Editor's Choice

"Just as Visnu ... Devi, too, promises to return if needed."

Lynn Foulston, At the Feet of the Goddess: Divine Feminine in Local Hindu Religion
"Devi originated at a time of cosmic crisis and, consequently, her role seems very similar to that of Visnu in his many avataras (incarnations). Just as Visnu promised to manifest himself in order to protect the cosmic balance, Devi, too, promises to return if needed...
I am Nirguna. And when I am united with my sakti, maya, I become saguna, the Great Cause of this world. This maya is divided into two, Vidya and Avidya. Avidya maya hides me; whereas Vidya maya does not. Avidya creates whereas Vidya maya liberates. Devi-Bhagavatam 7. 32. 7-8"

"Therefore a person should ever strive for the destruction of ignorance, for one's birth is fruitful when ignorance is destroyed. One thereby attains the end of human existence and the state of being liberated while living."— The Divine Mother (Devi Gita 4.7-8)

The Metaphysical Goddess
The Devi-Mahatmya

"It is here, in the Devi-Mahatmya, that the concept of an all-inclusive Goddess is fully elucidated. within a mythical framework of the Goddess's martial deeds, is the assertion that she is the Ultimate Reality, an idea transmitted by inference rather than in direct terms. Mythically, in order to conquer the asuras (demons) that threatened the very existence of the devas (gods), a supremely powerful goddess was created from the combined anger of the gods.

Then from Visnu's face, which was filled with rage, came forth a great fiery splendor (tejas), (and also from the faces) of Brahma and Siva. And from the bodies of the other gods, Indra and the others, came forth a fiery splendor, and it became unified in one place. An exceedingly fiery mass like a flaming mountain did the gods see there, filling the firmament with flames. That peerless splendour, born from the bodies of all the gods, unified and pervading the triple world with its lustre, became a woman. Devi Mahatmya 2. 9-12

The vital power that emanated from the gods took shape in the feminine form, and from there on was accepted as the mahadevi, a supreme Goddess in her own right. She is entirely separate from the gods, the embodiment of sakti, and able to produce further powers of her own. When her work is done, she disappears; she does not return to her source, the gods. The text reinforces the conceptual notion of a Great Goddess, mahadevi, the embodiment of power...

One of the most interesting facets of Devi's character in the Devi-Matahmya is her independence and her challenge to the stereotypes of goddesses previously presented. The Goddess here does not depend on a male consort, and successful manages male roles herself. In battle, for instance, she does not fight with male allies; if she needs assistance, she tends to create female helpers, like Kali, from herself. Her role as sakti also differs from that of the puranic goddesses as she does not empower the male deities. 'Unlike the normal female, Durga does not lend her powers or sakti to a male consort but rather takes power from the male gods in order to perform her own heroic exploits. They give up their inner strength, fire, and heat to create her and in so doing surrender their potency to her.'

The Devi-Mahatmya makes clear that the conceptual goddess cannot be easily categorized. The 'Goddess' so carefully outlined in the text leaves the reader in no doubt of the fluidity of her character. She is the personification of all aspects of energy, being simultaneously creative, preservative and destructive.

By you is everything supported, by you is the world created; by you is it protected, O Goddess, and you always consume (it) at the end (of time). At (its) emanation you have the form of creation, in (its) protection (you have) the form of steadiness; likewise at the end of this world (you have) the form of destruction. O you who consist of this world! You are the great knowledge (mahavidya), the great illusion (mahamaya), the great insight (mahamedha), the great memory, and the great delusion, the great Goddess (mahadevi), the great demoness (mahasuri). Devi-Mahatmya 1. 56-8

This verse makes it clear that the all-encompassing Goddess in this text represents all aspects of power and energy, both positive and negative, as she is described as devi (goddess) and asuri (demoness). The Devi of the Devi-Mahatmya is fully equated with Ultimate Reality, presented as the power behind the functions of the trimurti, the triad of deities — Visnu, Siva and Brahma — who are responsible of the preservation, dissolution and creation of the universe respectively:

You are the primordial material (praktri) of everything, manifesting the triad of constituent strands, the night of destruction (periodic dissolution), the great night (final dissolution), and the terrible night of delusion. Devi-Mahatmya 1. 59

Devi originated at a time of cosmic crisis and, consequently, her role seems very similar to that of Visnu in his many avataras (incarnations). Just as Visnu promised to manifest himself in order to protect the cosmic balance, Devi, too, promises to return if needed.

The Devi-Bhagavatam Purana

The Devi-Mahatmya is not the only text to offer an all-inclusive concept of female divinity, equated with the principle of Ultimate Reality. The later Devi-Bhagavatam presents a Sakta response to a variety of puranic strands of thought. According to Cheever Mackenzie Brown, its original parts were written in response to the Bhagavata Purana. The Devi Gita, which comprises skanda (book) 7, chapters 30-40 of the Devi-Bhagavatam, is based on the style of the Bhagavad Gita, but is presented from a Sakta perspective. The ninth skanda, according to Brown, is almost a verbatim copy of the 'Praktri Khanda' of the Brahmaraivarta Purana, which Brown describes as 'a kind of encyclopedia of goddesses', associating them with praktri. The Devi-Bhagavatam also encompasses a version of the Devi-Mahatmya and retells a number of puranic myths. The text is more consistently metaphysically oriented than the earlier Devi-Mahatmya, frequently eulogizing the conceptual goddess who is the power behind all other deities.

That Goddess is Eternal and Ever Constant Primordial Force... She is the source of Brahma, Visnu and the others and all of these living beings. Without Her force, no body would be able even to more their limbs.
That Supreme Auspicious Goddess is the preserving energy of Visnu,
is the Creative power of Brahma, and is the destroying force of Siva. Devi-Mahatmya 3. 30. 28-30

It is also significant that in the Devi-Bhagavatam, the Great Goddess is explicitly shown to be independent of any male authority and control. Indeed in the previous verses it is the gods that are completely subject to her will, being totally reliant on her power. The goddess/ses of Devi-Bhagavatam are repeatedly portrayed as eternal, the basis of everything, identical with Brahman.

When everything melts away i.e. there comes the Pralaya or general dissolution, then, I am not female, I am not male, nor am I hermaphrodite. I then remain as Brahma with maya. Devi-Bhagavatam 3. 6. 2

The Adya or Primordial sakti is explicitly shown to be the source of all goddesses, from the highest to the lowest forms.

Maha Laksmi is Her sattvaki sakti, Sarasvaati is Her Rajasik sakti and Maha Kali is Her tamasik sakti, these are all feminine forms. Devi-Bhagavatam 1. 1. 20

The highest forms represent the major facets of her power or energy, the three gunas, encompassing both positive and negative energies. In the Devi-Bhagavatam, the essential character of the mahadevi encompasses both praktri (material nature), in its unmanifest and manifest forms, and purusa (pure consciousness) — the dual realities of Sankhya philosophy. Unlike Sankhya and other schools of thought, particularly Advaita, the Devi-Bhagavatam portrays praktri in a more positive light; as an integral feature of the Goddess's power. Similarly, the concept of maya (illusion) is also presented positively rather than negatively, as an integral energy inherent in the act of creation.

I am Nirguna. And when I am united with my sakti, maya, I become saguna, the Great Cause of this world. This maya is divided into two, Vidya and Avidya. Avidya maya hides me; whereas Vidya maya does not. Avidya creates whereas Vidya maya liberates. Devi-Bhagavatam 7. 32. 7-8

Brown points out an interesting and important difference between the conception of maya in the Bhagavata Purana, in which Visnu is the supreme deity, and that in the Devi-Bhagavatam. Whereas in the Bhagavata Purana, Visnu is the 'controller and possessor of maya', the Goddess of the Devi-Bhagavatam, as well as wielding the power of maya, actually is maya. There appears to be a much more intimate relationship in the Devi-Bhagavatam between the Goddess and the workings of the cosmos, for as Visnu and Siva resort to their respective saktis for assistance, Devi resorts to no one but herself."

At the Feet of the Goddess: Divine Feminine in Local Hindu Religion
Lynn Foulston, Sussex Academic Press 1999, pp. 11-15

"She is ever attentive to the world, particularly to her devotees"

"The central role the Devi plays in mythology is that of creator and queen of the cosmos. When she is portrayed in her own form (sva bhava), she is usually described as a beautiful young woman in regal attire surrounded by thousands of attendants and seated on a throne in the highest heaven. As cosmic queen she oversees or performs directly the three primary cosmic functions of creation, preservation, and destruction. The world is said to be destroyed when she blinks her eyes and to be recreated when she opens her eyes.

Many Hindu mythological texts attribute the three cosmic functions to Brahma (creation), Vishnu (preservation), and Siva (destruction). While texts extolling the Devi often picture these three deities in their familiar roles, it is made clear that the male gods only act according to the Devi's will and at her command. Some myths make the point that the great male gods are entirely dependents on the Devi for her strength and power and that if she withdraws her power they are impotent and helpless. The Devi-bhagavata-purana also makes it clear that the traditional heavenly bodies of these deities are far below and inferior to the Devi's heaven. Indeed, the text asserts that there are innumerable Brahmas, Visnus, and Sivas, whose tasks are to govern the innumerable universes that ceaselessly bubble forth from the inexhaustibly creative Devi (3.4.14-67). In the Lalita-sahasranama the Devi is called she from whose ten fingernails spring the ten forms of Visnu (Karanguli-nakhotpanna-narayana-dasakrtih, 80). In the Saundaryalahari the entire universe is formed from a tiny speck of dust from the Devi's foot. Brahma takes that speck and from it fashions worlds that Visnu, in his form as the many-headed cosmic serpent, can barely support with his thousand heads (verse 2). In a particularly humbling scene for the male deities, the Devi is described in her heaven as seated upon a couch, its four legs consisting of the great male deities of the Hindu pantheon. The point is clear: the great male gods still have important roles to play, but ultimately they are servants of the Devi and do their bidding. She has created them, indeed, she has created innumerable copies of each of them, and they act as her cosmic agents, overseeing the universe she has created.

Although the male deities are frequently portrayed as carrying out their traditional cosmological functions at the Devi's command, she herself is also pictured as taking an active role in the cosmic processes. She is ever attentive to the world, particularly to her devotees, and in various forms she acts to uphold cosmic order and protect her creatures. Although her concern is that of a mother for her children, hence a passionate and ever-watchful concern, her favorite role as protector and preserver of the cosmos is that of the warrior, a traditional male role. Many of her epithets emphasize this aspect of her character. The Lalita-sahasranama calls her she who slays demons (Raksasaghni, 318), she who grant boons to great warriors (Mahavirendravarada, 493), ruler of armies (Caturangabalesvari, 691), she who is worshipped by warriors (Viraradhya, 777), and mother of warriors (Viramata, 836).

The Devi's most famous mythological exploits usually involve the defeat of demons who have taken over the world and displaced the gods from their positions as rulers of the cosmos. The three episodes featuring the goddess Durga are particularly popular in texts celebrating the mahadevi, and she is identified with Durga in various renditions of the tales. To a great extent Durga is the Devi's most common or favorite form, and Durga's exploits are the most commonly celebrated events in Devi mythology. From the point of view of mahadevi's theology the two are essentially the same deity. The account of Durga's defeat of Mahisa in the Devi-bhagavata-purana, for example, explicitly states that the Devi, though nirguna in her ultimate essence, assumes for her pleasure a great variety of forms in order to maintain cosmic order and that her form of Durga is simply one of those forms, though undoubtedly a very important one. As Durga, the mahadevi is typically described as a ferocious, invincible warrior who descends into the world from time to time to combat evil of various kinds, especially demons who have stolen the positions of the gods.

As Durga, the mahadevi is in many ways like the great god Visnu. Visnu is usually pictured as a cosmic king who oversees that stability of the world. When the world is threatened by demons, he descends in different forms to combat the danger. The mahadevi is also said to assume forms appropriate to cosmic threats. Visnu is traditionally said to have ten avataras. In each universal cycle he takes ten different forms to combat ten different demons. The mahadevi, too, is said to have ten forms, the Dasamahavidyas (the ten great scenes or insights). These ten forms include several well-known Hindu goddesses, and like the Vaisnavite idea of avataras the ten forms of the Devi effectively bring together distinct strands under a unifying great deity. From the point of view of Devi theology and cosmology the Hindu goddesses are varying manifestations of the Devi's activity on behalf of the world. Durga, Laksmi, Parvati, and other goddesses are all understood to be parts of a transcendent divine economy that is governed by the Devi in her own form (svabhava) or in her aspect as brahman. This economy, with a few important exceptions, is oriented toward upholding and protecting the world.

The Devi, like Visnu, also plays the role of protector and preserver in less grand, cosmic ways by making periodic and dramatic appearances on behalf of her individual devotees. In this role she plays the savior. Her devotees Samadhi and Suratha propitiate her in the closing scene of the Devi-mahatmya. She appears before them and graciously grants their desires (13.7-16). In the Devi-bhagvata-purana when her devotee Sudarsana is surrounded by his enemies and prays to her for help, she appears as a great warrior riding on her lion and quickly routs them (3.23.18-41). She appears to aid Rama when he prays to her for help in defeating Ravana. She empowers him to build a bridge from India to Lanka and announces that she will cause him to defeat Ravana (3.30.43-61). In the Devi-bhagvata-purana's account of the well-known story of Hariscandra, who is reduced to poverty and the pitiable status of an outcaste, the Devi answers Hariscandra's prayer by appearing and restoring him to his former state and reviving his child from the dead (7.27.1-7). The mahadevi, then, though typically pictured as a distant, awesome figure who sits in majesty on a heavenly throne surrounded by divine attendants, is responsive to the pleas of her individual devotees and is quick to come to their aid in times of distress. She is understood to be an approachable, motherly figure who is never deaf to the cries of her children."

Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine
David R. Kinsley, U. of California Press (July 19, 1988), pp. 137-9

Devi: Goddesses of India
DEVI: The Great Goddess
Thomas B. Coburn

There are multiple dimensions to posing the apparently straightforward question of who is the Great Goddess of India, the Devi, and how she is related to other Hindu deities. Depending on who is asking the question, and who is answering it, very different features of divinity, both male and female, come to the fore. At least two reasons exist for the easy, but multifaceted, coexistence of oneness and manyness that we observe in Hindu conceptions of Devi. One is the richness of vision that the classic text of Hindu Goddess worship, the Devi Mahatmya, offers; the other is the variety of significances that have been ascribed to this text in the Indian context. It is the purpose of this essay to explore the former of theseóthe vision of the Devi Mahatmya—in some detail and then to indicate some of the larger interpretive issues.

It has long been recognized, by both devotees and academics, that the Devi Mahatmya is a text of unique significance to the Hindu religious tradition. The text, which forms a portion of one of the early Sanskrit Puranas, the Markandeya, was probably composed in or somewhat north of the Narmada river valley sometime in the fifth or sixth century C.E.1 Yet it is no mere antiquarian curiosity. The Devi Mahatmya has, through the centuries, been copied by the faithful with such regularity that it now exists in virtually innumerable manuscripts. Its recitation forms part of the daily liturgy in temples dedicated to Durga, as well as occupying a central place in the great autumnal festival of Durga Puja.2 In a lecture delivered in 1840, H. H. Wilson ranked it "amongst the most popular works in the Sanskrit language," and to this day its hymns, in particular, are familiar to vast numbers of Hindus.3 In 1823 it became the second Puranic text ever translated into a European language (English).4 By the turn of the century excerpts had appeared in French, and another lull English translation had been produced, along with one in Latin and one in Greek.'5

Of the various features of the Devi Mahatmya, one stands preeminent. The ultimate reality in the universe is here understood to be feminine: Devi, the Goddess.6 Moreover, the Devi Mahatmya appears to be the first Sanskrit text to provide a comprehensive—indeed, well-nigh relentless—articulation of such a vision. From the time of the Rig Veda onward, of course, various goddesses had figured in Sanskrit tradition. But never before had ultimate reality itself been understood as Goddess.

Since the Goddess's varied and often highly nuanced relationship to male deities is particularly revealing of her nature, we shall first explore three "moments"—one from each of the three episodes in the Devi Mahatmya—that present this relationship in a particularly vivid fashion. As we shall see, although Devi is understood to bear a special relation to each particular deity, this is never a mere consort relation. She is beyond being a consort to anyone. Then, in an effort to situate the Devi Mahatmya in the broader realm of Indian religious history, we will consider how certain of its myths and symbols had previously been employed in Sanskrit. As it turns out, certain affinities exist between the worship of Devi, as expounded in the Devi Mahatmya, and other, quite various theological currents involving Agni and Skanda, Siva, Vishnu, and Krishna Gopala. Finally, against the backdrop of this inquiry into the text's content and historical context, we shall take brief note of the ongoing hermeneutics of the Devi Mahatmya, exploring how later Hindus and others have engaged with the text and its vision.


The structure of the Devi Mahatmya is both simple and beautifully symmetrical, consisting of a frame story and three myths that tell of Devi's various salvific activities. The first half of the frame story recounts how a king and a merchant, beset by mundane adversity, seek refuge from the turmoils of the world by retiring to the forest. There they encounter a sage, who informs them that their woes are due to the power of mahamaya, a term that can mean either "she who possesses great deceptiveness" or "she who is the great deception." Pressed for further details, the sage then recounts the three myths. The first, that of Madhu and Kaitabha, offers a succinct delineation of the cosmic status of Devi. The second, a more extensive account of her origins on earth and her initial martial activities, culminates in her conquest of the dread buffalo-demon Mahisa. The third and longest myth is an exuberant celebration of her various forms and their role in her victory over the minions of the demons Sumbha and Nisumbha. Finally, in the second half of the frame story, we learn how the king and the merchant then worship Devi. Their devotion merits her appearance, and she proceeds to answer their prayers.

The feature of the first episode that commands our attention here is its characterization of Devi as mahamaya, a designation that should probably be understood as a proper name. A preliminary indication of its significance can be found in the words with which the sage describes the goddess to the woebegone king and merchant:

O best of men, human beings have a craving for offspring, out of greed expecting those [loved ones] to reciprocate; do you not see this? Just in this fashion do they fall into the pit of delusion, the maelstrom of egotism, giving [apparent] solidity to life in this world (samsara) through the power of mahamaya. . . . This blessed Devi mahamaya, having forcibly seized the minds, even of men of knowledge, leads them to delusion. . . . She is [also] the supreme eternal knowledge (vidya) that becomes the cause of release (mukti) from bondage to mundane life. (1.39—40, 42, 44)7

The Devi Mahatmya seems here to reflect the view of the early Upanisads that it is mystical knowledge of ultimate truth that extricates one from the process of rebirth. But something else is clearly afoot as well, for Devi is not simply the knowledge that sets one free. She is also the great illusion (mahamaya) that keeps one bound. The Devi Mahatmya is not given to systematic philosophical exposition, so it does not endeavor to resolve this paradox. Rather, it rejoices in it, for paradox is close to the heart of the Devi Mahatmya's view of Devi. In this regard, two features of earlier Sanskrit usage of the word may help clarify what the Devi Mahatmya means when it calls Devi "mahamaya."

First, the word maya is as old as the Rig Veda, where it means "wile" or "magic power," a power that is frequently associated with the asuras, beings who, in all but the earliest strata of Sanskrit literature, are understood as enemies of the gods (devas). If maya is thus associated with the demons, we might expect the Devi Mahatmya to affirm that she who is mahamaya is also the great demoness. This turns out to be precisely the manner in which Devi is praised later in this same episode: "You are the great knowledge, the great illusion, the great insight, the great memory, and [also] the great delusion, the great Goddess (mahadevi), the great Demoness (mahdsuri)" (1.58). To say that Devi is mahamaya is thus to affirm that she is indeed Goddess, but it is also to affirm that she transcends the conventional distinction between devas and asuras.

The second conceptual formulation that prior usage bequeaths to the Devi Mahatmya is the equation of maya with prakrti, the primordial matter that evolves into the manifest universe. It was in the philosophical school of Sarnkhya that prakrti received its classical development as one of the two fundamental principles of the universe, the other being purusa (spirit). This atheistic dualism had, however, been adapted to theistic philosophical needs long before the Devi Mahatmya was composed. In particular, that watershed of theistic speculation, the svetasvatara upanisad, had formulated the crucial issues in an illuminating way. Having explained the distinction between the Lord and the individual soul, the text then related them both to maya:

The Vedas, the sacrifices, the ceremonies, the acts of devotion, the past, the future, and what the Vedas declare—all this does the Lord (mayin, the possessor of maya) pour forth out of this [i.e., the creator god, Brahma], and in it is the other [the individual soul] confined by maya. Know maya to be prakrti, and the possessor of maya to be the great Lord. This whole world is pervaded by beings that are part of him (4.9—10)

It would be risky to rely on a narrow interpretation of such philosophically pregnant concepts as maya and prakrti.9 Nonetheless, the Devi Mahatmya is inclined to favor their identification in a way that is reminiscent of the Svetasvatara. Thus, in the first episode mahamaya is addressed in hymns with the affirmation, "You are the prakrti of all, manifesting the triad of constituent strands (gunas)" (i .59) and, later on, with the confession, "You are the supreme, original, untransformed prakrti" (4.6). On the basis of such passages it seems safe to say that the Devi Mahatmya has shifted the focus of the Samkhya school and the svetasvatara upanisad by understanding prakrti not as the material shroud or possession of spirit but as itself supremely divine, as Devi herself.

By way of summarizing these various implications of the designation "mahamaya," let us consider the myth recounted in this first episode. As part of his introduction to Devi, the sage declares: "The yogic slumber (yoganidra) of the lord of the worlds, Visnu, is [this same] mahamaya, and through her is this world being deluded" (i .41). Such a declaration enables him to move directly to the myth, which involves Visnu, yoganidra, and the asuras Madhu and Kaitabha. But in order to appreciate the unique features of the Devi Mahatmaís version, we must ascertain the resonance of this particular myth at the time the Devi Mahatmya was written.

Throughout the Mahabharata, the Madhu-Kaitabha myth is associated, virtually without exception, with the figure of Vishnu. The myth is recounted in full on several occasions, and Vishnuís epithet madhusudana, "slayer of Madhu," occurs in the epic more than two hundred times. The classical version of the myth can be summarized as follows.10 It is the time of pralaya, the state of dissolution that occurs at the end of a cosmic cycle. All that exists is the universal ocean. On the ocean, Lord Vishnu sleeps, lying on his serpent, Sesa, who is coiled into the shape of a couch. While Vishnu sleeps, two asuras named Madhu and Kaitabha arise from the wax in his ear and, puffed up with pride and egotism, begin to assail the god Brahma, who is seated on the lotus that grows from Vishnuís navel. Brahma awakens Vishnu by shaking the lotus, whereupon Vishnu engages the two demons in battle, sometimes physically, sometimes in a contest of wits. Given that nothing but ocean exists, Madhu and Kaitabha think they have outwitted Vishnu by asking to be slain in a dry place. But Vishnu raises his thighs and kills the demons on them. From the fact of the two asuras, which then permeated the waters, the earth was created.

In the Devi Mahatmya's retelling of this thoroughly Vaisnava myth are several crucial modifications. Although the setting is exactly the same, Vishnu is described as having entered into yoganidra, the twilight slumber of tranquility, a term not used in the epic. The demons begin their assault upon Brahma, who again endeavors to awaken Vishnu. He does so here, however, not by shaking the lotus but by invoking Devi, who is addressed as yoganidra, that is, as the personification of the state of sleep into which Vishnu has entered. The climax of the invocation reads:

Whatever and wherever anything exists, whether it be real or unreal, O [you] who have everything as your very soul, of all that, you are the power (sakti); how then can you be [adequately] praised? By you the creator of the world, the protector of the world, who [also] consumes the world, is [here] brought under the influence of sleep (nidra); who here is capable of praising you? Since Vishnu, Siva, and I have been made to assume bodily form by you, who could have the capacity of [adequately] praising you? May you, praised in this fashion, Devi, with your superior powers confuse these two unassailable asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha, and may the imperishable Lord of the world be quickly awakened, and may his alertness be used to slay these two great asuras. (1.63-67)

Devi then accedes to Brahma's request by withdrawing from Vishnuís various limbs, Vishnu awakens, and the asuras are dispatched, as in the earlier versions.

Several conclusions seem to follow from this account. First, the Devi Mahatmya clearly suggests that it is solely through the grace, the gracious withdrawal, of Devi that Vishnu can fulfill his familiar duty of slaying the asuras. In fact, it is only through this grace that he can act at all. And if this is true of Lord Vishnu, the implication is that each of us human beings is similarly indebted to her.11 Second, Devi is held to be the primary ontological reality. From her the gods explicitly derive their bodily form, and from her, as well, all material existence proceeds. This is evident both from the prior affirmation that Devi is prakrti and from the suggestion that it is the substance of the asuras that comes to form the earth—for Devi is, we have noted, the great asura. One might go so far as to say that whatever is is Devi. Finally, the text reveals the paradoxical action of Devi mahamaya. It suggests, on the one hand, that it is she who deludes the two self-important demons into thinking they can outwit the divine. But, on the other hand, it is also she who shows how, through the frustration of their egotistical desires and their apparent death, those same demons come to participate in a divine plan far larger than themselves—indeed, in the cosmic process of creation. Devi is both the great deluder and the one who redeems the victims of her magic tricks by incorporating them into the life divine.

The event from the second episode that is of interest to us may be dealt with more briefly. This is the point at which the text, having established Devi's cosmic status, turns to an account of her career on earth. It is apparent from the outset that the event precipitating that career is the severe dislocation of the mundane equilibrium. The second episode thus begins:

Once upon a time, a battle between the gods (devas) and asuras raged for a full hundred years, when [the buffalo-demon] Mahisa was leader of the asuras and Indra [was leader] of the gods. The gods' army was conquered there by the mighty asuras, and having conquered all the gods, the asura Mahisa became lord (literally, "Mahisa became Indra"). (2.1-2)

Faced with this quandary, the remnants of the devas' army seek out Siva and Vishnu and describe the course of events. There follows the famous ac-count of Devi's origin as a force on earth:

Having listened to the words of the gods, Vishnu and Siva became angry, with furrowed brows and twisted faces. Then from the face of Vishnu, filled with rage, came forth a great fiery splendor (tejas) [and also from the faces] of Brahma and Siva. And from the bodies of Indra and the other gods came forth a great fiery splendor, and it became unified in one place. An exceedingly fiery mass like a flaming mountain did the gods see there, filling the firmament with flames. That peerless splendor, born of the bodies of all the gods, unified, and pervading the three worlds with her splendor, became a woman. (2.8-12)

Our text then recounts how this woman—who is, of course, Devi—received her various limbs and weapons from different gods and how, thus constituted, she proceeded to vanquish Mahisa and his hordes.

From the perspective of our concern with Devi's relation to specific male deities, two comments are in order. First, whereas there is justification for saying that Devi is here conceptualized as subordinate to the gods—because she is derivative from, and indebted to, each of them—it can also be argued that the reverse is true. It is she who succeeds in restoring equilibrium on earth, a feat that the gods, both individually and collectively, had been un-able to accomplish. Moreover, it is clear that, despite having been derived from the gods, Devi is subsequently understood to be a continuing, independent salvific presence in the world. Thus, at the end of this episode she consents to bring relief to those who will call upon her in future calamities. Moreover, the episode concludes not by having her dissipate into the bodies of the gods but by stating simply, yet suggestively, "She vanished" (4.30-33).

Second, we must note the conceptual model that the Devi Mahatmya employs here in describing Devi. The first episode in the text established her primacy in the cosmic context. Now the second endeavors to demonstrate not only that Devi also has an earthly career but that she is the supreme ruler of earthly creatures. To portray Devi in this role, the Devi Mahatmya draws on a classical Indian model, that of the king as described in a classic text, The Laws of Manu. As part of his vision of social order, Manu, the ascribed author, begins his account of the king as follows:

When this world was without a king and people ran about in all directions out of fear, the Lord emitted a king in order to guard this entire (realm), taking lasting elements from Indra, the Wind, Yama, the Sun, Fire, Varuna, the Moon, and (Kubera the Lord of Wealth. Because a king is made from particles of these lords of the gods, therefore he surpasses all living beings in brilliant energy tejas, and like the Sun, he hums eyes and hearts, and no one on earth is able even to look at him. ... In order to make justice succeed, he takes all forms again and again, taking into consideration realistically what is to be done, (his) power, and the dine and place. The lotus goddess of Good Fortune resides in his favour, victory in his aggression, and death in his anger; for he is made of the brilliant energy of all (the gods).12

The conclusion that this model of secular power underlies the Devi Mahatmyaís vision of Devi's earthly origin seems inescapable. That such a model is utterly appropriate seems equally obvious, for only one whose power, in the world's own terms, is unrivaled can cope with the great disturber of the mundane equilibrium, Mahisa. The Devi Mahatmya thus affirms that the effective agent on earth, as in the cosmos, is not masculine but feminine, not king but queen.

Finally, we must examine the Devi Mahatmya's use of the term shakti, "power," with regard to Devi, particularly in the third episode. As we have already seen, the Devi Mahatmya understands sakti as a singular and universal phenomenon—as a phenomenon that Devi simply is.13 But in addition, it understands sakti as plural and particular phenomena, as something that each individual deity has. This latter conceptualization emerges in the course of Devi's martial engagement with the asuras Sumbha and Nisumbha. When Sumbha, incensed at the destruction of two of his generals, sends forth his legions against Devi, she multiplies her own forces:

At that very moment, O king, in order to destroy the enemies of the gods, and for the sake of the well-being of the supreme gods, very valorous and powerful saktis, having sprung forth from the bodies of Brahma, Siva, Skanda, Vishnu, and Indra, [and] having the form of each [of them], approached Devi (candika). Whatever form, ornament, and mount a particular god possessed, with that very form did his sakti go forth to fight the asuras. (8.11—13)

The text then describes how seven saktis emerged from seven gods, each possessing the distinctive iconographic features of its source. These saktis are named Brahman, Mahesvari, Kaumari, Vaisnavi, Varahi, Narasimhi, and Aindri.14 Together with another figure whom we shall consider in a moment, they are referred to collectively in the ensuing combat as "the Mothers."

Four features of this passage and its consequent development deserve our attention. First, it is tempting to conclude that the text views each god as having a consort who is called a sakti and is a form of Devi. But closer examination reveals quite a different situation. In fact, the Devi Mahatmya is careful to avoid using language that would imply that the saktis are consorts of their respective gods. This is evident from the fact that, in the mythology current at the time that the Devi Mahatmya was composed, two of the gods who here put forth saktis—Indra and Siva (Mahesvara)—were already acknowledged to have consorts. Indra's spouse has been known since Rig Vedic times as Indrani or Saci, while Siva's spouse is referred to throughout the Mahabharata as Uma or Parvati. Indra's spouse has never before been designated by the word aindri, however, and Uma is called mahesvari on only one known occasion (Mahabharata 14.43.14). Consequently, when the Devi Mahatmya calls Indra's sakti Aindri, "the one related to Indra," and Siva's sakti Mahesvari, "the one related to Mahesvara," it apparently wishes to make clear that a god's sakti is not the same as any previously recognized consort of his.15 A sakti does not have the merely formal and external relation of a consort with her god. Rather, she is far more fundamental, more internal, to his identity, for she is in fact his power (sakti).

Second, it is clear that although the polarity of Siva and Sakti is well known in later Sakta and tantric circles, the Devi Mahatmya shows no preference for Siva when discussing Devi as sakti. The only special attention paid to Siva at this juncture is that, after their emergence, the saktis are said to gather around him (8.21). However, no particular importance is attached to this fact.

Third, an even more striking contrast with later views emerges from the fact that the Devi Mahatmya does not recognize that a sakti is feminine and that its possessor or vehicle is masculine—for Devi herself possesses a sakti. Immediately after the previously named saktis have gathered around Siva, the text declares: "Then from the body of Devi came forth the very frightening sakti of Candika (Devi), gruesome and yelping [like] a hundred jackals" (8.22). In the subsequent combat, this sakti is treated as kindred to the other saktis, as one of the Mothers.

Finally, for all this proliferation of forms of Devi, and for all the involvement of some of them with male deities, our text never loses sight of the fact that Devi is the primary reality and that her agency is the only effective one. This is indicated at the very end of the episode, where the text sets the stage for the final dramatic encounter by reducing the combatants to the bare minimum. The demon Sumbha has accused Devi of false pride and haughtiness, for in the foregoing encounters she has relied not on her own strength but on that of others. At this point, Devi proclaims her relation to the apparently heterogeneous forms of the Goddess: "I alone exist here in the world; what second, other than I, is there? O wicked one, behold these my hierophanies (or "extraordinary powers": vibhutayah) entering [back] into me" (10.3). The text continues: "Thereupon, all the goddesses, led by Brahma, went to their resting place in the body of Devi; then there was just Devi (cambia) alone" (10.4). Subsequently, Devi throws down the gauntlet for the final combat: "When I was established here in many forms, it was by means of my extraordinary power. That has now been withdrawn by me. I stand utterly alone. May you be resolute in combat" (10.5).

Our text thus concludes as it began, with the assertion that there is but one truly ultimate reality and that it is feminine; with the indication that this reality takes on different forms, to which the ignorant impute independent and permanent existence but which the wise recognize as grounded in Devi; and with the demonstration that this reality is related to male deities, as to all that exists, not externally but internally—not as consort, but as sakti.


Quite apart from the conceptual structure of the Devi Mahatmya, there is a historical dimension to the synthesis it accomplishes, and this, too, contributes to the diverse emphases that the later tradition places on this classical text of Devi. We may here glance briefly at four distinct strands that appear to feed into the Devi Mahatmyaís synthetic vision of Devi.

First, scholars are virtually unanimous in the opinion that the basic impulse behind the worship of the Goddess in India is of non-Aryan, non-Sanskritic origin. For all its brilliance in incorporating diverse Sanskrit motifs into its vision of Devi, the Devi Mahatmya, too, seems to support this view. Thus, for instance, the most common designation of Devi in this text (other than the word devi itself) is candikd, which probably means "the violent and impetuous one" but which is used throughout as a proper name. Although feminine forms of the adjective canda exist in earlier texts, never prior to the Devi Mahatmya does the word candika appear in Sanskrit.16 Since the Devi Mahatmya attests to the existence of a cult of Devi (see 12. 1—12), it seems sensible that we should look for the historical origin of her worship in non-Sanskritic circles, in the worship of a deity known as Candika.

Second, although the Devi Mahatmya does not understand Devi to be the "consort of Siva, there is some evidence that her worship and her identity are intertwined with those of Siva. After Candika, the second most frequent name for Devi in the Devi Mahatmya is Ambika, a name associated in late Vedic texts with the nascent figure of Rudra-Siva.17 In addition, there is the intriguing fact that the destruction of Mahisa, which the Devi Mahatmya and subsequent Puranic literature clearly ascribe to Devi, had previously been recounted in the Mahabharata, where it appears as the crowning event in the epic's first account of the birth and early career of Skanda.18 Skanda is, of course, known throughout the Puranas as the offspring of Siva and Uma, yet the Mahabharata takes a somewhat different tack. Its account is extraordinarily complicated—largely because at this juncture Skanda is a new figure in Sanskrit mythology, one whose genealogy is unclear—but also enormously suggestive. Throughout the account, Agni's claims to the paternity of Skanda predominate over those of Siva. At the same time, it is immediately after Siva's claims are introduced (3.220) that the narrative reaches its climax by telling of Mahisa's defeat at the hands of Skanda. Moreover, although the identity of Skanda's rightful mother is never clearly determined, embryonic "Goddess motifs" abound. One candidate for motherhood is a horde of ogresses euphemistically called "the Mothers," in addition to which are several momentary appearances by a goddess named Sakti. One cannot help but feel that, at least mythologically and perhaps liturgically as well, Devi's identity emerges out of a matrix in which Siva, Skanda, and Agni also figure prominently.19

Third, as we have seen, the Devi Mahatmya incorporates the familiar Vaisnava myth of Madhu and Kaitabha and conceptualizes the Goddess in a way that resembles Manu's conceptualization of the king. There are also further indications of historical interaction between Vaisnavism and the worship of Devi. The regal imagery of the second episode, for instance, has a distinctly Vaisnava aura to it, and the way in which the Goddess enumerates her future appearances at the end of chapter 11 is strongly reminiscent of the Bhagavad Gita's teaching of the Lord's incarnations (avataras) .20 Further, we learn from the critical edition of the Mahabharata that, just prior to the Bhagavad Gita, a number of manuscripts insert one of the earliest Sanskrit hymns to the Goddess, known as the Durga Stotra.21 This insertion would seem to reflect the redactors' sense that there is a natural connection between Krishna and Devi. Similarly, there has been an ongoing, but usually only implicit, relationship between the Bhagavad Gita and the Devi Mahatmya, evidenced by the fact that the seven hundred verses of the former appear to have been the model for giving the Devi Mahatmya the very popular alternative title Durga Saptasati, "Seven Hundred (Verses) to Durga."22

Finally, the Devi Mahatmya provides further evidence for the relation that Charlotte Vaudeville has perceived between Devi and Krishna Gopala, for ' references to the myth of Sumbha and Nisumbha are found earlier only in Krishnaite documents.23 In the Harivamsa's account of Krishna's childhood, Vishnu descends to hell (petal) to solicit the aid of the goddess Nidra. He proposes a plan for his birth and that of the goddess to Devaki and Yasoda, and then foretells the future course of events. Among other things he predicts that this goddess will slay the demons Sumbha and Nisumbha (47.49) .24 Later (65.51) the text asserts that she has, in fact, slain them. This "connection between a Sumbha-Nisumbha-Goddess myth and the Krishna Gopala cycle is evidently more than a product of chance, for reference to such a myth also occurs in the Krishna story told in the Vishnu Purana (5.1.81) and in Baseís Balacarita (2.20—25).25 Vaudeville has argued persuasively that the tales about Krishna Gopala originated as a cycle of hero stories among the non-Aryan castes of North India, who were predominantly worshipers of Devi.26 The implications for our understanding of the Devi Mahatmya would thus seem clear. What we have in the Sumbha-Nisumbha myth is local culture are always a function of particular historical events, often in the distant past. In anthropological terms, to speak of Devi as a generic Hindu deity is therefore often problematic, for her identity is always strongly colored by local custom.

Finally, given that Devi's identity is so intimately interconnected with the myths about her, it comes as no surprise that psychoanalytic theory, with its attention to dreams and myths, has figured in several contemporary interpretations of the Hindu Goddess. With this broadening of disciplinary perspectives, however, it becomes still more difficult to offer generalized interpretations of Devi and her worship. For instance, the Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar has argued that the mythology of Devi provides "the 'hegemonic narrative' of Hindu culture as far as male development is concerned" arid that "certain forms of the maternal-feminine may be more central in Indian myths and psyche than in their Western counterparts."33 More recently, Stanley Kurtz has gone much further, arguing that the dynamics of Indian child-rearing practices call for a radical reshaping of psychoanalytic concepts. The theology of the-one-and-the-many as it emerges in Hindu conceptions of Devi finds a social parallel in the practice of joint mothering, and Freud's Oedipus complex must give way in the Indian context to what Kurtz calls "the Durga Complex."34 To evaluate such an argument would take us well beyond the scope of this essay. But it serves as a fitting reminder of the varied ways that Devi has seized the human imagination, whether devotional or academic, for millennia in India and now in many other places throughout the world.

Devi: Goddesses of India
edited by John Stratton Hawley, Donna M. Wulff, University of California Press (July 1 1996) pp. 31-48

1. See F. E. Pargiter, trans., The Markandeya Purana (Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1888—1904), pp. viii-xiii; and V. V. Mirashi, "A Lower Limit for the Date of the Devi Mahatmya," Purdna6, no. i (1964): 181—84.
2. See Louis Renou, L'Hindouisme:, Les textes, les doctrines, I'histoire (Paris: Presses Universities de France, 1958), p. 67; and P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, 5 vols. (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1930—62), 5:154—87, esp. pp. 154—56, 171—72. See also Pratapchandra Ghosha, Durga Puja, with Notes and Illustrations (Calcutta: Hindoo Patriot Press, 1871), pp. 20, 39.
3. H. H. Wilson, Works, ed. R. Rost, vol. i (London: Triibner, 1862), p. 68.
4. As Shrivatsa Goswami pointed out to me, Juan Roger Riviere is in error when he claims, in "European Translations of Puranic Texts" (Purana 5, no. 2 [1963]: 243—50), that this translation of the Devi Mahatmya is the first European translation of a Puranic text. The first such translation is in fact from the Bhagavata Purana'. Daniel H. H. Ingalls alludes to it in his foreword to Milton Singer, ed,, Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1966), p. viii. The full reference is: Bagavadam ou Doctrine Divine, Ouvrage Indien, canonique; sur I'Etre Supreme, les Dieux, les Geans, les homines, les divmes parties de I'Univers, &c., traduit du Sanskrit d'apres une version tamoule, par Meridas Poulle, un Malabare Chretien (Paris: Foucher d'Obsonville, 1788).
5. For full documentation of this point, see my Devi-Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition (Delhi and Columbia, Mo.: Motilal Banarsidass and South Asia Books, 1985; hereafter cited as Crystallization), pp. 51—52.
6. Since there are neither capital letters nor articles in Sanskrit, whereas English employs both, the translation of devi as "the Goddess" can be misleading. In English, when we wish to speak of ultimate reality as masculine—of God with a capital "G"—we automatically omit the article: "Praise be to God." But it sounds odd to say, "Praise be to Goddess"; the language wants us to say, "Praise be to the Goddess" or "to a goddess." The Devi Mahatmya would not allow such a qualification—not only on grammatical grounds but also, as we shall see, on theological ones: Devi is not one goddess among others, but Goddess Supreme. In this essay I shall force Sanskrit to bear the brunt of a compromise by employing the term "Devi," with a capital. In the long run, however, we speakers of English ought to accustom ourselves to such phrases as "Praise be to Goddess"—an idea that has been richly elaborated in recent feminist scholarship and practice.
7. The crux of the merchant's dilemma is that, although abysmal abuse at the hands of his family prompted his retreat to the forest, he now finds that he yearns for news of them. Hence the sage's opening statement. I will follow here the numbering of verses adopted in my recent English translation, Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of Its Interpretation (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991). For the original Sanskrit, see Durga-saptasati, saptatikd-samvalitd, ed. Harikrsnasarma (1916; repr. Delhi and Baroda: Butala and Company, 1984).
8. In the light of the interpretation of the Devi Mahatmya''s first episode that I will shortly offer, one could argue that one reason why mahamaya has such power over the asuras is that, in a sense, she is the asuras.
9. The same Sanskrit word, maya, has, for example, been extensively explored in the philosophical discussions of the Vedanta school.
10. This reconstruction of the myth is based on a consideration of all the epic variants. For a full translation of one particular version, see J. A. B. van Buitenen, trans., The Mahabharata [Books 1—5], 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974-78), 2:611-12 (Mbh. 3.194.8-30). n. See, for instance, 5.15, where Devi is said to "abide in all creatures in the form of sleep (nidra)."
12. Wendy Doniger, trans., with Brian K, Smith, The Laws of Manu (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 7.3—6, 10—11 (p. 128).
13. See 1.63, a portion of Brahma's invocation of Devi quoted above. See also 5.18, 11.8, and 11.10.
14. The seven gods from whom they emerge are, respectively: Brahma, Siva, Skanda (Kumara), Vishnu, Varaha (Vishnuís boar incarnation), Narasimha (Vishnuís man-lion incarnation), and Indra.
15. As further evidence for this interpretation, we might note that the Devi Mahatmya never employs the name Uma and that it uses the name Parvati on only three occasions, never with emphasis.
16. This assertion, made tentatively by Pargiter in his translation of the Markandeya Purana (p. xii), has been confirmed by my own inquiries into the Vedic and epic literature.
17. See, for example, YajurVeda 1.8.6; Satapatha Brahmana
18. This account, to which the balance of this paragraph refers, occurs at Mahabharata 3.207-21 (see van Buitenen's translation, 2:638-61). The epic preserves a second account of Skanda's birth (9.43-45), but this does not include the Mahisa story. Moreover, the "Goddess motifs" that we are about to take note of are also much less in evidence there.
19. Although the post-Vedic figure of Agni was clearly of limited cultic significance by the time the Devi Mahatmya was composed, it is worth noting a certain homology between Devi and Agni—beyond what we might expect by virtue of Agni's relation to Siva—in the conceptualization of the divine as "the flaming one" (see Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva [London: Oxford University Press, 1973], pp. 90-100). One finds, for instance, a plurality of mothers attributed to Agni as far back as Rig Veda 10.5.5. (See also the material discussed in my Crystallization, pp. 313-30, esp. pp. 316-17.) One of the distinctive forms of Devi in the Devi Mahatmya is Kali, a name that also appears in Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.4 to designate one of Agni's seven quivering tongues. Likewise, Devi's names Sri and Laksmi are intertwined with the figure of Agni in an appendix (khila) to the Rig Veda known as the Sri Sukta (see J. Scheftelowitz, ed., Die Apokryphen des Rgveda [Breslau: M. and H. Marcus, 1906], and J. Scheftelowitz, "Sri Sukta," Zeitschrift fur die Deutschen Morgenldndischen Gesellschaft 75 [1921]: 37-50). Another of the Devi Mahatmyaís common epithets for Devi is Durga, a name that contains a play on words: Devi is the great protectress from worldly adversity (durga), and at the same time she is herself unassailable and hard to approach (durga) (see 4.10, 4.16, 5.10, 9.29, and 11.23). A similar play on words can be found in earlier texts: Taittiriya Aranyaka 10.1 quotes Rig Veda 1.99, a one-verse hymn to Agni that praises him for leading us through difficulties (durgani) and then declares: "In her who has the color of Agni, flaming with ascetic power (tapas), the offspring of Virocana, who delights in the fruits of [one's] actions, in the goddess Durga do I take refuge; O one of great speed, [well] do you navigate. Hail [to you]!" In the sutra literature, this same Vedic hymn to Agni comes to be known as the Durga Savior (see, for example, Vishnu Dharma sutra 56.9, and Baudhdyana Dharmasutra 4.3.3; see also the quotation of Rig Veda 1.99 in the Ratri Khila in Scheftelowitz, ed., Die Apokiyphen, pp. 110-12).
20. The appendix to the Devi Mahatmya known as the Pradhanika Rahasya goes so far as to characterize the text as an account of "the avataras of Candika" (see my Encountering the Goddess, p. 185). Although this appendix is a somewhat later composition, such a phrase attests to the ongoing interplay between Vaisnava and Goddess-oriented conceptualizations of divinity. For more on the issues raised in this paragraph, see Encountering the Goddess, pp. 24—27.
21. For a translation of this hymn, see Crystallization, pp. 272-75.
22. The fact that the Devi Mahatmya actually has somewhat fewer than six hundred verses creates a fascinating dilemma for later interpreters, as I discuss in Encountering the Goddess (pp. 27, 31, 139-40, 162). The relationship between Devi and royalty, both human and divine, is a significant, but as yet inadequately understood, phenomenon. For important foundational studies, see Madeleine Biardeau, Autour de la Deesse hindoue (Paris: Editions de 1'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1981); the essays in Purusartha, vol. 5; Sanjukta Gupta and Richard Gom-brich, "Kings, Power and the Goddess," South Asia Research 6, no. 2 (1986): 123-38; J. C. Heesterman, The Inner Conflict of Tradition: Essays in Indian Ritual, Kingship, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); and Alf Hiltebeitel and Thomas J. Hopkins, "Indus Valley Religion," in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion I' (New York: Macmillan, 1986) 7:215-23.
23. See, for example, Vaudeville's "Krishna Gopala, Radha, and the Great Goddess," in The Divine Consort, ed. Hawley and Wulff, pp. 1-12.
24. References are to the critical edition of the Harivamsa, ed. P. L. Vaidya, 2 vols. ß'*(Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1969, 1971).
25. Vishnu Purana (Bombay: Oriental Press, 1889), readily available in H. H. Wilson's English translation (see vols. 6-10 of his Works, which have been frequently reprinted); and Balacarita (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1959), available in En-glish in A. C. Woolner and L. Sarup, trans., Thirteen Trivandrum Plays Attributed to Bhasa (London: Oxford University Press-Humphrey Milford, 1930-31). See also (Devi Mahatmya 11.38-51, where Devi, describing five of her future appearances, announces that when two new demons, also named Sumbha and Nisumbha, have arisen, she will be born "in the house of the cowherd Nanda, in the womb of Yas'oda" in order to slay them.
26. See Vaudeville's "Aspects du mythe de Krishna-Gopala dams l'Inde ancienne,"in Melanges d'Indianisme a la memoire de Louis Renou (Paris: Editions de Boccard, 1968),' pp. 737-61; and "The Cowherd God in Ancient India," in Pastoralists and Nomads in South Asia, ed. Lawrence Saadia Leshnik and Giinther-Dietz Sontheimer (Wies-sbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1975), pp. 92-116.
27. In Encountering the Goddess, pp. 159-69, I present two case studies demonstrating this variety. The issues addressed in this paragraph are discussed at much greater length in the second half of that volume, particularly on pp. 99-117.
28. Lawrence Babb, The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central lndia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), p. 218; my italics.
29. See Humes's 'The Text and Temple of the Great Goddess: The Devi-Mahatmya and the Vindhyacal Temple of Mirzapur" (Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, : 1990). See also her "Glorifying the Great Goddess or Great Woman? Women's Experience in Ritual Recitation of the Devi-Mahatmya," in Women and Goddess Traditions, ed. Karen King (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, forthcoming), on which the balance of this paragraph is based, as well as Humes's chapter in this book. On the performative dimension of religious texts more generally, see William A. Graham, Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion (New York: Cambridge : University Press, 1987).
30. This raises the interesting question of whether recitation of a vernacular translation possesses the same mantic power as recitation in Sanskrit. When I put if this to one of my colleagues and informants, A. N. Jani, in July 1991, asking whether a recitation of my English translation of the Devi Mahatmya would be likely to produce consequences comparable to recitation of the Sanskrit original, he replied with characteristic empiricism: "Let us see!"
31. See Astorís The Play of the Gods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), as well as my discussion of his analysis in Encountering the Goddess, pp. 154-56. See Alf Hiltebeitel, The Cult of Draupadi, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988, 1991); and William S. Sax, Mountain Goddess: Gender and Politics in a Himalayan Pilgrimage (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
32. Sudhir Kakar, Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 131—32.
33. See Stanley N. Kurtz, All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), chap. 5. Kurtz calls the pre-Oedipal stage in Hindu culture "the Ek-Hi Phase," the phrase ek hi meaning 'just one," that is, Just One Mother. "The Durga Complex" is the title of chap. 6

 is the Goddess a Feminist?: The Politics of South Asian Goddesses
"Worship of the divine feminine has always been a distinctive feature of the Hindu tradition. Village goddesses, worshiped for millennia, still have currency today. Female divinities, such as Sarasvati, Vac, Aditi and Viraj, populate the earliest vedic literature. Later, different facets of the feminine principle are mentioned in philosophical literature; those include prakriti/pradhana (the natural world and the material substance of the universe); shakti (the creative power of a supreme being); and maya (the divine power of morphogenesis, differentiation, and veiling of the underlying unity). Texts of the puranas (scriptures that form the basis of much of Hindu theogony, mythology and ritual) such as the Devi Mahatmya and the Devi Bhagavata create a single Great Goddess (Devi) by melding together various regional goddess theologies, the different aspects of the feminine principle, and the notion of an ultimate reality. The Devi, who is transcendent and immanent, is the material cause of creation as well as the Self in all beings. In this capacity, the Devi is fully involved in the current of the cosmic drama; though formless, she manifests herself to vanquish evil each time it threatens the universal order. But she is also the quiescent ground of the Absolute. The full unfolding of the feminine principle occurs in the texts of the tantric tradition (tantras, agamas, nigamas, pancharatra samithas) with the complex systemization of the functions of Shakti."

Is the Goddess a Feminist?
Alf Hiltebeitel, Kathleen M. Erndl, NYU Press (Nov 1, 2000), p. 24

The Great Adi Shakti Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
The Paraclete Shri Mataji
Interviewer: "Shri Mataji, you are called 'Mother.' And, it seems in the Hindu tradition there's a special context or meaning of the word 'Mother'. What is this meaning?

"You see, in the Indian philosophy, even in the Christian philosophy it is so, but it has been little bit changed. If you read the books of Essene, you will find they have described the "Mother." You see, the Holy Ghost is The Mother. When they say about the Holy Ghost, She is The Mother. But how can you have... You must reason it out. How can you have a father and a son without a mother?

It's a, you see, simple thing like that. You see, so it's The Mother only. Holy Ghost is very important. So, Holy Ghost is The Mother, you see. It's absurd thing, I mean, to have such a thing. Even homosexuals cannot have children. It's funny thing, isn't it. Absolutely absurd! But Christians accepted this. I don't know why. Why didn't they go into find out what is this Holy Ghost business is? They said, "It's a mystery." How can you say it's a mystery? When you cannot explain then better not say anything about it. So, Holy Ghost is something hanging in the air. No one knows; it's a mystery, and the rest of it is the father and the son. It's absurd!

Now, the principle of Mother is in every, every scripture — has to be there. Now, The Mother's character is that She is the One Who is the Womb, She is the One Who is The Mother Earth and She is the One Who nourishes you. She nourishes us, you know that. And, this feminine thing in every human being resides as this Kundalini, as you have seen. And, when She rises, She gives you this new awareness which becomes compassion, which is flowing, which becomes soothing, nourishing energy of love."

The Divine Mother/Paraclete Shri Mataji
Radio Interview Santa Cruz USA—1 October 1983

1) Sri Mata
— The Mother as the creative aspect of Brahman (God Almighty)
— Sacred Mother; the Seer, the Seen and the Seeing.

Sri Lalita Sahasranama

“Various feminine expressions of the Divine abounded in the ancient world. The many authentic appearances of Virgin Mary—at Tepeyac in Mexico, Fatima in Portugal, and Gerabondal in Spain, Lourdes in France, and contemporary apparitions in Egypt, Yugoslavia, and America—are special revelations of her reality for the modern world. Through the Goddess tradition, alive everywhere on the planet, she guides, protects, terrifies, chastens, heals, liberates, and illuminates. Her relation as Great Mother to the cosmos and its innumerable life forms is as tender as her relation with each precious human soul. It is a relation so intimate as to be free from subject or object, that is to say, a relationship which is intrinsically mystical.” Hixon 1994, 1

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