The Shakti Tradition

V.P. Rajiv, Kerala

The most fundamental meaning of the word Shakti is cosmic power or cosmic illusion which is called Maha-maya in Sanskrit and in Vedanta. In the Vedanta grantha, Vivekachudamani of Shankara, the definition of maya is mentioned as neither totally existent nor non-existent. This statement has practical value to a greater extent in individual life and in the universe. This partially existent and non-existent phenomenon is usually believed and often experienced as a mystery. There is a different definition for maya in Sanathana culture, which appears to be true according to the words 'definition' and 'maya', that, the 'thing' which does not exist is maya, in which the 'thing' is 'nothing' and often does not appear as real.

In Tattwa Bodha, the first fundamental text in Vedanta written by a successor of Shankara, the existence of maya is mentioned as related to Brahman. But it can be more correctly interpreted as the dynamic, ignorant and insentient aspects of Brahman, since pure Brahman is defined as nirguna, free from all qualities of mundane value. So Tattwa Bodha itself reveals the nature of maya as indefinable and inexplicable. Shakti remains 'as such' or immovable only during cosmic deluge. During its opposite period, it moves with Brahman.

In Sanskrit and Vedanta Shakti is also named as Prakriti, which is the complex of the five great elements: earth, fire, air, water and sky, and the three qualities sattwa, rajas and tamas.

In Indian theology Shakti is called Adi Para-shakti, the vedantic meaning of which is again the ageless, illusory power which is also transcendent at the same time. She has three main aspects known as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, which are interpreted as tamas, rajas and sattwa respectively. Kali is interpreted as the goddess of war, Lakshmi stands for prosperity, and Saraswati for both apara and para-vidyas, the empirical knowledge and wisdom.

In India there is a separate cult for the worship of Shakti goddess which is related with the science of tantra. The details about goddess Shakti can be found in the Indian scriptures, namely Devi Purana which has many other names such as Chandi, Durga, Saptha Shathi, etc. It was by the grace of goddess Shakti at the great Saraswati temple of South India, Mookambika, that Adi Kavi Kalidas became a poet. Adi Shankara had darshan of Shakti from Mookambika temple. There is another great Shakti temple in South India, Madhura Meenakshi. The festival of Shakti is celebrated as Durga puja and Dasara for ten days, mostly occurring in the month of October, the significance of which is the triumph of divinity over lower elements.

Energy supreme, O Mother,
Some call thee matter,
Others have named thee force.
As nature some do adore thee,
Others know thee as life.
Some call thee mind,
Yet others have named thee God.
Some chant thy name as loving light,
Deep darkness art thou called by others.
To some thou art known as joy,
While others name thee pain.
O Mother Divine, benign Shiva Shakti
Accept our oblations so that by thy grace
We may enter the State of the Immortals.