History of Shaktism - Philosophical Development - Tantras

In most schools of Shaktism, the Tantras – a large genre of ritual manuals dating from as early as the 7th century CE and as late as the 19th century – are central scriptures. The Tantras "devised two main margas (paths of sadhana) to reach the same goal":

  • Vamachara lineages generally favor external worship (puja, murtis, etc.) and permit use of the panchamakara (lit. "five substances", referencing certain controversial forms of worship) at various levels under controlled circumstances; and
  • Dakshinachara lineages generally prefer internal worship (meditative techniques, etc.) and essentially disapprove of the panchamakara under any circumstances.

The proper path is generally determined by the guru based upon a given devotee's personal nature – i.e., as a tamasic pasu (i.e., an ordinary person not particularly given to spiritual pursuits, and mainly preoccupied with worldly matters); a rajasic vira (an active and vigorous spiritual seeker, qualified to "heroically" engage more intensive forms of sadhana); or a sattvic divya (a holy-natured person, having already achieved an extremely high level of spiritual maturity) – and various other factors.

Around 800 CE, Adi Shankara, the legendary sage and preceptor of the Advaita Vedanta system, implicitly recognized Shakta philosophy and Tantric liturgy as part of mainstream Hinduism in his powerful (and still hugely popular) hymn known as Saundaryalahari or "Waves of Beauty". Shankara, while "not a Shakta in the sectarian sense, had a soft corner for Shakta religion, perhaps due to its popularity among the masses." Another important Shakta text often attributed to Shankara is the hypnotically exquisite Mahishasura Mardini Stotra, a 21-verse hymn derived from the Devi Mahatmya that constitutes "one of the greatest works ever addressed to the supreme feminine power."

By the thirteenth century, "the Tantras had assimilated a very large number of cults of various origins – regional, tribal and sectarian – had assumed a completely Shakta character." From the fourteenth century onward, "the Shakta-Tantric cults had become woven into the texture of all the religious practices current in India," their spirit and substance infusing regional and sectarian vernacular as well as Sanskrit literature.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Shaktism, Philosophical Development

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