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The Goddess in India Lecture for The Joseph Campbell Series, St. Peter’s Episcopal church Rome, GA. 2/9/2005. Part 1: The Goddess in Myth and Image. Goddesses Represent Shakti. Shakti is the divine POWER of Nature Creation Life force Movement Mind Strength Destruction.

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The goddess in india lecture for the joseph campbell series st peter s episcopal church rome ga

The Goddess in IndiaLecture for The Joseph Campbell Series,St. Peter’s Episcopal churchRome, GA


Goddesses represent shakti
Goddesses Represent Shakti

Shaktiis the divine POWER of



Life force





Sundari beneath the Mango Tree.Madhya Pradesh or southern Uttar Pradesh,

mid-9th century.

Goddesses are represented as
Goddesses are Represented as

  • Images (murtis)

  • Sacred Sounds (mantras)

  • ‘Cosmo-grams’ (mandalas)

Goddesses are interpreted as
Goddesses are Interpreted as

  • Multiple

  • The source of all things

  • The core of human nature

  • The means to spiritual freedom

  • Manifest in the Arts

Historical overview
Historical Overview

  • Indus Valley Civilization (6500 B.C.E.-3000 B.C.E.)

  • Vedic Tradition (3000 B.C.E.- 500 B.C.E.)

    • Prthvi: Goddess of Earth

    • Vac: Goddess of Speech

    • Sarawati: River/Goddess of Arts

  • Pauranic Age (500 B.C.E.-500 C.E.)

    • Blossoming of Multiple Major Goddess Sects

    • Temple Traditions

  • Tantras (600 C.E.-1400 C.E.)

    • Sakta sadhana

    • Goddess as Consort, Teacher, Deity

  • Modern Period

    • Spread of Saktis through Ammachi and others

Multiple goddesses
Multiple Goddesses

  • Groups of goddesses, emanations of Devi

  • Seven Mothers (Saptamatrika)

  • Eight Lakshmis (Ashtalakshmi)

  • Eight Yoginis (protectors, classes of speech)

  • Nine Durgas (Navadurga)

  • Ten Great Wisdom Goddesses (Dasa Maha Vidya)

  • Sixteen Phases of the Lunar Cycle or digits of the moon (the Nitya Kala Devis)

  • 64 Yoginis (fierce guardians of the Goddess)

Parvati..Chola period, ca 1100.

Nagini. Bihar, ca. 100.

Torso of a fertility goddess (yakshi), from the Great Stupa at SanchiCentral India, Madhya Pradesh Sunga period, 25 B.C.–A.D. 25Sandstone

Mother Goddess Figurine Pakistan,

Mohenjodaro, ca. 2,600 - 1,900 B.C.

Devi as trimurti, contemporary

Renuka, Maharashtra,

painted stone

Khond tribal image of Markama Orissa, spring 1997.

  • Saumya at Sanchi (Benevolent) Forms: Consort (Radha), wife (Sita, Parvati), goddess (Saraswati, Bhudevi, Mahalakshmi)

  • The importance of marriage, auspiciousness

  • Mother Forms (Protective): Kali, Sitala, Mariyamman, Bhagavati, Durga

  • Earth Forms (Power and Purification): Rivers (Ganga), Shakti Pithas, Hills, Stones

Some images of the divine feminine in hinduism
Some Images of the Divine Feminine in Hinduism at Sanchi

  • DURGA: Power and loveliness

  • SITA: Forlorn love and loyalty

  • RADHA: Delight and divine play

  • KALI: Destruction of evil

  • LAKSHMI: Wealth and abundance

  • SARASWATI: Arts, music, and knowledge

  • DEVI: Empress of the Universe

Varahi Devi, at SanchiPunjab Hills, Basohli, ca. 1660-70

Procession image of Parvati.Kapalisvara temple. Mylapur, Chennai

Sita at Sanchi

Heroine of the Ramayana epic

Ideal wife

Chaste, loyal, beautiful, longsuffering

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the Forest.India, Punjab Hills, Kangra, ca. 1790.

Sita and Ram, North

Indian temple images

Radha at Sanchi

  • Beloved of Krishna

  • Cowherdess (gopi)

  • Represents the soul’s longing for union with the divine

Kali at Sanchi

  • Power of time, death, destruction, and yogic transformation

ChamundaNepal, 14th century.

Lakshmi at Sanchi

  • Prosperity, abundance, love, wealth, goodness

Saraswati at Sanchi

  • Arts, music, learning

Gayatri Devi, contemporary

Jain goddess Sarasvati. Gujarat, 1153.

Devi at Sanchi

  • Queen of the Universe

  • Bestower of bliss

Sakta theology
Sakta Theology at Sanchi

  • One Supreme Goddess is source of all

    • Mahadevi

    • Both ‘male’ and ‘female’ and transcendent

    • Unity that contains multiplicity/plurality. She is the ‘one’ in all things.

    • She takes form as the multiple gods and goddesses.

  • The one Goddess is holographic and ‘tricosmic’

    • Self-replicating on all levels

    • Universe, self, and means to liberations

  • Replicating ‘grid’ is the mandala.

  • Uses ‘illusion’ (maya) to veil Herself.

  • Uses grace (krpa) reveal herself.

The goddess and spiritual practice
The Goddess and Spiritual Practice at Sanchi

  • Saktism: The Way of Power

Worship of the goddess in hinduism
Worship of the Goddess in Hinduism at Sanchi

Yaa devi sarvabhuteshu buddhirupena samsthitaa

Namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namaha

To that goddess who dwells within all beings in the form of intellect,

I bow again and again and again

- Chandi Path (Devi Mahatmya),

Ch. 5, v. 20

Chola period, 8th century C.E.Southern India,

Tantric yogini images
Tantric Yogini Images at Sanchi

  • The yogini is an adept who initiates and teaches

  • 10th-11th Century temple images

  • Body as site of sacred power

  • Esoteric knowledge

  • Male initiates

Navaratri nine nights worship of the goddess
Navaratri: at Sanchi Nine Nights Worship of the Goddess

  • Semiannual celebration, in the bright moon fortnight of Chaitra (March-April) and Ashwin (September-October)

  • Recitation of Chandipath and Lalita Sahasranama

  • Triple goddess: Durga/Lakshmi/Saraswati

  • Ashtami, Vijayadashami: Victory over evil

Sri vidya the supreme wisdom
Sri Vidya at Sanchi: The Supreme Wisdom

  • Tripurasundari, the Beauty of the Three Worlds

  • Rajarajeshwari, Empress of the Universe

  • Lalitamba: The Playful One

  • Lalita Sahasranama and Saundarya Lahari

  • Mantra, mudras, dhyana, puja to Sri Yantra

  • Identification with Devi, reversal of the process of creation within oneself

Elements of worship
Elements of Worship at Sanchi

  • Image (murti)

  • Sacred sound (mantra)

    • Deity as sound

  • Sacred image (mandala)

  • Guru

  • Identification of self (atman) with deity with guru with mantra with mandala.

  • “interweaving” (Tantra)

Power of transformation
Power of Transformation at Sanchi

  • Kundalini Shakti: coiled in muladhara chakra

  • Awakened through grace or spiritual practice

  • Transformation of physical and subtle bodies

  • Unification with Paramashiva in sahasrara chakra: jivanmukti, liberation in life

Goddess in a patriarchy
Goddess in a Patriarchy? at Sanchi

  • Priests have access to esoteric ritual and theological knowledge

  • Priests manage spiritual power for the welfare of others

  • Priests represent and channel divine energies

  • Priests have spiritual, ritual, and social power

Female spiritual role models
Female Spiritual Role Models at Sanchi

  • Goddesses – usually Lakshmi, Parvati, sometimes Durga (Phoolan Devi, Indira Gandhi)

  • Heroines – Sita, Kannaki, wives

  • Saints (bhaktas) – Mirabai, Lalleshwari, Antal, Karaikkal Amma, unmarried and unconventional, extraordinary devotion to a male god/husband

  • Sannyasinis – Gargi, renunciants, intellectual

  • Gurus – Celibate, unmarried, charismatic

  • Yoginis – Married or unmarried, sexually active adepts and teachers, embodiments of Devi (goddess)

Saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar at Sanchi Tamil Nadu,

Chola period, 12th century.

Sri Amritananda Mayi Ma

Yogini with DiscipleWest Bengal, Murshidabad, 18th century.

Shree Ma

Broader contributions of goddess worship
Broader Contributions of Goddess Worship at Sanchi

  • Regeneration of ecological awareness through pilgrimage and sacred geography

  • Sacralization of mundane existence through puja

  • Transform consciousness through Kundalini Yoga and meditation on Devi as mind

  • Knowledge of ultimate structures of the universe

  • Social benefits: gender egalitarianism, upliftment of both men and women

Carrie s question do we need a goddess

Carrie’s Question: at Sanchi“Do we need a Goddess?”

Hindu answer: God is just one half of God-dess and the latter contains the former.

Conclusion at Sanchi

  • Carrie’s Question:

    • “Do we need a Goddess?”

  • Hindu Answer

    • God is one half of God-dess and the latter contains the former.