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Heroic Shaktism: The Cult of Durga in Ancient Indian Kingship

Sarkar, Bihani (British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow, Christ Church, Oxford)

978 0 19 726610 6
List price(s):
90.00 USD
75.00 GBP

Publication date:
10 August 2017

Short description: 

The first expansive historical treatment of the development of the cult of the Indian warrior goddess Durga, from the 3rd to the 12th centuries CE, as she transformed from a wild, antinomian deity to a respectable, classical symbol of kingship.

Full description: 

Heroic 'Saktism is the belief that a good king and a true warrior must worship the goddess Durga, the form and substance of kingship. This belief formed the bedrock of ancient Indian practices of cultivating political power. Wildly dangerous and serenely benevolent at one and the same time, the goddess's charismatic split nature promised rewards for a hero and king and success in risky ventures. This book is the first expansive historical treatment of the cult of Durga and the role it played in shaping ideas and rituals of heroism in India between the 3rd and the 12th centuries CE. Within the story of ancient Indian kingship, two critical transitions overlapped with the rise of heroic 'Saktism: the decline of the war-god Skanda-Mahasena as a military symbol, and the concomitant rise of the early Indian kingdom. As the rhetoric of kingship once strongly linked to the older war god shifted to the cultural narratives of the goddess, her political imagery broadened in its cultural resonance. And indigenous territorial deities became associated with Durga as smaller states unified into a broader conception of civilization. By assessing the available epigraphic, literary and scriptural sources in Sanskrit, and anthropological studies on politics and ritual, Bihani Sarkar demonstrates that the association between Indian kingship and the cult's belief-systems was an ancient one based on efforts to augment worldly power.

Table of contents: 



Bihani Sarkar undertook a D.Phil in Sanskrit at Wolfson College under the supervision of Prof. Alexis Sanderson (All Souls). After her doctorate in 2011 she was awarded a Nachwuchsinitiative Postdoctoral Fellowship by Hamburg University, Germany and then a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Oriental Institute, Oxford University in 2014. She has written on the Navaratra and its history, on dualisms in Durga's conception in classical kavya and on the interdependence between conceptions in Indian philosophy and aspects of Durga's mythological depiction in the classical period. She has also written about classical Sanskrit literature, for example, about the ethics of poetic practice in 13th century Gujarat and the interplay between poetic licence and minding narrative conventions in the classical period. She is currently working on the depiction and history of the tragic in classical Sanskrit literature.




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