Shakti refers to the fundamental energy that governs the universe. It represents all of creation and manifestations in the universe. Though in many parts of the world, feminine worship was practiced, only in India we see it being celebrated even today. Navaratri is a significant occasion in all of India and is an opportunity for everyone to show their gratitude to this feminine energy that pervades this universe. Nava means nine and ratri means night. Navaratri represents nine nights dedicated to the worship of the Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi.
In South India it is celebrated by arranging dolls (Golu) depicting various themes, especially stories from the Puranas and Ithihaasas. In Kolkata one can witness beautifully decorated pandals that host exquisitely adorned Durga statues. Women get together and perform the Dandiya dance in Gujarat and Kolattam in Tamilnadu. Navaratri is one of the most colorful festivals in India. As a way of showing our gratitude to Mother Goddess who is protecting and nurturing us, we are dedicating this article to the Dasa Mahavidyas which are ten aspects of the Parashakti. We have taken inputs from the book “Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās” by David. R. Kinsley.
Durga and Mahishasura
Mahishasura was the son of the celestial being Rambha and a she-buffalo. He was an extremely powerful being and performed severe austerities to get the boon of immortality from Brahma. Brahma refused to give such a boon but however mentioned that he could only be killed by a woman. Mahisha was very confident that no woman could kill him and hence went on to threaten all the devas. Troubled by him, the devas approached Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma and prayed to them. Through the combined energies of the trinity, Durga was born. Durga fought Mahisha for 9 days and nights on the 10th day she slew him. We celebrate this as Vijayadasami representing the victory of positive energy over the negative forces, light over darkness and Sattva over Tamas.
Origin of the Dasa Mahavidyas
Dasa Mahavidyas represent the ten aspects of Parashakti and are very significant for tantric practitioners. Each of the aspects represent a unique form of energy that will yield specific benefits when invoked. Mahavidya sadhakas are strictly initiated by a Guru and usually initiated only on one of the Vidyas. The mantras chanted for the Goddesses compress all aspects of Shakti — both gentle and fierce. The Mahavidyas represent the multifaceted aspects of the feminine: she can sit on the cremation ground, she can vanquish
“Whether the sadhaka (practitioner) worships Kali or Kamala, whether one seeks worldly boons or spiritual awareness, set patterns of worship determine how one approaches the deity. The adept must know, “perfect,” and repeatedly recite the goddess’s mantra (japa sadhana) throughout the worship rituals; carefully select and “protect” a place of worship with the appropriate mantras and mudras (hand gestures); correctly imagine and interiorize the goddess; draw or carefully imagine and worship her yantra; invoke the goddess’s hymns, including her hundred- and thousand-name hymns; offer her standard sixteen-part puja (worship), or an abbreviated form of it; and make his or her wish or wishes known to the chosen deity. The overall intent of the worship also has normative aspects. In general, the sadhaka seeks to identify with the goddess in question, to have a vision of her, and to gain a boon that is understood to be part of her “store” of grace. In the logic of the worship, if one is able to become the goddess, one can obtain that which she possesses, be it redemptive knowledge or the power to annihilate one’s enemies.” ~ David. R Kinsley
Sati the daughter of Daksha was married to Shiva. Daksha had organized a yagya for which he did not invite Shiva. Daksha thought of Shiva as an unrefined being who spends time with gory ganas, who sits in the graveyard and who dressed like a beggar. Sati insisted to Shiva that they should participate in the yagya as everyone was heading there. Shiva did not agree as they had not been invited. In her anger her eyes become red and bright and her limbs tremble. Seeing her fury, Siva closes his eyes. When he opens them, a fearsome female stands before him. As he looks at her, she becomes very old, her graceful appearance disappearing. She develops four arms, her complexion becomes fiery and her hair disheveled, her lips are smeared with sweat, and her tongue lolls out and begins to wave from side to side. She is naked except for a garland of severed heads; she wears the half moon as a crown. Standing before Siva, she blazes like a million rising suns and fills the world with earth-shattering laughter. Shiva tries to flee but obstructed at various exits by the ten different forms — the Dasa Mahavidyas. One might think that this is a display of “female” ego but each of the avataras or manifestations happen for a reason and they happen at an appropriate time and place and triggered by a specific incident. This story of Daksha is often narrated only from the perspective of Shiva. This incident is an opportunity for all of us to know the mahima of Shakti, the divine energy and mother Goddess.
The Mahavidyas are represented in different orders and each tradition views the order in different ways. Some traditions view the Vidyas from the perspective of moving from fierce to the calm while some traditions view them as different stages of consciousness. In this article we are giving a brief note on each of the Mahavidyas in the following order: Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneswari, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavathi, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala.
Kali is a fierce form of the Goddess and as the name suggests she is both dark and a destroyer of time (Kaal). She is depicted in an untamable form with four arms and a mutilated head in one of the arms. She has her tongue sticking out representing an insatiable desire to destroy all evil. So immense was her destruction that Shiva laid down in front of her to stop her from destroying further. She is a balance of dynamism, ferocity, unbridled energy and passion. There is a beautiful song set in Sindu Bhairavi raaga dedicated to Kali Maa.
Kaali Maheshwari Paarvathi Shankari | Sharanam Amma | Dhukka Vinaashini Durga Jai Jai | Kaala Vinaashini Kaali Jai Jai | Uma Rama Brahmani Jai Jai| Radhae Sitha Rukmini Jai Jai ||
“Kali might be thought of as a symbol of ultimate reality, an embodiment of the highest truths. By interpreting her features and habits allegorically and imaginatively, which is a widely accepted and practiced approach to understanding her, the adept can glimpse secrets that point to certain central truths of the Hindu tradition. In this latter approach, Kali’s dramatic, often offensive, always shocking appearance is not necessarily to be taken literally. Her real meaning is not obvious to the uninitiated; it reveals itself only to imaginative and spiritually sensitive interpretation. ~ David. R. Kinsley”
Tara, the second Mahavidya is also known as Neel Saraswathi. She is the ultimate giver of knowledge, both inner and outer. A sadhaka who practices Tara worship is believed to gain mastery over all aspects of literature. It is believed that Vyasa Maharishi could compile all the puranas by the grace of Tara Devi. She is depicted in blue color, very much similar to Goddess Kali in appearance. In Her four hands She holds sword, lotus, shear and skull. She is represented with a protruded belly representing the unquenchable hunger that propels all life. As per one of the oral traditions, Shiva fell unconscious after consuming Halaahala poison that emerged from the churning of the ocean. Tara Maa revived Shiva with Her milk.
In contrast to the fierce forms of Shakti, Tripura Sundari represents the Devi who is beautiful in the three worlds. She is also known as Lalitha and is represented as a sixteen year old lady.
When Shiva burnt Manmatha to ashes, Manmatha’s wife Rathi plead to Shiva to bring him back to life. On another occasion, Shiva looked at the ashes of Manmatha to revive him. An asura by the name Bhandasura came out of those ashes. He created a lot of destruction and the universe lost its vibrancy and life. At the request of the devas, Shiva and Parvati manifested as Kameswara and Lalitha and revived the universe.
Bhuvaneswari is the fourth Mahavidya. She is the creator of this world and is the queen of this universe. Some communities of Orissa worship her as the patron goddess of Bhubaneswar. Several temples have been built dedicated to Her of which the one in Jaffna, Sri Lanka is very significant. Philosophically, she represents space, which is complementary to time that is governed by Kali.
Bharavi which is the fifth Mahavidya is again a fierce and terrifying aspect of Mahashakti. She is the consort of Bhairava who has dog as His mount. Both Bhairavi and Bhairava are protectors of women. She holds the Varamudra indicating that She is a granter of boons and the Abhayamudra indicating her protecting and caring nature.
She is seen with a severed head with Her head in one arm and the scimitar sword in another. She has a very terrifying look with her attendants around her. There are very few temples devoted to Her and worshipping Her is not common.
Dhumavati is a very unique Mahavidya as she is a widow. It so happened that when Shiva and Shakti were in the Himalayas, Shakti was extremely hungry. Angry at Shiva that he couldn’t bring her food immediately, she swallowed Him up. Hence she became a widow. She represents a certain free-spiritedness, independence and self-assertion as if to say that She can live without Him. She is represented as a filthy woman with dirty clothes holding a winnowing basket as a sign of perennial hunger. She is often considered to represent inauspisciousness but Dhumavati Sadhakas can get rid of extreme poverty and experience freedom. The Devi’s forms are innumerable and what is not included in them? One needs to go beyond common logic to be able to get a glimpse of these manifestations.
Bagalamukhi is the eighth Vidya. Bagala is a modified word for Valga which means bridle. Bagalamukhi is the Devi who can capture, control and vanquish the enemies. She destroys enmity as well. Due to these controlling powers she is known as Stambhana. She is represented with a club in one hand and pulling out the tongue of a demon with another hand. She is known as Pitaambara Maa or the Mother with a golden yellow color.
Once the earth was affected by a huge storm. To control the storm, Bagalamukhi Devi arises from the Haridra Sarovara (turmeric) and controls the storm. The devas, Ganga and other divine beings request Parvati not to leave Kailash. But Parvati leaves Kailash as Bagalamukhi to destroy the evil forces. There is a temple of Bagalamukhi in Nepal which is of great significance.
Matangi is the ninth of the Mahavidyas. She is the goddess of Music, Learning and Knowledge. She is both ferocious and sweet spoken. The story of Matangi according to one of the tantric texts goes like this. Vishnu and Lakshmi visited Shiva and Parvati and offered them various foods. When the Gods were partaking the food, some of food dropped on the ground. A beautiful maiden arose from it and asked for the food that was left over. The Gods happily offered their left-over food. Hence Matangi is known to be fed with left-over food. The Shyamaladandakam text describes Matangi as the daughter of Sage Matanga.
Kamala is the tenth of the Mahavidyas. She is equal to Goddess Lakshmi and is symbolizes prosperity in all aspects of life. She is seated in Padmasana and bathed with nectar by four elephants. She also symbolises fertility and agricultural prosperity.
Shakti protects this entire Universe and is the very creation that we see around us. She is Prakriti which the fundamental creative principle. We conclude with verses from the Devi Mahatmya of Rishi Markandeya.
To that goddess who abides in all existence as the Maya of Vishnu: To that goddess who abides in all existence as consciousness: To that goddess who abides in all existence as intelligence: To that goddess who abides in all existence as sleep: To that goddess who abides in all existence as hunger: To that goddess who abides in all existence as reflection/meditation: To that goddess who abides in all existence as creative power: To that goddess who abides in all existence as thirst: To that goddess who abides in all existence as forgiveness: To that goddess who abides in all existence as all living things: To that goddess who abides in all existence as modesty: To that goddess who abides in all existence as peace: To that goddess who abides in all existence as faith: To that goddess who abides in all existence as beauty/brilliance: To that goddess who abides in all existence as prosperity: To that goddess who abides in all existence as activity: To that goddess who abides in all existence as memory To that goddess who abides in all existence as compassion: To that goddess who abides in all existence as contentment: To that goddess who abides in all existence as mother: To that goddess who abides in all existence as illusion: Salutations, Salutations to Thee.