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Mahavidya

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Mahavidya

From Udayabhaaskarbulusu Encyclopedia

Mahavidyas (Great Wisdoms) or Dasa Mahavidyas are a group of ten aspects of the Divine Mother or Devi in Hinduism. The Ten Mahavidyas are Wisdom Goddesses, who represent a spectrum of feminine divinity, from horrific goddesses at one end, to the ravishingly beautiful at the other .

The development of Mahvidyas represents an important turning point in the history of Shaktism as it marks the rise of Bhakti aspect in Shaktism, which reached its zenith in 1700 CE. First sprung forth in the post-Puranic age, around 6th century C.E., it was a new theistic movement in which the supreme being was envisioned as female. A fact epitomized by texts like Devi-Bhagavata Purana, especially its last nine chapters (31-40) of the seventh skandha, which are known as the Devi Gita, and soon became central texts of Shaktism.

Etymology

Names

Shaktas believe, “the one Truth is sensed in ten different facets; the Divine Mother is adored and approached as ten cosmic personalities,” the Dasa-Mahavidya (“ten-Mahavidyas”). The Mahavidyas are considered Tantric in nature, and are usually identified as:

  1. Kali: The ultimate form of Brahman, “Devourer of Time” (Supreme Deity of Kalikula systems)
  2. Tara: The Goddess as Guide and Protector, or Who Saves.Who offers the ultimate knowledge which gives salvation(also known as Neel Saraswati).
  3. Lalita-Tripurasundari (Shodashi): The Goddess Who is “Beautiful in the Three Worlds” (Supreme Deity of Srikula systems); the “Tantric Parvati” or the “Moksha Mukuta”.
  4. Bhuvaneshvari: The Goddess as World Mother, or Whose Body is the Cosmos
  5. Bhairavi: The Fierce Goddess
  6. Chhinnamasta: The Self-Decapitated Goddess
  7. Dhumavati: The Widow Goddess,or the Goddess of death.
  8. Bagalamukhi: The Goddess Who Paralyzes Enemies
  9. Matangi: the Prime Minister of Lalita (in Srikula systems); the “Tantric Saraswati”
  10. Kamala: The Lotus Goddess; the “Tantric Lakshmi”

The Mahabhagavata Purana and Brhaddharma Purana however, list Shodashi (Sodasi) as Tripura Sundari, her another name. The Guhyatiguyha-tantra associates the Mahavidyas with the ten avatars of Vishnu, and states that the Mahavidyas are the source from which the avatars of Vishnu arose. All ten forms of the Goddess, whether gentle or terrifying, are worshiped as the universal Mother.

Legend

The ‘Mahabhagvata Purana‘, describes the origin of Mahavidyas, as the result of an argument between Shiva and Sati (Dakshayani), an earlier incarnation of Parvati. When Shiva and Sati were wed, Sati’s father Daksha disapproved of the match and organized a great sacrifice to which he invited everyone except for the newlywed couple. Sati, incensed, insisted on attending the sacrifice, which Shiva forbade until Sati transformed herself into a terrible appearance and multiplied into the ten Mahavidyas, whereby she subdued Shiva’s resistance and attended the sacrifice.

Worship

In their strong associations with death, violence, ritual pollution, and despised marginal social roles, they call into question such normative social “goods” as worldly comfort, security, respect, and honor. The worship of these goddesses suggests that the devotee experiences a refreshing and liberating spirituality in all that is forbidden by established social orders.

The central aim here is to stretch one’s consciousness beyond the conventional, to break away from approved social norms, roles, and expectations. By subverting, mocking, or rejecting conventional social norms, the adept seeks to liberate her or his consciousness from the inherited, imposed, and probably inhibiting categories of proper and improper, good and bad, polluted and pure. Living one’s life according to rules of purity and pollution and caste and class that dictate how, where, and exactly in what manner every bodily function may be exercised, and which people one may, or may not, interact with socially, can create a sense of imprisonment from which one might long to escape. Perhaps the more marginal, bizarre, “outsider” goddesses among the Mahavidyas facilitate this escape. By identifying with the forbidden or the marginalized, an adept may acquire a new and refreshing perspective on the cage of respectability and predictability. Indeed a mystical adventure, without the experience of which, any spiritual quest would remain incomplete.

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