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.
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.
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.
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