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Dasa Mahavidyas : Navarathri Special

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.

Individual Mahavidyas

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.

Tripu­ra Sun­dari

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.

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