliterated as Shri or Shree or shre is a word of Sanskrit origin, used in the Indian subcontinent as polite form of address equivalent to the English "Mr." in written and spoken language, or as a title of veneration for deities .-Etymology:Sri has the root meaning of radiance, or...

), strongest in South India
South India
South India is the area encompassing India's states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, occupying 19.31% of India's area...

, and the Kalikula (family of Kali
Kali
' , also known as ' , is the Hindu goddess associated with power, shakti. The name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, lord of death, Shiva. Kali means "the black one". Since Shiva is called Kāla - the eternal time, Kālī, his consort, also means "Time" or "Death" . Hence, Kāli is...

), which prevails in northern and eastern India.

Srikula: Family of Sri

The Srikula (family of Sri) tradition (sampradaya
Sampradaya
In Hinduism, a sampradaya can be translated as ‘tradition’ or a ‘religious system’, although the word commands much more respect and power in the Indian context than its translations in English does...

) focuses worship on Devi in the form of the goddess Lalita-Tripurasundari, who is regarded as the Great Goddess (Mahadevi). Rooted in first-millennium Kashmir, Srikula became a force in South India no later than the seventh century, and is today the prevalent form of Shaktism practiced in South Indian regions such as Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh , is one of the 28 states of India, situated on the southeastern coast of India. It is India's fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population. Its capital and largest city by population is Hyderabad.The total GDP of Andhra Pradesh is $100 billion and is ranked third...

, Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

, Kerala
Kerala
or Keralam is an Indian state located on the Malabar coast of south-west India. It was created on 1 November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam speaking regions....

, Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

 and Tamil areas of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

.

The Srikula's best-known school is Srividya
Shri Vidya
' is the name of a Hindu religious system devoted to the goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī, Bhuvaneshvari or simply . According to British scholar Gavin Flood she is a tantric form of the goddess , consort of Vishnu...

, "one of Shakta Tantrism's most influential and theologically sophisticated movements." Its central symbol, the Sri Chakra
Sri Chakra
The Sri Chakra or Shri Yantra is a yantra formed by nine interlocking triangles that surround and radiate out from the central point, the junction point between the physical universe and its unmanifest source. It represents the goddess in her form of Shri Lalitha Or Tripura Sundari, "the beauty...

, 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.

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.

Srikula adepts most often worship Lalita using the abstract Sri Chakra yantra
Yantra
Yantra is the Sanskrit word for "instrument" or "machine". Much like the word "instrument" itself, it can stand for symbols, processes, automata, machinery or anything that has structure and organization, depending on context....

, 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."

The Srividya parampara
Parampara
Parampara denotes a succession of teachers and disciples in traditional Indian culture and Indian religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism...

s
can be further broadly subdivided into two streams, the Kaula
Kaula
Kaula Island, also called Kaula Rock, is a small, crescent-shaped offshore islet in the Hawaiian Islands.-Geography:It is located west-southwest of Kawaihoa Point on Niihau, and about west of Honolulu. The island is actually the very top of a volcanic tuff cone that rests on top of a larger,...

(a vamamarga
Vamachara
Vāmācāra is a Sanskrit term meaning "left-handed attainment" and is synonymous with "Left-Hand Path". It is used to describe a particular mode of worship or sadhana that is not only "heterodox" to standard Vedic injunction, but extreme in comparison to the status quo.These practices are often...

practice) and the Samaya (a dakshinamarga
Dakshinachara
The term Dakshinachara is a technical term used to refer to Tantric sects that do not engage in heterodox practices. In contrast, Vamachara is used to describe particular tantric practices that are considered heterodox according to usual Hindu social norms.-Etymology:N. N...

practice). The Kaula or Kaulachara, first appeared as a coherent ritual system in the 8th century in central India, and its most revered theorist is the 18th-century philosopher Bhaskararaya
Bhaskararaya
Bhaskararaya is widely considered an authority on all questions pertaining to the worship of the Mother Goddess in Hinduism. The worship of Shakti involves many hidden meanings of mantras and coded passages. It is said that these meanings were revealed to Bhaskararaya by the Goddess Herself...

, widely considered "the best exponent of Shakta philosophy."

The Samaya or Samayacharya finds its roots in the work of the 16th-century commentator Lakshmidhara, and is "fiercely puritanical [in its] attempts to reform Tantric practice in ways that bring it in line with high-caste brahmanical
Brahmin
Brahmin Brahman, Brahma and Brahmin.Brahman, Brahmin and Brahma have different meanings. Brahman refers to the Supreme Self...

 norms." 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.

Kalikula: Family of Kali

The Kalikula (family of Kali) form of Shaktism is most dominant in northern and eastern India, and is most widely prevalent in West Bengal
West Bengal
West Bengal is a state in the eastern region of India and is the nation's fourth-most populous. It is also the seventh-most populous sub-national entity in the world, with over 91 million inhabitants. A major agricultural producer, West Bengal is the sixth-largest contributor to India's GDP...

, Assam
Assam
Assam , also, rarely, Assam Valley and formerly the Assam Province , is a northeastern state of India and is one of the most culturally and geographically distinct regions of the country...

, Bihar
Bihar
Bihar is a state in eastern India. It is the 12th largest state in terms of geographical size at and 3rd largest by population. Almost 58% of Biharis are below the age of 25, which is the highest proportion in India....

 and Orissa
Orissa
Orissa , officially Odisha since Nov 2011, is a state of India, located on the east coast of India, by the Bay of Bengal. It is the modern name of the ancient nation of Kalinga, which was invaded by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka in 261 BC. The modern state of Orissa was established on 1 April...

, as well as parts of Maharashtra
Maharashtra
Maharashtra is a state located in India. It is the second most populous after Uttar Pradesh and third largest state by area in India...

 and Bangladesh
Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

. Kalikula lineages focus upon the Devi as the source of wisdom (vidya) and liberation (moksha
Moksha
Within Indian religions, moksha or mukti , literally "release" , is the liberation from samsara and the concomitant suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and reincarnation or rebirth.-Origins:It is highly probable that the concept of moksha was first developed in...

). They generally stand "in opposition to the brahmanic tradition," which they view as "overly conservative and denying the experiential part of religion."
The main deities of Kalikula are Kali, Chandi
Chandi
Chandi or Chandika is the supreme Goddess of Devi Mahatmya also known as Chandi or Durga Sapthashati. Chandi is described as the Supreme reality who is a combination of Mahakali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati...

and Durga. Other goddesses that enjoy veneration are Tara and all the other Mahavidyas as well as regional goddesses such as Manasa
Manasa
Manasa is a Hindu folk goddess of snakes, worshipped mainly in Bengal and other parts of northeastern India, chiefly for the prevention and cure of snakebite and also for fertility and prosperity. Manasa is the sister of Vasuki, king of Nāgas and wife of sage Jagatkāru...

, the snake goddess, and Sitala
Sitala
Sitala is a genus of air-breathing land snails, terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusks in the family Helicarionidae. Sitala is the type genus of Sitalinae, that is a synonym of Durgellini.-Species:Species within the genus Sitala include:...

, the smallpox goddess – all of them, again, considered aspects of the Divine Mother.

Two major centers of Shaktism in West Bengal are Kalighat
Kalighat
Kalighat is a locality of Kolkata, India. One of the oldest neighborhoods in South Kolkata, Kalighat is also densely populated and vibrant -- with a rich history of cultural intermingling with the various foreign incursions into the area over time....

 in Calcutta and Tarapith
Tarapith
Tarapith is a small temple town near Rampurhat in Birbhum district of the Indian state of West Bengal, known for its Tantric temple and its adjoining cremation grounds where Tantric rites are performed...

 in Birbhum district
Birbhum district
Birbhum district is an administrative unit in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is the northernmost district of Burdwan division—one of the three administrative divisions of West Bengal. The district headquarters is located at Suri...

. In Calcutta, emphasis is on devotion (bhakti) to the goddess as Kali:


She is "the loving mother who protects her children and whose fierceness guards them. She is outwardly frightening – with dark skin, pointed teeth, and a necklace of skulls – but inwardly beautiful. She can guarantee a good rebirth or great religious insight, and her worship is often communal – especially at festivals, such as Kali Puja
Kali Puja
Kali Puja or Shyama Puja is a festival dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, celebrated on the new moon day of the Hindu month Ashwin in Bengal. It coincides with the pan-Indian Lakshmi Puja day of Diwali...

and Durga Puja
Durga Puja
Durga puja ; দুর্গা পূজা,ଦୁର୍ଗା ପୂଜା,‘Worship of Durga’), also referred to as Durgotsava ; , is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and...

. Worship may involve contemplation of the devotee's union with or love of the goddess, visualization of her form, chanting [of her] mantras, prayer before her image or yantra, and giving [of] offerings."

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
Ramakrishna
Ramakrishna , born Gadadhar Chattopadhyay , was a famous mystic of 19th-century India. His religious school of thought led to the formation of the Ramakrishna Mission by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda – both were influential figures in the Bengali Renaissance as well as the Hindu...

, 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."

Festivals

Shaktas celebrate most major Hindu festivals, as well as a huge variety of local, temple- or deity-specific observances. A few of the more important events are listed below:

Navratri

The most important Shakta festival is Navratri (lit., "Festival of Nine Nights"), also known as "Sharad Navratri" because it falls during the Hindu month of Sharad
Sharad
Sharad in North India, variantly referred to as Sharat or Sharath or Sarath in South India, is the early autumn ritu, or season in the Hindu calendar. It roughly corresponds to the western months of mid-September to mid-November. Sharad is preceded by Varsha, followed by Hemant...

 (October/November). This festival – often taken together with the following tenth day, known as Dusshera or Vijayadashami
Vijayadashami
Vijayadashami also known as Dasara, is one of the most important festivals celebrated in various forms, across India, Nepal and Bangladesh...

– celebrates the goddess Durga's victory over a series of powerful demons in the Devi Mahatmya
Devi Mahatmya
The Devi Mahatmyam or Devi Mahatmya , or "Glory of the Goddess") is a Hindu text describing the victory of the goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. As part of the Markandeya Purana, it is one of the Puranas or secondary Hindu scriptures, and was composed in Sanskrit around c...

.
In Bengal
Bengal
Bengal is a historical and geographical region in the northeast region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the sovereign land of People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous...

, the last four days of Navaratri are called Durga Puja
Durga Puja
Durga puja ; দুর্গা পূজা,ଦୁର୍ଗା ପୂଜା,‘Worship of Durga’), also referred to as Durgotsava ; , is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and...

, and mark one episode in particular: Durga's iconic slaying of Mahishasura
Mahishasura
In Hindu mythology, Mahishasura was an asura.Mahishasura's father Rambha was king of the asuras, and he once fell in love with a water buffalo ; Mahishasura was born out of this union...

 (lit., the "Buffalo Demon").

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
Chaitra
Chaitra is a month of the Hindu calendar....

 (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
Vaishno Devi
Vaishno Devi Mandir is one of the holy Hindu temples dedicated to Shakti, located in the hills of Vaishno Devi, Jammu and Kashmir, India. In Hinduism, Vaishno Devi, also known as Mata Rani and Vaishnavi, is a manifestation of the Mother Goddess.The temple is near the town of Katra, in the Reasi...

 temple in Jammu
Jammu
Jammu , also known as Duggar, is one of the three administrative divisions within Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state in India.Jammu city is the largest city in Jammu and the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir...

 observes its major Navaratri celebration during this period. Ashada Navaratri, on the other hand, is considered particularly auspicious for devotees of the boar-headed goddess Varahi
Varahi
Varahi is one of the Matrikas, a group of seven or eight mother goddesses in the Hindu religion. With the head of a sow, Varahi is the shakti of Varaha, the boar Avatar of the god Vishnu...

, one of the seven Matrikas named in the Devi Mahatmya.

Diwali and others

Lakshmi Puja
Lakshmi Puja
Lakshmi puja is performed during Diwali, the festival of lights. According to tradition people would put small oil lamps outside their homes on Diwali and hope Lakshmi will come to bless them....

 is observed by Shaktas and many other Hindus on the full moon night following the autumn Durga Puja. Lakshmi's biggest festival, however, is Diwali
Diwali
Diwali or DeepavaliThe name of the festival in various regional languages include:, , , , , , , , , , , , , popularly known as the "festival of lights," is a festival celebrated between mid-October and mid-December for different reasons...

(or Deepavali; the "Festival of Lights"), a major Hindu holiday celebrated across India. In North India, Diwali marks the beginning of the traditional New Year, and is held on the night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik
Kartik
Kartik may refer to:* Kartika , a month in the Indian national calendar and Bengali calendar* Kartik * Karttikeya, the brother of Ganesha in the Hindu mythology...

 (usually October or November). Shaktas (and many non-Shaktas) celebrate it as another Lakshmi Puja, placing small oil lamps outside their homes and praying for the goddess's blessings. Diwali coincides with the celebration of Kali Puja, popular in Bengal, and some Shakta traditions focus their worship on Devi as Kali rather than Lakshmi.

Jagaddhatri
Jagaddhatri
In Hinduism, Jagaddhatri or Jagadhatri is a form of Devi, the supreme goddess. Her worship is more common in West Bengal than the other parts of India...

 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.

Gauri Puja is performed on the fifth day after Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesh Chaturthi , also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi is the Hindu festival of Ganesha also called Vinayagar in Tamil Nadu, the son of Shiva and Parvati, who is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees in the duration of this festival...

, during Ganesha
Ganesha
Ganesha , also spelled Ganesa or Ganesh, also known as Ganapati , Vinayaka , and Pillaiyar , is one of the deities best-known and most widely worshipped in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India and Nepal. Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations...

 Puja in Western India, to celebrate the arrival of Gauri
Parvati
Parvati is a Hindu goddess. Parvati is Shakti, the wife of Shiva and the gentle aspect of Mahadevi, the Great Goddess...

, Mother of Ganesha, to come and bring her son back home.

There are variant dates for Saraswati Puja, depending upon region and local tradition. Commonly, on the fifth day of the Hindu month of Phalguna
Phalguna
Phalguna is a month of the Hindu calendar. In India's national civil calendar, Phaalgun is the twelfth month of the year, beginning on 20 February and ending on 21 March .In lunar religious calendars, Phaalgun may begin on either the new moon or the full moon...

 (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.

Major Shakta temple festivals are Meenakshi Kalyanam and Ambubachi Mela
Ambubachi Mela
The Ambubachi Mela is the most important mela celebrated in the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Assam. This yearly mela is celebrated during the monsoon season that happens to fall during the assamese month Ahaar, around the middle of June, when the Brahmaputra river is in spate. It is the celebration...

. Meenakshi Kalyanam observes the auspicious occasion of Devi's marriage (as Meenakshi
Meenakshi
Minakshi is an Avatar of the Hindu Goddess Parvati - and consort of Shiva - who is worshipped mainly by South Indians. She is also one of the few Hindu female deities to have a major temple devoted to her - the far famed Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu...

) to Lord Sundareshwara (Shiva
Shiva
Shiva is a major Hindu deity, and is the destroyer god or transformer among the Trimurti, the Hindu Trinity of the primary aspects of the divine. God Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power lives a life of a...

) is centered around the Meenakshi Amman Temple
Meenakshi Amman Temple
Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple or Tiru-alavai is a historic Hindu temple located in the south side of river Vaigai in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India...

 in Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

, Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

. It runs for 12 days, counting from the second day of the lunar month of Chaitra
Chaitra
Chaitra is a month of the Hindu calendar....

, in April or May. Ambubachi Mela
Ambubachi Mela
The Ambubachi Mela is the most important mela celebrated in the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Assam. This yearly mela is celebrated during the monsoon season that happens to fall during the assamese month Ahaar, around the middle of June, when the Brahmaputra river is in spate. It is the celebration...

is a celebration of the yearly menstruation of the goddess, held in June/July (during the monsoon season) at Kamakhya Temple
Kamakhya Temple
The Kamakhya Temple is a Shakti Peeth temple situated on the Nilachal Hill in western part of Guwahati city in Assam, India. It is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to different forms of the mother goddess as the Dasa Mahavidya, including Bhuvaneshvari, Bagalamukhi,...

, Guwahati, Assam. Here the Devi is worshiped in the form of a yoni
Yoni
Yoni is the Sanskrit word for the vagina. Its counterpart is the lingam as interpreted by some, the phallus.It is also the divine passage, womb or sacred temple...

-like stone over which a naturally red-tinted spring flows.

Temples

There are thousands of Shakti temples; vast or tiny, famous or obscure. Moreover, countless cities, towns, villages and geographic landmarks are named for various forms of the Devi. "In this vast country, holy resorts of the goddess are innumerable and the popularity of her cult is proved even in the place-names of India."

At various times, different writers have attempted to organize some of these into lists of "Shakti Peethas
Shakti Peethas
The Shakti Pithas are places of worship consecrated to the goddess Shakti or Parvati or Sati or Durga, the female principal of Hinduism and the main deity of the Shakta sect...

"; literally "Seats of the Devi", or more broadly, "Places of Power". Numbering anywhere from four to 51 (in the most famous list, found in the Tantra Cudamani), "the peethas [became] a popular theme of the medieval writers, many of whom took the greatest liberty in fabricating the place names, the goddesses and their bhairavas [consorts]."

Criticism

Shaktism has at times been dismissed as a superstitious, black magic-infested practice that hardly qualifies as a true religion at all. A representative criticism of this sort issued from an Indian scholar in the 1920s:


"The Tantras are the bible of Shaktism, identifying all Force with the female principle in nature and teaching an undue adoration of the wives of Shiva and Vishnu to the neglect of their male counterparts. It is certain that a vast number of the inhabitants of India are guided in their daily life by Tantrik [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."


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."

Within Hinduism, it is not uncommon to encounter assertions that the Shaiva and Vaishnava schools of Hinduism lead to moksha
Moksha
Within Indian religions, moksha or mukti , literally "release" , is the liberation from samsara and the concomitant suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and reincarnation or rebirth.-Origins:It is highly probable that the concept of moksha was first developed in...

, or spiritual liberation, whereas Shaktism leads only to siddhis (occult powers) and bhukti (material enjoyments) – or, at best, to Shaivism
Shaivism
Shaivism is one of the four major sects of Hinduism, the others being Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. Followers of Shaivism, called "Shaivas," and also "Saivas" or "Saivites," revere Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer,...

. For example, the late Shaiva leader Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Sivaya Subramuniyaswami , also known as Gurudeva by his followers, was born in Oakland, California, on January 5, 1927, and adopted Saivism as a young man. He traveled to India and Sri Lanka where he received initiation from Yogaswami of Jaffna in 1949...

 taught that worship of the feminine manifest is merely a vehicle for reaching the masculine unmanifest, or Parasiva
Parasiva
In Hinduism, Parasiva is the aspect of Siva, the Absolute which is beyond human comprehension and is beyond all attributes. In Saivite theology, the term is similar to Nirguna Brahman....

. Subramuniya's successor, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, recently published an essay on different Hindu approaches to God that did not discuss Shaktism at all.

Shakta theologians counter that each of the Divine Mother's forms is a Brahma Vidya, or self-contained path to supreme wisdom. The sadhaka
Sadhaka
A sādhaka is someone who follows a particular sādhana, or a way of life designed to realize the goal of one's ultimate ideal, whether it is merging with brahman or realization of one's personal deity. The word is related to the Sanskrit sādhu, which is derived from the verb root sādh-, to accomplish...

of any one of these goddess forms "attains ultimately, if his aspiration is such, the supreme purpose of life – Self-realisation and God-realisation." Mataji Devi Vanamali of the Vanamali ashram
Ashram
Traditionally, an ashram is a spiritual hermitage. Additionally, today the term ashram often denotes a locus of Indian cultural activity such as yoga, music study or religious instruction, the moral equivalent of a studio or dojo....

 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."

Expansion beyond South Asia

The practice of Shaktism is no longer confined to South Asia. Traditional Shakta temples have sprung up across Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

, the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

, Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 and elsewhere – some enthusiastically attended by non-Indian as well as Indian diaspora
Non-resident Indian and Person of Indian Origin
A Non-Resident Indian is an Indian citizen who has migrated to another country, a person of Indian origin who is born outside India, or a person of Indian origin who resides permanently outside India. Other terms with the same meaning are overseas Indian and expatriate Indian...

 Hindus. Examples in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 include the Kali Mandir in Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach is a seaside resort city and artist community located in southern Orange County, California, United States, approximately southwest of the county seat of Santa Ana...

; and Sri Rajarajeswari Peetam
Sri Rajarajeswari Peetam
The Rajarajeswari Peetam in Rush, New York is a Hindu temple that practices the teachings of SriVidya. Sri Chaitanyananda Natha Saraswathi is the peetathipathy of the temple along with Gnanamba his wife. Aiya is a disciple of Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswathi who is the Peetathipathy of the...

, a Srividya temple in rural Rush, New York
Rush, New York
Rush is a town in Monroe County, New York, United States. The population was 3,478 at the 2010 census.The Town of Rush is a suburb of Rochester located in the southwest part of the county.-Geography:...

. The Rush temple was, in fact, recently the subject an in-depth academic study exploring the "dynamics of diaspora Hinduism," including the serious entry and involvement of non-Indians in traditional Hindu religious practice.

Shaktism has also become a focus of some Western spiritual seekers attempting to construct new Goddess-centered faiths. 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." However, these East-West fusions can also raise complex and troubling issues of cultural appropriation
Cultural appropriation
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture. It can include the introduction of forms of...

.

Some writers and thinkers, "notably feminists
Feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 and participants in New Age
New Age
The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and then infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational...

 spirituality who are attracted to goddess worship", have explored Kali in a new light. She is considered as 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 "import[ing] the worship of a goddess from another culture [...] when the deep symbolic meanings embedded in the native culture are not available."

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
Babylonia
Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

, Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 civilizations," but were largely superseded in the West, as well as the Near and Middle East, with the rise of the Abrahamic religions:

"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."

Further reading

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