From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda


Devī literally means ‘the shining one’.The ‘devī’ is the feminine counterpart of ‘deva’ and hence means a goddess. The concept of the worship of God as the Mother of the universe in the feminine form is as old as the human civilization. It is one of the Supreme Powers ruling over the universe.

Origin of Devī Worship

  • The people of Assyria and Babylonia worshiped the goddess Ishtar, as the goddess par excellence.
  • There is enough evidence to believe that Mother-worship existed during the Indus valley Civilization (2800 B. C.).
  • The Ṛgveda[1] refers to several female deities as the consorts of male deities or even as independent and separate goddesses.

Individual Goddesses

Many goddesses are worshiped as separate goddesses such as:

  1. Aditi
  2. Uṣas
  3. Pṛthvī
  4. Rātri
  5. Vāc
  6. Śraddhā

Rivers Worshiped as Goddesses

Sacred rivers are also deified as goddesses such as:

  1. Sarasvatī
  2. Gaṅgā
  3. Yamunā
  4. Śutudru
  5. Paruṣṇī

Emergence of Folk Goddesses

In course of time, many folk-goddesses of great antiquity and uncertain origin were also absorbed into the Devī cult. However, it is in the paurāṇic age that the notion of the Mother-goddess, Devī, came to be associated with the three prominent deities, the Trimurtis:

  1. Brahmā
  2. Viṣṇu
  3. Śiva

Vital Goddesses

The three major goddesses are:

  1. Sarasvati - consort of Brahmā
  2. Lakṣmī - consort of Viṣṇu
  3. Pārvatī - consort of Śiva

In the purāṇas there is an attempt to depict them as three aspects of one and the same Devī. On the other hand there are also legends trying to project one of them as superior to the other two. By and large, an overwhelming majority of the goddesses are either different facets of the goddess Pārvatī (the spouse of Śiva) or her attendants or her associates. In fact, even the word ‘Devī’ has been specially reserved for her.


  1. Ṛgveda 2.1.11; 8.10.2
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore