[Excerpts from `Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses' by Sri Vamadeva Shastri]
As in many spiritual traditions, the feminine aspect of Divine reality represents knowledge and wisdom (Sanskrit 'Vidya'). The three Vedas, the most ancient scriptures of the Hindu tradition, represent the three faculties of speech, mind and breath - and are called Trayi Vidya or the three wisdoms (feminine). The Greek idea of three graces is similar.
The true worship of the Goddess involves knowledge which is her real form. It is not merely an outer worship, but an inner worship which is meditation. Meditation on the Goddess is a form of self-inquiry or a means of acquiring knowledge. It is not merely an adulation of the feminine form or qualities. It may start with an image of the Goddess but reaches far beyond the limits of name, form and personality to the impersonal absolute.
The Goddess represents what is hidden, secret, subtle and sensitive. She represents what has to be searched and discovered. As the word she represents both the teaching and its comprehension. She is thus the inner guiding power. She represents what is to be known. What we are drawn by an inner fascination to discover. She is the mystery and allure of higher knowledge which causes us to lose interest in what the mind can know, the familiar realms of senses. The Goddess takes us beyond the realm of the known and the domain of time-space into the secrets of eternity-infinity.
In the process of spiritual learning the Goddess becomes the muse who guides us and inspires us. She is the priestess who unfolds the inner truth. Yet true knowledge as part of an integral comprehension of reality is always related to energy and beauty. The Goddess is not only knowledge but power and delight.
Knowledge of her reveals her powers which are awesome and transformative. Understanding of her reveals bliss, which is the joy of going beyond all the limitations of the body-mind.
Yet the Goddess does not merely give us knowledge. She is knowledge. The inner knowledge is the body of the Goddess, which she unfolds as her various adornments and eventually as her own being. Wisdom is the ultimate form of beauty and delight, the most sought after object in creation, and hence the ultimate embodiment of the Divine feminine. Ultimately the Goddess is not merely knowledge but pure consciousness itself (Samvit). She is knowledge that puts the mind to rest and returns us to the source. Through her we discover the serenity of the self.
Hindu deities represent the Divine consciousness functioning on all levels of the universe. Both outwardly and inwardly. They represent the various principles, energies and faculties which make up this great universe, manifest and unmanifest. The Goddess, who represents creation on all levels, possess this same diversity, which is expressed through her Ten Wisdom Forms (Dasha Mahavidya) and their different functions.
Dasha Mahavidya means the 'Ten Great Knowledges'. They reveal the inner workings of both the universe and the psyche, once the veil of appearances is pulled down.They represent the deeper truths of life hidden behind our attachment to the outer form of things. Their messages are sometimes inspiring and sometimes frightening because they represent life itself, but they are always instructive to those who are looking for something beyond the ordinary realm.
The ten forms of the Goddess function not merely to teach us superficially or intellectually but to challenge us to look deeper. As great cosmic forces their energies can be difficult to bear and their extreme appearances may jolt us. Their forms are often disturbing they are not meant to be merely pleasant. They are meant like mysteries to enter or shock the mind into awakening. They are not meant merely to console or inspire but to promote within us the deepest search. Their forms are ambiguous, contradictory and paradoxical. They are provocative energies designed to take hold of our minds and through their enigmatic nature neutralize the thought process which keeps us in bondage.
Life itself is something awesome and mysterious. We do not know why we are born or when we will die. We do not even know how we move, breathe or drink. Most of what we are seeking is merely transient and does not answer the ultimate question of our destiny: what, if anything in us, transcends death.
Our knowledge only grasps the surface of the world, and we do not have any sense of tour ultimate identity. To approach the higher knowledge we must set aside our lower knowledge aside, which is not to reject it altogether but to recognize its limited place. The wisdom forms of the Goddess are part of a spiritual science, which we can examine only when we have set aside our outer knowing and it's grasping for information and ideas.
Yet this spiritual science is also an art. It cannot be approached mechanically but requires creative participation. We must become that reality and experience within ourselves all of its manifold dimensions. We must become the Goddess as her power comes to work through us. This way of Yogic knowledge is a theatre or play in the mind. It contains all of life and all of the universe as flowing through our nervous system. It is perhaps the ultimate of all experiences, as through it experience itself is dissolved into the transcendent.
Each of the Ten Forms of the Goddess represents a particular approach to self-realization, to knowledge of that within us which transcends time and transient identity. Yet each of the ten has within itself many layers. Unless we are willing to look deeply, we may become caught in a secondary aspect of the form and function of the Goddess.
As representatives of powerful cosmic forces, the Goddesses can be approached to gain wealth, health, fame or other ordinary goals of life. However, if we approach them with a selfish intention, their inner powers cannot come forth. We cannot manipulate these deep cosmic forces. We can only benefit from them if we honor the wisdom at their origin.
Hence these knowledge Forms should not be approached superficially or casually. For them to really work, we must first surrender to the Divine mother herself and gain her grace. It is her power, her Yoga Shakti that does the work. We can be receptive to its current and learn its rhythms, but we cannot direct its flow. We must not try to use these teachings out of personal willfulness, or they will not be liberating for us. The Ten Forms of Goddess make up a complete and integral teaching but several of them have their special worship as representing the supreme Mother Herself.
Sundari, also called Lalitha or Rajarajeshwari, is the most popular form of the Divine Mother in South India. In the North and west of India, in Tibet and Kashmir and in Buddhist lands, Tara has this importance. In the North and East of India, Bengal and Assam, which is the region of India where the worship of the Goddess has always been the most popular, Kali represents the Great World Mother. Kali is the first and foremost of the Ten Wisdom Goddesses. All ten can be portrayed as the various aspects of Kali. They are often placed around Her as their central deity. Hence the Dashamahavidya is one of the most important forms of Kali worship.
The first clear reference to the Ten Wisdom Goddesses occours in the Shiva Purana (V.50). According to this story a demon called Durgama took control of the four Vedas, by a boon of the Creator, Lord Bramha, and through them gained power over the entire universe. This caused a tremendous drought on earth for many years in which all creatures suffered greatly. Hence, the Gods called upon the Goddess to save the world. The Goddess, who always responds to the wished of Her devotees, first eliminated the drought and filled all the waters of the earth. Then the Gods asked an additional boon to destroy the great demon and reclaim the Vedas. In Her battle with the demon, the Goddess brought ten great forms out of her body-the Dashamahavidya, and then took the forms of innumerable Goddesses. She defeated the demon and returned the Vedas to the Gods. As a conqueror of Durgama, the Goddess was named Durga.
The Ten Wisdom Goddesses, are originally associated with the myth of restoring the Vedic teaching, which through the process of time had fallen under the forces of decay and corruption. From the Vedas to the Tantras, is an unbroken line of Mantric and Meditation teachings centered in the Goddess, who Herself is a Divine Word and the Vedas, and who periodically renovates the teaching in order to sustain in this world born by time and death.
Kali - The Goddess of Yogic Transformation
As the chosen Deity worshipped by Paramahansa Ramakrishna, one of the most well known modern teachers within the Hindu tradition, Kali is one of the most commonly known of Hindu Goddesses, but still not well understood. Yet much of what we admire in Ramakrishna – his love, bliss, and universal spirit – is Kali's gift to us through him. Through him Kali has already delivered us her message for the modern age.
Time is life. Life is our movement in time. Through our own life-force or Prana we experience time. Kali as time is Prana or the life-force. Kali or the Divine Mother is our life. She is the secret power behind the working of our bodily systems and vital energy. Only through her do we live, and it is her intelligence that gives such a marvellous order to the body.
Kali is the love that exists at the heart of life, which is the immortal life that endures through both life and death. Maintaining the awareness of the eternal nature of life through the cycles of birth and death is another one of her meditational approaches. The truth is that our soul, our aspiration towards the Divine, which is our eternal love, never has died and never will die. To be conscious of that enduring aspiration is to die to the things of the mind and the senses, and come to know the cosmic life and Divine grace.
Kali grants us this eternal life. Yet the eternal life has a price. Only that which is immortal can be immortal, as nothing can change its own nature. The mortal and the transient must pass away. To gain the eternity that is Kali, our mortal nature must be sacrificed. Hence Kali appears frightening and destructive to the ordinary vision.
Kali as the power of death and negation is Nirvana, the state of the dissolution of desire. She functions to extinguish all of our wants and cravings and merge us into the Nirvanic field, the realm of the unborn, uncreate, and unmanifest. Kali develops forms only to take us beyond form. When her force awakens within us she works to break down all limitations and attachments, so that we might transcend the entire field of the known.
Kali is the power of action or transformation (Kriya-shakti). Through time and breath all things are accomplished. Yet what she accomplishes is not a mere outer action. She accomplishes the spiritual labour of our rebirth into pure consciousness. For this she creates the energy and does the work if we surrender to her force.
Kali means beauty. The root kal, from which the name comes, means "to count," "to measure," or "to set in motion," hence "time." It also refers to what is well-formed or measured out, hence beauty. Time itself has a movement, a rhythm, a dance which is the basis of all beauty. This is also the rhythm of the life force which allows for movement.
Kali is dark blue in colour and wears a garland of skulls. She has her long tongue sticking out and is laughing. Sometimes instead of a tongue she has two fangs. Kali has four arms and four hands and holds a head chopper with one hand and a severed head dripping blood with the other. With her other two hands she makes the mudras of bestowing boons and dispelling fear. She wears a skirt made of human arms. Kali is portrayed as dancing in a cremation ground and striding on a corpse (who is the form of Lord Shiva himself).
Tara - The Saving Word
Tara is not only an important Hindu Goddess, she is also the most important of the Buddhist Goddesses. The Bodhisattva Tara is the consort of the great Buddha Avalokiteshvara, the Lord who looks down with compassion on all living beings. The term Tara means the deliverer or savior, from the Sanskrit root tri, meaning "to take across," as to take across a river, the ocean, a mountain, or any difficult situation. The Goddess Tara is called upon in emergencies or at crossroads where we require guidance as to which way to turn. Tara is the saving knowledge. She is the Saviouress. The idea of the Goddess as saving wisdom is as old as the Vedas, and is a common idea in many spiritual traditions.
Tara is the feminine form of Om or Om personified as a goddess. Tara is the unmanifest sound that exists in the ether of consciousness, through which we can go beyond the entire anifestation. Tara is Om that has the appearance of the ether and which pervades the ether as its underlying vibratory support, but also transcends it. Om is the unmanifest field behind creation, which is the destroyer as well as the creator of the universe.
Tara is the purifying force of the vital breaths. Sound that manifests in the ether is the same as the Prana (life-force) that manifests in the ether. Breath is the primal sound of life, and the sound of the breath is the original, spontaneous and unuttered mantra (So' ham). Both mind and Prana, as word and vibration, have their root in sound. Hence the use of sound or mantra both purifies and energizes the mind.
Tara is the radiance of knowledge that arises from the differentiation of meanings through sound. Different sounds serve as vehicles whereby different ideas or meanings flash forth. Om is the underlying light that illumines these different sounds and allows meaning to flow through them. All meanings exist to reintegrate us into the ocean of meaning that is pure consciousness itself.
Tara, like Kali, is deep blue in color. She has matted hair, wears a garland of human heads, and has eight serpents for her ornaments. She is dancing on a corpse, has four arms and carries in her four hands a sword or head chopper, a scissors, a severed head and a lotus.
Tripura Sundari - The Beauty of the Three Worlds
Sundari is not the ordinary beauty of form (which is more properly an aspect of Kamala).The highest beauty does not lie in any object, though it is not apart from objects. The highest beauty is of perception – to "hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, and Eternity in an hour," as the poet Blake so eloquently wrote. Beauty derives from the light of consciousness that is irradiated through objects. It is never really contained in any object. Hence beauty can never pass away but merely has manifold forms for its revelation. The light of beauty we see in things is thus the light of our own awareness. Discovering this we contact the well springs of infinite delight within us. This is part of the revelation of Sundari.
The beauty of perception occurs only when the mind is cleansed from the known, when consciousness is cleared of its conditioning and rests in pure awareness without any residue of memory. Then whatever we see is irradiated with the light of eternity and is effulgent with the glory of our own Self as the Universal Being. Otherwise the residue of our thoughts and emotions, like a dark film, obstructs the subtle and transparent beauty and presence in things, though we may be able to perceive clearly their physical characteristics.
Sundari represents the ultimate beauty of pure perception which arises when we see all the universe in ourselves, when we see all nature as a reflection of the reality of consciousness. Sundari is thus the beauty of nature but as seen through the spiritual eye of unity – the vision that all the universe is Brahman – that there is nothing but God above, below, within, without, to the north, south, east or west, past, present or future. Sundari thus is the Goddess of Vedantic knowledge, which is the knowledge of the Supreme Self or Divine. She teaches us that all is the self and that the world is Brahman or the Absolute. From her perspective Samsara is Nirvana; the world of illusion is merged into the Absolute. Hence she is the form of the Goddess most beloved among Vedantic Swamis and teachers. She represents the knowledge of the Supreme Self.
Sundari is called Lalita or "She who plays." The entire universe exists for the delight of awareness, which is the play of the Divine Mother. Creation arises in joy, and returns to joy. We are but transient figures in her eternal play, who have yet to understand the source of the energy that moves us. Our sorrow and suffering is a delusion, a misconception born of ignorance and the ego. Because we attempt to control or possess joy from the standpoint of the separate self, we divide ourselves from true joy which is universal. The Goddess, as the image of joy, shows us the way out of our error, which is not to deny ourselves happiness but to discover the true happiness that we seek, which is in being one with all. Lalita awakens the receptive soul to the bliss that underlies all things.
Lalita is the deity of the Shri Chakra, the great yantra or energy pattern which underlines the entire universe, which arises from the mantra Om. She is the most blissful and beautiful of all the Goddesses, as she represents the ultimate bliss at the source of all delights. She is the deity who dwells at the summit of Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain or the mountain of the spine, and gives the orders whereby the entire universe moves. She is the Divine love which is the central motivating force behind the universe, and which is the original impulse within our own hearts.
Sundari is also called Rajarajeshvari or "the supreme ruler of the universe." From her arise all the commands which govern the universe, including he command which allows us to unfold spiritually or to give spiritual teachings in the world. We must seek her command in order to do anything significant in life. Yet her command is not based on authority but love. To gain her approval we merely need be open to her love. What she allows us to do is to love her and to love everything. To discover her commands, however, we must be willing to surrender our own egoistic desires and attempt to control things.
Tripura Sundari is often represented as a young girl of sixteen years age. As such she is called "sixteen" (shodasi) or "the young girl" (bala). At this stage of a woman's life the delight aspect of her existence is most pronounced. Her nature is to play, to seek new experiences, and to charm others to her. Her innocence attracts to her all that is true and good.
Sundari is the power of consciousness, Cit-shakti. She is the awareness of the Supreme Self, Paramatman, as one with the supreme Reality or Absolute, Parabrahman. As true knowledge she is called Samvit, which is the power to comprehend all things as consciousness itself.
Sundari is thus the power of spiritual knowledge (jnana-shakti), which is more a matter of feeling and perception than of thought and analysis. Hence she is the form of the Goddess most to be worshipped by those following the yoga of Knowledge. She is the form of the Goddess who represents pure consciousness and the bliss that flows from it. She combines the being of Kali, with the knowledge of Tara and adds the bliss dimension of spiritual realization.
Bhuvaneshvari - The Queen of the Universe
Bhuvaneshvari means the Queen or ruler (feminine, Ishvari) of the universe or realm of being (Bhuvana). She is the Divine Mother as the Queen of all the worlds. All the universe is her body and all beings are ornaments on her infinite being. She carries all the worlds as a flowering of her own Self-nature. She is thus related to Sundari and to Rajarajeshvari, the supreme Lady of the universe. The Goddess represents space. Space is the Mother or Matrix in which all creatures come into being. She is the field in which all things grow. She is the receptive spirit who gives space to allow all things their place and function. She is the cosmic womb that gives birth to all the worlds. As space, Bhuvaneshvari is complementary to Kali who is time; they are the two main faces of the Goddess as both the infinite and the eternal. Bhuvaneshvari creates the stage on which Kali performs her dance of life and death. As the stage Bhuvaneshvari is also the witness, the observer and the enjoyer of the dance.
As Kali creates events in time, so Bhuvaneshvari creates objects in space. All events are merely episodes in the Devine Mother Kali who is time. All places are merely phases of the dance of the Divine Mother Bhuvaneshvari who is space. The Goddess is the place, the field, the matrix in which we act to manifest the Gods. Knowing her as the ground on which we stand and the reality which pervades us, we gain the capacity (Shakti) to accomplish the highest actions, which are the practice of Yoga. Returning to her passive presence, we ourselves become the field in which the Gods, the cosmic powers, can be born and assume their roles in the cosmic creative unfoldment.
Bhuvaneshvari is the cosmos (Bhuvana) personified as a Goddess. To worship her promotes a cosmic vision and frees us from the narrowness of opinion and belief. She helps us go beyond all identifications with creed, class, race, sex, nation and religion, to a universal understanding. She gives us world vision, a global understanding, and a sense of the infinite. As the power that measures out the universe, Bhuvaneshvari is called Maya, which also means illusion. When things are measured we can become caught in their limited forms and forget the underlying unitary space in which they appear. This is how illusion arises. All manifest forms are merely waves in the infinite space of the Divine Mother. We must learn to see the space of the Mother, which is the embrace of consciousness, in all he apparent objects of the world, and no longer take their diverse forms as reality.
As Kali is the power of action (kriya-shakti) and Sundari is the power of knowledge (jnana-shakti), Bhuvaneshvari is the power of love (iccha-shakti). Love creates space and gives freedom. It does not limit or try to posses, which is the action of selfish desire. Yet the space of love is not an empty or unfriendly space, it is a space that nurtures and gives room to grow and flower. If love does not give space, it is not a Divine Love. Bhuvaneshvari has a form like Sundari, whom she resembles in many ways, which reveals her beneficent nature. She has the colour of the rising sun, with the crescent moon on her head, with four hands and three eyes. She holds in two hands the noose and the goad. With her other two hands she gives the gestures that grant boons and dispel fears.
The mantra for Bhuvaneshwari is the single syllable Hrim. Hrim is one of the most important of all mantras. It is called the Devi Pranava, or the equivalent of Om for the Goddess. Hirem refers to the heart (Hridaya). It also relates to Hri, which is modesty.
Bhuvaneshvari as the Mother can be worshipped through the mantra Mata, which is the natural sound for mother. This mantra, like Hirim, can be used for the Divine Mother in all her forms. The Divine Mother is called Shri Mata (respected, beautiful or resplendent Mother), which can also be used as a mantra for her.
Bhairavi - The Warrior Goddess
Bhairavi represents Divine anger and wrath. Yet her wrath is directed toward the impurities within us, as well as to the negative forces that may try to interfere with our spiritual growth. Though a difficult force to bear, her activity is necessary both to guide and to protect us. Bhairavi is the proverbial wrath of a woman and more specifically the wrath of a mother toward whatever may threaten her children.
Bhairavi represents the supreme power of speech, which has the nature of fire (Tejas). She is the Word in its unarticulated and primal form as raw energy, the flaming word which appears like a pillar or a sword to remove all opposition. She is the supreme light and heat power, the flame of consciousness itself (Cidagni) which is the ultimate knowledge of truth. Bhairavi as Tejas radiance) rules over the Tanmatras, the subtle sensory potentials behind the five elements and five sense organs which allow for their inter-connection. Through the Tanmatras Bhairavi gives power over the senses and the elements. She is the basic will power of life, mastering which we come to control all of its manifestations.
Bhairavi is known as Durga, the Goddess who saves us from difficulties. Durga rides a lion, a symbol of fire or solar energy, from which she wields her weapons of light to destroy all demons or negative forces. She helps take us beyond disease, sorrow, darkness and death.
The fierce form of Divine energy exists within us as the power of transforming heat (Tapas). Tapas is sometimes translated as asceticism. More properly it is a heightened aspiration that consumes all secondary interests and attachments. When we are really interested in something we naturally lose our attraction to other things. Tapas is this real interest and profound absorption in the spiritual life that causes us to no longer want anything else. Tapas is the heat of spiritual inquiry and aspiration which causes us to discard all that is non-essential in life.
Bhairavi as Tapas is especially worshipped by those seeking knowledge or by those seeking control of their sexual energy (Brahmacharya). She gives control of the senses, the emotions and wandering thoughts. She helps us during fasting, vows of silence, meditation retreats, Pilgrimages, during the practice of celibacy, or any other concentrated spiritual discipline (Tapas) that we may be attempting. Whatever obstructions arise to our practice of Tapas we can call on Bhairavi to help eliminate them.
Bhairavi is the fierce form of the Goddess and related to Chandi, the fiercest form of the Goddess, who is the main deity of the famous Devi Mahatmya, a great poem of seven hundred verses (also called Durga Saptasati or Chandi) which celebrates the destruction of the demons by her. Bhairavi is the woman as warrior, who with her power of Divine speech and spiritual fire eliminates all obstacles to the unfoldment of true awareness. As Chandi or the destroyer of opposition, she can be invoked for removing obstacles to allow us to attain any of the four goals of life – enjoyment, wealth, recognition or liberation (kama, artha, dharma and moksha).
Another important form of Durga is the ten-armed Mahishasura Mardini, the destroyer of Mahishasura, the demon who represents the vital passions (particularly sexual desires), which tie us to the outer world. She is also a form of Bhairavi.
Bhairavi possesses the effulgence of a thousand rising suns. She has three eyes and wears a jeweled crown with the crest of the moon. Her lotus face is happy and smiling. She wears a red garment (generally made of silk), her breasts are smeared with blood, and she is adorned with a garland of severed human heads. She has four hands and carries a rosary and a book. She makes the gestures of knowledge and that for giving boons with the other two hands.
Chhinnamasta - The Consciousness beyond the Mind
Chhinnamasta, whose image is a severed head, is the Goddess who causes us to cut off our own heads or to dissolve our minds into pure awareness. She brings transcendence of the mind and represents the non-mind (unmana) state. Freed from the limitations of the mind, consciousness realizes its true nature beyond death and sorrow.
Chhinnamasta – which literally means "a severed head" – is perhaps the most frightening or disturbing form of the Goddess. She has cut off her own head and, holding it in her right hand, with it drinks the blood flowing from her own severed neck. Yet her face is not frightening but happy, even blissful. What she presents is the joy of transcending the body, not the pain of losing it. She is also the most energetic form of the Goddess and shows the power of transformation in action.
As the power of India, Chhinnamasta is vidyut or lightening, the electrical energy of transformation (Vidyut Shakti) working in the cosmos on all levels. The electricity in the material world is only one form of this. In the mind it functions as the power of instantaneous enlightenment. While Kali rules over this force generally, Chhinnamasta represents the same force directed as the weapon of the Supreme for immediate transformation. She is the lightening bolt of insight which destroys the powers of the ignorance and lifts us beyond the skies.
As lightening, Chhinnamasta represents direct perception, pure seeing which cuts through everything and reveals the infinite beyond all forms. She is the power of self-vision which sacrifices all objects, including our own bodies, to the reality of pure awareness. She represents the Atmayajna or Self-sacrifice, wherein we offer ourselves to the Divine through the sacrifice of the mind.
Chhinnamasta represents the pralaya or end of the world wherein the Absolute reabsorbs or swallows up all creation. She is the head that swallows up the entire body. Hence she is the power of destruction which is the negation of the manifest sphere into the unborn and uncreate beyond.
According to yogic science there are knots (granthis) which prevent the movement of energy from flowing up the Sushumna of the subtle body. These are the Brahma-granthi in the Root Chakra which represents our bondage to speech, the Vishnu-granthi in the Heart Chakra showing our bondage to emotion, and the Rudra-granthi in the third eye showing our bondage to thought. Chhinnamasta represents the piercing of the Rudra-granthi or the knot in the head, allowing us to transcend thought, the mind and body consciousness altogether.
Chhinnamasta thus represents the free flow of energy through the Sushumna. She is the Kundalini Shakti flowing upward from the base of the spine to burst open the Crown Chakra and stream out into the infinite. She shows the energy of Kundalini awake and moving upwards toward transformation. She is Kundalini in her active and assertive role. As such, she represents the Vedic Path of the Gods (Devayana), which is the movement of the Prana up the Sushumna to the formless realms of pure consciousness, symbolized by the sun.
Chhinnamasta has a naked headless body, and in her two hands holds her own severed head and a sword. With her severed head, via a long and stretched out tongue, she ecstatically drinks the central stream of blood which flows from her headless trunk. The severed head is located in her right hand, often portrayed as placed inside a skull cup. The sword or head-chopper is located in the left.
Her body is that of a girl of sixteen years of age and is adorned with a garland of severed heads and necklaces of bones. She wears a serpent as the sacred thread on her upper torso, and she has large breasts which are covered by lotus flowers. Her hair is spread out in strands like lightning and adorned with various flowers, with a single gem tied by a serpent as a cord at the top. Here three eyes are wide open and emanating light. She has two companions called Dakini and Varnini to her left and right. She dances on the bodies of Kama, the God of love, and his consort Rati, who are in a sexual embrace. In some portrayals it is Radha and Krishna upon whom she dances.
Dhumavati - The Grandmother Spirit
Dhumavati is the eldest among the Goddesses, the Grandmother Spirit. She stands behind the other Goddesses as their ancestral guide. As the Grandmother Spirit she is the great teacher who bestows the ultimate lessons of birth and death. She is the knowledge that comes through hard experience, in which our immature and youthful desires and fantasies are put to rest.
Dhuma means "smoke." Dhumavati is "one who is composed of smoke." Her nature is not illumination but obscuration. However, to obscure one thing is to reveal another. By obscuring or covering all that is known, Dhumavati reveals the depth of the unknown and the unmanifest. Dhumavati obscures what is evident in order to reveal the hidden and the profound.
Dhumavati is portrayed as a widow. She is the feminine principle devoid of the masculine principle. She is Shakti without Shiva as a pure potential energy without any will to motivate it. Thus she contains within herself all potentials and shows the latent energies that dwell within us. To develop these latent energies we must first recognize them. This requires honoring Dhumavati.
Dhumavati shows the feminine principle of negation in all of its aspects. On an outer level she represents poverty, destitution, and suffering, the great misfortunes that we all fear in life. Hence she is said to be crooked, troublesome, and quarrelsome – a witch or a hag. Yet on an inner level this same negativity causes us to seek a greater fulfillment than can be achieved in the limited realms of the manifest creation. After all, only frustration in our outer life causes us to seek the inner reality. Dhumavati is whatever obstructs us in life, but what obstructs us in one area can release a new potential to grow in a different direction. Thus she is the good fortune that comes to us in the form of misfortune.
Dhumavati represents the darkness on the face of the deep, the original chaos and obscurity which underlies creation. She is the darkness of primordial ignorance, Mulavidya, from which this world of illusion has arisen, and which it is seeking to transcend.
Dhumavati represents the power of ignorance or that aspect of the creative force which causes the obscuration of the underlying light of consciousness. While Maya is the magic or illusion power of the Lord that makes the one reality appear as many, ignorance is a form of darkness which prevents us from seeing the underlying reality.
Dhumavati is the void, wherein all forms have been dissolved and nothing can any longer be differentiated. Yet this void is not mere darkness. It is a self-illumining reality free of the ordinary duality of subject and object. Dhumavati represents the negative powers of life: disappointment, frustration, humiliation, defeat, loss, sorrow and loneliness. Such experiences overpower the ordinary mind, but to the yogi they are special doors of opportunity to contact the reality which transcends desire.
Dhumavati is the elder form of Kali, Kali as an old woman. She represents time or the life-force dissociated from the process of manifestation. She is the timeless which never really enters into the process of time.
Dhumavati is portrayed as a tall and thin old woman with disheveled and matted hair. She is fearful, unattractive and dark in complexion, with a wrinkled face, and her limbs are red. She has a harsh look in her eyes and she is missing a number of her teeth, which are otherwise large in size. Sometimes she is portrayed with fangs and her nose is long and snout-like. She is dressed in old or dirty clothes and her breasts hang down. She rides a chariot whose insignia is a crow. In her left hand she carries a winnowing basket and with her right makes the gesture of knowledge (Cinmudra). In other accounts she carries a skull-cup and sword in her two hands. She wears a garland of severed heads and is ever hungry and thirsty, always provoking quarrels and misunderstandings.
Bagalamukhi - The Hypnotic Power of the Goddess
Bagala is a Goddess of speech, and as such is related to Tara and regarded as a form of her. When sound becomes manifest as light, Tara becomes Bagala. When the brilliant light of speech comes forth, then Tara gains the effulgence of Bagala and cause all things to become still. Bagala is thus the stunning radiance that comes forth from the Divine Word and puts the human or egoistic word to rest.
Bagala gives a power of speech that leaves others silent and grasping for words. She gives the decisive statement, the irrefutable conclusions, the pronouncement of ultimate truth. Hence she is propitiated for success in discussions and debates. No one can defeat her because she has the truth power of the Self-nature.
The weapon that puts an end to all conflict and confusion is the weapon of spiritual knowledge, the weapon of Brahman (Brahmastra). The highest form of the Brahmastra is the question "Who am I?" or "What is the Self?"
Bagala turns each thing into its opposite. She turns speech into silence, knowledge into ignorance, power into impotence, defeat into victory. She represents the knowledge whereby each thing must in time becomes its opposite. As the still point between dualities she allows us to master them. We contact her grace when we see the opposite hidden in each situation and are no longer deceived by appearances. To see the failure hidden in success, the death hidden in life, or the joy hidden in sorrow are ways of contacting her reality. Bagala is the secret presence of the opposite wherein each thing is dissolved back into the Unborn and the Uncreate.
Bagala is another of the frightening forms of the Goddess. Her color is yellow. She is clad in yellow clothing and is adorned with yellow ornaments and yellow flowers (particularly the champak flower). With her left hand she catches hold of her opponent's tongue and with her right hand she strikes him on the head with her mace.She sits upon a golden throne surrounded by red lotuses. By some accounts she wears the crescent moon as a jewel on her head.
Matangi - The Utterance of the Divine Word
Mata literally means "a thought" or "an opinion." Matangi is thus the Goddess power which has entered into thought or the mind. She is the word as the embodiment of thought. She also relates to the ear and our ability to listen, which is the origin of true understanding that forms powerful thoughts. Matangi bestows knowledge, talent and expertise. She is the Goddess of the spoken word and of any outward articulation of inner knowledge, including all forms of art, music and dance. Matangi relates to Sarasvati, the Goddess of wisdom and the consort of Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe. Matangi, like Sarasvati, plays a Veena and rules over music or audible sound in general, not just the spoken word. She is the manifest form of song. Like Sarasvati she is symbolized by the rain cloud and by the thunder, as well as by the rivers pouring into the sea. She is the vibratory sound, Nada, that flows in the subtle channels, Nadis, down through our entire body and mind.
However, Matangi and Sarasvati are a little different. Matangi is the form of Sarasvati directed towards inner knowledge. She is her dark, mystic, ecstatic or wild form. Sarasvati is often a Goddess of only ordinary learning, art and culture. Matangi rules over the extraordinary, which takes us beyond the bounds of the conventional. Matangi is an outcast or artist who goes against the norms of society, while Sarasvati represents the knowledge and virtue of the Brahmin or learned class which never departs from propriety. Matangi is that portion of Sarasvati which is allied with the transforming energy of Kali.
The guru (spiritual teacher) instructs us through the spoken word. Hence his vehicle among the Goddess is Matangi. Matangi represents the teachings of the guru and the tradition. She represents the continuity of spiritual instruction in the world. By honoring her we also honor the guru. Those seeking to teach others, particularly to communicate to the masses of people, should seek the grace of Matangi.
According to the Upanishads the essence of the human being is speech. What we express through speech is the final product of all that we take into ourselves in life. This ultimate residue and representation of who we are through speech is Matangi. This, however, is not ordinary or casual speech, but the deepest expression of our hearts. The Divine Word has power, feeling, and passion, which is not mere human emotion but Divine bliss. The Divine Word is not merely a theoretical or practical statement but an effusion of energy and delight. This joy is another aspect of Matangi. Matangi is thus a wild, playful and ecstatic Goddess.
Matangi represents the ministerial power of the Goddess. She is the counselor to Rajarajeshvari or Tripura Sundari, the Supreme Queen of the universe. As such she is called Mantrini and has power over all mantras, particularly in their vocalization and articulation. She gives us the ability to communicate with all the other Gods and Goddesses through the power of the mantra. In fact she rules over all forms of knowledge, counseling and teaching. Those seeking proficiency in these areas should honor Matangi.
Matangi is dark emerald green in color, the color of deep knowledge and profound life-energy, which is also the color of the planet Mercury that governs intelligence. She plays the Veena, a stringed instrument like a sitar, which shows her musical and vibratory power. She is beautiful and carries various weapons with which to fascinate and subdue us. In this regard she has the same ornaments and weapons as Sundari. She is often said to have a parrot in her hands, which represents the powers of speech as inherent in nature. She its on a throne made of gems.
Kamalatmika - The Lotus Goddess of Delight
Kamalatmika is one whose nature is of the lotus. She is sometimes just called Kamala, which is one of the many Sanskrit names for lotus. The lotus Goddess is Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. Lakshmi arises out of a lotus from the cosmic ocean. Kamala is Lakshmi among the Ten Wisdom Goddesses. Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth, beauty, fertility, love, and devotion, like Roman Venus and Greek Aphrodite, who, like Lakshmi, is born from the ocean, but on a sea shell rather than a lotus. Lakshmi is the great Mother in her role of fulfilling all desires. She represents the water of fulfillment, the flowering of Divine grace and love.
Kamala is similar to Sundari in that both rule over love, beauty and bliss. Sundari, however, rules over the subtle form of bliss born of perception of the Self. Kamala governs the outer form of beauty, not merely as pleasure but as the unfolding of the Divine nature into the realms of action and creation. Kamala causes us to create forms in the outer world, while Sundari allows us to withdraw the outer world into our own consciousness. Kamala thus relates to the Earth, which contains the maximum manifestation of the Divine in the material word. The Earth Goddess, Bhu Devi, is considered to be the second consort of Lord Vishnu.
Kamala nourishes and supports whatever we truly aspire to do. She aids in all projects and ever seeks to promote their fulfillment, allowing layer upon layer of Divine grace to come forth in various degrees of wonder. She can be propitiated both for ordinary worldly goals and for spiritual realization. But the ordinary goals we seek through her – wealth, progeny, or success – should be part of seeking Divine fulfillment in life, an unfoldment of our souls desires through an organic process of evolution, not a mere satisfying of neurotic wants.
Kamala is the form of the Goddess most worshipped by people in this world, as we are mainly cognizant of outer beauty and abundance. Most of us are engaged in the pursuit of pleasure, fortune, talent, fame and so on, which are nothing but superficial or limited aspects of the power of Lakshmi. Since we naturally pursue Lakshmi, we might as well pursue her highest form. The most beautiful thing in life is devotion to the Divine. Lakshmi also gives this. When we have that spirit of devotion for the Divine presence everywhere we find incomparable beauty and wealth in everything.
Kamala is a little different from Lakshmi. Kamala is the aspect of Lakshmi that is part of the Wisdom Goddesses. She is the form of Lakshmi which relates specifically to the practice of Yoga. Hence she is also a form of Kali. Kali or the beauty of the void is also the basis of Kamala or the beauty of life. The spiritual lotus, which is the basis of the universal energy, blooms in the void. It comes forth in the space of pure consciousness. Hence to allow it to come forth we must first make ourselves empty and clear. Only the non-attachment of Kali enables us to enjoy life and find our fulfillment through Kamala.
Kamala as the tenth and last of the Wisdom Goddesses shows the full unfoldment of the power of the Goddess into the material sphere. Kamala is the beginning and the end of our worship of the Goddess. We first approach the Divine seeking help in achieving ordinary human wishes, like health, prosperity, and a happy family. We complete our understanding of the Divine by seeing its presence even in the ordinary things of human life, in the forms of nature and the Earth, discerning a Divine urge toward union hidden even in worldly desires.