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

Introduction

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.

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

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

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    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.

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  • 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.

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

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  • 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: 10.1007/211407-020-09272-6Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    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.

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  • 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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    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.

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

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520917729Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    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.

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

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    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.

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  • 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/9780199325023.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    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.

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

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    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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Critical Translations

Translations of foundational written texts furnish the core stories and concepts of Mahādevī that continue to be expressed in oral traditions, rituals, and iconography. Coburn 1991 and Brown 1998 translate influential Sanskrit texts in which Devī is the supreme power of the cosmos and the focus of bhakti; stories and concepts from these texts pervade much of the Hindu tradition. Rhodes 2010 portrays the popular goddess Lakṣmī through Sanskrit texts and hymns of praise. Moving to other languages, Parthasarathy 1993 translates the ancient Tamil epic in which a chaste wife becomes the goddess Pattiṉi, and which depicts the worship of a range of indigenous Tamil goddesses. McDermott 2001 and McLean 1998 present translations of poetry to goddesses in Bengal, one of the main regions of Śākta worship in India. Śākta Tantrism can be categorized broadly into the Kālīkula, focusing on fierce goddesses like Kālī, and Śrīkula, focused on gentler, motherly goddesses. Several works here investigate the important South Indian Śrīkula tradition of Śrīvidyā, centered on the goddess Tripurasundarī: Brooks 1990 and Brooks 1992 illuminate the core texts and practices of this tradition, some of which are esoteric and technical, and Clooney 2011 analyzes a Sanskrit praise poem connected to the Śrīvidyā tradition. Golovkova 2019 analyzes two central texts to explicate the evolution of ritual practices to Tripurasundarī. Lidke 2017 also explores Śrīvidyā in its Nepalese form.

  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Śākta Tantrism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    Explores the influential South Indian tradition of Śākta tantra, the Śrīvidyā, centered on the goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī. Concentrates on the text of the Tripurā Upaniṣad and includes an annotated translation.

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  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Śrīvidyā Śākta Tantrism in South India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

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    Delineates and analyzes the canonical texts and traditions of Śrīvidyā Śākta tantra in South India. Illuminates the forms of the goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī and rituals to her, drawing on the knowledge and experiences of contemporary practitioners.

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  • Brown, Mackenzie C. The Devī Gītā: The Song of the Goddess: A Translation, Annotation and Commentary. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Ten chapters of the Devī-Bhāgavata Purana are known as the Devī Gītā (the Song of the Goddess, c. 13th century CE), in which the World-Mother Bhuvaneśvarī reveals her iconic manifestations and conveys ultimate knowledge to her devotee the Mountain King Himalaya, including the path of devotion or bhakti yoga. Two hymns of praise are offered by the gods. Brown provides a translation as well as annotations and commentary on this work, which is used in contemporary worship.

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  • Clooney, Francis Xavier. “Female Beauty, Female Power: Seeing Devī in the Saundarya Lahirī.” In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. Edited by Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, 33–60. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230119925_3Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Partial translation and analysis of the one-hundred-verse Sanskrit tantric hymn the Saundarya Lahirī that praises Devī.

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  • Coburn, Thomas B. Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devī-Mahātmya and a Study of Its Interpretation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    The 6th-century Devī-Māhātmya, part of the Mārkaṇḍeya Purana, is the earliest Sanskrit text devoted to the Goddess as the singular, supreme power of the universe. Its three main myths, particularly the Goddess slaying the buffalo demon Mahiṣa, are fundamental to the development of goddess iconography and worship in the subcontinent. In addition to providing a complete translation, Coburn analyzes the text’s commentaries, subsidiary texts, and some contemporary recitation practices.

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  • Golovkova, Anna A. “From Worldly Powers to Jīvanmukti: Ritual and Soteriology in the Early Tantras of the Cult of Tripurasundarī.” The Journal of Hindu Studies 12.1 (May 2019): 103–126.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiz004Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Traces the historical evolution of soteriological ritual practices in the worship of the Śākta goddess Tripurasundarī, focusing on the texts Vāmakeśvarīmata and Yoginīhṛdaya, which highlights jīvanmukti, liberation in one’s lifetime. Includes translations of some verses.

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  • Lidke, Jeffrey S. The Goddess within and beyond the Three Cities: Śākta Tantra and the Paradox of Power in Nepāla-Maṇḍala. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P), 2017.

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    A detailed textual and ethnographic exploration of Nepalese Śrī-Vidyā tantra in which the ultimate source of power is the Goddess Tripurasundarī, “the beautiful goddess within/beyond the three cities.” Explicates esoteric yogic rituals and exoteric ideologies and practices in the geographic and sociopolitical realms through the overarching theme of power. Includes an annotated translation of sections of the Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell. Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kālī and Umā from Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    An anthology of English translations of Bengali Śākta poetry from the 18th century to the 20th century, written by thirty-seven poets, including the most famous Śākta poet, Rāmprasād Sen. A wonderful text for classroom use.

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  • McLean, Malcolm. Devoted to the Goddess: The Life and Work of Ramprasad. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Provides a detailed exploration of the famous Śākta poet Ramprasad Sen’s work and the picture of the Goddess he constructs, illuminating connections to Puranic, tantric, and Bengali folk traditions. Probes his life story and analyzes Ramprasad’s historical and contemporary importance.

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  • Parthasarathy, R. The Cilappatikāram of Iḷaṅkō Aṭikaḷ: An Epic of South India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

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    The Cilappatikāram is the 5th-century Tamil epic that narrates the apotheosis of the heroine Kaṇṇaki into the goddess Pattiṉi; the Cēral king installs her image in a temple and commands that she be worshiped daily. Pattiṉi is still worshiped in early-21st-century South India and Sri Lanka. Some of the cantos describe the worship of several other goddesses, including Koṟṟavai, the Tamil goddess of war. Includes a complete translation and analysis.

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  • Rhodes, Constantina. Invoking Lakshmi: The Goddess of Wealth in Song and Ceremony. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.

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    Detailed portrait of the goddess Lakṣmī based on Vedic, Puranic, and tantric texts. Translations of hundreds of devotional songs and a complete pūjā or worship ritual text, with transliterated Sanskrit texts included at the end of the book.

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Edited Volumes

Anthologies of essays by different authors provide schematic perspectives on multiple forms of the goddess in many historical periods and global regions, and from many analytical perspectives, and can be especially useful introductions in college courses. Bose 2018, Hawley and Wulff 1996, and Pintchman 2001 investigate the goddess as the singular Devī and as worshiped in embodied forms from historical and ethnographic perspectives. Humes and McDermott 2009 includes several essays focusing on Śākta tantric rituals. Hawley and Wulff 1982 highlights Rādhā among goddesses who are worshiped with male consorts. Padma 2014 explores how goddesses and their devotional practices evolve when they inhabit new locations. McDermott and Kripal 2003 surveys the goddess Kālī from her early historical roots into the Internet age. Simmons, et al. 2018 provides interdisciplinary depictions of the wide-ranging celebrations of Navarātri, one of the most important festivals in the Hindu world. Singh 2010 explores the centrality of the goddess in sacred landscapes. Hiltebeitel and Erndl 2000 is a provocative volume of essays approaching goddess worship from feminist positions, including Western appropriation of Hindu practices, and highlights connections between goddess worship and women’s empowerment.

  • Bose, Mandakranta, ed. The Oxford History of Hinduism: The Goddess. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

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    A critical examination of Hindu conceptions and worship of Devī as singular and manifested in many forms. The first essays profile the historical development of tantric and Brahminical pan-Indian goddesses, rituals, and contemporary practices, including Lalitā/Tripurasundarī, Lakṣmī, Rādhā, and Sītā. Other essays explore divine embodiment in human females, the worship of regional goddesses such as Bathukamma in Telangana and Manasā in Bengal, and a Hindu goddess temple in the United States.

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  • Hawley, John Stratton, and Donna Marie Wulff, eds. The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India. Berkeley, CA: Graduate Theological Union, 1982.

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    The essays in this volume highlight multiple goddesses worshiped with male partners, beginning with several essays focused on Kṛṣṇa’s lover Rādhā. The conceptualization and worship of the goddesses are approached from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Useful for undergraduate courses.

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

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    These essays provide textual and ethnographic profiles of multiple goddesses as manifestations of the Great Goddess or Devī. Suitable for undergraduate courses.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf, and Kathleen Erndl, eds. Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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    Essays explore a variety of experiential perspectives on devotion to diverse goddesses, ranging from Indian textual and ritual contexts to Western feminist viewpoints. Raises challenging issues such as whether Hindu goddesses are empowering models for women, and cultural appropriation of religious traditions. Especially useful for undergraduate courses focusing on goddesses and gender.

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  • Humes, Cynthia Ann, and Rachel Fell McDermott, eds. Breaking Boundaries with the Goddess: New Directions in the Study of Śāktism. Essays in Honor of Narendra Nath Bhattacharya. New Delhi: Manohar, 2009.

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    The essays in this volume include textual examinations of human and divine female roles, Śākta practices of animal sacrifice, art historical profiles of goddess images, and experiential perspectives on Śākta practices.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell, and Jeffrey J. Kripal, eds. Encountering Kālī: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    Essays on Kālī in a variety of geographic locations from historical, textual, ethnographic, and postcolonial perspectives. Suitable for upper-level courses.

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  • Padma, Sree. Inventing and Reinventing the Goddess: Contemporary Iterations of Hindu Deities on the Move. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014.

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    Explores the transformations of the worship practices and identities of local goddesses who are in new situations due to processes of modernization and globalization, highlighting the qualities of the goddesses that connect the original and new locations. The essays profile a variety of goddesses in Sri Lanka, the United States, and several regions of India, including an examination of how the image of Devī is employed by activists in feminist political struggles.

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  • 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 explore how the Great Goddess Mahādevī is interpreted in a variety of manifestations and contexts in multiple geographical locations. Evidence is drawn from textual, mythic, iconographic, ritual, ethnographic, and folklore sources. Valuable for undergraduate courses.

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  • Simmons, Caleb, Moumita Sen, and Hillary Rodrigues, eds. Nine Nights of the Goddess: The Navarātri Festival in South Asia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018.

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    The interdisciplinary essays in this volume explicate the diverse public and domestic celebrations of the festival of Navarātri in several historical periods and regions of the Indian subcontinent. The many interpretations of the festival are analyzed through aesthetic, political, economic, and sociological lenses. A vivid exploration of a ubiquitous festival.

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  • Singh, Rana R. B. Sacred Geography of Goddesses in South Asia: Essays in Memory of David Kinsley. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.

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    The essays in this volume explore multiple geographical locations where goddesses are worshiped, ritual techniques to encounter the goddess in one’s body, pilgrimages to goddess sites and temples including in Banāras, goddess symbologies, and ecological perspectives on the Gaṅgā.

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Studies of Specific Goddesses

In contrast to edited volumes covering multiple forms of the goddess, texts that focus on one or a small group of deities can provide a deeper investigation of the practices devoted to regionally important goddesses, and convey the wide range of practices employed in multiple goddess traditions in the Hindu world. These texts are organized according to geographical region.

North India

Texts focusing on North India explore temple, ritual, and pilgrimage sites connected to important local and pan-Indian goddesses. Erndl 1993 is a wide-ranging study of the Great Goddess known in northwestern India as Śerāṅvālī, and as Vaiṣṇo Devī in her increasingly popular Jammu pilgrimage site. Humes 1996 and Humes 1993 explore the worship of Vindhyavāsinī, “she who dwells in the Vindhya mountains,” in the pilgrimage town of Vindhyachal and in her many temples in the sacred city of Banaras. Herman 2007 and Herman 2011 explore the epic heroine Sītā as an agricultural and kitchen goddess, including at her pilgrimage shrines in the Rāmāyaṇa landscape. Ferrari 2015 provides an in-depth examination of the important healing goddess Śītalā. Halperin 2020 explores the historical and contemporary transformations of the multifaceted goddess Haḍimbā in Himachal Pradesh.

  • Erndl, Kathleen M. Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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    Comprehensive historical and ethnographic study of the goddess Śerāṅvālī, drawing on pan-Indian Śākta myths and local stories in the Panjab region, rituals including jagrātās or all-night vigils, possession and pilgrimage, and profiles of women who are regular vehicles of the goddess.

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  • Ferrari, Fabrizio M. Religion, Devotion and Medicine in North India: The Healing Power of Śītalā. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

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    An in-depth textual and ethnographic analysis of the worship of the smallpox goddess Śītalā in several regions of North India, highlighting the range of her protective powers after the eradication of smallpox. Draws on Sanskrit and vernacular texts, and surveys a wide range of devotional practices.

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  • Halperin, Ehud. The Many Faces of a Himalayan Goddess: Haḍimbā, Her Devotees, and Religion in Rapid Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

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    Detailed ethnographic and archival exploration of the dynamic, multifaceted Kullu Valley goddess Haḍimbā through her stories, rituals, and central roles in the political powers of the region and the lives of her devotees. Investigates Haḍimbā’s intersecting local, regional, and pan-Indian identities and the conceptual fields her powers delineate, foregrounding the evolution of the goddess and her communities in response to the rapid increase in tourism, material wealth, and climate change.

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  • Herman, Phyllis K. “Sita Masala: From the Vedas to the Kitchen.” In The Constant and Changing Faces of the Goddess: Goddess Traditions of Asia. Edited by Deepak Shimkhada and Phyllis K. Herman, 54–64. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2007.

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    Analyzes the Rāmāyaṇa heroine Sītā as an agricultural goddess.

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  • Herman, Phyllis K. “Sītā Rasoīs and Śākta Pīṭhas: A Feminine Reclamation of Mythic and Epic Proportions.” In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. Edited by Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, 79–95. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230119925_5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the goddesses Satī and Sītā through the paradigm of the pativratā or faithful wife, and their geographic shrines, focusing on Sītā’s rasoīs or “kitchen shrines” in Ayodhyā and Citrakūt, two cities in the topography of the epic Rāmāyaṇa.

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  • Humes, Cynthia Ann. “The Goddess of the Vindhyas in Banaras.” In Living Banaras: Hindu Religion in Cultural Context. Edited by Brandley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes, 181–204. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

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    Historical and ethnographic survey of the narratives, iconography, and worship practices of the goddess Vindhyavāsinī in several temples in Banaras.

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  • Humes, Cynthia Ann. “Vindhyavāsinī: Local Goddess yet Great Goddess.” In Devī: Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Mari Wulff, 49–76. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520916296-006Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Profiles the main texts and rituals used in the worship of the goddess Vindhyavāsinī in the village of Vindhyachal. Vividly describes the popular pilgrimage to the temple.

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East India

Bengal is well known as a center of Tantrism and of a variety of modes of goddess worship, particularly of Durgā and Kālī, in urban and rural areas. Harding 1998 investigates the worship of Kālī at the famous Dakshineshwar temple, while McDermott 2001 profiles the Bengali Kālī and Umā through devotional poetry. McDaniel 2004 explores folk, tantric, and bhakti practices to Bengali goddesses including Durgā and Kālī. Chatterjee 2007 investigates the social and labor hierarchies in the worship of Durgā on Bengali tea plantations. Also in Bengal, Dasgupta and Bose 2000 looks at the worship of the snake goddess Manasā, while Ferrari 2010 explores the healing rituals to the goddess Śītalā. Mukhopadhyay 2018 provides a wide-ranging exploration of the goddess Satī, including through a Bengali text. Biernacki 2007, Rosati 2018, and Urban 2011 focus on the Śākta tantric practices to Kāmākhyā Devī in Assam. In Odisha (formerly Orissa), Menon 2001 describes the worship of Kālī in Bhubaneshwar, Preston 1985 focuses in particular on temple rituals to the goddess Chandi in Cuttack, and Foulston 2002 investigates village goddess worship with comparisons to worship in Tamil Nadu.

  • Biernacki, Loriliai. Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex, and Speech in Tantra. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Provides a rich portrait of Kāmākhyā Devī, whose temple is located in Assam, and illuminates perspectives on women as authoritative tantric practitioners based on Sanskrit texts associated with the goddess. In the appendices the author discusses the sources in detail, and provides a synopsis of the Bṛhannīla tantra, or Great Blue tantra.

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  • Chatterjee, Piya. “She Dances Madly: Toward a Ritual Political Economy of the Goddess.” In The Constant and Changing Faces of the Goddess: Goddess Traditions of Asia. Edited by Deepak Shimkhada and Phyllis K. Herman, 135–146. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2007.

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    Ethnographic study of how different manifestations and mediations of Durgā Mātā intersect with gender and power in the tea plantations of northern Bengal.

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  • Dasgupta, Manasi, and Mandakranta Bose. “The Goddess-Woman Nexus in Popular Religious Practice: The Cult of Manasā.” In Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India. Edited by Mandakranta Bose, 148–161. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Analyzes the Bengali Manasā Maṅgala, the narrative of the snake goddess, told in rituals to Manasā performed by women.

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  • Ferrari, Fabrizio M. “Old Rituals for New Threats: Possession and Healing in the Cult of Śītalā.” In Ritual Matters: Dynamic Dimensions in Practice. Edited by Christiane Brosius and Ute Hüsken, 144–171. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    Ethnographic investigation of the persistence of the worship of the smallpox goddess Śītalā in rural West Bengal following the eradication of smallpox, the centrality of possession in her healing rituals, and the addition of HIV/AIDS as a disease the goddess inflicts and heals.

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  • Foulston, Lynn. At the Feet of the Goddess: The Divine Feminine in Local Hindu Religion. Brighton, UK, and Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2002.

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    A close ethnographic study of local goddess worship practices in a village in Odisha and a small town in Tamil Nadu, including the myths, temples, and many rituals in each locale. Addresses issues such as how devotees conceive of the goddesses’ power, and illuminates commonalities between them.

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  • Harding, Elizabeth U. Kālī: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.

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    Draws on Vedantic and tantric philosophy to frame the worship of Kālī in the Dakshineswar temple in Bengal. Provides detailed descriptions of the temple, Kālī’s iconography, symbolism, and regular and special rituals performed in the temple. Profiles several devotees, including Sri Ramakrishna.

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  • McDaniel, June. Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195167900.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Comprehensive study of the 19th- and 20th-century worship of goddesses in Bengal, framed by a tripartite typology of Bengali Śāktism: folk/tribal, tantric/yogic, and bhakti or devotional. In addition, one chapter focuses on the worship of Durgā and Kālī, and a final chapter addresses the appropriation of Śāktism in the West. Accessible for undergraduates.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell. Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams: Kālī and Umā in the Devotional Poetry of Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195134354.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Traces the conceptual and iconographic transformations of the Bengali goddesses Kālī and Umā based primarily on Bengali Śākta poetry from the 18th to the 20th century. Published with the companion volume of English translations of the poetry, McDermott 2001 (cited in Critical Translations).

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  • Menon, Usha. “Mahādevī as Mother: The Oriya Hindu Vision of Reality.” In Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 37–54. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Menon draws on stories, iconography, and interviews to portray the worship of Kālī as a nurturing mother and wife of Śiva in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.

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  • Mukhopadhyay, Anway. The Goddess in Hindu-Tantric Traditions: Devi as Corpse. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781351063548Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes the figure of the Goddess as corpse, as the goddess Satī and her dismemberment in narratives and practices through multiple Shākta lenses. Provides summaries of the Satī myth from two Sanskrit Puranic texts and one Bengali text.

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  • Preston, James J. Cult of the Goddess: Social and Religious Change in a Hindu Temple. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1985.

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    A study of the changes occurring in the patronage, management, symbolism, and rituals at the Chandi Temple in Cuttack, Odisha.

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  • Rosati, Paolo E. “Nīlācala: The Mountain of Desire, Death and Rebirth.” In Colonial Transformation and Asian Religions in Modern History. Edited by David W. Kim, 30–53. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2018.

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    Textual and ethnographic exploration of the Kāmākhyā temple on Nīlācala/Kāmagiri mountain in Assam where the goddess is worshiped in her yoni or vulva form, considered the greatest of the śakti piṭhas/seats of the goddess. Traces the fusion of Puranic, tantric, and tribal narratives and practices in the worship of the goddess, including blood sacrifice, as well as the goddess’s central role in Assamese kingship beginning with the mythohistorical King Naraka.

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  • Urban, Hugh B. “The Womb of Tantra: Goddesses, Tribals, and Kings in Assam.” Journal of Hindu Studies 4 (2011): 231–247.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hir034Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Delineates the interactions between Brahmanical and indigenous tribal traditions in the historical development of goddess worship in Assamese Śākta tantra, highlighting the centrality of sacrifice and the interrelation between tantra and kingship. Includes several photographic illustrations.

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South India

Works focusing on South India explore the many village goddesses as well as transformations in the worship of goddesses in urbanizing areas. Animal sacrifice has historically been central to the worship of village goddesses, but in many temples and traditions blood sacrifice has been abandoned or severely curtailed. Biardeau 2004 explores sacrificial rituals in several areas of South India, exposing possible links to Vedic sacrifice. Craddock 2001 explores sacrificial themes in the worship of the smallpox goddess Māriyammaṉ. Hiltebeitel 1988 and Hiltebeitel 1991 provide extensive mythic, ritual, and performative investigations of Draupadī, a Mahābhārata heroine who is a powerful goddess in Tamil Nadu. Meyer 1986 and Schuler 2009 are detailed examinations of the widespread devotional practices to “fierce” goddesses in different areas of Tamil Nadu. Harman 2012, Waghorne 2001, and Padma 2001 sketch the transformations in the identities and ritual practices of goddesses in rapidly urbanizing contexts. Many of the goddesses in these studies have connections to the god Śiva, but Narayanan 1996 profiles the Śrī Vaiṣṇava goddess Lakṣmī.

  • Biardeau, Madeleine. Stories about Posts: Vedic Variations around the Hindu Goddess. Edited and translated by Alf Hiltebeitel and Marie-Louise Reiniche. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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    Biardeau’s magnum opus traces the functions of the sacrificial post from Vedic texts to contemporary rituals to goddesses. Provides detailed ethnographic investigations of rituals to multiple goddesses in several regions of India, including Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha.

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  • Craddock, Elaine. “Reconstructing the Split Goddess as Śakti in a Tamil Village.” In Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 145–169. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Explores the sacrificial themes in the stories, praise songs, and ritual practices to the smallpox goddess Māriyammaṉ or Bavāṉiyammaṉ in the Tamil village of Periyapāḷaiyam. Argues that devotees worship Bavāṉiyammaṉ not only as an immanent goddess who heals and protects, but as the all-powerful Śakti.

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  • Harman, William P. “From Fierce to Domesticated: Mariyamman Joins the Middle Class.” Nidan: International Journal for the Study of Hinduism 24 (December 2012): 41–65.

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    Explores the changes in the goddess Māriyammaṉ and in her worship to appeal to middle-class sensibilities at the Tamil temples Samayapuram and Melmaruvathur.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf. The Cult of Draupadī. Vol. 1, Mythologies: From Gingee to Kurukṣetra. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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    Draupadī is considered by her devotees to be the embodiment of the supreme goddess. This volume provides a detailed mythic, ritual, and performative exposition of the Draupadī cult centered in Gingee and its diffusion Tamil Nadu. Draws on written and oral sources and performative traditions to illuminate the interrelationships between the Tamil cult and the Sanskrit epic the Mahābhārata.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf. The Cult of Draupadī. Vol. 2, On Hindu Ritual and the Goddess. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

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    This volume provides rich ethnographic descriptions of the rituals performed during the annual Draupadī festival framed by four intersecting arenas: temple, stage, ritual battlefield, and firewalking pit. Highlights regional, local, and caste variations. Hiltebeitel takes a comparativist approach to Hindu ritual that does not focus on practitioners’ voices.

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  • Meyer, Eveline. Aṅkāḷaparamēcuvari: A Goddess of Tamilnadu, Her Myths and Cult. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1986.

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    Detailed investigation of the worship of the Tamil goddess Aṅkāḷaparamēcuvari, including her myths, rituals, temples, iconography, songs, and festivals. Describes the caste groups and ritual specialists most involved in her worship, as well as the experiences of devotees.

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  • Narayanan, Vasudha. “Śrī: Giver of Fortune, Bestower of Grace.” In Devī: Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Mari Wulff, 87–108. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520916296-008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes the literature, iconography, and rituals of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava worship of Śrī, or Lakṣmī, in South India.

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  • Padma, Sree. “From Village to City: Transforming Goddesses in Urban Andhra Pradesh.” In Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 115–143. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Surveys the changing worship practices for eight village goddesses in the rapidly urbanizing city of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Analyzes the changes brought about by Sanskritization, and argues that the goddesses continue to be worshiped for their protective powers.

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  • Schuler, Barbara. Of Death and Birth: Icakkiyammaṉ, a Tamil Goddess, in Ritual and Story. With a film on DVD by the author. Ethno-Indology: Heidelberg Studies in South Asian Rituals 8. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009.

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    A tour de force historical and ethnographic investigation of the worship of the goddess Icakki/Nīli in southern Tamil Nadu, based on an analysis of the interrelationships between multiple regional and local versions of the Icakkiyammaṉ Katai or story of the goddess in the villuppāṭṭu (bow-song) tradition, and the rituals performed for her. Provides the Tamil and annotated translation of the story, and the ritual sequence in one village’s annual festival.

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  • Waghorne, Joanne Punzo. “The Gentrification of the Goddess.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 5.3 (December 2001): 227–267.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-001-0002-4Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Traces the architectural and ritual transformations of two goddess temples in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in the context of rapidly changing urban spaces and the religious sensibilities of the growing middle class.

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West India

Compared to some other regions of India, independent goddesses are less pervasive in the West. The works here focus on Maharāshtra. Similar to several of the works located in South India, Vetschera 1978 explores rituals performed for a folk goddess, while Feldhaus 1995 surveys the pervasive worship of rivers as goddesses.

  • Feldhaus, Anne. Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    A detailed study of the ways rivers in Maharashtra are conceptualized and worshiped as goddesses. Draws extensively on praise texts or Māhātmyas, along with oral narratives, iconography, and rituals including festivals to vividly convey the centrality of rivers to the natural and devotional landscapes.

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  • Vetschera, Traude. “The Potaraja and Their Goddess.” Asian Folklore Studies 37.2 (1978): 105–153.

    DOI: 10.2307/1177634Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Profiles the priests of the goddess Mari/Lakṣmī in Maharashtra and the rituals they perform, drawing on multiple stories and ethnographic descriptions. Includes transliterations of songs and commentary.

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Nepal

The area of Nepal is populated by Buddhists and Hindus, but it was a Hindu kingdom from the 18th century until 2008, when it was declared a federal democratic republic. Birkenholtz 2018 provides a detailed examination of the role of the goddess Svasthānī in Nepal’s identity as a Hindu monarchy. Kondos 2012 describes the worship of the goddess Guhyeswari in the vicinity of the famous Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.

  • Birkenholtz, Jessica Vantine. Reciting the Goddess: Narratives of Place and the Making of Hinduism in Nepal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199341160.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An in-depth archival and ethnographic study of the 16th-century Svasthānīvratakatha (The Story of the Ritual Vow to the Goddess Svasthānī), the rituals and development of the Svasthānī (“Goddess of One’s Own Place”) goddess tradition, and its role in the evolution of Nepal’s identity as a Hindu kingdom.

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  • Kondos, Vivienne. “An Engagement with the Forces of Time: Worship at the Goddess Guhyeswari Temple.” Nidan: International Journal for the Study of Hinduism 24 (December 2012): 84–99.

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    Description and analysis of the main temple ritual to the goddess Guhyeswari on the grounds of the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Festivals and Ritual Vows

Most goddesses have annual festivals that draw devotees from a larger area than regular devotional activities. Some of these festivals may be regional variations of pan-Indian festivals like Durgā Pūjā, while other festivals are celebrated only locally. Vratas or vows may be part of calendrical festival activities, or may be undertaken as an individual or group rite to secure a desired goal.

North India

Gold 2000 brings a local interpretation of the Indian Holi festival together with local festivals to illuminate goddess worship in rural Rajasthan. Four works focus on Bengal: Guha-Thakurta 2015 frames Durgā Pūjā in Kolkata as an artistic extravaganza. McDaniel 2003 looks at vows performed by women and girls. McDermott 2011 provides a detailed historical and ethnographic portrait of three major goddess festivals. Nicholas 2013 explores Durgā Pūjā in a rural area of Bengal. Bengal is especially famous for its Durgā Pūjā celebrations, but Rodrigues 2003 examines this major festival in Banaras.

  • Gold, Ann Grodzins. “From Demon Aunt to Gorgeous Bride: Women Portray Female Power in a North Indian Festival Cycle.” In Invented Identities: The Interplay of Gender, Religion and Politics in India. Edited by Julia Leslie and Mary McGee, 203–230. SOAS Studies on South Asia, Understandings and Perspectives. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Profiles women’s celebrations of the four-festival cycle beginning with Holi and continuing with three festivals to local goddesses in rural Rajasthan.

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  • Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. In the Name of the Goddess: The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata. Delhi: Primus Books, 2015.

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    Ethnographic study of Durgā Pūjā as an extravagant artistic event, exploring such aspects as the production and reception of the visual imagery of the festival.

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  • McDaniel, June. Making Virtuous Daughters and Wives: An Introduction to Women’s Brata Rituals in Bengali Folk Religion. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

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    Ethnographic portrait of the stories, songs, and rituals that women and girls perform as part of particular bratas (Sanskrit vratas) for a variety of Hindu folk goddesses in Bengal.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell. Revelry, Rivalry, and Longing for the Goddesses of Bengal: The Fortunes of Hindu Festivals. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.7312/mcde12918Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An ethnographic and historical study tracing the evolution of the interconnected Bengali festivals to Durgā, Jagaddhātrī, and Kālī from the colonial period until the present. The title highlights some of the main themes that characterize the festivals and their importance to Bengali culture and identity, including in the diaspora. McDermott employs multiple theoretical perspectives to explore these themes, along with contentious issues such as blood sacrifice.

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  • Nicholas, Ralph W. Night of the Gods: Durga Puja and the Legitimation of Power in Rural Bengal. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 2013.

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    Based on fieldwork conducted in the 1960s, this study explores the celebration of Durgā Pūjā in Midnapur District, West Bengal, as well as the important worship rituals to Kālī, Lakṣmī, and Jagaddhātrī that are conducted after Durgā Pūjā.

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  • Rodrigues, Hillary Peter. Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess: The Liturgy of the Durgā Pūjā with Interpretations. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

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    Detailed description of the rituals performed as part of the annual Durgā Pūjā celebrations in Banaras. Explores the rites’ multiple functions, highlighting the effects of the rites on women.

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South India

Flueckiger 2013, Caldwell 1999, and Craddock 2012 use gender as an analytic lens in festivals in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, respectively. Beck 1981, Harman 2006, and Younger 2002 examine Māriyammaṉ and other goddess festivals in various regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Two works provide textual and ethnographic descriptions of marriage festivals of a goddess: Harman 1989 describes the famous marriage festival of the goddess Mīnākṣī in the city of Madurai, while Schier 2018 explores the marriage of the goddess Ēlavārkuḻali at the Ekāmranātha temple in Kanchipuram. Jenett 2005 examines a festival drawing growing numbers of devotees from upwardly mobile communities.

  • Beck, Brenda. “The Goddess and the Demon: A Local South Indian Festival and Its Wider Context.” Purusartha 5 (1981): 83–136.

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    Detailed ethnographic study of the myths and rituals that are part of the annual festival for Māriyammaṉ in Kaṉṉapuram, Tamil Nadu. Situates this festival in the broader context of festivals for other goddesses.

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  • Caldwell, Sarah. Oh Terrifying Mother: Sexuality, Violence and Worship of the Goddess Kāli. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    An ethnographic study of the ritual dance drama muṭiyēṯṯu, performed for the goddess Bhagavatī in Kerala. Caldwell offers several theoretical perspectives in analyzing the ritual in its historical and sociocultural contexts, with particular attention to gender dynamics.

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  • Craddock, Elaine. “The Half Male, Half Female Servants of the Goddess Aṅkāḷaparamēcuvari.” Nidan: International Journal for the Study of Hinduism 24 (December 2012): 117–135.

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    Provides ethnographic descriptions of festival rites and divination and healing rituals performed by thirunangais, or male-to-female transgender individuals, to the Tamil goddess Aṅkāḷaparamēcuvari.

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  • Flueckiger, Joyce Burkhalter. When the World Becomes Female: Guises of a South Indian Goddess. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013.

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    An in-depth ethnographic exploration and analysis of the stories, rituals, and festivals of the goddess Gangamma in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, with particular attention to the gendered experiences of the goddess’s devotees.

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  • Harman, William P. The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

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    Explores the famous annual festival celebrating the marriage of the South Indian goddess Mīnākṣī to the god Śiva in the Tamil city of Madurai through rituals and Tamil textual sources. Analyzes how sacred marriage engenders metaphoric kinship terms that frame the devotees’ relationships with the deities in the Tamil devotional milieu.

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  • Harman, William P. “Negotiating Relationships with the Goddess.” In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman, 25–41. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

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    Describes the vows devotees make to the goddess Māriyammaṉ at the famous Samayapuram temple in Tamil Nadu.

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  • Jenett, Dianne. “A Million Shaktis Rising: Pongala, a Women’s Festival in Kerala, India.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 21.1 (Spring 2005): 35–55.

    DOI: 10.1353/jfs.2005.0009Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnographic examination of the increasingly popular annual festival in which women from a broad range of castes and classes cook pongala or rice porridge for the goddess Attukal Amma/Bhagavatī in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

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  • Schier, Kerstin. The Goddess’s Embrace: Multifaceted Relations at the Ekāmranātha Temple Festival in Kanchipuram. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2018.

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    Historical and ethnographic study of the festival of the marriage of the goddess Ēlavārkuḻali to the god of the Ekāmranātha temple in Kanchipuram. Analyzes the relations between the goddess and the two other goddesses who attend the marriage, Kāmākṣī and Āti Kāmākṣī Kāḷikāmpāḷ.

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  • Schuler, Barbara. “The Dynamics of Emotions in the Ritual of a Hot Goddess.” Nidan: International Journal for the Study of Hinduism 24 (December 2012): 16–40.

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    Analyzes how emotions are aroused and negotiated in rituals performed for the Tamil goddess Icakkiyammaṉ during her annual festival.

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  • Younger, Paul. Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Chapter 3 describes the festival to the Goddess of Koṭuṅkaḷūr in Kerala, and chapter 8 focuses on the festival to Māriyammaṉ in Samayapuram, Tamil Nadu.

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Pilgrimage

Sacred sites in the landscape as well as constructed shrines are tīrṭhas, crossing places between divine and human worlds, and journeying to them has been part of the Indian devotional landscape for centuries. Some sites draw pilgrims from all geographical and social locations, while others are meaningful to particular communities. The Himalayan mountains, as the abode of the gods, especially Śiva and Pārvatī, contain many important pilgrimage sites, and several works here describe Himalayan pilgrimages. Sax 1991 and Sax 1990 examine the Royal Pilgrimage of the Uttarākhaṇḍ goddess Nandādevī. Rohe 2001 and Erndl 1993 depict the pilgrimage to Vaiṣṇo Devī’s shrine in the Jammu region. In addition to mountains, rivers are principal tīrṭhas in themselves and the locus of numerous pilgrimage sites along their banks. Deegan 2000 describes the pilgrimages to and along the river Narmada; Eck 1996 portrays the goddess Gaṅgā as the supreme river tīrṭha conceptually and for pilgrims; and Haberman 2006 gives a historical and ethnographic view of the pilgrimage to the river Yamunā, and her worship particularly in the Braj region. Maclean 2008 provides a detailed historical and ethnographic investigation of the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage that occurs every twelve years in Allahabad, the confluence of the Gaṅgā and Yamunā rivers, the largest gathering of humanity on earth. McDaniel 2002 presents the pilgrimage to the goddess Ṭuṣu Mā, important to Ādivāsī communities in central and eastern regions of India. And Schaflechner 2018 examines the annual pilgrimage to Hingalaj Devi in a remote region of Pakistan and her importance to Hinduism in that predominately Muslim country.

  • Deegan, Chris. “The Narmada: Circumambulation of a Sacred Landscape.” In Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky, and Water. Edited by Christopher Key Chapple and Mary Evelyn Tucker, 389–399. Cambridge, MA: Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, 2000.

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    Exploration of the river goddess Narmada and the pilgrimage around the river and to the many sacred sites along her banks.

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  • Eck, Diana L. “Gaṅgā: The Goddess Ganges in Hindu Sacred Geography.” In Devī: Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 137–153. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520916296-010Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines conceptual and tangible forms of the river goddess Gaṅgā Mātā, Mother Ganges, through stories, songs, iconography, and rituals. Describes the pilgrimage to Mother Ganges to bathe in her waters, and highlights the many sacred pilgrimage sites along the banks of this huge river.

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  • Erndl, Kathleen M. Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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    Comprehensive historical and ethnographic study of the goddess Śerāṅvālī includes a detailed description of the pilgrimage to her aspect as Vaiṣṇo Devī in the Jammu region.

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  • Haberman, David L. River of Love in an Age of Pollution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv11hpsbdSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Exploration of pilgrimage activities along the river Yamuna, beginning with the river’s source at Yamunotri. Documents how conceptions of the river goddess Yamunā Devī and her ritual activities have been affected by the increasingly polluted condition of the water.

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  • Maclean, Kama. Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765–1954. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195338942.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In-depth examination of the colonial and postcolonial history of the huge Kumbh Mela pilgrimage festival at the confluence of the Gaṅgā and Yamunā rivers. Illuminates the effects on the pilgrimage of British imperialism and Indian nationalism.

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  • McDaniel, June. “O Ṭuṣu Mā: Self-Expression, Oral History, and Social Commentary for the Jarkhand Goddess.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 6.2 (August 2002): 175–197.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-002-0007-7Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the pilgrimage for Ṭuṣu Mā, an Ādivāsī and Hindu goddess of agricultural fertility and water, important in areas of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Madhya Pradesh. Includes songs sung by women.

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  • Rohe, Mark Edwin. “Ambiguous and Definitive: The Greatness of Goddess Vaiṣṇo Devī.” In Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 55–76. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Describes the pilgrimage to Vaiṣṇo Devī’s cave shrine in the Jammu region and argues that in contrast to the goddess’s specific location, her theology is ambiguous and allows pilgrims from diverse devotional perspectives to form a meaningful relationship with her.

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  • Sax, William S. “Village Daughter, Village Goddess: Residence, Gender, and Politics in a Himalayan Pilgrimage.” American Ethnologist 17.3 (August 1990): 491–512.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1990.17.3.02a00050Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes the connections between the rituals of the Royal Pilgrimage of the Uttarākhaṇḍ goddess Nandādevī, place of residence, and marriage, and the gendered perspectives on participation in the pilgrimage.

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  • Sax, William S. Mountain Goddess: Gender and Politics in a Himalayan Pilgrimage. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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    In-depth ethnographic and historical investigation of the Royal Pilgrimage of the goddess Nandādevī in the Uttarākhaṇḍ region of the Himalayas. Drawing on songs, narratives, texts, rituals, and interviews, Sax analyzes the local political and gender relations Nandādevī’s pilgrimage encompasses.

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  • Schaflechner, Jürgen. Hingalaj Devi: Identity, Change and Solidification at a Hindu Temple in Pakistan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190850524.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Employs historical, political, and ethnographic lenses to illuminate Hingalaj Devi’s current status in Pakistan and the changing pilgrimage to her temple that draws pilgrims from various castes and classes, and Muslims as well as Hindus.

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Human Vehicles of the Goddess

Goddesses are not only worshiped in iconographic form, but also in and through human vehicles. Priests and other ritual specialists mediate worship between devotees and the goddess, but some go beyond mediation to embody the goddess. Sometimes possession happens only once or very occasionally; for other devotees consistent possession by the goddess develops into regular service to the goddess as a medium. Possession can be a path to ritual authority for women and those from lower castes who may be excluded from orthodox institutional roles. Caldwell 1996 describes the male-only vehicles of the goddess Kāḷī during a festival in Kerala. Erndl 1996 profiles two women in the Punjab who serve as the goddess Śerāṅvālī’s mediums in a variety of ritual contexts. Possessed vehicles often serve as healers; several of these works portray healers in Tamil Nadu. Harman 2011 describes voluntary and involuntary possession by the smallpox goddess Māriyammaṉ, and Allocco 2013 and Hancock 1995 examine how female healers negotiate public and domestic roles. Ram 2013 provides an in-depth analysis of female possession that takes such experiences into account in understanding agency and personhood. In some regions there are traditions in which girls and boys are dedicated to a goddess and then married to her rather than to a human, serving the goddess for the rest of their lives. Bradford 1983 and Ramberg 2014 explore this tradition to Yellamma in Karnataka, Bradford focusing on male jōgappas and Ramberg focusing on female jogatis. Flueckiger 2007 describes the matamma tradition in the area of Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, in which girls are married to Gangamma.

  • Allocco, Amy L. “From Survival to Respect: The Narrative Performances and Ritual Authority of a Female Hindu Healer.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 29.1 (Spring 2013): 101–117.

    DOI: 10.2979/jfemistudreli.29.1.101Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Takes a performance-centered approach in an examination of a woman in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, whose regular possession by the goddess transformed her into a popular healer, and how she negotiates this predominately male role in domestic and public spheres.

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  • Bradford, Nicholas J. “Transgenderism and the Cult of Yellamma: Heat, Sex, and Sickness in South Indian Ritual.” Journal of Anthropological Research 39.3 (1983): 307–322.

    DOI: 10.1086/jar.39.3.3629673Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnographic exploration of the lives and devotional activities of jōgappas, female men, and jōgammas or women, who are married to, and ritual specialists for, the goddess Yellamma in northern Karnataka. Analyzes the institution of the jōgappa through a structuralist lens.

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  • Caldwell, Sarah. “Bhagavati: Ball of Fire.” In Devī: Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Mari Wulff, 195–226. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520916296-013Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Describes and analyzes the mudiyettu rite performed in Kerala in which Bhagavati, or Kāḷi, possesses only men to do battle against the demon Dārika.

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  • Erndl, Kathleen M. “Śerāṅvālī: The Mother Who Possesses.” In Devī: Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Mari Wulff, 173–194. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520916296-012Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Profiles two women Mātās or mothers in the Punjab who are possessed by the goddess Śerāṅvālī and who mediate between the goddess and devotees who come for darśan or vision of the divine, healing, and other rites.

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  • Flueckiger, Joyce Burkhalter. “Wandering from ‘Hills to Valleys’ with the Goddess: Protection and Freedom in the Matamma Tradition of Andhra.” In Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 35–54. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Explores the matamma tradition in villages around Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, in which girls are offered to the goddess Gangamma when illness occurs in exchange for healing and protection. After puberty the girls are married to Gangamma, and continue to serve the goddess in various capacities.

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  • Hancock, Mary E. “The Dilemmas of Domesticity: Possession and Devotional Experience among Urban Smārta Women.” In From the Margins of Hindu Marriage: Essays on Gender, Religion, and Culture. Edited by Lindsey Harlan and Paul B. Courtright, 60–91. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    An ethnographic study of Smārta women goddess devotees in Chennai who serve as mediums. Analyzes how their bhakti both supports and resists traditional notions of domestic roles.

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  • Harman, William. “Possession as Protection and Affliction: The Goddess Mariyamman’s Fierce Grace.” In Health and Religious Rituals in South Asia: Disease, Possession and Healing. Edited by Fabrizio M. Ferrari, 185–198. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    Analyzes voluntary and involuntary possession by the goddess Māriyammaṉ in healing and other rituals in Tamil Nadu.

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  • Ram, Kalpana. Fertile Disorder: Spirit Possession and Its Provocation of the Modern. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780824837785Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A provocative ethnographic, feminist exploration of a range of female possession in Tamil Nadu, including goddesses such as Icakkiyammaṉ. Presents innovative theoretical perspectives on the effects of possession on conceptions of agency and personhood, in the context of subaltern religion and social improvement projects.

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  • Ramberg, Lucinda. Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822376415Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Penetrating investigation of the lives of jogatis or devadāsīs, women in Karnataka dedicated to the goddess Yellamma as girls and who serve as the goddess’s ritual specialists. Provides an in-depth analysis of critical issues such as sexuality, marriage, kinship, and what practices count as religion in the context of liberal reform efforts to eradicate the tradition. A theoretically dense book that is more appropriate for upper-level undergraduate or graduate courses.

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Female Gurus

Some people who serve as vehicles for the goddess do so in ritual contexts such as divination and healing. But others are seen as embodying the divine all the time and become gurus or spiritual leaders and the recipients of devotion in a community of devotees. Some women are seen as embodying the goddess, including gurus who have achieved international fame. Hallstrom 1999 and Aymaard 2014 examine the life of and devotion to the Bengali guru Ānandamayī Mā, with Aymaard focusing on the devotee community after Mā’s death. Kripal 2001 profiles another Bengali guru, Sharada Devi, the wife of the famous mystic Ramakrishna. Warrier 2005 and Lucia 2014 investigate the Kerala-born, transnational guru/saint Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Ammachi, with Lucia focusing on her devotional communities in the United States. The edited volume Pechilis 2004 includes essays on a range of female gurus who embody different goddesses, and foregrounds issues of authority and leadership in various Hindu devotional contexts. Khandelwal 2004 investigates the implications of gender in the everyday lives of female ascetics in Haridwar.

  • Aymaard, Orianne. When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Mā Ānandamayī after Her Death. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199368617.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A detailed archival and ethnographic study of the consequences of the Bengali guru Mā Ānandamayī’s death on her worship community from institutional and experiential perspectives. Through extensive interviews with devotees at Mā’s samādhi (tomb) in Kankhal and at numerous other ashrams, Aymaard explores the routinization of Mā’s charisma and the sustainability of her postmortem institutions, highlighting the divergences between the Brahminical and more inclusive, international factions of Mā’s devotional community.

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  • Hallstrom, Lisa Lassell. Mother of Bliss: Ānandamayī Mā (1896–1982). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Examines the life of the Bengali holy woman Ānandamayī Mā who was considered the embodiment of Devī or the Divine Mother. Explores her relationships to her devotees through the lenses of her various roles as woman, saint, guru, and Divine Mother.

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  • Khandelwal, Meena. Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu Renunciation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

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    Investigates the tensions between social responsibility and renunciation in the lives of sannyasinis (female renouncers) in Haridwar, focusing on two women: a solitary practitioner and an important guru. Observes that sannyasinis transgress social norms by rejecting domesticity, but identify as mothers.

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  • Kripal, Jeffrey J. “Perfecting the Mother’s Silence: Dream, Devotion, and Family in the Deification of Sharada Devi.” In Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 171–197. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Traces the evolution of Ramakrishna Paramahaṁsa’s wife Sharada Devi into a Holy Mother for her devotees.

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  • Lucia, Amanda J. Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520958074Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnographic analysis of devotion to the transnational “hugging saint” Mata Amritanandamayi, considered an embodiment of the Goddess, in the United States. Argues Amma’s motherly compassion is central to her religious authority, partly expressed in her norm-transgressing and transformative tactile darśan. Highlights differences in perceptions of Amma between Indian American and non-Indian devotees in the context of American multiculturalism.

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  • Pechilis, Karen, ed. The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    The essays in this volume provide biographies of several women gurus who are seen as embodiments of specific goddesses, Devī, or śakti in their devotional contexts. Addresses themes such as women’s leadership in Hindu devotional traditions. Engaging survey of contemporary female gurus for undergraduates.

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  • Warrier, Maya. Hindu Selves in a Modern World: Guru Faith in the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    Ethnographic exploration of the Kerala-born, transnational female guru Mata Amritanandamayi, considered an embodiment of Devī, and her global organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission, headquartered in Amritapuri. Through narratives about Mata’s role as avatar-guru and her spiritual teachings and practices, Warrier explores how Mata and her urban, middle-class Indian devotees and non-Indian devotees construct their identities in a changing modern world.

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Sociopolitical and Caste Analyses of Goddess Worship

Many works employ sociological and political lenses when analyzing aspects of goddess worship in sociocultural contexts. The works in this section focus overtly on the political impacts and uses of goddesses in local social contexts or political movements. Allocco 2018 examines a Brahminical ritual now performed for a non-Brahmin goddess in Chennai. Brubaker 1979 explores goddess priests from particular non-Brahmin communities. Many works profile the roles and worship of goddesses among disenfranchised communities and those undergoing rapid changes in a globalizing world. Mines 2005 focuses on temple rituals to analyze caste and power dynamics in a Tamil village. Mines 2012 explores the Tamil goddess Malaiyammal’s embodiment of oppression for the Valaiyar community. Kapadia 1996 and Kapadia 2000 analyze the interrelated impacts that gender, caste, and class play in possession rituals in the Tiruchi district of Tamil Nadu. Hardiman 1987 and McDaniel 2002 profile goddesses involved in Ādivāsī movements in Gujarat and Jharkhand respectively. Kishwar 2005 describes the intentional creation of the goddess Swachha Narayani in a Delhi market to protect and promote the rights of street vendors.

  • Allocco, Amy L. “Flower Showers for the Goddess: Borrowing, Modification, and Ritual Innovation in Tamil Nadu.” In Ritual Innovation: Strategic Interventions in South Asian Religion. Edited by Brian K. Pennington and Amy L. Allocco, 129–148. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018.

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    Ethnographic description and analysis of a new Brahminical flower festival instituted for the non-Brahmin goddess Muṇṭakakkaṇṇiyammaṉ in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, to respond to an increasing number of upwardly mobile middle-class devotees in a context of conspicuous consumption and expanding devotionalism.

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  • Brubaker, Richard L. “Barbers, Washermen, and Other Priests: Servants of the South Indian Village and Its Goddess.” History of Religions 19.2 (1979): 128–152.

    DOI: 10.1086/462840Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Detailed ethnographic study of the principal non-Brahmin ritual specialists for village goddess festivals in Tamil Nadu.

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  • Hardiman, David. The Coming of the Devi: The Adivasi Assertion in Western India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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    Historical and ethnographic study of the transformation of a goddess propitiated for healing smallpox into a new goddess called Salabai leading a movement for social reform along Gandhian ideals, worshiped by ādivāsīs (“earliest inhabitants,” also called “tribals”) in Gujarat in the 1920s. Describes possession rituals central to the goddess’s worship.

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  • Kapadia, Karin. “Dancing the Goddess: Possession and Class in Tamil South India.” Modern Asian Studies 30.2 (1996): 423–445.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X00016528Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Economic, political, and gender analysis of men’s possession by Māriyammaṉ in the Tiruchi District of Tamil Nadu. Highlights the roles that caste, class, and local politics play in the possession rituals in a context of rapid social mobility.

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  • Kapadia, Karin. “Pierced by Love: Tamil Possession, Gender and Caste.” In Invented Identities: The Interplay of Gender, Religion and Politics in India. Edited by Julia Leslie and Mary McGee, 181–202. SOAS Studies on South Asia, Understandings and Perspectives. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Ethnographic exploration of public, devotional alaku or body-piercing rituals in “benign” possession rites to the goddesses Periakka and Ayyalamman, and the god Murugan, in the Tiruchi District of Tamil Nadu. Analyzes the gender and caste implications of the bhakti notion of submission to the deity in this ritual context.

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  • Kishwar, Madhu Purnima. “Emergency Avatār of Goddess of Good Governance! Manushi Swachha Narayani Descends to Protect Street Vendors.” Manushi 147 (2005): 4–16.

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    Describes the installation of the goddess Swachha Narayani in a market in Delhi to protect street vendors and embody the goals of the journal Manushi’s campaign against the government exploitation of street vendors and for the vendors’ right to work.

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  • McDaniel, June. “O Ṭuṣu Mā: Self-Expression, Oral History, and Social Commentary for the Jharkhand Goddess.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 6.2 (August 2002): 175–197.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-002-0007-7Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Centers on the pilgrimage for the goddess Ṭuṣu Mā, an Ādivāsī and Hindu goddess of agricultural fertility and water “who both supports and undermines the Hindu tradition.” Examines the goddess’s role in Ādivāsī political movements in the Jharkhand region.

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  • Mines, Diane P. Fierce Gods: Inequality, Ritual, and the Politics of Dignity in a South Indian Village. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

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    This meticulous ethnographic study illuminates how temple rituals are integral to the shifting caste and power dynamics in a Tamil village. Mines highlights the annual festival to the village goddess as a central arena in the enactment of religious and social power relations.

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  • Mines, Diane P. “Loss and Recognition: The Historical Force of a Goddess.” Nidan: International Journal for the Study of Hinduism 24 (December 2012): 1–15.

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    Narrates stories of the fierce goddess Malaiyammal who resides in a roadside shrine near Madurai, Tamil Nadu, and analyzes her role among her devotees, the Valaiyar/Muttiraiyar community, as an embodiment of their history of forced migrations, loss, and continuing oppressions.

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Bhārāt Mātā

The goddess Bhārāt Mātā, “Mother India,” has been a powerful and enduring embodiment of the territory and sovereignty of the Indian nation. Milford-Lutzker 2007 and McKean 1996 explore the figure and devotional activities of Bhārāt Mātā, Mother India, as patron goddess of the Indian Independence movement and Hindu nationalism. Sumathi 2010 traces the evolution of the visual image of Bhārāt Mātā.

  • McKean, Lise. “Bhārat Mātā: Mother India and Her Militant Matriots.” In Devī: Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Mari Wulff, 250–280. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520916296-015Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s propagation of the goddess Bhārāt Mātā, Mother India, through a nationwide tour of her image, the Sacrifice for Unity, and the consecration of a temple to her in Hardwar in the context of Hindu nationalism.

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  • Milford-Lutzker, Mary-Ann. “The Politicization of an Icon: Durga/Kali/Bharat Mata and Her Transformations.” In The Constant and Changing Faces of the Goddess: Goddess Traditions of Asia. Edited by Deepak Shimkhada and Phyllis K. Herman, 147–164. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2007.

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    Traces the transformation of Bhārāt Mātā, the Mother Goddess, into the patron goddess of the Indian Independence movement, and how she is represented in the early 21st century.

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  • Sumathi, Ramaswamy. The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

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    Traces the pictorial evolution of Bhārāt Mātā as the cartographic embodiment and unifying icon of the emerging nation. Explores the tension between the Hindu roots of the goddess and the development of the modern, secular state.

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Art and Iconography

Visual images are central to the worship of the Goddess, ranging from widely recognized figures such as Durgā Mahiṣāsuramardinī that embody core, pan-Indian themes and narratives of the Goddess’s power, to regional forms that reflect specific local traditions and contexts. The works listed in this section explore the historical development of temple architecture and iconography as well as contemporary artistic forms that are central to devotional practices. Dehejia 1999 provides a broad foundation in the visual imagery of the Goddess throughout history. Dehejia 2002 conveys the importance of South Indian bronzes in the evolution of bhakti, while Dehejia 2009 illumines the role of beauty in devotional practices. Three works focus on Durgā: Pal 2009 surveys Durgā’s forms, meanings, and practices in multiple regions of South Asia; Divakaran 1984 traces Durgā’s early iconographic development in relation to Rudra-Śiva; and Mahapatra 2014 investigates the evolution of Mahiṣāsuramardinī in Orissa. Hatley 2014 examines the iconography of yoginīs in conjunction with their representation in texts. Finally, Kaimal 2005 compares yoginī temple structures and iconography to a Śiva temple in Tamil Nadu to posit a rethinking of the importance of goddess worship in temples to male deities.

  • Dehejia, Vidya. Devi: The Great Goddess; Female Divinity in South Asian Art. African, Asian & Oceanic Art Series. Washington, DC: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1999.

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    This lavishly illustrated volume accompanies the 1999 Sackler Gallery exhibition of 120 paintings and sculptures, Devi: The Great Goddess, organized by Dehejia. The wide-ranging, multidisciplinary essays survey the Goddess’s myriad material, textual, ritual, regional, and pan-Indian forms, illuminating her worship throughout history and in contemporary contexts.

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  • Dehejia, Vidya. The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.

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    Beautifully illustrated catalogue for the touring exhibition of Chola bronzes that opened at the Sackler Gallery, encompassing Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, Buddhist, and Jain images. Scholarly essays foreground the pivotal role of the Chola bronzes in the evolution of devotional Hinduism.

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  • Dehejia, Vidya. The Body Adorned: Dissolving Boundaries between Sacred and Profane in India’s Art. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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    Chapter 4 of this richly illustrated text illuminates how the sensuous imagery of Devī and the gods provides devotees a direct connection to the divine through immersion in the beauty of their forms.

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  • Divakaran, Odile. “Durgā the Great Goddess: Meanings and Forms in the Early Period.” In Discourses on Śiva. Edited and with an introduction by Michael W. Meister, 271–288. Bombay: Vakils, Feffer & Simons, 1984.

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    Traces the conceptual and iconic development of Durgā, drawing parallels with the development of Rudra-Śiva. Illuminates Durgā’s dominant temple imagery in many regions of India.

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “Goddesses in Text and Stone: Temples of the Yoginīs in Light of Tantric and Purāṇic Literature.” In Material Culture and Asian Religions: Text, Image, Object. Edited by Benjamin Fleming and Richard Mann, 195–225. New York and London: Routledge, 2014.

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    Explores female deity images in medieval Indian yoginī temples through tantric and narrative texts, highlighting intersections between ritual and devotional practices.

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  • Kaimal, Padma., “Learning to See the Goddess Once Again: Male and Female in Balance at the Kailāsanāth Temple in Kāñcīpuram.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73.1 (March 2005): 45–87.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/lfi004Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Detailed architectural and iconographic study of the 8th-century Kailāsanāth temple that reinterprets the complex not just as a temple to Śiva but as two temples to Śiva and the Goddess. Explores the varied sculptures of the Goddess and the imagery of the liṅga and yoni, and compares the temple to yoginī temples to expand our understanding of the centrality of the Goddess in the historical evolution of temples to Hindu gods. Includes several photographs and diagrams.

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  • Mahapatra, Sanjaya Kumar. Mahiṣāsuramardinī in Art, Iconography and Cult Practices. Delhi: Aagam Kala Prakashan, 2014.

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    Traces the iconographic and ritual evolution of Mahiṣāsuramardinī in Orissa and her regional variations. References Puranic, tantric, and Śilpa texts. Includes drawings, diagrams, and charts.

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  • Pal, Pratapaditya, ed. Goddess Durgā: The Power and the Glory. Mumbai: Marg, 2009.

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    The essays in this volume explore the śakti piṭhas of the goddess as well as regional variations in devotional practices to Durgā in India, Nepal, and Pakistan through multiple textual, ethnographic, and artistic perspectives. Includes more than 160 photos.

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Ecological Perspectives on Goddess Worship

In recent years there has been increasing attention to the impacts of climate change, global warming, and human-caused pollution on sacred sites and devotional activities in India and elsewhere. Exploding population density, industrial growth, and development have severely polluted waterways and diminished flows of fresh water. Alley 2002 and Alley 1998 analyze the impact of pollution on the holy Gaṅgā river, the impacts on devotional rites and practitioners, and movements to clean up and protect the rivers, as do Haberman 2006 and Haberman 2000 for the Yamunā. Nagarajan 1998 explores notions of “embedded ecologies” in Tamil women’s worship of the earth goddess Bhū Devī through their kōlam art.

  • Alley, Kelly D. “Idioms of Degeneracy: Assessing Ganga’s Purity and Pollution.” In Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India. Edited by Lance E. Nelson, 297–330. SUNY Series in Religious Studies. Albany: State University of New York, 1998.

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    Investigates the perspectives of pilgrim priests on Daśāśvamedha Ghāṭ in Banaras on the effects of pollution on the sacred Mother Gaṅgā.

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  • Alley, Kelly D. On the Banks of the Ganga: When Wastewater Meets a Sacred River. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.12072Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnographic study of conceptions of the river goddess Gaṅgā and devotional practices to her, and how these religious perspectives interrelate with scientific and political perspectives on the pollution of the river.

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  • Haberman, David L. “River of Love in an Age of Pollution.” In Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky, and Water. Edited by Christopher Key Chapple and Mary Evelyn Tucker, 339–354. Cambridge, MA: Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, 2000.

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    A portrait of Yamunā Devī based on Vallabhācāryā’s hymn Yanunāṣṭakam and her worship in the area of Braj.

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  • Haberman, David L. River of Love in an Age of Pollution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv11hpsbdSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Textual and ethnographic investigation of the river goddess Yamunā Devī and her worship, and how her religious practices have been impacted by the river’s current polluted state.

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  • Nagarajan, Vijaya Rettakudi. “The Earth as Goddess Bhū Devī: Toward a Theory of ‘Embedded Ecologies’ in Folk Hinduism.” In Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India. Edited by Lance E. Nelson, 269–295. SUNY Series in Religious Studies. Albany: State University of New York, 1998.

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    Ecological analysis of the worship of the earth goddess Bhū Devī through Tamil women’s ritual kōlam threshold art.

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The Worship of the Goddess in the Diaspora

Hindu devotees of the goddess, like other Hindus, have migrated out of South Asia to many parts of the globe and established temples and devotional communities in their new countries of residence where Hinduism is not the majority religion. Pan-Indian goddesses like Durgā as well as regional and village goddesses have traveled with their devotees.

Eastern Hemisphere

Hindu traditions began spreading to parts of Southeast Asia centuries ago. In the early 21st century, there are still significant communities of Hindus in many areas. Brinkgreve 1997 explores goddess worship in Bali, the Indonesian province in which Hinduism is the majority religion. Clothey 2006 profiles Māriyammaṉ worship in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, two cities with large Tamil populations. Obeyesekere 1984 is an in-depth examination of the worship of the goddess Pattiṉi, whose cult began in South India but who is now worshiped more widely by both Buddhists and Hindus in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka. Schaflechner 2018 focuses on the pilgrimage to the remote desert temple of Hingalaj Devi to show the importance of the temple to the minority Hindu community in Pakistan. Diesel 2002 profiles village goddess worship among the Hindu diaspora in South Africa.

  • Brinkgreve, Francine. “Offerings to Durga and Pretiwi in Bali.” Asian Folklore Studies 56.2 (1997): 227–251.

    DOI: 10.2307/1178726Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the Balinese goddesses Durgā and Pretiwi, Mother Earth, through offerings, rituals, stories, and iconography.

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  • Clothey, Fred W. Ritualizing on the Boundaries: Continuity and Innovation in the Tamil Diaspora. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.

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    Multifaceted case studies of Tamil communities in four diaspora cities illuminate how ritual enacts Tamil devotees’ ties to their ancestral homeland and to their current locality. Includes profiles of Kāḷiyammaṉ and Māriyammaṉ temples in Singapore; Navarāttiri celebrations among Tamil brahmins in Mumbai; and a Mahāmāriyammaṉ temple festival in Kuala Lumpur.

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  • Diesel, Alleyn. “The Suffering Mothers: The Hindu Amman Goddesses as Empowering Role Models for Women.” Journal for the Study of Religion 15.1 (2002): 39–62.

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    Ethnographic descriptions of the festivals and other worship practices for the Hindu village goddesses in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Narrates some of the goddesses’ myths, and employs a feminist lens to analyze the goddesses as empowering for women devotees.

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  • Obeyesekere, Gananath. The Cult of the Goddess Pattini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    An in-depth investigation of the worship of the goddess Pattiṉi by Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka. Provides the historical and sociocultural contexts of the cult, and analyzes the major rituals performed and their associated texts.

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  • Schaflechner, Jürgen. Hingalaj Devi: Identity, Change and Solidification at a Hindu Temple in Pakistan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190850524.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This textual and ethnographic study examines Hindu practices in Pakistan through the annual pilgrimage to the Hingalaj Devi temple in the remote desert of Baluchistan, Pakistan, which the author argues is the most important place for Hindu worship in early-21st-century Pakistan.

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Western Hemisphere

Substantial Hindu migrations to the West began in the 20th century, and many countries have significant and increasing Hindu diaspora populations. Large numbers of Tamils fled Sri Lanka during the 1983–2009 Sri Lankan civil war. In addition, there are many people who are not of South Asian descent who participate in Hindu practices, some of whom have converted to a Hindu tradition. Global media including the Internet have facilitated religious and cultural exchanges and influenced the spread of Hindu images and concepts across borders. Baumann 2006 profiles male devotees of the goddess Kamakshi in Germany. Two works are located in the Caribbean region: McNeal 2003 explores Kālī worship in Trinidad, and Younger 2002 looks at devotional practices to Māriyammaṉ in Guyana. Several studies explore North American communities. Spina 2017 investigates the Adhiparasakthi Temple Society of Canada established in Toronto by Sri Lankan Tamils, focusing especially on women’s institutionalized ritual roles. Likewise, Dempsey 2014 and Dempsey 2006 highlight women’s authority in the temple rituals to the Śrīvidyā goddess Rājarājeśwarī in Rush, New York. And McDermott 1996 and McDermott 2003 explore European and American worship of Kālī, including on the Internet.

  • Baumann, Martin. “Performing Vows in Diasporic Contexts: Tamil Hindus, Temples, and Goddesses in Germany.” In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman, 129–144. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

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    Depicts Sri Lankan Tamil Hinduism in Germany with a focus on vows male devotees make during festivals to Sri Kamakshi at her temple in Hamm, Westphalia.

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  • Dempsey, Corinne. The Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    In-depth ethnographic study of the dynamics of intersecting orthodox and iconoclastic practices at the Śrī Rājarājeśwarī temple in Rush, New York. Explicates the Śrīvidyā tradition, the democratic initiation practices of the non-Brahmin Sri Lankan Tamil temple guru, the community of devotees, and the transposition of a Hindu goddess to rural New York. An accessible and engaging text for the classroom.

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  • Dempsey, Corinne. “Women, Ritual, and the Ironies of Power at a North American Goddess Temple.” In Hindu Ritual at the Margins: Innovations, Transformations, Reconsiderations. Edited by Linda Penkower and Tracy Pintchman, 106–126. Studies in Comparative Religion. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv6wggrv.11Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of the gendered dynamics at the temple to the Śrīvidyā goddess Rājarājeśwarī in Rush, New York, which combines orthodox rituals with women’s participation in priestly functions.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell. “The Western Kālī.” In Devī: Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 281–313. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520916296-016Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the worship of Kālī as a healing goddess in the European and American women’s spirituality movement.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell. “Kālī’s New Frontiers: A Hindu Goddess on the Internet.” In Encountering Kālī: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Edited by Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffrey J. Kripal, 273–295. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520232396.003.0013Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes the impact of the internet on Kālī imagery and worship in the United States and Europe, predominantly in New Age arenas.

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  • McNeal, Keith E. “Doing the Mother’s Caribbean Work: On Shakti and Society in Contemporary Trinidad.” In Encountering Kālī: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Edited by Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffrey J. Kripal, 223–248. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520232396.003.0011Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An ethnohistorical analysis of the evolution of Kālī and her syncretic and innovative worship in Trinidad. Traces Kālī’s marginalization during the 20th century and subsequent resurgence of her worship in peripheral temples, centered around rituals of spirit possession.

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  • Spina, Nanette R. Women’s Authority and Leadership in a Hindu Goddess Tradition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-58909-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Detailed ethnographic investigation of the Adhiparasakthi Temple Society of Canada established in Toronto by Sri Lankan Tamils. The study is situated in the context of the transnational Om Sakthi movement devoted to the Goddess Adhiparasakthi based in Melmaruvathur, Tamil Nadu, which promotes women’s leadership in ritual roles.

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  • Younger, Paul. “Dance and Trance in a New World: A Māriyammaṉ Festival in Guyana.” In Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition. By Paul Younger, 133–143. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Sketches the history of Indian labor migrations to British Guiana in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the evolutions in the Tamil worship of Māriyammaṉ in contemporary Guyana, focusing on festivals to her.

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