Shakti: The Divine Element of the Feminine

To the Divine and Respected,

“The society that provides respect and dignity to women flourishes with nobility and prosperity. And a society that does not put women on such a high pedestal has to face miseries and failures regardless of how so much noble deeds they perform otherwise.” -Manusmrithi 3.56.

The Manusmrithi is one of the earliest and momentous of the Hindu scriptures that speaks of the laws of a human society specifically pertaining to social classes in addition to suggesting how a society should conduct itself. In Hinduism, the importance of women is so profound that it cannot be encapsulated in just one single way. Hindus believe that the entire universe is the divine output or potential of one Supreme Being or a Supreme force, they also believe that what allows this Supreme Being to exist is the Shakthi (divine feminine energy) behind it. I always like to use the flame as an analogy to describe this cosmic existence. Just as a flame cannot exist without the element of heat within it, a man ceases to exist without the existence of a woman. To this extent is the element of the femininity important in Hinduism.

The role of Feminism in Hindu Gods and their denominations

As I have mentioned in my previous article, “The Essence of Hinduism-Sanatana Dharma,” the energy of the divinity exists within all of creation; be it human beings or nature itself. This energy of divinity manifests itself in many forms; just as it does in a masculine form of a male, it does so in a feminine form of a female. Shaktism, one of Hinduism’s major denominations, is the worship of the Supreme Being as a Divine mother in the form of Shakti or Devi. Gods in Hinduism are mainly a form of symbolism and are instruments to achieve enlightenment (I will talk about the concept of Deities in follow up articles), and those that exist as the manifestation of the Supreme Being always have a counterpart of the feminine element.

Lord Brahma (the Creator of the Universe) has as wife Goddess Saraswati who is the Goddess of knowledge, science, music, the arts, and the guardian of Mother Earth; she is the Shakti (the backbone) of Lord Brahma’s ability to constantly create the universe in its many ways.

Lord Vishnu (the preserver of the universe) in the Vaishnava tradition has Goddess Lakshmi, His counterpart, who is the personification of the feminine spiritual energy within the universe. She is the consort of Lord Vishnu and is considered the Mother of the Universe (among many other forms). Lord Vishnu’s incarnations, especially Lord Rama and Krishna also have their female counter parts, Goddess Radha and Sita who are incarnations of Goddess Lakshmi.

In the Saiva tradition, Lord Siva (the destroyer of evil in the universe) has his own counterpart, Goddess Parvati Devi. Goddess Parvati is known as Shakti herself, she is the power and energy in the universe that destroys the negative energy. Her incarnations of Durga and Kali represent the destruction of evil demons in the world bringing civility and order to nature. One of the central incarnations of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati is the form of Ardhanarishvara, a composite of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati representing the fusion of the masculine and feminine energies. Ardhanarishvara shows us that the female element of God (Parvati in this case), the Shakti, is inseparable from the male element of God (Shiva in this case).

Furthermore, the form of Ardhanarishvara shatters all questions about Hinduism’s view on homosexuality and transsexual orientations showing Hinduism’s tolerant and liberal views on an issue so prevalent in todays world. In other planes of interpretation, this form also shows us that the union of the male and female is essential for the creation of this universe and that both genders play a vital role in preserving this universe. Such is the beauty of the existence of the masculine and feminine form.

The Vaishnava and Saiva denominations are only two of the many traditions in Hinduism in which the divine feminine form of the Supreme plays an important role. We can also look at how Hindus address this feminine form not just in human nature but in matter/material nature as well. Every time I travel on a body of water, be it a lake or a river, or even pass by one on a bridge, I do as my mother has always insisted; I pray to ask for the divine mother Ganga to protect and take care of our family. The major rivers of India like Ganges, Godavari, and Kaveri, (names of Goddess Parvati and Lakshmi) to name a few, are given divine feminine forms and are often praised in various devotional songs. To this extent is the holistic nature of Hinduism. In addition, both men and women and people of all classes worship the divine feminine form in many ways.

Navaratri: Celebrating the Divine Feminine Element of Shakti

September 28th of this year marks the beginning of Navratri, “Nava” means nine and “ratri” means nights. Navratri is a nine-day Hindu festival of worship of Shakti during which the divine feminine form of Shakti is worshiped in its nine forms. These nine forms are Durga: the invincible mother, Bhadrakali: the mother of fortune and wealth, Amba Devi: the mother of the universe, Annapoorna Devi: the one that feeds the world and provides the world with plenty of Anna (rice), Sarvamangala Devi: the divine mother that brings peace and joy to the world, Bhairavi Devi: the divine mother of good to good people and evil for bad people, she destroys the negative energies in the Universe, Chandika Devi: the Supreme Goddess, the fierce one, Saraswati Devi: the Goddess of beauty, Bhavani Devi: the Goddess of mercy, the one that gives us life and finally, Mookambika Devi (the Holy Shrine resides in the village of Kollur): the Goddess of Shiva and Shakti.

Here in the United States, Hindu-American communities celebrate Navratri through Garba, an Indian dance form originating from Gujarat, and other divine traditions of dance with devotional music praising the nine forms of the celestial feminine element of Shakti.

So let us bow down to the divine element of Shakti in our mothers this Navaratri and thank them for, first and foremost, bringing us into this world. Let us thank them for showing us how to love unconditionally, for equipping us with all the values and principles to be good human beings on Mother Earth, and let us finally continue to work to restore their dignity and humanity in societies across the world where they are subdued and restrained for irrational reasons.

Gayatri  Mantra:

bhūr bhuva sva

tat savitur vareyam

bhargo devasya dhīmahi

dhiyo yó na pracodayāt

Translation:

Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life (Mother),
Remover of pain and sorrow,
The Bestower of happiness,
Oh! Creator of the Universe,
May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light,
May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.

-Rig Veda (3.62.10)

For more information on the role of Hindu Goddesses, read the Devi Mahatyam here:

http://stotraratna.awardspace.com/stotra/Parayana/pa2.pdf

To learn more about meaning of Shakti, visit Hindu American Seva Charities ShaktiSeva Explanation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YqSX1XUZ04&feature=player_embedded

For more information on What is Hinduism? Visit Hinduism Today Magazine’s online PDF:

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/wfdownloads/viewcat.php?cid=2

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6 thoughts on “Shakti: The Divine Element of the Feminine

  1. Nice translation of the Mantra..The Gayatri Mantra has such a special purpose to it. The people have created that Mantra for a reason and it is to purify the body. The way the Mantra is said in the according shruthi has a significant importance to it which contributes to a great extent for us to keep pure and healthy.

    Sri

  2. Sai
    You have brought out the meaning of Shakti and the feminine divine principles so well…. yes, it is important to have the seva aspect included as you have referenced. It is only by honoring the strength of the woman are we bringing this principle to the forefront. ShaktiSeva which youhave referenced provides examples of honrig the divine. Look forward to reading more of your articles….

  3. Thank you all for your kind comments.

    Consider this quote by Sri Aurobindo:

    “The One whom we adore as the Mother is the divine Conscious Force that dominates all existence, one and yet many-sided that to follow her movement is impossible even for the quickest mind and for the freest and most vast intelligence. -Sri Aurobindo

  4. Also, Shakti shares theological traits complementary to Shiva. Shiva is often represented iconographically and symbolically by the linga, a phallic object of devotion.

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