In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Goddess Worship and Bhakti

  • Introduction
  • General and Historical Overviews
  • Critical Translations
  • Edited Volumes
  • Pilgrimage
  • Human Vehicles of the Goddess
  • Female Gurus
  • Sociopolitical and Caste Analyses of Goddess Worship
  • Bhārāt Mātā
  • Art and Iconography
  • Ecological Perspectives on Goddess Worship

Hinduism Goddess Worship and Bhakti
Elaine Craddock
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0241


The worship of goddesses has been a vital part of Hinduism for centuries. There are innumerable goddesses whose worship encompasses a wide range of perspectives and practices that vary by language, region, tradition, and context. Some goddesses’ stories and iconography are pan-Indian, such as the supreme Devī in the 6th-century Devī-Māhātmya, while other goddesses’ devotional arenas are regional or limited to a particular locale. Bhakti is generally defined as devotion to a personal deity, including a goddess, expressed in praise texts in Sanskrit and in devotional songs and poetry in vernacular languages. Some goddesses are part of devotional traditions within a Brahmanical socioreligious order and temple orthodoxy in which rituals are performed by a priest; others are part of bhakti movements that resist religious and social norms. Śāktism is, in brief, the worship of the fundamental cosmic power, śakti, conceived of as the Goddess, supreme deity, and ultimate reality, whereas in Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism the goddess is worshiped as the śakti of the male gods Śiva and Viṣṇu. The goddess is also equated with prakṛti, the material foundation of creation, so Śāktism centers on the sacredness and reality of the material world. Kathleen Erndl notes that although Śāktism pervades Hindu worship, it is more difficult to define than either Śaivism or Vaiṣṇavism (Erndl 2004, cited in General and Historical Overviews, “Śākta,” p. 140). In some Śākta traditions bhakti is the primary mode of attention to the goddess. Contemporary devotees may consider the goddess as transcendent and/or immanent; as ultimate reality and/or intimate Mother. Goddesses are worshiped in iconographic forms, such as images in temples and home shrines, natural sites in the landscape such as rivers or mountains, aniconic forms such as a stone under a tree, or the center of the human heart. Regular or occasional worship practices may be directed to a personal goddess, lineage deity, village protector, or goddesses with particular areas of power, and range from devotion to propitiation, divination, and healing. Rituals may be performed by priests or other specialists, but many are performed by devotees themselves, who may make a vow (Sanskrit vrata) to perform particular rites in exchange for desired goals; these rites include fasting, making particular offerings, body piercing, sacrificing an animal, possession, and going on pilgrimage. In Śākta tantra, the goddess may be worshiped in yantras or sacred diagrams and in mantras or sacred syllables, and women manifest the goddess in ritual contexts. Through esoteric yogic and ritual techniques the practitioner accesses the correspondences between the microcosm of the human body and the macrocosm of the universe to realize the fundamental identity with the goddess in order to achieve powers and ultimate liberation. This article focuses on worship and bhakti practices directed toward goddesses; for broader treatments of these topics, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies Online articles Bhakti, Goddess, and Shaktism. For the worship of goddesses with the gods Shiva and Vishnu, see Shiva and Viṣṇu.

General and Historical Overviews

The goddess is worshiped in many forms, from gentle and beneficent to fierce and protective; some goddesses combine these qualities. The sources listed here provide descriptions and historical overviews of multiple goddesses, and include information about worship practices. Erndl 2004 provides a concise historical and thematic introduction to Śāktism. Foulston and Abbott 2009 provides a succinct historical survey of goddesses from the earliest textual references to contemporary times, and of multiple ritual and devotional practices. Kinsley 1986 presents descriptions and stories for a wide range of goddesses, with one chapter focusing on goddesses in sacred geography. Kinsley 1997 is an accessible volume on goddesses worshiped in Śākta tantric traditions. Golovkova 2012 provides a concise overview of the pan-regional Śākta worship of Tripurasundarī, while Golovkova 2020 investigates aspects of the historical evolution of the texts and practices in this tradition. Mahalakshmi 2011 and Padma 2013 provide historical investigations of the evolution of indigenous and syncretic South Indian goddesses and their devotional practices. Pintchman 1994 explores Brahmanical texts to delineate the historical development of the Great Goddess through the synthesis of mythological and philosophical concepts.

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

    A concise but thorough overview of the principal concepts, narratives, practices, and sacred geography of Śāktism.

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

    Provides a historical overview of goddesses from Vedic times to the present, with pan-Indian and local myths, and a section on Tantrism. Half of the book focuses on practices, including temple and home worship, festivals, and pilgrimages. Solid introduction for undergraduate classes.

  • Golovkova, Anna A. “Śrīvidyā.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 4. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, and Angelika Malinar, 815–822. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    Comprehensive historical overview of the central texts and practices in the worship of the goddess Tripurasundarī, beginning with the cult of the nityā goddesses.

  • Golovkova, Anna A. (Anya). “The Forgotten Consort: The Goddess and Kāmadeva in the Early Worship of Tripurasundarī.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 24.1 (May 2020): 87–106.

    DOI: 10.1007/211407-020-09272-6

    Examines ritual, textual, and iconographic continuities between the earlier nityā tradition, delineated in the Nityākaula tantra, and the tradition of Tripurasundarī, later known as Śrīvidyā, encapsulated in the Vāmakeśvarīmata.

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

    A largely historical and textual sourcebook providing descriptions of a broad range of goddesses from the Vedic period to the present. Includes some devotional practices, particularly in the final chapter on village goddesses.

  • Kinsley, David R. Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520917729

    Provides literary, mythic, and iconographic depictions of the ten goddesses known as the Mahāvidyās, some of whom, like Kālī, are widely worshiped individually, while others are known only as part of this group. Describes worship practices, and foregrounds themes that connect the goddesses as a group. Accessible introduction to tantric deities and practices for undergraduates.

  • Mahalakshmi, R. The Making of the Goddess: Koṟṟavai-Durgā in the Tamil Traditions. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011.

    Traces the historical evolution of the indigenous Tamil goddess Koṟṟavai beginning with the Sangam period (c. 300 BCE to 300 CE), and her incorporation into the syncretic goddess traditions centered on Durgā and Parvatī that developed in the Tamil country within a Brahmanical framework. Includes epigraphical, literary, mythic, architectural, and iconographic analyses.

  • Padma, Sree. Vicissitudes of the Goddess: Reconstructions of the Gramadevata in India’s Religious Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199325023.001.0001

    Investigates the historical evolution of grāmadevatās or village goddess in Andhra Pradesh, focusing on fertility and disease goddesses, some of whom have been transformed into Brahmanical deities, as well as women who have been deified. Analyzes inscriptions, symbols, iconography, myths, and contemporary rituals, illuminating potential connections between grāmadevatās and Vedic and Puranic sources, and how gender and caste relations are reflected in the worship of these goddesses.

  • Pintchman, Tracy. The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    This study examines Vedic, philosophical, and Puranic texts to trace the development of the Great Goddess in the Brahmanical tradition, focusing on three interrelated concepts: śakti, the energizing principle of the cosmos; prakṛti, cosmic materiality; and māyā, the creative power of delusion. Pintchman shows that the Goddess evolved from the blending of orthodox cosmological concepts with nonorthodox ideas of female divinity, providing textual and historical background for contemporary goddess worship.

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