The Unlike – Mothers of Indian Tantra

As the auspicious nine days of Chaitra Navaratri come to an end, it is important to draw attention towards one of the goddess cults that which is known to celebrate different aspects of being a woman. Deification of the female principle in Indian mythology is largely associated with her power of creation, therefore, goddess are worshipped as maa, matr, amman and various other names based on regional and linguistic affiliations. However, it is not only the power of procreation that validates female divinization, but also other compelling attributes like martial prowess, protection from calamities, diseases, and other such perils, that make goddess worship so prevalent in India.

The cult of Seven Mothers of Tantric Hinduism also extends beyond the pre defined notions of motherhood, as this form of mātṛ-veneration includes (in part), female divinities which can at best be defined as wild, untamed and freaks!

 


Early 18th century unknown Nepali manuscript depicting the epic battle between Godess Ambika and demon Raktabija
Top row (L-R): Narasimhi, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, and Brahmani
Bottom row (L-R): Varahi, Indrani, Chamunda, and Ambika
Watercolor and ink on paper
Los Angeles County Museum
Doi: http://collections.lacma.org/node/236943

 


Sapta Matrikas with Virabhadra and Ganesha
c. 12th century AD
Findspot: Gopal Khera, Mathura
Government Museum, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh.

 

The cult includes: Brahmani (Shakti/power of Brahma), Vaishnavi (Shakti of Vishnu), Indrani (Shakti of Indra), Kaumari (Shakti of Kartikeya), Maheshvari (Shakti of Shiva), Varahi (Shakti of Varaha), Chamunda (Shakti of Devi). Sometimes with the inclusion of Mahalakshmi, Narasimhi (power of Narasimha), there are eight goddesses in the group. This medieval deity typology include occurrence in groups, theriomorphism and shape-shifting, multiplicity, the ability to fly, extraordinarily variegated appearances, bellicosity, independence, and simultaneous beauty and danger, association with guarding and/or transmitting tantric teachings, and potency as sources of both grave danger and immense power.

 


Matrika Chamunda
8th century AD
Findspot: Dharmashala, Jajpur
Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneshwar

 

This explains the presence of an emaciated hag Chamunda and a sow-faced, pot-bellied Varahi within the venerated cult. Textually none of these goddesses come anywhere close to the “image” of a mother; however in their sculptural depiction they are readily shown with a child, without the ferocity of their physicality being compromised upon. The mothers in their visual form are feminized powers of sustenance, fecundity, contagion, and mortality, hence they continue to be in worship as such.

 


Matrika Varahi
8th century AD
Findspot: Dharmashala, Jajpur
Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneshwar

 

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