The Matsya Purana (critical study)

by Kushal Kalita | 2018 | 74,766 words | ISBN-13: 9788171103058

This page relates ‘Shaktism: The Devi-cult’ of the English study on the Matsya-purana: a Sanskrit text preserving ancient Indian traditions and legends written in over 14,000 metrical verses. In this study, the background and content of the Matsyapurana is outlined against the cultural history of ancient India in terms of religion, politics, geography and architectural aspects. It shows how the encyclopedic character causes the text to deal with almost all the aspects of human civilization.

Part 3 - Śāktism: The Devī-cult

Śāktism is another aspect of Hinduism as important as Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism. The Devī-worship forms a very important section of Indian religion with a great influence on Indian society which can even be seen in present time. Śāktism, the cult of Śakti can be traced back to the worship of Mother Goddess or nature goddess of PreVedic age. The term śakti represents female divinity in general and energizing power of some divinity in particular.[1] In the Ṛgveda, the mother cult is associated with pṛthivi (earth).[2] Among the Ṛgvedic goddesses, the names of Uṣā, Pṛthvī, Aditi, Sarasvatī, Āpaḥ may be acknowledged first. But the idea of one supreme mother principle does not seem to tally with the hymns ascribed directly or indirectly to these divinities. Only Devīsūkta[3] and the Rātrisūkta[4] of the Ṛgveda can be said to possess the germs of Śaktism in the Vedas. The Atharvaveda describes the goddess as dwelling in fire, Sun, Brahman, waters, gold, in dice etc.[5] Through these sūktas though it can be said that the basis of Śāktism is traced in the Vedic texts, yet the Śakti-cult which centres round the worshiping of goddesses like Durgā, Kālī, Umā etc. could not make any room for its progress with these Ṛgvedic female divinities of the Vedas. However, later Saṃhitās, Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads have passages containing the names of Durgā or Durgī, Umā, Ambikā, Kālī etc. The evidence of Śaktism is found more or less in almost all the Purāṇas and the popularity of Śakti-cult is evident through these references. The Devīmāhātmya of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, the Kālikāpurāṇa, the Devībhāgavatapurāṇa, the Matsyapurāṇa, the Bhaviṣyapurāṇa etc. possess ample descriptions of Śakti-cult prevailing in those days.

In Śaktism, Śakti is regarded as the ultimate reality. It preaches the worship of Śakti or God in Mother form. Śakti is the Supreme power of Śiva. However, though Śakti is regarded as the power of Śiva, she is not subordinate to Śiva, rather she is the divine mother of the world. Again Śāktism maintains that Śakti and Śāktimān (the possessor of Śakti), i.e., Śiva are non-different from one another; they are inseparable.[6] Śakti is the cause of the world; she is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of this universe. There are different manifestations of Śakti like Durgā, Kālī, Caṇḍikā, Ugracaṇḍā, Cāmuṇḍā, Caṇḍī, Tārā, Satī, Pārvatī, ten mahāvidyās etc.

The idea of popularity of Śakti-cult can be gathered from the passages of the Matsyapurāṇa where holy places for worshiping devī are narrated. In the 13th chapter of the Matsyapurāṇa, the narrations of Satī, Pārvatī and Mātṛkās are found. There is a brief story of Satī, who is Pārvati in her previous birth. Satī is said to be the mother of the world who gives happiness to all. Dakṣa, her father have saluted her and said that she became her daughter as an act of grace only.[7] One hundred and eight (108) devīpīthas or sacred places are described by Satī on the request of Dakṣa so that a person could get his desired object through practising penance therein. Satī says that she is present everywhere, i.e., omnipresent.[8] Though a person can find her in any time at any place still, Satī has mentioned the names of the places which are sacred to the Goddess along with the epithets by which usually she is known in those places. It is said by Satī herself that one can be freed from all sins if he memorizes or hears these one hundred and eight (108) names or pays a visit to her after taking bath in the tīrthas and thus can live in the Śivaloka for one kalpa. Moreover, if one reads these names at the time of worship or at the time of donating a cow (godāna) or at the time of funeral ceremony (śrāddha) he will achieve Brahman.[9] The Matsyapurāṇa further asserts that misfortune and sorrow exist nowhere where these names of Goddess Satī are available in written form and is worshipped along with a deity as well.[10] This list is found in other Purāṇas also like the Padmapurāṇa, the Devībhāgavatapurāṇa and the Skandapurāṇa.[11] Goddess Satī is the giver of good fortune, enjoyment and liberation. Her worship leads to the attainment of everything for men and women.[12]

The Mātṛkās or Mother-Goddessess occupy a good place in the Matsyapurāṇa with reference to the position of Śakti-cult. According to the Matsyapurāṇa, Mātṛkās are first created by Śiva in order to kill demon Andhaka. But unable to destroy Andhaka, Śiva ultimately takes refuge to Viṣṇu who again created other Mātṛkās. In the 179th chapter of this Purāṇa a list of about 200 Mātṛkās created by Śiva are given who are described as becoming oppressive and engaging in the destruction of the three worlds. Then in order to overcome such a degrading situation Śiva worshiped Viṣṇu in the Nṛsiṃha or Narasiṃha form. Viṣṇu from his different limbs creates 32 Mātṛkās the sights of which made the Śiva-Mātṛkās surrender before Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu then reminded their duty to foster and guard the universe and not to destruct. They should protect the devotees of Siva and Viṣṇu as well. They should fulfill the desired objects of those who offered sacrifices to the Mātṛkās. They should also protect those persons who recite praises uttered by Viṣṇu.

Footnotes and references:


Cf., Pushpendra Kumar, Sakti Cult in Ancient India, p. 1


Cf., Ṛgveda, I. 164.33; V.19.6


Ibid., X.125


, X. 127


Atharvaveda, VI.38.1-4


Cf. Pushpendra Kumar, Śakti Cult in Ancient India, p.151




Ibid., 13.24






Padmapurāṇa, Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa, 17.190-217; Devībhāgavatapurāṇa, 7.30; Skandapurāṇa, Avantīkhaṇḍa, 17.46-92


Matsyapurāṇa, 60.12

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