Category Archives: Devi

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Nine

Continued from Part Eight

Vac and Sarasvathi

sarasvathi Mysore style

A. Vac

The Rig-Veda, in its several hymns, contains glorious references to the power of speech.  An entire Sukta (RV. 10.7l) is devoted to the subject of speech; its various kinds ranging from the articulated to the in-articulate sounds in nature and to the gestures (ingita). For the Vedic seers who herd and spoke about their experiences, speech was the most wonderful gift from the divine. The splendour and beauty of Vac, the personification of wisdom and eloquence, is sung in several hymns. It is said; the Rishis secured the power of divine speech through Yajna; studied it; and, revealed it for the benefit of the common people.

Yajnena vaeah padavlyan ayan tam anv avladan rslsa praviatam tam abhnya vy adadhnh pnrutra tarn sapta rebha abhi sain navante (RV.10.71)

Vac is the inexplicable creative power of speech which gives form to the formless; gives birth to existence and lends identity to objects by naming them. It is the faculty which gives expression to ideas; calms the agitated minds; and, enables one to hear, see, grasp, and then describe in words or by other means the true nature of things. Vac is intimately associated with the Rishis and the riks (verses) that articulate or capture the truths of their visions. Vac, the navel of energy, the mysterious presence in nature, was, therefore, held in great reverence. Many of the later philosophical theories on this unique human faculty, the language, have their roots in Vedas.

 [ While the Rishis of the early Vedas were overwhelmed by the power of speech, the philosophers of the Upanishads asked such questions as: who is the speaker? Who inspires one to speak? Can the speech truly know the source of its inspiration?  They doubted; though the speech is the nearest embodiment of the in-dweller (Antaryamin) it might not truly know its source (just as the body cannot know its life-principle). Because, they observed, at the very beginning, the Word was un-uttered and hidden (avyahriam); it was silence. Ultimately, all those speculations led to the Self. But, again they said that Self is beyond mind and words (Avachyam; yato vacho nivartante, aprapya manasaa saha) ]


In the Rig-Veda, Vac, generally, denotes speech which gives an intelligent expression to ideas, by use of words; and it is the medium of exchange of knowledge. Vac is the vision, as also, the ability to turn that perceived vision into words.   In the later periods, the terms such as Vani, Gira and such others were treated as its synonyms.

Yaska (Ca. 5th-6th BCE), the great Etymologist of the ancient India, describes speech (Vac) as the divine gift to humans to clearly express their thoughts (devim vacam ajanayanta- Nir. 11.29); and, calls the purified articulate speech as Paviravi – sharp as the resonance (tanyatu) of the thunderbolt which originates from an invisible power (Tad devata vak paviravi. paviravi cha divya Vac tanyatus tanitri vaco’nyasyah – Nir. 12.30).

Vac, the speech-principle (Vac-tattva), has numerous attributes and varied connotations in the Rig-Veda.  Vac is not mere speech. It is something more sacred than ordinary speech; and carries with it a far wider significance.  Vac is the truth (ninya vachasmi) and the index of the integrity one’s inner being. A true-speech (Satya-vac) honestly reflects the vision of the Rishi, the seer. It is through such sublime Vac that the true nature of objects, as revealed to the Rishis (kavyani kavaye nivacana), is expressed in pristine poetry. Their superb ability to grasp multiple dimensions of human life, ideals and aspirations is truly remarkable.  Vac is thus a medium of expression of the spiritual experience of the Rig Vedic intellectuals who were highly dexterous users of the words. Being free from falsehood, Vac is described in the Rig-Veda as illuminating or inspiring noble thoughts (cetanti sumatlnam).

Chandogya Upanishad (7.2.1) asserts that Vac ( speech)  is  deeper than name (worldly knowledge) – Vag-vava namno bhuyasi  –  because speech is what communicates (Vac vai vijnapayati) all outer worldly knowledge as well as what is right and what is wrong (dharmam cadharmam) ; what is true and what is false (satyam canrtam ca); what is good and what is bad (sadhu casadhu ca); and, what is pleasant and what is unpleasant ( hrdayajnam cahrdayajnam ca).  Speech alone makes it possible to understand all this (vag-eva etat sarvam vijnapayati). Worship Vac (vacam upassveti).

dharmam cadharmam ca satyam canrtam ca sadhu casadhu ca hrdayajnam cahrdayajnam ca; yad-vai van nabhavisyat na dharmo nadharmo vyajnapayisyat, na satyam nanrtam na sadhu na’sadhu na hrdayajno na’hrdayajna vag-eva etat sarvam vijnapayati, vacam upassveti.

[Vac when translated into English is generally rendered as Word. That, however, is not a very satisfactory translation. Vac might, among many other things, also mean speech, voice, utterance, language, sound or word; but, it is essentially the creative force that brings forth all forms expressions as also the existence. It is an emanation from out of silence which is the Absolute. Vac is also the river and the embodied or god-personified as word, as well. It may not, therefore, be appropriate to translate Vac as Word in all events. One, therefore, always needs to take into account the context of its usage.]

There are four kinds of references to Vac in Rig Veda : Vac is speech in general; Vac also symbolises cows that provide nourishment; Vac is also primal waters prior to creation; and, Vac is personified as the goddess revealing the word. And, at a later stage, commencing with the Brahmanas, Vac gets identified with Sarasvathi the life-giving river, as also with the goddess of learning and wisdom.

According to Sri Sayana, Sarasvathi – Vac is depicted as a goddess of learning (gadya-padya rupena–prasaranmasyamtiti–Sarasvathi- Vagdevata)

Vac as Speech

As speech, the term Vāk or Vāc (वाक्), grammatically, is a feminine noun. Vac is variously referred to – Syllable (akshara or Varna), word (Sabda), sentence (vakya), speech (Vachya), voice (Nada or Dhvani), language (bhasha) and literature (Sahitya).

While in the Rig-Veda, the Yajnas are a means for the propitiation of the gods, in the Brahmanas Yagnas become  very purpose of human existence ; they are the ends in themselves. Many of the Brahmana texts are devoted to the exposition of the mystic significance of the various elements of the ritual (Yajna-kriya). The priests who were the adepts in explaining the objectives, the significance, the symbolisms and the procedural details of the Yajnas came into prominence. The all-knowing priest who presides over  , and directs the  course and conduct of  the Soma sacrifice is designated as Brahma; while the three other sets of priests who chant the mantras are named as hotar, adhvaryu, and udgatru

Here, Brahman is the definitive voice (final-word); while the chanting of the mantras   by the other three priests is taken to be Vac. Brahma (word) and Vac (speech) are said to be partners working closely towards the good (shreya)   and for the fulfilment of the performer or the patron’s (Yajamana) aspirations (kamya).  And, Brahma the one who presides and   controls the course of the Yajna is accorded a higher position over the chanters of the mantras. It was said; Vac (chanting) extends so far as the Brahma allows (yaávad bráhma vistham taávatii vaák– RV.10.114.8).

It was said;   if word is flower, speech is the garland. And, if Vac is the weapons, it is Brahma that sharpens them – codáyaami ta aáyudhaa vácobhih sám te shíshaami bráhmanaa váyaamsi. (RV 10.120.5 and 9.97.34)

According to Sri Sayana (Ca.14th century of Vijayanagara period and brother of the celebrated Sri Vidyaranya), the seven-metres (Chhandas) revered for their perfection and resonance (Gayatrl, Usnih, Anustubh, Brihati, Pankti, Tristubh, and the Jagati) are to be identified with Vac.

Dandin (6th century), the poet-scholar, the renowned author of prose romance and an expounder on poetics, describes Vac as the light called Sabda (s’abdahvyam jyotih); and, states that “the three worlds would have been thrown into darkness had there been no light called Sabda”.

Bharthari also asserted   that, all knowledge is illumined through words, and it is quite not possible to have cognition that is free from words (tasmād arthavidhā sarvā śabdamātrāsu niśritā Vakyapadiya: 1.123); ‘no thought is possible without language’; and ’there is no cognition without the process of words’.

And, Bhartrhari declares- ‘It is Vac which has created all the worlds’- vageva viswa bhuvanani jajne (Vakyapadiya. 1.112)

The concept of Vac  was extended  to cover oral and  aural  forms such as : expression , saying , phrase  ,  utterance sentence, and also the languages of all sorts including gesture (ingita).

Yaska says that all kinds of creatures and objects created by God speak a language of their own, either articulate or in-articulate (devastam sarvarupah pasavo vadanti, vyakta vac-ascha- avyakta- vacacha – Nir. 11.29).  He says that the Vac of humans is intelligible, articulate (vyakta vaco manushyadayah) and distinct (Niruktam); while the speech of the cows (animals) is indistinct (avyakta vaco gavayah).  Thus , Vac includes   even the sounds of animals and birds; mewing of cows, crackle of the frogs, twitter of the birds, sway of the trees and the breeze of hills;   and also the sounds emanated by inanimate objects such as : the cracking noise  of the  fissures in the stones due to friction  ; as also the beats of drum , the sound of an instrument.

Even the rumbling of the clouds, the thunder of the lightening and the rippling sounds of the streams are said to be the forms of Vac (praite vadantu pravayam vadama gravabhyo vacam vadata vadadbhyah – RV. 10.94.1)

It was said; the extant of Vac is as wide as the earth and fire. Vac is even extolled as having penetrated earth and heaven, holding together all existence. As Yaska remarks: Vac is omnipresent and eterna1 (vyaptimattvat tu Sabdasya – Nir.I.2)

Vac (word) belongs to both the worlds – the created and un-created.  It is both the subject of speech and the object of speech.

The Tantra ideology identified Vac with the vibrations of the primordial throb (adya-spanda) that set the Universe in motion; and , said  that all objects of the Universe are created by  that sound –artha-srsteh puram sabda-srstih.  

Thus, Vac broadly represents the spoken word or speech; its varied personified forms; and also the oral and aural non-literary sounds forms emanating from all animal and plant life as also the objects in nature.  Vac is, verily, the very principle underlying every kind of sound, speech and language in nature.

And, Vac goes beyond speech. Vac is indeed both speech and  consciousness (chetana), as all actions and powers are grounded in Vac. It is the primordial energy out of which all existence originates and subsists. Vac is also the expression of truth.

Yajnavalkya in the   Brhadaranyaka Upanishad explaining the relation between Vac and consciousness says that Vac (speech) is a form of expression of consciousness. And, he argues, there could be no speech without consciousness. However,  Consciousness does not directly act upon the principle of speech; but , it  operates through intermediary organs and breath to deliver speech.

Rishi Dīrghatamas exclaims: “When I partake a portion of this Vac, I get the first part of truth, immediately (maagan-prathamaja-bhagam-aadith-asya-Vac)” (RV. I.164.37.) But, he also says:”Vac has four quarters; only the wise that are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. For the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals speak only with the fourth (RV. 1.164.45).”

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihitaa neaengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

Vac as goddess

Vac is also Vac Devi the divinity personified. Vac is called the supreme goddess established in Brahman Iyam ya paramesthini Vac Devi Brahma-samsthita (Rig-Veda.19.9.3).

She gives intelligence to those who love her. She is elegant, golden hued and embellished in gold (Hiranya prakara). She is the mother, who gave birth to things by naming them. She is the power of the Rishis. She enters into the inspired poets and visionaries, gives expression and vitality to those she blesses; and, enables them to turn precious knowledge into words. She is also said to have entered into the sap (Rasa) of plants and trees, pervading and enlivening all vegetation (Satapatha-brahmana

It is said;  Vac the first offspring of the  Rta, the cosmic order or principle or the Truth (Satya).And that Truth (Rta)  is not static or a mere question of morality. but, it is the dynamic order of the entire reality out of which the whole of existence comes into being  . She is proclaimed as the mother of the Vedas and as immortal. Again, it is said that Prajapati produced goddess Vac so that she may be omnipresent and propel all activities. She is Prakrti. In the later Vedic traditions, Vac is hailed as the very reflection of the greatness of the creator – vagva asya svo mahima (SB.,; and, in the Nighantu (3.3), Vac occurs as a synonym of the terms describing greatness, vastness etc – mahat, brhat.

And, at one place, Vac is identified with Yajna itself unto whom offerings are made – Vac vai yajanam (Gopatha Br. 2.1.12). Further, Vac is also the life-supporting Soma; and for that reason Vac is called Amsumathi, rich with Soma.

The idea of personifying Vac as a goddess in a series of imagery associating her with creation, Yajna and waters etc and her depiction as Shakthi  richly developed in the later texts, is said to have been inspired by  the most celebrated Vak Suktha or Devi Suktha   or Vagambhari Sukta  (Rig Veda: 10.125) . Here, the daughter of Ambhrna, declares herself as Vac the Queen of the gods (Aham rastri), the highest principle that supports all gods, controller all beings and manifest universally in all things.

Aham rastri samgamani vasunam cikitusi prathama yajniyanam / Tam ma deva vy adadhuh purutra Bhunisthatram bhury avesayantim // 3

She declares: It is I who blow like the wind, reaching all beings (creatures). Beyond heaven and beyond the earth I have come-to-be by this greatness.

Ahameva vata iva pra vamyarabhamana bhuvanani visva / paro diva para ena prthivyaitavat mahina sarri babhuva // 8

Vac, the primal energy the Great Mother Goddess, is thus described in various ways.

Vac is identified with all creation which she pervades and at the same time she spreads herself far beyond it. She is the divine energy that controls all and is manifest in all beings: ‘tam ma deva vyadadhuh purutra / bhuristhatram bhurya vesayantim’. Whatever the gods do they do so for her; and, all activities of living beings such as thinking, eating, seeing, breathing, hearing etc., are because of her grace.

[At another level, it is said; there are three variations of Vac the goddess – Gauri Vac, Gauh Vac and Vac. Of these, the first two goddesses are said to be personifications of the sound of thunder, whereas the goddess Vac is a deity of speech or sounds uttered or produced by earthly beings.

Gauri Vac, described as having a number of abodes (adhisthana-s) in various objects and places like the clouds, the sun, the mid-region, the different directions so on , is said to be  associated with sending forth rains to the earth, so that life may  come to being, flourish   and prosper on it perpetually.

Gauh Vac on the other hand is described in a highly symbolical language portrayed as cow. In the traditional texts, Vac, which expresses the wonder and mysteries of speech, was compared to the wish-fulfilling divine cow (dhenur vagasman, upasustutaitu –RV. 8.100.11). And, in the much discussed Asya Vamiya Sukta ascribed to Rishi Dirghatamas, Vac again is compared to a cow of infinite form which reveals to us in various forms (Gauri mimaaya… sahsraaraparame vyoman- Rig Veda 1.164).


Gauh Vac is symbolically depicted as a milch-cow that provides nourishment; and one which is accompanied by her calf (please see note below *). She constantly cuddles her calf with great love, and lows with affection for her infant. It is explained: the rains are her milk, the lowing sound made by her is the sound of thunder and the calf is the earth. Gauh Vac is hailed in the Rig-Veda (8.101.15) as the mother principle, the source of nourishment (pusti) and bestowing immortality (amrutatva).

And Vac is the goddess of speech; and, her origins too are in the mid-regions (atmosphere). Just as Gauh Vac, she also is compared to a milch cow that provides food, drink and nourishment to humans.

And again, the goddess Vac and goddess Sarasvathi are both described as having their origin or their abodes in the mid-region (Antariksha). Both are associated with showering the life-giving rains on the parched earth. And, Sarasvathi is also said to shower milk, ghee, butter, honey and water to nourish the student (adhyéti) reciting the Pavamani (purification) verses  which hold  the  essence of life (Rasa) , as gathered by the Rishis  (ŕ̥ibhi sámbhr̥ta ) – (Rig-Veda. 11.67.32).

Pāvamānī́r yo adhyéti ŕ̥ṣibhi sámbhr̥ta rásam | tásmai sárasvatī duhe kīrá sarpír mádhūdakám |11.67.32| ]

[* Note on cow

In the early texts, the cow is compared to Earth as an exemplary symbol of Motherhood. She is the life-giving, nourishing Mother par excellence who cares for all beings and nature with selfless love and boundless patience. The Mother goddesses such as Aditi, Prithvi, Prsni (mother of Maruts), Vac, Ushas and Ila all are represented by the cow-symbolism.

Further, the nourishing and life-supporting rivers too are compared to cows (e.g. RV. 7.95.2; 8.21.18). For instance; the Vipasa and the Sutudri the two gentle flowing rivers are said to be two be like loving mothers who slowly lick their younglings with care and love (RV. 3.33.1)

The cow in her universal aspect is lauded in RV.1.164.17 and RV. 164.27-29. She manifests herself together with her calf; she is sacrosanct (aghanya), radiant, the guardian mother of Vasus.  She created the whole of existence by her will.

Sri Aurobindo explains: in many of these  hymns,  milk (literally, that which nourishes) represents the pure white light of knowledge and clarified butter the resultant state of a clear mind or luminous perception, with bliss, symbolized by the honey (or Soma), as the essence of both. ]

Vac as Water (Apah)

Vac is sometimes identified with waters, the primeval principle for the creation of the Universe.

In the Vak Suktha or Devi Suktha  of Rig Veda (RV.10. 10.125), Apah, the waters, is conceived as the birth place of Vac. And, Vac who springs forth from waters touches all the worlds with her flowering body and gives birth to all existence. She indeed is Prakrti.  Vac is the creator, sustainer and destroyer. In an intense and highly charged superb piece of inspired poetry Vac declares “I sprang from waters there from I permeate the infinite expanse with a flowering body. I move with Rudras and Vasus. I walk with the Sun and other Gods. It is I who blows like the wind creating all the worlds”.

Vac as Brahman

Ultimately, Vac is identified with Brahman, the Absolute.

:- According to Sri Sayana, the  Vak Suktha or Devi Suktha   is a philosophical composition in which Vac the Brahmavidushi daughter of seer Ambhrna, after having realised her identity with Brahman – the ultimate cause of all, has lauded her own self. As such , she is both the seer and Vac the deity of this hymn. And Vac, he asserts, is verily the Brahman.

saccit sukhatmakah sarvagatah paramatma devata / tena hyesa tadatmyam anubhavanti sarva-  jagadrupena , sarvasyadhistanatvena sarvam bhavamti svatmanam stauti – (Sri Sayana on 10.125.1)

:-  In the fourth chapter of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya speaking about the nature of Vac, equated it with the Brahman (vāg vai brahmeti)  

: – The Jaimimya Upanishad Brahmana (2.8.6) also states that Vac indeed is the Brahman – Vagiti Brahma

 : Similarly the Aittariya Brahmana (4.211) declares: Brahma vai vak

 : – Bhartrhari commences his work of great genius, the Vakyapadia, with the verse (Shastra-arambha):

Anādinidhana Brahma śabdatattva yadakaram / vivartate arthabhāvena prakriyā jagato yata– VP.1.1.

[The ultimate reality, Brahman, is the imperishable principle of language, without beginning and end, and the evolution of the entire world occurs from this language-reality in the form of its meaning.]

It is explained; the Sabda, mentioned here is just not the pronounced or uttered word; it is indeed the Vac    existing before creation of the worlds. It is the Vac that brings the   world into existence. Bhartrhari, thus, places the word-principle – Vac – at the very core (Bija) of existence That Vac, – according to Bhartrhari is not merely the creator and sustainer of the universe but is also the sum and substance of it.

And, Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative force that brings forth all existence. Vac is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda). It is an emanation from out of silence, which is the Absolute.

That Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam) of Bhartrhari is of the nature of the Absolute; and, there is no distinction between Sabda Brahman and Para Brahman the Supreme Principle (Para tattva).  

 : – Vac was considered manifestation of all-pervading Brahman; and, Pranava (Aum) was regarded the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated


B. Sarasvathi

In the Rig-Veda, Sarasvathi is the name of the celestial river par excellence (deviyā́m), as also its personification as a goddess (Devi) Sarasvathi, filled with love and bliss (bhadram, mayas).

And Sarasvathi is not only one among the seven sister-rivers (saptásvasā), but also is the dearest among the gods (priyā́ deveu).

Again, it is said, the Sarasvathi as the divine stream has filled the earthly regions as also the wide realm of the mid-world (antárikam) – āpaprúī pā́ rthivāni urú rájo antárikam | sárasvatī nidás pātu | ( RV. 6-61-11)

Sarasvathi as the River


Invoked in three full hymns (R V.6.6.61; 7.95; and 7.96) and numerous other passages, the Sarasvathi, no doubt, is the most celebrated among the rivers.

It is said; the word Sarasvathi is derived from the root ‘Sarah’, meaning water (as in Sarasi-ja, lotus – the one born in water). In the Nighantu (1.12), Sarah is one of the synonyms for water. That list of synonyms for water, in the Nighantu, comes immediately next to that of the synonyms for speech (Vac). Yaska also confirms that the term Sarasvathi primarily denotes the river (Sarasvathi Sarah iti- udakanama sartes tad vati –Nirukta.9.26). Thus, the word Sarasvathi derived from the word Sarah stands for Vagvathi (Sabdavathi) and also for Udakavathi.

The mighty Sarasvathi , the ever flowing river,  is also adored as Sindhu-mata, which term is explained by Sri Sayana as ‘apam matrubhuta’ the mother-principle of all waters; and also   as ‘Sindhunam Jalam va mata’ – the Mother of the rivers , a perennial source of number of other rivers . The Sarasvathi (Sarasvathi Saptathi sindhu-mata) of the early Vedic age must have been a truly grand opulent river full of vigour and vitality (Sarasvathi sindhubhih pinvamana- RV.6.52.6) on which the lives of generations upon generations prospered (hiranyavartnih).

[The geo-physical studies and satellite imagery seems to suggest that the dried up riverbed of the Ghaggar-Hakra might be the legendary Vedic Saraswati River with Drishadvati and Apaya as its tributaries.  For more ; please check Vedic river and Hindu civilization edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman.


It is said in the Rig-Veda; on the banks of Sarasvathi the sages (Rishayo) performed yajnas (Satram asata) – Rishayo vai Sarasvathyam satram asata). The Rig-Veda again mentions that on the most auspicious days; on the most auspicious spot on earth; on the banks of the Drishadvati, Apaya and Sarasvathi Yajnas (Ahanam) were conducted.

ni tva dadhe vara a prthivya ilayspade sudinatve ahnam; Drsadvaty am manuse apayayam sarasvatyamrevad agne didhi – RV.3.23.4 ]

There are abundant hymns in the Rig-Veda, singing the glory and the majesty  of the magnificent  Sarasvathi that surpasses all other waters in greatness , with her mighty (mahimnā́ , mahó mahī́ ) waves (ūrmíbhir)  tearing away the heights of the mountains as she roars along her  way towards the ocean (ā́ samudrā́t).

Rihi Gtsamada adores Sarasvathi as the divine (Nadinam-asurya), the best of the mothers, the mightiest of the rivers and the supreme among the goddesses (ambitame nadltame devitame Sarasvati).   And, he prays to her:  Oh Mother Saraswati, even though we are not worthy, please grant us merit.

Ámbitame nádītame dévitame sárasvati apraśastā ivasmasi praśastim amba naskdhi – (RV 2.41.16)

Sarasvathi is the most sacred and purest among rivers (nadinam shuci). Prayers are submitted to the most dear (priyatame) seeking refuge (śárman) in her – as under a sheltering tree (śaraá vr̥kám). She is our best defence; she supports us (dharuam); and, protects us like a fort of iron (ā́yasī pū́).

The Sarasvathi , the river that  outshines all other waters in greatness  and majesty is celebrated with love and reverence; and, is repeatedly lauded with choicest epithets, in countless ways: uttara sakhibhyah (most liberal to her friends); vegavatinam vegavattama (swiftest among the most speedy); pra ya mahimna mahinasu cekite dyumnebhiranya apasamapastama – the one whose powerful limitless  (yásyā anantó) , unbroken (áhrutas) swiftly flowing (cariṣṇúr aravá) impetuous  resounding current and  roaring (róruvat) floods,     moving with rapid force , like a chariot (rathíyeva yāti ), rushes  onward towards the ocean (samudrā́t)  with tempestuous roar;  bursting the ridges of the hills (paravataghni) with mighty waves .. and so on.

yásyā anantó áhrutas tveáś cariṣṇúr aravá | ámaś cárati róruvat | (RV. 6-61-8)

The Sarasvathi, most beloved among the beloved (priyā́ priyā́ su) is the ever-flowing bountiful (subhaga; ́jebhir vājínīvatī) energetic (balavati) stream of abounding beauty and grace (citragamana citranna va) which purifies and brings fruitfulness to earth, yielding rich harvest and prosperity (Sumrdlka). She is the source of vigour and strength. She personifies purity (Pavaka); her waters which are sweet (madhurah payah) have the life-extending (ayur-vardhaka) healing (roga-nashaka) medicinal (bhesajam) powers – (apsvantarapsu bhesajamapamuta prasastaye – RV. 1.23.19).

She is indeed the life (Jivita) and also the nectar (amrtam) that grants immortality. Sarasvathi, our mother (Amba! yo yanthu) the life giving maternal divinity, is dearly loved as the benevolent (Dhiyavasuh) protector of the Yajna – Pavaka nah Sarasvathi yagnam vashtu dhiyavasuh (RV. 1.3).

Sarasvathi is depicted as a purifier (pavaka nah sarasvathi) – internal and external. She purifies the body, heart and mind of men and women (10.17.10); and inspires in them pure, noble and pious thoughts (1.3.1012). Sarasvathi also cleanses poison from men, from their environment and from all nature (6.61.3).

Prayers are submitted to Mother Sarasvathi, beseeching her:  please cleanse me and remove whatever sin or evil that has entered into me. Pardon me for whatever evils I might have committed, the lies I have uttered, and the false oaths I might have sworn.

Idamapah pravahata yat kimca duritam mayi, yadva ahamabhidudroha, yadva sepe utanrtam (RV.1.23.22)

The beauty of Sarasvathi is praised through several attributes, such as: Shubra (clean and pure); Suyanam, Supesha, Surupa (all terms suggesting a sense of beauty and elegance); Su-vigraha (endowed with a beauteous form) and Saumya (pleasant and easily accessible). Sri Sayana describes the beauteous form of Sarasvathi: “yamyate niyamytata iti   yamo vigrahah, suvigraha…”

Sarasvathi is described by a term that is not often used  : ’ Vais’ambhalya’ , the one who brings up, nurtures and protects the whole of human existence – visvam prajanam bharanam, poshanam – with abundant patience and infinite love. Sri Sayana, in his Bhashya (on Taittiriya-Brahmana, 2. 5.4.6) explains the term as: Vlsvam prajanam bharanam poshanam Vais’ambham tatkartum kshama vaisambhalya tidrsi.

Thus, the term Vais’ambhalya pithily captures the nature of the nourishing, honey-like sweet (madhu madharyam ) waters of the divine Sarasvathi who sustains life (vijinivathi) ; enriching the soil ; providing abundant food (anna-samrddhi-yukte; annavathi) and  nourishment (pusti) to all beings; causing overfull milk in cows (kshiram samicinam); as  Vajinivathi enhancing vigour  and strength  in horses ( vahana-samarthyam)  ; and , blessing all of existence with happiness  (sarvena me sukham ) – (Sri Sayana’s  Bhashya on  Taittiriya-Brahmana).

Sarasvathi as goddess

Yaska mentions that Sarasvathi is worshipped both as the river (nadi) and as the goddess (devata) – (vak kasmat vaces tatra Sarasvathi ity etasya nadivad devatavach cha nigamah bhavanti – Nirukta.2.23).

Yaska categorizes Sarasvathi as the goddess of mid-region – Madhya-sthana striyah.

Sri Sayana commenting on RV. 1.3.12, also mentions that Sarasvathi was celebrated both as river and as a deity – Dvi-vidha hi Sarasvathi vigrahavad-devata nadi rupa-cha.

 Following Yaska, Sri Sayana also regarded Sarasvathi as a divinity of the mid-region- ‘madhyama-sthana hi vak Sarasvathi’; and as a personification of the sound of thunder.

Thus, Sarasvathi, a deity of the atmosphere is associated with clouds, thunder, lightening, rains and water.  As Sri Aurobindo said; the radiant one has expressed herself in the forming of the flowing Waters.  

[Sri Aurobindo explaining the symbolism of thunder and lightning, says: the thunder is sound of the out-crashing of the word (Sabda) of Truth (Satya –vac); and, the lightning as the out-flashing of its sense (Artha) ]

Mysore style of painting of Sri Sharadamba

John Muir (Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India) remarks: It seems that Vedic seers were not satisfied with the river-form of Sarasvati; and, in order to make the river a living and active entity that alone could hear them, they regarded it as a river-goddess.

Thus, Sarasvati is a river at first; and, later conceived as a goddess

Sarasvathi, the best of the goddesses (Devi-tame) and the dearest among the gods (priyā́ deveu) is associated with Prtri-s (departed forefathers- svadhā́ bhir Devi pitŕ̥bhir; sárasvatī́m pitáro hávante) as also with many other deities and with the Yajna. She is frequently invited to take seat in the Yajnas along with other goddesses such as: Ila, Bharathi, Mahi, Hotra, Varutri, Dishana Sinivali, Indrani etc.

She is also part of the trinity (Tridevi) of Sarasvathi, Lakshmi and Parvati. 

Sarasavathi as Devata, the Goddess is also said to be one of the three aspects of Gayatri (Tri-rupa –Gayatri): Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi. Here, while Gayatri is the protector of life principles; Savitri of Satya (Truth and integrity of all Life); Sarasvathi is the guardian of the wisdom and virtues of life. And, Gayatri is said to manifest in three forms: as Gayatri the morning (pratah-savana) as Brahma svarupini; Savitri in the midday (madyanh savana) as Rudra svarupini; and, as Sarasvathi in the evening (saayam savana) as Vishnu svarupini.

[ Sri Aurobindo interprets the divine Sarasvathi, the goddess of the Word, the stream of inspiration as: an ever flowing great flood (mahó ára)  of consciousness; the awakener (cétantī, prá cetayati)  to right-thinking (sumatīnām); as inspirer (codayitrī ́) who illumines ( vi rājati) all (víśvā) our thoughts (dhíyo); and, as truth-audition, śruti, which gives the inspired perception (ketúnā) – mahó ára sárasvatī prá cetayati ketúnā | dhíyo víśvā ví rājati –  RV.  I.3. 12]

Prayers are also submitted to Sarasvathi to grant great wealth (abhí no nei vásyo), highly nourishing food (aṁ, páyasā) and more progeny (prajā́ṁ devi didiḍḍhi na); to treat us as her friends (juásva na sakhiyā́ veśíyā); and, not let us stray into inhospitable fields (́ tvát kétrāi áraāni gamma) – RV. 6-61-14. Sarasvathi, thus, is also Sri.

The goddess Sarasvathi is also the destroyer of Vrta and other demons that stand for darkness (Utasya nah Sarasvati ghora Hiranyavartanih / Vrtraghni vasti sustuition).


In the Rig-Veda, the goddess Sarasvathi is associated, in particular with two other goddesses: Ila and Bharathi.

The Apri Sukta hymns (the invocation hymns recited just prior to offering the oblations into Agni) mention a group of three great goddesses (Tisro Devih) – Ila, Bharathi and Sarasvathi – who are invoked to take their places and grace the Yajna (ā no yajña bhāratī tyam etu, iā manuvad iha cetayantī; tisro devīr barhir eda syona, sarasvatī svapasa sadantu- RV.10.110)  . They bring delight and well-being to their devotees.

The three -Ida, Bharathi and Sarasvathi – who are said to be manifestations of the Agni (Yajnuagni), are also called tri-Sarasvathi.

[In some renderings, Mahi (ta bhat , the vast or great) is mentioned in place of Bharathi: Ila, Sarasvathi, Mahi tisro devir mayobhuvah; barhih sIdantvasridah. And Mahi, the rich, delightful and radiant (bhat jyotiḥ) goddess of blissful truth (ta jyoti; codayitrī sntānām), covering vast regions (vartrī dhiaā) is requested to bring happiness to the performer of the Yajna, for whom she is like a branch richly laden with ripe fruits (evā hyasya sntā, virapśī gomatī mahī; pakvā śākhā na dāśue – RV.1.8.8).

  And, Ila is sometimes mentioned as Ida. ]

Among these Tisro Devih, Sarasvathi, the mighty, illumines with her brilliance and brightness inspires all pious thoughts (RV.1.3.12 ;). Her aspects of wisdom and eloquence are praised, sung in several hymns. She evokes pleasant songs, brings to mind gracious thoughts; and she is requested to accept our offerings (RV.1.3.11)

Bharathi is hailed as speech comprising all   subjects (sarva-visaya-gata vak) and as that which energises all beings (Visvaturith)

Ila is a gracious goddess (sudanuh, mrlayanti devi). She is personified as the divine cow, mother of all realms (yuthasya matha), granting (sudanu) bounteous gifts of nourishments. She has epithets, such as: Prajavathi and Dhenumati (RV. 8.31. 4). She is also the personification of flowing libation (Grita). She is the presiding deity of Yajna, in general (RV.3.7.25)

According to Sri Sayana Ila, as nourishment, (RV.7.16.8) is the personification of the oblation (Havya) offered in the Yajna (annarupa havir-laksana devi). Such offerings of milk and butter are derivatives of the cow. And Ila, in the Brahmana texts, is related to the cow. And, in the Nighantu (2.11), Ila is one of the synonyms of the cow. Because of the nature of the offering, Ila is called butter-handed (RV. 7.16.8) and butter –footed (RV. 10.70.8).

The three goddesses (Tisro Devih) are interpreted as: three goddesses representing three regions: Ida the earth; Sarasvathi the mid-region; and Bharathl, the heaven. And again, these three goddesses are also said to be three types of speech.

Sri Sayana commenting on the verse tisró vacaa irayati prá váhniron… (RV.9.97.34), mentions Ida (Ila), Sarasvathi and Bharathi as the levels of speech or languages spoken in three regions (Tripada, Tridasatha – earth, firmaments and heaven). Among these goddesses, he names Bharathi as Dyusthana Vac (upper regions); Sarasvathi as Madhyamika Vac (mid-region); and Ida as the speech spoken by humans (Manushi) on the earth (prthivi praisadirupa).  Another interpretation assigns Bharathi, Sarasvathi and Ila the names of three levels of speech: Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari..

According to Sri Aurobindo, Ida, Sarasvathi and Bharathi represent Drsti (vision), Sruti (hearing) and Satya the integrity of the truth-consciousness.


C.  Vac identified with Sarasvathi

Rig-Veda does not, of course, equates Vac with Sarasvathi. But, it is in the Brahmana texts, the Nighantu, the Nirukta and the commentaries of the traditional scholars that Vac is identified with Sarasvathi, the Madhyamika Vac. The later Atharva-veda also speaks of Vac and Sarasvathi as one

It is particularly in the Brahmana that the identity of Vac with Sarasvathi begins – ‘vag vai Sarasvathi’ (Aitareya Brahmana 3.37). The notions such as – the one who worships Sarasvathi pleases Vac, because Vac is Sarasvathi – take root in the Brahmanas (yat sarasvatlm yajati vag vai sarasvatl; vacam eva tat prlnati atha – SB. 5.2). And, Gopatha Brahmana (2.20) in an almost an identical statement says that worship of Sarasvathi pleases Vac, because Vac is Sarasvathi (atha yat sarasvatim yajati, vag vai Sarasvathi, vacham eva tena prinati). Also, in the ancient Dictionary, the Nighantu (1.11), the term Sarasvathi is listed among the synonym s of Vac.

Such identification of Vac with Sarasvathi carries several connotations, extending over to the Speech; to the sacred river; and, to the delightful goddess inspiring true speech and sharp intellect, showering wisdom and wealth upon one who worships her devotedly.

As speech

As speech, Sarasvathi as Vac is adored as the power of truth, free from blemishes; inspiring and illuminating noble thoughts (chetanti sumatim). In the Taittariya Brahmana, the auspicious (subhage), the rich and plentiful (vajinivati) Vac is identified with Sarasvathi adored as the truth speech ‘Satya-vac’.

 Sarasvathi subhage vajinlvati satyavachase bhare matim. idam te havyam ghrtavat sarasvati. Satyavachase prabharema havimsi- TB. II. 5.4.

The Vac-Sarasvathi, the power of speech, is hailed as the mother of Vedas – Veda Mata. She is the abode of all knowledge; the vast flood of truth (Maho arnah); the power of truth (Satya vacs); the guardian of sublime thoughts (dhinam avitri); the inspirer of good acts and thoughts; the mother of sweet but truthful words; the awakener of consciousness (chodayitri sunrtanam, chetanti sumatinam); the purifier (Pavaka); the bountiful blessing with vast riches (vajebhir vajinivati); and the protector of the Yajna (yajnam dadhe)

Pavaka nah Sarasvathi, vajebhir vajinivati; yajnam vastu dhiyavasuh. Chodayitri sunrtanam, cetanti sumatinam; yajnam dadhe Sarasvathi.  Maho arnah Sarasvathi, pra cetayati ketuna; dhiyo visva vi rajati. (Rig-Veda. 4.58.1)

[Sri Aurobindo’s translation: “May purifying Sarasvathi with all the plenitude of her forms of plenty, rich in substance by the thought, desire our sacrifice.”She, the impeller to happy truths, the awakener in consciousness to right metalizing, Sarasvathi, upholds the sacrifice.” “Sarasvathi by the perception awakens in consciousness the great flood (the vast movement of the ritam) and illumines entirely all the thought.]

Vac- Sarasvathi is regarded the very personification of pure (pavaka) thoughts, rich in knowledge or intelligence (Prajna or Dhi) – (vag vai dhiyavasuh)

Pavaka nah sarasvatl yajnam vastu dhiyavasur iti vag vai dhiyavasuh – AB. 1.14.

In the Shata-patha-Brahmana (5. 2.2.13-14) , Vac as Sarasvathi is first taken to be her  controlling power, the mind (manas), the abode of all thoughts and knowledge,  before they are expressed through speech.

Again, the Shata-patha-Brahmana (I.4.4.1; 3. 2.4.11) mentions the inter-relations among mind (manas), breath (prana) and Speech (Vac). The speech is evolved from mind; and put out through the help of breath. The speech (Vac) is called jlhva Sarasvati i.e., tongue, spoken word. Vac-Sarasvathi is also addressed as Gira, one who is capable to assume a human voice.

Taittirlya Brahmana refers to Sarasvathi as speech manifested through the help of the vital breath Prana; and, indeed even superior to Prana (vag vai sarasvatl tasmat prananam vag uttamam – Talttirlya Brahmana,

The Tandya Brahmana identifies Sarasvathi with Vac, the speech in the form of sound (sabda or dhvani).  Here, Sarasvathi is taken to be sabdatmika Vac, displaying the various form of speech (rupam) as also the object denoted by speech (vairupam): vag vai sarasvati, vag vairupam eva’smai taya yunakti – TB. 16. 5.16.

As said earlier; Sarasvathi along with Ila and Bharathi is identified with levels of speech (Vac). In these varied forms of identifications, Sarasvathi is the speech of the mid-position. For instance; Sarasvathi is Madhyamika Vac (while Bharathi is Dyusthana Vac and Ila is Manushi Vac. Similarly, Sarasvathi is Madhyama Vac (while Bharathi is Pashyanti and Ila is Vaikhari). And again, Sarasvathi is said to represent the mid-region (while Ida the earth and Bharathl, the heaven).

By the time of the later Vedic texts, the identity of Vac with Sarasvathi becomes very well established. The terms such as ‘Sarasvathi –Vacham’, ‘Vac- Sarasvathi’ etc come into use in the Aharva-Veda. Even the ordinary speech was elevated to the status of Vac.

As the River

In the Aitareya Brahmana (3.37) Vac is directly identified with the life giving Sarasvathi (vag vai Sarasvathi). Even its location is mentioned.  Vac is said to reside in the midst of Kuru-Panchalas – tasmad atro ‘ttari hi vag vadati kuru-panchalatra vvag dhy esa – SB. 3. 2.3.15.

The Vac-Sarasvathi in the form of river (Sarasvathi nadi rupe) is the generous (samrudhika) loving and life-giving auspicious (subhage) splendid Mother (Mataram sriyah), the purifying (pavaka) source of great delight   (aahladakari) and happiness (sukhasya bhavayitri) which causes all the good things of life to flourish.


D.  Sarasvathi as goddess in the later texts and traditions

Sarasvathi, in the post-Vedic period, was personified as the goddess of speech, learning and eloquence.

As the might of the river Sarasvathi tended to decline, its importance also lessened during the latter parts of the Vedas. Its virtues of glory, purity and importance gradually shifted to the next most important thing in their life – speech, excellence in use of words and its purity. Then, the emphasis moved from the river to the Goddess. With the passage of time, Sarasvathi’s association with the river gradually diminished. The virtues of Vac and the Sarasvathi (the river) merged into the divinity – Sarasvathi; and, she was recognized and worshipped as goddess of purity, speech, learning, wisdom, culture, art, music and intellect.

Vac which was prominent in the Rig Veda, as also Sarasvathi the mighty river of the early Vedic times had almost completely disappeared from common references in the later periods.

Vac merged into Sarasvathi and became one of her synonyms   as a goddess of speech or intellect or learning – as Vac, Vagdevi, and Vageshwari. And the other epithets of Vac, such as: Vachi (flow of speech), Veda-mata (mother of the Vedas), Vidya (the mother of all learning), Bhava (emotions) and Gandharva (guardian deity of musicians) – were all transferred to goddess Sarasvathi.

Similarly , the other Vedic goddesses – Ila, Bharathi, Gira, Vani , Girvani, Pusti,   Brahmi – all merged into Sarasvathi, the personified goddess of speech ( vāca sāma and vāco vratam) who enters into the inspired poets , musicians, artists and visionaries; and ,  gives expression and energy to those she loves (Kavi-jihva-gravasini)

Sarsavathi also acquired other epithets based on the iconography related to her form: Sharada (the fair one); Veena-pani (holding the veena); Pusthaka-pani (holding a book); japa   or akshamala-dharini (wearing rosary) etc.


E. Iconography

The iconography of goddess Sarasvathi that we are familiar with, of course, came into being during the later times; and, it was developed over a long period. There are varying   iconographic accounts of the goddess Sarasvathi. The Puranas (e.g.  Vishnudharmottara-purana, Agni-purana, Vayu-purana and Matsya-purana) ; the various  texts of the Shilpa- shastra (e.g. AmshumadbedhaShilpa-ratna, Rupamandana,  Purva-karana,  and Vastu-vidya-diparnava)  and Tantric texts ( Sri Vidyavarana Tantra  and Jayamata)  each came up with their own variation of Sarasvathi , while retaining her most uniformly accepted features.

The variations were mainly with regard to the disposition, attributes and the Ayudhas (objects held) of the deity. The objects she holds, which are meant to delineate her nature and disposition, are truly numerous. These include : Veena;  Tambura; book (pustaka); rosary (akshamala); water pot (kamandalu) ;  pot fille with nectar (amrutha-maya-ghata); lotus flowers (padma); mirror (darpana); parrot (Shuka); bow ( dhanus); arrow ( bana ); spear (shula), mace (gadha), noose( pasha); discus (chakra); conch (shankha); goad (ankusha);  bell (ghanta) and so on. Each of these Ayudhas carries its own symbolism; and, tries to bring forth an aspect of the deity. In a way of speaking, they are the symbols of a symbolism

In the case of Sarasvathi the book she holds in her hands symbolize the Vedas and learning; the Kamandalu (a water jug) symbolizes smruthi, vedanga and shastras; rosary symbolizes the cyclical nature of time; the musical instrument veena symbolizes music and her benevolent nature; the mirror signifies a clear mind and awareness; the Ankusha (goad) signifies exercising control over senses and baser instincts; and, the sceptre signifies her authority. The Shilpa-shastra employs these as symbols to expand, to depict and to interpret the nature of the idol, as also the values and virtues it represents.

There were also variations in the depictions of Sarasvathi  : complexion ( white (sweta) , red (raktha-varna) , blue  (nila) – as tantric deity and form of  Tara); number of eyes (two, three),number of arms ( four , six, eight), Posture ( seated – Asana, standing – sthanaka ; but never in reclining posture– shayana ), seated upon ( white lotus, red lotus or throne), wearing (white or red  or other coloured garments), ornaments ( rich or modest) and so on.

Interestingly, the early texts do not mention her Vahana (mount). But the latter texts provide her with swan or peacock as her Vahana or as symbolic attributes (lanchana).


The Shilpa text Vastu-vidya-diparnava lists twelve forms of Sarasvathi ( Vac sarasvathi, Vidya sarasvathi, Kamala, Jaya, Vijaya, Sarangi, Tamburi, Naradi, Sarvamangala, Vidya-dhari, Sarva-vidya and Sharada) all having four arms , but without the Vahana. They all are looking bright, radiant (su-tejasa) and happy (suprasanna).

Another Shilpa text Jayamata enumerates a different set of twelve forms of Sarasvathi (Maha-vidya, Maha-vani, Bharathi, Sarasvathi, Aarya, Brahmi, Maha-dhenu, Veda-darbha, Isvari, Maha-Lakshmi, Maha-Kali, and Maha-sarasvathi).

The tantric text, Sri Vidyarnava-tantra, mentions at least three Tantric forms of Sarasvathi: Ghata-sarasvathi, Kini-Sarasvathi and Nila–sarasvathi (blue-complexion; three eyes; four arms, holding spear, sword, chopper and a bell).

And, there is also Matangi who is also called Tantric-Sarasvati; and, she is of tamasic nature and is related to magical powers. Her complexion too varies from white, black, brown, blue or to green depending on the context, She also has many variations, such as:  Ucchista Matangini, Ucchista-Chandalini, Raja Matangini, Sumukhi Matangini, Vasya Matangini or Karna Matangini.

Bhuvanesvari, one of the ten Mahavidyas, is also linked to speech (vak); and, therefore, she is said to correspond to Sarasvathi,    Vagesvari.

Tara, in Buddhism, of blue complexion, associated with the speaking prowess, and seated on a lotus is called Nila (blue) Sarasvathi

The Vajrayana Buddhism too has its own set of Tantric Sarsavathi-s, like the six armed Vajra-Sarasvathi; the Vajra-sharada holding a book and a lotus in her two hands; and, Vajra-veena-sarasvathi playing on a veena. The other deities like Prajna-paramita and Manjushree have in them some aspects of the Sarasvathi.

The Jain tradition has Sarasvathi in the form of Sruta-devata; Prajnapti; Manasi and Maha-Manasi.


Sarasvathi, as Vagdevi, is depicted as gesturing scriptural knowledge with her right hand in Vyakahana-mudra; and, gesturing protection and assurance with her left hand in Abhaya-mudra. At times, she is shown with three eyes. She is decorated by a crown (makuta) with a crescent moon; and with a sacred thread across her chest (yajnopavitha).

sarasvathi Gkcp1

The Sarasvathi that is commonly depicted is an extraordinarily beautiful, graceful and benevolent deity of white complexion, wearing white garments, seated upon a white lotus (sweta-padmasina) , adorned with pearl ornaments ; and holding in her four hands a book, rosary , water-pot and lotus .


Her Dhyana –sloka reads:

Yaa Kundendu tushaara haara dhavalaa, Yaa shubhra vastranvita.
 Yaa veena vara dandamanditakara, Yaa shwetha padmaasana
 Yaa brahma achyutha shankara prabhutibhir Devaisadaa Vanditha 
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswatee Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa  

Salutations to Bhagavathi Sarasvathi, the one who is fair like garland of fresh Kunda flowers and snowflakes; who is adorned with white attire; whose hand is placed on the stem of the Veena; who sits on white lotus; one who has always been worshiped by gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shankar; May that goddess Sarasvathi bless us, protect us, and completely remove from us all stains of lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.


Continued in the Next Part

Sources and References

  6. Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri
  8. 12. Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman
  9. Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India… Edited by John Muir
  10. Devata Rupa-Mala (Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao



Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Artha-Meaning, Bhartrhari, Devi, Sanskrit


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Navaratri Dolls (Gombe) Display from Mysore

Saptha Matrikas and Devi

The arrangement and display of colourful dolls (gombe) is very much a part of the festivity and celebration of Navaratri in the Mysore region. The children take great delight in dressing up the dolls and in innovating new themes each year.

Since Navaratri is primarily the celebration of Mother’s Glory, her images are prominently displayed. Here is a most delightful collection of traditional deities –Saptha Matrika, a set of seven aspects of Devi, comprising: Brahmi; Chandika; Indrani; Kaumari; Maheshwari; Varahi and Vaishnavi. Please also see the Devi Mantapa and the silver idol of the Devi meant for daily worship. I trust you will enjoy the Gombe display on screen.

[ I gratefully acknowledge the delightful source of the Gombe-s, the Ramsons Kala Pratishtana, Mysore.

Shri R.G. Singh writes : 

I am delighted to see these pictures of ‘Bombe Mane 2008’ here. It was in 2008 that we at Ramsons Kala Pratishtana had put up this Sapta Matrika display at the Bombe Mane exhibition at Pratima Gallery, in front of Zoo, Mysore. I am also delighted with the positive response to our display. You can read more about Bomabe Mane at ]


Brahmi                                                                               Chandika

Indrani                                                                              Kaumari

Maheshwari                                                                       Varahi

Vaishnavi                                                        Devi silver idol for daily worship

All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Devi, General Interest, Saptamatrka


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Sri Gayatri – Part Two

Continued from Part One

 The Mantra and Its Import


The mantra

32.1. As mentioned earlier; Gayatri is a mantra dedicated to Savitr. It originally occurs as the tenth rik in the sixty-second Sukta of the third mandala of Rig-Veda Samhita (RV: 3.62.10).It is repeated in several other texts. The metrical form, chhandas, of the mantra is Gayatri. In accordance with the characteristic requirement  of the Gayatri – chhandas, the mantra is composed of  twenty-four letters, akshara or matra (Gayatri chaturvimsatyakshara); arranged in three lines (tripaada); each paada having eight letters (ashtaksharatmaka-paada).

32.2. The pada-patha (sequential rendering) of the mantra reads: tat- savituh- varenyam – bhargah – devasya – dhimahi – dhiyah – yah – na – prachodayath.

32.3. The anvaya, the order of the words in the mantra to elicit its meaning, is usually thus : (yah) who; (nah) our; (dhiyah) intellect; (prachodayath) inspires; (tat*) that; (devasya) radiant; (savituh) Savitr; (varenyam) most adorable; (bhargah) effulgence; (dhimahi) we meditate upon.

[* The suggestive term tat may refer either to Savitr or to his bhargah (excellence). The extended meaning of the term is Brahman (as in tat tvam asi).]

The literal meaning of the mantra would be: “We contemplate on the most adorable brilliance of Savitr who inspires our intellect”.

There are, of course, countless mystical interpretations of the mantra.

Extended form of Gayatri

33.1. The mantra, as above, revealed to Rishi Visvamitra and appearing in the Rig-Veda Samhita (RV: 3.62.10) is known as Visvamitra-Gayatri. Its extended form begins with the line comprising the Pranava (Om) and three Vyahrti-s (bhu, bhuvah and suvah). Both the forms of Gayatri are recited and contemplated upon during the Sandhya prayers. The extended form is preferred during the performance of Havana-s

33.2. The extended form of Gayatri, thus, has four lines. It is said; Gayatri mantra is four-footed (chatuspaada) when Pranava (Om) accompanies it. However, when Pranava is omitted it is only three-footed (Chatuspaada Gayatri pranavenavena saha; pranavam vina tripaada). This statement is based on the faith that the syllable Om encompasses all the Vyahrti-s; or, rather, the Vyahrti-s are extensions of Pranava Om.

Turiya paada

34.1. There is another stream of discussion on the fourth line (Turiya paada) of Gayatri in Brihadaranya Upanishad (5.14.7). The fourth line, it is said, occurs following the traditional three lines of Gayatri mantra of twenty-four syllables.  The text says that while the first three lines can be grasped by reason, the fourth line, which is mystical in its import, and can be comprehended only through intuition. The Upanishad adores the fourth line as ‘Namaste turiyaaya darshataya padaaya’.

34.2. This fourth paada is said to be hidden (darshatasya) or un-manifest (apad); and, is beyond intellect.  It represents Savitr as the Purusha, shining as the very core or as the essence of the solar orb (mandala-antargata-purusha), who is the inner-being (antaryamin), the heart of all beings (sarva-jivatma).

34.3. This Turiya paada which reads ‘paro rajas ya tapati’ (the pada-pata of which is: ‘Parah- rajase- asau – adhah – maa – praapta – iti ’) is, by itself, considered a maha-mantra. Its Rishi is Vimala; its chhandas is Turiya; its Devata is Paramatma; and, its objective (viniyoga) is liberation (moksha).

Asya sree darshatasya Gayatri-turiya paada-maha- mantrasya; Vimala Rishihi; Turiya chhandaha/Paramatma Devata; Moksha viniyogaha //

Literally, the mantra appears to refer to that un-shadowed effulgence (consciousness) beyond the three gunas (paro rajasa) that illumines (tapati) all existence. There are, of course, numerous other interpretations depending on the inclination of each School.

35.1. The Turiya paada, it is said, explains the preceding three paadas (paada traya) of the Gayatri mantra, in terms of triads’. It says: Hey Gayatri, your first line (eka padi) represents three realms (tri lokya); your second line (dvitiyena paadena) the three streams of knowledge (tri-vidya-rupena); and, your third line (trutiyena paadena) the vital currents (prana). The Gayatri of three paadas rests (prathisitha) on the fourth paada (turiya paada), which is established in Satya, the Truth. This (Satya) is the real Savitr, for it is the essence (satva) of all beings and material objects – with form (murta) and without form (a-murta).

Here, the commentators explain that tri lokya refers to three realms (bhu, bhuvah and suvah); tri-vidya to three Vedas (Rig, Yajus and Sama); and the vital currents (prana, apana and vyana). They all rest on Turiya paada which indeed is Satya (Absolute Truth), beyond conditioned – existence.

35.2. It is also said; the eight letters [paro (2), rajas (2), ya (1), pra– tapa iti (3)] of the subtle and mystical fourth-line (Turiya-paada) of Gayatri in association with Pranava (Om) as the ninth letter (navakshara vai) forms the first half of the Yajna (purvardha vai yajnasya Gayatri – Satapatha Brahmana:

35.3. Thus, the Turiya paada the fourth-line (chaturbhi paadaih) by itself (ekame) is worthy of meditation in silence (upasate), as it represents the Purusha. Turiya, it is said, represents the highest state beyond the three gunas (paro rajas) and beyond the three known states of consciousness (waking, dreaming and deep sleep). Turiya paada is not for chanting; but ,it is for contemplation  in silence.

36.1. The mantra starting with words: ‘paro rajase….’ is accorded great significance in the Sri Vidya tradition. It is identified with the beeja Hrim, which is equivalent to Pranava Om. And; it represents pure consciousness, which is not inert (paro rajase), at ‘the end of silence’.

36.2. Further, Tripura-tapini-Upanishad which deals with the basic concepts and symbolisms of Sri Vidya, provides, among other things, the  tantric interpretations to Chatush-paada Gayatri, the Gayatri of four lines, composed of thirty-two syllables (Tt.Up : 1.2 to 1.8).  The text compares theTuriya paada the fourth line (Paro rajase Savadom) with the fifteen-lettered Panchadasi mantra of Sri Vidya. The Panchadasi mantra is implicit or hidden (just as Turiya paada); and, it becomes explicit or manifest when the sixteenth (sodasha) letter Srim is added to it. Srim is Mother-Goddess’s own form.

36.3. The text interprets the Turiya Paada by relating it to the principle of Shiva: the illumination (prakasha); the pure consciousness (Shiva) latent as Paramatman (akshara) in the space of one’s heart (akshare parame vyoman). It is drawn out (vimarsa) when it is associated with the shakthi of Mother –goddess Gayatri.

37.1. There is another interpretation. The commentaries on Sri Lalitha Sahasranama mention that the nama-s 583 – 585 refer to three types of Vidya-s: Atma Vidya (583); Maha Vidya (584); and, Sri Vidya (585).In this context; it is said, Turiya Gayatri is also Atma Vidya. And, the Devi manifests in the form of Turiya Gayatri and also as the eight-lettered ‘atma-ashtakshara- vidya’ of the Sri Vidya tradition (om- hrim-hamsaha -soham-svaha).


Sri Aurobindo’s Gayatri

38.1. Gayatri is a Universal mantra. It is said; each one has to understand and experience it in her/his own way. The aspirants are advised to create her/his own rendering of the essence of the mantra, as each perceives it. Of the mantras of such genre the one that comes to mind quickly is the celebrated Gayatri created by Sri Aurobindo.

38.2. Sri Aurobindo gave his own Gayatri mantra of twenty-four syllables:

Tat savitur varam rūpam jyotiḥ parasya dhīmahi yannaḥ satyena dīpayet

Let us meditate on the most auspicious  form of Savitri , on the Light of the Supreme which shall illumine us with the Truth.

38.3. It is said; Sri Aurobindo’s Gayatri is addressed to Savitri, daughter of the Sun ‘as Satya (the Truth), the pure consciousness”, “the power of inspired speech which brings the illumination of the supreme Truth’. Savitri is the symbol of dawn, the Truth that comes from the Sun. Sri Aurobindo’s Gayatri Mantra meditates upon the auspicious form of the Sun, the Light that illumines us with the Truth.

38.4. The scholar Shri R.Y. Deshpande explains that Sri Aurobindo’s Gayatri Mantra is slightly different from the traditional Gayatri Mantra given to us by Rishi Visvamitra, which seeks illumination of our intuition and of our intellect. In Sri Aurobindo’s mantra, the emphasis is on the auspicious form – varam rupam. It invokes Gayatri in her most auspicious form to come and reside in us, amongst us, within us. This is the difference between the two: – the first invokes a spiritual perception; the second invokes her as a form in us. The coming down of that Grace is the birth of Savitri.

Om and the Vyahrti-s

39.1. Gayatri mantra as given by Rishi Visvamitra is extended by fusing it with a line opening with the Pranava Om followed by the three Vyahrtis (bhu, bhuvah and suvah). Both the forms of Gayatri are recited and contemplated upon during the Sandhya prayers. The extended form is preferred during the performance of havana-s. The concept of Vyahrtis, it is said, was derived from Taittriya Upanishad; and, it is important by itself. The Pranava Om always recited at the beginning and the end of the mantra is not just a sound or symbol. It is verily the Bija from which Gayatri emanates. Gayatri which is Savitri adores Pranava as Brahman (Brahma Swaroopam) encompassing all existence.

We shall briefly talk about Pranava and the Vyahrtis.

Pranava Om

40.1. Pranava – Om – enjoys unrivalled pre-eminence in the Indian traditions. It is hailed as the Moola-mantra (the root of all mantras), Akshara (The Letter) or Ekakshara (the single syllable). It is the auspicious sound of initiation (diksha).Every recitation, every prayer and every worship-action is preceded by utterance of Om. The study of the Vedas commences with the sound of Om; and, the student says to himself, fondly, ‘with this I shall attain Brahman’ (Taittiriya Upanishad-1.8.1). Om is the most comprehensive universal sound-symbol (udgita). Aitareya Brahmana (2.5.7) explains Om as the unity of three matras: ‘a’, ‘u’ and ‘ma’ (akaara-ukaara-makaara).

40.2. Sri Gauda-Paada in his celebrated Karika on Mandukya Upanishad expands on that and avers ‘AUM represents manifest and un-manifest aspects of Brahman’. It is the single syllable that symbolizes and embodies Brahman, the Absolute Reality. It is the Pranava that which pervades all existence; and it is our very life breath. Sri Gauda-Paada explains; Vaisvanara in waking state is A, the first part of AUM. Teijasa in dream state is U, the second part of AUM. And, Prajna in deep sleep is M, the third part of AUM, concluding the sounds of the earlier two parts. The Syllable AUM in its entirety stands for the fourth state – Turiya – one beyond the phenomenal existence, supremely blissful and non-dual. It is the source of all existence. AUM represents Ultimate Reality.AUM is thus verily the Self itself. Meditate on AUM as the Self.

40.3. Taittiriya Aranyaka (10.33) also declares ‘Omkara is indeed the very representation of Brahman’ (Om ityekaksharam Brahma); and the sum and substance of all the Vedas. And, all manifestations and expressions are rooted in Om (tad yatha). All the texts, therefore, advice the aspirants to meditate on Omkara.

40.4. For the purpose of meditation, Omkara is itself regarded a mantra. Its Rishi is Prajapathi; its chhandas is Gayatri; and its Devata is Paramatma. The purpose of meditation (viniyoga) is liberation (vimukthi – phala – siddhidam).

Om and Gayatri

41.1. As regards the Pranava at the commencement of Gayatri, the two are intimately related. The traditional view is that the Pranava, Vyahrti-s and the Gayatri form an integral unit. Taittiriya Aranyaka (2.11.1-8) confirms that scriptural recitation always begins with the chanting of the syllable Om, followed by the three Vyahrtis and the Gayatri verse (as in RV 3.62.10).

41.2. Srimad Anandatheertha (Sri Madhwacharya) explains in his Rg-bhasya that the import of the Pranava is expanded in the Vyahrti-s and the meaning of the Vyahrti-s is elaborated in the Gayatri.

41.3. It is said; even if Vyahrti-s are omitted, for some reason, the Pranava should always precede the Gayatri. Pranava is indeed the Bija of Gayatri-mantra. The Gayatri-japa, which is the most important sequence of the Sandhya, should invariably include both the Pranava (Om) and the Vyahrti-s (bhu, bhuvah and suvah) [Pranava vyahrtiyutam gayatrim vai japet tatah].

41.4. Maitrayani Upanishad (3.6.10; 3.6.3) says: Gayatri with Vyahrtis; and Pranava with Vyahrtis are but two names of Brahman that is light. Worship (upaasita) Brahman using Om (Omithyaksharena), Vyahrtis (vyahrityabhi) and Savitri (Savitra che iti). That (tat) Brahman is one with Om.


42.1. The Pranava Om in the first line of Gayatri is followed by three utterances   BhuBhuvah and Suvah, which are termed as Vyahrti-s. The term Vyahrti (or Vyahara) literally means well articulated speech or a considered statement. They are also taken as syllables of mystical significance. Vyahriti is also understood as that which sheds light on our knowledge of the universe (Visheshenh Aahritih sarva viraat praahlaanam prakash-karanah vyahriti iti).

42.2. There are several myths associated with the origin of the Vyahrtis. There are also variations in the explanations provided in some Upanishads and their associated texts. For instance:

: – Chandogya Upanishad (2.23.2-3) states that Prajapathi who is the embodiment of Truth meditated upon all existence (lokan abhyatapat). Out of his contemplation arose three Vedas (trayi vidya). From out of the Vedas that he meditated upon, there emerged (sampra savant) these syllables (etani aksharani): bhubhuvah and suvah.

As Prajapathi contemplated further (tani abhyatapat), the syllable Om (Omkara samprasravat) emerged from these (vyahtri-s). He then realized that Om permeates every form of speech (omkara sarva vac samtrnna), just as the network of veins (sankuna) is spread over the entire leaf (sarvani parnanai). Prajapathi exclaimed ‘Verily all this is Om! Verily all this is Om! ‘ (Omkara eva idam sarvam; Omkara eva idam sarvam)’.

: – Chandogya Upanishad at another place (4.27.1-3) states: Prajapathi contemplated upon all worlds (lokan abhyatapat); and extracted their essence (rasam pravrhat): fire from the earth (agnim prithivyah); air from the intermediate-space   (vayum antariksat); and Aditya (sun) from the space beyond (adityam divah).

As he contemplated on the three deities, he derived from their essence (rasam pravrhat): Rg (Rig-Veda) from Agni (agneh rcah); Yajus from Vayu (vayoh yajumsi); and Sama from Aditya (samani adityat).

Prajapathi further contemplated on the three Vedas (tryim vidyam)   and extracted their essence: Bhu from Rig-Veda (bhu iti rgbhyah), Bhuvah from Yajur Veda (bhuvah iti yajurbhyah) and Suvah from Sama Veda (suvah iti samabhyah).

: – Taittiriya Brahmana (2.2.42) offers a different explanation. It mentions that Prajapathi at the end of his meditation uttered Bhu; and the earth come into existence (sa bhur iti vyaharat, sa bhumim asrjata).He then uttered Bhuvah; and this brought forth the mid-region (a bhuvah iti vyaharat, antariksham asrjata).And, finally Prajapathi exclaimed Suvah; and, the upper realm got formed (sasuvah iti vyaharat, sa divam asrjata). Thus the three Vyahrtis (utterances) correspond to these realms (eta vai vyahrtya ime lokah).

: – Maitrayani Upanishad (6.6) expands on that and relates the Vyahrti-s to Purusha, the Cosmic Being. And, it says: at the beginning, the existence was inarticulate. Then, after deep contemplation Prajapathi uttered: BhuBhuvah and Suvah. That threefold utterance   formed the gross body of Purusha: Bhu his feet (bhu paadah); Bhuvah is his navel (nabhir bhuvah); and Suvah is his head (suvaritya shiroh). And, Aditya (sun) became his eyes (Aditya chakshu).

43.1. Thus, initially, in these texts, Vyahrti-s are presented as utterances of mystical significance that stand for regions, realms or worlds (lokah) – (eta vai vyahrtaya ime lokahTB . Bhuh is earth; Bhuvah is mid-region; and, Suvah is the upper region. The Taittiriya Upanishad explains the three terms as: bhuh – ayamlokah (this world here in front of us); bhuvah – antariksham (the mid region); and suvah –asau lokah (the world beyond).

44.1. It is explained that in these references Bhu etc do not mean material earth etc. But, they symbolically suggest the principles associated with earth, atmosphere and space beyond. For instance:

:- The first Vyahrti Bhu is explained as that from which objects spring up or take birth or take shape (bhavatah kvipi bhur iti rupam) or that in which all beings reside (bhavanti asyam bhutani).

: – Similarly, the second Vyahrti Bhuvah signifies that principle which maintains all objects and beings (bhavayati sthapayati visvam iti). It is said; Bhuvah symbolizes the mid-region (antariksha) which provides space for existence and maintenance of the first Vyahrti Bhu,  the earth (bhavaty asmin jagat). It also illumines the world of earth (prakashayati visvam) .  The later text Parasara Smrti mentions that the Vyahrti Bhuvah signifies that which produces, maintains all things till their destruction; and that which again produces them.

: – And, the third Vyahrti Suvah, the upper realm is that which provides light, warmth, coolness and life to the two other lower regions: Bhuvah (mid-region) and Bhu (earth). Suvah signifies that which is truly adorable or sought after in all earnestness (sushtu varaniyatvat suvah); and it is pure knowledge. It also symbolizes the ideal state of bliss, Ananada; the greatest blessing.

45.1. But, in the later texts and commentaries, the Vyahrti-s were interpreted as or identified with almost everything that could be tied into a set – of – three. Following that, the Vyahrti-s came to be associated with a wide-range (almost endless sets) of meanings and interpretations. I have, at the end of this paragraph listed just a few of those, in the appended table.

45.2. The more significant ones are those that attempt to relate each of the three Vyahrti-s to : the Matra-s of the Pranava (A-U-M); three Vedas; Vedic gods – Agni, Vayu and Aditya ; three realms (loka); three vital energies (prana, apana and vyana); three modes of powers or expressions (iccha, kriya and jnana); trinity of Brahma , Vishnu and Shiva; three existential factors as set out in the Samkhya (PradhanaPurusha and Kaala); three chakras of Yoga (muladharavishuddha and sahasrara);  and, the three aspects of Brahman (Sat, Chit and Ananada) etc.

No. Factor


Bhu Bhuvah  Suvah
1 Loka (realm) Prithvi Antariksha Dyur-loka
2 Veda Rig-Veda Yajur-veda Sama-Veda
3 Matras of Pranava a-kaara u-kaara m-kaara
4 Devatha of the realm Agni Vayu Aditya
5 Sources of Energy Prana Agni Surya
6 Aspect of Brahman Sat Chit Ananda
7 Chakras Muladhara Vishuddha Sahasrara
8 Vital energies Prana Apana Vyana
9 Trinity Brahma Vishnu Rudra
10 Powers Iccha-shakti Kriya-shakti Jnana-shakti
11 Elemental factor Pradhana Purusha Kaala
12 Levels of identity Buddhi Manas Ahamkara
13 Guna Satva Rajas Tamas
 14 Colour Pita Shukla Krishna
15 Time (Kaala) Past Present Future
16 Worship-fires at home Garhapathya Dakshina Ahavaniya

Vyahrti-s and Gayatri

46.1. The three Vyahrti-s gain a special significance in their association with the Gayatri mantra. The traditional view is that the Pranava (Om), the Vyahrti-s and the Gayatri mantra are of identical nature. Sri Madhwacharya in his Rg-bhashya states that the Vyahrti- s BhuBhuvah and Suvah denote virtues associated with Brahman, such as: completeness (purna); absolute supremacy (niradhika-sreshthah); and, unique bliss (ananda). He also explains that the import of the Pranava is expanded in the Vyahrti-s; and the meaning of the Vyahrti-s is made clear in Gayatri.

46.2. It is said; the Vyahrti-s bring out the aspects of Brahman that could be meditated upon. The contemplation on Vyahrti-s is also the contemplation on the aspects of Pranava, which leads to release (moksha). Through that, one attains svarajya the state of independence beyond bondage (apnoti svarajyam).

46.3. The other significant association of the Vyahrti-s with the Gayatri is their representation as the three subtle planes of existence (loka); or regions of experience; or as three states or levels of consciousness experienced during meditation on Gayatri.

Fourth Vyahrti – Mahah

47.1. The Vyahrti-s: BhuBhuvah and Suvah are together known as Maha-Vyahrti-s. Because, they are the fundamental realms (loka), universally accepted and integrated into Gayatri mantra. They are also the Vyahrti-s mentioned in the older texts.

47.2. Taittiriya Upanishad (Shiksha valli: 1-7) mentions ‘BhuBhuvah and Suvah are the three Vyahrti-s’ (bhur bhuva suvariti va etaastritayo vyahrutaya). And, says, in addition, that the son of Rishi Mahachamas had the knowledge of the fourth Vyahrti called Mahah (chaturthim mahachamasya pravadayate).This is the adorable loka (maha pujayam), higher than Suvah; the loka of Aditya, the antaryamin who ennobles (mahat) all the worlds. Mahah is Aditya (mahah iti adityah), one who nourishes life everywhere; and one who is adored by those who aspire for liberation.

47.3. Taittiriya Upanishad further states: These are the four Vyahrti-s. And, everything in this existence is fourfold. One who understands, through meditation, the four states in the four planes of existence, knows Brahman (ta yo Veda sa brahma). Everyone loves such a knower. And, the gods bring him offerings (sarvesmai deva balim avahanti). Prachinayogya (descendent of sage Prachinayoga) was initiated into this meditation.

47.4. The passage goes on to describe Mahah: as Chandra who supports all plant-life and celestial bodies (sarvani jyotishee maheeyante); as Brahma who presides over Yajna (brahmanavava sarve Veda maheeyante); and as Anna that nourishes all the vital forces (annena vava sarve prana maheeyante).  It declares ‘Mahah is Atman; Mahah is Brahman that pervades everything (maha iti tad brahma)’.

Other Vyahrti-s

48.1. As said earlier; BhuBhuvah and Suvah are the fundamental (Maha) Vyahrti-s; and Mahah is the fourth one. In addition, three other Vyahrti-s are mentioned :  janah,  tapah and satyam, bringing the total to seven Vyahrti-s . Janahtapah and satyam, in the ascending order, are placed above Suvah . These Vyahrti-s, referred to as loka-s, are also understood as the levels of consciousness.

48.2. The concept of loka-s or realms arranged in ascending (urdhva) and descending (adho) order with reference to the position of the earth (Bhu) at the middle (madhya) emanates from the imagery of the structured world (Bhuvana) as envisioned by the ancients. The six lower (adho) loka-s placed below the earth (Bhuloka) are: atala, vitala, sutala, tala-tala, rasatala and patala the lowest loka. The seven upper (urdhva) loka-s positioned above the earth, in ascending order, are: bhuvarloka, svarloka, maharloka, janaloka, tapoloka and satyaloka the highest loka.


49.1. Symbolically, the Bhu (earth) is deemed to represent the physical (bodily) consciousness, the basic needs; while the below (adho) loka-s represent the lower levels of consciousness.

49.2. As regards the upper realms (urdhva loka), the six upper realms are said to symbolically represent , in that order :

(i) emotions , desire for approval or love;

(ii) intellect , logic and reasoning ;

(iii) subtle energies of spirit ;

 (iv) psychic realm, listening and observing in stillness ;

(v) intuition, direct experience of reality of Self;


(vi)  unbound , non-dual consciousness.


These levels are , in a similar manner, associated with the chakras, the energy centres or seats of consciousness in human body.

49.3. It is also said, janah represents the realm from which akasha and other elements originate (jana janane; karturyasun); tapah is the realm from which all thoughts arise (tapah alochane) representing knowledge and enlightenment; and satyam is eternal, immutable in space or time. Satyam is the highest bliss and the liberating knowledge.

49.4. And , there is a faith that the desirable objects that aid ones progress arise from these seven lokas or planes, of existence, which the Vyahrti-s represent. The presiding deities of the planes of existence are called upon to guide us to the Truth that liberates.

The seven Vyahrti-s and Om

50.1. Though each of the seven Vyahrti-s represents a distinct loka or a level of consciousness their utterance is always preceded by the Pranava Om, the symbol of supreme reality. The tradition regards each Vyahrti as a mantra in its own right.

: – The Rishis of the seven Vyahrti-s are, in order, Atri, Brighu, Kutsa, Vashista, Gautama, Kashyapa and Angirasa.

: – The Devata-s of the mantras are: Agni Vayu, Arka (Surya, Aditya), Vagisha (Brihaspathi), Varuna, Indra and Visvedevah.

: – And, the metrical forms, the chhandas, of these Vyahrti-s are Gayatri, Ushnik, Anushtup, Brhati, Pankti, Trishtup, and Jagati.

: – As regards the Pranava mantra that precedes each Vyahrti, Brahma is the Rishi, Gayatri is its chhandas, and Paramatma is its Devata. And, moksha, liberation is its viniyoga, the objective (mokshado viniyogah).

50.2. All the Vyahrti-s emanate from Pranava Om. The contemplation on Vyahrti-s is intended to secure (viniyogamoksha, liberation. The mantra – Om âpo jyotih rasomritam brahma bhûr bhuvas suvar Om – pays tribute to the all- comprehensive nature of Om : “Om, the water, the light, the very essence in which we exist, the Absolute, the physical world, the astral realm, the mental realm, all are indeed Om”.

50.3. Prapancha Sara a tantric text graphically describes the intimate relation between the Pranava and the Vyahrti-s. It explains; the first matra of the Pranava (akaara) is the first of the Vyahrti-s (Bhu).The second matra of the Pranava (u-kaara) is the second Vyahrti (Bhuh); and the third matra of the Pranava (ma-kaara) is the third of the Vyahrti-s (Suvah).The Bindu (.) which is the ardha (half)-matra is the Vyahrti Mahah; and the nada the sound of the Pranava is the fifth Vyahrti Janah. The Shakthi or the energy of the Pranava is the sixth Vyahrti Tapah; while the sublime peace (shanthi) of Pranava is the seventh Vyahrti Satyam.

50.4. Another text describes the Vyahrti-s as the limbs of the Cosmic-person (Virat-purusha), where Bhu is his feet; Bhuvah the knees; Suvah the loins; Mahah the navel; Janah the heart; Tapah the throat; and Satya the midpoint of his forehead.

Elongated Gayatri

51.1. The seven Vyahrti-s each accompanied by Om are followed by the three lines of the traditional 24-syllable Gayatri mantra; giving rise to the longer version of Gayatri. The mantra concludes with an invocation to the Goddess of light praying to illuminate our path as we progress towards higher consciousness.

51.2. The longer version of Gayatri is usually invoked during Pranayama preceding meditation on Gayatri.

51.3. The Vyahrti-s bring out the aspects of Brahman that are suitable for contemplation: Om is purna, the perfect; Bhu is nitya, the eternal; Bhuh is shristi-karta the creator; Suvah is svatantra, the unbound; Mahah is mahaniya, the adorable; Janah is aja beginning-less; Tapah is jnana-prakasha, the light of knowledge; and Satyam is niyama the true order that prevails in the Universe.

Mantra’s import

52.1. The mantra acquires different shades of meaning in accordance with the interpretations assigned to each of its terms. Though the Gayatri mantra is generally taken to mean: ‘may that Savitr inspire our intellect’, there is, however, no universally accepted translation of it in English. Each has to delve deep into her/himself, understand it in her/his own way; and realize her/his own Gayatri through reasoning grasped in faith. As sage Uddalaka counsels ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2).

52.2. The mantra is said to belong to the Devata Savitr; hence its original name is Savitri. But, the mantra is not directly addressed to Devata Savitr. The Savitr, here, is verily the Purusha, the Brahman, the supreme and absolute spirit settled in the hearts of all beings.

52.3. The discussion on the meaning, significance and symbolisms of the mantra is one thing; the diligent practice of its contemplation is quite another. As Sri Shankara says, the efficacy of the Gayatri is in its meditation –practice (abhyasa) and in the realization of its true nature (tasmad Gayatri evam prakaropasya).


53.2. The Dhyana –slokas and the mantras invoking Gayatri Devata (Gayatri Avahaana), preparatory to reciting (japa) her mantra and meditating upon her form are the principal sources for Gayatri-iconography. Through these verses, recited with great reverence and devotion, the worshipper awakens and enlivens the potent Goddess residing in her/ his heart-cave. In the purity of her/his thought, word and deed, the worshipper   visualizes Gayatri Devata in her various auspicious forms, with the aid of verses recited with great earnestness.

54.1. Gayatri is said to manifest her shakthi in three forms, as: Gayatri in the morning (pratah-savana); Savitri in the midday (madyanh savana) and Sarasvathi in the evening (saayam savana) – [Aitareya Brahmana-13.25]. But, it is also said; Gayatri herself represents all three savana-s (Gayatri vai sarvani savanani). Her individual forms are named ‘vyasti’; while her integrated form is ‘samasti’.

54.2. She is the sum or the aggregate (samasti svarupini) of all that is divine (Sarvadevata Svarupini; Sarvamantra Svarupini). As Gayatri in the morning she is Bramha svarupini; as Savitri in the mid-day is Rudra svarupini; and as Sarasvathi in the evening is Vishnu svarupini.

54.3. Mahanirvana Tantra (56-60) provides a slightly different version of her manifestations. And, it asks the Sadhaka :

“In the morning meditate upon Her ( Devi Gayatri)  in Her Brahmi form, as a Maiden of ruddy hue, with a pure smile, with two hands, holding a gourd full of holy water, garlanded with crystal beads, clad in the skin of a black antelope, seated on a Swan (56). At midday meditate upon Devi Gayatri in Her Vaishnavi form, of the colour of pure gold, youthful, with full and rising breasts, situated in the Solar disc, with four hands holding the conch-shell, discus, mace, and lotus, seated on Garuda, garlanded with wild-flowers (57-58). In the evening meditate upon Devi Gayatri as Maheshwari of a white colour, clad in white raiment, old and long past her youth, with three eyes, beneficent, propitious, and seated on a Bull, holding in her lotus-like hands a noose, a trident, a lance, and a skull (59-60) 

Mahanirvana Tantra -Translated by Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe)-1913].

55.1. The following are some of the verses recited more commonly, adoring Gayatri Devata.

pratar dhyayami gayatrim, ravimandala-madhyagam
rg-vedam uccarayantim raktavarnam kumarikam
akshamalakaram brahmadevatyam hamsavahanam’ 

In the morning, I meditate upon Gayatri- young and glowing; red in complexion; wearing garland of rosaries; and riding a swan. She is reciting Rig-Veda. Gayatri who is of the form   of Brahma is settled in the solar orb.

madhyandine tu savitrim ravimandalamadhyagam
yajur-vedam vyaharantim svetam sulakaram sivam
yuvatim rudradevatyam dhyayami vrshavahanam’ 

At noon she is Savitri. She is auspicious looking young person, well adorned in white garments. She is engaged in Yajur Veda. I meditate upon Savitri of the form of God Rudra, riding a bull and settled in the solar orb.

sayam sarasvatim syamam ravimandalamdhyagam
sama-vedam vyaharantim cakrayudhadharam subham
dhyayami vishnudevatyam vrddham garudavahanam

In the evening, she is Sarasvathi. She is auspicious looking mature person; and is in the form of Vishnu dark in complexion, holding Chakra and riding Garuda. She is reciting Sama Veda. I meditate upon Sarasvathi settled in the solar orb.



Mukta-vidruma – hema-nila-dhavala-chayair mukhair-tryakshnaih,
Yuktam indu-nibadha-ratna-makutam tatvarthavarnatmikam
Gayatrim varadabhayankusa-kasam subhram-kapalam gadam
Sankham chakram atha aravindayugalam hastair vahantim bhaje

I meditate upon the Goddess Gayatri of five faces tinged with shades of pearl, coral, gold, sapphire, and white. Each of her heads is adorned with three eyes and crescent moon upon her diamond studded crown. She is seated on a lotus. She is endowed with ten arms. She holds in her six hands: the goad, the whip, the white skull, the mace, the conch and the discus; as also two lotuses in two other hands. With the other hands she gestures protection (abhaya mudra) and granting blessings (varada mudra).She is the very embodiment of mystic utterances of great philosophical import.

As regards the symbolisms associated with the iconographic features of Gayatri Devata, her five heads are variously interpreted as : five vital energies, pancha prana (prana, apana,  vyana, udana and samana ) ; five fundamental elements , pancha tattva (earth, water, air, fire and sky ) ; the five parts of Gayatri mantra – (i) Om ; (ii) Bhu, Bhuvah , Suvah; (iii) tat savitur varenyam; (iv) Bhargo devasya;  and,  (v) dhimahi.


References and Sources

Rgveda Darshana –vol 3- Gayatri mantra By Prof.SK.Ramachandra Rao

Vaidika Sahitya Charitre By Dr.NS Anantharangachar

Rg Vedic Suktas –Gayatri and others By Swami Amritananda

All pictures are from internet

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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Devi, Gayatri


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Sri Gayatri – Part one

Rishi Chhandas and Devata

Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Diyo yonah prachodayat
We meditate on the adorable glory
of the radiant Savitr,
May he inspire our intellect

1 .1. Gayatri Mantra that is recited daily by millions of devout is indeed very ancient; and is regarded the most sacred of all mantras. The tradition accords Gayatri an unrivalled importance.

1.2. Gayatri is a mantra dedicated to Savitr; and is not a prayer in the ordinary sense of the term. A mantra – a specific structure of sound patterns coded in syllables and vowels – may be articulate or inarticulate; it may or may not convey a meaning. But, its relevance is in its inherent shakthi. Its subtle sounds or the abstract language attempts to visualize the un-differentiated divine principle. The accent, intonation and articulation too play a role in the efficacy of a mantra.

And, Mantra is neither a magical formula, nor is it a logical sentence; it  connects in a very special way to the objective and subjective aspects of reality.  The term Mantra is explained as mananat trayate mantrah; the contemplation of which liberates. It is the harmonious and powerful union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac). It is  the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane. The fruitfulness of a mantra depends upon the authority of the teacher who imparts it and the spiritual preparedness of the student who is initiated (Diksha) into it. It has to be grasped in humility, earnestness and faith.

A prayer, prarthana, is a submission; and it has a meaning and a philosophical significance. Prarthana has an intellectual appeal. Mantra is beyond intellect. Gayatri, it is said, is both mantra and prarthana, a profound invocationIt has the intrinsic shakthi of mantra; as also the intense devotion and reverence of prarthana. It signifies a determined aspiration for enlightenment.

1.3. Gayatri is essentially symbolic (sanketa vidya), inspiring righteous wisdom. It points to the absolute reality (Brahman) conditioned by names and forms as settled in solar orb, the visible form of divinity. The mantra formulates the nature of oneself and also the nature of Brahman, the supreme Consciousness (para-brahma nirupanam).

The name

4.1. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (5.14.5) mentions that the mantra in Gayatri chhandas dedicated to Savitr – Devata was initially known as Savitri mantra. It says: ‘the people were calling that   mantra in Gayatri chhandas as Savitri’ (Gayatri-meva Savitri-manu-bhruyaath), because it was addressed, in particular, to Savitr (Savitr iyam). Another authority, Manu (2.77 and 2.81), also names the mantra as Savitri; and avers ‘there is no mantra that is superior to Savitri’ (Savitryastu param naasti: Manu – 2.83). Other texts (for e.g. Maitri Upanishad: 6.2) too declare that ‘Savitri mantra with pranava and vyahrti is the best means (na savitrah paro mantrah) to attain Brahman’.

4.2. It is said; in course of time, the Savitri mantra came to be celebrated as Gayatri mantra because of its structure in classic Gayatri chhandas. The Savitri-mantra, it is believed, articulates, as few other mantras do, the special merits of the Gayatri-chhandas.

5.1. The name ‘Gayatri’ – as the title of the mantra – acquired several meanings. It is explained that the term Gayatri is derived from the root ‘traing’ (paalana) which means ‘to protect’. Expanding on that explanation, Chandogya Upanishad says: ‘This mantra called Gayatri in Gayatri-chhandas protects one who chants it. That is why it is called Gayatri’ (Gayatri trayate cha – Ch.Up.) Satapatha Brahmana ( in a similar manner explained Gayatri as that which protects (tattre) sense-faculties (including mind) and the life-principles (prana) which are called ‘gaya’: (prana vai gayaasthan trayati- tasmat Gayatri).

5.2. It is said; Gayatri is itself the prana; and, in prana reside all the Devata-s, the energies and activating faculties. And thus; all knowledge, action and the consequences thereof become united in Gayatri. Being prana, Gayatri is the very self of all existence (jagatah atma).

5.3. Yaska-charya explains the term Gayatri by changing the order (sequence) of its syllables (Varna –vyatyaya). He says that Gaya-tri, in fact, could as well be read and understood as tri-gaya, as having three modes of articulation body (rupeshu), speech (vachasi) and mind (manasi).That is to say; Gayatri inspires or finds expression in our mental process, speech behaviour and physical activities.

5.4. But largely, the term Gayatri has acquired the meaning ‘as that which protects the one who recites it mindfully (gayantam trayate yasmad gayatri smarata budhaih)’. There is a firm faith that Gayatri protects the devout from various evils and sins.

Therefore, Gayatri mantra became a vital part of the daily prayers known as Sandhya. Not merely that; the Gayatri mantra became so important that its recitation by itself came to be known as Sandhya. That is because, it is explained, Gayatri mantra merits ‘perfect meditation’ (samyak dhyanavat sandhya).

[There is another rik in the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda Samhita (5.82.1) that strongly resembles Gayatri mantra. Its Rishi is Syavasva-Atreya (also called Syavasva Archanasa, meaning the son of Archanas); its Devata is also Savitr; and it is in Anushtup chhandas. Anukramani, the Vedic glossarydescribes it as ‘the other Savitri’ (ity uktatvat savitram)

tat savitur vrnīmahe vayam devasya bhojanam | śrestham sarvadhātamam turam bhaghasya dhīmahi ||

We crave of Savitar the God this treasure much to be enjoyed. The best, all-yielding, conquering gift of Bhaga we would gladly win

(Translation by Ralph T H Griffith)]

The Rishi

6.1. Rishi in the Rig-Vedic context is a wise seer, illumined, expressing the Truth revealed to him (ninya vachasmi). A Kavi is the most exalted Rishi. He is a drastara, a visionary (darsanat), the one who sees the unseen (kavihi-krantha-darshano-bhavathi).Katyayana and Yaska describe a Rishi in similar terms : Rishis are visionaries says Katyayana (Drastara rishayah smartarah) ; and according to Yaska , those who envisioned the mantras are Rishis (Rishi-darshanat stoman dadarsha – Nirukta  2.11). The Sanskrit lexicon Amarakosha (2.7. 43) says one who speaks the Truth is Rishi (Rishyah satya-vachasah)

One cannot be a Kavi unless one is a Rishi (naan rishir kuruthe kavyam). It is his intuition (prathibha) and expanded consciousness that inspire him to express spontaneously. Such inspired poetry raised to sublime heights is mantra.

6.2. The Rishi not only gives utterance to a mantra but also is at the very essence, core, of the mantra (Badarayana Sutra: 244:36). The Rishi or the Kavi, through his all-pervasive consciousness becomes one with his creation.  Yaska-charya, therefore, speaks of close empathy, unison between the creator and his creation; and says that each tends to become a part of the other.  In the later Samhitas, the Rishi-s   came to be revered as icons of the sacred past; and their deeds were narrated as if they were the deeds of gods or of Asura the ancient ones.

7.1. The sixty-second Sukta is the last in the third mandala of Rig-Veda. This Sukta has eighteen mantra-s; and, the entire Sukta is ascribed to Rishi Visvamitra. The first three mantras of this Sukta are in Trishtup-chhandas; while the rest are in Gayatri chhandas. Of the eighteen mantras, those numbering ten to twelve are dedicated to Savitr; while the other mantras have Indra- Varuna, Brhaspathi, Pushan, Soma and Maitra-varuna as the Devata-s.

7.2. It is the tenth mantra of this Sukta that has come to be celebrated as Gayatri mantra. As said earlier; it is in Gayatri chhandas; its Devata is Savitr; and its Rishi is Visvamitra.

8.1. Visvamitra is a celebrated name in the Indian traditions. There have been sages in the Vedic literature, in Puranas and in Epics who carry the name of Visvamitra. It is surmised; all those sages may not refer to one and the same person. They could be the descendents of an ancient Rishi renowned as Visvamitra.

8.2. Visvamitra mentioned in Rig-Veda is a great Rishi. As many as forty-six Suktas and a number of other mantras in Rig-Veda Samhita are ascribed to Rishi Visvamitra. He is the contemporary of another great sage Vashista to whom about one hundred – and – four Suktas are ascribed.

8.3. Visvamitra of Rig-Veda is named in the Sarva-Anukramani (a sort of Index providing basic information about each hymn of Rig-Veda) as ‘Gathino-Visvamitrah’– the descendent of Gathi (the King of Kanyakubja?). Visvamitra – earlier known as Visvaratha – it is said, was the son of King Kaushika-Ushiratha (meaning, Ushiratha the son or the descendent of Kushika) who was valorous as the thousand-eyed Indra himself (sahasraksha-dyuti).

8.4. The Visvamitra and his sons mentioned in several other passages of the Rig-Veda are also described as Kausika-s, the descendents of Kushika. This Kushika is a mythical figure. And the term Kushika is also an epithet for Indra. The decedents of Kushika – Kaushika – were a family of traditional purohita-s, the family priests of Kings; and, were the followers of sage Angirasa, especially devoted to worship of Indra.

8.5. Yaska-charya recognizes Visvamitra as the purohita of King Sudasa (Nirukta: 2.24). It is said; Visvamitra also helped Bharatas in crossing the rivers Vipasa (Beas) and Satadru (Sutlej) that were in full flow .The Bharatas, apparently engaged in a raid, found it difficult to cross the rivers in high flood. But, Visvamitra, by prayers, induced the waters to subside (RV: 3.121).

8.6. Among the many sons of Visvamitra, Madhuchandas Vaiśvāmitra is well known. The first mantra of Rig-Veda (Agni mele purohitam…) is ascribed to Madhuchandas. He is the Rishi of the first hundred-and-two mantras of Rig-Veda; and, hence he earned the title ‘Satarchina’.

8.7. But the most debated of Visvamitra’s decedents is surely Sunahsepa. A story narrated in Aitareya Brahmana (7.13-18) brings together Visvamitra and the lad Sunahsepa Ajigarti (son of the poor and greedy Ajigarta Sauyavasi). It is said; Visvamitra adopted Sunahsepa Ajigarti as his son; or rather, the boy gave up his family and selected Visvamitra as his father. The later text Vasishta Dharma- sutra (17.33-35) cites this as an example of a case where a boy gives himself in adoption. Another text, Bahudayana Dharma-Sutra ( classifies such an adopted-son as one among twelve types of sons; but, places him below the biological (aurasa) sons ( Hence, the boy Sunahsepa came to be known as kritrima –vaisvamitro –devaratah, the god-given non-natural son of Visvamitra.

Sunahsepa grew into a great Rishi. The hymns 24-30 in the first mandala and the third hymn of the ninth mandala of Rig-Veda are ascribed to him. The later Rishis, the Kapileya-s and the Babhrava-s are mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana (7.17) as descendants of Sunahsepa Devarata Vaisvamitra.


9.1. It is said; one cannot truly comprehend a Vedic mantra without out a good understanding of its chhandas, the metrical form. Chhandas is the very basis of the structure and of the import of Vedic hymns (chandah paadau tu vedasya– Paniniya Shiksha – 41). Chhandas is the joy in structuring the syllables and words of the mantra (chhandayati ahlada-dayani chhandas – Amara Kosha 3.20). It also sets the rhythm for chanting of the mantra. Chhandas enlivens and articulates the meaning of the mantra. And, one has to unravel, untie the covering of chhandas (chandaamsi chhadanaath – Nirukta – 8.3.11) in order to fathom the true intent of the mantra.

10.1. Gayatri, in fact, is the name of one of the metrical forms (chhandas) adopted in Rig-Veda. The Gayatri chhandas is referred to in Rig-Veda (1.12.11) as ‘Gayatra’ or ‘Gayatram’. It is said; that out of 10,552 mantras in Rig-Veda Samhita as many as 2,456 are in Gayatri chhandas. But, the largest numbers of mantras (4,251) in Rig-Veda are in Trishtup chhandas. And, the rest (1,346) are in Jagati chhandas.

10.2. Gayatri chhandas is associated with Agni, the first and the foremost of the Vedic deities without whom no ritual is possible. Trishtup chhandas is associated with Indra; and, Jagati chhandas with Visvedeva-s.

10.3. Among the fourteen* types of important chhandas used in the Vedic texts, Gayatri is the shortest (with twenty-four matras). It is regarded the first (head: atah shirah) and the basic metrical form. And, it is the best. Taittiriya – Aranyaka (10.34) regards Gayatri as the mother of all the chhandas (gayatrim chhandasaam mata); born of Brahman (Brahma –yoini); and as one that signifies Brahman in three letters (tri-akshare Brahma-vaadini). Almost all the Samhitas (excepting Krishna-yajurveda) begin in Gayatri chhandas.

[* The fourteen types of chhandas employed in Vedic texts are listed as : Gayatri; Ushnik; Anushtup; Brhati; Pankthi; Trishtup ; Jagati ; Ati- Jagati ; Shaktari ; Ati – Shaktari ; Ashti ; Ati- Ashti ; Dhruthi ; and , Ati – Dhruthi . Gayatri chhandas has twenty-four syllables; and, the six main chhandas that follow thereafter has each four syllables more than it’s preceding one (e.g. Jagati the seventh chhandas has 4×12 = 48 syllables). Incidentally, the seven horses yoked to Sun-god’s chariot are named: Gayatri, Brhati, Ushnik, Jagati, Trishtup, Anushtup and Pankthi (SB: 5.21.16.)]

10.4. As said earlier, Gayatri chhandas is associated with Agni, the first and the foremost of the Vedic deities. Because of that, Gayatri chhandas is invested with great sanctity; and, all the mantras in this chhandas are of special significance.   Satapatha Brahmana ( declares the mantra in Gayatri chhandas is Agni himself (Gayatri va Agnihi; and Agnir vai Gayatri). And, that Agni, indeed, is the face (mouth) of Gayatri (tasya Agni-reva mukham). That is the reason, it is explained, the opening mantras of all the Yajna-s are in Gayatri chhandas. It is also said; the line of Gayatri chhandas having eight letters* in association with Pranava (Aum) as the ninth letter (navakshara vai), by itself forms the first half of the Yajna (purvardha vai yajnasya Gayatri – SB:

[* Some say; this refers to the eight letters of the subtle and mystical fourth-line (Turiya paada) of Gayatri: paro (2), rajas (2), ya (1), pra– tapa iti (3).]

10.5. The root of the term Gayatri is ‘gai’ (sabde) which denotes the sense of sound or speech or singing. That is the reason, it is said, the rik-s in Gayatri chhandas lend themselves to singing rather easily (gana-anukula-rik). Yaska-charya (Nirukta: 7.12.5) expands on that and says that rik-s in Gayatri-chhandas are ideal for singing the praises of deities (gayateh stuti-karmanah). The rik-s in Sama-Veda are therefore mostly in Gayatra-chhandas.

11.1. As regards the Gayatri mantra, in accordance with the characteristics of the Gayatri chhandas  (metrical form) in which it is composed,  it is required to be made of twenty-four letters, akshara or matra (Gayatri chaturvimsatyakshara); arranged in three lines (tripaada); each paada having eight letters (ashtaksharatmaka-paada). And, the mantra is made of nine words.

11.2. But, the first line of the mantra (tat-sa- vi –tur -vr-re-nyam) has only seven matra-s. The requirement of the chhandas is satisfied in either of two ways: 

One; the Pranava, that is, Om (ॐ) is added at the commencement of the first paada to make it eight-lettered (adi –omkara- sahita astakshara). Pranava, thus, indeed becomes an integral part of Gayatri-mantra. Then the first paada would read: ॐ तत्स॑वितुर्वरे॑ण्यम्।

And, the alternate way is to split last matra ‘nyam’ into two: ‘ni’ and’ yam’, in order to render the line in eight matra-s.

For similar reasons, the last matra of the third line ‘yat’ is taken to be one matra.

Tri-rupa Gayatri

12.1. Gayatri is at once the name of the mantra, the name of the chhandas; and is also the name of the Goddess Gayatri Mata. Gayatri is trinity; and is hailed as Tri-rupa Gayatri. Gayatri is most usually explained or interpreted in terms of triads. Gayatri is also hailed tri-akshare Brahma-vaadini, the one who signifies Brahman in three letters.

Gayatri as mantra

13.1. To start with, Taittiriya-Aranyaka (10.35) describes, Gayatri as a mantra structured in three lines (tri-paada). And, a paada (foot), etymologically, is that which moves, activates and enlivens (padyase).

13.2. Each of the three paada-s is identified with a Veda: Rg, Yajus and Sama. Following that, Gayatri is celebrated as the mother of all Vedas – Veda Mata (AV: 19.71.1).

13.3. Further; each paada of the mantra is also identified with each of the three matra-s (syllable) of the Pranava Aum; and with each of the three Vedas. And again, each paada of the mantra is identified with each aspect of Gayatri – Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi.

:- The first paada of the Gayatri mantra is identified with the first matra of Pranava ’ Aa’ (a-kaara) , which in turn is identified with Rig-Veda. The word ‘Savitr’ in the first paada of the mantra (tat Savitr varenyam) is of essence here; and, it signifies creation and inspiration (stute).The first paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Savitri who represents dawn.

: – The second paada of the mantra is identified with the second matra of Pranava ‘U’ (u-kaara), which in turn corresponds to Sama-Veda. The verb ‘dhimahi’ in the second paada of the mantra (bhargo devasya dhimahi) is of importance here; and, it signifies precise articulation (gaana-kriya).The second paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Gayatri as Vac, clear speech (gai-sabde).

: – The third paada of the mantra is identified with the third matra of Pranava ‘M’ (ma-kaara), which in turn is identified with Yajur-veda. The key word here is ‘dhiyah’ in the third paada of the mantra (dhi yo nah prachodayat) signifying ritual-actions (karma). The third paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Sarasvathi (uninterrupted rituals).

There also other interpretations.

14.1. The Shandilya Upanishad (1. 17) identifies the first matra of Pranava with Gayatri; the second matra with Savitri; and the third with Sarasvathi.

14.2. Gayatri is revered as the very foundation (adhistana) of all beings and objects. Gayatri represents earth (prithvi), as all existence is established on earth. The prithvi, in turn, stands for human body on which are settled all the vital-currents (sarve-pranah) and sense- functions (indriya kriya). In these traditional texts, when human body is referred to as the foundation (aadhara), it is the heart (hrudaya), the very core of the being, that is actually meant. For, all the vital currents (hrudi praane) and sense-functions are established (prathistitha) in the heart. Gayatri, therefore, represents the heart-lotus (hrudaya pundarika), the life-centre of all existence. (Ch.Up.3.12.3)

14.3. The Chandogya Upanishad (3.11.1) says that Gayatri signifies all beings: past, present and future. It is vac, representing the vital currents (prana); it is vac (speech) in the sense of mantra (gaayati) the recitation of  which protects one who recites (traayate) ; it is vac representing all the elements – (Vac va Gayatri; vac va idam sarva-bhutam , Gaayati cha, traayate cha); and,   it is as vac Gayatri is all pervasive (Gayatri vac vai gayatriti) .

14.4. Yaska-charya mentions that mantras have three layers of meaning (traye artha).The essential power of the mantras are to transport us to the world of ideas beyond the ordinary and to experience the sublime ideals that its Rishi envisioned. Accordingly, Gayatri mantra too is interpreted, with special reference to its Devata Savitr, in terms of: Adhi-YajnaAdhi-Daivata; and, Adhyatma. (We shall come to this a little later).

15.1. Ultimately, apart from the conditioned aspects of knowledge, vital current etc there is an un-conditioned, absolute aspect to the mantra; and, hence is called a-pada. Gayatri is not mere aggregate of letters; Brahman is its essence. And, this is Savitr in its true nature, un-conditioned and beyond relative existence. Savitr has to be realized in the space within (antar-akasha), in the depths of one’s heart-lotus (daharam pundarikam).

Gayatri as Devata

16.1. Gayatri – the mantra and the chhandas – are personified as the Goddess. The Mother as nirguna is the form-less vachya-shakthi; and as saguna, she is the presiding deity of the Gayatri mantra. The mantra itself is Devatha. The worshipper awakens and enlivens the potent Goddess residing in his heart-cave, by her/his devotion and earnestness.

[According to some, it was the Tantra ideology that turned a mantra dedicated to the solar deity Savitar into a meditation on the Mother Goddess. It also brought in mystic syllables known as Vyahritis which are similar to the Bija-aksharas of Tantric meditation. It’s Dhyana-slokas portrayed Gayatri as a goddess with symbolic iconographic features. The repetition (japa) of Gayatri mantra is preceded by purification rituals of Tantric nature, such as achamanapranayama etc.

In turn, the Vedic tradition too accepted and revered the personified form of Savitri mantra; as Mother Goddess (asya maata Savitri: Manu.2.170).And, Chandogya Upanishad (3.12) glorified Gayatri as being that which exists right here, that which sings (gayati) and saves (trayati) all things in their Reality.  ]

16.2. In the Dhyana-sloka submitted to Gayatri, the mantra and the goddess unite. The hymn addressed to Gayatri (Gayatryah), she is celebrated both as the mantra and as also the goddess.

:- As mantra, Gayatri (Gayatryah) is described as being in the form of Gayatri chhandas (Gayatri Chhandah), having Visvamitra as Rishi (Vishwamitra Rishih) and Savitr  as Devata (Savitaa Devataa). Gayatri is composed of three lines (Tripadaa), having twenty-four syllables (Chaturvimsaty-aksharaa.  Her mantra is of six kinds (Shatkukshih) embodying the principles of: Vak (speech) ; bhuta (beings) ;  prithvi (earth); sarira (body) ; hrudaya (heart) and prana (vital currents).

: – As Goddess , the fair and bright (swetavarnaa) Gayatri descends from the Gotra of Rishi Samkhyayana (saamkhyaayana sa gotra). She is endowed with five heads (Panchaseersh) .  She represents the five vital currents (Praana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samaana ). Agni glows in her face (Agnirmukham) , Brahma is in her head (Brahma Shiro), Vishnu resides in her heart (Vishnur hridayam)Rudra is her tuft (Radrah Sikhaah ) and the earth is her generator (Prithivi Yonih)She presides over   Upanayana  (upanayaney viniyogah ).


17.1. Gayatri as Devata, the Goddess , is hailed as Tri-rupa –Gayatri, also because she combines in herself the three goddesses : Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi. Gayatri is the protector of life principles; Savitri of Satya (Truth and integrity of all Life); and, Sarasvathi of the wisdom and virtues of life.

17.2. Gayatri is associated with three ‘savana-s’ (morning, midday and evening). She is said to manifest in three forms as : Gayatri in the morning (pratah-savana); Savitri in the midday (madyanh savana);  and , as Sarasvathi in the evening (saayam savana) – [Aitareya Brahmana-13.25].

But, it is also said; Gayatri herself represents all three savana-s (Gayatri vai sarvani savanani).

17.3. She is Trinity herself.  As Gayatri in the morning she is Bramha svarupini; as Savitri in the mid-day she is Rudra svarupini; and as Sarasvathi in the evening she is Vishnu svarupini.

17.4. Mahanirvana Tantra regards the Matrka–Trinity of Brahmi, Vaishnavi and Maheshwari as three aspects of Goddess Gayatri. She is Brahmi in the morning; Vaishnavi in the midday; and, Maheshwari in the evening.

17.5. Goddess Gayatri is revered as the sum or the aggregate (samasti svarupini) of all that is divine (Sarvadevata Svarupini; Sarvamantra Svarupini) – Gayatri vai idam sarvam.

The Devata

18.1. The Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitr; and, he is the Devata of the mantra. The Rig-Vedic god Savitr is understood and interpreted in varieties of ways. These explanations and interpretations are spread over a wide spectrum; ranging over the ritualistic, philosophical and esoteric understanding of the term Savitr.

: – Savitr is an ancient Vedic deity. He is an independent god in his own right. But, Savitr is sometimes taken as Surya; also, at times, not as Surya. At one level, Savitr is conceived as the power to dispel darkness. Savitr, here, is the aspect of Sun before daylight; and, after daybreak he is Surya*.Savitr, in this sense, is the one who inspires or gives rise to Sun. Savitr is also the motive power, the symbol of light that invokes radiance in hearts of beings. He is the awakening that impels men and creature to action. His mantra says: “We contemplate on the adorable brilliance of god Savitr, may he inspire our intellect”.

 [*The scholars tend to view Savitr more as a splendid concept than as a natural phenomenon.]

: – At other places in the Samhitas, Savitr is variously identified with Agni, Soma, Prajapathi, Visvedeva and Surya; or with their aspects. At another level, Savitr is identified with one’s mind, consciousness and with one’s own self (antaryamin).   Savitr, here, is the inner-light that illumines, enlivens, prompts and inspires (su-preraka) all our thoughts, speech and deeds.

: – Savitr the luminous one (divyati prakashata iti) is also the Purusha who resides in the heart –lotus of the devotees (hrudayaravinde); and is perceived in meditation (dyatatvat).

: – And again, Savitr residing in the solar orb is the symbol of Brahman (asaavaadityo Brahma).

It is said; for a beginner, Savitr might appear a functional deity; but to the seer, Savitr is a representation of Paramatman free from attributes. Following that, the first syllable of the mantra ‘tat’ could be taken either as a  neuter pronoun meaning ‘that’, or understood in silence  as ‘that One’ the Supreme principal Brahman.

: – Ultimately, it is said, Savitr is verily the Absolute Parabrahman.

Let’s look at some of these aspects.

Savitr as Vedic god

19.1. Savitr is an ancient (Asura) Vedic god of the upper regions (dyu-sthana). He is celebrated in eleven entire Suktas and in many separate stanzas as well. Everything about him is beautiful and brilliant. He is pictured, pre-eminently, as a golden deity adorned with golden-eyes; golden – arms and golden-hands; and having a golden-tongue. His chariot and its shaft, made of gold (ratham hiranya pra-ugam vahantah –RV: 1.35.4-5), are drawn by two or more brown, white-footed horses adorned with pearls (krsnavant). The yellow-haired (haridra kesi) Savitr rises up from the east, following the emergence of Ushas the goddess of dawn; and illumines the sky. He moves across the sky seated in his bright golden chariot (shubrabhyam yajato haribhyam), filling all directions with his boundless golden lustre (hiranyim amitam) seeing all creatures, dispelling darkness and sorrows. He rises aloft his strong golden arms extending to ends of earth (hiranya divo antha anustam: RV: 7.45.2) and blesses all beings (sakala shreyamsi dhatrunam). The other gods follow him.

19.2. His countenance of golden splendour is pleasing; and his speech is clear and sweet. On his ancient path, he protects his worshippers; and conveys the departed ancestors (pitris) to where the righteous dwell. Savitr governs the cosmic order Rta. And, all the elements and gods are subject to his law.

19.3. He protects the universe (vishvam bhuvanam dharayistathi: RV: 4.54.4).Prayers are submitted to this glowing, venerable god to inspire, to stimulate and to illumine ones heart and mind (RV: 3.62.10).

Savitr according to Yaska-charya

20.1. Yaska-charya, the great grammarian and etymologist of very ancient India, classifies Savitr both among the Devatha-s of the mid-region (madhyama – sthana) as also among the Devatha-s of the upper-realms (dyus -sthana). Savitr as the Devata of the mid-region, settled beyond interference (aturte), establishes (sthiram akarat) the earth (prihvim) firmly, easily and happily. He is associated with the clouds, the rains, the earth and the mind; and, he holds afloat the sky (akashbhane) without visible support (aalambanam tad-rahite).

20.2. The earth fully established by Savitr (RV: 10.149.1) symbolizes matter. And, the heaven which he holds afloat, without any support, is the consciousness. And, between the two is the mid-region where Savitr has settled Soma (aturte baddham Savita). Soma, here, symbolizes the alert mind which is guided by Savitr along the right path (Savitr is therefore called ‘Sunita’, ‘sushtu neta’). Savitr, in association with Soma is variously described as ‘Asura’ the giver of life (prana-daata), Vi-suparna (possessed of splendid forms).

20.3. Savitr in the upper-realms (dyus-sthana), symbolized by solar orb, is the Devata par excellence. He illumines the earth as well as the atmosphere and the highest realms (nrchaksha yeva devo madhya aastha aa prapivaan rodhasi anthariksham – RV: 10.130.2). He is the very soul of all that moves and all that stays in the world. He is the sight of the human beings who can see (nrchaksha), abiding in the midst of the heart-space (hrudayakasha).

20.4. Yaska-charya (Nirukta: 10.34) cites a mantra from Rig-Veda comparing Savitr with another Vedic god Tvashtr. The Rishi of this mantra is Prajapathi, described as the son of Visvamitra. The skilful Tvashtr provides form to objects (Tvashta rupani pimsatu: 10.184); and   projects the earth and sky alike, just as Savitr does (RV: 10.110.9).

21.1. As a solar god Savitr is related to Truth and to the cosmic order Rta. In that context, Yaska-charya, again, explains the term Savitr as the progenitor, the one who gives birth to all things (Savitr sarvasya prasavita: Nirukta– 10.3). Savitr is hailed as the most real (satya), the source of all order and the true-principles (satya-dharma) that govern all existence.  And, in that sense, Savitr is one with Varuna who represents Satya the Absolute Truth; and, Rta the cosmic order conditioned by space, time and circumstances. Satya is the Truth of Being: and, Rta is the truth of becoming. Savitr Devata is related to both. It is also said; Savitr is Satya, for it is the essence of all things – living and nonliving; with form and without form.  The humans must follow the course of Savitr (satya) and accomplish their tasks (devasya Savithuhu karma kurvanthu manavaha – AV: 6.23.3)

22.1. Yaska-charya calls Savitr as Kavi; as the one who knows all the past, present and future. He is the seer of the beyond, the omniscient. He is the one who draws out sublime thoughts from the womb of mystery; and brings them to light for the benefit of all. Savitr is the most adorable – ‘varenyam’. He inspires all  (Savita sarvasya preraka) to move upwards towards the heavens viz. the higher reaches of consciousness.

22.2. According to Yaska-charya, Savitr is the inner-light, the inner controller (antaryamin). He releases (prasuta) actions from their un-manifest states. And, prompts (su-preraka), inspires and guides all to engage in good thoughts and right actions; and to tread on the right path.

Savitr and Agni

23.1. Savitr, the solar deity is at times identified with Surya as also with Agni who is a Devata of Prithvi-sthana, the earth – region (agnir jyotih, jyotis surya svaaha). Savitr also is Apam-napath, the child of waters; the favourite epithet of Agni.

23.2. When Savitr is associated with Agni, he is described as the ascending flames of Agni (urdhvam keturn). Savitr as Agni is the purifier of all things (pavaka) ; as also of the minds and hearts of humans. Along with Agni, Savitr   becomes a part of the Yajna. Savitr is invoked at the commencement of the Yajna with prayers for the successful completion of a Yajna (Savitr yajnam pranayeti).

23.3. In the context of Yajna, Savitr is also conceived as the visible representation of the year of twelve months (kapala) – (dwadasa –kapalah savitro bhavati; dwadasa vai masah samvathsarasya). The presence of Savitr is symbolized by a circle drawn in the yajna-vedi; and it is surrounded by an altar made of fifteen bricks (ishtaka) symbolizing fifteen days of the first half of the month (purva-paksha); or of the latter half of the month (apara-paksha) .

23.4. At another level, during the Yajna, Savitr becomes the inner-being (antaryamin) and the inspirer (preraka) that dwells in the heart of the performing priest (adhvaryu).

Savitr and Soma

24.1. Savitr the Devata of Gayatri mantra is closely associated with Soma. In every Sukta addressed to Savitr there are mantras which praise Soma. Prayers are submitted to Soma to provide food that is free from contamination and that is free from danger (anamiva ishaskrath) to humans (dvi-paade) and to the animals (chatush-paade). Soma is requested to prolong our lives (ayur-vardaya)   by driving away threats and dangers.

25.1. Soma in the Vedic context has many references: as plant (adh-bhautika), the drink (adhi-yajna), the moon (adhi-daivata) and the mind (adhyatma). Its esoteric meaning is taken as that which provides reality or substance to the un-manifest (satyvataraya agnau suyate tasmat-somah).  Soma as the gentle devoured substance is the partner of Agni the fiery devouring spirit (annada). Soma the substance of the universe is ‘food (anna)’.  Food is the principle of all, for, truly, the beings are born from food, when born they live by food; and when they are dead they themselves become food “(Taittereya Upanishad 3.2)

25.2. Just as with Savitr, Soma is closely associated with Surya too. Soma is often described as bright (aruna bhabru), fascinating (sona) and luminous (hari); and he shines along with the sun (Soma Suryena rochate -RV : 9.2.6). If Surya is the eye of the gods (asau vaa aditya devaanam chakshasu), Soma is the eye of the manes,  pitris (Chandrama vai pitrnam chakshuh). If Surya is the symbol of eyes (chaksho Surya) , Soma is the symbol of mind (Chandrama manaso).

Thus, if one is the sight, the other is the insight.

25.3. Following that, Soma is symbolized as the parent of all mind-process (pita matinaam), the leader of thoughts (neta matinaam) , the protector of wisdom (patir dhiyah) and the master of mind (manasas patih). He is the true (dhira)   knower of all things ( manishi, medhira , vipra) here and beyond (visvavid), hidden (kratu-vid) and revealed (kavi kratu). The secrets of all the senses are laid bare by the shining Soma (devo devaanam guhyani nama-avishkrnoti –RV: 9.95.2). He is the lord of all speech (somo raja vaksah). He is the Lord of the Yajna ; and one who assigns to each Deva his share in the Yajna  (bhagam devabhyo vidadhatyayan ).

25.4. Soma is called here Samudra meaning not only vast but also ever – active mind, the mind which operates creatively and ceaselessly. He is projected in the image of a powerful, unruly and impetus horse (asvam ivadhukshat dhunim).

25.5. In all these references, Soma represents the evolved, well ordered, efficient and far-reaching mind (daksho devanaam asi –RV: 9.85.2) ; the mind that helps us to reach Savitr. Soma is presented as the very soul of sense-function (atmendriyasya bhavasi dhasir uttamah). He is the true source of inspiration to reach Savitr.

26.1. Incidentally, I may mention that there is in the Rig-Veda a hymn (149 of the tenth mandala) associated with Savitr (Savitr pratipaadaka Hiranya –stupa mantra) . The Rishi of this mantra is Archan, the son of Hiranya-stupa who in turn was the son of the most celebrated Rishi Angirasa. Because of his devotion to Savitr,  Archan earned the epithet of Savitarchan.

26.2. Both the father and the son in their hymns addressed to Savitr also praise  Soma – pavamana, the purifier. Hiranya-stupa (father of Archan) adores Soma variously as light (jtothi), bliss (svar), strength or ability (daksha), wisdom (kratu) and protection (uti) – (RV: 9.4.1-3).   Hiranya-stupa prays to Soma to lead him to Savitr or Surya (tvam Surye na aa bhaje – RV: 9.4.5).

26.3. As regards the son Archan; he describes Soma as ‘the other principle’ (anyad abhavat) which came into being after (paschath) Savitr. In his adoration of Savitr (Somasyevamsum prati- jagaraham), Archan invokes the lustrous (amsu) Soma, the one who bestows the wealth of the earth as also that of the heaven (dvi-barhasam rayim).And , prays to Soma to lead him to Savitr.

26.4. Following the family tradition, Archan’s son Syavasva Archanasa also composed hymns devoted to Savitr. His rik appearing in the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda Samhita (5.82.1) gained fame as ‘the other Savitri’ (ity uktatvat savitram).

[Please see Note to paragraph 5.4 above]

Savitr and Surya

27.1. Savitr just as the other Devatha-s of the upper realm (dyus sthana) is a solar deity; he was one of the Adityas. Their several aspects and functions are described variedly as: Pushan the one who nourishes ; Vishnu the one who pervades ; Keshi the one who provides light (pra-kasam) ; Vaisvanara the one who assumes varied forms ; and, Vrshakapi the one becomes red and ascends the sky like a bull.  The Vedic mantras adore the Devatha-s of the upper realm (dyus sthana) by these and other names; for, they all, in essence, are of solar-spirit.

27.2. Savitr, as a solar deity, dispels darkness and makes way for dawn, illumining the entire world. In other words, Savitr is the one that brings forth Surya who causes the day.

27.3. Savitr, here, is conceived as an aspect of Sun before daylight (udayat purvabhavi); and, after daybreak the Sun is called Surya (Surya iti). Thus, Surya is the later form of Savitr. Some say, Savitr is Surya when present below the horizon, but not quite visible.  Savitr is also called Bhaga (Savita Bhagaha: RV 5.82.3)  in a sense of the ‘early (proto)’ Surya.

27.4. Savitr, thus, comes after night (tamas) and before light (jyothi):  (tamasya kirna rashmir bhavathi). It is also said; the night comes at his command sending all beings to rest. Savitr is the bridge between night and light. Night is un-manifest; and light is manifest. Savitr in this sense is both un-manifest (A-vyakta) and manifest (Vyatka).

28.1. Sri Sayana-charya also describes Savitr as the deity who presides during the time between dawn and the emergence of Sun*. Savitr is the emerging rays of light (urdhva bhanum savita devo asred). Savitr, here, is visualized as the power to dispel darkness and enliven all existence (Brhad –devata: 2.61-62).

28.2. Sri Sayana, therefore, regards Savitr as the inspiration, the illumining power of Surya. He expands: “the all-knowing Aditya (Surya), the protector of all beings (gopah) who moves in the mid-region permeating all the three worlds with his rays derives his inspiration (tasya prasave) from Savitr”.

[*Sri Aurobindo interprets night as ignorance. And, once the senses are controlled and the mind is stabilized, Ushas the dawn of consciousness arises. Following her, comes Savitr the awakening, the grace and the inspiration to seek Satya, the Truth, personified by the Surya. “His coming is the advent of God’s hour, awakes the asleep and ennobles the vilest things”.]

28.3. Sri Sayana explains that the expressions Surya and Savitr imply the power to protect, to inspires and flash forth (pra-sauti). He also says Savita is that which enlivens and inspires all beings (Savita sarvasya prerako devah). And, Savitr, like Surya, pervades spreads and holds together different thingsSavitr just as Surya represents light, energy, inspiration, intellect and consciousness.

28.4. Svetasvatara Upanishad (2.7) describes Savitr as a Deva, a luminous god, who shines in the sky with dazzling brilliance (divyati prakashata iti). He is adored by all the gods (sthuyate sarva-devathaihi). The Deva illumines the world and makes all life possible. It is Savitr alone (ekah) that has the power to propel, inspire and flash forth.

29.1. Savitr, here, is the radiance that illumines and enlivens all existence. He provides the inspiration and the impetus to life. He resides in the heart –lotus of the devotees (hrudayaravinde); he is to be meditated upon (upasate); and perceived in meditation (dyatatvat).

29.2. Savitr is truly one’s own self, vivifying the body, the sense –functions and the mind, providing wealth for the total welfare. He lightens up all our thoughts, our resolves and our aspirations.

Savitr and Purusha

30.1. It is said; Savitr is Purusha. The Purusha Sukta of Rig-Veda (10.90.2) describes with awe and wonder the majesty of Purusha. It says; all that exists as the world we know (sarva bhutani) is only one-fourth of the Purusha; and three – fourths of him are in the upper realms beyond our perception (tri paadasyam amrutam divi).

30.2. The Gayatri mantra is said to be four-footed (chatuspaada) when Pranava (Om) accompanies it. However, when Pranava is omitted it is only three-footed (Chatuspaada Gayatri pranavena saha; pranavam vina tripaada). It is said; the fourth paada (turiya paada) is hidden or un-manifest. It represents the Purusha abiding in the solar orb (Surya mandala-antargata-purusha),  beyond intellect.

30.3. It is said; the turiya paada is the un-conditioned and the most subtle aspect of the mantra. And hence, it is named A-paada. This is Savitr in its true nature – un-conditioned by aught and beyond relative existence. It is most worthy of worship (varenyam) and contemplation (dhyayema).

31.1. Savitr or Purusha is cosmic in nature. He fills and enlivens the entire universe; yet, he also dwells hidden in heart-cave of each being as its essence (guru guha), consciousness and strength. He is the antaryamin, the very life of life. Savitr resides in the heart-lotus (hrudaya-aravinda) of the devotee; and there he becomes visible. Hence Savitr is called ‘darsata’, that which is seen. The essentials of our existence are all settled in Savitr, like the spokes of the wheel in its hub.

31.2. This Savitr or Purusha is verily the Brahman (jagat prerakasys Brahma- rupasya Savituh), the supreme consciousness, beyond the three gunas (paro rajasa) and illuminating the three worlds (tapati), ruling over them (adipathya bhavena).

Let’s talk about the components of the Mantra and its import in the next part.

Gayatri scan0001


Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Devi, Gayatri


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Saptamatrka – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

Radiant Goddesses

41.1. The group of seven mother-like goddesses, Matrikas, as commonly accepted, consist Brahmi, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. According to a version of their origin, as narrated in Devi Mahatmya, it is said, the Matrka goddesses were created by male Gods in order to aid Mahadevi in her battle against the demons Shumba and Nishumba.

The Matrkas emerge as Shakthis from out of the bodies of the gods: Brahmi form Brahma; Vaishnavi from Vishnu; Maheshwari from Shiva; Kaumari from Skanda; Varahi from Varaha; and Indrani from Indra. They are armed with the same weapons, wear the same ornaments and ride the same vahanas and also carry the same banners like their corresponding male Gods do. Saptamatrkas as a group indicate transformation of the male identities of gods into goddesses. These seven mother goddesses, celebrated as a group, are an embodiment of the female principle of prakrti, the counterpart of purusha.

Group composition



41.2. The Saptamatrka group is, thus, composed of: two Vaishnava Shakthis (Vaishnavi and Varahi); two Shaiva Shakthis (Maheshwari and Kaumari); one Brahmi Shakthi, in addition to Indrani (Aindri) and Chamunda. It is a group of six Deva Shakthis and one Devi Shakthi, making it into an integrated unit of seven.

42.1. Many have attempted to explain the rationale in the composition of Saptamatrka group. One explanation mentions that the group of seven goddesses was derived from the gods that were considered important during the Gupta period. By then, the major gods – Shiva and Vishnu – had already attained independent – super status within the Vedic pantheon. Brahma was in any case one among the trinity, though a less impressive one. And, Skanda had risen into prominence since the time of Kushanas when he was absorbed into Shiva pantheon; and he developed further during the Gupta era. Varahi the counterpart of Varaha was more popular during the Gupta period than any other avatar of Vishnu. Aindri is the only counterpart of the Vedic gods who by then had lost their importance. Chamunda, of course, represents the principal feminine force. The omission of the counter part of Surya who was a major god, acceptable to all sects, during the Gupta period is rather surprising. Similarly, of Ganapathi who was just beginning to rise to prominence.

42.2. The Saptamatrkas were earlier connected with Skanda (Kumara), but in later times were absorbed into the sect of Shiva himself. Aptly, the Saptamatrka panel begins with Ganesha, the son of Shiva; and ends with an aspect of Shiva such as Bhirava or Virabhadra. Sometimes, Natesha or Vinadhara – Dakshinamurthy represents Shiva. The presence of Ganesha at the beginning of the panel, it is explained, is prompted by the faith that Ganesha as the Lord of the Ganas would remove obstacles; help the devotee in his pursuit; and guide him along   his endeavour. From the sixth century onwards inclusion of Ganesha in the format became a standard practice. Thereafter, depiction of Ganesha and Shiva, and sometimes along with Skanda, became quite common. For instance, In the Matrka panels at Aihole and Elephanta caves Ganesha and Skanda are shown as child gods along with Shiva. Thus, in association with Chamunda, the Saptamatrka panel was rendered into a composite unity.

43.1. As regards the presence of Ganesha and Virabhadra at either ends of the Saptamatrka   panel, Shri DSampath observes, elsewhere: The Saptamatrikas symbolically represent the seven different aggressive tendencies of the female part of a human being. When unleashed; they tend to destroy the wellness that comes out of a fostering mother. Children below the adolescent age are likely to be influenced by such harmful energies. Those adverse influences breed in kids a sort of ’non- motherly’ destructive attitude. And, these aggressive tendencies (energies) are meant to be contained and held in check by the two male energies: of Vinayaka who was ‘mother- born’ and who regarded all women as mothers; and of Virbhadra who could invoke motherly virtues in any woman. Between the manifestation of rational Vinayaka and the fiery Virabhadra these female energies were to be harnessed.

43.2. The other significant aspect about the Saptamatrka group formation is the order in which they appear in the traditional texts. The order symbolizes the cycle of creation and its cessation; and presents it as the functions of female power-Shakthi.

The order of the Saptamatrka usually begins with Brahmi symbolizing creation. It is often represented by the all-comprehensive primordial Nada Om (pranava).Then, Vaishnavi provides the created world with symmetry, beauty and order. Maheshwari, who resides in the hearts of all beings, breaths in life and individuality. Kaumari, Guru-guha, the intimate guide in the cave of one’s heart, inspires aspirations to develop and evolve.  Varahi is the power and aggressive intent to go after enjoyment. Indrani is the sovereignty intolerant of opposition and disorder .Chamunda is the destroyer of delusions and evil tendencies, paving way for spiritual awakening.

43.3. The most important significance of Saptamatrka symbolism is the implication of the cyclical universal time and its cessation. In the standard versions, Brahmi symbolizes creation; Vaishnavi the preserver occupies the central position flanked by three goddesses on each side. The cycle of periodic time ends with dissolution symbolized by Chamunda. She is the only Devi Shakthi among the Matrkas. She is at times depicted as one who exists beyond death and time. Kalabhairava, who usually appears at the end of the Saptamatrka panel, symbolizes liberation from cycle of birth and death. Thus, it is said, Saptamatrkas epitomize the process of creation, preservation and death; and, the final liberation that takes one beyond time. This is in tune with the Shaktha theology which rationalizes creation, preservation and destruction of the world as the functions of female power-the Shakthi.

In Sri Chakra

44.1. In the Sri Chakra, Chatushra the outermost four-sided square field (bhupura – the earth stretch) known as Trailokya-mohana-chakra is composed of three lines which make way for four doors (dwara) on four directions.  These sets of lines are also described as the layers of the enclosure wall which surround the city of the Devi (Tripura). The three lines are understood to represent three planes of existence: attainments, obstructions and powers. The three planes are related to the body-mind complex and its experiences with the world around. The associated goddesses are worshiped by the aspirant seeking protection and guidance as he/she enters into Sri Chakra.

44.2. Along the outer line the ten Siddhis (attainment-divinities) reside; along the middle line reside eight Matraka  the Mother-like powers; and, and along the inner line are the ten Mudra-devatas (goddess who empower).

44.3. As said; the middle wall (line) is guarded by the Matrkas. The wall is red in colour; the red of the rising sun, signifying the  Rajo guna of the Matrkas who are said to represent eight types of passions. The Matrkas, according to Bhavanopanishad of Bhaskararaya Makhin, are said to be dark blue in color; wearing red garments; carrying a red lotus and a bowl filled with nectar.

44. 4. The Bhavanopanishad (9) recognizes Matrkas as eight types of un-favourable dispositions, such as: desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride, jealousy, demerit and merit.  Tantra-raja-tantra (36; 15-16) expands on that and  identifies Brahmi with desire (Kama);Maheshwari with the tendency to degenerate and dissipate (krodha);Kaumari with youthful longings to enjoy (lobha);Vaishnavi with power to fascinate and delude (moha); Varahi with pride and arrogance (mada);Indrani with jealousy and envy (matsarya);Chamunda with urge to sin (papa) and hurt(abhichara); and , Mahalakshmi with doing good (punya) with other than altruistic reasons. Matrkas who rule over such un-favourable dispositions are worshipped by the Sadhaka with prayers to suppress and overcome the evil tendencies that obstruct his progress.

44.5. According to Khadgamala (vamachara) tradition of Sri Vidya, the eight Matrkas are located along the wall (four at the doors and four at the corners) guarding the city (Tripura) on all eight directions: Brahmi on the West; Maheshwari on the North; Kaumari on the East; Vaishnavi on the South; Varahi on North-west; Aindri on the North-east; Chamunda on the South-east; and, Mahalakshmi on the South-west. Please see the figure below.

44.6. As you may notice, the Matrkas of Rajo–guna who govern over human passions are on the outer layer of the Sri Yantra. This signifies that the Sadhaka should get past passions and prejudices before he enters into the city of the Devi.



Hamsarudha prakarrtavaya sukastraka-mandala
Sutram cha pusthakam ghate urdhva-hastha advaye shubhe (Rupamandana)


45.1. Brahmi or Brahmani the first Matrka is the shakthi of Brahma. She is depicted in bright golden complexion, having four faces and four hands. In her back- right hand, she carries a kamandalu and in the back- left hand an Akshamala. The front- right hand gestures Abhaya and the front- left hand bestows Varada. She is seated under a Palasha tree,   upon a red lotus. She is adorned in a mellow bright garment (Pitambara) and various ornaments; and, has on her head karanda-makuta. Her vahana and her emblem is the swan (Hamsa): (Amsumadbhedagama and Purva-karanagama).

45.2. The Vishnudharmottara describes Brahmi as having six hands. Of the three hands on the left, the lowest one gestures Abhaya; while the other two hold Pustaka (book) and kamandalu. On her right, the lowest hand gestures Varada; while the other two hold Sutra and Sruva (a ladle for pouring oblations of ghee into fire). It also mentions deer-skin as a part of her attire.

Aum Dhevee Brahmani Vidmahe

Maha-shakthiyai Cha Dhimahee
Thanno Dhevee Prachodayath



Vaishnavi Vishnu saddasi Garudapasi samsthitha

Chaturbhuja varada shankha chakra gadadhara (Rupamandana)


46.1. Vaishnavi is the Shakthi of Vishnu. She is seated upon a lotus, under a Raja – vriksha, the great tree. She is dark in complexion. She has a lovely face, pretty eyes and wears a bright yellow garment. Her head is adorned with kirita-makuta. She is richly decorated with ornaments generally worn by Vishnu. She wears the Vanamala, the characteristic garland of Vishnu. The emblem on her banner as well as her vahana is the Garuda. When depicted with four arms, she carries in one of her hands the chakra and in the corresponding left hand the shankha; her two other hands are held in the Abhaya and the Varada mudra. (Devi-Purana and Purvakaranagama)

46.2. The Vishnudharmottara states that like Brahmani, Vaishnavi also has six hands; the right hands are characterized by the Gada, Padma and Abhaya and the left ones by Shankha, Chakra and Varada.

Aum Thaarksh Yathwajaaya Vidmahe

Chakra Hasthaya Dhimahee

Thanno Vaishnavi Prachodayath



Maheshwari prakarrtavaya Vrishabasana samasthitha

Kapala shula khatvanga varada cha chaturbhuja  (Rupamandana)

47.1. Maheshwari also known as   Raudri, Rudrani and Maheshi is the Shakthi of Shiva. She is white in complexion; and has   three eyes. She is depicted with four arms; two of which are in the Varada and the Abhaya mudra, while the other two hands hold the Trishula and Akshamala .Sometimes, she is also shown holding Panapatra (drinking vessel) or axe or an antelope or a kapala (skull-bowl) or a serpent. Her banner as well as the vahana is Nandi (bull). She wears snake-bracelets; and   Jata -makuta on her head.

47.2. The Vishnudharmottara mentions that Goddess Maheshwari should be depicted with five faces, each possessing three eyes and each adorned with jata-makuta crown and crescent moon. Her complexion is white. She is depicted with six arms. In four of the hands she carries the Sutra, Damaru, Shula and Ghanta. The other two hands gesture Abhaya and Varada mudra. Her banner also has the Bull for its emblem.

Aum Vrushath-vajaaya Vidmahe

Miruga Hasthaya Dhimahee

Thanno Maheshwari Prachodayath



Indrani Indra-sadrishi vajra-shlu-gada dhara

Gajasngata Devi lochanirvasu bhivrta (Rupamandana)


48.1. Aindri, also known as Indrani, Mahendri, Shakri and Vajri, is the shakthi of Indra; her complexion is dark- red. She is seated under the Kalpaka tree. She is depicted as having two or three or a thousand eyes, like Indra. The Indrani is depicted with four arms. In two of her hands she carries the Vajra (thunderbolt) and the shakthi; while the other   two gesture Varada and Abhaya mudra. Sometimes, she is shown holding Ankusha (goad) and lotus. She is richly ornamented; and adorned with Kirita Makuta. Her vahana as well as the emblem on her banner is the charging elephant. (Devi-purana and Purvakaranagama)

48.2. According to the Vishnudharmottara, Indrani should be depicted with thousand eyes; and she should be of golden colour. She should have six arms, four of the hands carrying the sutra, Vajra, Kalasa (a pot) and Patra (a drinking cup) and the remaining hands being held in Abhaya and Varada mudra.

Aum Gajath-vajaayai Vidmahe

Vajra Hasthaya Dhimahee

Thanno Indrani Prachodayath



Varahim tu pravakshyami mahiso rismsthtam
Varaha-sadrisham ghantanada chamara-dharini
Ghanta chakra gada-dhara padma danvendra vighatini
Lokanamcha hitarthaya sarvavyadhi vinasini (Rupamandana)


49.1. Varahi is the Shakthi of Varaha, an incarnation of Vishnu. The Markendeya Purana praises Varahi as a granter of boons and the regent of the northern direction.  Varahi is shown with the face of a boar and having dark complexion resembling the storm cloud. She is sometimes called Dhruma Varahi (dark Varahi) and Dhumavati (goddess of darkness). Varahi is seated under Kalpaka tree. And, her Vahana as well as the emblem on her banner is an elephant. She wears on her head a Karanda Makuta and is adorned with ornaments made of corals. She wears on her legs Nupura-anklets. She wields the hala and the shakthi and is seated under a Kalpaka tree. The PurvaKaranayama says that she carries Sarnga-Dhanush (bow), the hala (plough) and musula (pestle) as her weapons.

49.2. In other descriptions, Varahi is identified as the Yami, the shakthi of Yama. Varahi is described holding a Danda (rod of punishment) or plough, goad, a Vajra or a sword, and a Panapatra. Sometimes, she is said to carry a bell, chakra, chamara (bunch of yak’s hair  used as flywhisk) and a bow; and riding a buffalo.

49.3. In the Raktabija episode of Devi Purana, Varahi is described as having a boar form, fighting demons with her tusks while seated on a preta (ghoul).

49.4. To this description the Vishnudharmottara adds that Varahi has a big belly and six hands, in four of which she carries the Danda (staff of punishment), khetaka (shield), khadga (sword), and pasha (noose); while the two other hands gesture Abhaya and Varada mudra-s.

49.5. When depicted as part of the Sapta-Matrika group, Varahi who is called Panchami (the Fivefold One) is always in the fifth position in the row of Matrikas. It is explained; Varahi summarizes fivefold elements: water, fire, earth, air and ether. Each of these elements is related to lion, tiger, elephant, horse and Garuda (bird-human) which serve as vehicles of Vishnu. Varahi as the shakthi of Vishnu is depicted with head of a boar having three eyes and eight arms holding in her six hands a discus, conch-shell, mace, lotus, noose and plough; while the other two hands gesture Abhaya and Varada mudra-s. She is depicted as riding, alternatively, a Garuda, a tiger, a lion, an elephant or a horse.

49.6. In the Sri Vidya tradition, Varahi occupies a special position as Para-Vidya (superior power) .She is described as Dandanayika or Dandanatha – the commander-general of goddess Tripurasundari’s army. She is also the chief- counsellor (maha-mantrini) to the Devi. Varahi is also said to stand in a ‘father’ position to the Devi, while Kurukulla is the ‘mother’.

49.7. Varahi has presence in the Buddhist Tantric lore, also. There, she is described as the fierce Vajra-varahi or Vajra-yogini.

Aum Varaaha-muhi Vidmahe

Aanthra-shani Dhimahee

Thanno Yamuna Prachodayath



Kumaara rupa Kaumari mayura bar vahana
Raktha vastra dhara padma-shula-shakthi-gandhara eti Kaumari (Rupamandana)


50.1. Kaumari also known as Kumari, Karttikeyani and Ambika is the power of Kumara or Skanda; the war – god .Her depictions resemble that of Kumara. She is ever youthful, representing aspirations in life. Kaumari is also regarded as Guru-Guha the intimate guide who resides in the cave of one’s heart. She is shown seated under a fig tree (Oudumbara) riding a peacock, which is also her emblem.  Her complexion is golden yellow; and is dressed in red garments. She wears garland of red flowers. Kaumari has four hands; and carries Shakthi and Kukkuta (cockerel) or Ankusha (goad). The other two hands gesture Abhaya and Varada mudras. She is adorned with a makuta said to be bound with Vasika or Vachika. She embodies ideas of valour and courage. (Purvakaranagama and Devi Purana).

50.2. According to the Vishnudharmottara, Kaumari should be shown with six faces and twelve arms; two of her hands gesturing Abhaya and Varada mudras.  In her other hands she carries the Shakthi, Dhvaja, Danda, Dhanus, Bana, Ghanta, Padma, Patra and Parasu. Each of her heads has three eyes; and is adorned with karanda-makuta.

Aum Sikid-vajaaya Vidmahe

Vajra Hasthaya Dhimahee

Thanno Kowmari Prachodayath



Dastrala kshindeha chagatrakarshana bhimrudani

Dig-bahuksham kushisa musalan chakra marganaum//
Ankusha bibharti khadgam daksnesvatah
Khetaasa dhanurdandam kutharam chalti bibarti//
Chamunda pretaga raktha bikratasyahi bhusanath
Dvibhuja prakatray kartika karyamnuintra //


51.1. Chamunda also known as Chamundi and Charchika is the Shakthi of Devi (Chandi). She is the destructive form of Devi; and is similar in appearance and habits to Kali.  Devi Mahatmya recounts that in the course of her fight with demons Chanda and Munda, Devi created from her forehead the terrible form of Chamunda. Unlike other Matrikas, Chamunda is an independent goddess. She is also praised as the fertility goddess of Vindhya Mountains She is also associated with Yama. The descriptions of Chamunda are varied.

51.2. One of the descriptions of Chamunda mention of her as a goddess of terrible countenance, black and scowling, with drawn sword and lasso, holding a Khatvanga, wearing a garland of severed heads  (munda-mala) suspended by their hair. Chamunda is clad in a tiger skin, hungry and emaciated, mouth hideously distorted and the tongue protruding out. She sits upon a seat made of three skulls; and has a cadaver for footrest. She plucked off the heads of Chanda and Munda and presented both heads to Kausiki.

51.3. In other descriptions, a bear’s skin is tied over Chamunda’s clinging skirt, with its head and legs dangling on her back. She wears the skin of an elephant as a cape and grasps two of the animal’s feet in her uppermost hands. In her other hands she brandishes an array of weapons and awe-inspiring objects.

51.4. Chamunda is often depicted as dark in colour with very emaciated body, having three eyes, sunken belly and a terrifying face with a wide grin. Her hair is abundant and thick and bristles upwards. Her abode is under fig (oudumbara) tree. On her sunken chest, swings garland of skulls (mundamala) in the manner of a Yajnopavita. She wears a very heavy jata-makuta formed of piled, matted hair tied with snakes or skull ornaments. Sometimes, a crescent moon is seen on her head. Her garment is the tiger skin. Chamunda is depicted adorned by ornaments of bones, skulls, serpents and scorpions, symbols of disease and death. And in her four hands she holds damaru (drum), trishula (trident), khadga (sword) and panapatra (drink-vessel). She is riding a Jackal; or is seated in Padmasana or is standing on a corpse of a male (shava or preta).She is accompanied by fiends and goblins. She is surrounded by skeletons or ghosts and beasts like jackals, who eat the flesh of the corpse that the goddess sits or stands on. The jackals and her fearsome companions are sometimes depicted as drinking blood from the skull-cup or blood dripping from the severed head.

51.5. Purva-karanagama mentions that Chamunda, red in colour, should be depicted with wide open mouth set in a terrifying face having three eyes. Her socket eyes are described as burning like flames. She has a sunken belly; and, wears on her head the digit of the moon as Siva does. She has four arms. The black or red coloured Chamunda is described as having four, eight, ten or twelve arms, holding a Damaru (drum), trishula (trident), sword, a snake, skull-mace (khatvanga), thunderbolt, a severed head and panapatra (drinking vessel, wine cup) or skull-bowl (kapala), filled with blood, an urn of fire. She wears in her ears Kundla-s made of Conch shell (Sankha Patra). Her Vahana is an Owl; and the emblem of her banner an Eagle.

51.6. Vishnudharmottara describes Chamunda as having a terrific face with powerful tusks and seated upon a male corpse. She has a very emaciated body and sunken eyes and ten hands. The belly of this goddess is thin and apparently empty. She carries in her ten hands: Musala, Kavacha, Bana, Ankusha, Khadga, Khetaka, Dhanus, Danda and Parasu.

Aum Pisaasath-vajaaya Vidmahe

Soola Hasthaya Dhimahee

Thanno Kali Prachodayath



52.1. In the Devi Mahatmya, the Saptamatrkas (the seven Matrkas) mentioned are: Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. At times, Narasimhi is mentioned in place of Chamunda. In some versions, the Martkas are counted as eight (Ashta-Matara) by including Narasimhi. There is also a tradition of Ashtamatrikas, eight Matrkas, which is prevalent in Nepal region. In Nepal, the eighth Matrka is Maha-Lakshmi (she is different from Vaishnavi). Narasimhi does not figure in the lists of Devi Purana and in Nepal.

52.2. Narasimhi or Narasimhini or Narasimhika with the face of a lion, fierce claws and four arms is the shakthi of Narasimha. She is said to have came out from the heart of the Devi. As Matrka, Narasimhi is regarded as an independent deity; and not as a female counterpart of Narasimha. In The Vaishnava School, she is believed to be an aspect of Lakshmi who pacified the ferocious Narasimha.

52.3. In Devi Mahatmya, Narasimhi accompanies Devi in the fight against demons Shumbha and Nishumba. There Narasimhi is described as a ferocious warrior: Narasimhi arrived there, assuming a body like that of a Narasimha throwing the stars into disarray, bringing down the constellations by the toss of her mane (DM: 20) . And, Narasimhi, filling all the quarters and the sky with her roars, roamed about in the battle, devouring other great asuras torn by her claws (DM: 37).

52.4. Narasimhi is sometimes identified with Pratyangira who is endowed with four arms and a face as terrible as that of a lion. Her head is that of a male lion and her body is that of a human-female. Her hair stands erect on her head. In her hands she holds a skull, trident, Damaru and the noose (nagapasa).  She is seated on a lion and by her power destroys all enemies.

52.5. In Tantric worship, Pratyangira is shown with a dark complexion, ferocious in aspect, having a lion’s face with reddened eyes and riding a lion wearing black garments, she wears a garland of human skulls; her hair strands on end, and she holds a trident, a serpent in the form of a noose, a hand-drum and a skull in her four hands. She is also associated with Bhairava, as Atharvana-Bhadra-Kali.

Sri Pratyangira Devi is also associated with Sri Chakra. She protects the devotees and guides him/her along the right path.

52.6. The Shaiva School suggests that Pratyangira sprung from the wings of Lord Sharabesha, the bird-lion-human form that Shiva assumed to pacify (subdue) the ferocious Narasimha.

[According to Kalikagama, the body of Sharabha should be that of a bird of golden hue, having two red eyes; and it should have two up-lifted wings and eight limbs. Sharabha, which is said to be mightier than an elephant, should have the fierce face of a lion grinning widely, having tusks and   wearing kirita makuta. The torso of Sharabha resembles that of human male having four hands .The lower part of its body should resemble that of a lion having four legs, sharp claws and a tail. Sharabha should be shown carrying the figure of Narasimha in his human form with upraised folded hands, anjali mudra. ]


53.1. Mahalakshmi is counted as the eighth Matrika in the Asta-matrika tradition followed in the Nepal region. Mahalakshmi, as Matrka, is not derived from Devi Mahatmya, although she is described as “Universal Mother’ in other contexts. As Matrka, Mahalakshmi is regarded as an aspect of Durga; not as Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu. Mahalakshmi here represents her subtle aspect as Mind, specially her Sovereignty.

53.2. In the Shaktha tradition, Mahalakshmi is an independent Supreme Divinity manifesting herself as Maha-Sarasvathi (Sattva), Mahalakshmi (Rajas) and as Maha-Kali (Tamas).

Devi Mahatmya explains Mahalakshmi as Devi in her universal form as Shakthi. She is the primordial energy and was the first to appear before everything (sarva-sadhya); she is both devoid of form (nirakara) and filled with forms (sakara);   she is both manifest and un-manifest; She is the essence of all things (sarva sattva mayi). She creates and governs all existence (Isvari), and is known by various names (nana-abhidana-brut). She is the ultimate goal of yoga.  Mahalakshmi is the creator of the Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra.

53.3. Mahalakshmi is the presiding Goddess of the Middle episode (Chapters 2-4) of Devi Mahatmya. In her manifestation as Mahalakshmi, the Devi destroys the demon Mahishasura. The Goddess fought the demon for nine days starting from prathipath (the first day of the brighter halfof the month of Ashvayuja; and killed the demon on the tenth day Vijaya-Dashami ending his reign of evil and terror. Her victory symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

53.4. Mahalakshmi described as having been created by the effulgence of all the gods is depicted as Ashtadasha Bhuja Mahalakshmi, with eighteen arms.

Skanda Purana (Sahyadri khanda) describes Mahalakshmi as: “She who springs from the body of all gods has a thousand or indeed countless arms, although her image is shown with eighteen hands. Her face is white made from the light streaming from the face of Shiva. Her arms are made of substance of Vishnu are deep blue; her round breasts made of Soma are white. Her waist is Indra and is red. Her feet sprung from Brahma are also red; while her calves’ and thigh sprung from Varuna are blue. She wears a gaily coloured lower garment, brilliant garlands and a veil. In her eighteen arms, starting from the lower left, she holds in her hands : a rosary, a lotus, an arrow, a sword, a hatchet, a club, a discus, an ax, a trident, a conch, a bell, , a noose, a sphere, a stick, a hide, a bow, a chalice and a water pot.”

The Chandi Kalpa adds that Mahalakshmi should be seated upon a lotus (saroja sthitha) and her complexion must be that of coral (pravala prabha).

54.4. When she is shown with four hands, Mahalakshmi is depicted as seated on a lotus throne, holding padma, shankha, a kalasha and a fruit (bilva or maatulunga). Her four hands signify her power to grant the four types (chatur vidha) of human attainments (purushartha): dharma, artha, Kama and moksha.

54.5. The Shilpa text Rupa-mandana suggests Mahalakshmi with four arms (chatur-bhuja) should be depicted in the colour of molten-gold (taptha-kanchana-sannibha) and decorated with golden ornaments (kanchana bhushana). She is also described as having complexion of coral; and seated on a lotus. Her four hands carry matulunga fruit, mace, shield and bowl of liquor. Her head must be adorned with snake-hood and a linga.

[Note: 1.

The head-gears mentioned for the Matrkas are commonly the Kirita -makutaKaranda-makuta and Jata-makutaMansara, the ancient text of Shilpa shastra, classifies these types of head-gears under the term makuta or mouli (MansaraMauli-lakshanam: 49; 1-232). For all makuta-s, the width commencing from the bottom should be gradually made lesser and lesser towards the top.

Among these, the Kirita-makuta is an elaborate crown that adorns major gods such as Vishnu and his forms (Narayana) and also emperors (Sarvabhouma).It has the appearance of Taranga-s (waves) and its middle is made into the shape of flowers and adorned with precious stones. The base of the Kirita-makuta should be curved like a crescent (ardha-chandra) just above the forehead. The height of the Kirita-makuta should be two or three times the length of the wearer’s face.

The Karanda-makuta is prescribed for lesser gods and for goddesses when depicted along with their spouse. It is simpler and shallower as compared to Kirita-makuta. The Karanda-makuta is a small conical cornet receding in tier. It is   shaped like an inverted flowerpot, tapering from the bottom upwards and ending in a bud. The width of a Karanda-makuta at the top should, however, be only one-half or one-third less than that at its base.

The jata- makuta is suitable according to Mansara for Brahma and Rudra, as also for consorts of Shiva. Jata-makuta, is made up of jata or matted locks, which are twisted into encircling braids of spiral curls and tied into a knot looped at the top. It is held in place by a patta (band); and is adorned with forest flowers and by a number of ornamental discs like the makara-kutapatra-kuta, and the ratna-kuta. In the case of Shiva, the jata-makuta is adorned with a crescent of the moon, a cobra and the Ganga.

In the case of Matrkas:  Vaishnavi and Aindri are adorned with kirita-makuta; Brahmi, Varahi and Kaumari with karanda-makuta; while Maheshwari and Chamunda are adorned with jata-makuta.


Note: 2.

Among the ayudhas carried by the Matrka deities the following are commonly mentioned: Khadga (Sword) ; Trishula (Trident) ; (Chakra Thunder – disc) Gada or Khitaka (Mace) ; Dhanush (Bow) ; Bana (Arrow ); Javelin (Bharji) ; Parashu (Battle- Axe) ;  Musula (pestle) ;  Danda (staff);khatvanga (skull-mace), khetaka or Sipar (shield); Ankusha (Goad) ; Sutra or Pasha(Noose or lasso); Damaru (drum); Panapatra (drinking cup); Ghanta (Bell) ; Akshamala (rosary) ;  Pustaka (book) ; kamandalu (water pot) ; and Vanamala (garland of forest-flowers ). ]

References and Sources

The iconography of the saptamatrikas: by Katherine Anne Harper: Edwin Mellen press ltd (1989-10)

Saptamatrka Worship and Sculptures by Shivaji K Panikkar; DK Print World (1997).

The Roots of Tantra by Katherine Anne Harper (2002)

Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions by David Kinsley; (1987)

Tribal Roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari; Sarup and Sons (2002)

The Portrait of the Goddess in the Devī-māhātmya by David Kinsley

The Little Goddesses (Matrikas) by Aryan, K.C; Rekha Prakashan (1980)

Goddesses in Ancient India by P K Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

The Tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao ; Sharada Prakashana (1983)


Sapta Matrikas and Matrikas

The mother goddess in Indian sculpture By Cyril Veliath

Some discussions on the Skanda – Tantra and Balagrahas

The Mahabharata of Krishna –Dwaipayana Vyasa (Book 3, Part 2) Section 229

Devis of the first enclosure

All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Devi, Saptamatrka


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Saptamatrka – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Saptamatrka in texts

In the early references to Matrkas they are mentioned as groups of goddesses. Their numbers vary from text to text and from episode to episode. Their natures and dispositions too are varied.   They function as a group; and all references to them are as a group. They are generally characterized as inauspicious and dangerous.


26. There is no mention of Matrkas in Ramayana. The earliest references to a group of Matrkas goddesses known as Matraha or Matragana appear in Mahabharata. Its Sections in Vanaparva and Shalyaparva – narrate various versions carrying copious descriptions of Matrka in the context of the conception, birth, abhishekha* and marriage of Skanda. Of the two sets of references, the one in Vanaparva is considered older and more helpful in understanding the concept of Balagraha. These narrations, in general, portray Matrkas as dangerous and fearsome goddesses.

[*The varied versions of Skanda’s origins seem to be shrouded in a range of tribal legends of martial nature. Skanda, it appears, established his superiority over many other gods by his sheer power; and was eventually accepted as their commander – in – chief, replacing Indra. To celebrate the occasion a formal Abhishekha was held.]

Vana parva

26.1. Vana-parva mentions a group of goddesses called Lokamata, Mothers – of – the world (Mbh: VP: 215.216). All the Lokamata, numbering about sixteenare said to be of inauspicious qualities and loathsome habits. Two of these goddesses are described. One of them (Vinata) is born of anger and carries a spike. The other (Lohitayani) – a daughter of sea, red in complexion and of bad temper – is said to live on blood. It is likely that the others in the group were also of inauspicious nature. They were sent by Indra to kill the newborn Skanda. When they approached the infant, their maternal instincts raise, their breasts ooze milk and they cannot bring themselves to kill Skanda, as commanded by Indra. They then request Skanda to adopt them as his mothers (215.18).

26.2. In the other accounts narrated in Mahabharata surrounding Skanda’s birth, a host of goddesses emerge from Skanda, when Indra strikes him with his thunderbolt (vajra). Skanda adopts all of them as his mothers and divides them into Shiva and a-Shiva, groups of good and evil spirits. The auspicious Matrkas – Devasena –   are said to be: Sasti, Laksmi, Asa, Sukhaprada, Sadvrtti, Aparajita, Sinivali and Khuhu. The eight ferocious and terrifying   goddesses of malicious nature given to stealing children (asiva-matrka) are: Kaki, Halima, Malini, Brhali, Arya, Brahmata, Palala and Vaimitra.

26.3. The dangerous nature of the Matrkas is elaborated in another version of the episode that is also related to the birth of Kartikeya or Skanda. It   says that the six wives of sages (among the wives of Sapta-rishis; excepting Arundhati) were alleged to be the biological mothers of Skanda; hence banished by their husbands on suspicion of being adulterous. The forlorn wives approach Skanda and beg him to adopt them as his mothers. He agrees to their request. The six ask Skanda to grant them two boons. One, to be recognized and worshipped by all as Maha-matrkas , Great Mothers; and two , to be allowed to pester and harm children , since they have been banished unjustly and have no further chance of bearing children. Skanda accepts to the first; but is reluctant to grant the second request as it pains him to see the children hurt. He asks Matrkas to protect children instead of harming them. They agree. But in the closing lines of that episode, Skanda allows the Matrkas to afflict children until their age of   sixteen: “In your various forms, you may torment children until they are sixteen. Thereafter you have to protect them“. Further, he grants them his terrible form Skanda-Apasmara (identified with Vishakaha) who torments (graha) children. They continue to have their violent nature. These six Rishi-patnis who turned into Matrkas are identified or associated with Krittika; the constellation of fiery nature [Pleiades (star cluster)] presided over by Agni. Skanda comes to be known also as Kartikeya or Krittikaputra or Krittikasuta.

[The classical literature mentions Krittikas as six. The earlier tradition counted them as seven. It was said: “The Krittikas are six. But when they ascended into heaven they became seven stars (Saptasirasabham)”.They are also known as many (bahula) emphasizing their plurality; and hence Skanda is celebrated as Bahuleya. The seven stars as named in Taittareya Brahmana (TB: are: Amba; Dula; Nitatni; Abhrayanti; Meghayanti; Varshayanti; and Chupunika.]

26.4. Another list of ten female sprits is mentioned in the subsequent episode of the story. All of them serve inauspicious purposes; and have hideous forms. They are described as given to eating flesh, drinking strong intoxicants, prowling about in the confinement chamber where birth takes place. They torment pregnant women, and are also a threat to the newborn’s life, especially,   during its first ten days. They torment children until they are sixteen years of age in various ways; but later, they act as positive influences. The ten are named as: Vinata, Kadru, Putana, Shita Putana, Revathi, Diti, Surabhi, Sarama, Lohitayani and Arya. Elsewhere they are listed as: Sakuni, Revathi, Mukhamadika, Vinata, Putana, Sitaputana, Lohitayani and Sarama. They all are classified as grahas (seizers) or Rakkasi (demons) or Pisachas (ghouls). All but two of these (Vinata and Lohitayani) are blood thirsty. But, all harm pregnant women and attack children by surprise. Apart from these ten spirits, eighteen other grahas are mentioned, without naming them specifically.

26.5. Notable among the female spirits is Putana Rakshashi who appears in Bhagvata Purana as the stalker in the night and as one who kills children by poisoning them. She tried to kill the infant Krishna by suckling him with poisoned breast milk. But, she was eventually destroyed by Krishna. Another evil goddess Jara is mentioned in Sabha Parva (Mahabharata: 16.40-17.45).She joins together (sandhi) two pieces of a newborn and makes it into a whole baby-boy. He is named Jarasandha (the one who is put together by Jara); and he later becomes the powerful king of Magadha.

26.6. Among the other grahas, it is said, Sakuni harms children and Kadru assumes subtle forms to enter into pregnant women. The mothers of the afflicted children, praying for relief, are recommended to worship Karanjeya tree. Lohitayani, the daughter of Red sea, who nursed Skanda, is to be worshipped under Kadamba tree. Arya is to be worshipped for fulfilment of desires. All these goddesses that are harmful to children till they are sixteen are classified as the grahas of Kumara (Skanda).They are to be worshipped along with Skanda.

[Many have wondered about Matrka’s obsession to attack children. Some say; these beliefs originated in the fear that women who die childless or in childbirth might linger on as evil spirits envious of other women and their children. Matrkas are therefore feared. And that fear continues to haunt even today. The mothers are chary of talking too much about the charm and attraction of their   pretty looking little ones. It is not considered safe for children to attract the attention of the evil ‘eyes’ of the goddesses. And, sometimes; the mothers mark their well adorned children with a spot of collyrium or other dark substance on their cheeks to hide their beauty. These practices mixed with hope and fears are meant to safeguard the children .The mothers fondly hope to prevent spiteful goddesses from noticing their good-looking children, lest the jealous might harm the dear little children.]

The myth of the genesis of Skanda in the Vana parva of Mahabharata establishes the emergence of Skanda cult in association with the heterogeneous Matrkas. The same theme appears in the later Puranas. If read together, they outline the evolution and the widening of Skanda cult.

Shalya Parva

27.1. The Chapter 46 of Shalya Parva of Mahabharata narrates the elevation of Kartikeya as the Supreme Commander of the godly forces (Deva-senapathi). There is a long list of 213 Matrkas (the text says there are many more female beings whose names are not mentioned) or warriors who fight under the command of Kartikeya in his battles against the demons. Please click here for the list.

As a group, this host of female warriors is described in different ways. Mahabharata gives a graphic description of their appearances: Some of them are lovely to look at, with fair skin, cheerful and youthful; while the others are of inauspicious qualities and have long nails, broad teethe, red eyes and protruding lips, inspiring fear. They all fight valiantly like Indra in the battle.

27.2. It said; “These and many others Matrkas numbering by thousands… of diverse forms become the followers of Kartikeya. Their nails are long; their teeth are broad and their lips protruding. Of straight forms and sweet nature all of them endowed with youth, were decked in ornaments. Possessed of ascetic merit, they were capable of assuming any form at will. Not having much flesh on their limbs, they were dark and looked like clouds in hue and some were of the color of smoke. The braids of some were tied upwards; and the eyes of some were tawny; and some had girdles that were very long. Some had long stomachs, some had long ears; and some had long breasts. Some had coppery eyes and coppery complexion; and the eyes of some were green.

They all have their abode in inaccessible places away from human settlements, on trees and open spots and crossings of roads. They also live in caves and crematoriums, mountains and springs. They of hideous appearance are adorned with weird ornaments, they wear diverse kinds of attires and speak different strange languages. These and many other tribes of mothers are all capable of inspiring foes with dread, followed by high souled Kartikeya the chief commander of the celestials.” (Book 9: Shalya Parva: Section 46).

And some others were endued with the splendour of the morning sun and were highly blessed. Possessed of long tresses, they were clad in robes of white. Of invincible power and might their prowess was also invincible. Capable of granting boons and of travelling at will; they always were cheerful. Possessed of great strength, some amongst them partook of the nature of Yama, some of Rudra, some of Soma, some of Kubera, some of Varuna, some of Indra, and some of Agni. And some partook of the nature of Vayu, some of Kumara, some of Brahma, and some of Vishnu and some of Surya, and some of Varaha. Of charming and delightful features, they were beautiful like the asuras. In voice they resembled the kokila and in prosperity they resembled the Lord of Treasures. In battle, their energy resembled that of Shakra (Indra). In splendour they resembled fire. In battle they always struck their foes with terror. Capable of assuming any form at will, in fleetness they resembled the very wind. Of inconceivable might and energy, their prowess also was inconceivable.

27.3. Most other references in Mahabharata depict the Matrkas as inauspicious, fearful looking and dangerous to children. Though they eventually serve Kartikeya as his mother, their initial task was to kill him.

Devi Mahatmya

28.1. The first literary version of the group is mentioned in Devi Mahatmya. Here again, there are various versions about the origin of the Matrkas.

28.2. According to a latter episode of Devi Mahatmya and the one in Vamana Purana, Durga created Matrkas from herself; and with their help slaughtered the demon army.

28.3. In another important chapter of Devi Mahatmya, it is said, the Matrka goddesses were created by male Gods in order to aid Mahadevi in the battle against the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. The Matrkas emerge as Shakthis from out of the bodies of the gods: Brahma, Shiva, Skanda, Vishnu and Indra. The texts describe their appearances and the destruction of the demons:

“Shakthis having sprung from the bodies of Brahma, Shiva, Skanda, Vishnu, and Indra; and having the form of each approached Chandika. Whatever, form, ornament and mount a particular god possessed, with that very form did his Shakthi go forth to fight the Asuras. In a heavenly conveyance drawn by swans with rosary and water pot came forth the Shakthi of Brahma: she is known as Brahmi. Maheshwari sallied forth, mounted on a bull, bearing the best of the tridents, with serpents for bracelets, adorned with the crescent of the moon. Ambika having the form of Guha (Skanda) as Kaumari went forth to fight the demons, with spear in hand, having the best of peacocks as her mount. Then Shakthi known as Vaishnavi went forth, mounted on Garuda, with conch, discus, club, bow and sword in her hand. The Shakthi of Hari who has the matchless form of a sacrificial Boar then came forth bearing the body of a sow. Narasimhi having the form like the man-lion then came forth with many a constellation cast down by the tossing of her mane. Then Aindri with thunderbolt in her hand, mounted upon the lord of elephants went forth; she had thousand eyes just like Indra. Then Shiva surrounded by the Shakthis of the gods said to Chandika: “may the demons quickly be slained by you in order to please me”. Then from the body of the Goddess came forth the frightening power of the Shakthi of Chandika herself, gruesome, yelping like thousand jackals. And she the invincible one spoke to Shiva of smoky matted locks:” You yourself become messenger to Shumbha and Nishumbha”.

[Because the Devi appointed Shiva himself as the messenger she gained renown as Shiva-duti.]

The Narayani Stuti, narrated in chapter 11 of the Devi Mahatmya, is sung with great gusto charged with intense devotion and a blessed sense of fulfilment. The verses 13 to 21 of Narayani Stuti are dedicated to Matrkas – Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Narasimhi, Indri, Shivaduti, and Chamnda. In salutations to the Matrkas, the verses describe, in brief, the splendour, virtues, powers and vahanas of these deities which are but the aspects of the Maha Devi, the Great Mother Goddess.

Salutations to you Oh Narayani who assumes the form of :  Brahmi riding celestial Chariot Yoked with Swans; Maheshwari adorned with the moon , riding the Great Bull and holding the trident; Kaumari of great virtue holding the powerful spear, surrounded by peacocks , cocks and bears; Vaishnavi the most excellent holding shankha , chakra , gadha and the dhanus; Varahi appearing as a ferocious Boar sporting awesome tusks , rescuing Mother Earth from her distress; Narasimhi as lioness in fearsome rage , destroying the enemies and protecting the three worlds; Indri the glorious queen of thousand eyes , destroyer of the Demon Vritra , in all her splendour decorated with a diadem and holding a blazing thunderbolt; Shivaduti roaring loudly  who sent Shiva himself as messenger and destroyed the Demons; and, Chamuda the most ferocious and invincible  with dreadful face and sharp protruding fangs , adorned with garland of severed heads, the destroyer of Demons Chanda and Munda.


Hamsa yukta Vimaansthey brahmaani rupa dharini!
Kau shaambhaha ksharikey devi narayani namosthu they!!

Trishula chandraahidhare mahaa vrisha bhavaahini !
Maaheswari swarupena narayani namosthu they!!

Mayura kukkuta vrithey mahaashakti dhare naghe!
Kaumaree rupa samsthaane narayani namosthu they!!

Shankachakra gadhaa shaangaha griheetha paramaayudhey !
Praseeda vaishnavi rupey narayani namosthu they!!

Griheetho gramaha chakra damshtro dhritha vasundarey!
Varaaha rupinee shive narayani namosthu they!!

Nara simha rupenogrena hanthu daithyaan krithodhyamey !
Triylokyathraana sahithey narayani namosthu they!!

Kireetini mahaavajrey sahasna nayanojwale !
Vrithapraana hare chaindri narayani namosthu they!!

Shiva dhoothee swarupena hathadaithya mahabale!
Ghorarupey mahaaraave narayani namosthu they!!

Damshtraa karaala vadaney shiromaalaa vibhooshaney!
Chamundey munda mathaney narayani namosthu they

29.1. Following this episode, the later texts largely adopted the standard group of seven Matrkas consisting: Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. At times, Narasimhi is mentioned in place of Chamunda. The Varaha Purana names Yami – the Shakthi of Yama, the power of regulation and withdrawal as the seventh; and Yogishwari as the eighth Matrka, created by flames emerging from Shiva’s mouth. The Devi-Purana mentions nine Matrkas, by including Gana-nayika or Vinayaki – the Shakthi of Ganesha, and Mahabhairavi to the standard set of seven.

29.2. There is also a tradition of Ashtamatrikas, eight Matrkas, which is prevalent in Nepal region. In Nepal, the eighth Matrka is called Maha-Lakshmi (she is different from Vaishnavi). Narasimhi does not figure in the lists of Devi Purana and Nepal.

29.3. By about the seventh century Matrka’s and names and number– seven or eight- gradually began to get standardized. They took on the characteristic of their corresponding male gods; and came to be worshipped as Shakthis or energies of gods.

30.1. But, when you look across the various versions of the origins, evolution and development of the Matrkas you find that their names, numbers and attributes had been highly inconsistent. Most of the relevant texts that speak of the early stages of their development referred to Matrkas primarily as a group of goddesses, unspecified in number, inimical in nature and dangerous to children. None of the Matrka was significant in herself. The group was largely viewed and feared as hordes of malicious spirits harming pregnant women and children. In the later texts they were projected as troops of female warriors of ferocious nature assisting gods and goddesses in their battles against the demons. It was under the auspicious of the Tantra and Shaktha theology that the Matrkas were thoroughly reformed and rendered into worship-worthy benevolent mother-like goddesses of great spiritual merit.

30.2. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to put together, in one place, their names and numbers as they appear in various texts spread over the centuries.

Inconsistent names and numbers


31.1. In Vana Parva of Mahabharata the Matrkas referred to as Lokamata of inauspicious qualities and habits are said to be a group of about sixteen.

31.2. In another episode narrated in Vana Parva when Indra strikes Skanda with his thunderbolt many Matrkas emerge from Skanda’s body. Skanda groups them into Shiva and a-Shiva, good and evil Matrkas.

31.3. The auspicious Matrkas –Devasenas- are said to be eight: Sasti, Laksmi, Asa, Sukhaprada, Sadvrtti, Aparajita, Sinivali and Khuhu.

31.4. Another version of the episode mentions the eight auspicious Matrkas as: Sinivali, Anumati, Raka, Gungu, Sarasvathi (Dhata), Indrani, Varunani and Khuhu. Among these, Raka (subhaga) the rich and bountiful granter of offspring and Sinivali the sister of gods (devanam svasa) are prominent, while Gungu is rather an obscure name; and some say, Gungu could be another name for Khuhu. All these goddesses are related with fertility, as also with different phases of the moon. Among these, Anumati personifies the night before the full -moon night; Raka the full–moon night; Sinivali the night before new-moon night; and Khuhu the new-moon night. And, later these goddesses also come to be identified with metres (Chhandus): Anumati with Gayatri; Raka with Trishtubh; Sinivali with Jagati; and Khuhu with Anushtubh.

31.5. The inauspicious Matrkas of malicious nature (asiva-matrka) are also said to be eight: Kaki, Halima, Malini, Brhali, Arya, Brahmata, Palala and Vaimitra. In some versions the names of Raudra and Rshabha are added.

31.6. From among the groups of goddesses who came to be associated with the birth of Skanda the most important are the Krittikas. Another legend in Vana Parva of Mahabharata says that the six who were the wives of sages (among the Sapta-rishis) were accepted by Skanda as his mothers. And they prayed to Skanda to be named as   Maha-matrkas, Great Mothers. These six goddesses are identified or associated with the constellation Krittika, presided over by Agni. It is said; The Krittikas are six. But when they ascended into heaven they became seven stars (Saptasirasabham): [Amba; Dula; Nitatni; Abhrayanti; Meghayanti; Varshayanti; and Chupunika.].

31.7. Yet another list of ten Matrkas, inauspicious grahas (seizers) having hideous forms are mentioned in Vana Parva of Mahabharata. They are named as: Vinata, Kadru, Putana, Shita Putana, Revathi, Diti, Surabhi, Sarama, Lohitayani and Arya. Another version lists them as seven: Revathi, Mukhamadika, Vinata, Putana, Sitaputana, Lohitayani and Sarama. Apart from these, eighteen other grahas are mentioned, without naming them specifically.

31.8. Shalya Parva of Mahabharata provides a long list of 213 Matrkas associated with Skanda (the text says there are many more that are not mentioned).These Matrkas are troops of female warriors who fight under the command of Skanda (Deva-senapathi).


32.1. In the Devi Mahatmya the Saptamatrkas (seven Matrkas) mentioned are: Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. At times, Narasimhi is mentioned in place of Chamunda.

32.2. In some versions the, Martkas are counted as eight (Ashta-Matara) by including Narasimhi.

32.3. Nepal follows the tradition of eight Matrkas (Ashta Matara) but it counts Maha-Lakshmi as the eighth Matrka and omits Narasimhi.

32.4. Devi Bhagavata Purana (Book five; Chapter 28) while describing the battles fought by the Devi names ten Matrkas; and mentions that the Shakthis of the other gods (the wives of Kubera, Varuna, and other Devas) also came there with proper forms and joined the battle. The ten Matrkas mentioned are: Brahmi; Vaishnavi; Maheshwari; Kaumari; Indrani; Varahi; Narasimhi; Kalika; Shiva-duti; and Chandika.

32.5. Devi Bhagavata mentions that when Parvati approached to bless Skanda, she was accompanied by six Matrkas: Gauri, Vidya, Gandhari, Kesini, Mitra and Savitri.

32.6. Devi-Purana mentions nine Matrkas, by including Gana-nayika or Vinayaki – the Shakthi of Ganesha; and Mahabhairavi – Shakthi of Bhairava, to the standard list of Saptamatrkas.

32.7. Devi Purana also describes a pentad of Matrkas (Matra-panchaka), who help Ganesha in killing the demons. The five mothers named are: Kaumari, Rudrani, Chamunda, Brahmi and Vaishnavi.

32.8. The Varaha Purana names Yami – the Shakti of Yama, as the seventh; and Yogishwari created by flames emerging from Shiva’s mouth, as the eighth Matrka. These two replace Indrani and Narasimhi.

32.9. Vamana Purana (57; 27-29) gives a long list of 49 Matrkas accompanying Skanda.

32.10. Agni Purana (299.4950) mentions 38 female divinities. Of these, the Balagraha that affect the children day-wise are called Putana; and those that affect children year-wise are called Sukumarika.


33.1. The Tantra counts nine Matrkas by including Chandika and Mahalakshmi to the standard list of Saptamatrkas (Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda).The Yoginis, who are the attendants of the Goddess Devi, are regarded as daughters of the Matrkas. Each Matrka is said to have nine daughters, thus bringing up a total of eighty-one Yoginis.

However, the tradition following the cluster of eight Matrkas (Kaula Tantra) counts sixty-four Yoginis (Chaushatti Jogini); each Matrka having eight daughters. And, each of the 64 yoginis is also associated with currents or ‘winds’ in human astral body.

[In certain traditions, each Matrika is also a yogini. The Tribal roots of Hinduism by Shri Shiv Kumar Tiwari (page 129-130) mentions that Mother goddesses are categorized in two ways. In one, as given in Kalika –purana, Matrkas and yoginis are listed together; they are of same family (kula). And, the other list (as given in Agni-purana) excludes Matrkas. The former list assigns high position to yoginis, while the other list relegates yoginis to lower positions. The list of 64 yoginis (which excludes Matrkas) belongs to the latter category. ]

[Incidentally, in the Tantra–tradition, the eight Matrkas represent the eight tattvas, the eight powers of the manifested universe. At the micro level, the eight Matrkas are said to manifest (prakata)  in their gross form (stula-rupa) as  eight body-constituents : skin (Brahmi); blood (Maheshwari); muscle (Kaumari); fat-tissue (Vaishnavi);bone (Varahi);bone-marrow (Indrani);semen (Chamunda);and vitality (Mahalakshmi) . Another text Sethu-bandha (8 – 123) mentions that the eight are located in the human body at the : meet of the eyebrows (Brahmi);breasts (Maheshwari);navel (Kaumari);heart (Vaishnavi);face (Varahi); nose (Indrani);neck((Chamunda) and forehead (Mahalakshmi).

Even otherwise the number eight has a special significance in the Tantra.  It is associated with: the eight directions with four cardinal and four intermediate points (digbandahs); the eight types of  yogic  powers  or attainments (siddhis); the eight primary mystic symbols (mudras) ; the eight limbs  of Yoga (astanga) ; and of course eight forms of the Divine Mother (Matrkas) .Further , the 64 (8×8) celled square Manduka/ Chandita Mandala is regarded as the Mandala of the Siddhas where in its 64 chambers (kalas) Shiva and Shakthi reside (Thirumandiram V. 1418).]

33.2. The Uttara Tantra Shastra (Chapter 27) names eight graha-s (seizers) as: Skanda-apasmara (Vishakaha), Shakuni, Revathi, Putana, Andhaputana, Shitaputana, Ukhamandika, and Naigamesha.

33.3. The Shakthi – sangama – Tantra (Upatti-khanda) gives a list of fifty Matrika kalas : Nivritti, Pratishtita, Vidya , Shanthi , Indhika , Dipika , Mochika , Para , Sukshma , Sukshmamrita , Jnanamrita , Apyayani , Vyapini , Vyomarupa , Ananta , Srishti , Riddhi , Smriti , Medha , Kanti , Lakshmi , Dyuthi , Sthira , Sthithi , Siddhi , Jada , Palini , Shanthi , Aishvarya , Rati , Kamika , Varada , Ahladini , Prithi , Dirgha , Tikshna , Raudri , Bhaya , Nidra , Tadra , Kshudha , Krodini , Kriya , Utkari , Mrityurupa , Pita , Sheveta , Asita , and Ananta.

Other references

34.1. Utpala (ninth century) commentator of Varahamihira‘s (fifth – sixth century) Brihat Samhita refers to Matrganah, the group of eleven Matrkas as Brahmi, Vaishavi, Raudri, Kaumari, Aindri, Yami, Varuni, Kuberi, Narasimhi , Varahi and Vinayaki.

34.2. The Devi Puja vidhi (a religious text of the middle centuries) mentions sixteen Matrkas (Shodash Matrika) and names the sixteen as : Gauri; Padma; Sachi ; Medha; Savitri ; Vijaya; Jaya ; Devasena; Svaha;   Svadha ; Matru : lokamatru; Dhriti; Pusti; Tushti; Kuladevi.

[The Shodash Matrika along with Ganapathy are invariably worshipped at the commencement of the marriage rituals.]

34.3. There are two other lists of the Shodash Matrkas:

: Savitri; Gayatri; Sarasvathi; Jaya; Thristi; Megha; Puasti ; Tushti ; Dhriti; Vijaya; Devasena; Svadha; Svaha ; Matara; Lokamatara; Kuladevi.

: SavitriI; Kaumari; Rudrani ; Brahmani ; Gayatri; Tridhi ; Dhiriti; Vijaya; Jaya; Chandravigraha; Bhima; Chamunda; Varahi; Indrani; Narayani; and Narasimhi.

34.4. The Puja Vidhi also mentions seven home deities Grihamatrikas: Lakshmi; Shree; Dhriti; Medha; Pragya; Svaha; Sarasvathi.

35.1. Thus, the numbers, names and the order of the Matrkas have been highly inconsistent throughout. These are spread across the centuries covering their varied appearances, such as: the Balagraha, the female warriors, Krittikas, the mothers related to Skanda legend, Purana-deities, Tantra–shakthis, ritual-goddesses, the Vedic heptads etc. But, their numbers were eventually restricted to seven; and a set of Saptamatrkas was accepted as the standard. Such crystallization of the Saptamatrka possibly occurred in the late fourth century or early fifth century.

Why Seven?

36.1. Some argue that the restriction of the number of Matrkas to seven is somewhat arbitrary. But, there also are many explanations which try to rationalize the formation of the close knit group of seven. These elucidations are essentially based in the Vedic belief in heptads.

36.2. It is said; the idea of Matrka as group of seven goddesses is linked fundamentally to the Vedic preference for number seven; and to the symbolisms associated with heptads. The other ancient cultures such as Babylonians, Greeks and Hebrew seemed to have similar fixations with the number seven.

In the Vedic context, seven was conceptually rendered into a single unit. It represented the sense of completeness. To go beyond number seven was to be born into a new sphere of existence; either to enter into a new cycle or to enter into a higher order of existence. Seven was employed as a notional unit to count, to gauge and to map out the material world as also the components of life. Structuring the world into units of seven seemed to be an attempt to impose order on the seemingly chaotic.

36.3. The Vedic people therefore viewed the world around them as composed of units of seven. For instance, the Universe was understood as having seven layers , each with seven Adityas (Suns) ; and the Sun’s rays having seven colours (sapta varna). Similarly ,the planet earth was seen as made of: seven islands (sapta-dweepa-Vasundhara); seven regions (sapta loka); seven communities (sapta kula); seven seas (sapta samudra); seven mountains (sapta parvatha); seven deserts (sapta arania); seven cities (sapta pura); and seven holy trees (sapta vriksha) and so on.

36.4. The number seven was found significant in understanding the composition of human body , which is made of seven types of substances (sapta dhatu); seven senses (sapta indriya); seven energy centres including the final Sahasrara chakra (sapta chakra); seven phases of existence or seven states of consciousness (Bhu; Bhuvaha ; Suvaha; Mahaha; Janaha; Tapaha and Satyam)  and so on.

36.5. The Vedic poets composed verses in seven meters (sapta-chandasmi) having seven syllables (saptaream bhavathi) and sang in seven notes (sapta swara).Their most highly respected sages were seven (sapta rishi) . In certain yajnas seven altars were constructed (sapta-chitikagni) and altars had seven layers of bricks. Agni has seven tongues of flames.

36.6. The most important aspect of Vedic life was its perennial river systems. The seven rivers Sapta Sindhu (Iravathi, Chandrabhaga, Vitasta, Vipasa, Satadru, Sindhu and Sarasvathi) were venerated as the life giving Mothers; and, Sarasvathi was the best of the mothers. It was from the depths of these waters that life arose; and the sun emerged and ascended the sky. Those waters   were not mere physical features of their land; but were the very source of their life, of their divinities and of the meaning to their life. All their songs, myths and legends surround these seven rivers, the seven mothers (sapta matarah).

37.1. It was not therefore surprising that in the later ages when attempting to bring in a sense order into the chaotic world of Matrkas the ancient unit of seven was employed. It signified authenticity and ‘completeness’. It also, perhaps, suggested belief in the auspiciousness of odd numbers. And, by refining their natures, attributes and appearances; and by linking them to the older Vedic concept of the heptads, the Matrkas were invested with an aura of sacredness and spiritual authority.

37.2. Just as the seven mother-like rivers (sapta matarah) of Rig Veda, the Saptamatrkas, the mother-like goddesses, came to be characterized by their maternal nature and movement. The concept of Saptamatrka, the seven mothers, is thus an extension of the idea of visualizing the seven rivers as mothers. The Krittika constellation, incidentally, marked the beginning of a new yearly time cycle. Krittikas the Mothers of Skanda are, thus, also the mothers of time and of regeneration; and are initiators of the next epoch.


38.1. The iconography of Saptamatrkas presents a very interesting study. Normally, an icon or image of a god or a goddess is visualized and presented in a standard form following the descriptions of its attributes, dispositions, postures and features as narrated in the related texts. And, the salient aspects of the icon–to be-sculpted are, usually, epitomized into pithy Dhyana Slokas, for the guidance of the Shilpi.

38.2. But in the case of the Matrkas, their concepts, appearances and nature change rapidly from period to period, from text to text and from tradition to tradition. Their individual portrayals too vary from their group presentations. When portrayed individually they are depicted as benevolent and graceful mother-like goddesses. But, in group they appear as warriors; and their names and numbers also differ. Further, there are the regional variations in their depictions. These again are guided by the then current theological interpretations, the sculptural styles of the period and the ingenuity of the sculptors. Thus, when you look across their evolution and development spread over the centuries you find there is no single standardized universally recognizable form of the Matrkas. Each period, each region and each tradition developed its own iconographic interpretations.

38.3. Another interesting feature of Matrka- iconography is that their sculptural depictions are in no way linked to their descriptions narrated in the Puranas and other literary sources. The icons are hardly related to the narrative content. The Matrkas of the Puranas are invariably gruesome warrior females fighting the Demons. The ferocious, blood-drinking Matrkas are not referred to as mothers; nor is there a reference to their ‘motherly-qualities’. The early Balagraha deities called as Matrkas in the Kushana period were dangerous to children .Even the Matrkas associated with Skanda were inimical to children up to their age of five or sixteen. Thus, there is an obvious mismatch between the Matrkas described in the Puranas and the sculptural depictions of ‘mother-goddesses’ of the later periods.

38.4. It is only in the post-Gupta period and the medieval centuries the numbers, names and natures of the Matrkas started getting standardized .That was mainly due to the influence of the Tantra and Shaktha cults. In the depictions that followed thereafter, Matrkas were portrayed as goddesses, radiant, graceful, benevolent and caring mothers. Each Matrka came to be associated with a particular divine or mystic aspect in Tantra or Yoga. In sculptures, their motherliness was often emphasized by their playful attitude towards the children they carried on their laps. But, they held on to the weapons of war. And, yet their associated symbolisms were retained; harmony in their overall structure and countenance were ensured. The later Sculptures of mother goddesses exhibit aesthetic maturity and divine charm

39.1. The coexistence of male and female principles in the Saptamatrka depictions is yet another instance of dichotomy. Sometimes; Matrkas are described as feminine forces that derive their names and attributes from male gods. Hence, they are taken to imply the coexistence of male and female principles. Yet the female is dominant. In fact, the male is completely replaced. It is the feminization of the male personalities. Shaktha tradition achieves this through transformation of the already existing male gods into independent goddesses, female principles, Shakthis; thus, reinventing an absolutely new conception of a Goddess.

39.2. Speaking of the later times, the general descriptions of the Matrkas are given in various other  texts. The vast body of references includes Purana, Agama, Tantra and Shilpa texts. The various texts of Shipa shastra:

Aparajitaprccha, Rupamandana and Manasollasa provide iconography – details of Matrka sculptures. There is, of course, the authoritative Vishudharmottara. Further, Agamas like AmsumadbhedagamaSurabhedagama and Ruruvarnagama also contain instructions for making Matrka images. In addition, several Tantra texts such as Svachhanda Tantra and Yogini Hridaya contain detailed descriptions of the Saptamatrkas.

39.3. Brihat-samhita (sixth century) says that the Matrka images are to be made with the emblems, banners, ayudhasvahanas and ornaments that are associated with the male gods after whom they are named. Brahmi should be sculpted like Brahma; Maheshwari like Maheshwara; Vaishnavi like Vishnu; Varahi with boar-face like Varaha; Indrani (Aindri) like Indra; and Kaumari like Skanda. But, Chamunda is herself, a terrifying war goddess with dishevelled hair and fearsome countenance.

40.1. The following is a brief summary of the Matrka descriptions as given, mainly, in Rupamandana, in Aparajitapuccha of Bhuvanadeva and in Vishudharmottara:

When the Matrkas are sculpted on a panel or arranged in a row they should be placed between Gananatha and a form of Shiva such as Vinadhara or the fierce Bhairava or Virabhadra at the other end. All the Matrkas are to be seated (asana) in comfortable lalithasana with the right leg stretched down (lambaka padam) and the left leg bent and kept on the seat (sayanam padakam); or in ardhaparyankasana with the right leg folded and the left bent perched on the edge of the seat; or in the formal padmasana .All are shown seated on their respective vahanas. Sometimes, the child-motif is etched on the pedestal or a child is placed on their laps [In many south Indian sculptured panels of later times the child or the child-motif is not depicted].

Two of their hands gesture protection (abhaya) and blessing (varada) while their other hands hold weapons and emblems associated with their male counterparts. They are well adorned with ornaments like a suitable simple crest (makuta or mouli) or a wreath of flowers around jatamakuta, flower garlands (vanamala), necklaces (haara), circular ear-rings (rathna kundala), simple armlets (ekavali), bracelets, anklets, jewelled waist-bands (kati–mekhala or kati-bandha) etc. “Matrikas should be endowed with beautiful breasts, a slender waist and full hips so that female beauty may be celebrated.”

40.2. In the row of seated Matrkas, Brahmi is depicted as bright as gold, four faced riding swan (hamsa) holding akshamalapusthaka and kamandalu. Maheshwari fair in complexion, her hair (jatamakuta) adorned with crescent moon rides a bull holding in her six hands akshamalashula, khadgakhatvanga and maatulinga fruit (a kind of sweet lime with seeds inside). Vaishnavi of dark complexion with a lovely face, adorned with ornaments and garlands of flowers (vanamala) rides Garuda , holds shankha, chakra, gadha, and padma; and in her two other hands gestures abhaya and varada. The six faced Kaumari rides a peacock and holds in her ten hands shakthi, dwaja, danda, dhanus, bana, akshamala, kukkuda and kamandalu; and in her other two hands gestures varada and abhaya. Varahi of the complexion of storm-cloud, boar-faced rides a buffalo holding danda, khadga, khetaka and pasha. Aindri of red complexion is seated on an elephant holding sutra, vajra, kalasha and paatra. Chamunda of dark red complexion, deep-set eyes, fierce looks, dishevelled hair bristling upwards, emaciated body, bright tusk-like teeth; wearing garland of skulls , rides a preta ghoul holding a trishula, kapala, khatvanga and fire.

40.3. The descriptions summarized above are rather the classic features as narrated in texts. But, in most cases when Matrkas are etched in a row over temple walls or in small niches, they all are made to look alike with a single face each. They are distinguished from each other by the ayudhas they carry or the emblems (lanchanas) etched below the figures on countersunk panels. In some cases, each Matrka might be provided with a child; either in the lap or made to stand by the side. The group usually is flanked by Vinayaka and Virabhadra.

Let’s look at the Matrkas, individually, in the next part.

Continued in Part Four

References and Sources

The iconography of the saptamatrikas: by Katherine Anne HarperEdwin Mellen press ltd (1989-10)

Saptamatrka Worship and Sculptures by Shivaji K Panikkar; DK Print World (1997).

The Roots of Tantra by Katherine Anne Harper (2002)

Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions by David Kinsley; (1987)

Tribal Roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari; Sarup and Sons (2002)

The Portrait of the Goddess in the Devī-māhātmya by David Kinsley

The Little Goddesses (Matrikas) by Aryan, K.C; Rekha Prakashan (1980)

Goddesses in Ancient India by P K Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

The Tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao; Sharada Prakashana (1983)


Sapta Matrikas and Matrikas

The mother goddess in Indian sculpture By Cyril Veliath

Some discussions on the Skanda – Tantra and Balagrahas

The Mahabharata of Krishna –Dwaipayana Vyasa (Book 3, Part 2) Section 229

Devis of the first enclosure

 All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Devi, Saptamatrka


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Saptamatrka – Part Two

Continued from Part One

Origins and the Overview

10.1. The Saptamatrkas briefly referred to, earlier, in Part One in the context of Devi’s battle with the Asuras have indeed a very long history. They have their origins in various myths, legends as also in the beliefs and practices of the distant tribal mores. The Matrkas, perhaps, originated in the tribal traditions and folk cultures. They were the local goddesses who protected the village boundaries and fertility; took care of child growth, diseases, etc. They come in myriad names, forms and attributes.

10.2. The cult of the mother-goddess is woven into the fabric of our social, cultural and religious history. The Mother-goddesses have universal acceptance as well as a local relevance. They find more spontaneous expressions in rural communities. The faith in the mothers or spirits which afflict people, especially the children, is an ancient one; but, its epic forms came later. There are many different myths about the origins of the Matrkas in the Puranas and in the Tantra lore. Different versions of their origins are narrated in Mahabharata, Devi Mahatmya, Linga-purana, Matsya – purana, Bhagavata purana and Visnudharmottara purana.

10.3. There are also attempts to trace back the origin of the Saptamatrkas to hymns of Rig-Veda and to the Indus seals. At several places in Rig Veda there are references to groups of goddesses or maids, in sets of three, seven or ten. But, they have no independent identity and have no distinct functions or names. For instance, there is a mention of Ten young unwed daughters of Tvashta, who together hold the babe, the new-born infant (RV: 3.29.13).There are references to seven red-sisters associated with Agni as his mothers or sisters. But, they are generally interpreted as seven tongues or flames of Agni. And again, there is the group of female deities referred to as mothers who supervise the preparation of Soma (RV: 10.102.4). There is also another set of seven sisters, singing in chorus, who are invoked in charm against poison or snakebite; and who ‘carry away the venom, as far away, as the girls bear the water in their jars’ (RV: 1.164.3). Some have tried identifying these sets of Mothers or sisters as Saptamatrkas. Similarly, the seven female figures on the four seals of the Indus valley are also taken to represent Saptamatrkas.

I, however, reckon that all such readings are mere conjectures. And, both the sets of questions are rather vexed. At the most, the female figures on Indus seals might point to the then prevailing belief system and practices involving worship of female deities.

10.4. The scholars, generally, are inclined towards the view that the Matrkas perhaps originated in the tribal traditions, as extension of the Mother-Goddess cult dating back to the time-less past. Matrkas, it is said, were originally, the village deities who came from non-Aryan beliefs and practices where they were looked upon as guardians of the house and village, presiding over childbirth and taking care of the children and preventing diseases. And, the village deities were later absorbed into the higher traditions and rendered as goddesses in the orthodox texts.

[The term ‘non-Aryan’ should not be construed to mean aboriginal or savage. We should bear in mind whatever is non-Vedic is not necessarily non-Aryan; and that the Vedic beliefs may not represent the whole of the old Aryan communities. Now, look at it in the other way:  idol-worship may not be Aryan; but, it is definitely a part of what is now known as Hinduism. And, Hinduism is enriched by countless tribal cultures and elements that are ’non-Aryan’.]

To explain: What is now called Hinduism was not made; but, it has grown over the centuries by absorbing, transforming and reforming various cult and tribal beliefs and practices, many of which were vague and amorphous. The Hindu culture, philosophy and rituals are greatly enriched by countless tribal cultures. But, all the while it did retain the ancient concept of an all-pervading, Universal entity from which everything emanates and into which everything eventually returns. Some describe Hinduism as an inverted tree or a jungle; but not a strictly planned structural building.

The Hinduism of today is perhaps closer to the religion that existed during the Mahabharata times. But, it is far removed from the esoteric religion of the Rig Veda or the strict Vedic concept propagated by Swami Dayananada Sarasvathi.]

10.5. The Matrkas could be the synthesis of various Vedic and non-Vedic deities having relevance in their regional contexts, worshipped over a long period of time.


11.1. Among the diverse sources of the Matrka cult, the old belief in Balagraha (Baala = child; graha = seizers) is an important one. They are basically a group of nameless fearsome seizers who ‘possess’ or afflict children until their age of five (or sixteen, as per some beliefs). They are seen as threats to wellbeing of children; even having a tendency to steal children (Harti).

[Interestingly, Harati the child-snatcher also figures in Buddhist tales. According to the Buddhist legends, the childless victims of Hariti beg the Buddha to save them from her cruelty. The Buddha then, it is said, arranges to hide away Harati’s child in a secret place. After having lost her child, Harati in desperation,  searches all over the earth – in the cities, villages, forests, mountains, rivers  and islands etc. She even searches in the kingdoms of gods and Demons. At the end, after exhausting all other options, she appeals to the Buddha for help in retrieving her lost child. He points out that her suffering is insignificant compared to the combined suffering of all the mothers whose children she  killed. She agrees, though reluctantly, to give up her nasty habit of snatching away the children; and also promises to protect children, henceforth. At that, the Buddha returns her child, safe and sound.  Thereafter, Hariti becomes a disciple of the Buddha and joins the Sangha. Harati in Buddhism becomes a spirit (Yakshi) of fertility, childbirth, motherhood, and the protector of children ;and also  a Yakshi of healing.


These tutelary deities or spirits, including Nagas, Pisachas and Yakshas, are derived from Lower Tradition. These are also addressed as goddesses, because, interestingly, the concept of Deva or god embraces all supernatural beings. It is said; all beings right from Brahma down to Pisachas are ‘gods’ (Brahmadayah Pisachanta yam hi deva upasate).

11.2. The Balagraha spirits are said to dwell in cross-roads, in cemeteries, on mountains, in caves, and on trees (vrikshi). Adorned with diverse kinds of ornaments, strange attire and speaking verities of languages they strike terror in the hearts of foes. They are feared because they are believed to endanger foetuses or infants; to hinder as also to aid conception, birth, ailments and protection of children. These deities perhaps symbolized the mixture of exhilaration, anxiety and fears of the risks associated with pregnancy; the innocence and joy of childhood; the horror of infant mortality; and the bewildering mystery in which these joys and fears are shrouded. At another level, they personified the faith in tremendous powers of the folk deities to nurture or to destroy. The Balagraha were, naturally, feared and respected. And, the worship practices, prayers and offerings submitted to these spirits during formal rituals were motivated, mainly, by the anxiety and preoccupation with progeny; the propitiation of fertility and warding away of forces inimical to children.

[The ancient medical practitioners such as Charaka and Shushruta (Ca. 400 – 200 BCE) as also Vagbhata (Astanga-samgraha) deal with the diseases that afflict the children [K (a) umAratantra]. Some of the kumAra ailments are inherited while the others that cause disturbance of mind, depression and other psychic conditions are acquired from apparently unknown causes which defy explanations. The Uttara Tantra of a latter period (chapters 27 to 29)   prescribes medicines (oshadhi) to combat the kumAra afflictions, in addition to mantra-s (mantra prayoga) and ritual oblations, to appease the offending Bala graha-s (bhuta vidya).]

Kushana period

12.1. The Balagraha tradition seemed to prevail even during the Kushana period. But, The Kushana period (1st to 3rd century) was also the age of assimilation of various beliefs, concepts and practices surrounding the diverse types of deities. In this process, the Balagraha deities from Lower Tradition got entwined with the many legends surrounding the birth of Skanda or Kumara or Kartikeya. The Balagraha beliefs played a pivotal role in the formation of motif of mother and child. The Kushanas as also Yahudeya warriors who brought down Kushana Empire were worshippers of Skanda. And, the tutelary deities Lokamatas associated with Skanda gained upward mobility from folk traditions.

12.2. The Kushana period sculptures depict groups of female deities in varying numbers having animal or human faces and carrying children .These figures came to be recognized as Matrka images. Their sculptures combined in themselves mutually opposing features: the maternal protection and the destructive wrath. These divergent aspects were symbolized by the child in their lap and by the weapons of war they carried. But, one of the major problems with the Kushana sculptures is in relating them to the goddesses portrayed in the texts.

Gupta period

13.1. The Gupta kings(400-600 AD)had a special affinity towards Skanda the Commander of the godly forces (Deva-senapati). The Gupta warriors adopted Skanda, the war god, as their mascot. Some of their kings took the names of Skanda. It was during the reign of Skanda Gupta (455- 467 AD) and Kumara Gupta (473-476 AD) that along with Skanda, the Devi and other goddesses associated with him gained prominence. A full-fledged goddess pantheon was brought forth. Various folk and tribal goddesses, each with a distinct nature and form, were absorbed into the ambit of the Devi lore; and, they all converged to project one Great Mother Goddess Mahadevi. In another manner, various powerful and personified individual goddesses came to be regarded as her emanations.

13.2. During the Gupta period, a link was forged between Skanda, Kartikeya or Kumara and the Matrkas as his foster mothers. In the process, the Matrkas as also the other folk and tribal goddesses were elevated into the Higher Tradition. The Matrkas were raised to the nobility of court goddesses. And, their myths and legends were rendered into Sanskrit texts. Their iconic forms were standardized and developed into sculptural /iconographic depictions. Powerful and innovative images of the seven mothers started appearing   in various sculptures. Saptamatrkas, as a group, were depicted as beneficent goddesses but yet associated with fearsome aspects. In their individual portrayals only their benevolent aspects were projected.

It is said; one Mayuraksha, a minister of Visvavarman (contemporary of Kumara Gupta (473-476 AD), built a temple in honour of the seven divine Mothers. The repeated appearances of Saptamatrkas in the Gupta period emphasize their importance in the religious life of its common people.

13.3. The continued acceptance of the Matrkas as worship worthy deities   over long periods is also evidenced by their mention in Dramas and other texts of even the earlier periods. For instance, in poet Bhasa’s (second century BC to second century AD) unfinished play Daridra-Charudatta (Charudatta in poverty) and in its elaboration Mṛcchakaṭika (The Little Clay Cart) scripted by Sudraka (second century BC) there are scenes depicting worship of Matrkas. And, Natyasastra of Bharata, also around second century BC, recommends worship of Matrka, Natya-mata, as a part of consecration of the stage and the play-house (natya-griha). And in much later times, it is said, the early Kadambas of Banavasi (345–525 AD) and their subordinates the early Chalukyas (543–753 AD) worshipped Matrkas. Later, Banabhatta’s monumental poem Kadambari (606–647 AD) also refers to Matrka worship by the forest dwelling tribes Shabaras. And, mentions that their chieftain was an ardent believer of mother goddess Katyayani. Incidentally, the Shabara tribe played an important role in the political history of ancient India. They aided the foundation of Maurya Empire (see Visakhadatta’s Mudra-rakshasa).

14.1. When you look back, you find that during the Kushana period along with the acceptance of Skanda and different mothers into the Vedic fold it also led to taming of the dangerous Balagrahas through the infant. The Kushana figures were inspired by the mother and child motif of the Balagraha traditions. The Gupta period improved upon the Kushana figures and rendered them into classy sculptures naming them as Saptamatrkas. The Ayudha-purusha the arm-bearing guards of the Kushana figures were replaced during the Gupta period by Ganesha and Veerabhadra. The concept of Saptamatrka was however derived from Devi Mahatmya and Puranas, where the Saptamatrkas are basically ferocious looking female warriors. They are fundamentally different from the Balagraha deities that hinder the child. Yet, the Saptamatrka sculptures were patterned after the Balagraha depictions. Conceptually, the Saptamatrka of the later traditions have nothing or very little to do with Balagraha. Amidst these contradictions, it is the child that links the three traditions.


15. It is in the Puranas that the Matrkas find their definite forms and acquire distinct personalities. Most of the Puranas, it is believed, came to be written by about 250 AD, though exact periods are not known. During the Gupta period (400-600 AD), hailed as the Golden Age, innovations were made in art and literature. In the words of Ananda Coomaraswamy “it was indeed the classic phase of Indian art, at once serene, energetic and voluptuous”. It was an age of revivalism. This was also the period when Puranas were expanded or reinterpreted. This literarily production was ground breaking; bringing the lore of gods and goddesses closer to common people.

The battles

15. 1. The one myth that is of great importance in the conception of Saptamatrka is the recurring battles between the Devas and Demons. The conflict is so fundamental that the theme persists as a central motif throughout the evolution of the orthodox religion and particularly that of the Shaktha sect. The conflict finds its reflection in a variety of shades of interpretations. It also provides legends explaining the origin of various groups of deities such as: Dasha Mahavidya; Navadurga; Matrkas and others. The appearance of the Saptamatrkas to assist Devi in her battle with the Asuras, as detailed in Devi Mahatmya (a portion of Markandeya purana), is one among the many versions of their origins associated with battles against the Demons. Here, Matrkas arise from different parts of Devi; and are described as militant, ferocious, goddesses of the battlefield having sinister as well as propitious characteristics. After the battle, the Matrkas dance drunk with their victim’s blood.

15.2. According to another version, during the battle against demons Shumba and Nishumba, the Matrkas emerge from the bodies of gods- Brahma, Vishnu Shiva, Skanda and Indra.

15.3. As per the narration in Matsya Purana, Shiva created the seven Matrkas to assist him in his combat against the demon Andhaka. After the battle, the Matrkas go on a rampage destroying the beings of the world. The destructive Matrkas are eventually pacified by the benign goddesses created by Lord Narasimha.

15.4. In the Suprabhedagama it is said these seven Matrkas were created by Brahma the purpose of killing the Demon Nirrita.

15. 5. Varaha Purana carries an interesting sidelight. It mentions that the Matrkas were created from the distracted mind of goddess Vaishnavi while she was trying hard to meditate. These Matrkas are described as lovely looking attendants assisting the goddess on the battlefield.

15.6. Similarly, in the battles carried out by Skanda –Kartikeya as the Supreme commander of the Army of Devas, replacing Indra, Mahabharata (Book 9; Shalya parva; Section 46) mentions that as many as ninety-two or more female warriors assist him (Please click here for the list); and fight the demons along with him. Among the unwieldy group of female warriors were a cluster of goddesses – Matrkas. Some of these Matrkas are described as having youthful lovely form, cheerful demeanour and fair skin; while the others were having long nails, large teeth and protruding lips, striking terror. They all were valiant like Indra in battle.

Other accounts

16.1. Apart from such wide-ranging narrations which are related with battles, there are other accounts connecting Matrkas with Skanda. In one of the legends associated with Skanda detailed in the Vana-parva (215.16) of Mahabharata, the Matrkas known as Lokamatas are a host of ferocious and terrifying beings sent by Indra to kill the infant Skanda, shortly after his birth. They function as a group and all references to them are as a group. They are inauspicious beings with loathsome qualities and untidy habits.

16.2. The subsequent episode related with Skanda (in the same text) mentions that the Matrkas emanated from the sides of Skanda when struck by Indra’s thunderbolt. Skanda divides the host of fierce goddess into Shiva (auspicious) and A-Shiva (inauspicious) groups. Yet all were said to be of rather malicious nature.

16.3. Yet another version mentions them as Krittikas, the desolate wives of six sages (Rishi) driven out by their husbands; and then adopted by Kartikeya as his foster mothers. They come to be known as Maha -matrkas.

Malevolent nature of early Matrkas

17.1. Most references in Mahabharata state that the Matrkas are inauspicious; and are dangerous to children. Though they eventually serve Kartikeya as his mother, their initial task was to kill him.

17.2. The malevolent nature of the Matrkas is also seen in several passages of Bhagavata Purana, where they are listed under Ugras, Rakshasas, Pisachas, Bhutas and other dangerous kind of beings (BP: 2.10.37-39). Elsewhere in Bhagavata Purana they are mentioned along with Bhutas, Dakinis, Vetala , Pretas and Pisachas and other terrible beings as parts of Shiva’s  entourage (BP:10.83.6.ff). They are commonly understood as dangerous groups of female spirits or goddesses.

17.3. In the same vein, another list of ten female sprits is mentioned. All of them serve inauspicious purposes and have hideous forms tormenting children until they are sixteen years of age.

Unfolding of the Matrka cult

18.1. The various accounts of the Puranas if taken together suggest an evolution, assimilation and the gradual unfolding of the Matrka worship. Their association with Skanda enabled the upper mobility of the tutelary goddesses. And, as Skanda began to assume an independent godhead status in the neo-Vedic pantheon, the Matrkas came to be increasingly associated with Ambika or Durga whose cult was gaining ascendency during the ideological consolidation that was taking place during the Gupta period. During the process of assimilation, over a period, the groups of untamed destructive female forces were reformed and brought into the broad theological view cantered upon the concept of Shakthi. The Vedic preoccupation with number seven (the concept of heptads) crept in, and the Matrkas were crystallized into Saptamatrka, a group of seven goddesses. Thus, the innumerable tutelary mother goddesses who were accepted into the family of Skanda were supplanted by the new standard seven mothers. The names of the previous mother goddesses gradually faded into background and finally disappeared. The Saptamatrkas are thus the systematized and refined forms of the earlier Matrkas


19.1. The Krittikas and others were not regarded as worship worthy goddesses. The Puranas also do not specifically recognize them as powers though they assert that all feminine principles are aspects of Devi.

19.2. Therefore, the concept of Saptamatrka as Shakthi was not derived from these Puranas. It came up through another source, which is the Tantra ideology. The study of the development of Shakthi cult might enable us to locate the origins of the Matrka concept in that tradition. Here, the embodiment of potent feminine forces (shakthi) are generally named matr or matri; and in group as matrgana. They are called Matrka (mata iva), meaning mother (matr)-like (ka). The term Matrkas, therefore, generally refers to groups of mother-like deities. They are the personified energies of the gods (Deva Shakthi) and are described as universal mothers (vishvasya mataraha).

9.3. In Tantra, Matra also refers to the letters of the alphabets that are regarded as the perceptible forms or the aspects of the Mother; and hence are termed as Matrkas, the mother-like who attend on the Great Mother and approximate her to some extent. It is believed that the fifty-two alphabets of the Sanskrit language emanated from the Mother (matrka-mayi); and she takes the name in every one of them*. During the ritual worship of the Mother, her presence is invoked in the body of the Sadhaka through a procedure known as anga-nyasa or consecration of the different parts of the body. The invoking of the Mother –Matrika Nyasa – along with the five elements is a significant ritual. It is meant to emphasize   that you belong to the Mother; and you are sanctified by her presence in you.

[* For the purpose of daily recitations, each of the fifty-one alphabetic letters (Matrika) is extended , in the given order,  into a name of the Devi: Amrita, Aakarshini, Indrani, Iishani, Uma, Urdhva-keshini, Ekapadini , Aishvari, Omkarini, Aishadhantika, Ambika, Aksharatmika , Kalaratri, Khatita, Gayatri, Ghantadharini, Narnatmika, Chanda, Chaya, Jaya, Jhankarini, Jnanarupa, Thankahasta, Thamkarini , Damri, Dhamkarini, Namini, Tamasi, Thamini , Dakshayani, Dhatri , Nanda, Parvati, Phatkarini, Bandhini, Bhadrakali, Mahakaya, Yashasvini, Rakta, Lambobosti, Varada, Shashini, Sarasvathi, Hamsavathi, and Kshamavathi.]

19.4. Another explanation is also based in the structure of the Devanagari alphabet. First is the (a) group (varga) which contains the vowels, then the (ka), (cha), (ta), (ta), (pa), (ya) and (ksha) groups. It is believed; the seven mother goddesses (Saptamatrka) correspond to the seven consonant groups (Vargas); and, when the vocalic (a) group is added, the eight mother goddesses (ashtamatrkas) are obtained.

In this grouping, Brahmi is associated with ka-varga, Maheshwari with Cha-varga, Kaumari with Ta-varga, Vaishnavi with Tta –varga, Varahi with Pa-varga, Indrani with Ya-varga and Chamunda with Ksha-varga. It is said, the eighth Matrika, Mahalakshmi is the presiding deity of A-varga.

19.5. Kashmir Shaivism (around eleventh century) explains Matrka as the binding energy that makes it possible to understand words or symbols strung together as language. Its text Siva Sutra defines Matrika as ‘the ground of all knowledge ’(jñānādhisthāna mātrikā- Shiva Sutra:1-4).Matrika is the subtle force behind thought and speech.

19.6. One of the fundamental concepts of Kashmir Shaivism is that our mind, in the form of words, concepts, and ideas, is the source of bondage and suffering. And, as long as we do not understand the true nature of matrika, we are bound by worldly actions and feelings ­, without ever really understanding the source of their power over us.

19.7. Another Tantra-text Lakshmi Tantra declares “Matrika is the source of all mantras, the origin of all sciences and the soil from which all the principles, all the sages and all knowledge are born.” Matrika Shakthi is the power of sound that is the matrix of the cosmos; and manifests as the letters in the alphabet.

Tantra Shastra says that Devata and Mantra composed of letters (Matrika), are indeed one. Matrika is Shakthi and Shakthi is Shiva.

19.8. In Tantra, Matrika chakra formed by the group of letters is based on the understanding of the essential power of the word; and by regarding the word as god. Each letter, Matrika, is a power in its own right. Each is a microcosm that holds within it the macrocosm. That is the reason; the whole of Matrika chakra is looked upon by some as the primal alphabet, the essence of all alphabets. And, from this alphabet, according to this tradition, the whole universe arises.

It is also said; in the Matrika Chakra, the sixteen vowels from ‘a’ to ‘ah’ represent the energies of Shiva. And their unity with Matrika ‘m’ creates the universal mantra of Shiva ‘aham’.

19.9. And in Shaktha traditions, Matrkas, the sounds, their vibrations and the combination of vibrations interacting with one another is regarded as   Matrika Shakthi the creative energies that manifest. All things are forms of creative energy, the Shakthi, which is never separate from Shiva, the Absolute.

As regards the Saptamatrkas, in particular, it is said; they represent the seven seed (bija) sounds, comprising five pure-vowels (a, i, u, r, lr) and two compound vowels (e and o).

19.10. Durga the great goddess and the Saptamatrka share certain common features; and also have certain differences. Both were created by the Will of the Gods; and both are the feminine aspects of the energies (tejas) of the Gods. However, in Durga the diverse energies converge to form a unified powerhouse; while in the case of Saptamatrkas various energies remain independent though bound into a group. The seven goddesses are not consorts of male gods, but are the independent aspects of Devi.

20.1. Thus, it is the Shaktha and Tantra ideology, its magical rites and esoteric exercises that provide a distinct significance and life to the cult of Matrkas. In the Tantra, Matrkas emphasize the primacy of the female over the male principle. Usually, they are known as a group; and, are visualized primarily as Shakthi’s potent power of male gods. Their numbers are often indeterminate; although some texts mention them as five, seven, eight, eleven or sixteen. They have common attributes and forms associated with the auspicious and, often, with the inauspicious. The various references and epithets of goddesses in the later Vedic and Tantra texts belong either to the sphere of militant goddesses or to the benevolent motherly, fertility deities.


21.1. The Saptamatrka symbolisms were rationalized in the Tantra and Yoga theories. The infant who nestles in the lap of each Matrika is indeed the Sadhaka in care of the Mother. He is reborn at each stage of his pursuit. The weapons held by the goddesses are symbolic of the wars waged on ego and ignorance, as the Sadhaka strives to overcome them.

The Sadhakas such as Ramaprasad and Sri Ramakrishna described themselves as children in the lap of their mother. Even while the mother is angry the child clings to her for love, warmth and protection. In the words of Ramaprasad; you can never separate the bond between a child and a mother. Though she beats it, the child clings to its mother crying, “mother, oh mother”.

21.2. The infant was also seen as a symbol of the benign energy needed to counteract and balance between the negative and the positives forces

21.3. Varaha Purana interpreted the Matrkas as symbols of Atma Vidya or spiritual wisdom that fought against the dark forces of ignorance embodied by the Demon Andhakasura.

21.4. The Tantra-text Tantra-raja-tantra (27; 56 ) relates Matrkas to eight types of vices or inauspicious emotions like envy, pride, anger etc: “Brahmi of pride (mada); Maheswari of anger (krodha); Vaishnavi of greed (lobha); Varahi of envy (asuya); Kaumari of attachment (moha); Aindri of jealousy (matsarya); and Chamunda of depravity (paisunya); and the eighth Yogeshwari represents lust (kama)”. Vishnudharmottara Purana and Varaha Purana (17.33-37) also carry similar narrations.

But, Tantra-raja-tantra (36; 15-16) at another place identifies Brahmi with the primordial desire to create (Kama);Maheshwari with the tendency to degenerate and dissipate (krodha);Kaumari with the youthful longings to be and to enjoy (lobha);Vaishnavi with power to fascinate and delude (moha); Varahi with pride and arrogance (mada);Indrani with jealousy and envy (matsarya);Chamunda with urge to sin (papa) and hurt (abhichara); and , Mahalakshmi with doing good (punya) for selfish reasons.

21.5. In Tantra and Yoga rituals the Matrkas are worshipped with prayers to suppress and overcome the evil tendencies that obstruct the progress of the devotee .Thus, Matrkas and Yoginis perform vital roles in the Diksha rituals of the adepts.

21.6. In the Sri Vidya tradition, the Matrkas are regarded as the guardians   and are seen as residing in the second line of Bhupura of Sri Chakra, in each direction. They are the guides, protectors and removers of obstructions .The the Sadhaka worships and prays to them as she/he enters into Sri Chakra on her / his way seeking identity with the Great Goddess.

21.7. Mahanirvana Tantra however regards the Matrika –Trinity of Brahmi, Vaishnavi and Maheshwari in an entirely different light. They are worshipped as three aspects of Goddess Gayatri. It asks the Sadhaka : “In the morning meditate upon Her ( Devi Gayatri)  in Her Brahmi form, as a Maiden of ruddy hue, with a pure smile, with two hands, holding a gourd full of holy water, garlanded with crystal beads, clad in the skin of a black antelope, seated on a Swan (56). At midday meditate upon Her in Her Vaishnavi form, of the colour of pure gold, youthful, with full and rising breasts, situated in the Solar disc, with four hands holding the conch-shell, discus, mace, and lotus, seated on Garuda, garlanded with wild-flowers (57-58). In the evening meditate upon Her Maheshwari as of a white colour, clad in white raiment, old and long past her youth, with three eyes, beneficent, propitious, seated on a Bull, holding in Her lotus-like hands a noose, a trident, a lance, and a skull (59-60).  [Mahanirvana Tantra -Translated by Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe)-1913]

22.1. In Yoga, the seven mothers are the symbols of progress as the Sadhaka aims to refine his consciousness. Each Matrkas is identified with a level of existence, a state of consciousness and Chakra, the energy centres in the subtle body. And, each associated with an alphabet (Matra) is a Matrika Shakthi. They are viewed as parallels of Sat-chakras raising the consciousness to the seventh point- the Sahasrara. The seven padmas (lotus) along the shusumna are visualized as the seven seats of feminine power (shakthi) –the Kundalini. To pass from one Matrika to the next is to be born afresh. To reach and surpass the seventh mother is his final birth, that of non-birth which is the release (moksha).

[The Tantric Buddhism also adopted Saptamatrikas in its practices. The powers, attributes and functions of the Buddhist Matrikas are in line with those of their Vedic counterparts. The composite figures of seven-mothers appear in Nalanda. And, the Buddhist goddesses Vajravarahi and Marichi are believed to have their origins in Varahi the Matrika.

Similarly, the Jain mother-goddesses having names of Chakreshvari, Ambika, Padmavathi and Sidhayika are similar, in nature, to Matrikas.]

Conflicts and resolutions

23.1. Taken together, over a long period, one can see that the Matrkas are dichotomous personalities. There are layers and layers of their identities. They are complex deities who bring together the opposing concepts of death and fertility; autonomous female warriors and consorts; protective mothers and those who endanger children. And, later they are transformed into spiritual guides and protectors.

23.2. Sometimes, they are described feminine forces who derive their names and attributes from male gods; hence, they are taken to imply the coexistence of male and female principles. Yet the female is dominant. Matrkas, unlike the consorts of male gods, are relatively independent goddesses. When portrayed individually they are depicted as benevolent and graceful mother-like goddesses. But, in group they appear as warriors.

23.3. Among the sets of contradictions that are bundled together within the Matrkas is the manner they are depicted in sculptures. There is an obvious mismatch between their descriptions in the Puranas and their depictions in sculptures. The icons are hardly related to the narrative content. The Matrkas of the Puranas are basically militant, ferocious, blood-drinking warriors on the battle field, assisting Devi, Shiva or Skanda in their battles against the Demons. They are not referred to as mothers; nor is there a reference to their ‘motherly-qualities’. Yet, in their sculptural portrayals they are depicted as benevolent, caring mothers. Their motherliness is often emphasized by the playful attitude towards the children they carry on their laps. These Mothers are radiant and graceful and expressive, conveying a refined simplicity. At the same time, the Ayudhas they hold imply quite a different kind of attributes. There is basic conflict in their projection right from their earliest stages. And, yet their associated symbolisms are retained; and there is harmony in their overall structure and countenance.

23.4. Thus, over the ages, in the course of their long and protracted stages of evolution, the Matrka deities acquired a wide range of ideological, literary, visual and ritual representations. They have become an integral part of the religious and historical process of the Indian society. Initially they were feared as being inauspicious or sometimes even as dangerous spirits; but later, they were the guardians or benefactors, the mothers who watch over children with care and concern. They also came to be worshipped as guiding divinities on the way to ones spiritual attainments. That became possible, perhaps, because they managed to harmonize several sets of contradictions; and internalized varied conflicts at each stage of their development. Their character and nature too modulated to be in tune with the context of different periods.

23.5. Conflicts and resolutions mark the story of their evolution from tribal –folk deities to the guardian Shakthis of Tantra and Sri Vidya. They epitomize the coexistence of disparate elements and stages of religion from primitive to the sophisticated.


24.1. The formative stages of the Saptamatrka cult unfold at the beginning of Kushana period and during the Gupta period. The Matrkas gained importance in the Higher Tradition during times of Kushanas (1st to 3rd century). And, during the reign of Guptas (3rd to 6th century) the Matrkas were elevated as foster-mothers of Skanda; and upgraded to court goddesses. They are brought into orthodox fold through various Puranas. They are grouped into the auspicious number of seven (Saptamatrkas) and rendered into worship worthy goddesses.

24.2. In the medieval periods the numbers and names become standardized. In this period, they take on the names and characteristics of the male gods. Despite their names and associations with the male gods they are not treated as consorts of male gods; but are regarded as extensions of Devi herself.     Their appearances and dispositions too get modified. Matrkas are, now, no longer warrior deities or those spirits that harm children; but are goddesses and benign guardians who act as guides in Tantric Sadhana. They are recognized as inherent powers residing in the major Devas (Deva Shakthis); and, are worshipped for spiritual uplift (Mukthi) as also for earthly comforts (Bhukthi).

24.3. They as an auspicious group of seven (Saptamatrkas) are depicted on temple walls. The Pallava temples (7th – 8th century) like Sri Kailasanatha carry panels of Sapta Matrkas. The later Chola temples continued on the tradition by depicting them in rows or in panels either standing or dancing, flanked by Ganapathi on one side and Veerabhadra or Shiva on the other.

25.1. The evolution from the Balagraha deities to the conceptions of varied Matrkas of Kushana period; then to the court goddess of the Gupta era; and then on to the Saptamatrka divinities of the medieval times is viewed as a natural process. It is a process of shift from Lower Tradition towards the worship of Shakthi as the embodiment of energies inherent in the gods and in all nature. The Saptamatrka worship further evolved within the Shaktha sect through its theologies of Higher Tradition. The developments within the Tantra and Yoga ideologies accorded greater importance to Saptamatrkas.

25.2. The Matrkas, however, lost much of their significance and position in the popular religious practices during the middle centuries. But, they continued to appear in temple panels and niches. Today, they linger on the fringes of the Hindu pantheon.

In the next part let’s take a look at the textual sources and references to Matrikas.

Continued in Part Three

References and Sources

The iconography of the saptamatrikas: by Katherine Anne HarperEdwin Mellen press ltd (1989-10)

Saptamatrka Worship and Sculptures by Shivaji K Panikkar; DK Print World (1997).

The Roots of Tantra by Katherine Anne Harper (2002)

Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions by David Kinsley; (1987)

Tribal Roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari; Sarup and Sons (2002)

The Portrait of the Goddess in the Devī-māhātmya by David Kinsley

The Little Goddesses (Matrikas) by Aryan, K.C; Rekha Prakashan (1980)

Goddesses in Ancient India by P K Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

The Tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao; Sharada Prakashana (1983)


Sapta Matrikas and Matrikas

The mother goddess in Indian sculpture By Cyril Veliath

Some discussions on the Skanda – Tantra and Balagrahas

The Mahabharata of Krishna –Dwaipayana Vyasa (Book 3, Part 2) Section 229

Devis of the first enclosure

 All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Devi, Saptamatrka


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