Category Archives: g) Dhumavati


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

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

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

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

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

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

References and Related Readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Widowhood in Hindu culture

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


















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

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

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

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

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


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

The Ten Mahavidyas

When discussing the ten Mahavidyas, it may seem like a daunting task to understand how goddesses, one with a garland of skulls, another with clothing made of severed body parts, and a third with a habit of cutting off her own head, can be highly regarded within the Hindu tradition, but they are. These obscure beings are regarded as being significant to the basic themes of Hindu beliefs and spirituality (Kinsley 1998:1). “It seems that there is logic to the group as a whole and that even its most outrageous members, if understood within their proper context, reveal important spiritual truths” (Kinsley 1998:1). The idea of this group of ten goddesses has been around since the early medieval period (Kamakala-khanda 65-66); specific goddesses within this group even predate this time and continue to be well known in the present day.

The origination of the ten Mahavidyas is not always agreed upon. Some say that the ten Mahavidyas as a whole seem to be “a medieval iconographic and mythological expression of an aspect of Mahadevi theology” (Kinsley 1986:161). There are numerous myths about the Devi in which she is described as producing these goddesses from different parts of her body (Vamana-purana 30.3-9). The Devi is thought to assume these different incarnations in an attempt to maintain cosmic stability (Devi-mahatmya 11.38-50).

“The ten Mahavidyas, at least in part, are probably a Sakta version of the central Vaisnava idea of Visnu’s ten avataras, who appear from time to time to maintain the order of dharma” (Sircar 48). The Guhyatiguhya-tantra confirms this idea by providing a list of the Mahavidyas and associating each one with a corresponding avatara of Visnu (Kinsley 1986:161). However, the ten Mahavidyas are much more than a Sakta representation of Visnu’s avataras; they display significant contrast from the avataras in respect to their appearance and function (Kinsley 1986:161-162).

The context of the story of Sati and Siva is where the true myth of the ten Mahavidyas’ origin arises. Daksa, Sati’s father decides to perform a notable sacrifice and invites every one that resides in the heavenly spheres to attend. That is, everyone aside from his daughter and her husband Siva. Daksa disapproves of Siva’s unkempt appearance and uncivilized behavior and does not want him to taint the legitimacy of the affair (Kinsley 1986:162). Sati is outraged and makes the decision to interrupt the sacrifice, but Siva forbids her to do so. Sati becomes furious, and as she loses her temper, she embodies an appalling form before eventually transforming and multiplying into ten forms, the ten Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1986:162).

Kali, “the black goddess”, is a perfect example of a goddess that is known outside of the goddess cluster. Although the order, names, and number of the Mahavidyas can vary according to different sources, Kali is always included, and is typically named first. Kali is commonly referred to as the most important or primary Mahavidya (Woodroffe 361). In some occurrences, it appears that the rest of the Mahavidyas originate from Kali, or are in some way differing embodiments of her (Kinsley 1998:68). Descriptions of Kali are altered depending on which account is being looked into, but sources tend to agree on several characteristics. Kali is almost always regarded as being a dark presence with a dreadful appearance. She is considered to have four arms, but what they hold are not always agreed upon (Kinsley 1998:67-68). Some sources cite Kali as holding a bloodied cleaver and a severed head in her left hands, while her right hands gesture blessings and a symbol of “fear not” (Kinsley 1998:9). Others say that along with holding a severed head, she carries a jar full of liquor mixed with meat (Kinsley 1998:68). She is commonly regarded as being horrific looking, covered in blood and body parts. Whatever her description, Kali has taken her place as the primary Mahavidya. The Saktisamgama-tantra explicitly says, “All the deities, including the Mahavidyas, Siddhi-vidyas, Vidyas, and Upa-vidyas, are different forms that Kali assumes” (Bhattacharyya & Dvivedi 7-8). Several authorities then view Kali as a symbol of ultimate reality; she truly reveals the nature of fully awakened consciousness (Kinsley 1998:79).

When the Mahavidyas are listed, Tara is typically immediately listed after Kali. This placement would suggest a proposal of importance to the group. Her physical appearance is indeed the most similar to Kali among all the other Mahavidyas; the significance is often interpreted as being comparable to that of Kali. There is a great possibility that the Hindu Mahavidya Tara was developed from the Buddhist bodhisattva Tara, but whereas the Buddhist Tara is often known as being compassionate, the Hindu Tara is almost always fierce, dangerous, and terrible to witness (Kinsley 1998:92). Tara is frequently described as having three bright red eyes. (Kinsley 1998:98). Much like Kali, Tara is often depicted as having a sword and a severed head in her hands; Tara also wears a garland of skulls around her neck (Rai 179-180).

Tripura-sundari is typically listed third, following Kali and Tara in the list of the Mahavidyas. Her name translates to “She who is lovely in the three worlds” (Kinsley 1998:113). She is listed under multiple names, but is also said to be a primary Mahavidya, suggesting that she represents absolute reality. Tripura-sundari’s dhyana mantra portrays her as such: “She shines with the light of the rising sun. In her four hands she hold a noose, a goad, arrows, and a bow” (Unknown 193).

Bhuvanesvari, literally “she whose body is the world”, comes next on the list of the Mahavidyas. Bhuvanesvari is linked with the earth and with creation and is thought to be the underlying energy of it all (Kinsley 1998:131). She embodies the dynamics of the world as we know it. “In this sense…she is identified with the mahabhutas (the basic physical elements) and prakrti (nature or the physical world)” (Kinsley 1998:131). Bhuvanesvari, apart from being included in the Mahavidyas, does not appear to have a widespread following of her own (Kinsley 1998:131).

“The self-decapitated goddess” Chinnamasta is also best known for her involvement in the Mahavidyas, and does not have much of an individual following. Chinnamasta is illustrated holding her own amputated head in one hand, with a sword in the other, drinking her own blood, which is spilling from her neck (Kinsley 1998:144). Although early references to Chinnamasta have not been located, there are accounts of goddesses that are suggested to be prototypes of her, displaying familiar characteristics such as being headless, bloodthirsty, and violent (Kinsley 1998:146).

Bhairavi translates to mean “the fierce one”. She wears red clothing and is adorned with a garland of severed heads; her body is smeared with blood (Kinsley 1998:167). A hymn from the Sarada-tilaka describes Bhairavi as being in a position that oversees and proceeds over the three male deities that are typically associated with creation. She is considered to be separate from the gods and even surpassing them. This emphasis is quite common in many hymns regarding goddesses, especially in the cases pertaining to the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998:169). Bhairavi also assumes the role of an educator and creates the Vedas through her wisdom (Kinsley 1998:169).

Dhumavati is known as the widow goddess. She is typically depicted as being ugly, upset, and disheveled; her hands shake and her eyes are full of concern (Kinsley 1998:176). She symbolizes the painful and more burdensome aspects of life (Kinsley 1998:181). Outside of the Mahavidyas, virtually nothing is known about Dhumavati.

Bagalamukhi can be referred to as “the paralyzer”. She emits a grim disposition and is heavily intoxicated. Her complexion is completely golden, embellished by her yellow dress, ornaments, and garland (Kinsley 1998:193). Bagalamukhi is associated with having magical powers. Her devotees are said to reap the rewards of her powers (Kinsley 1998:199-200).

The Goddess Bagalamukhi (one of the Ten Mahavidyas) (Temple Painting, Patan, Nepal)

Matangi is considered to be the “outcaste” among the other goddesses within this cluster. A particular myth pertaining to Matangi touches on the idea of being polluted by associating with the Candalas, or “the untouchables” (Kinsley 1998:217).

Kamala, the final goddess of the Mahavidyas, is known as “the lotus goddess” (Kinsley 1998:223). Kamala is none other than the goddess Laksmi. Among all of the goddesses included in the ten Mahavidyas, Kamala is the most popular and well known. She is “a goddess with almost completely auspicious, benign, and desirable qualities” (Kinsley 1998:225). Kamala is often identified with a variety of blessings that humans ordinarily seek, such as power, luck, wealth, and safety (Kinsley 1998:225).

Even though a couple of the goddesses are presented as being beautiful and harmless, the context of their origin myth makes it evident that the ten Mahavidyas are intended to be fearsome deities.  Their main objective in the myth is to scare Siva into letting Sita have her way (Kinsley 1986:163-164). This overpowering embodiment displays Sita’s assertion of power, suggesting a sense of superiority (Kinsley 1986:164). In both the Brhaddharma-purana and the Mahabhagavata-purana it is suggested that Sati appears in these forms to allow her devotees to achieve ultimate realization (moksa), and so that they may achieve their desires (Kinsley 1986:164).

The ten Mahavidyas are powerful and relevant as a group, but individually, only a select few can stand on their own and parade a widespread individual following. These primary Mahavidyas personify the concept of absolute reality and complete consciousness, which is at the heart of the Hindu tradition.


Bhattacharyya, B. and Dvivdei, Vrajavallabha (1978) Saktisamgama-tantra. Baroda: Oriental Institute of Baroda.

Gupta, Anand S. (1968) Vamana-purana. Banaras: All-India Kashiraj Trust.

Kamakala-khanda (1974) Mahakala-samhita. Allahabad: Ganganath Jha Research Institute.

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. Delhi: University of California Press.

Rai, R. Kumar (1992) Mantra Mahodadhih. Varanasi: Prachya Prakashan.

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

Sircar, D.C. (1973) The Sakta Pithas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Vasudeva, S.A. (1963) Devi-mahatmya; The Glorification of the Great Goddess. Banaras: All-India Kashiraj Trust.


Woodroffe, Sir John (1987) Sakti and Sakta, Essays and Addresses. Madras: Ganesh & Co..


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Tantric worship











Severed heads

Cremation grounds

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Article written by: Jamie Hancock (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.