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Heroic ShāktismThe Cult of Durgā in Ancient Indian Kingship$
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Bihani Sarkar

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266106

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266106.001.0001

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Taking over Skanda (c. 6th to 7th Century)

Taking over Skanda (c. 6th to 7th Century)

(p.97) Chapter 3 Taking over Skanda (c. 6th to 7th Century)
Heroic Shāktism

Bihani Sarkar

British Academy

This chapter assesses how Durgā replaced Skanda as a symbol of imperialism as she began to represent local goddesses thought to control land, something Skanda could not. Śaiva mythology employed narrative devices and concepts used to integrate Skanda into its fold to incorporate Durgā and to grant her a critical place within the Śaiva pantheon. This period coincided with the end of the Gupta empire, during which other lineages asserted themselves on the political map. The goddess, now a cohesive deity, began to appear as a political metaphor in their propaganda, replacing Skanda. The Cālukya emperors, for example, begin to prioritize her over their other favoured lineage god, Skanda. Assessing Cālukya era inscriptions, early Śaiva and epic sources, and later liturgies and mythologies of Durgā, this chapter shows how Skanda's decline provided a cultural vacuum after the end of the Gupta period that was filled by Durgā. Symbols of imperialism, such as the restoration of Dharma from the destabilizing effects of adharma, once formerly associated with Skanda in his imperial, demon-slaying form, began to be transplanted to the goddess. Among these symbols, her increased association with the protective goddesses called the Mātṛs, who are portrayed in early literature and material remains as Skanda's family members, had a political effect in increasing the relevance of her autumnal worship in combating communal crises. Safeguarding a community from death-giving dangers such as drought, cataclysms, earthquakes and the onslaught of harmful demons involved worshipping Durgā in the centre of the Mātṛs whose apotropaic function was well established in the religious literature of the day. The ritual sequence of the festival of Navarātra began to be dominated by the worship of these goddesses during the sacred days of Mahāṣṭamī and Mahānavamī. The result is that while Durgā's power in her earlier Gupta conception as Nidrā was connected with nature, particularly the sky, rainfall, stars and clouds, it is gradually represented through a more official array of symbols connected with military kingship, many initially imagined with Skanda, when the transition into Śaivism occurs. While under the Guptas she had been a liminal symbol, her entrance into Śaivism marked her gradual elevation into the centre, a transition that was firmly cemented when this transplantation onto the bedrock of Skanda's cultural conception occurred.

Keywords:   Skanda-Mahāsena, Durgā, Cālukyas, Kauśikī, sapta mātṛ

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