The Difference between Devi Iconography in North and South India

This post is part of our ongoing series featuring the works of Professor LeBoeuf 's students!

The Shakta tradition is associated with a widespread practice of Hindu Goddess Worship. The extensive worship of the Devi- the divine feminine energy, varies by the region. Therefore, my paper will explore the difference in the representations of the Devi in North and South India. The paper will underscore the different embodiments of the Devi and discuss her narratives in the context of the imagery and visual representations. The paper will include a formal analysis of the iconography of the examples of Devi representations from the North and the South. This formal analysis is geared to trace her role, function and body language. It will not just comprehensively describe the physical attributes, adornment and form of the Devi, but will also address the stories related to the Devi that gave her these powers. Thereafter, the paper will compare the different aspects of the Devi iconography between the north and the south. Through this comparison, I will explain how forms of these deities are worshipped across the two regions. Whilst exploring the symbolism of the adornment, posture, gestures and gaze of the Devi, I will examine her significance to Hindu beliefs and practices. Subsequently, I will use scholarly research that illustrates her role and function as the divine feminine in Hinduism.

Hindu practices and traditions vary vastly across regions. This diversity in Hindu worship manifests in myriad ways. For instance, the Goddess has different names, plays various roles and is portrayed distinctively based on the region. Therefore, the heritage of Goddess worship is based on distinctive elements in the different regions in that they have their own rituals, festivals and ways of veneration. As a result, this diversity is displayed through the diverging architectural styles of the places of worship and different iconographies of the Goddess. In fact, a particular form of the devi is more worshipped in one region than in another. For instance, the concept of the Sapta Matrikas (Seven Mothers) is more evident in the South whereas in West Bengal, there is a strong presence of Kali worship. Consequently, the Devi is worshipped for her several roles. In certain regions, the Devi is venerated for her role as a mother while in other regions, she is consecrated for her association with elements of nature and her ability to provide fertility. These histories, origins and philosophies can be studied through regional differences. Therefore, I employ a regional lens to unravel the iconography of the Devi. However, what remains consistent is that the Devi possesses a divine and pluralistic energy. This empowering force is an integral component to Hinduism’s diverse practices and hence, using a regional discourse to elucidate the Devi’s power is compelling.

The Devi’s multiple role and forms exemplifies her powers and fortitude in the Hindu pantheon. The overarching objective of this paper is to discuss how the Devi’s diverse iconographies demonstrates her multifaceted personality and divine energy and how these representations are significant to the devotional and worship aspects of Hinduism. Moreover, I want to use the stories and tales associated with the various representations of the Devi to bring to light her empowering and dynamic force. These qualities of the Devi are represented through her different embodiments. These incarnations of the Devi establish her essence in personifying the strength of Goddess worship. It is apparent that these visual representations are created for devotees to propitiate and revere. Hence, the iconographic portrayal is important to devotional practices that are extremely prevalent in Hinduism. It will underline how these practices differ regionally and thereby, further epitomise the multifarious role of the Devi. Overall, the paper will employ a feminist approach to discuss her multiple depictions in worship traditions. It is imperative that the paper emphasise how the Devi possesses the divine energy that makes her as significant to the Hindu pantheon as other deities. It will typify how the iconographic representations are directly linked to idolatrous worship to encourage devotees to seek tangible practices to engage with the Goddess’ energy. Hence, the widespread presence of iconographic representations of the Devi accentuates the fundamental devotional practices of the Shakta tradition and more generally, Hinduism. In essence, the paper will investigate the numerous roles and functions of the Devi in stimulating devotional practices for devotees to identify with the divine feminine.