Encountering the Goddess

A Translation of the Devī-Māhātmya and a Study of Its Interpretation

By Thomas B. Coburn

Subjects: Hindu Studies
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791404461, 272 pages, April 1991
Hardcover : 9780791404454, 272 pages, May 1991

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Table of contents


1. Introduction

PART I: The Text in Its Context

2. The Historical Setting


1. Introduction
2. Sanskrit and Sanskritization
3. The Names of the Goddess
4. The Myths in the Devi-Mahatmya
5. The Divine Protector or Protectress


3. The Text in Translation


1. A Note on the Translation
2. The Translation


Part II: Encounters With the Goddess

4. The Legacy of a Text

5. Encounter with the Text I--The Ritual and Philosophy of the Angas


1. Introduction
2. The Armor, the Stopper, the Bolt: Kavaca, Argala, and Kilaka
3. The Secrets Pertaining to Primordial Matters, Subsequent Modifications, and Forms: The Pradhanika, Vaikrtika, and Murti Rahasyas


6. Encounter with the Text II--The Commentaries


1. Introduction
2. Bhaskararaya and Nagoji Bhatta
3. Bhaskararaya's Guptavati: "Containing What is Hidden"
4. Comparative Considerations


7. Encounters in the Contemporary World


1. Introduction
2. Scholar and Translator
3. Pujari and Professor
4. "Standing at the Feet of the Mother"
5. Conclusion


Appendix: Translation of the Angas


Coburn provides a fresh and careful translation from the Sanskrit of this fifteen-hundred-year-old text. Drawing on field work and literary evidence, he illuminates the process by which the Devī-Māhātmya has attracted a vast number of commentaries and has become the best known Goddess-text in modern India, deeply embedded in the ritual of Goddess worship (especially in Tantra). Coburn answers the following questions among others: Is this document "scripture?" How is it that this text mediates the presence of the Goddess? What can we make of contemporary emphasis on oral recitation of the text rather than study of its written form?

One comes away from Coburn's work with a sense of the historical integrity or wholeness of an extremely important religious development centered on a "text." The interaction between the text and later philosophical and religious developments such as those found in Advaita Vedanta and Tantra is quite illuminating.

Relevant here are the issues of the writtenness and orality/aurality of 'scripture,' and the various ways by which a deposit of holy words such as the Devī-Māhātmya becomes effective, powerful, and inspirational in the lives of those who hold it sacred.

Thomas B. Coburn is Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies and Classical Languages at St. Lawrence University. He is the author of Devi-Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition.


"Encountering the Goddess is likely to be the standard scholarly translation for years to come. "--C. Mackenzie Brown, Trinity University