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TEN MAHAVIDYAS :

MANIFESTATIONS OF COSMIC
FEMALE ENERGY

TEN MAHAVIDYAS : MANIFESTATIONS OF


COSMIC FEMALE ENERGY
Article of the Month March 2010
Ten Mahavidyas, the charismatic goddesses of Hindu pantheon looked at with great
curiosity world over, more than any other group of divinities, are rather the late
entrants into ritual-religio-cultural stream of Indian thought and theology. Identically
conceived in many things, as a group of divinities having bizarre forms and exotic
character, and pregnant with strange magical powers, these goddesses, invariably
numbering ten, make a debut at their earliest in around eleventh-twelfth centuries,
though it is rather in fourteenth century Shakta texts that their emergence is more
decisive and it is here that they are identified as Mahavidyas in unambiguous terms.
These Shakta texts, 'upa' or subordinate 'puranas' as they are called in the scriptural
tradition, are largely the collections of hymns 'nama-strotas', dedicated to each of
these goddesses and recited to invoke them for accomplishing a desired objective.
These early 'nama-strota' texts reveal iconographic form and basic nature of each of
the ten Mahavidyas, and sometimes each one's power to fulfill a prayer. However, in
these texts or rather in the entire body of the Mahavidyas-related literature, barring
a few narratives in regard to their origin or allusions to their exploits in various fields
appearing here and there, an effort at exploring their conceptual aspect,
metaphysical meaning, symbolic dimensions or even theological status, hardly ever
reveals.

SOME EARLY GODDESSES IN THEIR ROLE AS MAHAVIDYAS

Mahavidya Goddess Tara with a Pair of


Scissors in Her Hand
Miniature Painting on Paper (Artist - Kailash Raj)

Not that all goddesses of the group had


late emergence, the black goddess Kali,
lotus goddess Kamala, or even Tara, had
very early presence in religious streams
of India and were widely worshipped.
Kamala is rather a Rig-Vedic deity and as
Shri a full Rig-Vedic Sukta has been
devoted to her. However, in their role as
Mahavidyas, individually and as a group,
they make their presence felt from
around fourteenth century, or a little
early. With a different role and form,
something
like
a
post-puranic
proliferation of the cult, even Kali,
Kamala or Tara emerge as their own antimodels. As a matter of fact, at least in
their visual representations the postMahavidya iconographic forms of Kali and
Tara horror-striking naked figures
standing on Shiva's supine body, so
overwhelmed the scenario that their preMahavidya forms were only rarely seen.

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In their Puranic models maintaining cosmic order was the primary role of Kali,
Kamala, or even Tara; in their forms as Mahavidyas such role in regard to them
becomes subsidiary or rather insignificant. In her Mahavidya form Kamala, Vishnu's
consort in Puranic tradition, is rarely invoked or visually represented with Vishnu,
her spouse. In her Mahavidya-transform this Vaishnavite goddess of the Vedas, and
Puranas in the Vedic line, seems to tilt, at least in her bearing, to Shaivite side. In
their related hymns other Mahavidyas are also lauded as spouses of male gods;
however, this spousal aspect in case of them all is weak and insignificant. Too
independent to be in a wife's frame, besides gender they have in them little which is
consort-like; they all are rather stubborn and over-dominating possessed of, or
rather obsessed by, a desire to bend their male partners to their will and to have a
final say in everything.

MAHAVIDYAS : APPEARANCE, NATURE AND METAPHYSICAL


MEANING

The goddesses of unusual


type,
all
of
them
are
conceived
with
fearful
demeanour
and
agitating
mind, and as destructionloving, though at times they
are
also
amorous
and
benevolent, and peacefully
poised. In some of them, as in
Tripura-Sundari who has been
conceived triply, as Tripurabala the virgin, as TripuraSundari the beauteous, and
as Tripura-Bhairavi the
terrible, such diversity better
manifests.

Shodashi as Tripurasundari
Miniature Painting on Paper

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Collectively they seem to represent


stages in a woman's life cycle except
her motherhood. They are hardly ever
lauded or visually represented as
mothers or with motherly attributes a
child in arms as have Matrikas, or with
breasts filled with milk as has Ambika,
Annapurna or Mother-goddess.

Parvati with Ganesha in her Lap


Miniature Painting on Paper

Metaphysically
interpreted,
Mahavidyas represent cosmic
reality, both its dynamic and
static forms prevailing over
all seen and unseen spaces,
all directions, as also all
elemental regions, summed
up as ten. Mahavidyas, ten
manifestations of the Divine
Female, preside over ten
elemental regions of this
cosmic reality, as also its
absolute nature dynamic as
well
as
static.
In
metaphysical terms, Kali,
Tara,
Bagala,
Bhairavi,
Tripura-Sundari,
and
sometimes
Chinnamasta
represent its dynamics while
Dhumavati, Matangi, Kamala
and
Bhuwaneshvari,
its
statics.

The Ten Mahavidyas with Yantras


Madhubani Painting on Hand Made Paper treated with Cow Dung
Artist Vidya Devi and Dhirendra Jha

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SHAIVITE AND TANTRIKA LINKS OF MAHAVIDYAS


Mahavidyas, the product of
Shaktism, more especially of
Tantrika Shaktism, with their
strong links with Sati, Parvati
and
Kali

all
Shiva's
spouses, are Shaivite in
nature, though contrarily, in
myths,
as
well
as
conceptually,
tradition
subordinates Shiva to them,
not them to Shiva. As a rule
they are represented as
Shiva's superior. The cult of
Shiva's subordination to them
has its roots in various myths
related to Mahavidyas' origin.
In Sati-related myth Sati's
One Who Ill Treats His Wife is Punished by the Great
will prevails over Shiva, while
Goddess
in Kali-related myth Shiva,
Madhubani Painting on Hand Made Paper (Artist: Lalita Devi)
fed up with Kali's untidy
habits, tries to flee from her but with all exits blocked by her he helplessly submits
to her will. Mahavidyas have fierce forms, untidy habits, destructive nature, mystic
dimensions and strange magical, meditative and Yogik powers. In most Tantras they
are the presiding deities of the Tantrika rituals. Though Mahavidyas are endowed
with masculine build too rough and tough for a woman, they often manifest a
feminine mind agitating against every type of masculine arrogance, particularly
when a male, whether a father or husband, abuses, ignores, slights, or even tries to
dominate them. This agitation often transforms into dreadful wrath, which truly
defines all Mahavidyas.

MAHAVIDYAS : THEIR OWN CONTRADICTIONS


Mahavidyas have strange contradictions. They are
individualistic in nature, yet their identity better
reveals as a group. Many forms with diverse nature
as the Mahavidyas are, they are essentially the
manifestations of one Divine Being. They are truly
the concrete expression of the idea of many forms of
the One. Some of the Mahavidyas with their
association with cremation ground, corpses and
destruction represent death on one hand, and with
their naked figures sometimes engaged in copulation
with an inert body lying under them represent sex
and fertility on the other, and thus a strange
synthesis of opposites, the death and the sex
cessation and creation. In an ambience where death
and destruction reigns, Mahavidyas represent what
defines the life, the timeless youth, the body's
kinetic energy and the desire to produce, of which
sex is the incessant source, and the creation. The
benevolent ones, Mahavidyas bless an adept but
often by destroying or harming someone, one of
their adept's enemies or opponents, thus destruction
being often Mahavidyas' mode of blessing.

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Mahavidya Bagalamukhi
Brass Sculpture (Artist: Kishore )

MAHAVIDYAS : THE MEANING OF THE TERM

The broad meaning of the term 'Mahavidya' is


'great knowledge'. In its wider sense the term
might be taken to mean complete, supreme,
absolute, or ultimate knowledge. Tantrikas claim
that ten Mahavidyas stand for 'ten great
mantras', for a 'mantra' and 'vidya' are the same.
They assert that a mantra is the deity manifest
as the deity, at least in Tantrika way, does not
emerge unless invoked through a mantra. They
claim that the deity emerges from the mantra if it
is correctly pronounced. Not merely the deity's
vehicle, mantra is her body, being and essence.
Thus, even if the deity exists beyond it, it is in
the mantra dedicated to her, defining her form,
attributes and powers, that she becomes
manifest and is realised.
Mystical Formulae (Part 1-Mantras)
Book

Hence, ten mantras are ten manifestations of the deity the Divine Female. Such
Tantrika thesis is just the extension of the ancient Indian cult of the 'shabdabrahma' which claims 'shabda' sound, to be the essence of the total reality the
Ultimate that the term 'Brahma' defines. The mantra the sound condensed into
sacred syllabic utterance, manifests thus an aspect of the Ultimate, and ten
mantras, Ultimate's all ten dimensions. Under another sound-based Indian theory of
Sphota explosion of sound, which claims sound to be the manifestation of cosmic
power, this Tantrika assumption is interpreted in a slightly different way. If a
Mahavidya is a mantra, the most intense condensation of sound, and as mantra she
manifests one aspect of cosmic power, ten Mahavidyas the ten mantras, manifest
cosmic power in aggregate. Under yet another theory, Mahavidyas are sometimes
seen as the source of ultimate knowledge all that is to be known. It views
Mahavidyas as representing transcendental knowledge, summed up into ten stages
or objects, each of which one Mahavidya represents.

ORIGIN OF MAHAVIDYAS
As regards the origin of Mahavidyas, the tradition has five myths in prevalence;
however, among them the one that relates to Sati, Shiva's consort and the daughter
of Daksha Prajapati, one of the Brahma's sons, is the main and more widely known.
Other four relate to Parvati, Kali, Durga and Sharakshi, identified also as
Shakambhari. The Sati-related myth emerges with pre-eminence in Brahaddharma
Purana and Mahabhagavata Purana. Myth's versions appearing in later texts are
almost identical to them.
Sati, the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, had married Shiva against the will of her
father who had great dislike for Shiva. For such act of Sati Daksha was as much
annoyed with his daughter and had split all ties with her. Once, Daksha Prajapati
organised a great yajna sacrifice. He invited people from far and wide but to slight
Shiva and Sati did not invite them. Shiva felt insulted but was indifferent to it.
However, Sati, not in a mood to forgive her father for the insult, decided to go to her

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father's house and disrupt the yajna. Her anguish was so deep that when Shiva
forbade her from doing it, her wrath turned from her father to him. Besides accusing
him of neglecting her and thrusting his decisions upon her, in fury her limbs began
trembling and eyes turned red and bright as if emitting fire.
Frightened Shiva closed his eyes but when he opened them, he was dismayed to see
standing before him a woman with a fierce form. The moment he looked at her, she
began growing old. Her feminine charms began disappearing, and her arms,
branching into four. She had disheveled hair, fiery complexion and a lolling tongue
moving from one side to other over sweat-smeared lips. She wore a crescent as her
crown. Except what a garland of severed hands covered her figure was naked. Her
form blazed and from it emitted brilliance of a million rising suns. With her laughter
she shattered the earth and filled with awe the world from one end to other.
Frightened Shiva tried to flee from one direction to other but a burst of laughter
obstructed him on every side, and dismayed and frightened he submitted. To further
ensure that he did not slip the woman, obviously Sati's transform, filled all directions
around him with ten different forms. These ten forms of Sati were ten Mahavidyas.
On his query Shiva was revealed their names and also their identity by Sati herself
in some versions of the myth as Sati's friends, and in other, as her own forms. A
frightened Shiva allowed her to join her father's yajna and do as she chose. The rest
of the myth is the same as in other contexts. In annoyance an insulted and
disgraced Sati jumped into Daksha's yajna and destroyed herself as well as the
yajna.
Parvati-related myth is largely the
creation of oral tradition prevalent in
Tantrika world. Parvati was Sati in her
re-birth after she had killed herself in the
course of the yajna that her father
Daksha Prajapati had organised. Broken
by Sati's death Shiva had decided not to
marry again. However, Parvati, by her
great penance, subdued him to marry
her. She was thus his second wife. One
day Shiva decided to leave Parvati.
Parvati prayed him not to go away from
her but he did not concede. Finally,
Parvati transformed herself into ten
forms and with them blocked all the ten
doors of the house and foiled his attempt
to leave. Interpreted in Tantrika way the
allegory suggests that the body is the
house, Shiva, the self, ten doors, body's
ten openings two eyes, two ears, two
nostrils, mouth, anus, penis or vagina,
and 'brahmarandhra' an aperture at
the top of the head, and Parvati's ten
forms with which these ten doors were
blocked,
the
ten
Mahavidyas.
Allegorically, with the help of Mahavidyas
the adept can lock self into the body
ensuring long life.

The Birth of Ten Mahavidyas with Shiva


Parvati and Serpent Coiled Shri Chakra
Madhubani Painting on Hand Made Paper Treated
with Cow Dung
Artists: Shri Dhirendra Jha and Shrimati Vidya
Devi

Kali-related myth is a more recent tradition appearing in a section of contemporary


vernacular Tantrika literature. As the myth goes, in Sata or Satya-yuga, Shiva lived
with Kali. One day Shiva declared that he was tired of Kali's untidy habits and would
not live with her anymore. Kali did not react nor stopped him from doing so. Shiva

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went away and roamed from one place to other; however, wherever he went he
found a form of Kali facing him. Not Kali alone, nine other forms, many of them
identical to Kali, encountered him. The Shakta tradition acclaims that from his
encounter with these forms Shiva attained ultimate knowledge 'maha vidya' in its
ten forms. He realised that in one form or the other the Great Goddess was present
everywhere and at all times. These forms thus became known as Mahavidyas.
Some iconographic representations, in many of which the centrally located Devi,
usually Mahishasuramardini Durga, has Mahavidyas surrounding her, link the origin
of Mahavidyas with Mahadevi's battle against demons. In one set of illustrations
such demon is Mahisha, and in other, these are Shumbha and Nishumbha. As
various myths contained in the Devi-Mahatmya and other early Puranas have it,
once the mighty demon Mahisha, or identically the demons Shumbha and
Nishumbha, defeated gods and ousted them from their land. Unable to confront
them gods approached Brahma who disclosed that no male shall ever be able to kill
these demons. Thereupon gods approached Mahadevi and prayed her for rescuing
them and their land from the notorious demons. Mahadevi promised them to help
and waged a war against demons. As the third Canto of the Devi-Mahatmya has it,
too formidable to defeat, Mahadevi created her own different forms, mainly SaptaMatrikas and Nava Durgas for confronting them. Shumbha challenged Mahadevi to
combat him singly which she accepted adding that her battle companions were just
her different forms. The third Canto also mentions creation of a group of goddesses
having resemblance with Mahavidyas, though the text does not name them as such.
However, the tradition developed from various iconographic representations of
Mahavidyas contends that it is either from Nava (nine) Durgas, that is, nine plus
one, or from the group of goddesses mentioned in the third Canto that the concept
of Mahavidyas evolved.

Shatakshi Devi - The Goddess with Innumerable


Eyes (Shrimad Devi Bhagavatam, Book Seven,
Chapter 28)
Water Color Painting On Cotton Fabric

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In yet another myth the origin of


Mahavidyas is linked with Shatakshi,
the goddess having one hundred
eyes. Shatakshi and demon Durgama
related myth occurs in the DeviBhagavata Purana. Once upon a time,
demon Durgama gained control over
the universe and forced gods into
subservience. They appealed to
Mahadevi to redeem them from
Durgama's clutches. On their prayer
Mahadevi appeared in a female form
having one hundred eyes. The
pitiable plight of gods, human beings
and the earth moved her to tears.
She produced from her body fruits
and vegetables and distributed them
among the starving beings suffering
from
drought.
This
gave
her
Shakambhari name. After so relieving
the mankind, gods and all beings she
resorted to arms against demons and
a fierce battle ensued. In its course
the goddess created several groups
of subsidiary goddesses, Mahavidyas
being among them. Around its
concluding part the text alludes to
Mahadevi as Durga, obviously for
defeating demon Durgama.

NUMBER, NAMES AND NATURE OF MAHAVIDYAS

The number and names of Mahavidyas


appearing in the Brahaddharma Purana and
Maha
Bhagavata
Purana
are
almost
unanimously
accepted.
Accordingly,
Mahavidyas are ten in number and their
names, as appear in these texts, are Kali,
Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuwaneshvari, Bagala,
Dhumavati, Kamala, Matangi, Sodashi and
Bhairavi. The tradition also has some
variants. Niruttara Tantra talks of eighteen
Mahavidyas, and Narada Pancharatna speaks
of their innumerable forms, at least seventy
lacs. Devi Bhagavata also deviates from
Maha Bhagavata Purana and Brahaddharma
Purana. Devi Bhagavata contends their
number to be thirteen and their names as
Kalika, Tarini, Tripura, Bhairavi, Kamala,
Bagala,
Matangi,
Tripura-Sundari,
Kamaksha, Tuleja-devi, Jambhini, Mohini,
and Chinnamasta.

Srimad Devibhagavatam (Sanskrit Text


with English Translation) (In Two
Volumes) - Book

KALI

Kali, the foremost of Mahavidyas, is not


merely the first of them but also the
prototype of the group. Other Mahavidyas
are sometimes considered as only Kali's
forms. In general, Kali is perceived as having
awful appearance with a figure jet black in
complexion, gaunt, wrinkled and uglylooking. She has repulsive fangs, shakes the
world with her laughter, dances madly,
wears garlands of corpses, sits or stands on
a dead body, usually Shiva's supine figure,
feeds herself on fresh human blood and lives
in cremation ground. She takes delight in
imparting destruction and working for
instability.

The Ten Mahavidyas - Kali


Water Color Painting On Cotton Fabric

Page 9

However, despite her ugly appearance Kali has not


been for centuries the favorite deity merely of
violence-edict
warriors,
thieves,
plunderers,
insensitive tribes and charmers but also of poets,
dramatists, sculptors and others all over the land.
By one name or other she features in Kadambari, a
play by the seventh century dramatist Banabhatta,
in another seventh century work Gaudavaho by
Vakpati, and in Malati-Madhava, a Sanskrit classic
by the eighth century poet Bhavabhuti.

Bhavabhuti's Malatimadhava
With the Commentary of
Jagaddhara (Edited with a literal
English Translation, Notes and
Introduction) - Book

The eleventh century temple at Padaoli in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh has a
large size sculptural panel devoted to her, and the Sikhs' tenth guru Guru Gobind
Singh dedicated to her a long narrative poem. The Kali-cult emerged so powerfully
in Bengal that it completely transformed its art, textile designing and the character
of rituals.
The tradition perceives black goddess
Kali as the power of time for it is her
who releases and withdraws it. She
signifies abyssal darkness which
contains all unknown, all known and
all that can be known, and thus she is
the ultimate knowledge; it is from this
abyssal darkness that all forms rise
and into which they disappear and
thus she is the ultimate reality. She
manifests the truth of contrasts, the
death and the sex, the ugly and the
beauteous, the timed and the
timeless. Kali is personified wrath,
whether Sati's or that of Durga,
Parvati or of other goddesses. Wrath
is not merely her instrument for
undoing a wrong. She herself is the
wrath, the cosmic rage against a
wrong, and this is truly Kali's essence.
She does not attempt at winning over
the male, his ego, arrogance or
wrong, by any bewitching female
charms or grace but by obstructing,
terrifying and undoing him.

The Dance of Shiva and Kali


Miniature Painting on Paper
Artist: Kailash Raj

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The unpredictable Kali stands on a point ahead of which on one side is the accepted,
and on the other, 'not acceptable', loathsome, polluting, feared or forbidden. While
she challenges and shatters the accepted, she embodies into her being the polluted,
loathed and feared and thus, when meditated on, releases the adept from clutches
of conventionality, all that is worn out, has rotted or is rotting, and prepares his
mind to accept the reality as a whole, ugly and fierce in special. When invoked and
pleased, she endows the Tantrika with such powers as undo every kind of wrong,
whether affected by man or by nature in any form whatever.

TARA
Tara, who as a rule is listed as number
two among Mahavidyas, is second to
none among them except Kali. Not so
much in Hindu or Brahmanical pantheon
as in the Buddhist, Tara has a much
wider presence outside the Mahavidyaperiphery. Alike she has an early
presence datable to around the fourthfifth centuries of the Common Era and
emerges
thus
much
before
the
Mahavidya-cult
evolved.
With
an
appearance identical to Kali she has
always enjoyed considerable popularity
and importance in Hindu pantheon,
especially among Tantrika deities. In
iconographic manifestations, like Kali,
the naked bodied Tara is also associated
with Shiva and is often represented as
standing on his supine body, and
sometimes as copulating. Of the Tantra
Tara is as potential a deity as Kali.
Besides her place in Hindu tradition she
is the central deity of the Buddhism,
especially the Tibetan, where she is
worshipped almost like a national deity.
Tara also occupies a significant position
Tara in Hinduism: Study with Textual and
and wields considerable influence in
Iconographical Documentation - Book
Jainism. She has strong Vaishnava links
and is claimed to have been created to defeat the thousand headed Ravana.
Not merely in the Buddhist myths that portray Tara as the goddess of tempestuous
seas helping the masses wade their path to safety and redemption, even in Hindu
and Jain traditions she is revered as the goddess who guides out of troubles and all
kinds of turmoil. Almost all theologies equate sea with life, miseries, misfortunes and
trials with sea's uncertainties and upheavals, and a being, with the sailor paddling a
boat across it. Thus, allegorically Tara, the goddess of tempestuous oceans, is also
the goddess who helps the being wade across all difficulties and misfortunes
occurring in life and attain salvation. In some texts, Tara is also seen as the
potential of re-creation, which equates her with Saraswati possessing such potential
in Hindu tradition. In Jain tradition Tara and Saraswati merge into each other. Here
Tara has highly diversified role and form. Brahaddharma purana perceives Tara as
representing time, the same as does Kali.

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Apart such similarities, the Buddhist Tara is


somewhat different from the Tara in Hindu
tradition, particularly the Tantrika. Except rarely,
in Buddhism, Tara has been conceived as a
benevolent, compassionate, gentle and spirited
young woman eager to help her devotees and to
protect them from every harm.

The Savior Goddess Green Tara


Tibetan Thangka Painting

On the contrary, as one of the Mahavidyas, which is essentially a Hindu context,


Tara is always fierce, often having a form which strikes with horror, and as
exceptionally moody and harmful. Wrath is not unknown to Buddhist Tara. She
sometimes gets angry and plunders harm. In the like way, though rarely, Hindu Tara
is benevolent and compassionate.

CHINNAMASTA
Chinnamasta, one of the three most popular
deities of Tantrism, other two being Kali and
Tara, seems to have developed out of
Vajrayogini cult of Tibetan Buddhism.
Vajrayogini, an early Tantrika deity of the
Tibetan Buddhism, has a form exactly
identical to Chinnamasta. Chinnamasta is a
creation of shocking imagery gruesome
decapitation of her own being representing
life's cessation for feeding further life,
copulating couple under her feet perceived as
feeding the goddess with life's energy, bloodconsuming nude females and cremation
ground all around. In her form she combines
life, sex and death, and all in a dramatic and
stunning manner manifesting the ages-old
idea that they life, sex and death, are
inseparably entwined and are parts of a
unified system. Chinnamasta manifests the
truth that it is in destruction of life that the
life is nourished, that life necessitates death,
and that sex is the ultimate instrument of
perpetuating more life; and further, that this
life would decay and pave the way for death,
and then again from death to life.

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The Tantrik Sadhana of Mahavidya


Chinnamasta
Miniature Painting on Paper

Chinnamasta is thus the symbol of the process of recycle from life to death and back
and all in unceasing continuity.
Various Tantrika hymns invoke Chinnamasta as Digambari nude, symbolically the
one with no coverings of illusion, and as full-breasted, suggestive of the motherhood
being ceaseless in her and of her role as the eternal preserver. She wears a garland
of severed human heads symbolising wisdom and power and sometimes a pair of
shears or a sword. Texts have prescribed for her blood red complexion with which
she symbolises life in its incessant flow. In her usual iconography she holds her
severed head in her left hand. One of the three jets of blood that spurt from her
neck streams back into the mouth of her own severed head, and other two, into
those of the yoginis Dakini and Varnini, all suggesting that death nourishes life and
thus the process of recycle continues. The copulating couple under the feet of the
goddess is usually Kamadeva, the personified sexual desire, and his wife Rati.
Chinnamasta, standing on their backs draws from the couple, as also from the lotus
on which the couple lies, life's energy and channels it for perpetuating more life.
Amongst all Devi forms, even Durga and Kali who sustain and promote life from the
sacrifice offered to them by their devotees, Chinnamasta destroys her own life to
sustain and promote it beyond her in forms other than her. More than Annapurna or
Shatakshi who only gives, Chinnamasta is one who receives life from the copulating
couple and with far greater vigour passes it on to others and is thus a greater giver
and more accomplished model of cosmic unity the life that the lovemaking couple
represents, the death which reveals in decapitating herself and the nourishment
which manifests in feeding the flanking yoginis.

OTHER MAHAVIDYAS
Other seven Mahavidyas, namely, Sodashi or Tripura-Sundari, Bhuwaneshvari,
Bhairavi, Dhumavati, Bagala, Matangi and Kamala, have relatively limited role and
significance both in Tantrika practices as well as worship traditions.

Tripura Sundari
Miniature Painting on Pape, Artist: Kailash Raj

Sodashi, also alluded to in some texts


as Tripura Sundari, the most beauteous
in three worlds, and as such having
three forms defining three stages
Tripura-bala,
the
virgin,
TripuraSundari, the beauteous, and Tripura
Bhairavi, the terrible, is perceived as
one with timeless youth and beauty,
though not without frowns or angry
looks. She is sometimes seen as the
embodiment of sixteen modifications of
desire and at other time as one created
to arouse Shiva to sexual activity so
that his creative powers could stimulate
the world. In Hindu pantheon she
seems to have emerged in around
eleventh-twelfth centuries and had
perhaps a few temples too, with one at
Tehara near Bheraghat, Jabalpur, in
Madhya Pradesh, devoted to her. Like
Kali and Tara, Tripura-Sundari is also
perceived as swaying all gods, though
perhaps with her paramount beauty,
not by Kali-like superior power. This

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superior position of Sodashi reflects in her iconography in which Brahma, Vishnu,


Rudra and Indra or Yama are represented as supporting on them the throne on
which she sits as its four legs.

The lotus goddess Kamala as Shri makes a


debut in the Shri Sukta in the Rig-Veda; as
Lakshmi she has considerable presence in
Buddhist sculptures datable to third-second
century B. C. to second century A. D. and in
Hindu pantheon and Puranas all through
from fifth-sixth century onwards. The DeviMahatmya part of the Markandeya Purana
has devoted to her a full Canto by the name
Mahalakshmi. As Mahavidya she does not
enjoy the same prestige as she enjoys as
Lakshmi in worship tradition. As in Vaishnava
tradition, Kamala is invoked in Tantrika
rituals for riches, especially the hidden
treasures of bygone days.

Mahalakshmi (Kamala) the Last but Not


the Least (Ten Mahavidya Series)
Water color Painting on Patti Paper
Artist: Rabi Behera

Dhumawati the Goddess who widows


Herself (Ten Mahavidya Series)
Water color Painting on Patti Paper
Artist: Rabi Behera

Like Chinnamasta Bagalamukhi, Dhumavati and


Matangi are rarely mentioned except as
Mahavidyas. They are broadly Tantrika deities
and are seen mostly in Tantrika contexts.
Except that in some of the Tantrika pithas
seats, such as at the Pitambara Pitha, Datia, in
Madhya Pradesh, where Dhumavati has her
independent shrine, an individual structure
devoted to any of them, or even a smaller one
of the status of a sub-shrine, is a rarity. At
some Tantrika pithas these goddesses along
with other Mahavidyas are carved or painted,
inside or outside, on the sanctum walls of the
main deity shrine. In Himalayan regions such
representations are more common. Bagala, the
goddess
with
a
crane-like
face,
goldcomplexioned and elegantly attired and
bejewelled, is a powerful Tantrika deity who
paralyses and thus destroys all negative forces
that obstructs adept's progress or well being.
Toothless Dhumavati with long pendulous
breasts, having pale complexion, wearing white
but mudded attire, and riding a crow-driven
cart, manifests unsatisfied desires and hence
has been conceived as a widow. She has a large

Page 14

crooked nose and quarrelsome nature and uses diseases as her weapon to punish
the wicked.

Matangi, usually a beautiful young woman


with dark or black complexion, spreads
music and education enabling human
beings to acquire liberating wisdom. She
manifested the power of domination.

Matangi - The Outcaste Goddess (Ten


Mahavidya Series)
Water color Painting on Patti Paper
Artist: Rabi Behera

The tradition considers her as an outcaste goddess.

Goddess Shri Bhairavi Devi


Miniature Painting on Paper
Artist: Kailash Raj

Page 15

Bhairavi, capable of
multiplying
herself
into infinity of beings
and forms and broadly
a fierce goddess, the
consort of Bhairava,
has been conceived
identically
to
Bhairava, both in form
as well as mental
frame.
She
has
complexion as bright
as a thousand rising
suns.
She
wears
garland of skulls and
garments made from
skins of demons she
killed and she has her
feet
and
breasts
covered with blood.

Though better known as the goddess


of
the
Mahavidya
group,
Bhuwaneshvari is also known in
context to Vishnu's boar incarnation
and a few other myths. Broadly, the
large breasted and pleasantly smiling
Bhuwaneshvari
represents
substantial forces of the material
world and is revered as one the
world is whose extension.

Mahavidya Goddess Bhuwaneshvari


Miniature Painting on Paper
Artist: Kailash Raj

WORSHIP OF MAHAVIDYAS
Except Kali, Tara and Tripura-Sundari, as also Kamakhya, a Mahavidya in some
texts, who are in worship from early times the tradition of Mahavidyas' temple
worship has never been not in prevalence. The Mahavidyas are usually the objects of
Tantrika worship of which there are many methods, the more popular among them
being Vamachara path characterised primarily by the Pancha tattva, or pancha
makara the ritual performed by five forbidden or highly polluting things, namely,
meat, fish, wine, 'mudra', a type of grain that has hallucinogenic properties, and
intercourse with a woman.

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Tantrasara

Shaktapramoda

Shaktisangama-tantra

Guhyatiguhya-Tantra

Chamunda-tantra

Shrimad Devi Bhagavata, Chaukhambha Sanskrit Pratishthan, Delhi

Devimahatmyam, tr. By Devadatta Kali, Delhi

Dahejia, Vidya : Devi, The Great Goddess, Washington D.C.

Page 16

Menzies, Jackie : Goddess, Divine Energy, Art Gallery, NSW

Kinsley, David : Hindu Goddesses, Delhi

Hawley, J. S. & Wulff, Monna Marie (ed) : Devi, Goddesses of India, Delhi

Rosen, Steven J. (ed) : Vaishnavi, Delhi

Mookarjee, Ajit & Khanna, Madhu : The Tantrika Way, Boston

Kanwar Lal : Kanya and the Yogi, Delhi

Daljeet Dr., and Jain, P. C. : Indian Miniature Painting, New Delhi

Jain, P. C. : The Magic Makers, New Delhi

Upadhyaya, Padma : Female Images in Museums of Uttar Pradesh and Their


Social Background, Delhi

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