Shaktism focusses on the goddess generically called “Devi.” She is worshipped most often as the consort of Shiva, but has also been raised to the status of the Supreme. Although some books equate Shaktism with all major female deities (the “shaktis” of their respective consorts), the Shakta tradition specifically worships Shiva’s consort, in her various forms such as Parvati, Durga, Kali, etc. The worship of Sita (with Rama) or of Radha (with Krishna) is not strictly part of Shaktism, but does point to the ubiquitous role that the female deity plays within Hinduism.

A deity of Devi worshipped during the Navrati festival. The two other principal goddesses, Lakshmi and Saraswati, are sometimes considered to be her daughters.

Within Shaktism, there is little emphasis on doctrinal sampradayas, and much ideology comes from Shaivism. Since Shiva embodies the male principle and Shakti embodies the female, the two principles of Shaivism and Shaktism are complementary. Shakti doctrine tends to emphasise the non-difference between matter and spirit, and looks to the creative impetus of matter rather than its ability to delude and entangle. For this reason, Shaktas worship for material benefit as well as final liberation. A notable aspect of Shaktism is animal sacrifice and even documented accounts of human sacrifice.


Archaeological finding suggest that Shaktism goes back to prehistoric times. The Goddess does feature in the Vedas themselves, but scholars suggest that mainstream worship comes from other sources. She appears in the Epics and Puranas, especially the Markandeya Purana. It is in the Tantras that she appears to take the role of the Supreme.

There appear to be no strong sampradayic links, and Shaktism may have been passed down in a broader fashion, largely through local and village customs, and through connections with other schools such as Shaivism. Shaktism has greatly influenced modern thinkers such as Ramakrishna and Aurobindo. Not surprisingly Devi in her fiercer forms has become the patron deity of women’s liberation movements. Wherever Hindus have settled throughout the world, there are now a number of prominent Devi temples.

Main Writings

  • Devi Purana
  • Kalika Purana
  • Devi Bhagavata Purana
  • Mahabhagavata Purana
  • The Tantras

Important Places

  • Bengal
  • Calcutta (Kali Temple)
  • Kanyakumari
  • Madurai
  • Vaishno Devi

Meaning and Purpose

Where does the distinction between male and female come from? Is it an ontological reality or social construct?

Related Values and Issues

  • Is God male, female, neither, or both?
  • (Possible) innate differences between male and female.

Personal Reflection

  • What is our reaction to the large number of goddesses within Hinduism? How does this relate to ideas of a purely masculine God?
  • How does the feminine appear in our faiths/non-faith traditions?

Related Stories

  • Durga Kills the Buffalo Demon
  • Devi Kills other Demons