Durga, Parvathi & Shakti:
The Indian system of beliefs refers to the female aspect of divinity as Shakti or the manifestation of energy. Parvati, the consort of Shiva or Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu are enshrined in temples and all over India. Some of these shrines are referred to as Shakti Peethams, (or the sites where the parts of Sati’s body fell as in the legend of Daksha’s yagna). Others are ancient shrines closely tied to local legends and beliefs.
Shakti, the mother Goddess, also known as Ambaa (mother), or Devi (Goddess) is considered to be the personification of Cosmic Energy in its dynamic form. It is believed that Shakti is the power and energy with which the Universe is created, preserved, destroyed and recreated (by the trinity of Hinduism Bhrahma, Vishnu and Shiva).
Shakti is worshipped in several forms. As Rajarajeswari or Kamakshi, she is the Universal mother. As Uma or Parvati, she is the gentle consort of Shiva. As Meenakshi – she is the queen of Shiva. As Durga, she rides the tiger, and bears weaponry. In the angry and terrifying form of Kaali, she destroys and devours all forms of evil. As Kaali, she is also the personification of time, her dark form being symbolic of future which is beyond our knowledge. Shakti is the mother of Skanda and Ganesha.
Shakthi Peethams are centers of Shakti worship, representing sites related to the legend of Daksha Yagna, Shiva and Sati his consort. Belief has it that Shiva performed the rudra tandava dance, carrying the dead body of his consort Sati. The Universe unable to bear the fury of the dance requested Vishnu to intervene, and Vishnu used is chakra to tear the body into several pieces, and bring down the fury of Shiva’s tandavam. The severed pieces of Sati’s body are believed to have landed in several spots across the region, and these are referred to as Shakti Peethams.
Belief in Shakti or the feminine aspect of Divinity is an integral (and popular) element of the religious fabric of the entire subcontinent. Female guardian deities are revered in all parts of India. The Shakta Agama deals with the worship protocol adhered to in Devi temples. There is a shrine to Shakti, or the consort of Shiva in virtually all Saivite temples throughout the subcontinent.
Tantric practices involving chants, gestures and yantras (geometric shapes) also govern the worship of Shakti. Local forms of Shakti, not conforming to Agamic or Tantric rules are also widely prevalent throughout the region.
Goddess Durga [ Goddess of Shakti ] :
The deity has eight arms, and holds on the left trident, sword, snake and bell, and on the right, drum, shield, cup and water pot; she is seated in sukhasana posture on a double lotus throne and wears a garland of skulls. The torana at the back is similar to those shown on plates 10 and 33 with the addition of the conch shell (right) and wheel (left) symbols usually associated with Vishnu and often held by Durga.Just visible below her left knee, next to the lotus throne is the figure of a lion, (sometimes the mount of Durga).
Durga is a female deity whose relation with her closest male deity (Shiva) is sufficiently remote for her to be worshipped in her own right. It is likely that, not long after female deities appeared as shaktis of male deities, goddesses were elevated to the status of independent deities. It is not known which of them, in the earlier stages of this development, first achieved the further distinction of having a temple in which they were the main icon that would give undoubted evidence of final emancipation.
This may have taken place about the 7th or 8th century A.D. as the shakti of the Impersonal Absolute is referred to as Durga in the Narayana Upanishad and as being susceptible to worship for the acquisition of material gain in this world and spiritual advancement in the next.
Yet, in whatever form, Devi’s magic still remains. As the Great Triple Goddess she is today widely worshipped throughout India.
To her followers, she is both the Energy which is life itself and the Source to whose depths all living things return.
At the time of Kali Yurga, or cosmic dissolution, her devotees believe the physically manifested universe will once again withdraw itself into the formless depths of the Goddess until a new gestation period commences and the cyclic rhythm of creation is once again set into motion.
“Who dares misery, love
And hug the form of death,
Dance in destruction’s dance
To him the Mother comes.”