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