Category Archives: d. Saktism

The Navadurga of Bhaktapur

The Navadurga Tradition of Bhaktapur, Nepal: An Ethnographic Account

 

Abstract

The following paper is an ethnographic report that describes the Navadurga tradition of Bhaktapur, Nepal. All data collected was generated through qualitative research means relying mainly on the use of observations and interviews with the tradition’s practitioners and followers. I collected all the data used for the composition of this paper over the summer of 2014 in the months of June, July, and August. This paper will first provide a brief introduction to the geographical area of the study and the tradition itself. The paper will then proceed with a section discussing the collection of the information followed by a historical account of the tradition and finally the tradition as it is practiced today by discussing the tradition’s membership, activities, operations, and relations.

 Introduction

Nepal is a land locked county in South Asia bordered by India and China (specifically the region of Tibet). Nepal is a country rich in culture, language, landscape, history, and religion. Not only is Nepal home to the Himalayas and Mount Everest, but it is also the birthplace of the Buddha, and one of the only countries in South Asia (including Southeast Asia) to remain autonomous and free from colonial rule. Like India, Nepal’s most practiced religion is Hinduism, a complex religion that encompasses thousands of deities, thousands of ritual practices, and even competing and sometimes contradictory beliefs. The Navadurga tradition of Bhaktapur, Nepal is an excellent example of a Hindu tradition that is contradictory in some of its practices from that of mainstream Hinduism.

The Kathmandu Valley of Nepal is made up of three major cities, Kathmandu (the nation’s capital), Patan, and Bhaktapur. Kathmandu and Patan have both experienced rapid modernization and development that has caused the cities to loose some of their traditional customs, culture, architecture, and beliefs. Lying on the outskirts of the valley, Bhaktapur has managed to preserve and retain more of its traditional customs, culture, architecture, and beliefs than the other cities have. Bhaktapur’s population is mainly comprised of Newars, an ethnic group that accounts for less than ten percent of the country’s population, and is indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley and the areas surrounding it. A tradition important to the Newar community of the greater Kathmandu Valley, and specifically the citizens of Bhaktapur, is the Navadurga tradition.

Image of Durga above the entrance to the temple with flowers and feathers from the sacrificed chicken at Gathemangal ceremon
Image of Durga above the entrance to the temple with flowers and feathers from the sacrificed chicken at Gathemangal ceremon

The Navadurga is translated as the nine Durgas, referring to nine different forms of the great goddess Durga. To most of the Indian subcontinent Durga is the divine mother, presider over the seasons of life, death, and birth, the liberator of the oppressed and marginalized, and warrior.[1] She is often depicted with eight to eighteen arms, each of which yields a different weapon. Most Hindu deities wield specific items that allow for them to be easily identified. Durga, however, holds the weapons of other deities, including Śiva’s trident and Visnu’s discus, reinforcing her characteristics as a warrior and liberator. Durga’s power is representative of the feminine principle of the cosmos known as Shakti.[2] The goddess Durga is said to have as many forms as there are beings on the planet. Her many forms come in a variety of dispositions and include many female deities from the Hindu pantheon. Such goddesses include Laksmi the goddess of prosperity; Saraswatī the goddess of creativity; Lalita the goddess of light; Vajrayoginī the goddess of power; and Kālī the goddess of transformation and death.[3] Durga is not mentioned in the Vedic scriptures, Hinduism’s earliest literature. The Vedas speak of the goddesses Vac and Ratri, but neither of these goddesses is associated with battle or blood sacrifices, both of which are important aspects of Durga today.[4] Although the Vedas do not portray the wrathful manifestations of Durga some aspects of the Great Goddess are portrayed. The goddess Vac is believed to be an early representation of the goddess Saraswatī, who as previously mentioned is one representation of the Great Goddess. Durga is specifically mentioned in the Puranic literature, which emerged after the Vedas. The Puranas attempted to assume status as the fifth Veda, however it was unsuccessful and is now considered secondary Hindu literature.[5] The Devī Mahatmya arises out of the Markandeya Purana and provides a narrative of Durga’s victory of the buffalo demon Mahishasura. The Devī Mahatmya is the most integral piece of literature on the goddess Durga. Although Durga was not mentioned in the Vedas she has become an important Hindu figure across the Indian subcontinent.

The most widely celebrated festival in Banaras, Indias is for the goddess Durga is Navarātra (Nine Nights)[6] this festival is celebrated over nine nights, each night marked by a journey to one of the nine different Durga temples. More than fifty thousand Hindus participate in the festival each year.[7] The traditions of Bhaktapur differ significantly than the traditions in Banāras. A major distinction is that the festival for the Navadurga lasts for several months rather than nine nights. Another distinction is the use of iconography; in Banāras full images are created and displayed for worship, whereas the tradition in Bhaktapur uses masks that are worshipped when they are stationary and on display, in addition to when they are worn and move around. The use of masks in Durga traditions is a unique practice to Bhaktapur. Mask use, however, is not a unique practice. The Balinese employ the use of masks in various traditions and rituals, specifically when portraying the Ramāyana, a great Hindu epic.[8] The masks used by the Balinese are sacred heirlooms that are treated as gods; when they are not in use they are placed inside the temple next to the main images of the deities to be worshiped and given daily offerings.[9] There are several parallels between the mask use in Bali and Bhaktapur, mainly the reverence and homage paid to them and their ceremonial use. Differences between the use of masks is that the Balinese masks are heirlooms passed down to the next generation whereas the tradition in Bhaktapur begins each year by constructing new masks and ends by cremating them. Bhaktapur’s use of masks is a unique practice within Hinduism and is deeply established within Bhaktapur’s community.

Mahakali leaving the Navadurga temple on Sirja
Mahakali leaving the Navadurga temple on Sirja

Having introduced the region, topic of this study, and provided a brief contextual account of similar traditions this paper will now begin to present a full account of the Navadurga tradition of Bhaktapur. It begins by explaining the methods used in the research to generate the information for this paper. This is followed by a historical account of the tradition’s origins, and then outlines the tradition as it is practiced today. Specific aspects of the tradition to be discussed include its membership, operations, activities, and relations.

Information Collection

The information gathered for this paper was mainly collected directly from Bhaktapur, Nepal over a three-month period (June, July, and August) in the summer of 2014. Visits were made to Bhaktapur on a weekly, or biweekly basis to conduct interviews or observe various aspects of the religion such as rituals or ceremonies, preparation for such activities, or the daily actions of the members of the Navadurga community. The following section will discuss and reflect on the methods utilized to gather the information in addition to my personal experiences in conducting the research.

Prior to arriving in Nepal preliminary research was conducted to familiarize myself with Durga, the Navadurga, the use of masks in Hinduism, and Bhaktapur. This was beneficial in building an initial base of knowledge that became useful when talking with members of the Navadurga community, observing the various activities, and conducting interviews. The research in the field would have benefitted had I done more preliminary research on a wider range of topics. This will be discussed at more length in the end of this section. Once in Nepal research was done directly with the locals through interviews and observations.

Interviews serve as the main source of information for this study. A total of twenty-two (22) individuals were interviewed. Of the twenty-two individuals interviewed seventeen belong to the Navadurga community and the remaining five are citizens of Bhaktapur. The five informants outside of the Navadurga community consisted of a one local historian, two tourist guides, and two individuals who pay homage to the Navadurga at their various festivals and ceremonies. The seventeen interviewed from within the Navadurga community consist of performers (both dancers and musicians), priests, community leaders known as Nayas, and various other individuals who participate in the tradition through some other capacity. All but two of the individuals have asked to remain anonymous. Of the twenty-two individuals interviewed only eight individuals will be frequently cited. That is because these eight individuals were able to give additional insight into the topic that the other individuals were either not able to share due to a lack of knowledge or because they were not comfortable sharing. Included in the eight individuals who will be frequently cited are the two individuals who did not ask to remain anonymous, leaving six individuals who will be provided with pseudonyms. Table 1 presents information regarding the individuals’ experiences and base of knowledge of those who have been assigned pseudonyms. Information that was widely agreed upon will not be cited in this paper.

Pseudonym Gender Age Range Extra Information
Bibek Banmala Male 25-35 Naya in training, learning from his father and the other Nayas
Yogendra Banmala Male 50-70 A senior Naya
Dipesh Banmala Male 25-35 A young Naya
Roshan Banmala* Male 20-25 Performed as Duma when a child, comes from a family line of temple priests
Rabindra Banmala Male 20-25 A performer
Keshab Banmala Male 35-50 Priest and performer

* note: Roshan was also a translator

Interviews were conducted with the use of a translator and were recorded using an audio recorder. The interviews were initially based of a basic questionnaire and then evolved along with the conversations as they progressed. Interviews were conducted with either one individual or in groups of two or three. Due to the nature of the topic being studied individuals were hesitant to answer some of the questions or felt as though they were not educated enough to answer properly. Those interviewed were very concerned that they might misrepresent something or share the wrong information, making conducting the interviews very difficult. In fact, a month into my research I found that the information I was collecting from the individuals not to be consistent. After some time I had realized that when I asked certain questions that pertained to information that the Navadurga community regards as sacred and secret they would fabricate their answers. This was a reoccurring theme in many of the interviews, so much so that I decided to start my research again having modified how I approach certain questions and the interviews in general. For this reason you will notice that there are rarely any citations from interviews held in June, except for the interviews held with the two individuals familiar with the interview process; these individuals are Dr. Purushottam Lochan Shrestha (a historian) and Kedar Raj Upadhyay.

One adjustment made to the way interviews were conducted was a change in the translator I used. Originally I had hired a translator recommended to me from a colleague that was not familiar with Navadurga. I believe this had a detrimental effect on the work I was doing, as the translator knew less about the tradition than I had. Following the restart of the interviewing process I was introduced to a young individual named Roshan [pseud.], a son of one the Navadurga temple’s priests. Roshan had recently graduated from with bachelors of tourism, was proficient in English and was very knowledgeable on the Navadurga tradition. He was also eager to secure experience working with tourists (although I consistently claimed not to be a tourist). Hiring Roshan had a very positive impact on my research by opening new doors and creating a more comfortable and familiar environment for the interviewing process; all of the members of the Navadurga community either knew him or were related to him. Not only was Roshan excellent as a translator, but he also proved to be a very valuable informant himself. The more time I spent with Roshan the more inclusive the community became of me and the more I was able to learn.

 

Observing the community in action and witnessing specific events provided an excellent source for gaining new information as well as to confirm information received from informants. During my time there this summer I was able to observe the rituals and ceremonies of Sirja, Gathemangal, and Ganesh Chaturthi. I was also able to witness the preparations being made for Dashain and the daily puja performed at the temple, except for the puja done in the sacred room that I was not permitted to enter. I was also able to capture images from all of the events I attended, some of which will be shared in Appendix A.

 

Reflecting back on my experiences collecting information and researching in Bhaktapur I can think of modifications that would have benefitted the information collection process. First and foremost this research would have benefitted from more additional preliminary research. Having only taken one university course on Hinduism the knowledge I poses is basic at best. Had I been more familiar with topics such as Tantra, gender roles, puja, and Hinduism in general I would have been better able to pick up on certain aspects that I had otherwise missed. The most beneficial alteration made to my approach was using someone like Roshan, someone knowledgeable about the Navadurga, as my translator. While I was conducting research in Nepal I was also working an internship with a local environmental non-governmental organization. It was because of this position I was only able to visit Bhaktapur on a weekly or biweekly basis. Spending time with Roshan made connections grow faster and provided new opportunities that helped make the most out of the time I was able to spend in Bhaktapur. If I were to repeat a similar situation in the future I would hope to find an individual as resourceful as Roshan.

 

The largest hindrance to my research was certainly the internship. I lived and worked in Patan and had to take the local bus out to Bhaktapur, travel time would amount to somewhere between three to four hours each day I travelled. The next time I conduct field research I will certainly ensure that it is my only project and that I immerse myself in the environment of my study. I missed many opportunities because of my internship, whether having to miss an event for work or having to schedule interviews. Although a common practice in the West, setting up meeting times is not a frequent practice of the citizens of Bhaktapur. Often I would meet an individual and have a brief conversation with them to find out that they would make an excellent informant, however, I would be on my way somewhere so I would have to set a time to come back and talk with them. More often than not, the potential informants would not show up to the meeting place, or they would come along at a leisurely pace while I waited for the afternoon. Had I lived in Bhaktapur and was able to focus solely on this research I know it would have had yielded significant benefits.

 

The Origin of the Navadurga

Few people in Bhaktapur know the story of the origin of the Navadurga tradition. Having spoken with the locals many are familiar with the Navadurga, their processions through the streets of Bhaktapur, and their use of masks and dance. However, not many are acquainted with the story behind the tradition; except for the Navadurga community and citizens who have sought education on the topic. Robert I. Levy is the leading scholar on the city of Bhaktapur and provides an account of the origin story in his book Mesocosm. This section of the paper will present the story as told by Levy followed by key differences and distinctions made by informants from Bhaktapur. The following is a summary of the origin story as presented by Levy[10]:

 

The Navadurga inhabited the forest Jwala, which was located Northeast of Bhaktapur. As people passed by, the Navadurga would capture them, kill them, and then drink their blood as a sacrifice to themselves. One day the Navadurga captured a man by the name of Sunanda, who was a Ācāju (a priest of farmer origin).[11] Unlike most Ācāju, Sunanda was an expert in Tantric knowledge and mantras (a sacred utterance) and was able to bind the Navadurga, restricting their movement with the use of a mantra. Embarrassed, the Navadurga pleaded to Sunanda to forgive them, and in exchange they would not sacrifice him. Rather than releasing them, Sunanda shrunk them, placed them in his basket and brought them back to his home in Bhaktapur where they were placed in a chest and received periodical worship.

Time passed, the amount is unknown, until one-day Sunanda’s guru, Somarā Rājopādhyāya (a Brahmin) came for a visit. Somarā Rājopādhyāya had a deep and intricate understanding of Tantra and had conveyed to Sunanda that he had not been worshiping the Navadurga properly. Therefore, Somarā Rājopādhyāya took the chest containing the Nine Durgās back to his own house in the Palisāche neighborhood, where he hid them. Somarā Rājopādhyāya worshiped the Navadurga in secrecy using Tantric bidyā (secret arts) and made sacrifices to them. The Navadurga were forced to dance and tell stories using the movements of their hands. Sometime prior, the Navadurga had informed Sunanda and Somarā that should anyone else see them they would be released from the spell. This made Somarā Rājopādhyāya act very surreptitiously; he told his wife to never look into the room where the Navadurga were kept locked up. One day Somarā Rājopādhyāya had left the house and his wife peeked into the room and saw the Navadurgas dancing. The stories differ in what happened to Somarā’s wife; some say that the Navadurga killed her as a sacrificial offering, others say that she was simply severely scolded by her husband. Regardless, the Navadurga, now released from their Tantric binds, escaped from the Brahmin’s home.

 Upon their escape, the band of deities captured, sacrificed, and ate a pig at the place known as “Bha: Dwākhā.” Upon his arrival home, Somarā Rājopādhyāya was informed that the Navadurga have escaped. He immediately began pursuing them and with the beating of a small drum and the use of mantras he was able to freeze the Navadurga in their flight in the upper part of the city known as “Swaga Lwaha.” Somarā pleaded with the Navadurga to return to his house. However, this was not possible since the Navadurga had consumed a pig, making them ritually impure and thus impossible for them to reenter the Brahmin’s home. Since the Navadurga could not return to the Brahmin’s house they made the suggestion that a pyākha (dance drama) be arranged where the Navadurga would enter into the performers, allowing for the whole city to be able to see and worship them. Somarā established a god-house for the Navadurga and commissioned to the Gāthā community the authority and responsibility of performing each year as the Navadurga.

An alternative ending to the story is given where Somarā Rājopādhyāya instructed one of his students, an Ācāju to capture the Navadurga in a spell. After some difficulty the student was able to capture them, he then placed them into a god-house in the district of the city where the Gāthā reside. At the request of Somarā the Gāthā cared for the Navadurga and learned their dances. Somarā taught both the Ācāju and the Gāthā all the necessary Tantric procedures they would need. And thus, still following Somarā’s instructions, the Ācāju and the Gāthā still perform their duties for the Navadurga today.

 The origin story as told by Levy provides a very thorough overview; only a few distinctions need to be made. The alternate ending to the story is reflective of the Navadurga community’s (Gāthā) perspective, whereas the first ending is reflective of the Brahmin’s perspective, minus a point or two. An informant of mine, Kedar Raj Upadhyay, claims to be the descendent of Somarā, the Brahmin priest from the story. Kedar makes the key distinction that the reason the Brahmin had to pass on the tradition, that is the responsibility and the authority of the Navadurga practices, to the Gāthā, a low ranking caste, was a form of punishment for breaking the oath of secrecy.[12] Another key distinction made is that Somarā had two wives, one Brahmin wife and another low caste wife, and some believe that it was because the lower caste wife saw the Navadurga that the tantric bond was broken releasing the deities.[13] As mentioned previously, the alternate ending provides the account believed by the Navadurga community (also known as Gāthā). The only difference in the story believed by the Gāthās is an element of predestination. The Gāthās say that while Somarā taught the Ācāju a Gāthā brought a delivery of flowers to Somarā, this Gāthā happened to have as many sons as men were needed to carry out the tradition’s practices, providing an easy solution as to who should assume the responsibilities and leadership of the tradition.[14] The Ācāju, or priest, is now called Karmacharya, a role that will be elaborated upon later in this paper.

 

Some additional points can be made about the history of the tradition that is not included within the origin story. The Navadurga tradition began in the twelfth century of the Common Era under the Malla dynasty, who reigned over Nepal for six hundred years.[15] The Malla were followers of Shakti gods (female), because they believed that the gentleness of the male deities could not protect their nation, king, and countrymen, whereas the dangerous Tantric goddesses could protect all three.[16] Bhaktapur had temples built in cardinal points throughout the city for each of the Navadurga, replicating the Navadurga yantra thereby increasing the tantric power as a means to protect the city.[17] Figure 1 presents a drawing done by Dr. Purushottam Lochan Shrestha of the layout of the Navadurga’s individual god houses with that of the Navadurga yantra. Each point on the periphery is a god-house as well as the point in the center. During the period of Malla rule over Nepal tantric practitioners knew that divinity could transfer itself into wood, stone, and

 

metal so they began running experiments to see if the divine could transfer into the human body.[18] These experiments happened in the twelfth century and were found to be very successful. It is from this point that the Navadurga tradition as it is known today began.[19] Furthermore, an interesting component of the Navadurga traditions is the use of pigs in sacrifice. Pig sacrifice is not a common practice in Hinduism, animals typically sacrificed include, sheep, goats, chickens, and buffalo. The central use of the pig in the tradition and from the origin story also began in the twelfth century. During that period the Muslim Turks established a powerful kingdom in northern India around Delhi and began to expand their control over the area. In an effort to preserve their culture and traditions the Newars of Bhaktapur adopted the use of pig sacrifice since the Muslims think poorly of pigs and avoid them.[20] The efforts made by the Newars of Bhaktapur successfully preserved the beliefs and traditions of the Malla dynasty so that they could still practiced today.

 

Sacrificed sheep head placed in the temple of Nasadyo on Ganesh Chaturthi
Sacrificed sheep head placed in the temple of Nasadyo on Ganesh Chaturthi

The Navadurga Today

The Navadurga tradition as practiced today is an intricate tradition that relies solely on the tradition’s keepers, who have been referred to as the Navadurga community throughout this paper, and from the local patrons who provide their support. The Navadurga festival is the longest festival in the area, spanning over nine months and including many specific rituals and ceremonies, and encompassing several other festivals. This section of the paper will present the tradition as it is found today, first by identifying the traditions membership, then its activities such as ceremonies, rituals, and preparations, in addition to its relations and operations.

 

Membership

The first group of membership to be elaborated upon will be that of the Navadurga themselves. The name Navadurga refers to the nine Durgas who are Mahālaksmī ,Mahākālī, Kumārī, Vārāhī, Brāhmanī, Bhadrakālī (also known as Vaisnavī), Indrānī, Maheśvarī, and Tripurasundarī. Each of these goddesses has a dyo-chen (god house) located in a specific area in the city of Bhaktapur that together form the shape of the Navadurga yantra (figure 1). Of these goddesses Mahālaksmī is the paramount deity; she draws power from Taleju and gives it to the Navadurga. Mahālaksmī does not have a mask; instead she is represented as a silver repoussé that is carried in the lead of the Navadurga processions to showcase her superior position. The Navadurga tradition involves an additional six deities who are Bhairav, Sweto Bhairav, Śiva, Ganesh, Sima and Duma. Bhairav is the leader of the Navadurga and assumes that role in the performances. Sima (tigeress) and Duma (lioness) are the protectors of the Navadurga and accompany them everywhere. All of the deities aforementioned are represented in the Navadurga tradition in some fashion. There are thirteen masks who represent all but Mahālaksmī and Tripurasundarī. As mentioned previously Mahālaksmī is represented in a silver repoussé that is carried in front of the processions. Tripurasundarī’s representation is disagreed upon. Some informants say that Tripurasundarī is represented in the three musical instruments played, while others insist that she is represented by the Kolachen (human skull cap used a cup).

Kumari during Sirja
Kumari during Sirja

 

As mentioned earlier there is a specific community who acts as the sole authority and keeper of the Navadurga tradition. This community prefers to be called Banmala. Other names used for them include Gāthā, as used by Levy, and Gunkā. These names provided are the surnames used by the community. While a majority of them identify themselves as Banmala, you may also find some of the other variations, dependent upon how the individual’s forefathers decided to identify themselves.[21] The Banmala are a low caste group that traditionally farmed and sold flowers to the greater community. Today some still occupy this traditional role, however others have began to farm other crops such as rice and barley. The Banmalas are the tradition’s keepers; they alone fulfill the requirements of the tradition as well as occupy an overwhelming majority of the positions in the tradition. Other individuals or communities assist and will be elaborated upon shortly. The Banmalas provide all of the performers, known as Gana, for the tradition. The Gana includes twelve dancers and three musicians. In addition to the Gana, the Banmala also occupy the roles of temple priests (additional priests from other communities come to perform specific rituals), temple caretaker (known as the Nakin, also to be elaborated upon shortly), the tradition’s leaders (the Naya), as well all other roles needed to upkeep the tradition. The roles of Gana, Naya, and Nakin are restricted to Banmalas only. Should a Banmala marry someone from outside of their community both they and their offspring will not be allowed to assume a position within the Navadurga tradition.[22] As previously mentioned there are other groups or individuals from outside of the Banmala who assist in the tradition. Table 2 presents the various other groups or individuals who assist along with their respective role. These groups either assist as a whole or there is a specific individual from the group that is responsible for completing the tasks (those who are individuals are marked with an asterisk). Some of the groups fill very minor roles, specifically the Shakya, who interestingly enough are the highest caste in the Newar community but assume the least important role within the tradition. This is an interesting contradiction to mainstream Hinduism. The Shakyas are the highest caste in the Newar community, however, they assume a very minor role in the city’s dominant tradition. All of these roles listed in Table 2, regardless of how small they may seem, are important aspects of the tradition.

 

Name

Role
Chitraker* Artisan who creates the masks each year. This role is passed down from generation to generation
Prajapati The clay workers who provide the clay for the masks
Karmacharya* Sacred priest of the Navadurga who performs specific rituals. Such rituals include the puja at Ganesh Chaturthi and Dashain
Chaturthi * Also performs rituals and puja, such as the cremation of the masks
Ranjitkar Colour the sacred thread
Manndhar Musicians who perform at some events. Different from the musician members of the Gana
Joshi Newar priests who perform special puja
Sahi Kill the buffalo during Dashain
Shakya Repair damaged jewelry

* Note: the names marked refer to a specific individual from their respective community.

The involvement of the Banmala in the tradition can be broken down into four positions or roles. There are the Gana (fifteen individuals), the Naya (eight individuals), the Nakin (one individual), and periodical roles of assistance (number of individuals varies dependent upon the event). The periodic roles are filled according to availability and vary in their responsibilities. These positions are not dictated in the same fashion as the other roles of the Naya, Nakin, and the Gana. The Gana is made up of twelve dancers and three musicians. The musicians are responsible for playing the traditional instruments known as the khin (a large drum played on both sides), ta (small cymbals), and kya (large cymbals). The remaining twelve

The khin, ta, and kya (in order from left to right)
The khin, ta, and kya (in order from left to right)

members of the Gana are performers who dance and wear the masks throughout the festival. These twelve members wear the masks of Bhairav, Mahākālī, Vārāhī, Kumārī, Bhadrakālī, Brāhminī, Indrānī, Sweto Bhairav, Maheśvarī, Ganesh, Sima and Duma. Young Banmalas between the ages of five to twelve wear the masks of Sima and Duma.[23] The Gana occupy their roles on a yearly basis, although they may be chosen to perform back to back in either the same position or another one; the rotation cycle comes from a sacred book that will be discussed later in this section. Gana members have to follow specific rules while in their position; such rules include not sharing food from the plates of others except for from fellow Gana. They can not wear their costume or ornaments outside of the specified performance areas, they must always act in a respectful manner; they are restricted to only one meal on performance days, they must be barefoot whenever they are in their ceremonial costume, and finally they may not participate in funeral rights during performance or ritual periods.[24] When the Gana are learning their roles during the off months of the Navadurga tradition they are restricted from coming in contact with women, and must visit their respected god’s/goddess’ dyo-chen (god house) everyday to worship and pray.[25] The Gana positions are restricted to men only. The only position occupied by a woman is the role of Nakin.

The Nakin pouring water so the Gana may cleanse/purify themselves
The Nakin pouring water so the Gana may cleanse/purify themselves

The Nakin is a specific role that takes care of the Navadurga temple and performs the daily puja.[26] The daily puja is known as Nitya puja and the Nakin performs it twice a day, once after sunset and again before sunrise.[27] The Nakin position operates an annual cycle, each year a new woman will assume the position. The Nakin must live on the temple grounds and act as a guard to protect the images, keep the temple clean, perform daily puja, and take on additional responsibilities during various ceremonies and rituals. [28] Such responsibilities include purifying the Gana before performances and preparing for feasts that are held at the temple. The Nakin must be married. If she is widowed during her time as Nakin she will be replaced. The Nakin has more specific responsibilities over the course of the year than any other member of the Navadurga tradition.[29] The Nakin’s role is another contradiction to mainstream Hinduism. Women are typically not the caretakers of temples as they are not able to become as ritual pure as their male cohorts.

The Naya are the leaders of the tradition. There are eight Nayas in total who work collectively as the managers of the tradition. [30] The Naya are experts and knowledgeable about all aspects and roles of the tradition. They ensure that the temple has all of the supplies it needs to perform all of their required rituals, events, and ceremonies of the tradition as well as care for the ornaments and clothes and manage all of the performances. Such supplies include oil, food, animals for sacrifice, and all essential items for offerings.[31] The role of Naya is a family position that is passed from father to son. If a Naya does not have a son he will instruct his oldest nephew from among his own siblings.[32] It is unknown how the linage of the Nayas was chosen. Like the other positions, the role of Naya operates on an annual cycle; the number of Nayas who are active in their position changes each year.[33] Also like other positions, the Nayas selected each year is predetermined in a book that is kept secret. The Nayas are the sole caretakers of the unnamed book that provides some sort of mechanism for selecting the people who will fill the various roles of the tradition each year. The name and origin of the book are kept secret; interestingly though they are comfortable revealing its existence.

The Tradition’s Activities

The Navadurga tradition is unique in its use of masks, its mobility, and in its social roles. While wearing the masks, it is believed that the gods who are represented come to manifest themselves in the humans. This instance is an excellent example of an aspect of the Navadurga tradition that contradicts mainstream Hinduism. While wearing the masks the Banmala, a low ranking social group, becomes regarded as divine and assumes a position on the top of the social hierarchy. While wearing the masks the Banmala are believed to transcend the normal social order as well as normal human capabilities. During this time the beings are able to do things not normally done by humans, such as drinking liters of alcohol and eating hundreds of eggs.[34] While wearing the masks the Gana also drink blood from sacrificed animals. Most sacrifices to the Navadurga are pigs, however, buffalo, goat, sheep, chicken, and ducks are also sacrificed.[35] The concept of sacrifice and blood offerings can be found in the tradition’s origin story in addition to being a common practice in Durga worship. Of the Navadurga, Bhairav is the member mainly responsible for conducting the sacrifices. Some instances require Mahakālī to perform the sacrifice, and if neither Bhairav nor Mahakālī are able to perform the sacrifice than Varahi is responsible for it. This order is reflective of the order of importance of the deities and is also reflected in the order of dance performances. The Gana perform their dances in the following order: Bhairav, Mahakālī, Vārāhī, Badrakālī, Kumārī, Maheśvarī, Brāhmanī, Ganesh, Indrānī, Sima, Duma, and finally Sweto Bhairav.[36] The Navadurga tradition follows an annual cyclical pattern that begins with Gathemangal.

Dance performance during Ganesh Chaturthi
Dance performance during Ganesh Chaturthi

Gathemangal is a Newar festival that is dedicated to cleansing away demons. Constructing figures built from straw, to represent the demons, and then burning them removes the demons. The festival is marked with loud music and processions of people carrying torches through the streets to light the straw built demons at each cross-road. For the Banmalas this day marks the beginning of the new Navadurga cycle. Every year new masks are made at the beginning of the Navadurga cycle and then cremated at the end. When the masks are cremated the city of Bhaktapur believes that the Navadurga has left their city to go into the countryside to ensure that the agricultural cycle begins.[37] During this time while the Navadurga are away the city becomes occupied with demons. On Gathemangal the Prajapati provide the Banmala with the clay that is used to build the masks.[38] In turn the Banmala take this clay to the Chitraker’s home to be worshiped as Śiva and sacrifice a chicken as an offering.[39] This marks the beginning of the construction of the new masks and the return of the Navadurga to Bhaktapur, which is why the city is being cleansed from demons. The masks need to be completed by Dashain, which is less than two months away. Gathemangal happens in accordance with the lunar calendar and marks the start of a rigorous training period for the Gana.[40] During this training period the Gana have to adhere to the rules listed above under membership and must perform puja at their respective god’s house each day.[41]

Image A - The Karmacharya and one of the Naya performing a ritual before the performance during Ganesh Chaturthi
The Karmacharya and one of the Naya performing a ritual before the performance during Ganesh Chaturthi

The next annual event is Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival dedicated to Ganesh. The Navadurga have their own event that coincides with this festival. At this time the Gana make a procession from the Navadurga temple to the Nasadyo temple where the Karmacharya will perform the ritual and sacrifice a sheep. Nasadyo is a tantric god of wisdom and knowledge that is worshiped by the Gana everyday from the period of Gathemangal to Dashain so that they may be granted the knowledge necessary to perform their roles.[42] Following the sacrifice of the sheep all Gana members eat a piece of the raw flesh combined with beaten rice. The Gana who performs as Brāhmanī takes a piece of the sacrificed sheep to the Brāhmanī temple to performs a specific puja ritual. After these rites have been completed all of the Gana members return to the Navadurga temple where a feast is being prepared. The sacrificed sheep is butchered and cooked for the feast and the sheep’s hide is removed, stretched, and framed and placed in the sun to dry. The temple will use the sheep hide for some task, such as to repair a damaged drum.[43] Following the feast the Gana perform their first dance of the season. This is the only dance that the Gana perform in public that they do not use their masks for, since the masks have not yet been completed. These dances are not expected to be perfect, since it is some Gana’s very first public performance. Each performer will perform an independent dance, except for Indrānī, Sima, and Duma who all perform together. Following these dances a group number is performed in honour of Ganesh, with the Ganesh Gana in the center.[44]

The next event in the annual cycle is Dashain, the largest Durga festival. By this time the Chitraker will have completed the masks and they are placed on display on the ninth day of Dashain where the citizens of Bhaktapur come to give them offerings and puja.[45]Offerings typically consist of egg, fish, meat, wine, and set Newar food dishes (beaten rice, dal, and spicy potatoes).[46] Before the masks are displayed they are taken to the Taleju temple in the palace compound (Durbar Square) of Bhaktapur where they receive initiation rituals.[47] These rituals are unknown as the members of the Banmala would not share this information; they did however say that the masks received similar initiation rituals as Hindu people. Following their initiation the masks are then regarded as divine and set out to be worshipped by the public.[48] On the tenth day of Dashain Brāhmanī is worshiped in the morning and then a buffalo is sacrificed at the Brāhmanī temple.[49] Following the sacrifice the Navadurga make a procession towards the Taleju temple in Durbar Square. Prior to making the procession the Karmacharya hands each performer their masks, symbolic of the Karmacharya’s, or Ācāju’s, role in capturing and placing the Navadurga into the care of the Banmala.[50] The Taleju image is removed from the temple and placed at the front gate to greet the Navadurga.[51] Having greeted the Navadurga the Taleju image is then taken on procession with them throughout Bhaktapur; this is the only time that the Taleju image is removed from the temple.[52]

Following Dashain the Navadurga Gana journey around the Kathmandu Valley where they perform specific rituals in each community they pass through in addition to being commissioned by patrons to come perform private rituals.[53] The Navadurga travel to the following destinations:

Bhaktapur District: Suryamadhi, Dattatraya, Kwathandu, Gacchen, Golmadhi, Taumadhi, Barahisthan, Yacchen, Talako, Itachhen, Durbar Square, Khauma, Changu Narayan, Sanga, and Thimi.

Kathmandu District: Deupata (Pashupati Nath), Tokha, Gokarna, Hadiguan (every twelve years), and Sakhu.

Kavre District: Nala, Banepa, Dhulikhel, Panauti, and Shreekhandapur.

The Navadurga are prohibited from using vehicles. Instead they walk everywhere; they go with bare feet. It is believed that they cleanse the areas they walk through from disease, which is why they must walk everywhere.[54]

After visiting the surrounding areas and performing their rituals at each one the Navadurga season begins to come to an end. Sirja and De-chā-mukego, the last supper and last ceremony, mark the conclusion of the Navadurga season. The De-chā-mukego is the final procession of the Navadurga through Bhaktapur that ends at the Taleju temple.[55] Within the temple compound the Navadurga have their last supper (Sirja) and then return to each of their own respective god house.[56] The next day the masks are cremated at the Brāhmanī temple funeral pyres. The cremation marks the end of the annual Navadurga cycle and it is believed that the goddesses have left Bhaktapur to attend to the fields, crops, and farmers.[57] After the Navadurga have left the city compound a sacred room in the Navadurga temple is sealed off until the Navadurga return, in the next two to three months.[58] After this point the Banmala community begins to train the new Gana and prepare for the next annual cycle.

Relations Between the Locals and the Navadurga

The Navadurga of Bhaktapur are the city’s protectors from violence, disasters, disease, and illness in addition to ensuring agricultural prosperity.[59] The Navadurga dance is a symbolic representation of the struggles, responsibilities, and discipline of the society in which it is based. A common belief in Bhaktapur is that the ringing sounds of the music played by the Navadurga Gana not only give the rhythmic signals to the dancers but also removes all obstacles caused by evil beings.[60] It is for this reason that the Navadurga perform in so many communal areas throughout the Kathmandu Valley. The local people not only believe that the Navadurga remove obstacles and illness, but also that they answer wishes and provide blessings for those who worship them and give them offerings.[61] Those who give the Navadurga money receive Prasad, a gift, in the form of flowers, plants, sacred thread, or food. The sacred thread is tied around the wrist and/or the neck using a specific knot according to tantric beliefs to grant the individual purity in their life.[62] One informant’s grandmother stated that the Navadurga also assist in the digestive system. She recommended that you be careful about what and how much you eat during the months when the Navadurga have left the city. The relationship with the Navadurga and the local populations is of reciprocal nature. While the locals rely on the Navadurga for protection and as removers of obstacles and illnesses, the Navadurga rely on the locals for financial, social, and physical support. The local community donates the clothes worn by the Gana and the Gana must keep and use these clothes until new ones are donated.[63] It is believed that the clothes hold Shakti power which would be lost if the clothes were washed, therefore the clothes remain unwashed and unchanged until the community provides new ones. It is typical for the outfits to be worn for years before they are replaced.[64] While the Navadurga protects the locals they in turn are also in need of protection. Although the Navadurga are gods, they posses the bodies of humans during the Navadurga rituals and become vulnerable. On several instances the Navadurga Gana have been attacked or stolen from while wearing the masks, resulting in broken bones, lost artifacts, and offended deities.[65] The Navadurga rely on the local people and authorities to ensure that the spaces they occupy for their rituals remain safe and sacred.[66] The Navadurga tradition as operated by the Banmala relies heavily on the local community for financial support in order to maintain the traditions as it is practiced today.

Challenges Experienced

The Navadurga tradition relies heavily on its patrons for financial support. The tradition costs approximately 900,000 NRS (Nepali Rupees) per year, without accounting for inflation, which is equal to $10, 537.41 CAD (at an exchange rate of $1 CAD to 85.41 NRS).[67] While this amount seems small from a western perspective, it is a large sum for the people of Nepal. Most of the community members are labourers and a labourer’s salary may range from $80-$250 CAD per month. This total covers the maintenance of the temple, the daily necessities (such as oil for the lamps), the supplies for specific rituals, and animals for sacrifice.[68] The Navadurga make a small earning by renting a few small pieces of property either for farming or in the city to be used for small storage spaces or stores.[69] The remainder amount of the costs is collected throughout the Navadurga festivals from either privately commissioned rituals or from the crowds of people at Navadurga ceremonies and events. The members of the Navadurga tradition do not receive any monetary compensation for their roles.[70] This places a huge strain on the members of the tradition since the various roles last for a whole year when one includes training periods. Members are permitted to work when they are not training or performing. However, the type of work they can do is limited due to the demanding schedule of the tradition and the odd hours it requires. These strains cause a lot of Banmala to remove themselves from the tradition and focus on earning a living and providing for their families.[71] Modernization and westernization are challenges and obstacles faced by the Navadurga tradition. In years past the tradition had the patronage of the royal family, which secured the tradition and brought with it ample support. However, today the government of Nepal does not provide any subsidies or support for religious traditions.[72] Modernization also has effects on the individual and collective values. In past periods the sacred was closely aligned with people’s values, and the positions in the Navadurga tradition would have carried prestigious value. However, today values are beginning to be reflective of the western practice of materialism, which lures the Banmala towards jobs, and positions that do not allow for them to commit the time necessary for being an active member of the tradition.

Conclusion

This paper has presented a report of the Navadurga, a Hindu tradition from Bhaktapur, Nepal. The Navadurga employ interesting and unique practices not present in other traditions. Such practices include mobile deities, the use of masks, an integral female position, and a unique inversion of social roles. It is interesting how interdependent the Navadurga and Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley are. The Navadurga are just as much reliant on the community as the community relies on them. The Banmala have managed to preserve the ancient Navadurga practices due to their rigorous dedication. Although they face many strains I am hopeful that the tradition will remain for many more generations in to the future.

I would like to thank the University of Lethbridge for providing me with the opportunity to travel to Nepal and experience this amazing tradition. I have learned and grown from this experience in countless ways and know that this growth will benefit me in my future endeavors. I would also like to thank my Professor Dr. Hillary Rodrigues for believing in my capabilities and helping me make this all possible. Finally I owe a lot of gratitude to the Banmala for allowing me to conduct this research and for welcoming me into their community and sharing their stories with me. I will cherish the memories built throughout this experience for the rest of my life. Thank you.

End Notes

[1] Laura Amazzone, Goddess Durgā and Sacred Female Power (Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books, 2010), 3.

[2] Amazzone, Durgā and Sacred Female, 4.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] Nilima Chitgopekar, The Book of Durga (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2003), 59.

[5] Chitgopekar, Boof of Durga, 63.

[6] Hillary Rodrigues, “Divine Times: Goddess worship in Banāras,” in Studying Hinduism in Practice, ed Hillary P Rodrigues (New York: Routledge, 2011), 131.

[7] Rodrigues, Divine Times, 133.

[8] Hildred Geertz, The Life of a Balinese Temple (Honolulu: University of Hawai’I Press. 2004), 57.

[9] Geertz, Balinese, 56.

[10] Robert I. Levy, Mesocosm (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 503-505.

[11] Niels Gutschow, “The Astamātrkā and Navadurgā of Bhaktapur.” In Wild Goddesses in India and Nepal, ed. Axel Michaels, Cornelia Vogelsanger, and Annette Wilke (Berlin: Peter Lang, 1994) 194.

[12] Kedar Raj Upadhyay (Brahmin priest, descendant of Somarā), in discussion with the author, June 18, 2014.

[13] Dipesh Banmala [pseud.], in discussion with the author, July 6, 2014.

[14] Bibek Banmala [pseud.], in discussion with the author, July 16, 2014.

[15] Dr. Purushottam Lochan Shrestha (a historian), in discussion with the author, June 11, 2014.

[16] Dr. Shrestha, June 11, 2014.

[17] Information from multiple sources

[18] Dr. Shrestha, June 11, 2014.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Bibek Banmala [pseud.], July 16, 2014.

[22] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], July 29, 2014.

[23] During my time in Bhaktapur these roles were played by the youngest boys anyone could remember, they were aged five and seven.

[24] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 29, 2014.

[25] Ibid., July 29, 2014.

[26] Kedar Raj Upadhyay, July 27, 2014.

[27] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 8, 2014.

[28] Ibid., July 9, 2014.

[29] Keshab Banmala [pseud.], in discussion with the author, July 9, 2014.

[30] Yogendra Banmala [pseud.], in discussion with the author, July 15, 2014.

[31] Yogendra Banmala [pseud.], July 15, 2014.

[32] Yogendra Banmala, July 15, 2014.

[33] Dipesh Banmala [pseud.], July 6, 2014.

[34] Dr. Shrestha, June 11, 2014.

[35] Kedar Raj Upadhyay, June 18, 2014.

[36] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 29, 2014.

[37] Consensus from multiple informants.

[38] Dr. Shrestha, June 11, 2014.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Yogendra Banmala [pseud.], July 27, 2014.

[41] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 29, 2014.

[42] Keshab Banmala [pseud.], August 6, 2014.

[43] Keshab Banmala [pseud.], August 9, 2014.

[44] Rabindra Banmala [pseud.], August 2, 2014.

[45] Kedar Raj Upadhyay, June 18, 2014.

[46] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 29, 2014.

[47] Dr. Shrestha, June 11, 2014.

[48] Dr. Shrestha, June 11, 2014.

[49] Kedar Raj Upadhyay, June 18, 2014.

[50] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 29, 2014.

[51] Kedar Raj Upadhyay, June 18, 2014.

[52] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 29, 2014.

[53] Dipesh Banmala [pseud.], July 6, 2014.

[54] Rabindra Banmala [pseud.], August 2, 2014.

[55] Dr. Shrestha, June 18, 2014.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Keshab Banmala, August 6, 2014.

[58] Yogendra Banmala [pseud.], July 27, 2014.

[59] Yogendra Banmala [pseud.], July 27, 2014.

[60] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], August 29, 2014.

[61] Dipesh Banmala [pseud.], July 6, 2014.

[62] Keshab Banmala [pseud.], August 6, 2014.

[63] Bibek Banmala [pseud.], July 16. 2014.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Rabindra Banmala [pseud.], August 2, 2014.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Bibek Banmala [pseud.], July 16, 2014.

[68] Yogendra Banmala [pseud.], July 15, 2014.

[69] Keshab Banmala [pseud.], July 9, 2014.

[70] Roshan Banmala [pseud.], July 29, 2014.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Keshab Banmala [pseud.], July 9, 2014.

Bibliography

Amazzone, Laura. Goddess Durgā and Sacred Female Power. Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books, 2010.

Chitgopekar, Nilima. The Book of Durga. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2003.

Geertz, Hildred. The Life of a Balinese Temple. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004.

Gutschow, Niels. “The Astamātrkā and Navadurgā of Bhaktapur.” In Wild Goddesses in India and Nepal, edited by Axel Michaels, Cornelia Vogelsanger, and Annette Wilke, 191-216. Vol. 2. Berlin: Peter Lang, 1994.

Levy, Robert I. Mesocosm. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. “Divine Times: Goddess worship in Banāras.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 131-45. New York: Routledge, 2011.

[Article written by: Brandon McNally (December 2010) who is solely responsible for its written content and pictures.]

Yamuna

In Hindu tradition, there are many gods and goddesses for various purposes. For example, Hindus believe in Agni as the sun god, Indra as the storm god, Vayu as the wind god and so on. Yamuna is a Hindu goddess (devi) of the river, who is also known as Yami. In Hindu mythology, Yamuna devi is the daughter of the sun god Surya and his wife Saranyu, and also the sister of the death god Yama. In Vedic tradition, the twins Yama and Yami were the first mortal human pair. Yamuna first appears in the Ṛg veda as Yami, where she urges cohabitation with Yama her brother to perpetuate the human race. However, Yama is very religious thus he refuses Yami’s incestuous overture. Therefore, Yamuna portrayed as a goddesses of boundless love and passion, who does not follow the dictates of reason in expressing her emotion (Kumar, James). This incident did not break their sibling relationship or diminish the affection of Yamuna for her brother. Although Yami’s brother Yama is the god of death, he is considered to be one of the most dharmic entities, becoming also known as the “King of Righteousness” (Haberman 137). After a long time when Yama visits her sister, she treats him with honour and delightful food which pleased Yami. Then he confers upon her a boon that if any brother and sister come together to worship Yamuna and bathe in her sacred water then they will never see the gates of hell (Kumar, James). In the Hindu tradition, the fifth day of Divali or the second lunar day after the new moon in the month of karttika (Oct–Nov), popularly called yamadvitiya or bhaiyaduj, is dedicated to Yama and Yami. On this day brothers and sisters come together and express their love and gratitude for each other. Hindus believe that she is a very powerful goddess, who manifests life-giving forces and blessings. According to ancient beliefs, Yamuna is considered pure and whoever takes a dip in her holy waters may not have fear of death. Moreover, anyone can diminish the reactions of his sinful activities. She is claimed as the consort of Siva and Visnu. Her waters are said to be the liquid embodiment of sakti.

The Goddess Yamuna, 8th century CE, Delhi National Museum
The Goddess Yamuna, 8th century CE, Delhi National Museum

Yamuna is the largest tributary river of the Ganges in Northern India. The Yamuna River, also known as the Jamuna River in Bengali, and is the largest tributary river of the Ganges (Ganga) in northern India. This river unites with Ganga after receiving water from all the major tributaries. Without the Ganga, Siva would remain the scorching, brilliant linga of fire; without Siva, the Ganga would flood the earth (Hawley, Wulff, and Marie148).Yamuna might be the Goddess of Love par excellence in the Hindu pantheon, and is often referred to as a river of love (Haberman 116). Moreover, she is a goddess of exquisite love and compassion. In the pantheon of Hindu goddesses, it would be difficult to find one more representative of divine love than Yamuna (Haberman 104). The rivers Ganga and Yamuna, along with the now dried Saraswati, are the most sacred rivers in India. The source of the Yamuna lies in Yamunotri Glacier, on the south western slopes of Banderpooch peaks, which lies on the Mussoorie range of Lower Himalayas, in Uttarkand, north of Haridwar. Yamunotri temple is a shrine dedicated to the goddess Yamuna and is one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. According to Hindu scripture, Yamunotri is famous as one of the four most sacred pilgrim places. During the peak season of late May and early June, people from all social backgrounds and all walks of life: rich and poor, young and old visit this pilgrim place. Moreover, some pilgrims prefer to ride horses although walking is considered to be the most auspicious mode of transportation (Haberman 49). Others are known as Gangotri, Badrinath, and Kedarnath. These are all in the Himalayas. In winter, when snow covers the place, the Yamunotri temple closes down, and the image of Yamuna devi is carried down to the tiny mountain village of Kharsali where she continues to be worshipped for six months. This temple is reopened every year on the third day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month vaishakha (April–May). Some argue that the river is only free and pure in the mountains (Kumar, James).

In Hindu religious texts, especially in Puranas, there are many myths interconnecting with Yamuna and Krsna, another Hindu god and also known as a divine playboy (Haberman110). Krsna was taken across the Yamuna River on the night of his birth, as his maternal uncle planned to kill him. However, Vasudeva, Krsna’s father carried him in a basket on that rainy night and after reaching in front of the Yamuna River, it is said to have parted to make path for Vasudeva. The river Yamuna is closely connected to the Mahabharata and Lord Krsna (kumar, James). Yamuna River was blessed by Krsna when he fell down into the river from his father Vasudeva’s hand while crossing the river. He used to play along with his cowherd friends on the banks of river Yamuna during his childhood. This river is a recurring image in all stories of Krsna: she watched his father carry him across the river to Gokul, and she watched him herd (Haberman 114). In an article titled “Yamuna and the Environment,” Devendra Sharma writes, “Yamuna exists in Krsna, and Krsna exists in Yamuna.” She is the primary lover of Krsna. The bhagvatapuraṇa, however, narrates a story of the marriage of Yamuna and Kṛṣṇa. Once when Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna are walking along the banks of the Yamuna, they spot a young and beautiful woman absorbed in deep penance and austerity. When Arjuna approaches her, she discloses her identity as Kalindi, daughter of the sun, and expresses her desire to marry none but Viṣṇu-Kṛṣṇa. Impressed with her devotion and love, Kṛṣṇa takes Kalindi- Yamuna to Dvarka (now Dwarka, a city on the banks of the Gomati River near the Arabian Sea), where she becomes his wife (Kumar, James). Yamuna bountifully makes her love for Kṛṣṇa accessible to all her devotees and with her divine powers increases their bhaktibhava (feeling for devotional love). She removes all obstructions and impurities that keep devotees from direct access to the divine love of Kṛṣṇa. At Braj, the bluish-green waters of Yamuna assume a darker hue, indicating her divine union with the dark-skinned Kṛṣṇa (Haberman 117).

In the Puranas, “Kaliya Daman” is one of the famous stories of Krsna and Yamuna. Kaliya was a poisonous snake who used to live in the depth of the river Yamuna and terrorized the people of Braja. Lord Krsna killed this poisonous snake. From the history of Yamuna, she appears as a triple goddess because of flowing in three directions. As a triple river, Yamuna is said to flow on the earth, where she is known as Bhagirathi, in heaven, known as Mandakini, and in the underworld, known as Patala Ganga or as Bhogavati (Darian 69). Moreover, she is one of the blessing goddesses among all Hindu goddesses and Hindus believe that she grants blessings especially for marriage, children, health, and other domestic concern.

The Yamuna River is also well known for ritual baths and purification. People come to do their worship in this river. There are three primary centers of Yamuna worship in Braj- Vishram Ghat in Mathura, Keshi Ghat in Vrindaban, and Thakurani Ghat in Gokul (Haberman 100). The ancient stone steps lead down into the river and are always lineal with crowds of colourfully dressed people to worship Yamuna. Women especially wear beautiful green saris and greet Yamuna with a copper pot full of milk, sticks of incense, baskets of red roses, food and so on. They scoop water from the river, take 3 sips, and then pour it on their head. In this way they do their puja. At the end of the worship, they lights three sticks of incense, wave them before the river, and insert them into the sands by their side. This act of worship can be seen on the sixth lunar day of the fortnight. In almost all the arati hymns sung during her services, she is addressed as “Mother Yamuna,” and those who come to worship her daily greet her with the same epithet (Haberman 108). In addition, Yamuna Chath is celebrated on the sixth day of the bright half of the lunar month chaitra, which usually falls on April in solar calendar. This festival known as Yamuna Jayanti, is considered to be the celebration of Yamuna’s birthday. Hindu people celebrate this occasion with much happiness and redundant. The women step forward to the river to offer sweets, red sindur powder, and uncooked rice. Finally they offer a red sari along with necklaces, bangles, a comb, bindis, and a mirror to the goddess Yamuna, laying them on the sand at the edge of the water. This occasion and puja is occurred at Vishram Ghat by the priests and they seem to be very busy with more formal pujas for families and groups of pilgrims who come to worship the Yamuna. Then, later, the priests bring those items back to those women (Haberman 97). Whenever the offerings have been made, the priests led the group in singing a famous hymn to Yamuna, the ‘Yamunashtakam,’ written by the Vallabhacharya in the sixteenth century. After completing the hymn, Hindu people start to celebrate the climax of the birthday party by dressing the river goddess with a sari that stretched from shore to shore, with the aid of eight wooden boats.

The river Yamuna, the major tributary of the Ganges River has one of the most populated areas of Asia in its basin. This river is now polluted, especially downstream from Delhi. However, there are some cultural views of this pollution. Some Hindu people, who are devoted to Yamuna devi, think that the water of this river can never be impure even though it gets polluted. They believe the goddess Yamuna has the power which can save the quality of this river’s water and also can handle all the pollutants sent her way. Therefore, the water of Yamuna can never harm any living things on this earth. On the other hand, others feel this pollution is causing harm to humans, animals and also the goddess Yamuna. They think that this river’s water needs to be clean so that people can be free from various diseases caused by this polluted water. Nowadays, some Hindus have stopped bathing and using water from this river, which has caused various diseases. In the Yamuna Nagar district, rapid industrialization is taking place due to urbanization. The Yamuna River’s water was polluted by humans and heavy metals. In addition, organic compounds and large number of industrial effluent is thrown into this river which does not have apparent deleterious symptoms but led to accumulation of heavy metals in various parts of plants (Narwal 159). The existing heavy metals can be harmful for the ecosystem. To get rid of these heavy metals some possible approaches should be taken by all human beings in order to keep the environment clean and safe such as: avoid making industries near the Yamuna River, throwing organic compounds to the river, and also keeping the surface area of the river clean as much as possible. Moreover, water, air, trees, lands all are environmental resources which are beneficial to the society. Among them, water is one of the main resources of the environment without which people cannot pass a single day (Narwal 163). Yamuna River is an important river that flows through India’s capital New Delhi and supports various socio-economic activities in this basin. Even though this river is polluted, any improvement of the water quality can improve the utility of the river along with the citizens’ welfare (Nallathiga, Paravasthu 263).

To sum up, it can be said that the goddess Yamuna is a loving goddess and is believed to have the power to purify a person and make him or her fearless towards death. The worshippers of Yamuna devi, used to bath in the Yamuna River to wash away all their sins and to be purified. However, nowadays, it is not possible for them to take bath in this river’s water due to the serious pollution. This river’s water is not only important for the ritual bath, but also plays an important role in socio-economic condition. Therefore, it is the government’s and the citizens’ duty to keep this river’s water clean and should control the heavy metals in the environment which is causing damage to it.

 

Related research topics:

Ganga

Himalaya

Krsna

Yama

Surya

Saraswati

Yamuna Jayanti

Kaliya Daman

Sakti

Mahabharata

 

Related Websites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamuna

http://0-referenceworks.brillonline.com.darius.uleth.ca/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of-hinduism/yamuna-COM_1030220?s.num=0&s.q=yamuna

http://www.radhakunda.com/personalities/yamuna.html

http://www.ecoindia.com/rivers/yamuna.html

http://news.iskcon.com/node/3965

 

 

 

 

References

Darian, Steven G. (2001) “Ganga and Artemis: Two Versions of a Single Theme.” The Ganges in Myth and History. Delhi, India: MotilalBanarsidass Publishers, 1st Indian ed.

Gupta, Linar (1993) “Ganga: Purity, Pollution, and Hinduism.” Ecofeminism and the sacred, ed. Carol Adams, 99-116. New York: Continuum.

Haberman, David L. (1952) “Goddess of Love.” River of love in an age of pollution: the Yamuna river of northern India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hawley, J., & Wulff, D. (1996) “Ganga: The Goddess Ganges in Hindu Sacred Geography.” Devi: Goddesses of India. University of California Press.

Kumar, Bidisha and James, George (2013) “Yamuna.” Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by: Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, Vasudha Narayanan.Reference.University of Lethbridge. 09 April 2013 http://0-referenceworks.brillonline.com.darius.uleth.ca/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of-hinduism/yamuna-COM_1030220?s.num=0&s.f.s2_parent=s.f.book.brill-s-encyclopedia-of-hinduism&s.q=yamuna

Nallathiga, R., & Paravasthu, R. (2010) “Economic value of conserving fiver water quality: results from a contingent valuation survey in Yamuna river basin, India.” Water Policy, 12(2), 260-271.

Narwal, G. (2009) “Studies in Environmental Pollution: Absorption of Heavy Metal by Some Vegetable Plant Parts from Polluted Irrigation Canal Water and River Water at Yamuna Nagar.”Proceedings of World Academy of Science: Engineering & Technology, 51159-164.

 

Article written by Sonia Jerin (April, 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.

Tripura-sundari

Tripurasundari: The Goddess of Three Cities

Beauty is often thought of solely in its external form, usually toward a material object of one’s desire, but in Tantric teachings, beauty lies in the truth, leading to the realization of the Ultimate Self or the Absolute (Frawley 86). The goddess Tripurasundari embodies the means by which beauty is derived through the perception of the universe where one can eventually determine Brahman (the Absolute) (Frawley 89). In Sankrit, Tripurasundari’s name breaks down into Tri “three” Pura “cities” and Sundari “Beauty” therefore meaning the “Beauty of Three Cities” (Brooks 59; Frawley 89). She represents a pathway that enables a worshipper to find samadhi (state of consciousness), giving her the designation as a Vedic goddess of knowledge, which she expresses through her triple natured characteristic.

Her tripartite theme is repeated in multiple forms under the three different cities (these cities are sometimes referred to as worlds). The cities represent how one experiences consciousness within our three bodies: the senses (eyes), the mind and the heart, each symbolizing a city (Frawley 89). Consciousness can be experienced by two different pathways either through the physical, astral and causal pathway or through matter, energy and thought (Frawley 89). Consciousness itself can also be split into waking, dream, and deep sleep (Brooks 125; Frawley 89). When combining these components and separating them into the various cities respectively they form one of the multiple tripartite natures of Tripurasundari.

Tripurasundari is often represented through her iconic yantra (instrument) of a Sri Cakra (holy wheel) (Foulston & Abbott 119). Yantras are very important in Tantric Hinduism, often used during the contemplative yogic practice of sabija samadhi (using an object to help concentrate on the topic of contemplation) as a medium for worship of the goddess. This symbol depicts nine interlinking triangles that fan out from the central point (bindu); they are encircled by two rings of lotus petals all of which are enclosed by a square (Bose 112).

Another important channel of worship is through her Sri Vidya mantra (Bose 112; Foulston & Abbott 119). There are multiple versions of the mantra containing either fifteen or sixteen syllables (Brooks 87; Bose 112;Frawley 92). These mantras follow Tripurasundari’s nature of three where each line represent three sections of the goddess’s body. The three kutas (sections of the mantra) are divided as follows: the first kuta is Tripurasundari’s head, kuta two is her torso and kuta three embodies the area below her hips (Frawley 92). The mantra also ties in the goddess’ relation to the male gods Brahma, Visnu, and Siva (Brooks 94; Frawley 92). The mantra combines both of Tripurasundari’s bodily representations and the male gods sections to relate to the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, and Sama Veda (Frawley 92). At the end of each kuta is the syllable Hrim and if repeated by itself this sound is often enough to be used as worship (Brooks 94; Frawley 91). In the instances where a sixteenth syllable is spoken (Srim), patrons are found to be repeating all sixteen vowels in the Sankrit language (Brooks 96; Frawley 92).

Tripurasundari is a strong and dominating goddess within Tantric Hinduism which has led to feminine theology based schools and cults. She is linked to the Trika schools where the Sati trinity of the supreme energy exists in the triple patterns (cities, existence, consciousness, etc.) of Tripurasundari (Bose 112).

Tripurasundari is known by many different names across various texts and stories. One of the most famous narratives describing Tripurasundari’s various forms is Lalitasahasranama, portraying over a thousand of her identities and spiritual characteristics (Foulston & Abbott 133). One of these names is Lalita, meaning lovely (Brooks 59). Also known as the Divine Mother, Lalita is the most beautiful and blissful goddess, who resides on Mount Meru (a cosmic mountain), evoking the concept that awareness (of Self) is a joyful experience (Frawley 89). It is unknown if Lalita and Tripurasundari were once combined as one supreme goddess of if they represented two separate goddess (Brooks 59). Both Lalita and Tripurasundari uses the Sri Cakra as her symbol (although there slight variations in multiple forms of the yajna [Brooks 189-199]), as well as Om for her manta, both of which combine to represent her significance in the universe.

Sodasi (she who is sixteen) is another version of Tripurasundari as a young girl whose childlike nature and innocence, often described as a virgin, and is associated with the sixteen-syllable mantra (Brooks 1107; Frawley 90). Tripurasundari is also known as Rajarajeshavai (Supreme Ruler of the Universe or the Queen of Kings) whose authority wills followers to yield to her spiritual command in order to gain insight and knowledge of the Absolute (Brooks 61; Frawley 90).

Commonly, in the Hindu tradition all goddesses may be referred to as one single being known as Devi (goddess) or Mahadevi (great goddess) (Kinsley 132). The Lalitasahasranama text describes numerous goddesses of the Mahadevi all of which assert their own claim to some form divine sakti (power) (Kinsley 132). Many theologies and mythologies account for the various goddesses at differing times in history, often building on one another in order to describe a specific characteristic of the feminine deities more clearly. In one account, Devi is said to manifest herself through the Mahavidyas. Mahavidyas, translated as “Great Knowledge”, can also be referred to as the Dasamahavidyas, the “Ten Great Revelations” (Foulston & Abbott 116).

Tripurasundari is one on the ten Mahavidyas. Historically, the ten goddesses that compose the Mahavidyas have each individually been mentioned in mythology prior to the origin of their group manifestation in the story of Siva and Sati (Kinsley 161). Kinsley gives a brief description of the origin of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 162). Sati, daughter of King Daksa, is the consort of Siva. Daksa invites all gods and goddesses to the performance of a grand yajna (ritual); however, his invitation does not include Sati and Siva due to Daksa’s aversion for Siva. Greatly offend by not receiving an invitation, Sati declares that she will still attend the yajna. Siva tries to forbid Sati from going to the sacrifice but she becomes enraged and transforms herself into the ten Mahavidyas scaring Siva with their fearsome nature.

The story of Siva and Sati gives one of the most famous depictions of the ten goddesses involved in the group: Kali, Tara, Tripurasundari, Chinnamasta, Bhuvanesvari, Bagala, Dhumavati, Kamala, Matangi, and Bhairavi. Foulston and Abbott state that “Each of the individual goddesses is associated with a particular mental perfection (siddhi) or mode of perception”, symbolizing various stages of consciousness (Foulston & Abbott 117). Kali (the black goddess) is portrayed as the primary Mahavidyas shown as a fierce and dangerous goddess who is seen standing atop Siva (Foulston & Abbott 118; Kinsley 162). Tara (the goddess guide through troubles) is the second goddess in line of the Mahavidyas and she like Kali embodies a fierce and powerful essence associated with death and destruction (Foulston & Abbott 118; Kinsley 162). In her images she greatly resembles Kali and standing in an almost identical position on top of Siva’s corpse. Tripurasundari is often shown to follow Kali and Tara in the manifestations of Devi. Also depicted sitting astride a prone Siva, she is sometimes described as being fearful and dangerous, however this is in contrast to her usual auspicious, beautiful and benign characteristics (Foulston & Abbott 119).

Tripurasundari is sometimes described as her form as Sodasi, the young sixteen year old girl. In whichever form she is illustrated, Tripurasundari is said to have a complexion as red as the rising sun and she is wearing a crown upon her head with an image of a crescent shaped moon (Frawley 91). She is associated with the moon, which symbolizes one of the three bodies, the mind; again this represents how her beauty can cause transcendence and lead to a blissful joyous state (Brooks 125; Frawley 90). She is shown sitting naked upon a prone Siva amidst copulation on top of a cot wearing multiple adornments. The cot’s legs are composed of the gods Brahma, Visnu, Rudra, and Indra (sometimes known as Mahesvara) signifying her energy’s control and complementary role with the male god Siva and his four other forms (Kinsely 163; Frawley 91). Frawley (91), describes the symbols that she carries within her four hands. In one hand she holds a sugar cane bow while another clasps five flower arrows. The bow represents the mind, the arrows signify the five senses and she uses these items to shoot worshipers with delight, leading to a blissful state and consciousness in which one can become aware of the Absolute. Her other hands contain a noose which captures patrons with her beauty and the hook in her fourth hand is used to sever one’s illusion of beauty as an external object.

With in the Hindu tradition, may theologies present the duality between male gods and female goddesses as being the pivotal factor of creation under the control of Brahma (Bose 113). The prior description of Tripurasundari and Siva’s Tantric union represent the polarities of creation between the male static principle and female dynamic principle (Bose 113). Although Siva is seen as the Supreme god in his fivefold element with Brahma (the creator), Visnu (the preserver), Rudra (the destroyer), and Mahesvara (or Indra; Ignorance) his principle essence of creation is unable to sustain its ability without the cosmic sakta (power) of Tripunasundari (Bose 113; Frawley 91). She is the sustenance that drives Siva’s power by means of her triple natured energy of creation, preservation, and destruction (Bose 112). She is known for both her creative and destructor roles in creation but often the destructive role is suppressed, only being brought to attention during mythologies such as the story of the ten Mahavidyas.

Tripunasundari is an important goddess within the Tantric tradition. Her essence is embodied in the trilogy nature relating to all categories of the cosmos and control over the god Siva and his role in the creation of the universe. Her beauty signifies her ability to guide her followers along a pathway that leads to the pure perception of the universe ultimately realizing a clear consciousness that can lead one to the awareness of Brahma, the Absolute. These components make her a powerful goddess among the many that comprise the great goddess Mahadevi.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bose, Mandakranata (2000) Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Brooks, Douglas Renfrew (1996) Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Srividya Sakta Tantrism in South India. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers &   Distributors.

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

Frawley, David (1996) Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses: Spiritual Secrets of Ayurveda. New Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

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

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brahma

Dasamahayidyas

Devi

Dewali Puja

Lalita

Lalitasahasranama

Mahadevi

Mahavidyas

Maha Pithasthans

Mount Meru

Rajarajeshyahi

Sodasi

Siva

Sri Cakra

Sri Mantra

Sri Vidya

Trika school

Tripurasundari Temple

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripura_Sundari

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Sri_Vidya

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trika

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maheshvara#Maheshvara

 

[Article written by: Jessie Kress (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content]

Santosi Ma

Santosi Ma is one of the newest goddesses to be worshipped extensively within the Hindu religion. Santosi Ma gained the majority of her followers after the 1975 release of “Jai Santoshi Ma” which can be loosely translated into “Hail to the Mother of Satisfaction” (Lutgendorf 10). Although the worship of Santosi Ma is seen as widespread in India, the majority of her followers are women who reside primarily in the region of Northern India and Nepal.

The mythological background of Santosi Ma starts with her creation by her father, Ganesa, the powerful elephant god. Although hesitant at first, Ganesa creates a daughter at the request of his sons. As Santosi Ma grows older, she learns that she has a following of worshippers on earth. The story focuses on one worshipper in particular named Satyawati. Satyawati is the daughter of a Brahmin priest that falls in love with a poor man named Birju. Because Birju is from a lower caste, their relationship is frowned upon and not permitted. Satyawati prays to Santosi Ma and promises to continue to worship her and visit all of the goddess’s shrines if she is allowed to marry Birju (Vas 26). Although Birju is a peasant, a marriage is arranged between Satyawati and Birju and Satyawati begins her journey to fulfil the vows made to Santosi Ma. As Santosi Ma gains more followers, Visnu, Siva and Brahma come to earth in ascetic disguises and come forth to accept one of Satyawati’s offerings that she left for Santosi Ma. This action taken by the gods makes their wives Brahmani, Laksmi, and Parvati furious and the goddesses appear in one of Satyawati’s dreams and threaten that if she continues in her devotion to Santosi Ma the goddesses will punish her. Satyawati disregards the threat and continues in her devotion to Santosi Ma.   The three goddesses deliver on their threat and separate Satyawati and Birju to punish her for her continued devotion to Santosi Ma. Birju departs on a sea voyage and Brahmani, Laksmi and Parvati cause a horrible storm, but unbeknownst to them Santosi Ma saves him (Vas 26). Brahmani, Laksmi and Parvati transcend in disguise to the village where Satyawati and Birju lived and report that he has been killed. Later when the goddesses come to find out that Santosi Ma has saved Birju they cause him to forget about Satyawati and he falls in love with a rich merchant’s daughter named Geeta. Satyawati’s misfortunes continue and she is so devastated that she decides she is going to take her own life. A sage learns of this and urges Satyawati to continue to worship Santosi Ma and for twelve consecutive Fridays perform a vrata, or a ritutal observance, in Santosi Ma’s name. The vrata includes providing offerings of jaggery, or sugar cane, and roasted chick peas to Santosi Ma’s temples along with fasting and ritual worship of the goddess. Satyawati does so, but on the twelfth Friday she cannot gather the appropriate offering. She prays extensively to Santosi Ma and the goddess comes to earth disguised as an old village lady and gives Satyawati the twelfth offering needed (Vas 26).

The three goddesses are persistent in their punishment and they start a fire in the forest where Satyawati is performing her offerings. But because of her continued love and devotion for Santosi Ma, Satyawati is unable to be burned. When she completes her twelve consecutive offerings to Santosi Ma, she pleads with the goddess to have her husband returned to her. Birju hears a voice encouraging him to return to his village with his new riches and he finds Satyawati. Satyawati is so enthralled with Santosi Ma’s blessing that she installs a shrine in her household and invites Birju’s family members to come perform a puja, or a religious ceremony in Santosi Ma’s name. Birju’s family is upset by his newfound wealth and slips lemon juice into the milk offering to Santosi Ma (Vas 27). Sour tastes, such as lemon juice, are considered a taboo offering to any deity, so Santosi Ma curses the puja and kills all children in attendance. Because the puja was held in Satyawati’s household, she is accused of poisoning all of the children. Even in these dire circumstances Satyawati continues her devotion to Santosi Ma and prays to her that being accused of such a horrible act will not only ruin her reputation, but also the loving relationship between a devotee and deity. Due to Satyawati’s continued devotion, even in the most horrible of conditions, Santosi Ma appears in person and restores the children’s lives in honour of Satyawati. After Santosi Ma descends to earth, Brahmani, Laksmi and Parvati admit that they were testing Satyawati and were actually pleased to learn that she continued her devotion to Santosi Ma and that they not only bless Santosi Ma, but pray that she will be worshipped throughout the world (Vas 27).

Because Santosi Ma is now worshipped extensively throughout parts of India there are certain festivals and ritual practices associated with her name. The festival commonly associated with Santosi Ma is Raksha Bandhan, the festival of siblings. This festival celebrates the close tie between siblings, primarily a brother and a sister (Freed & Freed 587). This festival is particularly important to the worship of Santosi Ma as it was her two brothers that urged their father, Ganesa, to provide them with a sister after they had attended a Raksha Bandhan festival. This auspicious festival starts by gathering for worship and to encourage the blessings of the gods. The sister then provides her brother (or other male relatives if a brother is not available) with a sacred thread known as a rakhi while chanting different mantras. The sister is to provide her brother with gifts, typically sweets, clothing, etc. along with the rakhi and genuinely pray for his well being. In return for this deed, the brother provides his sister with gifts and promises of protection. After these rituals are performed the day is to be enjoyed with other family members singing, dancing and eating (Hawley & Wulff 4).

Another important aspect of Santosi Ma is the performing of a vrata in her name. A vrata is a disciplined religious vow or observance to a certain deity that lasts a certain time frame. The observance typically includes some form of fasting, ritual worship and recitation of the hearing of a katha or story (Lutgendorf 24). Vratas are extremely regarded as a very crucial component in the art of the devotion and worship (Keyes & Daniel 147). It should be noted that vratas are performed to numerous deities and may be performed by anyone in Hindu society regardless of caste, gender, etc. (Brown 252). The vrata performed in Santosi Ma’s name is addressed in the text titled “Sukravar vrat katha”. This text provides a manual with rules and guidelines on how to perform a vrata in honour of Santosi Ma. The text is to be read by the worshipper, or any literate female in the family, and not by a priest. With regards to worship of Santosi Ma, priests are not used as the worshippers are primarily female (Keyes & Daniel 151). The vrata is to be performed on a series of consecutive Fridays (as Fridays are viewed as an auspicious day of the week) doing a puja, or ceremonial worship, to images of Santosi Ma while burning incense and providing offerings of roasted chick peas and sugar cane. The worshipper is then to recite (or listen if they are illiterate) the katha and can feed the remainder of the offering to animals such as a cow. They are also not to eat more than one meal on this day and should not serve any foods that are bitter or sour in nature. The time frame of the vrata varies for different worshippers. Some worshippers do a fixed time period, such as sixteen weeks, and others perform the vrata until a certain wish of the worshipper is fulfilled. At the time the wish is fulfilled the worshipper should prepare a large, celebratory meal which again should not contain any sour or bitter items. This meal is viewed as the conclusion of the vrata (Lutgendorf 25).

Before the release of “Jai Santosi Ma” in 1975 the worship of the goddess was relatively small. There was one known temple in Rajasthan, specifically in the city of Jodhpur, which had been dedicated to the worship of Santosi Ma since 1967. Most current worshippers did not know of Santosi Ma, or her history, before the release of the feature film. After the film premiered was when she gained popularity and an almost cult like following. Her images were being added to temples and in some cases, such as in Jodhpur, temples were being converted or built solely in her honour.

To conclude Santosi Ma has become one of the most worshipped goddess within the Hindu religion. She was brought to fame by the release of a Bollywood film which featured her mythological background. There are numerous festivals and religious practices associated with the goddess. These include the festival of siblings, Raksha Bandhan, and a vrata performed in Santosi Ma’s name. This vrata also includes the recitation of a puja. Currently Santosi Ma has millions of followers, and temples dedicated to her worship, and is seen to her followers as the ultimate or supreme uniting deity (Hawley & Wulff 7).

 

 

Bibliography

Brown, C. Mackenzie (1998) “The Devī Gītā: The Song of the Goddess; a Translation, Annotation, and Commentary”. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Das, Veena (1981) “The Mythological Film and its Framework of Meaning: An Analysis of Jai Santoshi Ma India International Center Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, 43-56 (March)

Erndl, Kathleen M. (1996) “Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol” History of Religions, Vol. 35, No. 3 (February), 281-282

Freed, Stanley A.; Freed Ruth S. (2000) “Hindu Festivals in a North Indian Village” Anthropos, Bd. 95, H. 2, 592-593

Hawley, John Stratton; Wulff, Donna Marie (1997) “Devī: Goddesses of India” Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 8, No. 2 (October)

Lutgendorf, Philip (2002) “A Superhit Goddess: Jai Santoshi Maa and Caste Hierachy in Indian Films” Manushi Vol. 131, 24-37

Wadley, Susan S. (1983) “Vrats: transformers of destiny” Karma: an anthropological inquiry 146-162

 

Related Topics

Ganesh

Raksha Bandhan

Performance of Vratas

Bollywood film industry

Sukravar vrat katha

Lakshmi

Pravati

Brahmani

 

Suggested websites

http://www.raksha-bandhan.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santoshi_Mata

http://www.santoshimaa.org/

http://www.santoshimaamandir.com/

 

Article written by: Jazzmind Hicken (February 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Chinnamasta

The Mahavidyas (Great Revelations) is a group of ten goddesses worshipped in the Hindu tradition, who are believed to be different manifestations of the Mahadevi (Great Goddess). To Hindus the Mahadevi is a transcendent female reality who, much like Visnu, is believed to maintain the cosmic order (Kinsley 1986:161). The Mahavidyas are first discussed around the 10th century CE in the Mahabhagavata Purana. In this narrative the goddess Durga, in the form of Sati, weds the god Siva. Siva insists that Sati should not attend her father’s yajna (sacrifice) because they were intentionally not invited. However, Sati is adamant about disrupting the sacrifice and in a state of anger she transforms herself into ten transcendent forms, the Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara, Tripura-sundari, Bhuvanesvari, Chinnamasta, Bhairavi, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi, and Kamala. [Refer to Kinsley 1998 for individual descriptions of each Mahavidya]. Siva is so frightened when he is surrounded by the Mahavidyas that he gives Sati permission to attend the yajna (Benard 2). This is the most prevalent Mahavidya creation story, but there are multiple alternative versions that depict the goddesses as being forms of Parvati, Kali, or Sataksi (Kinsley 1998:22).

The Mahavidyas appear in tantric and puranic Hindu texts. The tantric texts focus on the rituals involved in worshipping the goddesses, while late puranic texts contain detailed stories describing the origins of the Mahavidyas. They are also mentioned in certain goddess hymns, such as the Durga-calisa, a popular forty-verse hymn dedicated to the goddess Durga (Kinsley 1998:15). The Mahavidyas are sometimes likened to the ten avataras (incarnations) of Visnu, who play a positive role in the cosmos. However, in the Hindu literature, focus is placed on the group’s diversity of form rather than their contributions towards maintaining the cosmic order through their actions (Kinsley 1998:21). The Mahavidyas appear most often in painted depictions in temples, although sometimes they may be shown in stone or metal carvings. They appear in temples where the primary goddess is one of the Mahavidyas, as well as in temples where the primary goddess is not one of the ten goddesses (Kinsley 1998:15).

Chinnamasta, literally meaning “the severed head” (Benard 4), distinguishes herself from the other Mahavidyas with her shocking, dramatic, and gruesome iconography. This goddess is depicted as self-decapitated and standing in an aggressive manner as she holds her severed head on a platter in her left hand and her kartr (sword) in her right hand. Three streams of blood gush from Chinnamasta’s neck and are drunk by her own head and two yoginis (female practitioners of yoga), Varnini and Dakini. All three of them are nude, with unkempt hair, and wearing garlands of skulls. Chinnamasta is sometimes shown standing upon Kama (the god of sexual desire) and his wife Rati, who are copulating on a lotus or cremation pyre (Kinsley 1986:173 and Kinsley 1998:144). Chinnamasta also appears in tantric Buddhism. She goes by the name of Chinnamunda, a form of Vajrayogini. Scholars believe she first appeared in Buddhism before entering the Hindu tradition. The iconography of this goddess in Buddhism is very similar, except she is not depicted as standing on top of a copulating couple (Kinsley 1988:161).

The Ten Mahavidyas (Marble image of the goddess Chinnamasta at a Tantric shrine in Ramnagar, near Banaras)

The most popular account of Chinnamasta’s origin appears in the Pranatosini-tantra. It states that the goddess Parvati, Siva’s wife, goes bathing with her two attendants, Dakini and Varnini. The two women are hungry and ask Parvati for food. She tells them to wait and they can eat once they are home. However, after further begging from her companions, the merciful goddess and Mother of the Universe, severs her head with her fingernails and her blood nourishes her attendants. Following this event, Parvati is henceforth known as Chinnamasta (Kinsley 1998:147). This origin story emphasizes maternal self-sacrifice in order to satiate her companions. Scholars note the interesting choice of blood instead of maternal milk for nutrients. The nourishment symbolizes renewal of the universe (Kinsley 1998:150).

These themes, along with others, are also apparent in the imagery of this goddess. Chinnamasta depicts the way that life, sex, and death are intricately intertwined. Her image juxtaposes gruesomeness (a bloody decapitation) and intimacy (the couple engaging in sexual union). Kama and Rati provide Chinnamasta with a vital energy that she then transfers to the yoginis to provide nourishment and sustainment. Scholars interpret this as showing the necessity of death in order to renew and replenish the cycle of life (Kinsley 1986:173). Chinnamasta’s image shows giving and taking, creation and destruction, and life and death. The distinction between receiver and giver vanish (Oestigaard 104). Her image depicts the cyclical nature of the universe and the harmony of seemingly opposite forces that are required to maintain the cosmic balance (Kinsley 1986:175). Normally the nudity and disheveled hair associated with Chinnamasta’s image would indicate a loss of public respectability, but instead these characteristics reveal her sense of freedom and abandonment of societal values (Benard 107).

The decapitated head is essential to all depictions of Chinnamasta, as indicated by the literal translation of her name. The way that Chinnamasta offers her head on a platter is similar to the way that animal sacrifices are carried out in the Hindu tradition. Sacrifices portray devotion and nourishment for a particular god or goddess. In Chinnamasta’s case, her self-sacrifice provides nourishment for her two devotees (Kinsley 1998:151). The severing of the head also represents disposing of the belief in a permanent, material self (Benard 96).

Like Chinnamasta and her two female companions, a number of Mahavidyas wear garlands made of severed heads or skulls. These are thought to represent letters or sounds, especially when presented in numbers of fifty or fifty-two. They are believed to give birth to all creation. In this way, the heads are objects of power, since they hold a person’s identity and essential being (Kinsley 1998:153). The importance of the head in Hinduism is illustrated in the Purusa creation story. Many important elements originate from Purusa’s head, including the Brahmin class, Indra, Agni, the sun, and the moon (Benard 93).

Chinnamasta’s location on top of a copulating couple is interpreted in two opposing ways. The first, and most common, interpretation of Chinnamasta’s superior position is that she has overcome her sexual and selfish desires. She is believed to display the yogic virtue of self-control. This interpretation is supported by the goddess’s hundred-name hymn in the Sakta Pramoda that refers to her as Yogini (female yogi) and Madanatura (she who cannot be overcome by Kama) (Kinsley 1998:154). The alternative explanation suggests that the sexual energy of the couple is being transferred to Chinnamasta. Supporters of this theory point to images of Chinnamasta sitting, instead of standing, on the couple. This physical position does not suggest overpowering of the couple’s sexuality (Kinsley 1998:155-156).

Public and private worship of Chinnamasta is not popular due to her aggressive nature and worshipping her is viewed as dangerous. It is said that those who worship her are of three types: yogis, world renouncers, or heroic in nature (Kinsley 1998:164). Tantric practices allow a practitioner to develop siddhis (supernormal powers) and achieve the ultimate goal of liberation. The Sakta Pramoda, Tantrasara, and Sri Chinnamasta Nityarcana outline the worship rituals for Chinnamasta. There are nine sections of practice prescribed by the Sakta Pramoda including visualized meditation, drawing of the yantra (sacred diagram), and explication of the mantra (sacred utterance). [Benard 1994 can be consulted for further details on these nine areas of practice]. Recitation of Chinnamasta’s 108 names is also included in her worship rituals (Benard 24). Not surprisingly, the majority of her names are fierce sounding. For example, she is referred to as Mahabhima (great terrible one), Candamata (mother of fierce beings), Krodhini (wrathful one), and Kopatura (afflicted with rage) (Kinsley 1998:164). Chinnamasta is one of two Mahavidyas who can only be worshipped using the left-handed path, the other goddess being Bhairavi. This type of worship can be extreme, involving sexual intercourse outside of one’s marriage and nighttime sacrifices involving meat and wine. This contrasts with the other Mahavidyas who can be worshipped by either the right-handed path or both paths (Kinsley 1998:166).

There are no known festivals devoted to Chinnamasta, but the Mahavidyas are worshipped as a group during important goddess festivals including Durga Puja and Kali Puja (Saxena 65). During these festivals the Mahavidyas are included on the tableau of the feature goddess (Kinsley 1998:18). There are only a few temples devoted exclusively to Chinnamasta, most likely a reflection of her limited following. These temples are found in northern and eastern regions of India and in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. An important temple is located in Cintapurni in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. Although the temple is simply known as the Cintapurni Temple, paintings of Chinnamasta and her two attendants mark the entrance, along with a label that states Chinnamastaka Mandir. Inside the temple a stone pindi, an aniconic representation of the goddess, covered with a red cloth comprises the shrine’s central figure. Another important Chinnamasta temple is located by Rajrappa Falls in Bihar, another northern state of India. The temple holds a stone depiction of the beheaded goddess bearing her head in one hand and a sword in the other. Devotees in the area believe that Chinnamasta was cut into twelve pieces during a fight with an asura (demon) and that the temple marks the spot where her head landed (Benard 145-146).

Chinnamasta is a very distinctive Hindu tantric goddess and is easily recognized by most Hindus because of her dramatic iconography (Kinsley 1986:177). This goddess represents cyclical renewal, cosmic balance, nourishment, and self-control. Despite these positive characteristics, her influence in the Hindu tradition remains small due to her fierce essence and more extreme worship rituals. This restriction is reflected in the small number of Chinnamasta worshippers, festivals, and temples limited to northern India and its surrounding areas.

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 Benard, Elisabeth Anne (1994) 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. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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

Oestigaard, Terje (2006) “Heavens, Havens and Hells of Water: Life and Death in Society and Religion.” In Water: Histories, Cultures, Ecologies. Marnie Leybourne and Andrea Gaynor (eds.). Perth: University of Western Australia Press. pp. 94-105.

Saxena, Neela Bhattacharya (2011) “Mystery, Wonder, and Knowledge in the Triadic Figure of Mahavidya Chinnamasta: A Sakta Woman’s Reading.” In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma (eds.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 61-75.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Mahavidyas

Mahabhagavata Purana

Mahadevi

Durga

Sakta Pramoda

Durga Puja

Kali Puja

Cintapurni Temple

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinnamasta

http://creative.sulekha.com/dasha-ten-mahavidya-part-three-bhuvanesvari-chinnamasta-and-bhairavi-3-of-4_546515_blog

http://www.sistersincelebration.org/Goddess/Chinnamasta.pdf

http://sivasakti.net/articles/tantra/chinnamasta-art153.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chhinnamasta_Temple

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chinnamasta_Temple_Bishnupur.JPG

 

Article written by Lauren Hall (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Devi Bhagavata Purana

The Devi Bhagavata Purana is one of two Bhagavata Puranas. It exalts the goddess Devi, and the other praises the god Visnu. The Devi Bhagavata Purana is a more brief form than that of Visnu’s Bhagavata Purana. Devi only speaks half a sloka (a metric style in prose composition; a couplet (Rodrigues 564) propounding herself as the ground of all being (Brown 17).

“All this universe indeed is just I myself; there is nothing else eternal.”

The Devi Bhagavata Purana [DBP] is comprised of 12 books (skandhas), 318 chapters, and 18,000 verses (slokas). It is a Sakta Upa-Purana, the “lesser” Puranas. There are eighteen or nineteen Maha (greater) Puranas, and many Upa (lesser) Puranas that encompass the vast body of Puranic literature (Rodrigues 290). There is conflict over the exact age of the text. An old age would suggest more validity and greatness for some [See Brown “The Problem of Canonicity” (18-24); looks at both religious and academic perspectives and compares differing views of scholars], however, there is evidence that such texts are often edited, adjusted, modified, and expanded upon in order to heighten the status of the text and present it in favour of devotees. There is evidence that the Devi Bhagavata Purana is not an exception to these practices (Brown 20-21).

The goddess Devi is usually portrayed in myths as a warrior whose mount is a lion named Mahasingha, and is known to defeat many demons; however she is also the cosmic mother, especially to her devotees. She is not typically seen as the wife, consort, or sakti of particular male gods (Rodrigues 323). She is beyond being a consort to anyone, though she bears a special relationship to every deity (Hawley & Wulff 32). For her devotees, Devi is independent and embodies the powers of all the gods combined. She is known by many names, most often known as Durga (She who is Formidable), or Candi (She who is Fierce). Other names include Prakrti (matter or nature), Maya (trick or illusion), Sakti (power or ability) (Coburn 20), and Mahamaya (the great matrix of phantasmal reality) (Rodrigues 323). She is also Parvati or Kali, themselves eventually known as individual goddesses. Devi is also associated with a “horde of females known as ‘the Mothers.’” There are hundreds of females part of this group and are known to be fighting, ferocious, and bloodthirsty beings, although the maternal instinct associated with Devi runs deep in all of them (Coburn 21).

There are two particularly important festivals associated with the Great Goddess, a spring and an autumn Navaratra (“nine nights”). The spring festival evidences Devi’s associations with fertility, while the autumn celebrations draw in Devi’s marital dimension (Rodrigues 324). Instructions on sacred places, vows, festivals, such as the Navaratra, and proper worship of Devi can be found in the Devi Bhagavata Purana.

“The two nine nights vow called Navaratra are to be observed, one in the autumn and the other in the spring season. These are very dear to Me. He is certainly My devotee and very dear who for My satisfaction performs these and the other Nitya Naimittik vows, free from any pride and jealousy. He certainly gets the Sajujya Mukti with Me.” (DBP 7:38:42-43) [Mukti is freedom/release from samsara/bondage, See Rodrigues (556)]

The Devi Bhagavata Purana is only one of many texts celebrating the Great Goddess. This text takes into account many myths already told in other Hindu sacred texts and elaborates on, retells, and/or adjusts these stories. In the second book and sixth chapter, the birth of the Pandavas [the family in constant rivalry and conflict with their cousins, the Kauravas, from the Mahabharata epic] is told (Rodrigues 230). However, the Devi Bhagavata Purana makes relatively few changes, and avoids direct contradictions with the Mahabharata (Brown 21). The question of which of the two Bhagavatas is more genuine is often raised, and many scholars argue over which has more authority. The Devi Bhagavata Purana could seem, to some, to be completely aware of the “tampering” of certain myths in Visnu’s Bhagavata Purana, and therefore purposely makes fewer changes and goes back to a more ancient standard in order to gain authority over Visnu’s Bhagavata Purana (Brown 21). Puranic works, such as the Devi Bhagavata Purana emerged by the 7th century CE, though many were composed later. (Rodrigues 281), therefore it is a late Purana. There is speculation over its age and its placement as an Upa-Purana versus a Maha-Purana by many scholars, however, at present; it is in the category of an Upa-Purana, despite the conflict.

Mention of Sita, Rama, Laksmana, and Ravana [characters from the Ramayana epic] is made in the third book and twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth chapters. These two chapters describe the birth of Sita, her discovery by King Janaka, the capturing of Sita by Ravana, and Rama’s search for her. The Ramayana makes no mention of Devi worship by Rama; however, a change made in the Devi Bhagavata Purana is that Rama finds solutions to his problems in Devi worship, due to the goddess-centered worship of the text (Brown 167). In the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Rama performs the Navaratra (nine night ceremony devoted to Devi), then Devi appears to Rama, informs him of his previous incarnations [he is an avatara of the god Visnu; the birth of the various avataras of Visnu can be found in the fourth book of the Devi Bhagavata Purana], reveals his purpose to kill Ravana, and promises him the recovery of his kingdom, if Rama continues to worship her (Brown 167-168). [For further information on the Ramayana epic consult Rodrigues (2006) or Valmiki/Goldman (1996)].

The Devi Mahatmya, also known as the Durga Saptasati, is another goddess-centered text that tells of the conception of Devi. The fifth book and eighteenth chapter of the Devi Bhagavata Purana recounts the slaying of the buffalo demon Mahisa by Devi, a retelling of the myth from the Devi Mahatmya (Glorification of the Great Goddess) text. Devi is endowed with the powers and weapons of all of the gods in order to slay the great buffalo demon Mahisa.

“Visnu then addressed all the Devas to give all their auspicious ornaments and weapons, He said: — ‘O Devas! Better give, all you the various arms and weapons, endowed with strength, created out of your own weapons and give them all today to the Devi.’” (DBP 5:8:75)

Certain elements differ in the Devi Bhagavata Purana from the Devi Mahatmya, such as the weapons in which Devi slays Mahisa. In the Devi Mahatmya, she slays him by crushing him with her foot, impaling him with her spear, and beheading him with her great sword (Rodrigues 323). In the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Devi pierces the demon with her trident, and then beheads him with her discus of a thousand spokes.

The Hindu belief in karma is also demonstrated in the Devi Bhagavata Purana. Karma is the concept of causality in moral action in which good deeds are meritorious (punya) and evil or sinful deeds (papa) have painful effects (Rodrigues 551). The fourth book and second chapter states:

“O best of kings! The fruits of karma must have to be experienced, whether auspicious or inauspicious, be he a Deva, or human being or an animal; anyone who has embodied himself in fine or gross bodies!” (DBP 4:2:34)

The Devi Bhagavata Purana covers many subjects, retells many myths, tells of the benefits of worshipping Devi, instructs how to worship Devi, illustrates hells and the destiny of sinners, explains the origins of the Earth and of other deities, speaks of narratives, explains hymns to Devi, and much more. Although it is an Upa (lesser) Purana, it contains vast amounts of information and requires great study in order to fully comprehend and explain. [The entire English translation by Vijnanananda of the Devi Bhagavata Purana is available online and also in print copy; link attached below.]

Devi’s many devotees are part of the Sakta sect in Hinduism and hold her as preeminent. Devi developed as an independent goddess unattached to any male sectarian tradition, and therefore is the basis of the goddess-based sectarian tradition, Saktism. [For more information on Saktism consult Tigunait (1998) or Rodrigues (2006)]. Devi is Sakti, the power that creates the cosmos. The devotees designated as Saktas form a smaller segment of Hindu population than either Saivas (worshippers of the god Siva) or Vaisnavas (devotees of the god Visnu) (Rodrigues 278-280). Devotees recognize that Devi has an ultimate form (formlessness) and an intimate form (accessible through faith), this presents that the gods themselves cannot know the cosmic form of the goddess without the personal extension of her grace (anugraha), and this can be done only through loving devotion (bhakti) to her (Beane 56). Therefore, devotees are strongly devoted to Devi because only through this loving devotion do they receive Devi’s good graces, any less would have consequences. The benefits of worshipping the goddess Devi and reading goddess-centered texts, such as the Devi Bhagavata Purana, can be recognized in verses from the text itself:

“She regulates the hearts of all and is the Cause of all causes. Without Her worship no one’s desires can be expected to be accomplished. Therefore, O Best of Suras! Worship the Universal Mother, the Prakrti Devi with greatest devotion and with greatest purity for the destruction of your enemy…She will then surely fulfill your desires.” (DBP 6:5:6-31)

 

References and Related Readings

Beane, Wendell C. (1973) History of Religions – The Cosmological Structure of Mythical Time: Kali-Sakti. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bhagavata Purana, 2 vols. text and translation. Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1952-60.

Brown, Cheever Mackenzie (1945) The Triumph of the Goddess: The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the Devi Bhagvata Purana. Albany: State University New York Press.

_____ (1974) God as Mother: A Feminine Theology in India: An Historical and Theological Study of the Brahmavaivarta Purana. Hartford, Vt.: Claude Stark.

Coburn, Thomas B. (1991) Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of Its Interpretation. Albany: State University New York Press.

Das, Bhagawan (1962) Krsna: A Study in the Theory of Avataras. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Hawley, J.S & Wulff, D.M. (1998) Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hazra, R. C. (1958-63) Studies in the Upapuranas, 2 vols. Calcutta: Sanskrit College.

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

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

Pulasker, A. D. (1955) Studies in the Epics and Puranas of India. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

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

_____ (2006) Hinduism – The eBook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Tigunait, Rajmani (1998) Sakti, the Power in Tantra: A Scholarly Approach. Honesdale: Himalayan Institute Press.

Valmiki, David & Goldman Robert P. (1996) The Ramayana of Valmiki. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Van Lysebeth, André (1995) Tantra: The Cult of the Feminine. York Beach, Me.: Samuel Weiser.

Vijnanananda, Swami (trans.) (1921-23) The Srimad Devi Bhagavatam. Allahabad: Sudhindra Nath Vasu.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bhagavata Purana

Sakti

Durga

Candi

Prakrti

Maya

Mahamaya

Parvati

Kali

Navaratra

Mukti

Samsara

Mahabharata Epic

Ramayana Epic

Visnu

Avataras

Devi Mahatmya

Karma

Saktism

Saivas

Siva

Vaisnavas

Bhakti

Tantra

Durga Puja

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/db/index.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devi

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1545186/Devi-Bhagavata-Purana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devi-Bhagavata_Purana

http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/navaratri.htm

http://www.srimadbhagavatam.org/

http://stotraratna.sathyasaibababrotherhood.org/pm1.htm

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/357806/Mahabharata

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rama/index.htm

http://hinduism.iskcon.org/tradition/1203.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaktism

 

Article written by Brianne Graham (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Taleju Bhavani and Kumari Worship

In Hindu mythology the goddess Taleju, or Taleju Bhavani, is considered to be the tutelary and wrathful form of the Goddess Durga. Durga is known to be the embodiment of all powers and to be the source of and contain all other goddesses within her (Monaghan 88). The creation of the goddess Durga was actually by the gods themselves. While the gods were resting after fighting with demons, a particular demon, named Mahishasura, took advantage of the god’s absence and declared himself Lord of Heaven and Ruler of the Universe (Harding 53). Upon hearing this declaration Visnu was outraged and “shot forth a terrible light from his forehead” (Harding 53). All the other mighty gods were similarly angry and also shot forth beams of light in the same direction of Visnu’s. The beam of lights eventually converged and from the blazing eruption of light the Goddess Durga emerged. In some scripts Taleju has also been referred to as Kali, another form of the goddess Durga known for her destructive nature. Taleju is also known by many different names such as Tulja, Turja, Tava, Tamva, Talamonde, Talesvari, as well as Manesvari (Slusser 316).

In the Kathmandu Valley the goddess Durga in the form of Taleju has a special place of worship among the Newar society. Three major cities lie within the valley Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapu. It has been estimated that about 5 percent of Nepal’s people live in the Kathmandu Valley which is around 600,000 people and it is thought that half of the population is comprised of Newars (Levy 35). The Newars are a people whose nation ruled long before Nepal was established. Their borders are generally accepted as having included the slopes of the hills that surrounded the Kathmandu Valley.

In this society the goddess Taleju is extremely important; she represents the political aspect of the society in Kathmandu Valley, she is the most important deity, and is the goddess to which all other goddesses pay homage. She is the tutelary goddess to the Nepalese or Malla kings and the success, greatness, and prosperity of the kingdom is controlled by her. The Malla Kings often used the Goddess Taleju in order to legitimize their rule and succession in the Kathmandu Valley. The mantra of Taleju is a mark of the ruler’s succession and is very important to receive. It is thought that if a ruler failed to receive the mantra, he was liable to lose his kingdom (Allen 15). Even when the Malla kingdom was conquered during the Shah dynasty, the new king adopted Taleju as his new royal deity, in order to prove and cement his legitimacy to the throne.

The Kumari are another form of the Goddess Taleju and are young girls considered to be the human manifestation of the Goddess Taleju. The origin of using the Kumari to worship the goddess is explained in Nepalese mythology. There are several different versions of the myth, but they all point to a Malla king upsetting the Goddess so greatly that she refuses to appear to him in her true form. One myth claims that the Goddess Taleju agreed to appear before the king Trailokyamalla of Bhaktapur and in return he had to secretly establish a symbol of the goddess and allow no one to see it. However, one day while he was worshipping, the King’s daughter walked in and saw the symbol. Taleju revoked her agreement with the King and refused to appear to him unless she was in the body of a young high-caste girl (Slusser 316). Another account implicates the King Ratnamalla and his sister Gangi as the intruder (Slusser 316). Other versions say that the King Trailokymall used to play games of dice with Durga at night and she would give him advice on the affairs of the state. Unfortunately the King became so overwhelmed by her beauty and her sexuality that he started to have impure thoughts, making it too difficult to concentrate on his actions. The Goddess perceived the thoughts of the King and was offended; consequently the goddess informed the King that he would no longer hold the privilege of seeing her in her goddess form, and instead she would appear in the body of a young virgin girl (Amazzone 72). Yet another description explains that it was the jealousy of the Queen that angered the Goddess. Not knowing that the beautiful women playing dice was indeed the Goddess Durga the Queen burst into the King’s chambers and accused him of infidelity. Outraged, the Goddess furiously stood up waving her ten arms and several of her other enraged faces came forth showing her multi-headed manifestation of the Goddess Taleju declaring that she will no longer give him her help (Amazzone 72). The King was devastated and for days he performed pujas to win back the affection of Taleju, but again she will only return to him in the body of young girl so as not to cause anymore outbreaks of jealousy (Amazzone 72).

The worshipping of the Goddess Taleju in the form of a young virgin girl, or Kumari, became a tradition in the Newar society and has continued to this day. Usually young girls between the ages of two and four are selected to take on the role of a living Kumari, but they can be even younger. Many different girls can be worshipped as living Kumaris at the same time and there are three principal Kumaris in the three cities of Bhadgaon, Kathmandu, and Patan. These girls are chosen on a measure of purity, to which there is specific criteria. In the case of the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, physical and psychological testing is done in a rigorous examination that is carried out by a committee appointed by the King’s priest (Allen 20). A group of eligible girls is brought before the committee on an auspicious day to be examined using a list of 32 perfections thought to be found in goddesses. The young girls must be in perfect health, suffering no serious illness especially an illness that may have caused a physical imperfection, no bad body smells, black hair and eyes and most importantly the girls must not have lost any blood from things like losing teeth or the start of menarche (Allen 20). The committee is also expected to take into account the reputation of the young girl’s family and her personality. If the committee is unable to find a young girl without an imperfection, they will choose the girl who most closely portrays the ideal (Allen 20). Once there has been a selection the young girl is brought to the palace of the king where he offers her a coin. She then returns to her home until the installation rites can be formed making her the new living Kumari (Allen 20). During the wait for the installation rites the spirit of the Kumari is thought to already be entering the body of the young girl, so if she shows any negative bodily symptoms she is considered to be unworthy of the role (Allen 20).

Once the girl is officially inducted into the role of the Kumari she is taken from her parents and family, and lives separately for the remainder of her term. The young girl is given attendants and caretakers to see to her needs (Allen 24, 25). Because the Kumari is a goddess, she is allowed to behave however she wishes, and she cannot be given instruction. However, if the Kumari was to consistently behave in a manner that was unbecoming, she would not be considered fit to continue her duty (Allen 27). The Kumari is an important part of religion and events in the Kathmandu Valley and is worshipped by the inhabitants of the Nepal; she is expected to appear in various rituals and participate in the many important festivals (Allen 28).

The young girl will continue her role as a Kumari until she shows signs of being human. The two biggest signs are the loss of teeth resulting in blood, or the beginning of the girl’s menstrual cycle. Once these signs appear the young girl is disqualified and a new Kumari is chosen (Allen 22). The now ex-Kumari must give back all of the valuable garments and jewellery she possessed during her reign and proceed through the life-cycle rituals and the rituals that will lead to her marriage (Allen 22).

 

 

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Allen, Michael R. (1975) The Cult of Kumari: Virgin Worship in Nepal. New Delhi: Siddhartha Press.

Amazzone, L. (2010) Goddess Durga and Sacred Female Power. Plymouth: Hamilton Books.

Anderson, Mary M. (1971). The Festivals of Nepal. London: Allen and Unwin.

Glowski, Janice M. (1995). Living Goddess as Incarnate Image: The Kumari Cult of Nepal. Retrieved from http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?acc_num=osu1105391104

Harding, E. (1993). Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Hoek, Bert van den, Shrestha, Balgopal. (1992) Guardians of the Royal Goddess: Daitya and Kumar as the Protectors of Taleju Bhavani of Kathmandu. Retrieved from http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/contributions/pdf/CNAS_19_02_03.pdf

Levy, Robert I., Rajopadhya, Kedar Raj. Mesocosm: Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Slusser, Mary S. (1998) Nepal Mandala: A cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Vergati, Anne. (2002) Gods, Men, and Territory: Society and Culture in Kathmandu Valley. Delhi: Rajkamal Electric Press.

White, David G. (2001) Tantra in Practice. Delhi: Shri Jainendea Press.

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Durga

Kali

Virgin Worship

Tantra

Nepal

Kathmandu Valley

Newar Politics

Taleju Bhavani

Nepal Festivals

Hindu Goddesses

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hindusutra.com/archive/2007/01/02/nepals-child-goddesses-taleju/

http://www.nepaltravels.com/nepal/attraction/goddes_kumari.htm

http://saaurya.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/growing-up-as-a-goddess-extraordinary-life-of-child-kumari/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2164075/Living-goddess-Nepal-Pictures-preparations-festival.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2084901/Extraordinary-life-child-Kumari-virgin-goddess-adored-thousands-religious-festival.html

[Article written by Ashley Bust (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.]

Sarasvati (River and Goddess)

 

Sarasvati, a Hindu goddess, is the embodiment of the Sarasvati River and can be thought of as one of the earlier feminine deities worshipped in Vedic culture. Not to be confused with the idea that she simply personifies the river, the Hindu belief is that the manifestation of the river is simply one part of her true being and there is a connection between this river and the transcended being of a goddess (Kinsley 57). This connection is what truly makes these places of worship holy and auspicious.

The river’s true location is a disputed issue between many scholars due to various forms of evidence, each pointing to separate regions. A popular theory which is supported by satellite imagery and archeological digs identifies the river as the one that is thought to have sustained the Indus Valley Civilization before having dried up in most parts of the desert (Kalyanaraman 2). Recent scientific attempts to place the exact location of this river have led to the distinct possibility of the Markanda River being a part of the Sarasvati River as well [More in depth maps for the candidate locations, see Kshetrimayum and Bajpai]. Along the banks of this river a great civilization is believed to have once thrived and historical finds show many settlements dotting this area. The evidence shows that this river had dried up in roughly 1500 BCE (Kalyanaraman 3). The commonly agreed upon theory of its disappearance relies on the findings of two major events that are believed to have caused this. The first major event was the Yamuna River pushing the Sarasvati River towards the Ganges River in roughly 3000 BCE while the second major event saw the Satadru River join the Indus River in roughly 2000 BCE (Kalyanaraman 5). These two events diverted the water source from the Sarasvati River causing it to gradually dry up. A massive migration ensued for the civilization having them spread out across modern day India.

Stemming from her ties with the river, Sarasvati is the patron goddess of learning, knowledge, arts (poetry and music), and science (McLeish 1). She is called upon by libraries, schools, and by those that need to create. Later as Hinduism evolved, she began to represent more of patronage towards speech through the development of mythology (Kinsley 59). She is typically found in most art forms to be an extremely beautiful woman with four arms seated on a white lotus, a white swan, or on the edge of a river bank. In her four arms she holds four objects that represent her patronage, though the exact objects may differ slightly between each representation [Commonly a book, a musical instrument, jewelry, and a pen are seen] (McLeish 1). Sarasvati is praised for nourishing the land with her waters and is prayed to by those who seek knowledge, wealth, children, and nourishment themselves. Additionally, her ties with the river make her into a being that purifies and cleanses her believers (Kinsley 11). A holiday is celebrated in her honor in the early spring (fifth day of Magha) by a puja. Hindus take this time to worship the goddess and worship her associated artifacts (books, pens, musical instruments, beads). Pictures and artwork are also hung up along buildings and walls to celebrate the day (Kinsley 64).

Sarasvati’s mythological history is spread out over the Mahabharata Epic and many of the Puranas. The epics also attempt to give reason for the disappearance of the great river attributing it to the non Dharmic actions of a cannibalistic aboriginal tribe called the Nisadas. This tribe is said to play host to all sorts of thieves, hunters, and other inauspicious vermin. In the tale, due to their actions and their failure to regard the Vedas as holy, Sarasvati decides to descend into the sands so that they cannot know her benefits [Ludvik explores the idea of the goddess moving herself for her followers further] (Ludvik 99). In one version of the creation myth, she is created by the deity Brahma from a stream of water from his side. Her beauty enters into this myth as a reason for the many faces of Brahma. According to the myth, Brahma cannot keep his eyes off of her and as she moves around him he grows his other four faces to watch her (McLeish 1). In other creation myths she has been tied to one of Krsna’s forms assigned to learning and knowledge or to be the tongue of Visnu once again showing her relation to creativity (Kinsley 58).

Stone sculpture of the goddess of learning Sarasvati, holding the Vedas, a lotus, a waterpot, and prayer beads, 12th century, from Pallu, Rajasthan, Delhi National Museum
Stone sculpture of the goddess of learning Sarasvati, holding the Vedas, a lotus, a waterpot, and prayer beads, 12th century, from Pallu, Rajasthan, Delhi National Museum

Early worship practices seem to be focused mainly on the bounty that this river provided or to the power and ferocity of its floodwaters. The river is written about in a mixture of fear and respect. It is said to be capable of destroying the mountains with its power and flooding the plains (Kinsley 10). This river is spoken about in the Rg Veda as one of the most powerful bodies of water and comes heavily praised in so much that it has given scholars difficulties at times to distinguish whether the praise is intended for the river or the goddess herself (Kinsley 10-11). So much so was the admiration of her great power that it was said that the source of her waters flowed from the heavens themselves which is now thought to have had certain ties to the Milky Way. It is thought that perhaps the Sanskrit word for the “Milky Way” might very well have been Sarasvati [Witzel looks into the reason why most other heavenly bodies were described in Vedic texts but such a large heavenly body could not possibly be overlooked] (Witzel 222-226).

Sarasvati is mentioned throughout the Veda Samhitas but is mainly praised in the Rg Veda though her heavy ties to sacrificial rites also have her mentioned in the Yajur Veda as well. She is invoked into ceremonies typically for the purpose of purifying the process as her powerful association with water might suggest (Kinsley 11). The river that she embodies is seen as a holy site and the Rg Veda makes mention of the banks of the river as being one of the holiest places to perform these sacrifices (Ludvik 14). She is sometimes associated with a male counterpart by the name of Sarasvant, a river god, who is typically only referred to during sacrificial ceremonies. His exact nature is relatively unexplored but offerings are also made to him during these rituals (Ludvik 11). Her ties to speech make her a crucial deity in the performing of these rituals since Hindu beliefs consider the recitation of a mantra to be the equivalent of summoning a deity to your presence. Along with speech she also represents the idea of thought itself through knowledge, an integral part of speaking to the gods (Kinsley 59).

Since Sarasvati is seen as such an early emerging deity, it is only natural that she become the mold for later goddesses that will appear. River goddesses that can be seen as later versions of Sarasvati may include Ganga and Jumna (Kinsley 56). Though it may be noted as Hinduism progresses and evolves, her association with the river becomes less distinct and she takes on a role much more fitting to her patron status rather than her status as a river goddess (Kinsley 57).

Artwork that Sarasvati inspired also evolved over time and she is accepted to be one of the most culturally influential goddesses for the art that she inspired. An early prototype image for the goddess or even possibly an image of the goddess herself appears as early as 200 BCE at a Buddhist site. This figure carries much of the iconic symbols that are now associated with the goddess [Ludvik discusses this further with more emphasis on the relevance to the time period] (Ludvik 227-229).

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

 

Ghosh, Niranjan (1939) Sarasvati in India art and literature. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

 

Kalyanaraman, S (1997) Sarasvati River. Chennai: Sarasvati Sindhu Research Centre.

 

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

 

Kshetrimayum, K. S. and Bajpai, V. N. (2011) Establishment of Missing Stream Link between the Markanda River and the Vedic Saraswati River in Haryana, India Geoelectrical Resistivity Approach. Current Science 100 #11 (June): 1719-1724.

 

Ludvik, Catherine (2007) Sarasvati: Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: from the Manuscript carrying Vina-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma. Boston: Brill’s Indological Library.

 

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) Sarasvati Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd.

 

Witzel, Michael (1984) Sur le chemin du ciel. Leiden: Institut Kern.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Indus Valley Civilization

Sarasvant

Ganges

Rg Veda

Yajurveda

Nisadas

Ganga

Jumna

Brahma

Sarasvati Puja

Magha

Mahabharata

Krsna

Visnu

 

 

 

 

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://www.saisathyasai.com/india_hinduism_gods_goddesses/saraswati.shtml

 

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/asia/m/marble_relief_figure_of_sarasv.aspx

 

http://hinduism.about.com/od/hindugoddesses/p/saraswati.htm

 

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/523994/Sarasvati

 

http://www.stephen-knapp.com/recent_research_on_the_sarasvati_river.htm

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saraswati

 

http://journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/goddess-sarasvati/

 

http://www.asia.si.edu/devi/fulldevi/deviCat48.htm

 

http://www.harekrsna.com/philosophy/associates/demigods/sarasvati.htm

 

Article written by William Beninger (April 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Goddess Kamakhya

Kamakhya – The Mother Goddess

The Mother Goddess Kamakhya, sometimes referred to as the “five-fold goddess,” is a significant focus in Tantric worship (Nicholas 174).  The goddess has her history rooted in the myth of Sati, and as a result the Kamakhya temple is a frequent spot for worship and pilgrimage (Nicholas 174).   Kamakhya is often thought of as a powerful and dark goddess, a goddess of desire, and is thought to exist in the form of a yoni (female reproductive organ) at the Kamakhya temple in Assam (Urban 2001: 779-780).

Characteristics and Iconography of the Goddess

Kamakhya, as mentioned above, is believed to reside in a stone yoni (female reproductive organ) at her temple of worship, and is regarded as the goddess of desire (Urban 2001: 231). Kamakhya, like many Hindu deities is depicted with many heads, and multiple arms (Newell 246).  However, she is also said to exist in many forms (Mishra 40). Kamakhya is generally depicted as a younger female adorned in a red sari, and having six multi-colored heads and twelve arms. It is also common to see images of the Siva and a lion accompanying depictions of Kamakhya (see Fig. 60, Mishra 189)

Historical Background – The Myth of Sati

In order to fully understand Kamakhya’s role as a goddess it is important to understand her historical context. The myth of a Sati is a prevalent myth in Hinduism and describes the events following Siva and Sati’s marriage. King Daksa, under the urging of the gods, reluctantly gave his daughters’ hand in marriage to Siva, the destroyer god (Urban 2001: 787). Daksa later decided to hold a large ritual, in which he spitefully excluded Siva. Sati was offended by the rebuff of her husband and committed suicide at the ritual in retaliation, becoming a sacrifice herself (Urban 2001: 787). Siva became distraught upon finding out about his wife’s death. He went to the ritual, slew Daksa, and begins wandering the cosmos carrying Sati’s body on his shoulders (Urban, 2001, p. 787).  The god Visnu is disturbed by this image and sends a discus to slice her apart (Urban 2001: 787). Thus, as the distraught Siva wondered the earth, parts of his beloved’s body were dropped upon the earth (Urban 2001: 787). There is said to be 51 different spots where parts of Sati’s dismembered body fell, referred to as pithas, or sacred sites (Urban 2001: 788). It is Sati’s yoni that is said to have fallen at Assam, and it is a stone yoni, which represents the Tantric Mother Goddess Kamakhya (Urban 2001: 788). This pitha is where the Temple of Kamakhya came to be erected, and is the site of abundant worship for Kamakhya today (Urban 2001: 788).

The myth of Sati is likely the most common reference to Kamakhya. However, scholars speculate that she may have been a figure in the tribal religions of primordial Assam (Urban 2001: 789). The Kalika Purana even insinuates that Kamakhya was worshiped by the Kiritas, aboriginal people who lived in the Himalayas around 600 BCE (Urban 2011: 232). It has also been suggested that the word Kamakhya came from Ai Kamakhya a goddess worshiped by an Assamic ethnic community called the Bodos (Mishra 15). Regardless, Kamakhya is presently viewed as being empowered with sakti (goddess power), and this likely derives from her connection with Sati, who was reborn as the goddess Parvati. There are various versions of this classical myth in different texts.

Significant Textual References

There are several texts, which discuss the mythical origins of Kamakhya, each having slightly different details, which contribute to different practices in accordance with the preferred myth. The Kalika Purana and Yogini Tantra both offer versions of mythical origin (Mishra 144-146).

The Kalika Purana depicts Daksa as the son of Brahma. This version of the story portrays Daksa as a worshipper of the goddess, Devi. In answer to a boon (wish) Daksa was given a daughter who was a rebirth of Devi; this daughter was, of course, Sati (Mishra 144).   The rest of the myth was similar to the one, which is summarized in the section above.

The Yogini Tantra depicts a very different myth of origin for the goddess. This myth depicts a conceited Brahma, who aggravates Devi (Mishra 145). Devi creates Kesi, a male demon, whose purpose is to destroy Brahma.  Brahma concedes to give up his arrogance and seeks assistance from Lord Visnu. Visnu helps negotiate with Devi, who explains the reasoning behind her creation of Kesi. Following Brahma and Visnu’s prayer to Devi, Devi kills the demon in Kesipura, the site of the gods’ prayer (Mishra 145).  Kesipura subsequently becomes a site of worship as Devi said that the place contained the yonimandala (literally the essence of yoni; Devi’s in particular) (Mishra 144-146).  Devi then names the deity, which presides over the pitha, Devi Kamakhya (Mishra 146).

Depending on which origin myth one believes in, worship practice and treatment of the goddess may vary.

Worship Sites, Religious Practices, and Festivals Centered Around Kamakhya

The Kamakhya temple is located in the former province of Assam atop Nilachal hill in the city of Guwahati (Mishra 23). Many pilgrimages are made to this Sakta temple, and Kamakhya is thought to be pivotal in tantric worship and in the beliefs and practices of Assamese society. This pitha is even thought to be the site of Kamakhya’s yearly menstruation (Urban 2011: 231). The site itself actually consists of multiple complexes, including the central Kamakhya temple and two shrines devoted to the deities Laksmi and Sarasvati. The temple is considered an auspicious site, and offerings are often made to the mother goddess, in an effort to deter illness or disastrous events (Mishra 7). Blessings are given to Kamakhya on special occasions including marriage, and a child’s first solid feeding (Mishra 7).

Temple of Goddess Kamakhya (Kamarupa, Assam)

The goddess Kamakhya manifests in ten forms, referred to as the Mahavidyas (Dold 46). These ten expressions of the goddess are believed to dwell at the Kamakhya temple, and it is suggested that the Mahavidyas collectively exude the goddess’s protective and compassionate attitude towards her devotees (Dold 59). Thus, many practices relating to Kamakhya involve her manifestations. One of the practices relating to Kamakhya’s Mahavidyas is that of wearing a talisman, or kavaca (Dold 59). Kavaca’s are typically worn by a devotee when attempting to invoke a deity (generally a goddess, such as one of the Mahavidyas) in an appeal for their protection (Dold 59).  It is even suggested that the Kamakhya temple site is actually encircled by the goddesses, and because of this devotees are protected from harm during worship (Dold 60).

Countless rituals and celebrations occur at the Kamakhya Temple, and so for simplicity, only a few will be discussed. Daily worship at the temple consists of a priest offering praise to the goddess, followed by offering of food and potentially the sacrifice of a male goat. Purity norms are adhered to during daily worship (Mishra 59). Daily worship of a deity is called nitya puja, and presently the Tantric method is applied to Kamakhya’s nitya puja (Mishra 47). Religious songs (Nam) are often performed by the local women in Assam. This is done to encourage the beneficial presence of the deity (Dold 60).

Ambuvaci is a festival honoring the mother goddess during what is believed to be her annual period of menstruation (Mishra 51). Held sometime towards the end of June, Ambuvaci is considered a time of impurity. Subsequently the festival begins with the shrine being covered in red fabric, and when the temple is re-opened the adornments are removed and the shrine receives a purifying ceremonial bath (Mishra 52). Pilgrims often come for this festival, during which they sing songs of praise to the goddess, and engage in philosophical discussion and story telling (Mishra 53).

Spiritual Tantric practitioners frequently visit the temple. Kamakhya is viewed by these devotees as being an omnipresent goddess with the power to defeat universal forces of impurity (Urban 2001: 778-779). Dr. Hugh Urban, describes Assamese Tantra as being “center[ed] around the optimization and harnessing of power on all levels – cosmic, physical, social, and political” (2011: 780). Ironically Tantra, violates religious taboo, and through impure practices, such as manipulation of certain substances, sacrifice, and eroticism, a practitioner hopes to set free the sakti embodied in Kamakhya (Urban 2001: 780-781). It is said that this violation of social norm is a form of asserting one’s own superhuman power (Urban 2001: 793).  Submitting to one’s desire can be thought of also as a energizing and awakening act (Dobia 67). In Tantric practice, it seems that Kamakhya is depicted as dark and powerful and associated with desire, while other views tend to see Kamakhya being equally powerful, but associated with feminity and fertility.

Thus, Kamakhya is seen in diverse ways. It is represented in various forms, but her omnipresence and her central importance at Kamakhya temple seem universal to worshipers of this multi-faceted goddess.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Dobia, Brenda (2007) “Approaching the Hindu Goddess of Desire.” Feminist Theology, 16 no. 1: 61-78

Dold, Patricia (2011). Pilgrimage to Kamakhya Through Text and Lived Religion. In Rodrigues Hilary (Eds.), Studying Hinduism in Practice (46-61). New York, NY: Routledge.

Mishra, Nihar Ranjan (2004) Kamakhya: A Socio-cultural Study. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Newell, Margaret Zo (2011). “Picturing the Goddess: Bazaar Images and the Imagination of Modern Hindu Religious Identity.” PhD Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty the Graduate School of Vanderbilt University, 246.

Nicholas, Ralph (1976). Review of “Worship of the Goddess According to the Kalikapurana.” Journal of Asian Studies 36, no. 1: 172-174.

Urban, Hugh (2001) “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship, and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” Journal of American Academy of Religion 69, no. 4: 777-816.

Urban, Hugh (2011) “The Womb of Tantra: Goddesses, Tribals, and Kings in Assam.” Journal of Hindu Studies 4, no. 3: 231-247.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Staircase of Kamakhya Temple (Legend)

Folk Medicine and Kamakhya

Ambuvaci

The Yogini Tantra

The Kalika Purana

Noteworthy Reading Related to the Topic

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

Dold, Patricia (2004) “The Mahavidyas at Kamarupa: Dynamics of Transformation in Hinduism.” Religious Studies and Theology 23, no. 1: 89-122.


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.shreemaa.org/drupal/ambuvaci_0

http://www.swaminarayan.nu/youth/puja.shtml

http://hinduism.about.com/od/temples/ss/tantratemples.htm

Article written by Majken Villiger (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Goddess Matangi

Matangi: The Ninth Mahavidya

Matangi is the ninth object of transcendent knowledge, also known as the ninth Mahavidya (Donaldson 597). The Mahavidyas are most commonly a group of ten goddesses, but sometimes can be increased by three or six (Thakur 69). The Mahavidyas have been known as a group since around the tenth century C.E (Kinsley 1). They are said to all be different expressions of the same goddess, who take on different forms for the needs of her devotees (Kinsley 2). It is said that “each Mahavidya is one facet of a multi-faceted Great Goddess and that each facet contains all the others” (Kinsley 39). Though some of the Mahavidyas are popular on their own, Matangi is rarely associated apart from the group (Kinsley 2). However, Matangi is still a unique goddess with many traits that make her powerful.

Earliest traces of Matangi arise in the story from the Divyavadana, a Buddhist collection of stories. There is a story of a low caste girl, whose father-in-law is said to be the king of elephants. In this story, there are parallels to Matangi’s power to attract and control, as well as distinct ties to nature (Kinsley 212). All these are important to Matangi as a goddess; however, they merely show hints of her characteristics, not a story of the goddess herself. All in all, this paints a picture for the beginnings of this tantric goddess, with many more origin stories to follow.

Matangi has several different forms throughout various Hindu texts. Most often, she is a beautiful girl with a dark or black complexion. She has beautiful long hair, elements of nature around her, and intoxicating eyes (Kinsley 14). In Tantric texts, Matangi usually has two-four arms and sits upon a gem-throne or a corpse-seat (Donaldson 599). In her arms, she holds a combination of different objects, most commonly a vina, a kartska, a kapala, a sword, a noose, a goad, a shield, a club, or a mace (Donaldson 599). Matangi is said to be represented by the colors blue-green, however some scholars associate her with black, due to her dark complexion (see Kinsley 42-43). In the Kubjika Upanisad, Matangi is said to be the blue one, who has blue garments, blue perfumes, blue ornaments, and a blue parrot (Goudriaan 320). When Matangi is depicted with four arms, those four arms are said to be the representation of the four Vedas (Donaldson 597). Other common names for Matangi are Rajamatangi, Sumukhi-matangi, and Ucchista-matangi (Donaldson 599). Though Matangi’s depictions change depending on the text, she is a well-known and original goddess who illustrates great power throughout her forms.

Matangi is said, much like the other Mahavidyas, to have certain magical or psychic powers (Kinsley 220). She has the power to grant her devotees desires such as the power to gain control over others, to have everything one wishes come true, and attract people (Kinsley 220). In addition, she can destroy her devotee’s enemies and make her devotee rich, powerful, and a great poet (Donaldson 597). If one wishes to obtain any of these demands, the devotee must sacrifice different elements or combinations of elements to a fire, all while reciting Matangi’s mantra (Kinsley 221). An example would be if one wanted power to attract others, salt and honey would be offered to the fire (Kinsley 222). Also, successful worship of Matangi must be completed during the night, with offerings to her sacrificed at midnight (Goudriaan 320). If a devotee is to follow Matangi’s rituals, they may request any boon they desire.

Matangi is best known for her unconventional desire for pollution. This is based on one of her origin myths, from the Sakti-samgama-tantra (Kinsley 213). Matangi is said to have been created from the leftover food (uccista) of Siva and Parvati, requesting more leftover food as sustenance upon arrival (Kinsley 213). Siva then pronounced that Uccista-matangini would henceforth be the bestower of all boons (Kinsley 213). This myth is profound because leftover food is believed to be polluted in the Hindu tradition and not fit for a god or goddess. Matangi requests left over foods from her devotees and is said to request the uccista to be from their stained hands and mouths (Kinsley 215). Matangi is believed to consume many dangerous materials such as animal heads and clothing worn by a person before they had died, which are known as chwasas (Kinsley 218). Matangi not only requires her devotees to offer her polluted substances but also to be in a polluted state when worshipping her (Kinsley 7). To be in a polluted state means that the devotees would not need to bathe, fast, or do any other vows before worship (Kinsley 216). Also, devotees can be menstruating when worshipper her, even offer her clothe with menstrual blood on it, which is seen as highly polluted (Kinsley 216). Matangi is worshipped for being polluted, and thus must be worshipped by polluted devotees. To be polluted is a taboo in Hindu worship, thus this makes Matangi an interesting exception to Hindu conventions.

Matangi, in relation with her association to pollution, is also seen as the outcaste or low-caste goddess (Kinsley 217). In two of her origin stories, Matangi is seen as a Candala or untouchable women. The first origin story is from the text Pranatosini-Tantra, which has strong ties to the origin myth of the ten Mahavidyas. In this myth, Siva tests Parvati’s faithfulness and in turn Parvati tests Siva by disguising herself as a Candala woman. She then seduces him to make love with her, which in turn makes him extremely polluted. For falling for her trick, Parvati asks Siva for a boon, which Siva grants. She requested that this Candala form would last forever and be referred to as Uccista-candalini (Kinsley 213). This solidified Matangi’s role as a low-caste goddess and hence she was forever subject to life as a Candala. In another origin story, Matangi is the sister of Siva and is obsessed with purity and pollution. After ill-talk against her brother’s polluted behaviour, Parvati cursed her to be re-born as an untouchable. Saddened by her fate, she approaches her brother who grants her desire to be worshipped by people on spiritual journeys to Varanasi (Kinsley 214). Matangi’s ties to the lower classes are solidified by a group in Nepal known as the Pores or known by their caste name: Matangi (Kinsley 218). This group collects and accumulates the debris of others castes and disposes it (Kinsley 218). They are dealing with the pollution of others, and thus are constantly in a state of pollution. The significance of these individuals being known by the caste name Matangi shows not only the Tantric goddesses’ link to low castes but also their pollution.

Matangi can also be associated with the forest and nature. Many scholars say that Matangi is the goddess of the hunter tribes (White 469). This stems from the third origin myth of Raja-matangini, in the Svatantra-tantra, where this goddess helps Matanga subdue all creatures (Kinsley 219). This gives her a close connection to the goddess Savaresvari, who is also known as the mistress of the Savaras, a tribe that dwells in the forest (Kinsley 219). In the Nandyavarta-tantra, Matangi bears quite a few epithets that link her thousand-name hymn with Savaresvari. Matangi is called “She Who Lives in the Forest, Who Walks the Forest, Who Knows the Forest, Who Enjoys the Forest, and Savari” (Kinsley 219). As well, in her hundred-name hymn from the Rudrayamala, Matangi, much like Savaresvari, is said to love music (Kinsley 219). Also, in the Sarada-tilaka-tantra, Matangi is said to have leaves painted on her forehead and flower garlands in her hair, as well as have the ability to control wild animals; all which associate her with Savaresvari (Kinsley 219). Furthermore, Matangi is often said to be the daughter of Matanga, who was most likely a hunter, giving her true lineage to nature (Donaldson 212). Matangi, as a goddess of the hunter tribes, gives this tantric goddess power over living things residing within nature.

Matangi is also often referred to as the elephant power, who is in charge of restoring peace, calm, and prosperity after the terror of the night (Donaldson 596). In the Matangi Tantra, her dhyana declares that she, as the elephant power, is the delight of the world (Donaldson, 596). Also, the Matangi Tantra gives a description of Matangi which is quite unique to her classification as an elephant power (Donaldson 596). She is portrayed as sitting on a jeweled throne, her feet being honored by the hosts of the gods, whom she looks upon with three lotus eyes. She is also said to shine like a blue lotus, yet still resemble the forest fire which consumes the habitat of the demons. She holds a noose, a sword, a shield, and an elephant in her lotus hands (Donaldson 596). This is unique because images of Matangi do not often have her holding an elephant, directly correlating to her power. Matangi is also seen as erotically dominant, which is why she is commonly referred to as an impassioned female elephant. Matangi’s name literally means “she whose limbs are intoxicated (with passion)” (Kinsley 218). All in all, Matangi’s power as an elephant further solidifies the diverse nature that encompasses this tantric goddess.

According to many scholars, Matangi is also a representation of Sarasvati, the goddess of culture and learning (Dold, 2011: 59). This is evident in a few historical sources and depictions, most notably in the Swami Shastri (Kinsley 21). As well, in the Sarada-tilaka-tantra, she is playing a vina, a characteristic distinctive to Sarasvati (Donaldson 597). This notion is also confirmed by posters from the Kamarupa temple that depict her with a vina, represented in the main temple’s garbhagriha (Dold, 2004: 120). Sarasvati, and in comparison Matangi, was created to spread music and education, as well as help acquire liberating wisdom (jnana) (Kinsley 21). Furthermore, she is said to represent the sixty-four arts (Kinsley 209). Since she is the deity reigning over fine arts, she has the power to embark artistic ventures such as composing poetry (White 472). Overall, this creates an opposing representation of Matangi, who is most commonly depicted as a low-caste, polluted goddess. This final representation adds to Matangi’s complexity as the ninth Mahavidya.

All in all, Matangi is a goddess with many forms and traits. She serves to represent a wide array of people; from the lower-castes, to the hunter tribes, to the arts. Matangi’s desire for pollution also makes her an exception to many Hindu conventions for worshipping gods and goddess. Matangi serves as a facet of a larger Great Goddess, while still maintaining unique traits for her devotees to worship.

Bibliography and Related Readings

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

Dold, Patricia A (2004) The Mahavidyas at Kamarupa: Dynamics of Transformation in Hinduism.”  Journal of Religious Studies and Theology. 23(1), 89-122.

Donaldson, Thomas  E (2002) Tantra and Sakta Art of Orissa Vol.II. Delhi: DK Printworld Ltd.

Goudriaan, Teun  (1993) Ritual and Speculation in Early Tantrism. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

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

Thakur, Manoj K (2001) The Tantras: An Introductory Outline. Delhi: Book Land Publishing Co.

White, David G (2000) Tantra in Practise. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Related Research Topics

Candala

Chwasas

Elephant

Hunter

Mahavidya

Pollution

Pravati

Savaras

Savaresvari

Sarasvati

Siva

Taboo

Tantra

Untouchable

Uccista

Related Websites

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/shakti/maatangi.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matangi

http://www.metahistory.org/tantra/lunarshaktis/Matangi1.php

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/matangi.htm

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/mahavidyas/2/

http://www.rudraksha-ratna.com/mahavidyas.html

Article written by Sarah Sampson (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.