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Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal
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Manufacturer: Oxford University Press, USA
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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 294.5514095414
EAN: 9780195167917
ISBN: 0195167910
Label: Oxford University Press, USA
Manufacturer: Oxford University Press, USA
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 368
Publication Date: 2004-08-05
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Studio: Oxford University Press, USA

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Editorial Reviews:

The Indian state of West Bengal is home to one of the world's most vibrant traditions of goddess worship. The year's biggest holidays are devoted to the goddesses Durga and Kali, with lavish rituals, decorated statues, fireworks, and parades. In Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls, June McDaniel provides a broad, accessibly written overview of Bengali goddess worship. McDaniel identifies three major forms of goddess worship, and examines each through its myths, folklore, songs, rituals, sacred texts, and practitioners. In the folk/tribal strand, which is found in rural areas, local tribal goddesses are worshipped alongside Hindu goddesses, with an emphasis on possession, healing, and animism. The tantric/yogic strand focuses on ritual, meditation, and visualization as ways of experiencing the power of the goddess directly. The devotional or bhakti strand, which is the most popular form, involves the intense love and worship of a particular form of the goddess. McDaniel traces these strands through Bengali culture and explores how they are interwoven with each other as well as with other forms of Hinduism. She also discusses how these practices have been reinterpreted in the West, where goddess worship has gained the values of sexual freedom and psychological healing, but lost its emphases on devotion and asceticism. Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls takes the reader inside the lives of practicing Shaktas, including holy women, hymn singers, philosophers, visionaries, gurus, ascetics, healers, musicians, and businessmen, and offers vivid descriptions of their rituals, practices, and daily lives. Drawing on years of fieldwork and extensive research, McDaniel paints a rich, expansive portrait of this fascinating religious tradition.

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: A treasure of information
Comment: This magnificent book drives the reader through a fascinating
journey among a variety of traditions which can be broadly encompassed
under the name of Bengali Shaktism.

The Introduction provides a `classification'
of various Shakta types. Albeit a bit artificial
(these categories should be not taken rigidly because
much overlapping is possible), the use of these `strands'
in the book is a useful tool to emphasize
and appreciate the profound differences existing
between various Shakta types.

Most important, from the anthropological perspective, is the evidence
provided in the First Chapter of some surviving types of
Bengali Shaktism (Folk Shaktism) among the so-called
`tribals' or Adivasis (i.e., those who were in the
land first) which are obviously completely outside the mainstream
of traditional Hinduism. They are `outside' from the scriptural
perspective, mythological perspective, and ritual perspective.
Yet, they are Hindus.
Under the name of `folk' Shaktism the Author reports a complex set of believes incorporated into Hinduism, but still preserving
memories and a heritage of an incredible ancient, pre-Hindu, past.
The remnant of a Shamanic component, [after Eliade's seminal
work, Shamanism cannot be possibly regarded with contempt]
is a proof of disturbing Antiquity.
The existence of forms of Hinduism among Bengali tribals
which have a surprisingly different mythology,
is a profound evidence of how rich and varied
and intrinsically encompassing true Hinduism is.
Hinduism can incorporate infinite amount
of varieties within, some philosophical (just consider
the immense amount of contrasting philosophical
literature produced during the Puranic age) and some,
as in the case of Adivasi Shaktism, ethnic and regional.

The Second Chapter emphasizes a Sanskrit-based Shakta Tradition,
and those texts in particular that have contributed
to create it (i.e. such as the Devi Mahatmyam, Kalika Purana, Kularnava Tantra, etc.). It is important to stress how the `Tantric', Kaula tradition in the sense in which it is understood in Bengal is often
misunderstood, misjudged and slandered outside of Bengal.
This, I suspect, may be a remnant of last centuries foreign dominations
(Shaktism was the less tolerated of the various schools of Hinduism)
but this is not necessarily the opinion supported by the Author, who reports the problem but does not speculate on historical causes.

The third chapter summarizes the version of Skaktism
based on a `bhakti' sentiment, bearing some similarity
perhaps with Vaishnava, Krishna-centered Bhakti, except that
it is focused on Kaali, Durgaa, or regional varieties
of Hindu Devis. I find this section particularly fascinating
because it fills a gap in the western literature. Whereas
books on the Sanskrit Shaktism, from Woodroffe's onwards,
are available in the west, it is perhaps more difficult
to access documents on the immense amount of religious
literature produced in Bengali. This literature ranges
from the Mangal-Kavyas, [particularly appealing is
the beautiful story of the Goddess Manasaa, on which a comparative
mythologist could perhaps write an entire encyclopedia!]
to the moving biographies of the many Shakta saints. This chapter,
by documenting such vast amount of Bengali literature,
is truly a homage to the vast spiritual and cultural
heritage of Bengal.

The Fourth Chapter describes in greater detail the
importance, or rather prominence, that Durgaa and Kaali
have in Bengal. Albeit fascinating, this Chapter is
perhaps not unique, for there are several other books on this subject
available in the English language.

The Fifth chapter is an attempt to describe some
of the changes imposed on Shaktism when incorporated
in some New Age believes. The Author reports such changes
with an attempted cold, dispassionate and `scientific' tone, but there seems to be an underlying polite irony, which culminates
when quoting Authors such as Selby or Condron.
(which brought me a sudden explosion of hilarity
welcome after an overall dense, notes-filled, and demanding text).
On the other hand, I personally found
the report of a former student of the Author,
who felt a profound call towards Durgaa, to be
disturbing and very convincingly `real'.

I think that a few points should be stated:
The Author seems to suggest that some of the Shakta
traditions are endangered, and may disappear soon.
This applies to both the Sanskrit-based tradition
(Kaula Tantra), and to the Shakta traditions of the Adivasi.
A coalition of opposers, coming partly from the Communist Bengali
government, partly from an attitude sadly nourished by
some Orthodox Hindus, partly because of a secularist
tendency within India which is taking its aim on Shaktism
particularly, seems to converge against Kaula and Adivasi Shaktism.
Particularly sad is the report that many Adivasis
perceive the role of Indians from the central government
as a form of `colonialism'. This feeling (who has been
successfully exploited by foreign missionaries in
other States such as Tripura or Nagaland where many Adivasis have
been converted to Christianity and have therefore lost their ancestral
spiritual knowledge forever) is a serious problem and should be
taken very seriously by all Hindus of all traditions, be
Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Skaktas or Smartas... if they don't want
a precious part of the Hindu heritage disappear.

Hinduism has been among the most tolerant
religions *because* it does not consider a problem to worship the Divine
under many aspects. What appears to be contradictory
in our limited minds is not such from the perspective
of the Divine. To have Myths in which one
God does not appear in a favorable light as in other
Mythological Sources shows the complexity, the variety,
the immense amount of possibilities of the Human Paths
towards the Divine. That beyond the humans, Apsaras,
Yakshas, Asuras, Devas and Devis exist a
Substance, or a `Condition', be it called Atman, Brahman, or Shakti, from which All is made, is one fundamental Hindu belief. That
the -particular- path one chooses, or the particular
Deities one chooses to worship, will lead there,
as long as one follows the Dharma with sincerity and devotion,
is also a Hindu tenet.
That the final purpose of Hinduism is to free us from Ignorance,
allowing us to recognize the fundamental shared nature
of humans and the Divine, is perhaps another important

On this matter, I need to comment on a couple
of Reviewers who, in my opinion, have used unnecessarily
harsh words against the Author. It is certainly true
that some western Authors write on Hinduism with
little knowledge, and is even truer that some western Authors
have profoundly slandered Hindus. But I strongly believe
that these accusations should not be brought against Dr. McDaniel.

To document traditions which do not depict Shiva as depicted in
the Shaiva Puranas is -not- an insult to Shiva. It is
simply an attempt to preserve one of the many faucets
of that multiform planet named Hinduism. Hinduism
is immensely rich -because- such traditions exist,
and the tendency of eradicating un-orthodox traditions, so dominant in other religions, has never really appealed -so far- the Hindu mind.

As for accusing the Author of `ignorance', I really
believe that is a perplexing accusation. The reviewer who thinks so,
should perhaps scroll the reference and note
list, [which encompasses Maha- and UpaPuranas, Tantric Sanskrit text,
medieval Bengali literature (Mangalkavyas), a vast amount
of scholarly books and articles written by Indian scholars,
often in Bengali] and compare it with references in other
books on Hinduism published in the West.

As for accusing the Author of being disrespectful to Hinduism,
the last page of her Conclusions shows very clearly her
sympathy and her love for India and the Indian culture.
Quite an unexpectedl conclusion for a book which a Reviewer
accuses to be offensive to Hinduism, indeed.

I consider myself a Shakta, albeit born in the West.
I am not a scholar of Hinduism, but I have continuously
nourished an interest in Hinduism for 30 years, and
on Shaktism for the last 10 years. I can surely
say that I did learn a lot from Professor McDaniel's book,
which is a precious addition to my library on Hinduism.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5
Summary: What a sad interpretation of things?
Comment: This book shows anybody with a little knowledge about anything can write a book and at least can make some money out of it.

This book clearly shows the author's inability to understand hindu and his attempt to interpret it it the way he wanted to.

It is in many ways an insult to Hindu.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: great insight
Comment: This book is a great way to understand the worship of the great goddess Kali. I like the fact that the written has given varies examples of her worhip through out india. I think it's a great book for people who would like to get to know the goddess Kali.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5Average rating of 1/5
Summary: a waste of money and a real disappointment
Comment: i prefer not to write negative feedbacks but this book deserved a real one...

I got this book thinking that it would be a good collection of the objective reviews about goddess worshiping in India by a "professor" - and it was printed by a respectable publisher, what else would i want for a good reference? On the contrary the book turned out to be full of wrong notions.

just a very small excerpt for you to understand what i mean;
"He (Shiva) became blue-throated after drinking poison in an unsuccesful suicide attempt, for he could no longer stand the hunger and poverty he had to endure" p 172 from the book "offering flowers feeding skulls"

Either the author did not read the indian scriptures (Ms McDaniel; if you are reading this review, at least read "shiva puranas" before attempting to write about Shiva) or she is having some second thoughts... in any case, the shame is on her.
Not only her, shame on Oxford University Press, too. I thought they have good editors and they *read and understand* the manuscript before they publish...

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Superb overview of Bengali women's religious practices
Comment: Professor McDaniel's "Offering Flowers" presents an exhaustively researched but eminently readable overview of the religious and spiritual practices of the women of rural Bengal. Highly recommended for anyone seeking to learn more about Indian culture as it manifests itself outside of the institutionalized forms. An enjoyable and vivid journey back in time -- or maybe outside of time -- to a place where religious beliefs and rituals are still directly connected to the tangible natural world.

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