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Shaktism or Shaktidharma (Sanskrit: Śāktaṃ, शाक्तं; lit., "doctrine of power" or "doctrine of the Goddess") is is a category of tantric Saivism, where various goddesses are viewed as the central deity of their respective systems. It consists of the Vidyapitha and Kulamārga. After the decline of Buddhism in India, Sakta and Buddhist goddesses were combined to form the Mahavidya, a list of ten goddesses.
The Vidyāpīṭha is subdivided into Vāmatantras, Yāmalatantras, and Śaktitantras.
The Kulamārga preserves some of the distinctive features of the Kāpālika tradition, from which it is derived. It is subdivided into four subcategories of texts based on the goddesses Kuleśvarī, Kubjikā, Kālī and Tripurasundarī respectively. The Trika texts are closely related to the Kuleśvarī texts and can be considered as part of the Kulamārga.
Shaktism encompasses a nearly endless variety of beliefs and practices – from primitive animism to philosophical speculation of the highest order – that seek to access the Shakti (Divine Energy or Power) that is believed to be the Devi's nature and form. Its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (family of Sri), strongest in South India, and the Kalikula (family of Kali), which prevails in northern and eastern India.
Srikula: family of Sri
The Srikula (family of Sri) tradition (sampradaya) focuses worship on Devi in the form of the goddess Lalita-Tripura Sundari, who is regarded as the Great Goddess (Mahadevi). Rooted in first-millennium Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir Valley, Srikula became a force in South India no later than the seventh century, and is today the prevalent form of Shaktism practiced in South Indian regions such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.
The Srikula's best-known school is Srividya, "one of Shakta Tantrism's most influential and theologically sophisticated movements." Its central symbol, the Sri Chakra, is probably the most famous visual image in all of Hindu Tantric tradition. Its literature and practice is perhaps more systematic than that of any other Shakta sect.
Srividya largely views the Goddess as "benign [saumya] and beautiful [saundarya]" (in contrast to Kalikula's focus on "terrifying [ugra] and horrifying [ghora]" goddess forms such as Kali or Durga). In Srikula practice, moreover, every aspect of the Goddess – whether malignant or gentle – is identified with Lalita.
Srikula adepts most often worship Lalita using the abstract Sri Chakra yantra, which is regarded as her subtle form. The Sri Chakra can be visually rendered either as a two-dimensional diagram (whether drawn temporarily as part of the worship ritual, or permanently engraved in metal) or in the three-dimensional, pyramidal form known as the Sri Meru. It is not uncommon to find a Sri Chakra or Sri Meru installed in South Indian temples, because – as modern practitioners assert – "there is no disputing that this is the highest form of Devi and that some of the practice can be done openly. But what you see in the temples is not the srichakra worship you see when it is done privately."[a]
The Srividya paramparas can be further broadly subdivided into two streams, the Kaula (a vamamarga practice) and the Samaya (a dakshinamarga practice). The Kaula or Kaulachara, first appeared as a coherent ritual system in the 8th century in central India, and its most revered theorist is the 18th-century philosopher Bhaskararaya, widely considered "the best exponent of Shakta philosophy."
The Samaya or Samayacharya finds its roots in the work of the 16th-century commentator Lakshmidhara, and is "fiercely puritanical [in its] attempts to reform Tantric practice in ways that bring it in line with high-caste brahmanical norms." Many Samaya practitioners explicitly deny being either Shakta or Tantric, though scholars argues that their cult remains technically both. The Samaya-Kaula division marks "an old dispute within Hindu Tantrism," and one that is vigorously debated to this day.
Kalikula: family of Kali
The Kalikula (family of Kali) form of Shaktism is most dominant in Nepal, northern and eastern India, and is most widely prevalent in West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Odisha, as well as parts of Maharashtra, Bangladesh and some parts of Kerala. Kalikula lineages focus upon the Devi as the source of wisdom (vidya) and liberation (moksha). They generally stand "in opposition to the brahmanic tradition," which they view as "overly conservative and denying the experiential part of religion."
The main deities of Kalikula are Kali, Chandi and Durga. Other goddesses that enjoy veneration are Tara and all the other Mahavidyas as well as regional goddesses such as Manasa, the snake goddess, and Sitala, the smallpox goddess – all of them, again, considered aspects of the Divine Mother.
In Nepal devi is mainly worshipped as Kali, Bhawani, Matrika and Navadurga.There are many shakti peeth in Nepal including the main shakti peeth Guhyeshwari temple of Guhyeshwari Devi also called as Guhekali Bhagawati on the bank of holy Bagmati river. She is one of the important deity in kalikula. Two major centers of Shaktism in West Bengal are Kalighat in Calcutta and Tarapith in Birbhum district. In Calcutta, emphasis is on devotion (bhakti) to the goddess as Kali:
She is "the loving mother who protects her children and whose fierceness guards them. She is outwardly frightening – with dark skin, pointed teeth, and a necklace of skulls – but inwardly beautiful. She can guarantee a good rebirth or great religious insight, and her worship is often communal – especially at festivals, such as Kali Puja and Durga Puja. Worship may involve contemplation of the devotee's union with or love of the goddess, visualization of her form, chanting [of her] mantras, prayer before her image or yantra, and giving [of] offerings."
At Tarapith, Devi's manifestation as Tara ("She Who Saves") or Ugratara ("Fierce Tara") is ascendant, as the goddess who gives liberation (kaivalyadayini). [...] The forms of sadhana performed here are more yogic and tantric than devotional, and they often involve sitting alone at the [cremation] ground, surrounded by ash and bone. There are shamanic elements associated with the Tarapith tradition, including "conquest of the goddess', exorcism, trance, and control of spirits."
The philosophical and devotional underpinning of all such ritual, however, remains a pervasive vision of the Devi as supreme, absolute divinity. As expressed by the nineteenth-century saint Ramakrishna, one of the most influential figures in modern Bengali Shaktism:
Kali is none other than Brahman. That which is called Brahman is really Kali. She is the Primal Energy. When that Energy remains inactive, I call It Brahman, and when It creates, preserves, or destroys, I call It Shakti or Kali. What you call Brahman I call Kali. Brahman and Kali are not different. They are like fire and its power to burn: if one thinks of fire one must think of its power to burn. If one recognizes Kali one must also recognize Brahman; again, if one recognizes Brahman one must recognize Kali. Brahman and Its Power are identical. It is Brahman whom I address as Shakti or Kali.
Shaktas celebrate most major Hindu festivals, as well as a huge variety of local, temple- or deity-specific observances. A few of the more important events are listed below:
The most important Shakta festival is Navratri (lit., "Festival of Nine Nights"), also known as "Sharad Navratri" because it falls during the Hindu month of Sharad (October/November). This festival – often taken together with the following tenth day, known as Dusshera or Vijayadashami – celebrates the goddess Durga's victory over a series of powerful demons in the Devi Mahatmya. In Bengal, the last four days of Navaratri are called Durga Puja, and mark one episode in particular: Durga's iconic slaying of Mahishasura (lit., the "Buffalo Demon").
While Hindus of all denominations celebrate the autumn Navratri festival, Shaktas also celebrate two additional Navratris – one in the spring and one in the summer. The spring festival is known as Vasanta Navaratri or Chaitra Navatri, and celebrated in the Hindu month of Chaitra (March/April). Srividya lineages dedicate this festival to Devi's form as the goddess Lalita. The summer festival is called Ashada Navaratri, as it is held during the Hindu month of Ashadha (June/July). The hugely popular Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu observes its major Navaratri celebration during this period. Ashada Navaratri, on the other hand, is considered particularly auspicious for devotees of the boar-headed goddess Varahi, one of the seven Matrikas named in the Devi Mahatmya.
Fifth day of Magha Gupta Navratri is very important for all branches of Shakta-pantha. Specially in Vindhyachal mahashakti peetham, thousands of chandipatha and other secret rituals performed this day to please Aadishakti. This is the festival of union of Shakti & Shiv (Shiva-Shiv). On the same basis Shiva-Shiv Sammoh is formed by Awadhoot Kripanandnath at Awadhoot Ashram, Vindhyachal in 1980.
Diwali and others
Lakshmi Puja is observed by Shaktas and many other Hindus on the full moon night following the autumn Durga Puja. Lakshmi's biggest festival, however, is Diwali (or Deepavali; the "Festival of Lights"), a major Hindu holiday celebrated across India and in Nepal as Tihar. In North India, Diwali marks the beginning of the traditional New Year, and is held on the night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik (usually October or November). Shaktas (and many non-Shaktas) celebrate it as another Lakshmi Puja, placing small oil lamps outside their homes and praying for the goddess's blessings. Diwali coincides with the celebration of Kali Puja, popular in Bengal, and some Shakta traditions focus their worship on Devi as Kali rather than Lakshmi.
Jagaddhatri Puja is celebrated on the last four days of the Navaratis, following Kali Puja. It is very similar to Durga Puja in its details and observance, and is especially popular in Bengal and some other parts of Eastern India.
There are variant dates for Saraswati Puja, depending upon region and local tradition. Commonly, on the fifth day of the Hindu month of Phalguna (January–February), students offer their books and musical instruments to Saraswati and pray for her blessings in their studies. In some parts of India, Saraswati Puja is celebrated in the month of Magh; in others, during the final three days of Navratri.
Major Shakta temple festivals are Meenakshi Kalyanam and Ambubachi Mela. Meenakshi Kalyanam observes the auspicious occasion of Devi's marriage (as Meenakshi) to Lord Sundareshwara (Shiva) is centered on the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It runs for 12 days, counting from the second day of the lunar month of Chaitra, in April or May. Ambubachi Mela is a celebration of the yearly menstruation of the goddess, held in June/July (during the monsoon season) at Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, Assam. Here the Devi is worshiped in the form of a yoni-like stone over which a naturally red-tinted spring flows.
There are thousands of Shakti temples; vast or tiny, famous or obscure. Moreover, countless cities, towns, villages and geographic landmarks are named for various forms of the Devi. "In this vast country, holy resorts of the goddess are innumerable and the popularity of her cult is proved even in the place-names of India."
At various times, different writers have attempted to organize some of these into lists of "Shakti Peethas"; literally "Seats of the Devi", or more broadly, "Places of Power". Numbering anywhere from four to 51 (in the most famous list, found in the Tantra Cudamani), "the peethas [became] a popular theme of the medieval writers, many of whom took the greatest liberty in fabricating the place names, the goddesses and their bhairavas [consorts]."
Animals are sacrificed in all parts of India, mainly at temples of Goddesses such as Bhavani or Kali.
The Rajput of Rajasthan offer a sacrifice of buffalo or goat to their family Goddess (Kuldevta) during the festival of Navaratri. The ritual requires slaying of the animal with a single stroke. In the past it was considered a rite of passage for young men. The ritual is directed by a Brahmin priest.
Animal sacrifice is practiced in southern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu by local Hindu people. It is most notably done in front of local or clan deities. The ritual involves most caste members of the village with each caste performing different roles. In Karnataka, the Goddess receiving the sacrifice tends to be Renuka. The animal is either a male buffalo or a goat. 
The Kathar or Kutadi community of Maharashtra while observing the Pachvi ceremony, after delivery of a child in the family, offer worship to their family Goddess Saptashrungi with a sacrifice of a goat. Following this they hold the naming ceremony of the child on the 12th day.
In some sacred groves of India, particularly in Western Maharashtra, animal sacrifice is practiced to pacify female deities that are supposed to rule the groves. Animal sacrifice is also practiced by some caste Hindus in Maharashtra at temples of Goddess Ekvira at Karla caves or Tuljapur Bhavani.
Animal sacrifices are performed at many temples in some eastern states of India and Nepal where the female nature of Brahman is worshiped in the form of Kali and Durga. This involves slaying of goats, chickens and sometimes male Water buffalos. A number Tantric Puranas specify the ritual for how the animal should be slayed. In Bengal, a priest recites the Gayatri Mantra in the ear of animal to be sacrificed, to free it from the cycle of life and death.
Animal sacrifice en masse occurs during the three-day-long Gadhimai festival in Nepal. In 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were killed while 5 million devotees attended the festival.
In India, ritual of animal sacrifice is practised in many villages before certain powerful and terrifying forms of the Devi. In this form of worship, animals, usually goats, are decapitated and the blood is offered to deity often by smearing some of it on a post outside the temple. For instance, Kandhen Budhi is the reigning deity of Kantamal in Boudh district of Orissa, India. Every year, animals like goat and fowl are sacrificed before the deity on the occasion of her annual Yatra/Jatra (festival) held in the month of Aswina (September–October). The main attraction of Kandhen Budhi Yatra is Ghusuri Puja. Ghusuri means a piglet, which is sacrificed to the goddess every three years. During the Bali Jatra, male goats are offered as a sacrifice to the goddess Samaleswari in her temple in Sambalpur, Orissa.
Bali Jatra of Sonepur in Orissa, India is an annual festival celebrated in the month of Aswina (September–October) when animal sacrifice is an integral part of the ritual worship of deities: Samaleswari, Sureswari and Khambeswari. Bali refers to animal sacrifice and hence this annual festival is called Bali Jatra.
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