"Blessed indeed are the few who worship Thee, the flood of infinite Bliss-Consciousness, as abiding on a mattress that is the Paramashiva, spread on the couch of the form of Shiva (Sadashiva), inside the mansion constructed of the wish-yielding Chintamani gems, amidst a pleasure garden of Nipa trees, in the Manidwipa – Isle of Gems, which is situated in the midst of the ocean of nectar and fringed by rows of celestial Kalpa trees" - 8
Although this verse describes the abode of Sridevi, contemplation of Sridevi's gross form is also intended here as per the Samayachara tradition. This verse also indicates the worship of Srichakra in diverse ways. A succinct portrayal of Sridevi's abode is furnished by this verse.
In the middle of the ocean of nectar, there is an isle of precious gems of infinite variety. All round the outskirts of this island are rows of celestial, wish-granting trees – Kalpaka, Santana, Harichandana, Mandara and Parijata trees. There is a palatial mansion inside these groves of celestial trees. The mansion is built of celestial gems called Chintamani, which have the power to grant all desires. All round the mansion, there are pleasure gardens of Kadamba trees. Inside this mansion, in the central hall, there is a regal seat (Simhasana), which has for its four legs Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Ishwara. Over this cot is spread a mattress, which is Paramashiva. On this couch sits the supreme Parabrahman Kameshwara on whose lap is seated Sri Mahatripurasundari, the great queen of Parabrahman, in the supremely beautiful form described in the previous verse.
Srimadacharya says that those who worship Amba thus, as in this abode, contemplating her form thus as per the Samayachara mode, are really blessed as they attain infinite bliss thereby.
The description of Sridevi's abode as found in this verse, mentioned in Samayachara texts, is also found in various other works of Srimadacharya like Tripurasundari Vedapada Stava (7,8&9) and Mantramatrikapushpamalastava (1). Sri Gaudapadacharya's Subhagodaya, which deals mainly with Samayachara worship of Sridevi also describes Sridevi's abode in similar lines. In the Divyamangala Dhyana chapter of the Rajarajeshwari Tantra of Rudrayamala, the abode of Mahatripurasundari in the Manidwipa in the midst of the ocean of nectar is described at length, furnishing the extent of the ocean, the island etc. in Yojanas (1 yojana is approximately equal to 8 miles). The Bhairavayamala also describes the Panchabrahma seat of Sridevi. Srimadacharya also describes the Panchabrahma seat in his Mantramatrika Pushpamala (3) and Tripurasundari Veda Pada Stava.
According to Puranas like Brahmanda Purana etc., Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Ishwara are Devi's attendants. They assume the form of the four legs of the couch on which Sridevi is seated – Brahma being the southeast leg, Vishnu the southwest, Rudra the northwest and Ishwara the northeast leg. Paramashiva, the Nirguna Parabrahman, is the silent spectator of the nature of Chit (consciousness) and ananda (bliss). The Devi is meditated as inseparable Paramashiva – a welling of Consciousness and Bliss (Chidanandalahari).
This form of worship described in this verse is followed by the Samaya school of Srividya Upasakas as distinguished from the Kaula School. The Samayachara and Kaula are understood as referring to internal and external worship respectively. Followers of Samayachara worship Mahatripurasundari mentally and internally, meditating on some assumed form or Srichakra, the body or mind itself constituting the Srichakra on the vacuum in the center of the heart called `Daharakasha'. This kind of worship is mainly the union of Shakti with Shiva and worshipping Shakti and Shiva in their inseparable creationistic aspect.
The essence of Samayachara worship is the union of chit Shakti with the Brahman. Shiva is Samaya and Sridevi is Samayaa. The equation or inter-similarity of Shiva and Shakti is held as five-fold. They are:
1. Adhishthana Samya – similarity in abode.
2. Anushthana Samya – oneness in indulgence of activities like creation etc.
3. Avastha Samya – equality in state such as Lasya, Tandava etc.
4. Nama Samya – similarity in names such as Shiva and Shivaa, Samaya and Samayaa etc.
5. Rupasamya – similarity in form, color etc., such as three eyes, red color etc., in both.
A vivid account of Samayachara is described in Shubhagama Panchaka. After initiation by a Sampradayavit Guru, the Sadhaka gains some progress in the six fold (or four fold) unions. He then undergoes a special kind of Diksha Samskara called Mahavedha on the ninth day at the end of the Sharannavaratri. Sri Mahatripurasundari manifests Herself to him in the Manipooraka Chakra after rising from the Moolaadhaara. The devotee worships Sridevi mentally with all kinds of offerings, bedecks her with jewels made of precious gems and thence leads Her to the Anahata Chakra. Here again, the devotee worships Sridevi mentally with sandal paste, flowers, incense, offerings, betels and slices of nut etc. Thereafter, Sridevi is conducted to the Visuddhi Chakra. Here she is bedecked with jewels full of gems of the nature of the Kalas of the moon (Chandrakala). Thence she is lead to the Ajna Chakra where the devotee offers the burning of camphor (Nirajana). Thence Sridevi ascends to the thousand-petalled lotus (Sahasrara) in the center of the upper part of the head and unites with Shiva in the Chit Chandra mandala - the region of eternal bliss. The devotee draws a curtain mentally and waits, in an adjacent apartment, the Devi's return to Moolaadhaara. This forms a brief outline of Samayachara mode of worship.
The abode of Devi is described as per the concept of Samayachara in Rudrayamala as follows:
sudhAbdhau nandanodyAne ratnamaNDapamadhyagAm
bAlArkamaNDalAbhAsAM chaturbAhuM trilochanAm |
pAshA~NkushasharAMschApaM dhArayantIM shivAM shriyam
dhyAtvA cha hR^idgataM chakraM vratastaH parameshwarIm |
pUrvokta dhyAnayogena chintayan japamAcharet ||
From the above, it will be seen that the Samaya worship requires a very high degree of concentration of the mind and a strict control over the senses, as in this process, the entire worship happens in Daharakasha. The meditation of Sridevi in the form of Srichakra has to be done in the shapeless Akasha or space, which is known as `Viyadchakra', `Viyat' signifying Akasha or space. In the Kaula mode of worship, the Srichakra is inscribed on planks or on the bark of a tree called Bhurja or on a piece of white cloth or on plates of gold, silver or Panchaloha. The devotee uses his limbs and other external materials for worship. Great care and personal discipline are needed in this mode of worship. Interpreted in terms of the external Srichakra of the Kaulas, the Sudhasindhu or the ocean of nectar is the Bindusthana in the center of the Srichakra over the four Shiva Chakras (triangles with apex upward constituting Shiva) and below the five Shakti Chakras (triangles with apex downward being the embodiment of Devi). A detailed explanation of these is found in the eleventh Shloka of *Saundaryalahari.* The five Shakti Chakras are the celestial trees, the Kadamba garden and the Mani Mantapa. When the physical body itself is meditated upon as Srichakra, these parts of Amba's abode are represented by different physical parts of the body. Either way, the contemplation and worship are external.
Note: In the Srichakra drawn according to the Samayachara tradition, the Baindava Sthana is in the quadrangular space formed by the various intersecting triangles -the four Shiva triangles with their apex downward and the five Shakti triangles with apex upward. If the Srichakra is drawn according to the Kaula tradition, the Baindava Sthana will be in the small triangle in the center, forming the first of the five Shakti triangles with their apex going downwards and the four Shiva triangles with their apex upwards. Thus, the number and orientation of the two sets of triangles vary in the two schools.
Kameshwara Suri, the author of the Arunamodini commentary traces in this verse a reference to Anandalahari, the group of the first forty-one verses of *Saundaryalahari.* The learned commentator gives the following connotations for the words comprising the verse as follows:
Sudhasindhu – from the Himalayas, the abode of white glaciers to the southern ocean; Suravitapivati – full of pilgrim centers; Manidwipa – places fit for meditation; Nipopavanavati – surrounded by Kadamba trees; Chintamani Grihe – temples studded with Chintamani gems; shivakare manche – in Mount Kailasa, white as crystal resembling Shiva in aspect; Paramashivaparyankanilayam – blessed as being placed on the lap of the divine couple, Parvati and Parameshwara; Chidanandalaharim – the Stotra by name Anandalahari describing the pure chit aspect – Sridevi.
The story is that Srimadacharya, the author of this glorious hymn, after finishing it, took it all the way to Kailasa, there to lay it at the feet of the divine couple and receive their approbation, but on reaching Kailasa, saw the couple being praised with the stanzas of the self-same Anandalahari and in consequence drenched in the Bliss of Supreme Consciousness. He also interprets the verse as referring to different parts of the body with the heart as the center of worship (Bindu).
Devotees worshipping Sridevi in the vacuum in the middle of the heart between the three lower and the three higher psychic centers (Chakras), as indicated in this verse and the preceding verse of *Saundaryalahari* are, according to Srimadacharya, the few fortunate ones, because their ideal of liberation has come within their easy reach. The union of Shiva and Shakti (Bindu and nada) is indicated in the third line of the Shloka by the phrase `paramashiva parya~Nka nilayaaM'. The Kameshwari Bija and the Bija of Sadashiva Mahapadmasana are also indicated in this verse. Anandagiri, the celebrated commentator, interprets this verse as pointing to Kundalini Shakti. The seat of Sri Mahatripurasundari is actually Omkara Peetha since Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Ishwara, representing a, u, m and Ardha Matra, together form th primordial sound `OM'.
Those rare souls who, through worship, internal as well as external, of Sridevi, their affinity to Sri Panchadashakshari, and the pure life that they lead during their last incarnate existence in this mundane world, are really blessed, for they have discharged the duties incumbent upon human beings, preparatory to their being merged in the transcendent Existence, Consciousness and Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda). The mode of worship indicated in this verse is of the form of Sridevi, as abiding in her royal mansion of Srichakra, dealing as it does with the special environment in which Devi has to be meditated upon, herself assuming the special form depicted in the previous stanza, which only amplifies what is here indicated about Sridevi. The description giver here closely follows the account given in the Bhairavayamala, which represents Sridevi as abiding for ever as the Kundalini Shakti, piercing the solar region of the Dahara, covering the Brahmarandhra inside the Sahasrara, liquefying the lunar region, and delighting in the flood of nectar flowing therefrom. The Kundalini Shakti, abiding in the Kulapatha – Sushumna Nadi, leaves it to reach the Sahasrara and, after filling the entire system of Nadis with the nectar above referred to (Sudhasindhu), returns to her abode.
This stanza is capable of yet another interpretation which is as follows:
Blessed are the few that adore Thee, the Chidanandalahari, who for ever abides in the Anahata Chakra (heart lotus), situated midway between the Moolaadhaara on the one side and the Moon in the crest ever filling the system of Nadis with nectar (Sahasrara Chandra mandala), on the other end (i.e. between the root Chakra and the crown Chakra), adorable because it embraces in its form all the gods and goddesses and contains the substitutes for the several reputed places of pilgrimage such as the Srishaila, in the crest etc. (or the Anahata Chakra, the seat of thought, dependent on the atman and hence lustrous), well protected by the ten vital airs, Prana and others (or the deities presiding over the ten sense organs), studded with Moolaadhaara and other centers of Energy, radiant like so many isles of gems and encasing within itself the Jivatman, which is as expansive as a tree from top to bottom.
The Srichakra with forty-three triangles in it, is said to be the very residence or even the very body or form of Shiva and Shakti. As the Baindava Sthana has all the other parts of the Srichakra involved in it, it has special importance. It is specially called the abode of Amba and this is main object of adoration in the Samayachara School.
As per the Puranas, Sri Lalita has two residences. One is in what is called the Brahmanda and on the central peak of Mount Meru round which all planets revolve. On the three other peaks of Meru are abodes of Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. Sridevi's world, it is said, is in the center of these three peaks, on the reigning peak so to speak. This is referred to in the name `Sumerumadhyashringasthaa' occurring in the Rahasya Sahasranama of Sri Lalita. Amba's second is outside the Brahmanda. She has created a vast ocean of Amrita or ambrosia and she resides in the midst of it on an island. The name `Sudhasagaramadhyastha' refers to this abode. This is the world created by Sridevi herself. The celestial sculptor Vishwakarma built the one on the Meru's central peak, with the power granted to him by Amba. Amba appeared once to slay Bhandasura, a very powerful enemy of the celestials. At once the celestials exclaimed, "She is indeed our queen Sri Rajarajeshwari!" Then they performed her coronation and Vishwakarma built a palace for the Supreme Queen with many fortresses on the Meru peak, called Sripura or Srinagara. However, what Srimadacharya describes here is the second abode in the ocean of ambrosia.
Whether it is on the central Meru peak or in the ocean of ambrosia, there is no difference between the two abodes of Amba. From the outermost fortress to the palace proper – where she is seated in regal splendor – the Prakaras, lakes, gardens, the entourages are the same. Twenty-five fortresses and Prakaras encircle this capital of hers, called Srinagara or Sripura. The fortresses are built of metals ranging from iron to gold and of the nine gems. Then, proceeding further in degrees of subtlety, there are the fortresses of the mind, of intelligence, of ego. Lastly, there are strongholds built each of the radiance of the sun, the radiance of the moon and of the luster of Manmatha. Between the fortresses there are forests, parks of divine trees and streams and canals. When going past all these, in the twenty-fifth Aavarana, is the Mahapadmavana – a canal full of lotuses. It is like a moat and in it is Amba's palace, built not of bricks but Chintamani gems. The queen residing in this palace is Sri Rajarajeshwari. As mentioned earlier, the four legs and the seat of her throne are the Pancha Brahmas. From this throne, seated on the lap of Sri Kameshwara, she holds court. When we view her not as one in a position of authority, not as a queen, but as one embodying the Sringara that turned the Brahman into sport, she gives Darshan not in the open royal assembly, but in her inner apartment, all by herself. To obtain that Darshan, we must first eradicate our senses totally. To qualify for this, we must grasp the inner meaning of Sringara, and we must indeed have the maturity to become immersed in this meaning.
In Sripura, on the central peak of Meru, she is the great queen conducting her royal assembly and she is higher than all the celestials. In the center of the ocean of the ambrosia, she is the divine Mother, the consort of Kameshwara, for seekers belonging to a higher plane. She is Mother and Father in one and her blessings will be such as to take us so far as to bring about our union as children with this Mother-Father entity. We said that Amba resides in Chintamani palace. `Chinta' means `thought'. If all our thoughts were made into gems by thinking of Amba alone and if we built a temple to her with these gems, it would be the real Chintamani palace. It is as a way to it, for Amba to dwell in us, that we first meditate on her as the one who dwells outside us. In the end, her residence inside us must be realized. Though Amba has two residences detailed above, her favorite is the third, the heart of her devotee. Abhirami Bhattar says in his songs: "Is your temple here or there? It is in my heart! She, who is One, unfolded into many and pervaded the entire world. then, when the world became extinct, she became the form o the atman. Such a one, such a Great One, dwells somehow in my tiny heart".
The Acharya does not call the one seated on the Paryanka (the bed that is the lap of Kameshwara) as Kameshwari, Rajarajeshwari or Sringarasundari. He elevates her to the heights of Jnana by giving her the name `Chidanandalahari'. Even though Amba is with the Lord as Sringara personified, what is denoted here is Atma Sringara. It is bliss of love, the cascading joy of the consciousness that is not separated from the Truth. Acharya also indicates that only a few fortunate souls worship her. Why only a "few"? Are there not many people who perform Pooja to Devi and do thousands of Japa? Their number is increasing day by day. But mumbling some words and burning camphor, would that be Pooja in the true sense? We must visualize the form of Amba described here and have it imprinted in our hearts. It is generally believed that going to the world of our chosen deity is Salokya Moksha. Even better is to think that the place where we live, wherever it is, is itself the world of our chosen deity. Beyond Salokyam is the Samipya Moksha i.e. to go near or close to our chosen deity. To proceed from the shores of the ocean of ambrosia via the forest, park and so on to Amba's bedstead in her palace is Samipyam. Further to Salokyam and Samipyam is Sarupyam. Just as the worm constantly thinking of the wasp becomes a wasp, if we keep contemplating on Amba's form, +we too will become that form. The ultimate in liberation is Sayujya, becoming one with our chosen deity. That is, apart from being identical in form with the deity, we become one with the deity, become the same truth as the deity. It is this Truth that Acharya calls `Chidanandalahari', the flow of consciousness that is the infinite bliss. Becoming completely dissolved in this Chidanandalahari i.e. Amba is Sayujya. Reaching Amba's world, beholding her form, becoming dissolved in the Reality that she is: let these happen in due time. But now itself, we must mentally attune ourselves to these states.