Category Archives: The Ten Mahavidyas

Dhumavati

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

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

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

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

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

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

References and Related Readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Research Topics

Mahavidyas

Widowhood in Hindu culture

Animal vehicles (vahana)

Kali

Tara

Chinnamasta

Bhuvanesvari

Bagala

Kamala

Matangi

Sodasi

Bhairavi

Siva

Related Websites

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhumavati

https://bairaveebalasubramaniam.com/2014/08/22/dhum-dhum-dhumavati-the-mahavidya-wisdom-goddess-of-detachment-smoke-and-the-eternal-void/

http://www.drikpanchang.com/vedic-mantra/goddesses/parvati/mahavidya/dhumavati/goddess-dhumavati-mantras.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavidya

http://isireddy.blogspot.ca/2013/08/dhumavati-dhoomavati-temples-in-india.html

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

Bagalamukhi

The modern interpretations of the ten Mahavidyas have turned out to be surprisingly diverse; although, perhaps the most common understanding of the ten Mahavidyas is that they were direct personifications of Sati/Kali, one of the supreme Goddesses. According to the lore, the ten Mahavidyas were said to have been manifestations of the supreme Goddess Sati, after Siva insulted her during an argument. Consequently, Sati reveals herself as Kali, before manifesting into the ten Mahavidyas. Collectively, the ten Mahavidyas are thought to be an expression of compassion and protection demonstrated by the supreme Goddess to free her followers from chaos (Dold 57, 58, 59).

Bagalamukhi or Bagala (she who has a crane’s head) is one of the ten Mahavidyas, but myths of her origins also come with various interpretations. These origins seem to illustrate several distinct variations of Bagalamukhi’s character. For example, the first myth associates Bagala with the God Visnu, where she plays a role similar to one of his avatars, in which, Visnu comes across a cosmic crisis that threatens to annihilate the universe and after requesting for aid, Bagala emerges and restores the cosmic balance (Kinsley 1998: 193, 194).

The next origin myth describes Bagalamukhi’s well-known ability of Stambhana (to stun or paralyze). Bagala is often associated with paralyzing enemies, and defeating enemies with Vak siddhi (the power of speech). In this myth Bagala stops the demon Madan, a demon who is able to destroy and kill just by speaking. Bagala is often portrayed by grabbing the demon’s tongue, stopping him from uttering any more words before destroying him (Kinsley 1998: 194, 195).

The third and final myth recounts the origin of both Dhumavati and Bagalamukhi. This origin myth is similar to the encounter that the ten Mahavidyas have with Siva, in which Bagalamukhi is a manifestation of Siva’s wife. However, in this version, Bagala is manifested after Parvati devours Siva. Soon after Parvati consumes Siva, smoke begins to be released from Parvati’s body. Consequently, Siva emerges from Parvati’s body, followed by Siva punishing her by stripping her of the marks and adornments of marriage, leaving her a widow. Parvati is then branded Bagalamukhi for eating Siva, and from her smoke or her maya (the power of illusion) emerges Dhumavati. This myth relates closely to the meaning of Bagalamukhi’s name, in which, similarly to how a crane would eat, Bagala swallows Siva whole (Shankaranarayanan 94, Kinsley 1998: 195, 196).

Bagalamukhi is known by many epithets, and each one suggests a distinct representation of her particular characteristics. For example, her name Bagalamukhi comes from the Sanskrit word baka, meaning “crane”, in which she has been commonly associated with. However, some scholars have suggested that the original name of Bagalamukhi is a misinterpretation, as she is rarely depicted as having a birds’ head, and that she was actually called Valgamukhi. Further still, there seems to be some inconsistencies to the meaning of the name Valgamukhi. Rama Shankar Tripathi of the Kasi Visvanath temple, believes that valga in Sanskrit means “bit” and refers to Valgamukhi’s ability to master one’s opponents, similar to how a bit is used to lead a horse around. Moreover, another informant of Kinsley’s said that valga means “paralyze”, referring to her ability of stambhana or “paralysis”. The names that Bagala is recognized by all seem to be related to her strong association with magical or supernatural powers, and her ability to attract and immobilize others. Although, it is difficult to interpret each name individually, it is perhaps best to consider each opinion to better understand the significance of each one of Bagalamukhi’s names (Kinsley 1998: 196, 197).

One of Bagalamukhi’s most-used epithet is Pitambara-devi [also seen with Visnu, see Kinsley 1998: 193], “she who is dressed in yellow”, and unlike Bagalamukhi, this name reflects more of her features of devotion and veneration (Kinsley 1998: 198). Bagala is often portrayed as being yellow in complexion, dressed in yellow garments, and dressed in yellow ornaments and garlands (Kinsley 1988: 162). When worshiping Bagalamukhi/Pitambara-devi, devotees are directed to be clothed in all yellow, use yellow turmeric beads and, when possible offer yellow items (Shankaranarayanan 95). However, the problem with the name Pitambara-devi is although she is often said to prefer yellow, the reason why she does, and how it is related to Bagalamukhi are rarely mentioned in literature (see Kinsley 1998: 198-199).

As far as supernatural abilities go, Bagalamukhi has more association with mystical or magical powers than any other Mahavidya. These magical powers are also known as siddhis, “perfections” or “accomplishments”, and are mentioned in some of her hymns. Bagala is said to be worshiped to receive these mystical powers and to control, paralyze, attract or kill one’s enemies, and to gain wealth and auspiciousness. Bagalas ability to paralyze is believed to apply to one’s own thought, motion and initiative, in which she can give the power of intelligent and forceful speech to defeat any enemy (Kinsley 1998: 199).

In the Sankhyayana-tantra, Bagala is connected to Brahmastra (the missile of Brahma), a weapon used in war. There are also special sections in the Sankhyayana-tantra in regards to worship and the attainment of Bagala’s magical powers. Furthermore, some texts have specific instructions of worship for different kinds of siddhis that are sought from Bagala. For instance, the siddhi maruna (the ability to destroy an adversary through pure will) is attained through the burnt offerings that must take place in the fires found on cremation grounds, and that the offerings should include the blood of a female buffalo and mustard oil. Additionally, the siddhi uccdtana (the ruining or upsetting of a person), crow and vulture feathers should be burned as an offering, and so forth for each of the other siddhis (Kinsley 1998: 199, 200).

Bagalamukhi is often depicted in a sava sadhana position, where she is shown to be seated on top of a corpse (Kinsley 1998: 201). There are several theories regarding why Bagala is portrayed in this position. One interpretation is that the corpse is said to belong to the demon Madan that Bagala defeated in battle (see Kinsley 1998: 194, 195). Another explanation suggests that the corpse represents the passion or ignorance that Bagala has conquered or controlled. That is, the corpse that are shown with Bagala are bodily rhythms that are being mastered through yogic control. A third explanation describes Bagala and the corpse as analogous to that of Sakti’s and Siva’s image of reality, in which Bagala/Sakti represents the power of creation, while the corpse/Siva represents the immobile, unchanging aspects of reality.

Furthermore, some believe that the presence of the corpse is related to Sava Sadhana (spiritual practice with a corpse). The details of Sava Sadhana are referred to in numerous tantric texts, and provide specific instructions regarding this practice. The texts include guidelines for selecting a proper location, time, and what kind of corpse should be used. For example, a suitable location for Sava Sadhana would be a forest or a mountain, and should take place on the eighth lunar day, on a Tuesday night. The corpse should be undamaged, from a low caste, preferably a young Candala (an untouchable), who has committed suicide, drowned, or died from lightning, a spear, a snake or in battle. Corpses that belong to a person who had an immoral life, died of starvation, was famous, or who had a strong attachment to their spouse should be avoided (Kinsley 1998: 202, 203).

Temples and shrines that are dedicated to Bagalamukhi are rare, since worshipping her is primarily done through individual means. However, there are some temples devoted to Bagala located throughout India. One temple housing the image of Bagalamukhi is in the old district of Varanasi in Northern India. The temple is connected to a resident’s house, but is open to the general populace. Farther north, near the border of Pakistan, another temple that is affiliated with Bagala is in the woods of Bankhandi, Himachal Pradesh. Interestingly, the notion that Bagala’s tradition is more common in the northern parts of India may be from the fact that she is quite influential in areas of Nepal. Bagala’s most famous place of worship is in Datia, Madhya Pradesh, established in the 1930’s by Puja Swami. Bagalamukhi was Puja Swami’s chosen deity, and he believed that she could benefit India during India’s independence movement (Kinsley 1998: 207, 208).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

Kinsley, David (1988) 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: University of California Press.

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

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sati

Kali

Siva

Sakta Pithas

Tara

Chinnasmasta

Dhumavati

Kamala

Visnu

Sodasi

Bhunvanesvari

Madan

Parvati

Rddhis

Sankhyayana-tantra

Brahmastra

Siddhi

Sava Sadhana

Puja Swami

Indian Independent movement

Noteworthy Website Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagalamukhi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagalamukhi#Other_Bagulamukhi_temples_in_India

https://baglamukhitantra.wordpress.com/tag/astakshari-mantra/

https://www.mahavidya.ca

http://www.vedicrishi.in/mantra/index/act/bagala-mantra

Article written by: Ryan Fukuda (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Tara, the Goddess Who Guides Us Through Troubles

Tara is a Tantric goddess, one of the ten Mahavidyas, which translated into English means great revelations or manifestations (Kinsley 1998:57-60). In Tantrism, there is the idea that the Divine Feminine is the supreme cosmic force in the universe, equivalent to Brahman. An important aspect in Mahadevi theology is that Devi or the Great Goddess has a tendency to manifest herself in a variety of forms so as to protect cosmic stability. The ten Mahavidyas represent a common way of expressing the idea that goddesses can take many forms (Kinsley 1998:20). The Mahavidyas are also often associated with Visnu’s ten avatars or avataras, helping these avataras in their heroic endeavors, either by becoming the avatara heroes themselves, or being the ultimate force for how they are victorious (Kinsley 1998:20-21). The Mahavidyas include the famous goddess Kali. Although Kali is listed in the Mahavidyas, there is evidence that she was worshiped earlier (Kinsley 1986:161). A majority of the texts mentioning the Mahavidyas are Tantric in nature so it will be best to regard the Mahavidyas, such as Tara, as Tantric goddesses (Kinsley 1998:20-21). The Mahavidyas are often depicted as a group throughout various temples, though they can be thought of individually (Kinsley 1998:49-50). This essay will first give a description of the iconography of Tara, how she is usually portrayed in temples alongside the other Mahavidyas, both as a member of the Mahavidyas and individually as a goddess. Second, this essay will give an overview of the myths of Tara and the Mahavidyas; in particular, how Tara and the Mahavidyas were born. Finally, this essay will give a brief overview of the numerous symbolic implications of Tara and what psychological effects these terrifying goddesses have.

Kali is the first goddess in the list of Mahavidyas and Tara always comes after, being the second goddess(Kinsley 1986:162). Tara and Kali are closely interrelated. The description of Tara is almost identical to that of Kali. Tara, like Kali, is dark-skinned. Both are depicted as having their foot firmly on a corpse. In Kali’s case, it is almost always Siva, while for Tara, the corpse can be anonymous or can be Siva. Both wear necklaces of severed heads and skulls. Tara and Kali both have lolling tongues and blood oozing from their mouths while laughing terribly. They are often depicted on funeral pyres. Both Goddesses’ appearances are terrifying to behold. One of the main differences between Kali and Tara is that Tara wears the skin of a tiger while Kali is naked. Additionally, Tara appears to be pot-bellied or pregnant, while Kali is usually not. There are ideas that Kali and Tara are manifestations of one another (Kinsley 1998:100). An eighteenth-century Bengali saint, Ramprasad Sen, even used the names synonymously (Kinsley 1998:100). Kinsley describes of Tara: “She appears to be a variant expression of Kali, a kindred spirit, as it were, who expresses the same truths as Kali, only in slightly different form” (Foulston and Abbott 118). Tara portrays the dominance of the Great Goddess over the masculine, but she also exemplifies gentler aspects and qualities of the divine feminine. It is said that she rescues those who truly are faithful to her, bringing beings and people to the far shore of enlightenment, embodying the maternal, creative, and nurturant (Foulston and Abbott 119).

It is interesting to note the differences between the Hindu Tara and the Tibetan Buddhist Tara. The Hindu Tara is almost always portrayed in fierce forms like the one described in the Tara Tantra:

Standing firmly with her left foot on a corpse, she laughs loudly – transcendent. Her hands hold a sword, a blue lotus, a dagger, and a begging bowl. She raises her war cry, hum! Her matted tawny hair is bound with poisonous blue snakes. Thus the terrifying Tara destroys the unconsciousness of the three worlds and carries them off on her head [to the other shore]” (Foulston and Abbott 119).

The Tibetan Buddhist version of Tara, in contrast, is gentler in aspect. The Buddhist Tara appears as a young, playful, and charming woman, who saves people at the last moment from the jaws of death (Kinsley 1986:167-168). Nevertheless, there are fierce aspects of Tara in Buddhism as well. However, both fierce aspects of Tara, in either tradition, do save the followers who are truly devoted to them (Kinsley 1986:166-167). The most common theory of the evolution of Tara is that Tara first became popular in Tibetan Buddhist Tantrism. Then with the common similarities between Buddhism and Hinduism, and with the close proximity of Tibet and India, Buddhist Tara worship morphed into Tara’s worship in Hindu Tantrism (Kinsley1998: 96).

Regarding the myths surrounding Tara, the Hindu story of how Tara was created starts with the marriage of Sati and Siva. Tara is closely related to the other ten Mahavidyas. This story describes how Tara and the other Mahavidyas were created. Sati’s father, Daksa, creates a great sacrifice and invites all the deities to join in, except for Sati and Siva. He is embarrassed by the fact that Siva, his son-in-law, likes to do wild things, reside in graveyards, and has an ugly appearance because he coats himself in ash. When the couple finds out about this social slight, Siva himself is not offended. However, Sati is grievously insulted. She promptly says to her husband that she will go to the sacrifice all on her own. Siva is not pleased to hear this and refuses to let her go. After a long time of trying to convince Siva to let her go, and failing, Sati transforms into a fierce, terrifying goddess, sometimes known as Kali. Siva is frightened and horrified by this transformation and tries to run away. The goddess, that was once Sati, then multiples herself into a myriad of forms to stop Siva from leaving the house. These forms or goddesses, including Tara, surround Siva from all directions, Tara herself manifesting above him. Siva tries every opening or exit in the house, but finds at each exit a goddess guarding the threshold. Eventually, Siva agrees that Sati can go to the sacrifice if she calls off these terrifying aspects. The forms then tell Siva that they are called the Mahavidyas, and teach him how they all should be worshiped. At this point, different versions of the tale diverge from one another. Some versions have Sati continue to manifest the Mahavidyas in order to protect Siva while she is away from the house. Sati then, either in the form of Kali or in her own original form, goes to her father’s sacrifice and throws herself into the sacrificial fire (Kinsley 1998:23-38).

An oral story has another myth about Tara and Siva, this tale having only Tara. The tale starts after the churning of the ocean, during which a powerful poison had been created. Siva, in order to save the world from destruction, drinks up all the poison from the water. However, he falls unconscious from the effect of the poison. Tara then comes along and puts Siva on her lap. She suckles him, and the healing power of her mother’s milk brings Siva back to life (Kinsley 1998:102). This tale is similar to a Kali story where Kali is unleashed by the gods to destroy a demon army. Kali utterly annihilates the army, but now nothing is in the way to stop her from rampaging and destroying the world. Siva then comes to the world’s rescue again by manifesting himself as a baby upon the bloody wasteland of corpses. Kali hears the infant Siva’s crying. This awakens her motherly instincts and she stops to suckle the baby Siva, her blood rage quieted (Kinsley 1998:102). This similar motif of suckling Siva adds to the notion that Tara and Kali are intertwining goddesses.

Finally, turning to the symbolic, religious, and psychological significance of Tara and the Mahavidyas, Tara appears to represent the shadowy, vicious side of the Great Goddess. Yet these fierce goddesses, such as Tara, do not seem to be warriors. Although there is a notion that they are ferocious in order to protect the universe, these goddesses primarily represent the divine feminine’s superiority and dominance over the masculine, which is shown in myth with all of the ten Mahavidyas’ dominance over Siva (Kinsley 1986:163-165). The gender politics of this are obvious. Usually masculine gods are dominant over goddesses, yet here this custom is reversed. Yet perhaps it was also actually political in the sense that the goddess cults were overthrowing the god-centred cults, or perhaps it is there to be an inversion of the usual religious and social order. In orthodox Brahmin Hinduism, there are attitudes that the male is above the female, that there are certain things you should not do, like illicit sex or giving blood to the deities, and that, though the quest for moksa can give you magic powers, magical powers are distractions that hold you from your true goal (Kinsley 1998:6-7). In Tantrism, many of these attitudes are switched around: blood sacrifice to the goddesses and illicit sex are important to the rituals, and the pursuit of magic powers is a legitimate goal (Kinsley 1986:164). It could be understood that this inversion of traditional practice was created by those disenchanted with the religious authorities in order to make the forbidden acceptable.

Tara could be seen is an antimodel. As with Kali, she haunts cremation grounds, an impure environment because of the close proximity to death, and she wears necklaces of skulls and heads, and has a girdle of human arms. This depiction of the divine feminine mocks, insults, and subverts the status quo, creating a liberating effect for both sexes caught in the imprisoning social ideas. In addition to this liberation from conformity, this bloody jewelry also has an inner, spiritual importance. The bloody jewelry, in this context, is not usually to be taken literally, but as symbols of destroying residual karma. Tara wears the detached remains not of “you,” but of the false you. With her sword, she cuts away the negative qualities of the limited you, your greed, your fear, your ego, your residual karma, all falsehoods holding you back from enlightenment (Kinsley 1998:104).

Tara is a vision of the divine that challenges comfortable and comforting fantasies that we may all have (Kinsley 1998:7). She is a manifestation that while everything might seem well and good, one has to remember that all is fleeting, and one must focus on one’s own spiritual goals and not get caught in a cycle which will imprison him or her. In another context, she also represents the all-powerful determination of a true seeker of enlightenment. Her ruthlessness is inside all who have enlightenment as their goal. She comes whenever a barrier blocks the way to enlightenment. This viciousness is not to be cruel to others, but to strike inside the inner realm of the psyche and destroy the ego and the roadblocks that come in the way.

Tara, like the many goddesses such as the other Mahavidyas, shows us that there are many ways of thinking of the divine besides just one. Her fierce demeanor is paradoxical to compassionate religion, yet this terrifying complex turns out to be complementary to compassion. There is no end to the interpretations of these symbols of the fierce aspects of the divine.

Consulted Bibliography

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

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

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Los Angeles: University of California.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Vajrayana

Shaktism

Blood Sacrifice

Durga

Mahadevi

Parvati

Tantra

Mahavidya

Kali

Tripura Sundari

Bhuvaneshvari

Bhairavi

Chinnamasta

Dhumavati

Bagalamukhi

Matangi

Kamala

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6DqHd5wveE

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tara_(Devi)

https://www.templepurohit.com/hindu-goddesses-and-deities/tara-devi/

http://www.kheper.net/topics/Tantra/Mahavidyas.html

https://utopiaordystopia.com/tag/tara-devi-hindu-goddess-of-hunger/

http://www.drikpanchang.com/hindu-goddesses/parvati/mahavidya/tara/goddess-tara.html

https://journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/goddess-tara/

Written by Liberty Blair Charissage (Spring 2017)  who is solely responsible for its content.

Bagalamukhi

Goddess Bagalamukhi is one of the ten Mahavidyas and the eighth supreme goddess of knowledge. There are multiple stories of origin concerning this goddess, both of which result in the reputation that she holds today. The first myth starts with a cosmic storm that threatened to destroy the universe. In the height of the chaos, Visnu prayed to Tripura-Sundari, who brought forth Bagalamukhi. Visnu watched as she calmed the storm with her great powers (Kinsley 1997: 199). The second origin myth demonstrates the more violent side of Bagalamukhi, as she was prayed to by other gods to stop the demon, Madan, from his rampage of killing people. In order to stop him Bagalamukhi pulled out his tongue to prevent the power of speech (Kinsley 1997: 200-201), which is a common tactic used by this scorned goddess. She is often depicted pulling out the tongues of her aggressors and silencing her enemies. This is one of her many gifts and powers, as she is most associated with magical powers, out of all of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1997: 52). In fact, many of her devotees worship her in hopes that she will bless them with several gifts such as heightened sensory abilities and the ability to overcome, outwit, and control other people (Kinsley 1997: 206). Bagalamukhi represents a state of “sharply focused consciousness” (Kinsley 1997: 56), capable of directly influencing people. The gift of “intense concentration” (Kinsley 1997: 203) is part of the reasoning behind the meaning of her name. In Sanskrit, baka means “crane” (Kinsley 1997: 202), which raises the meaning of the name “she who has a crane’s head” (Dold 59) or “the crane-faced one,” however, according to Kinsley, this reasoning is hard to believe as the goddess is rarely ever depicted with a crane’s head (Kinsley 1997: 203). Bagalamukhi is often associated with birds, such as a crow, as it has the ability to give advanced information of people’s arrival, as well as a parrot, which has the ability to grant vdk siddhi, the power to make all thoughts come true (Kinsley 1997: 203).

There are several different appearances that Bagalamukhi holds, however, she is most often associated with the color yellow and even referred to as Pitambrara-devi, “she who is dressed in yellow” (Kinsley 1997: 204). She wears yellow clothing, prefers yellow offerings, and wishes that her devotees wear the color yellow, sit on a yellow garment, and use turmeric beads when reciting her mantra (Kinsley 1997: 204). All of these wishes are laid out in the Pujapaddhati, the instructions for her worship. According to Kinsley, the color yellow holds significance in South India, as women often wear yellow clothing as it is seen as an auspicious color and symbolizes sun and gold, however the connection between Bagalamukhi and yellow is unclear (Kinsley 1997: 205). Bagalamukhi is also depicted sitting upon a throne composed of a corpse of an enemy, and decorated in red lotuses (Kinsley 1997: 207). This somewhat off-putting image illustrates the strength and command that Bagalamukhi yields as well as the violent outbursts of this goddess. The corpse can represent one of three things: a demon that the goddess has killed, ignorance or passions that Bagalamukhi has defeated or controlled, or the male figure as they are static and the female is the dynamic (Kinsley 1997: 208). Themes of sava sadhana are also possible, regarding the corpse, igniting the possibility of the corpse coming alive while in an aggressive state. The corpse can sometimes hold animal characteristics and in this case, Bagalamukhi must portray fearlessness and defeat her enemy once again (Kinsley 1997: 211).

Worship is a large part of the Hindu culture, especially worship dedicated to the Mahavidyas as it provides a “public approach” with the thought that they are able to bless their devotees and are pleased by the “devotional service” (Kinsley 1997: 59). Several goddesses, including Bagalamukhi, are said to be pleased with a blood sacrifice (Kinsley 1997: 59), however the practices vary among the goddesses. Bagalamukhi is, of all the Mahavidyas, most associated with having magical powers such as paralyzing, eradication, and control over the planets (Kinsley 1997: 59). In fact, the Mahavidyas as a group are often connected with the nine planets in order to aid the devotee to “overcome malevolent astrological influences” (Dold 57). Bagalamukhi’s followers have many different reasons to worship the goddess, many of them revolving around the idea of defeating an enemy through different methods and acquiring wealth and power. Bagalamukhi is a very powerful and revengeful goddess, who is often depicted overcoming her aggressors. Thus it is only fitting that she is able to bestow similar blessings upon her worshippers, such as gaining control over one’s enemies (Kinsley 1997: 205). There are few public temples or places of worship dedicated exclusively to Bagalamukhi; however, there are several Bagalamukhi-Pitambara temples (Kinsley 1997: 213). The most famous temple in honor of Bagalamukhi is Datiya, located in Madhya Pradesh and founded in the 1930s by Puja Swami, who had elected the goddess as his chosen deity (Kinsley 1997: 214). Worship dedicated to this goddess is done privately through an individual spiritual process called sadhana (Kinsley 1997: 213).

Overall, there are many different opinions and perspectives held regarding this Hindu devi from both sides of the spectrum, positive and negative. Some people hold the opinion that Bagalamukhi represents the “ugly side of living creatures” (Kinsley 1997: 207) and that the qualities that she possesses are both negative and undesirable. On the other hand, people believe that she represents strength and that she has power over the “vital breath,” which means control over the tongue and speech (Kinsley 1997: 207). Despite what one’s opinion on Bagalamukhi might be, one thing cannot be disputed, she is part of the Mahavidyas, making up one of the ten forms of goddess Kamakhya (Dold 57); this means that she is a very influential goddess and figure in Hindu culture. As a part of the Mahavidyas or individually, Bagalamukhi holds a dominating position by paralyzing and controlling those around her. The Mahavidyas are a high-ranking group, who have been around since the 11th century, and are known to represent several different things, all concerning aspects of life and the universe. For example, these “ten sisters” (Dold 58) have been said to represent the following: the stages of the female life, the phases of the moon, and the stages of consciousness, to name a few (Dold 58).

In conclusion, Bagalamukhi is known as a scorned goddess, well known for paralyzing her enemies and defeating those who have wronged her by removing their tongues; rendering them silent. She is one the the ten Mahavidyas and is the one most associated with magical powers and mystical strengths, which comes into play when her devotees worship her in the privacy of their homes. This powerful goddess is often associated with the auspicious color yellow and is occasionally illustrated sitting upon a throne of a corpse of an slain enemy. Her unwavering concentration is correlated with the thought that she has a crane’s head with reference to the meaning of her name, “the crane-faced one” (Kinsley 1997: 202). Bagalamukhi is a very powerful, magical, and influential goddess in the Hindu culture.

 


 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 

Dold, Patricia A. (2011) “Pilgrimage to Kamakhya through text and lived religion”. In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 46-61. New York: Routledge.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kamakhya

The Mahavidyas

Tantric

Tara

Kali

Chinnamasta

Madan

Pujdpaddhati

Sava Sadhana

Bagalamukhi-Pitambara temple

Sadhana

Devi

Blood sacrifice

Visnu

Vital breath

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://sivasakti.com/tantra/dasa-maha-vidya/bagalamukhi/

 

http://www.vedicrishi.in/mantra/index/act/bagala-mantra

 

https://vedanta.org/2010/monthly-readings/the-mahavidyas-the-powers-of-consciousness-conceptualized-part-2/

 

http://www.shreemaa.org/story-of-origindas-mahavidyas/

 

http://shop.astromerits.com/Baglamukhi-Puja-Goddess-Bagalamukhi-Pooja.htm

 

 

Article written by: Haley Tanigami (2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kamala: The Lotus Goddess

Kamala (“she of the lotus”), is the last in the list of the Ten Mahavidyas (great revelations or manifestations), who are a group of Tantric goddesses. Kamala’s place as the last of the Mahavidyas is not addressed in the literature. Although it may be taken as signifying a lesser importance than the others, Kamala is one of the most widely worshipped outside of her relationship with the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998: 223). She is portrayed as auspicious and beautiful, with a lovely golden complexion. She is seated in a lotus posture upon a lotus flower. She has four hands—two holding lotuses and two held in signs of granting blessings and giving assurance. Iconography of Kamala illustrates her being bathed in nectar by two (sometimes four) large elephants. Kamala is represented in a similar manner to the very popular goddess Sri-Laksmi, as Kamala and Sri-Laksmi are considered to be the same goddess (Kinsley 1988; Kinsley 1998).

In early literature, Kamala is referred to as Sri (Glory). She is associated with positive  and auspicious qualities such as royal power, wealth, beauty, and fertility. Sri is associated with the lotus and the elephant, important aspects of her character throughout the literature (Kinsley 1998). The elephants are thought to be symbolic of fertility and royal authority. The significance of the lotus is twofold. First, the lotus symbolizes life, fertility, and the entire created order of the cosmos. Secondly, the lotus symbolizes spiritual purity, power, and authority. Lotus flowers are rooted in mud, yet bloom uncontaminated above the water. Thus, Sri is seen as a pure life force, which transcends the material world, while remaining rooted inside it (Kinsley 1998: 225-226).

Although Sri may have at one point been an independent personality, she became more consistently known as Laksmi (Grace) fairly early in her history (Kinsley 1998). Sri-Laksmi is associated with several male figures throughout the literature. Some texts refer to her as the wife of Dharma, who is responsible for the maintenance of social order (dharma). Other texts emphasize her relationship with Indra, signifying royal authority, fertility, and prosperity. Indra’s kingly power, dominance, and success are said to be dependent on Sri-Laksmi, and in her absence, the king cannot flourish. In some texts, Sri-Laksmi accompanies the god Kubera, the Lord of Wealth, who is associated with growth and fertility (Kinsley 1998: 227).

Most importantly, Sri-Laksmi is thought to be the wife of the god Visnu. Visnu is often depicted as a divine king, associated with the promotion of dharma. Followers of Visnu seek to maintain social order (Kinsley 1998: 227). Hindu myths suggest that Laksmi is revealed, among other desirable objects and beings, when the gods and demons, seeking the elixir of immortality, churn the milky sea. She is thereby granted to Visnu, the leader of the gods (in this myth). Laskmi’s presence with Visnu allows for the security of royal authority; in her absence, royal authority weakens and deteriorates (Kinsley 1998: 227). When illustrated with Visnu, Laksmi is typically shown with two hands, rather than four. In association with Visnu, iconography of Laksmi also depicts her partaking in domestic chores, such as cooking and cleaning. She is often pictured massaging the feet of Visnu, and is shown to be much smaller than him. In this sense, she is portrayed as submissive to her husband, as his modest, passive, and loving wife (Kinsley 1998: 227).

The view of Sri-Laksmi’s passivity differs between schools of thought in Hinduism (Kinsley 1998). In the Pancaratra school of thought, Laksmi plays an active role alongside Visnu in maintaining the balance of the cosmos. She takes over many of Visnu’s roles as creator of the universe and regulator of dharma. In the Sri-Vaisnava school of thought, Sri-Laksmi has a less significant cosmological role, but plays the role of indulgent and forgiving mediator between Visnu and his devotees (Kinsley 1998: 227).

Laksmi has a large following of worshippers, and she is well-known throughout Hindu culture (Kinsley 1998). There are several annual festivals in the Hindu tradition that are dedicated to the worship of Laksmi. She is worshipped by those seeking wealth, prosperity, good luck, and fertility. Merchants worship their account books to encourage Laksmi to reside within them. Farmers worship their crops to promote Laksmi’s presence. Cow dung is also worshipped as a symbol of Laksmi’s powers of fecundity. Worship of Laksmi is thought to drive away bad luck and misfortune, associated with her inauspicious counterpart, Alaksmi (Kinsley 1998: 228).

Less significant to Sri-Laksmi’s following is her role as Kamala among the Ten Mahavidyas. The Ten Mahavidyas include an eclectic array of characters, ranging from fierce goddesses like Kali and Tara, who are associated with images of severed heads and corpses, to goddesses with more benign and desirable qualities, such as Kamala (Kinsley 1998). The Mahavidyas are portrayed both individually and as a group in many goddess temples across Northern India (Kinsley 1998: 1). There are many myths regarding the significance and origins of the Mahavidyas (see Kinsley 1988: 161-165, 1998: 22-36).

The most common understanding is that the Mahavidyas are distinct manifestations of the same goddess (Kinsley 1988, 1998; Dold 49). Oral and literary accounts describe the story of the goddess Sati. The king Daksa, Sati’s father, does not invite Sati’s husband, Siva, to his Vedic ritual. Siva forbids Sati from attending the ritual, and Sati, furious with her husband, becomes the ten Mahavidyas to show Siva her power. The Mahavidyas, surrounding Siva, frighten him so that Sati may get her way. The fear-inspiring Mahavidyas cause Siva to flee, allowing Sati to attend her father’s ritual (Dold 49).

Despite the lack of definite consensus on the origins of the Mahavidyas, many descriptions of their characteristics are consistent across origin myths. The Mahavidyas are frightening, they possess magical powers, and they are dominant to male characters (Kinsley 1998: 36-38). It has also been suggested that the Mahavidyas serve to maintain dharma, or the cosmological order of the world (Kinsley 1988: 161; Kinsley 1998: 38; Shankaranarayanan 3). Many interrelationships between the Mahavidyas have been suggested, including their representation as sisters; forms of great goddesses; stages of life, consciousness, creation and destruction; and the lunar phases (see Kinsley 1998: 38-49).

The Mahavidyas are worshipped in temples, or in Tantric fashion (Kinsley 1998). During temple worship, rituals are performed by priests, and people may join in public worship of the goddesses. Many of the more inauspicious Mahavidyas accept blood offerings, given in the form of animal sacrifice, in addition to offerings of flowers, incense, and fruit. Worship of the Mahavidyas in temples involves conceptualization of these goddesses as existing outside, above, or beyond the worshipper, similar to the worship of other Hindu deities (Kinsley 1998: 49-50). During Tantric worship, the mantra of an individual goddess is recited repeatedly, in combination with specific hand gestures, offerings, and other details (Kinsley 1998: 49-55). Kamala is among the few Mahavidyas to have several temples across India dedicated to her as an individual goddess, as she is most often worshipped as Sri-Laksmi (Kinsley 1998: 49).

In the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is recognizable as Sri-Laksmi; however, there are significant differences in her character. In many ways, Laksmi’s qualities appear to be altered in order to make her a better fit for the Mahavidyas (Foulston and Abbott 124; Kinsley 1998: 228-229). As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala remains a symbol of beauty and prosperity. She is generally still flanked by elephants, who symbolize sovereignty and fertility, maintaining Laksmi’s association with these qualities. Similarly, her consistent association with the lotus maintains her representation of creative consciousness and ritual purity (Kinsley 1998: 228; Shankaranarayanan 110-111).

Differing from her portrayal as Sri-Laksmi, in the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is notably independent from Visnu and other male characters (Kinsley 1998). She is often depicted as seated on a lotus alone, with neither Visnu nor elephants by her side. This greatly contrasts with the way Laksmi is depicted with Visnu, emphasizing the role of the Mahavidyas as independent goddesses, separate from (or dominant to) male characters (Kinsley 1998). As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is separated completely from marital and domestic contexts. In addition to her auspicious and desirable qualities, Kamala is also given more fear-inspiring qualities when she is associated with the Mahavidyas. For example, Kamala’s role as a demon slayer is not portrayed outside of the context of the Mahavidyas. Laksmi is associated with others who slay demons; however, it is only in association with the Mahavidyas that she herself performs any slaying. Kamala’s association with more fierce qualities illustrates the tailoring of Laksmi’s character to meet the fearfulness of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998: 228-230).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

 

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

 

Jones, Constance, and James D. Ryan (2007) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing.

 

Kinsley, David (1988) 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: University of California Press.

 

Pintchman, Tracy (2014) Seeking Mahadevi: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2016) Hinduism—the Ebook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

 

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

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bagalamukhi

Bhairavi

Bhuvanesvari

Chinnamasta

Devi

Dhumavati

Kali

Kamakhya

Laksmi-tantra

Mahabhagavata Purana

Mahadevi

Mahavidyas

Matangi

Sati

Saktisamgama-tantra

Sdkta-pramoda

Siva

Sri-Vaisnava

Tantra

Tantrasdra

Tantric Goddess Worship

Tara

Tripura-sundari

Visnu

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://www.mahavidya.ca/

 

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

 

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

 

http://www.divinetantrictouch.com/kamalalotus-goddess-of-spiritual-wealth/

 

http://www.jaimaa.org/articles/kamala/

 

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

 

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/Frames/messageboard/kamala.html

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamalatmika

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavidya

 

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

Dhumavati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Mahavidyas

Kali

Tara

Tripurasundari

Bhuvanesvari

Bhairavi

Chinnamasta

Bagalamukhi

Matangi

Kamala

Sati

Visnu

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhumavati

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/dhumavati.htm#.WKdnBDvyvIU

http://www.drikpanchang.com/hindu-goddesses/parvati/mahavidya/dhumavati/goddess-dhumavati.html

http://www.goddessaday.com/hindu/dhumavati

http://vedicgoddess.weebly.com/joy-ma-blog/devi-dhumavati

 

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

Kamala

The Mahavidyas are a group of ten goddesses from late Hindu literary tradition. They are great revelations also known as manifestations. While some of the goddesses in this group hold individual significance and can be dated back to a much earlier time, the group as a whole acts as an important iconographic and mythological expression of Mahadevi theology (Kinsley 1988: 161). This comes from the concept that the Devi, the great goddess, would manifest herself in a variety of forms. A prominent myth claims that the Devi produces different goddesses from different parts of her body. It suggests she assumes different forms at different times in order to maintain cosmic stability (Kinsley 1988:162). All ten of the Mahavidyas are often depicted in goddess temples throughout India today. While not each of the ten forms is individually celebrated, when shown as a group, the Mahavidyas represent the idea that a particular goddess dwelling in the temple takes many forms.

The origin of the ten Mahavidyas in Hindu mythology comes from a story of the creators Sati and Siva. Sati’s father, Daksa, performs a great sacrifice and invites all of the heavenly kingdoms to attend. The only couple he does not invite is Siva and Sati. The claim is that Daksa does not like his son in law because of Siva’s uncivilized habits and disheveled appearance. Therefore, he purposely neglects to invite him to the sacrifice. Siva is not offended, but Sati is greatly insulted and tells Siva that she is going to attend the sacrifice. Siva forbids her to attend the sacrifice and Sati loses her temper. First, she assumes a dreadful form and then she multiplies herself into ten forms, the Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuvanesvari, Bagala, Dhumavati, Kamala, Matangi, Sodasi, and Bhairavi (Kinsley 1988:163).

Seated on a lotus blossom, Kamala is one of the Ten Mahavidyas who is known as the Great Wisdom Goddess. With a golden complexion, Kamala is the beautiful and fully-realized form of Laksmi, the goddess of wealth, well-being, fertility and prosperity (Kinsley 1999:179-181). In most respects, Kamala is portrayed like the goddess Laksmi. They are in fact the same goddess but Kamala is more esoteric in nature. Kamala sits, the same as Laksmi, with two hands each holding a lotus while the other two hands are bestowing blessings (Amodio 51-53). The lotus signifies purity, auspiciousness, piety and is the direct translation of Kamala’s name in Sanskrit. All of these aspects are also strongly associated with Laksmi. The lotus is a symbol of the universe, is found in every sacred diagram, and is associated with many Hindu deities. It grows from murky waters and then comes forth with large leaves and beautiful fragrant blossoms. This represents the emergence of the pure, limitless Atman (soul) from the restricted material body, and allows a devoted spiritual follower to be untouched by the murkiness of drama, attachment, and ego (Colburn 108). Additionally, the lotus is very nourishing and represents the vital nature of the spiritual path in nurturing our whole self.  

There is a slight difference in iconography between Kamala and Laksmi in that Kamala’s depiction includes two elephants with their trunks raised, a feature which is often absent from images of Laksmi. The elephants, that are depicted surrounding Kamala showering her with water, symbolize the fertile rains of monsoon that bring plants and flowers. This is parallel symbolization to the spiritual wealth that grows through the passion of regular devotion and practice (Danielou 261). The elephants also provide a sense of authority as they are symbols of royalty and status. Since Kamala is the devoted wife of Visnu, preserver of the universe, she is seen as queen and preserver of everything on earth. Kamala is often depicted wearing a dazzling crown on her head, a silk-type dress, a kaustibha gem, and a smiling face (Kinsley 1999:180).

As one of the Ten Mahavidyas, Kamala represents the unfolding of inner consciousness stemming from the foundation of creation (Pintchman 289). As the goddess of material and spiritual wealth and beauty, Kamala is primarily worshipped for her power to eliminate both material and spiritual poverty. In poor economic times, Kamala or Laksmi are worshipped in hopes of bringing material wealth. Altars to Laksmi can often be found in places of business and in individual homes. In the home, a married woman is considered an incarnation of Laksmi. This is attributed to studies that show woman possess a special ability to create wealth from very little (Sharma 1-12). Kamala is referred to as pure creative force and has the power to create beauty and wealth around us. This includes the ability to see beauty in everything. As the creative force, Kamala is also the goddess who blesses families with children. Families having difficulty conceiving or adopting children may offer worship to the powerful Tantric Goddess. Similarly, those who become happily pregnant or have a new addition to their family after much difficulty should offer thanks to Kamala as she is the goddess of fertility, childbirth, and family well-being (Sharma 26).

The profit of worshipping Kamala or Laksmi for the highest spiritual good is not only blessing of material security, but also of spiritual progress. Kamala teaches commitment to the spiritual path through riddance of the drama of our daily lives and bitterness towards others. The true nature of Kamala is the radiant beauty of the cosmos that is manifest in the material world (Kinsley 1999: 202). Kamala is the spirit of nature itself, and she is manifest in the natural world. She can be worshipped by simply spending time in nature and appreciating its profound beauty. Through recognition of her beauty in the natural world, an individual moves further towards liberation (Pintchman 289). A spiritual follower who detaches the fruits of action and finds enjoyment in the acts of service, generosity and prayer for their own sake can truly begin to grasp the inner nature of Kamala, the light of divine consciousness and connection with the self (Colburn 126). Kamala embodies the spirit of giving, receiving graciously and gratefully instead of with greed. She teaches that true wealth is measured by generosity, spiritual depth, and freedom from ego-driven desires. When followers ask something of Kamala in greed, she may grant desires with all of the associated negative consequences. Kamala does have the tendency to remind us that she is also the goddess Kali, who teaches detachment and surrender (Kinsley 1999: 62). This helps to remind followers to trust the way as they find a spiritual path that serves the highest good, instead of being seduced by our own worldly desires for the sake of material gain. In this way, Kamala can be seen as a teacher of financial responsibility in terms of learning to save, paying off debt, investing wisely and without greed, not taking what is not freely given, making charitable offerings, and not spending more than can be afforded.

Kamala can be worshipped to manifest creative vision, eliminate poverty, stabilize your home, open your heart, and deepen spiritual understanding and experience. Laksmi Puja is Kamala’s special holy day which is celebrated on the full moon of Ashvin, typically in early October (Dold, 60-62). Puja simply means devotional worship and followers do not need to wait for a specific day to worship Kamala. She is known to accept all sincere worship. A simple Laksmi and Kamala altar are very similar and can be created by placing a beautiful cloth (white, pink, yellow, or red) on a small table or flat surface that is not directly the ground. Then, one may place a depiction of Laksmi or Kamala on the surface, as well as a vase or plate of flowers, a candle or oil lamp, and some sweet-smelling incense. During Laksmi Puja, it is believed that it is beneficial to place rice stalks or an alternative form of grain at the altar as well. The grain is a symbol of abundance and the foundation of sustenance, both in the physical and spiritual sense. Many followers use a small bell with gentle sounds as it is believed that Laksmi does not like loud noises. On special days, followers will offer a basket or plate that contains a small piece of fine cloth, a small mirror, and comb (symbols of beauty in the manifest world), a small white conch or shell (symbol of clarity), and any kind of coin (symbol of material wealth). Lastly a small cup of coconut water or purified water is placed along with the offering (Hawley 180-185).

The practice of worship involves standing or kneeling in front of the altar and reciting Kamala’s pranama mantra. This mantra praises Kamala as the great goddess Laksmi who is beloved and grants all desires. She is seen as the goddess who encourages the spiritual life in her white form. White symbolizes the color of ultimate reality and presents her as the pure, gentle, independent, powerful, virgin goddess. Simple worship consists of additional movements and behaviours. A follower would use their left hand to ring the bell softly, while taking their right hand to wave the candle or lamp clockwise before the depiction of Laksmi three times. The mantra is repeated and the worshipper bows deeply before the image. A traditional gesture of great respect is kneeling or touching your forehead to the ground. This is when a follower can ask for blessing and offer thanks for all the blessing she has given. The puja ends with another bow. Objects used in worship hold significance and can be considered a blessing for Laksmi or saved for other special days or offerings (Kinsley 1988: 32-35). Presently at the Sri Sri Kamakhya Temple in Assam, India, the inner sanctum known as the garbha grha, which literally means “womb room”, of the temple houses is not only the pitha of Sri Sri Kamakhya Devi, but also of Matangi (Sarasvati) and Kamala (Laksmi). Therefore, when a follower receives the darsana of Kamakhya, they also receive blessing of Matangi and Kamala (Pintchman 289). Kamala is a powerful creative force that encompasses the beauty in everything. Her teachings of commitment to the spiritual path reach to eliminate poverty and create wealth among her devoted followers.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Amodio, Barbara (2011) “The Mahavidya (Great Lesson) of Sacred Transformation in Ten Mahesvan Icons of the Goddess: Secret Identities of Siva and the Goddess (Sakti) as One.” Journal of Indian Philosophy and Religion 16: 51-66. Accessed January 31, 2017. doi: 10.5840/jipr2011162

Colburn, Thomas (1988) Devi Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Danielou, Alain (1991) The Myths and God of Indra: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollington Series. Inner Traditions: Bear & Co.

Dold, Patricia 2012. “Pilgrimage to Kamakhya Through Text and Lived Religion: Some Forms of the Goddess at an Assamese Temple Site.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary Rodrigues, 46-62. Oxon: Routledge.

Hawley, John S. and Donna Wulff (1998) Devi: Goddesses of India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1988) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1999) “Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas.” The Journal of Religion 79, 1:179-181

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

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

Sharma, Arvind (2005) Goddess and Women in the Indic Religious Tradition. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Ashvin

Atman

Daksa

Devi

Kali

Kaustibha

Laksmi

Lakshimi Puja

Mahadevi theology

Mahavidya

Pranama Mantra

Puja

Sati

Siva

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/goddess-kamala/

http://www.jaimaa.org/articles/kamala/

http://www.divinetantrictouch.com/kamalalotus-goddess-of-spiritual-wealth/

http://www.goddessaday.com/hindu/kamala

Article written by: Kirsten Cole (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content

The Sakta Pithas

The Sakta Pithas are places of worship, created to worship Hindu goddesses and or places of sacred capacity regarded as seats of the Devi (the Great Goddess). Sakti is known as the female principle of Hinduism and means ‘power’. Sakti is worshipped under many different names such as Durga, Ma, Devi and so on. These places of worship are spread throughout India, often with 51 places of worship in total, most of which are in Bengal or Assam (Payne 1). The 51 Pithas or places of worship are first described in the Mahapithanirupana or Pithanirnaya manuscript. (Sircar 3). Although it is not exactly evident when these manuscripts were composed, it is probable that they were prepared in the Medieval period (Sircar 4). However, it was not until later that works were prepared for Saktism to be greater studied and understood (Payne 15).

Related to these places of worship is an ancient myth depicting how these Pithas, or places of pilgrimage, came to be created. This myth involves the goddess Sati who is regarded as the wife of the great god Siva. There are many different legends and stories that go along with the naming and placing of these Pithas, as every author writing on the Sakta Pithas present different lists as to where the body parts fell. This myth is one that can be described as grim and violent, and thus has not received much attention as far as research goes. However, Saktism is a very important religious movement within Hinduism, and there are millions of Saktas or worshippers of Sakti throughout India (Payne 14).  With any religion, the origins of certain myths can vary making it complex to comprehend. In this article, we will examine the well-known myth of the Sakta Pithas, which tells how they came to be created. We shall also examine some of the legends of the Pithas in regards to their placement and names

One of the most ancient myths, which although not directly connected to the Pithas, provides a parallel symbolic motif. It tells a story of incest between a father, the creator god Prajapati and his daughter, the goddess Usas. The gods became disgusted with this act of incest and, requested Rudra to destroy Prajapati. Rudra thus pierced Prajapti with an arrow and Prajapati proceeded to fall to the ground, which is thereafter used in sacrificial rituals. Since Prajapati represents sacrifice his body could not simply be destroyed.  This version of the myth can be found in the Puranas or Tantras (Sircar 5).

Although the above is an ancient tale, with no direct connection to the Pithas, it grows from there into the well-known Daksa-Yajna Story approximately in the fourth century CE (Sircar 5). This tells of the mother goddess, in the form of Sati, who was a daughter of the “great king Daksa”. She took on this form of Sati in order to marry Siva (Courtright 39). After the couple was married, they went to live in Siva’s home at Mt. Kailasa. Following their marriage Sati’s father, Daksa Prajapati, hosted a sacrifice inviting all the gods but excluded his daughter Sati and his son in law, Siva. Dadhici, (Daksa’s priest), warned against the exclusion of Sati and Siva. He stated that without the ‘great God’, Siva, the ritual would be ineffective (Courtright, 39). However, Daksa believed that Siva was a terrible son in law and that he did not deserve to attend the ritual. Sati, enraged that she and her husband were not invited to her father’s sacrifice, decided to attend nonetheless. Upon attending the sacrifice, Sati was greatly mistreated by her father. Due to this mistreatment, Sati is said to have thrown herself into a fire feeling broken hearted and hurt. News of Sati’s death reached Siva, who furiously headed to the sacrifice and completely destroyed the scene. Some versions of the myth say that he beheaded Daksa. Others say that it was Virabhadra who destroyed the sacrificial ritual and beheaded Daksa (Courtright 41).

The further progression of this myth was added in the later part of the Medieval period, to justify the creation of the Pithas. It tells how Siva roamed around mad with despair carrying Sati’s body. Sati’s body was eventually cut piece by piece out of Siva’s hands; each piece was a different body part, which fell to the earth, thereby creating the holy sites of the Sakta Pithas. Some versions of the myth state that it was Brahman, Visnu and Sani that freed Siva from carrying Sati’s body, while others state that it was Visnu alone. As Sati’s body fell to the earth it spread Sakti or power across India. This spreading of Sati’s body, which not only created the Sakta Pithas, but which offers a mythic rationale for why the entire landscape of India is sacred, is the final portion of the myth.

Courtright suggests that there is a link regarding the creation of the Sakta Pithas and the ancient sacrificial ritual of sati practiced by widows upon the death of their husbands. However, different circumstances resulted in the immolation of Sati versus the sacrificial practice of sati performed by Hindu wives. Sati’s immolation was due to the harshness of a father towards a daughter and her husband while sati is a sacrifice performed by widows to accompany their husband after death (Courtright 37).

The locations where Sati’s body parts fell, or the Pithas, are often connected with linga, which represents Siva. Hindus believe that both worship of the linga and yoni should be held in the same high regard (Sircar 7). The locations, names and traditions of the Pithas differ throughout history. Many writers used a great deal of imagination when creating the lists of Pithas, so there is a great deal of variation amongst them (Sircar 32). However, many texts speak of the four Pithas also known as the Adi Pithas. The Adi Pithas are considered the major sites of Sakti worship, associated with the northern, southern, eastern and western regions of India (Sircar, 17). One early tradition, written about in the Catususpithatantra, indicates the four Adi Pithas as “Atmapitha, Parapitha, Yogapitha and Guhyapitha” (Sircar 11). Due to the fact that Saktism and the worship of Sakti and the Sakta Pithas are not strictly linked to Hinduism, and are also worshipped in Buddhism and Jainism, there are various names and traditions of the Sakti Pithas amongst these groups. The Hevajra Tantra, a Buddhist religious text, lists the Adi Pithas as “Jalandhara, Odiyana, Purnagiti and Kamarupa” (Sircar 12).

Popular writings about the Sakta Pithas speak of the Adi Pithas or the four Pithas and also state that there are a total of 51 Pithas. However, A section of the Kalika Purana contributes an account of seven Pithas as opposed to four: Devikuta, where the two feet of Sati fell, Uddiyana, where the two thighs fell, Kamagiri, where the pudendum muliebre fell, the eastern borders of Kamarupa, where the navel fell, Jalandhara, where the two breasts fell, Purnagiri, where the neck and shoulders fell and once again the borders of Kamarupa, where the head fell. The Rudrayamala, a Tantric text, mentions ten holy sites, rather than four. This tradition discusses sites in Kamarupa, Jalandhara, Purnagiri and Uddiyana, similarly to the Kalika Purana.  The Matysa Skanda and Padma Puranas list the large number of 108 Pithas in total. Such variations seem to derive from the writer’s fabrication and the imagination (Sircar 32). Although the list of names for the Sakta Pithas vary and are plentiful, the Kamarupa Pitha is commonly mentioned in many of the lists. Another commonality is a list of countries connected to a high level of Sakti worhip, namely: Gandahara, Uddiyana, Jalandhara and Kashmir (Sircar, 16). Two of the best-known temples that are widely acknowledged as Sakta Pithas by most worshippers today, are Kamakhya and Kalighat.

One of the oldest and most popular sites of goddess worship is Kamakhya temple, located at Guwahati, Assam. The legend of this site, as forwarded by the current temple management, tells of the king of Nepal approaching a sage known as Vatsayana. He was seeking advice on how to convert the popular ritual of human sacrifice to a more socially accepted rite of worship.  Vatsayana suggested the worship of a Tantric goddess named Tara in place of sacrificial rituals. The worship of Tara spread reaching to the Garo Hills where local tribes worshipped a fertility goddess named Kameke. As time went on the Tantric goddess Tara, and the fertility goddess Kameke were linked with the legend of the Sakta Pithas and began to be worshipped as Devi. This site is said to be where Sati would escape to spend time with Siva. It is also said to be the location where her yoni fell (kamakhyadham.com).

The Kalighat is an ancient site located in city of Calcutta (Kolkata), on the bank of the Hooghly river, and said to be where Sati’s toes and right foot fell. A well-known, newer temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali, is now situated there. Legend has it that a devotee’s eye was caught by a ray of light while passing the Bhagirathi river. Upon moving toward the light the devotee found a human toe carved in stone. After discovering this stone foot the devotee immediately began praying to the mother goddess.  The temple was originally a small hut, constructed in the early 16th century. It was founded by Chowringee Natha, son to the king of Bengal. Kalighat was lavishly reconstructed in 1809 by the Chowdhrys family, transforming it from a small hut to a beautiful site. The government of Bengal has taken a great interest in this temple, as it has become a main tourist attraction (kalighattemple.com).

The Sakta Pithas have not been well studied; perhaps this is because scholars in the past have regarded the myth and the tradition of the Pithas negatively instead of attempting to understand their complex origins. However, these sites attract many pilgrims from far and wide, and will continue to serve as an important place of worship for centuries to come.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Courtright, Paul (2011) “Searching for Sati.” Studying Hinduism in Practice. edited by Hillary Rodrigues. P.37-45. London: Routledge.

Foulston, Lynn (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. London: Oxford University Press.

kalighat Kali Temple.” http://kalighattemple.com/legend.htm

Payne, Ernest (1997) The Saktas: The Introductive and Comparative Studies. New York: Dover Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism the Ebook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books

Sircar,D.C. ( 2004) The Sakti Pithas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

The History of Kamakhya Temple Assam.” http://www.kamakhyadham.com/kamakhya-temple-history/

 

Related Topics For Further Investigation

Siva

Sakti

Saktism

Devi

Tantric

Rudra

yoga

Daksa-yajna-nasa

Puranas

Bhariva

Saivism

Kali

Durga

Pravati

Uma

Kumari

Gauri

Jainism

Buddhism

Kalika

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.rxiv.org/pdf/1503.0023v1.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakti_Peetha

http://www.shaktipeethas.org/travel-guide/topic11.html

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

 

Article written by Sydney Cleland (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

The Goddess Camunda

The Goddess Camunda is depicted as ferocious and fear striking in Hindu storytelling. Often described as having flames shooting from her eyes, surrounded by goblins, and wearing a garland of skulls it is no wonder she is feared (Jones and Ryan 102). Yet with the fear that surrounds Camunda she is worshipped by many to help cure people of ailments and for protection. Camunda is closely associated with the Goddess Kali. Kali is the fiercest aspect of Durga and can sometimes be described as her helper (Minturn 169). Camunda is known by many names and can be worshipped in different forms. In the Tantric Saptamatrka cult Camunda is depicted as an independent sakti in the cosmic cycle. This cycle begins with Brahma, the creator, and ends with Camunda. Since Camunda is understood as the fierce goddess of destruction she is depicted at the end of this cosmic cycle which signifies the power of destruction which then leads to renewal (Foulston and Abbott 111). It should be noted that as Kali and Camunda are similar; Camunda is depicted as very ugly and Kali, while disheveled, is beautiful. Also, Camunda has an association with death while Kali is more associated with violence (Mohanty 34).

Camunda’s origin as a Hindu Goddess is recounted best in a few stories in the Devi Mahatmya. In the first story Camunda came to life when Siva, Visnu and Brahma called the Mother Goddess, Durga to stop king demon Mahisa from taking over the universe. Mahisa sent his demons Canda and Munda to find the goddess and bring her to him as he wanted to take Durga to be his wife. In the form of Parvati, Kali sprang from her brow due to Durga’s fury toward the demons. Kali decapitated Canda and Munda and presented their heads to Durga. Durga was so pleased by this that she announced to Kali that she will be worshipped and remembered as Camunda, a blend of both the demons names for which she has destroyed (Amazzone 6-7).

In the second story, which continues later in the previous battle, Mahisa is so enraged by the death of his demons that he sends Raktabija to defeat Durga. This battle is difficult and in her anger she transforms into the Goddess Candika for the battle. To her dismay, she learns that every drop of blood Raktabija loses turns into another powerful Raktabija. Feeling herself losing the battle, the Goddess calls Camunda and commands her to lick up the blood so Candika can eventually defeat Raktabija. Camunda’s complexion changed to red as she drank the blood of the enemy (Coburn 67). These stories are significant as they depict Camunda’s power and ability to defeat demons through her power and strength. These stories reiterate that goddesses are not to be thought of as weak or defenseless; they were to be feared and worshipped for their power. Camunda represents that people should be fierce, possess strength, and hold the confidence and ability to go at many things in life alone.

Camunda has been described as looking emaciated and near death to remind people of the fragility of life. She is known to cause fear from her eyes through this form. Her companion to ride is an owl, which can see in the night sky and has 360 degree perception (Amazonne 118). Also, in an image of Camunda on Bubhanesvar temple shows her so emaciated that all of her bones are showing and her eye sockets are sunken in with her eyes popping out. She has drooping breasts and a sunken in stomach (Kinsley 1988: 148). The expression on her face is consistently fierce showing teeth in most representations of her. There is also a sculpture of her in Jajpur in Orissa where she carries all of the discussed features including four arms which hold things such as a wine cup and severed heads. She also wears a necklace made of skulls and has a bald head with fire projecting from it (Kinsley 1988: 148). In history it has been told that King Pratap Singha made a garland out of severed heads from the Muslims slain in the sacrifice battle as a tribute to the goddess in her ferocious form who also wears a garland of severed heads (Urban 96).  From these defining features one can see how she is projected as a fierce Goddess.

The goddess Camunda (Kali) with characteristic garland of skulls (Taleju Devi temple, Bhaktapur, Nepal)
The goddess Camunda (Kali) with characteristic garland of skulls (Taleju Devi temple, Bhaktapur, Nepal)

Camunda is worshipped as an independent deity of the Tantric Saptamatrka. Camunda and the other seven Saptamatrika deities are worshipped for personal and spiritual renewal which leads to rebirth. With this devotion it is understood that all energy is directed towards the Great Goddess, Mahadevi, to reach the highest levels of liberation (Kinsley 1988: 150). Due to this significance Camunda is often worshipped in ancient sculpture and described in detail as a way of worshipping the Great Goddess in her more aggressive facet. Camunda’s association with death brings on more life and represents the recycling of energy (Kinsley 1988: 149).

As with all gods and goddesses in the Hindu tradition there are specific rituals and forms of worship that please such deities. These rituals can come in forms of speaking mantras, rituals, and sacrifice. Camunda is known as a deity who is worshipped through sacrifice. Historically, meat offerings and animal sacrifice, such as sheep, were made to her which seems to play into her ferocious nature (Kinsley 1988:146). In Jainism, these blood sacrifices had to end to keep with Jain practices. In the story of Saciya Nata, sweets were offered to the goddess in place of animal sacrifice. It is said that Camunda became infuriated by the change in sacrifice and caused pain to the monk. However, when seeing how well the man took the pain, she became scared and asked the man for forgiveness. From this point, Camunda no longer demanded meat as a sacrifice (Babb 142). Sacrifice may be a way in which the goddess is worshipped but she is often called upon in times of need. Camunda is also often associated with rituals to remove evil spirits and cure illness. Camunda can be called on during exorcisms to help scare away demons from the ailing (McDaniel 125).

In Bhavabhuti’s Malatimadhava, a hymn is sung that praises Camunda. She is described as having a gaping mouth, laughing in a terrifying tone, and dancing so wildly that it threatened to destroy the world. Due to this depiction of the goddess it has been known to build temples and sites of worship for Camunda far away from villages and towns yet near cremation grounds due to her proximity with death (Kinsley 1988: 147). There is a Camunda-devi temple found 15 kilometers from Dharamsala where the ten Mahavidyas are painted on the walls inside.  Since Camunda was a form of Kali this is why this temple dedicated to her depicts many goddesses. This temple is an example where the Mahadiyas appear as a group, but the temple is only dedicated to one of them, this one being Camunda (Kinsley 1986: 16).

Camunda is often worshipped during the Navaratri festival. This festival is dedicated to Durga and lasts nine nights and ten days four times a year. During the last three days of the festival, the many manifestations of Durga are celebrated, which includes Camunda (McDaniel 79). In this festival Durga is worshipped in her many forms by people reciting stories of her, addressing tantric mantra, setting up shrines, and singing her praises.

Camunda is a fascinating goddess in the Hindu tradition.  Her role as a Mahavidya and in association with Kali in historical stories solidifies her role as an important figure in Hindu religious culture. Even though her image may be portrayed as fearsome and horrifying, she is still worshipped for her power and strength. Many people gather at her temple to participate in rituals and worship her to gain relief of ailment or to further themselves towards the path of liberation.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Amazzone, Laura (2010) Goddess Durga and Sacred Female Power. Maryland: Hamilton Books.

Babb, Lawrence A. (1996) Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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.

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

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

Kinsley, David R. (1988) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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

Minturn, Leigh (1993) Sita’s Daughters: Coming Out of Purdah: The Rajput Women of Khalapur Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Mohanty, Seema (2004) The Book of Kali. London: Penguin Books.

Jones, Constance, James D. Ryan. (2007) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://matachamunda.tripod.com/history.htm

http://blog.artoflegendindia.com/2010/10/goddess-chamunda-is-terrifying-and.html

http://sharanya.org/mandala/chamunda-devi-eastern-teacher-to-the-west/4/

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Devi Mahatmya

Durga

Jainism

Kali

Mahadevi

Mahavidyas

Malatimadhava

Parvati

Raktabija

Article written by: Melanie Wasylenko (2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

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Tripura-sundari

Tripurasundari: The Goddess of Three Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brahma

Dasamahayidyas

Devi

Dewali Puja

Lalita

Lalitasahasranama

Mahadevi

Mahavidyas

Maha Pithasthans

Mount Meru

Rajarajeshyahi

Sodasi

Siva

Sri Cakra

Sri Mantra

Sri Vidya

Trika school

Tripurasundari Temple

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

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

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

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

 

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