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  You are in: Home > Theology & Religion > At the Feet of the Goddess  

At the Feet of the Goddess
The Divine Feminine in Local Hindu Religion

Lynn Foulston

Author text to follow


At the Feet of the Goddess embraces ritual, worship and iconography, rather than philosophy and metaphysics, in two communities. In each of these sites, as is common within many local communities across India, it is female deities that predominate. Although local worship is based on ritual and grounded in a tradition that may not be fully comprehended by its adherents, it is also partly based in, and is a reflection of, a more complex metaphysical undercurrent. Local goddesses, in particular, while representing anthropomorphized figures for the majority of their devotees, are concurrently the personifications of the abstract concept of sakti – female divine energy.

List of maps, tables, temple plans and plates
Note on the languages used and their transliteration
Foreword by
Kathleen Erndl
Preface and acknowledgements


1 The Concept of Female Divinity in Hinduism
The goddess and the Indus Valley Civilization
The textual goddess
The goddess and the Vedic period
The importance of the Vedantic period
Goddesses in the Classical period
The metaphysical goddess
The Devi-Mahatmya
The Devi-Bhagavatam Purana
Pan-Indian goddesses
Essentially benign goddesses
Essentially fierce goddesses
Village or local goddesses

2 Village and Urban Sacred Places
Khurdapur: a village settlement in Orissa
Cholavandan: a small town in Tamilnadu
Classical temple building
Temples, temple/shrines and shrines
The features of a temple
The features of a temple/shrine
The features of a shrine
Temples and shrines in Khurdapur
Temples and shrines in Cholavandan
Comparisons and contrasts

3 Village and Urban Goddesses: Origins and Associations
Origin myths
The goddesses of Khurdapur
The goddesses of Cholavandan
Associations with pan-Indian goddesses
Associations with pan-Indian goddesses in Khurdapur
Associations with pan-Indian goddesses in Cholavandan
Comparisons and contrasts

4 Power and Impurity
Collective and individual power of local goddesses
The power of goddesses in Khurdapur
The power of goddesses in Cholavandan
The extent of the village or urban goddessÕs power
The power of the devotees
Brahmanization or Sanskritization of goddesses
The extent of Brahmanization/Sanskritization in Khurdapur
The extent of Brahmanization/Sanskritization in Cholavandan
Control of fierce goddesses
The goddess as victim
The purity or impurity of the goddesses
Comparisons and contrasts

5 The Protective Nature of the Goddesses
Previous studies
Goddesses and disease
Disease in Khurdapur
Disease in Cholavandan
Are local goddesses angry and malevolent?
The angry goddess in Khurdapur
The angry goddess in Cholavandan
Are local goddesses ambivalent and unpredictable?
Comparisons and contrasts

6 Local Ritual Practice
Rituals of devotion
Abhiseka (Tam. apiseka) and decoration of the goddess
Procession around the streets
The planting of mulaipari, a pot containing nine grains
The offering of mavilakku, rice-flour lamps
Hook swinging and fire-pot carrying
Fire-walking in Khurdapur
The purity of the fire pit
The power of the goddess and fire-walking
Fire-walking in Tamilnadu and Cholavandan
Santosi Ma Friday worship
Sacrifice (Skt. bali, Tam. pali)
Pausa Purnnima sacrifice in Khurdapur
Pana Sankranti sacrifice in Khurdapur
Cremation-ground rituals and sacrifices
Maha-Sivaratri in Cholavandan
Protection and purification
Tying a protective thread
Purification rituals
Ritual practice inside and outside the temple or shrine
Rituals that take place in the realm of the goddess
Rituals that take place outside the realm of the goddess
ñakti karakam Ð invocation and final immersion
Comparisons and contrasts

7 Reassessing Local Goddesses
Previous models
A new approach
Reappraisal of local goddesses
Conclusion- uniformity or diversity?

Further reading

“Lynn Foulston is the first to compare ‘goddess collectives’ (the word ‘pantheon’ is too hierarchical, she argues) of two settlements in different geographical areas of India from the perspective of religious studies… A meticulous and colourful description which details not only the variety of goddesses in the two settlements but also their attendant origin myths as told by informants and these myths’ relation, when applicable, to texts.” The Journal of Religion

“This book makes important contributions to the increasingly rich and complex portrait of Indian goddesses. Foulston has succeeded in putting together extensive textual and ethnographic research that elegantly testifies to the complexity of not only local goddess traditions in India but broader Hindu traditions as well.” The Journal of Asian Studies

“Her close study and comparison of two cultic communities is innovative. Foulston has amassed considerable (local) data on shrine construction and management, healing goddesses, firewalking, possession, and types of offerings (vegetarian, flesh, intoxican). Recommended.” Religious Studies Review

“One of the biggest advantages of this work for the beginning student is its stylistic simplicity. The author is deeply aware that unfamiliar technical language can be an enormous obstacle for beginning students of theology and church history … the other major advantage for this work has to do with its contents and organization. From beginning to end, there is a consistent pattern of presentation … Finally, while this work is ideally suited for beginning college and seminary students, there is much in it to commend it to the more advanced student as well as to the professional theologian and church historian … In these and other respects, this work is at once a highly accessible and subtly provocative summary of the beliefs and practices constitutive of the Protestant Reformation.” Teaching Theology and Religion

“Foulston argues convincingly that previous scholars’ characterization of goddesses as malevolent was based on prejudice and theological misunderstanding… Jewels of description abound on every page, making the goddesses and their devotees come alive.” From the Foreword by Kathleen M. Erndl, The Florida State University

“Nowhere is the feminine dimension of the Divine more omnipresent, vibrant and alive than in Hinduism. Lynn Foulston’s work stands out through its great attention to local details and differences between individual Indian goddesses, details relating to their diverse locations, their rich phenomenology, here documented by new visual evidence, their presence and power in people’s lives, and the joyous celebration of their existence and influence through numerous rituals and festivities.
It is joy to read this book, and it is a challenge to ponder its evidence, for many of its nuanced observations and conclusions raise questions about earlier goddess research and invite us to a new evaluation of the significance of dynamic goddess beliefs and practices in Indian culture.” Professor Ursula King, University of Bristol


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
April 1999
  Illustrated:   16-page colour plate section
Hardback Price:
£45.00 / $65.00

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