Shaktism is a Goddess-centric tradition of Hinduism.[1][2]

Shaktism (Sanskrit: Śāktaṃ, शाक्तं; lit., "doctrine of energy, power, the Goddess") is a major tradition of Hinduism, wherein the metaphysical reality is considered feminine and the Devi (goddess) is supreme.[1][2][3] It includes a variety of goddesses, all considered aspects of the same supreme goddess.[1][4] Shaktism has different sub-traditions, ranging from those focussed on gracious Lakshmi to fierce Kali, and some Shakti sub-traditions associate their goddess with Shiva or Vishnu.[5][6]

The Sruti and Smriti texts of Hinduism are an important historical framework of the Shaktism tradition. In addition, it reveres the texts Devi Mahatmya, the Devi-Bhagavata Purana, and Shakta Upanishads such as the Devi Upanishad.[7] The Devi Mahatmya in particular, is considered in Shaktism to be as important as the Bhagavad Gita.[8]

Shaktism is known for its various sub-traditions of Tantra,[9] as well as a galaxy of goddesses with respective systems. It consists of the Vidyapitha and Kulamārga. The pantheon of goddesses in Shaktism grew after the decline of Buddhism in India, wherein Hindu and Buddhist goddesses were combined to form the Mahavidya, a list of ten goddesses.[10] The most common aspects of Devi found in Shaktism include Durga, Kali, Amba, Lakshmi, Parvati and Tripurasundari.[4] The goddess-focussed tradition is particularly popular in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Nepal and the neighboring regions, which it celebrates through festivals such as the Durga puja.[5] Shaktism's ideas have influenced Vaishnavism and Shaivism traditions, with the goddess considered the Shakti of Vishnu and Shiva respectively, and revered prominently in numerous Hindu temples and festivals.[2] Within Hinduism an estimated 30 million or 3.2% followers are Shaktas.[11]

Origins and history

One of the earliest evidence of reverence for the feminine aspect of God in Hinduism appears in chapter 10.125 of the Rig Veda, also called the Devi Suktam hymn:[12][13][14]

I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.
     Thus gods have established me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.
Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them, – each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken.
     They know it not, yet I reside in the essence of the Universe. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.
I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that gods and men alike shall welcome.
     I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him nourished, a sage, and one who knows Brahman.
I bend the bow for Rudra [Shiva], that his arrow may strike, and slay the hater of devotion.
     I rouse and order battle for the people, I created Earth and Heaven and reside as their Inner Controller.
On the world's summit I bring forth sky the Father: my home is in the waters, in the ocean as Mother.
     Thence I pervade all existing creatures, as their Inner Supreme Self, and manifest them with my body.
I created all worlds at my will, without any higher being, and permeate and dwell within them.
     The eternal and infinite consciousness is I, it is my greatness dwelling in everything.

Devi Sukta, Rigveda 10.125.3 – 10.125.8,[12][13][14]

The Vedic literature reveres various goddesses, but far less frequently than gods Indra, Agni and Soma. Yet, they are declared equivalent aspects of gender neutral Brahman, of Prajapati and Purusha. The goddesses oft mentioned in the Vedic layers of text include the Ushas (dawn), Vac (speech, wisdom), Sarasvati (as river), Prithivi (earth), Nirriti (annihilator), Shraddha (faith, confidence).[4] Goddesses such as Uma appear in the Upanishads as another aspect of Brahman and the knower of ultimate knowledge, such as in section 3 and 4 of the ancient Kena Upanishad.[15][16]

Hymns to goddesses are in the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, particularly in the later (100 to 300 CE) added Harivamsa section of it.[17] The archaeological and textual evidence implies, states Thomas Coburn, that the Goddess had become as much a part of the Hindu tradition, as God, by about the third or fourth century.[18] The literature on Shakti theology grew in ancient India, climaxing in one of the most important texts of Shaktism called the Devi Mahatmya. This text, states C. Mackenzie Brown – a professor of Religion, is both a culmination of centuries of Indian ideas about the divine feminine, as well as a foundation for the literature and spirituality focussed on the feminine transcendence in centuries that followed.[17] The Devi-Mahatmya is not the earliest literary fragment attesting to the existence of devotion to a goddess figure, states Thomas B. Coburn – a professor of Religious Studies, but "it is surely the earliest in which the object of worship is conceptualized as Goddess, with a capital G".[19]

Other important texts of Shaktism include the Shakta Upanishads,[20] as well as Shakta-oriented Upa Puranic literature such as the Devi Purana and Kalika Purana,[21] the Lalita Sahasranama (from the Brahmanda Purana).[22][23] The Tripura Upanishad is historically the most complete introduction to Shakta Tantrism,[24] distilling into its 16 verses almost every important topic in Shakta Tantra tradition.[25] Along with the Tripura Upanishad, the Tripuratapini Upanishad has attracted scholarly bhasya (commentary) in the second half of 2nd-millennium, such as by Bhaskararaya,[26] and by Ramanand.[27] These texts link the Shakti Tantra tradition as a Vedic attribute,[28] however this link has been contested by scholars.[29][30]


In Shakta theology, the feminine and masculine are interdependent realities, represented with Ardhanarishvara icon. Left: A 5th century art work representing this idea at the Elephanta Caves; Right: a painting of Ardhanarishvara.

Shaktas conceive the Goddess as the supreme, ultimate, eternal reality of all existence, or same as the Brahman concept of Hinduism. She is considered to be simultaneously the source of all creation, its embodiment and the energy that animates and governs it, and that into which everything will ultimately dissolve.[31][4] According to V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar – a professor of Indian history, in Shaktism theology "Brahman is static Shakti and Shakti is dynamic Brahman."[32]

Shaktism views the Devi as the source, essence and substance of everything in creation.[4] Its texts such as the Devi-Bhagavata Purana states:

I am Manifest Divinity, Unmanifest Divinity, and Transcendent Divinity. I am Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, as well as Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. I am the Sun and I am the Stars, and I am also the Moon. I am all animals and birds, and I am the outcaste as well, and the thief. I am the low person of dreadful deeds, and the great person of excellent deeds. I am Female, I am Male in the form of Shiva.[lower-alpha 1]

Shaktism's focus on the Divine Feminine does not imply a rejection of masculine. It rejects male-female, soul-body, transcendent-immanent dualism, considering nature as divine. Devi is considered to be the cosmos itself – she is the embodiment of energy, matter and soul, the motivating force behind all action and existence in the material universe.[34] Yet in Shaktism, states C. MacKenzie Brown, the masculine and the feminine are aspects of the divine, transcendent reality.[35] In Hindu iconography, the cosmic dynamic of masculine-feminine interdependence and equivalence, is expressed in the half-Shakti, half-Shiva deity known as Ardhanari.[36]

The philosophical premises in many Shakta texts, states June McDaniel – a professor of Religious Studies, is syncretism of Samkhya and Advaita Vedanta schools of Hindu philosophy, called Shaktadavaitavada (literally, the path of nondualistic Shakti).[37]

Devi Gita

The seventh book of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana presents the theology of Shaktism.[38] This book is called Devi Gita, or the "Song of the Goddess".[38][39] The Goddess explains she is the Brahman that created the world, asserting the Advaita premise that spiritual liberation occurs when one fully comprehends the identity of one's soul and the Brahman.[38][40] This knowledge, asserts the Goddess, comes from detaching self from the world and meditating on one's own soul.[38][41]

The Devi Gita, like the Bhagavad Gita, is a condensed philosophical treatise.[42] It presents the divine female as a powerful and compassionate creator, pervader and protector of the universe.[43] She is presented in the opening chapter of the Devi Gita as the benign and beautiful world-mother, called Bhuvaneshvari (literally, ruler of the universe).[44][42] Thereafter, the text presents its theological and philosophical teachings.[43]

The soul and the Goddess

[My sacred syllable ह्रीम्] transcends,[a]
the distinction of name and named,
beyond all dualities.
It is whole,
infinite being, consciousness and bliss.
One should meditate on that reality,
within the flaming light of consciousness.
Fixing the mind upon me,
as the Goddess transcending all space and time,
One quickly merges with me by realizing,
the oneness of the soul and Brahman.

  1. ^ Antonio Rigopoulos (1998). Dattatreya: The Immortal Guru, Yogin, and Avatara: A Study of the Transformative and Inclusive Character of a Multi-faceted Hindu Deity. State University of New York Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7914-3696-7. 
  2. ^ Douglas Renfrew Brooks (1992). Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Srividya Sakta Tantrism in South India. State University of New York Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-7914-1145-2. 

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Devi Gita, Transl: Lynn Foulston, Stuart Abbott
Devibhagavata Purana, Book 7[45]

The Devi Gita describes the Devi (or Goddess) as "universal, cosmic energy" resident within each individual. It thus weaves in the terminology of Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy.[43] The text is suffused with Advaita Vedanta ideas, wherein nonduality is emphasized, all dualities are declared as incorrect, and interconnected oneness of all living being's soul with Brahman is held as the liberating knowledge.[46][47][48] However, adds Tracy Pintchman – a professor of Religious Studies and Hinduism, Devi Gita incorporates Tantric ideas giving the Devi a form and motherly character rather than the gender-neutral concept of Adi Shankara's Advaita Vedanta.[49]


Sub-traditions of Shaktism include "Tantra", which refers to techniques, practices and ritual grammar involving mantra, yantra, nyasa, mudra and certain elements of traditional kundalini yoga, typically practiced under the guidance of a qualified guru after due initiation (diksha) and oral instruction to supplement various written sources.[50] There has been a historic debate between Shakta theologians on whether its tantric practices are Vedic or non-Vedic.[51][29][30]

The roots of Shakta Tantrism are unclear, probably ancient and independent of the Vedic tradition of Hinduism. The interaction between Vedic and Tantric traditions trace back to at least the sixth century,[51] and the surge in Tantra tradition developments during the late medieval period, states Geoffrey Samuel, were a means to confront and cope with Islamic invasions and political instability in and after 14th-century CE.[52]

Principal deities

A 9th-century Durga Shakti idol, victorious over demon Mahishasura, in Indonesia.[53]

Shaktas approach the Devi in many forms; however, they are all considered to be but diverse aspects of the one supreme goddess.[54][55] The primary Devi form worshiped by a Shakta devotee is his or her ishta-devi, that is a personally selected Devi.[56] The selection of this deity can depend on many factors, such as family tradition, regional practice, guru lineage and personal resonance.[57]

Some forms of the goddess are widely known in the Hindu world. The common goddesses of Shaktism, popular in the Hindu thought at least by about mid 1st-millennium CE, include Durga, Kali, Amba, Tripurasundari, Lakshmi (and her avatars such as Radha, Sita), Saraswati and Parvati (Uma).[58][4] The rarer forms of Devi found among tantric Shakta are the Mahavidyas, particularly Tara, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Kamala and Buvaneshwari.[59][60] Other major goddess groups include the Sapta-Matrika ("Seven Little Mothers"), "who are the energies of different major gods, and described as assisting the great Shakta Devi in her fight with demons", and the 64 Yoginis.[61]

Tantric traditions


The Vidyāpīṭha is subdivided into Vāmatantras, Yāmalatantras, and Śaktitantras.[62]


The Kulamārga preserves some of the distinctive features of the Kāpālika tradition, from which it is derived.[63] It is subdivided into four subcategories of texts based on the goddesses Kuleśvarī, Kubjikā, Kālī and Tripurasundarī respectively.[64] The Trika texts are closely related to the Kuleśvarī texts and can be considered as part of the Kulamārga.[65]


Shaktism encompasses a nearly endless variety of beliefs and practices – from primitive animism to philosophical speculation of the highest order – that seek to access the Shakti (Divine Energy or Power) that is believed to be the Devi's nature and form.[66] Its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (family of Sri), strongest in South India, and the Kalikula (family of Kali), which prevails in northern and eastern India.[66]

Srikula: family of Sri

Sri Lalita-Tripurasundari enthroned with her left foot upon the Sri Chakra, holding her traditional symbols, the sugarcane bow, flower arrows, noose and goad.

The Srikula (family of Sri) tradition (sampradaya) focuses worship on Devi in the form of the goddess Lalita-Tripura Sundari, who is regarded as the Great Goddess (Mahadevi). Rooted in first-millennium Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir Valley, Srikula became a force in South India no later than the seventh century, and is today the prevalent form of Shaktism practiced in South Indian regions such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.[67]

The Srikula's best-known school is Srividya, "one of Shakta Tantrism's most influential and theologically sophisticated movements." Its central symbol, the Sri Chakra, is probably the most famous visual image in all of Hindu Tantric tradition. Its literature and practice is perhaps more systematic than that of any other Shakta sect.[68]

Srividya largely views the Goddess as "benign [saumya] and beautiful [saundarya]" (in contrast to Kalikula's focus on "terrifying [ugra] and horrifying [ghora]" goddess forms such as Kali or Durga). In Srikula practice, moreover, every aspect of the Goddess – whether malignant or gentle – is identified with Lalita.[69]

Srikula adepts most often worship Lalita using the abstract Sri Chakra yantra, which is regarded as her subtle form. The Sri Chakra can be visually rendered either as a two-dimensional diagram (whether drawn temporarily as part of the worship ritual, or permanently engraved in metal) or in the three-dimensional, pyramidal form known as the Sri Meru. It is not uncommon to find a Sri Chakra or Sri Meru installed in South Indian temples, because – as modern practitioners assert – "there is no disputing that this is the highest form of Devi and that some of the practice can be done openly. But what you see in the temples is not the srichakra worship you see when it is done privately."[lower-alpha 2]

The Srividya paramparas can be further broadly subdivided into two streams, the Kaula (a vamamarga practice) and the Samaya (a dakshinamarga practice). The Kaula or Kaulachara, first appeared as a coherent ritual system in the 8th century in central India,[71] and its most revered theorist is the 18th-century philosopher Bhaskararaya, widely considered "the best exponent of Shakta philosophy."[72]

The Samaya or Samayacharya finds its roots in the work of the 16th-century commentator Lakshmidhara, and is "fiercely puritanical [in its] attempts to reform Tantric practice in ways that bring it in line with high-caste brahmanical norms."[73] Many Samaya practitioners explicitly deny being either Shakta or Tantric, though scholars argues that their cult remains technically both.[73] The Samaya-Kaula division marks "an old dispute within Hindu Tantrism,"[73] and one that is vigorously debated to this day.

Kalikula: family of Kali

Kali in her Dakshina Kali form

The Kalikula (family of Kali) form of Shaktism is most dominant in Nepal, northern and eastern India, and is most widely prevalent in West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Odisha, as well as parts of Maharashtra, Bangladesh and some parts of Kerala. Kalikula lineages focus upon the Devi as the source of wisdom (vidya) and liberation (moksha). They generally stand "in opposition to the brahmanic tradition," which they view as "overly conservative and denying the experiential part of religion."[74]

The main deities of Kalikula are Kali, Chandi and Durga. Other goddesses that enjoy veneration are Tara and all the other Mahavidyas as well as regional goddesses such as Manasa, the snake goddess, and Sitala, the smallpox goddess – all of them, again, considered aspects of the Divine Mother.[74]

In Nepal devi is mainly worshipped as Kali, Bhawani, Matrika and Navadurga.There are many shakti peeth in Nepal including the main shakti peeth Guhyeshwari Temple of Guhyeshwari Devi also called as Guhekali Bhagawati on the bank of holy Bagmati river. She is one of the important deity in kalikula. Two major centers of Shaktism in West Bengal are Kalighat in Calcutta and Tarapith in Birbhum district. In Calcutta, emphasis is on devotion (bhakti) to the goddess as Kali:

She is "the loving mother who protects her children and whose fierceness guards them. She is outwardly frightening – with dark skin, pointed teeth, and a necklace of skulls – but inwardly beautiful. She can guarantee a good rebirth or great religious insight, and her worship is often communal – especially at festivals, such as Kali Puja and Durga Puja. Worship may involve contemplation of the devotee's union with or love of the goddess, visualization of her form, chanting [of her] mantras, prayer before her image or yantra, and giving [of] offerings."[74]

At Tarapith, Devi's manifestation as Tara ("She Who Saves") or Ugratara ("Fierce Tara") is ascendant, as the goddess who gives liberation (kaivalyadayini). [...] The forms of sadhana performed here are more yogic and tantric than devotional, and they often involve sitting alone at the [cremation] ground, surrounded by ash and bone. There are shamanic elements associated with the Tarapith tradition, including "conquest of the goddess', exorcism, trance, and control of spirits."[74]

The philosophical and devotional underpinning of all such ritual, however, remains a pervasive vision of the Devi as supreme, absolute divinity. As expressed by the nineteenth-century saint Ramakrishna, one of the most influential figures in modern Bengali Shaktism:

Kali is none other than Brahman. That which is called Brahman is really Kali. She is the Primal Energy. When that Energy remains inactive, I call It Brahman, and when It creates, preserves, or destroys, I call It Shakti or Kali. What you call Brahman I call Kali. Brahman and Kali are not different. They are like fire and its power to burn: if one thinks of fire one must think of its power to burn. If one recognizes Kali one must also recognize Brahman; again, if one recognizes Brahman one must recognize Kali. Brahman and Its Power are identical. It is Brahman whom I address as Shakti or Kali.[75]


Shaktas celebrate most major Hindu festivals, as well as a huge variety of local, temple- or deity-specific observances. A few of the more important events are listed below:[76]

Main article: Navratri

The most important Shakta festival is Navratri (lit., "Festival of Nine Nights"), also known as "Sharad Navratri" because it falls during the Hindu month of Sharad (October/November). This festival – often taken together with the following tenth day, known as Dusshera or Vijayadashami – celebrates the goddess Durga's victory over a series of powerful demons described in the Devi Mahatmya.[77] In Bengal, the last four days of Navaratri are called Durga Puja, and mark one episode in particular: Durga's iconic slaying of Mahishasura (lit., the "Buffalo Demon").[78]

While Hindus of all denominations celebrate the autumn Navratri festival, Shaktas also celebrate two additional Navratris – one in the spring and one in the summer. The spring festival is known as Vasanta Navaratri or Chaitra Navatri, and celebrated in the Hindu month of Chaitra (March/April). Srividya lineages dedicate this festival to Devi's form as the goddess Lalita. The summer festival is called Ashada Navaratri, as it is held during the Hindu month of Ashadha (June/July). The Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu, with Vaishno Devi considered an aspect of Durga, celebrates Navaratri.[77][79] Ashada Navaratri, on the other hand, is considered particularly auspicious for devotees of the boar-headed goddess Varahi, one of the seven Matrikas named in the Devi Mahatmya.[80]

Vasant Panchami

Main article: Saraswati Pooja

Fifth day of Magha Gupta Navratri is very important for all branches of Shakta-pantha. Specially in Vindhyachal mahashakti peetham, thousands of chandipatha and other secret rituals performed this day to please Aadishakti. This is the festival of union of Shakti & Shiv (Shiva-Shiv). On the same basis Shiva-Shiv Sammoh is formed by Awadhoot Kripanandnath at Awadhoot Ashram, Vindhyachal in 1980.

Diwali and others

Main article: Diwali

Lakshmi Puja is a part of Durga Puja celebrations by Shaktas, where Laksmi symbolizes the goddess of abundance and autumn harvest.[81] Lakshmi's biggest festival, however, is Diwali (or Deepavali; the "Festival of Lights"), a major Hindu holiday celebrated across India and in Nepal as Tihar. In North India, Diwali marks the beginning of the traditional New Year, and is held on the night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik (usually October or November). Shaktas (and many non-Shaktas) celebrate it as another Lakshmi Puja, placing small oil lamps outside their homes and praying for the goddess's blessings.[82] Diwali coincides with the celebration of Kali Puja, popular in Bengal, and some Shakta traditions focus their worship on Devi as Kali rather than Lakshmi.[83]

A gopuram (tower) of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, a Shakta temple at Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India, which was nominated in the "New Seven Wonders of the World" competition in 2004.

Jagaddhatri Puja is celebrated on the last four days of the Navaratis, following Kali Puja. It is very similar to Durga Puja in its details and observance, and is especially popular in Bengal and some other parts of Eastern India. Gauri Puja is performed on the fifth day after Ganesh Chaturthi, during Ganesha Puja in Western India, to celebrate the arrival of Gauri, Mother of Ganesha where she brings her son back home.

Major Shakta temple festivals are Meenakshi Kalyanam and Ambubachi Mela. The Meenakshi Kalyanam is a part of the Chithirai Thiruvizha festival in Madurai around April/May, one of the largest festivals in South India, celebrating the wedding of goddess Meenakshi (Parvati) and Shiva. The festival is one where both the Vaishnava and Shaiva communities join the celebrations, because Vishnu gives away his sister Meenakshi in marriage to Shiva.[84] Ambubachi Mela or Ameti is a celebration of the menstruation of the goddess, by hundreds of thousands of devotees, in a festival held in June/July (during the monsoon season) at Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, Assam. Here the Devi is worshiped in the form of a yoni-like stone, and the site is one of Shakta Pitha or pilgrimage sites in Shaktism.[85]

Animal sacrifice

In Shaktism mythology, Durga slays an evil buffalo demon (left, 18th century statue), a story enacted by some of its devotees (right) in Assam during the Durga puja festival.[86]

Shaktism tradition practices animal sacrifice to revere goddesses such as Kali in many parts of India but particularly in the eastern states of India and Nepal. This is either an actual animal, or a vegetal or sweet dish substitute considered equivalent to the animal.[87] In many cases, Shaktism devotees consider animal sacrifice distasteful, practice alternate means of expressing devotion while respecting the views of others in their tradition.[88]

In Nepal, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, animal sacrifices are performed at Shakti temples, particular to mark the legend of goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon. This involves slaying of a goat, chicken or a male water buffalo. This practice is rare among Hindus, outside this region.[86]

In Bengal, animal sacrifice follows the guidelines in texts such as Mahanirvana Tantra are followed in selecting the animal, then a priest offers a prayer to the animal, then recites the Gayatri Mantra in its ear before killing it.[89] The meat of the sacrificed animal is then eaten by the Shakta devotee.[86]

In Nepal, animal sacrifice en masse occurs during the three-day-long Gadhimai festival. In 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were sacrificed during this event.[90][91]

In Odisha, during the Bali Jatra, Shaktism devotees sacrifice male goats to the goddess Samaleswari in her temple in Sambalpur, Orissa.[92][93]

The Rajput of Rajasthan worship their weapons and horses on Navratri, and formerly offered a sacrifice of a goat to a goddess revered as Kuldevi – a practice that continues in some places.[94][95] The ritual requires slaying of the animal with a single stroke. In the past this ritual was considered a rite of passage into manhood and readiness as a warrior. The ritual is directed by a priest.[96] The Kuldevi among these Rajput communities is a warrior-pativrata guardian goddess, with local legends tracing reverence for her during Rajput-Muslim wars.[97]

Animal Sacrifice of a buffalo or goat, particularly during smallpox epidemics, has been practiced in parts of South India. The sacrificed animal is dedicated to a goddess, and is probably related to the myth of goddess Kali in Andhra Pradesh, but in Karnataka, the typical goddess is Renuka. According to Alf Hiltebeitel – a professor of Religions, History and Human Sciences, these ritual animal sacrifices, with some differences, mirrors goddess-related ritual animal sacrifice found in Gilgamesh epic and in texts of Egyptian, Minoan and Greek sources.[98]

In the 19th-century through the early 20th-century, Indian laborers were shipped by the British Empire into colonial mining and plantations operations in the Indian ocean and the Caribbean regions. These included significant number of Shakta devotees. While instances of Shakta animal sacrifice during Kali puja in the Caribbean islands were recorded between 1850s to 1920s, these were relatively uncommon when compared to other rituals such as temple prayers, community dancing and fire walking.[99]

Shaktism versus other Hindu traditions

"The Hindoo Goddess Karle", an illustration from Dr. Scudder's Tales for Little Readers About the Heathen, by Dr. John Scudder (London, 1849).

Shaktism has at times been dismissed as a superstitious, black magic-infested practice that hardly qualifies as a true religion at all.[100][101] A representative criticism of this sort issued from an Indian scholar in the 1920s:

The Tantras are the Bible of Shaktism, identifying all Force with the female principle in nature and teaching an undue adoration of the wives of Shiva and Vishnu to the neglect of their male counterparts. It is certain that a vast number of the inhabitants of India are guided in their daily life by Tantrik [sic] teaching, and are in bondage to the gross superstitions inculcated in these writings. And indeed it can scarcely be doubted that Shaktism is Hinduism arrived at its worst and most corrupt stage of development."[102]

The tantra practices are secretive, subject to speculations and criticism. Scholars variously attribute such criticism to ignorance, misunderstanding or sectarian bias on the part of some observers, as well as unscrupulous practices by some Shaktas. These are some of the reasons many Hindus question the relevance and historicity of Tantra to their tradition.[103][30]

Beyond tantra, the Shakta sub-traditions subscribe to various philosophies, are similar in some aspects and differ in others. These traditions compare with Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism as follows:

Comparison of Vaishnavism with other traditions
Vaishnava Traditions Shaiva Traditions Shakta Traditions Smarta Traditions References
Scriptural authority Vedas and Upanishads Vedas and Upanishads Vedas and Upanishads Vedas and Upanishads [104][105]
Supreme deity god Vishnu god Shiva goddess Devi None [106][107]
Creator Vishnu Shiva Devi Brahman principle [106][108]
Avatar Key concept Minor Significant Minor [104][109][110]
Monastic life Accepts Recommends Accepts Recommends [104][111][112]
Rituals, Bhakti Affirms Optional Affirms Optional[113] [114]
Ahimsa and Vegetarianism Affirms Optional Optional Recommends, Optional [115][116]
Free will, Maya, Karma Affirms Affirms Affirms Affirms [106]
Metaphysics Brahman (Vishnu) and Atman (Soul, Self) Brahman (Shiva), Atman Brahman (Devi), Atman Brahman, Atman [106]
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Reliable testimony
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Reliable testimony
4. Self-evident[117]
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Reliable testimony
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Comparison and analogy
4. Postulation, derivation
5. Negative/cognitive proof
6. Reliable testimony
PhilosophyDvaita, qualified advaita, advaita Dvaita, qualified advaita, advaita Shakti-advaita Advaita [121][122]
Videhamukti, Yoga,
champions householder life
Shiva is soul,
Yoga, champions monastic life
Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga Jivanmukta, Advaita, Yoga,
champions monastic life

Temples and influence

Further information: List of Shakti Temples and Shakti Peethas
The map depicts location of Shakti Peethas in South Asia, major (blue) and minor (red) .

Shakta temples are found all over South Asia. Many towns, villages and geographic landmarks are named for various forms of the Devi.[125] Major pilgrimage sites of Shaktism are called "Shakti Peethas", literally "Seats of the Devi". These vary from four to fifty one.[126]

Some Shakta temples are also found in Southeast Asia, the Americas, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.[127] Examples in the United States include the Kali Mandir in Laguna Beach, California;[128] and Sri Rajarajeswari Peetam,[129] a Srividya temple in rural Rush, New York.[130]

Some feminists and participants in New Age spirituality who are attracted to goddess worship", suggest Shaktism is a "symbol of wholeness and healing, associated especially with repressed female power and sexuality." However, these are adaptions and do not share Shakta theology.[127]


There has been a significant sharing of ideas, ritual grammar and concepts between Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana tradition) found in Nepal and Tibet and the Tantric Shakta tradition of Hinduism.[131][132] Both movements cherish female deities,[133] view the female creativity as the power behind the universe, and the feminine as the ontological primary. According to Miranda Shaw, "the confluence of Buddhism and Shaktism is such that Tantric Buddhism could properly be called Shakta Buddhism".[134]

The Buddhist Aurangabad Caves about 100 kilometers from the Ajanta Caves, dated to the 6th to 7th-century CE, show Buddhist Matrikas (mother goddesses of Shaktism) next to the Buddha.[135] Other goddesses in these caves include Durga. The goddess iconography in these Buddhist caves is close, but not identical to the Hindu Shakta tradition. The "seven goddess mothers" are found in other Buddhist caves and literature, such as their discussion in the Buddhist text Manjusrimulakalpa and Vairocanabhisambodhi.[135][136]

Matrika – mother goddesses – are found in both Shakta-Hinduism and Vajrayana-Buddhism.[133][137]


In Jainism, ideas similar to Shaktism tradition are found, such as the Vidyadevis and the Shasanadevis.[132]


The secondary scripture of Sikhs, Dasam Granth attributed to Guru Gobind Singh, includes numerous sections on Shakta goddesses, particularly Chandi – the fierce warrior form of the Hindu goddess.[138] According to Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh – a professor of Religious Studies, the stories about goddess Durga in the Dasam Granth are reworkings of ancient Shakti mythologies.[139] A significant part of this Sikh scripture is based on the teachings in the Shakta text Devi Mahatmya found in the Markandeya Purana of Hinduism.[140]

Other ancient religions

Some Westerners believe that many central concepts of Shaktism – including aspects of kundalini yoga as well as goddess worship – were once "common to the Hindu, Chaldean, Greek and Roman civilizations," but were largely superseded in the West, as well as the Near and Middle East, with the rise of the Abrahamic religions:

Of these four great ancient civilizations, working knowledge of the inner forces of enlightenment has survived on a mass scale only in India. Only in India has the inner tradition of the Goddess endured. This is the reason the teachings of India are so precious. They offer us a glimpse of what our own ancient wisdom must have been. The Indians have preserved our lost heritage. [...] Today it is up to us to locate and restore the tradition of the living Goddess. We would do well to begin our search in India, where for not one moment in all of human history have the children of the living Goddess forgotten their Divine Mother.

See also


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  2. A senior member of Guru Mandali, Madurai, November 1984, cited in Brooks 1992.[70]


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