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Three-day National Seminar on Śakti Worship in India was jointly organized by Amrita Darshanam – International Centre for Spiritual Studies, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, and Nari Samvaad Prakalp, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi. The seminar was hosted at the Amirtapuri campus from September 21-23, 2018.
The worship of the female manifestation of divinity is popular in most cultures that have principles that are in line with the Sanātana Dharma. The foundation of such cultures lies in the fact that both the Creator and the Creation are revered – the two are treated as inseparable and non-different entities. The worship of the creation in its feminine form as the Mother, or the popular worship of nature as prakṛti, is in vogue in India from the Vedic times. The seminar aimed at having academic discussions on various aspects related to Śakti worship that included ritual traditions and textual study – from printed literature and original manuscripts, to iconography, mythology and the related forms of art.
The seminar was convened by Dr. Sushma Jatoo from IGNCA and Br. Prasanth, Assistant Professor, Spiritual Studies, Amritapuri from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. The seminar was inaugurated in the divine presence of Swami Amritakrupananda Puri and the keynote address was delivered by Dr. Aravind Subrahmanyam. There were about 30 invited speakers and scholars of repute from across India and the seminar also drew participant papers and audience from various universities. There were papers on the Śakti tradition in Odisha, The Cult of Bhagawati and its manifestations in Kerala, Female Deities in Madhvacharya’s Tantra-sangraha, Forms of Śakti and the Philosophy of Śaktismin Devi-mahatmyam, Adi Shankara and Śakti worship, Śakti worship with special reference to Bhringisha Samhita and many more. There was also a special panel on Southern Brahma-Yamalas and worship of Bhadrakali under the guidance of Dr. S.A.S. Sarma, EFEO (Pondicherry). Manjushree Hegde, Assistant Professor, Spiritual Studies, Coimbatore and Br. Prasanth were also on the panel.
The invited scholars and seminar participants had darshan of Mata Amritanandamayi, fondly called ‘Amma’, the Chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham at Amritapuri ashram. Amma spoke to them about the importance of Śakti worship and gave her blessings. Dr. Balakrishnan Shankar, Associate Dean, School of Engineering, Amritapuri, spoke on “The Vision of Śakti in Amma’s Life and Works”, which indeed moved the audience to tears. He said that the life of a Mahatma is a living commentary on the Upanishads, which truly brought meaning and fulfillment to the seminar.
The seminar also included performances of two traditional ritual arts of Kerala, namely Kalamezhuthu and Padayani. The IGNCA financially supported the documentation of these. Padayani, also called Padeni, (from the Malayalam word for military formations) is a beautiful ritualistic art form of Kerala associated with the mythology of Bhadrakali. It is a ceremonial dance that commences with the killing of the asura, Daruka, and is a masked performance of an ancient ritual performed in devi temples. It is performed in honor of the devi or Bhadrakali. Padayani is an art form that blends music, dance, theatre, satire, facial masks and paintings. It is performed in order to appease the fierce Bhadrakali after she kills Daruka. Kalamezhuthu is a temple art of drawing very large pictures (kalam) on the floor as part of temple rituals (usually associated with devi, naga or sastha) in Kerala. The drawings are often intricate and complex but executed only with the hands. No other tools are used.
The participants greatly appreciated the large spectrum of topics brought under one roof and the attention to detail in the organization of the event. They also expressed their pleasure in attending the seminar and mentioned that it greatly enriched their knowledge.