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Hindu Goddesses

Beliefs & Practices

In the series Religious Beliefs & Practices

terests include Jainism, Hindu goddesses and Indian cinema. Her first book, At the Feet of the Goddess: The divine feminine in local Hinduism, was based on fieldwork in Orissa and Tamilnadu.

Stuart Abbott is a Visiting Lecturer at University of Wales, Newport and an Associate Lecturer at Cardiff University. His research interests include Tantrism and Kashmiri Saivism.

This book explores the diversity of Hindu goddesses and the variety of ways in which they are worshiped. Although they undoubtedly have ancient origins, Hindu goddesses and their worship is still very much a part of the fabric of religious engagement in India today. Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices offers an introduction to a complex and often baffling field of study.

Part I, Beliefs, provides a series of encounters with a range of Hindu goddesses starting with the idea of ‘Goddess’ as a philosophical concept. Topics include textual evidence for belief structures, goddess mythology, and the importance of ‘the Goddess’ in Tantrism.

Part II, Practices, leads the reader through the tangled web of goddess worship, pausing along the way to examine the contrast between temple and local worship, the splendour of festivals and the importance of pilgrimage to those places in India where goddesses are considered to reside.

A Conclusion provides details of contemporary developments in goddess worship, such as the appearance of new deities who supply the needs of worshipers in the twenty-first century.

No prior knowledge is necessary as the book is aimed at undergraduate students and anyone interested in the religions and philosophy of India

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-902210-43-8
Paperback Price: £22.95 / $39.95
Release Date: May 2009
Page Extent / Format: 308 pp. / 216 x 138 mm
Illustrated: 8-page colour section


List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgements

Who or what is a Hindu goddess?
Goddesses – an aspect of divinity
Goddess worship – a legacy from the past?

Part I Beliefs
1 Sakti – The Divine Feminine
A conceptual understanding of sakti
The goddess’s associations with maya and prakrti
Sakti manifested as the Mahadevi or Great Goddess
Pan-Indian goddesses as personifications of sakti
Essentially benign goddesses
Sri-Laksmi (Goddess of Fortune)
Sarasvati (The Flowing One)
Parvati (She who is Born of a Mountain)
Essentially fierce goddesses
Durga (The One who is Beyond Reach)
Kali (The Black One: The Power of Time)
Local goddesses as personifications of sakti

2 Goddesses in Textual Sources
Goddesses in the Vedas
Usas (Dawn)
Aditi (Mother of the gods)
Prthivi (Earth)
Ratri (Night)
Vac/Vak (Speech)
Indrani (Indra’s wife)
Nirrti (Destruction, Disorder)
Goddesses in the Mahabharata
The mortal form of Ganga
The creation of Mrytu (Death)
The worship of Durga
The goddess Kala-ratri (Death-night) in the
Goddesses in the Devi-Mahatmya
Goddesses in the Sakta Puranas
The Kalika Purana
The Devi-Bhagavatam Purana

3 Goddess Mythology
Brahmanical mythology
The descent of Ganga
The churning of the milk ocean
The destruction of Daksa’s sacrifice and the
immolation of Sati
Local mythology
Origin mythology
Renuka myths
The origin of smallpox in south India
Mythology that validates local goddesses
Mythology that localizes pan-Indian goddesses
Goddesses originating from humans

4 Tantrism and Hindu Goddesses
Defining Tantrism
The historical development of Tantrism and Saktism
Tantric goddesses
The Matrkas (Mothers)
The Saptamatrkas (Seven Mothers)
The Ten Mahavidyas
A Tantric Sakta tradition – Sri Vidya

Part II Practices
5 Goddess Worship
Orthodox or Pan-Indian worship of the goddess
Temple worship
Home worship
Abhiseka: ritual bathing and decoration of the
Bengali devotional bhakti
Ramakrishna – Kali’s ultimate devotee
Local worship of the goddess
Snake worship
Tantric worship of the goddess
Kundalini Yoga
Use of the panca-makaras
Cremation ground rituals

6 Goddess Festivals
Orthodox goddess festivals
Durga Puja
Festival proceedings
Laksmi Puja
Kali Puja
The festival Procession
Local goddess festivals
Mariyamman festivals and fire walking
A local festival in Orissa
The importance of possession in local festivals

7 Pilgrimage to the Temples of the Goddess
The importance of the River Ganges
The Sakta pithas
Important goddess temples
Kamarupa, abode of the goddess Kamakhya
The goddess Vaisno Devi in Jammu
Kalighat in Bengal
Minaksi, the fish-eyed goddess of Madurai
Kanyakumari, the eternal virgin of Tamilnadu

8 The Goddess in Contemporary Hinduism
Bharat Mata – Mother India
Vande Mataram
Bharat Mata and Hindu Nationalism
Santosi Ma – Mother of Satisfaction
Early knowledge of Santosi Ma
The importance of Jai Santosi Maa
Present-day worship of Santosi Ma
More new goddesses?
Manushi Swachha Narayani
The Raj Kumari of Nepal – A living goddess:
But for how long?
Kumari worship in Hinduism
Selection of the Raj Kumari


This is a lucid, wide-ranging book that offers a comprehensive overview of the major beliefs and practices associated with Hindu goddess traditions. Lynn Foulston has done a masterful job bringing together a broad range of scholarship on the Goddess and making the material accessible to a general audience. University students in particular will find the book very useful.
Tracy Pintchman, Loyola University Chicago

This rich overview of goddesses’ role in Hinduism addresses goddesses as manifestations of Shakti, the elite philosophical position most often discussed in treatises on Hinduism, and from a popular perspective, as individuated beings, which is the ‘religion as lived’ perspective of the majority. Foulston and Abbott cover both pan-Indian and local goddesses and traditions. Significantly, this volume is split evenly between beliefs and practices ... Part 1, on beliefs, includes a blessedly clear discussion of the feminine divine in India’s philosophical traditions, detailed discussions of the goddesses as they appear in all of the major Hindu texts, and summaries of goddess mythologies including selections from local oral traditions. The chapter titled ‘Tantrism and Hindu Goddesses’ is an excellent summary of the topic. The authors balance national and local traditions when discussing practices. Part 2 covers festivals, devotional practices, meditation and yogic practices, tantric practices, pilgrimages, and explanations of sacred sites and sacred objects. Hinduism is a living tradition, and, appropriately, the final chapter discusses new goddesses and practices. Highly recommended.

Foulston and Abbott explore the diversity of Hindu goddesses and the variety of ways in which they are worshipped. In the first part of the book, the authors provide a series of encounters with a range of Hindu goddesses, starting with the idea of ‘Goddess’ as a philosophical concept. In the second part, readers are led through the tangled web of goddess worship, and shown the contrast between temple and local worship, the splendour of festivals, and the importance of pilgrimage. A conclusion examines contemporary developments in goddess worship, such as the appearance of new deities. Assuming no prior knowledge of the subject, this book should interest undergraduate students and anyone wanting to know more about the religions and philosophy of India.
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