Category Archives: H. Major Hindu Sects, Deities and Purāṇic Myths


The modern interpretations of the ten Mahavidyas have turned out to be surprisingly diverse; although, perhaps the most common understanding of the ten Mahavidyas is that they were direct personifications of Sati/Kali, one of the supreme Goddesses. According to the lore, the ten Mahavidyas were said to have been manifestations of the supreme Goddess Sati, after Siva insulted her during an argument. Consequently, Sati reveals herself as Kali, before manifesting into the ten Mahavidyas. Collectively, the ten Mahavidyas are thought to be an expression of compassion and protection demonstrated by the supreme Goddess to free her followers from chaos (Dold 57, 58, 59).

Bagalamukhi or Bagala (she who has a crane’s head) is one of the ten Mahavidyas, but myths of her origins also come with various interpretations. These origins seem to illustrate several distinct variations of Bagalamukhi’s character. For example, the first myth associates Bagala with the God Visnu, where she plays a role similar to one of his avatars, in which, Visnu comes across a cosmic crisis that threatens to annihilate the universe and after requesting for aid, Bagala emerges and restores the cosmic balance (Kinsley 1998: 193, 194).

The next origin myth describes Bagalamukhi’s well-known ability of Stambhana (to stun or paralyze). Bagala is often associated with paralyzing enemies, and defeating enemies with Vak siddhi (the power of speech). In this myth Bagala stops the demon Madan, a demon who is able to destroy and kill just by speaking. Bagala is often portrayed by grabbing the demon’s tongue, stopping him from uttering any more words before destroying him (Kinsley 1998: 194, 195).

The third and final myth recounts the origin of both Dhumavati and Bagalamukhi. This origin myth is similar to the encounter that the ten Mahavidyas have with Siva, in which Bagalamukhi is a manifestation of Siva’s wife. However, in this version, Bagala is manifested after Parvati devours Siva. Soon after Parvati consumes Siva, smoke begins to be released from Parvati’s body. Consequently, Siva emerges from Parvati’s body, followed by Siva punishing her by stripping her of the marks and adornments of marriage, leaving her a widow. Parvati is then branded Bagalamukhi for eating Siva, and from her smoke or her maya (the power of illusion) emerges Dhumavati. This myth relates closely to the meaning of Bagalamukhi’s name, in which, similarly to how a crane would eat, Bagala swallows Siva whole (Shankaranarayanan 94, Kinsley 1998: 195, 196).

Bagalamukhi is known by many epithets, and each one suggests a distinct representation of her particular characteristics. For example, her name Bagalamukhi comes from the Sanskrit word baka, meaning “crane”, in which she has been commonly associated with. However, some scholars have suggested that the original name of Bagalamukhi is a misinterpretation, as she is rarely depicted as having a birds’ head, and that she was actually called Valgamukhi. Further still, there seems to be some inconsistencies to the meaning of the name Valgamukhi. Rama Shankar Tripathi of the Kasi Visvanath temple, believes that valga in Sanskrit means “bit” and refers to Valgamukhi’s ability to master one’s opponents, similar to how a bit is used to lead a horse around. Moreover, another informant of Kinsley’s said that valga means “paralyze”, referring to her ability of stambhana or “paralysis”. The names that Bagala is recognized by all seem to be related to her strong association with magical or supernatural powers, and her ability to attract and immobilize others. Although, it is difficult to interpret each name individually, it is perhaps best to consider each opinion to better understand the significance of each one of Bagalamukhi’s names (Kinsley 1998: 196, 197).

One of Bagalamukhi’s most-used epithet is Pitambara-devi [also seen with Visnu, see Kinsley 1998: 193], “she who is dressed in yellow”, and unlike Bagalamukhi, this name reflects more of her features of devotion and veneration (Kinsley 1998: 198). Bagala is often portrayed as being yellow in complexion, dressed in yellow garments, and dressed in yellow ornaments and garlands (Kinsley 1988: 162). When worshiping Bagalamukhi/Pitambara-devi, devotees are directed to be clothed in all yellow, use yellow turmeric beads and, when possible offer yellow items (Shankaranarayanan 95). However, the problem with the name Pitambara-devi is although she is often said to prefer yellow, the reason why she does, and how it is related to Bagalamukhi are rarely mentioned in literature (see Kinsley 1998: 198-199).

As far as supernatural abilities go, Bagalamukhi has more association with mystical or magical powers than any other Mahavidya. These magical powers are also known as siddhis, “perfections” or “accomplishments”, and are mentioned in some of her hymns. Bagala is said to be worshiped to receive these mystical powers and to control, paralyze, attract or kill one’s enemies, and to gain wealth and auspiciousness. Bagalas ability to paralyze is believed to apply to one’s own thought, motion and initiative, in which she can give the power of intelligent and forceful speech to defeat any enemy (Kinsley 1998: 199).

In the Sankhyayana-tantra, Bagala is connected to Brahmastra (the missile of Brahma), a weapon used in war. There are also special sections in the Sankhyayana-tantra in regards to worship and the attainment of Bagala’s magical powers. Furthermore, some texts have specific instructions of worship for different kinds of siddhis that are sought from Bagala. For instance, the siddhi maruna (the ability to destroy an adversary through pure will) is attained through the burnt offerings that must take place in the fires found on cremation grounds, and that the offerings should include the blood of a female buffalo and mustard oil. Additionally, the siddhi uccdtana (the ruining or upsetting of a person), crow and vulture feathers should be burned as an offering, and so forth for each of the other siddhis (Kinsley 1998: 199, 200).

Bagalamukhi is often depicted in a sava sadhana position, where she is shown to be seated on top of a corpse (Kinsley 1998: 201). There are several theories regarding why Bagala is portrayed in this position. One interpretation is that the corpse is said to belong to the demon Madan that Bagala defeated in battle (see Kinsley 1998: 194, 195). Another explanation suggests that the corpse represents the passion or ignorance that Bagala has conquered or controlled. That is, the corpse that are shown with Bagala are bodily rhythms that are being mastered through yogic control. A third explanation describes Bagala and the corpse as analogous to that of Sakti’s and Siva’s image of reality, in which Bagala/Sakti represents the power of creation, while the corpse/Siva represents the immobile, unchanging aspects of reality.

Furthermore, some believe that the presence of the corpse is related to Sava Sadhana (spiritual practice with a corpse). The details of Sava Sadhana are referred to in numerous tantric texts, and provide specific instructions regarding this practice. The texts include guidelines for selecting a proper location, time, and what kind of corpse should be used. For example, a suitable location for Sava Sadhana would be a forest or a mountain, and should take place on the eighth lunar day, on a Tuesday night. The corpse should be undamaged, from a low caste, preferably a young Candala (an untouchable), who has committed suicide, drowned, or died from lightning, a spear, a snake or in battle. Corpses that belong to a person who had an immoral life, died of starvation, was famous, or who had a strong attachment to their spouse should be avoided (Kinsley 1998: 202, 203).

Temples and shrines that are dedicated to Bagalamukhi are rare, since worshipping her is primarily done through individual means. However, there are some temples devoted to Bagala located throughout India. One temple housing the image of Bagalamukhi is in the old district of Varanasi in Northern India. The temple is connected to a resident’s house, but is open to the general populace. Farther north, near the border of Pakistan, another temple that is affiliated with Bagala is in the woods of Bankhandi, Himachal Pradesh. Interestingly, the notion that Bagala’s tradition is more common in the northern parts of India may be from the fact that she is quite influential in areas of Nepal. Bagala’s most famous place of worship is in Datia, Madhya Pradesh, established in the 1930’s by Puja Swami. Bagalamukhi was Puja Swami’s chosen deity, and he believed that she could benefit India during India’s independence movement (Kinsley 1998: 207, 208).


Dold, Patricia (2011) “Pilgrimage to Kamakhva Through Text and Lived Religion.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 46-61.

Kinsley, David (1988) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: University of California Press.

Shankaranarayanan, S. (1972) The Ten Great Cosmic Powers (Dasa Mahavidyas). Pondicherry: Dipti Publications.

Related Topics for Further Investigation




Sakta Pithas














Sava Sadhana

Puja Swami

Indian Independent movement

Noteworthy Website Related to the Topic

Article written by: Ryan Fukuda (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Tara, the Goddess Who Guides Us Through Troubles

Tara is a Tantric goddess, one of the ten Mahavidyas, which translated into English means great revelations or manifestations (Kinsley 1998:57-60). In Tantrism, there is the idea that the Divine Feminine is the supreme cosmic force in the universe, equivalent to Brahman. An important aspect in Mahadevi theology is that Devi or the Great Goddess has a tendency to manifest herself in a variety of forms so as to protect cosmic stability. The ten Mahavidyas represent a common way of expressing the idea that goddesses can take many forms (Kinsley 1998:20). The Mahavidyas are also often associated with Visnu’s ten avatars or avataras, helping these avataras in their heroic endeavors, either by becoming the avatara heroes themselves, or being the ultimate force for how they are victorious (Kinsley 1998:20-21). The Mahavidyas include the famous goddess Kali. Although Kali is listed in the Mahavidyas, there is evidence that she was worshiped earlier (Kinsley 1986:161). A majority of the texts mentioning the Mahavidyas are Tantric in nature so it will be best to regard the Mahavidyas, such as Tara, as Tantric goddesses (Kinsley 1998:20-21). The Mahavidyas are often depicted as a group throughout various temples, though they can be thought of individually (Kinsley 1998:49-50). This essay will first give a description of the iconography of Tara, how she is usually portrayed in temples alongside the other Mahavidyas, both as a member of the Mahavidyas and individually as a goddess. Second, this essay will give an overview of the myths of Tara and the Mahavidyas; in particular, how Tara and the Mahavidyas were born. Finally, this essay will give a brief overview of the numerous symbolic implications of Tara and what psychological effects these terrifying goddesses have.

Kali is the first goddess in the list of Mahavidyas and Tara always comes after, being the second goddess(Kinsley 1986:162). Tara and Kali are closely interrelated. The description of Tara is almost identical to that of Kali. Tara, like Kali, is dark-skinned. Both are depicted as having their foot firmly on a corpse. In Kali’s case, it is almost always Siva, while for Tara, the corpse can be anonymous or can be Siva. Both wear necklaces of severed heads and skulls. Tara and Kali both have lolling tongues and blood oozing from their mouths while laughing terribly. They are often depicted on funeral pyres. Both Goddesses’ appearances are terrifying to behold. One of the main differences between Kali and Tara is that Tara wears the skin of a tiger while Kali is naked. Additionally, Tara appears to be pot-bellied or pregnant, while Kali is usually not. There are ideas that Kali and Tara are manifestations of one another (Kinsley 1998:100). An eighteenth-century Bengali saint, Ramprasad Sen, even used the names synonymously (Kinsley 1998:100). Kinsley describes of Tara: “She appears to be a variant expression of Kali, a kindred spirit, as it were, who expresses the same truths as Kali, only in slightly different form” (Foulston and Abbott 118). Tara portrays the dominance of the Great Goddess over the masculine, but she also exemplifies gentler aspects and qualities of the divine feminine. It is said that she rescues those who truly are faithful to her, bringing beings and people to the far shore of enlightenment, embodying the maternal, creative, and nurturant (Foulston and Abbott 119).

It is interesting to note the differences between the Hindu Tara and the Tibetan Buddhist Tara. The Hindu Tara is almost always portrayed in fierce forms like the one described in the Tara Tantra:

Standing firmly with her left foot on a corpse, she laughs loudly – transcendent. Her hands hold a sword, a blue lotus, a dagger, and a begging bowl. She raises her war cry, hum! Her matted tawny hair is bound with poisonous blue snakes. Thus the terrifying Tara destroys the unconsciousness of the three worlds and carries them off on her head [to the other shore]” (Foulston and Abbott 119).

The Tibetan Buddhist version of Tara, in contrast, is gentler in aspect. The Buddhist Tara appears as a young, playful, and charming woman, who saves people at the last moment from the jaws of death (Kinsley 1986:167-168). Nevertheless, there are fierce aspects of Tara in Buddhism as well. However, both fierce aspects of Tara, in either tradition, do save the followers who are truly devoted to them (Kinsley 1986:166-167). The most common theory of the evolution of Tara is that Tara first became popular in Tibetan Buddhist Tantrism. Then with the common similarities between Buddhism and Hinduism, and with the close proximity of Tibet and India, Buddhist Tara worship morphed into Tara’s worship in Hindu Tantrism (Kinsley1998: 96).

Regarding the myths surrounding Tara, the Hindu story of how Tara was created starts with the marriage of Sati and Siva. Tara is closely related to the other ten Mahavidyas. This story describes how Tara and the other Mahavidyas were created. Sati’s father, Daksa, creates a great sacrifice and invites all the deities to join in, except for Sati and Siva. He is embarrassed by the fact that Siva, his son-in-law, likes to do wild things, reside in graveyards, and has an ugly appearance because he coats himself in ash. When the couple finds out about this social slight, Siva himself is not offended. However, Sati is grievously insulted. She promptly says to her husband that she will go to the sacrifice all on her own. Siva is not pleased to hear this and refuses to let her go. After a long time of trying to convince Siva to let her go, and failing, Sati transforms into a fierce, terrifying goddess, sometimes known as Kali. Siva is frightened and horrified by this transformation and tries to run away. The goddess, that was once Sati, then multiples herself into a myriad of forms to stop Siva from leaving the house. These forms or goddesses, including Tara, surround Siva from all directions, Tara herself manifesting above him. Siva tries every opening or exit in the house, but finds at each exit a goddess guarding the threshold. Eventually, Siva agrees that Sati can go to the sacrifice if she calls off these terrifying aspects. The forms then tell Siva that they are called the Mahavidyas, and teach him how they all should be worshiped. At this point, different versions of the tale diverge from one another. Some versions have Sati continue to manifest the Mahavidyas in order to protect Siva while she is away from the house. Sati then, either in the form of Kali or in her own original form, goes to her father’s sacrifice and throws herself into the sacrificial fire (Kinsley 1998:23-38).

An oral story has another myth about Tara and Siva, this tale having only Tara. The tale starts after the churning of the ocean, during which a powerful poison had been created. Siva, in order to save the world from destruction, drinks up all the poison from the water. However, he falls unconscious from the effect of the poison. Tara then comes along and puts Siva on her lap. She suckles him, and the healing power of her mother’s milk brings Siva back to life (Kinsley 1998:102). This tale is similar to a Kali story where Kali is unleashed by the gods to destroy a demon army. Kali utterly annihilates the army, but now nothing is in the way to stop her from rampaging and destroying the world. Siva then comes to the world’s rescue again by manifesting himself as a baby upon the bloody wasteland of corpses. Kali hears the infant Siva’s crying. This awakens her motherly instincts and she stops to suckle the baby Siva, her blood rage quieted (Kinsley 1998:102). This similar motif of suckling Siva adds to the notion that Tara and Kali are intertwining goddesses.

Finally, turning to the symbolic, religious, and psychological significance of Tara and the Mahavidyas, Tara appears to represent the shadowy, vicious side of the Great Goddess. Yet these fierce goddesses, such as Tara, do not seem to be warriors. Although there is a notion that they are ferocious in order to protect the universe, these goddesses primarily represent the divine feminine’s superiority and dominance over the masculine, which is shown in myth with all of the ten Mahavidyas’ dominance over Siva (Kinsley 1986:163-165). The gender politics of this are obvious. Usually masculine gods are dominant over goddesses, yet here this custom is reversed. Yet perhaps it was also actually political in the sense that the goddess cults were overthrowing the god-centred cults, or perhaps it is there to be an inversion of the usual religious and social order. In orthodox Brahmin Hinduism, there are attitudes that the male is above the female, that there are certain things you should not do, like illicit sex or giving blood to the deities, and that, though the quest for moksa can give you magic powers, magical powers are distractions that hold you from your true goal (Kinsley 1998:6-7). In Tantrism, many of these attitudes are switched around: blood sacrifice to the goddesses and illicit sex are important to the rituals, and the pursuit of magic powers is a legitimate goal (Kinsley 1986:164). It could be understood that this inversion of traditional practice was created by those disenchanted with the religious authorities in order to make the forbidden acceptable.

Tara could be seen is an antimodel. As with Kali, she haunts cremation grounds, an impure environment because of the close proximity to death, and she wears necklaces of skulls and heads, and has a girdle of human arms. This depiction of the divine feminine mocks, insults, and subverts the status quo, creating a liberating effect for both sexes caught in the imprisoning social ideas. In addition to this liberation from conformity, this bloody jewelry also has an inner, spiritual importance. The bloody jewelry, in this context, is not usually to be taken literally, but as symbols of destroying residual karma. Tara wears the detached remains not of “you,” but of the false you. With her sword, she cuts away the negative qualities of the limited you, your greed, your fear, your ego, your residual karma, all falsehoods holding you back from enlightenment (Kinsley 1998:104).

Tara is a vision of the divine that challenges comfortable and comforting fantasies that we may all have (Kinsley 1998:7). She is a manifestation that while everything might seem well and good, one has to remember that all is fleeting, and one must focus on one’s own spiritual goals and not get caught in a cycle which will imprison him or her. In another context, she also represents the all-powerful determination of a true seeker of enlightenment. Her ruthlessness is inside all who have enlightenment as their goal. She comes whenever a barrier blocks the way to enlightenment. This viciousness is not to be cruel to others, but to strike inside the inner realm of the psyche and destroy the ego and the roadblocks that come in the way.

Tara, like the many goddesses such as the other Mahavidyas, shows us that there are many ways of thinking of the divine besides just one. Her fierce demeanor is paradoxical to compassionate religion, yet this terrifying complex turns out to be complementary to compassion. There is no end to the interpretations of these symbols of the fierce aspects of the divine.

Consulted Bibliography

Foulston, Lynn and Stuart Abbott (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Portland: Sussex Academic.

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Los Angeles: University of California.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Los Angeles: University of California.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Blood Sacrifice







Tripura Sundari








Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Written by Liberty Blair Charissage (Spring 2017)  who is solely responsible for its content.


Goddess Bagalamukhi is one of the ten Mahavidyas and the eighth supreme goddess of knowledge. There are multiple stories of origin concerning this goddess, both of which result in the reputation that she holds today. The first myth starts with a cosmic storm that threatened to destroy the universe. In the height of the chaos, Visnu prayed to Tripura-Sundari, who brought forth Bagalamukhi. Visnu watched as she calmed the storm with her great powers (Kinsley 1997: 199). The second origin myth demonstrates the more violent side of Bagalamukhi, as she was prayed to by other gods to stop the demon, Madan, from his rampage of killing people. In order to stop him Bagalamukhi pulled out his tongue to prevent the power of speech (Kinsley 1997: 200-201), which is a common tactic used by this scorned goddess. She is often depicted pulling out the tongues of her aggressors and silencing her enemies. This is one of her many gifts and powers, as she is most associated with magical powers, out of all of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1997: 52). In fact, many of her devotees worship her in hopes that she will bless them with several gifts such as heightened sensory abilities and the ability to overcome, outwit, and control other people (Kinsley 1997: 206). Bagalamukhi represents a state of “sharply focused consciousness” (Kinsley 1997: 56), capable of directly influencing people. The gift of “intense concentration” (Kinsley 1997: 203) is part of the reasoning behind the meaning of her name. In Sanskrit, baka means “crane” (Kinsley 1997: 202), which raises the meaning of the name “she who has a crane’s head” (Dold 59) or “the crane-faced one,” however, according to Kinsley, this reasoning is hard to believe as the goddess is rarely ever depicted with a crane’s head (Kinsley 1997: 203). Bagalamukhi is often associated with birds, such as a crow, as it has the ability to give advanced information of people’s arrival, as well as a parrot, which has the ability to grant vdk siddhi, the power to make all thoughts come true (Kinsley 1997: 203).

There are several different appearances that Bagalamukhi holds, however, she is most often associated with the color yellow and even referred to as Pitambrara-devi, “she who is dressed in yellow” (Kinsley 1997: 204). She wears yellow clothing, prefers yellow offerings, and wishes that her devotees wear the color yellow, sit on a yellow garment, and use turmeric beads when reciting her mantra (Kinsley 1997: 204). All of these wishes are laid out in the Pujapaddhati, the instructions for her worship. According to Kinsley, the color yellow holds significance in South India, as women often wear yellow clothing as it is seen as an auspicious color and symbolizes sun and gold, however the connection between Bagalamukhi and yellow is unclear (Kinsley 1997: 205). Bagalamukhi is also depicted sitting upon a throne composed of a corpse of an enemy, and decorated in red lotuses (Kinsley 1997: 207). This somewhat off-putting image illustrates the strength and command that Bagalamukhi yields as well as the violent outbursts of this goddess. The corpse can represent one of three things: a demon that the goddess has killed, ignorance or passions that Bagalamukhi has defeated or controlled, or the male figure as they are static and the female is the dynamic (Kinsley 1997: 208). Themes of sava sadhana are also possible, regarding the corpse, igniting the possibility of the corpse coming alive while in an aggressive state. The corpse can sometimes hold animal characteristics and in this case, Bagalamukhi must portray fearlessness and defeat her enemy once again (Kinsley 1997: 211).

Worship is a large part of the Hindu culture, especially worship dedicated to the Mahavidyas as it provides a “public approach” with the thought that they are able to bless their devotees and are pleased by the “devotional service” (Kinsley 1997: 59). Several goddesses, including Bagalamukhi, are said to be pleased with a blood sacrifice (Kinsley 1997: 59), however the practices vary among the goddesses. Bagalamukhi is, of all the Mahavidyas, most associated with having magical powers such as paralyzing, eradication, and control over the planets (Kinsley 1997: 59). In fact, the Mahavidyas as a group are often connected with the nine planets in order to aid the devotee to “overcome malevolent astrological influences” (Dold 57). Bagalamukhi’s followers have many different reasons to worship the goddess, many of them revolving around the idea of defeating an enemy through different methods and acquiring wealth and power. Bagalamukhi is a very powerful and revengeful goddess, who is often depicted overcoming her aggressors. Thus it is only fitting that she is able to bestow similar blessings upon her worshippers, such as gaining control over one’s enemies (Kinsley 1997: 205). There are few public temples or places of worship dedicated exclusively to Bagalamukhi; however, there are several Bagalamukhi-Pitambara temples (Kinsley 1997: 213). The most famous temple in honor of Bagalamukhi is Datiya, located in Madhya Pradesh and founded in the 1930s by Puja Swami, who had elected the goddess as his chosen deity (Kinsley 1997: 214). Worship dedicated to this goddess is done privately through an individual spiritual process called sadhana (Kinsley 1997: 213).

Overall, there are many different opinions and perspectives held regarding this Hindu devi from both sides of the spectrum, positive and negative. Some people hold the opinion that Bagalamukhi represents the “ugly side of living creatures” (Kinsley 1997: 207) and that the qualities that she possesses are both negative and undesirable. On the other hand, people believe that she represents strength and that she has power over the “vital breath,” which means control over the tongue and speech (Kinsley 1997: 207). Despite what one’s opinion on Bagalamukhi might be, one thing cannot be disputed, she is part of the Mahavidyas, making up one of the ten forms of goddess Kamakhya (Dold 57); this means that she is a very influential goddess and figure in Hindu culture. As a part of the Mahavidyas or individually, Bagalamukhi holds a dominating position by paralyzing and controlling those around her. The Mahavidyas are a high-ranking group, who have been around since the 11th century, and are known to represent several different things, all concerning aspects of life and the universe. For example, these “ten sisters” (Dold 58) have been said to represent the following: the stages of the female life, the phases of the moon, and the stages of consciousness, to name a few (Dold 58).

In conclusion, Bagalamukhi is known as a scorned goddess, well known for paralyzing her enemies and defeating those who have wronged her by removing their tongues; rendering them silent. She is one the the ten Mahavidyas and is the one most associated with magical powers and mystical strengths, which comes into play when her devotees worship her in the privacy of their homes. This powerful goddess is often associated with the auspicious color yellow and is occasionally illustrated sitting upon a throne of a corpse of an slain enemy. Her unwavering concentration is correlated with the thought that she has a crane’s head with reference to the meaning of her name, “the crane-faced one” (Kinsley 1997: 202). Bagalamukhi is a very powerful, magical, and influential goddess in the Hindu culture.





Dold, Patricia A. (2011) “Pilgrimage to Kamakhya through text and lived religion”. In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 46-61. New York: Routledge.


Kinsley, David (1997) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State of University of New York Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation


The Mahavidyas







Sava Sadhana

Bagalamukhi-Pitambara temple



Blood sacrifice


Vital breath


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic



Article written by: Haley Tanigami (2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kamala: The Lotus Goddess

Kamala (“she of the lotus”), is the last in the list of the Ten Mahavidyas (great revelations or manifestations), who are a group of Tantric goddesses. Kamala’s place as the last of the Mahavidyas is not addressed in the literature. Although it may be taken as signifying a lesser importance than the others, Kamala is one of the most widely worshipped outside of her relationship with the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998: 223). She is portrayed as auspicious and beautiful, with a lovely golden complexion. She is seated in a lotus posture upon a lotus flower. She has four hands—two holding lotuses and two held in signs of granting blessings and giving assurance. Iconography of Kamala illustrates her being bathed in nectar by two (sometimes four) large elephants. Kamala is represented in a similar manner to the very popular goddess Sri-Laksmi, as Kamala and Sri-Laksmi are considered to be the same goddess (Kinsley 1988; Kinsley 1998).

In early literature, Kamala is referred to as Sri (Glory). She is associated with positive  and auspicious qualities such as royal power, wealth, beauty, and fertility. Sri is associated with the lotus and the elephant, important aspects of her character throughout the literature (Kinsley 1998). The elephants are thought to be symbolic of fertility and royal authority. The significance of the lotus is twofold. First, the lotus symbolizes life, fertility, and the entire created order of the cosmos. Secondly, the lotus symbolizes spiritual purity, power, and authority. Lotus flowers are rooted in mud, yet bloom uncontaminated above the water. Thus, Sri is seen as a pure life force, which transcends the material world, while remaining rooted inside it (Kinsley 1998: 225-226).

Although Sri may have at one point been an independent personality, she became more consistently known as Laksmi (Grace) fairly early in her history (Kinsley 1998). Sri-Laksmi is associated with several male figures throughout the literature. Some texts refer to her as the wife of Dharma, who is responsible for the maintenance of social order (dharma). Other texts emphasize her relationship with Indra, signifying royal authority, fertility, and prosperity. Indra’s kingly power, dominance, and success are said to be dependent on Sri-Laksmi, and in her absence, the king cannot flourish. In some texts, Sri-Laksmi accompanies the god Kubera, the Lord of Wealth, who is associated with growth and fertility (Kinsley 1998: 227).

Most importantly, Sri-Laksmi is thought to be the wife of the god Visnu. Visnu is often depicted as a divine king, associated with the promotion of dharma. Followers of Visnu seek to maintain social order (Kinsley 1998: 227). Hindu myths suggest that Laksmi is revealed, among other desirable objects and beings, when the gods and demons, seeking the elixir of immortality, churn the milky sea. She is thereby granted to Visnu, the leader of the gods (in this myth). Laskmi’s presence with Visnu allows for the security of royal authority; in her absence, royal authority weakens and deteriorates (Kinsley 1998: 227). When illustrated with Visnu, Laksmi is typically shown with two hands, rather than four. In association with Visnu, iconography of Laksmi also depicts her partaking in domestic chores, such as cooking and cleaning. She is often pictured massaging the feet of Visnu, and is shown to be much smaller than him. In this sense, she is portrayed as submissive to her husband, as his modest, passive, and loving wife (Kinsley 1998: 227).

The view of Sri-Laksmi’s passivity differs between schools of thought in Hinduism (Kinsley 1998). In the Pancaratra school of thought, Laksmi plays an active role alongside Visnu in maintaining the balance of the cosmos. She takes over many of Visnu’s roles as creator of the universe and regulator of dharma. In the Sri-Vaisnava school of thought, Sri-Laksmi has a less significant cosmological role, but plays the role of indulgent and forgiving mediator between Visnu and his devotees (Kinsley 1998: 227).

Laksmi has a large following of worshippers, and she is well-known throughout Hindu culture (Kinsley 1998). There are several annual festivals in the Hindu tradition that are dedicated to the worship of Laksmi. She is worshipped by those seeking wealth, prosperity, good luck, and fertility. Merchants worship their account books to encourage Laksmi to reside within them. Farmers worship their crops to promote Laksmi’s presence. Cow dung is also worshipped as a symbol of Laksmi’s powers of fecundity. Worship of Laksmi is thought to drive away bad luck and misfortune, associated with her inauspicious counterpart, Alaksmi (Kinsley 1998: 228).

Less significant to Sri-Laksmi’s following is her role as Kamala among the Ten Mahavidyas. The Ten Mahavidyas include an eclectic array of characters, ranging from fierce goddesses like Kali and Tara, who are associated with images of severed heads and corpses, to goddesses with more benign and desirable qualities, such as Kamala (Kinsley 1998). The Mahavidyas are portrayed both individually and as a group in many goddess temples across Northern India (Kinsley 1998: 1). There are many myths regarding the significance and origins of the Mahavidyas (see Kinsley 1988: 161-165, 1998: 22-36).

The most common understanding is that the Mahavidyas are distinct manifestations of the same goddess (Kinsley 1988, 1998; Dold 49). Oral and literary accounts describe the story of the goddess Sati. The king Daksa, Sati’s father, does not invite Sati’s husband, Siva, to his Vedic ritual. Siva forbids Sati from attending the ritual, and Sati, furious with her husband, becomes the ten Mahavidyas to show Siva her power. The Mahavidyas, surrounding Siva, frighten him so that Sati may get her way. The fear-inspiring Mahavidyas cause Siva to flee, allowing Sati to attend her father’s ritual (Dold 49).

Despite the lack of definite consensus on the origins of the Mahavidyas, many descriptions of their characteristics are consistent across origin myths. The Mahavidyas are frightening, they possess magical powers, and they are dominant to male characters (Kinsley 1998: 36-38). It has also been suggested that the Mahavidyas serve to maintain dharma, or the cosmological order of the world (Kinsley 1988: 161; Kinsley 1998: 38; Shankaranarayanan 3). Many interrelationships between the Mahavidyas have been suggested, including their representation as sisters; forms of great goddesses; stages of life, consciousness, creation and destruction; and the lunar phases (see Kinsley 1998: 38-49).

The Mahavidyas are worshipped in temples, or in Tantric fashion (Kinsley 1998). During temple worship, rituals are performed by priests, and people may join in public worship of the goddesses. Many of the more inauspicious Mahavidyas accept blood offerings, given in the form of animal sacrifice, in addition to offerings of flowers, incense, and fruit. Worship of the Mahavidyas in temples involves conceptualization of these goddesses as existing outside, above, or beyond the worshipper, similar to the worship of other Hindu deities (Kinsley 1998: 49-50). During Tantric worship, the mantra of an individual goddess is recited repeatedly, in combination with specific hand gestures, offerings, and other details (Kinsley 1998: 49-55). Kamala is among the few Mahavidyas to have several temples across India dedicated to her as an individual goddess, as she is most often worshipped as Sri-Laksmi (Kinsley 1998: 49).

In the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is recognizable as Sri-Laksmi; however, there are significant differences in her character. In many ways, Laksmi’s qualities appear to be altered in order to make her a better fit for the Mahavidyas (Foulston and Abbott 124; Kinsley 1998: 228-229). As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala remains a symbol of beauty and prosperity. She is generally still flanked by elephants, who symbolize sovereignty and fertility, maintaining Laksmi’s association with these qualities. Similarly, her consistent association with the lotus maintains her representation of creative consciousness and ritual purity (Kinsley 1998: 228; Shankaranarayanan 110-111).

Differing from her portrayal as Sri-Laksmi, in the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is notably independent from Visnu and other male characters (Kinsley 1998). She is often depicted as seated on a lotus alone, with neither Visnu nor elephants by her side. This greatly contrasts with the way Laksmi is depicted with Visnu, emphasizing the role of the Mahavidyas as independent goddesses, separate from (or dominant to) male characters (Kinsley 1998). As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is separated completely from marital and domestic contexts. In addition to her auspicious and desirable qualities, Kamala is also given more fear-inspiring qualities when she is associated with the Mahavidyas. For example, Kamala’s role as a demon slayer is not portrayed outside of the context of the Mahavidyas. Laksmi is associated with others who slay demons; however, it is only in association with the Mahavidyas that she herself performs any slaying. Kamala’s association with more fierce qualities illustrates the tailoring of Laksmi’s character to meet the fearfulness of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998: 228-230).



Dold, Patricia A. (2011) “Pilgrimage to Kamakhya Through Text and Lived Religion.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 46-61.


Foulston, Lynn and Stuart Abbott (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Portland: Sussex Academic Press.


Jones, Constance, and James D. Ryan (2007) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing.


Kinsley, David (1988) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: University of California Press.


Pintchman, Tracy (2014) Seeking Mahadevi: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2016) Hinduism—the Ebook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.


Shankaranarayanan, S. (1972) The Ten Great Cosmic Powers (Dasa Mahavidyas). Pondicherry: Dipti Publications.



Related Topics for Further Investigation










Mahabhagavata Purana











Tantric Goddess Worship





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


This article was written by: Dalaine Kubik (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Kingdom of Mysore

The Kingdom of Mysore was founded in 1399 and lasted until 1947. It was a south Indian Kingdom that was located in the region that is now the modern day city of Mysore.  The Wodeyars were the Hindu rulers of the Mysore kingdom and established their capital there in the early fifteenth century. Mysore remained the capital of the kingdom until Raja Wodeyar moved it to Srirangapatna in the upper Kaveri Valley in 1610 (Ikegame 20). Before the Wodeyar dynasty made this move, it was the Vijayanagar kingdom that occupied this space under the Tuluva dynasty. Once the Wodeyar dynasty began to gain interest in the area, they quickly succeeded in replacing Aravidu Tirumala, the provincial governor resident at Srirangapatna, helping them to gain control of the city. By 1612, the Wodeyar dynasty gained a great deal of autonomy. Their independence from the Vijayanagar state was exemplified when they neglected to make regular revenue transfers, compared to the Nayakas, who continued to transfer revenues to the Vijayanagars until the late 1630s (Subrahmanyam 209-210).

By the 1700s, the Mysore kingdom controlled a reasonably sized territory in the core of southern India. It was around this time that a man by the name of Haidar Ali was gaining power within the Mysore military. In the mid eighteenth century that Haidar Ali took over the Kingdom (Ikegame 20). The Muslim warlord held control of the Mysore kingdom until his son Tipu Sultan took over in 1782, which was the time of the second Anglo-Mysore war, fought between Mysore and the East Indian Company (Masani 12). Tipu inherited his father’s creation, which was one of the largest and most skilled armies in the subcontinent. Tipu was a ruthless leader, recognized as the “Tiger of Mysore” because of stories of him keeping chained tigers outside his palace. A story even surfaced that Tipu wrestled and killed a tiger with his bare hands (Masani 13). With all the power the kingdom held in southern India, Tipu found it very difficult to not attack and defeat his weaker neighbors. With every conquest followed major religious and ethnic cleansing, thousands of Christians and Hindus were killed, enslaved, tortured, and deported (Masani 13). The Mysorean army frequently used nose cutting as a form of punishment and humiliation. The nose was targeted because it was viewed as a central part of a person’s identity. In many cases, the nose also represented a person’s status within society, so destruction of the nose represented victory over one’s enemy (Simmons 178-179). This was just one of the various ways in which Tipu Sultan punished his prisoners.

As seen through Sultan’s fights with the East Indian Company he did not get along with the British. That being said, him and the Mysorean army were not necessarily against foreigners in their realm. In fact, he was willing to take help from foreign powers in order to expel those he hated. He is said to have consulted with the French in order to create an alliance to expel the British from India (Sil 2). Tipu Sultan and the Mysorean army were the last regular Indian force to actually stand against the British in their attempts to dominate southern India (Ikegame 20).

The conflicts between the British and the Mysore kingdom were known as the Anglo-Mysore wars, and were fought in four installments from 1767 to 1799 (Barua 23). The first Anglo-Mysore war began when the British became concerned with the increasing power of Haidar Ali, who was the leader of Mysore at the time. Mysore’s boarder began to threaten key trading posts that belonged to Britain. Britain fought back and began to gather important victories eventually pushing Haidar’s military into the Bangalore plain. Due to the craftsmanship of the Mysore leader, Haidar was able to push back out of Bangalore and consequently forced the British to sign a peace treaty (Barua 29). The American Revolution helped spark the second Anglo-Mysore war when tensions between the British and French were on the rise. This war lasted from 1780 to 1784, which included the death of Haidar Ali and the gaining of power for his son Tipu Sultan.  Although Tipu worked to modernize the Mysorean army he was met with defeat in both the third and fourth Anglo-Mysore wars. The fourth war would prove to be the last for Tipu Sultan, as a British invasion of Mysore would be met with little resistance since most of Tipu’s generals had surrendered to the British. Instead of dealing with the humiliation of defeat Tipu was actually killed when the British seized his capital on May 4th 1799 (Masani 15). This marked the end of indigenous rule over the kingdom of Mysore.

Soon after Tipu’s death came the induction of 5-year-old Krishnaraja Wodeyar III as ruler of the Mysore state. Once the Hindu royal house was restored they shifted from the former city of Srirangapatna to their original home in Mysore (Ikegame 20). After Britain’s victory over Tipu Sultan, they did not rule over Mysore directly but did begin to heavily influence the administration and policies of the Wodeyar government, thus beginning the colonial era (Sivramkrishna 699). In 1831, the British took full control of the administration because of the inability of Krishnaraja to subdue a peasant uprising in the northern section of the kingdom. All administration was then moved to Bangalore, and Krishnaraja’s palace, which once held administrative powers, was to be used solely to house the leader. This was intended to help eliminate any influence by the Maharaja (great king) on state level politics. Krishnaraja’s palace was to deal with private affairs and the state would take care of public affairs. For the most part, the British stayed away from the Palace until the death of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in 1868.  Britain went on to make drastic changes to the palace. First, with the analysis of Krishnaraja’s debts, followed by the examination of his movable and immovable property, and finally the remodeling of the palace establishment (Ikegame 23). Krishnaraja’s adopted son, Chamarajendra Wodeyar X, gained power in 1881. He was re-granted possession and administration of the country, although the British appointed a guardian to educate him. The Mysoreans gradually started to re-gain power in the state level bureaucracy and with this came reform to the management of the palace. In 1910, a new post was formed called the Muzrai Bakshi, also known as the minister of religious endowments. Religious institutions managed by the palace were considered private, while all others were under control by state administration. That being said, the palace steadily gained more power over religious institutions due, in part, to the fact that officials continuously complied to the religious authority of the Maharaja. The palace came to dominate the religious affairs, which gradually became somewhat of its own state within the kingdom of Mysore (Ikegame 25-27).

The Wodeyar dynasty is the only family in Indian history to rule over a kingdom for more than 500 years. The Wodeyar dynasty and the kingdom of Mysore were under the indirect rule of the British from 1799 to 1831, and later from 1881 to 1947. The period between 1881 and 1947 came to be known as the “golden period” for the state of Mysore. During this time, new developments were happening regularly within that state and by the turn of the century, it was known as a “modern state” (Ramaswamy and Asha. S 202). Mysore became one of the most developed and urbanized regions in India. The kingdom of Mysore finally become part of the Union of India in 1948 after its independence from British rule in 1947 (Baweja 4-5). The Joining of Mysore with the Union of India marked the end of the Wodeyar rule after nearly 500 years.


References and other recommended readings



Barua, Prapeep P (2011) “Maritime Trade, Seapower, and the Anglo-Mysore Wars: 1767-1799: Maritime Trade.” Historian 73 #1 (March): 22-40.


Baweja, Vandana (2015) “Messy Modernism: Otto Koenigsberger’s Early Work in Princely Mysore, 1939-41.” South Asian Studies 31 #1 (January): 1-26.


Ikegame, Aya (2007) “The capital of Rajadharma: Modern Space and Religion in Colonial Mysore.” International Journal of Asian Studies 4 #1 (December): 15-44.


Ramaswamy, Mahesh, and Asha. S (2015) “Caste Politics and State Integration: A case Study of the Mysore State.” International Journal of Area Studies 10 #2 (December): 195-219.


Sivramkrishna, Sashi (2009) “Ascertaining Living Standards in Erstwhile Mysore, Southern India, from Francis Buchanan’s Journey of 1800-01: An Empirical Contribution to the Great Divergence Debate.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 52 #4/5: 695-733.


Ikegame, Aya (2007) “The capital of Rajadharma: Modern Space and Religion in Colonial Mysore.” International Journal of Asian Studies 4 #1 (December): 15-44.


Masani, Zareer (2016) “The Tiger of Mysore.” History Today 66 #12 (December): 11-16.


Sil, Narasingha (2013) “Tipu Sultan in History: Revisionism Revised.” SAGE Open 3 #2 (April): 1-11.     


Simmons, Caleb (2016) “The ‘Hunt for Noses’: Contextualizing the Wodeyar Predilection for Nose-Cutting.” Studies in history 32 #2 (August): 162-185


Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (1989) “Warfare and State Finance in Wodeyar Mysore, 1724-25: A Missionary Perspective.” Indian Economic & Social History Review 26 #2 (June): 203-233.


Related Topics for Further Investigation


Wodeyar Dynasty


Anglo-Mysore Wars


East Indian Company


Tipu Sultan and Haider Ali


Noteworthy websites related to topic


Article written by: Landon Hibbs (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.



Lila: Divine Play

The definition of lila is “sport” or “play” in Sanskrit. It represents the idea of joyous and unnecessary creativity (Sax 13). The first appearance as a theological term was in the Vedanta Sutra in approximately the third century C.E. (Sax 14). Theological terms arose before mythology was written to explain it, in such texts as the Bhagavad Gita and the Harivamsa Purana composed 300 C.E. (Sax 15). The Vaisnava tradition, particularly the Krsna cult, was the leader in elaborating on lila and its doctrine (Sax 14).

In Hinduism, the gods embody the principles that teach its followers about enlightenment. These gods are believed to be complete, with no needs or desires. To resemble the gods, one must stop acting from necessity and act outside of cause and effect (Kinsley xi). They act outside of maya, or illusion and cosmic ignorance, as maya is the collection of illusive ideas which create a world that is false. The creative process and action of lila is real, and the creation is a manifestation of the true nature of God (Sax 15). Lila is associated with ananda (bliss) in freedom and spontaneity (Olson 165). For the self, this could represent support and appreciation of joy in living, or can be used as the idea to experience tragedies as part of the play of the gods (Sax 15). Maya-lila is the concept that creation is continuous, ceaseless cycles of creation and destruction. There are multiple realities, they are transformable, with blurred definitions between divine play and non-play. It permeates art and religion for the privileged upper classes who intertwine the serious, real aspects of life with creativity, such as switching male and female gender roles (Schechner 35). This cycle is permanent as the maya illusion of necessary work consistently interacts with the lila sport of divine play (Kinsley xii).

All Vedanta schools accept the Vedanta Sutra with different perspectives; by doing so, they also accept the teaching of divine sportiveness in different ways. In the Advaita Vedanta illusionist school, lila is provisional as reality does not exist, and the unenlightened must understand maya to find enlightenment. They would cease any form of creativity and commit themselves to the practice of maya. The followers against this illusionist cosmology would accept and maintain their creative skill. In the Bhagavad Gita, God acts to assist and preserve the world in a righteous way. Thinkers of the Caitanya school disagree, and believe that God acts in sport without thinking of benefiting his creation; therefore the feeling of pleasure is an effect of God’s nature. In other Vaisnava circles, sportive and supportive acts have the same motivation because they are both acts of lila not tied to any form of desire (Sax 15). Brahman must not have had a motive for creating the universe if it is all- sufficient, and since its personal desires are fulfilled, it created the universe from sport (Kinsley 2). In the bhakti cult, the saints and devotees are revered for their “uselessness” in society, acting unproductively and disorderly without the capacity to look after themselves (Kinsley xii). The devotees are not bound by social conventions and follow inclinations that are sometimes disrespectful (Olson 173). “To be an intimate associate of God able to play with him by participating in his lila is the highest possible perfection of human existence” (Bryant 115). The sakta (root sakti, divine feminine power) devotee believes the world in its confusion and fluctuations is the sport of the gods, and ascetics refuse to take part in the cosmic dance (Kinsley 18).

Dualistic schools of Sankhya or Vaisnavism often sees pleasure in worldly life as not divine (Morey 73). Sri Aurobindo Ghose, in his study of the non-dualistic Integral advaita tradition, shows his understanding of lila as the way in which Brahman creates itself in pleasure to see its followers share in the manifestations of the world (Morey 75). In a nondualist perspective of lila, nothing exists outside of the creative energies of Brahman, though many manifestation cycles of creation and destruction happen independently within Brahman (Morey 76). Sri Aurobindo does not believe Atman (the self) is Brahman (the Absolute) with only a few select humans who can glimpse the divine, but a blissful ananda Brahman would allow self-knowledge to bring people closer to the truth, a higher existence of lila. Brahman does not keep humans forcefully in a state of illusion for their lifetimes, however it gives people the ability to choose the qualities which they will further manifest in themselves (Morey 75). To Sri Aurobindo, lila is superior to maya, in this case maya is the “consciousness of Brahman,” and lila “involves the transformation of maya toward the realization of its true nature,” to liberation or moksa (Morey 77). The Being-Conciousness-Bliss, Sachchidananda, evolves through lila at every level of the divine play, the goal of realization never absent, brings humanity closer to Sachchidananda (Morey 80). In this Integral Yoga perspective, this advaita (non-dualism) has three states of being in the individual, universal and transcendental realms (Morey 75).

Multiple epics work to teach these concepts to followers using different manifestations. There is the the story of Visnu creating the world while dreaming asleep on the cosmic serpent Ananta. This dream where the lotus that grows from the navel of Visnu creates Brahma, then Brahma in turn creates the world illustrates lila. In this way, creation is a purposeless, effortless reflex in the mind that happens in the play of the Lord of the Universe with matter; Visnu with Prakrti (Kinsley 3). Lila is used as a metaphor for the appearance of Brahman, the one reality, as prakrti (matter) in the world (Butler 3). In the Mahabharata, Siva treats the universe as his marble ball, or malleable plaything. The dancing god creates the world, and then through his dancing, destroys it (Kinsley 6). Worshippers see Siva, also called Nataraja the Lord of Dancers, as a violent and dangerous deity who dances to create, sustain, and destroy the world (Sax 14). Rudra, the howler who is an avatara (incarnation) of Siva is an untamed free spirit, not bound by rules, with his madness characterized as irresponsible yet playful (Kinsley 28). This is related to his interactions with Kali. She is portrayed as a wild woman who saves severed heads for her own pleasure: a destroyer who maintains cosmic balance (Kinsley 19).

Through cosmic creation and popular devotion, the epic of Krsna combines these senses of lila into one form (Butler 6). Devotion to divine play is one method that leads to salvation (Sax 19). Krsna plays pranks by disobeying his family and stealing butter (Kinsley 64). His playful battles are imaginative when he runs sportively through the forests of Vrndavana recklessly killing demons in front of his friends. Krsna possesses beauty, relating to play as an end in itself, ornamental and existing without purpose (Kinsley 74). The beauty assists his sportive nature in myths dedicated to him seducing women, yet is not an instrumental necessity because of his playful character. It is also related to kama (desire) in its sexual overtones (Butler 6). Krsna steals the clothes of the gopis (cowherd girls) who are bathing in the river, and when they come to him naked wanting their clothes returned, he sings, plays his flute, and dances the rasa-lila (circle dance) to try and seduce them with the illusion maya of pleasure, (Olson 167).

Krsna’s incarnation has two main motives in the text, the Bhagavad Gita: the “official” motive of protecting the righteous by removing demonic military power and saving the earth. The “unofficial” motive is to attract souls lost in samsara (rebirth) to remove attachment to indulgences and the cycle of karma (actions good or bad), then search for the beauty of lila in God (Bryant 116). Bhakti-yoga involves immersing the senses and thoughts with objects connected with Krsna’s lila, as outlined by Patanjali (Bryant 117). Krsna’s avataras themselves demonstrate the playful nature of the gods in their appearances on earth (Kinsley 17). His lilaavataras (pastime –avataras, forms taken from sport) come in numerous incarnations (Knapp 504). He came in the form of Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Lord Varaha, and Lord Rama, etc. to play in an earthly form (Knapp 508).

There is also play in drama and aesthetics. There is the creative, original-maker type of lila that create new forms of art beyond the works of previous artists, and there are interpreters who are intermediaries that communicate its meaning to the audience (Butler 9). Performances in Vrndavana are a type of less regulated play; with creative characters telling stories simultaneously interpreted by professional declaimers in a way that engages the audience (Sax 17). The rasa-lila is the tradition of aesthetic religious theatre for bhakti (religious devotion) purposes (Thielemann 8). Lila as a genre of drama is a popular cultural event for celebrating Krsna, such as the performance of the ram-lila (Hawley 57).

The concept of lila, divine play, reiterates key elements in understanding the nature of the gods in Hinduism, as well as provides a place for the process of creativity in religious thought. Different schools of religion and philosophers debate the topic of lila, manifesting a modern interpretation. The epics portray the deities to be part of the teachings of lila, as passed down for many generations. Lila is practiced in performance arts to bring additional meaning to the principle of play; widely accessible with the playful integration of different concepts. The ideas and stories surrounding lila impact the beliefs and practices of Hindus and their worldview of existence.




Bryant, Edwin F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press.

Butler, John F. (1960) “Creation, Art and Lila.” Philosophy East and West 10#1 (April): 3-12

Hawley, John S. and Vasudha Narayanan (2006) The Life of Hinduism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player: A Study of Krsna Lila. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Knapp, Steven (2005) The Heart of Hinduism: The Eastern Path to Freedom, Empowerment and Illumination. Lincoln: iUniverse Inc.

Morey, Matthew W. (2012) “Sri Aurobindo’s Lila: the Nature of Divine Play According to Integral Advaita.Integral Review, Vol. 8, No. 1 (July): 68-84.

Olson, Carl (2007) The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-historical Introduction. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Sax, William S. (1995) The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schechner, Richard (2003) The Future of Ritual: Writings on Culture and Performance. New York: Routledge.

Thielemann, Selina (2000) Singing the Praises Divine: Music in the Hindu Tradition. New Delhi: APH Publishing.


Related Topics for Further Investigation




Bhagavad Gita












Sri Aurobindo

Vedanta Sutra


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic—We_Are_The_Imagination_of_Ourselves.pdf

This article was written by: Sharra Fullersmith (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.





Dhumavati is one of the ten Tantric goddesses and is believed to have appeared between the 10th and 15th centuries (Zeiler 165). She is rarely discussed apart from the other ten Mahavidyas, and always appears to stay within a Tantric context. Up until the 19th century, Dhumavati did not develop individually and has no importance in Epic, Puranic, or Smarta literature (Zeiler 169). The only textual reference to her outside of the Tantric Mahavidya group is in the Saradatilakatantra that was written in the 11th century (Zeiler 169). Although, the first source that mentions her in detail is a commentary on the Saradatilakatanta during the 15th century by Raghavabhatta titled Padarthadarsa.

Described to be a widow, Dhumavati has dirty robes, disheveled hair and has only a few teeth (Bhattacharyya 353). She is thought of as pale, tremulous, and angry (Bhattacharyya 353) as well as rough, deceitful, unstable, and terrifying (Zeiler 174). She wears ornaments made from snakes, and her dress is made up of rags from a cremation ground (Kinsley 176). She is often depicted sitting on a cart on which there is a banner with a crow. Dhumavati is described to be tall with harsh eyes, a big nose, and asymmetrical features (Bhattacharyya 353). She holds a blowing fan and is consistently hungry and thirsty. Also described to be thin and weak, Dhumavati is said to live in ruined and deserted places (Zeiler 174). In one hand, she holds a skull bowl while the other holds a spear (Kinsley 176). She is also presented as a social outsider and can be connected to poverty, misfortune, and evil (Zeiler 174). The thousand-name hymn for Dhumavati describes her home as a cremation ground and how she sits on a corpse while also describing her embodiment of the tamas guna, meaning lust and ignorance. She is also said to like liquor and meat, which are both tamasic (Kinsley 182).

Worship of Dhumavati is meant to achieve protection from one’s enemies. It is believed that one’s enemies will either be restrained or dispelled if they use the mantra of Dhumavati (Zeiler 170). She has also been described as the destroyer of all destroyers (Zeiler 178). If supreme devotion to Dhumavati is practiced, it is said that they will achieve liberation (Dold 242), as well as rewards and ultimate knowledge (Kinsley 183). However, it is typically advised that individuals do not worship her because she is regarded as inauspicious, and married couples especially should refrain from worship as it will create a desire for solitude. (Kinsley 183). A magical ritual of Dhumavati comes from a chapter of the Phetkarinitantra Patala that describes the ritual to be in a deserted place or a cremation ground on the 14th day of the dark part of the month (Zeiler 172).

The origin of Dhumavati is contested, and there are two myths regarding how she was born. The first myth says that Dhumavati was created from the smoke that arose from Sati burning herself to death on her father’s sacrificial fire. Since she was born in funeral smoke, Dhumavati is said to have, “a sad frame of mind” (Kinsley 181). She is considered to be a reincarnation of Sati in the form of smoke. The second myth describes how Sati, Siva’s wife, was hungry and when Siva would not give her any food, she swallowed him. Once he convinced her to expel him, he put a curse on her and she was now in the form of Dhumavati (Kinsley 181). Therefore, in this myth, Dhumavati is associated with Siva and the aggressive part of Sati.

Dhumavati is considered a symbol of inauspiciousness because she is a widow and is also considered unattractive and unlucky. Widows are believed to be dangerous as well as troublemakers and should be feared and avoided. The crow that resides on the top of Dhumavati’s banner is a symbol of death, and she is also referred to as looking crow-like, thus showing her connection to dark things (Kinsley 182). A priest at a Dhumavati temple stated that she only likes those who are unmarried or widowed, and that “only unmarried people could withstand her great power and successfully spend a night alone in her temple. For a married person to do this would result in death” (Kinsley 184). This shows that she encourages solitude and independence. Dhumavati is in the form of smoke and constantly drifting which can connect to samnyasin who wander and never stay in the same place for long.

In the late 19th century, new hymns featuring Dhumavati were created in the Dhumavatitantra chapter of the Mantramaharnava. A fierce Tantric goddess, one description in her hymn known as stotra says that, “[Dhumavati] entered the cremation ground with upraised banner in the arm, after binding a garland of warriors’ heads on her head, which were cut in battle with swords and whose teeth are bloodstained” (Zeiler 177-178). It attempted to incorporate her into a non-Tantric frame while still keeping her roots. One of the reasons thought to explain why her image remained stable for seven to eight centuries was because she had only one function which was to destroy enemies (Zeiler 180-181).

Numerous contemporary works follow the transformation of Dhumavati in the Mantramaharnava and the Saktapramoda. They use both Sanskrit and Hindi, whereby all ritual instructions are in Sanskrit, and are followed by brief comments and remarks in Hindi. All hymns found in modern textual sources are still written in Sanskrit (Zeiler 183). There are only two large works that contain complete ritual instruction, and take into account all information presented in the Mantramaharnava and Saktapramoda, the first being Asli Pracin Dasa-Mahavidya Tantra Mahasastra. As well, there is the Dasa Mahavidya Tantra Mahasastra, which was published in 1998 and includes an illustration, introduction in Hindi, and essential parts of the ritual in Sanskrit for Dhumavati (Zeiler 187-188).

Dhumavati is identified with several other goddesses including Nirrti, Jyestha, and Alaksmi who are also viewed to be inauspicious and are to be avoided (Kinsley 178). They are also connected to misfortune like Dhumavati (Zeiler 184). Nirrti is identified with death, destruction, and bad luck. She is also associated with pain, and many Hindus give her offerings in order for her to stay away from them (Kinsley 178). Jyestha resembles Dhumavati in the usage of a crow as well as possessing similar physical characteristics. Jyestha’s name means “elder,” and Dhumavati is usually portrayed as an older woman. Alaksmi, the third goddess associated with Dhumavati, appears in inauspicious ways such as poverty, hunger, and thirst (Kinsley 179). Dhumavati is also connected to poverty, inauspiciousness, hunger, thirst, and bad luck. However, she is also described to be “fierce, frightening, and fond of blood,” none of which are stressed in descriptions of the other three goddesses. She is also related to Siva and Sati, while the other three are not (Kinsley 180).

In Varanasi, there is a Dhumavati temple, one of very few that exist. The central image consists of a black stone Dhumavati with large eyes, red lips, and four hands that hold a winnowing fan, a broom, and a pot while her fourth hand makes the fear not mudra, a gesture of fearlessness and protection (Kinsley 185). Her sculpture contains attributes that are more common for a married goddess, such as jewelry and the color red (Zeiler 188). Offerings such as flowers, fruit, liquor, cigarettes, and meat are common, and these offerings must be in a smoky fire. The smoke attracts Dhumavati since she is made of smoke. The smoke from incense and cremation fires is also appreciated (Kinsley 186). At this temple, in particular, blood sacrifices are sometimes performed. The temple in Varanasi is also said to exist on the spot where a part of Sati’s body fell, and was found by a sage who has a connection to Dhumavati. She looks after this local neighborhood primarily, and supports them with blessings (Kinsley 186). As such, Dhumavati is regarded here in a different light as she is viewed as approachable and auspicious since she protects those around her. This temple attracts many devotees but she is not significant in other areas of Varanasi or elsewhere (Zeiler 188-189).


















Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (1982) History of the Tantric Religion: A Historical, Ritualistic, and Philosophical Study. New Delhi: Manohar.

Bunce, Fredrick (2001) The Yantras of Deities and their Numerological Foundations: An Iconographic Consideration. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Dold, Patricia A. (2009) “Tantra as a Religious Category in the Mahabhagavata Purana.” Studies in Religion 38:221-245. Accessed February 1, 2017. doi:10.1177/000842980903800202.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Zeiler, Xenia (2012) “Transformations in the Textual Tradition of Dhumavati. Changes in the Reception of the Tantric Mahavidya-Goddess in Ritual, Function, Iconography, and Mythology.” In Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond, edited by István Keul, 165-194. New York: De Gruyter.


Related Topics for Further Investigation














Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Courtney Derksen (March 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Goddesses and Women’s Empowerment

According to Knott within Hindu society women are given a lesser status than men (82). This leads to the oppression of women in both the public and private spheres of their religious and everyday lives. This pattern of oppression has led to a narrow and demanding vision of how women should behave. Women are expected to be submissive to the men in their lives, and to be the perfect wife and mother (Knott 81-82).

Through the possession of women by goddesses, they are allowed to express their frustration with the society that oppresses them in a socially acceptable way (Diesel 1998:76). Possession is also seen as a divine experience and those possessed by a goddess are honored. Possession may occur more than once in an individual’s life and there are even those who become possessed regularly and aid others in solving problems (Diesel 1998: 77). These individuals are regarded as a sort of “shaman” in their societies. Women who become possessed and help their community are seen as meaningful to their communities and are therefore held in high regard by society. This high status in the community also gives women a sense of self-worth they may not have previously had. Even if they are not appreciated in their societies being close with the deities they are being possessed by gives them dignity (Diesel 1998:77-79). Women may also use their prominence to aid other women and to increase equality in society.

The goddesses that are usually seen as role models for women are the goddesses that are “the ideal, selfless, submissive wife” (Diesel 2002:8) also known as pativrata. Despite this there are goddesses that are sometimes considered controversial that women see as role models for themselves. Kali, who is a fierce and wild goddess provides inspiration to many women in Hinduism and is viewed as a “redeemer of both nature and women” (Dalmiya, 126). Many of these goddesses have experienced trauma or abuse such as the wife of the Pandava brothers Draupadi in the Mahabharata. She had been subject to the humiliation of Duryodhana attempting to disrobe her in front of his court (Rao, 34-37). This humiliation that Draupadi endured is something that women can relate to. Because of the patriarchal nature of Hindu society women are expected to honour their husbands no matter the circumstance. Despite this expectation of women, there are many who find a model in controversial goddesses such as Kali and a variety of amman goddesses (Diesel 2002: 8-9).

There is also the issue of sexual violence within Hindu society especially when it comes to things such as devadasi [marrying girls to deities] who are often in ritual slavery or used for sexual exploitation (Black 180). One example of a deity who suffered at the hands of men is the goddess Draupadi from the Mahabharata epic. Throughout the epic she goes through many traumatic experiences but her ritual purity helps her overcome the trauma of these events unharmed and unaffected (Diesel 2010:9). There are also many tales of girls and women who are connected with the amman goddesses such as Mariamman or Podilamma. After being wrongly accused of indecent acts or killed because of actions that are deemed improper, the goddesses seek revenge on those who wronged them in their past lives (Diesel 2002:13-15). These tales give women a chance to relate to the goddesses through their mutual suffering.

Being a diverse and widely spread religion means that Hinduism has sects that are different from the rest of the religion. In some of these sects’ women are equal to men and are allowed to be a part of and perform ritual practices usually barred to women (David 337). One of these sects is located in England and is a Tamil diaspora from Sri Lanka (David 338). This sect is led by a man who is often possessed by a female deity and has claimed that his intention is to establish equality between men and women. The women within this Sri Lankan community are able to participate in rituals. They are also given the opportunity to become priests within these areas if they want to (David 341-343). This equality of men and women allows women to receive the same amount of respect as men. It also diminishes the influence of the caste/class system (David 341).

Women’s status in Hindu society is expected to be that of subjection and obedience to men. Despite this woman allow themselves moments of freedom through possession by goddesses (Diesel 1998:76). This gives them a sense of power even if it is only for a short period. Those women who do not experience possession find power through the goddesses in different ways such as accepting them as role models or relating to them through shared experiences (Diesel 2002:9). Often times, these connected events relate to oppression or violence by men. In certain areas of the world, these women are beginning to receive support to be empowered and participate in rituals banned from the majority of women (David 337). Through these and other experiences women are given empowerment and can begin to feel as though they are not just there to serve men. They can feel that they are valued members of their communities.

References and Other Recommended Reading

Black, Maggie (2009) “Women in Ritual Slavery: Devadasi, Jogini and Mathamma in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Southern India.” Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies= Alm-e-Niswan=Alm-I Nisvan16,1/2:179-205.

Dalmiya, Vrinda (2000) “Loving Paradoxes: A Feminist Reclamation of the Goddess Kali.” Hypatia 15,1:125-150.

David, Ann R (2009) “Gendering the Divine: New Forms of Feminine Hindu Worship.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 13,3:337-355.

Diesel, Alleyn (1998) “The Empowering Image of the Divine Mother: A South African Hindu Woman Worshipping the Goddess.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 13,1:73-90.

Diesel, Alleyn (2002) “Tales of Women’s Suffering: Draupadi and Other Amman Goddesses as Role Models for Women.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 17,1:5-20.

Knott, Kim (2016) Hinduism: a very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 81-82.

Rao, Shanta Rameshwar (2011) “The Mahabharata.” Telangana:Orient BlackSwan.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Amman Goddesses

Draupadi Fire Walking Ceremonies


The Mahabharata


Goddess Worship

Goddess Possession



Noteworthy Website Relating to the Topic

Article Written by: Lundyn Davis (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.


The Mahavidyas are a group of ten goddesses from late Hindu literary tradition. They are great revelations also known as manifestations. While some of the goddesses in this group hold individual significance and can be dated back to a much earlier time, the group as a whole acts as an important iconographic and mythological expression of Mahadevi theology (Kinsley 1988: 161). This comes from the concept that the Devi, the great goddess, would manifest herself in a variety of forms. A prominent myth claims that the Devi produces different goddesses from different parts of her body. It suggests she assumes different forms at different times in order to maintain cosmic stability (Kinsley 1988:162). All ten of the Mahavidyas are often depicted in goddess temples throughout India today. While not each of the ten forms is individually celebrated, when shown as a group, the Mahavidyas represent the idea that a particular goddess dwelling in the temple takes many forms.

The origin of the ten Mahavidyas in Hindu mythology comes from a story of the creators Sati and Siva. Sati’s father, Daksa, performs a great sacrifice and invites all of the heavenly kingdoms to attend. The only couple he does not invite is Siva and Sati. The claim is that Daksa does not like his son in law because of Siva’s uncivilized habits and disheveled appearance. Therefore, he purposely neglects to invite him to the sacrifice. Siva is not offended, but Sati is greatly insulted and tells Siva that she is going to attend the sacrifice. Siva forbids her to attend the sacrifice and Sati loses her temper. First, she assumes a dreadful form and then she multiplies herself into ten forms, the Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuvanesvari, Bagala, Dhumavati, Kamala, Matangi, Sodasi, and Bhairavi (Kinsley 1988:163).

Seated on a lotus blossom, Kamala is one of the Ten Mahavidyas who is known as the Great Wisdom Goddess. With a golden complexion, Kamala is the beautiful and fully-realized form of Laksmi, the goddess of wealth, well-being, fertility and prosperity (Kinsley 1999:179-181). In most respects, Kamala is portrayed like the goddess Laksmi. They are in fact the same goddess but Kamala is more esoteric in nature. Kamala sits, the same as Laksmi, with two hands each holding a lotus while the other two hands are bestowing blessings (Amodio 51-53). The lotus signifies purity, auspiciousness, piety and is the direct translation of Kamala’s name in Sanskrit. All of these aspects are also strongly associated with Laksmi. The lotus is a symbol of the universe, is found in every sacred diagram, and is associated with many Hindu deities. It grows from murky waters and then comes forth with large leaves and beautiful fragrant blossoms. This represents the emergence of the pure, limitless Atman (soul) from the restricted material body, and allows a devoted spiritual follower to be untouched by the murkiness of drama, attachment, and ego (Colburn 108). Additionally, the lotus is very nourishing and represents the vital nature of the spiritual path in nurturing our whole self.  

There is a slight difference in iconography between Kamala and Laksmi in that Kamala’s depiction includes two elephants with their trunks raised, a feature which is often absent from images of Laksmi. The elephants, that are depicted surrounding Kamala showering her with water, symbolize the fertile rains of monsoon that bring plants and flowers. This is parallel symbolization to the spiritual wealth that grows through the passion of regular devotion and practice (Danielou 261). The elephants also provide a sense of authority as they are symbols of royalty and status. Since Kamala is the devoted wife of Visnu, preserver of the universe, she is seen as queen and preserver of everything on earth. Kamala is often depicted wearing a dazzling crown on her head, a silk-type dress, a kaustibha gem, and a smiling face (Kinsley 1999:180).

As one of the Ten Mahavidyas, Kamala represents the unfolding of inner consciousness stemming from the foundation of creation (Pintchman 289). As the goddess of material and spiritual wealth and beauty, Kamala is primarily worshipped for her power to eliminate both material and spiritual poverty. In poor economic times, Kamala or Laksmi are worshipped in hopes of bringing material wealth. Altars to Laksmi can often be found in places of business and in individual homes. In the home, a married woman is considered an incarnation of Laksmi. This is attributed to studies that show woman possess a special ability to create wealth from very little (Sharma 1-12). Kamala is referred to as pure creative force and has the power to create beauty and wealth around us. This includes the ability to see beauty in everything. As the creative force, Kamala is also the goddess who blesses families with children. Families having difficulty conceiving or adopting children may offer worship to the powerful Tantric Goddess. Similarly, those who become happily pregnant or have a new addition to their family after much difficulty should offer thanks to Kamala as she is the goddess of fertility, childbirth, and family well-being (Sharma 26).

The profit of worshipping Kamala or Laksmi for the highest spiritual good is not only blessing of material security, but also of spiritual progress. Kamala teaches commitment to the spiritual path through riddance of the drama of our daily lives and bitterness towards others. The true nature of Kamala is the radiant beauty of the cosmos that is manifest in the material world (Kinsley 1999: 202). Kamala is the spirit of nature itself, and she is manifest in the natural world. She can be worshipped by simply spending time in nature and appreciating its profound beauty. Through recognition of her beauty in the natural world, an individual moves further towards liberation (Pintchman 289). A spiritual follower who detaches the fruits of action and finds enjoyment in the acts of service, generosity and prayer for their own sake can truly begin to grasp the inner nature of Kamala, the light of divine consciousness and connection with the self (Colburn 126). Kamala embodies the spirit of giving, receiving graciously and gratefully instead of with greed. She teaches that true wealth is measured by generosity, spiritual depth, and freedom from ego-driven desires. When followers ask something of Kamala in greed, she may grant desires with all of the associated negative consequences. Kamala does have the tendency to remind us that she is also the goddess Kali, who teaches detachment and surrender (Kinsley 1999: 62). This helps to remind followers to trust the way as they find a spiritual path that serves the highest good, instead of being seduced by our own worldly desires for the sake of material gain. In this way, Kamala can be seen as a teacher of financial responsibility in terms of learning to save, paying off debt, investing wisely and without greed, not taking what is not freely given, making charitable offerings, and not spending more than can be afforded.

Kamala can be worshipped to manifest creative vision, eliminate poverty, stabilize your home, open your heart, and deepen spiritual understanding and experience. Laksmi Puja is Kamala’s special holy day which is celebrated on the full moon of Ashvin, typically in early October (Dold, 60-62). Puja simply means devotional worship and followers do not need to wait for a specific day to worship Kamala. She is known to accept all sincere worship. A simple Laksmi and Kamala altar are very similar and can be created by placing a beautiful cloth (white, pink, yellow, or red) on a small table or flat surface that is not directly the ground. Then, one may place a depiction of Laksmi or Kamala on the surface, as well as a vase or plate of flowers, a candle or oil lamp, and some sweet-smelling incense. During Laksmi Puja, it is believed that it is beneficial to place rice stalks or an alternative form of grain at the altar as well. The grain is a symbol of abundance and the foundation of sustenance, both in the physical and spiritual sense. Many followers use a small bell with gentle sounds as it is believed that Laksmi does not like loud noises. On special days, followers will offer a basket or plate that contains a small piece of fine cloth, a small mirror, and comb (symbols of beauty in the manifest world), a small white conch or shell (symbol of clarity), and any kind of coin (symbol of material wealth). Lastly a small cup of coconut water or purified water is placed along with the offering (Hawley 180-185).

The practice of worship involves standing or kneeling in front of the altar and reciting Kamala’s pranama mantra. This mantra praises Kamala as the great goddess Laksmi who is beloved and grants all desires. She is seen as the goddess who encourages the spiritual life in her white form. White symbolizes the color of ultimate reality and presents her as the pure, gentle, independent, powerful, virgin goddess. Simple worship consists of additional movements and behaviours. A follower would use their left hand to ring the bell softly, while taking their right hand to wave the candle or lamp clockwise before the depiction of Laksmi three times. The mantra is repeated and the worshipper bows deeply before the image. A traditional gesture of great respect is kneeling or touching your forehead to the ground. This is when a follower can ask for blessing and offer thanks for all the blessing she has given. The puja ends with another bow. Objects used in worship hold significance and can be considered a blessing for Laksmi or saved for other special days or offerings (Kinsley 1988: 32-35). Presently at the Sri Sri Kamakhya Temple in Assam, India, the inner sanctum known as the garbha grha, which literally means “womb room”, of the temple houses is not only the pitha of Sri Sri Kamakhya Devi, but also of Matangi (Sarasvati) and Kamala (Laksmi). Therefore, when a follower receives the darsana of Kamakhya, they also receive blessing of Matangi and Kamala (Pintchman 289). Kamala is a powerful creative force that encompasses the beauty in everything. Her teachings of commitment to the spiritual path reach to eliminate poverty and create wealth among her devoted followers.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Amodio, Barbara (2011) “The Mahavidya (Great Lesson) of Sacred Transformation in Ten Mahesvan Icons of the Goddess: Secret Identities of Siva and the Goddess (Sakti) as One.” Journal of Indian Philosophy and Religion 16: 51-66. Accessed January 31, 2017. doi: 10.5840/jipr2011162

Colburn, Thomas (1988) Devi Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Danielou, Alain (1991) The Myths and God of Indra: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollington Series. Inner Traditions: Bear & Co.

Dold, Patricia 2012. “Pilgrimage to Kamakhya Through Text and Lived Religion: Some Forms of the Goddess at an Assamese Temple Site.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary Rodrigues, 46-62. Oxon: Routledge.

Hawley, John S. and Donna Wulff (1998) Devi: Goddesses of India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1988) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1999) “Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas.” The Journal of Religion 79, 1:179-181

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2003) Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess: The Liturgy of the Durga Puja with Interpretations. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Sharma, Arvind (2005) Goddess and Women in the Indic Religious Tradition. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Related Topics for Further Investigation








Lakshimi Puja

Mahadevi theology


Pranama Mantra




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Kirsten Cole (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content

Ganga (River and Goddess)

Starting in the Himalayas, flowing over 2,000 km across India, going south and east all the way to the Bay of Bengal, is the Ganges River. The river is not just a physical feature of the world, it also has a spiritual connection to the Hindu religion. The river is the goddess Ganga. Hinduism has tales to describe the connection of their religion to the river and why it is important to them. The myths explain who this goddess is and also how the river came to be created and the significance of the river itself. Of all the myths in which Ganga plays a role, the main and most important one is how she came to earth. The main myth describing Ganga’s descent to earth told in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and in Puranas, is widely known in India (Eck 2012:138). The most popular tale of Ganga’s descent includes Siva, who plays an important role in this myth. It was with Siva’s help that Ganga landed on earth and saved the sons of King Sagara. Siva helped by catching Ganga, for the impact from her fall would destroy the earth. The Vedic myths have Indra (god of storms) playing the role of having the waters descend to earth. Indra did this by setting the water free and letting it fall to earth, as told in the Rig Veda (Eck 2012:137).

Although there are many different versions of the tale from different sources, there are themes and facts that remain the same. A main theme in all the different versions of Ganga’s descent is that the water (heavenly, celestial, and divine) descends from heaven to earth, and gave the river a connection, for example a pathway, to the heavens. Other constants within the myths are that the water falls to earth to save it, or that there was another god (Indra or Siva) to help the waters come to earth in one way or another. Another common theme is that the waters have powers of some kind. For example, the water is life-changing, and has a connection to immortality because of the presence of soma (the nectar of the gods) in the water. It is said that the Ganges River is quintessence of the source of all sacred waters, indeed of all waters, everywhere (Eck 2012:159). The Ganges River is sacred water, and is an essential element for all the Hindu rites and rituals (Singh 210).  The important factor of all the myths was that Ganga came from the heavens with her celestial water to save earth in some way.

The goddess Ganga is linked through symbolism to the Trivanti at Prayaga. She is also known as Tripathaga, or the Triple-Path River. Ganga is identified as a triple river, flowing in the three realms – in the heavens, on the earth, and in the netherworlds. The Trivanti express the nature of Ganga, whose mythology connects her with the three major gods – flowing from Visnu’s foot in heaven, falling on Siva’s hair, and carried in Brahma’s water pot (Eck 2012:149). This connection with the triple divinity is distinctly present with the Trivanti at Prayaga. The Ganga has been seen as the white river because it bears the mica-laden waters of her Himalayan course; this description is referred to in the Rig Veda (Eck 2012:145).

Ganga may be depicted as a mermaid on top of Siva’s head. This image is connected to the descent myth, when she fell from heaven to earth (Eck 1986:51). Ganga may also be portrayed on a river or surrounded by water. She is usually depicted sitting on a crocodile (makara), and with an aureole surrounding her head. She is also decorated with jewelry, such as a crown, a necklace, and other ornaments (Darian 2001:72). Like other goddesses and gods she is eerily beautiful and serene. Ganga is known to have a vase (kumbha) with her, which is said to have a connection to the purifying waters (Darian 2001:125). She is also pictured with a water lily, either holding the flower or in some images sitting on a giant flower. The images she is holding are auspicious emblems of her generosity (Eck 2012:132). Ganga’s image sometimes can be golden on a silver throne on her mount, and her holding a water pot and a lotus. The way Ganga is portrayed helps to distinguish her from the other goddesses, and the symbols that connect with water, like the crocodile, strengthens the connection to her myths.

The Ganges River and Ganga are also known as Mother Ganga. She is said to be forgiving, embracing, nourishing, and does not have any anger. Unlike other goddesses she does not have any weapons, but has symbols of auspicious blessings. Those goddesses are seen as gentle with ferocious tendencies, and although Ganga does have this potential, she is acclaimed in unambiguous terms (Eck 2012:161). In some myths she is a mother figure or has a mother role, particularly in the Vedas.

The river and the goddess, do not exist without each other. In the myths the river is the goddess, and the goddess is the river. This connection between Ganga and the river, which is the Ganges River, brings the myth into the real physical world. The myths describe where the river is, which correspond to the actual geographical placement of the river; for example from where it originates to where it ends. The myths of the river and goddess brings the spiritual world into the physical world. This connection of the goddess Ganga and the Ganges River illustrate how interwoven religion and culture are in the Hindu tradition. The myths give the actual river a mystical and powerful meaning. Although the river was originally important for survival, this spiritual connection enhances its importance to Hindus.

Ganga plays a vital role in worship and ceremonies, in rituals of birth and initiation, of purification and religious merit, of marriage and death (Singh 210). For instance, during the initiation or sacred thread ceremony (upanayana), a young man may eat nothing but bread and water from the Ganges. Another example is that Hindus often wish to have a person’s ashes scattered on the sacred river after death (Darian 2001:14). Ganga worshipped as a source of life and generation, and in some rituals water is taken from the Ganges River, put in a pot and used to ensure a good harvest. Another ritual is for newly married women to go to the river and pray for children and the long life for her husband (Darian 2001:37). A ritual at the river is where one takes the water in their hands and pours it back as offerings to the departed ancestors and the gods (Eck 2012:131-132). There is another ritual where the water from the Ganges River is poured on a representation of Siva (linga) at shines and temples. It is to recreate Ganga’s fall from heaven and through Siva’s hair. This ritual is either done constantly, or done by a worshipper who brought the water themselves. This simple ritual is done countless times daily (Eck 2012:140).

There is a ten-day festival called Dasahara, which celebrates the descent of Ganga from heaven to earth or Ganga’s birth. During this festival the river is filled with boats and decorated with long ropes of marigold garlands. There is even chanting Victory to Mother Ganga (Ganga Mata ki Jai) (Eck 2012:132). On the 10th of the waxing fortnight of Jyestha (May- June) is the height of the festival. It is believed by devotees that bathing in the Ganga in the morning of this day grants high merit, and destroys ten sins (dasahara) or ten lifetimes of sins. Those who worship Ganga start bathing in the river and do the associated rituals from the first day of Jyestha and complete the cycle on the 11th day (Singh 218). This day is devoted to worship of Visnu.

The myths about the river, with it having power (Shakti), has great significance to Hinduism and the culture. For the devout people who visit and worship at the river every day, it has deep connection to their way of life, and their religion. The water from the Ganges River is seen as pure, has life-giving properties, sacred, and known as the crossing place from earth to heaven. Many Hindus live near the river or pilgrimage to visit the river. Many devout people go to the river in the morning and gather on the steps (ghats) to bathe, to drink a least a few drops of the water, and take blessings or religious instructions from the priests (ghatias) at the steps. Also, there are various offerings, including ancestral offerings, on the steps (Singh 213). The Ganges River is regarded to be holy all along is course, from its source to the sea (Eck 2012:132). The rituals and these offerings show how deeply embedded the Ganga river is in Hindus’ daily lives and their religion.



Darian, Steven (1976) “Ganga and Sarasvati an Incidence of Mythological Projection.” East and West 26 (1/2). Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (IsIAO): 153–65.

Darian, Steven (2001) The Ganges in myth and history. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Eck, Diana (1986) “Darshan of the Image.” India International Centre Quarterly 13 (1). : 43–53.

Eck, Diana (2012) India: a sacred geography. New York : Harmony Books.

Foulston, Lynn (2009) Hindu goddesses: beliefs and practices. Brighton [England] ; Portland, Or. : Sussex Academic Press.

Narayan, M. K. V. (2009) Exploring the Hindu mind: cultural reflections and symbolisms. New Delhi : Readworthy Publications.

Scharfe, Hartmut (1972) “The Sacred Water of the Ganges and the Styx-water”. Zeitschrift Für Vergleichende Sprachforschung 86 (1). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (GmbH & Co. KG): 116–20.

Singh, Rana P. B. (1994) “Water Symbolism and Sacred Landscape in Hinduism: A Study of Benares (wassersymbolismus Und Heilige Landschaft Im Hinduismus: Eine Studie Aus Benares).” Erdkunde 48 (3). Erdkunde: 210–27.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Ganges Valley


Ganga Sagar Mela

Godavari River

Narmada River



Seven Gangas



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by Angel Hope (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.