"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dahsamahavidyas or the Ashtadashamahavidyas

The Tantric traditions of Eastern India pivot on the cult of a cluster of ten or eighteen goddesses collectively known as the Dahsamahavidyas or the Ashtadashamahavidyas. The Mahavidya pantheon is originally an assimilation of select deities from both the Kulas of Tantric Shaktism: the Srikula and the Kalikula. A Vidya, as understood in the Tantras refers to the Mantra of a female deity and a Mahavidya is one which grants both enjoyment (bhukti) and liberation (mukti). The goddesses in the Dashamahavidya pantheon are Kali, Tara, Shodashi, Bhuvaneshvari, Bhairavi, Chhinamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika. As sovereign female figures, not subordinate to any male authority, nor conforming to the Brahminical norms of purity, they engage in all forms of pollution and take full pride in flaunting their sexuality in a gesture of emancipation.

The Puranic literature of mediaeval Bengal has assimilated these goddesses into the mythology of Shiva and Sati through a Shakta modification of the Dakshayajna narrative. As narrated in the Mahabhagavata Purana and the Brihaddharma, pleased by Shiva's penance, the Highest Prakriti had granted him a boon that she would incarnate in a human form and accept him as her husband. Thus was born Sati, the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, one of Brahma's sons who hated Shiva for being of a non-Aryan origin. Against all odds, Sati married Shiva and went off to Kailasa. In order to humiliate Shiva, Daksha arranged a grand sacrifice where all the gods except for Shiva and Sati were invited. Having heard about this grand event at her father's plae, Sati approached Shiva to grant her the permission to go there. But Shiva would not allow her to go where he was not invited. He even went to extent of hurling harsh insulting words at her for not obeying his forbidding. Sati then decided to reveal before him her true self. She assumed the form of the terrible Kali and gave out a frenzied laughter. Shaken from his grounds, Shiva ran in all different directions, when the goddess checked him by assuming nine other forms and blocked his way. Shiva realized his mistake and begged pardon for his deeds, recognizing her status as the supreme universal Creatrix. She revealed to him the secret of all Agamas and Nigamas and gave him the authority to reveal them to world as the Adiguru of all. Remarkably, even the Puranic narrative of the Mahavidyas dramatize a sudden eruption of a gynocentric force shattering all patriarchal definitions of feminine roles and subverts the position allotted to the goddess in a society dominated by father-figures such as Shiva and Daksha.



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