Mohini means ‘erotic magic or spell’. The name has its origin in the word ‘moha’ which means ‘delusion personified’ or to enchant, perplex or delude. Therefore moha is the quality of desire after which Mohini has been name. The word ‘manava’ meaning ‘human’ is derived from ‘mana’ – mind. It is indicative of man’s unique station of self-awareness. Moha is the abdication of that unique position. Saying it another way, it is turning away from operative consciousness to desiring sense gratification. In Sanskrit, Mohini simply means Enchantress.
Now, why do we need a Goddess Mohini ? For the records, She is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who took on the form of an irresistible beautiful woman to defeat the asuras. Thereafter she saved but seduced Lord Shiva into having sex in order to fend off a future catastrophe. Mohini is also Sri Krishna transforming into a woman to marry and have sex with the tragic hero Aravan. With her ablility to change sex and gender, there you have Goddess Mohini grasping the male pantheon where it ought to! In the process she enriched Hindu folklore.
The Bhagavatam lists Mohini as one of the twenty avatars of Lord Vishnu. Nothing needs to be said that she is the most delightful of all. Technically Mohini is not an avatar. The technical specifications of an avatar requires a descent of Vishnu energy onto the Earthly plane to perform a particular task. Then the avatar merges back to the primal Vishnu and becomes an ‘everywhere’ ie ‘He who pervades’. Mohini appeals to us to be a woman who drives reason out of the mind – that is hardly an avatar. As opposed to be concentrated energy manifestation of the Divine, Mohini seems to be involved in manifestation that require Vishnu’s interventions. If Radha is Krishna's pleasure potency, then Mohini would be Vishnu's purpose potency.
In the Hindu pantheon, feminine gender or Goddesses are sometimes contested. Mohini is not an avatar in any sense. Notwithstanding, her status as an incarnation of God is accepted and even celebrated by Vaishnavites. This has to be understood in the context that Vishnu becomes Mohini while he still remains Vishnu. Vishnu is God incarnate so He can take many forms of which Mohini is the secondary or subordinate form. This in turn is a manifestation of Brahman. Regardless, Mohini is still God incarnate since Vishnu is God. To stretch this further the thunderous love-lore in Kailasha did not make Parvathi any a lesser Goddess. Indeed there is a temple dedicated to Mohini. It is at Ryali, a township near Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. Here Jagan Mohini - the enchantress of the world stands beside Keshava, the protector of the universe. There could be other temple besides this. Her Vasikaran Mantra is ‘Om Hareeng Mohini Swaha’.
It is worthwhile noting that Mohini form is not assumed cavalierly. It only appears during crisis. The fact there is very little to her worship goes to show that some things are merely to be respected and not adored. The major lesson she teaches is that of the drastic and dramatic consequences of losing one’s conscious awareness. What is the point of praying towards the heavens when one is standing on soft ground and unaware that his pants are slipping!
The first appearance of Mohini is the Samudra Manthan episode from the Mahabaratha - the Churning of the Cosmic Ocean. Demons got hold of the Amrita, Nectar of Immortality obtained in cooperative effort with the gods and they were refusing to share it. A fight would have meant serious casualties on the Devas side. Vishnu assumes the form of an ‘enchanting damsel’, Mohini. She offers to arbitrate. Now, the Devas and the Gods, even asuras are simply enthralled by Mohini. Their personality chart shoots up, as the hope that if they behaved she would share her favours with one of them and the others could go hang themselves. You know, the celestial powder room is fully occupied! Apparently nothing is spoken as such, one just assumes Mohini always induces such erroneous assumptions.
She uses herself to allure the demons and doles out the nectar to the Gods first. Not even a drop was left. Surya and Chandra put Vishnu to notice of any demon that tried to get the Amrita. They end up encountering Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra, the divine discuss. Rahu is decapitated which body becomes Ketu. The poor demons got massacred because they had abdicated their reason. They just lost their heads because they lost their minds! Hail Mohini and victory for Vishnu. This tale also appears in Bala Kanda in the Ramayana. Here Mohini is described as Maya, illusion, gets replaced as avatar or deliberate false appearance – ‘mayam ashito mohinim’. In Bhagavata Puranam, Mohini becomes a formal avatar of Vishnu.
Vishnu Purana tells this story. Siva had just granted Bhasmasura, a demon a boon that gave him the ability to turn anything he touched into ashes. His name, therefore, means ‘ash demon’. Now protocol misfires as the demon wants to test the boon on Siva himself. Shiva takes off on his heels to avoid being touched. Bhasmasura chases him through all the quarters of the universe. It was an impossible situation that could not be resolved by anyone. No-one dared to be anywhere near Bhasma.
Enter Mohini. Let us leave the Lady Chatterly bit. Seeing Mohini, Bhasma forgot his conflagration experiments on Siva. It was love at first site and marriage was proposed then and there. This happens here also so don't blame the demons alone. She answered that she was under a vow that she would marry only the man who could match her in a dance competition. As a Siva bhkata we would assume the demon was a great dancer always befitting a devotee of Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. How else would he impress Mohini? The competition began and the infatuated demon put up a good show. Indeed when the mind is constipated mind, even human dance superbly! Mohini began to dance with various Mudras, positions of the hands, which required her to frequently touch her head. That could be disastrous to the demon. The poor asura, under the control of moha, did not realize what he was doing, touched his head and reduced himself to an ash heap! One can dance to the call of a man/woman but, boy, watch your step and everything else also!
Like many love stories, there is a sequel to this. After Bhasma is brought down by Mohini, Shiva is enchanted and follows her. Parvati is gazing upon the amorous Shiva and Mohini, hot with jealous anger, yet she is also accepting of the situation, as there is really nothing else she could do, If you can’t fight them, join them and it is a pious Hindu lady situation here. Now, Lord Shiva is a self-controlled Mahayogi. He was also committed to his wife, Parvathi. However when Mohini form was before him, he was bedazzled instantly. It is said that semen fell on the ground to become Linggas.
In Vishnu Purana, the semen is stated to have given birth to Hanuman, someone who helped Rama, Vishnu’s avatar win the war. The Shiva Purana states that at the glimpse of Mohini, Siva spurts his seed which was collected to become Hanuman. Thus Hanuman is a by product of Vishnu by proxy and Siva. There are some versions of Ayyapan’s origins, also depicted in Kathakali, along similar lines. There is some clarity here at least, as in the Mitra-Varuna episode they both spill at the sight of Ahalya and it is all collected below in a single pot from which Agasthiar emerges.....DNA problem here.
A myth describes a situation in which Aravan, a young unmarried man, had become virtually invincible because apparently he had never laid eyes on a woman. Extreme chastity has its virtues. Aravan wanted to enjoy a wedding night with a wife, but no woman wanted him since he would be dead in a few days. Krishna, Vishnu’s avatar became Mohini and married Aravan, days before his appointed death. They had sex that night and his bonds of chastity are broken by Mohini beyond redemption. Krishna then kills the poor fellow in battle. What a price to pay for the pleasures of the flesh. But he leaves a reputation as a model celestial transsexual. Mohini plays an important part in the mythology behind the annual Kundhavar-Aravan Festival for Hijras - a folk made up of intersex people. During the festival, Hijras re-enact Mohini’s one-day marriage to Aravan. Kathakali also portray this event.
This Siva-Bhasma-Mohini saga forms a delightful sequel in the Kerala classical dance forms called Mohiniattam, the dance of Mohini. Actually it means the Sway of Mohini. Mohiniattam is a modest way to describe extremely erotic dance movements. Most Kathakali dancers are men, but apparently Mohiniattam is a woman’s affair to play a sway dance movement. They expose pure shringara and the erotic elements of Mohini. The dance is exceedingly beautiful. Some men Mohiniattam performers also take credit for performing woman’s hip movements, if not better. For what it is rupees worth, they get the spectator folks spell bound in the re-enactment of Bhasma loosing his mind for god’s sake! And Mohini still lives by making public appearances in drama halls or outside it.....as Goddess or otherwise.
Yogi Ananda Saraswati