The Goddess Camunda is depicted as ferocious and fear striking in Hindu storytelling. Often described as having flames shooting from her eyes, surrounded by goblins, and wearing a garland of skulls it is no wonder she is feared (Jones and Ryan 102). Yet with the fear that surrounds Camunda she is worshipped by many to help cure people of ailments and for protection. Camunda is closely associated with the Goddess Kali. Kali is the fiercest aspect of Durga and can sometimes be described as her helper (Minturn 169). Camunda is known by many names and can be worshipped in different forms. In the Tantric Saptamatrka cult Camunda is depicted as an independent sakti in the cosmic cycle. This cycle begins with Brahma, the creator, and ends with Camunda. Since Camunda is understood as the fierce goddess of destruction she is depicted at the end of this cosmic cycle which signifies the power of destruction which then leads to renewal (Foulston and Abbott 111). It should be noted that as Kali and Camunda are similar; Camunda is depicted as very ugly and Kali, while disheveled, is beautiful. Also, Camunda has an association with death while Kali is more associated with violence (Mohanty 34).
Camunda’s origin as a Hindu Goddess is recounted best in a few stories in the Devi Mahatmya. In the first story Camunda came to life when Siva, Visnu and Brahma called the Mother Goddess, Durga to stop king demon Mahisa from taking over the universe. Mahisa sent his demons Canda and Munda to find the goddess and bring her to him as he wanted to take Durga to be his wife. In the form of Parvati, Kali sprang from her brow due to Durga’s fury toward the demons. Kali decapitated Canda and Munda and presented their heads to Durga. Durga was so pleased by this that she announced to Kali that she will be worshipped and remembered as Camunda, a blend of both the demons names for which she has destroyed (Amazzone 6-7).
In the second story, which continues later in the previous battle, Mahisa is so enraged by the death of his demons that he sends Raktabija to defeat Durga. This battle is difficult and in her anger she transforms into the Goddess Candika for the battle. To her dismay, she learns that every drop of blood Raktabija loses turns into another powerful Raktabija. Feeling herself losing the battle, the Goddess calls Camunda and commands her to lick up the blood so Candika can eventually defeat Raktabija. Camunda’s complexion changed to red as she drank the blood of the enemy (Coburn 67). These stories are significant as they depict Camunda’s power and ability to defeat demons through her power and strength. These stories reiterate that goddesses are not to be thought of as weak or defenseless; they were to be feared and worshipped for their power. Camunda represents that people should be fierce, possess strength, and hold the confidence and ability to go at many things in life alone.
Camunda has been described as looking emaciated and near death to remind people of the fragility of life. She is known to cause fear from her eyes through this form. Her companion to ride is an owl, which can see in the night sky and has 360 degree perception (Amazonne 118). Also, in an image of Camunda on Bubhanesvar temple shows her so emaciated that all of her bones are showing and her eye sockets are sunken in with her eyes popping out. She has drooping breasts and a sunken in stomach (Kinsley 1988: 148). The expression on her face is consistently fierce showing teeth in most representations of her. There is also a sculpture of her in Jajpur in Orissa where she carries all of the discussed features including four arms which hold things such as a wine cup and severed heads. She also wears a necklace made of skulls and has a bald head with fire projecting from it (Kinsley 1988: 148). In history it has been told that King Pratap Singha made a garland out of severed heads from the Muslims slain in the sacrifice battle as a tribute to the goddess in her ferocious form who also wears a garland of severed heads (Urban 96). From these defining features one can see how she is projected as a fierce Goddess.
Camunda is worshipped as an independent deity of the Tantric Saptamatrka. Camunda and the other seven Saptamatrika deities are worshipped for personal and spiritual renewal which leads to rebirth. With this devotion it is understood that all energy is directed towards the Great Goddess, Mahadevi, to reach the highest levels of liberation (Kinsley 1988: 150). Due to this significance Camunda is often worshipped in ancient sculpture and described in detail as a way of worshipping the Great Goddess in her more aggressive facet. Camunda’s association with death brings on more life and represents the recycling of energy (Kinsley 1988: 149).
As with all gods and goddesses in the Hindu tradition there are specific rituals and forms of worship that please such deities. These rituals can come in forms of speaking mantras, rituals, and sacrifice. Camunda is known as a deity who is worshipped through sacrifice. Historically, meat offerings and animal sacrifice, such as sheep, were made to her which seems to play into her ferocious nature (Kinsley 1988:146). In Jainism, these blood sacrifices had to end to keep with Jain practices. In the story of Saciya Nata, sweets were offered to the goddess in place of animal sacrifice. It is said that Camunda became infuriated by the change in sacrifice and caused pain to the monk. However, when seeing how well the man took the pain, she became scared and asked the man for forgiveness. From this point, Camunda no longer demanded meat as a sacrifice (Babb 142). Sacrifice may be a way in which the goddess is worshipped but she is often called upon in times of need. Camunda is also often associated with rituals to remove evil spirits and cure illness. Camunda can be called on during exorcisms to help scare away demons from the ailing (McDaniel 125).
In Bhavabhuti’s Malatimadhava, a hymn is sung that praises Camunda. She is described as having a gaping mouth, laughing in a terrifying tone, and dancing so wildly that it threatened to destroy the world. Due to this depiction of the goddess it has been known to build temples and sites of worship for Camunda far away from villages and towns yet near cremation grounds due to her proximity with death (Kinsley 1988: 147). There is a Camunda-devi temple found 15 kilometers from Dharamsala where the ten Mahavidyas are painted on the walls inside. Since Camunda was a form of Kali this is why this temple dedicated to her depicts many goddesses. This temple is an example where the Mahadiyas appear as a group, but the temple is only dedicated to one of them, this one being Camunda (Kinsley 1986: 16).
Camunda is often worshipped during the Navaratri festival. This festival is dedicated to Durga and lasts nine nights and ten days four times a year. During the last three days of the festival, the many manifestations of Durga are celebrated, which includes Camunda (McDaniel 79). In this festival Durga is worshipped in her many forms by people reciting stories of her, addressing tantric mantra, setting up shrines, and singing her praises.
Camunda is a fascinating goddess in the Hindu tradition. Her role as a Mahavidya and in association with Kali in historical stories solidifies her role as an important figure in Hindu religious culture. Even though her image may be portrayed as fearsome and horrifying, she is still worshipped for her power and strength. Many people gather at her temple to participate in rituals and worship her to gain relief of ailment or to further themselves towards the path of liberation.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Amazzone, Laura (2010) Goddess Durga and Sacred Female Power. Maryland: Hamilton Books.
Babb, Lawrence A. (1996) Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Coburn, Thomas B. (1991) Encountering the Goddess: A translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a study of its interpretation. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Portland: Sussex Academic Press.
Kinsley, David R. (1986) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: the Ten Mahavidyas. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kinsley, David R. (1988) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
McDaniel, June (2004) Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press.
Minturn, Leigh (1993) Sita’s Daughters: Coming Out of Purdah: The Rajput Women of Khalapur Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Mohanty, Seema (2004) The Book of Kali. London: Penguin Books.
Jones, Constance, James D. Ryan. (2007) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing
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Article written by: Melanie Wasylenko (2015) who is solely responsible for its content.
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