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