Category Archives: c) Tripura Sundari


Tripurasundari: The Goddess of Three Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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Maha Pithasthans

Mount Meru




Sri Cakra

Sri Mantra

Sri Vidya

Trika school

Tripurasundari Temple


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

The Ten Mahavidyas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Tantric worship











Severed heads

Cremation grounds

Role of women

Absolute reality

Magical powers

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