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Myth, Cult and Symbolic in Sakta Hinduism A Study of the Indian Mother Goddess

Myth, Cult and Symbolic in Sakta Hinduism A Study of the Indian Mother Goddess
Item Code: IDC835
Author: Wendell Charles Beane
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 9788121510400
Pages: 301
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 6.0" x 7.6"
weight of the book: 660 gms
From The Jacket

Significantly this book shows, by using a triangulation of methods (historical, phenomenological, and structural), what it is to live in a universe of meaning centered by the idea that the Ultimate Reality is grounded in a Female Prin- ciple. It provides a framework for uniting Hindu goddess-worship in all its sacred manifestations. The work uses the name Durga-Kali (via Mircea Eliade) as a vital focus for linking together tribal, popular (bhakti) and Brahmanic (Tantric) tradi- tions. The author's approach also allows for the integration of the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of human life into a whole,-indeed-a unique type of balance. Though many sub- sequent highly specialized studies have enlarged upon aspects of its basic theme, this is the work that by and large launched a host of recent studies in the West aimed at helping those outside of the world of Sakta Hinduism to appreciate the wonder of its mythic cosmologies, cultic practices, and symbolic expressions.


About the Author

Dr. Wendell Charles Beane is Professor Emeritus of the History of Religions at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and does comparative researches in his approach to the study of major world religious traditions. He is also the editor (with W.G. Doty) of Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, 2 vols. (Harper and Row) and The Truth Within You: Faith, Gnostic Visions, and Christ Consciousness (A.R.E. Press).



Durga-Kali is the theistic manifestation of a widespread concept in Indian religion called Sakti, or the religion of "Power". As the "Goddess" (Devi) she is regarded as both Mother of Timelessness and Life and Arbitress of Time and Death. This work proposes to deal with our chosen divinity with respect to three broad yet distinctive categories of religious understanding: cosmology, rituology, and eschatology. It is felt that the use of such traditional categories need not pose any serious general problems; the more specific responsibility does consist, however, in pointing out the peculiar meaning which such terms or systems tend to have in their own cultural-religious environment. The choice of these categories derives from our discovery that there exists in the religious thought and practice connected with this goddess a remarkable homologous relationship of myth, cult, and symbols. The grist of our thesis, then, is that the foregoing phenomena constitute an integration of structures that provide an almost unique opportunity for significant religious understanding.

There have been many treatments of varying aspects of the worship of Durga-Kali. However, there has apparently been no attempt made, heretofore, to examine this religious phenomenon as a potentially unified structure of thought and expression. Here we are undertaking such a task, focusing upon this goddess as the prototypical image par excellence in the religious tradition of Sakta Hinduism. We are aware, then, that, nominally, Durga-Kali is merely one manifestation of the Sakti phenomenon. To be sure, other nominal and formal types do exist and may have their own ritual peculiarities according to regional differences and religious temperaments. It is more important to recognize, nonetheless, that there are certain distinc- tive features in the larger Indian religious tradition that enhance the feasibility of our study (vide Chapter I). For now, at any rate, let us mention one positive contributive factor in all this: that certain basic mythological conceptions elaborated, probably, by a "Great Traditional" (Smarta-) Brahman elite - often in creative religio- political tension with popular and/or tribalistic ideas and forms- have facilitated our avoidance of phenomenal chaos. Historically, therefore, what may have seemed only a chaos of ideas and forms was gradually understood amidst non-religious pressures and religious yearnings to be potentially capable of vital "convergences" for the ultimate purpose of creating a cosmos of religious meaning. Not barring real non-religious contexts, after all, it is still the religious meaning with which we are so intimately concerned. Furthermore, for ourselves, the feasibility of this task is borne out by our own investigations into three crucial aspects of the problem. Their aspectual convergence thus concerns itself with mythic structure (i.e., Kali as Saktic Creatrix), cultic structure (i.e., Kali Puja), and eschatonic structure (i.e., Kali Yuga).

We are especially indebted to many scholars, not the least of whom is Sir John Woodroffe whose copious studies and translations of several, especially Tantric, texts from the Sanskrit are indispensable to this endeavour. The suggested presence of a multi-structural unity, such as we propose, owes much to two distinguished scholars, the late Jean Przyluski and Mircea Eliade (now at Chicago). Przyluski inti- mated the direction of our thesis in philological terms in an original article in the Indian Historical Quarterly, in 1938. He demonstrated highly probable religio-linguistic affinities between such nominals as kali, kala, kalki and other derivatives. Although apparently over- captivated by cross-cultural generalizations on mostly linguistic grounds, Przyluski's influence upon us continues; that is, we continue to profit from the intra-cultural implications of his basic findings for a better understanding of how language influences religion and culture and vice-versa. Przyluski, of course, did not (neither was it probably his intention to) indicate the relevance of the cultic aspect of the entire problem. Anyone who starts out to study the relationship between religious symbols and human culture without the guidance of Mircea Eliade's works deprives himself of the luxury of a deeper understanding from the very beginning. It is Eliade who maintained in an article in the Eranos-Jahrbuch, in 1951, that there was a struc- turally justifiable association between the notions of kala (Time), the goddess Kali, and the Kali Yuga.

Here we shall attempt to show that, at least as a tristructural religious manifestation, the entire phenomenon deserves further examination, historically and phenomenologically. Yet there is also a need to emphasize a third methodological component which comes to bear particularly upon the role of the cultus : the puja as an essentially integrative religious complex. This means that a structurological cultic dimension is most vital to the total religious orientation.

In approaching our overall study, therefore, we intend to apply a triangulation of methods to the religious phenomenon. In a word, our aim is to render a reasonably comprehensive historical, phenome- nological, and structural exposition and interpretation of Durga-Kali as part of the Indian "mother-goddess complex" but especially as it is manifested in Bengal. The myths, rites, and festivities in homage to the Goddess occurring in that region of India are already recognized as constituting a veritable stronghold of her adoration. Nevertheless, it is because of the nodal role which certain structuralist criteria tend to play in our presentation that functional-symbolistic corres- pondences can be made between other regional manifestations of such worship derived from various field studies.

Broadly speaking, our thesis has some retrospective historical significance in terms of the general Motif of the Feminine per se as a cultural-historical reality which characterized parts of the world outside India. The full inter-cultural significance of our study in the light of contemporary (especially American) re-evaluations of the role of woman in modern society cannot now be estimated. At any rate, just as that problem offers no easy solution, it would also seem that no one method of approach could ever hope to encompass the endless potentiality of meanings hidden in the Worship of the Feminine (Principle). In the case of a general mother-goddess motif admirable attempts from various field perspectives have been made by such scholars as E. O. James, Erich Neumann, Sibylle von Cles-Reden, S. K. Dikshit, and others. With regard to a specific female personi- fication of the Divine of India, there are the works of P. Ghosha, V. R. R. Dikshitar, Ernest A. Payne, Vasudeva S. Agrawala, and others.

Both of these kinds of treatments (general and specific) 1 tend to display the following disadvantages, not necessarily in themselves, but in the light of our own objectives. In the former cases, however invaluable, the works of these authors reveal clearly the tendency to adopt a delimited methodological approach or ideological stress. Their main difficulty, however, consists in their range and scope as compared to the depth of their relevance in terms of religious under- standing. In the latter types of monographic accounts the problem is not so much that of depth of religious understanding but rather range and scope even having to do with a specific, religiously understood 1 Vide the Bibliography.

phenomenon. Ghosha, for example, renders an indispensable, though still only a liturgical, journal of goddess adoration. Dikshitar's work is essentially a literary-historical approach to his subject but suggests no real themic unity. Payne's presentation is conveniently historical, but the author blurs the religious significance of his work by insisting upon the "impermanence" of Saktism; in his treatment, therefore, religious creativity is ultimately subjected to historical eventuality. Agrawala's work, though precious, is primarily a commentative translation of one major textual glorification of the Goddess. Through this and other articles, however, Agrawala's contribution to our understanding of how several of the cultic motifs are related to clas- sical model of Indian thought remains substantial.

What the foregoing scholars have attempted as legitimate aspects of a particular religious phenomenon, we would undertake from a more totalistic perspective. Certainly, this objective does not preclude our awareness, methodologically, that the proposed unified approach, itself, can never encompass the whole of Indian religious experience and expression. At best, our study would turn out to be but an aspect, too, of that country's broader religious panorama. The ongoing significance of this thesis, nonetheless, will reside in the fact that it contributes to a better understanding of that very larger Indian ocean of religious life.

In the pages that follow our "Methodological Concerns", then, we shall be discussing the philosophically abstract and personalistically concrete aspects of the Durga-Kali complex. 'I'his will be accomplished largely within a framework of Tantric and Puranic notions of Cosmic (sacred) Time and Terrestrial (sacred) Space. As the dynamics of Sacred History are juxtaposed with the movements of historical times and events in a specific methodological understanding of reli- gion's inexhaustible potentialities, at least two things should become clearly known. First, that Durga-Kali as a theistic manifestation can indeed be understood, despite bizarreness of form and changes in historical-cultural milieu. Secondly, that Durga-Kali reflects, also, a universal ontological malaise which can be aptly correlated with "experiences that arise from an irresistible human desire to transcend time and history" (Eliade). Thus in a very real rense this study might be said to amount to a theoretical and practical inquiry into the soteriological dynamics of an Indian religion.

The author wishes to acknowledge and to thank the following per- sons, especially Professors Mircea Eliade, Joseph M. Kitagawa, Charles H. Long, and Edward C. Dimock, Jr., of the University of Chicago. These scholars are important for the guidance and encoura- gement they gave during my graduate years and in the formation of this study. Further research was made possible by a post-doctoral fellowship granted by the American Institute of Indian Studies in 1974. It is not feasible to mention, yet gratitude is felt for what seems, all those innumerable templeguides, museum curators, university librarians and personal friends who were so gracious to Mrs. Beane and me while in India.

Among Indian scholars particular thanks are due to Professor S. C. Dube of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study for making library facilities available and arranging consulations with several scholars there. Those scholars are Professors L. P. Singh, S. K. Ghosh, S. Miri, and, especially, S. C. Malik, who read the entire manuscript and made helpful critical observations. Additional thanks should go to Professors D. C. Sircar, and V. Raghavan, as well as B. M. Pande, member of the Archaeological Survey of India, in New Delhi. From such wonderful minds East and West, significant understanding and inspiration were gained concerning many of those inimitable "things Indian".





  Introduction 1
I Methodological Concerns 7
II Historical and Traditional Origins: From Ancient to Medieval Times 42
III The Cosmological Structure of Mythical Time : Kali- Sakti 150
IV The Structural Phenomenology of Ritual Time: Kali Puja 181
V The Eschatological Sturcture of the Regeneration of Time: Kali Yuga 228
VI Conclusion : The Goddess Durga - Kali as a Religious Symbol of Multi Structural Integration 257
  Appendix 270
  Bibliography 273
  Index 282
Sample Pages

Of Related Interest :


Conception and Evolution of The Mother Goddess in India

Devi The Mother-GoddessAn Introduction

The Ideals of Motherhood - Aesthetics of Form and Function

Shakti - Power and Femininity in Indian Art

Mother Goddess as Kali - The Feminine Force in Indian Art

Every Woman a Goddess - The Ideals of Indian Art

Sculptures of the Mother Goddess

Paintings of the Mother Goddess


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