"Shakti has been suggestively defined as the power by which the Infinite formless consciousness veils itself and limits itself, thus experiencing itself as form". Dr. C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar.
In 1985, the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Indological Research organised a seminar on Shakti in Art and Religion to coincide with the Festival of Shakti organised by the C.P. Art Centre, both constituents of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Madras. During the several papers were read by eminent scholars. These papers form the basis of the publication, with a few additions, and present a panorama of the development of Shakti, including her worship, iconography. Literature and incarnations in folk religion and culture, leading to the more philosophical aspects of the Shakta religion as it was conceived by the great philosophers of ancient India. There had been special emphasis on the development of Shakti worship in South India, Particularly in Tamilnadu, where the various forms of the Mother Goddess are the presiding deities of the villages.
An important section in this book is an illustrated catalogue of the important Shakti images in the collection of the Government Museum, Madras. There are several other illustrations and lie drawings tracing the development of the Shakti Icon.
This book should provide useful information for scholars who are interested in the development of worship of Mother Goddess in India.
As early man struggled to survive, numbers became essential for his continued existence. Thus the mother, the source of a million children, was venerated as sacred, for she alone had the power to procreate. Similarly, the earth was conceived as a gigantic mother who produced food which was essential for man's survival.
Fertility was essential for survival, and survival was man's primary goal, an instinct he inherited fro the beginnings of life on earth. But survival was not easy, so man venerated those forces which, he were inalienable to his existence. Thus the ability to reproduce, be it in human beings, animals or plants, was combined with the qualities of the earth, the gigantic food bowl who brought forth sustenance from her womb, and the Mother Goddess was conceived, a being unlimited abilities, and greater than the Earth Mother herself. Early man propitiated her in several ways: with the blood of her offspring, hoping she would thirst for more; with the fruits of the harvest, a gesture of gratitude; when these failed, he tried magical incantations and rituals, hoping to force or even her into co-operation. As these failed or succeeded he found reasons and excuses, and excuses, and slowly an entire mythology grew around her. Legends sprang up, she was given friends and enemies.
Every ancient people venerated the Mother Goddess, Whether in ancient India, Asia, Africa, Europe or America. There are some startling similarities in the myths of people separated by half a planet, perhaps a common memory or heritage, or a common perception and interpretation.
But, in time, the more perceptive began to realise that the source of all life was not to be tricked by magic or appeased by blood. As thinkers and philosophers looked further, they caught the glimmer of a greater Being, all-powerful, the source of life existence. In India, the various pictures coalesced into Shakti, a symbol of life and power itself. She became the focus of worship, without her, the Supreme Being was a nonentity. Finally, her qualities were merged with the Supreme, till they became a union of the male and female principles.
In 1985 the C.P. Art Centre organised a Festival of Shakti, including an exhibition of the various iconic forms of Shakti. Apart from the Shakti icons in bronze, stone and wood, several contemporary artist also contributed paintings and sculptures of their vision of the Divine Mother. The Festival was inaugurated by the late Shrimati Rukmini Devi, the Founder of Kalakshetra and a member of the Council of Management of the of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and was presided over by the late Shri S.Narayanaswami, President of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation. Shrimati Chitra Visweswaran, the well-known exponent of Bharata Natyam, danced to the theme of Shakti, with explanations of how the goddess's characteristics and iconic forms are translated into dance.
To coincide with the C.P. Art Centre's Festival, the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research organised a seminar on 'Shakti in Art Religion'. The papers read at the seminar form the bulk of this publication, with some additions. As the seminar took place in madras, it was decided to include a paper on the important Shakti icons in the madras Museum. Certain constraints delayed the publication of this collection of papers. However, Shakti herself is timeless and eternal. A book on the subject, whenever it appears, is relevant for all time.
This book would not have been possible but for the efforts of all those eminent scholars who wrote on their areas helped in specific areas. Dr. S. Janaki of the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Istitute was ever-willing check the Ssanskrit quotations, while Dr. V. R. Srinivasa Desikan, Asst. Director of Archaeology, Government Museum, Madras, selected the icons to be published with great care. Dr. Avvai Natarajan, Secretary, Depatment of Tamil Culture, Government of Tamilnadu, graciously gave us immediate permission to reproduce the Shakti icons in the Government Museum, Madras, while Mr. Keshav Ram, Director, gave us the photographs and the necessary permission. We owe our sincere thanks to them.
The first Chapter on Shakti was Written by the late Dr. C. P. Ramaswami for the Bhavan's Jounal. It seemed appropriate to reproduce it in this book. The positioning of the chapters is chronological. We have started with the origins of Shakti and thereafter, through the range of subjects.
Several Staff members – past and present – of the C.P. Ramasami Aiyar Foundation and its constituents worked hard to bring out the book. I would particularly like to mention and thank Kumari V. Lalitha, shri V. R. Krishna Iyer, Kumari K. Sumatra, Shrimati Radha Ravi and Shri Mangudi for their efforts, Shri S.K. Ganesha who took on the responsibility or Checking, composing and re-checking Sanskrit material, besides composing the pages, assisted by Kuamri V. Shanthi, Shri Y. Venkatesh who did the art-work and the layout, and Shrimati Shobha Hebbar Who painstakingly corrected the proofs after each print-out and prepared the pages.
Finally, a special word of thanks to Shri V.K. Rajamani, photographers who photographed the dancing Shakti on the Cover and to M/s. Subdarsan Graphics who printed the cover of the book.
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