Adishakti:The Supreme Goddess in Hinduism

Adishakti:The Supreme Goddess in Hinduism

Adishakti, also known as Adi Parashakti, Mahadevi, Mahamaya, and Devi, holds the supreme position in various branches of Hinduism. Within the goddess-centric sect of Shaktism, all Hindu deities, including Shiva and Vishnu, are considered manifestations of Adishakti, who is equivalent to Para Brahman. Adishakti, as the Primordial Goddess (Mulaprakriti), is depicted with five main forms—Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Gayatri, and Radha—collectively known as Panchaprakriti. Other goddesses are seen as her partial incarnations or Amshavatara.

Shaktas primarily venerate Durga as Adishakti’s core form, but also recognize her in numerous other forms such as Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneshvari, Kali, Parvati, Navadurga, Mahavidya, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and others. According to author Helen T. Boursier, in Hindu philosophy, both Lakshmi and Parvati are understood as partial manifestations of the great goddess—Adishakti—and her divine power or Shakti. In Krishna-centric traditions, Radha holds the supreme goddess status.

Epithets of Adishakti

Adishakti, also known as the primordial matter and the great maya, is referred to by various epithets in texts like the Devi Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Devi Bhagavatam) and Lalita Sahasranama. She embodies both divine and destructive qualities. In the Devi Bhagavata Purana, she is hailed as the mother of all, the life force within every being, and the epitome of supreme knowledge. The Lalita Sahasranama adds to her titles, portraying her as transcending the universe, omnipresent, supporting the cosmos, slaying demons, embodying terror, and bringing destruction. Additionally, in the hymn Aryastava, she is depicted as the night of death and the embodiment of death itself.

Attributes of Adishakti

In the opening episode of the Devi Mahatmya, Adishakti is hailed as Mahamaya, which translates to the grand illusion or the great cosmic power of illusion. This title signifies her immense power to create and sustain the universe, often manifesting in forms beyond ordinary comprehension.

Iconography of Adishakti

Adishakti, often perceived as an abstract goddess, has her appearance described in various Hindu scriptures like the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Kalika Purana, Markandeya Purana-Devi Mahatmya, Brahmanda Purana-Lalita Sahasranama, and the Tripura Rahasya. In the Devi Bhagavata Purana, there’s a tale where Adishakti invites the Trimurti to Manidvipa. Upon their arrival, they witness Bhuvaneshvari, the supreme goddess, seated on a jeweled throne. Her countenance emits the brilliance of countless stars, dazzling the Trimurti to the point where they couldn’t gaze directly at her. Adishakti adorns herself with the Abhaya and Varada Mudra, as well as with the Pasha and Ankusha.

Literature of Adishakti

Throughout Hindu scriptures, particularly in the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and various theological texts, the concept of Adishakti, or Mahadevi, is elaborated upon in rich detail. Adishakti is the primordial divine feminine energy, revered as the ultimate reality from which all creation emanates. Here’s a detailed elaboration:

1. Vedic References: The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in Hinduism, contain hymns and verses dedicated to various forms of goddesses. These goddesses embody different aspects of nature, power, and cosmic order. For example, Devi represents power, Prithvi symbolizes the earth, and Aditi signifies the cosmic moral order. The Rigveda specifically mentions Devīsūkta, a hymn that glorifies the ultimate reality as a goddess.

2. Upanishadic Insights: The Upanishads, philosophical texts that delve into the nature of reality and the self, also acknowledge the feminine as supreme. The Shakta Upanishads, in particular, revere the feminine as the primal cause and equate it with metaphysical concepts like Brahman (universal consciousness) and Atman (individual soul).

3. Puranic Narratives: The Puranas, a genre of ancient Hindu texts, elaborate extensively on the mythology and theology of Hinduism. Shaktas, followers of Shaktism, conceive Adishakti as the supreme, eternal reality. She is seen as the source of all creation, its embodiment, and the energy that sustains and governs it. Adishakti is often depicted as the consort of Shiva, with whom she shares a complementary and inseparable relationship.

4. Devi Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Devi Bhagavatam): This Purana specifically focuses on the worship and glorification of the goddess Devi. It describes Adishakti in her various forms, extolling her as the mother of the universe and the ultimate divine principle. Adishakti embodies both the formless, transcendental aspect (nirguna) and the manifest, tangible aspect (saguna) of divinity.

5. Shaiva and Vaishnava Perspectives: Both Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions acknowledge the importance of Adishakti in their respective pantheons. In Shaivism, Adishakti is revered as the divine consort of Lord Shiva, embodying the creative and nurturing aspects of the cosmos. In Vaishnavism, goddesses like Lakshmi and Radha are considered manifestations of Adishakti, representing the feminine energy that complements and completes the divine masculine principle.

6. Philosophical Significance: Adishakti is not merely a mythical figure but also holds profound philosophical significance. She symbolizes the dynamic interplay of feminine and masculine energies in the universe, the creative power that brings forth life, sustains it, and ultimately absorbs it back into the divine source.

Forms of Adishakti

In Shakta traditions, Adishakti holds a central and supreme position as the ultimate goddess. She is revered as the primal energy from which the entire universe manifests, with Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva regarded as her subordinate aspects, unable to function without her power. This concept emphasizes the fundamental importance of Adishakti in all aspects of existence, making her the focal point of worship for devotees.

Within the framework of Shaktism, there are various traditions and goddesses associated with Adishakti, each embodying different aspects of her divine power. In the Srikula tradition, Tripura Sundari is particularly venerated as the highest expression of Adishakti, representing beauty, grace, and wisdom. She is also regarded as the primary goddess of Sri Vidya, a prominent Shakta tradition focused on worship and meditation.

In contrast to some Vaishnavite beliefs where Lakshmi is seen as secondary to Vishnu, in Shakta traditions, Lakshmi is either identified with Adishakti herself or as a direct representation of her. This underscores the idea that Adishakti encompasses all aspects of existence, including wealth, prosperity, and domestic bliss.

Similarly, in Shaivism, the goddess Parvati is considered the complete incarnation of Adishakti, embodying her fierce and nurturing aspects. Parvati is revered as the consort of Shiva and the mother of Ganesha, embodying the power of creation, preservation, and destruction.

The concept of Panchaprakritis, or the five forms of Adishakti, further elaborates on the multifaceted nature of the goddess. Durga represents strength and protection, Lakshmi symbolizes abundance and prosperity, Sarasvati embodies knowledge and learning, Savitri represents truth and enlightenment, and Radha presides over the vital life forces.

Additionally, the concept of Amsharupas highlights specific manifestations of Adishakti, such as Ganga, Tulasi, and Manasa, each serving distinct purposes and embodying unique qualities.

Furthermore, the Mahavidyas, ten Tantric goddesses, elucidate Adishakti’s ability to manifest in diverse forms for various purposes. These goddesses, including Kali, Tara, and Bhairavi, represent different aspects of her power, from fierce destruction to compassionate nurturing.

Overall, the worship of Adishakti in her various forms and manifestations underscores the belief in the omnipresence and omnipotence of the divine feminine principle in Hindu spirituality.

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