Among Sakti’s many names is Durga-Kali. Her cult in Bengal is a
mixture of deep devotion, holiness and religious awe coupled with
revoltingly cruel blood rites derived from an ancient tribal cult.
    When signifying abstract time, Durga-Kali is called Adisaktithe
primordial active female principle in which no duality exists and all opposites
are reconciled.
    As Time (Kala) does not exist until the Goddess manifests herself, she is
called the ‘mother of time’ (Kalamata). As the embodiment of entire creation
she is Mahakali; as destroyer of worlds and of Time she is Kalaharshini.
Whatever name or form she assumes, her quintessence remains unchanged.
    The lunar aspect of Kali-Durga symbolises astrocosmic totality, and
hence she may be depicted iconographically with sixteen arms, signifying the
sixteen digits of the moon, which correspond to the Vedic belief that the
universe is made up of sixteen parts.
    When Sakti is portrayed with Siva as his consort, her aspect is beneficent
and she is called Parvati, Devi or Uma (the embodiment of ideal
womanhood), or Mahadevi (the great goddess). The eternal blissful union
(samarasya) of Siva and Sakti is the basis of the ‘realistic monism’ of the
Sakti and Saiva cults.
This is a form of sacramental ritualism, having a number of esoteric and
magical aspects, which employs mantras, yantras and yogic techniques.
Tantric elements also feature in Jainism, Mahayana Buddhism, Saivism,
Vaishnavism and Saktism.
    The name Tantrism is derived from the sacred texts called Tantras. The
earliest works of this vast literature were written during the Gupta period. To
Tantrists, the Tantras are as authoritative as the Vedas and hence are known
as the ‘Fifth Veda’.
    Tantrism developed primarily in north-west India along the Afghan
border and in western Bengal and Assam, all only slightly ‘Hinduised’ areas
of the subcontinent, and hence many non-Aryan features were included.
    Initiation (diksha) and the receiving of a specific mantra from a qualified
guru is all important in the Tantric cults. The initiate is ‘reborn’ and given the