The description in Lalitha Sahasranama, the central text of Shakti worshippers of Kamakshi is ‘She whose eyes awaken desire; She who has beautiful eyes.’ With such eyes, Kamakshi is said to have enchanted Siva, the hermit God and ensuring participation in worldly life. Goddess Kamakshi bestows prosperity, knowledge, fame and good progeny expeditiously in abundance.
DEPICTION: In South Indian temples, the relationship between Kama and Kamakshi is glorified. Her symbols are associated with the God of Love. She is depicted as a beautiful woman seated on a lotus dressed in red color sari and is adorned with gold jewels, gems and pearls. She has a radiant face and four arms. She carries a noose, goad and parrot on the top left and top right hands, a lotus and a bow of sugarcane on her left and bottom right hands. She has enchanting eyes. She has ‘ka’ and ‘ma’ as her eyes. ‘Kaa’ refers to Saraswathi and ‘Maa’ refers to Saraswathi; so she has Lakshmi and Saraswathi as her eyes. ‘Ka’ may also represent Kanchipuram. In the Kanchi temple, Goddess Kamakshi is in sitting in ameditative yogic posture, the Padmasana. She has a Chandraperai – the shape of a moon like structure.
TEMPLES AND PEETA: She is the goddess who sits on the Shri Chakra and considered to be the representation of Shri Vidya. She is also known as Lalitambika and Tripurasundari in some regions of India. The main abode of Kamakshi is the Kamakshi Amman temple at Kanchipuram. Other important forms of Tripurasundari are Meenakshi of Madurai, Akiladeswari of Tiruvanaikaval and Vishalakshi of Varnasi. ‘Kanchi Kamakshi, Madurai Meenakshi, Kasi Visalakshi’ is a cliché attributed to Goddess Kamakshi and all are Saktis par excellence.
Kanchi is said to be the most powerful peeta of Devi. It is also said to be the navel of the world from which the Nadis emerge and spread to the rest of the body. ‘Nadis are invisible non-atomic channels through which Prana moves along with Kundalini, who upon awakening the fire in Muladhara Chakra, sun in Anahata and moon in Sahasrara’.
WORSHIP: Yoni puja means womb worship and this is the cornerstone of Kamakshi worship. She is worshipped in the form of a womb, a cleft in the rock, from where once a year a red fluid flows out following the first rain in June. But then, she is not Kama. Kama churns our passion for pleasure; Kamakshi arouses passion for the world at large. As Goddess, She is equal in stature to Shiva. Kama is merely a deva. Yoni puja can be taken both literally or metaphorically.
The world worships mothers and Mother. In a male dominated society, worship of women in nearly all cultures is associated with procreative abilities. Human life is created by women. The red colour is also associated with women worship. It symbolizes red seed or menstrual blood that flows from a healthy body of a fertile woman not quick with child.
Metaphorically, the womb represents Prakriti or nature, the material world and the fluid of life. The world has its opposites: life and death; fear and love; desires and passions versus attachment and detachment. Shiva, the Purusha, is an aspect of human imagination, does not acknowledge and engage Prakriti to form life. Brahma, in his egoist nature, claims to have created nature and wants mastery over creation. Thus he tries to possess her and claim as his own. An irritated Shiva, manifests as Bhairava and beheads Brahma. Bhairava thus becomes the guardian of the Mother goddess. Bhairava, despite his fierceness remains Bhola, the innocent one. He refuses to embrace and enjoy nature. It is with Vishnu’s help that the Goddess gets Shiva to be her husband; all with a little force and prayer. Thus Kamakshi is also depicted to be stepping on Shiva, symbolically awakening him from his inward looking meditative state.
RAKTA-PRIYA: As manifestations of Gods differ, so do the devotees’ practices. The temple in Kanchi is basically vegetarian but some odd temples observe animal sacrifice. Sacrifice is common in Kali Durga worship, manifestations of Devi. This practice is on the decline. Thus Mother who is referred to as Rakta-Priya or one who enjoys blood is increasingly becoming vegetarian. In any event, the red color of blood is linked to womb worship with whom Kamakshi shares with hers sister Lakshmi and Saraswathi. Goddess Kamakshi is mainly worshipped in South India. She is the patron deity of many families.
MYTHOLOGY: Legend has it that Goddess Kamakshi appeared when Manmatha or Kama the God of Love was burnt to ashes by Siva’s third eye. Kama had interrupted Siva’s yogic meditation and earned that wrath. That happened the precise moment when Siva was to end his meditation. He was detached and Kama’s arrows came continuously at the Lord of Vairagya prompting Parvathi's embrace. Flames and sparks emanated from Siva and incinerated Kama into ashes. This appeared as a small mound of ash.
The chief Ganas of Siva shapes the ash into the form of a man and begs Siva. Siva breaths life at the ash figure by glancing it. Thus emerges the character Bhanda. He was taught mantras by Chitrasena and performs austerities. He gets a boon from Siva Peruman that no-one born of sexual union would be able to kill him.
Since he originated from a dead deva, Kama, he was born as a demon. Anyway, Bhanda was a product of Siva’s anger. His rajasa guna took charge and he chased and chastised the gods. He took over Indra’s city and his army. They took refuge under Siva’s lotus feet who asks them to take refuge in Devi. They hide in a secret passage in Kanchi. But Bhanda comes looking for them in Kanchi for expressly killing them. Indra then performed a yajna dedicated to Devi. From that yajna arose Sri Chakra and the beautiful Goddess Kamakshi. She appeared in her ethereal cave and stomped her foot in the city of Kanchi in the manner of an earthquake and made Bhanda stumble and fall. She kills him and dug a hole for his burial and erected a victory stone. The Gods erect a temple in Kanchi in Her honor.
The rays of the sun, Gayatri, spread out the rays and its 24 letters came to be symbolised by the 24 pillar Mandapam or the Great Hall. The four Vedas became the four walls. The sanctum was shaped in the form of a triangle. Kamakshi abides in Sri Chakra Triangle and so the inner Sanctum was fashioned as a Triangle. In the Inner Sanctum Devi was seated on the OmKara (Omkaarapeetham, in Tamil).
SUPREME DIVINE AND ADI SHANKARA: Although Kamakshi is addressed as the consort of Siva, She manifests as Supreme Divine and Mother Goddess. In his Soundarya Lahari Verse 15, he writes “The Goddess sports the moon on her coiffure; a crown on her head; Vara and Abhaya Mudras, crystal rosary and a book on Her hands. Homage offered just once to Devi, inculcates a virtuous mind to think of words of honey, milk, and raisins in praise of Her”.
Once Devi was in Ugra Kolam, which in Tamil means angry appearance or mode. As Ugrasvarupini, manifested Kali, She slipped out of the temple at night and caused mayhem in the city. No-one had the courage to obtain dharshan or tharishanam. Devotees saw Adi Shankara emerging from Ekambaranathar temple and begged him to visit Kamakshi Amman Temple. He reassured them that he will intervene to calm Her down. It is said that Kamakshi was angry due to Avaidika religions being practiced; alien religions such as Buddhism and Jainism had encroached into Hindu society.
Shankara was unhappy that devotees were calling Kanchi Kamakshi as the angry Goddess. ‘Ugra’ is not a pleasant description of Kamakshi. Thus he ran past the Victory Column to the Inner Sanctum or Garbhagraham. He shed rivers of tears at her feet. His eyes turned to Sri Chakra at Kamakoti Pedam and the Ashta Devis surrounding it. Legend would have it that Shankara drew out the anger from Kamakshi and reposed it in Sri Chakra. He eulogized: ‘You are Padmasini residing in the lotus flower. You are Chaturbhuja, Rajesvari, Sri Vidya, Paramesvari, Sakalakalavalli, Kalachakra Sorupini, Mulasakti, Adhisakti, Armasakti’ and pleaded her to shed her anger..
Mother soon gave up her anger and became the epitomic goddess of peace and tranquillity. She transforms as Sorupini, Beautiful Goddess Kamakshi. Shankara also received reassurance that She would not leave the temple and wander into the city without his permission. This was sort of a curfew imposed by man on God! This tradition continues to this day in that Kamakshi receives permission from Shankara before She ventures out of the sanctum. This event also has much to reveal about the great acharya as being a manifestation too.
Mother also ordered that Sri Chakra should be the object of worship. By propitiation of Sri Chakra, Brahma became the progenitor of the cosmic egg and the universe; Vishnu and Siva received their respective portfolios. The Shivite poet-saints Thirunavukkarasar, Thirujnana Sambanthar and Sundarar sang beautiful songs on Kamakshi. Her Shakti radiates throughout the world from her sanctorum at Kanchi. Hari Om