"To know the Goddess is to experience Being-Consciousness and bliss itself. But Devi demands total surrender on the part of her followers before she condescends to reveal herself in her divine state. Her fervent devotees must learn to see her presence in all things. She must become the bedrock and the meaning of their life. Then, and only then, can they aspire to experience her blessings in their totality.”

The Goddess Shakti or Divine Mother
The eternal, ageless Divine Feminine

by Rita Smith

"By you this universe is borne, By you this world is created, O Devi, by you it is protected.” (Devi-Mahatmya).

Throughout India, devotees honour Devi in their temples and at wayside shrines. Flowers garland her image with brightness, the light of countless lamps illuminate her presence and the blood of thousands of animals stains the stones of her altars crimson.

The Goddess is older than time, yet time itself. She is formless, yet to be found in all forms. Her presence is in all things, yet she transcends all things. She is ever-changing, yet eternally changeless. She is both the womb from which all life flows forth and the tomb to which all life returns. Devi the Shining One source of the life-giving powers of the universe, who is experienced by her ecstatic worshippers as the Primal Cause and Mother of the World.


Pre-dating the patriarchal Male Trinity by thousands of years, the Goddess was once worshipped throughout the ancient world. Now, only in India does her cult remain widespread and part of a vibrant, living tradition in which her presence empowers and stirs the hearts of her devotees with adoration and devotion.

The veneration of Devi can be traced as far back as 20,000 BC. A bone image of the Great Mother was discovered at Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh dating back to that period. She was also revered at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley from 2,500 BC.

Closely associated with the land itself, villagers in rural India paid tribute to the Earth Goddess, adorning branches of trees and placing shrines within them which carried her image. Smooth, oval-shaped stones also marked her sacred sites.

Women were her channels and it was through them her rituals were performed, rites for the dead and ceremonies to promote fertility and fruitfulness of the land.

The Goddess reigned supreme until the patriarchal Aryans invaded the country in 1500 BC. The Harappan culture declined as these nomadic herding people initiated a new age in which their male Gods became predominent. But the worship of Devi could not be entirely suppressed. It was absorbed and transformed to accommodate the new situation.

The Goddess became united in a Divine Marriage with the Gods of the Male Trinity: Sarasvati with Brahma, Lakshmi with Vishnu, and Parvati, Kali and Durga with Siva. Once given a priestly blessing, veneration of the Goddess as the God's consort was incorporated in the regular rituals. As Sakti, she became the powerful spiritual energy without which the God was unable to act.


The Goddess is multi-faceted, known by myriad names and personified in many forms. As well as responding to the names of Parvati, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Sakti, she also manifests under the titles of Gauri, Uma, Sati, Aditi, Maya, Ganga, Prakriti, Gayatri, Tara, Minaksi, Mahadevi, Kundalini, Durga, Kali, Chamunda and in many other guises.

The great mountain peaks of the Himalayas Annapurna, Nanda Devi and Chomo-Lung-Ma (known to Westerners as the world's highest mountain, Everest) all testify to her divine presence.

Like the facets of a diamond, these varying forms of the Great Universal Energy that is Devi are merely reflections of the countless aspects that make the whole, the Absolute.

Creator and Preserver

As Virgin and Mother, the Goddess is considered to be the very spring from which every kind of love flows into the world. From the vast ocean of her being the morphogenetic field that produces all forms the Goddess gives birth to all living things. The pouring forth of this love-energy from her timeless, formless source into the field of time constitutes a sacred mystery.

Representations of the Goddess as a crouching woman giving birth to the manifold forms of her creation can be found in Indian art. As the Sky-Goddess Aditi, she pervades all space and is mother to the Gods so revered by the Indo-Aryans.

Maya the Sanskrit word for "magic" and "illusion" describes her role as the originator of all material things, all that is perceptible to the senses.

Displaying the protective and maternal side of her nature, she revels in her multitudinous manifestations and joyfully embraces the bounty of her gifts. Sculptures adorning Hindu temples frequently depict the Virgin Goddess as a young, beautiful and voluptuous woman. Sometimes she stands on her own, at others she is paired with her God-consort.

As Earth Mother, she is also a deity closely associated with Nature and fertility. Images of her priestesses, the Yoginis and Saktas, often incorporate organic forms such as branches or vines, symbolising Nature in its most instinctive form, proliferous and fruitful. Plants, leaves and flowers are commonly used in Indian medicine and, when they appear in portrayals of the Earth Mother they are considered to reflect the magical powers with which she is endowed.

Although on one level, her naked body signifies the physical beauty and attraction of the Eternal Feminine, it also symbolises the discarding of illusion and, therefore, freedom from attachment.

Adorned with jewels and ornaments, she represents all that is precious. She alone is the eternal jewel whose brilliance encompasses and illuminates the universe.

Carved images of the Goddess and her Yoginis formulate the visual language which conveys the essence of the philosophy lying at the core of her worship, which is so little understood by most Westerners. Gazing at sculptures depicting the joyous physical expression of love, they tend to miss the symbolism of the divine ecstasy associated with the union of male and female energies that transcend, transform and liberate the soul from the wheel of karma.

One of the most ancient cults of the Goddess is that of Sarasvati, who is both worshipped as a sacred river of the same name and as the instigator and protectress of the spoken word, as well as all intellectual and artistic pursuits.

One of the most recent forms of her manifestation is that of Bharat Mata, Mother India, a militant aspect of the Goddess that is much concerned with the cause of Hindu nationalism.

Another manifestation is that of the beneficent Lakshmi, bringer of prosperity and abundance. During the autumn festival of Diwali, people all over the country light lamps in her honour to guide her into their homes.

The Goddess is also revered as Sati the pre-Vedic Virgin Bride who epitomises the loyal and virtuous wife who is faithful to her husband even unto death. This idea of wifely perfection is dear to the Indian way of thinking. Although in a metaphysical sense it means Sati is totally at one with her own true being, it is also an ethical concept. Sadly, the idea of the "perfect wife" who is faithful unto death developed into the practice of suttee, in which a dutiful spouse was expected to accompany her husband to the world beyond through self-immolation voluntarily or otherwise in the flames of his funeral pyre.

In her aspect of the Great Mother, Devi's devotees believe the presence of the Goddess exists within all her creations. She is their Mother. She gives them life. She nurtures them through her physical manifestations and she is present in their times of need. Through her worship, too, her devotees can transcend the world of illusion and reach out to her true being.

To know the Goddess is to experience Being-Consciousness and bliss itself. But Devi demands total surrender on the part of her followers before she condescends to reveal herself in her divine state. Her fervent devotees must learn to see her presence in all things. She must become the bedrock and the meaning of their life. Then, and only then, can they aspire to experience her blessings in their totality.

Even as in the psychological process of accepting the dark side of our own nature to achieve a harmonious wholeness, it is necessary to understand the Goddess in her terrible aspect also. For even as she is the bestower of life, as Kali the personification of all-consuming Time she is also its destroyer, to whom, at the appointed time, all manifested things return. They are absorbed into her being, there to await rebirth in yet another cycle of cosmic creation.


As Devimahatma, Mahadevi or Durga (one of her most ancient titles), the eternally existent mother who nurtures and protects her offspring, the Goddess's influence swept across North India and was particularly popular in the regions of Bengal and Rajasthan.

Famous for her prowess in battle, Durga the Unassailable used the strength of her will, her knowledge and force of action, to defeat the purveyors of evil and to vanquish the demonic forces upsetting the balance of the universe.

Riding on a lion or tiger, her multiple arms wielding auspicious weapons, she was Cosmic Energy personified. When her mission was fulfilled she returned to her mountain home, promising to nourish the earth and protect her worshippers, only returning should her divine force be needed again.

At the height of this great cosmic battle, Durga was aided by the awesome Kali, who burst from her forehead to devour or crush the army of demons. As Kali drank the seed-blood of her enemies, she rendered impotent the destructive phallic power of her assailants.

Black Kali represents the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. With her dishevelled hair and lolling blood-drenched tongue, she presents a fearsome figure.

As the active power of Time, her three eyes look to past, present and future. Her thin waist is encircled by a girdle of human hands, symbolising the accumulated deeds of karma. Around her neck hangs a rosary of fifty skulls, each one inscribed with a magic letter of the Sanskrit alphabet representing the sacred word, or mantra, which vibrates within the primordial creative energy of the universe.

The Dark Goddess's four hands are also symbolic of her function: one wields a sword to cleave the threads of bondage, another grasps a severed head, representing the annihilation of the ego. Her two remaining hands are poised in gestures to dispel fear and inspire her devotees with spiritual strength.

Paintings and sculptures sometimes depict the fearsome Goddess standing on the inert body of her consort, Siva, awakening him into action with her sheer primordial power and energy.

As Smashanakali she resides in cremation grounds and her priestesses, the Dakinis or Skywalkers, undertake the role of Angels of Death.

Terrible though her aspect as Destroyer undoubtedly is, the mystical experience of the Goddess in this form can liberate the devotee from ego-consciousness and spiritually unite him with the Goddess in her oceanic formless state.

One of her most frequented temples is that of Kalighat in Kalikata, Anglicised to Calcutta, the city that derives its name from the Goddess.

During the three-day-long annual autumn festival of Durga Puja, seven or eight hundred male goats are slaughtered in her honour at Kalighat alone.

Before human sacrifice was prohibited in 1835, male children, too, were sometimes beheaded to placate Kali.

In today's festivities, an image of Durga is fashioned from clay, painted and lavishly decorated, then paraded through the streets and cast into the waters of the holy Ganges.

Symbolic representations

Abstract forms can also depict the Goddess in her various forms.

As Creator she is symbolised by a downward pointing triangle, the yoni, representative of female sexuality.

As Preserver, she takes the form of a straight line, and as Destroyer she is recognised in the form of the circle.

In her unmanifested state as the Source of all life, the Goddess is depicted simply as a dot, the bindu, or seed-state of her being.


Tantric texts date back to about 600 AD, but the basis of many of their ideas go back to much earlier times. Even today, the worship of the Eternal Feminine as the cosmically creative energy of her consort Siva, is widely practised in Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, as well as India.

Tantrics practise the sexual adoration of the feminine life-force as Sakti and through controlled sexual intercourse maithuna seek to awaken the spirit within to a state of heightened awareness, breaking through the limiting physical boundaries to an ecstatic union with the divine in her Absolute and timeless state.

To raise the kundalini, or serpent power, so that the spiritual energies ascend through their psychic channels and energy centres within the subtle body the chakras to culminate in enlightenment, involves a number of processes. Methods such as meditation, breath control, the saying of mantras, the contemplation of yantras, visual symbols which concentrate the mind, all play an important role.

As Kundalini, the Goddess assumes the form of the ancient and powerful symbolic image of the serpent or snake, so shunned by Christianity.

Yet, in whatever form, Devi's magic still remains. As the Great Triple Goddess she is today widely worshipped throughout India.

To her followers, she is both the Energy which is life itself and the Source to whose depths all living things return.

At the time of Kali Yurga, or cosmic dissolution, her devotees believe the physically manifested universe will once again withdraw itself into the formless depths of the Goddess until a new gestation period commences and the cyclic rhythm of creation is once again set into motion.

"Who dares misery, love
And hug the form of death,
Dance in destruction's dance
To him the Mother comes.”


Manohar Laxman Varadpande, Woman in Indian Sculpture
"India's first dated work of art of human origin is a small female figurine of bone.

Describing this very ancient piece of sculpture Dr. H.D. Sankalia writes:

A small figurine (bone) was found in the Belan valley, Mirzapur district, Uttar Pradesh. It is about 8 cm high, between 1.5 cm and 2.5 cm broad and about 1 cm in thickness.

The face is featureless, a triangular formation, the trunk stick-like with a pointed triangular formation for the legs, and probably extremely broken.

The pendant breast and the broad loins definitely indicate that this is a female figure.

Belan Venus is the first known piece of art created fifteen to twenty thousand years ago by an unknown artists. It is very interesting that it was the female form which caught the imagination of this primordial artist to create his first piece of art.

But was it artistic and aesthetic exploration of the female form, or a tribute to the creative aspect of her being, or veneration to the Great Mother that stirred the artist to create his first piece of art?

We do not know. But one thing is certain. This female sculpture has a remarkable close affinity with the female figurines identified as fertility or mother goddesses found elsewhere including Western Asia and Western Europe.”

Manohar Laxman Varadpande, Woman in Indian Sculpture
Abhinav Publications (Oct. 30 2008) p. 14

Historical and Iconographic Aspects of Sakta Tantrism

The Roots of Tantra
"The Sanskrit term tantra derives from the verb tan meaning to expand, and thus, it literally denotes anything that can be stretched or extended like threads on a loom. In its developed form, Tantra refers to a complex of cultic practices, rituals, mysticism, and secret rites that are based on a philosophy and deep spiritual devotion centering on the concept of Supreme Power. That power, called Sakti, has diverse manifestations. According to traditional beliefs, the Tantras, whether associated with Saktism or other sectarian orders of Indian origin, evolved in remote antiquity and were interwoven with an intricate mythology. Assessment of the available data, both literary and archaeological, provides information on the origin and growth of Sakta Tantrism and other similar systems. Sakta Tantrism has its roots in prehistoric concepts of a fertile mother goddess and ancient systems for her worship. Scores of her representations dating to the Upper Paleolithic, if not earlier, attest to her primary importance in India's most ancient culture.

The earliest example of an Indian mother goddessfigurine dates to the Upper Paleolithic. Found in the Belan Valley near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh by the late G. R. Sharma, the image is made of bone and is carved in the round; in shape it resembles a harpoon. On the basis of carbon 14 determinations, it has been dated between 23,840 (plus or minus 830 years) B.C. E. and 17,765 (plus or minus 340 years). Also dating to the Upper Paleolithic are colorful stones marked with natural triangles. Sharma found the ?rst of these stones resting on an area of raised ground at Baghor in Son Valley, near Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. According to Sharma, several similar stones now have been found in that same area; they presently are under worship as Argarimai or Mother-Fire. These stones with triangles, Sharma claims, are related to a primitive mother goddess. They also may demonstrate connections to the later Tantric use of yantras in which triangles manifest a vital symbolism connected with fertility. While we have no speci?c comments to offer on Sharma's hypothesis, it should be noted that it is dif?cult to trace a direct link between the archaeological evidence from Belan and Baghor and those goddess ?gurines that have been found in later Neolithic and Chalcolithic excavations.

Of the interesting Mother Goddess figurines brought to light in recent times in Pakistan mention should be made of specimens found at Sheri Khan Tarakai in the Bannu District and Mehargarh-Nausharo. The former site, dated between 4500 and 3000 B.C.E. by the excavators, has yielded several female figurines, both plain and painted; the various examples can be placed into three broad classes: (1) examples with a pinched nose and wearing a headdress with curled horns; (2) examples with a black spot showing affiliations with a snake goddess; (3) examples showing exaggerated genitalia. Of the three groups, the most signiicant is the third, in which figurines with one enlarged female organ have traces of a male genital above. Excavators have identi?ed this rare type as being hermaphroditic. 4 Related to this group is a protohistoric female fertility figure from Periano Ghundai, Pakistan, in which only the lower half is marked with a yoni.

Most of the protohistoric Mother Goddess figurines are executed in a primitive style with conventionalized features; those found at Harappa and Nausharo in Pakistan, however, are somewhat more re?ned. Mother Goddess figures from Harappa and Mohenjo Daro demonstrate a variety of styles; the diversity may indicate the existence of different craft or religious traditions in Harappan culture. Two Harappan sites in India, Lothal in Gujarat and Banawali in Haryana, have yielded Goddess images that may indicate religious diversity in the Harappa population of the subcontinent as well. Representation of female deities on the Indus seals and sealings include indications of rituals involving animal sacri?ce. Cultic forms of a fertility goddess appear on seals showing a female figure standing in the branches of the pipal tree. It is likely that the Mother Goddesses represented in terra-cotta and the female deities carved on seals represented two types of beliefs pertaining to worship of goddesses in at least two levels of the society that were located in the same settlement; in other words, an authoritarian class and a common class may have had two distinct modes of worship. Given our current knowledge, we are unable to understand fully the position of a Mother Goddess as a fertility deity or, for that matter, the role of other female divinities in the religious fabric of the protohistoric societies of India. It is uncertain if the Harappa population had any idea of a single supreme Goddess with or without a male counterpart or if they were governed by magician-priests or even if they had a highly developed religion.”

Katherine Harper and Robert Brown, The Roots of Tantra
SUNY Press (Feb. 1 2012) pp. 39-40

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