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Pithas

In his book on Hindu iconography, J. N. Banerjea notes that from very early periods in India "aniconism" existed along with iconic forms, anthropomorphic and, more rarely, theriomorphic images. Among these aniconic objects were, and are, sacred stones "scattered over different parts of India, which are taken to stand for one or [an]other of the cult divinities. . . . The well-known Sakta tradition about the severed limbs of Sati falling in different parts of India and about the latter being regarded as so many pithasthanas[*] , particularly sacred to the Saktiworshipers[*] , should be noted in this connection. In modern times, the most important objects of worship in many of these shrines are usually stone blocks covered over with red cloth" (1956, 83). At the core of Bhaktapur's pithas are such unworked stones, and the pitha goddesses we have discussed are located in them. Almost all pithas are marked by stones, but an apparent exception is Guyesvari, the true Devi pitha located in the Pasupatinatha shrine complex, which is "a water-filled pothole surrounded with the carved stone petals of a lotus" (Slusser 1982, vol. 1, p. 327). In such apparent exceptions there is often a popular or an esoteric understanding that somewhere beneath the surface there is, in fact, a stone that is the seat of the divinity. There are various groups of deities associated with pithas . These are manifestations of the Tantric Goddess and groups of gods associated with her in Tantric theory and imagery among the Newars. Several of these are present as esoteric or lost historical residues in Bhaktapur (Slusser 1982, vol. 1, p. 326; Kölver 1976), but the important persisting ones in Bhaktapur are the pithas of the Mandalic[*] Goddesses, and, for the internal religion of Taleju, those of superseded royal lineage goddesses, as we have discussed above.


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Chapter Eight Bhaktapur's Pantheon
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