The Role of the Goddess in Hindu Religion

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A living, vibrant tradition of goddess worship is at the heart of the Hindu religion; many goddesses are worshipped on a daily basis throughout India and the Hindu world, although most individual goddesses are seen as a manifestation of one Great Goddess (Flood 174). The Goddess is an ubiquitous figure in popular media, devotion, and academic study. In 1975, an Indian movie called Jai Santoshi Maa (“Hail to the Mother of Satisfaction”) with a small budget, largely unknown cast, cheesy, almost comical special effects, and second-rate sets became a runaway “superhit” that packed out theatres in large metropolitan areas, as well as those in smaller venues, and broke records by becoming one of the highest grossing movies of the year (Lutgendorf 11, 14). The popularity of this “cult classic” is illustrative, not only of the popular appeal of mythological movies in India, but also of the attractiveness of the Goddess. While the Sakta and Tantric traditions are the most well-known for the veneration of the Goddess, both Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism incorporate goddesses as consorts or energies, and in fact, “almost all Hindus will revere her in some capacity” (Flood 175; see also Choudhary 2).
The presence of multiple goddess figures is notable in the earliest literature of Hinduism, the Vedas. Although the Rig Veda is dominated a few major male gods with a cast of “second-string” male gods and no central goddess figure, there is also a very strong contingent of goddesses (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 6). Kinsley notes seven major Vedic goddesses, including Usas, Sarasvatī, and Aditi, and nearly twenty minor ones (Hindu Goddesses 7-17). The goddess Aditi is mentioned nearly eighty times in the Rig Veda alone (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 9). W...

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