The Dasa Mahavidyas: The Ten Wisdom Goddesses

In Tantra, worship of Devi-Shakti is referred to as a Vidya. Of the hundreds of tantrik practices, the worship of the ten major Devi's is called the Dasa Mahavidya. These major forms of the goddess are described in the Todala Tantra. They are Kali, Tara, Maha Tripura Sundari (or Shodasi-Sri Vidya), Bhuvaneshvari, Chinnamasta, Bhairavi, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala. These ten aspects of Shakti are the epitome of the entire creation. There are several "levels" at which these Devi's can be worshiped with the prescribed Mantra and Yantra. Like a simple worship of the yantra with the mantra recitation, as a remedial astrological measure, elaborate worship with all tantrik rituals for attaining various siddhis associated with these tantras and for spiritual salvation.

Successful sadhana of these Vidyas gives several boons to the practitioner. The Tantrik-Yogi who has control over his senses and positively inclined uses the boons to guide people and for the benefit of mankind. The ones, whose head starts spinning with success use them for the gratification of the senses, gather a bunch of disciples around them and become fake gurus. The last chapter of Todala Tantra equates Vishnu's ten incarnations with the ten Mahavidya and the worship of these is also prescribed as an astrological remedy - for the 9 planets and the Lagna as follows.

The name, "Mahavidyas", comes from the Sanskrit roots of Maha, which means great and Vidya, meaning, Wisdom, Knowledge, Manifestation or Revelation. The Dus Mahavidyas or the Ten Goddesses are actually ten aspects of the Devi or the Divine Mother in Hinduism. These are Goddesses of Wisdom and represent an entire spectrum of divinity, right from horrific goddesses, to the most beautiful and peaceful deities.




"Kali Kali Mahakali Kalike Papanasini - Khadgahaste Mundahaste Kali Kali Namostu Te"

Kali is regarded as one of the fiercest deities in Hinduism. The word Kali arises from the Sanskrit word "Kaal", which means time. This is also why Goddess Kali is sometimes referred as the Goddess of Death. In actuality, though, Kali is the slayer of the ego in a person. A study of the Goddess reveals that she only killed evil demons, who caused much turbulence in the world. Kali is not in any way associated with Yama, the Hindu God of Death. Interestingly, Goddess Kali is also considered mother by her devotees - and is one of the few Goddesses who are celibate, who renounced the whole world.

Physical attributes

Kali is shown with four arms. In two hands, she hold a sword and a freshly severed head, representing the fierce battle in which she destroyed the demon Raktabija. The other two hands bless her devotees, granting them liberation in this life and in the next. Kali wears a garland of 52 skulls and a skirt of dismembered arms because the ego comes out of identification with the body. Her black or dark blue skin represents the womb from which all creation springs forth and into which all of creation will ultimately return.

She is the pure, un-manifested energy, the Adishakti. Goddess Kali is depicted placing one foot on Lord Shiva, who is pure formless awareness "form" eternally supported by pure awareness.


"Pratyalidhapade Ghore Mundalamala Pasovite Kharve Lambodari Bhime Ughratara Namostu Te"

Tara is often depicted in a form similar to that of Kali. However, there are differences in the depiction - Tara's complexion is blue whereas Kali's can be black or blue. Tara holds a bowl made from a scull in one hand, a pair of scissors in another, a blue lotus in the third hand and an axe in the fourth.

She is draped in tiger skin and has a necklace of skulls. Though depicted to be a very fierce deity, she is considered to be benevolent towards her devotees and showers them with blessings.Tara is the deity of accomplishments and is frequently propitiated by business owners for success. She is also a provider of salvation, and

Shodhasi (Lalita Tripura Sundari)

"Om Aim Hreem Shreem Sri Lalita Tripurasundari Padukam Poojayami Namah"

The above is the simple mantra used in Chakra Pooja or Yantra Pooja, that is, worshipping the Goddess in the form of the Shreechakra Yantra. This is also regarded as the highest form of worship of Lalita Tripura Sundari. Tripura Sundari literally means the "Beauty of the Three Worlds". Goddess Lalita (the one who indulges in play), also referred to as Shodashi (the Vermillion-hued One) and Rajarajeshwari (Queen of Queens), is regarded as the most beautiful one ever.

Physical attributes

Lalita Tripura Sundari is depicted as a sixteen year old (another meaning for Shodashi), thus embodying the sixteen types of desire. She is described as having a dusky complexion and is often depicted in an intimate position with one aspect of Shiva. She is also shown sitting on the Shree Peetham, a throne or pedestal which usually seats most of the major Hindu Gods such as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

An esoteric interpretation is that her body is said to be made up of the collective Shaktis or energies of Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra, that is, she is Brahmani, Vaishnavi and Rudrani respectively.

Lalita holds five flower arrows, noose, goad and bow. While the noose represents attachment; the goad symbolizes repulsion; the sugarcane bow, the mind; and the flowery arrows, the five sense objects.

Devi Tripurasundari combines Kali's determination and Durga's charm, grace, verve and complexion. She has a third eye on her forehead. Clad in red, the richly ornamented Tripurasundari sits on a lotus seat laid on a golden throne. She carries in her hands various attributes associated with Shiva. An aura of royalty characterizes her overall bearing and ambiance.


"Bhuvanesheem Mahamayaam Sooryamandalaroopineem Namami Varadaam Suddhaam Kamakhyaroopineem Shivam"

Bhuvaneshwari, in Sanskrit, means the Creator of the World. Goddess Bhuvaneshwari is the fourth of the Dus Mahavidyas. She embodies the physical cosmos and is considered to give shape to the creation of the World.

Bhuvaneshwari is regarded as the supreme goddess who creates everything and destroys all the unnecessary evils of world. She is also the Mother goddess of Kali, Lakshmi, and Saraswati also Gayatri. The Bija(root) Mantra of Goddess Bhuvaneswari is "Hreem" and she is also known as Om Shakti or Adi Shakti.

It is believed that she is so powerful that even the navagrahas (nine planets) cannot stop her from doing


"Guptadurge Mahabhage Guptapaapapranashini Saptajanmaarjitat Paapaat Traahi Maam Saranagatam"

Chhinnamasta, "She who severs her own head", is also called Chhinnamastika or Prachanda Chandika. This tantric goddesses is a ferocious aspect of the Devi and can be identified by her fearsome iconography.

This self-decapitated goddess holds her own severed head in one hand and a scimitar in the other. Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck, which is drunk by her own severed head and two attendants standing by each side of her. Chhinnamasta is also usually portrayed as standing on a copulating couple.

As the figure of Chhinnamasta suggests, this particular Mahavidya is associated with the concept of self-sacrifice as well as the awakening of the kundalini - the spiritual energy lying dormant within the Sookshma Sharira (subtle body). Chhinnamasta is a mixture of contradictions. She is regarded both as a symbol of selfcontrol on sexual desire as well as an embodiment of sexual energy, depending upon the interpretation of the devotee.

As Chhinnamasta is considered a dark and dangerous deity, she has few temples, mostly found in North India and Nepal. Her individual worship is restricted to Tantric worship by Tantrikas and yogis. Interestingly, Chhinnamasta is recognized by Hindus as well as Buddhists. She is closely related to Chinnamunda - the severed-headed form of the Tibetan Buddhist goddess.

Physical attributes

Chhinnamasta is shown as being red like the hibiscus flower and as bright as a million suns. Portrayed mostly nude, with dishevelled hair, she is considered to be a sixteen-year-old girl with full breasts, having a blue lotus near her heart. Chhinnamasta is also depicted donning a serpent as a sacred thread and a garland of skulls/severed heads, bones and other ornaments around her neck.

She carries her own severed head in her left hand and holds a khatri or scimitar-like object in her right hand, by which she decapitated herself. Three streams of blood string from her neck, one of which enters her own mouth. The others are drunk by her female companions.

Both the attendants are depicted nude as well, with three-eyes, wearing the serpentine sacred thread and carrying the skull-bowl in the left hand and the knife in the right. While Dakini is light-skinned and represents the tamas guna, Varnini is red-complexioned and embodies the rajas guna.

Chhinnamasta is often shown standing on Kamadeva (the god of Love) and his wife Rati, who are engrossed in copulation with the latter, usually on top. Below the couple lies a


"Mahapadmavanantasthe Paramanandavigrahe Shabdabrahmamaye Svacche Vande Tripurabhairaveem"

Bhairavi, the Terrible One, is also the consort of Lord Bhairava, a fearsome, destructive aspect of Shiva. Bhairavi is the very embodiment of destruction and decay. Hence, she is also termed as the Goddess of Decay. Bhairavi's destruction, though, need not always indicate negativity. The principle behind her destruction is that everything that gets

Physical attributes

Goddess Bhairavi is almost indistinguishable from the terrible Kali. They are much the same in looks, except for the fact that Bhairavi is depicted as the consort of Bhairava.

Bhairavi is also referred to as Shubmkari, who is good to good people and terrible to bad ones. Legend has it that, when Bhairavi entered the battle field, her horrible appearance made the demons weak-kneed and cowered under her gaze. Most of the demons would start panicking the moment they saw her.

In Durga Saptashathi, while slaying the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, Bhairavi is seen as the Mahakali. However, she also slays Chanda and Munda (the Chieftains of asuras) and drinks their blood. Hence, Parvathi gives her the name, Chamundeshwari.

Bhairavi in her other forms, is also identified with Durga. In her violent form, she is sometimes shown sitting on a donkey, her body covered with a tiger skin and skeleton, her mouth dripping with the blood of the asuras. She presents the abhaya mudra (gesture which grants the devotee succour) and vara mudhra (bestowing boons on the devotee). Contrarily, she is also shown holding heavy weapons such as a trident, axe, and thunderbolt.

Bhairavi is associated with the Mahapralaya (the Great Deluge at the end of each yuga or epoch), during which all creation is dissolved in the formless waters of destruction. Since everything that is ever created is destroyed, destruction exists everywhere. In that sense, Goddess Bhairavi exists everywhere.


"Devim Koteshwarim Suddhampapaghnim Kamaroopinim Namami Muktikamaya Dehi Muktim Harapriye"

Dhumavati, literally "the Smoky One", represents the fearsome aspect of an old, ugly widow. Like her depictio, she is associated with the inauspicious and the unattractive, such as the crow and the Chaturmas period, which does not augur well at all according to the Hindu calendar. It is believed that Dhumavati manifests herself at the time of the Mahapralaya and is "the Great Void" that exists before creation and after dissolution.

Though Dhumavati is largely associated with ill-omens, her Sahasranama or thousand-name hymn talks about both her positive and negative aspects. She is also referred to as being soft-hearted and a bestower of boons, a great teacher and one who reveals ultimate knowledge of the universe. Her ugly form teaches the devotee to look beyond the superficial, to look inwards and ultimately, seek inner truths, which matter the most.

Dhumavati is also known to bestow siddhis or extraordinary powers on devotees and rescues them from all troubles and ultimately grants them moksha or salvation. Those who wish to destroy evil foes would do very well worshipping Goddess Dhumavati. Interestingly, Dhumavati is also worshipped by single persons, desirous of seeking life partners, by Tantrikas desiring to attain supernatural powers and also by those who want to renounce the material world.

In her temple at Varanasi, Dhumavati goes beyond her inauspicious form and manifests as a local protective deity. Though there are very few temples dedicated to her worship, Tantrikas continue to adore her and worship her in secluded places like cremation grounds and forests.

As a goddess of hardships, hunger, thirst, destruction, death, poverty and despair, Devi Dhumavati is often compared to Nairrti, the God of Sickness and Misery. Dhumavati is believed to have a bad temper and encourage an unhappy atmosphere, creating much rife and quarrels.

Physical attributes

The Dhumavati Tantra describes the goddess as an old, thin and ugly widow, with a pale complexion. She is portrayed as restless and wicked. She wears old, dirty clothes, wears no jewels and has dishevelled hair. Her eyes inspire fear, her nose is long and crooked, and some of her long fang-like teeth are missing, leaving her smile with gaps. Her ears are ugly and rough and her breasts hang down.

One of her trembling hands is held a winnowing basket, while the other has a varadamudra or chinmudra (granting knowledge). Her vahana (vehicle) is a horseless chariot bearing an emblem of a crow and a banner.

The Prapancasarasara-samgraha describes Dhumavati as having a very dark complexion and wearing ornaments made of snakes. She holds a spear or sword and a kapala or skull-cup in her hands. She also has an aged, wrinkled face. Her nose, eyes, and throat resemble those of a crow. She holds a broom, a winnowing fan, a torch, and a club.

She is also sometimes shown as holding a trident. This terrible goddess also sometimes chews the corpses of the demons Chanda and Munda, and drinks a mixture of blood and wine.

Some rare paintings portray her as a full-breasted, beautiful young woman, adorned with the finest gold jewellery. She looks sexually tempting, but is still an inauspicious widow. Some regions of Nepal depict her as a nude woman, wearing a pearl necklace and headband, standing on a peacock, looking into her own reflection in a mirror. A ring of fire, which probably conveys cremation flames, surrounds her.


" Prapadye Saranam Devim Srikamakhyam Sureshwarim Shivasysa Dayitam Shuddham Kamakhyam Kamaroopini"

Goddess Bagalamukhi or Bagala is the One who destroys her devotees' enemies. In parts of Northern India, she is also known as Pitambara and Brahmastra Roopini. She is the one whose face has the power to capture or control. She therefore represents the hypnotic power of the Goddess.

Physical attributes

Bagalamukhi has a golden, glowing complexion and is dressed in yellow. She sits on a golden throne right in the middle of an ocean of nectar, covered with yellow lotuses. A crescent moon adorns her head. She is depicted both as Dwibhuja (two-handed) and Chaturbhuja (four-handed).

The former form shows her as more benevolent. She if shown holding a club in her right hand with which she beats a demon and pulling his tongue out with her left hand. This image is interpreted as an exhibition of stambhana, the power to stun or paralyse an enemy into silence.

She is known for her powers to turn everything into its opposite, such as speech into silence, knowledge into ignorance, defeat into victory and so on. This Mahavidya represents the knowledge whereby each thing must in time become its opposite. Bagalamukhi hence embodies the secret presence of the opposite wherein each thing is dissolved back into the Unborn and the Uncreated.


"Saraswatyaya Namo Nityam Bhadrakalyaya Namo Namah Vedavedantavedanga Vidyasthanebhya Eva Cha"

Matangi is the Tantric form of Saraswati (the She Who Flows Continuously). While Saraswati's energies are directed towards learning, academics, language, and the arts, Matangi's energies are focused inward, on acquiring deeper wisdom.

Matangi is the hence the patron of inner thought and speech. She guides her devotee to Aum, the primordial sound. Considered the daughter of Rishi Matanga, she is worshipped as Goddess Meenakshi at the temple at Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Matangi is actually an aspect of Sati. Appearing just after Bhagalamukhi, Matangi is closely associated with the Poornima, the full moon - the 'night of intoxication'. She is believed to grant control over all forms of speech, including poetry and music. She is associated with the throat chakra.

Physical attributes

Matangi is depicted as having three eyes, dark (blue-black or dark emerald) complexion, extremely beautiful and sensuous, with large breasts, slender waist and long, flowing locks. She holds a goad, a noose, a sword and a sarod, a musical instrument. Of course, these items differ from region to region.

Matangi is considered to be born as a chandala or outcaste. Her father was a chandala who was raised as a Brahmin. Maybe this is how she originated as a tribal or non-Vedic deity.

Devi Matangi is associated with strong sexual energy, the expression of which may take several forms. Though part of the Mahavidya group of Shaktis, Devi Matangi is complete in herself and is regarded as the most potent Sacred Feminine.


"Sadachara Priye Devi Shuklapushpamvarapriye Gomayadishuchiprite Mahalakshmi Namostu Te"

Kamala is closely identified with the Tantric form of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Kamala is the goddess of creation and consciousness. This strikingly beautiful goddess with golden skin and is shown either seated or standing on a fully bloomed lotus, flanked by elephants on each side.

Kamala's greatest power is the destruction of poverty, both material and spiritual, and the bestower of wellbeing, prosperity and fertility. In fact, both Lakshmi and Kamala are the same goddess, though the latter is more esoteric in nature.