Radharani.. Radharani Dasi was the name of Babukishan's aunt who was a Vaishnava Baul (Gosai Das Baul) Radha and Krishna always live in the heart of the Vaishnava Bauls of Bengal
RADHARANI, GODDESS OF DEVOTIONAL SERVICE: In Devi worship, Shakti manifests as the consort, queen, mother, sister, daughter of the Gods and also as a lover. Sita and Radha may not belong to the Shakta cult, but indeed are Devi’s manifestations. Gaudiya Vaishna sect regards Radha as the original Goddess, Shakti. In Nimbarka Sampradaya, Radha and Krishna constitute the Absolute Truth. Here Radha is seen as the original manifestation Adi Shakti or Para Shakti in the benevolent saguna form. In order to please ParaSiva one has to please Adi Para Shakti. Similarly Krishna bhaktas worship Radha to please Sri Krishna. Bhakti alone is supreme, said Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, God is not in the Vedas or Vedanta or scriptures, one has to yearn and pray for Him.
Aradhana means worship. It is the source-word for Rhadarani’s name. How shall anyone surrender to the Lord? Unconditionally and whole heartedly, as Radha did. Could there be anything unconditional, as one is always expecting some form of prasada, isn’t it? Surrender does not purport abiding to the person Krishna but to the Self. Merging in the Self is pure. She had no illusions about her devotions as she grasped the Self in Him to be the Self in Her. She is the perfect embodiment of devotion. Come what may, she excelled in worshipping Krishna. She knew the end and the separation but still no one can be a greater bhakta than Radha. As Madana-mohana, the Lord is the attractor of Cupid but it was Radha who turned out to be the ‘attractor of the attractor of Cupid. Sri Krishna, who does not need material opulence of any form, finds Radharani irresistible. Together, they become One.
The Vrindavan gopis’ story is told in the Bhagavata Purana. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu hails Radha as Shakti and Jaya Deva in his Gita Govinda sings praises of her love towards Krishna in a romantic setting. Skanda Purana, mentions 16,000 gopis and that reduced to 108 culminates the eight principal gopis. Of this, Radharani and Chandravalli are close to Sri Krishna. Finally it is Radharani who is spoken for her ‘parakiya-rasa’ or eternal mental love. Jaya Deva’s Gita says this all so poetically.
Radha, the milkmaid, was given in marriage to Rayana. But her heart belonged to the Gokula cowherd, Sri Krishna first and their relationship is esotric. On the moonlit nights did Krishna’s flute send the divine invitation of sweet melody. She would leave the house, risk infamy and ignore danger just to be with the Lord by the banks of the Yamuna river. Together, they become one to dance and sing in the flowery meadows of Madhuvana. Finally and one day, Krishna had to leave. Radha is left with his flute as she would not live without His melody. Radha and Krishna were perfect examples of the longing for man’s insatiable desire to become one with the divine. ‘Atma Tu Radhika Tasya’ – Radha you are His Soul; Aradhyate Asau itii Radha – Radha is a devotee, worshipper of Krishna but she is also the worshipful, devoyed by Krishna. Indeed Radha, the Sarva-kanta Shironmani – the crown jewel of Krishna’s gopis, can be said to be the Goddess of Devotional Service.
There is a story told of Krishna hiding from the gopis of Vrindavana. He disguised himself as the four armed Narayana and hid beneath a bush. The gopis respectfully paid obeisance and moved. They did not find Narayana that attractive. Indeed the gopis prayed to him for the benediction of Krishna’s eternal association! In playing this lila, Krishna was cooly maintaining his Narayana status while the gopis set out to search their lover-boy, Sri Krishna. Now, Radharani passed by. Krishna tries to hold poise but was unable to do so, He kept slipping back to His original Krishna form. There was no way He could disguise as Narayana.
The story is told to illustrate the great influence of pure transcendental love. The Lord reciprocates according to the mode and degree of surrender. This reciprocation of divine love between Radharani and Sri Krishna is the fundamental essence of spiritual love. Krishna is the origin of everything including love. The more Radharani tries to love and please Him, the more He reciprocates to please her. Therefore although the Lord is unlimited, both He Himself and His pleasure potency are always increasing. This is very much the blissful reciprocation of the love-life of Radha and Sri Krishna. And she was in control of her devotional service without expecting returns, not even a future life. Sri Krishna states “endeavouring with great determination, bowing before Me, these great souls perpetually worship me with devotion” – Gita 9.14. Radha maintained this spiritual balance and bowed to Him unconditionally. By bowing and prostrating to Him, she gave herself over to Him; and by worshipping Him, her individuality got merged in Him. Om Rahdaye Namaha.
Yogi Ananda Saraswati
GODDESS CHINNAMASTA: The iconography of Chinnamasta is terrifying. The sixth of the Maha Vidyas, Chinnamasta is the Goddess who causes us to symbolically ‘cut off our own heads’ or decapitate. Chinnamasta does not have an independent existence but one that is intertwined with Mother Kali. Why do we need a goddess who chops her own head? The answer and the Truth lie in Her symbolisms.
MYTHOLOGY: According to Pancharatna Grantha, Parvathi, accompanied by Dakini and Varini, goes to the Mandakini River to take a bath. Her complexion darkens like Kali as she swells with so much love. The friends appeal to her for food, after-all she is the Mother of the Universe. They demanded that their hunger be satisfied at once. Mother laughs and with compassion, cuts her own head. Blood spurted in three directions. Dakini and Varnini drink from the two directions and the Goddess also drank her own blood from the central spurt. Then she replaces her own head to come to normal. This episode gives her the name ‘Chinnamasta’ the goddess who demonstrates extreme courage to make a symbolic sacrifice.
There is another version in Svatantra-Tantra as narrated by Lord Siva to Parvathi as to Chinnamasta’s birth on Viraratri day. The spiritual form of Durga is Yogamaya; her external form is Mahamaya. The Lord was in union with Chanda, the Mahamaya and in ultimate paradise in Mount Kailasa. Durga’s fierceness became intense as they were not in their usual maithuna. Daksini and Varini emerged during seminal emission. One day the three go to the Pushpabhadra river. The former two plead for food and decapitation takes place. Blood spurts and Chanda returned with a pale face. Seeing this Siva gets infuriated on suspicion of Chanda being abused by another. Thus the Lord takes the form of Krodha Bhairava. Thus Varatri, marks Chinnamasta’s birth.
SACRIFICE: From time immemorial, blood cults were at odds with benign Hindu spiritualism. The ferocious slayer of evil in mythology, Mother Kali is said to have an insatiable appetite for blood. So do Durga, Matrika and Korravai. Even now sacrifice is given symbolically to Tantric Kali or Durga via objects symbolizing the human body, for example as lime or pumpkin. Animal or bird sacrifice also symbolizes the giving of life. Decapitation is a game, to Chinnamasta. ‘She looked around in all directions to smile…after playing this way, she replaced her head on her body and assumed her own form’ states Svatantra-tantra. Thus the Goddess becomes (1) Sacrificer (2) Sacrificed and (3) Recipient. That is, (i) She decapitated herself; (ii) performed the act of beheading and (iii) drank her own blood and puts the head back in position. Cutting off the head is one thing but the sacrifice is complete when she puts it back to symbolize not death but immortality. This symbolizes the realization that one is not separate from the Self.
SEVERANCE OF THE HEAD: Head is symbolic of supremacy. Indeed it is the best part of the human body; a headless person is one without identity. In Tamil that state is called ‘mundam’ or ‘mamisa pindam’ meaning bundle of meat with no identity. Kali and Durga often wear the garland of severed heads. This is symbolic of killing the ego, one that gives identity. In Chinnamasta’s instance, her own head, with a majestic crown, is gone a minute and re-attached the next. She is neither this nor that symbolizing the ‘egoless’ head. Secondly, by being alive despite the decapitation, She displays the ability to be beyond the cycle of birth and death.
DRINKING BLOOD: Drinking is an external activity. Drinking one’s own blood, symbolically that is, is indicative of self-transformation of potential negative forces. Blood can be symbolic of it being destructive and also as beneficial vital fluid. In the battle with the asura Raktabika, a new asura appeared from every drop of blood from his body. Thus Durga manifests as Kali to drink up blood before it fell to the ground. This illustrates the asuras’ negative charge being transmuted to a positively charged force. The positive aspect to this is Kundalini.
KUNDALINI: The act of drinking blood from the central aspect illustrates that She has achieved the goal of awakening the kundalini in order to unite with the Paramatman via the tantric method. The central blood is Amrta – the nectar of immortality. Thus Chinamasta is also the Kundalini in her active role. Her activity is in the Sushumna nadi, where She traverses up and down and distributes this electrical energy through all the nadis throughout the body. The kundalini is aroused when it ascends to the sahasara cakra which symbolizes the Supreme Self.
Daksini represents the ida nadi and Varnini, the pingla nadi. They are depicted as free standing but interlocked to indicate that the three subtle channels are connected to the naval chakra. The blood connection to them from the severed throat is indicative of dependence. Chinnamasta is symbolic of manipulating these subtle winds. Thus She is also Yoga Shakti or Maha Yogini.
GUNAS: Chinnamasta’s depiction is also symbolic of the gunas. Liberation involves the interaction of all the three gunas. Daksini represents tamas guna, the power of maya; Varnini, the rajas guna, the power of action and Chinnamasta is sattva guna, the Lord’s power of Knowledge and the Light of Consciousness. Chinnamasta is in the middle consuming her own blood, whereas the other two are dependent on Her for nourishment or blood. This is symbolic that the two suffer from duality while the goddess has severed all sense of duality.
COPULATION: Have you wondered why temple sculptures and art depict sex? They are symbolic of some message. There is no need to be puritanical about this – our forefathers and their forefathers before that must have had sex at least once for us to be standing here! Chinnamasta stands on Kama and Rati who are actively having sexual intercourse. This represents the rhythmic flow of energy through sex and blood. Vital energy pumped up through the severed head as blood, re-circulates back into the mouth showing the movement of life force which is not wasted.
Rati is on top of Kama, as was Kali in yoga with Shiva, thus indicating superiority. Kama and Rati symbolise embodiment of sexual desires, energy and force. Rati’s hair is being stopped from being dishevelled, control and order. By stepping on them, Chinnamasta symbolises control of sexual desire and lust. This control is essential before one undertakes yogic practices. It is also symbolic of self-surrender, self sacrifice and fearlessness. A head less but naked body is indicative of the yogic thesis to be in blissful union by ‘loosing’ oneself, or surrender to the divine.
LIFE CYCLE: The triad in Chinnamasta’s iconography represents the life cycle. The copulating couple, Kama and Rati, are symbolic of nature, life and living. None of the Puranic accounts report that they were ‘disunited’ by Chinnamasta. One has the cliché that ‘life goes on’ and so does the divine yoga. Hats off for the artists; they have an eye for details. Kama and Rati make love on lotus carpet embossed with a V which is symbolic of the womb – gharba. (Inverted V symbolises the male and when combined, one has the Tantric star). Lotus is also symbolic of life and death; lotus petals of detachment. Daksini and Varnini, with bowls in their hands, sometimes half-skulls, are indicative of preservation through being nourished by Mother Goddess’s blood. Then where is death? Decapitation by Chinnamasta, symbolises death. Reattaching symbolises rebirth so one has the full life circle.
EYES: Like Durga, Chinnamasta has three eyes representing the moon, sun and agni. The eye in the centre is symbolic of transcendental knowledge. Her left eye is not visible indicating a hypothesis that if (God) is not visible, it does not mean it (He) is not there. There is also another catch here. Most Hindu deities look in the forward direction to bless devotees. In Chinamasta’s case, her eyes are transfixed at Herself. This is a symbolic message in this. Devotees would not be having direct eye contact with the Goddess. They would be watching Her eyes, which in turn looks at Herself (or Her own heart). This is indicative that we should look within ourselves as we look at any deity. External eye contact creates the illusion of duality. Finding the Absolute within oneself is knowledge.
SWORD: The scissor like twin-bladed sword, sometimes a scimitar, in the right hand is symbolic of an instrument required to destroy ignorance. The severed head with an egoistic crown still attached is held by the left and symbolises the illusory concept of a severed “I” to be liberated and merging with Brahman.
SERPENT: The serpent symbolises immortality. Its shedding of the skin symbolises birth, death and rebirth. (Re Naaga Worship posted earlier). The serpent curls around the goddess’s waist and its head is shown lowered to cover her private part. After-all Chinnamasta depicts both the elements of terror – bhayanaka rasa and also bliss of copulation – sringara rasa. One would know the symbolism behind the Three Monkeys Dolls covering the ears, eyes and mouth. There is a joke that goes around that you close all three to become the fourth monkey. Thus one can figure out the symbolism of the serpent standing guard over the private parts here, God forbid, with admonition or humour! Hari Om
GODDESS ANUSUYA: Also known as Maha Sati Anasuya, she is the Goddess of Chastity and Hospitality. ‘Maha’ means great and ‘Sati’ means virtuous woman, so her name implies a great virtuous woman, fully dedicated to the husband. The concept of ‘sati’ is the power of women. Legends have it that even the Gods submit to Satis. Anusuya, Kausiki, Savitri and Sita are notable Satis. Their life is one of Satitva. The Agni Purana declares that women who commit ‘sahagamana’ goes to heaven. Sahagamana means joint departure. The practice of Sati is traced to the Puranas where Lord Siva’s wife, Sati, enters agni in her father, Dakha’s yajnakunda. In the Mahabaratha, Madri enters the funeral pyre of husband Pandu, leaving her children in Kunti’s custody.
But there are many ways to heaven; indeed Medhatti pronounced that Sati is suicide and is against the Shastras, the Hindu code of conduct. During the muslim invasion, many virtues women entered the funeral pyre voluntary to end their life. This was to avoid rape and ill-treatment by soldiers in the absence of their husband. They did this to protect their satitva but that regretfully the practice became a social evil of throwing women into the pyre of the husband. Sati ritual was banned by law in 1829 but there are one or two instances being reported. The ritual is hardly a part of the Hindu way of life notwithstanding the history behind it.
Anusuya was the wife of Maharishi Arti; one of the Sapta Rishis being Vasistha, Bharadvaja, Jamadagni, Gautama, Arti, Visvamitra, and Agastya. Arti, Brahma’s manasa putra, was among the main seers to propound the Fifth Mandala of the RigVeda, sacred thread and the Pranava OM.
Anusuya is the daughter of Kardama Prajapati and Devahooti. She was well established in Pativrata Dharma. ‘Pati means husband and ‘Vrata’ means vow. Pativratas are those who have taken vows, even if it means risking life, to devote their life faithfully to their husbands. The husbands are worshipped and served with all their heart, mind and soul. Goddess Anusuya served Arti with intense devotion. She did severe tapas for the welfare of her husband and to beget sons equal to the Gods. Her personal endeavor of discipline undertaken to achieve a goal was not without tests and sufferings. But towards such tapas, Anusuya was second to none.
MYTHOLOGY: Arti and Anasuya had three sons and a daughter, Soma, Dattatreya and Durvasa and Shubhatreyi. There are various mythological accounts surrounding the births. The one most noted is the ‘Trinity Test’ in Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. Arti and Anasuya were childless. The Trinity Consorts, Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Parvathi wanted to test Anasuya’s pativrata dharma or chastity before blessing her with children. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva understood this by jnana dhristi or supernatural vision. So they appear before Anusuya as sannyasins and her and ask Nirvana Bhiksha – giving them food in a naked condition. She was in a dilemma as nakedness was the confine of a husband. But she was also duty-bound to give alms to the sannyasins, lest the Gods be upset.
As such Anusuya invoked her pativrata shakti, took refuge at Arti’s feet and sprinkled a few drops of water used for washing the husband’s feet. Water collected from patha puja of Gurus’s and husbands is called Charanamrita and it is holy water. At the instance of the sprinkling, the Trimurtis were converted into three little children. At the same time, she felt the urge of motherhood and there was accumulation of milk in her breast. ‘Maar-kattuthal’ is the Tamil word for this. Standing nude, She breast fed the three children as if her own and with motherly passion. She waited for Maharishi Arti to relate the event but he had already known what has transpired through divine vision. Upon return, Arti embraced the three children.
Now the Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Parvathi are in a fix, aren’t they? Sage Narada travels to Brahma Loka, Vaikuntha and Kailisa to inform that their husbands have been turned into little babies through Anasuya’s pavithra shakti. Big problemo! The Trinity could revert to their original status only after the Consorts asked for Pati Bhiksha – praying for the return of their Husbands. You can’t win all the time can you, so that is what the Consorts did. They appeared before Maha Sati Anasuya and asked pati biksha. She duly honored the three Goddesses and with folded hands prayed to them that her wish for children should be fulfilled. The boon was given.
Then the Trinity appeared in their true form before Maharishi Arti and Maha Sati and blessed them a child equal to the Trinity. ‘He will be known as Dattatreya’ They said – the sage avatar of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Datta is regarded as the Adi-Guru. Thereafter, the divine couple were blessed with the sage Durvasa and the Moon-god Chandra. The triplets were therefore ‘Amsas’ meaning born of divine manifestations.
SITA AND ANASUYA: In her later years Anasuya would become a confidante to many. She had settled with her children in Sati Anusuya Ahsrama, located further upstreams the Mandakini river. Valmiki describes in the Ramayana that apparently there was no rain in Chitrakuta for a decade. There was famine affecting human, animals and birds. Anusuya performed intensive austerities and got the Mandakini river down on earth. Mandakini river led to fresh greenery. Forests and vegetation removed all sufferings on the land ruled by Ravana. The dense forests of Dandaka starts from this place.
Once Sita meets her and shares memories of Ayodhya. There were many who wanted Sita’s hand in marriage. It was supposed to be self-choice, a swayamvara. The groom was not decided before hand and was to be Sita’s choice. But King Janaka faced an issue in this area. He had found Sita in a field, so her ancestry could not be traced to ascertain her future. Janaka did not want to give her up so easily. He placed the lifting of the bow as a condition to those who came like a line of conveyer belt. The thought of marriage made him feel he was losing a fortune. Sita described the circumstances to Anusuya many years later. ‘After seeing that I had reached an age suitable for giving me away to a proper husband in marriage, my father became overcome with fear and anxiety, like a man who was about to become poor’ – Valmiki Ramayana Ayodhya Kand 118.34.
It was in this ashram that Anasuya explains to Sita the grandeur and importance of satitva – chastity and total devotion to one’s husband. She also brought great joy to Sita with her hospitality and taught her the duties of a woman and fidelity to one’s husband. Vedic culture sets the syllabus for virtuous woman. Pathni is one who leads the husband through life; dharmapathni is one who guides the husband in dharma and sahadharmacarini is one who moves with the husband on the path of dharma – righteousness and and duty. Anusuya has set the stage as a living example of such virtues. Hari Om
GODDESS ARUNDHATI: Arundhati is also known as Goddess Sandhya, the mind-born daughter of Brahma in a previous birth according to the Shiva Purana. Thus Sandhya and Arundhati are interchangeably referred. Arundhati means Goddess of the Night, Sky and the Stars. According to the Bhagavata Purana, Arundhati is the eight of the nine daughters of Karmadeva and Devahuti. She is said to be the grandmother of Parasha and Vyasa Muni. How is Arundhati linked to Sandhya? According to the Shiva Purana, the sage Narada questions Lord Brahma as to Shiva-Sati marriage. Sandhya-Arundhati link forms a preface to the answer given by Brahma. It is sort of part of his autobiography!
Sandhya and Manmadha are his ‘manaseeka’ (manasic) mind born children, Brahma said. They were astral creations without physical connections to him. He gets infatuated with the beautiful Sandhya and pursues his lustful ends. She seems to have given in without protest. Lord Rudra chastised Brahma for this incest. While acknowledging the ill-deed, Brahma contemplates that, Rudra, some-day soon would become a victim of passion also. ‘Rudra is not beyond kama’ he said. Meanwhile Sandhya could not overcome the feeling of shame caused by Brahma and does penance under the tutelage of Medatithi. She goes to the Candrabhaga mountains and prays to Lord Siva, chanting 'Om Namo Shankaraya Namaha' for thousands of years.
According to Sthala Purana, the place where she did tapasya is known as Sandhyachaal. Sthala Puranas are texts of the origins and traditions of Shiva temples and shrines, 275 sthalams in total. Majority of Sthala puranas are in the Tamil vernacular. They are also called Siva-sthalams. Now, Lord Siva does not respond, so Sandhya prepares to enter the Agnikunda – fire pit of a yagna performed by her guru Medatithi. Knowing this, Lord Siva would not wait anymore and appeared before Sandhya, offering boons.
Sandhya desired that none in her clan should become a victim of lust and that she would be stated to be the example of a chaste woman, whose husband never casts an evil eye on another woman. “Lord”, she says, “creatures should not be sexually aroused at their birth; they should have the desire only when they are grown up. The three worlds must know that I am chaste. In all my births, I should not look at anybody except my husband with sexual desire. The man who looks at me with sexual desire should lose his manhood and a hermaphrodite.” Some accounts state that it was Lord Vishnu who granted her the boons.
Even Lord Brahma grants her a boon saying ‘tapaste vardhtansada’ meaning ‘may your tapasyas – austerity always find greater heights’. With Siva’s blessings she enters the Agni kunda only to be reborn as Vashista’s wife in her next birth. Thus she was born to Daksha Prajapati as Sati and thereafter as Himaraja’s daughter Girija Devi. Sandhya had not known that Medatithi was actually the Sage Vasistha himself! Upon entering Agni, Sandhya’s prana vayu or vital air was carried to the Solar system and absorbed by the Sun God to be transformed as Pratas Sandhya – morning; Madhyanika – afternoon and Sayam Sandhya – evening times of the day. Hence one has Sandyavadhanam, the morning prayers.
Sages were awe-struck when Sandhya, as Sati, was reborn in the Agni kunda as Arundhati. The child becomes famous in the three worlds as she stood for the principle that on no reason whatsoever will righteousness be obstructed. In that sense Arundhati means ‘one who cannot be obstructed.’
The agni child, Arundhati, was entrusted to Savitri, the wife of the Sun God. They lived in Manasa lake with Savitri, Gayatri, Saraswathi, Draupadi and other celestial women. There she learns the arts and scriptures. Her shining radiance caught Vashista’s attention. Attaining age, Arundhati was married to Vashista Muni. The wedding was graced by the Trinity’s attendance. Seven sons were born, all of them were Brahma rishis: Chitraketu, Procis, Viraca, Mitra, Ulbana, Vasubhrdyana and Dyuman.
There is a postlude to Brahma’s affairs. He tells Narada of his humiliation by Siva and that he wanted revenge. He wanted to show that Siva could also be blinded by attachments. This comes about by his arrangements with Daksha and Mareecha. Brahma manifests the beautiful Rati and Kama with his cupid arrows. Brahma also breathes out the Spring Season. All three, Rati, Kama and Spring, in their beautiful forms interfere Siva’s meditation. Kama’s arrows were shot at Siva. In the backdrop of colourful spring garden, the Lord falls for Sati and His meditation is interrupted. The events leading to her wedding against Daksha's wishes and Sati finally entering Daksha’s agni kunda and Shiva's thandava carrying Sati's body are too well-known for repetition here. It is to be noted that one part of Sati falls in Sandhyachaal to found a Shakti peeth.
VASHISTA’S ASHRAM: Vashista is one of the Saptarishis extolled in the Vedas and Hindu literature. They are the patriarchs of the Vedic religion. In post-vedic texts some of these rishis were recognised as the mind-born sons of Brahma and ancestors of the Gotras. They are believed to be the seven stars named after them; Vashista, Marichi, Puastya, Pulaha, Atri, Angiras and Kratu. Vasishta ashram is the hermitage of Rishi Vasistha. It is in one of the seven Shaktipeeth described in Kalika Purana, where it is present as Tara peeth.
Once, Lord Siva enters Vashista’s hermitage of seven sages. The wives of six sages were smitten by Siva’s beauty and divine charm. Arundhati remains unmoved and steadfast. Seeing her chastity and virtue, Shiva declared that she would be the Arundhati Nakshatram (Star) located next to the Sapta Rishi Constellation and sitting next to Vashista.
WEDDING: In the South Indian tradition, there is a ceremony where the groom shows the ‘Arundhati Nakshtram – the subtle star in the Ursa Major constellation, to the bride. The seven stars in the northern sky are called ‘Sapta Rishi Mandala’. On the night of the marriage, the brides are ceremoniously shown Arundhati star. It is believed that by seeing the Arundhati star, the bride will be as chaste as Arundhati herself. This is all Hindu belief and symbolism for the Hindu person. Humour is part of wedding ceremonies. It enlivens the heart. ‘Arundhati parthiya?’... did you see Arundhati? - the bride would be asked by the elders present, while she looks up. Nearly all brides will say ‘yes’.
Who wants pandemonium to break loose by saying ‘no’ when the family ceremonies are going on in the background with fun and laughter? Also the first-night lurking around the corner, isn’t it? Rasagulla sweetness is waiting on the dinner table also. The domestic dance party would have arrived. Potential brides and grooms are waiting to sing and the old have to start their gossips....God give the brides patience!
So ‘Arundhati parthiya?’ ‘Yes’ is the expected answer when grandma elder is probably pointing to the wrong direction in the sky! After having ‘seen’ (some really do, okay?) Arundhati star, the bride says: ‘Just as the star Arundhati is attached to the star Vashishta, so may I ever firmly be attached to my husband’. And the bridegroom, breathing a sigh that his bride has ‘seen’ Arundhati, paving the way for blissful consummation, says: ‘As the heavens, earth, mountains and universe are permanently stable, so may my wife be permanently settled in our family’ - RigVeda 10.173.4.
Arundhati is also identified as the morning star and Alcor which forms a double star with Mizar identified as Vashista Rishi. Seeing the double star of Vasishta and Arundhati, symbolises marital bliss. Is Arundhati visible to the ordinary eye? It is said to be faintly visible. ‘Arundhati-darsananyayah – is to infer the unknown from which is known. As such Arundhati star is shown in steps, the brightest first and to the faintest Arundhati star. Ladies wishing to avoid early pre-mature widowship, observe fast on the lunar month of Chitra in Arundhati’s honour. Some indeed are fail Arundhati, as onr of the bride may all end up meeting a divorce lawyer for reasons known to them!
EKATMATA STOTRA, Verse 10: “Arundhatyanasooya cha, Saavitree Jaanakee Satee, Draupadee Kannagee Gaargee, Meera Durgaavatee Tathaa: These great ladies must be worshipped as Mother Goddess: Arundhati – wife of Sage Vasishta, Anasuya – wife of sage Atri, Savitri, Janaki, Sati –daughter of Daksha and Consort of Shiva, Draupadi, Kannagi – a chaset women of Tamil Nadu, Gargi – a learned woman of vedic period, Mira – famous devotee of Lord Krishna and Durgavati, the brave Women of Gadha Mandala. This is not to be confused with the Pancha Kanniya list. Hari Om
Yogi Ananda Saraswati
Goddess Parvathi asked Lord Shiva to narrate the importance of the performance of the Vratam which will provide women with all kinds of wealth that she desires. Lord Shiva accepted her request and told her that "Vara Lakshmi Vratam" should be observed on a Friday that falls just before the full moon day in the month of "Sravanam". To illustrate the holiness of theVratam, Lord Shiva also recited the story of Charumati of Maratha Desam.
The Story of Charumati of Maratha Desam:
Long long ago there lived a courteous and shrewd brahmin lady called Charumati in the Maratha Desam. Maratha Desam was a town where houses are built of golden walls and it’s a town with golden houses. Charumathi was called as a "Maha Pativrata" who indulged in whole hearted worship of her husband and took great care of her in-laws and gave utmost respect. Goddess Lakshmi was very pleased with her nature and she wanted Charumathi’s fame spread across the universe. So Goddess Lakshmi appeared in her dream and advised her to perform the Varalakshmi Vratam on the Sukravaram (Friday) in the month of Sravana on a sukla paksha day which should fall before the full moon day of that month. Charumathi prayed in devotion to the Goddess Lakshmi in the dream itself and the following morning, she narrated the whole dream to her husband and in-laws. She took permission from her husband and in-laws and she called other neighborhood women and discussed about the performance of this pooja. Everyone from her neighborhood’s were very excited and eagerly awaited for the day to come when Charumati would perform this puja.
On the much awaited day, the women cleaned their houses with cow dung; put a stage to keep the picture of Goddess Varalakshmi on one corner of the house. Everyone performed the pooja to the Kalasam with sincere and pure hearted devotion and holiness. They tied the "kankanam" to their wrist and offered "Naivedyam" to the Goddess Lakshmi. A miracle started to happen as they started to take "Pradakshinam" (walk in a circular motion around the Kalasam / God) after the puja. They saw themselves covered with various jewels one at a time such as, anklets on their feet, bracelets on their hands, "haaram" for their neck and various other ornaments before the final pradakshina. Enthralled with the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi, all of them prayed to the Goddess and honored the Pundit with "Dakshina" (offerings by way of money or rice or other cereals) and ended the Vratam by taking the "Naivedyam".
Women stepping out of Charumathi’s house saw their houses decorated and filled with various riches and golden chariots waiting for them outside her house. Filled with extreme happiness, women thanked Charumathi for sharing her luck with them. Ever since, VaraLakshmi Vratam is performed in every house on this auspicious day of Sravana Sukravaram, which is the Friday before the full moon day in the month of "Sravana Masam".
There is also another tale which says that the Vratam was also preached by sage Suta to Sounaka and other sages. Another myth is that Chitranemi who was one cursed by Parvati for having made a partial judgement in favour of Shiva when asked to play the referee for their game, got relieved from the curse by having watched this Vratam performed by some pious women. Such is the sacredness of the Vratam.
GODDESS PIDARI: Pidari is Kali in a rural setting. She is also known as Pitali, Pidaraksa, Pidari Bathrakali, Kala Pidari or Adanghaa Pidari. She is regarded as being a consort of Siva through being an aspect of Kali. Pidari is not just a village gramadevata but a goddess in her own right as Kali manifestation. Her temple history is traced from Chola inscriptions. For instance, Vishnu temple of Ukkal, records worship of Sata and Pidari; “ 7th year of reign of King Rajaraja-Rajasarivarman....the great men elected...levy a fine of one kalanju of gold in favour of tank-fund from betel leaf sellers at the temple of Pidari.” The inscription engraved on the east wall of the Kolaramma temple at Kolar Gold Fields in Mysore refers to Goddess Pidari. The presiding deity in Kolaramma is the eight armed Durga. Researchers are of the view that the inscription is a reference to Bhattarika, Uma Battaragi or Kotravai which are other names of Kali or Durga.
FEMININE WORSHIP: It is submitted that Battarika is the softened form of Kali in ‘penndeiva vazhipaadu’ or feminine worship. The principle can be seen in Tamil Sangam literature. Kotravai was the fierce primary feminine deity of the Sangam age and Goddess Uma gets superimposed on the Kotravai concept by mythological developments. In Ilangovadigal’s Silappathikaaram, Siva’s third eye – the ‘nuthal vizhi’ is attributed to Kotravai in Paripaadal. Uma gains prominence much later. A full chapter is allocated to Kotravai vazhipaadu – where worship of Durga is turned to the mild Kotravai. The first direct reference of Kotravai as Siva’s wife occurs in the Silappathikaaram. There is also a mention of these deties being worshipped by warriors, a principle connected to Pidari, in the Paripaadal – ‘Kotravai kolam kondor pen’. Amman worship is also known as ‘Kotravai Nilai’ in Tolkaappiyam. Pidari is the ferocious aspect of Amman also.
PIDARI - MOTHER KALI: Mother Goddess gives life but Kali takes life. She is the feminine form of Kala – time. Kali is the energy or the power of time. Her blackness swallows all that exists and the emptiness of space is her clothing, for when the universe is dissolved, the power of time remains without maya veil. Kali’s place in the Hindu pantheon is affirmed in the Markendeya Purana. She also gets mentioned in the Mahabaratha. Kali makes her debut as an independent sect within Shakti worship in the South. She is identified as Shiva’s consort Parvathi. Shakta cult grew from strength to strength along with Shaiva and Vaishnava sects. She eventually is linked to Shaivism. Shakti worship represented by the Yoni-Linga symbols of the Shiva cult reflects sexual symbolism partly due to female deities regarded as Shaktis of Shiva.
Kali’s extension, Pidari and her worship evolved as native warrior-ship, gaining importance with the influence of Tantrism where she is known as Kala Pidari. Pidari worship points towards proliferation and emancipation of female deities. Indeed Tantrism resulted in the development of individual goddesses. Pidari deity, in line with Shakti manifestations, seem to emphasise fierce but sexual symbolism. At times Pidari is the sole resident deity in a village. As devata, She is the all in all for the village from simple prayers to divine blessings. Otherwise she watches over the main deity of a temple in her role as ‘kaval deivam’ while taking her seat in a structure on the right hand side of a temple entrance. Prayers are offered to her as devotees proceed to the main sanctum-sanctorum.
In modern parlance we can say, ‘security guard’ but that is a demeaning description for want of illustration. Thus She joins the ‘kavaldeivam’ or Protection Gods’ similar to that of Ayyanar, Muniandy, Karuppana Swamy or Veerabahtra, all of whom are warrior cum protection village gods. Sacrifices to Pidari is common. During puja, say, when newly married couples come for a blessing, a goat or several chicken loose their heads and the whole village is blessed with prasada. It is common to offer sacrificial blood and alcohol, especially fermented drinks such as toddy. Pidari is also invoked and worshiped in tantric and aghori rituals.
DEPICTION: Pidari shares Kali’s attributes. She is depicted to hold a noose, trident, skull cup and a pointed knife. The noose is sometimes replaced by ankusha – the elephant goad. The damaru that she holds is entwined by a snake, thus sharing Siva’s characteristics. She has flaming hair and three eyes. Sometimes her breasts are decorated with snakes. She has a terrifying appearance with long incisor teeth to frighten off evil spirits. Her sculptures are sometimes synonymous with Goddess Mariamman also. Lime stringed as a garland – ‘elumichai malai’ is her favourite.
She is also represented by a simple stone image called ‘veerakkal’ symbolising courage and venerating ‘veerarghal’ – the warriors. Pidari is part of many Amman temples. In rural settings, it is believed that Pidari is the combined form of Lord Shiva and Shakti. ‘Adanghaa Pidari’ is another Tamil description of Goddess Pidari. ‘Adanghaa’ means ‘one that cannot be controlled’ implying, Pidari, once provoked does not subside her anger soon.
MYTHOLOGY: We are familiar with Daksha’s yajna in which he ignores Lord Siva. Dhakshayani attends the yagna and feels vexed to see the father having invited all the gods including Vishnu and Brahma. Daksha further insults Siva and Dhakshayani enters the yajna fires after cursing Daksha. Saint Naradha carries the news to Lord Shiva and the angry Rithra Thandavam shakes the earth. Sweat from his body fell down and Lord Veeravhadra and Pidari Badrakali emerge from it. They were ordered to destroy the yajna and kill Dakshan. They just did that. Devas and Gods beg for Dakshan’s life. Veerabathra slayed the head of a goat kept for yajna and that was attached to Dakshan’s severed neck to revive him. Dakshan apologised to Lord Siva. He follows Veerabathra to Anumanthapuram, which then was known as ‘Vetrilai Kaadu’ or Betel Garden. Goddess Pidari Bhadrakali joins them and stays near a lake in the village. It is said that the temple at Anumanthapuram is still visited for its evil-chasing attributes and Pidari’s blessings. Hari Om
by Yogi Ananda Saraswathi
GODDESS SHAKAMBARI: Shakambari is the goddess of vegetarian prasada; She is the Bearer of Greens. ‘Shaaka’ means vegetables; ‘ambari’ means the one who bears; ‘bhri’ means to nourish. As Durga’s manifestation, Shakambari gives food to the hungry during famine. Indeed, in mythology, as Aadi Parashakti, Shakambhari kills the demon Durgam and manifests as Durga. Shakambhari is also known as Goddess Satakshi, meaning one who has countless eyes. That is a reference to the Shambhari who was so moved by the plights of the needy, so much so, tear rolled down from her eyes continuously for nine days and nights to flow in the form of a river.
In Hindu thoughts, Shakambari is Isvara’s consort, Goddess Ishwari. She is Aadi Para Shakti and Mula Prakriti. Para Brahman has no birth and death and without attributes such as form or qualities. What seems to appear is all leela of Para Brahman. This is carried out with the help of Prakriti or maya being an inseparable ingredient of the Paramatma. Creation, Maintenance and Destruction is beginingless and endless. The concept of Maya as Mother of the Universe is Shakti serving mortals to overcome the cycle of births and deaths. Every incarnation of Shakti is named after the leela that Shakti performs under the influence of Purusha and Prakrithi. Shakambhari is one such form of Aadi ParaShakti’s maya.
Reference is made to Goddess Shakambari in the Skanda Purana and Shrimad Devi Bhagavatam, Book Seven Chapter 28 – ‘On the Glory of Shatakshi Devi’. ‘The Secret of the Manifestations’ – Artha Muthi Rahasyam’ occurring as Chapter 11 in the Devi Mahatmyam, speaks Her glory. This goddess removes the grief and calamities. The devotee of this goddess, worshiping mother by hymns, meditation, Japa and bhajans, attains the fruits of food, drink and infinite bliss.
DEPICTION: The Mahavidyas share certain basic attributes in their depictions. Shakambhari shares her form with Shatakshi and Durga. In ‘Murti Rahasya’, the last chapter in Durga SaptShati, she is described to be a blue complexioned Goddess. She wears a jeweled crown symbolizing the Mahavidyas. She has bright eyes looking into the plight of her children. The three eyes on her forehead symbolize jnana. Her breasts are ever ready to feed and veiled by red sari. In her right upper hand she holds a lotus symbolizing beauty of life and non-attachment to worldly life. It also provokes one to rise above trials and tribulations. The lotus is thronged by bees symbolizing the nectarine wisdom of the Vedas. The left upper hand holds a bow and arrow, ever ready to protect, defend and wage war against her children’s enemies. It symbolizes her fierceness. Her lower hands carry flowers, herbs, roots and vegetables symbolizing her status as the Goddess of Vegetation and feeding. Herbs symbolize health and medicine.
Her whole body is a thousand eyed with tears rolling to form a stream of sympathy. It is said that, like Goddess Matangi, she has three folds below her navel. She wears jeweled earrings, anklets, armlets and prominent necklaces.
MYTHOLOGY: Through penance to Lord Brahma, the demon Durgam, son of Ruru, acquires all the four Vedas, total knowledge. He realized that the oblations of ghee given to Agni during yajna along with chanting of Vedic mantras, energized the devas. So Durgam additionally gets a boon from Brahma that he is the recipient of all pujas, yajnas and havanas offerings to the Devas, thus making him invincible. He also gets hold of the Vedas. This makes Durgam arrogant and he torments the three worlds. Forgetting the Vedas, the devas become weak and unable to perform their duties. They did not conduct homams and as a result, it does not rain for one hundred years. The world is hit by famine, disease and pestilence. There was extreme drought everywhere, and rishis and munis retrieve to the caves at Mount Sumeru to save whatever they could. They meditate to the primal force to invoke the Supreme Mother Shakti.
Mother was moved by their plights and appears in a delightful form. Seeing the horror, she manifests as Goddess Satakshi and countless eyes form on her body. Satakshi cries for nine continuous days and nights and tears roll as a river. Food is a priority and as Ma Shakambhari, She bears grains, cereals, fruits, vegetable and greens. For the sick, She brought herbs and medicines. This brought temporary happiness to the rishis. They then requested Her to retrieve the Vedas.
Durgam takes the lead to wage war and comes with a large army. The rishis, munis and devas were protected by Shakambhari’s tremendous fire-wall. She had Her discuss hover around it. Finally Durgam is defeated and killed by Shakambari’s trident and the Vedas were recovered. At that instance, all the mantras, japas, puja and yajna benefits performed by devas and usurped by Durgam earlier, transformed into a bright light of 10,000 Suns and absorbed by Shakambhari. Thereafter, ten powerful divine manifestations took form as the Dashamahavidyas and 64,000 other goddesses. (There are some writings to the effect that the war against Durgam was waged after the Mahavidya and other goddesses appeared; thus we have Durga who killed Durgam.) Ultimately Ma Shakambhari handed the Vedas back to the Deities according to the Supreme Mother Shakti’s individual assignments.
ADI SHANKARA: Shakti Peeth Shakambari is one of the places where Sati’s parts fell. It is believed that Adi Shankara performed his tapasya here and installed the deities of the temple. The Devi deity here is linked to Durga slaying the demon Mahisa. Goddess Devi performed tapas for 100 years having a vegetarian meal once at the end of every month. Rishis and munis came for Devi’s darshan and honoured by a vegetarian prasada, hence the temple is known as Shakambari Devi temple.
By Yogi Ananda Saraswathi
In his ‘Saundaryalahari’ the great Adi Shankara states: If Shiva is united with Shakti, he is able to create. If he is not, he is incapable even of stirring.” This is the central theme in the Devi Gita in the Devi Bhagavata Purana. This soon became the central texts of Shaktism. The history and development of Mahavidya worship was a turning point in Shaktism. It also marks the Bhakti aspects of worship. The Shakta tradition specifically worships Shiva’s consort, in her various forms such as Parvathi, Durga, Kali etc. The worship of Sita or Radha is not strictly Shaktism but points to the ubiquitous role of female deities in Hinduism. In all, Her children found it easy to approach and pray to the loving Mother.
Feminine divinity which ranged from calm and beautiful to terrifying and horrible Goddesses were accepted to represent Shakti. Devi also appears in the Markandeya Purana. It is in the Tantras that She appears to take the role of the Supreme. Shaktism had a profound effect on modern spiritualists such as Ramakrishna Parmahamsa and Sri Aurobindo. However, there is no rejection of masculine power by the Divine Feminine. The Divine Feminine, Masculine or Neuter divinity are deemed to be inactive in the absence of Shakti
In the Devi Bhagavata Purana VII.33.13-15, Devi declares: "I am Manifest Divinity, Unmanifest Divinity, and Transcendent Divinity. I am Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, as well as Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. I am the Sun and I am the Stars, and I am also the Moon. I am all animals and birds, and I am the outcaste as well, and the thief. I am the low person of dreadful deeds, and the great person of excellent deeds. I am Female, I am Male, and I am Neuter."
GODDESS SHASHTI: Maternity wards and gynecologists are a recent invention. In the olden days it was always the village grandmothers who doubled up as maternity wisdom seers, healers and midwives. They represented part of the cycle of life. They were deemed ‘agents’ of Goddess of Married Woman, Fertility and Childbirth. Just as grandmothers were everywhere so were the Goddesses of Married Women!
The Hindu Goddess of Married Woman is Goddess Shahsti or Sasti. Although a minor deity predominantly worshiped in Bengal, Shashti is a manifestation of the Great Mother Goddess representing pregnancy and childbirth. She represents the fertility of both people and the land upon which they lived.
DEPICTION: She is depicted holding a sword and shield in her lower hands while the upper holds kalasas. Her vahana is a black cat. She is shown seated on a large lotus. In her golden look, has a child seated on her lap symbolizing her powers to protect new born from evil powers and disease. She wears a prominent crown that associates her with Mother Goddess.
PUJA: Goddess Shahsti is associated with Skanda, God of War. Indeed she is also known as Skandamata and as an extension of Mother Durga. Although having rural origins or a folk-goddess, Sasti is worshipped on the sixth – shashti day following a child’s birth. This is when the father pays respects followed by the mother on the 21st day. On this day, partial fast is observed. Pujas are conducted to a figureless deity planted under a Kadamba tree. Usually this is a stone in the size of a human head decorated with flowers. Traditional offering is that of a hand-fan. Food offerings are fruits only. A black cat is also revered on that day. Otherwise it is symbolized in the deity stone. Women who have lost their children, those suffering miscarriage, quick with child and sickly children pray to Goddess Shahsti.
BRAHMA VAIVARTA PURANA: This is one of the major eighteen Puranas. It describes the creation of the universe – Brahma Khanda, Prakriti Khanda - description and histories of goddesses, Ganesha Khanda - life and deeds of Lord Ganesha and the final part to Lord Krishna. This Purana was written in Bengal and recited by the sage Suta in the Naimisharanya forests. In Krsna Janma Khanda, the final part, it declares Krishna to be the supreme God. It also develops the life of Radha-Krishna, thus deviating from the Bhagavata Purana. In Prakriti Khanda, Goddess Shahshti is depicted as the sixth aspect of Parama Prakriti – universal female energy.
MYTHOLOGY: Apparently a prosperous farmer had married all his seven sons to pretty girls. The youngest daughter in law was a greedy person. She steals food and blames it on a black cat. It was Puranic times and animal had anthropomorphic attributes. This cat takes revenge by hiding this woman’s new born babies and places them in a Shahsti temple. She finally prays to Shahsti. As repentance, she was asked to make an image of a cat to be worshipped along with Goddess Shahsti.
This is Bengal based mythology. Apparently the Fertility Goddess according to Egyptian mythology, was also a cat headed Goddess! Was Goddess Shashti alone in this burden? Hardly so. Mythology throughout the world shares her seat as Childbirth and Fertility Goddess. This is the edited list!
(1) Shakti (India), Mother Goddess.
(2) Artemis: (Greece) Despite being a virgin goddess she also presides over childbirth due to the ease of her own birth.
(3) Bast: (Egypt) Bast was the cat headed goddess was associated with both childbirth and fertility.
(4) Carmenta (Roman) Goddess of prophecy and birth. Pregnant women used to offer her rice for an easy delivery.
(5) Candelifera ( Roman) She was invoked at the beginning of childbirth. Her name means candle bearer and she used this light to help guide the baby into this world.
(6) Diana: (Roman) Queen of Heaven. Patroness of childbirth, nursing and healing.
(7) Deverra (Roman) Goddess who protected midwives and women in labor. Her broom was used to sweep
away evil influences
(9) Eleithyia (Greek) was the Goddess of childbirth and labour. She was shown as a woman wielding a torch, representing the burning pains of childbirth, or with her arms raised in the air summoning a child to the light.
(10) Frigg: (Nordic) associated with easing child birth. A plant called Freya's grass was traditionally used as a gentle sedative during a difficult labour
(11) Hathor: (Egypt) The seven Hathors blessed the newborn and set a child's destiny. She is also associated with nursing infants.
(12) Hekate: (Greek) As a midwife she carried a sacred knife to cut the cord at birth.
(13) Heket (Egypt) Heket the moon Goddess was associated with Hathor as a birth deity. She was said to be the birth goddess of all creatures. (14) Hepat (Egyptian) Goddess of Midwives.
(15) Hera: (Greece) The Queen of the gods, Hera presided over all things feminine especially maternity and marriage.
(16) Isis: (Egypt) Isis had many roles including the protector of motherhood.
(17) Ixchel (Mayan) Role included Goddess of childbirth, lunar cycles, and pregnancy.
(18) Juno: (Roman) She protected pregnant woman as well as at birth, bringing the child into the light.
(19) Lucina (Roman) - Goddess of Childbirth.
(20) Meskhent (Egyptian) Egyptian Goddess who presided over the delivery of babies.
(21) Mylitta (Babylonian) Mylitta took special interests in the process of childbirth.
(22) Nepthys: (Egyptian) Stood at the head of the bed encouraging the mother whilst her sister Isis acted as the midwife.
(23) Ngolimento (Toga) Goddess who cares for the spirit of a child before it is born.
(24) Nixi (Roman) The Nixi were a triad of Goddesses associated with birth
(25) Nintur (Sumerian) Her name meant "Lady Who Gives Form". She was represented as a woman holding a midwife's pail of water.
(26) Nona (Roman) Goddess of pregnancy. Her name means nine relating to the ninth month of pregnancy when the expectant mum would call upon her
(27) Pi-hsia-yuan-chun (Chinese) She protects women, children, and presides over birth.
(28) Prorsa Postverta (Roman) Goddess of women in labor she was associated with the position of the child in the womb.
(29) Pukkeenegak (Eskimo) Feminine Goddess who gave children to the Eskimo women.
(30) Renenet (Egypt) Goddess who presided over a baby's suckling. She bestowed both a name and a personality on a newborn infant.
(31) Shasti (Indian) Feline Goddess, depicted riding a cat. Goddess of childbirth and Protector of Children.
(32) St. Catherine of Sweden (Roman Catholic) Patron saint of miscarriage prevention.
(33) St. Gerard Majella (Roman Catholic) Patron saint of pregnancy and expectant mothers.
(34) St. Raymund Nonnatus (Roman Catholic) Patron saint of midwives.
(35) Tamayorihime (Japan) Ancient sea Goddess who watches over the birth waters to ensure a safe delivery.
(36) Taueret (Egypt) Protected infants by taking the form of a pregnant hippopotamus to frighten demons away and
(37) Uma (India) Her primary function was femaleness in all forms, particularly active ones like childbirth.
by Yogi Ananda Saraswathi Copied with permission!!
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