Very often, Hinduism is described as being a polytheistic religion – with the existence of multiple gods and goddesses. However, the majority of forms of Hinduism are monotheistic – acknowledging a single deity and showing the other gods and goddesses as being manifestations or aspects of a supreme god. What is original in Hinduism is that this supreme being can also have a feminine aspect. This female form of the god is called the Devi. She herself assumes several forms: either the gentle and loving mother Parvati, the faithful wife Lakshmi, the powerful Durga, or the fierce Kali.
In the Hindu tradition, the concept of the female deity – Devi – is rooted in the supreme cosmic power of Shakti, which is the source and sustenance of all creation.
The cult of the Devi is therefore called Shaktism. There, Devi is worshiped as the Divine Mother. According to this belief, it is said that all other forms of deities, female and male, are simply the various forms of their manifestations.
Brief History of Goddess Worship in India
Goddess worship in India has existed since the pre-Vedic period, probably before 2500 BCE – the earliest sources are oral transmission only. The writing of the first Vedas, sacred texts, dates back to the 11th century BC (very controversial dating).
This cult developed during the Vedic age and evolved in the epic period of India (Mahabharata and Ramayana).
Over time and various invasions, the Indian religious tradition has gradually developed a male pantheon. Despite this, the worship of the Goddess grew stronger and it is still present in the Hindu tradition today, even if the minimal goddesses are gradually disappearing.
The Goddess in the Hindu tradition is multifaceted – this is partly due to the wealth of meanings and symbols associated with the Devi. She is seen as the divine mother, the creator of the universe. She also appears, in the post-Vedic period, as the consort of male gods. She protects humans, she is also the personification of Nature, rivers, mountains, and even caves are goddesses. More recently appears Bharat Mata, Mother India, the personification of India herself.
It was during the epic period (100-600 BCE) that the Goddesses became wives of the Hindu Trinity gods. Saraswati, wife of Brahma, Lakshmi, that of Vishnu and Parvati, that of Shiva. These goddesses invest their spouses with their Shakti or energy. The goddess personifies thought, intellect, beauty, prosperity, strength, energy and bestows them on her husband.
The concept of Goddesses still exists in the current Hindu tradition. A first approach proposes to consider them as being entities separated from their consorts, transcendent and all-powerful goddesses. This approach claims that they are the ones who give the power of creation, protection, and destruction to the three gods. Iconography sometimes depicts God/ Shakti as one. A second approach instead portrays the dominant importance of male gods.