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Hindu Goddesses

Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition

David R. Kinsley
Copyright Date: 1986
Edition: 1
Pages: 281
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  • Book Info
    Hindu Goddesses
    Book Description:

    Goddess worship has long been a significant aspect of Hinduism. In this book David Kinsley, author ofThe Sword and the Flute-Kali & Krsna: Dark Visions of the Terrible and the Sublime in Hindu Mythology, sorts out the rich yet often chaotic history of Hindu goddess worship.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90883-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    David Kinsley
    (pp. 1-5)

    One of the most striking characteristics of the ancient and multifaceted Hindu religious tradition is the importance of goddess worship. A considerable number of goddesses are known in the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Vedic hymns. In contemporary Hinduism the number and popularity of goddesses are remarkable. No other living religious tradition displays such an ancient, continuous, and diverse history of goddess worship. The Hindu tradition provides the richest source of mythology, theology, and worship available to students interested in goddesses.

    Although there are several books on the history of goddesses in India,¹ there is still need for a survey of...

    (pp. 6-18)

    The Hindu tradition affirms Vedic literature as the foundation, the sacred source, of Hinduism. This body of literature, which is exceedingly vast and varied, is held to be eternal and alone is classed asśruti,“that which is heard,” or revelation.¹ It is therefore important to survey this literature even though goddesses do not play a central role in the religion that is central to these texts. Another important reason for looking at Vedic literature is that some scholars have argued that the great goddesses of later Hinduism are in fact the same beings mentioned in theVedas,only with...

    (pp. 19-34)

    The goddess Śrī, who is also commonly known by the name Lakṣmī, has been known in the Hindu tradition since pre-Buddhist times. She is one of the most popular goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. She has a considerable body of mythology and is widely worshiped by Hindus of all castes throughout India to this day. Since the late epic period (ca. A.D. 400) she has been particularly associated with the god Viṣṇu as his wife or consort. In this role she plays the part of a model Hindu wife, obediently serving her husband as lord. Throughout her history Śrī has...

  7. 3 PĀRVATĪ
    (pp. 35-54)

    Rivaling Śrī-Lakṣmī in popularity in the Hindu tradition is the goddess Pārvatī. Unlike Śrī-Lakṣmī, Pārvatī has hardly any independent history of her own. Her identity and nature and nearly all her mythological deeds are defined or acted out vis-à-vis her consort/husband, the great ascetic god Śiva. Since epic times, when Pārvatī first appeared as a significant deity, she has been identified as a reincarnation of the goddess Satī, Śiva’s first wife, who committed suicide because of an insult to her husband. So closely associated is Pārvatī with Satī that the two goddesses are usually treated as one, and their mythologies...

    (pp. 55-64)

    Sarasvatī is one of the few important goddesses in theVedaswho remain significant in later Hinduism.¹ In theVedasher character and attributes are clearly associated with the mighty Sarasvatī River. She is the earliest example of a goddess who is associated with a river in the Indian tradition. As a river goddess she is praised for her ability both to cleanse and to fertilize. Later Vedic literature (theBrāhmaṇas) consistently associates her, even equates her, with the goddess of speech, Vāc. Increasingly in her later history her association with a river is deemphasized and her association with speech,...

  9. 5 SĪTĀ
    (pp. 65-80)

    One of the most popular heroines in Hindu mythology is Sītā. She is known primarily as the wife of Rāma, the hero of the epicRāmāyaṇa.As one of the protagonists of theRāmāyaṇa,Sītā is revered as the model Hindu wife, who, although the victim of injustices, always remains loyal and steadfast to her husband. The divinity of Rāma and Sītā is not stressed in the earlyRāmāyaṇaof Vālmīki (written sometime between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200), but they increasingly become identified as manifestations of the god Viṣṇu and his consort Śrī-Lakṣmī in later vernacular renditions of the...

  10. 6 RĀDHĀ
    (pp. 81-94)

    Rādhā, like Sītā, is understood primarily in relation to a male consort. Throughout her history Rādhā has been inextricably associated with the god Kṛṣṇa. Unlike Sītā, however, Rādhā’s relationship to Kṛṣṇa is adulterous. Although she is married to another, she is passionately attracted to Kṛṣṇa. Rādhā’s illicit relationship with Kṛṣṇa breaks all social norms and casts her in the role of one who willfully steps outside the realm of dharma to pursue her love. In contrast to Sītā, who is the model of wifely devotion and loyalty, whose foremost concern is the reputation and well-being of her husband, Rādhā invests...

  11. 7 DURGĀ
    (pp. 95-115)

    One of the most impressive and formidable goddesses of the Hindu pantheon—and one of the most popular—is the goddess Durgā. Her primary mythological function is to combat demons who threaten the stability of the cosmos. In this role she is depicted as a great battle queen with many arms, each of which wields a weapon. She rides a fierce lion and is described as irresistible in battle. The demon she is most famous for defeating is Mahiṣa, the buffalo demon. Her most popular epithet is Mahiṣa-mardinī, the slayer of Mahiṣa, and her most common iconographic representation shows her...

  12. 8 KĀLĪ
    (pp. 116-131)

    The goddess Kālī is almost always described as having a terrible, frightening appearance. She is always black or dark, is usually naked, and has long, disheveled hair. She is adorned with severed arms as a girdle, freshly cut heads as a necklace, children’s corpses as earrings, and serpents as bracelets. She has long, sharp fangs, is often depicted as having clawlike hands with long nails, and is often said to have blood smeared on her lips. Her favorite haunts heighten her fearsome nature. She is usually shown on the battlefield, where she is a furious combatant who gets drunk on...

    (pp. 132-150)

    There is a tendency in many texts, myths, and rituals concerning goddesses to subsume them all under one great female being. This goddess has many names, but her most common designation is simply Devī (goddess) or Mahādevī (great goddess). The early Hindu tradition tended to speak of discrete goddesses—Śrī, Pārvatī, Sītā, and so on.¹ Sometime in the medieval period, however, the tendency to think of all goddesses as related beings began to dominate certain texts. Perhaps the earliest example of this trend is theDevī-mahātmyā,which is usually dated around the sixth century.²

    Affirmation of a unity underlying all...

  14. 10 THE MĀTṚKĀS
    (pp. 151-160)

    Certain groups of goddesses occupy an important place in the Hindu perception of the divine feminine. A band of divinities known simply as the Mātṛkās, “mothers,” is among the most significant groups of goddesses. Early references to the Mātṛkās date to around the first century A.D., but they rarely specify their number; the implication in some passages is that they are innumerable. The goddesses are only mentioned as a group, and it is as a group that they function and are characterized in almost all references throughout the tradition. In most early references the Mātṛkās have inauspicious qualities and are...

    (pp. 161-177)

    The Mahāvidyās (great revelations or manifestations) are a group of ten goddesses who are mentioned rather late in the Hindu literary tradition. Although some of the goddesses in this group are individually important and date back to a much earlier time (Kalī, for example), the group as a whole seems to be a medieval iconographic and mythological expression of an aspect of Mahādevī theology. An important point in Mahādevī theology is the Devī’s tendency to display or manifest herself in a great variety of forms.¹ Many myths about the Devī describe her as producing goddesses from different parts of her...

    (pp. 178-196)

    An important aspect of the reverence for the divine feminine in the Hindu tradition is an awe for the sacrality of the land itself and for the Indian subcontinent as a whole. The most ancient expression of this in the Hindu tradition is found in theṚg-vedaand its several hymns that praise the goddess Pṛthivī. It is clear that the hymns to Pṛthivī are grounded in reverence for the awesome stability of the earth itself and the apparently inexhaustible fecundity possessed by the earth.¹ When Pṛthivī is described, characterized, or otherwise praised, the earth itself is usually the object...

    (pp. 197-211)

    India today is primarily a village culture. The majority of Hindus live in villages of under a hundred thousand people, and there is little doubt that this has always been the case in the Indian subcontinent. In the context of village life one of the most (if not the most) significant and powerful divine presences is thegrāmadevatā,a deity who is especially identified with the village and toward whom the villagers often have a special affection. It is not uncommon, in fact, for there to be severalgrāmadevatāsin a village, each of whom may have a specialized function.¹...

    (pp. 212-220)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 221-252)
    (pp. 253-264)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 265-281)