In This Article Goddess

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Films
  • Specific Goddesses
  • Translations and Critical Editions
  • Comparative Works: Goddess Across Cultures
  • Hindu Goddesses in Diaspora
  • Edited Volumes
  • Goddess and Woman
  • Political Goddesses
  • Goddesses among Others

Hinduism Goddess
by
Perundevi Srinivasan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0023

Introduction

Goddess worship is one of the most important signposts of the cultural landscape of Hinduism. Goddesses are predominant both in pan-Indian classical discourses and in “local” vernacular discourses of Hinduism. The number of Hindu goddesses that one comes across in daily life or learns about in an academic context is astonishing; the mythologies, symbolism, ritual practices, and festivities associated with them are also heterogeneous and varied. The goddess is worshipped in India both in public and private spaces of the temple and the household. Worship practices of the goddess draw from agamic or scriptural traditions, popular devotion, and tantric esoteric traditions. In Hinduism, the divine feminine is perceived in terms of cosmogonic concepts, such as Śakti (power and embodiment of power), Māyā (deluder and delusion), and Prakṛti (the material universe, creation, and creatrix), as well as female divinities with specific identities, such as Kālī or Durgā or Lakṣmī. The cosmogonic concepts highlight different dimensions of the feminine divine in the Hindu thought. The female deities are considered as different forms and manifestations of one great goddess or Śakti in popular Hindu perceptions. Such perceptions, rather than subsuming specific manifestations of the goddess within the overarching great Śakti, reinforce these multiple manifestations as equally valid and significant. The practice and theology of goddess worship are commonly referred to as the “Śākta” tradition or “Śaktism,” which underlies a devoted orientation toward Śakti, considering her as the ultimate reality, creative force, and superior power. Kathleen Erndl (see Erndl 2004, cited under General Overviews) points out that Śaktism “should be considered a movement of its own,” although its influence is felt in streams of worship of male deities such as Vishnu and Shiva, as seen from the cults of Lakṣmī and Rādhā or the association of Śakti with Shiva. This article treats mainly goddesses in Hinduism and not women, such as legendary figures and women saints who are considered goddesses by some. It focuses on the translations of primary sources and interpretive scholarly materials that map the historical, mythological, literary, iconographic, and other cultural locations of the goddess-related or Śākta cosmogonic concepts and individual female deities in Hinduism.

General Overviews

Studies that offer an overview of the Hindu goddess and Śākta tradition either adopt a historical or encyclopedic approach covering various goddesses or analyze resources that concentrate on specific aspects, including attributes, iconographies, forms, and rituals of selected goddesses. Dehejia 1999 is an excellent introduction to various topics, including festivals, rituals, archeological sites, and art objects concerned with goddess worship in South Asia. Erndl 2004 gives an overview of discourses and practices centered around the figure of Śakti while providing a concise summary of existing scholarship on her. Foulston and Abbott 2009 renders a brief historical overview of the goddess, as the authors discuss significant elements such as everyday pūjās and festival rituals in contemporary worship of her. Flood 1996 contains a chapter that describes the founding mythologies of the great goddess and her roots in Brahmanical Hinduism as it delineates her centrality in “village” religion. Kinsley 1986 offers a “portrait” in terms of mythologies, iconographies, and conceptualizations of “diverse” individual goddesses who are significant to Hinduism. Pintchman 2001 contains essays that approach the “identity” of the goddess in terms of “nature, character, and attributes” as they are available in oral and written texts and as they are articulated by worshippers. Devi: The Great Goddess explores various aspects concerning the worship of the great goddess.

  • Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution. Devi: The Great Goddess.

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    Explores the six constitutive aspects of the Indian goddess or Devī. The site offers additional information on the contemporary and historical worship of Devī, activities for children and families, and a list of sources on South Asian arts and cultures. Useful for undergraduate students as a general introduction to South Asian goddesses.

  • Dehejia, Vidya, ed. Devi, the Great Goddess: Female Divinity in South Asian Art. Washington, DC: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1999.

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    Complement to the Smithsonian exhibition on the “great goddess” in South Asia. The first part, containing nine essays, focuses on the devotional spirit and practices. The second part presents the catalogue of the Smithsonian’s exhibition and contains descriptions of those items exhibited. The volume contains elegant photographs of icons of the goddess, her temples, maps, and art objects.

  • Erndl, Kathleen M. “Śākta.” In The Hindu World. Edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, 140–161. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    Gives an overview and analysis of Śākta concepts, major texts, and practices as well as scholarship on Śāktism and Hindu goddesses. Divides the goddess scholarship into four groups: historic surveys, thematic or contextual studies, studies of specific goddesses, and textual translations and analyses of sacred texts on goddesses (p. 142). Can be assigned to students in a survey course on Hinduism.

  • Flood, Gavin D. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    A chapter in this work (pp. 174–197) gives an account of mythology, iconography, and key Śākta concepts that frame practices of Brahmanical Hinduism and “local” regional traditions centered on the goddess.

  • Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott. Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Portland, OR: Sussex, 2009.

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    Gives an overview of Hindu goddesses in terms of beliefs and practices. Covers the theoretical importance of Hindu goddesses and traces their history from the Vedas through Puranas to tantric texts. The work also uses mythologies and accounts drawn from ethnographic data and explores daily worship, pilgrimages, and festivals in contemporary times.

  • Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

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    Descriptive work that provides some histories, summaries of mythologies, a brief account of rituals, and iconographies of a number of individual goddesses appearing in Vedic literature, tantric practices, and those worshipped regionally. It is a good introductory sourcebook.

  • Pintchman, Tracy, ed. Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    These essays, providing an overview of identities of the great goddess, or Mahādevī, are constructed socially, culturally, psychologically, and politically in diverse geographical areas and groups in India. Draws from classical texts, rituals, mythologies, and devotional worship. Useful for advanced students in courses on Hindu goddesses.

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