Seeking Mahadevi: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess

SUNY Press
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While Hindus recognize and revere a variety of different goddesses, they also tend to speak of one Great Goddess, Mahadevi, as a singular divine being who is the unity underlying all female deities. In this book, ten scholars reflect on both the diverse depictions of Mahadevi found in textual and devotional environments and the ways that the singularity and multiplicity of the divine Hindu feminine are negotiated. Seeking Mahadevicovers various geographical locations, from the Punjab and Bengal in North India to Kerala and Tamilnadu in the South, and makes use of evidence from ancient texts and contemporary interviews, male-authored documents and women's possession experiences, myth, ritual, and folklore. Arguing that Mahadevi has multiple, context-dependent identities that are constructed through human interpretive activity, this book highlights the great diversity of ways that those who worship Mahadevi conceive of and portray her.

Contributors include C. Mackenzie Brown, Sarah Caldwell, Thomas Coburn, Elaine Craddock, Kathleen M. Erndl, Jeffrey J. Kripal, Usha Menon, Tracy Pintchman, Andhra Pradesh, and Mark Edwin Rohe.
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About the author

Tracy Pintchman is Associate Professor of Hindu Studies at Loyola University Chicago. She is the author of The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition, also published by SUNY Press.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Nov 12, 2014
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Pages
268
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ISBN
9780791490495
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / Eastern
Religion / Hinduism / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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About 16 centuries ago, an unknown Indian author or authors gathered together the diverse threads of already ancient traditions and wove them into a verbal tapestry that today is still the central text for worshippers of the Hindu Devi, the Divine Mother. This spiritual classic, the Devimahatmya, addresses the perennial questions of the nature of the universe, humankind, and divinity. How are they related, how do we live in a world torn between good and evil, and how do we find lasting satisfaction and inner peace? These questions and their answers form the substance of the Devimahatmya. Its narrative of a dispossessed king, a merchant betrayed by the family he loves, and a seer whose teaching leads beyond existential suffering sets the stage for a trilogy of myths concerning the all-powerful Divine Mother, Durga, and the fierce battles she wages against throngs of demonic foes. In these allegories, her adversaries represent our all-too-human impulses toward power, possessions, and pleasure. The battlefields symbolize the field of human consciousness on which our lives’ dramas play out in joy and sorrow, in wisdom and folly. The Devimahatmya speaks to us across the ages of the experiences and beliefs of our ancient ancestors. We sense their enchantment at nature's bounty and their terror before its destructive fury, their recognition of the good and evil in the human heart, and their understanding that everything in our experience is the expression of a greater reality, personified as the Divine Mother.
The Indian state of West Bengal is home to one of the world's most vibrant traditions of goddess worship. The year's biggest holidays are devoted to the goddesses Durga and Kali, with lavish rituals, decorated statues, fireworks, and parades. In Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls, June McDaniel provides a broad, accessibly written overview of Bengali goddess worship. McDaniel identifies three major forms of goddess worship, and examines each through its myths, folklore, songs, rituals, sacred texts, and practitioners. In the folk/tribal strand, which is found in rural areas, local tribal goddesses are worshipped alongside Hindu goddesses, with an emphasis on possession, healing, and animism. The tantric/yogic strand focuses on ritual, meditation, and visualization as ways of experiencing the power of the goddess directly. The devotional or bhakti strand, which is the most popular form, involves the intense love and worship of a particular form of the goddess. McDaniel traces these strands through Bengali culture and explores how they are interwoven with each other as well as with other forms of Hinduism. She also discusses how these practices have been reinterpreted in the West, where goddess worship has gained the values of sexual freedom and psychological healing, but lost its emphases on devotion and asceticism. Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls takes the reader inside the lives of practicing Shaktas, including holy women, hymn singers, philosophers, visionaries, gurus, ascetics, healers, musicians, and businessmen, and offers vivid descriptions of their rituals, practices, and daily lives. Drawing on years of fieldwork and extensive research, McDaniel paints a rich, expansive portrait of this fascinating religious tradition.
This book explores the rise of the Great Goddess by focusing on the development of saakti (creative energy),maya (objective illusion), and prakr(materiality) from Vedic times to the late Puranic period, clarifying how these principles became central to her theology.

"I like very much the way in which Pintchman carefully establishes the interrelationships between saakti, maya, and prakrti concepts that might not at first appear to be closely connected. This book nicely reveals their organic integration, an integration that Hindu culture itself recognized and elaborated only gradually over the centuries. She avoids reading later Sakta or Tantric theological ideas back into the earlier literature, yet she convincingly demonstrates how the later ideas are firmly rooted in the ancient traditions. Thus, the book provides the reader with a sense both of the continuities involved in the development of the Great Goddess concept, as well as the major transformations of tradition that such a development entailed." -- C. Mackenzie Brown

"There are two complementary, arresting features of this book. One is the broad sweep of the author's inquiry into the history of three concepts that are fundamental to the Great Goddess. She follows a thread of continuity that has never been so crisply delineated. The result is kind of a conceptual "adventure story" told in flashbacks: we know what the mature conception is, as it is now common knowledge. Where it came from makes for very interesting reading. The second striking feature is the provocative, suggestive linking of this history to contemporary issues regarding gender and women." -- Thomas B. Coburn

"The author provides a thorough discussion of the main concepts relating to the feminine principle in the intellectual, literary traditions of Hinduism. She shows that goddess worship is not a marginal expression but is central to even the most orthodox elements of Hinduism. She also brings together much far-flung scholarship from India, Europe, and the United States without duplicating any of it." -- Kathleen M. Erndl
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