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What is Shakti?

By Devon Pryor
Updated May 23, 2024
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Shakti is a Hindu religious concept that means feminine power. Although it is considered feminine in nature, it is usually reserved as a term used to discuss the power of Hindu goddesses, rather than human females. Shakti is divine, or sacred feminine power. The sect of Hinduism that devotes to the goddess is known as Shaktism, and a member of this sect is called a shakta.

Shaktism is not the only sect within Hinduism that acknowledges the power and importance of the goddess. Other sects such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism also have a place for shakti. However, in these other sects, it is thought of as a complimentary power to that of the corresponding god. In other words, goddesses are the consorts of gods, and thus their power is important as a compliment to the male power, virya.

To someone who devotes to Vishnu, or Shiva, shakti is ability, life force, creative, and procreative power. Virya, the power of the male god, is authority, energy that tames, directs, constructs, and gives purpose to the shakti. However, for a shakta, the shakti of the goddess may take a more important role outside of its association with the male force. Within Shaktism, it is the true power behind the male god, an abstract and all-pervasive power.

The semantic difference here is subtle. Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish Shaktism is to say that it devotes to the goddess and her shakti above all else. This concept is more appropriately called Adi Shakti, or the ultimate shakti. It is not just feminine divine power, but the ultimate feminine power behind all creation.

When we talk about the goddess and her shakti, there are a few things which require elaboration. In the first place, this goddess can generally be considered Maha Devi, or the great goddess. Shakti is, of course, also a power held by and associated with the many manifestations of Maha Devi, such as Durga, Kali, Parvati, Saraswati, Lakshmi, and so on.

The concept should be understood as part of a three-fold power, the three-fold nature of the goddess. Shakti, again, is divine power and creative energy. It works in tandem with maya and prakrti. Maya is illusion, the illusory power of the goddess. Shakta theology sees this as a positive, creatively potent illusory power, rather than a crafty, deceptive power. Prakrti is nature, or the material manifestation of maya and shakti. Prakrti is both the body of the goddess, and all other material forms, as these are part of her body.

In addition to the concepts of shakti, maya, and prakrti, a fourth concept comes into play in terms of the nature and function of a goddess. This fourth concept is líla, or divine play. The purpose of líla is to bring pleasure through play. The four aspects of the goddess work together in the following way: The goddess creates (shakti) all the material forms (prakrti as the goddess herself) with the illusion that these forms have an existence apart from her (maya) for the purpose of her own divine pleasure (líla).

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Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Mar 15, 2011

I have shakti yoga unfortunately. When I say shakti yoga, I'm not talking about the physical yoga exercise with feminine power in mind. Shakti yoga is a term used in vedic astrology. In astrology, there are many different combinations of planets depending on the time and date you were born and each combination is called a yoga. They all have different names and meanings, just like shakti yoga.

I had asked for my vedic chart from an astrologer and he said that all of my planets are either in the seventh, eight, ninth or tenth houses. So this means I have shakti yoga, but it's not a good thing because it makes me lazy and unproductive. The astrologer said that I can do some things to be more productive though. He is going to tell me some tips next time I visit. Let's see. I hope it works.

By fify — On Mar 14, 2011

I didn't know that Shakti was a generic word for the divine feminine power of the goddesses. I only knew that Shaktism is the worship of the goddess Shakti. But this makes sense because goddess Shakti was reincarnated in many different forms like Lakshmi, Durga and Parvati. So just like Brahman and his incarcerations, all of the female goddesses must be the reincarnations of Goddess Shakti. That's why they all have the same feminine power.

By ysmina — On Mar 12, 2011

All the women in my house worship Devi Durga (we call her Durga Amma, or Mother Durga) for nine days every year. Every day is a worship for her different forms and shakti. Each day we listen to stories of Durga Amma's incarnation as different people and goddesses and her experiences and lessons she teaches us.

My favorite story about Durga Amma is when she was born as Parvati, the daughter of the Himalaya mountain. She married Shiva and tore down the ego of many gods. In turn, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva bowed down to her and said that she is shakti and that it is her shakti that makes them capable to do what they do.

My mother says that wives should be like Parvati. They should support their husbands but also warn them if they are making a mistake. This way, women make men stronger and more capable to take care of their families and fulfill their responsibilities.

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