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Title: The heroic cult of the sovereign goddess in mediaeval India
Author: Sarkar, Bihani
ISNI:       0000 0003 6929 9293
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis examines why the cult of the sovereign goddess was considered important for the expression of royal power in mediaeval India. In literature and ritual, the goddess was conceptualized as the sovereign of heaven and earth. Her cult was heroic because it was primarily a cult of warriors: a good hero was one who worshipped the goddess for great powers, foremost among them being sovereignty. Certain ritual practices of the cult such as self-mutilation formed the criteria for a warrior- worshipper’s heroism. By assessing the available epigraphical, literary, scriptural and anthropological material, I will attempt to show that the association between Indic kingship and the cult’s belief-systems, also referred to as heroic Śāktism, was indeed an ancient one. Tracing its roots to non-Aryan religion, the cult of the sovereign goddess became a vital part of the Sanskritic kingdom, particularly from the latter half of the 6th c., when tribal kingdoms began to elevate themselves on the political map. One of the hallmarks of the cult, responsible for its pan-Indic popularity, was its syncretic nature: besides outcastes, its followers were from a number of sects. The goddess at its centre had no fixed identity but was formed of various personalities. The more public and well-attested of these was the martial goddess Durgā/Caṇḍī/Caṇḍikā, although other goddesses were also worshipped as her other aspects. In all these aspects the sovereign goddess was believed to grant the power of the king and the community. This idea was evoked in the mediaeval Indic world in an array of symbols: sacred statues, ritually empowered swords and insignia put on display for all to see, legends circulated throughout the kingdom, festivals where the sacred might of the realm was ritually reinforced. By assessing these symbols, I will attempt to show the vibrant forms whereby the connection of the cult with power was manifested in the mediaeval period.
Supervisor: Sanderson, Alexis G. J. S. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Sanskrit ; Religions of the Indian subcontinent. ; royal goddess cults ; Candika ; warrior culture ; Indian kingship