Shaktism is dynamic Hinduism. The excellence of Shaktism lies in its affirmation of Shakti as Consciousness and of the identity of Shakti and Brahman. In short, Brahman is static Shakti and Shakti is dynamic Brahman.
V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar (1896-1953)
In his seminal History of the Shakta Religion, N. N. Bhattacharyya explained that "[those] who worship the Supreme Deity exclusively as a Female Principle are called Shakta. The Shaktas conceive their Great Goddess as the personification of primordial energy and the source of all divine and cosmic evolution. She is identified with the Supreme Being, conceived as the Source and the Spring as well as the Controller of all the forces and potentialities of Nature. Nowhere in the religious history of the world do we come across such a completely female-oriented system."
Alternative interpretations of Shaktism, primarily those of Shaivite scholars, such as Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami argue that the feminine manifest is ultimately only the vehicle through which the masculine Un-manifest Parasiva is ultimately reached. In this interpretation, the Divine Mother becomes something of a mediatrix, who bestows advaitic moksha on those who worship Her. Thus, these Shaivite views often conclude that Shaktism is effectively a sub-denomination of Saivism, arguing that Devi is worshipped in order to attain union with Shiva, who in Shaktism is the impersonal unmanifest Absolute. This remains a minority view in Shaktism proper, which considers Shiva as an equal and inseparable aspect of Devi.
Origin and History
Shaktism as we know it today developed between the 4th and the 7th centuries CE in India. It was during this development that the many religious texts, known as the Tantras, were written. In a certain sense, one could consider oneself a Shakta (a devotee of Shakti), a Shaiva (a devotee of Shiva), and a Vaishnava (a devotee of Vishnu) all at the same time.
Archaeological finding suggest that Shaktism goes back to prehistoric times. T he Goddess does feature in the Vedas themselves, but scholars suggest that mainstream worship comes from other sources. She appears in the Epics and Puranas, especially the Markandeya Purana. It is in the Tantras that she appears to take the role of the Supreme.
There appear to be no strong sampradayic links, and Shaktism may have been passed down in a broader fashion, largely through local and village customs, and through connections with other schools such as Shaivism.
Shaktism has greatly influenced modern thinkers such as Ramakrishna and Aurobindo. Not surprisingly Devi in her fiercer forms has become the patron deity of women's liberation movements. Wherever Hindus have settled throughout the world, there are now a number of prominent Devi temples.
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Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati (b. 1934)
Among the manifestations of Devi most favoured for worship by Shaktas are Kali, Durga, and Parvati. Durga is an epithet of Mahadevi, or "Great Goddess," who is celebrated in the Devi Mahatmya. Kali is the goddess of destruction and transformation, as well as the devourer of time, as her name implies (kala means "time," and also means "black"). Parvati is the gentle wife of Shiva, one of the most popular gods of modern Hinduism, and is strongly associated with Kali and other goddesses.
Shakta worship takes many forms, but is heavily influenced by Tantra. She is worshipped in several ways in the course of a puja (worship ceremony), including offerings of sweets and flowers, chanting mantras, using mudras, and typically offering some sort of sacrifice. She is most powerfully worshipped by chanting her bija mantra, which is different for each goddess.
Animal sacrifice is performed in some places in India, including such major sites as Kalighat Mandir in Calcutta, West Bengal, where goats are sacrificed on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and Kamakhya Mandir in Guwahati, Assam. Goats are typically sacrificed, as well as buffalo during Durga Puja, and this practice is a controversial one. The brahmin performing the sacrifice is not allowed to cause pain to the animal, and must wait for the animal to surrender before cutting off the head with a single stroke. The blood is used to bless icons and worshippers, and the meat cooked and served to the worshippers and poor as prasad. Those who are averse to animal sacrifice will use a pumpkin or melon instead, which has become a popular and acceptable substitute.
Shaktism is also fused with local beliefs in villages throughout India. In Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, she is known as Amma (mother). Rural Bengalis know her as Tushu. The Brahmanical idea of Shakti has become fused with local beliefs in protective village goddesses who punish evil, cure diseases and bring boons and blessings to the people of the village. Major annual festivals throughout India include Durga Puja (October, national), Divali (November, national), Kali Puja (October/November, national), Minakshi Kalyanam (April/May in Madurai, Tamil Nadu) and Ambubachi Mela (June/July in Guwahati, Assam), which is the most important festival to Shakta Tantricks.