Devi: The Great Goddess

Devi (in Sanskrit and in English)
HomepageInterpreting Devi
Devi Through the Ages
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Draupadi and Kunti with the Pandavas. Lent by a private collection.
During the Gupta period (320-647), the goddess, as object of worship, was celebrated in the Devi Mahatmya, a fifth-sixth century Sanskrit text. Through the dynamic narration of three stories about her great feats, the Devi Mahatmya proclaims Devi's supremacy as the creator of the universe and the one who pervades and sustains creation. Copies of the Devi Mahatmya illustrating Devi's adventures in detail became increasingly popular into the 19th century.
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Full image and description.
Sita in the Hermitage of Valmiki. Lent by a private collection.
During most of India's history, a monarchical system of government prevailed. Much evidence exists to suggest that regardless of a monarch's main deity, it was the Great Goddess to whom he turned when he sought victory in battle; it was she who was worshiped prior to embarking on war. This is attested to in the two great Indian epics: the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The sixteenth century led to a resurgent belief that Hindu rulers required the protection of female deities, and from that time onward many Hindu kings chose a particular goddess to appear on coins, seals and other official documents.

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The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.
All presented material is copyright © Smithsonian Institution, 1999 except where otherwise noted.