Indian mythology refers to the feminine aspect of the divine power or energy as Shakti, personified as Goddess Devi. Revered since the beginning of time as a mother goddess who mysteriously brought forth children from her body, the feminine energy was deified in the Hindu pantheon as consorts of the predominantly male Aryan gods. Thus we have Parvati or Shakti, the wife of Lord Shiva; Lakshmi who is the consort of Lord Vishnu; Saci or Indrani, the wife of Indra; Saraswati, the wife of Brahma and so on.
Many of the Devi temples in India are known as Shakti Peethas or the sites where parts of Sati's body fell.
Sati, the first wife of Lord Shiva, was the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, an incarnation of Brahma. Sati married Shiva against the wishes of her father. Daksha in an attempt to insult Shiva organises a huge sacrifice or yagna to which he invites all the gods and goddesses, asuras and yakshas except his son-in-law. Sati believing it to be an oversight attends the yagna much against the wishes of her husband only to be insulted by her father.
Unable to bear the humiliation, Sati immolates herself. An enraged Shiva destroys Daksha's sacrifice and severs his head. But crazed with grief, he picks up Sati's body and performs the Thandav nritya or dance of destruction. The earth trembles and frightened, the gods approach Lord Vishnu to stop Shiva. Vishnu's discus cuts Sati's corpse into pieces that fall all over the country. These sites came to be known as the 52 Shakti Peethas. Each site is dedicated to the Devi and represents a manifestation of her being.
The Kamakhya temple in Assam is one of the most venerated Shakti shrines in India. Located on a hillock called Neelanchal near Guwahati, Shakti here is known as Kamakhya. The temple first finds mention in the Kallika Puran detailing the legends of the Devi. It is believed it was at Kamarup that the reproductive organ or the Yoni of Sati fell. Hence there is no icon at this cave temple but only a stone carving of the yoni, the object of reverence. A natural spring running through the inner sanctum keeps the stone moist. It is said Shakti challenged the supreme creative power of Brahma and Brahma could thereafter create only with the blessings of the Yoni. After much penance, Brahma brought down a luminous body of light and placed it within the Yoni circle. This light continues to burn brightly as a jyoti even today. Destroyed in the early 16th century, the temples were rebuilt in the 17th century by King Nara Narayana of Cooch Behar.
Legend has it that Shiva created Kali out of the poison he swallowed to destroy an asura. Having originated from the Kaalakoota poison, she assumed the name Kali. The most revered deity in Bengal, Kali is another manifestation of the mother Goddess. Although the darker aspect of the Devi, she is seen as a liberator and destroyer of all evil. Kalighat is one of the 52 Shakti Peethams where the toes of the right foot of Sati are said to have fallen. Despite the hoary legend, the temple at Kalighat is relatively new - a mere 200 years - and appears to have been built on an already existing site of worship. It is believed a devotee saw a ray of light emanating from a stone carved in the form of a human toe on the banks of the Bhagirathi. He's also said to have found a Swayambhu Lingam close to the toe, the site of the temple now.
THE MARIAMMA TEMPLE, TIRUCHINNAPALLI:
Mariamman, worshipped in Tamil Nadu, is associated with prosperity and health. The local people believe the deity cures diseases especially small pox and chicken pox. Mariamman is believed to be another manifestation of Kali, and is also known as Mahamaayi or Seethala Gowri. The locals believe that Dasaratha worshipped here, as did the Raya kings of Vijayanagar. When the Vijayanagar dynasty started declining, the icon of Mariamman was brought to Tamil Nadu in an ivory palanquin and established in a temple near Tiruchirappalli.
THE MANGALAGOWRI TEMPLE, GAYA:
The site where the breast of Sati is said to have fallen and here the goddess is worshipped as Mangalagowri, the benevolent. This small brick temple finds mention in the Padma Puran, the Vayu Puran and the Agni Puran and dates back to 1459 AD. It is also associated with tantrik worship.
THE VAISHNO DEVI TEMPLE, KATRA:
About 60 km from Jammu, the temple is located in a cave and enshrines Vaishno Devi, a manifestation of the three forms of the mother Goddess -Mahalakshmi, Maha Parvati and Maha Saraswati.The other renowned temples are the Meenakshi temple at Madurai, where she is seen as a young bride to Shiva; the Bhavani temple at Tujjapur in Maharashtra, where Chhatrapathi Shivaji is said to have worshipped; and the Ambika shrine at Arasur in Gujarat.