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The Hindu Wisdom Goddesses

There exists in India a group of strange Goddesses, ten in number. One of them is shown holding her own freshly severed head, which feeds on the blood flowing from her headless torso; another holds a pair of scissors while sitting triumphant atop a corpse; a third is depicted as an old and ugly widow riding a chariot decorated with the crow as an emblem. The series continues - an unusual assemblage to say the least.

Mahavidyas (Great Wisdoms) are aspects of Devi in Hinduism. The spectrum of these ten goddesses covers the whole range of feminine divinity, encompassing horrific goddess's at one end, to the ravishingly beautiful at the other. Mahavidyas means (Maha - great; vidya - knowledge) Goddesses of great knowledge.


In their strong associations with death, violence, pollution, and despised marginal social roles, they call into question such normative social "goods" as worldly comfort, security, respect, and honor. The worship of these goddesses suggests that the devotee experiences a refreshing and liberating spirituality in all that is forbidden by established social orders.

The central aim here is to stretch one's consciousness beyond the conventional, to break away from approved social norms, roles, and expectations. By subverting, mocking, or rejecting conventional social norms, the adept seeks to liberate his or her consciousness from the inherited, imposed, and probably inhibiting categories of proper and improper, good and bad, polluted and pure. Living one's life according to rules of purity and pollution and caste and class that dictate how, where, and exactly in what manner every bodily function may be exercised, and which people one may, or may not, interact with socially, can create a sense of imprisonment from which one might long to escape. Perhaps the more marginal, bizarre, "outsider" goddesses among the Mahavidyas facilitate this escape. By identifying with the forbidden or the marginalized, an adept may acquire a new and refreshing perspective on the cage of respectability and predictability. Indeed a mystical adventure, without the experience of which, any spiritual quest would remain incomplete.


Once during their numerous love games, things got out of hand between Shiva and Parvati. What had started in jest turned into a serious matter with an incensed Shiva threatening to walk out on Parvati. No amount of coaxing or cajoling by Parvati could reverse matters. Left with no choice, Parvati multiplied herself into ten different forms for each of the ten directions. Thus however hard Shiva might try to escape from his beloved Parvati, he would find her standing as a guardian, guarding all escape routes.

Each of the Devi's manifested forms made Shiva realize essential truths, made him aware of the eternal nature of their mutual love and most significantly established for always in the cannons of Indian thought the Goddess's superiority over her male counterpart. Not that Shiva in any way felt belittled by this awareness, only spiritually awakened. This is true as much for this Great Lord as for us ordinary mortals. Befittingly thus they are referred to as the Great Goddess's of Wisdom, known in Sanskrit as the Mahavidyas. Indeed in the process of spiritual learning the Goddess is the muse who guides and inspires us. She is the high priestess who unfolds the inner truths.

According to Tantric Traditions, these Goddesses are identified as the following...

Sri MahaKali Devi

Kali is mentioned as the first amongst the Mahavidyas. Black as the night she has a terrible and horrific appearance. Although her presentation in the West is usually as simply dark and violent, Kali is a goddess with a long and complex history in Hinduism. Her earliest history as a creature of annihilation still has some influence, while more complex Tantric beliefs sometimes extend her role so far as to be the Ultimate Reality and Source of Being. In the Rig Veda, the name Kali first appears, not as a goddess but as the black tongue of the seven flickering tongues of Agni, the Hindu god of fire. The prototype of Kali however appears in the goddess named Raatri. Raatri is considered to be the prototype of both Durga and Kali. In the Sangam era of Tamilakam, a Kali-like bloodthirsty goddess named Kottravai appears in the literature of the period. Like Kali she has dishevelled hair, inspires fear in those who approach her and feasts on battlegrounds littered with the dead. It is quite likely that the fusion of the Sanskrit goddess Raatri and the indigenous Kottravai produced the fearsome goddesses of medieval Hinduism, amongst them Kali being the most prominent. It was the composition of the Puranas in late antiquity that firmly gave Kali a place in the Hindu pantheon. Kali or Kalika is described in the Devi-Mahatmyam (also known as the Chandi or the Durgasaptasati) from the Markandeya Purana written between 300-600CE, where she is said to have emanated from the brow of the goddess Durga, a slayer of demons, during one of the battles between the divine and anti-divine forces. In this context, Kali is considered the 'forceful' form of the great goddess Durga. Another account of the origins of Kali is found in the Matsya Purana, which states that she originated as a mountain tribal goddess in the north-central part of India, in the region of Mount Kalanjara (now known as Kalinjar). However this account is disputed because of the fact that the legend was of later origin.
In most early representations, skulls, cemeteries, and blood are associated with her worship. She is black and emaciated. Her face is azure, streaked with yellow, her glance is ferocious; her disheveled and bristly hair is usually shown splayed and spread like the tail of a peacock and sometimes braided with green serpents. She wears a long necklace (descending almost to her knees) of human skulls or intestines. She may be shown wearing a girdle of severed arms. Her purple lips are often shown streaming with blood; her tusk-like teeth descend over her lower lip; and her tongue lolls out. She is often shown standing on the inert form of her consort, Shiva. She is sometimes accompanied by she-demons. In certain representations, her four arms hold weapons or the severed head of a demon, while also making the 'peace' and 'boon-giving' gestures: these symbolize both her creative and her destructive power, for in some traditions Kali personifies the ambivalence of deity, which manifests itself, according to much of Indian tradition, in the unceasing cycle of life and death, creation and destruction.
In the later traditions, Kali has become inextricably linked with Shiva. The unleashed form of Kali often becomes wild and uncontrollable,and only Shiva is able to match her wildness. The iconography often presents her dancing on his fallen body, and there are accounts of the two of them dancing together, and driving each other to such wildness that the world comes close to unravelling. To the Tantric worshippers, it was essential to face her Curse, the terror of death, as willingly as they accepted Blessings from her beautiful, nurturing, maternal aspect. For them, wisdom meant learning that no coin has only one side: as death cannot exist without life, so life cannot exist without death. Kali's role sometimes increased beyond a chaos who could be confronted to bring wisdom, and she is given great metaphysical significance by some Tantric texts.

Sri Tara Ambika

In Hinduism, the goddess Tara (meaning "star") is a manifestation of the queen of time, Kali. As the star is seen as a beautiful but perpetually self-combusting thing, so Tara is at core the absolute, unquenchable hunger that propels all life. She is the second of the Dasmahavidyas. In the Hindu epic The Ramayana, Tara is the name of Vali's queen. Vali is the monkey king who is killed by Rama, at the behest of his brother Sugriva. The oral tradition gives an intriguing origin to the goddess Tara. The legend begins with the churning of the ocean. Shiva has drunk the poison that was created from the churning of the ocean, thus saving the world from destruction, but has fallen unconscious under its powerful effect. Tara appears and takes Shiva on her lap. She suckles him, the milk from her breasts counteracting the poison, and he recovers. This myth is reminiscent of the one in which Shiva stops the rampaging Kali by becoming an infant. Seeing the child, Kali's maternal instinct comes to the fore, and she becomes quiet and nurses the infant Shiva. In both cases, Shiva assumes the position of an infant vis--vis the goddess.

The similarities in appearances between Kali and Tara are striking and unmistakable. They both stand upon a supine Shiva, identifiable here by his damaru. Both goddesses are black. Both wear minimal clothing. Both wear a necklace of severed human heads and a girdle of severed human arms. Both have a lolling tongue, and blood oozes from their mouths. Their appearances are so strikingly similar that it is easy to mistake one for the other. Indeed, they are often said to be manifestations of each other; for example, in their thousand-name hymns they share many epithets as well as having each others names. Tara, for example, is called Kalika, Ugr-kali, Mahakali, and Bhadra-kali.

Like Kali, furthermore, Tara in her Hindu context enjoys blood. In her hymn of a hundred names from the Mundamala-tantra, she is called She Who Likes Blood, She Who Is Smeared with Blood, and She Who Enjoys Blood Sacrifice. The Tara-tantra describes Tara's delight in both animal and human blood but says that the latter is more pleasing to her. The blood of devotees is to be taken from specified parts of the body, such as the forehead, hands, breasts, head, or area between the eyebrows; some of these areas may correspond to the different chakras, spiritual centers within the body.

Their appearances are so strikingly similar that it is easy to mistake one for the other.The distinguishing feature in Tara's iconography is the scissors she holds in one of her four hands. The scissors relate to her ability to cut off all attachments.

Literally the word 'tara' means a star. Thus Tara is said to be the star of our aspiration, the muse who guides us along the creative path. These qualities are but a manifestation of her compassion. The Buddhist tradition stresses these qualities of this Goddess, and she is worshipped in Tibet as an important embodiment of compassion.

Sri Lalita -TripuraSundari, Sodasi, Rajarajeshvari
Sri Kamatchi Ambika

This whole website is dedicated to this great Goddess who is the third of the Mahavidyas. Her name varies from Kamakshi or Kamatchi to Tripura-Sundari, Lalita, Rajarajeshvari and Sodashi.

The goddess Tripursundari or Kamatchi in her aspect as Sodashi is represented as a sixteen year old girl, and is believed to embody sixteen types of desires. The Sodashi Tantra, a treatise on tantra, describes Tripursundari as “the radiant light in the eyes of Shiva.’’ She is described of deep red color, and is depicted in an intimate position with an aspect of Shiva, and both are shown on a bed, a throne or a pedastal resting of the significant male gods of Hinduism like Brahma, Visnu, Rudra, and Indra.Tripura-sundari is described in great detail as extremely attractive, beautiful, and erotically inclined. The Lalita-sahasranama details her charms from head to foot, and the majority of the Saundaryalahari is similarly occupied with her attractive appearance. She is often said to give desire and to suffuse the creation with desire. The Saundaryalahari also states that that a worn-out old man, ugly and sluggish in the arts of love, can be restored to sexual attractiveness and vigor by her glance. The Prapancasara-tantra says that her worship has such an amorous effect that celestial females such as gandharvas, yakshas, and siddhas come to the sadhaka "with gazelle-like eyes, breathing heavily, their bodies quivering…and moist with the pearly sweat of passion; and throwing away their ornaments and letting their clothes fall from about them, bow themselves before him and offer to do his will." The several names that associate or identify her with the female sexual organ in her thousand-name hymn in the Vamakeshvara-tantra also suggest the erotic character of the goddess.

To know more about this Beautiful Goddess Kamatchi, feel free to look through this whole website.

Sri Puthukkottai Bhuvaneshwari Amman

The fourth Goddess among the Mahavidyas is Sri Buvaneshwari Ambal. More than any other Mahavidya with the exception of Kamala, Bhuvaneshwari is associated and identified with the energy underlying creation. She embodies the characteristic dynamics and constituents that make up the world and that lend creation its distinctive character. She is both a part of creation and also pervades its aftermath. Bhuvaneshwari's beauty is mentioned often. She is described as having a radiant complexion and a beautiful face, framed with flowing hair the color of black bees. Her eyes are broad, her lips full and red, her nose delicate. Her firm breasts are smeared with sandal paste and saffron. Her waist is thin, and her thighs, buttocks, and navel are lovely. Her beautiful throat is decorated with ornaments, and her arms are made for embracing. Indeed Shiva is said to have produced a third eye to view her more thoroughly. This beauty and attractiveness may be understood as an affirmation of the physical world. Tantric thought does not denigrate the world or consider it illusory or delusory, as do some other abstract aspects of Indian thought. This is made amply clear in the belief that the physical world, the rhythms of creation, maintenance and destruction, even the hankerings and sufferings of the human condition is nothing but Bhuvaneshwari's play, her exhilarating, joyous sport.
A modern text gives the legend of origin of Bhuvaneshwari as follows:

'Before anything existed it was the sun which appeared in the heavens. The rishis (sages) offered soma the sacred plant to it so that the world may be created. At that time Shodashi was the main power, or the Shakti through whom the Sun created the three worlds. After the world was created the goddess assumed a form appropriate to the manifested world.' In this form she came to be known as Bhuvaneshwari, literally 'Mistress of the World.' Bhuvaneshwari thus remains un-manifest until the world is created. Hence she is primarily related with the visible and material aspect of the created world.

Sri Bhairavi Devi

The fifth form of Mahavidya is Sri Bhairavi Amman. Bhairavi is a fierce and terrifying aspect of the Goddess virtually indistinguishable from Kali, except for her particular identification as the consort of the Wrathful Shiva. She is considered the female form of Lord Shiva known as Bhairava. Creation and Destruction are two essential aspects of the universe, which is continually subject to their alternating rhythms. The two are equally dominant in the world and indeed depend upon each other in symbiotic fashion. Bhairavi embodies the principle of destruction. She arises or becomes present when the body declines and decays, which is a natural, inevitable, and irresistible force. Bhairavi is also evident in self-destructive habits, such as eating tamsic food (food having a quality associated with ignorance and lust) and drinking liquor, which wear down the body and mind. She is present, it is said, in the loss of semen, which weakens males. Anger, jealousy, and other selfish emotions and actions strengthen Bhairavi’s presence in the world. Righteous behavior, conversely, makes her weaker. In short, she is an ever-present goddess who manifests herself in, and embodies, the destructive aspects of the world. Destruction, however, is not always negative, creation cannot continue without it. This is most clear in the process of nourishment and metabolism, in which life feeds on death; creation proceeds by means of transformed energy given up in destruction.

Bhairavi is also identified with Kalaratri, a name often associated with Kali that means “black night (of destruction)” and refers to a particularly destructive aspect of Kali. She is also identified with Mahapralaya, the great dissolution at the end of a cosmic cycle, during which all things, having been consumed with fire, are dissolved in the formless waters of procreation. She is the force that tends toward dissolution. This force, furthermore, which is actually Bhairavi herself, is present in each person as one gradually ages, weakens and finally dies. Destruction is apparent everywhere, and therefore Bhairavi is present everywhere.

One of her dhyana mantras, that of Sampatprada-bhairavi, says that she is intoxicated with her youth, and most descriptions of her, despite her association with destruction, say that she is attractive, young, and shapely. Bhairavi’s association with sexual desire and fulfillment is mentioned often in her thousand-name hymns. In the Shakta-pramoda, for example, she is called She Who Is Fond of Semen and Menstrual Blood and She Who Is Worshiped by Those Who Worship with Semen. In her thousand-name hymn in the Vishvasara-tantra, she is called Lovely One, She Whose Form Is Semen, Who Produces Semen, Who Gives Love, Who Enjoys Sexual Intercourse, Who Is Dear To Kama, and Who Dwells in the Yoni. She is shown here seated on a lotus, with four arms, two of them making the gestures of granting boons and removing fear respectively. The other two hands hold a goad and noose

Bhairavi has facets and epithets that assert her cosmic importance, if not supremacy. A commentary on the Parashurama-kalpasutra says that the name Bhairavi is derived from the words bharana (to create), ramana (to protect), and vamana (to emit or disgorge). The commentator, that is, seeks to discern the inner meaning of Bhairavi’s name by identifying her with the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction.

Sri Chinnamasta Ambal

The sixth Goddess among the Mahavidyas is Sri Chinnamasta, also known as Chinnamastaka. She is the goddess of courage and discernment. The literal meaning of the word Chinnamasta is one with a severed head. She is traditionally portrayed as a naked or scantly dressed woman astride the bodies, in intimate position, of Kama (Hindu god of love and sexual lust), and his wife Rathi. Chinnamasta, having severed her own head with her own sword, holds her severed head on one of her hands. Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck, and one streams into her own mouth of her severed head, while the other two streams into the mouths of her two female associates.

One day Parvati went to bathe in the Mandakini River with her two attendants, Jaya and Vijaya. After bathing, the great goddess's color became black because she was sexually aroused. After some time, her two attendants asked her, "Give us some food. We are hungry." She replied, "I shall give you food but please wait." After awhile, again they asked her. She replied, "Please wait, I am thinking about some matters." Waiting awhile, they implored her, "You are the mother of the universe. A child asks everything from her mother. The mother gives her children not only food but also coverings for the body. So that is why we are praying to you for food. You are known for your mercy; please give us food." Hearing this, the consort of Shiva told them that she would give anything when they reached home. But again her two attendants begged her, "We are overpowered with hunger, O Mother of the Universe. Give us food so we may be satisfied, O Merciful One, Bestower of Boons and Fulfiller of Desires." Hearing this true statement, the merciful goddess smiled and severed her own head. As soon as she severed her head, it fell on the palm of her left hand. Three bloodstreams emerged from her throat; the left and right fell respectively into the mouths of her flanking attendants and the center one fell into her mouth. After performing this, all were satisfied and later returned home. (From this act) Parvati became known as Chinnamasta.

In visual imagery, Chinnamasta is shown standing on the copulating couple of Kamadeva and Rathi, with Rathi on the top. They are shown lying on a lotus. There are two different interpretations of this aspect of Chinnamasta's iconography. One understands it as a symbol of control of sexual desire, the other as a symbol of the goddess's embodiment of sexual energy. The most common interpretation is one where she is believed to be defeating what Kamadeva and Rathi represent, namely sexual desire and energy. In this school of thought she signifies self-control, believed to be the hallmark of a successful yogi. The other, quite different interpretation states that the presence of the copulating couple is a symbol of the goddess being charged by their sexual energy. Just as a lotus seat is believed to confer upon the deity seated atop it's qualities of auspiciousness and purity, Kamadeva and Rathi impart to the Goddess standing over them the power and energy generated by their lovemaking. Gushing up through her body, this energy spouts out of her headless torso to feed her devotees and also replenish herself. Significantly here the mating couple is not opposed to the goddess, but an integral part of the rhythmic flow of energy making up the Chinnamasta icon. The image of Chinnamasta is a composite one, conveying reality as an amalgamation of sex, death, creation, destruction and regeneration. It is stunning representation of the fact that life, sex, and death are an intrinsic part of the grand unified scheme that makes up the manifested universe. The stark contrasts in this iconographic scenario-the gruesome decapitation, the copulating couple, the drinking of fresh blood, all arranged in a delicate, harmonious pattern - jolt the viewer into an awareness of the truths that life feeds on death, is nourished by death, and necessitates death and that the ultimate destiny of sex is to perpetuate more life, which in turn will decay and die in order to feed more life. As arranged in most renditions of the icon, the lotus and the pairing couple appear to channel a powerful life force into the goddess. The couple enjoying sex convey an insistent, vital urge to the goddess; they seem to pump her with energy. And at the top, like an overflowing fountain, her blood spurts from her severed neck, the life force leaving her, but streaming into the mouths of her devotees (and into her own mouth as well) to nourish and sustain them. The cycle is starkly portrayed: life (the couple making love), death (the decapitated goddess), and nourishment (the flanking yoginis drinking her blood).

Sri Dhumavati Devi

The seventh aspect of Mahavidya is Sri Dhumawati Devi.She acts as the divine smoke screen in the form of old age and death. Only the ardent devotee is able to see beyond the fear of mortality to the Goddess's promise of immortality.

The dhyana mantra of Dhumawati says:

Dhumawati is ugly, unsteady, and angry. She is tall and wears dirty clothes. Her ears are ugly and rough, she has long teeth, and her breasts hang down. She has a long nose. She has the form of a widow. She rides in a chariot decorated with the emblem of the crow. Her eyes are fearsome, and her hands tremble. In one hand she holds a winnowing basket, and with the other hand she makes the gesture of conferring boons. Her nature is rude. She is always hungry and thirsty and looks unsatisfied. She likes to create strife, and she is always frightful in appearance. The crow which appears as her emblem atop her chariot is a carrion eater and symbol of death. Indeed, she herself is sometimes said to resemble a crow. The Prapancasarasara-samgraha, for example, says that her nose resembles a crow's. The dress she wears has been taken from a corpse in the cremation ground. She is said to be the embodiment of the tamas gun, the aspect of creation associated with lust and ignorance. Her thousand-name hymn says that she likes liquor and meat, both of which are tamsic. Dhumawati is also interpreted by some Tantra scholars as "the aspect of reality that is old, ugly, and unappealing. She is generally associated with all that is inauspicious: she dwells in areas of the earth that are perceived to be desolate, such as deserts, in abandoned houses, in quarrels, in mourning children, in hunger and thirst, and particularly in widows. The goddess tends to be in a sad state of mind and is quarrelsome. Her eyes are glaring red, stern, and without tenderness. Her lips too are red, covered with blood.

The legend behind Dhumawati's origin says that once, when Shiva's spouse Sati was dwelling with him in the Himalayas, she became extremely hungry and asked him for something to eat. When he refused to give her food, she said, "Well, then I will just have to eat you." Thereupon she swallowed Shiva, thus widowing herself. He persuaded her to disgorge him, and when she did so he cursed her, condemning her to assume the form of the widow Dhumawati. This myth underlines Dhumawati's destructive bent. Her hunger is only satisfied when she consumes Shiva, her husband and who contains within himself the whole world. Ajit Mookerjee, commenting on her perpetual hunger and thirst, which is mentioned in many places, says that she is the embodiment of "unsatisfied desires." Her status as a widow itself is curious. She makes herself one by swallowing Shiva, an act of self-assertion, and perhaps independence.

Sri Bagalamukhi Devi

The eighth form of Mahavidya is Sri Bagalamukhi Amman who smashes the devotee's misconceptions and delusions by her cudgel. The name literally means “crane faced,” which is how this goddess is sometimes depicted. She has a golden complexion and her cloth is yellow. She sits in a golden throne in the midst of an ocean of nectar full of yellow lotuses. A crescent moon adorns her head. She holds a club in her right hand with which she beats an enemy, while pulling his tongue out with another. This image is sometimes interpreted as an exhibition of stambhana, the power to stun or paralyze one’s enemy into silence. This is one of the boons for which Bagalamukhi’s devotees worship her. Other Mahavidya goddesses are also said to represent similar powers useful for defeating enemies, to be invoked by their worshippers through various rituals.

The legend states that a demon named Madan undertook austerities and won the boon of vak siddhi, according to which anything he said came about. He abused this boon by harassing innocent people. Enraged by his mischief, the gods worshipped Bagalamukhi. She stopped the demon's rampage by taking hold of his tongue and stilling his speech. Before she could kill him, however, he asked to be worshipped with her, and she relented, That is why he is depicted with her.

Bagalamukhi maha mantram meaning is as below:

Oh Goddess, paralyze the speech and feet of all evil people. Pull their tounge, destroy their intellect.

She is the goddess of black magic, of poisons. She rules over the subtle perception which make us feel at a distance the death or misery of those we know. She incites men to torture one another. She revels in suffering - Hindu Polytheism, Alain Danielou. This bird is thought of as the essence of deceit. As can be seen from the hymn, she rules magic for the suppression of an enemy's gossip. These enemies also have an inner meaning, and the peg she puts through the tongue may be construed as a peg or paralysis of our own prattling talk. She rules deceit which is at the heart of most speech. She can in this sense be considered as a terrible or Bhairavi form of Matrika Devi, the mother of all speech, Sri Saraswati Devi herself (Consort of the creator God Lord Brahma).

Sri Matangi Amman

The ninth form of Mahavidya is Sri Matangi amman who is the patron of inner thought. She guides her devotee to the uncaused primordial sound. Matangi has a dark emerald complexion and has three eyes.
Once Parvati, seated on Shiva's lap, said to him that he always gave her anything she wanted and that now she had a desire to visit her father. Would he consent to her visiting her father, Himalaya, she asked? Shiva was not happy about granting her this wish but eventually complied, saying that if she did not come back in a few days, he would go there himself to ask for her return. Parvati's mother sent a crane to carry Parvati back to her family home. When she did not return for some days, Shiva disguised himself as an ornament maker and went to her father's house. He sold shell ornaments to Parvati and then, seeking to test her faithfulness, asked that she have sex with him as his payment. Parvati was outraged at the merchant's request and was ready to curse him, but then she discerned with her yogic intuition that the ornament vendor was really her husband, Shiva. Concealing her knowledge of his true identity, she replied: "Yes, fine, I agree. But not just now." Sometime later, Parvati disguised herself as a huntress and went to Shiva's home, where he was preparing to do evening prayer. She danced there, wearing red clothes. Her body was lean, her eyes wide, and her breasts large. Admiring her, Shiva asked: "Who are you?" She replied: "I am the daughter of a Chandala. I've come here to do penance." Then Shiva said: "I am the one who gives fruits to those who do penance." Saying this, he took her hand, kissed her, and prepared to make love to her. While they made love, Shiva himself was changed into a Chandala. At this Point he recognized the Chandala woman as his wife Parvati. After they had made love, Parvati asked Shiva for a boon, which he granted. Her request was this: "As you [Shiva] made love to me in the form of a Chandalini [Chandala woman], this form should last forever and be known as Uccishtha-matangini (now popularly known as Matangi)."

The key to this legend is the essence of the word 'Chandala.' The Chandalas are believed to constitute the lowest strata of the caste hierarchy in orthodox Hindu belief. Associated with death and impurity they have always survived on the fringes of mainstream society. Derogatory in the extreme sense, The label chandala itself has become the worst kind of slur. Thus by disguising herself as a Chandalini, Parvati assumes the identity of a very low-caste person, and by being attracted, Shiva allows himself to be identified with her. Both deities self-consciously and willingly associate themselves with the periphery of Hindu society and culture. The Chandala identity is sacralized therefore, in the establishment of Goddess Matangi. This goddess summarizes in herself the polluted and the forbidden.

Another myth related to Matangi reinforces this belief. Once upon a time, Vishnu and Lakshmi went to visit Shiva and Parvati. They gifted Shiva and Parvati fine foods, and some pieces dropped to the ground. From these remains arose a maiden endowed with fair qualities. She asked for leftover food (uccishtha). The four deities offered her their leftovers as prasada (food made sacred by having been tasted by deities). Shiva then said to the attractive maiden: "Those who repeat your mantra and worship you, their activities will be fruitful. They will be able to control their enemies and obtain the objects of their desires." From then on this maiden became known as Uccishtha-matangini. She is the bestower of all boons.
The legend of her origin stresses Matangi's association with leftover food, which is normally considered highly polluting. Indeed, she herself actually arises or emerges from Shiva and Parvati's table scraps. And the first thing she asks for is sustenance in the form of leftover food (uccishtha). Texts describing her worship specify that devotees should offer her uccishtha with their hands and mouths stained with leftover food; that is, worshippers should be in a state of pollution, having eaten and not washed. Since for Matangi worshippers make offering in a polluted state, she is known to have been offered a piece of clothing stained with the menstrual blood in order to win the boon of being able to attract someone. Menstrual blood is regarded in almost all Hindu texts and contexts as extremely polluting, and menstruating women are forbidden to enter temples or otherwise serve the deities. In the case of Matangi, these strict taboos are disregarded, indeed, are flaunted.

We live in a society that is very much governed by religious rules. One of these rules asserts that physical cleanliness is a must whenever performing pooja or visiting a temple. As young children, we were taught that we should have a shower before performing a pooja and wash our feet before entering the temple. These are good habits as ensuring cleanliness is a very important form of personal hygiene. At the same time, they freshen us up and make us more alert. However, does it mean that God will object to us connecting or praying to Him if we are in a physically unclean state or if its something that's beyond our control, e.g. women undergoing their menstrual cycle? Do you think that the all-loving and all-compassionate God will ever object to His female devotees from worshipping Him when they are undergoing their menstrual cycles? No. The Mahavidya Matangi teaches us that one can be in the dirtiest of state physically and still be able to connect with Her. She is not at all concerned with the external cleanliness of her devotees. She is only concerned with the state of the devotees within. If the devotees' mind, thoughts and heart are clean, they will be able to connect with the Goddess. And this applies not just to Matangi, but this applies to God in general. Just think for an instance. Will your parents prevent you from entering the house if you are having a menstrual cycle or if you are all dirty after a football game? Surely not. Then why would the all-compassionate and all-loving God prevent you from entering the temple or praying to him? Surely He won't. However, these are rules that we have been taught to obey and follow. Of course, it is not proper to worship in an unclean state just to mock at God. That shows that the mind is unclean.

The detailed ways of worshipping Matangi, e.g. offering Her leftover food, is but a way to condition a person mentally that it is okay to worship the Divine even if one is physically unclean. Having observed rules of cleanliness for years, the best way to adopt a new thinking towards prayer and cleanliness is by physically performing an act and associating it with the thought, hence the act of offering leftover food and others described in the scriptures. At the end of the day, one has to come to the realization that the Divine is only interested in the purity of the thoughts, mind and soul, not the physical body.

Sri Kamaleshwari Ambal

The "Last but not the Least" Goddess of Mahavidya is Sri Kamala Devi who is in the fullness of her graceful aspect. Kamala as the tenth and last of the Wisdom Goddesses shows the full unfoldment of the power of the Goddess into the material sphere. She is both the beginning and the end of our worship of the goddess. The canonical texts are quite specific regarding her iconography: "She has a beautiful and golden complexion. She is being bathed by four large elephants who pour jars of nectar over her. In her four hands she holds two lotuses and makes the signs of granting boons and giving assurance. She wears a resplendent crown and a silken dress." The name Kamala means "she of the lotus" and is a common epithet of Goddess Lakshmi. Indeed, Kamala is none other than the goddess Lakshmi. Though listed as the last of the Mahavidyas, she is the best known and most popular. Several annual festivals are given in her honor. Of these, the Diwali or Deepavali festival is most widely celebrated. This festival links Lakshmi to three important and interrelated themes: prosperity and wealth, fertility and crops, and good luck during the coming year.

Kamala is a beautiful young woman with a shining complexion. Two elephants flank her and shower her with nectar while she sits on a lotus and holds lotuses in each of her four hands. The lotus is related to life and fertility. The cosmos as lotus-like suggests a world that is organic, vigorous and beautiful. It is the fecund vigor suggested by the lotus that is revealed in Kamala. She is the life force that pervades creation. Kamala's association with the elephant suggests other aspects of her character that are ancient and persistent. The elephants have two meanings. According to Hindu tradition, elephants are related to clouds and rain, and hence fertility. Second, elephants also suggest royal authority.The elephants pouring nectar onto her are symbols of sovereignty and fertility. They convey Kamala's association with these highly desirable qualities.

Though equivalent to Lakshmi, important differences exist when Kamala is included in the group of Mahavidyas. Most strikingly, she is never described or shown accompanying Vishnu, who otherwise is her constant and dominating companion in all representations. In this respect unlike Lakshmi, Kamala is almost entirely removed from marital and domestic contexts. She does not play the role model of a wife in any way, and her association with proper dharmic or social behavior, either as an example of it or as the rewarder of it, is not important in the Mahavidya context. Here a premium seems to be put on the independence of the goddesses. For the most part, the Mahavidyas are seen as powerful goddesses in their own right. Their power and authority do not derive from association with male deities. Rather, it is their power that pervades the gods and enables them to perform their cosmic functions. When male deities are shown, they are almost always in supporting roles (literally as when they are shown supporting Shodashi's throne), and are depicted as subsidiary figures.


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