In This Article Shaktism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Development
  • Surveys and Comparative Studies

Hinduism Shaktism
by
June McDaniel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0085

Introduction

The term “Shaktism” refers to worship of the goddess or divine female power in South Asian religions. As Saivism is the English word for the Hindu worship of the god Shiva and Vaishnavism is the English word for the Hindu worship of the god Vishnu and his forms, so Shaktism is the English word for the worship of the Hindu goddess as Shakti. The goddess Shakti (or Devi) represents divine power, and she may be present in sacred places, within the hearts of her devotees, and in her heavenly world. Shaktism may be monotheistic, with one goddess understood as the origin of all other goddesses, or it may be polytheistic, with many goddesses who exist equally. Shaktism may also refer to a cosmic dualism, with Shiva as puruṣa, or ultimate truth, and an emphasis on Shakti as prakṛti, the origin of all creation. A practitioner of Shaktism is a Shakta. The term “Shakti,” from which Shaktism is derived, refers to the goddess or female principle and also means power, strength, force, and capacity. One without Shakti is said to be weak and powerless. While Shaktism is most often found in Hinduism, it sometimes refers to the worship of goddesses in the Buddhist and Jain traditions of South Asia.

General Overviews

In medieval India, Shaktism was largely an esoteric religion practiced by small groups of yogis until the Puranic texts popularized the abilities and adventures of the goddess. Later poetry portrayed her as beautiful and loving, as a compassionate mother and a beautiful young girl. Shaktism has been understood both as a form of Vedanta philosophy and as a tantric practice by early Western scholars. There are types of Shaktism that involve tantric ritual, and there are types that do not. See Pintchman 2001 for a discussion of the goddess as one and many and Hawley and Wulff 1996 for examples of how various Hindu goddesses are equated to Devi. Humes and McDermott 2009 explores various images of the goddess, and Woodroffe 2007 gives the early interpretation of Shaktism as a form of Vedanta philosophy. Foulston and Abbott 2009 examines Hindu goddesses through beliefs and rituals.

  • Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott. Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Includes an overview of Shakta theology and ritual. In section 1, “Beliefs,” the authors examine philosophy, myth, and text, while in section 2 they examine local and temple worship, festivals, and pilgrimage. New deities are included in the conclusion.

  • Hawley, John Stratton, and Donna Marie Wulff, eds. Devī: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

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    This edited volume examines the concept of Devi, the great goddess, and the ways twelve Hindu goddesses are related to her. It includes the roles of supreme goddess, consort goddess, mother goddess, and possession goddess.

  • Humes, Cynthia Ann, and Rachel Fell McDermott, eds. Breaking Boundaries with the Goddess: New Directions in the Study of Śaktism. New Delhi: Manohar, 2009.

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    The collection of articles follows the themes of women’s role in religious texts, human sacrifice in Shakta tradition, and the role of the goddess in art history and religious ritual. The volume is dedicated to Narendra Nath Bhattacharyya, a well-known scholar of Shaktism.

  • 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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    Examines the idea of the goddess as both one and many, regional and universal. It has articles on goddesses from various regions of India, including the Punjab, Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh.

  • Woodroffe, John (Arthur Avalon, pseud.). Śakti and Śākta. Sioux Falls, SD: NuVision, 2007.

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    Originally written in 1918 by Woodroffe under the penname Arthur Avalon. It describes the teachings of the Shakta Tantra that he learned while he was chief justice of the Calcutta high court. It emphasizes Shaktism as philosophy with a strong Vedantic focus. It examines tantra as sacred text and includes Shakta ideas in Buddhism and Daoism. Its Victorian style of writing can be challenging for modern readers.

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