An Outline of the Religious Literature of India

By J. N. Farquhar | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE ŚĀKTA SYSTEMS
A. D. 550–900.

§ 189. The date with which our chapter opens is meant to coincide with the time when the Śākta systems began to appear; for they are unquestionably the most noteworthy product of these times. The exaltation and the adoration of goddesses is manifestly the first characteristic of these new theologies; but other forms of faith and practice were very prominent: an immense extension of the use of magic spells; a belief in the existence of occult channels and ganglia in the human frame, and in the presence of the goddess herself— coiled up like a snake and asleep—in the chief ganglion; a new type of hypnotic meditation believed to be potent to wake the goddess; and, in some sects, the inclusion in the cult of foul, gruesome, and degrading practices.

During this period the sects became more highly organized than ever before. In addition to the Śākta element already described, each sect was expected to possess an Upanishad and a manual;—the Upanishad to prove that its teaching had come by revelation and was in full consonance with the Vedānta; the manual to . provide a statement of the theology of the sect, a directory of its occult yoga practice, rules of conduct and ritual, and directions for the preparation of images and the building of temples. Each sect had its own order of sannyāsīs. Each was also expected to train a number of gurus for its cultured members. The layman received initiation, dīkshā, and regular instruction in the philosophical theology of the sect from his guru, just like an

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