Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Goddess Terminology (Devi)

Female Deities Index

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- Description (below)
- Deities: Categories & Divisions
- Female Imagery
- Confusions
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Video: Goddess Terminology

The term 'goddess' is a translation of the Sanskrit and Tibetan language words 'devi' and 'lhamo' and can apply to all female deities. It does not infer function, hierarchy or a particular religion or religious tradition. The term also does not imply good qualities or bad qualities. However, the term goddess is not applied uniformly to all female figures. It is applied uniformly only to specify female gender.

For female deity figures the Buddhist Tantras generally use terminology that states function or class. Tara is often prefaced with 'bhagavani' meaning enlightened which is synonymous with buddhahood, or 'jetsun' meaning revered or holy. Although the title or honorific of goddess can be used for Tara in practice it is rarely used. Vajrayogini and Vajra Nairatmya are classified as 'yidam' meaning that they are meditational deities.

In the Highest Yoga Tantra classification the terms used are dependent upon specific literature. Female figures described in the Chakrasamvara cycle of tantras are generally referred to as dakini and the male figures as daka. In the Hevajra cycle of tantras the female figures are referred to as goddess and the male figures as gods. The terminology used between tantras can vary depending on what is stipulated in the tantra literature itself. In the two Buddhist lower tantras of Action and Performance female figures are almost always referred to as goddess such as Sarasvati Devi, Parnashavari Devi and Vasudhara Devi. In translation, the term goddess is used for Hindu, Bon and tribal religion female deities.

In the five or six divisions of worldly existence, as pictures in the Wheel of Life paintings, gods and goddess exist in the Deva and Asura realms. Female Buddhist and Bon protector deities are commonly referred to as goddesses from the highest wisdom deity such as Shri Devi to the lowest worldly protector. Indigenous mountain or lake spirits judged to be female are also referred to as goddesses, such as the goddess Tseringma. The different deity moods and appearances of peaceful, semi-peaceful/semi-wrathful, wrathful and animal featured do not play a role in the use of the term goddess.

Jeff Watt 8-2020