Shaktism

23.05.2018 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

Shaktism is one of the movements in Hinduism where Shakti or Devi (“Mother Goddess”) is the object of worship and the absolute and original form of God.

Shaktism is “the teaching of the Goddess” or “the doctrine of the power” from Sanskrit.

This is the Hindu version of the gyniolatry which is also found in other religious traditions. However, no world doctrine has as strong a deification of a woman as that observed among the Hindus.

The essence of shaktism and its history

The teaching exists along with other movements of Indian religion including Vaishnavism, Shivanism, and Smartism. The total number of Hindus who preach Shaktism however does not exceed 3%. They mostly live in West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Nepal.

The history of the development of the tradition corresponds to the general stages of the formation of Hinduism.

  1. Indian civilization. One needs to refer to the third in time Far Eastern civilization of the Bronze Age. During this period, Shaktism was actively developing.
  2. Vedism. This is the first stage of the formation of Hinduism. The deification of the forces of nature is typical, especially in mythological images. There is henotheism – the isolation of one, the most powerful god from the pantheon. Under Vedism, Shaktism fell into decay.
  3. Brahmanism and Hinduism. Along with the veneration of the patriarchal gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, Shaktism flourished but did not play a significant role.

The tradition is historically associated with Shaivism and Tantrism, but not everything is permeated with Tantra. As a rule, Devi is depicted as the consort of Shiva – the carrier of Shakti (Shaktimana). Hence, it is difficult to imagine Shaktism without Shiva. In addition, “the teaching of the Goddess” is often considered as a type or a constituent of Shaivism.

Shaktism

God is defined by the term “Ishvara” in Hinduism. The supreme essence in Shaktism is the goddess Devi or Ishwari (“Mistress”). The female deity unites with Shiva into an integral spiritual principle and appears as Mahavedi or Mahashakti (Mother Goddess). Its symbol is the female womb, which the Hindus call “yoni”. In addition to Parashakti, the goddess appears in alternative forms  -for example, Durga, Lalita, Sri Lakshmi, Tara, Radha and Parvati.

The doctrine is based on the veneration of feminine energy in any of its manifestations, whether blissful or frightening. Devi or Shakti is worshipped as the original, i.e. the Mother Goddess. The masculine principle appears to be passive and inactive without the feminine component. The original appearance of Devi is as an incredibly beautiful girl who is endowed with jewellery and weapons with symbolic meanings. 

Sacred texts

The Vedas in Shaktism are considered as scriptures and revelations that form the basis of the teaching. Several Vedic hymns (sukta) dedicated to the Mother Goddess (Devi, Durga, Sri, Bhu, Nila) are used in the divine service.

There are eight Shakti ancient religious and philosophical treatises connected to Shakti. Upanishads are another group of sources of tradition (for example, Devi Upanishad or Kaula Upanishad). However, the dominant role is played by tantras – esoteric theological texts. There are about two hundred tantras (for example, texts dedicated to Yogini, Kamakalavilasa, and Tara).

The Puranas are texts of ancient Indian literature, which, in general, describe the history of the Universe from its origin to destruction. They also play a significant role in the teaching. The following Puranas are especially valuable: Lalita-sahasranama, Devi-gita from the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Kalika Purana, and other works created during the 7th-10th centuries.

These works are also important:

  • hymns of the Saundarya-lahari of Shankara;
  • original and modern Tamil poetry by Abirami-antati;
  • Bengali poetry of Shakti Bharatchandra Ray and Ramprasad Sen;
  • Shakti and Parananda sutras.

The most important text, Devi Mahatmya, was written about one and a half thousand years ago. It was the first to combine many elements of mythology with the cult and theology associated with female deities.

Schools of shaktism

Some representatives of Shaktism in Hinduism practice the “right hand” ceremonies (dakshinachara) which repeat the traditional version of Brahmanism, and others practice the “left hand” ceremonies (vamachara) following the tantric version. “Left-hand” doctrine supporters inevitably:

  • practice panchamakara, the secret pair ceremony which is not compatible with the brahminical teaching;
  • use imaginary rituals (“right” movements);
  • drink wine from skulls;
  • perform coitus rituals with someone else’s wife (more “left” schools).

Separate schools of Shaivism and Vishnuism can also be attributed to branches of Shaktism.

In addition, there are two main traditions (sampradayas).

The first is Sri-kula or Srividya which is a school focused on the unity of Tantrism and orthodox Brahmanism. It is popular among Tamils in southern India. Shakti is worshiped in the form of Sri Lalita (Tripurasundari) – the first Shakti of Brahman. Her peaceful image is a likeness of the face of Parvati who is the manifestation of the consort of Shiva.

Lalita-sahasranama is the most important ritual text of the Sri Kula tradition. It is based on the Sri Yantra, which is one of the simplest ancient Indian geometric images.

The second is Kali-kula or Kalividya, which is a tradition found mainly in Nepal and the north-eastern parts of India (Bengal, Assam). Here the adepts worship the goddess Kali, one of the militant manifestations of the spiritual companion of Shiva. Kali Tantra and other sacred dialogues of the deities play a key role. The teaching is based on the Kali-yantra – a red symbol the centre of which forms a set of triangles enclosed in a fiery flower.

Schools of shaktism

Tara-kula is another school, but it is less popular. The adepts worship the Hindu-Buddhist goddess Tara, who represents the saving power. The school’s philosophy is similar to Buddhist Tantrism. It is found in Bengal.

Culture

Worshippers of the goddess Devi celebrate holidays that coincide with general Hindu festivals. They are dedicated to the main female deities: Navaratri (including the most important goddess Durga), Kali, Tij, Parvati, Sarasvati, and Lakshmi.

The adepts of Shaktism regularly visit the main destinations of pilgrimage, listed below.

  1. Jagannath Temple complex in Puri (Orissa) which is dedicated to the goddess Bimala.
  2. Adi-shaktipithi which was erected in honour of the goddess Taratarini. It is in Orissa, near the city of Berhampur.
  3. The shrine of the goddess Kamakhya in Guwahati (Assam).
  4. Calcutta temple, dedicated to Dakshina-Kalina.

When the bhakti movement (devotion and love of God) arose, poetic and musical works with Shaktism themes appeared. For example, the Bengali poets Ramprasad Sem and Bharat Chandra Ray wrote about Kali (Durga) back in the 18th century. Historical manifestations of creativity are relevant for followers even today.

Shakti is a female image that symbolizes the creative energy of male society. It is difficult to imagine a powerful Hindu deity without it. Therefore, “the teaching of the Goddess” has found many supporters who extol the feminine principle in its various manifestations.