Category Archives: Mahavidya

Dasha Mahavidya – Part Four

Continued from Part Three – Bhuvanesvari, Chinnamasta and Bhairavi 

Please also read the introduction to Mahavidyas

Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala

VII. Dhumavati

42.1. Dhumavati , whose nature is smoke, is again a Mahavidya who is not known outside the Mahavidya cult. There are no references to her in the earlier mythologies. She , unlike most other Mahavidya, is old, ugly and sulking. She is the only Mahavidya without a consort. She is a widow associated with strife, loneliness, unfulfilled desires and inauspicious things of life.

Dhumavati shares some of her characteristics with three other ancient goddesses – Nirriti, Jyeshta and Alakshmi – who personified disorder, decay, poverty, misfortune, dissension, sickness, and the whole range of life’s ills, culminating in death.

Nirriti in Rig Veda is the opposite of Rta the order, harmony and well-being in nature. Nirriti in contrast to Rta stands for anger, disorder, death, decay and destruction.

Jyeshta, the elder, is dark and ugly.  She indulges in quarrels and is intolerant of anything that is auspicious. . She is instinctively drawn to households in which there is strife—where family members quarrel or where the adults feed themselves and disregard the hunger of their children.

Alakshmi is the dark – reverse image of Lakshmi. She is everything that Lakshmi is not. Alakshmi symbolizes bad temper, hunger, thirst, need, poverty and all the misfortunes of life.

42.2. While there are similarities between Dhumavati and the above three goddesses, there are also some differences. Unlike those goddesses, Dhumavati is a widow; she is ugly and old. Dhumavati is also said to be fierce, frightening and fond of blood. She has, however, certain positive characteristics such as: guiding the devotee along the spiritual path to help him/her attain liberation; granting Siddihis and rescuing her devotees from troubles.


43.1. The Dhumavati Tantra describes her as an old and ugly widow. She is thin, tall, unhealthy, and has a pale complexion. She is described as restless and wicked. Unadorned with any jewel, she wears old, dirty clothes and has disheveled hair. Her eyes are fearsome, her nose long and crooked, and some of her long fang-like teeth have fallen out, leaving her smile with gaps. Her ears are ugly and rough; her breasts hang down. In one of her trembling hands, she holds a winnowing basket, while the other makes a boon-conferring gesture (varada-mudra) or knowledge-giving gesture (chinmudra). She rides in a horseless chariot bearing an emblem of a crow as her banner. She is astute and crafty. Always hungry and thirsty, Dhumavati initiates quarrels and invokes fear.

Dhumavati - Mahavidhya

43.3. The symbolisms associated with Dhumavati explain that she points out to the negative aspects of life, asking us to develop a sense of detachment . The bowl of fire she holds burns ignorance and also indicates that all things are eventually destroyed. The winnowing basket is viveka the power of discrimination that separates the grain (real) from the chaff (unreal). On an outer level ,  she seems like poverty, destitution, and suffering, the great misfortunes that we all fear in life. But in truth, she directs us to look beyond the small ambitions.


43.2. In the Prapanca-sara-sara-samgraha, Dhumavati is described as having a black complexion and wearing ornaments made of snakes. Her dress is made of rags taken from cremation grounds. She holds a spear and a skull-cup (kapala) in her two hands. The spear is sometimes replaced by a sword. Another description in the same text says Dhumavati is aged with a wrinkled, angry face and cloud-like complexion. Her nose, eyes, and throat resemble that of a crow’s. She holds a broom, a winnowing fan, a torch, and a club. She is cruel and frowning. Her hair appears dishevelled and she wears the simple clothes of a beggar. Her breasts are dry. Her hair is grey, her teeth crooked and missing, and her clothes old and worn.

43.4. There are also unusual descriptions of Dhumavati where she is shown as a good-looking young woman full of life with attractive features. She is not a widow. She is holding a winnowing basket while riding a huge crow. She is adorned with ornaments, bracelets, arm-bands, necklaces, and pendants. She is elegantly dressed. Her appearance here is in total contrast to the descriptions of her as ugly and old wearing soiled rags.

43.5. Dhumavati is worshipped by the Tantrics for attainment of Siddhis (magical powers). Though Dhumavati’s worship is considered ideal for bachelors, widows, Sanyasins and   Tantrics, the householder too flock to her seeking blessings and fulfilment of their desires.

44.1. If Sodasi and Bhuvanesvari represent the sparkling vivacious stage in woman’s life, Dhumavati projects the end and the miserable part of woman’s life. She is an old and a sulking widow who has nowhere to go. She is lonely, a social outcast; but, free from its obligations and constraints. She lives in a cremation ground surrounded by burning funeral pyres. She is often hungry and thirsty; and, is rankled by unsatisfied desires and the memory of many things she missed in her life.  The crow which is her emblem and on which she is shown riding is a scavenger bird feeding on half-burnt corpse; it is a symbol of death and inauspiciousness.

44.2. Smoke billowing out of a quenched fire is her nature .Dhumavati’s youth and freshness are burnt out; and what remains is the smoke of her spent life. And like smoke she is restless and wandering. Her nature is not brightness.  The smoke usually is dark, polluting and concealing.

Another interpretation is that Dhumavati is a good teacher. By obscuring or covering all that is known, Dhumavati reveals the depth of the unknown. Dhumavati obscures what is evident in order to reveal the hidden and the profound.

44.3. She favors the unmarried, the single and the widowed. She instils a desire to be alone and an aversion to worldly things. She encourages a certain kind of aloofness and independence; and sets one on the spiritual path.

Dhumavati represents a typical old widow of the orthodox society. Although a widow was considered unfortunate or inauspicious, she was free to undertake spiritual pursuits such as pilgrimages and vratas that were not easily possible in her younger days while she had to shoulder family responsibilities. For some of those women who found their married life oppressive, widowhood might come as a sort of relief. Like the traditional sanyasin, a pious widow is outside the society free from its constraints and obligations.

44.4. Dhumavati symbolically portrays the disappointments, frustrations, humiliation, defeat, loss, sorrow and loneliness that a woman endures.  She is the knowledge that comes through hard experiences, after the youthful desires and fantasies are put behind. Dhumavati thus represents a stage of woman’s life that is beyond worldly desires, beyond the conventional taboos of what is polluting or inauspicious. She desires to be free and at the same time she likes to be useful to the family and to the society.

44.5. In her temples near Varanasi, Dhumavati despite her aloofness is regarded as a guardian deity who looks after the village folk and blesses with worldly happiness. She is no longer the inauspicious and dangerous goddess approached only by the Tantrics.

Devim-Koteshwarim- Suddham-papaghnim- Kamaroopinim

Namami Mukti-kamaya Dehi Muktim Harapriye

Dhum Dhum Dhumavati Swaha

VIII. Bagalamukhi

45.1. Just as Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi or Bagala is not well known outside the Mahavidya cult. She however is mentioned in myths associated with Shiva and Vishnu. These myths belong to recent centuries. The exact origins of her name are not certain. Some say; ’Bagala’ is derived from the Sanskrit term Valga meaning ‘to control’; and she was originally known as Valgamukhi.  That was meant to signify that she had that power in her face which could capture or control or even paralyze her opponents. It is also said that Bagalamukhi means the goddess with the ‘face of a crane (Baka)’. The crane with its ability to stand still attracts its prey, lures it into a false sense of safety and then snaps it up quickly. Bagalamukhi’s strength is said to be her magical attraction, to immobilize and strike the enemy.

But, none of her iconographic descriptions makes a mention her having a crane head. Bagalamukhi is portrayed as a woman of immense beauty who can transfix anyone. Perhaps her assumed association with crane was merely to highlight her ‘deceitful’ trait. It is explained; a secret desire to kill resides in hearts of all beings. That concealed desire might many times influence our actions. Bagalamukhi, like the gentle faced crane – the most deceitful of all- personifies that hidden desire to kill.

Elsewhere it is said, she has the head of a duck and the nose of a parrot, signifying her ability to grant vak-siddhi, the power to make everything one utters come true.


46.1. Bagalamukhi is often called Pitambari or Pitambari Devi, the one who wears yellow clothes. Her Dhyana – sloka graphically portrays her preference to yellow colour. Her complexion, clothing, ornaments and garlands are in varying shades of yellow. Her devotees are dressed in yellow, wear mala strings of turmeric (haldi) and offer her yellow things.  Even her temples are painted yellow. Bright yellow is usually associated with sun and gold. But, in the context of Bagalamukhi the significance of her preference for yellow has not been explained. Further, in her pictorial representations, Bagalamukhi is usually shown wearing red or orange; and not much of yellow.

46.2. The one other name of Bagalamukhi is Brahmastra Roopini meaning that she exercises her magical powers of delusion (bhrama) as a weapon (astra) to confuse and confound. With that she makes everything look like it’s opposite. She turns speech into silence, knowledge into ignorance, power into impotence, and defeat into victory. It is explained; she represents the knowledge whereby each thing must in time become its opposite. To see the failure hidden in success, the death hidden in life or the joy hidden in sorrow is the way of understanding her reality. Bagalamukhi is the secret presence of the opposites wherein each thing is dissolved back into its un-manifest state.

Bagalamukhi is also said to bestow the power of attracting others and infuse in them sexual desire.

46.3. More than any other Mahavidya, Bagalamukhi is associated with magical powers. , which sometimes are termed Siddhi or attainments. A particular Siddhi of Bagalamukhi is her magical power of Stambhana the power to transfix, immobilize or paralyze a person into silence. An explanation based in yoga interprets Stambhana as the control over the vital-breaths (prana); and states that Bagalamukhi exercises control over the vital breaths; she enables one to conquer the tongue, which means self-control over greed, speech and taste.

Thus, Bagalamukhi, just as the other Mahavidyas, displays both negative and positive virtues.

47.1. The Bagalamukhi – iconography presents her as goddess with a golden complexion dressed in yellow. She sits in a golden throne in the midst of an ocean of nectar full of lotuses. A crescent moon adorns her head. She is decked with gems and Champaka blossoms.

Bagalamuki - Mahavidya

47.2. The Dwi-Bhuja (with two arms) depiction is  Soumya or milder. Her complexion is golden. She is elegantly attired and bejewelled. She holds a club in her right hand with which she beats a demon, while pulling his tongue out with her left hand. This image is sometimes interpreted as an exhibition of stambhana, the power to stun or paralyse an enemy into silence. This is one of the boons for which Bagalamukhi’s devotees worship her.

47.3. In her Chaturbhuja (four armed) form, according to the Sri Tatwanidhi, she sits upon a golden throne. She is of yellow complexion and is three-eyed. In her four hands she holds a trident, a cup, a mace and the tongue of the demon. With her right hand she strikes him on his head. She has the features of a beautiful woman. She is adorned with garlands and ornaments. Bagala symbolizes cessation of all dualities or dwandas, at the realization of which pure consciousness emerges.

47.4. Another depiction presents Bagalamukhi as sitting upon a supine corpse laid out on her throne. She wears a diadem, a nose ring, and a garland;  she rests her right foot on a lotus flower, and her bent left foot ankle on her right lower thigh; pulls the tongue of the male by her left hand and holds aloft a club by the raised right hand ready to strike.

48.1. Bagalamukhi is related to Mahavidya Tara, as both are goddesses of speech. Bagalamukhi represents the power of speech that stuns others and leaves them gasping for words. Therefore she is invoked for granting success in debates and bargains.

48.2. Bagalamukhi wrenching the tongue of the demon is symbolic of removing the impurities associated with speech and tongue. The tongue is the organ of speech and taste. And, often it is involved in telling lies or concealing the truth. The tongue therefore could unwittingly get caught up with mischief, vanity and deceit. The pulling of the tongue is a symbolic act of  punishing the demon and cleansing his impurities.

48.3. Bagalamukhi sitting upon a corpse while pulling the tongue of the ‘enemy’ is interpreted in many ways. The corpse stands for inert or static matter, as also for ignorance. The death of the flesh also means liberation of the spirit. A corpse is therefore a symbol of death and a new beginning for the spirit. Shiva as Shava (corpse) under the feet of Kali is a inert potent life that is just about to wake up to new life. The other Mahavidyas – Kali and Tara- also sit or stand upon corpse. Chinnamasta and Dhumavati too are associated with corpse and cremation grounds.

48.4. The image of Bagalamukhi sitting upon a corpse is also said to be associated with the extreme tantric ritual of Shava-sadhana. It is a ritual where the adept (sadhaka) sits upon the chest of a fresh corpse at the dead of the night in middle of cremation ground and tries to overcome or control the dead person’s preta (spirit).Through that he hopes to gain magical powers.The esoteric view of this tantric ritual is that it transforms the aspirant, awakening in him or her to an expanded consciousness; and grants him a new identity.

Shivasysa Dayitam Shuddham Kamakhyam Kamaroopi

Om Hleem Sarva Dusthaanaam Vaacham Mukham Paadam s

tambhaya jihvyamkilaya

buddhim vinaashaya Hleem Om Swaha


IX. Matangi

49.1. The myths and legends associated with Matangi suggest that her origins are in the tribal traditions. Though there are various versions of her myths, in the Hindu and the Buddhist lore, they together contribute to form the picture of Matangi. She appears to have been the daughter of Matanga who according to some was a chieftain of tribal elephant hunters (Maatanga –raja). He belonged to the low caste of Chandalas. Thus, Matangi, right from her early stage, became closely associated with birds, forests, wilderness, elephant hunting culture and Chandala way of living; as also with casting magic-spells.

[Matangi also appears in a Buddhist Jataka, where she is the daughter of elephant hunter king Matanga, a tribal (Chandala) chieftain. Rabindranath Tagore reworked her legend into his play Chandalika, who falls in love with Ananda, the chief disciple of the Buddha.]

49.2. Matangi’s origins are also associated with the tribal goddess Savaresvari (Savara = Svara ; the goddess of Svara, musical notes) who is described as sixteen, smiling and short in stature .She is dressed in leaves wearing creepers as earrings and  a garland made of gunja seeds. She collects in her basket fruits while singing to herself.

And, Savari who enjoys dwelling in the forests and loves singing is one of the many names of Matangi. Further, Raja-Matangi is said to listen to the chattering of green parrots, to play on veena, to wears flowers and garlands and to have conch- shell earrings.

All these elements of various stories characterize the nature of Matangi Mahavidya. They affirm her tribal origins and her identity with tribal culture which is different from the tradition bound way of living.

At another level , she is also associated with music , poetry and fine arts.The Lalithopakhyana  calls Matangi by a variety of names . She is :

Sangeeta yogini ; shyama; shyamala ; mantra nayika;
mantrini;  sachiveshani;  pradhaneshi;  shukapriya;
vina vati vainiki cha mudrini ; priyakapriya;
nipapriya ; kadambeshi ; kadamba vanavasini’

sadamada ; cha namani shodashaitaini;  kumbhaja.

50.1. The Mahavidya Matangi, the erotically powerful intoxicated with passion like a female elephant in heat (masth) is described as a sixteen-year – young girl in the flush of her youth seated on an altar. She has full breasts and a very slim waist. Her complexion is greenish. She is impassioned.  Her eyes are intoxicated while a gentle smile plays upon her lips. She is perspiring slightly around her face, which makes her all the more exiting and desirable. Below her navel are three horizontal folds of skin and a thin vertical line of fine hair.  Her hair on the head is long and wild, and the disc of the moon adorns her forehead. She favors red; her dress and ornaments are in various shades of red. She wears a girdle of jewelled ornaments, as well as bracelets, armlets, and earrings. She is adorned with garlands of wild Kadamba flowers. She holds in her hands a skull and a chopping blade dripping blood. With the other hand, she holds an ornate musical string instrument, veena.  She is flanked by two parrots. She represents sixty-four arts.

50.2. Matangi is also Raja-Shyamala, dark with blue as the cloud filled with water. She is seated on the gem-studded throne, listens to the sweet utterances of the parrot, is aglow with youth, has one foot on the lotus, has her forehead bedecked with the crescent moon, plays on the veena, has a garland of jasmine flowers,  wears red garments,  has a conch-vessel.  Matangi, lustrous like sapphires in her self-glory plays the ruby-bejewelled veena.

50 .3 She is also Rajamatangi adorned with a crescent moon on her crown which is tied with a garland of blue lilies, a bright vermilion mark on her forehead and she is richly ornamented. The goddess of dark or blue complexion, listening to a parrot talking to her, is seated upon a throne set with rubies, with one of her feet placed upon a lotus while holding a veena. Such is the majesty of Raja-matangi the queen of all.

According to the Shyamaladandakam, Matangi plays a ruby-studded veena and speaks sweetly. The Dhyana Mantra describes her to be four-armed, with a dark emerald complexion, full breasts anointed with red kumkum powder, and a crescent moon on her forehead. She carries a noose, a goad, a sugar-cane bow and flower arrows, which the goddess Tripura Sundari is often described to hold. She is also described to love the parrot and is embodied in the nectar of song.

Sri Raja Mathangi travels in Gaya chakra, a chariot which when moves, the atmosphere will be vibrating with sweet music. She is the embodiment of Nada (Sound). She stands for the propagation of Jnana (Knowledge), art, education, music and so on.

In Sri Vidya, Raja Matangi is known as Manthrini. She also presides over all the mantra svaras or the articulation of mantras. Matangi is emerald green in colour. She plays the Veena that represents the Nada or Primordial Sound in the form of Vibration. She is said to have Parrot in her Hands. Raja Matangi is the Deity of Thought. This Thought is the Source of Word or Speech. Hence, she is called Jnana Shakthi of Tripurasundari. As Manthrini, Sri Raja Mathangi is the symbol of knowledge. She is also an amsa of Sri Meenakshi of Madurai and Sri Saraswathi.


50.4. Another description says: Matangi is blue in color and dressed in red. Her waist is slim and her breasts well-developed. The crescent moon adorns her forehead. She has three eyes and a smiling face. She is bejewelled and is seated on a lotus throne. In her four arms, she carries a skull, a sword, and a veena. She is Modini the goddess who grants worldly pleasures.

50.5. There is also an extreme tantric form of Matangi. It describes Matangi as a highly impassioned girl of sixteen with fully developed breasts. She sits on a corpse wearing a bright red garment. She wears red jewellery and a garland made of gunja berries (a small forest seed) .She holds in her hands  a skull-bowl, a sword or scissors . She prefers offerings of leftovers (ucchista) and polluted things such as pieces of cloths stained with blots of menstrual discharge.  Such is the fierce form of Ucchishta-Matangini.

50.6. In sharp contrast to her tantric form there is a classy description of her benign form. Matangi, here, is described as seated, in all her glory and charm, on a gem-studded throne, listening to the sweet utterances of parrots. She is stunningly beautiful, glowing in her emerald complexion. Her limbs are delicate and soft; lustrous like sapphires.  She is aglow with youth. As the evening is lit up with golden yellow, she having just had a drink of honey- sweet wine places one foot on the lotus and delicately holds in her hands a ruby-red bejewelled veena, leisurely; and sings in her sweet voice songs of great charm and melody. There is a dreamy expression in Matangi’s eyes (madhura madhu madaam). Two lotus flowers tied to the upper part of the veena swing rhythmically as she plays on it. She is dressed in delicate clothes of mild red; has a fitting bodice covering her delicate breasts. She is decked with garland of fragment jasmine flowers. On her head is a diadem with crescent moon; and blow that is bright vermillion mark adding lustre to her glowing countenance. The conch shell she holds and the birds surrounding her are in white. The sweet-charming glory of Matangi the daughter of sage Matanga is truly matchless.

51.1. The last mentioned is the benign and pleasing aspect of Matangi. But, that is not the form in which Matangi is depicted as a Mahavidya. Let me mention that there are several representations of Matangi depending upon the class of Tantra that is talked about. For instance, in the Sri Vidya tradition, Matangi is the Mantrini the minister or counsellor of the Supreme Queen (Para bhattarika) Sri Rajarajeswari.  Matangi is also identified with Devi Meenakshi of Madurai.


And, Matangi is also called Tantric-Sarasvati and Tantric Ganesha .Her complexion too varies from white, black, brown, blue or to green depending on the context, says as Ucchista Matangini, Ucchista-Chandalini, Raja Matangini, Sumukhi Matangini, Vasya Matangini or Karna Matangini.

51.2. But, Matangi as Mahavidya is a Siddha Vidya, the Tantra personified. She brings focus, rather very disturbingly, on the notions of distinctions between purity-impurity; clean-polluted; auspicious-inauspicious; puritanical notions- unrestrained sex; high caste-low caste; and civilized society- hunting tribes of forests.

She is depicted as a domineering, fearful tantric deity, who is outside the pale of the traditional society; who wields magical powers; who is pleased with the offering of leftovers and polluted things; and who enjoys sex.

52.1. The myths associated with Matangi project her as a Chandalika (daughter of a Chandala) who loves leftover or partially-eaten food (Ucchishta- Chandalini) and polluted things. Her preference for pollution, it is said, extends over many things, such as: food, sex, dress, dwelling and habits etc. The Nepali tradition mentions that Matangi lives among the low caste, near garbage dumps, prefers Ucchishta offered by devotees who are unkempt and unwashed; and she admires them for not rinsing the mouth and washing the hands after eating.

52.2. The central message of this myth is to set free the Tantric devotee from the strangling obsession with ‘purity’ which can be dangerous and destructive. Ucchishta Matangini as the embodiment of all that is impure and polluted is the goddess who helps in coming to terms with, and transcends the   apparent dualities in the existence. She, in her own manner, emphasizes the importance of inner purity over external cleanliness.  Matangi is therefore a great teacher; and powerful and liberating goddess.

53.1. Mahavidya Bagalamukhi and Matangi are worshipped to gain magical or psychic powers. Matangi is associated, in particular, with magical powers that exercise control over enemies.

53.2. Matangi is considered by some as the Tantric form of Sarasvati the goddess of speech (vak) and learning. Both the goddesses are associated with music and speech. They, however, differ in certain aspects. Sarasvati is sattvic in nature and represents the Vedic learning. Matangi is tamasic and is related to magical powers. While Sarasvati is the power or the awareness that generates speech, Matangi is the articulated speech (vaikhari vak), while Mahavidya Tara is the un-manifest speech that resides in breath (madhyama-vak) .Matangi is posited in the throat centre (visuddhi). The parrot which she holds (keera kara) signifies the ability to talk.

53.3. Matangi and Ganesha are both related to elephants. The terms – matanga, maatanga and matanga raja – all refer to the elephant.  Matangi had her origin amidst the elephant huntress and she holds a hook (ankusha) that controls an elephant. Ganesha as para-vak the un-manifest word is at muladhara, while Matangi as vaikhari –vak is at visuddhi. The tantric sadhana regards Matangi as the female counterpart of Ucchishta Ganapathi.

The Ucchishta Ganapathi is a tantric form of Ganesha .He is depicted as red in colour, naked and intoxicated. In some forms he is shown amorously playing with his consort seated on his left lap (nari-yoni-rasasvada lolupam, Kama mohitam).Like Matangi, the Ucchishta-Ganapati too is associated with unclean things.

Matangi Bengal hand coloured lithograph 1880

54.1. But, basically, Matangi as Mahavidya severs attachment to the limited understanding of the world in terms of ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. She challenges the normally accepted concepts and values in an established social order. She brings into question the very notions of beauty, goodness, honour, respect, decency, cleanliness and physical comfort etc. She instils in the heart of the Sadhaka the faith that all existence is pervaded by the goddess and there is nothing that is outside the goddess; She pervades all; and within her there are no distinctions of ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. She guides the Sadhaka to transcend the artificial – manmade’ demarcations of beauty-ugliness, cleanliness – polluted or pure -profane etc. Her message forms the very core of the Tantra ideology.


Saraswatyaya Namo Nityam Bhadrakalyaya Namo Namah

Vedavedantavedanga Vidyasthanebhya Eva Cha

Ucchisthachandali Sri Matangeswari

Sarvagyanavashamkari Swaha

X. Kamala

55.1. Kamala or Kamalatmika is reckoned as the tenth or the last of the Mahavidyas, while Kali is the first and the foremost Mahavidya. It is often asserted that there are no distinctions of superiority/inferiority among the Mahavidya, yet Kamala is not as important as kali in the Mahavidya tradition. While Kali represents the highest state of consciousness, Kamala is related to material wellbeing and worldly comforts. She represents the mundane state of consciousness that the Sadhaka seeks to restrain and finally overcome. Kali is transcendental experience, while Kamala is what is ‘here –and-now’. Kamala Mahavidya is one who binds to the world; and is not seen as a liberator. The Kali is the liberator (mukti dayani); and the Kali-consciousness is the ultimate.

56.1. Some wonder how Kamala who is derived from auspicious aspects of Lakshmi the bestower of wealth and good luck could be included in the group of tantric goddesses. However, the Mahavidya texts explain that Kamala as Mahavidya is not the same as Shri or Lakshmi. She differs from them in many aspects; and she indeed is a Mahavidya in her own right. Kamala Mahavidya is not the spouse or the beloved of Vishnu. She is an independent goddess and does not play the role of a spouse. Kamala is associated with the Shiva-cult just as the other Mahavidyas. She is, at times, addressed as Raudri, Sati, Kapali and Gauri. Although benign and auspicious qualities are prominent in her character, there are many fearsome and dangerous aspects to her nature. Kamala is a destroyer of demons. Similar to some other Mahavidya: Kamala wears garlands of skulls (runda-mala); her form is awful (ghora), terrible (bhima) and of a negative nature (tamasi). One of her many names refers to her as Kalaratri, a fearsome aspect of kali. Kamala is also said to share some of the characteristics of Matangi, Dhumavati, and Bhairavi who are noted for their scary aspects.

55.2. Kamala as Mahavidya is said to be a reflection of Shri the Vedic deity as also of Lakshmi the goddess of wealth and beauty. Mahalakshmi is celebrated in the Devi Mahatmya as the Supreme Goddess manifesting herself as Maha-Sarasvathi (Sattva), Mahalakshmi (Rajas) and as Maha-Kali (Tamas);    and as one who presides over every aspect of the Universe. And, Kamala in the Sri Vidya tradition represents the Supreme Mother herself. Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar in his most magnificent set of Kamalamba Navavarana kritis celebrated the glory of Sri Kamalamba.

All these deities are widely worshipped. But, Mahavidya Kamala is different from all of them. Kamala here is not endowed with the powers of Mahalakshmi; she enjoys neither the prestige of Mahalakshmi in the Tantra tradition, nor the wide acceptance of Lakshmi in the orthodox tradition. Kamala as Mahavidya is a tantric deity who is invoked mainly in rituals seeking wealth, power and   hidden treasures.

Kamala by Basudha Nandy

Kamala by Basudha Nandy

56.2. The formulators of the Mahavidya cult, it appears, modified or downplayed the essential benign aspects of Shri and Lakshmi in order to render Kamala more suitable to be included in the Mahavidya group. They stressed her independence (svatantrya), minimized her role as a spouse and gave her terrible forms that are associated with the deities of the Shiva cult. Thus, Kamala retains the character of Lakshmi; and definitely is linked to Lakshmi; yet, she is different from Lakshmi. Kamala‘s portrait has been drawn selectively. Kamala, the Tantric form of Lakshmi, combines in herself many auspicious virtues and attributes along with a few terrible aspects. Like Kali, the Tantric Kamala embraces the light and the darkness, for she is the totality. She can be propitiated both for worldly goals and for spiritual attainments.

57.1. The iconographies of Mahavidya Kamala  (she of the lotus ) describe her as   strikingly beautiful  glowing in her golden complexion , as  a powerful goddess in her own might sitting alone (not accompanied by the spouse) on a lotus amidst a pond.


And, sometimes she is flanked by two or four elephants showering water or nectar over her from bejewelled pots held in their upraised trunks. She holds two lotuses in her two upper hands; wears a crown sparkling with gems. Kamala gestures mudras bestowing boons (varada) and fearlessness (abhaya). Kamala is presented as the goddess who destroys poverty, and as one who grants wellbeing, prosperity and fertility.


57.2 Kamala indeed resembles Gaja-Lakshmi. The lotus on which she is seated denotes fertility and life. It also suggests spirituality, power and authority. The elephants stand for royal authority, wealth and magnificence. They are also related to clouds, rain and fertility.

“She has a beautiful golden complexion. She is being bathed by four large elephants who pour jars of nectar over her.  In her four hands she holds two lotuses and makes the signs of granting boons and giving assurance.  She wears a resplendent crown and a silken dress. I pay obeisance to Her who is seated on a lotus in a lotus posture.”

58.1. Kamala is the beginning and the end of our worship of the Great Goddess. We initially approach the Mother seeking help in achieving human needs and desires like health, prosperity, and a happy family. We complete our understanding of the Mother by seeing her presence even in the ordinary things and experiences of life; and in realizing there is nothing that is outside her. She is in everything and she transcends everything.

Sadachara Priye Devi Shuklapushpamvarapriye

Gomayadishuchiprite Mahalakshmi Namostu Te

Hasauh Jagatprayutai Swaha

Sources and references

1. Tantric Visions and Divine Feminine by David Kinsley.

2. Ten Mahavidyas: Manifestations of cosmic female energy by Dr. PC Jain and Dr. Daljit

3. The Dasa (ten) Mahavidyas

4. Dus Mahavidyas: the ten forms of the Devi by Saipriya Viswanathan.

5. The ten Mahavidyas by Hancock-Jaime

6. The Tantric way- Art, Science and Ritual by Ajit Mookerji and Madhu Khanna

7. Mahavidyas by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

8. The Mahavidya: the powers of consciousness conceptualized by Devadatta kali

9. Wisdom Goddesses: Mahavidyas and the Assertion of Femininity in Indian Thought

10. Dus Mahavidya

The pictures are taken from internet


Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Mahavidya


Tags: , , ,

Dasha Mahavidya – Part Three

Continued from Part Two – Kali, Tara and Tripura Sundari

Please also read the introduction to Mahavidyas

Bhuvanesvari, Chinnamasta and Bhairavi 

IV. Bhuvanesvari

29.1. Bhuvanesvari the sovereign Queen is the fourth Mahavidya; she is fondly called Bhuvaneshi. Unlike the Adi Mahavidyas (Kali, Tara and Tripura Sundari), it seems, Bhuvanesvari was not well known before she was included into the Mahavidya group.  As Mahavidya, her realm Bhuvana includes not merely the earth but also the atmosphere and the heaven that surround the earth.  But, she is more related to the dynamics of the visible word that we experience.  And indeed the world is her extension. It is said; the universe is her body (Visvarupa) and the world is the flowering of her nature (Sarvarupa). She embodies all the liveliness and attributes of the living nature. She represents forces of the material world. The whole of existence is the field of her joyful play; she is Sarveshi the ruler of all. She is also Mahamaya the great enchantress.

29.2. In her association with the physical world, the earth, Bhuvanesvari is identified with Prithvi who was rescued by Vishnu in his Varaha Avatar. As the manifest world is the field of her joyful play, it is said, Bhuvanesvari is closely associated with the five elements (Maha-bhuta): space, air, fire, water and earth principles. She pervades all space – the inner and the outer- with that she confers awareness and all other knowledge of life. It is explained; the inner space is the space within Hridaya (heart) the centre of awareness or consciousness. Her Bija-mantra Hrim relates to Hridaya; and it is called Devi-pranava which in Tantra is equivalent to Om.

Bhuvaneshwari - Mahavidya

29.3. Bhuvanesvari is also identified with Prakrti, the energy underlying creation. She is therefore is also called as Pradhana and Prapancesvari the one who rules over the five-fold world.  The world is said to emerge from her just as a web emerges from the spider or as the sparks crackle out of fire.

30.1. In her appearance and nature Bhuvanesvari resembles Tripura Sundari. She shares some of her attributes, such as beauty, grace and wisdom. Bhuvanesvari also relates to Kali. As space, Bhuvanesvari coordinates with the dimension of time represented by Kali. And as earth, Bhuvanesvari provides Kali the stage to enact her dance of life and death. It is said; Kali creates events in time; Bhuvanesvari creates objects in space. Bhuvanesvari is also linked to the sound which arises from space and thus to the sound of the speech (vak). And therefore, she corresponds to Sarasvati,    Vagesvari the goddess of speech.

30.2. She, just as Sodasi, is depicted as a beautiful young girl of sixteen sitting on a lotus throne. Her iconography descriptions (Dhyana-sloka) presents her as having a radiant vermilion complexion, glowing like the rising sun; with a smiling face framed with flowing hair the colour of black bees; her eyes are broad, her lips full and red; her nose delicate;  and her full breasts are smeared with sandal paste and saffron. She is adorned with the moon as her diadem; and she is richly bejewelled. She is depicted with six hands holding an ornate cup filled with gems, a lotus, a goad, a noose, dispelling fears(abhaya -mudra) and bestowing boons (varada-mudra). She with her three eyes takes in the knowledge of the past, present and future; nothing escapes her attention


30.3. There also the other descriptions of Bhuvanesvari where she is depicted in three forms, similar in appearance, but in three colours: gold (Hemangi), red (Soubhagya-Bhuvanesvari) and bluish (Maya Bhuvanesvari). These correspond to three gunas that are the fabric of the material world. Here, she sits naked on a red lotus in a pond full of lotus flowers; sports three eyes; wears pearls of many hues; and holds a snake, noose and goad. Bhuvanesvari is the world but she also transcends the world.


31.1. As regards the symbolisms associated with her iconography: The lotus throne she sits upon indicates her association with creation; and the lotuses in her hands the vitality and beauty of life; the crescent moon adorning her head symbolizes growth and vitality. Her full breasts symbolize her nurturing, maternal nature; she is Jagad-dhatri one who nourishes the world. With her noose she controls. And with her goad she nudges us to overcome the obstacles of passions and delusions and reach beyond the limitations of mind.

Bhuvaneshvari Yantra

Hrim, the Bija mantra, a sound-symbol, an example of  the united male/female principle, is associated with the Goddess Bhuvaneshvari

Bhuvaneshwari 2

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used to say : it is Mother who binds and Mother who sets free; the noose and a goad , she holds,  illustrate her captivating and liberating powers. 

Bhuvanesvari like Kamala is consistently associated with the here and now. She helps us to go beyond all identities.


Bhuvanesheem Mahamayaam Sooryamandalaroopineem

Namami Varadaam Suddhaam Kamakhyaroopineem Shivam

Om Hreem Bhubaneswaraye Hreem Namah

V. Chinnamasta

32.1. Chinnamasta or Chinnamastika or Prachanda Chandika or Chandika   the goddess with a severed head is perhaps the most ghastly and disturbing depiction of a Mahavidya. Chinnamasta, standing naked having chopped off her own head with her own sword, holds her decapitated head in one of her hands. Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck, and one streams into the mouth of her severed head, while two others streams fall into the mouths of her two female associates. Yet Chinnamasta’s face is happy and smiling.

32.2. The origin of Chinnamasta is lost in antiquity. There are many myths associated with her, but are mostly disputed. Whatever be the myths, she came into prominence mainly as Mahavidya with a gory iconography, and      as one of the ferocious and frightening aspects of Kali. She has no significant presence outside the Mahavidya cult. However, the Tantric Buddhism has a corresponding deity named Vajrayoni   (the power of thunderbolt) a form of Tara, closely related to the goddess with a severed – head Chinna-munda.

The Tibetan Tantric Buddhism believes that severing ones head, not being dead   and walking around holding afloat that head in hand is a magical and spiritual ability. According to the Buddhist interpreters, chopping off the head is symbolic and not actual. It signifies discarding the ego and all identities on the way to spiritual awakening, preliminary to attaining Nirvana. It is variously described as symbolic of enlightenment, rising of Kundalini Shakthi. The philosophical aspect of Vajrayoni is Prajna parimita.

33.1. Chinnamasta refers to ridding ourselves of false notions and the limitations in which we are bound. Her depiction also helps to overcome self-pity, fear, and pain of death. She stands for essential freedom. This idea of freedom is expressed by her nudity.

Chinnamasta by Basudha Nandy

Chinnamasta by Basudha Nandy

Chinnamasta is depicted as a girl of sixteen years adorned with garland of skulls and necklaces of bones. She wears on her naked body a serpent as the sacred thread (yajnopavita) and she has full breasts covered by lotus flowers and strings of beads. But the most gruesome aspect of her is that she has cut-off her own head with a sword; and holds in her hands the severed head as also the sword. The blood gushing out of her decapitated head sprouts in three jets. The central jet streams into the mouth of her own head , usually held in her left hand , while the other two jets fall into the mouths of her two companions – Dakini and Varnini – standing on her either side.

chinnamasta1 chinnamasta2

33.2. She stands against the backdrop of thunder and lightning with her head in hand. She is not dead; but is said to be in a state of amanaska, free from human follies, distractions and sensations of pain etc. The beheaded –head of Chinnamasta is shown ecstatically drinking the central stream of blood flowing out of her headless trunk. It displays three eyes wide open in joy; and a lovely face lit up with a beatific smile. The hair on the head is disheveled and adorned with fragrant flowers. The head is decorated with a well crafted diadem, as also ear and nose rings. The more amazing sight is that headless naked trunk of Chinnamasta is standing upon a handsome couple engaged in sex in the viparita-maithuna posture (the female on top of her male partner) stretched over a lotus flower. The scene of the activity is a cremation ground set against the background of hills, river, flowers amidst thunder and lightning. The loving couple in each other’s arms, engrossed in sex and   blissfully unaware of anything outside their act, are identified Kama or Manamatha the god of desire (like Eros) and his companion Rati the very act of sex. A couple of jackals watch the scene with little interest. There are also depictions where Chinnamasta is riding over a supine Shiva.


33.3. Chinnamasta is described as a goddess red as hibiscus flower, bright as the rising sun. She is usually pictured in red and sometimes in blue. . There are also depictions of her with four arms and without the couple engaged in sex.  She is shown riding a lion holding her severed head.

33.4. It is said; Chinnamasta in her classic form is depicted nude (Digambari) as she is unfettered by illusions and other limitations. Her hibiscus blood red complexion symbolizes life in its incessant flow. She wears a garland of severed human heads symbolizing wisdom and power. One of the three jets of blood that spurt from her neck streams back into the mouth of her own severed head, and other two, into those of the yoginis – Dakini and Varnini, suggesting that death nourishes life and thus the process of recycle continues. The copulating couple under the feet of the goddess personifies sexual desire and its experience. The lotus on which the couple lies symbolizes creation and life. Chinnamasta self-destructs to sustain and promote life – in its various forms: the life that the lovemaking couple represents, the death which reveals in decapitating herself and the nourishment which manifests in feeding the flanking yoginis are all integral aspects of life.


34.1. Chinnamasta, in a single frame, makes a stunning presentation of varying and conflicting aspects of life and death; of self destruction while nourishing others; of death by violence and enjoyable sex; of gory violence spilling blood and smiling blissful face; death and destruction placed next to creation; of the joy of transcending the body and not the pain of losing it; and of giving up the ego to attain wisdom. It combines in itself the elements of heroism (vira), terror (bhayanaka) and eroticism (srungara) and portrays, in its own manner, a composite picture of life where all life-events become intrinsic parts of a unified scheme. It enfolds the entire multiplicity of life. Chinnamasta in her energetic form shows the power of transformation in action.

Chinnamasta - Mahavidya


35.1. Chinnamasta belongs to Kali-kula the family of Kali. She is visualized as residing in a red sun orb (Surya Mandala) in all her glory. Given her fierce form , her worship rituals follow the tantric Vama-marga  the left-handed path involving pancha-makaaras  [the five Ms of madya (liquor), mamasa (meat) , matsya  (fish) , mudra  (hallucinating substance)  and maithuna  (sex) ]. The worship is carried out in the dead of the night in the cremation grounds. Because of her ferocious nature and the dangers following improper worship, it is said, only the brave ones (vira) should dare venture her worship through vama-marga. Tantrics aspiring for Siddhis (magical powers); or victory over rivals by casting spells or by causing harm usually take up these extreme rituals. It is said, in the olden times the soldiers were initiated into the Chinnamasta cult to enable them gain self-control and to imbibe in them the spirit of self-sacrifice and the courage to face death without fear. Chinnamasta in this context is invoked as Ranjaitri (victorious in war) and celebrated as for her prowess in battles.

35.2. As regards the householders, they are cautioned and advised to contemplate on Chinnamasta only in her abstract esoteric form without being distracted by her fierce iconography. Her worship through softer methods is said to yield: health; wealth; freedom from fear; ability to influence family, friends, women, enemies, and rulers; and liberation.

35.3. Because of her fierce nature and the dangers involved in her worship, it is said; very few temples are dedicated to Chinnamasta. One such few is in the temple-complex of Durga at Ramnagar near Varanasi.


Symbolisms and explanations

36.1. The explanations of the symbolisms associated with the horrific image of Chinnamasta abound; there are too many to be countered here. Most of the explanations regard Chinnamasta as the classic imagery of the tantric symbolism. It is said; symbols do not speak directly; and they are not what they appear to be at the outset. Their inner meaning eludes the eye; and is beyond what is ordinarily seen. Tantric imagery cannot be understood by analyzing its art-style, composition etc. However enigmatic they might appear, they bridge mundane and the transcendent. Their real significance lies in their total perception and its association with ones consciousness and Intuitional experience.

36.2. Some say; Chinnamasta’s act of parting with her head – her identity- is one of extreme sacrifice for the good of all, so that the others might live and thrive. If the act of her decapitation is viewed as an act of self-sacrifice, then that selfless acts will not hurt us. Chinnamasta too does not feel the pain; she does not die; and she lives on. Chinnamasta is beyond pain as her decapitated head smiles blissfully.

36.3. The Tantra outlook is based on dualism. It presents alternate phases of creation and destruction; giving and taking of life. Chinnamasta represents both the aspects in her own shocking way. She takes life and vigor from the copulating pair and then gives it by cutting off her own head to feed her followers.

Chinnamasta, in her creative and destructive aspects, signifies apparent dissolution and return to the elements.

She also represents the integral nature of life where living, nourishing; sex, violence, death and regeneration are all essential aspects and are intertwined.

37.1. Chinnamasta is the thunder goddess. With a flash of lightning and thunder she destroys ignorance, severs identity with the physical body. She is about direct perception and regaining freedom.

37.2. She is also seen as symbol of self-control, fearlessness and embodiment of sexual energy. While another explanation mentions : as she steps on and stands on top of the couple in the act of sex she  overcomes sexual desire and untamed nature. Chinnamasta is in control of the creative urge. If she wishes to give expression to that she does spontaneously; else she could suppress all urges. She is the Supreme Yogi.

37.3. Another explanation based in yoga says that the tantric tradition uses body in ritual exercises. The figure of Chinnamasta suggest that the practitioner must remove his or her analytical head, give away the concerns with physical life, and divert his energy to move up from muladhara to a higher state . Chinnamasta is a representation of the awakening of the kundalini.

The chopped-off head may also represent non-mind (unmana) or the state freed from limitations of mind. Chinnamasta awakens consciousness.

Guptadurge Mahabhage Guptapaapapranashini

Saptajanmaarjitat Paapaat Traahi Maam Saranagatam

Om Shrim Hreem Hreem Aim Vajra Vairochaniye Shrim Hreem Hreem Phat Svaha

VI. Mahavidya – Tripura Bhairavi

38.1. Tripura Bhairavi Mahavidya is regarded the terrible and wrathful aspect of Sodasi Mahavidya. Her other two forms being Tripura Bala the young virgin and Tripura Sundari the most beautiful in all the three worlds. Tripura Bhairavi is generally identified with Bhairavi a fierce goddess and consort of Bhairava the ferocious aspect of Shiva. But as Mahavidya, Bhairavi is an independent goddess; and her ‘consort’ aspect is not stressed. She is very close to Kali; and resembles her in many ways.

38.2. Though Bhairavi stands for terror, decay and destruction, it is explained, she is a complete goddess not associated with destruction alone. She is also the goddess of creation and maintenance. Her name Bhairavi, it is said, is derived from Bharana (to create), Ramana (to protect) and Vamana (to eject). Her last mentioned aspect – Vamana– is related to the tantric imagery of the rhythmic breathing of the Devi – inhaling and exhaling. Her outward breath signifies creation and emanation, while her inward breath is withdrawal   and destruction. She represents the nature of ultimate reality which throbs in the alternate modes of creation and destruction.

39.1. Bhairavi is said to have twelve separate forms each having its own mantra and Yantra. Her forms include both benign and terrible aspects. Taken together Bhairavi is a multifaceted goddess who is not restricted to destruction alone.

For instance, her benign forms include: Sampath-pradha Bhairavi ( giver of all riches); Sakala-siddhi – Bhairavi (one who grants all attainments); Bhaya-vidvamsini (destroyer of fear); Chaitanya-Bhairavi (one who awakens consciousness) ; Bhuvaneshvari-Bhairavi (one who sustains the world); Kameshwari-Bhairavi (one who kindles desire and grants gratification); Shubmkari (one who causes good ); and Annapurneshwari-Bhairavi (one who grants food ).

She is also addressed by many other names: Sristi-samhara-kaarini; Jagad-dhatri, Parameshwari; and, Jaganmata. She is also the other-half of Ardhanarishwara.


39.2. She is Kundalini. Bhairavi is also the name given to a Yogini (female yogi) adept in Kundalini –tantra. Bhairavi represents the power of speech. She is also described as Tejas the radiance that enlivens the elements (tanmatra). She is the power over the senses and elements. Bhairavi is Tapas the heat of penance that transforms the adept by burning down the base desires and attachments. She is also Chidagni the flame of consciousness.

[Bhairavi is also a title for a female adept in Kundalini Tantra. A Yogini is a student of Tantra, or an aspirant. A Bhairavi is one who has succeeded and  is one who  is beyond the fear of death.]

40.1. But, it is her force that tends towards dissolution that is highlighted in the Mahavidya cult. On account of her power over the events of life and death, Bhairavi denotes Terror. She is called Ghora Tara, Kalaratri, and Chandi. She dwells in cremation grounds (smasana vasini) and has corpse as her seat.   Bhairavi is the destructive force in nature .She represents the decay, weakness, aging and finally death that occur everywhere, in everyone and in everything. None can escape her wrath.

40.2. Bhairavi is Nitya-pralaya the silent but ever active process of aging, decay and death that takes place at every moment and in every aspect of life. She is also evident in every self-destructive habits and attitudes; say as in wrong eating, over indulgence, ignorance, anger, jealousy, hatred and selfishness etc. Bhairavi is Apara-dakini the virtual demoness who with her soft hands, gradually and voluptuously strangles all to death. Bhairavi is also described as the wrath of a mother towards her children who indulge in wrong or impure ways of living and thinking.

40.3. And, she is also Maha-pralaya the great dissolution at the end of the cycle when all things are consumed by fire and dissolved in the formless waters of pre-creation out of which a new universe emerges. Thus, destruction has a purpose. It is a part of the overall scheme of creation and re-generation. Even at the micro level, at every moment each living cell dies and reinvents itself; life and death walk hand in hand.

40.4. Bhairavi, the awe-inspiring, is also Kala- ratri the destructive power of time. And all things are subject to decay and death in the course of time, Bhairavi is present everywhere and at all times. As Kala-ratri the dark night, she is destructive aspect of Kali the goddess of time. Pray to her for fearlessness in the face of death.

40.5.All forms dissolve into the dark night of Bhairavi as Kala-ratri. Bhairavi is thus formless and void; and at the same time contains within her the infinite forms. When she revels she takes myriad forms. She is the matrix on which the universe ages, dissolves and re-generates itself. The Tantric texts describe Kala-Bhairavi as the goddess who presides over the transformation of the world- from birth to death and from death to birth.

41.1. The iconographies of Bhairavi are many and varied. They depict her terrible form as also her benign form.

41.2. Bhairavi as the destructive force is   red in color with her breasts smeared with blood. She is draped in red silk. She is bright as the rising sun. She has three lotus-like eyes. She wears a garland of severed heads, moon on her head, and many jewels. In her depiction with ten hands she carries an assortment of weapons and accoutrement: bow and arrows, noose and goad, sword and club, drum and trident, and book and rosary. She is seated on a corpse (Savāsana).

41.3. As Kalaratri she is black as night and naked; only covered with skulls of her devotees which form a garland across her chest and wild long black hair flowing with the wind. She has her tongue out, dripping with blood. She haunts everywhere, but she is more easily seen where death and ashes exist in abundance.

kalaratri1 kalaratri2

41.4. In her benign form, Bhairavi is glowing like thousand rising suns. She wears a moon on her head. She has three large eyes. Her beautiful lotus face is lit with a gentle smile. She is dressed in red –silk garments.   She wears a jewelled crown with the crest of the moon. She is adorned with white gems. She wears garlands of wild flowers. She holds a pot of milk, a book, rosary, gestures mudras dispelling fear and bestowing boons.


Mahapadmavanantasthe Paramanandavigrahe

Shabdabrahmamaye Svacche Vande Tripurabhairaveem

Om Bhairavi Saham

Continued in Part Four –

Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala

Sources and references

1. Tantric Visions and Divine Feminine by David Kinsley.

2. Ten Mahavidyas: Manifestations of cosmic female energy by Dr. PC Jain and Dr. Daljit

3. The Dasa (ten) Mahavidyas

4. Dus Mahavidyas: the ten forms of the Devi by Saipriya Viswanathan.

5. The ten Mahavidyas by Hancock-Jaime

6. The Tantric way- Art, Science and Ritual by Ajit Mookerji and Madhu Khanna

7. Mahavidyas by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

8. The Mahavidya: the powers of consciousness conceptualized by Devadatta kali

9. Wisdom Goddesses: Mahavidyas and the Assertion of Femininity in Indian Thought

10. Dus Mahavidya

The pictures are taken from internet


Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Mahavidya


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Dasha Mahavidya – Part Two

Continued from Part One -Introduction to Mahavidyas

Kali, Tara and Tripura Sundari

I. Mahavidya Kali

20.1. Kali is Adi Mahavidya, the primary Mahavidya. She is the first and the foremost among the Mahavidyas. Even before the Mahavidya cult came into being, she was a major goddess with a large following of devotees immersed in her mythologies, hymns and songs. She is not only the first but is  also the most important of the Mahavidyas. She is often addressed as Bhagavathi and Aarya. It is said; the Mahavidya tradition is centered on Kali and her attributes. Kali is the epitome of the Mahavidyas. The rest of the Mahavidyas emanate from Kali; and, share her virtues and powers in varying shades and degrees.

Among the Mahavidyas derived from the older deities, Kali is the foremost. Though Kali makes her specific appearance in the Devi-Mahatmya as an emanation of Durga, she combines in herself the virtues and powers of many Vedic deitiesThe Saktisamgama-tantra says, “All the Mahavidyas, the Siddhi-vidyas, the Vidyas, and the Upa-vidyas, are different forms that Kali assumes ”. She is the exemplary Mahavidya; she alone symbolizes the fully awakened consciousness; and,  she alone reveals the ultimate truth.

20.2  It is believed; the name kali first appears in the Mundakopanishad (kālī karālīMU.1.2.4) where Kali along with Karali is one of the seven flaming tongues (lelayamana sapta jihva) of Agni. In a way, Kali is the Shakti of Agni, which has the power to transform matter into energy , symbol of life (as heat and light). Kali, the destroyer, like Agni, dissolves the material world back into undifferentiated energy, the Shakthi. And the same verse in the Mundakopanishad, names another tongue of Agni as Karali (formidable, terrible).

Bhadra-Kali, as an auspicious goddess, first appears in the Kathaka Grihya-sutra, an Agama text of the late Vedic period (followed by kathaka shakha of krishna yajur veda), where She is invoked – along with Agni, Soma, Indra, Skanda, Rudra and Shasti – with offerings of perfumes (sugandha) during the marriage ceremony.

Kali also appears towards the end of Mahabharata , when Asvatthama’s brutal assault on the fast asleep children of the Pandavas  is seen as the work of kali ‘of bloody mouth and eyes, smeared with blood and adorned with garlands .. holding a noose in her hand ‘. She is kala-ratri , the night of death .

The name Kali, appears in Devi Mahatmya fourteen times, all of that in the third episode.  The first of these is when the Goddess, seeing that Chanda and Munda had returned to engage her in a battle, She bristling with anger, her face becoming black as the ink (masi-varnam) , emits from her furrowed brows the Kali of terrible countenance wielding sword and a snare in hand.


The exceedingly frightening appearance of kali is described as having : wide open mouth ; terrifying lolling tongue; dried-out skin; sunken reddish eyes ; hideously roaring; carrying many-coloured skull-topped staff, wearing a garland of skulls;  adorned with a garment of tiger-skin etc.

tataḥ kopaṃ cakāroccair-ambikā tānarīnprati । kopena cāsyā vadanaṃ maṣīvarṇam-abhūttadā ॥ 7.5॥

bhru-kuṭī-kuṭilā-ttasyā lalāṭa-phalakā-ddrutam । kālī karāla-vadanā viniṣ-krāntā-sipāśinī ॥ 7. 6॥

The next episode follows after Kali beheaded Chanda and Munda. The Devi, then declares that since Kali presented her with the heads of these two demons, she would henceforth be renowned in the world as Chamunda (cāmuṇḍeti tato loke khyātā ).  Thereafter in the text, Kali and Chamunda become synonyms.

Yasmāc-caṇḍaṃ ca muṇḍaṃ ca gṛhītvā tvamupāgatā । cāmuṇḍeti tato loke khyātā devī bhaviṣyasi 7.27

The name Karali appears twice in the  final hymn to describe Kali’s terrifying mouth with protruding teeth (daṃṣṭrā- karāla vadane – 11.21) and Bhadrakali’s flaming trident (jvālā-karālam-atyugra-maśeṣ-āsura-sūdanam – 11.26).

Later, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Tantric devotee-poets of Bengal, such as Ramaprasad and kamalakantha, envisioned Kali as the beautiful, loving Universal Mother, a most enchanting representation of the Supreme Reality.  It was, of course, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa that fully realized the Guna and Nirguna forms of the Great Mother. 

Kali By Richard B. Godfrey 1770

20.3. Mahavidyas are symbols of female independence; and, Kali demonstrates that freedom with great abandon. She is never depicted as a submissive consort luring with charm. She is always dominant, striding on the male with a destructive frenzy. She challenges and demolishes the conventional notions about looks, manners and the limited ways of understanding things.

21.1. It is explained that Kali manifests in countless ways. But, some aspects of her are more common than others. There are therefore varied descriptions of Kali. Each Tantric and Shakta tradition pictures her in its own light. But all sources tend to agree on her prominent characteristics. 

Who is this terrible Woman, dark as the sky at midnight?
Who is this Woman dancing over the field of battle,
Like a blue lotus that floats on a crimson sea of blood?
Who is She, clad alone in the Infinite for a garment,
Rolling Her three great eyes in frenzy and savage fury?
Under the weight of Her tread the earth itself is trembling!
Shiva, Her mighty Husband, who wields the fearful trident,
Lies like a lifeless corpse beneath Her conquering feet

Kali is almost always regarded as being dark like the starlit night, with a dreadful appearance, having four arms, holding a bloodied cleaver and a severed head in her left hands, while her right hands gesture blessings (varadamudra) and reassurance (abhayamudra).   She is depicted with three eyes, white teeth, garland of fifty human skulls and a girdle of seven severed human hands. Her limbs are adorned with various ornaments. Her tongue hangs out. Her laughter is most fearful. Kali who dwells in funeral pyres stands upon the corpse of a male. She is the auspicious divinity truly worthy of meditation.

O Kali, you are fond of cremation grounds
So I have turned my heart into one
You love to dance in the light of burning pyres
At the dead of the night
Mother, come and dance unceasingly
In the cremation ground of my heart
Where all my earthly desires burning to ashes
Prasada waits with his eyes closed.
Kali, greatly terrifying, laughing loudly,
Elokeshi sporting disheveled hair flying in all directions
With fearful fangs, four arms holding a cleaver, a skull,
And gesturing mudras bestowing boons and dispelling fear,
Wearing a garland of skulls,  tongue rolling wildly,
Digambari garbed in space in her nakedness,
Free from covering of all illusions
Thus I meditate on Kali My Mother,
Dwelling in the cremation ground of my heart
My Mother dances joyfully
Prasada watches with great delight
… Ramprasad Sen (1718-75)

21.2. Tantric text Brahma Yamala describes three forms of Kali – Dakshina (Sattva), Vama (Tamas ), and Madhyama (Rajas). Dakshina – Kali is characterized by  Sattva and is pure and pristine, while the Madhyama is mixed (Rajas) and Vama is impure (Tamas).

As Dakshinakali, Kali is portrayed in her benign form as young and beautiful; gently smiling; standing with her right foot on the supine, ash-besmeared body of Siva, who looks up at her adoringly.

Dakshinakalkali dance photo

Kali in her merciful form is protective, benevolent and a loving Mother who liberates her children. Daksinakali is the most popular form of Kali.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa envisioned Kali, his chosen deity, as the love that exists at the very heart of life; and , that which endures through both life and death. Kali, he said, appears fearful only when approached through relative forms of existence and through worldly attachments. But, when one lets his identities dissolve in the submission to her out of absolute faith and love, she appears as the very fountain of joy.

Who is there that can understand what Mother Kali is?
Even the six Darsanas are powerless to reveal Her.
It is She, the scriptures say, that is the Inner Self
Of the yogi, who in Self discovers all his joy;
She that, of Her own sweet will, inhabits every living thing

21.3. Kali is the Supreme Goddess resolving and harmonizing the contrasting attributes of creation and dissolution . She is the very essence of every existence.All the dualities of life, the light and the dark, the beautiful and the fearsome, are united and reconciled in Kali.

Kali is the symbol of eternal time (Kaala) she presides over all stages of the life. Kali is consciousness in motion—the overflowing joy that projects, sustains, and withdraws the universe. And her destruction has a dual aspect; she gives birth to new life as the old one fades away in the darkness of death.

Iconography and symbolism

kali kali2

22.1. Kali is portrayed mostly in two forms: the popular four-armed form and the ten-armed Mahakali form .She is being described as being black or deep blue. The iconography of Kali is rich in symbolisms. It is said,   Kali ‘picture is filled with awe-inspiring symbols, but they are not what they appear to be; and their real meaning is in their esoteric significance.

22.2. She is dark like mountains of collyrium. Her Black does not mean absence of color; but the absorption of all colours. It also suggests her immense power of attraction which draws the entire existence into itself. All colors reside in her. In Kali all colors dissolve. All shapes return to shapelessness, dissolved in the all pervading darkness of the eternal night. Her dark color is the ultimate reality in which all distinctions disappear.

Is my Mother, Shyama , dark?
The world says Kali is dark; but my mind says
No, she is not dark.
The black form is her sky-clad appearance illuminating the lotus of my heart,
Sometimes she is pure white, sometimes golden, sometimes blue or red;
I have never known such a Mother before; my life passes in her contemplation
Sometimes she is Purusha, sometimes she is Prakriti, sometimes she is Formlessness itself;
Reflecting on these many moods of Mother, Kamalakanta simply loses his mind.

— Kamalakanta Bhattacharya (c. 1769–1821)

22.3. Naked, clad by space, the Digambari is resplendent in her nakedness. She is unrestrained and boundlessness; free from all limitations and all illusions. She is beyond name (nama) and form (rupa) and all conditional existence. Kali’s nakedness signifies her absolute (nirguna) nature.

22.4. Her three eyes govern the three forces of creation, preservation and destruction. They are also said to represent the sun, moon, and fire; the three modes of time (kaala): past, present and future which she governs.

Kali - Mahavidya kali karali

22.5. Her garland of fifty human heads is said to represent the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet (varnamala), as also the power of her mantra, symbolizing her as the repository of power and all knowledge. The girdle of the seven severed human arms that circles her waist is said to represent the versatility and the freedom of choice inherent in all beings.

22.6. Her laughter is the expression of her absolute domination over all existence. It mocks at those who in folly of their vanity try to oppose her.

22.7. Kali’s four arms represent the complete circle of creation and destruction, which is contained within her.  Her two right hands dispel fear (abhaya) and bestow boons (varada); assuring salvation. She holds out the promise of transformation. With her sword she cuts the knots of doubts (samshaya) and eight types of delusions and negative traits (hatred, doubt, fear, shame, back-biting, conformity, arrogance and status consciousness  Kularnava Tantra). It is also the sword of wisdom and discrimination (viveka) that cuts through ignorance and destroys falsehood. The freshly severed head of a demon dangling from her left hand is the small ego, the false identities, the crippling limitations that bind human thinking.


23.1. In the hierarchy of manifestations, Kali stands at the highest, the most abstract aspect of divinity. All the dualities of life, the light and the dark, the beautiful and the fearsome, are united and reconciled in Kali. To reach her one has to abandon all prejudices, inhibitions; and discard all attachments, even the attachments to ideas and concepts.

Kali Kali Mahakali Kalike Papanasini

Khadgahaste Mundahaste Kali Kali Namostu Te
Kali chakra

Kreem Kreem Kreem Hum Hum Hreem Hreem Dakshine Kaalika

Kreem Kreem Kreem Hum Hum Hreem Hreem Swaha


II. Mahavidya –Tara

24.1. In the group of the Mahavidyas, Tara comes next to Kali. Tara closely resembles Kali in appearance. And just as Kali, Tara too displays gentle (saumya) or fierce (ugra) aspects. She was a prominent goddess well before the Mahavidya cult came into being. Tara has a much wider presence outside the Mahavidya periphery, especially in the Tantric traditions of both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. The Tantra regards Tara as potent as Kali. Tara also figures in Jainism. In the Vaishnava lore Tara was one of the goddess who fought along with Durga to defeat the thousand-headed Ravana.

24.2. In all the three traditions, Tara the blue goddess is a guide and a protector; and helps to tide over the stormy sea of troubles and turmoil of life (Samsara-tarini). She is Tarini, deliverer or saviour; one who saves guides and transports to salvation. Tara is the deity of accomplishments and is often propitiated by business persons for success.

24.3. Tara is associated with the speaking prowess. And, some texts equate Tara to Sarasvathi the goddess of learning; and call her Neela (blue) Sarasvathi seated on a lotus. As she is the goddess of speech, she is related to breathe that manifests sound. Breath is the primal sound of life. Breath in which the sound originates is the carrier (transporter –Tarini) of knowledge conveyed through the sound of speech. Tara is the un-manifest speech that resides in breath and consciousness.


lotus blue

24.4. In the Buddhist tradition, Tara is the common name applied to a large number of feminine deities of its pantheon, who embody many adorable virtues of the feminine principle.  It is said; those benign deities are named Tara (Tarini) because they rescue (trayate) us  from the eight outer fears  (i.e. the fears of lions, elephants, fire, snakes, thieves, water, bondage, and evil spirits) ;  as also  from the eight inner fears (i.e. he fears of pride, ignorance, anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness, and deluded doubts).

Hence, Tara, in Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, is worshiped as the Mother of Mercy and Compassion. Tara, here, is understood as reflecting certain aspects and metaphors of Buddhist virtues symbolized by Bodhisattva.

The Sadhanamala,  a highly specialized Buddhist tantric text, is a collection of Dhyana slokas (composed perhaps between the 5th and the 11th century), which  deals with the Vajrayana Buddhist Tantric meditative practices; and , it provides detailed instructions on how the images  of 312  Buddhist deities are to be visualized  and invoked; each with  its appropriate Mantra . The descriptions are meant to aid meditation; and, also to serve as a practical guide to the sculptors and painters. It enables the practitioner to visualize the nature, disposition, virtues and detailed iconographic features of a deity.

Green Tara is one of the most beloved figures in Tibetan Buddhism. As a Bodhisattva, she has sympathy for all beings, as a mother does for her children.  She helps people pass beyond the troubles of earthly existence and move toward enlightenment. She also protects people from numerous worldly dangers.

The Sadhanamala describes ten different types of Green Taras. Each Tara is distinguished from the other , based of her  symbolism, appearance, Mudra, and iconography.

Khadiravani Tara; Mahasri Tara; Vasya Tara; Arya Tara ; Mahattari Tara; Varada Tara; Durgottarini Tara ; Dhanada Tara;  Jahguli Tara; and , Parnasaban Tara

[For more on Green Tara, please check here]

Khadiravani Tara is commonly described as Shyama Tara, because of her dark green complexion. She is of the nature of green light. Her face is very peaceful; lighted with a slight smile. Her eyes, very loving and compassionate, are not opened wide; but, are fine and a little rounded. Tara’s eyes express compassion, loving kindness that a mother gives her beloved only child.  Her hair is very dark, half tied up and half loose, and decorated with an Utpala (dark blue lotus) flower at the crown. Tara is adorned with various kinds of ornaments; such as:  necklaces, bracelets, armlets, anklets, and so on.

Khadiravam Tara

Khadiravani Tara, through her right hand gestures Varada Mudra, granting sublime realization. Her left hand holds the stem of another utpala flower, with three fingers standing upright to signify refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Mahasri Tara is represented as seated on a golden throne, over the seat of moon, covered with many kinds of flowers (such as: Asoka, Champaka, Nagesvara and Parijata), displaying the Vyakhyana Mudra, imparting instructions. She is decked with ornaments and crown bearing the insignia of Amoghasiddhi.

Mahasri Tara

lotus green

24.5. In contrast to the Buddhist Tara who is described as a benevolent, compassionate, gentle and spirited young woman, eager to help and to protect,   Tara as Mahavidya is a rather fearsome goddess striking terror. She is also moody and harmful. But at times, Tara-Mahavidya can also be benevolent and compassionate.


25.1. Tara is described as seated in the pratyalidha asana on the chest of a corpse stretched on a white lotus; she is supreme and laughing horribly; holding cleaver, blue lotus, dagger and bowl; uttering the mantra Hum. She is of deep blue colour; her hair is braided with serpents, she is the Ugra-Tara. Her tongue is always moving. Her forehead is decorated with ornaments made of bones. She bestows magical powers. A noticeable feature of Tara’s iconography is the halo of light that surrounds her head. And, rising above her head is the ten headed serpent Akshobhya (the unperturbed or unshakable) symbolizing her yogic powers.

Tara - Mahavidya

25.2. Between Kali and Tara there are some similarities as also some differences. As said earlier, Tara’s physical appearance resembles that of Kali. Like Kali, she has three bright red eyes; has four hands holding sword or head chopper, a scissors, a severed head and a lotus; wears the garland of skulls; is richly is bejeweled and has snakes for ornaments; dances on a corpse. Both Kali and Tara are strongly associated with death and dissolution; both stand upon inert male figure. And, both are associated with Shiva. Brahad-dharma purana mentions Tara as representing time, just as does Kali. Whereas Kali is the power of time (kala) that inexorably causes all created things to perish, Tara is associated with fire, and particularly the fires of the cremation ground.

25.3. There are also differences in the depiction of the two goddesses. Tara’s complexion is blue whereas Kali’s can be black or deep blue. Tara holds a bowl made from a scull in one hand, a pair of scissors in another, a blue lotus in the third hand and an axe in the fourth. The scissors and sword in the hands of Tara are tools to remove the ego, the sense of mistaken identity that defines, limits, and binds. They are not weapons of death and destruction.  Tara is draped in tiger skin around her waist; and is not naked unlike Kali who symbolizes absolute freedom. Unlike Kali, whose hair flows loose and wild, Tara’s hair of tawny color is carefully bunched into a topknot (jata). Whereas Kali’s hair represents absolute freedom from constraint, Tara’s is a symbol of yogic asceticism and restraint. Kali represents the highest form of wisdom or liberating knowledge; and Tara is related to the discipline of yogic practices.

Pratyalidhapade Ghore Mundalamala Pasovite

Kharve Lambodari Bhime Ughratara Namostu Te

Tara chakra

Om Hreem Streem Hum Phat

III. Mahavidya –Tripura Sundari

26.1. Tripura Sundari (she who is most beautiful in all the three worlds) also known as Sodasi (the girl of sixteen) is usually listed as the third Mahavidya following Kali and Tara .Tripura Sundari is one of the Adi (primary)Mahavidyas .She was a well known Tantric deity even before she was grouped with the Mahavidyas. The goddess is depicted in three forms: Tripura Bala (the young virgin; Tripura Sundari (the beautiful) and Tripura Bhairavi (the terrible).The last mentioned aspect – Tripura Bhairavi –   is emphasized in the Mahavidya cult. While, her other two aspects are central to the Sri Vidya   tradition rooted in the worship of Sri Chakra.

In Sri Vidya, Tripura Sundari is celebrated as Lalitha, Rajarajeshwari, Kameshwari and Mahatripura Sundari the most magnificent transcendental beauty without a comparison in three worlds, the conqueror of three levels of existence. Each of these forms emphasizes a particular quality or function. In Sri Vidya, the Goddess is worshiped in her benign (saumya) and beautiful (soundarya) aspects, following the Sri Kula (family of Sri) tradition (sampradaya). Sri Vidya is still flourishing, particularly in South India.

Tripurasundari 4

26.2. It is said; Sundari as Sodasi of sixteen years is at a delightful stage of a woman’s life. Her nature is to play, to seek new experiences, and to charm others to her. Her innocence attracts all towards her .The other explanations mention: she is called Sodasi because the mantra of her Vidya is composed of sixteen seed syllables (bija-aksharaka e i la hrim; ha sa ka ha la hrim; sa ka la hrim; and srim). Another explanation sates that the number sixteen is also associated with sixteen her individualized aspects, kalas or sixteen phases of moon (Shodasha kalaa). And, therefore this Vidya is also known as Chandra-kala- vidya, the wisdom of the lunar digits. The Bija-aksharas are invoked as forms of the Mother goddess. But, in the Mahavidya cult, Sodasi is also seen as the embodiment of sixteen modification of desire.


26.3. As regards Tripura Sundari, three is her dominant number. Her name is taken to mean: “she who is beautiful in the three worlds” or “she whose beauty transcends the three worlds”. She is Trividha Shakthi : Baala, Sundari and Bhairavi. The three cities (tri-pura) symbolize body, mind and consciousness. The triangle is the main motif of Tripura Sundari carrying various symbolisms: three fold process of creation, preservation and destruction; the three syllables of her mantra; three gunas and three colours; three states of awareness   etc

27.1. It is explained that Mahavidyas as a group belong to the Kali-kula (family of Kali) as Kali is the most prominent Mahavidya. Kali-kula generally is opposed to the conservative Brahmanical tradition, which ‘denies the experience of the Goddess’Kali –kula is aligned to Shakta mode of worship. Further, some aspects and dispositions of Kali, the Adi Mahavidya, are shared by all the other Mahavidyas. For these reasons, Tripura Sundari, though she basically belongs to Sri-kula, as Mahavidya (Tripura Bhairavi), displays traces of aggression (ugra) and horror (ghora). The Mahavidya Tripura Sundari (Bhairavi) is described as timeless youth, beautiful but frowning rather angrily. The Mahavidya text Sodasi- tantra –shastra describes her, at places, as ‘frightening, wild and perhaps dangerous’. The most unusual depiction of Tripura Sundari appears in the Vamakeshwara-tantrawhere she is smeared with ashes, wears tiger skin, ties her hair in a knot over the top of her head as a jata, carries a skull; and holds a snake, a trident and a drum. She has a large bull as her vehicle.

27.2. Tripura Sundari as Mahavidya combines in herself the determination of Kali, the knowledge of Tara; and her own beauty and grace. And, following the core ideology of the Mahavidyas, Tripura Sundari, like Kali and Tara, exercises her domination over the male. She sits on the chest of Shiva, while the four major gods support her throne as its legs.

Though Tripura Sundari is an Adi (primordial) Mahavidya, she is not regarded as representing the highest state or absolute of reality (as Kali does). But, she represents a relative state of consciousness characterized by “I am this” (aham idam).She is related to yoga and heightened awareness (consciousness).

Tripura 1Tripura 2

28.1. Tripura Sundari is glowing like rising sun spreading delights of joy, compassion and knowledge. She is depicted as a beautiful young girl of sixteen, of red and golden complexion, having four arms holding a noose, a goad, a sugarcane bow, and five flower arrows. She is richly adorned with ornaments. She is sometimes shown seated on a lotus emerging out of the navel of Shiva, who is reclining below her. At other times she is seated on the chest of reclining Shiva or sitting on the lap of Shiva (Kameshwara). They are on a pedestal supported by the gods Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, and Indra. An aura of royalty distinguishes her demeanour and her attributes.


28.2. As regards the symbolisms associated with the ayudhas she holds: the noose symbolizes attachment, the goad signifies repulsion, the sugarcane bow is like the mind and the arrows are the five sense objects .The other explanation says: the noose indicates the captivating power of beauty ;goad , the ability to dissociate from attachments; the bow , the mind (manas);and the five flower arrows, represent the five senses (jnanendriyas).The reclining  Shiva represents dormant consciousness Sadashiva tattva (the ever auspicious but inert principle of consciousness) ; and Tripura Sundari is Shakthi.

Devadatta Kali explains : The four legs of Tripurasundari’s  throne are the gods Brahma, Visnu, Rudra, and Mahesvara. Brahma is the power of creation or cosmic emanation (srishti); Visnu, of cosmic maintenance (sthiti); Rudra, of destruction, dissolution, or withdrawal (samhara). In a distinctively Tantric addition to this threefold activity, Mahesvara symbolizes the divine power of concealment (nigraha). When the nondual reality makes manifest the finite many, the infinite One becomes hidden from our awareness. Conversely, Siva, in the form of Sadasiva, is the power of self-revelation (anugraha), also known as divine grace. When we go beyond the appearances and division of name and form, we again experience the ineffable divine unity that is our true being. These five deities—Brahma, Visnu, Rudra, Mahesvara, and Sadasiva—represent Tripurasundari’s five divine activities (pancakritya).

In the Sakta Tantra, it is Mother who is supreme, and the gods are her instruments of expression. Through them she presides over the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of the universe, as well as over the self-concealment and self-revelation that lie behind those three activities. Self-concealment is the precondition as well as the result of cosmic manifestation, and self-revelation causes the manifest universe to dissolve, disclosing the essential unity.

Om Aim Hreem Shreem Sri Lalita Tripurasundari Padukam Poojayami Namah

tripura chakra

Om Aim Hreem Shreem Sri Lalita Tripurasundari Padukam Poojayami Namah

Next – Part Three

Bhuvanesvari, Chinnamasta and Bhairavi

Sources and references

1. Tantric Visions and Divine Feminine by David Kinsley.

2. Ten Mahavidyas: Manifestations of cosmic female energy by Dr. PC Jain and Dr. Daljit

3. The Dasa (ten) Mahavidyas

4. Dus Mahavidyas: the ten forms of the Devi by Saipriya Viswanathan.

5. The ten Mahavidyas by Hancock-Jaime

6. The Tantric way- Art, Science and Ritual by Ajit Mookerji and Madhu Khanna

7. Mahavidyas by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

8. The Mahavidya: the powers of consciousness conceptualized by Devadatta kali

9.Wisdom Goddesses: Mahavidyas and the Assertion of Femininity in Indian Thought

10. Dus Mahavidya

The pictures are taken from internet


Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Mahavidya


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Dasha Mahavidya – Part One – Introduction

The Beginnings

1.1. There is a deep archetypal need in the human psyche for a mother. It is said; the Goddess was humankind’s earliest conception of divinity. Among the Shakthas who worship Mother Goddess, the source of all existence is female. God is woman. She is the principle representation of Divinity. She is that power which resides in all life as consciousness, mind, matter, energy, silence, joy as also disturbance and violence. She is the vibrant energy that makes everything alive, fascinating and wonderful. She is inherent in everything and at the same time transcends everything.

1.2. Her true nature is beyond mind and matter; she is not bound by any limitation. She is Arupa. When she is represented in a form, her intense representation is a Bindu the dimension-less point, abounding with limitless potential, about to expand immensely. The Bindu symbolizes her most subtle micro form as the universal Mother, womb, yoni, creator, retainer as also the receiver of the universe-

1.3. The Goddess in Tantra- as Bindu – denotes what is hidden; the secret, the subtle and the most sensitive. She represents the source of all that is to be known, to be searched and to be attained with dedication and effort; she is Durga. The seeker is drawn by a fascination to know her.   She is the mystery and allure of all knowledge.  She is at once the inner guiding power, the knowledge and its comprehension. She is Vidya.

2.1. Ordinarily, Vidya stands for knowledge, learning, discipline and a system of thought. But, in the context of Tantra it has an extended meaning. Here, it variously refers to a female deity, to the personification of her consciousness; or to the manifestation of her wide variety of powers in specific forms at different times for different purposes. Her varied forms-dynamic and static-   are interpreted as explicit instances of her absolute nature. Devi Durga is described as the Vidya in all beings; as the contrasting kinds of energies that pervade existence (Ya Devi sarvabhutheshu, Vidya rupena samsthita). And each of her Vidya is an illustration of her primordial energy as Adi prakrithi or Adi parashakthi.

2.2. The Devi, in the Tantra represents consciousness functioning at different levels of the universe -inward and outward. She also is the source of diverse principles, energies and faculties which make the manifest and un-manifest universe. When the countless diversity that occurs in nature, in humans and in all existence, is personified they are visualized by the Tantric through idioms that are familiar to him. He views each of that as a specific manifestation of the Devi. He recognizes each expression of her as a Vidya. Those symbolic Tantric visualizations are named Mahavidya, in awe and reverence.

3.1. Though Her Vidya is infinite, for the purpose of Tantric Sadhana, they are usually classified as being ten: Dasha Mahavidya. Each tradition of Tantra has its own set of Dasha Mahavidyas.  Generally, the ten important Mahavidyas enumerated in the shaktha upa-puranas – Maha Bhagavata Purana and Brahaddharma Purana- are taken as standard forms (Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari (Sodashi), Bhuvaneshvari, Bhairavi,   Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bhagalamukhi , Matangi and Kamala ) .

They are described as the ten great gupta ( secret ) Mahavidyas : 

[Kali Tara mahavidya Sodashi Bhuvaneswari / Bhairavi Chhinnamasta cha vidya Dhumavti tatha / Bagala siddha vidya cha Matangi Kamalatmika / Etaaha dasa-maha-vidyaaha gupta vidyaaha prakeertitaaha ].

Further, each of the ten has within itself many layers; each carries many names; and, each form has its own sub-variations.

3.2. Some of the other Devi-related texts count more than ten forms of Mahavidyas. For instance, Narada Panchatantra says there are at least seventy Mahavidyas; the Nirutta Tantra counts eighteen Mahavidyas; and the Devi Bhagavata specifies thirteen forms of Mahavidyas (Kalika, Tarini, Tripura, Bhairavi, Kamala, Bagala, Matangi, Tripura-Sundari, Kamakhya, Tulja-devi, Jambhini, Mohini, and Chinnamasta).

Another Tantric text Mundamaala –tantra names a slightly different set of thirteen Mahavidyas (Kali, Tara, Tripura-Sundari, Bhairavi, Bhuvaneshvari, Chinnamasta, Bagala, Dhumavathi, Annapurna, Durga, Kamala, Matangi and Padmavati).

In certain other lists, some obscure goddesses: Vasali, Bala and Pratyangira are included.

Thus, the numbers, names and their position in the sequence vary from text to text.

3.3. But, all   the texts agree that Mahavidyas, whatever is their numbers, names, order of appearance or their diverse forms, all represent the natures of one and the same reality. Kali is included in all the enumerations and she is regarded the Adi (primary) Mahavidya. Each of the other Mahavidya shares some of her characteristics.

For the limited purpose of the discussion here let’s follow the standard enumeration of Ten Mahavidyas as in Maha Bhagavata Purana. But, let me also mention it is not explained why this particular set of ten Mahavidyas has come to be accepted over the other lists. There seems to be an element of randomness in the group formation.

The origin

4.1. The origin of Mahavidyas as a group is unclear. There are various explanations based in mythologies of the Mahadevi the Great Goddess and in the Tantra texts. But all explanations seem to suggest that  the Mahavidyas, as a group of ten, is of comparatively recent origin; say between twelfth and fourteenth centuries: “a medieval iconographic and mythological expression of an aspect of Mahadevi theology”.

That does not mean all the ten goddesses in the group emerged rather late. The Mahavidyas is a combination three well established deities –Kali, Tara and Kamala; couple of deities that already had marginal presence; and other deities, perhaps of local origin, who figure exclusively in the Tantric Mahavidya cult.

Kala one who consumes all

4.2. Among the Mahavidyas derived from the older deities, Kali is the foremost. Though Kali makes her specific appearance in the Devi-Mahatmya as an emanation of Durga, she combines in herself the virtues and powers of many Vedic deities. She inherits the all – pervasive sovereign power and splendour of Devi (RV.10.125); the mystery and darkness of Rathri (RV.10.127.1-8), dark as the bright starlit night who is Mayobhu (delighting), Kanya (virgin), Yosha yuvathi (youthful) , Revathi (opulent), Bhadra Shiva(auspicious)  and pashahasta (holding a noose); the mercy of Durga who transports her devotee over all the difficulties ( no adya paarayati durgani visvaha – Nirukta :9.29); the occult power and delusion of Viraj  the Maha-Maya , the goddess of heaven (divi maayeva devata) and the Dhirgajihvi (long tongued) ; the death, destruction and dissolution of Nirrti; and the timelessness of Kala. Kali is also one of the seven tongues of Agni (Kali, Karali, Manojava, Sulohita, Sudhumravarna, Suphulingini and Visvaruchi: Manduka Upanishad). Kali is thus associated with darkness, night, time, mystery, fire, and immense power of attraction. She is also the source and the residue of all energies.

4.3. Tara the saviour (Taarini) is as potent as Kali. She is said to be the form that Mahadevi took in order to destroy the thousand-headed –Ravana. Tara has strong presence in the Buddhism (especially the Tibetan Buddhism) and in Jain pantheons also. Among the Mahavidyas, Tara is next only to Kali; and she resembles Kali in appearance more than any other Mahavidya. Tara as Mahavidya is not entirely benign; she could be fierce and horrifying.

4.4. Among the other Mahavidyas, Kamala is the best known and adored even outside the cult. Kamala of the Mahavidya is a reflection of Shri for whom a Suktha of fifteen riks is devoted in the khilani (appendixes) attached to the fifth Mandala of Rig Veda. As Lakshmi she figures not only in the Puranas but also in the Buddhist texts of second and third centuries BCE. The Devi Mahatmya which is a part of the Markandeya Purana celebrates Mahalakshmi as the immense potential (sarva-sadhya) and the mighty Shakthi of Devi, the destroyer of Mahisha. However, as Mahavidya, Kamala is not endowed with all those powers nor does she enjoy the same prestige as Mahalakshmi in Tantra or Lakshmi in the orthodox tradition. Kamala is invoked mainly in rituals seeking wealth, power and hidden treasures. Kamala in her Mahavidya form is associated with Shiva and not with Vishnu.

[In fact, all the Mahavidyas, whatever might be their origins and individual dispositions, are associated with the Shiva cult. As a rule, they are depicted as dominating over Shiva, the male.]

4.5. Sodashi as Mahavidya is also referred to as Tripura Sundari the most beauteous in all the three worlds. She along with Kali and Tara is reckoned as Adi (primordial) Mahavidya. She is associated with sixteen phases of the moon or sixteen modifications of desire. Sodashi as Tripura Sundari, Lalita and Rajarajeshwari are the important goddess in the Sri Vidya tradition. But, as Mahavidya her belligerent aspect as Tripura Bhairavi is stressed.

4.6. Though better known as the goddess of the Mahavidya group, Bhuvaneshwari is related to Prithvi (the Mother Earth) of the Rig Veda (RV: 1.168.33). In the Puranas she is associated especially with Varaha Avatar of Vishnu. Broadly, Bhuvaneshwari, whose extension is the world, represents substantial forces of the material world.

The other Mahavidyas: Chinnamasta, Bagalamukhi, Dhumavati and Matangi are rarely mentioned except as Mahavidyas. These along with Bhiravi are primarily tantric deities of funeral pyres and grave yards.


4.7. The Mahavidya texts emphasize that though some of the Mahavidyas might bear names resembling other goddesses, they are not the same. Mahavidyas are exclusive powers of distinct Tantric character, are of severely independent nature (not viewed as spouses) and they should be worshipped only in the manner prescribed by the Tantric texts.

5.1. Attempts were made to bring Mahavidyas into the main stream of Shaktha legends through the Devi Mahatmya. The third Canto of the Devi Mahatmya mentions that Mahadevi, the united force of all the gods, in her battle against the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha created multiple groups of female warriors displaying various facets of her ferocious nature. Among the groups mentioned, the Saptha Matrikas and the Nava Durgas are prominent. Devi Mahatmya also refers to a group of goddesses having resemblance with Mahavidyas, though the text does not name them as such.

[But, in the Sahasranama –stotra (garland of thousand names) of the Mahavidyas as given in Sakta-pramoda the names of the Saptha Matrikas and the Mahavidyas have got terribly mixed up.]

There was also a suggestion, elsewhere, that the Mahavidyas emanated from the Nava Durgas.

5.2. The Devi Bhagavata and other Devi related puranas, in general, elaborate on the glory and splendour of Mahadevi the Great Goddess as the upholder of the cosmic order and the destroyer of the demons. But, the Mahavidya tradition is concerned, in particular, with the nature of the many diverse forms of Devi that pervade all aspects of reality.

Appearance and Attributes

6.1. Kali is Adi-Mahavidya, the primary Mahavidya. She is the first and the foremost among the Mahavidyas. She is not only the first but the most important of the Mahavidyas. It is said, the Mahavidya tradition is centered on Kali and her attributes. Kali is the epitome of the Mahavidyas. The rest of the Mahavidyas emanate from Kali and share her virtues and powers in varying shades.

6.2. The Mahavidyas, as a group, form a most wonderful assimilation of contrasting elements and principles in nature. They all are intensely feminine, asserting the supremacy of the female. One could say they are the ‘anti-model’ of traditional docile housewife. They totally reject every authority and any type of dominance. They aggressively put down and overpower male ego and its arrogance. Their agitation often transforms into dreadful wrath. And that truly underlines the nature of the Mahavidyas.

6.3. Though the Mahavidyas are female they are not depicted as a wife. In the hymns devoted to some Mahavidyas their male spouses are mentioned. But, that minor detail is never stressed, as that is a weak and an insignificant aspect of their individuality. Mahavidyas are also not associated with Motherhood or fertility.

They defy traditional concepts about women. Mahavidyas are symbols of female independence; symbols of the ‘other’ ways of being feminine; the way that threatens the male. They are highly independent, rebellious, and stubborn; and over-domineering as if possessed of ferocious obsession to pulverize and grind the male ego into abject submission. Their wrath burns down every type of male arrogance. Incidentally, it is said, each Mahavidya is so independent and exclusive that she relates only to just a few that are close to her, but not to all the Mahavidyas  in the group.

It could also be said; the Mahavidyas epitomize the empowerment of women. They seem to demonstrate how much power women can wield ; how they can work independently; and,  how they can fight and overcome  the challenges of life on their own.

7.1. By all accounts, the Mahavidyas as a group and as individual deities are the most bizarre set of goddesses in any religion or in any culture.

The Mahavidyas have fierce forms; terrifying demeanour; agitating minds; strange and exotic characters   ; untidy habits; shocking behaviours; and destruction-loving nature. They enjoy strong association with death, violence and pollution. Some of the Mahavidyas are ghoul like deities of cremation grounds and corpses, sporting wild dishevelled hair, hideous features, dancing naked and sometimes copulating with an inert male stretched flat under them. In most cases they preside over strange tantric-magical rituals. It is their outrageous aspects that set them apart from the other deities.

7.2. Mahavidyas are thus a distinctive group of deities. They are far different from the deities worshiped in the polite society. The Mahavidyas giving way to violent emotional expressions are shown as performing loathsome, socially despicable roles, indulging in all that is forbidden in a normal society. And in fact, they challenge the normally accepted concepts and values in an established social order. They bring into question the very notions of beauty, goodness, honor, respect, decency, cleanliness and physical comfort etc.

8.1. There is another way of looking at their forms that are often disturbing and difficult to bear. This perhaps was the way they were intended to look.  Mahavidyas are not meant to be pleasant or comforting. Their ambiguous, enigmatic, contradictory and paradoxical nature and behaviours are intended to shock, jolt and challenge our conceited way of looking at the world that keep us in bondage. They kick hard to awaken us; and point out that the world is really much different from what it appears to be; and it surely is not designed to satisfy our comforting fantasies. Mahavidyas are ‘anti-models’, provocative energies urging us to shed our inhibitions, to discard our superficial understanding of beauty, cleanliness, goodness or the ’proper’ way of doing things. They, in their own weird ways, challenge us to look beyond; and to look deeper and experience what lies beneath the façade of the ordinary world. Some scholars have therefore commented: “The key to the understanding or appreciation of the Mahavidyas lies precisely in their radical or outrageous aspects”.

Thus, in sharp contrast to the tranquil renderings of their abstract forms, the iconographic images of Mahavidyas   portray their terrifying aspects and aggressive expressions.

8.2. From an aesthetic point of view Mahavidyas   suggest a flight from reality and take you to a totally different world, which is poignant, restless and aggressive. The interesting aspect of the Mahavidyas is that the images seem to have sprung from intuition or from a non-rational source, and yet they bring home the realities of life. Pointing out to reality is in the nature of Tantra outlook. Tantra takes man and the world as they are and not as they should be.

It is said; the images should be viewed in the light of the meanings which underlie and generate the image. In case, the image and its meaning are disassociated, it then becomes a mere repulsive picture.

Blend of contradictions

9.1. The Mahavidyas in general are a strange amalgam of contradictions: death and sex; destruction and creation. In her creative aspect, Mahavidya is an enchantress – ‘the fairest of the three worlds’, radiating her   benign powers. In her negative aspect her intensely fierce nature is made explicit by her terrifying features.

But at the same time, every Mahavidya is neither totally negative nor totally positive. Each is a combination of many awe inspiring virtues and magical powers. From the gross descriptions of ferocious deities Kali and Dhumavati it might appear they are devoid of pleasing, benevolent and such other positive virtues. But, their namavalis (strings of one thousand and eight names) sing and praise them as oceans of mercy. In contrast, Kamala, given her association with Shri, surprisingly, carries within her demeanour a few fierce or terrible aspects. The Mahavidyas cannot easily be classified as those that are strictly of fierce (raudra) or benign (saumya) nature.

9.2. A couple of the Mahavidyas are pictured as beauteous, amorous and benevolent. But in the ambience of death and destruction in which they are placed and in the overall context of the Mahavidya tradition, they are meant to be fearsome, demanding submission of the male. For instance, the beautiful goddess Tripura Sundari’s terrible form as Tripura Bhairavi is taken as her authentic Mahavidya aspect. The Mahavidyas, when pleased, might bless an adept; but that is   often by destroying or harming or suppressing the adept’s enemies or opponents. Thus destruction is at times the Mahavidyas’ mode of blessing.

The Individual and the group

10.1. The ten Mahavidyas as a group are powerful. But, individually only a few can assert themselves on their own might. The characteristics of certain individual Mahavidya does not coordinate well with the group-characteristics though all the Mahavidyas are said to be emanations from Kali. Further, the texts do not also explain the inter-relation between the Mahavidyas or whether each in some way is connected or related with the others in the group.

The Mahavidya texts, however, hastens to explain that Mahavidyas are indeed a group; and, they all are emanations of the Devi. It is said; each of her Vidyas is great in its own right. The notions of superiority and inferiority among them should never be allowed to step in. All are to be respected alike. The differences among them are only in their appearances and dispositions. And yet they all reflect various aspects of the Devi. The might of Kali; the sound-force (sabda) of Tara; the beauty and bliss of Sundari; the vast vision of Buvaneshwari; the effulgent charm of Bhiravi; the striking force of Chinnamasta; the silent inertness of Dhumavathi; the paralyzing power of Bhagalmukhi; the expressive play of Matangi; and the concord and harmony of Kamalatmika are various characteristics, the distinct manifestations of the Supreme consciousness of the Devi that pervades the Universe.

[The tantric text Mundamala-tantra, however, makes a sub –classification in three levels.  (1) Maha-vidya, the extraordinary Vidyas, consisting Kali and Tara; (2) Vidya, the normal Vidyas consist deities Shodashi (or Tripura), Bhuvaneshwari, Bhiravi, Chinnamasta and Dhumavathi; and (3) Siddha Vidya, the Vidya for adepts refers to Kamala, Matangi and Bhagalamukhi. The text does not explain the significance of the three-way classification made or the differences it implies.]

10.2. It is also said that Mahavidyas are indeed various expressions of the Mother: Kali is Time; Bhuvaneshwari is space; the piercing word is Tara; the flaming word is Bhiravi; and expressed word is Matangi. Chinnamasta combines light and sound in her thunderclap; Bhagalmukhi stuns and stifles the free flow of things. The luminous desire is Sundari; and the delightful beauty is Kamala.

It is said; the Sadhaka prays to Kali to grant him virtues of : the generosity of Chinnamasta; the valour in battle of Bagalamukhi; the wrath of Dhumavati; the majestic stature of Tripura Sundari; the forbearance of Bhuvanesvari; and control over enemies like Matangi.

10.3. There are other explanations which came up much later. Kali is said to represent unfettered absolute reality; Tara an expanded state but yet bound by the physical; Bhagalamukhi the fierce concentration; Kamala and Bhairavi with satisfaction of physical well-being and worldly wealth; while the other Mahavidyas symbolize  the worldly needs and desires that eventually draws into Kali.

11.1. Some of the Vidyas have common characteristics. For instance:

Kali, Chinnamasta, Bhagalmukhi and Dhumavathi are characterized by their power and force – active and dormant.

Tara has certain characteristics of Kali and certain others of Sundari. And she is also related to Bhiravi, Bhagalmukhi and Matangi in aspects of sound-force (sabda) express or implied.

Sundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Matangi and Kamalatmika have qualities of light, delight, and beauty.

The Tantra speaks of Kali as dark, Tara as the white; and Sundari as red.

11.2. But, the explanations offered, in most cases, contradict the others. The Mahavidyas and their natures cannot easily be categorized into well defined types. There is no convincing unified view of the Mahavidyas as a group. And there is no theory that satisfactorily binds together the all the ten Mahavidyas (we shall talk a little more of that later in the post).

We shall talk about each one of the ten Mahavidyas, separately, in fair detail, later in the subsequent parts of this post.


[Dr. Sabareswar Satpathy, in his Dasa Mahavidya and Tantra Shastra (Punthi Pustak, Calcutta, 1992) , attempts to rationalize the composition and the sequence of the Ten Mahavidyas.

According to Dr. Satpathy, the Dasa Mahavidyas represent the different stages in the creation, evolution, sustenance and progression of one’s life in this world.

He explains ; the Devi as Mahavidya is both Vidya and A-Vidya. She encompasses all the Gunas in their entirety. She is both Sat and A-sat; She is the power that manifests in Jada as also in Chetana forms of existence. There is nothing beyond the Devi; everything in the Universe resides within Her.

For instance; Maha-Kali or Adi-shakthi the primordial power represents Iccha-shakthi, the power of the intense will or resolve, which prompts and initiates action. She is Chit-shakthi-swarupini; the very embodiment of resolute willpower.  She is Maha-Maya that binds the determination and action together. She is boundless; and is beyond the limitations of time and space. The Khadga (sword) in her hands represents the power of action. She is also immensely merciful; and, grants Bhukthi and Mukthi – the good here and hereafter – to those who surrender to her completely with guileless love and devotion.

Tara, who follows, symbolizes the power of action (Kriya-shakthi) , prompted by the will of the Maha-Kali. Tara is all about action; and, she presides over all actions as also on the fruits of action in this world. If a person performs her or his actions without a selfish motive and without craving for its fruits, Tara severs the bonds that tie the action (Karma) and its fruits (Phala). The sharp Katri (scissors) in her hands symbolises the means to grant freedom from attachment to earthly desires.

But, any sort of action needs to be guided by knowledge (Jnana). And, Mahavidya Sodashi represents that power of knowledge (Jana-shakthi). The Pasha (noose) and the Ankusa (goad) in her hands symbolize worldly fetters and human compulsions. And, the bow and arrow she holds indicate that when true knowledge dawns on a person, she or he is freed forever from the bondages of limited existence; and, attains liberation.

She sits over and controls the five Pretas (ghouls) who represent the sequence of evolution, creation, sustenance, dissolution and involution; the whole gamut of A-Vidya that binds all this existence. It is only the Sodasi Maha-Vidya that has the power to grant liberation from the limitations of earthly existence.

What follows creation is its sustenance; and, that is taken care under the aegis of Mahavidya Bhuvaneshvari. While she holds a goad and a noose in two of her hands, she gestures Varada (grace) and Abhaya (assurance) through her two other hands. She is Leela-mayi, who is actively involved with the conduct, maintenance and protection of the world and this existence.

The Mahavidya Tripura Bhairavi is the guardian deity of the three levels of existence, the three worlds (Tripura): Bhu (the physical plane), Bhuvar ( the intermediate space) ,and Suvah (the upper regions). She holds a rosary and a book in her two hands – representing spiritual knowledge. And, in her two other hands she confers boons (Varada) ; and protection (Abhaya) and warns against  falling prey to the  false and  misleading ways.

The Mahavidya Chinnamasta , holding her own severed head and drinking blood gushing out from her severed throat, symbolizes supreme detachment from the world and total disregard to what is dear and near to one. She is of the world; but, is not involved with it in any manner.  She preaches the individual (Jiva) to steadily move towards liberation; away from worldly existence and its bonds. It is said; her iconography suggests that pure consciousness is attained only when one discard the bodily awareness.

The  Mahavidya Dhumavathi, pictured as an old widow, dressed in unclean robes, riding a rickety chariot pulled by a crow,  is said to represent the negative and the ugly, but all the same the inevitable aspects of life. She is described as Vivarna, Chanchala and Rusta (pale, restless and coarse). She is the smoke that covers knowledge. It is through her help one passes from ignorance towards knowledge.

The Mahavidya Bhagalamukhi represents the valiant spirit the confronts and fights the enmity that that one comes faces as she or he attempts to acquire position or power in life. Therefore, one needs to propitiate the Mahavidya Bhagalamukhi; and seek blessings and support to protect oneself from the evils (Sarva Dustanam) that one confronts in life.

The Mahavidya Matangi represents the worldly power that dominates over the rest. She, therefore, is addressed as Raja Matangi or Matangini. She is the guardian deity of the Kings; and protects the kings and the kingdoms.

The Mahavidya Kamalatmika represents the rich and auspicious aspects of life. She bestows riches and affluence on one, who is devoted to her.]



12.1. As said, The Mahavidyas are not goddesses in the normal sense of the term. The worship of Mahavidyas – as a group- is generally not temple-oriented; and, there is no pilgrim center (Tirtha) associated with the Dasha Mahavidyas – as a group. They are also not associated with prominent geographical features such as hills, rivers, river-banks or trees.  Except for a Mahavidya temple in the funeral Ghats of Cossipore near Calcutta there are, perhaps, no temples dedicated exclusively to the worship of Mahavidyas as a group.

However, the pictures of Mahavidyas are painted on the walls of Devi temples. They are also depicted as decorative figures surrounding the centrally located figure of Devi – Mahishasura-mardini -Durga, sculpted for worship during Navaratri.  

 There are temples dedicated to the prominent Vidyas such as Kali, Kamakhya and Tara, as in the case of other Hindu or Buddhist goddesses; and their temple-towns are well known Tirthas.

As for the other Mahavidyas who are not well known outside the group (Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi and Chinnamasta) there are just a few temples dedicated specially to them.

As regards Kamala and Sundari, the temples (especially in south India) are dedicated only to their benign, most beautiful and magnificent aspects as Lakshmi; or Tripura Sundari or Sri Rajarajeshwari who is the presiding deity of the Sri Vidya tradition.

In northeast, in Bengal the cult of Kali is supreme. In far north and northwest in Tibet and Kashmir regions the cult of Tara is popular. In the South the Vidya of Sundari, Sri Vidya is vogue. Lakshmi is commonly worshiped. Thus, the whole of India is soaked in the adoration of the Mother: the might of the kali, the wisdom of Tara, the beauty of Sundari and the grace of Kamala.

12.2. The worship of one Mahavidya might differ from that of the others. The Tantra texts (say, SaktisamagamaTantra) specify which path should be taken in worshipping a particular Mahavidya. 

For instance, the worship of Kali, Kamakhya , Tara, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Matangi and Bagala involve  strongly individualized left-handed tantric rituals, rooted in their specific Mantras and Yantras, conducted in secrecy. The worship of these divinities requires great rigor, austerity, devotion, persistence and a sort of ruthless detachment. The left-handed worship- practice of Mahavidya is very difficult and is filled with risks and dangers. Its practice is not considered either safe or suitable for common householders, as it involves rituals that cannot be practiced normally.

The text mentions that Shodasi, Kamala and Bhuvaneshwari prefer right-handed worship practices.

The text , at the same time, clarifies that both the paths are appropriate .And Mahavidya could be worshipped in either manner depending upon the inclination and the nature of the worshipper.

13.1. Though some of the Mahavidyas are worshiped in their temples, the private places marked out in the cremation grounds seem to be favoured places for tantric rituals, especially in the case of Kali, Tara, Bagalamukhi, Chinnamasta and Dhumavati. In the extreme forms of this class of worship (vamachara) the deities, the Sadhakas and the ritual practices are associated with blood and corpses. Their worship is characterized by the pancha tattva or pancha makaara (five ‘Ms’) –rituals performed employing five forbidden or highly polluting elements: madya (liquor), mamasa (meat), matsysa (fish), mudraa (ritual gestures or parched grains causing hallucinations) and maithuna ( sex).

By partaking the polluted and forbidden things the Sadhaka affirms his faith that there is nothing in this world that is outside the goddess; she pervades all; and within her there are no distinctions of ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. He attempts to erase ‘the artificial – manmade’ distinctions and be one with his goddess.

Todala Tantra, a tantric text, interprets the nature of the five elements (pancha tattva) in various ways. It explains that Devi can be worshiped at different ‘levels’. As per the text, these five elements carry various esoteric interpretations according to the nature of worship undertaken: tamasika (pashvachara), rajasika (vichara), or divya (sattvika sadhana).

[Sri Ramakrishna however emphasized and demonstrated that madya, maithuna and intoxicating substances are indeed not necessary in tantric-sadhana.]



14.1. The Mahavidya texts – such as Tantrasara, Sakta-pramoda and Shakthisamgama-tantra – elaborately narrate the various mythical origins and the legends of the Mahavidyas. They provide exhaustive iconographic details of each of the Mahavidyas. They also speak of the worship details, yantras, mantras and astrological (jothishya) as also yogic significances of the Mahavidyas.

But, sadly, they do not spend much time in explaining the principles, the logic and the conceptual aspects which lie beneath the bizarre appearances of the Mahavidyas, or their metaphysical significance and meanings, or their symbolism. It therefore becomes rather difficult to explain the outrageous appearances and habits of these goddesses: why one goddess adorns herself with garland of skulls, another dress herself with severed body parts, and why the third delights in cutting off her head letting the sprouting streams of blood fall into the mouth of her own severed head. There are also the ones who seated on a corpse pluck out a demon’s tongue, another who straddles an inert male stretched on a funeral pyre, and yet another who loves to be worshiped with rotten and polluted things. Why would anyone care to worship a sulking old widow riding a crow?

Unless we are willing to look deeper we are likely to be trapped in the maze of hideous appearances and repulsive behaviours.


I have tried to put together a few explanations I know and some others I came across. I am sure there are many more. What I say here is as I understood it; and that could be inadequate or wrong. But, before we get into Mahavidyas per se we need to talk of few other things.

15.1. The Mahavidya faith, some say, originated as a rebellious cult intolerant of the Brahmanical puritan notions of ‘pure-impure’,  ‘good-bad’, ‘right-wrong ’and ‘beautiful-ugly’ etc. It attempted to erase the distinctions between the sublime and the profane; between ‘ the noblest and most precious’ and the ‘basest and most common ‘. It was, however, not a religious movement. In fact, it arose out of a strong desire to break free and be independent of all abstruse metaphysical speculations and religious faiths.It is based upon human experience and in the very act of living.  The Mahavidya cult defies religion and tradition. It is neither Hindu nor Buddhist in its origin, though it later influenced the Tantric traditions of both the regions. 

In the words of Sir John Woodroffe: (It) is neither religion nor mysticism but an empirical-experiential method. It is practical, it lights the torch and shows the way. Its approach to life is anti ascetic, anti-speculative and entirely without conventional perfectionist clichés.

Mahavidya cult originated outside the establishment; and in due course it was absorbed into tradition. But, it managed to retain its own independent outlook.

15.2. The Mahavidya cult primarily signified the return to the indigenous tribal faiths and beliefs in magic formulas, initiation rites, scarifies and above all to the worship and glorification of the female principle. It was the way to ‘rediscover the mystery of woman’. The early set of deities was perhaps formed by bringing together tribal goddesses; some of them well-known while most others were minor and obscure. In the life of the  women of the tribes clouded by death, suffering and neglect, these tribal deities represented their aspirations of life, the timeless youth, the body – energy and the desire to be free of male domination and yet to produce, for which sex was essential.

It was basically a tribal cult, the followers of which came from lower strata of the society. The leaders of the cult were invariably women; and the Gurus who initiated the adept into the cult were often Sudra women. They played an active role and acted as intermediaries between the adept and the goddess. The women coming from lower strata of society were considered ideal for engaging in its ritual worships, as they were not conditioned by social or ethical taboos; and they enjoyed certain freedom and detachment.

Thus, its cult practices cut across the class and social boundaries. Because of its non-sectarian spirit, concept of God as woman, acceptance of Sudras in all rites, assigning a position of honor to women and recognizing them as Gurus, and its strong faith in local customs and rituals,  Mahavidya cult  gained wide acceptable ; and it spread even into orthodox traditions.

16.1. As the Mahavidyas gained popularity it was absorbed into Shakta Tantric tradition. Its theme was expanded, elaborated in upa (subsidiary) puranas by linking them to legends of the Devi and Shiva. The Puranas asserted that the ten Mahavidyas are indeed the manifestations of ‘ten great mantras’, for a ‘mantra’ and ‘vidya’ are the same. The Sanskritized texts formalized the worship practices by structuring it in three levels: pasu (animal), vira (heroic) and divya (divine).Attempts were also made to provide these goddesses with mythological backgrounds, theological status, metaphysical meanings, and symbolic representations. But, their numbers differed according to the disposition and preferences of each text. It varied from ten to seventy; but, finally settled down at ten. How or why those ten goddess were chosen to form the group of Mahavidyas was not explained.

It is perhaps because of the random nature of the group, it has now become difficult to offer rational explanation/s that satisfactorily explain and bind all the ten Mahavidyas into a cohesive unit.

17.1. The Mahavidya cult found strong resonance in the Shakta Tantric School which reveres the Goddess as the Supreme. The Mahavidyas could readily fit into its scheme. The central theme of the Shakta Sadhana is identification with his goddess. Simply put; the aim of the Shaktha Tantric is to become one with the goddess. According to its logic, if one is able to become the goddess, one can obtain that which she possesses, be it knowledge or wealth or magical power or the power to annihilate ones enemies. But, if one has to become the goddess one has necessarily to be rid of all sorts of inhibitions, conceits and prejudices that imprison his mind. That is to say; kill the ego and become nothing but the feminine goddess.

17.2. Tantra identifies the power of Shakthi with the Absolute or the One. The female principle is all important because it offers the key to creative life and salvation. A woman is seen as the reflection of female principles; and she, therefore, becomes an object of worship and veneration in the Tantra-Shakta -Sadhana. In the rituals – Kumari Puja or Shakthi Upasana- the woman is treated as an image of the goddess; she no longer is an ordinary woman. That is to say; the woman is symbolically transformed into a goddess through rituals. In his attempt to be one with the goddess, in spirit, the male aspirant will also have to awaken and realize the female principles latent in him. He learns to sublimate his lower-nature and attune it to that of the goddess.  Only by becoming a woman in spirit and consciousness can a Shakta hope to attain his goal. In the last stage of the Shaktha-sadhana the worshiper and the worshiped become one.

17.3. Towards this end he employs physical, mental, ritualistic and occult techniques. But, in its extreme stages the technical and esoteric aspects of the rituals prescribed by the class of Shakta practices we are now discussing become grotesque and socially not-acceptable. Because, as a way of asserting his  faith that all existence is pervaded by the goddess and there are no distinctions of ‘pure’ or ‘impure’ within her, the Shakta erases the ‘the artificial – man-made’ demarcations of beauty-ugliness, cleanliness –polluted, or goodness-profane etc . In fact, he overstates his intentions by resorting to whatever that is repulsive or that which is looked down by the ‘gentle society’. In the process, an intense Shakta adept overrides moral judgments and social customs; and discards attachment to accepted notions and ethics.

Thus, the left-hand Shakta Sadhana of the Mahavidyas which does not respect the social morality or the conventional standard of ethics is , by its very nature, rebellious. It defies society, religion and their authoritative patriarchal system designed by the orthodox Bramhanical traditions.

17.4. The Shakta texts explain that such breaking away from approved social norms, roles and expectations is the primary way to stretch ones consciousness beyond the relative world of contradictions. It is here the bizarre ‘outsider’ goddesses, the Mahavidya, have their relevance. By accepting what is forbidden or marginalized as one of the realities of life the adept may gain a new perspective to life and existence. It might liberate him  from the inherited, imposed and narrow prejudices, and transform him into a liberated person. The Mahavidyas are thus states of awakening.

There is no single unified theory

18.1. As said earlier; many explanations are offered to interpret the nature of the Mahavidyas and to bind them into a definite scheme. In each case, the explanations offered hold good for three or four Mahavidyas but not for all the ten as a group. There is no consistent unified theory that explains the group of ten. Let’s briefly look at some of those explanations.

18.2. The Mahavidyas in general are said to possess terrifying forms. But, the two Mahavidyas Sodasi and Kamala are not pictured in frightening forms.  There is also a method of grouping of the Mahavidyas as falling under the category of either fierce (raudra) or benign (saumya) forms. But, that explanation too is found wanting as the Mahavidyas combine in themselves both types of dispositions. Similarly, Mahavidyas are said to exercise magical powers and create conflicts among people. But, it is only Bagalamukhi who is strongly associated with such disturbing magical powers; the other Mahavidyas are not known to posses exclusive magical powers; and such delusions are not associated with Kamala.

18.3. There are also explanations attempting to classify the  Mahavidyas as those falling  under the three Gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) or three colours (white, red and black) or three dispositions (amorous, angry and benevolent) . But, these classifications also do not satisfactorily explain the natures of all the ten Mahavidyas.

18.4. Another way of classifying the Mahavidyas is to treat them as dynamic or static principles in nature. The Mahavidya shown as standing or striding over or dominating a male figure is identified as dynamic aspects (Kali, Tara, Bagala, Bhairavi, Tripura-Sundari, and sometimes Chinnamasta) ;  while the others are identified as static aspects (Dhumavati, Matangi, Kamala and Bhuvaneshvari). This classification is primarily based on how the Mahavidya is depicted in icons or in pictures; and it seems to have come about at a much later stage when iconographic features of the individual goddesses were developed. It may, perhaps, also be an idea imposed by the Shakta theology on the Mahavidyas. But, many of the Mahavidyas are dynamic and static depending upon their disposition at different times (e.g. Sundari, Tara, and even Kali).

18.5. One other explanation mentions that Mahavidyas represent stages in a woman’s life. While Sodasi, Bhuvaneshvari and Matangi are the sixteen year young girls; Dhumavati the old widow is at the other end of life; and the rest fall in between. But there is little or no mention of Motherhood of the Mahavidyas.

18.6. Another explanation interprets Mahavidyas as stages or hierarchical states of consciousness associated with the seven chakras of the Kundalini yoga. But the problem with this interpretation is that the chakras are seven and the Mahavidyas are ten; and there is no clear gradation among the Mahavidyas to rank them in a particular order.

18.7. Some Tantric texts (Guhyatiguhya tantra, Mundamala tantra and Todala tantra) identify the ten Mahavidyas with the ten Avatars of Vishnu: Kali with Krishna; Tara with Rama; Bhuvanesvari with Varaha; Chinnamasta with Narasimha and so on .But , each text carries its own matching-list . In any case, the idea seems overstretched and is not convincing.

18.8. Alain Danielou in his ‘Myths and Gods of India’ calls the Mahavidyas as ‘the objects of transcendental knowledge’. He explains the Mahavidyas by corresponding them to the ten hours of the night. But he divides the ten hours of night as five aspects of Shiva and five aspects of the Goddess: “The whole cycle of existence, like that of our day-night can be divided into ten main parts…  Five aspects of Shiva and the five aspects of the Goddess united as day and night”. His explanation too relies on ‘ten numbers ‘which, of course, is not very significant in the Mahavidya-theme. The other is that Shiva is marginalized in the Mahavidya cult. Shiva represents the male who is suppressed. Alain Danielou’s explanation does not therefore seem very convincing.

18.9. I agree with David Kinsley when he says: “We seem to have no entirely satisfactory key to understanding the connection among the Mahavidyas. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to combine all the possibilities we have or some sub sections of them , in our efforts to discern the coherence of the group, to understand how such curious mix of goddesses have come together to form the ten Mahavidyas”(Tantric visions and Divine Feminine).

19.1. The Mahavidyas, in any case, are powerful goddesses that provide a totally different but realistic perspective of life .Though it asserts the female superiority, it opens a vista and a field of experience for all. By subverting or rejecting the conventional social norms and morality it seeks to expand the awareness of the adept and liberate her or him from narrow prejudices and inhibitions that imprison the human mind. By becoming one with the goddess she or he is set free; and is rid of attachment to all identities that carry names, forms and attributes.

In the installments to follow let’s briefly talk of each Mahavidya, separately. In the next, let’s start with the three prominent Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara and Tripura Sundari.

Next:Part Two

– Kali, Tara and Tripura Sundari

Sources and references

1. Tantric Visions and Divine Feminine by David Kinsley.

2. Ten Mahavidyas: Manifestations of cosmic female energy by Dr. PC Jain and Dr. Daljit

3. The Dasa (ten) Mahavidyas

4. Dus Mahavidyas: the ten forms of the Devi by Saipriya Viswanathan.

5. The ten Mahavidyas by Hancock-Jaime

6. The Tantric way- Art, Science and Ritual by Ajit Mookerji and Madhu Khanna

7. Mahavidyas by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

8. The Mahavidya: the powers of consciousness conceptualized by Devadatta kali

9. Wisdom Goddesses: Mahavidyas and the Assertion of Femininity in Indian Thought

10 .Dus Mahavidya

The picture are taken from internet


Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Mahavidya


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