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The Guptavati and Navarna Mantra – Part Two

Continued from Part One


As mentioned earlier, Bhāskararāya Makhin was essentially a Shakta; and was also an ardent Sri Vidya Upasaka. He adopted the Tantra approach in his spiritual pursuit. And, in his Guptavati, he reveres Devi Mahatmya as a mantra of the Devi, embodying her divine presence.

The Tantra School recognizes Vac as the embodiment of the Shakthi. It is the bridge between the physical and the formless Reality. Bhāskararāya approaches the text of the Devi Mahatmya as “the mantra whose form is a multitude of verses (ślokas), consisting of three episodes (caritas), each one describing the glory of one of the three different aspects of the Supreme Goddess – Maha-Kali, Mahālakṣhmī and Maha-Sarasvathi.

[The term Mantra is explained as mananat trayate mantrah; the contemplation of which liberates. It is the harmonious and powerful union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane. , its relevance is in its inherent Shakthi. Its subtle sounds attempt to visualize the un-differentiated divine principle. Mantra is beyond intellect. Its inner essence has to be grasped in humility, earnestness and faith.

Mantra is said to connect, in a very special way, the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The Mantra, in its sublime form, is rooted in pure consciousness. The Shaiva text Shiva Sutra describes Mantras as the unity of Vac and consciousness: Vac-chittam (ārādhakasya citta ca mantras tad dharma yogataShiva Sutra: 2.1). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane; the indistinct or undefined speech (anirukta) having immense potential.  In its next stage, it unites harmoniously with the mind. Here, it is union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac).  That is followed by the Mantra repeated in the silence of one’s heart (tushnim). The silent form of mantra is said to be superior to the whispered (upamasu) utterance.

If an idol or a Yantra is the material (Sthula) form of the Goddess, the Mantra is her subtle form (Sukshma-rupa). And, beyond that is the Para, the contemplation, absorption into the very essence of the Devi. And, that leads to the realization (Anubhava) of the bliss (Ananda) of one’s identity with her (Pratyabhijna).

It is said; when one utters a deity’s Mantra, one is not naming the deity, but is evoking its power as a means to open oneself to it. It is said; mantra gives expression to the identity of the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya). Therefore, some describe mantra as a catalyst that’ allows the potential to become a reality’. It is both the means (upaya) and the end (upeya).

The reverse is said to be the process of Japa (reciting or muttering the mantra). It moves from Vaikhari through Madhyamā towards Pashyanti and ideally, and in very cases, to Para vac.

Ordinarily, Japa starts in Vaikhari form (vocal, muttering). The efficacy of the Japa does depend on the will, the dedication and the attentiveness of the person performing the Japa. After long years of constant practice, done with devotion and commitment, an extraordinary thing happens. Now, the Japa no longer depends on the will or the state of activity of the practitioner. It seeps into his consciousness; and, it goes on automatically, ceaselessly and inwardly without any effort of the person, whether he is awake or asleep. Such instinctive and continuous recitation is called Ajapa-japa. When this proceeds for a long-time, it is said; the consciousness moves upward (uccharana) and becomes one with the object of her or his devotion.

The term Ajapa-japa is also explained in another manner. A person exhales with the sound ‘Sa’; and, she/he inhales with the sound ‘Ha’. This virtually becomes Ham-sa mantra (I am He; I am Shiva). A person is said to inhale and exhale 21,600 times during a day and night. Thus, the Hamsa mantra is repeated (Japa) by everyone, each day, continuously, spontaneously without any effort, with every round of breathing in and out. And, this also is called Ajapa-japa.]


Bhāskararāya asserts that the Goddess is present in every word and every sound of the Devi Mahatmya; and, the recitations of these words can reveal her. Thus, he reveres the Devi Mahatmya as a great Mantra-maya scripture, as also an esoteric text on Yoga Shastra and Sri Vidya.

The Devi Mahatmya is treated like a Vedic hymn, rik or a mantra.  Each of its episodes (charita) is associated with a Rishi (the sage who visualised it), a Chhandas (its meter), a presiding deity (pradhna-devata), and viniyoga (for japa). For instance; for the first episode (Prathama-charita), the Rishi is Brahma; the Devata is Mahakali; the Chhandas is Garyatri; its Shakthi is Nanda; its Bija is Raktha-dantika; and its Viniyoga is securing the grace of Sri Mahalakshmi. The first Chapter is compared to Rig-Veda.

asya śrī prathamacaritrasya brahmā ṛṣi mahākālī devatā gāyatrī chanda nandā śakti raktadantikā bījam agnistattvam gveda svarūpam śrīmahākālīprītyarthe prathamacaritrajapeviniyoga

Further, it is said that every sloka of the Devi-Mahatmya is a Mantra by itself.  And, the whole text is treated like one Maha mantra.

For instance; the opening sloka of the Devi Mahatmya: “Savarnih suryatanayo yo manuh Kathyate-shtamah” is ordinarily taken to mean “Listen to the story of the king who is the eighth Manu”. But, Sri Swami Krishnananda explains, it is in fact a mantra; and its Tantric interpretation is: “Now, I shall describe to you the glory of Hreem“. The Swami explains; Ha is the eighth letter from among: Ya, Ra, La, Va, Sya, Sha, Sa, and Ha. And add to that ‘Ram’ the Bija of Agni and one hook to make ‘Hreem’. Here, Hreem is the Bija-mantra of Devi; and, is equivalent to Pranava mantra Om

[It is said; the first three Slokas of Saptashati give out in code, the Navarna Mantra: o namaścaṇḍikāyai || o ai mārkaṇḍeya uvāca ॥]

Bhaskararaya concludes just as there is no difference between the cause (karana) and the effect (karya); between the object signified (Vachya) and the word which signifies (Vachaka); and between Brahman and the universe ((Brahmani jagat ithyartha, abedho iti seshaha), similarly this Vidya (Devi Mahatmya) of the Devi is identical with her.


The narration of the Devi Mahatmya is interwoven with four elegant Stutis, hymns. While the majority of the verses in the text are in the simpler Anushtup Chhandas, the Stutis are composed in more elegant Chhandas such as Gayatri, Vasantatilaka and Upajati, creating graceful, complex, supple rhythmic patterns when sung with fervour, gusto and reverence.

These four Stutis celebrate the glory and splendour of the auspicious Devi in all her aspects. These sweet, powerful and uplifting hymns are not only devotional and poetic, but are also philosophical and sublime. Bhaskararaya Makhin regards these hymns as Sruti-s (revealed wisdom), the exalted revealed (Drsta) knowledge, equalling the Vedas (apaurueya), rather than as constructed, the Krta by humans.

Bhaskararaya, in his Guptavati, offers comments on 224 out of the 579 verses of the Devi Mahatmya.  The most commented Chapters of the Devi Mahatmya are:  5, 4, 12, 11 and 1, in that order.  These are the Chapters that contain the four celebrated hymns and also the instructions for reciting the Devi Mahatmya.

The four hymns are:  (1) Brahma-stuti (DM. 1.73-87) starting with tva svāhā tva svadhā tva hi vaakāra svarātmikā; (2) the Sakaradi-stuti (DM.4.2-27) starting with śakrādaya suragaā nihate’tivīrye; (3) the Aparajita-stuti (DM.5.9-82) starting with namo devyai mahādevyai śivāyai satata nama ; and, (4) the Narayani-stuti (DM.11. 3-35) starting with Devi prapannārtihare prasīda. 

 [The Brahma-stuti (DM.1.73-87) also known as the Tantrika Ratri Suktam, establishes the Divine Mother’s ultimate transcendence and her identity her as the creator and sustainer and the dissolver of the Universe. She is all compassing source of the good and the evil, alike; both radiant splendour and terrifying darkness. And yet, she ultimately is the ineffable bliss beyond all duality.

In the longest and most eloquent of the Devi Mahatmya’s four hymns, richly detailed Sakaradi-stuti (DM.4.3-27) Indra and other gods praise Durga’s supremacy and transcendence. Her purpose is to preserve the moral order, and to that end she appears as ’good fortune in the dwelling of the virtuous; and, misfortune in the house of the wicked’, granting abundant blessings and subduing misconduct (DM.4.5). ‘Every intent on benevolence towards all’ (sarvo-upakāra-karaāya sadārdracittā DM.4.17), she reveals even her vast destructive power as ultimately compassionate, for in slaying those enemies of the world who ‘may have committed enough evil to keep them long in torment’ (kurvantu nāma narakāya cirāya pāpam – DM.4.18) , she redeems them with the purifying touch of her weapons so that they ‘may attain the higher worlds’ (lokānprayāntu ripavo’pi hi śastrapūtā/ ittha matirbhavati tevahiteu sādhvī –DM.4.19).

The Devas, distressed that the Asuras have re-grouped and once again overturned the world-order, invoke the Devi in a magnificent hymn, the Aparajita-stuti or Tantrika Devi Suktam, the twenty slokas beginning with ‘ya devi sarva bhuteshu , praise to the invincible Goddess , which celebrates her immanent presence in the Universe as the consciousness that manifests in all beings (yā devī sarvabhūteu cetanetya abhidhīyate) . Thereupon the Devi appears on the banks of the Ganga. Her radiant manifestation emerging from the body of Parvathi embodies the Guna of Sattva, the pure energy of light and peace. Later, She takes on multiple and varied forms in the course of the battle with the Asuras.

The final hymn, the Narayani-stuti (DM.11.3-35) lauds the Devi in her universal, omnipresent aspect and also in the diverse expressions of her powers .Thereupon, the Devi assures to protect all existence and to intervene whenever evil arises.]

These hymns describe the nature and character of the Goddess in spiritual terms:

Bhāskararāya identifies Chaṇḍikā-Mahālakṣhmī with the hymn of the fifth chapter Aparajita-stuti; and, her three forms (Mahākālī, Mahālakṣhmī, and Mahāsarasvatī ) with one of the other three hymns each.


In his introduction to the Guptavati, Bhāskararāya emphasises the role of mantras that produce power when properly employed. Therefore, he focuses, particularly, on the Navarna mantra, apart from the Devi Mahatmya, which itself is regarded as a Maha Mantra.

 The Navarna Mantra or Navakshari mantra, also known as Chamunda Mantra or Chandi Mantra is the basic mantra of the Sri Durga Saptashati recitation. It is also one of the principal (mula) mantras in Shakthi worship, apart from the Shodasi mantra of the Sri Vidya. There is the faith that one who practices the Navakshari mantra with great devotion will attain liberation and the state of highest bliss -(Vicche Navārnak’ornah syān-mahad’ānanda-dāyakah)

According to the Navakshari mantra nivechanam (p24) : Its Rishi is Markandeya;  Its Chhandas is Jagati; Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvathi are its Devathas; Hram is its Bija ; Hrim is its Shakthi; Hrum is its Kilaka; and, securing the grace (prasada siddhi) of Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvathi is its Viniyoga.

And, Navarna or Navakshari mantra is chanted as an integral part (Anga) of Chandiparayanam, which is performed while reciting (Purashcharana) the Devi Mahatmya. There is also a practice of the reciting of Durga Saptashati as a part of Navarna Purashcharana. Thus, the Saptashati and the Navarna are mutually related (angangi nyaya).


In the Sri Vidya tradition, the Panchadasi (Pancha-dasakshari) and the Shodasi are the cardinal and exclusive (rahasya) Mantras. The Panchadasi mantra of very potent fifteen letters or syllables (Bijakshara) composed of three segments (kūa) is indeed the very heart of the Sri Vidya Upasana.

Its three as are: Vāgbhava kū of five bīja-s (ka – e – ī – la- hrī,   ह्रीं); Madhya or kamaraja kūa  of six bīja-s (ha – sa – ka – ha – la – hrī,   ह्रीं ) ; and, the śhakti kūa  of four bīja-s  (sa – ka – la – hrī ह्रीं ).

The mantra is composed of a series of individual Bija-akshara (syllables), each having its own identify and association; and, each representing a certain aspect of the Goddess. But, when these Bija-aksharas are taken together, they manifest the subtle form (Sukshmarupa) of the Mother Goddess.

This fifteen lettered Pancha-dasakshari mantra is revered as the verbal form of the Mother Goddess. By adding   to it the secret syllable ś (श्रीं) it is transformed into the sixteen lettered Shodasi mantra. The Bijakshara śrī (श्रीं) is regarded as the original form of the Mother Goddess Sri.

The mantra which till then was dormant becomes explicit by adding śrī (श्रीं); and, the knowledge of her is celebrated as Sri Vidya. It is with this Vidya of Shodasi mantra that the Mother Goddess is worshiped through the Sri Chakra. It is said; this mantra is known as Ṣhoaśī or Shodasa-kala-vidya, because each of its sixteen Bījas represents a phase (kalā) of the moon. It is also said; the verbal expression of her Vidya is the Shodasi mantra; and, its visual expression is the Sri Yantra (Sri Chakra). And, the two are essentially the same.

The Navarna (also known as Navakshari and Chandi Gayatri) mantra of nine syllables is closely related to the extended Maha-shodasi mantra of twenty eight bīja-s of Sri Lalitha tradition. Both are Navarna; as they are worshiped in nine levels (Navaavarana), where the Devi is worshipped in her nine forms. It is described as a mantra that grants the highest bliss – mahad-ananda dayakah.

[The Mahāṣoḍaśī mantra is actually not sixteen; but , it is a set of six kutas ( sections) :(1)  srim, hrim, klim , aim sauh  ; (2) aum hrim srim ; (3) ka e i la hrim ; (4) ha sa ka ha la hrim ; (5) sa ka la hrim ; and, (6) sauh aim klim hrim srim . Thus Mahāṣoḍaśī has twenty eight bīja-s.]


While Sri is the presiding deity of the Sri Vidya; Chandi is the Goddess of the Chandi Vidya. There is also a view which asserts that the Chandi Vidya is the older tradition and, the Sri Vidya is its refined form.  In some places (for instance, in Kanchi), both Chandi Navarna and Sri Vidya worship procedures are followed.

Bhāskararāya, a dedicated Sri Vidya Upasaka, in his Guptavati equates Chandi with the Supreme Goddess Devi who indeed is the Brahman, the Supreme non-dual reality. He regards the Chandi Vidya as the Navarna Vidya, which corresponds to the Vidya of Sri Lalitha.

navarna mantra

The Navārna-mantra (Śrī Chaṇḍi Navākṣharī Mantra) is composed of the following syllables:   Om aiṁ hrīṁ klīṁ cāmuṇḍāyai vicce  ऐं ह्रीं क्लीं चामुण्डायै विच्चे ॥ 

The syllables of the Navārna mantra are taken from the first line of the Mahāṣoḍaśī mantra —   śrī – hrī – klī – ai – sau ( श्रीं ह्रीं क्लीं ऐं सौः)

The Shakthas have an immense faith that Navarna mantra has the power to bestow liberation (Mukti).

Bhaskararaya mentions that this mantra has been explained in of the Shaktha Upanishads the Devī-Atharva-Śira-Upaniṣhad  (Devi Upanishad) of which he quotes the first verse “I am of the very same form (Svarupini) of the Brahman’. I am an aspect of Brahma. From me this Universe, in form of Prakriti and Purusha, is generated; which is both void and non-void.

sābravīt- aha brahmasvarūpiī  matta praktipuruātmaka jagat  śūnya cāśūnyam ca

I am both bliss and non-bliss. I am knowledge and non-knowledge. I am Brahma and non-Brahma (the non-manifest state called A-Brahma). I am the five primordial principles and non-principles. I am the whole perceived Universe.

aham ānandā qnānandau  aha vijñānāvijñāne  aha brahmā brahmaī veditavye  aha pañcabhūtānyapañcabhūtāni  ahamakhila jagat 3

The Devi Upanishad or Devi Atharvashirsha Upanishad explains the Navarna mantra Om ai hrī klī cāmuṇḍāyai vicce:

  1. Om – the Pranava Mantra represents the Nirguna Brahman; 2. Aim – is the Vakbija the seed sound of Mahasarasvathi—the knowledge that is consciousness. – Chit; 3. Hreem –the Maya Bija the sound of Mahalakshmi – the all pervasive existence. —Sat; 4. Kleem – is the Kamabeeja the seed sound of Mahakali – the all consuming delight – Ananda; 5. Chamunda – the slayer of the demons Chanda and Munda, representing passion and anger ; 6. Yai– the one who grants boons; 7. Vicce– in the body of knowledge, in the perception of consciousness.

The Chit, Sat and Ananda are involved in the creation in physical, vital, and mental aspects – as Anna, Prana and Manas. They all are integrated into Chamunda Devi.

[The meaning of the Navarna mantra is said to be : ‘O the Supreme Spirit Mahasarasvathi, O the purest and most propitious Mahalakshmi, O embodiment of joy Mahakali, to achieve the highest state of knowledge we constantly meditate upon You. O Goddess Chandika who embodies the three formed Mahasarasvathi-Mahalakshmi-Mahakali, obeisance to you! Please break open the tightened knot of ignorance and liberate us’]

māyā brahmasūstasmāt aṣṭha vaktrasamanvitam / suryo ̕vāma śrotra bindu sayukta ṣṭātttīyaka । nārāyaena samiśro vāyuścādharayuk tataḥ / vicce  navārako ̕ra syānmahadānandadāyaka 20


Bhaskararaya explains: Even Brahma and the other Devas do not know her real form; and, therefore, she is called Ajñeya. We do not find its limit, so she is called Ananta. We cannot find the meaning, so she is called Alakshya. Her birth is not known, so she is called Aja. She is found everywhere, so she is called Eka, the One. She has taken up all the various forms, so she is called Naika. Because of this she is called these various names.

yasyā svarūpa brahmādayo na jānanti tasmāducyate ajñeyā 

yasyā anto na labhyate tasmāducyate anantā  yasyā lakya nopalakyate tasmāducyate alakyā 

yasyā janana nopalabhyate tasmāducyate ajā  ekaiva sarvatra vartate tasmāducyate ekā 

ekaiva viśvarūpiī tasmāducyate naikā  ata evocyate ajñeyānantālakyājaikā naiketi 23


 As regards the Mantra aspect of the text, Bhaskararaya, following the Sri Vidya tradition, regards the Navarna mantra as the subtle form (sukshmarupa) of the Goddess.   For Bhaskararaya, the Bijaksharas of the mantra are the more accessible forms of the Goddess’s ultimate form as Brahman.

Bhaskararaya analyses the Navarna-mantra, dedicated to the Great Goddess Chamunda, syllable-by-syllable, beginning with Chamundayai. He explains that the power of the mantra is particularly associated with the recitation of the name Chamunda.

In his introduction to the Guptavati, Bhaskararaya explains the etymology of the name Chamunda. Here, he differs from the explanation provided in chapter seven of the Devi Mahatmya.

According to the text of the Devi Mahatmya, Kali is celebrated as Chamunda after she overpowers and beheads Chanda and Munda.

śiraścaṇḍasya kālī ca ghītvā muṇḍameva ca prāha pracaṇḍā aṭṭahāsa miśra mabhyetya caṇḍikām 7.23॥

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 Devī bhaviyasi .Thereafter in the text, Kali and Chamunda become synonyms.

Yasmāc-Caṇḍa ca Muṇḍa ca ghītvā tvamupāgatā  Cāmuṇḍeti tato loke khyātā Devī bhaviyasi  7.27

Bhaskararaya Makhin, however, interprets the term Chamunda, differently, as: ‘chamum, ‘army’ and lati, ‘eats’; meaning that Chamunda is literally ‘she who eats armies’—a reference to Kali as Chamunda who drinks the blood of the army of the demon Raktabija.

jaghāna raktabīja ta cāmuṇḍā apītaśoitam sa papāta mahīpṛṣṭhe śastra saghasam āhata 8.61

He then proceeds in his comments on the mantra by elaborating on the first three syllables (Bijakshara): Aim, Hrim, and Klim, by resolving the complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones: marked by analytical reasoning. He brings into the discussion the concepts and the symbolisms of the Sri Vidya traditions.

Here, he explains; the Mahadevi Chamunda, in her integrated form (Samasti) is of the nature of the Brahman- Brahma-svarupini. And, the three Bijaksharas in the Navarna-mantra symbolize the diversified (Vyasti) form of the Devi:  as Aim (ऐं) for Mahalakshmi; and, Hrim (ह्रीं) and Kilm (क्लीं) for Mahasarasvathi and Mahakali, respectively. And again, the essential nature of the Devi as Sat-Chit-Ananda (being, consciousness, and bliss) is associated with each of her forms: Mahalakshmi (Sat); Mahasarasvathi (Chit); and Mahakali (Ananda).

Again, it is said, these three goddesses are the presiding deities of the three Episodes of the Devi Mahatmya, while the text itself is the body of the Devi Chamunda, the Mahadevi. Thus, the divisions and the Chapters of the Devi Mahatmya are but visible (Sakara) the constituents (anga) of the Devi Chamunda, who herself is beyond attributes (Brahma-svarupini).

Thus, Bhaskararaya relates the Vyasti goddess, their corresponding Bijamantras, their symbolisms and sounds, to the most subtle, secretive aspect of the Supreme Goddess. As regards the Vyasti goddess, he follows the explanations given in the Devi Upanishad. But, as said earlier, he differs on its explanation of the term Chamunda.

Here, the Mahadevi Chamunda, in her integrated form (Samasti) is of the nature of the Brahman- Brahma-svarupini. She combines in herself her other diversified (Vyasti) forms of Mahalakshmi (Aim); Mahasarasvathi (Hrim); and, Mahakali (Kilm). And again, the essential nature of the Devi as Sat-Chit-Ananda (being, consciousness, and bliss) is associated with each of her forms: Mahalakshmi (Sat); Mahasarasvathi (Chit); and Mahakali (Ananda).


Bhaskararaya, however, offers a rather lengthy explanation on the final term of the Navarna mantra:’ vicce’.

He points out that the term vicce might, at first instance, might look as though it is untranslatable. But, one would appreciate its significance when its etymology is correctly understood.

Bhaskararaya begins his explanation of vicce, by equating it with the Sanskrit word ‘manch’—meaning ‘to grow’ or ‘to move’. He remarks; though the term vicce is rather unusual, yet it has been in use in the Shakta tantric tradition. For instance, he says, the mantra of Bhagamalini, the second of the sixteen Nityas, reads ‘Amogham chaiva vichcham cha tatheshim klinna devatam’. The import of the mantra is said to be:  the goddess symbolized by the Bija-akshara Klim is resplendent and unfailingly liberates (vichcham) the devotee.

[In the Sri Vidya tradition, the sixteen guardian deities, named as Nityas, who form the entourage, of the Devi, are identified with the phases of the moon (Chandra-kalaa); and each Nitya corresponds to a day (tithi) or the aspect of the moon during the fortnight. The sixteen Nityas are: Kameshvari, Bhagamalini, Nityaklinna, Bherunda, Vahnivasini, Mahavajeshvari, Dooti, Tvarita, Kulasundari, Nitya, Nilapataka, Vijaya, Sarvamangala, Jwalamalinika and Chitra]

Regarding the etymology of the term vicce, Bhaskararaya explains that it originated within the Dravidian language group; and, was later adopted into the Sanskrit vocabulary. He also mentions that importing terms from other languages (bhasha-mishrana) is not unusual; and, has been in practice since the ancient times.  He explains that many of the terms that are used in   Navarna and Bhagamalini mantras are well recognised in Southern languages like Kannada (karnatabhasha), Tamil (Dravidabhasha) and Telugu (Andhrabhasha).

The scholars surmise that Bhaskararaya might have related the term vicce with the Tamil word vichchu/i or vittu/i, meaning ‘to sow’ or ‘to spread’, which has the same connotation as his Sanskrit gloss manch, meaning ‘to grow’ or ‘to move’. They cite another obscure word ‘Puruchi’, which occurs only two times in the Rig-Veda   .  The term Puruchi’, here, suggests the meaning of ‘Foremost or abundant‘, which carries a similar meaning in the Tamil language.

 [śata jīvantu śarada purūcīr antar mtyu dadhatām parvatena || RV_10,018.04c|| and aśvinā pari vām ia purūcīr īyur gīrbhir yatamānā amdhrā | RV_3,058.08a||]

Bhaskararaya, then concludes that in the context of the Navarna mantra, vicce signifies ‘liberation’; and, could be taken as a synonym for the Sanskrit term mochayati – ‘to cause to be liberated’. And, when the term vicce, in the Navarna mantra, is combined with Goddess Chamunda (Chamunda-visheshanam), it gives forth the meaning that Chamunda is, indeed, the resplendent Goddess who ‘causes her devotee to be liberated.

He says that through the Navarna Mantra we invoke the Supreme Goddess and her varied powers; and, pray to her to come into our lives to fulfil our material and spiritual desires with ease (Sri Sundari sevana tatparanam / Bhogascha mokshascha karastaeva).

Thus, for Bhaskararaya, the Navarna is not only a powerful mantra that protects the devotee; but, is also a means to attain liberation (moksha-sadhana).


 The learned scholar Caleb Simmons, in his article, observes:

Bhaskararaya, in the Guptavati, provides a remarkable explanation of the mantra, ritual value of sounds and syllables, and etymology that elucidates our understanding of the relationship between mantra and meaning in which the secret and semantic are coterminous

According to Bhaskararaya, to understand meaning in mantra we must expand our understanding of ‘meaning’ as a category to include not only normative, semantic, and discursive meaning, but to include the hidden meaning of a mantra that contains a truth only perceivable through the direct insight of the initiated practitioner….

Through his introduction to the Guptavati, Bhaskararaya incorporates the Sri Vidya perspective of corresponding realities into a theory of meaning and mantra in which discursive (rational) meaning and the hidden meaning are simultaneously individual but ultimately the same.

twin roses

Salutation to you, O Devi Nārāyaī, who abides as intelligence in the hearts of all beings; and, who grants happiness and liberation, with what words, however excellent, can I praise you?

sarvasya buddhi rūpea janasya hdi sasthite svargāpavargade devi nārāyai namo’stu te 11.8

sarvabhūtā yadā devī bhuktimukti pradāyinī । tvaṃ stutā stutaye kā vā bhavantu paramoktayaḥ ॥ 11.7॥


Sources and References

Varivasya -rahasya

The secret of the three cities by Douglas R Brooks



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Posted by on March 1, 2018 in Devi, Guptavati, Tantra


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The Guptavati and Navarna Mantra – Part One


The Devi Mahatmya dated somewhere around the fourth- fifth century , also  renowned as Durga SaptasatiDurgapāhaChandi, Chandipāha and Chandi Saptashati,  composed as a long poem of about  seven hundred verses (Saptashathi) , is the  most revered scripture of the Shaktha tradition.

 Devi Mahatmya celebrates the glory and splendour of the auspicious Supreme Goddess – the Maha Devi. Chaṇḍī or Chaṇḍīka, the name by which the Supreme Goddess is referred to in Devi Mahatmya.  The text commences with salutation to Chandi: oṃ namaścaṇḍikāyai; Om̃ jaya tvaṃ devi Cāmuṇḍe jaya bhūtāpa hāriṇi [In the Devi Mahatmya, the names: Chandi, Chandika, Ambika and Durga are synonymous].

The text adulates Maha Devi as the greatest warrior; and rejoices Devi as Chandi the destroyer of evil and its tendencies. She is the protector of the world; and, she does so from time to time by assuming various forms. She is also Ambika the mother who shelters and nurtures; and, also Durga the goddess who saves us from all sorts of miseries and difficulties (Duritha-nivarini). And, it is She who, just as a boat, ferries the devotees across oceans of existence (Bhava-Tarini). Her splendour and beauty is sung   and exalted by countless other names and forms.

The Goddess is celebrated in various manners (lalapanti) as: joyous (madantika); proud (manini); auspicious (mangala); and; prosperous (shubhaga). And, she is beautiful (sundari) and pure (shuddhamata); as also modest (lajja), intelligent (matistu), satisfied (tripta) and She is thriving (pusta), wealthy (lakshmirupa) and extremely lovely (lalitha)

Madantika manini mangala ca shibhaga ca sa sundari shuddhamati / lajja matistu-stirists ca pusta lakshmi rupa lalitha lalapanti //

The Shaktha tradition reveres the Divine Mother as the Universal Creative Power, the All Pervading source of change within and identical to the changeless reality, Brahman. The Devi Mahatmya is the celebration of the limitless powers and the splendour of the Mother Goddess. It affirms its faith that   the ultimate power and authority in the Universe reside in Devi. She encompasses and overrides everything in the Universe. She is the ultimate reality. The Devi Mahatmya asserts its faith that her Ultimate reality is really the ultimate; and it is not merely feminine.


Over the centuries, innumerable commentaries have been written on the Devi Mahatmya. Of these, the two are highly recognized; and, are very often quoted.

One;  The Nageshi  , is written by Nāgeśa Bhaṭṭa / Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa / Nāgoji Dīkita (1678-1755?) , a erudite scholar, grammarian and philosopher who is said to have  lived at a place , then  called as  Śṛṅgaverapura , in the upper region of the Ganga, near Vārāasī. He is described as the grandson of the famous Grammarian, Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita (late 16th–17th century), author of the Siddhānta-Kaumudī – a celebrated commentary on the Ashtadhyayi of Panini.  His text re-arranges the Sūtras of Pāini under appropriate heads; and, renders it easier to follow. The work was later edited in three (madhya, laghu and Sara) abridged versions (Laghu-kaumudi) by his student Varadarāja, reducing the number of rules to 723 (from 3,959 of Pāini).


The other is the Guptavati (implying the hidden knowledge or path), an authoritative commentary on the Devi Mahatmya, by Bhāskararāya Makhin (1690–1785-?), (Bhasuranantha Natha), son of Konnamamba and Gambhiraraya of Vishvamitra gotra, an encyclopaedic author (of about 52 works on a wide range of subjects); well versed in Vedic and Tantric traditions; the celebrated authority on the philosophy and practice of Tantra; and, especially on the Sri Vidya Upasana.  His writing is marked by refreshing directness and precision. Though his dates are rather uncertain, it is generally assumed that his writing-career lasted from the beginning of the 18th century, till about 1768.

The two scholars – Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa and Bhāskararāya – might perhaps have been contemporaries, sharing, for the most of their life, the same time-span. While Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa lived in the region of the Ganga on the North; Bhāskararāya, later in his life, settled down on the banks of the Cauvery in the South.

But, it appears that Bhaskararaya had his Upanayana in Varanasi. And, he also had his early education in Varanasi under the scholar Narasimha-dhvarin. There is also a mention of Bhaskararaya having participated in a debate conducted at Varanasi; and, also of having performed there the Soma Yajna and such other Yajnas. Further, a manuscript of Avaidika-adarśana-sagraha, a compendium ascribed to the great scholar Gaṅgādhara Vājapeyin, and preserved in the Sarasvati Mahal Library at Tanjore, is said to have been prepared by Bhāskararāya, who is described as the resident of Varanasi (likhitam etat kāśī –vāsi-Bhāskararāyea).

Further, by about the closing decades of the sixteenth century, Varanasi had developed into a powerful intellectual centre, drawing into its bosom erudite scholars, jurists, Grammarians etc., learned in various disciplines; and, also those who produced voluminous innovative texts of authority (niraya). Kashi, the city of lights, was the home of the Mother Annapurna, who sheltered and nurtured (annadātryā) aspiring, ardent students who came to her from every part of the subcontinent, right from its southern tip at Rama-sethu to the snowy slopes of the Himalayas-(āsetubandhataam ā ca tuāraśailād), seeking knowledge and freedom from delusion (Jnana-vairagya siddhartham).  It is, therefore, likely that in such an invigorating academic environment, where many scholars lived, thrived (āvasad asau vārāasīm ddhimān) and debated, the two intellectuals – Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa and Bhāskararāya – had met and interacted.

The Guptavati is said to have been completed by Bhaskararaya, in Pramoda-nama Saka Samvatsara 1797 (that is, about 1740-41 CE) , during the latter part of his life, while he was at Chidambaram. Further, Bhaskararaya has quoted in his Guptavati and Manjusha a work relating to Grammar, at least on two occasions, extracts from Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa’s commentary on the Devi Mahatmya. It would therefore, appear that Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa’s commentary was composed much earlier. And, it is also likely that Bhaskararaya might have been, slightly, the younger of the two.

Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa and Bhāskararāya were both Advaitins by tradition; and, were followers of Sri Shankaracharya Parampara, the non-dualist Advaita philosophy. And, both had enormous reverence towards the Jagadguru Sri Adi Sankaracharya.

tripurasundariBhāskararāya was a firm believer in the doctrine of Advaita (Advaita siddantha); and, was also proficient in all branches of learning. But, his religious philosophy was based in the Ratna-traya-prakshika of Sri Appayya Dikshita (1520–1593), which upheld the Shiva-Shakthi combine as the Absolute. Bhāskararāya, however, was essentially a Shakta following the Kaula-sampradaya. And yet, he frequently quoted from the works of Sri Sankara; and, revered him as the very incarnation of Sri Dakshinamurti, the Universal Teacher.

Though Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa and Bhāskararāya were both Advaitins, they differed in their orientation towards the Advaita doctrine. Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa, in his commentary on the Devi Mahatmya, adopted the Vivarta Vada of the Advaita School, in order to explain the emanation of the Devi and her varied forms. And, Bhāskararāya adopted the alternate view, that of the Parinama Vada (particularly, Shakthi Parinama Vada) , to explain the myriad forms of the Devi and Her manifestation in all the existence. It is said; their commentaries on the Devi Mahatmya are recognized by these two distinct approaches.


[The relation between the cause and effect is one of the basic problems discussed among the Indian thinkers.  And, in fact, the divisions among the Indian theories of causation are based on this factor.

To put it simply: There are two major theories of causation in the Indian philosophies. The one known as the A-satkarya-vada propounds that the effect exists independent of its cause. And, when something new occurs, it is distinctly different. It is a view held by the Buddhists and the Nyaya-Vaisesika School.

Against this position, the Satkarya-vada asserts that the effects pre-exist in their cause. The effect is nothing but the extension of the cause itself, albeit seen in different form and mode. This is the view held by the Schools of Advaita and Samkhya.

In other words: the argument, here, is that an effect either derives its essence from its cause; or, it does not. The Satkaryavada is the theory of the pre-existence of the effect in the cause; and, A-satkaryavada is the theory of the non-existence of the effect in the cause before its production.

The A-satkaryavada is divided into Arambhavada advocated by Nyaya-Vaisesika and the Mimamsa Schools; and the Patityasamutpada followed by Buddhism.

And, the main exponents of Satkaryavada were Samkhya-Yoga and Vedanta. The Jaina theory took a middle course, which   is often called as Sad-Asatkaryavada.

As regards the Satkaryavada, there are again two branches: Vivartavada and Parinamavada.

 (1) The Vivarta-vada regards the effect as the mere appearance (Vivarta) or a superimposition of the effect over the cause. This School argues that the ultimate reality is unchanging; and, all kinds of differences that one sees are only apparent and illusory. It is the view advocated by Kevala Advaita Vedanta followers of Sri Sankara.

The Vivarta Vada affirms that the changeless Brahman is the substratum (adhishthana), the primary cause of all existence; and, everything is pervaded by the Brahman. And, the Brahman, the Absolute, is indivisible; and, there is nothing outside Brahman. But, it says that in the relative world, the things might look diverse and distinct because of the effects of the Maya or the superimposition (Adhyasa) of the relative (vyavaharika) over the Absolute (para_marthika). Such apparent (vivarta) distinctions as one finds in the world are not real; but, are mere appearances. That is to say; the world that we know in our day-to-day experience (Vyavaharika) is only relatively real; and, it is subject to contradictions. It is only a make-believe appearance of the Absolute Reality (Paramarthika), which is infinite, beyond all distinctions and attributes (Guna). The appearance of the world as if it is distinct or real is a distortion or false apprehension of the Reality (Maya).

(2) The other, Parinamavada or Vikaravada, regards the effect as the actual transformation of the underlying cause. It believes that through a causal process, change actually occurs; and, the cause takes the shape of effect. That is to say; a cloth, in effect, is not different from its cause, the threads. This argument is advocated by Samkhya and Yoga.

The Samkhya School explains the process of evolution or unfolding of the primary cause, the Prakrti through the principle of Parinama Vada. The Tantra follows the Samkhya ideology.

A branch of the Vedanta School, which follows the Parinama Vada, is also based in the faith that an effect exists in its cause in un-manifested form before it is revealed. The effect is always related to its cause. Accordingly, the Brahman, the Ultimate reality, the substratum of all existence is the primary cause. The Universe as we experience is a transformation (Parinama) of that Brahman; and, it is real. While Brahman is the cause; the Universe, its transformation is the effect. And, the effect is as real as its cause.

According to this School, the primary cause potentially contains in it, all the effects as its Shakthi (power). At its will, the potential or the un-manifest (A-Vyakta) transforms into the manifest (Vyakta). Thus, what is called as creation is nothing but the manifestation of what was already present, in a seed-form, as un-manifest.  Thus, the world, as the effect, has arisen from the supreme Reality; and, it cannot be unreal.]


Thus, both the Vivarta Vada and the Parinama Vada subscribe to the view that Brahman is both the material and the efficient cause of the entire universe. And, from the Absolute point of perspective view there is nothing but Brahman; everything is Brahman. There is nothing outside the Omnipresent Brahman.

But,   there is a subtle metaphysical difference between the two points of view. And, it was only during the post-Sankara period of the Advaita Vedanta that   the dichotomy of the Vivarta and Parinama Vada came to fore.

Nagoji Bhatta followed the Advaita School, which asserted that all this existence is mere appearance (Vivarta) of the One as many; and, what we experience is the superimposition of the relative over the Absolute. 

Bhaskararaya, also an Advaitin, had the faith that there is but one Reality. But, as a follower of the Tantra, he adopted the Parinama-Vada which saw the effect as the transformation of the cause; and, as being real. In this respect he was closer to Samkhya.


However, Bhaskararaya took a broader view. Though he was mainly a follower of the Parinamavada, from the point of view of metaphysics, Bhaskararaya had immense respect for the Kevala-advaita of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada.

In his Varivasya Rahasya, which in its 167 slokas discusses the worship-details according to the Shakta Agamas, Bhaskararaya expresses the view that tough there might be metaphysical difference between the two Schools; it would be foolish to treat them as opposing camps. They are just two points of view of the same Reality.

In all his works, Bhaskararaya invokes the blessings of Sri Sankara with deep reverence and devotion. He points out that Sri Sankara himself does not oppose Parinamavada , as he does not reject the effects as unreal (1.4.26 and 2.1.14); but, does speaks in favour of the Parinamavada in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya (praktiś ca pratijñā dṛṣṭāntā anuparodhāt: 1-4-23) and also in Saundaryalahari.  (According to Bhaskararaya, Saundaryalahari is a composition of Sri Sankara**; and, Parinamavada is at the heart of it – tvayi parinatayam (35), a recourse to meditation on Saguna-brahman). Further, Bhaskararaya, in his Varivasya Rahasya, does not oppose Vivarta Vada; and, agrees with the views expressed in `Vakya Shuddhi’, a work of  the Kevala-advaita School.

Thus, Bhāskararāya was endowed with a broader all-comprising vision of the Divinity. And, therefore, it might not be appropriate to pigeonhole him into a particular slot.

** sa jayati mahan prakasho yasmin druishte na druishyate kimapi |
kathamiva tasmin jnate sarvam vijnatamuchyate vede ||


Further, Bhaskararaya, as an ardent devotee of Sri Vidya, adopted the Shakthi Parinama Vada, which regards the Supreme Mother, the Shakthi as the Brahman, who transforms (Parinama) herself into manifold Universe. The Devi as Shakthi appears in her three fold appearance as Iccha (will), Kriya (action) and Jnana (knowledge). She is Tripura Sundari who is represented in her Sakara, the manifest form, as the Sri Chakra, protecting all who submit to her (sriyate sarvair iti).

The Devi is Tripureshwari, the Supreme ruler of the Universe. Here, Tripura denotes the totality (Samvit) of the Universe in its three-folds – Sthula (gross), Suksma (subtle) and Para (transcendent).

Bhaskararaya follows the dictum that any apparent diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah). Thus, for Bhaskararaya, the Samasti the aggregate and Vyasti the separate are essentially not different. They merely are the un-manifest (A-yaktha) and the manifest (Vyaktha) forms of the one Supreme Reality, the Devi. And, Her multiple forms should not be taken as secondary or diminished form of reality. The ultimate is ever the Ultimate.

She is the Absolute, unchanging and also evolving, at once. The Devi declares: My manifestation in creation is only another facet of my existence, which involves no duality, in the same way as waves surging up in the ocean remain the same water. Therefore, there is the faith that in whatever form a particular goddess appears, even if she is known by different names, it is in reality only her, the Supreme Śhakthi.

Bhaskararaya repeatedly asserts that all those varied forms represent the ‘true’ un-manifested ultimate reality of the Devi. All forms of the goddess are different avenues to her. He explains; such multiple manifestation of ultimate reality within the concrete and abstract realities is central to the Sri Vidya doctrine and its practice.

For instance ; in the Sri Vidya tradition, the other goddesses re regarded as the manifestations of  the  varied aspects of  the Supreme deity  , Lalitha Tripurasundari, the beneficent  (soumya), extraordinarily lovely (Lalitha)   Mother  who rules over all the three levels of existence in the Universe.

Thus, for Bhaskararaya, rooted in the Shakta philosophy and the Srividya, all the varied forms of the Goddess are but the diverse aspects and manifestations of the same Reality, the Devi. And, he recognizes the ultimate Reality, in its integrated form (Samasti), as the Mula Prakrti, Mahālakṣhmī or Chandi or Brahman, the One who transforms into many. He cites a line from Soundarya-lahari (97) and declares that ‘the deity named Chandi is the highest Brahman’; ‘She is the Queen through whom the crown is inherited’. From the Absolute unity, Mahālakṣhmī evolves into innumerable elements of the world as we perceive it.

The quoted verse prays that one may receive Devi’s grace, have the vision of her Supreme form, achieve self-realization, and enjoy the sweetness of Supreme Brahman, which She indeed is

girāmāhurdevī druhia- ghiī-māgamavido /  hare patnī padmā hara-sahacarī-madritanayām

turīyā kāpi tva duradhi-gamani-asīma-mahimā/  mahāmāyā viśva bhramayasi parabrahma-mahii 97


The   Tantra ideology asserts that the Chandi, the Brahman, is both One and many; the universe is an emanation of that sublime principle; and it is real, not Maya. The Tantra seeks to realize that truth which is already there. And, it regards action (karma) and knowledge (jnana) as complementing each other.  It believes that the best possible manner for attaining liberation (mukthi) is through the harmonious combination (samuchchaya) of knowledge (jnana) and action (karma) along with sincere dedication and devotion (Bhakti). The culmination of its practice (upasana) is the direct experience (Anubhava) of bliss (ananda) realizing one’s identity with the Supreme Goddess Mahadevi (pratyabhijna).

Though, at the outset, the Tantra adopts the duality of the Samkhya; yet, in its application , it attempts to reunite the dichotomy of the material and efficient elements. In contrast to the classical Samkhya-yoga model, in which the Yogi achieves isolation (Kevala) of Purusha, the Tantra attempts to reunite Purusha and Prakriti as Shiva and Shakthi. Here, the Shakthi is the Supreme Reality. She is One and many; pervading the universe in and out.  Thus Tantra recognizes (pratyabhijna) the unity of the creator and the creation.  That relation is symbolically represented by Sri Yantra.

The entire concept seems to follow a certain pattern:  of One (Brahman); two (Shiva and Shakthi); three (Sat, chit and ananda); and four (when all the three are absorbed in the fourth; which is reuniting of the individual adept and the Absolute). A similar pattern is laid out in Mandukya Upanishad where the three levels of consciousness culminate in the fourth, the Turiya. Similarly, the three levels of speech (Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari) dissolve into the fourth state of the transcendent Para (Sabda Brahman)/


Chaṇḍī or Chaṇḍīka is the name by which the Supreme Goddess is referred to in Devi Mahatmya. Bhaskararaya, in his Guptavati, the commentary on the Devi Mahatmya, asserts that Devi as Chandika is indeed the Brahman, the Supreme non-dual reality. She is Samvit, the pure intelligence, which is self-luminous (Prakasha); and, is unaffected by the limitations of time, space and causality (Desha, Kaala, Karana). She is also Vimarsa, the unrestrained (Svatantrya) power of action (Shakthi).  The relation between these two principles is said to be like that of the lamp and its light; the knower and the known. Vimarsa is explained as the principle of ‘illumination’ (Prakasha) becoming aware of its own self (Ahamta).

The two aspects (Prakasha and Vimarsa) – Shiva and Shakthi – constitute one integral whole – the Para-Samvit, the Supreme essence of all existence, represented by Bindu, the dimensionless point. The Devi, Maha Tripura Sundari, as Samvitti (pure conscious energy), is symbolized by Bindu, in the ninth enclosure (Bindu-chakra Avarana or Sarva-ananda-maya chakra), at the heart of the Sri Chakra.

[The Bindu at the heart of the Sri Chakra is technically described in terms of three elements or qualities: Nada, Bindu and Kala. Here, Nada refers to the sound in its primordial sense, which is the un-articulated essence which precedes the three subsequent levels of speech- (Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari). Nada is the supreme Para Vac, equated with the latent Sabda Brahman, which is the substratum of all sound-principles manifest in the universe.

As regards the Bindu, it is used in a variety of contexts, to indicate different types of forms and properties. When Bindu is mentioned in the context of the Nada, it generally, indicates the permanent or the static element that underlies the emerging form of sound. It is the basis for expansion (prapancha) that assumes the physical shape of sounds and the Beejaksharas of the Sri Chakra.

Kala is the third aspect of the Bindu at the centre of the Sri Chakra. It indicates the inherent capacity of the One to assume many forms.]


Bhaskararaya attempts to reconcile and harmonize various viewpoints of  Kevala Advaita; Parinamavada; Samkhya-Yoga; Tantra; and, Beda-abedha of Bhaskara, the Vedantin. The doctrine of Difference in identity (avikara-parinama-vada) believes that the creation, as it were, is the transformation (Parinama) of the Absolute Brahman; and again, the Absolute is both identical and different from the diverse universe (Bedha-abedha). Brahman is identical with the diverse manifest world, because it is both the material and efficient cause. And, it is different in as much as the world (prapancha), essentially, is the transformation of One into many.

In his Guptavati, Bhaskararaya brings together the dualism of the Samkhya with the non-dualism of the Advaita, by regarding the Devi as Prakrti and the Ultimate Reality which transforms into all this existence. The Goddess transcends dualism. The Guptavati teaches that the Goddess is at once, one and many. Everything is made of her; She is present in every particle; and, yet she is only one. Bhāskararāya writes of the Supreme divine – both as beyond this world, and also as manifest within it as a deity and the energy that propels it.


The Devi declares

I am of the nature of Brahman. From me this Universe, both void and non-void, is generated in form of Prakrti and Purusha.

Sabvarit Aham Brahma-svarupini / mattah prakrti-purusha-atmakanam jagat / sunyam ca sunyam //

I am both bliss and non-bliss. I am knowledge and non-knowledge. I am Brahma and non-Brahma. The five primordial principles and non-principles is myself. I am the whole perceived Universe.

Aham ananda-anandau / Aham vijnana- avijnanau / Aham Brama-abrahmani viditavye / Aham pancha –bhuta-anya-panchabhutani / Aham Akhilam jagat //

I am Veda (knowledge about Brahma) and non-knowledge. I am learning and ignorance. I am unborn and also born. I am up, down and in the middle.

vedo ̕hamavedo ̕ham vidyā aham avidyāham ajāham anajāham  adhaścord hva ca tiryakcāham 4

The secret teaching (Guptavati) of the Devi Mahatmya is that the Goddess pervades everything that exists; be it good or bad.  Because the reality is veiled by Māyā, we tend to perceive things as opposites: good and evil; sacred and profane; etc. But, the Truth is that there is no real duality – everything is Her.


Bhāskararāya, an Advaitin and also a Tantra Sadhaka, fuses the dualist representation with the monist principle.  He asserts that the absolute reality of the universe Brahman, as Mahālakṣhmī, evolves into many. He asserts that the Absolute Mahālakṣhmī can take the nature of Chaṇḍikā, as Chaṇḍikā-Mahālakṣhmī.

The Devi Mahatmya adores Mahālakṣhmī as Devi in her universal form as Shakthi, in highly abstract philosophical terms. She is the primordial energy (Prakrti), the primary cause (sarva-sadhya). She is both devoid of form (nirakara) and filled with forms (sakara).   She is beyond all forms and Gunas, but, assumes varied forms to create and operate the world. The Devi is Lakshya-alakshya-svarupini, the one with and also the one without the attributes. She is at once, immanent and transcendent. She is the form of the formless (Sunyasya-akara). She is both manifest (jadathmika) and un-manifest (Arupa). She is the essence of all things (Sarvamayi; Sarva sattva mayi). She creates and governs all existence (Isvari), and is known by various names (nana-abhidana-brut). She is the Mother of the worlds (Jagadamba) and sustains the worlds (Jagad-dhatri). The universe is her sphere of activity (nityaiva sā jaganmūrtistayā sarvamida tatam).  Everything in the universe is a minute expression her inscrutable power (Yoga Maya). She is the ultimate goal of yoga. 

Thus, in the Devi Mahatmya, Mahālakṣhmī is the primordial aggregate energy (Samasti) manifesting in distinct terms (Vyasti) as Maha-Sarasvathi, Mahālakṣhmī and Maha-Kali.

According to Bhaskararaya, Chaṇḍikā-Mahālakṣhmī, the Absolute principle, verily, is devoid of form (nirakara); not ordinarily perceptible (alakshya); and , without attributes (nirguna) ; yet, she is characterized by the three Gunas (triguna); and , she pervades through her three representations (avatars).

Bhāskararāya explains: the Absolute, Mahālakṣhmī, can take the nature of Chaṇḍikā. And, the Chaṇḍikā – Mahālakṣhmī, the primordial energy, the Turiya (the highest or the fourth), assumes those three distinct forms. And, each is identified with a Guna (tendency): Mahālakṣhmī (rajas), Mahākālī (tamas) and Mahāsarasvatī (sattva).  And, She appears as three aspects of existence as Sat-Chit-Ananda, the reality, consciousness and experience. Although they are represented as three distinct images, they are virtually one (a-bhinna); and, this is true not only for the three Goddesses, but also for all other forms of the Maha Devi, the Supreme Goddess.

In the Sri Vidya tradition, the Bija (seed) Mantra Hrim, equivalent to the Pranava Om, represents the Supreme reality, the Great Goddess. It is said; just as the tree, the flowers, and the fruit, emerge from the seed, so also do the three different aspects of the Devi-namely; Mahākālī, Mahālakṣhmī, and Mahāsarasvatī – emerge from the Maha Bija mantra , Hrim.

According to Bhāskararāya, at one level, Mahālakṣhmī is the highest Brahman. On the second level, Mahālakṣhmī is the deity Chaṇḍikā manifesting the Guas. Then, on the third level, there is a Mahālakṣhmī as one of the three aggregate forms (i.e. one of the Guas).

As Sat, Mahālakṣhmī is the power of coordination (sandhini). She is Vama, the left aspect, who is the power of action (kriya) that is causation. She is Lakshmi goddess of plenty, and fortune.

As Chit Mahālakṣhmī is the power of understanding (samvit). She is the power of will (iccha), and of the flow knowledge. She is Sarasvathi, the goddess of learning.

As Ananda, Mahālakṣhmī is the power of delight (ahladini-shakthi). She is the fierce (Raudri). She is the power of cognition, of realization, of transcendent knowledge; and the destroyer of illusions. She is also Durga, the one beyond reach.

The Creation arises from Her triple form of Shakthi; the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra took shape to create, preserve and dissolve the universe.


In the next part we shall talk of the mantra aspect, with particular reference to the Devi Mahatmya and the Navarna mantra.

Durga Killing the Buffalo Demon, 19th century

lotus offering




The part Two

Sources and References

The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Sakta Tantrism



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Posted by on February 26, 2018 in Devi, Guptavati, Tantra


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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Eleven

Continued from Part ten


Para vac

According to Abhinavagupta

As mentioned in the previous Part, it is explained that the process of manifestation of speech, like that of the Universe, takes place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness (Sva-prakasha-chaitanya) is Para-vac (the voice beyond). Thereafter, this intention takes a shape. We can visualize the idea (Pashyanthi-vac) though it is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed; but, yet searching for words to give expression to the intention. This is the second stage in the manifestation of the idea. Then, the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes, finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of an idea into words, in the silence of the mind, is the third stage. It is the intermediary stage (Madhyama-vac) between un-manifest and manifest. The fourth stage being manifestation of the till then non-vocal verbalized ideas into perceptible sounds. It is the stage where the ideas are transmitted to others through articulated audible syllables (Vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the word.

In this part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari – on the subject of different levels of speech or awareness.

While Bhartrhari regards levels of speech as three (Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari), Abhinavagupta discusses on four levels (Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari).

Some scholars have tried to reconcile that seeming difference between the stance of the two scholars  by explaining that Bhartrhari’s concept of the speech-principle Sabda-tattva or Sabda-brahman the fundamental basis of the all existence, virtually equates to Para Vac , the Supreme Consciousness adored by Abhinavagupta. In this connection, they remind of a passage in Bhartrhari’s Vritti on his Vakyapadiya where the description of Paśyantī Vac  is followed by a subtle hint at a para paśyantī – rūpam, which they take it as pointing towards  Abhinavagupta ‘s   Parā Vāc.

Let’s briefly take a look at the theories expounded by Abhinavagupta on various stages of language, speech and consciousness.


Abhinavagupta Acharya (Ca. 950 to 1020 C.E) the great philosopher, mystic and a true sadhaka, was the intellectual and a spiritual descendant of Somananda the founder of the Pratyabijnya School of Kashmiri Shaiva monism.  He was a many sided genius; a visionary endowed with incisive intellectual powers of a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a spiritualist and a Tantric. He was a prolific writer on Philosophy, Tantra, Aesthetics, Natya, Music and a variety of other subjects. His work Tantraloka in which he expounds Anuttara Trika, the ‘most excellent’ form of Trika Shaivism (Nara- Shakthi- Shivatmakam Trikam)  is regarded as his magnum opus. It is a sort of an encyclopedia on Tantra – its philosophy, symbolism and practices etc.

Abhinavagupta was also a scholar-commentator par excellence, equipped with extraordinary skills of an art critic.  Among his notable commentaries are: the Īśvarapratyabhijñā-vimarśini and its detailed version Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both being commentaries on Isvara-Pratyabhijña – kārikā and vtti (Recognition of Shiva as self) by Utpaladeva or Utpalācārya (early 10th century), an earlier philosopher of the Pratyabhijñā Darśhana School. And, Abhinavagupta’s Paratrisika-Laghuvritti (also known as the Anuttara-tattva-vimarsini) and its expanded form Parātrīśikā–vivarana a commentary on Parātrīśikā also known as the Trikasūtra (a seminal text on Kashmiri Shaivism) – which is based in the concluding portion of the Rudra-yamala-tantra – is held in high esteem.

And, his work Abhinavabharati though famed as a commentary on  Bharata’s  Natyasastra  is,  for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, poetry, music and art; and , it helps in understanding Bharata and also a number of other scholars and the concepts they had put forth. The Abhinavabharati along with his other two works – Isvara pratyabhijna Vimarshini and Dhvanyaloka Lochana – are highly significant works in the field of Indian aesthetics.

 [For more on Abhinavagupta, please click here]


Generally speaking, the Tantra-s of all tendencies deal with the nature of Vac and its manifestations. But, the tradition to which Abhinavagupta belonged – namely the Bhairava Tantra, and in particular to the Kula and Trika Tantras –  differs from the others in that it bestows greater importance to the nature and to the role of Vac.  It views Vac (language) at its highest level as identical with the Supreme Reality.

Abhinavagupta’s ideas and concepts with regard to language are based in the scriptures of his School and in his philosophy of language. Abhinavagupta’s speculations on the nature, on the levels of Vāc and its manifestations are, therefore, some of the important aspects of all his works. They run like a thread that ties together the diverse aspects of Abhinavagupta’s vast body of works.  The speculations on Vac also interweave his views on the religious and philosophical traditions that he expounds.

According to the Pratyabhijna School, Shiva is the Ultimate Reality; and, the individual and Shiva are essentially one. The concept of Pratyabhijna refers to self-awareness (parämarsa); to the way of recognition and realization of that identity. It firmly asserts that the state of Shiva-consciousness is already there; you have to realize that; and, nothing else. As Abhinavagupta puts it: Moksha or liberation is nothing but the awareness of one’s own true nature –Moksho hi nama naivathyah sva-rupa-pratanam hi tat.

Abhinavagupta, while explaining this school of recognition, says, man is not a mere speck of dust; but is an immense force, embodying a comprehensive consciousness; and, is capable of manifesting , through his mind and body, limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakthi and Kriya Shakthi).

According to the Tantras of Kashmir Shaiva tradition, which recapture the ancient doctrine of Sphota, the manifestation of all existence is viewed as the expression of Shiva (visarga-shakthi) occurring on four levels. These represent the process of Srsti or outward movement or descending or proceeding from the most sublime to the ordinary. It is said; such four levels of evolution correspond with the four levels of consciousness or the four levels in the unfolding (unmesa) of speech (Vac).

Just as a Samkalpa (a pure thought) has to pass through several stages before it actually manifests as a concrete creative force, so also the Vac has to pass through several stages before it is finally audible at the gross level as Sabda (sound). Each level of Vac corresponds to a different level of existence. Our experience of Vac depends upon the refinement of our consciousness.

The latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyamā (intermediate)   and Vaikhari (explicit) speech).

Though the speech (Vac) is seen to manifest in varied levels and forms, it essentially is said to be the transformation (Vivarta) of Para Vac, the Supreme consciousness (Cit),   which is harboured within Shiva in an undifferentiated (abheda) unlimited  form (Swatrantya).


Abhinavagupta describes Parā vāk as a luminous vibration (sphurattā) of pure consciousness in an undifferentiated state (paramam vyomam). While Shiva is pure consciousness (Prakasha); Devi is the awareness of this pure light (Vimarsha). It is highly idealized; and, is akin to a most fabulous diamond that is also aware of its own lustre and beauty. The two – Prakasha and Vimarsha – are never apart. The two together are manifest in the wonder and joy (Chamatkara) of Para vac. And, there is no knowledge, no awareness, which is not connected with a form of Para vac.

The Devi, as Parā Vāc, the vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) is regarded as the foundation of all languages, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions; and, is, therefore, the seat of consciousness (cit, samvid). Consciousness, thus, is inseparable from the Word, because it is alive.

Vac (speech), he says, is a form of expression of consciousness. And, he argues, there could be no speech without consciousness. However, Consciousness does not directly act upon the principle of speech; but, it operates through intermediary stages as also upon organs and breath to deliver speech.

Thus, Vac is indeed both speech and consciousness (chetana), as all actions and powers are grounded in Vac. Abhinavagupta says: Someone may hear another person speak, but if his awareness is obscured, he is unable to understand what has been said. He might hear the sounds made by the speaker (outer layer of speech); but, he would not be able to grasp its meaning (the inner essence – antar-abhiläpa)).


Abhinavagupta explains the process of evolution (Vimarsa) of speech in terms of consciousness, mind and cognitive activity (such as knowing, perceiving, reasoning, understanding and expressing).

In his Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-viti-vimarśinī  Abhinavagupta says: the group of sounds (Sabda-rasi) is the Supreme Lord himself; and, Devi as the array of alphabets (Matraka)   is his power (Shakthi) .

iha tāvat parameśvara śabdarāśi, śaktir asya bhinnābhinnarūpā mātkādevī, vargāṣṭaka rudraśaktyaṣṭaka pañcāśad varā pañcāśad rudraśaktaya

Abhinavagupta says: “When She (Parā vāc) is differentiating then she is known in three terms as Pašhyantī, Madhyamā, and Vaikharī.” The Kashmir Shaiva tradition, thus, identifies the Supreme Word, the Para Vac with the power of the supreme consciousness, Cit of Shiva – that is Devi the Shakthi.


According to Abhinavagupta, the Vac proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And then, it moves on, in stages, to more cognizable forms: Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi , going forth as seeing , ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka – word); Madhyamā ( the sabda in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana or antarbhittï prior to manifestation); and ,  Vaikhari (articulated as gross physical speech). This is a process of Srsti or outward movement or descending proceeds from the most sublime to the mundane.

It is said; the gross aspect (sthūla) of nāda is called ‘sound’; while the subtle (sūkma) aspect is made of thought (cintāmaya bhavet); and, the aspect that is devoid of thought (cintayā rahita) is called Para, the one beyond

Sthūlam śabda iti prokta sūkma cintāmaya bhavet | cintayā rahita yat tu tat para parikīrtitam |

[This is similar to the structure and the principle of Sri Chakra where the consciousness or the energy proceeds from the Bindu at its centre to the outward material forms.

The Bindu or dot in the innermost triangle of the Sri Chakra represents the potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakti. When this potential separates into Prakasha and Vimarsha it is materializes into Nada, the sound principle.]


There are also other interpretations of the four stages in the evolution of Vac.

:-It is also said; the stages of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari correspond to our four states of consciousness – Turiya (the transcendental state); Sushupti  (dreamless state);  Swapna  (dreaming state), and Jagrut (wakeful state).

Thus, Para represents the transcendental consciousness, Pashyanti represents the intellectual consciousness, Madhyamā represents the mental consciousness, and Vaikhari represents the physical consciousness. Our ability to experience different levels depends upon the elevation of our consciousness.

:-The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will), jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and kriya-shakthi (power of action) of the Devi .These three are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion Para-vac. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as Sabda-Brahman.

Rāmakantha (aka Rājānaka Rāma; Ca. 950 CE) in his commentary (Vritti) on Spandakārikā, explains, “The speech is indeed an action, the mediating part of the Word is made of knowledge, the will is its visionary part, which is subtle and is common essence in all [of them].”

Vaikharikā nāma kriyā jñānamayī bhavati madhyamā vāk/ Icchā puna pašyant ī sūkmā sarvāsā samarasā vtti/ /

 :-According to the Yoga School, the Para stage manifests in the Karanabindu in Muladhara chakra; and then it passes through Manipura and Anahata chakras that denote Pashyanti and Madhyama states of sound. And, its final expression or Vaikhari takes place in Vishudhi chakra.

The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad explains thus: “The Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyamā, and blossoms in Vaikhari.”

:-The Tantra worships Devi as Parā Vāc who creates, sustains and dissolves the universe. She is the Kuṇḍalinī Śkakthi – the serpent power residing in the human body in the subtle form coiling around the Mūladhāra Chakra


According to Abhinavagupta, the Para Vac is always present and pervades all the levels of speech; and, is indeed present on all the levels from the highest to the lowest. By its projection, it creates the flash of pašyantī vāc, the intellectual form; and finally the articulate form, the Vaikhari. He also says that without Her (parā vāk), darkness and unconsciousness, would prevail.

pašyantyādi dašasv api vastuto vyavasthitā tayā vinā / pašyantyādiu aprakāšatāpattyā jaJaā-prasagāt /

 “Everything (sarvasarvātmaiva); stones, trees, birds, human beings, gods, demons and so on, is but the Para Vac present in everything and is, identical with the Supreme Lord.”

 ata eva sarve pāšāa-taru-tirya-manuya-deva-rudra-kevali -mantratadīša- tanmahešādikā ekaiva parābhaṭṭārikā-bhūmi sarva-sarvātmanaiva paramešvara- rūpeāste

Thus, the entire process of evolution of Vac is a series of movements from the centre of Reality to the periphery, in successive forms of Para-Vani.  Abhinavagupta states: Shiva as Para is manifested in all the stages, from the highest to the lowest, right up to the gross sound through his Shakthi; and, he remains undivided (avibhaga vedanatmaka bindu rupataya).


To put the entire discussion in a summary form:

:- According to the explanations provided here: Para is the highest manifestation of Vac. Para and Pashyanti are inaudible; they are beyond the range of the physical ear; and so is Madhyama which is an internal dialogue.

Thus, it is said, there are three stages in the manifestation of Vac: Para (highest); Sukshma (subtle – Pashyanti and Madhyama); and, Sthula (gross – Vaikhari)

Para, the transcendent sound, is beyond the perception of the senses; and, it is all pervading and all encompassing. Para is pure intention. It is un-manifest. One could say, it is the sound of one’s soul, a state of soundless sound. It exists within all of us. All mantras, infinite syllables, words, and sentences exist within Para in the form of vibration (Spanda) in a potential form.

Para-Vani or Para Vac, the Supreme Word, which is non-dual  (abeda) and  identified with  Supreme consciousness, often referred to as Sabda Brahma, is present in all  the subsequent stages; in  all the states of experiences and expressions  as Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari.


:-  Pashyanti , which also means the visual image of the word, is the first stage of Speech. It is the intuitive and initial vision; the stage preceding mental and verbal expression.  

Paśyantī is prior to sprouting of the language or ‘verbalization’, still potent and yet to unfold. Pasyanti, says Abhinavagupta, is the first moment of cognition, the moment where one is still wishing to know rather than truly knowing. 

In Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create) there is no difference between Vachya – object and Vachaka – word. The duality of subject-object relation does not exist here. Pashyanti is indivisible and without inner-sequence; meaning that the origin and destination of speech are one, without the intervention of mental constructs (Vikalpa). Paśyantī is the state of Nirvikalpa.

It is the power of intent or will (Icchāśakti) that acts in Paśhyantī state. And yet, it carries within itself the potentials of the power of cognition, jñāna šhakthi, and the power of action, kriyā šhakthi.


:- Madhyama is an intellectual process, during which the speaker becomes aware of the word as it arises and takes form within him; and, grasps it. Madhyama vac is a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought, Here, the sound is nada; and, is in a wave or a vibratory (spandana) form.

Madhyamā is the intermediate stage (madhyabhūmi) of thinking. It is the stage at which the sabda in its subtle form exists in the anthahkarana (the internal faculty or the psychological process, including mind and emotions) prior to manifestation) as thought process or deliberation (chintana) which acts as the arena for sorting out various options or forms of discursive thought (vikalpa) and choosing the appropriate form of expression to be put out.

The seat of Madhyamā, according to Abhinavagupta, is intellect, buddhi. Madhyamā represents conception and internal articulation of the word- content. Madhyamā is the stage of Jñānaśakti where knowledge (bodha) or the intellect is dominant. It is the stage in which the word and its meaning are grasped in a subject-object relationship; and, where it gains silent expressions in an internal-dialogue.


:- And, finally, Vaikhari Vac is sequenced and verbalized speech, set in motion according to the will of the person who speaks. For this purpose, he employs sentences comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other.

Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which in a waveform reaches the ears and the intellect of the listener. Vaikhari is the physical form of nada that is heard and apprehended by the listener. It gives expression to subtler forms of vac.

The Vaikhari (which is related to the body) is the manifestation of Vac as gross physical speech of the ordinary tangible world of names and forms. Vaikharī represents the power of action Kriyāśakti. This is the plane at which the Vac gains a bodily- form and expression. Until this final stage, the word is still a mental or an intellectual event. Now, the articulated word comes out in succession; and, gives substance and forms to ones thoughts. Vaikharī is the final stage of communication, where the word is externalized and rendered into audible sounds (prākta dhvani).

There are further differences, on this plane, between a clear and loud pronunciation (Saghosha) and a one whispered in low voice (aghosha), almost a sotto voce. Both are fully articulated; what distinguishes them is that the former can be heard by others and the latter is not.


That is to say; Vac originates in consciousness; and, then, it moves on, in stages, to more cognizable forms : as Pashyanti, the vision of what is to follow; then as Madhyama the intermediate stage between the vision and the actual; and , finally as Vaikhari the articulated , fragmented, conventional level of everyday vocal expressions.

Thus, the urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para, Pashyanti into Vaikhari epitomizes, in miniature, the act of One becoming Many; and the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter. Thus, the speech, each time, is an enactment in miniature of the progression of the One into Many; and the absorption of the Many into One as it merges into the intellect of the listener.


While on Abhinavagupta, we may speak briefly about the ways he illustrates the relation that exists between Shiva, Devi and the human individual, by employing the Sanskrit Grammar as a prop.

In the alphabetical chart of the Sanskrit language, A () is the first letter and Ha (ह) is the last letter. These two, between them, encompass the collection of all the other letters of the alphabets (Matrka).

Here, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are wombs (yoni), identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants (Malini) in a language are the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

[ In the Traika tradition, the letters are arranged as per two schemes: Matrka and Malini. Here, Matrka is the mother principle, the phonetic creative energy. Malini is Devi who wears the garland (mala) of fifty letters of the alphabet.

The main difference between the Matrka and Malini is in the arrangement of letters. In Matrka , the letters are arranged in regular order ; that is , the vowels come first followed by consonants in a serial order. In Malini, the arrangement of letters is irregular. Here, the vowels and consonants are mixed and irregular; there is no definite order in their arrangement. While Matrkas are compared to individual flowers, the Malini is the garland skillfully woven from those colourful flowers.]

According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol (sanketa). The four stages of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari represent the four stages of evolution and also of absorption ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

Abhinavagupta then takes up the word AHAM (meaning ‘I’ or I-consciousness or Aham-bhava) for discussion. He interprets AHAM (अहं) as representing the four stages of evolution from the undifferentiated to the gross (Sristi); and, also of absorption (Samhara) back into the primordial source. In a way, these also correspond to the four stages of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama – and Vaikhari.


He explains that the first letter of that word – A () – represents the pure consciousness Prakasha or Shiva or Anuttara, the absolute, the primal source of all existence. It also symbolizes the initial emergence of all the other letters; the development of the languages.

And, Ha (ह) is the final letter of the alphabet-chart; and, it represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. Ha symbolizes Vimarsha or Shakthi, the Devi. The nasal sound (anusvāra) which is produced by placing a dot or Bindu on ‘Ha(हं) symbolises the union of Shiva and Shakthi in their potent state.

The Bindu (◦) or the dimension-less point is also said to represent the subtle vibration of the life-force (Jiva-kala) in the process of creation. It stands at the threshold of creation. It is the pivot around which the cycle of energies from A to Ha rotate. Bindu also is also said to symbolize in the infinite nature (aparimitha-bhava) of AHAM.

As regards and the final letter M (ह्म) providing the final nasal sound, it comes at the end of the vowel series, but before the consonants. It is therefore called Anusvara – that which follows the Svaras (vowels). And, it represents the individual soul (Purusha).


Abhinavagupta interprets AHAM as composed of Shiva; the Shakthi; and the Purusha – as the natural innate mantra the Para vac.

In the process of expansion (Sristi), Shiva, representing the eternal Anuttara, which is the natural, primal sound A () , the life of the entire range of letter-energies (sakala-kala-jaala-jivana –bhutah) , assumes the form of Ha’ (हं) the symbol of Shakthi; and, then he expands into Bindu (◦) symbolizing phenomenal world (Nara rupena).

Thus, AHAM is the combine of Shiva-Shakthi that manifests as the world we experience. Here, Shakthi is the creative power of Shiva; and it is through Shakthi that Shiva emerges as the material world of human experience. AHAM , therefore, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed. Thus, Shakthi is the creative medium that bridges Nara (human) with Shiva.


At another level, Abhinavagupta explains: The emergence (Visarga) of Shakthi takes place within Aham.  She proceeds from A which symbolizes unity or non-dual state (Abedha). Shakthi as symbolized by Ha represents duality or diversity (bedha); and, the dot (anusvara or bindu) on Ha symbolizes bedha-abeda – that is, unity transforming into diversity. These three stages of expansion are known as Para visarga; Apara visarga; and Para-apara visarga.

Here, Para is the Supreme state, the Absolute (Shiva) ; Para-apara is the intermediate stage of Shakthi, who is identical with Shiva and also different; she is duality emerging out of the undifferentiated; and, Apara is the duality that is commonly experienced in the world.

Aham (अहं), in short, according to Abhinavagupta, encapsulates the process of evolution from the undifferentiated Absolute (Shiva) to the duality of the world, passing through the intermediate stage of Bheda- abeda, the threshold of creation, the Shakthi. All through such stages of seeming  duality , Shiva remains undivided (avibhaga vedanatmaka bindu rupataya).

The same principle underlines the transformation, in stages, of the supreme word Para Vac the Supreme Word, which is non-dual and identified with Supreme consciousness, into the articulate gross sound Vaikhari.


[ Abhinavagupta in his Paratrisika Vivarana says :  In all the dealings , whatever happens , whether it is a matter of knowledge (jnana) or action (kriya) – all of that arises in the fourth state (turyabhuvi) , that is in the Para-vac in an un-differentiated  (gatabhedam ) way. In Pashyanti which is the initial field in the order of succession (kramabhujisu) there is only a germ of difference. In Madhyamā, the distinction between jneya (the object of knowledge) and karya (action) appears inwardly, for a clear-cut succession or order is not possible at this stage (sphutakramayoge).

Moreover , Pashyanti and Madhyamā fully relying on Para which is ever present and from which there is no distinct distinction of these ( bhrsam param abhedato adhyasa)  (later ) regards that stage as if past like a mad man or one who has got up from sleep.


Abhinavagupta in his Para-trisika Varnana explains and illustrates the Tantric idiom ‘sarvam sarvatmakam’: everything is related to everything else. The saying implies that the universe is not chaotic ; but , is an inter-related system. The highest principle is related to the lowest (Shiva to the gross material object) .

Abhinavagupta illustrates this relation by resorting to play on the letters in the Sanskrit alphabets, and  the tattvas or the principles of reality.

He says “ the first is the state of Pasu , the bound individual; the second is the state of jivanmuktha or of the Pathi , the Lord himself  for : khechari –samata is the highest  state of Shiva both in life and in liberation”. Khechari is the Shakthi moving in free space (kha) , which is an image of consciousness. Khechari-samaya is described as the state of harmony and identity with the Divine I-consciousness-Akritrima-aham-vimarsha .]


In a play on words, Abhinavagupta turns Aham backwards into Maha; and, interprets it to mean the withdrawal (Samhara) or absorption of the material existence into the primordial state. Here again, in MAHA, the letter Ma stands for individual; Ha for Shakthi; and, A for Shiva (Anuttara the ultimate source).

In the reverse movement, Ma the individual (Nara) is absorbed into Shakthi (Ha) which enters back into the Anuttara the primal source the Shiva (A).  That is; in the process of withdrawal, all external objects come to rest or finally repose in the ultimate Anuttata aspect (Aham-bhava) of Shiva.

Thus the two states of expansion (sristi) and withdrawal (samhara) are pictured by two mantras Aham and Maha.

In both the cases, Shakthi is the medium. In Aham, it is through Shakthi that Shiva manifests as multiplicity. And, in Maha, Shakthi, again, is the medium through which the manifestation is absorbed back into Shiva. She, like the breath, brings out the inner into the outer; and again, draws back the outside into within. That is the reason Shakthi is often called the entrance to Shiva philosophy (Shaivi mukham ihocyate).

Abhinavagupta remarks: this is the great secret (Etad Guhyam Mahaguhyam); this is the source of the emergence of the universe; and, this is the withdrawal of the mundane into the sublime Absolute. And, this also celebrates the wonder and delight (Chamatkara) emanating from the union of the two Shiva and Shakthi.


[ In all the voluminous and complex writings of Abhinavagupta, the symbolism of Heart (Hrudaya) plays an important role. He perhaps meant it to denote ‘the central point or the essence’. His religious vision is explained through the symbol of heart, at three levels – the ultimate reality, the method and the experience. The first; the Heart, that is, the ultimate nature (anuttara – there is nothing beyond) of all reality, is Shiva. The second is the methods and techniques employed (Sambhavopaya) to realize that ultimate reality.  And, the third is   to bring that ideal into ones experience.

The Heart here refers, in his words ‘to an experience that moves the heart (hrudaya-angami-bhuta). He calls the third, the state of realization as Bhairavatva, the state of the Bhairava. He explains through the symbolism of Heart to denote   the ecstatic light of consciousness as ‘Bhaira-agni-viliptam’, engulfed by the light of Bhairava that blazes and flames continuously. Sometimes, he uses the term ‘nigalita’ melted or dissolved in the purifying fire-pit the yajna–vedi of Bhairava. He presents the essential nurture (svabhava) of Bhairava as the  self-illuminating (svaprakasha) light of consciousness (Prakasha).  And, Bhairava is the core phenomenon (Heart – Hrudaya) and the ultimate goal of all spiritual Sadhanas.

When we use the term ‘understanding’, we also need to keep in view the sense in which Abhinavagupta used the term.  He makes a distinction between the understanding that is purely intellectual and the one that is truly experienced. The latter is the Heart of one’s Sadhana.

The Heart of Abhinavagupta is that a religious vision is not merely intellectual, emotional or imagined. But, it is an experience that is at once pulsating, powerful and transforming our very existence.

The Triadic Heart of Siva by Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega]


In the next part let’s see the explanations and the discussions provided by Bhartrhari on the various levels of the language (Vac).



In the

 Next Part

Sources and References

Abhinavagupta and the word: some thoughts By Raffaele Torella

Sanskrit terms for Language and Speech

The Four levels of Speech in Tantra

Bettina Baeumer -Second Lecture – Some Fundamental Conceptions of Tantra

 Sphota theory of Bhartrhari

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H Potter

Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained by William S. Haney



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