Shaktism: Worship and Philosophy of the Supreme Goddess

Shaktism: Worship and Philosophy of the Supreme Goddess

Shaktism is one of the major denominations within Hinduism, distinguished by its worship of the divine as a female entity. Central to Shaktism is the belief that the ultimate metaphysical reality, or the supreme godhead, is female, symbolized by the goddess Shakti. Shakti is not a singular goddess but an all-encompassing divine force that manifests in various forms and aspects, embodying a wide range of goddesses. Among these, Durga, Parvati, and Kali are some of the most revered, each representing different attributes such as power, nurturing love, and destruction, respectively. Additionally, Shaktism incorporates goddesses from local and regional folklore, known as Gramadevatas, worshipped in various villages across India.

Historical Origins

The worship of the feminine divine in Hinduism dates back to ancient times. The earliest archaeological evidence of Shakti worship comes from the Upper Paleolithic site of Baghor I in Madhya Pradesh, India, dating to between 9000 BC and 8000 BC. This evidence suggests that the veneration of the female divine has deep roots in Indian prehistory. In the Indus Valley Civilization, numerous figurines and seals depicting goddesses have been found. One of the earliest literary references to the goddess is found in the Rigveda, in the Devi Suktam hymn, which praises the goddess as the source of all creation and the ultimate reality.

Philosophical and Theological Elements

In Shaktism, the goddess is viewed as the essence of all creation. Texts like the Devi-Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Devi Bhagavatam) emphasize that the goddess encompasses all aspects of divinity, both manifest and unmanifest. This perspective sees both masculine and feminine as integral parts of the divine reality, symbolized in the concept of Ardhanari, a deity that is half-Shakti and half-Shiva, representing the unity and interdependence of male and female. Shaktism integrates ideas from the Samkhya and Advaita Vedanta schools of Hindu thought, emphasizing the unity of all existence and the non-dual nature of the goddess, a philosophy known as Shaktadavaitavada.

Worship Practices and Sect Influence

Worship Practices

Shaktism is known for its wide variety of worship practices, ranging from simple daily rituals to elaborate festivals. Central to Shaktism is the concept of bhakti, or devotional love, where intense love and devotion to the goddess are considered more important than mere obedience to religious rules. This aspect of Shaktism is influenced by the Vaishnavite tradition, which celebrates the passionate love between Radha and Krishna.

Sect Influence

Shaktism has significantly influenced other major Hindu traditions such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism. In Shaktism, the goddess is often seen as the consort and energy (shakti) of the gods Vishnu and Shiva. For example, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is Vishnu’s consort, while Sati/Parvati, embodying various aspects of love, devotion, and power, is Shiva’s consort. Followers of Shaktism, known as Shaktas, form a significant sect within Hinduism, constituting about 3.2% of Hindus according to a 2010 estimate by Johnson and Grim.

Sacred Texts

Important Scriptures

The sacred texts of Shaktism are both numerous and diverse, comprising parts of the Sruti (heard or revealed) and Smriti (remembered) scriptures of Hinduism. Some of the most important texts in Shaktism include the Devi Mahatmya, Devi-Bhagavata Purana, Kalika Purana, and various Shakta Upanishads such as the Devi Upanishad. Among these, the Devi Mahatmya is particularly revered and is considered as central to Shaktism as the Bhagavad Gita is to other Hindu traditions.

Devi Gita

The Devi Gita, found in the seventh book of the Srimad Devi-Bhagavatam, is a seminal text presenting the theology of Shaktism. In this text, the goddess declares herself as Brahman, the ultimate reality that created the universe. This aligns with the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, which asserts that spiritual liberation is achieved by realizing the oneness of the individual soul (Atman) with Brahman.

Major Deities

Common Goddesses

Shaktism is centered around the worship of goddesses, each seen as a manifestation of the supreme goddess Shakti. Widely known goddesses in Shaktism include Parvati, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Radha. In Eastern India, following the decline of Buddhism, various Hindu and Buddhist goddesses merged to form the Mahavidya, a group of ten goddesses.

Mahavidyas and Other Goddess Groups

The Mahavidyas, especially worshipped in Tantric Shaktism, include Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneshvari, Tara, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi, and Kamala. Other important groups are the Sapta-Matrika (“Seven Mothers”) and the 64 Yoginis. Additionally, forms like Ashtalakshmi (eight forms of Lakshmi) and Navadurga (nine forms of Durga) are significant, especially during festivals like Navaratri.

Tantric Traditions


The Vidyapitha is a subdivision within Shaktism, categorized into three groups: Vamatantras, Yamalatantras, and Saktitantras. These texts focus on various aspects of Tantric practices and the worship of the goddess.


The Kulamarga tradition retains elements from the ancient Kapalika tradition and is divided into four subcategories based on the goddesses Kulesvari, Kubjika, Kali, and Tripurasundari. The Trika texts, closely related to Kulesvari texts, are also considered part of the Kulamarga.

Worship in Shaktism

Srikula: Family of Lalita Tripura Sundari

The Srikula tradition focuses on the worship of Devi in the form of Lalita-Tripura Sundari. The Srividya school is the best-known and most influential within the Srikula tradition. The central symbol of Srividya is the Sri Chakra, a famous visual image in Hindu Tantric traditions.

Kalikula: Family of Kali

The Kalikula tradition is predominant in northeastern India, particularly in West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, and Odisha, as well as in Nepal and Kerala. This tradition venerates goddesses like Kali, Chandi, Bheema, and Durga. In West Bengal, Kalighat in Kolkata is a major center of Shaktism, where the skull of Kali is believed to be worshipped.

Festivals in Shaktism


Navaratri, or the “Festival of Nine Nights,” is the most important Shakta festival, taking place in October/November. This festival, along with the following tenth day known as Dusshera or Vijayadashami, marks the goddess Durga’s victory over demons, as described in the Devi Mahatmya.

Diwali and Other Festivals

Lakshmi Puja is part of Durga Puja celebrations, symbolizing the goddess of abundance and harvest. Diwali, or the “Festival of Lights,” is a major Hindu holiday celebrated in October/November. Shaktas celebrate it as another Lakshmi Puja, lighting small oil lamps and praying for blessings.

Animal Sacrifice in Shaktism

Animal sacrifice is a traditional practice in Shaktism, especially in the eastern and Himalayan states of India and Nepal. This involves the actual sacrifice of animals or the use of substitutes like vegetables or sweets. In regions like West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Nepal, animal sacrifices are performed during festivals like Durga Puja to commemorate the goddess’s victory over demons.

Modern Perspectives and Influences

The modern Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda described a true Shakti worshipper as someone who recognizes the omnipresent force of the universe in women, seeing them as manifestations of this divine force. Sri Ramakrishna, a significant figure in Hindu reform movements, believed that all Hindu goddesses are different manifestations of the same mother goddess. His teachings have had a profound influence on modern interpretations of Shaktism.

Shaktism continues to be a vital and dynamic part of Hinduism, emphasizing the divine feminine as the ultimate reality and celebrating the goddess in her many forms and manifestations. This tradition, with its rich theological, philosophical, and cultural heritage, remains an important and influential aspect of Hindu spirituality.

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