In India, there are many cities and other sites that are considered especially sacred to the Goddess and her devotees. These places are called pīthās. Pīthās provide unique insight into Goddess worship and what the Goddess; the Devī; the Mother means to her followers. What follows here is a brief survey of pīthās: what they are, what they mean, and where they come from historically and mythically. The possible Buddhist origins and/or connections of these sites are especially crucial to this report; therefore, correlations between sacred Buddhist sites and pīthās will also be discussed. First, the origin story of the pīthās will be presented for reference.
[...] What the Pīthās Mean In one translation of the Devī Gītā, the Goddess dies in the flames of the fire sacrifice, and what follows is described thusly: Hear, O King, this ancient tale. When the body of Satī was consumed in the flames, The bewildered Śiva wandered about, falling here and there motionless on the ground. He was unaware of the manifest world, his mind being fully absorbed. Regaining his self-composure, he passed the time contemplating the true form of the Goddess. [...]
[...] In fact, this Goddess's name means severed head or foreheaded one (Benard At this point, the connections between the Buddhist tradition and the Hindu pīthās should be made clearer. Who Let the Buddha in? Many scholars have noted the similarities between the Hindu pīthās and the Buddhist stūpas (Erndl 33, Sircar 7). A stūpa is a mound containing ashes or corporeal relics, a funeral custom in India and many other cultures (Mitra 21). Before his death, the Buddha supposedly directed his followers to honor his remains in this way, by erecting stūpas at the crossing of four highways (Mitra 21). [...]
[...] Or perhaps the myth of the pīthās had been created by the Hindu in anticipation of the friction between Hindus and Buddhists, and the Buddhist converts just retained the legend as a part of their Goddess worship. Review and Concluding Remarks Pīthās are important sites of Goddess worship. They represent places on earth where body parts of the Goddess fell after her death. However, her death was only in one of her forms; she lives on in various forms in the pīthās, giving her devotees the most personal worship experience possible. [...]
[...] As we saw in a class video about the local Goddess, Mīnāksī, in the city of Madurai, many of these traditionally local Goddesses become connected with larger and more important myths, raising the level of the small Goddess to that of Mahādevī. Perhaps the pīthās were a way for Hindus to connect certain local Goddesses, to bind them together through a common myth under the pan-Indic umbrella of Mahādevī . Textual evidence supports this theory. D.C. Sircar has documented the evolution of the pīthā creation myth, and the earliest myth is more concerned with Lord Śiva and doesn't even mention what happens to the body of the Goddess after her death (Sircar 6). [...]
[...] This version of the pīthās story from the Devī Gītā is a cautionary tale, meant to remind all Goddess devotees that everything depends on her, and that, if she's displeased, she has the power to withhold the śakti that puts everything right. However, there's also an aspect of hope to the story in that the Goddess falls to the earth, letting her sacred body become part of the land. In this fashion, the pīthās are probably meant to be a sign of the Goddess's protection over all of India. [...]
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