Category Archives: The Ten Mahavidyas

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 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.

The Goddess Bhuvanesvari

The Goddess Bhuvanesvari

Within the Tantric tradition, the Ten Mahavidyas (literally meaning “Great knowledge”) are believed to be the ten forms of Mahadevi, the Great Goddess (Kinsley 57). The Mahavidyas are separate goddesses, but they are part of and understood to be different facets of Mahadevi. The term Devi is usually used to refer to the wife of Siva – whether Parvati, Durga, or Kali – but it is also used to describe other goddesses (Hawley et al., 318). Mostly, it is used to describe the Goddess, the one whose form is absolute feminine reality (Hawley et al. 318). She has many sides, all expressed through different goddesses, including the Mahavidyas. Her gentle side is worshiped through Uma, Parvati, Bhuvanesvari, Savitri, Sita, and many others (Prakashan 16). Her terrible or ferocious side is worshiped through such goddesses as Kali, Bhairavi, and Chamunda (Prakashan 16).

The first of the Ten Mahavidyas is Kali, “The Black One,” a fierce and terrible warrior (Hawley et al. 320). Following are Tara (The Goddess Who Guides Through Troubles), Tripura-sundari (She Who is Lovely in the Three Worlds), Bhuvanesvari (She Whose Body is the World), Chinnamasta (The Self-Decapitated Goddess), Bhairavi (The Fierce One), Dhumavati (The Widow Goddess), Bagalamukhi (The Paralyser), Matangi (The Outcaste Goddess), and finally, Kamala (The Lotus Goddess) (Kinsley 9). [The order and composition of the Mahavidyas varies somewhat, but for the purpose of this essay I will use the list above]. In some myths the Mahavidyas originate from Kali. In others, Sati, Parvati, Durga, or Sataksi become the source of the Mahavidyas when they assert their independence from their husbands or male counterparts (Kinsley 22). However, the Mahadevi myth is the version most widely accepted.

The Mahavidyas are charged with maintaining cosmic order and morality (dharma) by eliminating evil and corruption (Kinsley 20). Each was created to bring a positive change to the world. Kali was created to kill the demons of the world; Bhuvanesvari was created to save the world when it sank beneath the waters of the cosmic ocean (Kinsley 21). Demon slaying is a key motif. The Mahavidyas are believed to be based on the ten avatars of Visnu, his divine descendents that manifest in the physical world (Bhattacharyya 229). Each Mahavidya corresponds to an avatar. All the Mahavidyas are associated with magical powers, especially Bagalamukhi. Some have powers of attraction, others can kill a person just by willing it (Kinsley 56).

Bhuvanesvari, the fourth of the Ten Mahavidyas, embodies and controls the cosmos (Kinsley 131). According to one myth, she was created when the sun god, Surya, after receiving soma from the rsis, created the three worlds (the ancestral, human, and godly planes). Bhuvanesvari then appeared to protect and watch over the worlds, having not existed until they were brought into being. For this reason she is regarded as “mistress of the world” (Kinsley 129). She is considered part of the world or the world itself, both a source of creation and creation personified. She is queen of the cosmos. From her the world was created, and will be returned to at the end of the cycle. She is the mother of Brahma, Visnu, and Siva (Kinsley 134). Thus the cycle of creation, maintenance, and destruction is formed and maintained by Bhuvanesvari.

Bhuvanesvari is particularly associated with the earth and creation, and provides the energy needed for existence and life (Kinsley 131). She is believed to embody each of the five elements (bhutas), and to have an intimate connection to the physical world (prakrti) (Kinsley 133). Bhuvanesvari can manifest as mountains, stars, rivers, anything; she is pervasive in the physical world (Kinsley, 130). She is also known as Bhuvana (Mistress of the World), Sarvesi (Mistress of All), Sarvarupa (She Whose Form is All), and Visvarupa (She Whose Form is the World), to name a few (Kinsley 131). Unlike some of the other Mahavidyas, Bhuvanesvari did not have a wide-spread cult or following prior to be incorporated as one of the Ten (Kinsley 129).

Bhuvanesvari is beautiful, with a smiling face, flowing black hair, and a golden complexion (Kinsley 140). Sometimes, she is described as having a red, or bluish pallor (Kinsley 133). Her features are feminine: a small nose, large eyes, and full red lips (Kinsley 140). Her breasts are full and leaking milk, emphasising the motherly role she plays in the cosmos (Kinsley 11). In one myth Siva grew a third eye so that he could appreciate her beauty more (Kinsley 140). Her smiling and gentle demeanour is in contrast to some of the other Mahavidyas, such as Kali. They are still beautiful, but they are more fearsome; depicted as standing on corpses, wearing garlands of human heads, or naked and covered in blood. All the Mahavidyas are fearsome, but this aspect is stressed as a key feature in some and not in others. Kali, Tara, Bagala, Dhumavati, and Chinnamasta are always described as terrible, frightening, and fierce. The formidable nature of Tripura-sundari, Bhairavi, Matangi, and Bhuvanesvari is mentioned, but not as much emphasis is placed on this feature. Only Kamala is regarded as benevolent (Kinsley 37).

Bhuvanesvari’s beauty is said to reflect the beauty of creation and the physical world (Kinsley 141). She is gracious and kind, giving the world all it needs to survive. She protects creation and fights against sources of disorder, restoring the cosmic balance so that the world may thrive. Bhuvanesvari is said to have developed a third eye to better watch over creation (Kinsley 141). Often, she will appear as different manifestations to slay demons and restore balance (Kinsley 134).

Bhuvanesvari is depicted with a noose and goad; both symbols suggest control (Kinsley 141). Some believe that she uses the goad for discipline and to control evil emotions such as anger, lust, and obsession. The noose symbolizes the barriers that keep us from knowing our true selves (atman), and by proxy, attaining liberation (Kinsley 141). However, countless interpretations exist. Her other two hands convey gestures of fearlessness and conferring boons (Kinsley 141). She also appears with a red lotus and a jewelled bowl, symbolizing growth and wealth (Kinsley 141). Not surprisingly, worship of Bhuvanesvari is believed to bring the devotee material wealth and spiritual well-being (Kinsley 143).

She is seated on a lotus, a position of power with connotations of creation (Kinsley 142). In another creation myth, Brahma is depicted sitting on a lotus flower growing out of Visnu’s navel. The lotus symbolises power, purity, and transcendence (Kinsley 142). Also, a crescent moon is present on her forehead, believed to symbolize replenishment, the endless cycles of creation and destruction, from which the world is produced each time (Kinsley 142).

Bhuvanesvari does not have a consort, which is unusual for female deities in the Hindu tradition. The same is true for the other Mahavidyas, although some believe that they are loosely associated with Siva, who is sometimes portrayed as the consort of the Goddess (Kinsley 62). For those who are associated with male deities such as Kali, Tara, and Kamala, the association is down-played or ignored when they are worshiped as part of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 63). If they are depicted with male counterparts, they dominate him, most often by standing on his prone form (Kinsley 63). Bhuvanesvari is, however, associated with the formless Brahman, one of Visnu’s avatars, as are all the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 16).

Sakta devotees at Bhuvanesvari Temple (Kamarupa, Assam)

Devotion to Bhuvanesvari is believed to confer auspiciousness, attraction of others to you, control over others, especially enemies, and the power to manifest any spoken thought (Kinsley 143). Tantric worship of the Mahavidyas culminates in self-awareness and is said to awaken the deity within oneself (Kinsley 51). This enlightenment is key to achieving moksa or liberation. Also sought after is heightened sensory perception (Kinsley 51). Furthermore, boons may be granted by the goddesses to devout followers, bestowing wisdom and magical powers (Kinsley 51). Temple worship varies considerably between the Mahavidyas. Some, like Kali and Laksmi (Kamala) have temples throughout India. Others, including Bhuvanesvari, have few places of worship. Temples that worship the Mahavidyas as a group are also rare (Kinsley 16). However, depictions of the Mahavidyas can usually be found on temple walls dedicated to most goddesses (Kinsley 15).

In conclusion, Bhuvanesvari plays a minor if any role within the Hindu tradition. Her role becomes somewhat more prominent within Tantric worship, but she is still a minor goddess. Other Mahavidya goddesses receive more attention in both, such as Kali and Kamala, also know as Laksmi. Despite her important function in the world, writings on her are few and far between. She is almost never studied or worshiped outside the group of Mahavidyas. This is unfortunate for she plays a pivotal role in the cosmos and her character and worldly position demand more attention.

References and Recommended Reading

Bhattacharyya, Narendra (1977) The Indian Mother Goddess. Delhi: Manohar Book Service.

Donaldson, Thomas (2002) Tantra and Sakta Art of Orissa. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Hawley, John & Wulff, Donna (1996) Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1997) Tantric Visions of the Devine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyans. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

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

Prakashan, Rekha (1980) The Little Goddesses (Matrikas). New Delhi: Caxton Press.

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

Samuel, Geoffrey (2005) Tantric Revisionings: New Understandings of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Tewari, Naren (1988) The Mother Goddess Vaishno Devi. Delhi: Lancer International.

Related Topics

Atman

Bagalamukhi

Bhairavi

Bhutas

Brahma

Chinnamasta

Demon slaying

Devi

Dharma

Dhumavati

Durga

Durga Purja

Kali

Kamala (Laksmi)

Matangi

Moksa

Parvati

Prakrti

Sataksi

Sati

Siva

Surya

Tantric Goddess Worship

Tara

Tripura-sundari

Vishnu (Ten Avatars)

 

Websites for Further Reading

www.natha.net/articles/tantra/maha-vidya-yoga-ten-great-cosmic-powers.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavidya

www.dollcofindia.com/acrobat/dus-mahavidyas.pdf

www.exoticindianart.com/article/ten_mahavidyas/

www.parashakthitemple.org/bhuvaneswari.aspx

tourism.keralapacks.com/224_goddess-bhuvaneshwari.html

www.hindupedia.com/en/Bhuvaneswari_Kavacham

www.hindupedia.com/en/Sakta_Vidyas

www.sanatasociety.org/hindu_gods_and_godesses/bhuvaneswari.htm

www.yogaesoteric.net/conecnt.aspx?item=4290&lang=EN

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

The Goddess Sati

The goddess Sati may be recognized by her relationship with the great god Siva as she is his first and second wife. Sati is more than this, however; she is known by many names and is worshiped as her reincarnation Parvati. Her whole being may in fact be summed up to lure Siva into marriage so that he may be incorporated into more of the world, such as to keep creation enlivened and to enter the householder role in order to release his stored energies in a positive fashion (Kinsley 1986:35).

The origins of Sati are unknown, she is not a Vedic goddess but there are references to the wife of Siva in some Vedic literature by the name of Ambika. This name, however, is later used to represent other goddesses. Another name used for Siva’s wife is Rudrani. It is not certain whether these goddesses are in fact Sati, and therefore, whether or not Sati’s origins are in Vedic literature. Later Sati goes by one of her modern and more common names, Uma Haimavati in the Kena-upanisad, although her role is not as Siva’s wife. Just as suddenly as she appears in this text she disappears, and though this may seem untrustworthy other texts reference this as proof of her origins in past Hindu tradition (Kinsley 1986:36).  One of the earliest references using the name Sati is in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata where she is described as living with Siva in the Himalayas (Rodrigues 298). In addition to the textual evidence, there is some archaeological evidence for her origins and history, including coins that have an image of a goddess that is linked with a Siva symbol (Kinsley 1986:37).

The main myth of Sati is also important in her history as it provides insight into her characteristics and life. She was the beautiful daughter of the god Daksa, considered the male Vedic creative deity. Sati desires the god Siva, the destroyer, and through her devotion and ascetic practices she finally attracts Siva’s attention and becomes his first wife. Her motives for wanting to be his wife are not clear, and in some texts it is Brahma who sets up their marriage as he wants Siva to feel sexual desire. In the Siva-purana, specifically the Rudra-samhita, Brahma says that if Siva does not involve himself in the created world then creation cannot continue. When Siva starts noticing Sati he develops kama (desire), which he has not felt before and the couple are married. After their union the couple retreat to the mountains for love-play (Kinsley 1986: 37-38). Siva and Sati are very much in love as told in the Kalika Purana, Siva painting Sati’s feet, gathering flowers to make her garlands and he becomes invisible to surprise her with embraces (McDaniel 40). The couple stay there for many years, but the marriage is not a happy occasion for everyone. Daksa does not approve of Siva due to his messy appearance and different habits. In order to disgrace Siva, Daksa plans a yajna, or sacrifice, but does not invite either Siva or Sati. Sati is very insulted by this and shows up at the event only to be snubbed again by her father (Rodrigues 298). This frustrates her even further and in her rage she commits suicide by closing the nine doors of her body and while sitting in an asana, or yoga position, sends her spirit out her tenth door, or the top of her head (McDaniel 40). When Siva hears of Sati’s death he becomes furious and creates terrible beings that kill Daksa, the divine hosts, and destroy the sacrifice. He then takes Sati’s body and travels the universe, grieving. This upsets the cosmic balance of the world and Visnu is called upon to end the turmoil. While Siva is traveling Visnu follows him and cuts off pieces of Sati’s body, which fall to earth and become holy places or pithas. When Siva realizes that Sati’s body is gone he returns to the mountains and continues his normal practices (Kinsley 1986: 38).

This myth contains many underlying themes in the Hindu tradition such as a wife’s loyalty, the cosmic balance and Siva’s role in the universe. Before Sati, Siva lived in the mountains to practice austerities and was disinterested in the world around him. Nonetheless, when he is married he engages himself in the world and develops a householder role. His awakening desire is important for the universe because with the release of his seed creation is enriched and enlivened (Kinsley 1986:38). There are also some tensions in this myth, between deities and even references to unease between religious and caste groups. For example in the early period of Hindu history the Saivites, at the time considered a non-Vedic unorthodox group, have disagreements with the orthodox Brahma worshipers, who follow the Vedic tradition. These groups are paralleled in the myth, Siva representing the Saivites with his ascetic practices and dissociation with Vedic sacrificial rituals, whereas the orthodox group is represented by Daksa, the son of Brahma. In the myth this conflict is mediated by Sati, as she brings Siva into the householder role. Although Siva demonstrates his power and his dislike of yajnas when he destroys Daksa’s ceremony, in the restoration myth he is incorporated into the orthodox tradition and returned to order when the yajna is reenacted (Rodrigues 299). Another theme in this myth is the connection between Sati and Siva, as their union may represent many things. For example, the traditional union between a deity of the earth and a deity of the sky is expressed by the relationship between Sati, who represents the sky and Siva who represents the Himalayas. Historically this union creates and sustains life as the marriage between Sati and Siva allows creation to continue (Kinsley 1986:40). In a simpler association Sati represents the yoni while Siva represents the linga, and in one version of the myth when Sati falls and creates pithas Siva follows and embeds himself in her yoni, keeping him on earth (Kinsley 1986:39).

Sati’s name and suicide may be paralleled with the act of sati or widow immolation, where a widow, showing undying loyalty to her husband, will burn herself alive on his funeral pyre (Rodrigues 563). This act was widely accepted in the medieval period and the word sati means “faithful wife”, so there is an association between the act and Sati’s suicide as a devoted wife. This correlation is obscure at best though, because the purpose of sati is for the wife to follow the dead husband, whereas in this myth Siva is not dead, and Sati’s death causes him great sadness and finishes their relationship rather than continuing it (Kinsley 1986:40-41).

After her death, Sati is reincarnated as Parvati, “she who dwells in the mountains” or “she who is of the mountain”. Parvati’s life is essentially the continuation of the life of Sati, and in some myths she agrees to be reborn with the goal of luring Siva into desire and marriage. In other myths she says that she is rewarding Mena, Parvati’s mother, with her birth, as Mena was very devoted to Sati. In other versions Sati and Parvati are both seen as embodiments of the great goddess Mahadevi to retain the balance between dharma and adharma (Kinsley 1986:42).

Parvati is the daughter of Himavat, the deity of the Himalayas and his wife Mena, and she is described as being very beautiful but dark-skinned being given the nickname Kali “the dark-one”. A sage comes to her home he looks at the markings on her body he predicts that she will marry a naked yogi, or Siva. Unlike Sati’s parents, Himavat and Mena are honored to have Siva as their son-in-law and the god Kama is sent to stir lust in Siva so that he will notice Parvati. This does not work as planned, as Siva is annoyed by Kama’s attempts and kills him with fire from his third eye. Parvati is not deterred by this and she begins austerities to create tapas. Tapas has many functions; in this case it is an extreme heat produced by praying that makes the gods uncomfortable so that they grant the ascetic wish, thus preventing the world and themselves from being burned. Through her persistence Siva finally notices Parvati and falls in love with her and they are soon married (Kinsley 1986:42-43). The couple then retreat to Mount Kailasa for love-play and they engage in love-making that shakes the cosmos. During their passion they are interrupted by the gods who are afraid of the quakes, and Siva accidentally spills his seed outside of Parvati which passes to the Ganges where it is incubated and becomes the child Karttikeya. Their child makes his way back to his parents where Parvati then welcomes him as her own son (Kinsley 1986:43).  Parvati also conceives her own son, Ganesa. As the tale goes, while Siva was away Parvati yearns for her own child and creates a boy out of her own body, who she then he asks to guard the entrance of her home to prevent anyone from entering and disturbing her. When Siva arrives home Ganesa blocks his path, angering Siva who cuts off the boy’s head. This greatly distresses Parvati and she orders Siva to bring Ganesa back to life. Siva complies and while looking for a new head for the boy encounters an elephant, whose head he takes and places on Ganesa’s body, reviving him in the process (Rodrigues 302). In this way Sati fulfills her role as a maiden, then as a wife and even later a mother.

Sati also has an alter ego that is named Kali. In the Vamana Purana it is written that Parvati receives this name as she is dark-skinned, but when Siva uses this name in teasing Parvati, she becomes irritated and performs austerities to become the “golden one”, or Gauri. Her dark sheath is left over however, and it transforms into Kausiki the ferocious battle queen who in turn creates the goddess Kali (Hawley and Wulff 79). In the Mahabhagavata-purana Siva forbids Sati to disrupt her father’s yajna and in doing so he makes her very angry. In her wrath she transforms into a fearful woman who is plainly unlike the graceful Sati. She loses her composure, her hair messy and her temperament fiery; she develops four arms and her wagging tongue lolls out of her mouth. She is also garbed in a garland of human heads and a half-moon crown. This terrifying form of Sati is known as Kali. Siva is so afraid by this he tries to flee but to prevent his escape Sati blocks his way with her ten different forms, the Mahavidyas or wisdom goddesses. Siva is so shocked and terrified by this that he finally allows Sati to go to the sacrifice (Kinsley 1997: 23-25).

Worship of Sati varies because when pieces of Sati’s body fall to earth they create pithas, or holy sites where it is believed the goddess shows her powers. Even in modern times these sites are visited by pilgrims and are worshiped. (McDaniel 3). The number of sati pithas varies between accounts, as little as four to as many as one hundred and ten sites are recorded (Kinsley 1986; 186). These pithas may be stones or statues, but some believe in a variation of the Sati myth where the earth was created from her dismembered body, and the separate pieces of her body each have different levels of power. The pieces with the most power are recognized as sacred stones called thakurs. A temple built where there is a stone may be revealed and then recognized as a sati pitha, and new sites have been preserved throughout history, even in the present day (McDaniel 31-32). The most documented and well known site is Kamarupa in Assam, and some of the newest sites from the ninteenth and twentieth centuries are Adyapitha and Tarapitha in West Bengal (Kinsley 1996;186)(McDaniel 33).

References and Related Readings:

Dallapiccola, Anne L. (1944) Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson Press

Hawley, J.S., and D.M. Wulff. (1996) Devi: Goddesses of India.

Kinsley, David R. (1986) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: the Ten Mahavidyas. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David R.  (1996) Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press

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

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Hinduism- The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books

Related Research Topics:

Sati

Mahadevi

Kali

Parvati

Sati pithas

Siva

Uma

Tara

Kamarupa

Related Websites:

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uma_%28goddess%29

http://www.bhagavadgitausa.com/SIVA%27S%20FURY-DAKSHA.htm

http://www.vedarahasya.net/docs/Shakti.pdf

Article written by: Briana Smith (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its contents.

Siva and Kali

There are many different deities that can be found in the Hindu tradition, two of which are Siva and Kali.  This article will be focusing on these two gods through the discussion of different myths associated with them, primarily dealing with those myths that associate the two of them together.  Before getting into the different myths, it may be beneficial to first introduce these two gods a little further.  This will provide a better understanding of the various characteristics that are associated with each of the gods, which will be beneficial in the discussion of the different myths presented later in the article.

Siva, whose name when translated means “auspicious”, is primarily identified as the supreme ascetic, or yogi.  He is depicted with long matted hair that is often tied up in a topknot.  He has bracelets of snakes, a trident, and is usually riding a bull (Nandi).  Siva is known as “the destroyer,” who is responsible for destroying the cosmos at the end of time.  He is also known as “the creator,” who through his ascetic practices stores up his seed, the source of all creation, and is often depicted with an erect phallus known as the linga, which is one of the most worshipped symbols in Hindu practice (Rodrigues 296-297).  An interesting aspect of Siva is that his persona is often described as embodying a bipolar character (Rodrigues 296).  On one hand, Siva is the ideal ascetic (yogi) spending all of his time in meditation generating knowledge, and storing his seed preventing creation, while on the other hand he is described as extremely erotic by nature.  Stories found in the Puranas associate Siva with Parvati and provide evidence to his erotic nature.  Another interesting note is that Siva has also been described as being confused, or torn, between these two different aspects, at times trying to understand why Parvati appeals to him since he is such a perfect ascetic (O’Flaherty 4-7).

Kali, whose name can be translated to mean “dark time,” symbolizes the destruction that time brings to all things (Rodrigues 319-320).  She is described as being dark skinned and wild looking, with her tongue sticking out.  She is usually naked wearing only a belt of severed arms, a necklace of human heads, serpent bracelets, and the bodies of children as earrings.  She is frequently found on a battlefield with weapons and a severed head in her hands, usually drunk on the blood of her enemies, and engaged in a furious rampage (McDermott and Kripal 26).  The origin of Kali varies in different myths, some of which will be discussed later.  Many of the myths involve her being brought into being during times of battle, which result from the transformation of different female goddesses such as Durga, Parvati, Sati, and Sita (McDermott and Kripal 24-26).

There are many different myths in Hinduism that show an association between the two deities, Siva and Kali.  The exact degree of this association is under debate, with many claims identifying Kali as a consort of Siva (McDermott and Kripal 23).  One story supporting the consort theory can be found in the Mahabhagavata Purana.  In this story Kali and Sati are identified as the same being.  Kali, as the Great Goddess, creates Brahma, Visnu, and Siva.  They are then each required to fulfill a test for the honor to win her as their wife.  For this test she appears before them in a horrible form that actually made Brahma, and Visnu both turn away from fear.  Siva, being the only one that did not turn away, won the right to marry her after her birth as Sati, the daughter of Daksa (McDermott and Kripal 47).

Another story that supports the consort theory of Kali and Siva involves the creation, and death of Ganesa.  Ganesa was created as a son to Siva and Durga, while Siva was away.  Because Siva was gone, Durga ordered Ganesa to guard the door while she took a bath.  When Siva came back he discovered this young man guarding his door.  Siva was not aware that this young man was his son, as he had been away at the time of Ganesa’s creation.  After trying to get into the house, and being stopped by Ganesa, Siva chopped off the head of Ganesa (which the gods later replaced with an elephant’s head in an attempt to calm Durga).  Upon discovering what had happened to her son, and after being unable to find Ganesa’s head, Durga became enraged, turning black.  She then started to kill men, and drink their blood, and the gods started to call her Kali Ma (McDaniel 236-237).

As is shown by the story of Ganesa, many of the stories about the origins of Kali actually have her being created through the anger, or grief of other goddesses.  The goddesses, through their emotions (usually anger), are transformed into Kali.  Another example, also involving Durga, occurs during the battle with the demon Mahisasura.  Durga was created by the gods to destroy Mahisasura who, due to a boon given to him by the gods, would only able to be killed by a naked female.  Durga had gone into the battle without knowing this condition.  Eventually she was notified of this boon, and after stripping noticed that Mahisasura would stare at her yoni, providing her the opportunity to finally defeat him.  After Durga had destroyed Mahisasura, she became so embarrassed and enraged by this boon the demon had, that she turned into Kali and set about trying to destroy the world.  Kali (Durga) felt that a world with such gods should not be in existence.  The gods then, out of fear, turned to the ascetic Siva to try to calm her down.  Siva, seeing the world was in danger, lay down in front of Kali, so that while she was dancing in her fit of destruction she would step on him.  The moment Kali stepped on Siva she stopped her dance out of shame and embarrassment for having stepped on her husband, and turned back into Durga (McDermott and Kripal 84-85).  Another interpretation of this story actually suggests that Siva was sent to have sex with Kali to calm her down.  By her dancing on top of him, his linga actually entered her, and she stopped her dance of destruction calming down and turning back into Durga (McDaniel 238).

The Linga-purana portrays Kali as a result of the transformation of Parvati.  In this story Parvati is summoned to destroy Daruka as he, like the demon Mahisasura, can only be destroyed by a female.  Parvati then enters into Siva’s body, transforming herself from the poison in his throat, into the blackened, bloodthirsty goddess Kali.  Once she has transformed, and with the help of some flesh eating spirits (pisacas), she is then able to destroy Daruka, and his army.  Following the battle, Kali then becomes enraged and more bloodthirsty, threatening to destroy the world prematurely, until Siva again comes along, and is able to calm her down (McDermott and Kripal 25)

The god Siva accompanied by Kali and Ganesa, is depicted on a wall at Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore
The god Siva accompanied by Kali and Ganesa, is depicted on a wall at Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore

As most of the stories seem to indicate, in many situations involving Siva and Kali, Siva appears to play a large role in the calming, and controlling Kali.  Kali is usually portrayed as a bloodthirsty goddess who is often found on a battlefield in some kind of rampage. Kali’s behavior is also often described as erratic, causing her to be easily angered.  Siva has been known to use different techniques to control Kali, including the laying in front of her after the battle with Mahisasura.  During another similar rampage, Siva appeared on the battlefield as an infant, and is able to calm Kali by drawing out her motherly emotions (McDermott and Kripal 36).  In another story Kali and Siva engage in a dance contest in the forest (Smith 145).  In this story, Kali, having just defeated Sumbha and Nisumbha, takes up residence in a forest and begins to terrorize its inhabitants.  One of these inhabitants is a devotee of Siva, and goes to him for help in ridding the forest of Kali.  When Siva shows up he challenges Kali to a dance contest, which he eventually wins by performing his tandava dance (McDermott and Kripal 26).

As mentioned before, Siva always takes the role of calming Kali, not the other way around.  Some stories, however, indicate that Kali is rather successful at bringing out the wild and destructive side of Siva as well.  They both are said to feed off one another’s destructive tendencies, which often result in frenzied dances, threatening to destroy the cosmos.  One such instance is told in Bhavabhuti’s Malatimadhava, where Siva and Kali are found dancing madly around Kali’s temple, with the destructive nature of the dance frightening all those present, including the goddess Parvati (McDermott and Kripal 26).

The question of who is dominant in the relationship seems to be a major topic of debate in the Hindu tradition.  Images that portray the two together almost always show a naked Kali on top of Siva either engaging in sex in the “reverse position,” where the female is on top, or just with Kali standing on top of Siva, like in the story of the defeat of Mahisasura (though some argue that the image does not actually represent the location of a battlefield, but actually occurs on a mountaintop). There are also arguments as to whether it was actually Siva’s idea to lie in front of Kali, or if Kali had actually been able to throw him to the ground during his attempt to stop her rampage (McDermott and Kripal 82-85). Kali is also shown to be sticking her tongue out which has been widely interpreted as representing her embarrassment and shame (lajya) for stepping on her husband.  Another interpretation of the image is that Kali is shown dancing on the corpse of the world at the end of time, which is symbolized by her dancing on Siva who is responsible for the destruction of the cosmos (McDaniel 242-243).  The Mahabhagavata tells a different story where Siva, after having forgotten that his wife Sita was the Supreme Goddess (Kali), sees her transformed appearing as Kali, and asks for the boon to always appear at her feet as a corpse as a sign of devotion (McDermott and Kripal 49-50).  Many also identify the image as portraying the relationship between purusa and prakrti, where Siva is the inert purusa, and Kali represents the creative and active aspect of prakrti (McDermott and Kripal 53).

There are many different stories and images that include Siva and Kali.  As should have been made evident in this article, there is also a lot of controversy over the interpretation of these many sources.  These interpretations, especially those dealing with the proposed dominance of one god over the other, seem to depend largely on the degree to which each god is being worshipped.  Those that focus their worship on Siva, such as many ascetics do, would argue that he is above Kali on the hierarchy, which would be in contrast to those worshiping Kali, or that of the divine female power (McDermott and Kripal 86).

References and Further Recommended Reading

Harding, Elizabeth (2004) Kali. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

McDaniel, June (2004) Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls. New York: Oxford University Press.

McDermott, Rachel Fell and Kripal, Jeffrey J (2003) Encountering Kali: In the Margins, At the Center, In the West. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1973) Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva. London: Oxford University Press

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism-The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Smith, David (1998) The Dance of Shiva. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kali

Siva

Sati

Sita

Ravana

Deviahatmya

Durga

Parvati

Ganesa

Daruka

Camunda

Linga-purana

Mahabhagavata

Canda

Munda

Raktabija

Sumbha

Nisumbha

Daksa

Candika

Noteworthy Websites

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

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

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

http://www.kriyayoga.org/devi/Kali100.jpeg

http://www.mahavidya.ca/

Article written by: Zack Olsen (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its contents.

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.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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..

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Tantric worship

Kali

Tara

Tripura-sundari

Bhuvanesvari

Chinnamasta

Chairavi

Dhumavati

Bagalamukhi

Matangi

Kamala

Severed heads

Cremation grounds

Role of women

Absolute reality

Magical powers

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

www.rudraksha-ratna.com/mahavidyas.html

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavidya

www.exoticindiaart.com/article/mahavidyas

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

The Kalighat Temple and Kali

Kalighat and Its Goddess Kali

The Kalighat Temple is a shrine to honour the Goddess Kali. Kali throughout her history has always been linked to death and destruction. Her appearance alone represents mayhem. Her hair is dishevelled, she has four arms, she is dark and blood is often depicted being smeared on her lips. In her hands she holds a cleaver and a severed head, and with her other two hands she signals peace (Kinsley 77-78). Almost all stories about Kali speak exclusively of her killing someone if not many people. Kali is said to have a tendency to become blood thirsty and even lose control. Kali represents many ideas but over them all she is considered to portray the concept of pain and sorrow, always showing that nothing can escape death but that death, to those who have released themselves from “reality”, is not the end. (Kinsley 142-145).

Kali is associated with the god Siva. Conflict between Kali and Siva is a recurrent theme in many Kali related myths. Both are said to haunt the wilderness, causing destruction or trouble in different ways. Kali in some myths is sent to slay great warriors on the battlefield. This is claimed to protect the world and others from destruction, but at times it seems like Kali is the one who is the destroyer. In one myth, the Vamana-purana, her name is interchanged with Parvati’s [Siva’s wife]. Parvati however does not like having Siva comparing her to Kali, due to her dark complexion, and rids herself of any dark attributes (Kinsley 101-108). In other stories Kali is tied to Siva not so much directly but through Parvati herself. In the Siva-Purana, it is said that all goddesses come from one goddess, Uma-Sati-Parvati. This goddess again is also claimed as Siva’s wife. Kali does not get mentioned in the same manner but later on in a retelling of a story, she is said to come from Siva’s hair (Kinsley 104).

An infamous depiction has Kali dancing on top of Siva who is laying on the ground. The story behind this is while Kali was on the battlefield she becomes so overwhelmed with killing and tasting blood she breaks into a dance that shakes the earth. Siva upon seeing this, lays down at her feet and when she notices him there she then ceases her war dance (Kinsley 108). This is the most popular story regarding Kali’s dominance and blood-thirsty tendencies. With Kali always being portrayed as being disruptive it shows that she is one that goes against stability and what others percieve as order. Kali gets sent to battle warriors and demons but often is shown at the end representing that which she is trying to destroy. When associated with Siva, Kali is the opposite of his other spouse Parvati. Parvati is shown to calm Siva, balancing with his tendencies of destruction. Kali however seems to always bring out Siva’s antisocial and destructive side. To further counter-act each other, Parvati is the one who calms Siva. However it is Siva who is said to try to tame Kali. The disruptive nature of Kali, when being compared with other goddesses, embodies an idea of the anger and intensity that is brought out when forced on the battelfield or to war (Kinsley 80).

Being associated with such violence and often frowned upon behaviour, she thrusts upon an individual the darker aspects of society that many try to ignore or not think about. The Hindu culture was that of people looking for freeing themselves of false reality and obtaining one pure mind. Having such vile aspects of society brought out to the fore front, Kali allows one to see the many faces dharma can take. This brings to life the idea that some call her the Mother Goddess. She is portrayed as a Mother Goddess because she is claimed to bring her devotees a broad world-view (Kinsley 84). Some follow strict dharmic ways and to those and view Kali as too harsh. To others she is viewed as a revealer of the world in its true self, its violent reality. From either position Kali represents that harshness which so many try to avoid. To all, Kali is the part of life that is the hardest to face, that which is inevitable. Kali represents the world as it really is and not just the positive that people have a tendency to focus on. Followers of Kali view her as a way to see the full world and use it to further step away from all illusions (Kinsley 136-137).

Bibliography

Harding, E. U. (1998). Kali: the black goddess of Dakshineswar. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Puiblishers.

Kinsley, D. R. (1996). Kali, Blood and Death Out of Place. In J. S. Hawley, & D. M. Wulff, Devi, Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, D. R. (1975). The Sword And The Flute. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

McDermott, R. F., & Kipal, J. J. (2005). Encountering Kali: in the margins, at the center, in the West. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Websites

www.kalighat.jagaddhatri.com

www.templenet.com/Bengal/kalighat.html

www.kalighat.net/kalighat1.htm

Article written by: Phil Austin who is solely responsible for its content.

Origins of the Goddess Kali

Hindu mythology is among the most colourful, sensational, and extraordinary expressed. Hindu scriptures, such as the Puranas, contain stories about different gods and goddesses. The gods and goddesses of the Hindu scripture are still strongly worshiped in India at their designated temples. Of the many deities worshiped, the goddess Kali is quite different from the others. This goddess is described as having unruly black hair, a girdle of severed hands, a necklace of human heads, a lolling tongue dripping of blood, and is often depicted naked standing over her consort, Siva. Kali is worshiped as a symbol of destruction through time and also as a symbol of motherhood.

To understand this goddess’s role in Hindu worship it is necessary to examine the origin of Kali. In KALI: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar, the author, Elizabeth U. Harding explains the emergence of Kali. Harding explains that while the gods were resting, the demon king Mahisasura created an army and tried to proclaim himself as the ruler of Heaven. When Visnu, Siva, Brahma, and other powerful Gods heard of this they became angry and each shot forth a ray of light from their foreheads, which intensified and took the shape of a female form. “The light of Siva formed her face, Yama gave her hair and Visnu her arms. From the light of Candra, the moon God, her two breasts where formed. Indra modelled her waist and Varuna her thighs. Earth gave her hips and Brahma feet. The light from the fire God, Agni, fashioned her three eyes. Thus, all Gods contributed their power to manifest the auspicious Devi, the [Great] Mother Goddess” (ix). Each of the gods then adorned her with their weapons and sent her to battle King Mahisasura and his army.

It is in The Devi Mahatyma that Devi, in the form of Kali, fiercely destroyed the army of demons with little struggle except for the demon Raktabija. Raktabija was nearly impossible to defeat because each drop of blood that touched the ground produced a replica of the demon. Kali raised Raktabija high into the air, lapped up his drops of falling blood, and swallowed him entirely. This is just one example of Kali’s great conquests. Kali appears for a second time in the The Devi Mahatyma during the battle between the demons Canda and Munda and Durga (i.e. Devi). When Durga sees the two demons approaching her with weapons, she becomes angry and Kali springs from her dark face. Kali decapitates the two demons and is victorious with just one swing of her sword.

Wangu expresses another example of her conquests from the appendix to the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa. In this myth, the God Visnu incarnates himself as Krsna in order to kill the demon Kamsa. Kali, Krsna’s sister, is asked to incarnate herself so the two of them can be exchanged at birth in order to fool Kamsa. Kali sacrifices herself to save Krsna and in return is given a conch and discus (two symbols of Visnu) and is promised blood worship. Kali also appears in the Ramayana when Rama is threatened by a horrible monster and is immobilized with fear. Sita takes the form of Kali and slaughters the monster single handedly (see Kinsley73).

Harding describes that the name Kali is derived from the word “kala,” meaning time. Both Kali and her consort Siva represent a link to destruction and thrive off of the existence of each other. While Siva is closely linked to creation, Kali acts as his counterpart in maintaining destruction, and so their physical appearances are very opposite from each other. Siva is depicted as a fair skinned male and whose hair is done is a topknot. Kali on the other hand has black skinned female, with unruly matted hair, and is dominating Siva in almost all depictions of her. Kinsley also explains that because Kali is the fierce form of Durga, she is rarely depicted as a submissive wife. Kali’s strong traits have set the characteristics for the group of Mahavidyas. The Mahavidyas are a group of tantric goddesses, who symbolize women characters that have complete independence. Of the Mahavidyas, Kali is a great exemplar of that independence. Kali dominates Siva, literally, by standing on top of his body, and often assuming the male’s position in tantric depictions (79).

Kali is also considered the ideal Mahavidya because of her relation to the “ultimate truth” (see Kinsley 84-86). Worshipers of Kali are devoted to the Black Goddess because of her relation with the end of events. The entire Hindu religion is based on the hopes of achieving liberation, and Kali is a direct symbol of that liberation. Kinsley describes the devotion of Kali as the devotion to achieving Brahman. In Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas, Kinsley calls her “She Who is Knowledge of the Self, She Who is Knowledge of Brahman, She Whose Form Is the Highest Brahman, and Mistress of the Mahavidyas.” (86). Devotees of Kali desire this knowledge of Brahman and dedicate their worship to the goddess of motherhood.

In Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali, Kinsley explains that devotees of Kali can be found making blood sacrifices to the goddess throughout temples in India. The goddess is largely worshiped in Bengal and is a popular icon of worship because of her association with Siva, her relation to Vamacara tantra, and her promotion through devoted poet-saints of Bengali (188-189). The dark goddess was not accepted as a widely worshiped deity until quite some time after the Devi-mahatmya was written. Before Kali became a widely worshiped deity she was mostly adored by thieves or outcast cults of Hindu society. It was not until Kali became recognized as the consort of Siva and his incarnations that she gained a growing population of devotees. She is depicted as the fiercest form of Durga, a symbol of feminism and true knowledge in which Hindus praise in hopes of obtaining moksa.

Works Cited

Harding, Elizabeth U.( 1993) Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar. New Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press………………………………………………………

Kinsley, David (1975) “Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali.” Numen 22, no.3 (December): 183-207.

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

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings,.and Models. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications………………………

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Durga
Devi
Siva
Durga Puja
Brahman
Indra
Visnu
Ten Mahavidyas
Tantra
The Devi Mahatmya
Kamsa
Brahma
Krsna
Mahabharata
Ramayana

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

http://www.dollsofindia.com/kali.htm

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

http://www.crock11.freeserve.co.uk/ramay.htm

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C4%81l%C4%AB

http://www.mantraonnet.com/kali-text-images.html

Written by Sarah French (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kali and Western Feminism

There are different views of the Hindu religion and the symbolism of Kali in the east and west. Women in the west often feel desolate in a world of patriarchy and some have sought empowerment through interpreting the eastern goddess (Kali) in ways that apply to their circumstances. In the east, Hindu women and men have also done this but in different ways.

Kali is known as an “unconventional mother” who “destroys as well as creates” and “takes as well as gives life” (Sugirtharajah par. 15). She plays a significant role in feminist views as a devi worshipped in the east and west. Devi can be defined as “the ultimate source and holder of active power (sakti) in this world; the creator and sustainer of all” (Waterstone par. 4). In the sixth century Devi-Mahatmya Kali is referred to as the mistress of the universe and is finally equated with other goddesses (McDermott 297). Kali embodies characteristics of the different stages in a woman’s life such as “the Virgin, the Mother and the Crone” associated with “purity, maternity and wisdom” (McDermott 286). She has been compared to other religious figures who “preside over love and war, or who are paradoxical, or who have dangerous character” (McDermott 284). She is also worshipped as the “holy-mother” (Waterstone par. 11), though she has also been depicted as “slaying demons on the battlefield” (Waterstone par. 8). These different depictions confirm Kali as a union of opposite concepts. Thus, she resembles power, freedom and equality for many women in both eastern and western societies.

Kali’s polar and conflicting attributes have been especially captivating to females in western society and religions. Maya Waterstone argues that women need “a new means of empowerment and feminine role models that break the mould” (par. 3). Rachel McDermott suggests that westerners see their lack of goddess worship as caused by patriarchal groups (283). The symbols that Kali exemplifies (those of sexuality and the various opposing concepts) are weak in western religious imagery (McDermott 285) and Hindu goddesses in the west are seen as “symbols of and models for women’s empowerment” (McDermott 283). The repressed characteristics of Kali (her potent, sexual, dark sides) can be liberating for women (McDermott 288). She seems to provide them an outlet for the release of anger and her entire principle brings “healing in a male-dominated world” (McDermott 291). Women in the west have made use of her imagery (depicted standing atop Siva’s chest, crushing him) to liberate themselves from patriarchy (McDermott 295).

Conversely, McDermott argues that westerners have misused textual material to believe what they desire about Kali. Westerners believe that she was “degraded from a paradoxical, all-encompassing deity … to a fragmented, dark and dangerous goddess” at the hands of patriarchy (McDermott 299); while historical accounts prove that she has progressed from “a minor, bloodthirsty goddess toward a universally compassionate mother” (McDermott 299). Westerners have changed their view of Kali to focus mostly on her demonized form instead of her current domesticated depiction in Hinduism. In the east images of Kali have been “beautified” by adding ornaments and dress showing this historical progression. Kali changed from a tantric icon to a domestic one who is now used to “uphold Hindu family values, especially those encouraging self-control and self-restraint” (Menon 81).

By contrast, in the east, goddesses are worshipped by both Hindu men and women. Sugirtharajah’s research reveals that the feminist ideals in the west are not completely “applicable in Indian context” (par. 3). Hinduism is a hierarchy of different social groups with further divisions within those groups. Women in Hindu society also have differing roles, one of which is to serve their husband. This has to do with “dharma” (generally translated as ones “duty”). A woman is expected to follow her dharma which has more to do with her duties as a grandmother, mother, and wife and less to do with her actual rights (Sugirtharajah par. 11). Although some argue that this oppresses women in Hindu society, others recognize that women play other important roles. Females in Hindu society have the “divine feminine power” of sakti (sacred force, power or energy) and without this power gods like Siva (the masculine) are powerless (Sugirtharajah par 14).

Sugirtharajah’s research reveals that different Hindu texts are contradictory concerning women. How women are to be treated is outlined in the Dharma Sastras and the Laws of Manu; which are patriarchal treatises (Sugirtharajah par. 10). Though these patriarchal standards are challenged in some popular epics where women like Sita (in the Ramayana) and Draupadi (in the Mahabharata) are depicted as devoted wives to their husbands, yet their actions challenge the patriarchal definitions of “wifely behavior” (Sugirtharajah par. 9).

According to Sugirtharajah the “oppression” that westerners believe Hindu women face can also be challenged by the political goals both males and females accomplished over time. Men fought for the rights of women against rituals such as sati (self-immolation of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband) and child marriage. They also fought against the “negative colonial and missionary representation of Hindu women” (Sugirtharajah par. 13). Women and men alike worked to bring an end to colonial rule of India during Mahatma-Gandhi’s influence. Goddesses like Kali played an inspiring role in this as the “British rulers feared her wrath” (Sugirtharajah par. 15) and a feminist publishing house was set up in Delhi and used the name “Kali” (Sugirtharajah par. 16). Hindus (men and women) used feminine worship as a means of comfort while they were under the British rule because they were empowered by the female sakti. The British viewed this feminine worship as “weak and vulnerable” of the Hindu men (Sugirtharajah par. 16). By contrast, although the British viewed Kali as masculine, Hindus do not “assign rigid gender controls” (Waterstone par. 10) and thus would not see the worship of a female devi as “weak” or “vulnerable” (Sugirtharajah par. 16).

Although the east and west have differing opinions of the Hindu tradition and the goddess Kali, true understanding of the cultural practices surrounding these differences must be considered. Between the eastern and western societies Kali plays substantially different roles. She empowers and motivates women in the west and is a sense of hope and an iconic mother figure for Hindu men and women in the east.


REFERENCES

Waterstone, Maya (2006) “Could the Indian Goddess empower Western women?

Religious Studies Review 2.2 (Jan): 20(4).

Sugirtharajah, Sharada (2002) “Hinduism and feminism: some concerns.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 18.2: 97(8).

McDermott, Rachel Fell (1996) “The Western Kali.” In Devi: Goddesses of India.

John S. Hawley and D. M Wulff (eds.). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Menon, Usha and Richard A. Shweder (2003) “Dominating Kali” In Encountering Kali In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Rachel Fell McDermott and J. J Kripal (eds.). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Further Recommended Reading

Hiltebeitel, Alf and Kathleen M. Erndl (eds.) (2002) Is the Goddess a Feminist? : The Politics of South Asian Goddesses. New Delhi, OUP.

McDermott, Rachel Fell and Jeffry J. Kripal (eds.) (2003) Encountering Kali in the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kali

Feminism (in the East & West)

Ramayana

Mahabharata

Mahatma-Gandhi

Sakti

Dharma

Devi

British Colonial Rule in India

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

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

http://www.kalimandir.org (a temple in Laguna Beach, CA devoted to Kali)

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

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1995/11/1995-11-04.shtml

Article written by Brittany Bannerman (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Goddess Kali

Kali is one of the more recognized deities in the Hindu pantheon. She is seen as both terrifying and beautiful by those who worship her. There are a number of different stories related to her origin and who she was, Siva’s wife or his daughter. Kali means many different things to the people who worship her. Kali is worshipped in a variety of different ways. All of this goes together in order to form a number of different, all important, versions of this important Hindu goddess.

Kali is typically depicted as terrifying and powerful. In one common representation she is seen standing upon Siva’s more impotent body. She is dominating him. Throughout depictions of Kali, Siva’s appearance changes from looking peacefully asleep, unconscious or sexually aroused. Kali is shown as dark, with long wild, matted hair. She wears a necklace of human heads and a belt of severed human hands. Her earrings, two dangling infant corpses, complete her attire. Her tongue is most often depicted as lolling from her mouth. Her hands wield an array of weaponry. In other depictions her face appears more friendly, her hand up and facing us, a symbol of peace. In one particular drawing of Kali the cosmos are in her hair. These are the images most commonly seen by her followers (McDermott and Kripal 27, 81, 175, 176).

Image of the goddess Kali with upraised sword and extended tongue in a Tantric practitioner's home in Banaras
Image of the goddess Kali with upraised sword and extended tongue in a Tantric practitioner’s home in Banaras

The tales of Kali’s origins tend to differ from sect to sect. One story tells of a demon, Darika, who became powerful and conquered the three worlds (heaven, earth and the underworld). A Sage named Narada approached Siva in desperation about the events taking place. Siva, enraged, opened his third eye which was full of fire. Out of this fire Kali was born. After some difficulties she was able to overcome the demonic entity (Caldwell 19-20). Another story describes Kali as an alter ego of the goddess Parvati, representing Parvati’s extreme rage and violent nature. In that story Kali is Siva’s wife instead of Siva’s daughter (McDermott and Kripal 64). Following the theme of emergence from other goddesses, in the Devi-Mahatmya Kali was said to have emerged from Durga’s angry brow as she rode onto the battlefield taking the physical form of Durga’s anger (Caldwell 122). One more account tells of Durga turning into Kali in order to defeat the demon. After the demon was defeated Durga continued as the destructive Kali, to solve this problem the gods enlisted Siva to go and lie in Kali’s path. When Kali stepped upon him she experienced lajja (being a civilized, moral being) (McDermott and Kripal 87-89). Inherent in this is that Kali could be both an asura (demonic) and a deva (divine), or perhaps neither. Worshippers tell that only an asura could defeat a demon as powerful as Darika but others say that she has to be a deva because she was born from Siva. An answer by some to this paradox is that Kali is both deva and asura (Caldwell 21). All of the origin stories of Kali share a common thread, that of a violent being who exists to do battle with demons on the behalf of the gods.

Along with the various accounts of her history there also exist different beliefs of what Kali actually represents. Some of her worshippers view her as a motherly figure. Mothers are usually portrayed as persons with an unfailing devotion towards their children and in turn children give the same devotion back to their mothers. At first glance Kali does not appear to be a goddess one would want to love as though she was a mother, having such a terrible appearance and seemingly destructive nature. These destructive natures of Kali can be symbolic of a mother’s tough love. A mother has enough love to discipline a child when they begin to misbehave but will also never abandon them. It is said that to be Kali’s child is to suffer and to be disappointed in worldly desires and pleasures. She is the cosmic mother who keeps the world moving and helps her creatures, and is wearied and miserable from the suffering of her children (Caldwell 160-162). On the other hand Kali is seen as the epitome of a demon’s anger. Kali’s tongue represents her grotesque habit of ripping apart her victims and drinking their fresh blood. She is death and destruction (McDermott and Kerali 61). In addition to these contradicting views Kali is also seen to be putting dharma into perspective, by reminding her children that certain pieces of reality are unpredictable and unavoidable (McDermott and Kripal 34-35). The dichotomy of Kali is at times extreme.

There are a number of different rituals used in the worship of Kali and also a festival (Navaratra) in which she and the other goddesses are celebrated. A major dramatic possession ritual, called Mutiyettu, occurs in Kerala. This is a ritual in which male actors dress up as Kali as well as other deities and demons to act out the creation story involving the demon, Darika. The actors don incredibly elaborate costumes especially the actor playing Kali. He paints his body in black carbon grease and then decorates the black with white designs. The actor will wear a muti (an elaborate head piece) made of fresh coconut frond ‘hair’ where two live snakes are located. Red cetti flowers are tied around the actor’s wrists. The dramatic ritual takes place upon a stage in the middle of the night with a small musical ensemble as accompaniment. When the ritual begins the actors act out the story of Kali’s origins and during this ritual the actors claim to become possessed by Kali herself (Caldwell 81-87). Another form of worship is Hindu brahmins also taking care of idols representing Kali as though they were Kali herself (putting her to bed, feeding her, etc) and also performing puja as a form of worship to Kali (McDermott and Kerali 127). This great effort put into celebrating and caring for the goddess shows how important she is to her followers.

All these aspects of who and what Kali is to different people are important in gaining a solid knowledge of the deity. Her warlike representation shows how important violence is to her character. The different tales of her creation all share a central theme of showcasing her as the violent defender of gods against demons. How her followers see her highlight this further. Lastly there is the dedication shown to her by her adherents in the festival and the treatment of her effigies, pointing out how important she is to these people. This all goes together to give a proper view of the important Hindu goddess, Kali.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Caldwell, Sarah (1999) Oh Terrifying Mother: Sexuality, Violence and Worship of the Goddess Kali. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

McDermott, Rachel Fell and Kripal, Jeffrey J (2003) Encountering Kali: In the Margins, At the Center, In the West. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Dowger (1973) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Onishi, Yoshinori (1992) Feminine Multiplicity: A Study of Multiple Goddesses in India. Delhi: Sri Satgaru Publications.

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

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Siva

Durga

The Devi Mahatmya

Parvati

Mutiyettu

Noteworthy Websites

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/index.shtml

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/kali.htm

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

Article written by Chelsee Ivan (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.