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Goddess Shakti in Hindu Religion - Importance - Meaning - Worship of Word Shakti in Hinduism

Shakti stands for the concept of Mother Goddess in Hinduism. The sound ‘sa’ stands for prosperity and ‘kti’ stands for prowess. So the word ‘Shakti’ in Hindu religion stands for the Goddess who is the embodiment of prosperity and prowess.

Shakti in Common Parlance

Goddess Shakti is the power incarnate. Shakti stands for the concept of Mother Goddess in Hindu Religion. Shakti is categorized term for all Mother Goddesses, as the sole, active, compassionate deity.

Worship of Word Shakti in Hinduism

Shakti is also called Bhagavati, the one who combines in herself knowledge, affluence, power etc.

Shakti is the female energy (consort) of Shiva. She has two characters, one benign like mother and the other all consuming fierce form.

In Hindu scriptures, Shakti is also known as Parvati, Devi, Uma, Maheshwari, Durga, Annapurna, Ambika and so on.

Early Origin Of Goddess Shakti in Hindu Religion

Worship of Shakti dates back to the Rig Vedic times, when she was praised as the supporter of the earth, living in the skies.

In Kena Upanishad, Uma of golden hue is addressed as the great mother of the universe.

According to Brahmanda Purana, Sage Agastya learned the details of the worship of Srividya from Hayagriva.

Sage Vasishta attained spiritual powers after worshipping Goddess Tara.

Shakti also exists in all Devas (gods).

Goddess like Vaishnavi, Brahmani, Yogeshwari, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Indrani and Chamundi are known as Saptamatrikas.

The concept of Shakti plays an important role in Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakta sects.

Shakti Worship As Per Saiva Siddhanta

  • Saiva Siddhanta (southern Shaivism) considers Shakti as pure intelligence.
  • She is Para Shakti or Adi Shakti. For her emanates desire, knowledge and action.
  • Shiva and Shakti are formless.
  • Shiva is the first cause of the universe and Shakti, his conscious energy) is instrumental cause.
  • Shakti is also maya or prakriti and is the material cause.
  • The relation between Shiva and Shakti is that of identity (tadatmya).
  • Shakti is the conscious, unchanging, eternal energy called Swarupa Shakti.

Shakti Worship In Kashmir Shaivism

  • Shakti and Shiva is considered not as two separate realities, but only as an aspect of the same reality in Kashmir Shaivism.
  • Shakti is identical with Shiva.
  • Shakti is described as the heart and essence of Shiva (Isvara Pratyabhijna – 1.5.14)
  • Kashmir Shaivism or the Trika School describes five modes of Shakti:
  1. Chit
  2. Ananda
  3. Iccha
  4. Jnana
  5. Kriya
  • Chit Shakti entails ananda, etc., on the part of Shiva and this gives rise to iccha to create. Creation cannot take place without jnana and, when it is there, real creations start. It is Kriya Shakti (Tantra Sara – Page 6)
  • Thus, Shiva and Shakti are both immanent and transcendent in the universe, and both are the material and instrumental cause of the Universe.

Dravidian Influence On Shakti Worship

The rise of female divinities, due to the influence of Dravidian religion, is also noticeable. Lakshmi, occurring in the early Vedic literature in the sense of good fortune, came to be regarded as the Goddess of fortune and wife of Vishnu.

Even the River Saraswati attained divinity and became the Goddess of learning and became Brahma’s wife.

Korravai was identified with Durga.

The Rig Vedic Goddess Vak who was addressed as Chinta Devi, became Kalaimagal (goddess of learning) later. Durga was considered as the primordial Shakti and Lakshmi and Saraswati as her aspects.

Shakti Worship Based on Samkhya Philosophy

The Shakti sect is based upon Samkhya philosophy, according to which purusha (Shiva) is inactive and prakrti (Shakti) is productive and the universal material cause.

Shakti In Upanishads

Upanishads speak of maya as an inseparable power of Brahman. The theistic Vedanta identifies maya with prakriti (Devi) and mayin as Maheshwara.

Shakti In Lalita Sahasranama

In Lalita Sahasranama, parashakti is life giving inspiration. The trimurtis (Brahma – Vishnu – Shiva) function on account of Shakti (Ananda Lahari). She can be worshipped by the methods of Saguna, upasana.

Shakti In Saundarya Lahari

Saundarya Lahari of Adi Shankara opens with these words – when Shiva becomes united with Shakti, he is able to exercise his lordly powers; if it be not thus, the God does not, indeed, have the skill even to move. Shiva and Shakti are related as Prakasha and Vimarsha (the power latent in absolute).

Basic Texts Of Shakti Worship

The basic texts for the Shakti school are the Shakta Agamas or the tantras. They are famous for their reverence for women, who are regarded as forms of the Divine Mother. 

In Kularnavatantra, Shiva himself tells Parvati that the philosophy of Tantra is based on Vedas themselves. The philosophy of Shaktism is a kind of non-dualism, giving more importance to Shakti. The universe though an appearance, is real in the sense that it is an aspect of the ultimate reality (Abhasavada).

Shakti Worship By Devotees

Shakti worship by devotees consists of a life of ceaseless activity and meditation. The spiritual aspirant instead of avoiding the world must try to overcome it. The so called left hand practices in Shaktism mean only that the atma has to go back to its source, namely, Shiva, by following reverse processes.

There are seven paths to be followed
  1. Veda
  2. Vaishnava
  3. Shaiva
  4. Dakshina
  5. Vama
  6. Siddhanta
  7. Kaula.
Many rituals have to be followed and is known as Pancha Tattva. The highest mode of doing it is purely an internal process.

Only the last two stages, namely, making the atma divine. In the Kaula stage, the aspirant pursues the path of renunciation and realizes Brahman, which is termed kula in the Shakta system. The guiding hand of a guru is essential, and the supreme guru is Shiva.

In Shakti Sadhana, one must be careful not to go by the superficial meaning of the instructions. He should grasp the spirit behind them. The main aim is to surrender the ahamkara to the deity and realize the non-difference of the atma from the supreme spirit.

As Gandharva Tantra declares, the wise one should accomplish the identity of being with Brahman.

Source - Notes taken from Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume IX (IHRF). (page 89 - 90)