Hissing snakes rise and coil from around her skull, and brandishing instruments of death, she defies and destroys obstacles to faith.

Then, once again, her hideous fury is calmed, and the gaunt and ferocious warrior is transformed into a benevolent and warmly feminine companion.

Four thousand years ago, female terracotta figurines were made by the peoples of the Indus Valley, and may be the earliest historical evidence of goddess worship. In the early medieval period of Hinduism, from about 300 B.C.E., the goddess as Shakti, or divine power, arises from temples and texts in her full glory.

Kali, the Dark Mother, is the giver of life and the source of life's end. Here, she stands on top of two recumbent figures. These are two versions of Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction. One is unconscious, and the other conscious. Kali arises triumphantly from the awakening Shiva, as an embodiment of his universal power.

The female divine was elevated to independent status in the 6th century C.E., in a Hindu text called the Devi-Mahatmya, or Hymn of Praise to the Great Goddess.

At about the same time, images of goddesses began to appear in Buddhist art. This magnificent, complex, and unfinished high relief sculpture of the goddess Tara from Eastern India tells a story in stone. In one of her right hands, she proffers a closed lotus to the worshipper. This symbolizes the night, during which time she protects her faithful devotees.

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