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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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Durgā and the Making of Early Indian Civilization

Durgā and the Making of Early Indian Civilization

(p.272) Conclusion Durgā and the Making of Early Indian Civilization
Heroic Shāktism

Bihani Sarkar

British Academy

This chapter provides a conclusion to the book. The historical phases and their inner tensions described in the previous chapters reveal that Durgā's representation of the civilizational process and the problem of chaos remained fundamental throughout her longue durée. In a wider sense, the goddess was an intimate part of the making of early Indian civilization. Each of the three political orders within which the story, and stories, of Durgā unfolded signalled a different period in Indian culture. Whatever the principal idea-maps about people, society and power latent in the air, they became imbued in the goddess. Under the Central Asian Kuṣāṇas, whose empire was a symbiosis of Hellenistic and Iranian cultures, Durgā's personality interwove elements from those traditions, and the extent to which she was indebted to percolations from far-away Bactria may be much greater than we now assume. Under the more parochial, Brahmanical Guptas, Durga's form articulated the Vaiṣṇava ‘classical’; under both empires her single identity as a Vaiṣṇava goddess resonated with the centralized imperial structure. When the atavika New World took over, and classicism began to be reformulated, the form of the goddess became heterogeneous, and harmonious with indigenous belief systems belonging to smaller kingdoms on the rise. Heroic Śāktism offered an idea of power that was in the world, not removed from it. It gave a sense of the divine that hovered close above the ocean of saṃsāra (an image often evoked in Sanskrit poems to Durga), ready to bridge the distance between heaven and earth in order to intervene when the duress of civilizational reformation grew debilitating for its agents. In this way, the goddess's cult represented nothing less than the civilizational transmutations of the classical period from the 3rd to the 12th century. At every stage, it allowed the inclusion of the liminal into articulations concerning civilization, and through this a radical reforming of the old order.

Keywords:   Durgā, conclusion, civilizational process, Guptas, Kuṣāṇas, historical phases

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