Continued from Part Two – Kali, Tara and Tripura Sundari
Please also read the introduction to Mahavidyas
Bhuvanesvari, Chinnamasta and Bhairavi
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.
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.
Hrim, the Bija mantra, a sound-symbol, an example of the united male/female principle, is associated with the Goddess Bhuvaneshvari
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
Om Hreem Bhubaneswaraye Hreem Namah
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
The pictures are taken from internet