Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religious Studies


David Kinsley




In this dissertation thick description provides the basis of an interpretive analysis of conceptual images of the goddess Durgā and her worship in Banāras, a city regarded as a microcosm of the Hindu tradition. The exploration begins at the renowned Durgā Kund temple which is studied synchronically. During the annual autumn festival (Navarātra), however, the focus shifts to typical forms of Durgā worship throughout the city, and the Durgā Pūjā ritual in particular.

A metaphysical portrait of Durgā is developed by concentrating on formal devotional worship (pūjā), blood sacrifice (bali), and the Nine Durgā Pilgrimage (yātra), three salient devotional acts especially related to Durgā worship in Banāra. The study shows that cosmologically and epistemologically Durgā is envisioned through a yogic science (vidyā) of energy (śakti) and material creation (prakrti). Ontologically, she provides a model of power, purity, orderly change, and maternal protectiveness from which worshippers may derive security within the cosmos. As a feminine image of the divine, Durgā offers different but complementary visions of reality to male and female devotees. The study suggests that the goddess offers women a model of chastity and strength, particularly in the face of misfortune. Despite the potential of this image to transform the traditional roles of women in Hindu society, this report offers evidence that Durgā sustains the orthodox social structure.

The study’s contribution to scholarship continues with its detailed interpretive description of Durgā temple worship and the Durgā Pūjā ritual. It also connects many of the threads which link the mythology, legend, and history of Durgā worship in Banāras. The interpretations of symbolic clusters and structural patterns (e.g., yantra) deepen our understanding of Śākistim, a major Hindu sectarian tradition. Since the study offers substantial evidence of the meaningful relationship between symbols and worship rituals, it critiques theories which deny such relationships.

McMaster University Library

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