Category Archives: d). Bhuvanesvari

The Goddess Bhuvanesvari

The Goddess Bhuvanesvari

Within the Tantric tradition, the Ten Mahavidyas (literally meaning “Great knowledge”) are believed to be the ten forms of Mahadevi, the Great Goddess (Kinsley 57). The Mahavidyas are separate goddesses, but they are part of and understood to be different facets of Mahadevi. The term Devi is usually used to refer to the wife of Siva – whether Parvati, Durga, or Kali – but it is also used to describe other goddesses (Hawley et al., 318). Mostly, it is used to describe the Goddess, the one whose form is absolute feminine reality (Hawley et al. 318). She has many sides, all expressed through different goddesses, including the Mahavidyas. Her gentle side is worshiped through Uma, Parvati, Bhuvanesvari, Savitri, Sita, and many others (Prakashan 16). Her terrible or ferocious side is worshiped through such goddesses as Kali, Bhairavi, and Chamunda (Prakashan 16).

The first of the Ten Mahavidyas is Kali, “The Black One,” a fierce and terrible warrior (Hawley et al. 320). Following are Tara (The Goddess Who Guides Through Troubles), Tripura-sundari (She Who is Lovely in the Three Worlds), Bhuvanesvari (She Whose Body is the World), Chinnamasta (The Self-Decapitated Goddess), Bhairavi (The Fierce One), Dhumavati (The Widow Goddess), Bagalamukhi (The Paralyser), Matangi (The Outcaste Goddess), and finally, Kamala (The Lotus Goddess) (Kinsley 9). [The order and composition of the Mahavidyas varies somewhat, but for the purpose of this essay I will use the list above]. In some myths the Mahavidyas originate from Kali. In others, Sati, Parvati, Durga, or Sataksi become the source of the Mahavidyas when they assert their independence from their husbands or male counterparts (Kinsley 22). However, the Mahadevi myth is the version most widely accepted.

The Mahavidyas are charged with maintaining cosmic order and morality (dharma) by eliminating evil and corruption (Kinsley 20). Each was created to bring a positive change to the world. Kali was created to kill the demons of the world; Bhuvanesvari was created to save the world when it sank beneath the waters of the cosmic ocean (Kinsley 21). Demon slaying is a key motif. The Mahavidyas are believed to be based on the ten avatars of Visnu, his divine descendents that manifest in the physical world (Bhattacharyya 229). Each Mahavidya corresponds to an avatar. All the Mahavidyas are associated with magical powers, especially Bagalamukhi. Some have powers of attraction, others can kill a person just by willing it (Kinsley 56).

Bhuvanesvari, the fourth of the Ten Mahavidyas, embodies and controls the cosmos (Kinsley 131). According to one myth, she was created when the sun god, Surya, after receiving soma from the rsis, created the three worlds (the ancestral, human, and godly planes). Bhuvanesvari then appeared to protect and watch over the worlds, having not existed until they were brought into being. For this reason she is regarded as “mistress of the world” (Kinsley 129). She is considered part of the world or the world itself, both a source of creation and creation personified. She is queen of the cosmos. From her the world was created, and will be returned to at the end of the cycle. She is the mother of Brahma, Visnu, and Siva (Kinsley 134). Thus the cycle of creation, maintenance, and destruction is formed and maintained by Bhuvanesvari.

Bhuvanesvari is particularly associated with the earth and creation, and provides the energy needed for existence and life (Kinsley 131). She is believed to embody each of the five elements (bhutas), and to have an intimate connection to the physical world (prakrti) (Kinsley 133). Bhuvanesvari can manifest as mountains, stars, rivers, anything; she is pervasive in the physical world (Kinsley, 130). She is also known as Bhuvana (Mistress of the World), Sarvesi (Mistress of All), Sarvarupa (She Whose Form is All), and Visvarupa (She Whose Form is the World), to name a few (Kinsley 131). Unlike some of the other Mahavidyas, Bhuvanesvari did not have a wide-spread cult or following prior to be incorporated as one of the Ten (Kinsley 129).

Bhuvanesvari is beautiful, with a smiling face, flowing black hair, and a golden complexion (Kinsley 140). Sometimes, she is described as having a red, or bluish pallor (Kinsley 133). Her features are feminine: a small nose, large eyes, and full red lips (Kinsley 140). Her breasts are full and leaking milk, emphasising the motherly role she plays in the cosmos (Kinsley 11). In one myth Siva grew a third eye so that he could appreciate her beauty more (Kinsley 140). Her smiling and gentle demeanour is in contrast to some of the other Mahavidyas, such as Kali. They are still beautiful, but they are more fearsome; depicted as standing on corpses, wearing garlands of human heads, or naked and covered in blood. All the Mahavidyas are fearsome, but this aspect is stressed as a key feature in some and not in others. Kali, Tara, Bagala, Dhumavati, and Chinnamasta are always described as terrible, frightening, and fierce. The formidable nature of Tripura-sundari, Bhairavi, Matangi, and Bhuvanesvari is mentioned, but not as much emphasis is placed on this feature. Only Kamala is regarded as benevolent (Kinsley 37).

Bhuvanesvari’s beauty is said to reflect the beauty of creation and the physical world (Kinsley 141). She is gracious and kind, giving the world all it needs to survive. She protects creation and fights against sources of disorder, restoring the cosmic balance so that the world may thrive. Bhuvanesvari is said to have developed a third eye to better watch over creation (Kinsley 141). Often, she will appear as different manifestations to slay demons and restore balance (Kinsley 134).

Bhuvanesvari is depicted with a noose and goad; both symbols suggest control (Kinsley 141). Some believe that she uses the goad for discipline and to control evil emotions such as anger, lust, and obsession. The noose symbolizes the barriers that keep us from knowing our true selves (atman), and by proxy, attaining liberation (Kinsley 141). However, countless interpretations exist. Her other two hands convey gestures of fearlessness and conferring boons (Kinsley 141). She also appears with a red lotus and a jewelled bowl, symbolizing growth and wealth (Kinsley 141). Not surprisingly, worship of Bhuvanesvari is believed to bring the devotee material wealth and spiritual well-being (Kinsley 143).

She is seated on a lotus, a position of power with connotations of creation (Kinsley 142). In another creation myth, Brahma is depicted sitting on a lotus flower growing out of Visnu’s navel. The lotus symbolises power, purity, and transcendence (Kinsley 142). Also, a crescent moon is present on her forehead, believed to symbolize replenishment, the endless cycles of creation and destruction, from which the world is produced each time (Kinsley 142).

Bhuvanesvari does not have a consort, which is unusual for female deities in the Hindu tradition. The same is true for the other Mahavidyas, although some believe that they are loosely associated with Siva, who is sometimes portrayed as the consort of the Goddess (Kinsley 62). For those who are associated with male deities such as Kali, Tara, and Kamala, the association is down-played or ignored when they are worshiped as part of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 63). If they are depicted with male counterparts, they dominate him, most often by standing on his prone form (Kinsley 63). Bhuvanesvari is, however, associated with the formless Brahman, one of Visnu’s avatars, as are all the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 16).

Sakta devotees at Bhuvanesvari Temple (Kamarupa, Assam)

Devotion to Bhuvanesvari is believed to confer auspiciousness, attraction of others to you, control over others, especially enemies, and the power to manifest any spoken thought (Kinsley 143). Tantric worship of the Mahavidyas culminates in self-awareness and is said to awaken the deity within oneself (Kinsley 51). This enlightenment is key to achieving moksa or liberation. Also sought after is heightened sensory perception (Kinsley 51). Furthermore, boons may be granted by the goddesses to devout followers, bestowing wisdom and magical powers (Kinsley 51). Temple worship varies considerably between the Mahavidyas. Some, like Kali and Laksmi (Kamala) have temples throughout India. Others, including Bhuvanesvari, have few places of worship. Temples that worship the Mahavidyas as a group are also rare (Kinsley 16). However, depictions of the Mahavidyas can usually be found on temple walls dedicated to most goddesses (Kinsley 15).

In conclusion, Bhuvanesvari plays a minor if any role within the Hindu tradition. Her role becomes somewhat more prominent within Tantric worship, but she is still a minor goddess. Other Mahavidya goddesses receive more attention in both, such as Kali and Kamala, also know as Laksmi. Despite her important function in the world, writings on her are few and far between. She is almost never studied or worshiped outside the group of Mahavidyas. This is unfortunate for she plays a pivotal role in the cosmos and her character and worldly position demand more attention.

References and Recommended Reading

Bhattacharyya, Narendra (1977) The Indian Mother Goddess. Delhi: Manohar Book Service.

Donaldson, Thomas (2002) Tantra and Sakta Art of Orissa. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Hawley, John & Wulff, Donna (1996) Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1997) Tantric Visions of the Devine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyans. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Pitchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Prakashan, Rekha (1980) The Little Goddesses (Matrikas). New Delhi: Caxton Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (2003) Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess: The Liturgy of the Durga Puja with Interpretations. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Samuel, Geoffrey (2005) Tantric Revisionings: New Understandings of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Tewari, Naren (1988) The Mother Goddess Vaishno Devi. Delhi: Lancer International.

Related Topics







Demon slaying





Durga Purja


Kamala (Laksmi)









Tantric Goddess Worship



Vishnu (Ten Avatars)


Websites for Further Reading

Article written by Emilyne Jankunis (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Ten Mahavidyas

When discussing the ten Mahavidyas, it may seem like a daunting task to understand how goddesses, one with a garland of skulls, another with clothing made of severed body parts, and a third with a habit of cutting off her own head, can be highly regarded within the Hindu tradition, but they are. These obscure beings are regarded as being significant to the basic themes of Hindu beliefs and spirituality (Kinsley 1998:1). “It seems that there is logic to the group as a whole and that even its most outrageous members, if understood within their proper context, reveal important spiritual truths” (Kinsley 1998:1). The idea of this group of ten goddesses has been around since the early medieval period (Kamakala-khanda 65-66); specific goddesses within this group even predate this time and continue to be well known in the present day.

The origination of the ten Mahavidyas is not always agreed upon. Some say that the ten Mahavidyas as a whole seem to be “a medieval iconographic and mythological expression of an aspect of Mahadevi theology” (Kinsley 1986:161). There are numerous myths about the Devi in which she is described as producing these goddesses from different parts of her body (Vamana-purana 30.3-9). The Devi is thought to assume these different incarnations in an attempt to maintain cosmic stability (Devi-mahatmya 11.38-50).

“The ten Mahavidyas, at least in part, are probably a Sakta version of the central Vaisnava idea of Visnu’s ten avataras, who appear from time to time to maintain the order of dharma” (Sircar 48). The Guhyatiguhya-tantra confirms this idea by providing a list of the Mahavidyas and associating each one with a corresponding avatara of Visnu (Kinsley 1986:161). However, the ten Mahavidyas are much more than a Sakta representation of Visnu’s avataras; they display significant contrast from the avataras in respect to their appearance and function (Kinsley 1986:161-162).

The context of the story of Sati and Siva is where the true myth of the ten Mahavidyas’ origin arises. Daksa, Sati’s father decides to perform a notable sacrifice and invites every one that resides in the heavenly spheres to attend. That is, everyone aside from his daughter and her husband Siva. Daksa disapproves of Siva’s unkempt appearance and uncivilized behavior and does not want him to taint the legitimacy of the affair (Kinsley 1986:162). Sati is outraged and makes the decision to interrupt the sacrifice, but Siva forbids her to do so. Sati becomes furious, and as she loses her temper, she embodies an appalling form before eventually transforming and multiplying into ten forms, the ten Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1986:162).

Kali, “the black goddess”, is a perfect example of a goddess that is known outside of the goddess cluster. Although the order, names, and number of the Mahavidyas can vary according to different sources, Kali is always included, and is typically named first. Kali is commonly referred to as the most important or primary Mahavidya (Woodroffe 361). In some occurrences, it appears that the rest of the Mahavidyas originate from Kali, or are in some way differing embodiments of her (Kinsley 1998:68). Descriptions of Kali are altered depending on which account is being looked into, but sources tend to agree on several characteristics. Kali is almost always regarded as being a dark presence with a dreadful appearance. She is considered to have four arms, but what they hold are not always agreed upon (Kinsley 1998:67-68). Some sources cite Kali as holding a bloodied cleaver and a severed head in her left hands, while her right hands gesture blessings and a symbol of “fear not” (Kinsley 1998:9). Others say that along with holding a severed head, she carries a jar full of liquor mixed with meat (Kinsley 1998:68). She is commonly regarded as being horrific looking, covered in blood and body parts. Whatever her description, Kali has taken her place as the primary Mahavidya. The Saktisamgama-tantra explicitly says, “All the deities, including the Mahavidyas, Siddhi-vidyas, Vidyas, and Upa-vidyas, are different forms that Kali assumes” (Bhattacharyya & Dvivedi 7-8). Several authorities then view Kali as a symbol of ultimate reality; she truly reveals the nature of fully awakened consciousness (Kinsley 1998:79).

When the Mahavidyas are listed, Tara is typically immediately listed after Kali. This placement would suggest a proposal of importance to the group. Her physical appearance is indeed the most similar to Kali among all the other Mahavidyas; the significance is often interpreted as being comparable to that of Kali. There is a great possibility that the Hindu Mahavidya Tara was developed from the Buddhist bodhisattva Tara, but whereas the Buddhist Tara is often known as being compassionate, the Hindu Tara is almost always fierce, dangerous, and terrible to witness (Kinsley 1998:92). Tara is frequently described as having three bright red eyes. (Kinsley 1998:98). Much like Kali, Tara is often depicted as having a sword and a severed head in her hands; Tara also wears a garland of skulls around her neck (Rai 179-180).

Tripura-sundari is typically listed third, following Kali and Tara in the list of the Mahavidyas. Her name translates to “She who is lovely in the three worlds” (Kinsley 1998:113). She is listed under multiple names, but is also said to be a primary Mahavidya, suggesting that she represents absolute reality. Tripura-sundari’s dhyana mantra portrays her as such: “She shines with the light of the rising sun. In her four hands she hold a noose, a goad, arrows, and a bow” (Unknown 193).

Bhuvanesvari, literally “she whose body is the world”, comes next on the list of the Mahavidyas. Bhuvanesvari is linked with the earth and with creation and is thought to be the underlying energy of it all (Kinsley 1998:131). She embodies the dynamics of the world as we know it. “In this sense…she is identified with the mahabhutas (the basic physical elements) and prakrti (nature or the physical world)” (Kinsley 1998:131). Bhuvanesvari, apart from being included in the Mahavidyas, does not appear to have a widespread following of her own (Kinsley 1998:131).

“The self-decapitated goddess” Chinnamasta is also best known for her involvement in the Mahavidyas, and does not have much of an individual following. Chinnamasta is illustrated holding her own amputated head in one hand, with a sword in the other, drinking her own blood, which is spilling from her neck (Kinsley 1998:144). Although early references to Chinnamasta have not been located, there are accounts of goddesses that are suggested to be prototypes of her, displaying familiar characteristics such as being headless, bloodthirsty, and violent (Kinsley 1998:146).

Bhairavi translates to mean “the fierce one”. She wears red clothing and is adorned with a garland of severed heads; her body is smeared with blood (Kinsley 1998:167). A hymn from the Sarada-tilaka describes Bhairavi as being in a position that oversees and proceeds over the three male deities that are typically associated with creation. She is considered to be separate from the gods and even surpassing them. This emphasis is quite common in many hymns regarding goddesses, especially in the cases pertaining to the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998:169). Bhairavi also assumes the role of an educator and creates the Vedas through her wisdom (Kinsley 1998:169).

Dhumavati is known as the widow goddess. She is typically depicted as being ugly, upset, and disheveled; her hands shake and her eyes are full of concern (Kinsley 1998:176). She symbolizes the painful and more burdensome aspects of life (Kinsley 1998:181). Outside of the Mahavidyas, virtually nothing is known about Dhumavati.

Bagalamukhi can be referred to as “the paralyzer”. She emits a grim disposition and is heavily intoxicated. Her complexion is completely golden, embellished by her yellow dress, ornaments, and garland (Kinsley 1998:193). Bagalamukhi is associated with having magical powers. Her devotees are said to reap the rewards of her powers (Kinsley 1998:199-200).

The Goddess Bagalamukhi (one of the Ten Mahavidyas) (Temple Painting, Patan, Nepal)

Matangi is considered to be the “outcaste” among the other goddesses within this cluster. A particular myth pertaining to Matangi touches on the idea of being polluted by associating with the Candalas, or “the untouchables” (Kinsley 1998:217).

Kamala, the final goddess of the Mahavidyas, is known as “the lotus goddess” (Kinsley 1998:223). Kamala is none other than the goddess Laksmi. Among all of the goddesses included in the ten Mahavidyas, Kamala is the most popular and well known. She is “a goddess with almost completely auspicious, benign, and desirable qualities” (Kinsley 1998:225). Kamala is often identified with a variety of blessings that humans ordinarily seek, such as power, luck, wealth, and safety (Kinsley 1998:225).

Even though a couple of the goddesses are presented as being beautiful and harmless, the context of their origin myth makes it evident that the ten Mahavidyas are intended to be fearsome deities.  Their main objective in the myth is to scare Siva into letting Sita have her way (Kinsley 1986:163-164). This overpowering embodiment displays Sita’s assertion of power, suggesting a sense of superiority (Kinsley 1986:164). In both the Brhaddharma-purana and the Mahabhagavata-purana it is suggested that Sati appears in these forms to allow her devotees to achieve ultimate realization (moksa), and so that they may achieve their desires (Kinsley 1986:164).

The ten Mahavidyas are powerful and relevant as a group, but individually, only a select few can stand on their own and parade a widespread individual following. These primary Mahavidyas personify the concept of absolute reality and complete consciousness, which is at the heart of the Hindu tradition.


Bhattacharyya, B. and Dvivdei, Vrajavallabha (1978) Saktisamgama-tantra. Baroda: Oriental Institute of Baroda.

Gupta, Anand S. (1968) Vamana-purana. Banaras: All-India Kashiraj Trust.

Kamakala-khanda (1974) Mahakala-samhita. Allahabad: Ganganath Jha Research Institute.

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine. Delhi: University of California Press.

Rai, R. Kumar (1992) Mantra Mahodadhih. Varanasi: Prachya Prakashan.

Shankaranarayanan, S (1972) The Ten Great Cosmic Powers (Dasa Mahavidyas). Dipti Publications.

Sircar, D.C. (1973) The Sakta Pithas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Vasudeva, S.A. (1963) Devi-mahatmya; The Glorification of the Great Goddess. Banaras: All-India Kashiraj Trust.


Woodroffe, Sir John (1987) Sakti and Sakta, Essays and Addresses. Madras: Ganesh & Co..


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Tantric worship











Severed heads

Cremation grounds

Role of women

Absolute reality

Magical powers

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Jamie Hancock (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.