Category Archives: d. Saktism

Ramprasad Sen and Bengali Saktism

Ramprasad Sen (1718-1775) was a prominent poet during the 18th century. Though precise details regarding Ramprasad’s childhood and upbringing are often mixed with legend, he is said to have been born to Tantric Brahmins in Bengal, and is remembered for showing a skill and inclination toward poetry and music from a young age (McLean 42). Ramprasad’s upbringing is also characterized by his diligent religious study, especially that which focused on the Navya Tantric-scripture of Krishnananda Agamavagisha, the well-known 16th century Sreehattan Pandita and Tantra Jain Sadhaka (McLean 42). In adulthood, Ramprasad would achieve renown for his love songs, especially of a sort known as bhakti, still popular today.

The ecstatic loving fervor expressed in Ramprasad’s poems, directed toward the goddess Kali, has since come to encapsulate the devotional energies which the Bengali Saktas feel at the epitome of their faith. Appropriately, Ramprasad has since come to be recognized as one of the greatest poets in Indian history. The following work will evaluate Ramprasad Sen, the bhakti movement he originated from, and explore the intense devotion to the Goddess Kali which is present in many of Ramprasad Sen’s poetic works. Interestingly, the life of Ramprasad is very much intertwined with myth and legend which have arisen after his death, meaning that many of the pivotal experiences outlined by biographers are perhaps apocryphal. That said, the vast influence which Ramprasad has exerted over the Bengali Sakta canon and religious practice will form the core of this examination. Particular focus will be paid to the ways in which, despite his Tantric background, Ramprasad deviated from traditional devotional poetry, and even used his works as a platform for criticism of traditional Bengali Saktism.

Ramprasad Sen’s bhakti poetry can best be described as the product of its author’s unyielding devotion to the Hindu goddess Kali. This goddess is known as a destroyer of evil, and oversees, by such action, one of the four groups of tantric Saivism known as Kulamarga (Kinsley 116). Periodically throughout history, this goddess has been worshipped by her adherents directly, through devotional practice. In this role as religious icon, Kali is alternatively described as the Divine Mother, or the Mother of the Universe. Under Hindu Saktism and Tantrism, Kali was often thought to be the Brahman, both a powerful protector and the goddess who would provide moksa (Kinsley 116). Given the prominence that Kali has held in Tantric Brahmin worship, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ramprasad chose her as the object of his life’s poetic work.

Accounts of Ramprasad’s family life also reflect the powerful presence that the goddess Kali held in his life. One such account found Ramprasad building a fence and asking for his daughter’s help, a task he performed while reciting his poetry to Kali. When his daughter appeared, she chastised him for his singing to a goddess who would never appear. After helping him with the fence, Ramprasad and his daughter separated, but later he learned that his daughter had been in another town since morning, and realized he had been visited by the Divine Mother (McDaniel 2018: 45). Another perhaps apocryphal story about Ramprasad Sen’s early life concerns his work as an accountant in Kolkata. At this work, he is said to have busied himself writing poems to the Divine Mother in his workbooks. When exposed, he was not punished by his employer, but instead hired as a poet for the accounting firm (McDaniel 2018: 45).

One final account tells that Ramprasad would spend long hours lost in meditation, “often while standing deep in the Ganges river,” and the boat workers would listen to him as they passed (McDaniel 162). The account indicates that one day “the Maharaja Krishnachandra of Nadia” passed by and heard Ramprasad as he recited his devotional poetry, and was so impressed that “he asked [Ramprasad] to be his court poet” (McDaniel 162). Without strong evidence, there is no way to know whether either of these three accounts of Ramprasad’s early life are true, but the persistence of these legends of are themselves a testimony to the power of Ramprasad’s poetry and influence. In particular, it reflects the prominence that Ramprasad’s works would attain in Bengali Saktism, as considered in the section below.

The movement which would seize upon Ramprasad’s works as basis for a its literary and religious tradition is known as Bengali Saktism. This faith describes Kali as a goddess to be worshipped either as a “powerful force or life and death,” or as a “tantric and yogic goddess who [provides] supernatural knowledge,” but a third variant, one less prominent than the rest, would form the focus of Ramprasad’s work (McDaniel 2018: 44). Within Sakta devotion, and in Ramprasad’s poetry, the goddess is understood as a “loving mother who saves her devotees from painful rebirth,” as well as provides them with protection from harm and “entrance to her heaven” (McDaniel 2018: 44). In Ramprasad’s work, by contrast, his poetic vision of the Divine Mother manifest not as a loving mother, but with Kali taking the form of either “the universal mother or [an] innocent girl,” a figure which is “sometimes frightening on the outside, but inwardly loving and compassionate” (McDaniel 2018: 44). Ramprasad’s ecstatic works of devotional poetry to this dynamic figure would influence Bengali Saktism from then on, and has come to typify the effusive love which such adherents express for the goddess Kali.

Given the strong role which Ramprasad’s works play in epitomizing modern Bengali Sakti ecstatic devotion, there is certainly much evidence to indicate that Ramprasad’s choice of subject was directly compelled by his faith. In particular, biographers present evidence to show that Ramprasad’s poetry is derived from the Kularnava Tantra, that millennia-old work of epistemology and logic upon which much of Tantric practice is based (McDermott 71). Official accounts will also refer to Ramprasad’s long years spent practicing “kundalini yoga meditation,” a variant common to Bengali Sakti communities (McDermott 71). There is evidence of this faith derived from Ramprasad’s works themselves, some of which provide “descriptions of Kali derived from [the] Tantric dhyanas” (McDermott 71). There is also Bengali Sakta religious precedent for the great deal of ecstatic loving fervor which flows through Ramprasad’s works. McDaniel (2018: 44) indicates that Ramprasad’s works, and his life, are an embodiment of the ecstatic states outlined in the Kularnava Tantra, a major text of the Bengali Saktas. This work describes ullasa, or the “ecstatic joy…which occurs during ritual practice,” where the practitioner seeking the highest (divya) state described as the “ecstatic or blind madman” (McDaniel 2018: 46). Ecstasy at this level brings loss of control, described in by Bengali Saktas as feeling like “[the adherent’s] limbs are stretched, his hair stands on end, [and] he laughs and cries and stutters” (McDaniel 2018: 46). While in this state, known as divyonmada, or “ecstatic madness,” individuals are made “beyond control by the body and the senses,” and will paradoxically “[gaze] outward but [look] inward,” and thus are seem as the “equivalent to the God Shiva Bhairava” (McDaniel 2018: 46). During his life, Ramprasad was frequently described as a madman, a factor which does much to support the use of his works and ambition as a basis for Bengali Sakta ecstatic practice. Though such textual evidence is persuasive, there is also strong evidence to indicate that Ramprasad’s poetry diverged from the purely devotional and traditional Tantric poetry to which it is often compared.

As described by Schelling (2011: 14), Ramprasad’s bhakti poetry was often purely devotional, but this author ascribes its endurance in the Bengal popular imagination to the ways in which it diverted from tradition. Schelling (2011) cites the intimacy of Ramprasad’s works, or its often playful or scolding tone, as well as its deep esotericism and profusion with symbolism, as key areas where it diverges from traditional devotional work (Schelling 14). Moreover, in addition to these works lacking uniform devotional intent, they also contain a wealth of confessions of doubt “concerning the kindliness of [Kali]” which indicate a much more complicated relationship between author and subject (McDermott 71). Moreover, Ramprasad’s works included a range of heartfelt criticism against the “scriptures, images, pilgrimages, and surface acts” upon which the faith of so many people was often predicated (McDermott 71).

Accordingly, Ramprasad’s poetry is notable for the considerable depth and complexity he brings to its subject. His works focus upon “a single great goddess,” often called Kali but sometimes referred to as “Durga, Bhairavi, Sita, Uma, [or] Kalika” (McDaniel 2018: 45). These works emphasize not just the greatness and power of Kali, but tell of “passionate love which must be experienced, and cannot be found in books or philosophies” (McDaniel 2018: 45). Reflected in Ramprasad’s poetry, this intense and worldly love, as emphasized in devotion, was a way for Ramprasad (and Kali bhakti practitioners) to “[draw in] the goddess like a magnet attracts iron” (McDaniel 2018: 45). Of the poems not directed toward Kali herself, Ramprasad’s work also includes “songs of secret sadhana practices,” but each is unerring in its focus upon the act of devotion and the ecstasy to would result from such practice (McDaniel 2018: 45).

Moreover, Dalmiya (2000: 126) describes bhakti poetry as of “feminist significance,” as reflected not just in the “paradoxical” shifting attitude its author holds toward the subject, but due to each of these shifts in tone reflecting “a devotee’s worshipful attitude towards Kali” (Dalmiya 127). This author indicates that the “mother-child motif at the core” of Ramprasad’s work represented “not only a dramatic construction of femininity but of selfhood in general” (Dalmiya 125). As Ramprasad challenged the definition of devotional poetry through the “indigenous worshipful attitude of Kali-bhakti,” he transformed what had been an art form predicated on worship and devotion alone into a far more dynamic instrument (Dalmiya 125).

The transformative power of Ramprasad’s poetry is stressed in other works. In McDermott’s (2001: 71) analysis, this author explains that this poet’s biographers, no matter how stymied by anecdotal accounts, have also sought to offer a view of this eminent artist somewhat ‘divorced’ from “solely Tantric terms” (McDermott 71). This author indicates that some authors will describe Ramprasad not as a mere devotee, but as a bhakta, a “poet who transformed, rather than accepted wholeheartedly, the esoteric Goddess of Tantric heritage” (McDermott 71). The result of the poetry and legacy of Ramprasad, thus lies in his unwavering focus on expressing love for the goddess Kali, and the influence of that love, as expressed in his works, upon the Bengali Sakta tradition. Aside from the undeniable beauty of Ramprasad’s poetry, their legacy is thus felt as much by its deviation from classical poetic art forms as by its embodiment of them. A century after Ramprasad’s death, Yogendranath Gupta would argue that all of the “miracle stories” were comprised of “faith and devotion (visvasa and bhakti).” This is an indication that Ramprasad’s poetry, and his role as sadhaka (religious practitioner) who “softened the hard wood of kaula-sadhana”, the traditional Sakta practice, “through syrupy streams of bhakti and love” (McDermott 71). This description is notable for its acknowledgement that Ramprasad’s works were less an epitome of Bengali Sakta practice as a force for change in this faith.

To this end, while Ramprasad’s work has found a central place in Bengali Saktism, his poems are perhaps most notable for the ways in which they divert from this tradition. To indicate where Ramprasad’s work deviates from Sakta practice most strongly, it is important to consider the different kinds of bhakti practice. McDermott (2001: 71) indicates that there are three types of bhakti, namely (1) Vaisnava bhakti, described as a “dualistic devotion based on external image worship,” (2) Nirguna bhakti, which focuses on a “formless conception of the divine,” and (3) Saka bhakti, under which the goddess is “not understood as a real presence ‘out there’ but as a symbol of the world or of the self,” which can be “introjected into the spiritual physiognomy of the body” through kundalini yogic practice (McDermott 71). Under this formulation distinguishing between variants upon bhakti practice, the sort which is best-emphasized in the work of Ramprasad is the third type, Saka bhakti. While Ramprasad’s language may be interpreted by adherents of the first type (Vaisnava bhakti) as being purely devotional in nature, this “Vaisnavized perspective” often fails to account for Ramprasad’s symbolism, and for what is symbolized by the ecstasy which is strongly emphasized throughout his works (McDermott 71). Specifically, this author indicates that whenever Ramprasad mentions the act of loving Kali, or the idea of keeping Kali in his heart, he is in actuality “referring to [Kali’s] visualized presence in the heart,” and not “thinking of a particular [goddess whom] he worships within an external, dualistic framework” (McDermott 71). The result of Ramprasad’s intent is an art form co-opted by Bengali Shaktism which contains only superficial resemblance to the works which inspired it.

A promising alternative inspiration for Ramprasad’s works has been theorized as derived from the work of the “esoteric Bauls” (McDermott 71). Ramprasad’s songs addressed to the mind, as an example, “mirror the language and concerns of Baul maner manus songs,” themselves focused on a “man of the heart” (McDermott 71). Moreover, both Ramprasad’s works and those by the Bauls represent the mind as a bird, as well as “the body as a place of sadhana,” likened to a boat, as well as “reliance on a guru,” each of which are less emphasized or not present in traditional Bengali Saktism (McDermott 71). For this reason, McDermott (2001) argues that it is reductive and disingenuous to describe Ramprasad as a bhakti poet, despite centuries of subsequent literary works and religious tradition among the Bengali Saktas people suggesting otherwise (McDermott 71).

This work has touched upon the reductive power of religious symbolism over time. So enamored were the 16th-century Bengali Saktas with the depth of Ramprasad’s stated devotion to the goddess Kali, they neglected the deeper criticisms and complexity of these symbolic and esoteric works. In the intervening centuries, Ramprasad’s works have come to be celebrated for their ecstatic devotion alone, but they have lost much of the intricacy of the author’s original voice. Though Bengali Sakta celebrations are renowned for their fervor, their ‘basis’ in Ramprasad’s works, considered the epitome of their practice, is perhaps less direct than it seems.

References

Dalmiya, Vrinda (2000) “Loving paradoxes: A feminist reclamation of the goddess Kali.” Hypatia 15, no. 1: 125-150.

Gross, Rita M. (1978) “Hindu Female Deities as a Resource for the Contemporary Rediscovery of the Goddess.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 46, No.1: 269–291.

Kinsley, David (1998) Hindu goddesses: Visions of the divine feminine in the Hindu religious tradition. Berkley: University of California Press, 1988.

McDaniel, June (2004) Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. Oxford University Press.

McDaniel, June (2018). Lost Ecstasy: Its Decline and Transformation in Religion. Springer: Oxford University Press

McDermott, Rachel Fell (2001) Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams: Kālī and Umā in the Devotional Poetry of Bengal. Oxford University Press.

McLean, Malcolm (1998) Devoted to the Goddess: the life and work of Ramprasad. SUNY Press.

Schelling, Andrew, ed. (2011) The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature. Oxford University Press.

Related Research Topics

“The Alvars”

“Bhaskararaya (1690-1785”

“Kali”

“Kali Puja”

“Nirguna bhakti

“Prakrti”

“Saktism”

“Siva”

“Tamil Literature”

“Tridevi” & “Navaratri”

“Understanding Sanskrit”

“Vaisnava bhakti

 

Related Websites

https://www.ancient.eu/Mahabharata/

https://www.everyculture.com/South-Asia/Bengali-Shakta.html

http://www.goddess.ws/kali.htmlg

http://www.mahavidya.ca

https://www.poemhunter.com/ramprasad-sen/

https://spiritualray.com/list-of-hindu-gods-goddesses-their-powers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramprasad_Sen

This article was written by Zach Myrtrunec (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Kubjika

THE GODDESS KUBJIKA

One of the most obscure goddesses in the Hindu religion is the Tantric goddess Kubjika. The obscurity is due to the fact that she is mainly worshipped by a small Newar cult called the Transmission of the Mother (avvakrama) in Nepal (Dyczkowski 2004: 253). Although recognized as a great Indian goddess (Mahadevi), comparable to Kali, she is practically unknown outside Nepal. The proof of her once being an Indian goddess comes from the Kubjika Tantras. They describe her as the goddess of the city of Candrapura and the land of Konkana, India (Dyczkowsi 2004: 129). While she is quite a unique goddess physically and figuratively, she also shares many common characteristics with other, better known goddesses, specifically those worshipped in India. Another cause of her obscureness is the fact that she is found only in the Kaula Tantras, specifically the Sakta Kaula Tantras, which are mostly unexplored to those outside the Newar cults (Dyczkowski 2004: 193). The unusualness of this is that these Tantras are very large for such an unknown goddess. Although it has been determined that Kubjika was at one point a Southern Indian goddess, most of the manuscripts dedicated to her, the most celebrated being the Kubjikamatatantra, come from Nepal, where Kubjika is primarily worshipped (Dyczkowski 2004: 175-176).

The Kubjikamatatantra is a very large Tantra with over 66 manuscripts. A Tantra is a text composed of many scriptures that describe techniques and rituals including meditative, sexual practices, yoga, and religious practices. As a great goddess, Kubjika is the energy of universal, absolute consciousness and is said to be both creative and destructive (Dyczkowksi 2001: 43). Today Kubjika is most well-known as an erotic goddess and a hunchback. Though there are other goddesses in Hinduism who are considered erotic and are ugly, Kubjika stands out among them, by the methods by which she is worshipped and those who worship her. She is also unique in that she incorporates other goddesses into her own appearance and actions.

Kubjika and the cult associated with her were not discovered until the late 1980’s due to the secretive nature of her story. In actuality, the first texts on Kubjika date back to 11th century, in the Kathmandu Valley in Central-Eastern Nepal. These are Tantric texts that describe the following and worshipping of the goddess Kubjika, such as the Kubjikamatatantra and the Manthanabhairavatantra. The schools dedicated to the worship and study of the goddess Kubjika are known as the Kubjikamata, where the Kubjikamatatantra is studied (Dyczkowski 2004: 112). These schools are most commonly found in Nepal, the center for the cult of Kubjika. This cult consists of the Newar people of Nepal.

The Newar people make up approximately half of the current population of the Kathmandu Valley (“Newar People”: 2007). Their language comes from the Tibeto-Burman family, compromising of 250-300 languages, spread throughout Asia. The Newar people were strongly influenced by Indian religious institutions as their population is mostly Hindu and Buddhist. Although influenced by India, the religious tendencies in Nepal were unique in their own right. They are known for combining older forms of practicing Hinduism with newer, more modern approaches as well (Dyczkowski 2001: 2). While they do still focus on more common, major, typically male gods such as Visnu and Siva who fit within the outer domain, the cults like those of the Newar people, have tendencies to put their religious focus on smaller, more obscure, typically female goddesses such as Kubjika, who are found within the inner domain (Dyczkowski 2001: 2).

Another unusual practice of the Newar people is that they believe strongly in ancestral worship. They believed that elderly men and women had the opportunity to achieve the level of a deity by going through specific rites of passage (Dyczkowski 2001: 17-18). This belief caused the uncommon and odd religious tendencies of the area. This abnormal form of faith explains why said cults were not discovered by outsiders until quite recently, as they remain to this day, quite secretive. It is common practice in Hinduism to keep the teachings of the Tantras a secret and the Newar people are strong believers in this tradition (Dyczkowski 2001: 2). Mark Dyczkowski was one of the first outsiders who discovered Kubjika in 1981 when he received a copy of the Kubjikamatatantra as a wedding gift from another scholar, which inspired him to further investigate the subject. He found that Kubjika was a Hindu Tantric goddess who originated in India but is mostly unknown to all those except the Newar people. The proof of worship was not existent until Dr. Dyczkowski found himself as part of the Kubjika cult in 1987. Dr. Dyczkowski’s acceptance into the cult allowed him to share their traditions and beliefs with the world, allowing other people and scholars to explore it aswell.

The initiation into the Newar cults of Kubjika was not a simple nor common occurrence. Intiation was restricted to only high caste, or twice-born Newar people. Another restriction is that only the Rajopadhyaya Brahmins, the former family priests of the Malla kings, can give initiation to those who do not belong to their own family. The Malla kings ruled Nepal from 1201-1779CE and declared themselves Ksatriyas (“Malla”: 2018). Also known as Karmacaryas, they were able to initiate their own family members into the cult. The Karmacaryas were also unique in the sense that they focused their worship on the mother goddesses, such as Kubjika, who were believed to be protecting their community. These initiates made up a small group who were the sole worshippers of Kubjika and other goddesses. They worshipped in private shrines that were only accessible to the cult members. The worship of Kubjika is not traditional in the sense that she does not have a clear iconic form and is mainly only worshipped in her mandala. At home initiates perform daily worship by tracing a triangular diagram into the palm of their hand with one of their fingers and at the beginning of the rite, imaging said triangular diagram as the yoni (vulva) of Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2004: 176).

Another unusual aspect of the cult is that it consists primarily of householders. The householder stage (grhastha) is the middle/second stage of life. It is the stage for marriage and achieving kama (pleasure) and artha (skill/power) which appeals to the erotic tendencies of the goddess Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2004: 176).  In addition to all the specifics, Kubjika was also regularly worshipped through stones (pitha) instead of the more common methods of openly worshipping other Hindu gods and goddesses in temples (Dyczkowski 2001: 19). The stones were found in human settlements and the countryside and were believed to be watching over and protecting the area in which they are found.  The size of the protection zone was dependant on the status of the stone.

Kubjika was a goddess who was described with many identities and forms, although there is little photographic/artistic evidence of said forms. The Tantras describe her origin as an embodiment of the creature of desire (iccha) of the god Bhairava [her “father”] (Dyczkowski 2001: 41). In one of her iconic forms she is shown with six faces. Amongst those six faces, the uppermost face is the goddess Para and is described to be as white as milk and possessing 17 energies (Dyczkowski 2004: 182). The top head is Malini, the face of the sky and is white to represent peacefulness. The eastern face is Siddhayogesvari, a face described to be full of rage, which is also adorned with the form of the mantra. The southern face is Kalika, the worst looking face with large protruding teeth and described like a dark-blue lotus. The northern face is that of the goddess Tripura. This face is red like a pomegranate flower and is round like a full moon, portraying peace and bliss. The last face is the face of Umakhecari and is also white.  Each of the six faces was said to have three eyes, one for the sun, one for the moon, and the one in the middle was for fire.

Although there are stories in the Kubjikamatatantra describing her origin, there are no stories or myths as to how and why these other goddesses came about as Kubjika’s faces. In this form she had 12 arms each carrying a different item. These items included, the stick of the world, a great lotus [symbol of beauty and fertility], an ascetic’s staff (khatvanga), a noose, a rosary, a bouquet of brilliant jewels, a number of scriptures held along with a conch (sankhapala), a skull, a trident, the gesture of fearlessness, the gesture of granting favours, the mirror of Karma, and the five immortal substances (Dyczkowski 2004: 182). She is depicted sitting on a lion throne, adorned with many ornaments. The lords of snakes serve as her anklets (connection to Siva), zone, belt, chock, and tiara. She also wore scorpions as rings on her fingers. On her head she wears a garland of vowels and a necklace of letters along with a necklace of 50 scorpions around her throat (Dyczkowski 2004:182).

Kubjika’s iconic form is generally described as bright and often blue, and the goddess Kali and her darkness is the shadow-like counterpart of Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2001: 39). Her heart shines like a clean mirror, her face shines like a newly risen sun, her hair in a topknot made of light that emulates lightning, and her breast place made of brilliant energy. Her weapon is the Fire of Time that was known to lick up the worlds and was hard to bear which starts to describe her destructive side (Dyczkowski 2004: 182)

Some of the most interesting aspects of Kubjika is how she is described as many different goddesses. The primary being the goddess of pottery which is still very known today but the others being more definitive. In her Kubjikamata schools, she is known as a tree goddess (Dyczkowski 2001: 70). She is also considered a lunar goddess, similar to the goddesses Kali and Tripura, who she shares connections with. Kubjika’s creative and destructive tendencies are perpendicular to the shift between light and dark we see with the moon. Her lunar whiteness is also representative of Sukra which means female sperm, thus matching her eroticism. Along with these two qualities, she is also considered a goddess of fire which closely relates to her destructive side.

Kubjika is known as a creator, as described in her erotic ways, but also a destroyer, comparative to the goddess Kali (Dyczkowski 2001: 62). She had darkness within her that was feared. The creator aspect of Kubjika’s personality is also associated with her hunchback figure. The purpose of her being hunchbacked is so that she was able to impregnate herself without a second party by licking her own vulva and creating her own bliss and pleasure (Dyczkowski 2004: 242). This benefits the goddess and makes it easy for Kubjika to expand the universe as she can do it independently. As explained in her origin myth found in the first three chapters of the Kubjikamatatantra, she becomes hunchback due to the embarrassment of being asked to be the god Bhairava’s teacher by giving him a favour of empowerment (ajna), which in simple terms, comes from her vulva (Dyczkowski 2004:179). This event also explains how the goddess Kubjika is androgynous. During her realization (as told in the myth, see Dyczkowski 2004: 176-184) she takes the form of Linga (phallus). During her embarrassment, she must transition from Linga to Yoni (vulva). This transition explains how she is capable of being male and female, thus meaning androgynous. When Kubjika is in the form of Yoni she is aroused and fertile and the energy that comes with this is the flow of her emission, which is Sukra (female sperm) and Sukravahini (she who causes sperm to flow) (Dyzckowski 2004: 181). These factors are what makes her the most well known as being an erotic, hunchbacked goddess.

The goddess Kubjika, although widely unexplored, is very unique and full of depth. The small Newar cult that worships her has chosen to remain secretive and exclusive. Still centered in a small region in Nepal, they embody Hindu orthodoxy while also creating and following their own methods of practicing Hinduism and worshipping the gods and goddesses. The Newar people have very strict initiation rites and keep to themselves which explains why the goddess Kubjika was not made known to the rest of the world until the 1980’s. The goddess herself has very few evidential forms and is worshipped primarily by her mandala, stones, and very small, private shrines, very unlike the large one’s seen dedicated to better known Hindu gods and goddesses. She is know known mainly as the erotic, androgynous, hunchbacked goddess who embodies the faces and characteristics of other goddesses such as Tripura. She has a very detailed iconic form that is similar to other great goddesses in India, as represented by her multiple heads and arms, which indicate power. It is proven that she was originally from India, though she is practically unknown in that region today. The goddess of pottery, trees, and fire is very important in the Sakta Kaula Tantras and the Hindu religion in general.

REFERENCES

Avantazi, Beatriz and Gutman, Alejandro (2013) Tibeto-Burman Languages http://www.languagesgulper.com/eng/Tibeto.html

Dyczkowski, Mark (2001) The Cult of the Goddess Kubjikā. Stuttgart: Nepal Research Centre; No. 23

Dyczkowski, Mark (2004) The Journey in the World of the Tantras. Varanasi: Indica Books

Goudriaan, T. and Schoterman, J. A. (1988) The Kubjikamatatantra; Kulalikamnaya Version. Leiden: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gupta, Kanchan and Prine Pauls, Elizabeth (2007) Newar People. Encyclopaedia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Newar

Setis, Veenu and Matt Stefon (2009) Tantra; Religious Texts. Encyclopaedia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tantra-religious-texts

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 28) “Malla” (Kathmandu Valley). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Malla_(Kathmandu_Valley)&oldid=866087689

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 31) Hindu iconography. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hindu_iconography&oldid=866548354

Wright, Daniel (1990) Malla (Kathmandu Valley). Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malla_(Kathmandu_Valley)

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bhairava

Kali

Kalika

Karmacarya

Kathmandu Valley

Kaula Tantra

Kubjikamata

Kubjikamatatantra

Linga

Malini

Malla Kings

Manthanabhairavatantra

Newar people

Rajopadhyaya Brahmins

Sakta Kaula Tantras

Siddhayogesvari

Transmission of the Mother

Tripura

Umakhecari

Yoni

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.anuttaratrikakula.org/godess-kubjika-and-her-influence-on-sadaasaya/

https://citybanjaran.com/2018/08/22/kubjika-tantric-goddess-with-a-hunchback/

Article written by: Shay Routly (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Jyestha

The goddess Jyestha (9th century CE), National Museum, Delhi,

There are numerous gods and goddesses that are presently being worshipped, and/or have been worshipped in the past within Hinduism, and one of these goddesses is the deity Jyestha.  This goddess is distinctive because she is associated with inauspiciousness, disgrace, misfortune and discord.  She is recognized as the elder sister of the better known and worshipped goddess of good fortune and beauty Laksmi, and is acknowledged as the complete opposite of Laksmi (Orr 26).  Jyestha’s name is thought to derive from the female head of polygamous households, the senior wife, elder/eldest or jyestha wife (Lesley 120).  According to professor David Kinsley, in his book Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: the Ten Mahavidyas, Jyestha is one of three goddesses that the higher goddess Dhumavati identifies as or with; the other two being Nirriti, who is known specifically as the goddess of deadly hidden realms and sorrows, and Alaksmi, who is known specifically as the goddess of misfortune (1998:178-9).  Dhumavati, also known as the Widow Goddess, is one of the Ten Mahavidyas or Tantric Wisdom Goddesses, and her name translates to “she who abides in smoke” (Gadon 5).  None of these goddesses are particularly well known or worshipped in the current widespread Hindu tradition (Orr 31; MET; Kinsley 178).  Less often in India, Jyestha is also identified with Sitala who is known likewise as an inauspicious goddess, the goddess of smallpox, who carries a broom and rides a donkey just like Jyestha, as will be discussed below.

In all four versions or identities of the goddess Dhumavati (Nirriti, Jyestha and Alaksmi), she is associated with being ugly and frightening.  Kinsley describes Dhumavati as black-skinned, tall, wearing dirty clothes, having a long nose and teeth, and having sagging breasts.  She is associated with riding in a chariot that displays a banner depicting a crow, and usually she is seen carrying a skull bowl, a spear, a broom, winnowing fan, a torch, or a club (1998:176).  Similarly, in existing depictions of Jyestha, she is illustrated as older in age with black or red skin, having a wide face with a long, prominent nose; having large sagging breasts that rest upon her swollen stomach and wide waist.  Her hefty stomach matches her large and drooping lips, cheeks, arms, calves, and thighs. This goddess is typically seen holding a blue or white lotus, sometimes making the symbol of protection, and having a water pot somewhere in the depiction.  She is shown sitting at ease, graceless, legs apart, with her knees spread wide (Gadon 7).  She adorns a mark of marriage upon her forehead, which is an important aspect of her character, and many large pieces of jewelry.  She, too, is shown as having a banner with a crow on it, and having a bundle of sticks near her that are thought to be a broom.  In some cases she is seen riding a donkey, as is Alaksmi, a lion or a camel; in other depictions she is seen riding on a chariot being pulled by lions and is followed by tigers. The crow emblem that Jyestha is depicted with holds a negative association within the Hindu tradition.  Leslie Orr and Julia Leslie discuss in their writings that crows are symbols of bad luck, famine and are associated with being bringers of misfortune.  They are even believed to be evokers of other inauspicious deities such as Nirriti and Tama (Leslie 119; Orr 26).  The depiction of the assumed broom connects Jyestha directly to the household, this is because brooms are used by women and servants in the home in order to sweep away physical impurities, as well as to ward off misfortune (Leslie 120).

Two assistants can be seen following Jyestha, which are thought in some cases to be her son and daughter (Leslie 115-8; Kinsley 1998:178). The male attendant is depicted as having a bull’s head, wearing a crown and holding a stick or club in one hand and with the other hand either pointing or holding a cord or rope. The woman is presented as young, with an attractive bosom and holding a lotus while also wearing a crown.  Both of these figures are seen with one leg hanging and the other folded underneath their body (Leslie 118).  These characteristics of the two followers of Jyestha can be seen clearly in the sculpture that is currently on exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MET) in New York City.  As described on their website, the piece is dated to between 500 and 1000 CE and is noted to have come from South Asia (MET).  In addition to her bull-headed son and beautiful daughter, she is seen holding a blue lotus and is pictured with a crow.  Some of her other characteristics are not as notable in this piece as with others, but she is clearly seen as has having large arms as well as having a stomach that is protruding from the piece.  “The picture that emerges- of an unattractive older woman, unsmiling and indolent, flanked by the ideal offspring (a powerful son and a beautiful daughter), served by solicitous female servants, marked by the inauspicious, cawing crow and the protective, chastising power if the household broom- suggests a deliberate link with a real or at least archetypal human figure” (Leslie 120).

The widely accepted account or myth of how Jyestha was brought into existence is explained thoroughly by Leslie.  The gods and demons decided to churn the sea in an attempt to recreate the universe to try to obtain the nectar of immortality.  During this churning it is believed that Jyestha was created accidentally, as well as many other items and deities; such as the goddess Sri, the nectar of immortality, poison, the moon and the sun, to name a few (Leslie 120-1).  The story of her creation can be found in the Padmapurana, where it is explained that she is granted a place “in every home in which strife prevails, in which liars use harsh language, in which sinful and evil-minded men are asleep at the time of the twilight ritual.  Wherever skulls, long hair, ashes, bones, chaff or charcoal are to be found” there will be a place for her (Leslie 121).  It does not give an indication of how long ago this took place, but Kinsley notes that she seems to have appeared very early in the Hindu tradition (1998:178).

After Jyestha’s creation, there are conflicting myths or stories about her remaining life, and how she became associated with those who worship her.  In some myths, Jyestha marries a brahmin hermit who later seeks advice from the great sage Markandeya about what to do with his wife because she continuously runs away in fear covering her ears after seeing and hearing Vedic rituals (Leslie 121).  Markandeya tells the husband/brahmin that Jyestha cannot live amongst the people and places where the religious live and worship.  She is so irreligious, antisocial and inauspicious that her husband abandons her in an area where local divinities are worshipped and tells her that she must support herself on the offerings made by the women devotees.  This leads to her repenting her ways and turning to Visnu for help (Leslie 122).  A second myth of Jyestha’s life that is told holds some key similarities.  In this one, Jyestha marries a sage named Dussaha who quickly discovers that she cannot bear to witness or hear any religious activity (Kinsley 1998: 178).  Dussaha complains about this to Visnu, and is told to take her where inauspicious activities occur; such as homes where families fight, or parents do not care for their children.  Jyestha is eventually abandoned by Dussaha, and she again turns to Visnu to ask for help sustaining herself.  He tells her that she will be sustained by the offerings from women (Kinsley 1998: 179).

As noted in the myth of how Jyestha was created, she is attracted to homes in which chaos, unruliness and inauspiciousness occur.  She was rightfully abandoned by her husband, in both myths explored, and made to live off of the offerings left to her specifically by women devotees.  Leslie notes this importance because of the connection between those women who are making the offerings and this inauspicious goddess;  “…she is reduced to living off the offerings made by women, that is, the offerings made by the largest segment of society traditionally excluded from orthodox ritual and sacred knowledge” (Leslie 122).  Jyestha is able to sustain herself off of these female offerings because women in the Hindu tradition are thought to be less pure than their male counterparts, for the most part.  However, Leslie also notes that she is likewise worshipped by male devotees who ask for an increase in wealth, an end to misfortune and success to their wives and children (122).  Why draw attention to yourself from this ugly and inauspicious goddess at all?  It is believed that offerings made to Jyestha will leave the family who made the offerings alone and when leaving, take all of their inauspiciousness with her (Leslie 122-3).

Worship of this goddess has decreased immensely in the past centuries, however during some point of time in the past it seems that she had a widespread following (MET; Kinsley 178).  According to the MET website, her earliest appearance can be traced back to northern India in the fourth century.  There is also a chapter on the worship of Jyestha found in the Baudhayanagrhyasutra which is dated between 600 and 300 BCE.  Many images of her have been found in south India that date back to the seventh and eighth centuries, indicating that it was during this time that she was extremely popular (Kinsley 1998:178; Leslie 114).  The MET website also suggests that her cult following either began to diminish or was already in its downfall in the post-medieval era.  Orr, however, notes a specific case in Tamil Nadu where the worship of Jyestha can be dated from the eighth to the eleventh century, which would indicate that her cult following began to decline during the medieval era; it was through the eleventh century that the auspicious goddess Laksmi overtook her sister’s role and became more widely worshipped (Orr 26;31).

Today, the goddess Jyestha is very rarely worshipped.  Her image receives very little attention, and is hidden away in corners, removed or thrown away completely.  However, in the places that the deity Jyestha is still recognized, she is feared (Leslie 114). Leslie furthers this observation with an example from a temple in Uttaramerur, southern India where Jyestha is still recognized.  “In the Kolambesvara Temple in Uttaramerur, an image of Jyestha is kept with its face to the ground for fear that an upright image would bring death to the village.  Legend has it that this belief has been proven correct several times” (Leslie 114).

            The decline of Jyestha’s cult worship is hinted at in different articles, but Orr discusses it in detail.  In the Hindu tradition, changes were taking place in many different ways, including terminology related to the deities.  Specifically discussed is the term pitari, which now is understood to mean “village goddess,” whereas once, around one thousand years ago, it meant a goddess belonging to the “great tradition” (Orr 30).  More simply put, when talking about deities in the Hindu tradition, goddesses that were once worshipped as great goddesses turned into lesser known and worshipped village deities.  “From the eleventh century onward some of these goddesses were displaced even from this position; the images of saptamatrkas (seven mothers) were removed and installed as guardian deities in small village temples, becoming pitaris in the modern sense of the word” (Orr 30).  Jyestha, or one of her alternate identities, was one of these goddesses that was turned from a great goddess into a village deity.  Orr further suggests that this change in meaning could point to de-Sanskritization (Orr 30).  This is also an explanation as to why Jyestha is only worshipped in villages such as the aforementioned Uttaramerur, because she is known as the village deity to this southern India community.

           

Bibliography and Related Readings

Elgood, Heather (2004) “Exploring the Roots of Village Hinduism in South Asia.”  World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 3: 326–342. Accessed October 3, 2018.  doi: 10.1080/0043824042000282777.

Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott (2012) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton:    Sussex Academic Press.

Gadon, Elinor W. (1998) “Revisioning the Female Demon.” ReVision, Vol. 20, No. 3: 3-30.

K.G., Krishnan (1981) Studies in South Indian History and Epigraphy volume 1. Madras: New Era Publications.

Kinsley, David R. (2008) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

_____ (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: the Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Leslie, Julia (1992) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (2011) “Jyeshtha Flanked by Her Children.” The Met’s   Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed October 09, 2018. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/38136.

Orr, Leslie C. (2005) “Identity and Divinity: Boundary-Crossing Goddesses in Medieval South India Author.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol.73, No.1: 9-43.

Rao, Gopinatha, T.A. (1981) Elements of Hindu Iconography. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

 

List of Related Research Topics

Dhumavati                              The Ten Mahavidyas

Nirriti                                     The Padmapurana

Alaksmi                                  The Baudhayanagrhyasutra

Sitala                                      The saptamarkas

Tama                                      Pitari

Laksmi                                   The Kolambesvara Temple

Visnu                                      The recreation of the universe

Sri

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://bairaveebalasubramaniam.com/2016/06/04/jyestha-devi-the-forgotten-dark-goddess-of-time/

https://detechter.com/legend-goddess-dhumavati-widow-goddess/

https://www.drikpanchang.com/hindu-goddesses/parvati/mahavidya/dhumavati/goddess-dhumavati.html

http://www.hinduwisdom.info/articles_hinduism/213.htm

http://www.holladaypaganism.com/goddesses/cyclopedia/j/JYESTHA.HTM

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/dhumavati.htm#.W9YsAXtKjIU

https://vedicgoddess.weebly.com/goddess-vidya-blog/devi-jyestha-by-yogi-ananda-saraswathi

Article written by: Kaitlyn Haarstad (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Saktism

Saktism is a sectarian movement centered on the devotional worship of the Mother Goddess who is simultaneously referred to as Sakti (power and energy), Devi (Goddess), Parasakti (supreme power), Adyasakti (first or primordial Power), Mulaprakti (primordial matter) and/or the Mahadevi (Great Goddess) (Foulston & Abbott 10). The adherents to this particular Hindu path – those who see their path to salvation through the concept of the Great Goddess – are called Saktas.  Saktism assures its adherents of protection from natural calamities and a procurement of worldly luxuries and happiness.  Saktas conceive the Mother Goddess as the personification of primordial energy and the source of all divine (Basu 4).  By some she is worshipped as the primary deity, by others she is part of a great pantheon of goddesses and all goddesses are a manifestation of her.  In some goddesses she manifests herself as benign and in others she is ferocious.  Each goddess is worshiped as a reflection of the feminine principle of sakti, that energy which manifests itself in creation and destruction (Basu 7).

The Great Goddess, as praktri (primary matter) and sakti (energy), manifests herself, by her maya, into her many and various powers.  In Saktism maya is not considered a negative illusionary power, instead it is perceived as a positive creative force and Sakta texts emphasize the non-difference between matter and spirit (Foulston & Abbott 16). The Sakti is, as Saguna Brahman, both ultimate reality and the source of divine manifestation (Kinsley 1986: 137).  Saktas believe Sakti, in any of her manifestations, is responsive to the pleas of individual devotees and can quickly come to their aid if needed (Kinsley 1986: 139).  They also believe that devotion (bhakti), to any of her incarnations, is a means to be liberated from karma and the cycle of samsara (Kinsley 1986: 153).

Sakti is often pictured as a distant awesome figure who sits on a heavenly throne.  She is understood to be approachable and always available to her worshipers (Kinsley 1986: 139). For Saktas, divinity can be described by invoking groups of divine females including the seven Mothers, the nine Durgas, the 64 Yoginis, or the ten Mahavidyas. Sakti is said to have qualities that are manifested within the goddess triad that includes Mahalaksmi, Mahasarasvati and Mahakali (Rodrigues 2005: 242).  As Mahasarasvati, she is seen as the power that presides over creation, as Mahalaksmi she shows her preserving aspect, and as Mahakali she is associated with destruction (Rodrigues 2005: 242).  Some Saktas believe that Durga is the Devi’s favourite form and that as Durga she is ferocious and an invincible warrior who battles evil and demons of various kinds (Kinsley 1986: 138).  All goddesses, whether within a group or not, are considered different manifestations or forms of the one all-encompassing Goddess (Dold 46).  The reason the divine feminine needs so many names is that they convey different aspects of her nature and each are an expression or form of her and symbolize the various aspects of her character (Foulston & Abbott 10).

To better understand Saktism, it is helpful to understand how Saktism began and how it developed over the millennia.  The beginnings of mother worship in South Asia can be traced back to the terracotta figurines found in the Indus Valley that date back to 3000 BCE (Basu 3). It has been anthropologically noted that as agriculture develops, often mothers figure as the guiding forces of their society (Basu 3):

The magical rites designed to secure the fertility of the fields seem to belong to a special competence of the women who were the first cultivators of the soil and whose power of childbearing had, in primitive thought, a sympathetic effect on the vegetative forces of the earth (Bhattacharyya 4).

As time passed, throughout India, the tribal cults of early female deities seem to have become woven into the more intellectual doctrines (as found in the Vedas) that later migrated into their territories (Basu xii).

In the Rg Veda, the deities are predominantly patriarchal.  The few goddesses mentioned maintain a subordinate position and at no time, either individually or collectively, represent the ‘centre’ (Kinsley 1986: 7).  There is no one great goddess in Vedic literature, and there is no evidence it was conceived that all the individual goddesses are manifestations of one great goddess (Kinsley 1986: 18).  It should be noted however that the qualities of the goddesses mentioned in the Vedas appear in later Hinduism in various forms and with some of their characteristics (Foulston & Abbott 46).  It therefore seems apparent that following their arrival in India, the Vedic people came into contact with the indigenous population and were influenced by their cults and rituals which resulted in the adaption of Vedic goddesses to popular culture.  It also resulted in non-Vedic goddesses finding a place in the pantheon and the gradual penetration of the mother cult becomes apparent in later Vedic writing and Brahmanical religious worship (Basu 3).

It was the Gupta age, between the fourth & sixth centuries and during the height of the writing of Puranic literature, that the Mother Goddess cult truly developed (Basu 5).  The Puranas are the Hindu texts concerned primarily with myth and legend.  They built upon the Upanishads, and describe the supremacies of various Gods to convey the multiple manifestations of Brahman (Foulston & Abbott 11).  It is thought by some scholars that in the Gupta Age the “need was felt for a new religion, entirely female dominated, a religion in which even the great gods like Visnu or Siva would remain subordinate to the goddess” (Basu 65).   This new religion came to be known as Saktism.

The Sakta Puranas are whole texts in which the Goddess is the supreme deity.  There are remnants of Vedic deities in the Puranas, such as Prithivi, but the Goddess’s most prominent personalities are those that are pleased with the non-Vedic practice of blood-sacrifice; a practice that is likely based on popular local aboriginal goddesses (Foulston & Abbott 69).  Though the presented goddesses may have originated from non-Vedic sources, they are still presented in the Puranas in a palatable orthodox way (Foulston & Abbott 76).  The primary Sakta Puranas are the Devi-Mahatmya and the Devi-Bhagavatam which speak of the supremacy of the divine feminine (Foulston & Abbott 11).

In the Devi-Mahatmya the Devi, or Mahadevi, is shown as the personification of all aspects of energy, being simultaneously creative, preservative, and destructive (Foulston & Abbott 12).  The text implies, by constantly addressing the Devi by different names, that all goddesses are in reality one being (Foulston & Abbott 19).         The Devi Bhagavatam retells a number of Puranic myths from a feminine perspective and goddesses are shown as being identical to Brahman as well as eternal and independent of male authority (Foulston & Abbott 14).  This text is also explicit in its understanding of the Mahadevi as encompassing both benign and terrible aspects.  Both aspects are presented as required in order to maintain the dharmic balance of the cosmos (Foulston & Abbott 19).

By about 500 CE, the common goddesses of Saktism included Parvati, Durga, Kali, Amba, Tripurasundari, Lakshmi, and Saraswati (Bhattacharyya 107).  Indeed, the Puranas enumerate 108 names of the Great Goddess (Bhattacharyya 106) and it is in the Puranic texts we find some goddesses being grouped together; such as the seven mothers (whose worship was adapted for Brahamical ritual tradition) and the ten Mahadividyas.  All groupings exemplify how the Great Goddess manifests herself in a variety of forms at various times for different reasons (Foulston & Abbott 117).

Tantrism is sometimes considered synonymous with Saktism and while both Tantrism and Saktism share some characteristics, the two traditions are distinct (Foulston & Abbott 104). Both Tantrism and Saktism evolved with the assimilation of non-Vedic deities and traditions (such as blood sacrifice) within Brahmanical traditions (such as complex ritual worship).  Tantrism also includes a focus on the feminine principle that views all women as manifestations of Sakti (Bhattacharyya 107). But not all Saktas consider themselves to be followers of the esoterical ritual tantric tradition; many Sakta reject tantric forms of worship and instead focus on devotional worship (bhakti) or follow Vedic procedures (Rodrigues 240).

The worship practices of most Saktas are similar to the worship practices of other Hindus but sometimes include elements that in orthodoxy are considered polluting.  Like many Hindus, Saktas will most often worship in their home before a shrine created for their favorite deity (Foulston & Abbott 135).  Most villages will have their own goddess and she will be revered at the local shrine. There are times when people will join a larger congregation and worship the Great Goddess – in one form or another – in their local temples.  The later Puranas provide instruction on temple construction and ritual performance for the deity to which the particular text is dedicated (Foulston & Abbott 132). Unlike religious worship in the West, the worship of deities in Hinduism is generally an individual affair.  There are no formal services, though there are regular times of day when the priests perform puja.  Temples become the focus during festivals, when many people gather to witness and participate in rituals that particular manifestation of the Great Goddess requires (Foulston & Abbott 135).  Saktas celebrate most major Hindu festivals, as well as a huge variety of local, temple or deity specific observances.

In the process of the evolution of Saktism a number of places came to be associated with Sakti worship and came to be regarded as sacred Sakta pithas (Basu 5).  The belief in the sacredness of the land in India has contributed to the concept of sacred sites connected to goddesses (Foulston & Abbott 186).  This idea of a sacred landscape is thought to have combined with a belief in the myth of the dismemberment of Sati  – the landing places of her scattered body created the locations of sacred sites – and these sites became Sakta pithas (Rodrigues 2005: 240).  There are some scholars who believe the myth of Sati’s death was used to connect many local goddesses with the Sakta Devi (Foulston & Abbott 186).

One such Sakta pitha is for the goddess Kamakhya in Assam.  This modest temple draws worshipers from all over India and is most sacred at one particular time of year when the seasonally swollen river is viewed as the goddess’s annual menstruation.  Devotees wear red clothes, representing Devi’s blood stained garments.  Animal sacrifices are made and Kamakhya’s power is so strong as to produce sacredness from something that is usually considered profane (Dold 46).

Laksmi, Parvati, Sati, Prthivi and other benevolent versions of the Great Goddess are understood to be the parts of the transcendent divine who is oriented toward upholding and protecting the world.  Worshipers revere these incarnations in order to ensure fertility, protection regarding the establishment of dharmic order, cultural creativity, wifely duty, wisdom, and material abundance; they are also the embodiment of female beauty (Kinsley 1986: 140).  But Saktas are especially drawn to more ferocious goddesses, like the great Durga or Kali, who are seen not only as protectors but also as destroyers.

Durga is thought to be the Devi’s most popular form and her exploits are the mostly commonly celebrated events in Sakti mythology.  The Devi-Mahatmya establishes Durga, with her manifestation Kali, as an aspect of the Great Goddess.  In this text, Durga is regarded as the incarnate strength of the gods.  She is presented as a beautiful golden ten armed warrior goddess who is sometimes viewed as benevolent, but has not lost her non-Vedic habit of accepting blood sacrifices (Foulston & Abbott 34).  Durga is celebrated during the most important Sakta festival, Navarati (the Festival of Nine Nights).  These festivals are used to worship the Navadurgas, the nine manifested forms of Durga that slew powerful demons as described in the Devi Mahatmya.  In Bengal, the last four days of the autumn Navaratri are called Durga Puja which marks Durga’s slaying of the Buffalo Demon. It is a massive and remarkable worship celebration that consumes the city of Kolkata and includes multiple worship practices focused on Durga, including blood sacrifices (Foulston & Abbott 160).

Goddesses all over India are worshiped with blood sacrifices.  Despite the Hindu tradition of ahimsa, the offering of goddesses animal sacrifices continues as, in the eyes of Saktas, their goddesses demand blood in their worship.  They believe these goddesses, who are associated with fertility, must be periodically re-nourished: in order to give life, they must receive life back in the form of blood (Kinsley 1986: 145).

Saktism has its roots among the masses.  It evolved out of the prehistoric Mother Goddess cult and its development was organic through Hindu development (Bhattacharyya 165).  From the middle of the 19th century the cult of Sakti is said to have contributed to the growth of Indian nationalism (McKean 250).  The concept of the country in the form of a divine mother became a strong basis of the Indian freedom movement.  In the early 20th century Sri Aurobindo, Indian philosopher and nationalist, said “Mother India is not a piece of earth; she is power, a godhead, for all nations have such a devi, supporting their separate existence and keeping it in being” (McKean 255).  There have even been recent efforts by political nationalists to fashion a new manifestation of the Great Goddess in a new goddess named Bharat Mata.  She is being used by political forces as a reigning deity over the many other manifestation of female divinity in India.  Hoping to use her for the cause of religious nationalism, they present their goddess as Mother India; the identity of the Indian national state (McKean 250).

Saktism can be viewed as proof of the assimilative and unifying character of Hinduism. The one fundamental belief in Hinduism is the belief in an all-pervading and all-transcending reality which is the source of everything.  This reality has been visualized by Saktas in the form of Sakti, the Great Goddess.  Saktism allows its adherents to obtain identification with, and connection to, Ultimate Reality through the worship of their chosen goddess, whether that goddess be their village deity, Mahadevi, Durga, or even Mother India.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Basu, Anuradha (Mitra) (2009) Sakti Worship in India and Iconography. Kolkata: R.N. Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (1974) History of the Sakta Religion. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharial Publishers.

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.

Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott (2012) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press.

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

Kinsley, David R. (1996) “Kali: Blood and Death out of Place.” In Devi Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, p. 77-86. London: Univeristy of California Press.

McKean, Lise (1996) “Bharat Mata: Mother India and Her Militant Matriots.” In Devi Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, p. 250-280. London: Univeristy of California Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2003) Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess: The liturgy of the durga puja with interpretations. Albany: SUNY Press,

Rodrigues, Hillary (2005) Hinduism: The eBook. JBE Online Books.

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

Stratton Hawley, John (1996) “The Goddess in India“. In Devi Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, p. 1-28. London: Univeristy of California Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sakta

Devi

Parsakti

Advasakti

Mulaprakti

Mahadevi

Saguna Brahman

Mahalaksmi

Mahasarasvati

Mahakali

Seven Mothers

Nine Durgas

64 Yoginis

Ten Mahavidyas

Indus Valley Civilization

Tantra

Durga

The Devi Mahatmya

Devi Bhagavatam

Parvati

Durga

Kali

Amba

Tripurasundari

Sati

Kamakhya

Prithivi

Navadurgas

The Durga Puja

Sri Aurobindo

Bharat Mata

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.bangalinet.com/durgapuja.htm

https://www.himalayanacademy.com/media/books/hindu-basics/web/hin_ch04.html

http://www.patheos.com/library/shakta-hinduism

https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=3784

http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195399318/obo-9780195399318-0085.xml

http://www.hindunet.com.au/new/index.html

http://www.bangalinet.com/durgapuja.htm

 

Article written by: Dawn Kinney (November 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahanirvana Tantra

The Tantras are texts that deal with an assortment of ritual methods used to control and manipulate the cosmic powers, belonging to the literature of the Saktas. The Tantras deal with a wide variety of subject matter such as yoga practice, dharma behavior, the prescribed stages of life, the realms of heaven and hell, and importantly, worship ritual. The Mahanirvana Tantra was composed in the 18th century and is the most well-known Tantra in the west (Payne 53-55). It is regarded as the revelation of Siva, the destroyer of the world and god of the Yogis, to his wife, Parvati, at the summit of Mount Kailasa.

It was on Mount Kailasa that Parvati found her husband, Siva, described sitting silently on the mountain surrounded by a beautiful landscape. The text begins with Parvati asking Siva a question relating to the liberation of beings. Siva’s answer to Parvati is then answered in the chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva begins the first four chapters by relating the importance of worshiping Brahman, the ultimate reality. Siva explains when good is done to the universe, He will be pleased, as He is the soul of the universe and it depends on Him (Avalon 3). Siva tells her that by worship of Brahman, there will be no need for any other religious observances (Avalon 4). Due to Siva’s strong affection to Parvati, he tells her more about the Supreme Brahman, and the secrets of worshiping Him by prescribed mantra to attain siddi, the enlightenment and understanding possessed by a siddah, or accomplished one. Siva states that liberation “does not come from the recitation of hymns, sacrifice or a hundred fasts… man is liberated by the knowledge that he is Brahman himself” (Payne 10). Pleased by what Siva has bestowed on her, Parvati asks another question concerning worship of Supreme Prakrti in union with Supreme Brahman. This delights Siva and he spoke unto Parvati how everything in the universe owes its origins and manifestations to the Supreme Prakrti and Supreme Brahman in motion with each other (Avalon 5). He relates the Supreme Prakrti to the Deva herself, informing her that she is everything in all forms and manifestations, and everything is her. Siva explains that success is solely achieved by Kaulika worship, the most supreme doctrine, and the merit achieved by honoring a Kaulika, is enough to protect one from all the harm the Kali Age has to offer (Avalon 5).

In the fifth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra, Siva speaks to his wife of the formation of mantras, composed of single letters, syllables, a word, or an entire phrase to make a sacred sound (Feuerstein 191) and the preparatory acts to be done each day. Mantras are creative forces that act upon one’s consciousness when empowered and communicated to a disciple (Feuerstein 191). Siva explains to Parvati that there are countless mantras for worship, presented in the various Tantras but he only states twelve of them, because these twelve are for the pleasure and benefit of all humanity (Avalon 6). After presenting the twelve mantras to Parvati, he moves on to explain worship of Sakti by the five elements, wine, meat, fish, grain, and union of man and woman to attain the position of vira (Bhattacharyya 121). After which he describes placing of the jar, which is called a kalasa, because Visva-karma, son of Brahma, composed it from various parts of each of the Devatas (Avalon 6). He explains the measurements in fingers, and that it is to be made of gold, silver, copper, metal, mud, stone or glass free from any imperfections and on the left side a hexagon enclosed by a circle, enclosed by a square. In detail Siva speaks of the proper worshipping and mantras to be recited important in all power of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe.

The sixth chapter of the text Parvati asks Siva about the Pancha-tattvas and the appropriate worship of the Deva. The Pancha-tattvas, or five elements, are given in sacrifice to propitiate the Deva (Avalon 7). Siva declares that there are three kinds of wine, made from molasses, rice, or the juices and flowers of plants, that are first tattva and no matter how it has been made, is equal in the worship of the Deva. The second tattva is meat from three kinds of animals, those of the earth, sky and water. Siva explains that to please the Deva it does not matter where or by whom the animal was killed, so long as the animal being decapitated is male and not female (Avalon 7). The third tattva is three kinds of fish, ranked in superiority and quality due to their bones. Fish with the most amount of bones, considered inferior, must be well fried before being offered to the Devi. Parched food is the fourth tattva and contains three categories. Superior food is white rice, barley and wheat all fried in butter, the middle being a fried paddy, and the most inferior food consists of any fried grain that is not contained in the superior category (Avalon 7). After explaining the first four features, Siva looks unto Parvati and says “O Great Devi! when the weakness of the Kali Age becomes great, one’s own Shakti or wife should alone be known as the fifth tattva”(Avalon 7). Thus, making sexual union between man and women the fifth and final Pancha-tattva. Before revealing the mantras to Parvati, Siva warns her that man who offers these sacrifices to the Devas without proper purification will not please the gods and one will go to hell for it (Avalon 7).

The seventh chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva addresses the Goddess Kali as the supreme yogini, for at the end of time she devours Siva, the devourer of time himself (Feuerstein 35). Kali, who’s name relates to the words “time” and “death”, is the dark goddess and the Destroyer. Siva recites a hymn to Parvati, containing the Hundred Names of Kali, all beginning with the letter Ka, entitled Adya-Kali-Svarupa. By worshiping Kali and repeating her Hundred Names, one will enjoy a happy life and becomes suffused with the presence of the Devi (Avalon 8). Only when one is in the presence of the Goddess, does he reach the hearts of women, attain his desires, conquer his enemies, master his caste and enjoy good fortune. For once she suffuses him “there is ever victory, and defeat never” (Avalon 8).

Parvati asks Siva in the eighth chapter to hear of the castes, the prescribed stages in life, and the mode they should be observed in, having just heard the different dharmas and union with the Supreme. Siva tells her in the Kali age, there are five castes, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and Samanya (Avalon 9) and each of these castes has two stages of life. He begins first by describing the householder stage, with devotion to Brahman. He tells Parvati the importance of pleasing one’s mother and father, raising obedient and educated children, being kind to neighbors and cherishing his wife, so she will be ever devoted to him. Siva after explains the exclusive mantras to be performed only by the twice-born, and the other mantras to be used for the lower castes. Siva relates to Parvati the duties of the king, that he is to watch his subjects and protect his people and describes the manner in which he should present himself. The king is to be the courage of his warriors, highly knowledgeable, discriminatory, and honorable, but never arrogant, when awarding both reward and punishment (Avalon 8). Agriculture and trade, are only appropriate for the vaishya class and all acts of negligence, laziness, untruthfulness and deceit should be avoided. Finally, servants should be clean, skillful, alert and careful, they should treat their master with the uttermost respect as the servant should be aspiring for happiness in this world and their next incarnation.

In the ninth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva explains the ten kinds of Purificatory Rites, or sangskaras to Parvati. He tells her that each caste has their own specific rites that need to be performed to purify the body. These ten ceremonies deal with the events of conception, pregnancy, birth of the child, naming of the child, the child’s first view of the sun, its first eating of rice, tonsure, investiture and marriage (Avalon 10). Following the introduction of the events for the ceremonies, Siva recites all the sangskara mantras to Parvati. After listening to the mantras, she inquires about the rites dealing with funerals, Vriddhi Shraddha and Purnabhisheka, thus beginning the tenth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva informs Parvati of the importance of offering Pinda, a cooked ball of flour, butter and seeds, along with repeating the mantras to please the ancestors. The Vriddhi Shraddha is the ritual performed during special occasions to get the blessings of the ancestors, and the Purnabhisheka is the rite of initiation (Avalon 11). Siva presents the funeral rites and mantras to Parvati, explaining the period of uncleanliness dependent on the caste system. Brahmanas are unclean for ten days, Kshatriyas twelve days, Vaishyas a fortnight, Shudras and Samanyas are unclean for an entire month (Avalon 11).

In chapter eleven Siva introduces the expiatory rites, and explains to Parvati the types of sins and their accompanying punishments. Siva tells her that there are two types of sin, both which lead to pain, sorrow and disease. The first sin is one that leads to injury of one’s own self, and the second being one which leads to injury of others. Siva informs Parvati that men who sin and who are not purified by the form of punishment or expiation will be doomed to hell, and will not be incarnated into the next world (Avalon 12). In this chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva recites no mantras to Parvati, alternately he explains each sinful act one could perform and the accompanying punishment for each caste. The twelfth chapter entitled “An Account of the Eternal Immutable Dharmma” is the outline for the regulations which deal with property, inheritance and wealth. Siva explains to Parvati of the inheritance hierarchy, and how it is to be distributed among the living members of the family or the spouse’s family. Siva tells her of the rules in agriculture, mercantile transactions and other monetary dealings so that they may be deemed Dharmmic (Avalon 13). At the close of the chapter, to enforce the greater purpose of the accounts of Dharmma, Siva claims “The Lord protects this universe… Therefore should one act for the good of the world” (Avalon 13).

In the final two chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva reveals the installation and worship of the Devata and Shiva-linga. Siva tells Parvati that all beings have qualities of the goddess Kali, and to worship Kali one must form images in adherence to her. Siva says that there are two types of men, those who act with a view to the fruits of action, and those who act without a view to the fruits of action and the latter will attain final liberation (Avalon 14). He recites the mantras of this chapter to Parvati, dealing with the worship and meditation of Vastu and Dhyana. Siva concludes the thirteenth chapter by telling Parvati that by worshipping the gods with immense devotion and act, without a view of reward, will be released from rebirth (Avalon 14). In the final chapter, Parvati asks Siva to tell her of the distinct features of the four classes of Avadhutas. There are two kinds of Shaivavadhutas and Brahmavadhutas, either purna or apruna, meaning perfect and imperfect, respectively. The first three classes practice yoga, have enjoyment, and are liberated. The fourth chaste is known as the hangsa, and does not touch metal nor women (Avalon 15).

The Mahanirvana Tantra is described as noble work, probably produced in the latter half of the eighteenth century in Bengal, and belongs to the left hand school (Payne 55). Until the twentieth century, the Tantras had not been seriously studied or translated in the west, and there was little access to the religious materials in them. The Mahanirvana Tantra was translated to English by Arthur Avalon in 1913, and has since gained much more recognition in western cultures. The Mahanirvana Tantra is known as the Great Tantra because it contains all the Dharmmas, while the others deal with one subject only. The Lord Siva tells Parvati in the conclusion of the Tantra that man who knows the book, knows also the three worlds of past, present and future, and by worship of the Tantra will be liberated (Avalon 15). “What further shall I tell Thee of the greatness of the Mahanirvana Tantra? Through the knowledge of it one shall attain to Brahma-nirvana” (Avalon 15).

Bibliography

Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Avalon, Arthur (1918) Shakti and Shakta. London: Luzac & Company.

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (1987) History of the Tantric Religion. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Payne, Ernest A. (1997) The Saktas: An Introductory and Comparative Study. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Woodroffe, John (1980) Introduction to Tantra Sastra. Madras: Ganesh & Company.

Related Readings

Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Hugh B. Urban (2001) “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship, and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 69, No. 4 pp. 777-816. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pechilis, Karen (2016) “Bhakti and Tantra intertwined: the explorations of the Tamil Poetess Karaikkal Ammaiyar.” International Journal of Dharma Studies 4: 2. doi:10.1186/s40613-016-0024-x

Related Research Topics

  • The Saktas
  • Hindu God Siva
  • Hindu Goddess Parvati
  • The Tantras

Related Websites

www.hinduwebsite.com

http://hinduonline.co

http://yoniversum.nl

This article was written by: Emily Sim (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content

The Durga Puja

Durga Puja is an annual festival that celebrates the Great Goddess, better known as Durga. Although the true origin of the worship of Durga is still unknown, today’s form of the Durga Puja festival can be dated back to the 16th century, during the Mughal era (Banerjee 31). During this time, the mythical figure of Rama and his worship of Durga in the Ramayana were brought to the center of attention. The Ramayana says that Rama wanted to destroy the evil demon, Ravana, but needed aid because he was not strong enough to kill the demon on his own. By worshipping Durga, she provided him with the strength he needed to win against Ravana (Ghosha 14). This epic brought a large amount of influence to Raja Udaynarayan and he held the first Durga Puja to show his strength against the Mughals. Although many historians believe that he was not successful against the Mughals, the festival began to spread and quickly became one of the most important festivals (Banerjee 31-32). Many believe that the reason this epic had such a great influence was due to the resistance many kingdoms, on the Indian sub-continent, had against Mughal rule (Rodrigues 19). This epic also changed the time when the festival was to be held. It is said that Rama worshipped the Great Goddess during the autumn instead of the spring months, done by King Suratha (Banerjee 2). Therefore Raja Udaynarayan held the festival in autumn in the16th century causing the festival to be held in the autumn month of Asvina, during the nine-day Navaratri festival, today.

Puja, a form of devotional worship, is normally only performed for one or two days; the Durga Puja spans over a four-five day period (Banerjee 18). During this period, many complex rituals are held in the worship of Durga. The Great Goddess is not a particular goddess but is a single supreme form of divine femininity. This causes the Great Goddess to have many names; for example the most popular names used are Devi, Ma, or Sakti (Rodrigues 17). Therefore, all goddesses are worshipped during this time and every temple that houses a goddess is lively and closely attended too. Expensive home pujas are also put within each home for personal worship. Clay images (murti) and temporary shrines (pandals) are even more closely attended to and observed at this time because they are the focal points for worship (Rodrigues 10). Many pujas, forms of worship, are needed each day during this festival for ritual worship. Each day has a different assortment or food, cloth and puja items, such as flowers, iron, shells, or bark. These items are needed each day to invoke the Great Goddess her for aid among the people and the community.

This time is also known as an important to restore old items and relationships; it is an important time built on caring for others, sharing when one is in need, and keeping a strong bond with family members (Banerjee 61). Many married daughters are able to come home to their parents and spend time with their families; most women live with their husband’s family, once they are married, due to Hindu tradition (Rodrigues 28). Much time is spent worshipping the Great Goddess hoping to invoke her upon the things that not only a single person needs but also the things others and the community is in need of. One of the most important figures during these rituals is the purohita, the central role to the entirety of the pujas (Rodrigues 29). The purohita prepares and purifies water (jala suddhi), flowers (puspa suddhi), his seat (asana suddhi), and the elements (bhuta suddhi) as his preliminary duties in preparing for the rituals to come (Rodrigues 38). The purohita uses this purification ritual to create a link with the divine nature and enables the Great Goddess to manifest in the purohita; he then transfers her into different abodes (Rodrigues 277). This creates a strong bond between the Great Goddess and the people observing and worshipping her.

Another sacred ritual is that of an animal sacrifice in order to keep cosmic stability. This ritual is used as a re-enactment of the battle between Durga and Mahisa in which the cosmos was regulated by Durga once she slayed the beast (Kinsley 112). In today’s Durga Puja, blood sacrifice is disappearing and many communities are substituting fruits, such as melons, for animals. Even though melons are used, Hindus go to great lengths to change the melons, such as put vermilion paste and effigy on them, to ensure it represents a blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifice is also representative of the most important food offering to the Great Goddess. Even though true blood is not always spilt, it is meant to symbolically represent the beheading of Mahisa (Rodrigues 278).

As Durga Puja spans over four to five days during the Navaratri festival, it adds two very different central roles to the Great Goddess and why she is being worshipped at this time. This most popular depiction of Durga is that of a strong warrior, wielding many weapons and is victorious over evil. One of the most popular legends that this depiction arises from is of Durga battling the powerful buffalo-headed demon, Mahisa, to regulate the cosmos, which she comes out victorious by killing him. This depiction causes many people to associate the worship of Durga with military success and victory of good over evil. Military success is also attributed to the month of Asvina itself because it occurs at the end of the rainy season, in which the season of warfare begins. During this season of warfare, the worship of weapons, ayudha-puja, and the worship as Aparajita are conducted. The ayudha-puja takes place in the temples of Devi and is done by soldiers and military rulers, as it marks the beginning of military campaigns. Durga is also worshipped as Aparajita, she who is invincible, to invoke the power of Durga that cannot be conquered or controlled to ensure military success among the people (Rodrigues 290). Durga in all forms in representative of formidable power and how it is to be wielded; to battle adversity and conquer what is in the way of ones path to succession (Rodrigues 289).

Durga is symbolically represented in many different forms; the most important of these forms are the jar (ghata), the cluster of nine plants (navapatrika), the clay image, and the virgin girl (kumari). The jar (ghata) is the most recognizable of these forms and Devi’s embodiment in the jar resembles a pregnant woman. The jar is composed of two natural elements, the earth and the divine waters; these elements have been associated with the Great Goddess for a long period of time. This natural element within the jar and the representation of the pregnant woman symbolize Durga as the form of the mother of creation and she is giving birth to the cosmos. Other elements, such as flowers, earth, fruit, water, and fragrant paste, are placed around or on this form of Durga to be served as the beauty of nature that comes from creation (Rodrigues 262). Next, the cluster of nine plants (navapatrika) and a wood-apple tree branch, to serve as the breasts of the Great Goddess, are placed with the jar for worship within the house. Where as the wood-apple branch symbolizes Durga herself, the cluster of plants represents the different aspect of the Great Goddess and the feminine identity. These aspects incorporate different goddesses and their symbols as aspects of the Great Goddess such as the Nim tree and the Tulasi plant that serve as an embodiment of goddesses (Rodrigues 264).

The most striking and influential of these forms is the clay image. The clay image is the Great Goddess as a young and beautiful goddess. She has a strong and beautiful body that showcases the femininity of her character but she also wields the weapons of the male gods with her ten arms to exemplify her unconquerable power. In the clay image is also the human form of Mahisa as Durga impales him with her spear (Rodrigues 265). A large amount of blood is also portrayed in this image and shows the importance the blood sacrifice and to re-enact the spilling of the evil blood. Ganesa and Kartikeya are also presented within the clay image as aspects of the Great Goddess. Ganesa is worshipped as the Lord of Obstacles and Kartikeya is worshipped as the divine warrior. These aspects put together are representative of Durga as a strong warrior that is a great obstacle that stands in the way of her opponents (Rodrigues 266). This clay image in very complex and represents the whole of the different aspects of Durga. The last form of Durga is served as a virgin girl. Any pure, young girl can serve as this form of Durga and is used as a vehicle for the manifestation of Durga in human form. The use of a virgin girl is also linked to the blood sacrifice and gathering of women. During this time, women of all ages, including married daughters, come together to celebrate this festival. This showcases all the stages of a woman, from a virgin girl, to a young married woman, to an older mother or grandmother. The blood sacrifice is also representative of the stages in a woman’s life as well. Whereas a young virgin girl represents youth, the blood sacrifice also represents the fertility to come into the girl’s life, as she grows older. This is represented by Durga during the virgin girl embodiment as well as she is a young beautiful girl that causes the flow of blood (Rodrigues 297).

These rituals create a bond with Durga, the divine, and the people. As Durga embodies these different forms it creates a high level of devotional worship among the devotees. The embodiment of a virgin girl creates a strong link between the Great Goddess and the people because they recognize Durga as a daughter and someone they have a strong relationship with (Banerjee 87). This festival also brings families together once again to celebrate fertility, power, and success together. The Durga Puja is one of the few festivals that adjust to the changing times and but also keeps and passes down the sacred rituals to ensure the festival remains.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Banerjee, Sudeshna (2004) Durga Puja: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Rupa and Co, Calcutta.

Ghosha, Pratapachandra (1871) Durga Puja: With Notes and Illustrations. Calcutta: Hindoo Patriot Pres.

Kinsley, David (1987) Hindu Goddesses. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

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

RELATED TOPICS FOR FUTHER INVESTIGATION

Durga

Devi

Sakti

Puja

Rama

Ramayana

Ravana

Ganesa

Kartikeya

NOTEWORTHY WESITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

http://www.durga-puja.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durga_Puja

https://www.thoughtco.com/ten-days-with-the-mother-goddess-1770197

Article written by: Kaitlynn Poworoznyk (March 2017) who is solely responsible for this content.

Dhumavati

The goddess Dhumavati is one of the ten Mahavidya goddesses, whose origin stories have been part of Hindu literature since the early medieval period (Kinsley 1997:1). Known as the widow, Dhumavati represents the last stage of the Hindu female life. She is perhaps the most feared of all the Mahavidya goddesses, known as the very opposite of the great goddess Sri or Laksmi (White 472). This formidable goddess, also commonly referred to as “The Smoky One,” is frequently depicted with dark, matted hair, sickly complexion, wearing white or soiled clothes, holding a winnowing basket, and riding a chariot with her animal companion, the crow (Kinsley 1997:182). Dhumavati is known as an inauspicious goddess in Hindu culture, due to her widowhood after consuming her husband, Siva, in a fury (White 472). Duhmavati often takes the form of smoke from which her names possibly derives and, like her form smoke, is able to drift anywhere at will; furthermore, she is attracted to smoke, such as that from burned incense (Kinsley 1997: 186). In the Phetkarini Tantra, Dhumavati is described as pale, angry, and deceitful; a goddess who arouses horror and conflict, wears dirty clothes, and rides in a cart with a crow banner (Zieler 218). The crow in Hindu culture is often seen as an inauspicious animal, a bearer of evil and bad omens. The crow is often representative of recently departed souls, and is a vehicle, vahana, of many inauspicious gods and goddesses (Zeiler 214). As well, rituals performed to the goddess often use crows, such as burning them and scattering their ashes, so that Dhumavati may render one’s enemies as ineffective, harmless, or in order to destroy them (Zieler 224). Dhumavati herself is occasionally said to resemble a crow. In Hindu culture, it is prescribed that widows are to dress without elaborate adornments or colours; therefore, Hindu widows typically wear white saris with no jewelry or other ornamentation, such as how Dhumavati is commonly pictured (Rodrigues 128). Widowhood in Hindu culture is considered the most inauspicious state a woman can be in, and widows are typically banned from celebrations, especially weddings, as they are considered bad omens (Mukherjee 37).

Dhumavati is typically considered the seventh goddess incarnation out of the ten Mahavidya goddesses (Kinsley 1997: 9). The origin myths of these Tantric goddesses sets forth that all ten goddesses originate from one goddess, most often Sati. Although they represent separate goddesses, the ten goddesses are often considered to be one, as opposed to ten separate beings, and they are often shown in a group in temple paintings (Kinsley 1997:15). The origin myths differ, however, with the original goddess being either Sati, Parvati, Kali, Durga, or Sataksi, although most myths depict the goddess as Siva’s partner (Kinsley 1997: 22). The most common Mahavidya origin story depicts Sati and Siva, in which Sati’s father decides to host a sacrifice, but declines to extend an invitation to Sati and Siva. Sati declares to Siva that she will attend regardless, to which Siva protests and forbids her to attend. This causes great fury in Sati, who proceeds to transform into the ten different forms of the Mahavidyas. Sati attends the sacrifice, eventually burning herself on her father’s sacrificial fire (Kinsley 1986: 162). The nine Mahavidya goddesses other than Dhumavati are Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuvanesvari, Bagala, Kamala, Matangi, Sodasi, and Bhairavi (Kinsley 1986: 162). Some Mahavidya goddesses are well known and are worshiped outside of their existence within the group of Mahavidyas, such as Kali and Tara, however others are not well known outside of the Mahavidya story, as is the case with Dhumavati (Kinsley 1986: 161). Unlike Visnu’s ten different incarnations, the Mahavidyas do not seem concerned with upholding dharma, the cosmic order of the universe. Many of the Mahavidyas are depicted as being frightening, such as Kali, Tara, and Dhumavati, and the goddesses as a whole are commonly interpreted as being either sister goddesses, different elements or stages of a female Hindu life, or different stages of creation and destruction (Kinsley 1997: 40-41). The Mahavidyas are most commonly associated with tantra and tantric worship, although they are also worshiped in Hindu temples. Dhumavati, however, is not particularly well known and there are not many temples dedicated solely to the goddess. Each Mahavidya goddess has a unique mantra dedicated to each individual goddess, which is spoken during worship to invoke the goddess (Kinsley 1997: 63).

Dhumavati is best known in Hindu culture for her ferocious nature, ugly appearance, and her widowhood. Other characteristics of Dhumavati include her association with poverty and need, hunger and thirst, bad luck, and a poor temper. Unlike some of the other Mahavidya goddesses, such as Kali and Laksmi, there is little known about Dhumavati except for what is written about her in the Mahavidya text. She is often associated with, or said to be, the same goddess as Nirrti, Jyestha, and Alaksmi, all goddesses associated with inauspiciousness, misfortune, and sorrow (Kinsley 1997: 176-181). All three goddesses are similar in character to Dhumavati, although Jyestha is most similar in appearance, including having sagging breasts and a banner depicting a crow. As well, Jyestha’s name means “elder,” and Dhumavati is most often depicted as an elderly woman (Kinsley 1997: 178-179). Alaksmi, sister of the goddess Sri, also possesses a crow banner, and is characterized in similar ways to Dhumavati, such as her poverty, hunger, and thirst. Nirrti is similar to Dhumavati because she is associated with destruction and misfortune.

Aside from the Mahavidya origin myths, Dhumavati has her own origin myth. One such myth gives a possible origin for the name she is commonly referred to, The Smoky One. In the myth, Dhumavati was created out of the smoke of Sati’s burning body after Sati immolated herself on her father’s funeral pyre; therefore, Dhumavati is a form of Sati in smoke (Kinsley 1997: 181). In the second origin myth, Sati asks Siva, her spouse, for something to eat. When he declines to feed her, she eats Siva instead, who curses her, sentencing her to assume Dhumavati’s form. As well, by consuming Siva, Sati has made herself into a widow (Kinsley 1997: 181-182). Dhumavati is said to dwell in inauspicious places, such as the homes of widows, in cremation grounds, and deserts. Dhumavati is said to instill in her followers a distaste for the world and for material or worldly desires, similar to those in the renouncer stage of life, free from the social obligations and responsibilities of society. Therefore, Dhumavati is not a suitable goddess for married couples to worship, as it is said she creates a desire for being alone in her devotees. There is also a distinct prominence placed on describing the features of Dhumavati’s appearance in the Mahavidya story, specifically that she is exceedingly unattractive, described as being old and wrinkled, having sagging breasts, and missing teeth among other attributes. Despite her fearsome appearance, some suggest that she is gentle on the inside, as she will grant devotees any wish (Kinsley 1997: 183). As well, some scholars believe that Dhumavati’s perpetual hunger and thirst is a representation of unsatisfied desires (Kinsley 1997: 182).

Most Hindus, especially married couples, are advised not to worship Dhumavati. Nevertheless, many married couples worship her in hopes of attaining blessings from the goddess, such as male offspring. The gift of Dhumavati bestowing children onto devotees is implied in her hundred-name hymn (Kinsley 1997: 187). Dhumavati has very few temples dedicated to her in India. There is one located in Varanasi, in which she receives offerings such as flowers, fruit, liquor, meat, and cigarettes, as well as occasional blood sacrifices (Kinsley 1997: 186). Dhumavati is often said to be fond of blood, to crush bones in her mouth, and to wear a garland of skulls (Kinsley 1997: 180). Any offerings made to Dhumavati must be offered in a very smoky fire, as she is represented in the form of smoke, which is indicative of destruction. In the Varanasi temple, Dhumavati is seen as a village deity who looks after those in the area, contradictory to the very fearsome and furious character usually attributed to her (Kinsley 1997: 187). It is also said that she grants siddhis, or special powers, to those who do worship her (Kinsley 1997: 183). Dhumavati is often said to rule during four months prior to sukla ekadasi, the eleventh lunar day, of the month Kartik, which is the month Visnu wakes up from a four month nap (Kinsley 1997: 180). This time is known as being particularly inauspicious to Hindus, and events and celebrations, such as weddings, are typically not held.

There are a few recent depictions of Dhumavati outside of her typical form of an ugly, elderly widow. In a recent painting by Molaram done in the eighteenth century, Dhumavati is depicted typically, but with elaborate ornamentation and a colourful sari. Moreover, as opposed to the usual depiction of long, pendulous breasts, and an elderly and withered face, hers are round and high, with her face appearing youthful and unlined (Kinsley 1997: 188). Another eighteenth century painting of Dhumavati from Nepal depicts her as naked with long, braided, and light coloured hair, wearing pearls and hair decoration, and standing on a peacock, which is unusual for typical descriptions and depictions of Dhumavati (Kinsley 1997: 189). The third unusual painting was done in the early twentieth century by artist Batuk Ramprasad, in which she is once again dressed elaborately with intricate adornments. These three paintings may represent the notion that young widows in Hindu culture are dangerous to society, in that the young women are still sexually attractive to men and able to produce children, therefore potentially tempting to Hindu men.

References and Related Readings

Benard, Elisabeth A (2000) Chinnamasta: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

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

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

Mukherjee, Tutun (2008) “Deepa Mehta’s Film Water: The Power of the Dialectical Image.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies Vol. 17: 35-47.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

White, David G (2001) Tantra: In Practice. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Zeiler, Xenia (2013) “Dark Shades of Power: The Crow in Hindu and Tantric Religious Traditions.” Religions of South Asia 7:212-229. doi: 10.1558/rosa.v7i1-3.212

Related Research Topics

Mahavidyas

Widowhood in Hindu culture

Animal vehicles (vahana)

Kali

Tara

Chinnamasta

Bhuvanesvari

Bagala

Kamala

Matangi

Sodasi

Bhairavi

Siva

Related Websites

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhumavati

https://bairaveebalasubramaniam.com/2014/08/22/dhum-dhum-dhumavati-the-mahavidya-wisdom-goddess-of-detachment-smoke-and-the-eternal-void/

http://www.drikpanchang.com/vedic-mantra/goddesses/parvati/mahavidya/dhumavati/goddess-dhumavati-mantras.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavidya

http://isireddy.blogspot.ca/2013/08/dhumavati-dhoomavati-temples-in-india.html

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

Bagalamukhi

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).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

Sati

Kali

Siva

Sakta Pithas

Tara

Chinnasmasta

Dhumavati

Kamala

Visnu

Sodasi

Bhunvanesvari

Madan

Parvati

Rddhis

Sankhyayana-tantra

Brahmastra

Siddhi

Sava Sadhana

Puja Swami

Indian Independent movement

Noteworthy Website Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagalamukhi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagalamukhi#Other_Bagulamukhi_temples_in_India

https://baglamukhitantra.wordpress.com/tag/astakshari-mantra/

https://www.mahavidya.ca

http://www.vedicrishi.in/mantra/index/act/bagala-mantra

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

Vajrayana

Shaktism

Blood Sacrifice

Durga

Mahadevi

Parvati

Tantra

Mahavidya

Kali

Tripura Sundari

Bhuvaneshvari

Bhairavi

Chinnamasta

Dhumavati

Bagalamukhi

Matangi

Kamala

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6DqHd5wveE

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tara_(Devi)

https://www.templepurohit.com/hindu-goddesses-and-deities/tara-devi/

http://www.kheper.net/topics/Tantra/Mahavidyas.html

https://utopiaordystopia.com/tag/tara-devi-hindu-goddess-of-hunger/

http://www.drikpanchang.com/hindu-goddesses/parvati/mahavidya/tara/goddess-tara.html

https://journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/goddess-tara/

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

Bagalamukhi

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.

 


 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 

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

Kamakhya

The Mahavidyas

Tantric

Tara

Kali

Chinnamasta

Madan

Pujdpaddhati

Sava Sadhana

Bagalamukhi-Pitambara temple

Sadhana

Devi

Blood sacrifice

Visnu

Vital breath

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://sivasakti.com/tantra/dasa-maha-vidya/bagalamukhi/

 

http://www.vedicrishi.in/mantra/index/act/bagala-mantra

 

https://vedanta.org/2010/monthly-readings/the-mahavidyas-the-powers-of-consciousness-conceptualized-part-2/

 

http://www.shreemaa.org/story-of-origindas-mahavidyas/

 

http://shop.astromerits.com/Baglamukhi-Puja-Goddess-Bagalamukhi-Pooja.htm

 

 

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