Shaktas

Doctrines Shaktas are Hindu devotees of the Goddess (Devi) in one of her forms. The goddess is manifested in gentle, beautiful forms such as the goddess Tripurasundari, or in ferocious, terrifying forms such as Kali. Shaktas identify absolute reality with the Goddess and her gentle or ferocious manifestations are but different aspects of her. Kali, although terrifying, is the mother of the universe and the destroyer of ignorance. Through Kali's grace the devotee is liberated from karma and the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). Shaktas will practice devotion (bhakti) to the Goddess and at a popular level the Goddess is worshipped at innumerable, local shrines throughout India. Indeed, most villages will have their own goddess. The great goddess manifested as Durga is worshipped in her own temples, whereas local, low-caste goddesses will be worshipped at local shrines. These low caste goddesses, while accepting vegetarian offerings, also demand alcohol and blood sacrifice as well. It is necessary to appease ferocious goddesses such as Shitala or Mariyaman, goddesses of smallpox and other diseases, with blood.

History Goddess worship may go back to the Indus valley civilisation. The Hindu revelation, the Veda, contains some hymns to different Goddesses, but literary evidence for an all-encompassing great goddess only comes with the Epics and Puranas (3rd cent BCE- 10th cent CE). These texts, particularly the Devibhagavata Purana and Devimahatmya, tell the myth of the goddess Durga, how she slays the buffalo demon and is superior to all the gods. The goddess becomes particularly important with Tantrism and there are Tantras to the ferocious Kali as well as Tantras to the gentle Tripurasundari. The Kali cults tended to be associated with the cremation ground asceticism of the skull-bearing Kapalikas, though worship of Kali was not restricted to these groups and today is very popular, especially in Nepal and Bengal. Indeed, the famous Hindu mystic Ramakrishna (1834-86) was a devotee of Kali and the Bengali poet Ramprasad Sen composed devotional poetry to her. Worship of Tripurasundari is the focus of the Shri Vidya tradition.

Symbols The Shaktas worship the Goddess in various iconographic representations. Kali, for example, is black, girdled with severed arms, with a garland of severed heads, with a lolling tongue and eyes rolling with intoxication, dancing on the corpse of Shiva. The Goddess can also be worshipped as a the beautiful Tripurasundari, as a crooked old woman (Kubjika) or as a young girl.

Adherents There are no figures for numbers of Shaktas. One of the problems is in distinguishing a Shakta from a non-Shakta in Hinduism. In one sense any person who worships the Goddess is a Shakta, though membership of specific traditions would be more restricted.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 Local goddesses are worshipped throughout India, though worship of the great Goddess Kali is particularly prevalent in Bengal and Nepal.
There are traditionally four places of pilgrimage (pithas) - at Uddiyana in the Swat valley, Jullunder in the Punjab, Purnagiri (location unknown) and Kamarupa in Assam. Kamarupa is the only site in use.