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Dasa Mahavidhyas, The Navratri Series


Colour lithograph representing one of the ten aspects of Devi- Kali, Tara, Shodashi, Bhuvaneshvari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi, and Kamala, c.1895, Calcutta, © The Trustees of the British Museum, 2003,1022,0.37


Dasa means ten and Mahavidhya means ‘great knowledge’. The Dasa Mahavidhyas are the Ten Great Wisdom Goddesses. They are known from the 10th century, some even earlier than that. The Mahavidhyas are both fierce and gentle goddesses and largely form part of tantric texts within the Hindu pantheon.


Kali is the Adi or primary Goddess in this group of Goddesses. Tara, Tripura Sundari (Sodasi), Bhuvaneshvari, Chinnamasta Bhaiarvi, Dhumavati, Baglamukhi, Matangi and Kamala constitute the Dasa Mahavidhyas. A devotee can choose a goddess with the help of a Guru or spiritual master. He will give you the mantra of a goddess to worship and meditate upon to fulfil your worldly or spiritual desires.

Shiva Carrying the Corpse of Sati on His Trident, Himachal Pradesh, Kangra, circa 1800, ©LACMA, (79.1)


Texts such as the Tantrasara, Sakta–pramoda, Saktisamgama-tantra are the primary texts for the Dasa Mahavidhyas. There are many stories associated with the origin of the Dasa Mahavidhyas. The most popular one is that associated with Sati. Enraged by the fact that her father Daksha, refused to invite her ascetic husband Shiva to the yagna or sacrificial fire, Sati was furious. Seeing her enraged Shiva tried to flee and ran in all ten cardinal directions where the ten forms of the Mahavidhyas created by Sati stopped him from getting away- Kali stood in the south, Tara above him, Chinnamasta to the west, Bhuvaneshvari to east, Dhumavati southeast, Baglamukhi to the north, Matangi to the northwest, Tripura Sundari( Sodasi) to the southwest.


It is a generally accepted practice that a Guru gives you a bij mantra or a seed syllable of a goddess for you to pray to and also directions of worship and rituals to be performed to help raise ones consciousness. These mantras and directions of worship are generally secret, and one requires a guru to initiate this tantric sadhana. There are yantrasassociated with each of the Mahavidhyas. These yantras are mystical diagrams, often geometric and are used as an aid to meditation.

Kali Yantra shrine, India, 19th century, bronze, © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 12.2006


Over the next nine days we will look at all ten of the Goddess with images and translations of the Beej Mantras, Gayatri mantras and iconographic descriptions in different tantric texts associated with each of them, to better understand them.


Suggested readings:

Shankarnarayanan, S (1972). The Ten Great Cosmic Powers: Dasa Mahavidyas (4 ed.). Chennai: Samata Books

Kinsley, David R (1987). Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass Publication

Kinsley, David R (1997). Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Berkeley: University of California Press


The post has been written by Rajeshwari Shah. Rajeshwari has a Masters in Art History and is interested deeply in Indian culture and religion with a special interest in Indian miniature paintings. She can be found on Instagram @rajeorchha






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