International Journal of Hindu Studies 1:2 (June, 1997), pp. 265-87.
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Without you (R¹dh¹), I (KŬªa) am inert and am always powerless. You have all powers (¶akti) as your own form; come into my presence.

-- Brahmavaivarta Pur¹ªa. Brahmavaivarta Pur¹ªa, RakÅti-    Khanda 55.87

[P¹ravatī to ˜iva]: You should consider who you are, and who nature is. . . . How could you transcend nature? What you hear, what you eat, what you see--it's all Nature. How could you be beyond Nature?

-- Skanda Pur¹ªa


In the beginning there were disembodied spirits suspended in space, unmoving and fixed in trance. Enter a dancing Goddess, creating solid ground wherever she steps. Her dynamic gestures cause the spirits to stir and gradually, one by one, they begin to dance with the Goddess. As they dance, they take on bodies, and they, too, begin to feel ground beneath their moving feet. Only one spirit named ½¶vara the Lord remains fixed and undisturbed. The cosmic dance continues and becomes more complex, creative, and frenzied. ½¶vara, however, begins to call the spirits back to their original state. He exhorts them to give up their embodied lives, which to him are sinful and degrading. One by one, the spirits disengage from the Goddess, throw off their bodies, and return to their static state of complete autonomy and isolation. Without partners the Goddess also falls into inactivity. The cosmic dance is finished and the evolution of the world ceases.


In this chapter I entertain the thesis that Indian goddess worship serves to balance masculine views of individual autonomy and separation from the body and nature. As we have seen, Yoga Titanism does emphasize personal isolation and is similar to Western Titanism in that respect. In the first section I contrast the passive and inert views of the material principle (primarily found in the West) with the dynamic and creative views of Hinduism. The second section traces the philosophical origins of ˜¹kta theology with a focus on some basic problems of S¹÷khya's puru¬a-prakÅti dualism. In the third section I demonstrate that Pur¹ªic writers appropriated the S¹÷khya principle of prakÅti and the Ved¹ntist concept of m¹y¹ to establish a powerful goddess ontology, one that overcomes the alienation from nature and other selves found in S¹÷khya-Yoga philosophy. Hindu Tantrics used the concept of ¶akti to produce the same results. In the fourth section I draw on Stanley N. Kurtz's psychoanalytic study of Hindu goddesses and present his reasons why goddess worship survived in the Indian subcontinent. The fifth section contains a critique of Kurtz's view and confirms a suspicion that traditional ˜¹kta theology does not express a genuine female voice. If this is so, then this mitigates somewhat the thesis that ˜¹kta theology is an answer to Titanism. Finally, I sketch briefly some encouraging manifestations of ˜¹kta theology among contemporary Indian women.


Recall Rammurti Mishra's incredible claim about the yogi's nature in the previous chapter. Let us now rephrase these assertions in terms of nuclear physics, à la Edward Teller: "Deep inside the hydrogen atom lies hidden a tremendous force which will lead humans to omnipotence and omniscience." This is not totally fair--physical and spiritual power are being conflated--but the principal point is the conceptual convergence of Eastern and Western forms of Titanism. Even though Yoga Titanism is a benign form of extreme humanism, it nevertheless uses the same language of hubris, power, and conquest as Western Titanism.

Let us dwell for a moment on Edward Teller, the Titanism of Cold War militarism, and the cooption of female creative power. The first atomic weapon was called "Oppenheimer's baby" and the hydrogen bomb was known as "Teller's baby." There was some dispute over whether Teller was mother or father, because some argued that is was Stanislaw Ulam who really came up with the original idea. On this account Father Ulam inseminated Teller with the idea and Mother Teller carried the fetus to term. Carol Cohn, who provides a fascinating analysis of this phenomenon of male creation, also finds it significant that all the bombs have male names. Therefore, nuclear scientists, in Cohn's words, have given "birth to male progeny with the ultimate power of violent domination over female Nature. The defense intellectuals' project is the creation of abstract formulations to control the forces the scientists created, and to participate thereby in their world-creating/destroying power."

The desire to become father of oneself is one of the general features of the psychology of Titanism. By claiming the power of self-creation, the Hindu Titan is able to eliminate the female role and manipulate ordinary reproduction to his own advantage. For example, the Vedic father recreates himself in the mother's womb or a womb substitute. This theme is most explicit in a late Upani¬ad, the Yogatattva: "He who was his father is now his son, and he who is his son will be again his father." For example, in the KØrma Pur¹ªa Vi¬ªu directly enters Aditi's womb and is conceived as V¹mana, the dwarf incarnation. In the Bh¹gavata version of the story, Vi¬ªu first "penetrates" Ka¶yapa with his "ray" and then his semen his deposited in Aditi’s womb.Stories of the Buddha's conception in the Mah¹vastu indicate clearly the heavenly Bodhisattva is essentially placing a human version of himself in M¹y¹'s womb.Praj¹pati "placed the power to produce progeny in himself" and then proceeded to create the devas and the asuras out of his mouth. Other womb substitutes appear in many stories where Promethean churning (our key root manth again) and giving issue from one's mind or thigh seem to be the most common form of male procreation. (Mind-born sons, the ten great sages, are sinless and nonprocreating.) The following sons are said to have been "thigh-born" of their fathers: asuras from Brahm¹'s thigh, Vai¶yas from Praj¹pati's, Kutsa from Indra's, a long awaited son from King Yuvan¹¶va's, Anga (Vena's father) from Uru's, and Ni¬¹da from Vena's thigh. (PÅthu, however, is "churned" from his father's right arm.) We also have the incredible example of Brahm¹ giving "birth" to thousands of sages from semen prematurely ejaculated at the sight of P¹rvatī as bride. In the Hebrew tradition we find a rib-born Eve and Jacob's thigh-born sons; and in Greek mythology we of course have the thigh-born Zeus giving issue to Athene from his mind.

The cooption and exploitation of the creative energies of the female have a long history in the West. Hesiod's Theogony still preserves the idea of primordial chaos and Gaia the earth goddess as the source of all things, but the power of the Greek goddess was gradually coopted by male deities, starting with Zeus and his self-created daughter, priests, and philosophers. Although there is a more egalitarian human creation story in Genesis 1:26, the Hebrew Zeus of Genesis 2 creates Eve out of Adam’s rib and the "mother of all the living" becomes his subordinate. We now know that many ancient Hebrews worshipped goddesses along with Yahweh, but this practice was of course never condoned by the priests or prophets. The last trace of the feminine in Hebrew scripture, a figure called Sophia (Yahweh's helpmate in Prov. 8:30), was replaced, except for the Gnostic sects, by the masculine Logos by Philo of Alexandria. For Philo the cosmos becomes the mind-born creation of God, whose Logos makes the world out of absolute nothing, not the feminine chaos implied in Genesis 1:1. The final banishment of the goddess of watery chaos is implied in the declaration in Revelation that in the "new heaven and new earth. . . the sea [is] no more" (21:1). In the new creation, the writer is telling us, the irrational goddesses will not bother us anymore.

In pre-Socratic philosophy the idea of phusis (Latin natura), although not identified as female, was a creative and dynamic material principle. This idea was replaced by inert atoms or by Aristotle's hul, both passive and inactive material principles. Aristotle's idea that the female womb was simply a receptacle for self-contained male seed joined similar views of human reproduction in the ancient world. The father essentially recreates himself in the womb of the passive mother. One exception to Aristotle's theory of conception is this marvelous passage from the Talmud:

There are three partners in man . . . his father supplies the semen of the white substance out of which are formed the child's bones, sinews, nails, and the white of his eyes. His mother supplies the semen of the red substance out of which is formed his skin, flesh, hair and black of his eye. God gives him the soul and breath, beauty of features, eyesight, hearing, speech, understanding, and discernment.

Although sexist and theocentric, this Jewish view does give an active role to the female in the formation of the fetus. The esoteric tradition preserved the coequal partnership of male and female principles until, as Carolyn Merchant has shown, witch hunts and mechanistic science virtually eliminated the idea of dynamic nature in the West and the feminine symbolism attached to it.


While male patriarchs in India established a society that devalued women and severely restricted their autonomy, they consistently and openly acknowledged the feminine as the source of cosmic matter and energy. Although the Hindu Goddess tradition may go back as far as the Harrapan civilization, Tracy Pintchman's recent work has demonstrated that the Vedic tradition may have been a greater source than has previously been thought. Pintchman shows that "the waters" (ap), the earth goddess (PÅthivī/BhØmi), Aditi (mother of the gods), Vir¹j (coequal with Puru¬a), V¹c (the voice of the mantra and essential breath ¹tman), and ˜acī/Indr¹ni (Indra's consort) all echo in later portrayals of the Goddess. We have seen that the S¹÷khya dualism of puru¬a and prakÅti constituted the metaphysical basis for yogic retreat and isolation, but some Pur¹nic writers transformed prakÅti into a feminine power that sacralizes the body, the emotions, nature, and human relations. The Goddess as prakÅti was alternatively or simultaneously identified with the creative m¹y¹ of the Vedantist tradition and the powerful ¶akti of the Tantric schools. J. N. Tiwari states that the

philosophical basis of the Great Goddess should be traced to a theistic adaptation of Upani¬adic Ved¹ntism mixed with the S¹÷khya conception of PrakÅti. As it is, the Goddess is imagined as the Supreme Principle in her own right, as eternally existing, as Supreme Knowledge, as the cause of the bondage and the final liberation of beings, etc.

In the Brahmavaivarta Pur¹ªa R¹dh¹ as prakÅti is identified with the energy of Brahman itself; she is the true form of Brahman, or sometimes superior to it.

While early S¹÷khya does not identify prakÅti as feminine, the later S¹÷khya-k¹rik¹ contains a vivid metaphor of prakÅti as a seductive dancer who entices all the inactive puru¬as (save one ½¶vara, who remains free and detached) to join in her creation of the world. The fall into the created world can be reversed only by breaking away from prakÅti using the spiritual discipline of ½¶vara--the mah¹yogin--as a model for liberation. Successful yogic liberation would leave prakÅti without any dance partners and she then returns to an undifferentiated mass. "'Says the indifferent one [puru¬a], ‘I have seen her’; the other [prakÅti] ceases, saying ‘I have been seen.’" (As we shall see, the bashful prakÅti, whose action reflects the ideal Hindu wife, is dramatically transformed in the ˜¹kta tradition.) Puru¬as not only attain complete separation from nature, but also from ½¶vara as well. There is no union with ultimate reality as in Upani¬adic monism: "With the cessation of prakÅti . . . the puru¬a . . . attains isolation (kaivalya) which is both certain and final."

Kathleen Erndl acknowledges the influence of both S¹÷khya and Ved¹nta on ˜¹kta theology, but argues that the latter "differs from them in its relentless exaltation of the material world. It is more thoroughly 'world-affirming' than either of them." We have seen that S¹÷khya's prakÅti is more dynamic and creative than Western ideas of matter, but Erndl notes that S¹÷khya ultimately joins the Greek and Christian project of devaluing matter, and in turn devaluing the female. (Even though prakÅti is the active power, the figurative language of the S¹÷khya literature always subordinates it to puru¬a, usually as a servant/wife to master/husband.) As we have seen, prakÅti will, according to the original view, return to an inactive, undifferentiated mass, and the puru¬as will be free of its interference and distractions. In contrast to the near universal myth of the clash of sky father gods with earth or water goddesses, S¹÷khya dualism contains little conflict or tension. Indeed, enlightened souls discover that nature's intellectual and spiritual qualities (sattvaguªa) are their ultimate means of escape from her. The S¹÷khya-k¹rik¹ is rich in powerful figures of speech: "As the unknowing milk functions for the sake of the nourishment of the calf; so the prakÅti functions for the sake of the release of the puru¬a."

With regard to Ved¹ntist influence on the ˜¹kta movement, both Erndl and Mackenzie Brown recognize that goddess philosophy generally avoids the strict nondualism of the Advaitins. In their enthusiasm for the goddess to preempt all previous ontological states, ˜¹kta writers sometimes call Devī nirguª¹ Brahman (transcending all qualities) as well as saguª¹ Brahman (containing all qualities). Making the Goddess free of qualities does not mean that phenomenal world then becomes an illusion, as it does in Advaita Ved¹nta. (As an example, only one major commentary on the Devī-M¹h¹tmya, the one by N¹goji Bhatta, describes the Goddess as static nirguª¹ Brahman. Another commentary by Advaitin Bh¹skar¹r¹ya emphasizes that the Goddess as nirguª¹ Brahman is dynamic in nature and that the world she produces is real.)In general ˜¹kta theology is a thoroughgoing panentheism in which the Goddess is a divine matrix for all things (hence, she is not any one thing in particular) rather than an abstract unity transcending all qualities. Mackenzie Brown points out that "absolute identity would preclude any real relationship," and relations with people and nature are the real genius of the Goddess religion East and West. S¹÷khya's commitment to the plurality of souls serves as an important counter to the monistic impersonalism of Advaita Ved¹nta. If selves are actually unreal, then it is difficult to understand how there could be any intelligible basis for personal and social relations.

In Aldous Huxley's After Many A Summer Dies the Swan, the protagonist says: "The more power we have, the more intensely do we feel our solitude. I have enjoyed much power in my life." In terms of the ˜¹kta theology we have just discussed, this Western view of power, the power of the Titan, is an illusion. This view of power is not exclusive to the West, for Hindu yogis have claimed that, by their ascetic isolation, they have surpassed "the gods in the realm of divinity." This claim is open to P¹rvatī's rebuke (see epipgraph to this chapter) that no one escapes nature and the limitations of its cosmic web of relations, and even the S¹÷khya philosophers held that prakÅti is the source of all power. Therefore, the completely autonomous soul, according to ˜¹kta theology, is impotent and passive, unmasking the claim of "atomic" power by Rammurti Mishra as a vain and empty boast. The yogi is actually a false Titan: he claims powers and attributes that his own philosophy denies him. Catherine Keller prefers to see this act of self-deception in Freudian terms. The male ego isolates himself because of the fear of castration, but in effect he has castrated himself in the process. In the nuclear age this has led to a sustained attempt at self-transcendence in a "fail-proof phallus, the steel missile carrying the nux which cannot be castrated."

Even if this S¹÷khya-˜¹kta theory is wrong, most of us would agree that the power of Huxley's protagonist is ultimately destructive. ˜akti power must be seen as shared power, for prakÅti gives power to all who dance with her. In the West the concept of shared power is expressed most clearly in feminist and process philosophies, which stand in opposition to the orthodox Christian view of divine omnicausality.The power of the Titan is based on possession, competition, fear, and control, whereas a view of shared power requires openness and trust on the part of the participants. One could easily argue that isolation and possession actually diminishes any constructive use of personal power. David R. Griffin and John B. Cobb, two process philosophers, state that the persuasive power "to open the future and give freedom [to others] is a greater power than the supposed power of absolute control . . . ."




In the Pur¹ªas the creative powers of prakÅti are generally identified with each of the Hindu gods: rajas for Brahm¹ the creator; sattva for Vi¬ªu the preserver; and tamas for ˜iva the destroyer. (The more sectarian texts sometimes combine all the guªas in either ˜iva or Vi¬ªu.) The Pur¹ªas that favor Devī, however, make it clear that these powers are essentially feminine in nature. Notice the explicit use of S¹÷khya terminology in these hymns to Devī from the Devī-M¹h¹tmya:

You are the primordial material (prakÅti) of everything, manifesting the triad of constituent strands [of guªas];

(You are) the cause of all the worlds . . . the supreme, original, untransformed PrakÅti;

O you, the eternal, who become the power of creation, sustenance, and destruction, abiding in the qualities [guªas] of primordial matter [prakÅti], actually consisting of those qualities, O N¹r¹yanī, praise be to you!

The great Goddess, here associated with Vi¬ªu's (i.e., N¹r¹yana's) ¶akti, has taken over all the powers traditionally associated with the male trinity. Indeed, the male gods are essentially impotent without their ¶aktis. Here ˜iva laments the death of Satī: "Arise O my beloved wife/ I am thy husband ˜iva/Open thine eyes and look at me!/With thee I can create all things/Without thee I am powerless/I am a corpse I cannot act. . . ." KŬªa acknowledges that he has the same relationship to his ¶akti: "Without you, I am inert and am always powerless. You have all powers (¶akti) as your own form; come into my presence." Even in the tradition of Caitanya, which in its Hari Krishna expression has become very anti-goddess, we find that "R¹dh¹ is the full ¶akti and KŬªa is the full ¶aktiman," which means "container of ¶akti."

In his insightful article "Consort of None, ˜akti of All," Thomas B. Coburn makes two significant observations. First, the Devī of the Devī-M¹h¹tmya is not specifically paired with either ˜iva or Vi¬ªu, making this one of the first truly ˜¹kta Pur¹ªas; and second, many of the ¶akti names are original with this text. The author(s) obviously knows that traditionally Indra's consort is ˜acī, Vi¬ªu's wife is Lak¬mī, and ˜iva's mate is Satī, Um¹, or P¹rvatī»; but they deliberately coin feminized versions of the male names--Aindrī for Indra, Vai¬ªavī for Vi¬ªu, and M¹haswarī for ˜iva--so as to dissociate these feminine divinities from any previous mythological connections. The authors very much wish to stress that these are not just wives of male deities; rather, they are very much their own power, or more precisely, Devī's ¶akti.

One critical moment in the narrative of the Devī-M¹h¹tmya may be cause for some qualification to the current thesis. Knowing that Mahi¬asura cannot be defeated by man or beast, all the male gods combine their own energy (tejas) to create the Goddess. The passage, in Coburn's translation, is as follows:

Then from Vi»u's face, which was filled with rage,

Came forth a great fiery splendor (tejas),

(and also from the faces) of Brahm¹ and ˜iva.

And from the bodies of the other gods, Indra and the others,

Came forth a great fiery splendor,

and it became unified in one place.

An exceedingly fiery mass like a flaming mountain

Did the gods see there, filling the firmament with flames.

That peerless splendor, born from the bodies of all the gods,

Unified and pervading the triple world with its lustre, became a woman.

The fact that Devī is produced from the gods' tejas appears to mitigate the thesis that Devī is a cosmic power truly her own. Coburn has captured the meaning of tejas nicely by combining the ideas of brilliance and luminosity, and it has been variously defined as "fiery splendour, glory, fiery destructive power, energy." Tejas can also mean virile semen, which relates it to another word for male power--vīrya, meaning "manliness, heroism; male seed." For example, Agni's "fiery seed" (tejas), which later becomes ˜iva's, the incredibly hot semen that cannot be contained by anything except the goddess Ga¡g¹ (as P¹rvatī's substitute womb), gives rise to the war-god Skanda.

Interestingly enough, especially for those used to Western ideas of divinity, tejas is not a necessary attribute, i.e., it is not inherent in the nature of the gods themselves. This explains why the devas and the asuras both need soma or amÅta to keep themselves "energized," and that is the reason the ManusmÅti frequently refers to tejas's origin as the Vedas and the rituals they contain. In the same text the derivative nature of tejas is seen in the phrase "the brilliant energy of ultimate reality (brahm¹)." Tejas is not only an attribute of the gods and antigods, but it is also found in the Manus, sages, priests, kings, and ordinary men. The priest "takes on a physical form of brilliant energy (tejas) and attains the supreme condition . . . ;" and the king is "made from particles of these lords and gods, therefore he surpasses all living beings in brilliant energy (tejas)." Tejas ebbs and flows, as can be seen in the man who breaks a vow of chastity, sheds his semen, and loses his tejas back to the gods. Also significant is the case of the man who loses his tejas by having sex with a menstruating woman, and the priest who loses his vitality by looking at woman "putting on her eye make-up, rubbing oil on herself, undressed, or giving birth. Even in their misogyny the author(s) of the ManusmÅti give a back-handed compliment to the power of woman.

The verbal root ¶ak gives rise to at least three words in the Vedas: ˜akra ("powerful one"), a name for Indra; ¶acī (personalized as Indra's consort ˜acī); and ¶akti. The latter two words have the general meaning of "ability, power, capacity," but until the ˜¹kta Pur¹ªas they were not yet related to any notion of cosmic power as feminine. Returning to the Devī-M¹h¹tyma let us look at a crucial passage: "Whatever and wherever anything exists. . . O you who have everything as your very soul, of all that, you are the power (¶akti). . . ." We can see that the first ˜¹kta theologians have drawn on the Vedic ¶akti to make a full-blown deity, separate from and now fundamental to the existence of all gods and goddesses. As Coburn phrases it: rather than being "quasi-independent of its possessor" (the Vedic view), ¶akti now "is not something that a deity has, but something that the Goddess is . . . ." ˜akti is something Devī has as a necessary attribute and, panentheistically, something that everything else in the universe has by virtue of Devī's omnipresence. Phrased metaphysically, ¶akti is always a substance, not an attribute, while the reverse is true of tejas, where even in Indian physics fire (tejas) is just one of the attributes, along with air and water, of a basic substance (bhØta).

˜¹kta theology appears to have broken the vicious cycle of the Vedic maxim, explained superbly by Brian K. Smith (supra p. 116), that one gains power only at another's expense. The Vedic power game, as with most patriarchal concepts of power, is a zero-sum game. Those who control the sacrifice, either by hook or crook (with the gods dominating in the "crook" department), control tejas. So the result is constant battles between gods and antigods, gods and ascetics, and priests and kings. The ˜¹kta view is different: even though Mahi¬a loses his tejas--Devī teases him to show his "womanish" nature--he still presumably has his own ¶akti, for this is a power that all beings have by virtue of their very existence. If Devī has her own ontological status as supreme prakÅti and ¶akti, then we are compelled to read her "creation" out of the gods' tejas much differently than one might initially. In the context of ˜¹kta ontology, it must mean that the gods were simply able to make her appear, or, as we shall see, to add attributes to a preexisting primordial power. It might also mean that the gods are now assigning, as a sign of deference (they give her all their weapons), their "brilliance" to Devī and become "dim" in the same way that ˜iva becomes inert when K¹lī dances upon him. Significant also is the fact that Devī calls on a god's ¶akti, not his tejas, to join in her fight against Mahi¬a. Equally significant is the fact that when Mahi¬a complains about being "ganged up on" by so many goddesses, Devī draws all the ¶aktis into herself and finishes the battle alone. Finally, even though the text refers back to the creation out of the gods' tejas--"born from the bodies of the gods"--the very next verse states that the Goddess "was born from the body of Gaurī (=P¹rvatī)," which essentially means that she is born out of herself, because, as Coburn sees it, Gaurī as a "supreme form of the Goddess." Or to see the question even more fundamentally the author(s) clarify Devī's "birth": "She is said to be born in the world, even though she is eternal."

My interpretation is confirmed by looking at the same event as portrayed in the Devī-Bh¹gavata Pur¹ªa. Just as in the Devī-M¹h¹tyma, the Goddess, here called Mah¹lak¬mī, appears out of the gods' tejas; but in the detailed description that follows, it is clear that the gods are simply adding attributes to, or enhancing preexisting attributes of a primordial deity. If Devī is nothing but the sum total of the gods' fiery energy, then the following statement makes no sense: "Even Brahm¹, Vi¬ªu, Mahe¬a, and Indra are never competent enough to describe her form properly." The Goddess is "constant, she is always existent; . . . She assumes different forms for the fulfillment of the deva's ends . . . ." In a clear allusion to S¹÷khya, the author(s) describe Devī as the actor and the gods as mere spectators. The Devī "comes out of that mass of celestial light," which suggests that she comes out on her own stage with the gods' tejas as its brilliant lighting.

The Devī-Bh¹gavata Pur¹ªa combines Ved¹nta, S¹÷khya, and Tantra in a marvelous synthesis. Devī is first and foremost Nirguª¹ ˜akti or Mah¹m¹y¹. In her saguªa form the Goddess is the divine creatrix, and a combination of sattvic ¶akti, rajasic ¶akti, and tamasic ¶akti brings the world into existence. For this purpose she manifests herself as Mah¹lak¬mī (sattvaguªa) making all intellectual and spiritual activity possible; as Mah¹sarasvatī (rajasguªa) empowering all human and animal activity; and as Mah¹k¹lī (tamasguªa) giving us all things inert and death itself. (In other texts Mah¹laksmī and Mah¹sarasvatī switch guªas.) After creation Mah¹devī reveals herself as the terrible K¹lī and her consort ˜iva; as Lak¬mī, goddess of wealth and wife of Vi¬ªu; and finally as Sarasvatī, Brahm¹'s wife and the goddess of knowledge and wisdom.

It might appear that K¹lī, the blood-thirsty goddess of death and destruction, presents a very negative image of women. As an alternative to the standard view that K¹lī represents a projection of a fear of female sexuality,Lina Gupta proposes that K¹lī represents a revolt against patriarchy's rules about the proper dress and behavior of women. Instead of wearing a beautiful sari, K¹lī is essentially nude; and rather than being adorned with jewels, she wears skulls, severed heads and arms. In contrast to P¹rvatī, K¹lī is an independent "spouse" to ˜iva: she does not perform any wifely duties, she has no children, and ˜iva is constantly attempting to counter her unconventional activities. Violating Manu's laws, K¹lī's "femininity belongs to her and not to her husband."Even more significant is Gupta's observation that K¹lī's wrath may well be the expression of the anger of all India's oppressed women. As Gupta states: "The dark goddess is perpetually present in the inner and outer struggles faced by women at all times. Her darkness represents those rejected and suppressed parts of female creativity, energy, and power that have not been given a chance to be actualized."

The Devī-Bh¹gavata Pur¹ªa presents an interesting feminist twist to the story of Brahm¹'s mind-born sons, who, as we have seen, are sterile. Brahm¹ complains that they are more interested in meditating and performing austerities rather than in creating worlds. In earlier accounts Brahm¹ succeeds in producing a female partner with whom he can copulate and produce other creatures, but the Devī-Bh¹gavata portrays Brahm¹ as incapable of making himself a consort and the gods are at a loss about how to create anything at all. The Goddess kidnaps them in her chariot, takes them to her "Jewel Island," whereupon she turns them into females so that they now know the secrets of procreation. MacKenzie Brown shows how this account of the Devī's Jeweled Island populated with female deities is a direct counter to the Mah¹bh¹rata's account of N¹rada's journey to the White Island, where the exclusively male residents are awaiting final union with the Lord. These stories clearly display the tension between the world-denying asceticism of the yoga ideal and the world-affirming themes of ˜¹kta theology that are at the focus of this chapter.

One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the Goddess as a necessary material cause is found in the Ked¹rakaª©a of the Skanda Pur¹ªa. Although not considered a ˜¹kta Pur¹ªa, it has been described by Doniger as containing a "primitive" and "cynical" feminism because of its portrayal of strong, assertive women, which results in a "satire on Hindu misogyny." One of the main myths of this work is the story of the birth of ˜iva's son Skanda (=Kum¹ra=K¹rttikeya), who is destined to kill the asura T¹raka. In order for this prophecy to be fulfilled, the gods have to bring ˜iva and P¹rvatī together in sexual union. The gods persuade Himav¹n, god of the Himalayan mountains, to offer his daughter in marriage. When the two succeed in obtaining an audience with ˜iva, the great god commands that P¹rvatī be removed from his presence. Contrary to his wish, P¹rvatī steps forward and engages him philosophically: "You should consider who you are, and who Nature [prakÅti] is." Expressing what can only be called a form of Yoga Titanism, ˜iva declares to P¹rvatī: "I will destroy Nature with my ultimate inner ascetic heat, and I will stay here without Nature." P¹rvatī's answer is swift and to the point: "How could you transcend nature? What you hear, what you eat, what you see--it's all Nature. How could you be beyond Nature? You are enveloped in Nature, even though you don't know it."

P¹rvatī has adopted basic S¹÷khya philosophy, but with a significant twist: without nature all souls are inert and lifeless, and yogic isolation from the world is no longer seen as a spiritual ideal. P¹rvatī's rebuke also implies that for Indian philosophy nature now has intrinsic value. PrakÅti's dance is not temporary and is not just a means to an end: the liberation of puru¬as to their isolated lokas. Rather, Devī's dance--now performed by ˜iva, her principal ally--is eternal and her message is clear: return to the earth, to the body, the passions, and to ordinary human relations. In contrast to the ascetic tradition, the Goddess supports all activities from worldly enjoyment (bhukti) to spiritual liberation (mukti).

The latter thesis is particularly well supported in our present text, wherein P¹rvatī essentially becomes the embodiment of K¹ma, even after ˜iva has burned him to ashes with his third eye. The gods fall into despair and they beg ˜iva to resuscitate the god of desire. The gods warn that the world cannot live without love and that it will be ruined as a result his rash act. ˜iva refuses to see the logic of this version of P¹rvatī's argument that isolated puru¬as are empty and impotent without the life-giving qualities of prakÅti. ˜iva repeats his warning that desire is the cause of the downfall of all beings, including the gods, who earlier, when they recruited K¹ma, admitted that they, too, were prey to lust. As a rejoinder, the gods, never known for their philosophical acumen, present a very subtle and effective argument. They remind ˜iva that the universe was created by desire; "indeed, the whole of it is in the form of k¹ma. That k¹ma is not killed." The gods then lay the philosophical noose around the great god's neck: "It is from k¹ma that the fierce krodha (anger) takes origin. You yourself have been won over by krodha." This response makes ˜iva even more angry and he becomes "desirous of burning (everything) with his third eye."

In her Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of ˜iva, Wendy Doniger presents a brilliant and thorough analysis of the ˜iva-K¹ma-P¹rvatī relationship, and one of the most insightful references she found was a Buddhist poem, which reveals succinctly the fundamental problem of Hindu asceticism:

Love and anger both are states

hostile to self-control

What then did ˜iva hope to gain

by slaying Love in anger?

The anger of the gods and sages, and the alacrity by which they incinerate their opponents, represents a fatal flaw in their spiritual discipline. Rather than find a Golden Mean like the Buddha or Aristotle recommend, the Hindus are notorious for pursuing, as Doniger suggests, the Golden Extremes of excessive eroticism on the one hand and excessive asceticism on the other--both filled with the pride and hubris of a Titan.

The Skanda Pur¹ªa presents P¹rvatī (here called Girij¹) as the "mother of the universe": it was she "who created the three worlds along with Brahm¹ and others. Making use of the qualities of rajas, sattva, and tamas, she caused the origin, sustenance, and annihilation (of the worlds)." P¹rvatī's plan for the seduction of ˜iva does not follow Buddhist lines; rather, it is eminently Hindu--thoroughly excessive and thoroughly dialectical. (Her tapas is so great that it dialectically coincides with the heat of her desire to become his mate.) P¹rvatī's penance produces a fire so great that it threatens the triple worlds. This leads to yet another embassy of the gods to ˜iva, in this case led by Vi¬ªu. This time ˜iva relents, predicting that P¹rvatī will bring K¹ma back to life. He still, however, warns about the dangers of desire, but at least now he concedes the winning point in the previous debate: "It is from it (k¹ma) that anger is produced."

˜iva concedes much more in the scene in which the two lovers become engaged. While earlier praised as the "father, mother, and lord" of all the worlds, ˜iva now proclaims P¹rvatī to be the creatrix of the universe by means of her m¹y¹ and her prakÅti. The translator G. V. Tagare finds it odd that ˜iva launches into an detailed exposition of S¹÷khya cosmogony (with a bit of Ved¹nta mixed in), but I find it both natural and particularly conducive to my thesis. ˜iva admits that P¹rvatī as prakÅti is "capable of action continuously," while he as the puru¬a is totally inactive. (This gives ˜iva the lame excuse that it must be P¹rvatī who actually proposes marriage!) The crucial passage is the following: "The being devoid of guªa has become enveloped by guª¹s . . . The independent one has become dependent. O goddess, a great thing has been achieved by you." The great Goddess has persuaded a great, but reluctant Yogi that he must merge with prakÅti, which amounts to a total transformation of the S¹÷khya philosophy. The alleged independence of the isolated puru¬a has been replaced by an interdependent social self. K¹ma has indeed been reborn, viz., in the ¶akti of the androgyne that is ˜iva-P¹rvatī--the Ardhan¹rī¶vara. By means of a grand coincidentia oppositorum they have both reached a double goal: the fire of yogic tapas and the fire of k¹ma. In ˜¹kta theology the possibility of both mukti and bukti has been combined in one deity.


A comparative study of the Goddess East and West reveals an interesting puzzle: patriarchy succeeded in suppressing the Goddess in the West, but millions of Hindus still celebrate her in India. I have already proposed one possible solution: female energy became passive and inert in the West but remained creative and dynamic in Hinduism. In his book All Mothers Are One, Stanley Kurtz proposes a sociopsychological explanation for the survival of the Goddess in India. Kurtz's field studies of Santo¬i M¹, the most popular goddess in India today, has led him to revise not only the traditional categories of Hindu goddesses, but also to offer a revised psychoanalytic understanding of child development in the Indian family.

In terms of classical Freudian theory, the typical Indian male appears to have failed to resolve the Oedipus complex. As a way to explain the demise of the Goddess in the West and the her continued presence in India, this theory has very negative implications for the Indian psyche. The Indian male's unresolved and therefore unhealthy attachment to his mother is reflected in his society's continued celebration of the Goddess, whose two traditional forms represent the bad, terrifying mother on the one hand (K¹lī, Durg¹) and the nurturing domesticated wife-mother on the other (P¹rvatī, Lak¬mī, Sarasvatī) on the other. Therefore, while the typical Western male frees himself from this ambivalent mother image and becomes an autonomous individual, the Indian male remains trapped in the Oedipal phase and suffers a lack of ego identity and self-esteem. The traditional psychoanalytic image of the Indian male is of a young boy, spoiled by an overindulgent mother, suddenly thrust into a male community that terrifies him and offers him no constructive way of coping with the transition. Kurtz summarizes this position:

[Traditional] analysts give us a Hindu child locked in the mother's embrace. In this traditional account, the mother's indulgent presence surrounds the child until around the age of five the father's discipline intervenes traumatically. This juxtaposition of prolonged indulgence and sudden frustration is said to mark the Hindu adult with a hidden yearning for the idyllic past, a time when child and mother were one.

In contrast the Western male does not remain "locked in the mother's embrace"; rather, he forms a successful relation with both his biological and spiritual father and leaves his mother and the Goddess behind. Cosmic power then is coopted by the male and masculinized, as we saw in the language of the defense intellectuals.

Kurtz tries to demonstrate how the evidence of Santo¬i M¹ dissolves the traditional distinction between unmarried goddesses of terror and destruction on the one hand and married goddesses of domestic virtue on the other. In the movie about Santo¬i M¹, a daughter of the elephant god Gaªe¶a and hence a granddaughter of P¹rvatī, she is portrayed as a benevolent virgin who is abused, both verbally and physically, by the married goddesses. Even before the rise of Santo¬i M¹, there were enough discrepancies in the traditional model to bring it into question. For example, the ferocious, blood drinking K¹lī standing on the body of her husband ˜iva is a striking counterexample to this model. (The fact that ˜iva eventually pacifies her does not entirely explain away the anomaly.) The traditional model has also been undermined by Lynn Bennett's field studies in Nepal, which show a tension between "dangerous" wives, especially when the young Hindu wife first enters her husband's family, and benevolent unmarried sisters.

In his investigation of Santo¬i M¹, Kurtz was frustrated by the tendency of his respondents to redefine her in terms of the other goddesses, especially Durg¹. His failure to discover the specific sociological origins of a "new" goddess led him to an even greater discovery: in India all goddesses are ultimately one. There are not two types of goddess, one malevolent and the other benevolent, but rather one Goddess who appears diverse because the typical Hindu child, growing up in an extended family, experiences a wide variety of women. A mother, heretofore perceived as completely benevolent, can now appear as malevolent when she gives the child over to another female family member for care. The child will forgive its mother when it returns safely to her, but will still continue to mistrust her and other women in the extended family. In an intricate new schema to explain the Hindu goddesses, Kurtz provides for a malevolent-benevolent range for all the goddesses as psychological projections of sisters, daughters, aunts, wives, mothers, or mothers-in-law.

Kurtz believes that many observers have misperceived the Indian mother as a "smother" mother, a term more appropriate for the isolated mother of Western nuclear families. Kurtz shows that the Indian mother, like mothers in other non-Western societies, does not show inordinate affection for her children. The conclusion that Kurtz draws is that the Indian child, far from being less able to cope in the wider world, is better equipped psychologically and emotionally to face the deepest issues of human life. This is especially true if this psychological development is continually reinforced by hearing and incorporating the stories of Hindu mythology. While the Western individual is left alone to resolve the basic issues of separation, sex, violence, and death, Hindu mythology provides the Indian with a public form of psychotherapy that is free and readily available.

Finally, to correct the misapplication of Freudian models to Indian culture, Kurtz says that Indian males pass through a Durg¹ complex rather than an Oedipus complex. The Durg¹ complex resolves pre-Oedipal tensions between the child and its "mothers" in the formation of an "ego of the whole," a social, relational self that gives the child a sense that "he is whole and good in so far as he contains and is contained by the group." On this account the isolated Western self or yogic puru¬a is the pathology, not the norm. (We need only recall P¹rvatī's rebuke of ˜iva to remind us of this truth.) Kurtz states that in "the Hindu case . . . the movement is not away from the mother toward individuation and bonding with other males. Rather, the movement is away from the biological mother toward a more mature immersion in a larger and fundamentally benevolent group of mothers . . . ."

Instead of the Western rejection of the mother and a life-time of uncertainty about how to deal with women, the Indian male achieves a healthier view of the role of women in his life. In the West the Goddess virtually disappeared from established religion, appearing unresolved in dreams, as witches in fairy tales, and as objects of ambivalent feelings for the insecure, defensive, and sometimes abusive male. In India, however, the Goddess continues her reign and millions of males worship her enthusiastically, without embarrassment, in all her forms. "In worshipping the Goddess," Kurtz concludes, "Hindus recapitulate and reinforce their successful developmental journey through the world of women." Without something equivalent Kurtz's theory must imply that the Western male appears doomed to continue through life without a satisfactory way of relating to women.


My emphasis on a dynamic and creative material principle and Kurtz's theory about Indian developmental psychology may help us understand the pervasive role the Goddess plays in Hindu religious life. Sadly for the theoretician and philosopher, social realities do not always map nicely onto metaphysical theories. The marriage of ˜iva and P¹rvatī--a union of puru¬a and prakÅti--did not end the strong ascetic tradition of yogic personal isolation and escape. If Kurtz is right about the Durg¹ Complex, how does he explain the widespread and time honored "aberration" of the isolated yogi, one who has obviously failed to resolve pre-Oedipal tensions in his prescribed way? Obviously many Indian males have not experienced a "successful journey through the world of women." We need a better understanding of why ˜iva thought that he could live without nature; or alternatively, in the West, why males have wished to conquer it with technology. In either view nature, and by implication the female, is devalued unnecessarily. Why is it that, even within Hindu Goddess worship, male priests are still largely in control of the ritual and access to Mah¹devī? Why are some males, even in the Indian context, still so confused and defensive about female power? In India and the West this male frustration has unfortunately turned into a cult of misogyny, whose tragic consequences are found everywhere, especially in the West, in the physical and sexual abuse of women. Immediately after taking refuge in the Goddess the Devī-Bh¹gavata has ˜uka condemning women who "suck the blood out of persons like leeches" and "steal away the semen virile."

Sometimes this misogyny is transferred to the Goddess herself. A "folk" Pur¹na in Kannada presents the goddess ¸di¶akti in a particularly negative way. ¸di¶akti, true to the ˜¹kta theology, is the creator of the triple world, and as she attains puberty she exclaims: "Ahha, nothing in sight to satisfy my passion, to please my youth. I've to (be)get one myself." She then creates Brahm¹, who proves to be a paragon of virtue and resists her advances. For his impudence he is burned to ashes. ¸di¶akti creates Vi¬ªu, who is also aghast at his mother's immorality, and he, too, is killed by the "eye of fire" in her palm. Her third son ˜iva skillfully tricks his mother into giving him her ¶akti power, and then burns her to ashes. He resurrects his brothers and creates three gentle and obedient wives from the Goddess' ashes. Although there is clear recognition of the feminine origin of all cosmic power, this myth is obviously a patriarchal subversion of the positive aspects of ˜¹kta theology. Particularly clear is the hypocritical focus on female sexuality and the male need to control it.

During the celebration of Dasain in Nepal the text of the Devī-M¹h¹tmya is read to men only, and the ritual is performed only by initiated males. Lynn Bennett, whom Kurtz cites favorably, has observed that while Nepali men are much more involved in Durg¹ worship, Nepali women are exclusively involved in the cult of P¹rvatī. Her explanation is that "Durg¹ reflects a predominantly male view, focused on the problematic woman, while P¹rvatī presents Hindu women's own idealized perceptions of themselves and the problems they experience." It is interesting to note that Durg¹ worship in Nepal was imported from South India rather than the North, where Durg¹'s role as good daughter-wife is emphasized much more. In Calcutta, for example, the festival culminates in Durg¹ being welcomed into all homes as the returning daughter, far removed from in-laws where she was perceived as a threat.

More specific and sexist is the North Indian rule that a husband must pay for fourteen recitations of the Devī-M¹h¹tmya in order to control an unruly wife, but he only has to pay for twelve recitations to defeat an enemy. A recitation of the Devī-M¹h¹tyma may also protect a Hindu male's penis and semen and help him get a good wife. Therefore, it looks as if the Devī myth contains far more unresolved pre-Oedipal conflicts than Kurtz would like to admit. After all, Durg¹ is the king's goddess, and her cult is administered by him and his priests. In the not too distant past these same men went to war with her blessings. If Durg¹ is leader of armies, then she is not so different from Yahweh the Warrior, Lord of Hosts (=armies).

These observations raise some problems for my thesis that Goddess worship serves as an answer to Hindu Titanism. If Durg¹ is primarily a projection of male desires to control the world, then Kurtz and I are in trouble. If Durg¹ is nothing but a female Titan, then my thesis is rejected, not supported. In this view the Goddess represents an uneasy fusion of the stereotypical compassionate mother and aggressive male-warrior. (Devotees are never lovers of Devī, as they are of KŬªa, but children in her maternal embrace.) The maternal role is virtually absent in the Devī-M¹h¹tmya, and the words tejas and vīrya (virile, heroic power) appear frequently. But even in the Devī-Bh¹gavata, where the maternal role is strong, anger, violence and aggression is also present. Here her battle with Mahi¬a is portrayed as contest between a real man (the Goddess) and a eunuch demon, who has, as Doniger translates it, "no balls." Devī reminds the demons that she has "manliness" (pauru¬a) as her "inherent nature," obviously referring to her puru¬a nature. Although the final goal of the authors of the Devī-Bh¹gavata is to present the Goddess as beyond gender, it is still significant to note that in her cosmic manifestation (vi¶varØpa) she appears in a male form complete with penis.

It is also intriguing to note that one Indian artist has portrayed Indira Gandhi not as Sīt¹, nor Sarasvatī, but as Durg¹ riding on her tiger. This particular deification of Indira Gandhi brings us back to one of the central themes of Hindu Titanism: the apotheosis of individual human beings. This divinization of human beings was usually focused on the male priest or the male yogi, but could, especially as ˜¹kta theology became popular, also be embodied in a woman as well. Both the humanization and feminization of God is seen in Vasudeva S. Agrawala's view that Brahman is both eternal man and eternal woman. If Titanism is defining divinity in terms of humanity, here is a possible source for both male and female Titans in the Hindu tradition.

Another objection could raised to the thesis that a dynamic material principle is a necessary condition for Goddess philosophy. One of the major philosophical shifts in Tantric Buddhism is that the powers of the male and female agents are reversed: the male is now active and creative and the female inactive and passive. (Hindu Tantrism preserves the original concept of dynamic femininity.) This Buddhist reversal may already be evident in the pre-Tantric stories of the Buddha's birth, where the Sanskrit word m¹y¹ is used to name the Buddha's mother, but her role is completely passive in nature. This objection, however, is based on misinterpreting the Buddhist prajñ¹ and up¹ya as equivalents of the Hindu ˜iva and ˜akti.

Miranda Shaw's recent book on women and Tantric Buddhism is also helps us clarify some basic issues. First, Shaw believes that the "confluence of Buddhism and ˜¹ktism is such that Tantric Buddhism could properly be called '˜¹kta Buddhism.'" Second, her research has shown that women were highly valued in both Hindu and Buddhist Tantric schools, so that this revalorization of women had more to do with the Tantric subversion of conventional gender roles than with any attention to the nature of the material principle. Feminists may be inclined to praise Tantric Buddhism for the fact that it, especially in its Tibetan schools, produced a very large number of women spiritual masters. In the context of Yoga Titanism, however, one might question whether encouraging spiritual asceticism in women locks them into traditional male roles. In a provocative observation about Buddhist discipline, Rita Gross states: "Maybe they are simply the creations of patriarchs who use them to control life and distance themselves from others! Maybe that is why Buddhism sometimes seems to glorify aloneness and be deficient in its emphasis on relationship!"

A mitigating factor here is the fact that Tantric yogis and yoginis are much more world- and body-affirming that their non-Tantric counterparts. This means that Yoga Titanism, as we have defined it, may be significantly mitigated in Tantric philosophy and religion. This is especially true with regard to the concept of self in Tantric Buddhism. Shaw's rich description of this self contrasts significantly with the S¹÷khya puru¬a or Jaina jīva: "not a 'soul' in a 'body' but rather a multilayered mind-body continuum of corporeality, affectivity, cognitivity, and spirituality whose layers are subtly interwoven and mutually interactive." As we have seen, the concept of an autonomous, nonmaterial self at odds with the body and nature is the distinctive feature of Titanism East and West.


Westerners in search a Goddess in eclipse for nearly 2,000 years have the principal advantage of starting fresh. Most women and men are in control of their own research and the reconstruction of the myths they wish to live by. They are free to draw inspiration from a vast cross-cultural reservoir of spiritual resources. If they perceive that ancient goddess worship has been compromised by too much male interference, then they can choose from myths selectively or create new ones of their own. Cynthia Humes' field research in Uttar Pradesh indicates that more Hindu women are now willing to reform their own tradition. Humes agrees that there is a fundamental residue of sexism and patriarchal subversion in traditional Devī worship: "[I]ronically, men may more closely express divinity than females, even when the Divine is viewed ultimately as the Goddess, for men are not 'permeated' with evils as women are, . . ." Nevertheless, Humes has observed significant innovations. At the Vindhyachal temple near Mirzapur more women, having learned Sanskrit in school, are now reciting the Devī-M¹h¹tmya by themselves. Other women sing praises to the Goddess in the vernacular, and one of the most famous singers is called guru by her own husband. Other women are "channeling" for the Goddess, or in a substantial break from tradition, are creating modern dances for her.

In the area of ecology one example is worthy of mention. In her book Staying Alive Vandana Shiva draws on the principles of Goddess philosophy and critiques the standard model of economic development in her own Indian subcontinent. She calls it "maldevelopment" and claims that it is the product of a partriarchal view of the world. Shiva describes this philosophy as one that

ruptures the cooperative unity of masculine and feminine, and places man, shorn of the feminine principle, above nature and women, and separated from both. . . . Nature and women are turned into passive objects, to be used and exploited for the uncontrolled and uncontrollable desires of alienated man.

Shiva's operative word for feminine power is prakÅti, and she believes that India's women (and the men who work with them in ecologically sound occupations) are current embodiment of Goddess' dynamic, healing power. (She does not, however, realize that prakÅti's philosophical origin represents a dualism and a view of nature that is just as objectionable as the one she finds in Western developmental models.) Shiva and the brave women she writes about are using ˜¹kta theology to fight their battles over the forests, water, and food of India.

Before I present the last contemporary example, let me briefly discuss one positive female model from the Mah¹bh¹rata, one that serves as a balance to Durg¹ the warrior. This is the story of Draupadī, common wife of the Pandava brothers and a goddess in her own right, at least in the Tamil tradition. In the Mah¹bh¹rata KŬªa is not, contrary to his popular reputation, a god of peace and compassion, but a warrior god who leads his own clan and his relatives into total destruction. One essential part of KŬªa's plan is that Yudhishthira, the eldest and most pacifist of the Pandava brothers, should lose a game of dice, which leads to the humiliation of Draupadī and the exile of his brothers. In response Draupadī dares to condemn KŬªa:

As a man splits log with log, stone with stone, iron with iron--things that [of themselves] can neither move nor think--so does the Lord God, the Self-subsistent, the primal Grandsire, hurt one creature by means of another, establishing for himself an alibi. Joining things together only to disjoin them again the Lord acts at his own good pleasure, playing with his creatures as children play with dolls. He does not treat his creatures as a father or a mother would but acts in raging anger; and since he acts so, others follow his example.

Although Draupadī is not exactly an innocent agent in the high drama of this grand epic, her indictment of God is as severe as Job's. Yudhishthira is shocked at his wife's blasphemy and defends KŬªa in ways very similar to Job's friends. Finally, Gandharī, wife of the Kuru king Dhritarashtra, also curses KŬªa for the destruction that he has wrought, and predicts that his tribe will also be destroyed and that he will fall, Achilles-like, to the arrow of a hunter.

Finally, let me feature Mallika Sarabhai, Gujarati dancer and actress, most famous for her role as Draupadī in Peter Brook's Mah¹bh¹rata. In a recent interview in the Deccan Herald, Sarabhai tells how she fought for a rewriting of Draupadī's character. As she explains: "Despite researching the Mah¹bh¹rata for eleven years, they are white Anglo-Saxon men. To them, the whole concept of women as Shakti was unknown." Since then she has gone on to choreograph and stage Shakti and Sita's Daughters, both powerful expressions of ˜¹kta philosophy. The first piece is in English, and when women's groups encouraged her to translate it and tour Indian villages, she realized that she had to produce something more appropriate for village women. The result was Sita's Daughters, which incorporated stories of rape and female infanticide from village women themselves. The rural performances take three times as long as the city ones, because the village women insist on interrupting the show and telling their own stories.

In this chapter I have addressed several related questions. The first was a quest for the reason why Devī worship thrives in India but died out in the West. Even though social practices do not necessarily follow from belief in metaphysical categories, I believe that the strength of ˜¹kta theology in India has something to do with how Indians have conceived of the material principle. The worship of the Goddess appears to require that we view matter, as did the ancients and Indians today, as dynamic, organic, interrelated, and alive. We found that Kurtz's psychoanalytic hypothesis failed to explain the indomitable force and attraction of India's ascetic tradition and the spiritual Titanism that is manifest in its goals of personal isolation and its illusions of spiritual power. (One has to admit, however, that some significant difference in socialization must account for the fact that Indian males worship the Goddess without embarrassment, while it a great majority of Western males would find it very difficult to do so.) Furthermore, we found that since males have written the scripture and still control the ritual, the Hindu Goddess does not always speak with a true feminine voice. Finally, however, we have found hopeful signs of Indian women reclaiming the ˜¹kta tradition as a means for constructive personal and social action. These women will surely succeed in giving the Hindu Goddess a distinctively female voice, and they will form a vanguard against the various liabilities of Hindu Titanism.


In the beginning there were disembodied spirits suspended in space, unmoving in their trance state. Enter a dancing Goddess, creating solid ground wherever she steps. Her dynamic gestures cause the spirits to stir and gradually, one by one, they dance with the Goddess. As they dance, they take on bodies, and they, too, begin to feel the ground beneath their moving feet. Only one spirit named ½¶vara the Lord remains unmoved and undisturbed. The cosmic dance continues and becomes more complex, creative, and frenzied. The spirits call to ½¶vara and encourage him to join them, but he resists saying that what they are doing is sinful and degrading. The dancing beings persist in their attempt to get the great Yogi to do the cosmic dance, and finally, but reluctantly, he agrees. His steps are awkward at first, but gradually he, too, is dancing wildly like the rest of them. At times it appears as if the Goddess and the Yogi are a single, united body. The Goddess is well pleased and the cosmos continues and all embodied beings are blessed beyond measure.