Dasa Mahavidyas: The Ten Feminine Cosmic Powers

 very learned friend recommended the book, The Ten Great Cosmic Powers (Dasa Mahavidyas) to me. It explains  the concept of the Maha Vidyas simply and well. Also gives you the  deeper significance for each form and look of Shakti.  Below is a brief about the book:


Preface  by Shri M.P. Pandit 

In his classic exposition of sri vidya and the sri cakra, Sri  Shankaranarayanan has dwelt upon the manifestation of the Primal  Divine Shakti in the form of this variegated, many-planed Universe.  In the present work he explains the process of this manifestation.  For, as he points out, creation is not a sudden precipitation; it is  a graded self-revelation. The transcendent and ultimate Mother of the  Universe puts out several Powers and Personalities of herself, each  missioned to work out a particular trusth of her being. Of these,  some are the major, Cardinal Powers, mentioned variously as Four,  six, Ten, Twelve etc., according to the standpoint of the Seers of  old. The Tantra celebrates the Ten as the maha vidyas. Great  Sciences, that hold the creation in their celestial grasp.

What  are these mahavidyas? Why are they distinguished from one another  though they all proceed from and lead to the same on Reality? The  author explains with his usual lucidity: “Each is a particular  Cosmic function and each leads to a special realization of the One  Reality. The might of Kali, the sound-force of Tara, the beauty and  bliss of Sundari, the vast vision of Bhuvaneshwari, the effulgent  charm of Bhairavi, the striking force of the Chinnamasta, the silent  inertness of Dhumavati, the paralyzing power of Bhagalamukhi, the  expressive play of Matangi and the concord and harmony of Kamalatmika  are the various characteristics, the distint manifestations of the  Supreme Consciousness that has made this creation possible. The  Tantra says that the supreme can be realised at these various points.

The  secrets of these vidyas are buried deep in Sastras and oral traditions. To Sri Shankaranarayanan we owe gratitude for his  intuitive grasp of these fundamentals, deep learning and  conscientious scholarship in working out the clues and the facility  with which he has been able to link up the dateless past of the  mystics with the actual present dominated by empirical Science. He  also integrates this Thought of the Tantra with the Doctrine and  Practice of Life Divine as presented by Sri Aurobindo in his Epic,  Savitri.


The Book  Contents Are:
1. Disciplines of Knowledge
2. Kali
3. Tara
4. Tripurasundari
5. Bhuvaneshwari
6. Tripura Bhairavi
7. Chinnamasta
8. Dhumavati
9. Bagalamukhi
10. Matangi
11. Kamalatmika
12. Correspondence with other Disciplines
13. Sadhana
14. Synthesis

Chapter  1 Disciplines of Knowledge


He  had studied the Vedas. Like all vaidiks of his time he took to  priesthood and was eking out a living. Driven by poverty he  approached someone to teach him a Mantra for getting rich quickly.  Having got the Mantra, he took his seat in the front courtyard of his  house and began practicing the repetition of the Mantra. Two hours  would have passed and the Vaidik saw a beggar woman at attempt to  drive her away as he did not want his japa to be interrupted by some  words spoken in between. The beggar woman who was in tatters stooped  down, patiently untied the knots of a bundle of rags, took out the  small coins kept there and before the Vaidik knew what she was doing,  threw the coins at his feet. The Vaidik naturally was taken aback and  began to remonstrate. “Why, you have been asking for this for the  past two hours” said she and went her way. The Vaidik stopped  repeating his Mantra in sheer disgust and vowed that never again  would he go after such pursuits.

This  incident which happened years ago is quoted here for the flood of  light it throws on certain basic principles of Tantra Shastra.  Evidently, the man contacted with the help of the formula given to  him an entity or a spirit, a low class of deity which caught hold of  the human vehicle of the beggar woman and within two hours made her  part with the pittance she had in favour of the man. The deity  responded quickly, as being in the lower rungs of the cosmic ladder  nearest to the earth-plane it was within easy reach of human beings;  and its power was limited to grant only so much of money to the one  who called for its assistance.


The  Tantra recognizes the one Supreme Deity presiding over everything as  the Highest, at the same time admitting the existence as the Highest,  at the same time admitting the existence of various Gods and  Goddesses. In the words of Sri Kapali Sastriar: “The sages of the  Tantra do not see any inconsistency in the position, for they  recognise that this creation is not a unitary system but a gradation  of worlds spread over a rising tier of consciousness and planes and  the various Gods and Goddesses are higher beings, powers and  entities, deriving their authority from the Supreme to take their  part and act or preside over their spheres of domain. There is a  regular hierarchy of Gods some of whom are far above the highest  heavens of human reach. But there are also Gods and Goddesses closer  to the human level. They are more readily accessible to those who  aspire to them and in some cases the seeker on the Tantric path looks  to the aid and lead of these deities in his effort. They are endowed  with capacities and powers beyond normal human possibility, but they  are not all for that reason divine in nature. There are higher and  lower classes of them, UCCA and ksudra devatas. Those that are  nearest to the earthplane, swarming in the vital world overtopping  the physical, are usually of the latter type. They respond very  readily to the approaches of those who seek their help but they do so  mainly for their own purpose, namely, to get hold of the particular  human vehicle and convert it into a centre for their activity on the  earth. They may and do answer the call of the seeker in the beginning  but in the end they let him down, rather roughly, once their purpose  is fulfilled. The seeker is misled; his inner progress comes to a  standstill if it does not end in disaster. The Kshudra Devatas  mislead the seeker with petty glamorous gifts, induce a false sense  of progress and siddhi, prevent the dawn of real jnana which would  expose their whole game and succeed in enslaving the man for their  purpose at the cost of his soul which is betrayed into misadventure”.


But there are also entities of a higher order, benevolent deities, Uccha  Devatas and as they occupy higher levels, the seeker has to make an  effort to ascent to them. But they take the seeker on the path  steadily and safely and ultimately do him the utmost good. There are  still higher deities with cosmic functionings nearer to the Supreme  Cosmic Godhead who presides over the myriad worlds that are created.  Then at the top of this pyramidal structure of the cosmos spreading  over an ascending tier of consciousness, at the summit of the  innumerable levels and planes of existence there are certain cardinal  Godheads, so many facets of the One truth, the Supreme Deity that  correspond to the Brahman of the Upanishads. The spiritual  disciplines leading to such cardinal Deities are known as Brahma  Vidyas. These are also popular as Maha Vidyas, the great paths of  discipline or Siddha Vidyas, the lines of quest where fulfillment is  assured.

The  Sanskrit word vidya is formed from the root vid to know or to  understand. Vidya means learning or knowledge and also denotes the  way to understanding, the path of knowledge, the Teaching. The  mystics, all over the world, in their quest for the highest knowledge  followed certain paths, undertook certain disciplines which were kept  secret and were revealed only in the esoteric hierarchy of master and  disciple. In India, the Upanishads, the repository of ancient wisdom  and secret knowledge, mention in the body of their texts certain  Vidyas, disciplines of knowledge. It has to be remembered that the  Upanishads are not merely texts outlining the philosophical  speculations of our ancient seers, as popularly held, but also  manuals of Sadhana, practical guide-books on spiritual quest. These  are the records of jottings of the reaching the ancient seekers had  from their masters, an aid-memoire to remember the direct  realizations they had in pursuing various disciplines of knowledge in  their Sadhana. Likewise in the Tantra which is acclaimed as the great  Sadhana Shastra, a practical manual, we find the great disciplines of  knowledge, Maha Vidyas, occupying an important place. Especially  where the Supreme is adored as the Great Primordial Goddess, the  Tantra classifies the disciplines leading to the cardinal Deities as  dasa maha vidyas, the ten great paths of knowledge. These cardinal  deities are the ten outstanding personalities of the Divine Mother.  Their great names are: Kali, Tara, Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshwari,  Tripura Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bahalamukhi, Matangi and  Kamalatmika.


What  may be the precise significance of classifying the Vidyas into ten  will be a difficult question to answer. But we can indicate the  following: The Supreme Mother is the Transcendent Absolute ineffable  immutable. In the act of creation, she subjects herself to time and  space. Though the space is actually one vast stretch, for our grasp  and understanding, we demarcate the indivisible and infinite Space  into ten directions, east, west, south, north, south-east,  south-west, north-east, north-west, above and below. Similarly the  one infinite Mother is delineated as ten outstanding personalities.  Again, knowledge is one and the consciousness is one and the same  everywhere. But it is grasped and understood in ten different ways by  the ten senses, skin, eye, ear, tongue, nose, mouth, foot, hand, anus  and genital. Likewise, the one Truth is sensed in its ten different  facets; the Divine Mother is adored and approached as the ten cosmic  Personalities, Dasa Maha Vidyas. Each of these ten great Vidyas is a  Brahma Vidya. The Sadhaka of any one of these Vidyas attains  ultimately, if his aspiration is such, the supreme purpose of life,  parama purusartha viz, self-realisation and God-realisation,  realizing the Goddess as not different from one’s self. All these  Vidyas are benevolent deities of the highest order and so do the  utmost good to the seeker of the Vidya. For anyone who takes to any  of these ten Vidyas, the Sadhana proceeds on sound lines and is safe  and sure. It is not necessary at the beginning for the aspirant to  have as his goal the highest aim of life. His aim most probably is  the fulfillment of his immediate wants and for that he approaches the  Deity. Once an aspirant takes to the Deity, the Deity takes upon  itself the Sadhana. This is the characteristic of these Maha Vidyas.  Whatever the seeker desires the Divine Mother fulfils it. In the  process his devotion to the Deity becomes stronger and stronger and  he learns to look upon the Deity for even the most trivial things in  life, seeks its guidance at every step and knows to wait on its  grace. There starts a living concourse, a concrete intimacy between  the devotee and the Deity which is so absorbing and so enthralling  that all desires, all aims of the devotee with which he started the  Sadhana pale into significance. The whole perspective becomes  different and there comes about a change in the attitude of the  Sadhaka to life and things. There come about visible signs of  communion, concrete evidences of contact, irresistible proofs of the  Presence and the unmistakable touches of the Divine’s gracious hand  in every happening and in every circumstance. What were at one time  miracles become now common-place things and the whole life becomes a  happy hastening towards the Supreme Goal.


Thus  nothing short of Self-Realisation, atma saksatkara is the goal of the  Vidyas. Of course much depends on the seeker and on his active  participation, But even if the seeker stops in the middle of the  path, he does not come to any harm. Only his progress is delayed. In  the Sadhana there are many pitfalls. The baser emotions may hold sway  or the ego may interfere at each stage. Once an aspirant has taken to  any of these ten Vidyas, he has to succeed ultimately. He may fail in  the present birth. The Vidya will make him take the thread of the  Sadhana in the next birth and will continue to give the necessary  push to the soul of the aspirant on its onward march. Even one step  forward in the path of these Vidyas goes a long way towards the Goal.  Nothing goes in vain. In fact, the Tantra categorically declares that  only those who have been sufficiently prepared in the previous births  can approach the precincts of these Vidyas. For them alone are these  well-proven carefully laid-out paths. They are the chosen ones, the  men with a mission, the indefatigable toilers on the uphill path of  these disciplines of knowledge.

Because  all these Vidyas lead to the ultimate Reality, it does not mean that  they are all one and the same. Each Vidya is distinct and  distinguishable from the Other. Each is a particular Cosmic function  and each leads to a special realization of the One Reality. The might  of Kali, the sound-force of Tara, the beauty and bliss of Sundari,  the vast vision of Bhuvaneshwari, the effulgent charm of Bhairavi,  the striking force of Chinnamasta, the silent inertness of Dhumavati,  the paralysing power of Bagalamukhi, the expressive play of Matangi  and the concord and harmony of Kamalatmika are the various  characteristics, the distinct manifestations of the Supreme  Consciousness that has made this creation possible. The Tantra says  that the Supreme can be realised at these various points. According  to one’s ability and aptitude, one realises the great Goddess,  becomes identified with her in her might, in her striking force, in  her paralysing power or in her beauty and bliss, in her concord and  harmony. If one wants to bathe in a river, one cannot bathe in the  whole river; one has to bathe at a spot. Similarly if an aspirant  wants to reach the Divine, circumscribed as he is by his receptivity  and capacity, he chooses one particular path, takes up for adoration  one aspect of the Divine. As his pursuit is exclusive, his progress  is quick and his approach becomes direct. Ultimately he attains a  perfect identification with the Divine.


But  it is not the intention of the Tantra to limit the capacity of the  individual to a particular realisation however perfect it may be. It  is true that there are ten Maha Vidyas directly leading to the  Supreme Truth, ten chalked out paths, safe and sure to have an  immediate and direct approach. For instance if one takes to the  Sadhana of the Maha Vidya, Chinnamasta, ultimately one attains a  perfect identification with the Supreme. All the same it is a partial  identification for Chinnamasta is one facet of the many-faceted  Supreme. Not a particular realisation, but a global realisation is  required to attain the Total Divine. Pursuing our analogy of bathing  in a river, if one wants to have conception of the ebb and flow, the  eddies and currents of a river one has to bathe at various spots in  the river. This is exactly what one does when one takes a holy bath  in a sacred place. For instance, in Kashi, baths in so many bathing  ghats are prescribed in order that the bather may have a full  realisation of the grandeur of the Divine Ganges. Similarly in these  ten great disciplines of knowledge, the seeker can aspire for an  integral knowledge and he may, depending on his capacity, come nearer  the Total Divine, by having as many realisations as he can.

In  fact, the Tantra which is justly famous as a science of synthesis  holds that one Maha Vidya leads its Sadhaka to another depending on  the need and aspiration of the Sadhaka. The worshipper of Kali has a  unique realisation of the Divine, the Terrible. At the same time, the  realisation of the Divine, the Auspiscious is available to him if he  understands the concept of bhadra kali. Then he goes on to appreciate  the correspondence between the other two Vidyas, Tripurasundari and  Tripurabhairavi, Tripura the beautiful and Tripura the terrific. In  the Sundari Vidya itself worship is prescribed for Mantrini and  Dandanatha, the attendants of Lalita Tripurasundari. Mantrini is  Syamala or Matangi and Dandanatha corresponds to Bagalamukhi.

Tripura Sundari
Tripura Sundari

Thus  the Vidya of Tripurasundari brings to the aspirant the realisations  pertaining to the Vidyas of Matangi and Bagalamukhi.

Here  a word of caution is necessary. When it is said that the Vidyas of  Matangi and Bagalamukhi are implied in the Vidya of Sundari, the  human mind immediately jumps to the conclusion that the Vidya of  Sundari is superior to the other two Vidyas. The mind of man subject  to the limitations of time and space can understand anything only in  relation to time and space. Any new knowledge is immediately related  to the old, classified and docketed as anterior or posterior, higher  or lower. We reiterate that each of the ten Vidyas leads the seeker  to the Supreme Reality. Each is great in its own right and each is  equal in all respects to each of the other nine Vidyas. The practices  of certain disciplines are widely prevalent, others are less known.  For that matter they are not less important.


Again,  an integral realisation is possible in these Vidyas because though  they are distince and unique, they have among themselves many  characteristics in common. Kali, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati and  Bagalamukhi have the common characteristics of Power and Force,  active or dormant. Sundari Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Matangi and  Kamalatmika share the qualities of Light, Delight and Beauty. Tara  has certain characteristics of Kali and certain others of Sundari and  is correlated to Bhairavi, Bagalamukhi and Matangi in the aspect of  Sound-Force expressed or impeded. Thus the ten Maha Vidyas fall into  three broad divisions of discipline. The Veda lauds three Goddesses,  producers of delight, tisro devir mayobhuvah. The Upanishads mention  the One unborn, red, white and dark ajam ekam lohita sukla krsnam.  The Tantras speak of Kali, the dark, Tara the white and Sundari the  red.

In  this ancient land, for ages the worship of these great mighty  Personalities of the Mother has been prevalent. The other Vidyas have  been practised but they have not come into the lime light. In the  southern part of India the Vidya of Sundari, Sri Vidya, has been much  in vogue. In the far north and north-west, in Tibet and in Kashmir  adoration of Tara is popular. In the north-east parts of the country,  especially in Bengal, the cult of Kali is famous. Thus the whole of  India is full of adoration for the Divine Mother and the spirit of  India has been eternally sustained by the Force Supreme, para sakti.  The might of Kali, the wisdom of Tara and the beauty of Sundari have  forged and fashioned this ancient race where the first man, the  offspring of manu, the thinker, dared to peer with his earthly eyes  into the portals of the Beyond.

~ by S. Shankaranarayanan


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