What is Shakt?
In this infinite world, either man or woman, either wealthy or needy, either youth or senior, everybody desires to lead a life with harmony, happiness and peace. For this, one has to serve his physical purpose which is known as work or karma" but relies on invisible energy. This hidden energy is recognized as a god or goddess and people worship them. The feminine equivalent of God is known as Shakti. People worship the mother Deity in female energy as a maker, preserver and destroyer of the universe which is contemplated to be the power of the universe
The Shakta cult was extensively dominant and prominent among the community of Medieval Bengal. It plays a significant part from that period till today. It plays a vital spot in the manuscripts as well. There are several aspects of the cult adored by the people in the ancient era that are proved by the inscriptions also.
Shakti- The Divine energy
The word Shakta emerged from the root 'sak' implying the capability to have energy and to 'perform'. It implies both ability and action. These are all energies of action that are eventually reducible to the primordial strength (adya Shakti) from which every other form of power proceeds. Further, Shakta may have originated to be any kind of action like seeing, hearing, smelling etc. Shakta cult is a deep-rooted spiritual and ancient phenomenon that developed throughout the eras in the whole world. The Shakta cult had been adored as the Mother Goddess, originated as power both productive and destructive has been a subject of deification in India from ancient times. The personification of cosmic energy in the abstract dwells in the macrocosm and microcosm. While all kinds of activities in the palpable world are the embodiment of the macrocosmic forms of Shakti, in the microcosmic aspect she remains dormant in the human body at the bottom of the spinal cord (Muladhara chakra). The absolute purpose outlined in the scriptures is that the union of Shakti and Shiva is the beginning of the material and spiritual growth of humanity. Men of all ages have acknowledged the embodiment of Siva through her in contemplation and this has been possible only through worship.
Forms of Shakti
Kali is the goddess of time, change, and destruction. She is often depicted with a garland of skulls and a tongue that protrudes out of her mouth.
Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, music, and art. She is depicted holding a veena (musical instrument) and a book.
Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. She is worshipped for bringing good luck and success.
Parvati is the consort of Lord Shiva and represents the ideal wife and mother. She is also worshipped as a goddess of fertility and power.
Gayatri is the goddess of Vedic hymns and the personification of the Gayatri Mantra, a powerful prayer in Hinduism.
Tripura Sundari is the goddess of beauty and is worshipped for her grace and charm.
Chandi is a fierce form of Durga and is worshipped for her power and protection.
According to some of the fertility beliefs in the Hindu concept of the earth as Mother and its inseparable association with agriculture possibly be the origin of the Shakti cult. Friedrich Heiler has opined that the understanding of God as a mother is as natural and absolute as the vision of Him as a father? And it is even possible that the Indian theory of the Shakti cult is nothing but a fraction of the extensive worship of Mother Goddess, in his work 'The Shaktas' he specifies the probability of certain connections between Knossos and Egypt as early as the 3 millennium B.C. ushering to the worship of Mother goddess. In this view, the history of India, Balochistan, Iran, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Egypt etc. accepted the testimony to the worship of the Mother goddess in prehistoric times. Mackenzie supports an Asiatic origin. He explains that during the Brahmanic period, the Bharatas, the residents of the "Middle Kingdom" , initiated worshiping Bhārati, goddess, unlike the mother goddesses of Egypt and early Europe. This deity became attributed with 'Sarasvati' and was eventually acknowledged as the wife of Brahma, the Supreme God. When Buddhism waned and Shiva became the most prominent deity, this goddess worship was converted to Shiva's consort "Shakti", and was governed into a different sect".
Historical Traces of Shakti
In the book “Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics” it is mentioned that around 5000-6000 BC, the worship of female divinities rose to a standpoint of ultimate importance and among those worshiped were Durgā, the eternity, Sarasvati, the absolute wisdom and Shakti, the mother of all manifestations. A Goddess having 3 faces was worshiped during that period. Large numbers of terracotta statues, most probably depicting this goddess, have been found in the course of archaeological excavations from several sites of the Indus Valley. The initial settlers of this valley seem to have worshiped the deity in her iconic form. Many ring stones, excavated at the sites can justifiably be depicted as cult objects glorifying the mother element of the goddess. These must be researched along with not only the much-decorated categories of ring stones of the Maurya period found in many north Indian sites like Takshila, Košam, Rajghat and Patna but also phallic objects depicting the father deity of the Indus Valley people, conveniently defined by Marshall as Proto monuments. The ornamented ring stones of the historic period no doubt represent the same variety, but their common character demonstrates that they were cult objects identical with the ring stones of the Indus Valley on the one hand and the chakras and the yantras of the later Śaktas on the other. A seal excavated at Harappa exhibits a nude female figure, upside down with legs wide apart, and with a plant arising from her womb. Her arms are exhibited in the exact position of the Proto-Shiva on the Mohenjodaro's seal. Marshall has compared this remarkable imitation of the nude female figure with a plant emerging from her womb, with the considerably identical instance of earlier Gupta terracotta seal demonstrating a female figure with her legs in much the similar position but with a lotus arising from her neck rather from her womb'.
Shakti and the Vedas
The vision of Shakti was there in the minds of Vedic seers (though the word Shakti is not found in Vedic texts), which is substantiated by the fact that various goddesses are illustrated in several capacities. Early Vedic ritualism illustrates a distinct picture and the deity maintains a comparatively secondary position.
Shakti and the Harivamsa Puranas
The belief of the amalgamated goddess encompassed in its several elements such as her ‘mother daughter' and 'sister' elements, her Vedic element and last but not least, the several non Äryan strands in her identity. The Aryastava explains that she was generously worshipped by the Savaras, the Barbaras, and the Pulindas, and she is frequently portrayed in other contexts as from the greater class including the aristocrats and kings (as she is worshipped by Aparna and Parna Savari.
Shakti and Mārkandeya Purana
There comes a finished book under the Markandeya Purana comprising 13 chapters called Durga Saptashati or DeviMahatmya. The Devi Mahatmya is an embellishment of the belief of Devi of the Vedic doctrine, of an almighty Goddess of ultimate preeminence as propounded in the Ambhri Sukta and Daksayani Sukta.