This Introduction outlines the backdrop for the emergence of the cult of Durgā, characterized by a transformation of political structure from empire under the Kuṣāṇas and the Guptas to autonomous kingdoms following imperial decentralization, as villages grew into kingdoms and aspirational lineages, successors to the Guptas, seized control of territories. While describing cultic antecedents in the Kuṣāṇa empire, marking out the decline of the Guptas as the key political moment galvanizing the wider popularity of Durgā's worship, and in describing transforming social landscapes, it explains the central proposition of the book: throughout the course of these developments Heroic Śāktism was a tradition structured around controlling communal dangers and civic threat, which resonated with rising monarchies confronting continual warfare and the threats of the civilizational process. By assessing examples of lineages and the formation of their religious policies, it shows that in absorbing local divinities, many outside the Brahmanical world, Durgā and her worship became a point of interfusion between the classical ‘Sanskritic’ and the non-classical ‘āṭavika’ (forest) domains, as new kingdoms arose from a tribal base after the Gupta decline. This led to the central place of paradox in the symbolic systems of the cult and the goddess's representation of wide-ranging identities, affiliations and loyalties, which in turn became a powerful symbol of the cohesive Indian state in the medieval period. The introduction also summarizes previous research on the Goddess in kingship and sectarian absorptions described in further detail in the subsequent chapters.
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