Buddhist Goddesses of India

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Princeton University Press, 2006 - Religion - 571 pages
3 Reviews

The Indian Buddhist world abounds with goddesses--voluptuous tree spirits, maternal nurturers, potent healers and protectors, transcendent wisdom figures, cosmic mothers of liberation, and dancing female Buddhas. Despite their importance in Buddhist thought and practice, these female deities have received relatively little scholarly attention, and no comprehensive study of the female pantheon has been available. Buddhist Goddesses of India is the essential and definitive guide to divinities that, as Miranda Shaw writes, "operate from transcendent planes of bliss and awareness for as long as their presence may benefit living beings."

Beautifully illustrated, the book chronicles the histories, legends, and artistic portrayals of nineteen goddesses and several related human figures and texts. Drawing on a sweeping range of material, from devotional poetry and meditation manuals to rituals and artistic images, Shaw reveals the character, powers, and practice traditions of the female divinities. Interpretations of intriguing traits such as body color, stance, hairstyle, clothing, jewelry, hand gestures, and handheld objects lend deep insight into the symbolism and roles of each goddess.

In addition to being a comprehensive reference, this book traces the fascinating history of these goddesses as they evolved through the early, Mahayana, and Tantric movements in India and found a place in the pantheons of Tibet and Nepal.


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Buddhist goddesses of India

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Female deities in India represent the energies, powers, and beings that influence human life and also reflect the core of the human spirit that may be awakened through spiritual practice. This first ... Read full review

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Miranda Shaw devoted more than a decade of research to create this epic work, greatly expanding on concepts she introduced in "Passionate Enlightenment". "Buddhist Goddesses of India" sets a new benchmark for the study and understanding of female deities in the context of South Asian religion and society. While the title states the focus is on Buddhist goddesses, the book’s scope is actually far greater; the author’s rigorous research explores Hindu and animist relationships for each goddess, carefully examining their origins and the historical evolution of their worship.
To her credit, Shaw designed the book as a reference that readers can explore in a non-linear fashion; each chapter is independent. That said, the author constructed a brilliant hierarchy that is a pleasure to read in sequence. What makes this reference especially rare is Shaw’s writing style, which transcends the strength of her logic to give readers a work of beauty and inspiration.
She begins each chapter with a quote of original scripture relating to the goddess, followed by her own prose introduction, such as this example from page 188:
“ Parnasavari dwells in a forest glade high on a mountainside. Her beauty reflects the allure of the forest. Her skin glistens with emerald light; the healing sap of trees flows in her veins; her limbs are robust and supple as saplings. Parnasavari adorns herself with nature’s finery: feathers, flowers, fruit, and berries. A skirt made of leaves sways around her hips as she dances in her primeval bower. Thus arrayed in tribal splendor, she wanders in a state of joyous, primal rapture, alive to the colors, fragrances, and textures of the forest. Her woodland home is a treasure trove of botanical riches and medicinal secrets....”
Shaw then conducts a thorough analysis of each goddess (see list below) including origin, development, iconography, sphere of influence, methods of worship, geographical areas of influence, temporal and regional variations, tantric manifestations, conflicting interpretations, relationships with other gods and goddesses, etc. Shaw’s sources include her own translations and extensive field work in South Asia. Most goddesses are illustrated with multiple photos and the book includes 16 stunning color plates.
This systematic approach consistently gives rise to new insights, illuminating roles, iconography and relationships among gods and goddesses that have previously been obscure. The author’s focus on feminine deities has caused some to criticize her as a “feminist.” My perception is that she is a realist, conducting research where previous scholars have missed crucial connections, or chosen not to make them. In this regard, her groundbreaking scholarship is similar to Trudy Jacobsen’s work "Lost Goddesses:The Denial of Female Power in Cambodian History".
"Buddhist Goddesses of India" is an indispensible reference on the evolution of female deities in Asian religion. But it is Miranda Shaw’s lifelong passion for this topic that makes her book an inspiration for anyone seeking an intimate understanding of the feminine divine.


Prthivi Mother Earth
Mayadevi The Buddhas Wondrous mother and Her Sacred Grove
Yaksinis Voluptuous Magical Nature Spirits
Sri Laksmi Glorious Good Fortune
Hariti Goddess of Motherly Love
Female Buddhas The Case of Gotami
Goddesses in the Flower Ornament Scripture
Sitatapatra Invicible Goddess With a Thousand Heads and Hands
Usnisacijaya Bestower of Long Life and Immortality
Tara Mahayana Buddha Universal Savior
Vajrayogini Her Dance Is Total Freedom
Nairatmya Her Body Is the Sky
Chinnamunda SeveredHeaded Goddess
Simhamukha LionFaced Female Buddha
Kurukulla Red Enchantress with Flowered Bow

Prajnaparamita Luminous Mother of Perfect Wisdom
Parnasavari Healing Goddess Clothed in Leaves
Marici Lady of Sunrise Splendor
Janguli The Buddhist Snake Goddess
Sarasvati Divine Muse
Vasudhara Lady Bountiful
CUNDA Saving Grace
Glossary of Tibetan

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Page 531 - The Stupa of Bharhut. A Buddhist Monument. Ornamented with numerous Sculptures illustrative of Buddhist Legend and History in the Third Century BC By ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM, CSI, CIE, Major-General, Royal Engineers (Bengal Retired) ; Director-General Archaeological Survey of India.
Page 533 - Tree and Serpent Worship ; Or, Illustrations of Mythology and Art in India in the First and Fourth Centuries after Christ, from the Sculptures of the Buddhist Topes at Sanchi and Amravati.

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