Category Archives: j) Kamala

Kamala: The Lotus Goddess

Kamala (“she of the lotus”), is the last in the list of the Ten Mahavidyas (great revelations or manifestations), who are a group of Tantric goddesses. Kamala’s place as the last of the Mahavidyas is not addressed in the literature. Although it may be taken as signifying a lesser importance than the others, Kamala is one of the most widely worshipped outside of her relationship with the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998: 223). She is portrayed as auspicious and beautiful, with a lovely golden complexion. She is seated in a lotus posture upon a lotus flower. She has four hands—two holding lotuses and two held in signs of granting blessings and giving assurance. Iconography of Kamala illustrates her being bathed in nectar by two (sometimes four) large elephants. Kamala is represented in a similar manner to the very popular goddess Sri-Laksmi, as Kamala and Sri-Laksmi are considered to be the same goddess (Kinsley 1988; Kinsley 1998).

In early literature, Kamala is referred to as Sri (Glory). She is associated with positive  and auspicious qualities such as royal power, wealth, beauty, and fertility. Sri is associated with the lotus and the elephant, important aspects of her character throughout the literature (Kinsley 1998). The elephants are thought to be symbolic of fertility and royal authority. The significance of the lotus is twofold. First, the lotus symbolizes life, fertility, and the entire created order of the cosmos. Secondly, the lotus symbolizes spiritual purity, power, and authority. Lotus flowers are rooted in mud, yet bloom uncontaminated above the water. Thus, Sri is seen as a pure life force, which transcends the material world, while remaining rooted inside it (Kinsley 1998: 225-226).

Although Sri may have at one point been an independent personality, she became more consistently known as Laksmi (Grace) fairly early in her history (Kinsley 1998). Sri-Laksmi is associated with several male figures throughout the literature. Some texts refer to her as the wife of Dharma, who is responsible for the maintenance of social order (dharma). Other texts emphasize her relationship with Indra, signifying royal authority, fertility, and prosperity. Indra’s kingly power, dominance, and success are said to be dependent on Sri-Laksmi, and in her absence, the king cannot flourish. In some texts, Sri-Laksmi accompanies the god Kubera, the Lord of Wealth, who is associated with growth and fertility (Kinsley 1998: 227).

Most importantly, Sri-Laksmi is thought to be the wife of the god Visnu. Visnu is often depicted as a divine king, associated with the promotion of dharma. Followers of Visnu seek to maintain social order (Kinsley 1998: 227). Hindu myths suggest that Laksmi is revealed, among other desirable objects and beings, when the gods and demons, seeking the elixir of immortality, churn the milky sea. She is thereby granted to Visnu, the leader of the gods (in this myth). Laskmi’s presence with Visnu allows for the security of royal authority; in her absence, royal authority weakens and deteriorates (Kinsley 1998: 227). When illustrated with Visnu, Laksmi is typically shown with two hands, rather than four. In association with Visnu, iconography of Laksmi also depicts her partaking in domestic chores, such as cooking and cleaning. She is often pictured massaging the feet of Visnu, and is shown to be much smaller than him. In this sense, she is portrayed as submissive to her husband, as his modest, passive, and loving wife (Kinsley 1998: 227).

The view of Sri-Laksmi’s passivity differs between schools of thought in Hinduism (Kinsley 1998). In the Pancaratra school of thought, Laksmi plays an active role alongside Visnu in maintaining the balance of the cosmos. She takes over many of Visnu’s roles as creator of the universe and regulator of dharma. In the Sri-Vaisnava school of thought, Sri-Laksmi has a less significant cosmological role, but plays the role of indulgent and forgiving mediator between Visnu and his devotees (Kinsley 1998: 227).

Laksmi has a large following of worshippers, and she is well-known throughout Hindu culture (Kinsley 1998). There are several annual festivals in the Hindu tradition that are dedicated to the worship of Laksmi. She is worshipped by those seeking wealth, prosperity, good luck, and fertility. Merchants worship their account books to encourage Laksmi to reside within them. Farmers worship their crops to promote Laksmi’s presence. Cow dung is also worshipped as a symbol of Laksmi’s powers of fecundity. Worship of Laksmi is thought to drive away bad luck and misfortune, associated with her inauspicious counterpart, Alaksmi (Kinsley 1998: 228).

Less significant to Sri-Laksmi’s following is her role as Kamala among the Ten Mahavidyas. The Ten Mahavidyas include an eclectic array of characters, ranging from fierce goddesses like Kali and Tara, who are associated with images of severed heads and corpses, to goddesses with more benign and desirable qualities, such as Kamala (Kinsley 1998). The Mahavidyas are portrayed both individually and as a group in many goddess temples across Northern India (Kinsley 1998: 1). There are many myths regarding the significance and origins of the Mahavidyas (see Kinsley 1988: 161-165, 1998: 22-36).

The most common understanding is that the Mahavidyas are distinct manifestations of the same goddess (Kinsley 1988, 1998; Dold 49). Oral and literary accounts describe the story of the goddess Sati. The king Daksa, Sati’s father, does not invite Sati’s husband, Siva, to his Vedic ritual. Siva forbids Sati from attending the ritual, and Sati, furious with her husband, becomes the ten Mahavidyas to show Siva her power. The Mahavidyas, surrounding Siva, frighten him so that Sati may get her way. The fear-inspiring Mahavidyas cause Siva to flee, allowing Sati to attend her father’s ritual (Dold 49).

Despite the lack of definite consensus on the origins of the Mahavidyas, many descriptions of their characteristics are consistent across origin myths. The Mahavidyas are frightening, they possess magical powers, and they are dominant to male characters (Kinsley 1998: 36-38). It has also been suggested that the Mahavidyas serve to maintain dharma, or the cosmological order of the world (Kinsley 1988: 161; Kinsley 1998: 38; Shankaranarayanan 3). Many interrelationships between the Mahavidyas have been suggested, including their representation as sisters; forms of great goddesses; stages of life, consciousness, creation and destruction; and the lunar phases (see Kinsley 1998: 38-49).

The Mahavidyas are worshipped in temples, or in Tantric fashion (Kinsley 1998). During temple worship, rituals are performed by priests, and people may join in public worship of the goddesses. Many of the more inauspicious Mahavidyas accept blood offerings, given in the form of animal sacrifice, in addition to offerings of flowers, incense, and fruit. Worship of the Mahavidyas in temples involves conceptualization of these goddesses as existing outside, above, or beyond the worshipper, similar to the worship of other Hindu deities (Kinsley 1998: 49-50). During Tantric worship, the mantra of an individual goddess is recited repeatedly, in combination with specific hand gestures, offerings, and other details (Kinsley 1998: 49-55). Kamala is among the few Mahavidyas to have several temples across India dedicated to her as an individual goddess, as she is most often worshipped as Sri-Laksmi (Kinsley 1998: 49).

In the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is recognizable as Sri-Laksmi; however, there are significant differences in her character. In many ways, Laksmi’s qualities appear to be altered in order to make her a better fit for the Mahavidyas (Foulston and Abbott 124; Kinsley 1998: 228-229). As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala remains a symbol of beauty and prosperity. She is generally still flanked by elephants, who symbolize sovereignty and fertility, maintaining Laksmi’s association with these qualities. Similarly, her consistent association with the lotus maintains her representation of creative consciousness and ritual purity (Kinsley 1998: 228; Shankaranarayanan 110-111).

Differing from her portrayal as Sri-Laksmi, in the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is notably independent from Visnu and other male characters (Kinsley 1998). She is often depicted as seated on a lotus alone, with neither Visnu nor elephants by her side. This greatly contrasts with the way Laksmi is depicted with Visnu, emphasizing the role of the Mahavidyas as independent goddesses, separate from (or dominant to) male characters (Kinsley 1998). As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is separated completely from marital and domestic contexts. In addition to her auspicious and desirable qualities, Kamala is also given more fear-inspiring qualities when she is associated with the Mahavidyas. For example, Kamala’s role as a demon slayer is not portrayed outside of the context of the Mahavidyas. Laksmi is associated with others who slay demons; however, it is only in association with the Mahavidyas that she herself performs any slaying. Kamala’s association with more fierce qualities illustrates the tailoring of Laksmi’s character to meet the fearfulness of the Mahavidyas (Kinsley 1998: 228-230).



Dold, Patricia A. (2011) “Pilgrimage to Kamakhya Through Text and Lived Religion.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 46-61.


Foulston, Lynn and Stuart Abbott (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Portland: Sussex Academic Press.


Jones, Constance, and James D. Ryan (2007) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing.


Kinsley, David (1988) 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: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: University of California Press.


Pintchman, Tracy (2014) Seeking Mahadevi: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2016) Hinduism—the Ebook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.


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



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Mahabhagavata Purana











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This article was written by: Dalaine Kubik (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


The Mahavidyas are a group of ten goddesses from late Hindu literary tradition. They are great revelations also known as manifestations. While some of the goddesses in this group hold individual significance and can be dated back to a much earlier time, the group as a whole acts as an important iconographic and mythological expression of Mahadevi theology (Kinsley 1988: 161). This comes from the concept that the Devi, the great goddess, would manifest herself in a variety of forms. A prominent myth claims that the Devi produces different goddesses from different parts of her body. It suggests she assumes different forms at different times in order to maintain cosmic stability (Kinsley 1988:162). All ten of the Mahavidyas are often depicted in goddess temples throughout India today. While not each of the ten forms is individually celebrated, when shown as a group, the Mahavidyas represent the idea that a particular goddess dwelling in the temple takes many forms.

The origin of the ten Mahavidyas in Hindu mythology comes from a story of the creators Sati and Siva. Sati’s father, Daksa, performs a great sacrifice and invites all of the heavenly kingdoms to attend. The only couple he does not invite is Siva and Sati. The claim is that Daksa does not like his son in law because of Siva’s uncivilized habits and disheveled appearance. Therefore, he purposely neglects to invite him to the sacrifice. Siva is not offended, but Sati is greatly insulted and tells Siva that she is going to attend the sacrifice. Siva forbids her to attend the sacrifice and Sati loses her temper. First, she assumes a dreadful form and then she multiplies herself into ten forms, the Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuvanesvari, Bagala, Dhumavati, Kamala, Matangi, Sodasi, and Bhairavi (Kinsley 1988:163).

Seated on a lotus blossom, Kamala is one of the Ten Mahavidyas who is known as the Great Wisdom Goddess. With a golden complexion, Kamala is the beautiful and fully-realized form of Laksmi, the goddess of wealth, well-being, fertility and prosperity (Kinsley 1999:179-181). In most respects, Kamala is portrayed like the goddess Laksmi. They are in fact the same goddess but Kamala is more esoteric in nature. Kamala sits, the same as Laksmi, with two hands each holding a lotus while the other two hands are bestowing blessings (Amodio 51-53). The lotus signifies purity, auspiciousness, piety and is the direct translation of Kamala’s name in Sanskrit. All of these aspects are also strongly associated with Laksmi. The lotus is a symbol of the universe, is found in every sacred diagram, and is associated with many Hindu deities. It grows from murky waters and then comes forth with large leaves and beautiful fragrant blossoms. This represents the emergence of the pure, limitless Atman (soul) from the restricted material body, and allows a devoted spiritual follower to be untouched by the murkiness of drama, attachment, and ego (Colburn 108). Additionally, the lotus is very nourishing and represents the vital nature of the spiritual path in nurturing our whole self.  

There is a slight difference in iconography between Kamala and Laksmi in that Kamala’s depiction includes two elephants with their trunks raised, a feature which is often absent from images of Laksmi. The elephants, that are depicted surrounding Kamala showering her with water, symbolize the fertile rains of monsoon that bring plants and flowers. This is parallel symbolization to the spiritual wealth that grows through the passion of regular devotion and practice (Danielou 261). The elephants also provide a sense of authority as they are symbols of royalty and status. Since Kamala is the devoted wife of Visnu, preserver of the universe, she is seen as queen and preserver of everything on earth. Kamala is often depicted wearing a dazzling crown on her head, a silk-type dress, a kaustibha gem, and a smiling face (Kinsley 1999:180).

As one of the Ten Mahavidyas, Kamala represents the unfolding of inner consciousness stemming from the foundation of creation (Pintchman 289). As the goddess of material and spiritual wealth and beauty, Kamala is primarily worshipped for her power to eliminate both material and spiritual poverty. In poor economic times, Kamala or Laksmi are worshipped in hopes of bringing material wealth. Altars to Laksmi can often be found in places of business and in individual homes. In the home, a married woman is considered an incarnation of Laksmi. This is attributed to studies that show woman possess a special ability to create wealth from very little (Sharma 1-12). Kamala is referred to as pure creative force and has the power to create beauty and wealth around us. This includes the ability to see beauty in everything. As the creative force, Kamala is also the goddess who blesses families with children. Families having difficulty conceiving or adopting children may offer worship to the powerful Tantric Goddess. Similarly, those who become happily pregnant or have a new addition to their family after much difficulty should offer thanks to Kamala as she is the goddess of fertility, childbirth, and family well-being (Sharma 26).

The profit of worshipping Kamala or Laksmi for the highest spiritual good is not only blessing of material security, but also of spiritual progress. Kamala teaches commitment to the spiritual path through riddance of the drama of our daily lives and bitterness towards others. The true nature of Kamala is the radiant beauty of the cosmos that is manifest in the material world (Kinsley 1999: 202). Kamala is the spirit of nature itself, and she is manifest in the natural world. She can be worshipped by simply spending time in nature and appreciating its profound beauty. Through recognition of her beauty in the natural world, an individual moves further towards liberation (Pintchman 289). A spiritual follower who detaches the fruits of action and finds enjoyment in the acts of service, generosity and prayer for their own sake can truly begin to grasp the inner nature of Kamala, the light of divine consciousness and connection with the self (Colburn 126). Kamala embodies the spirit of giving, receiving graciously and gratefully instead of with greed. She teaches that true wealth is measured by generosity, spiritual depth, and freedom from ego-driven desires. When followers ask something of Kamala in greed, she may grant desires with all of the associated negative consequences. Kamala does have the tendency to remind us that she is also the goddess Kali, who teaches detachment and surrender (Kinsley 1999: 62). This helps to remind followers to trust the way as they find a spiritual path that serves the highest good, instead of being seduced by our own worldly desires for the sake of material gain. In this way, Kamala can be seen as a teacher of financial responsibility in terms of learning to save, paying off debt, investing wisely and without greed, not taking what is not freely given, making charitable offerings, and not spending more than can be afforded.

Kamala can be worshipped to manifest creative vision, eliminate poverty, stabilize your home, open your heart, and deepen spiritual understanding and experience. Laksmi Puja is Kamala’s special holy day which is celebrated on the full moon of Ashvin, typically in early October (Dold, 60-62). Puja simply means devotional worship and followers do not need to wait for a specific day to worship Kamala. She is known to accept all sincere worship. A simple Laksmi and Kamala altar are very similar and can be created by placing a beautiful cloth (white, pink, yellow, or red) on a small table or flat surface that is not directly the ground. Then, one may place a depiction of Laksmi or Kamala on the surface, as well as a vase or plate of flowers, a candle or oil lamp, and some sweet-smelling incense. During Laksmi Puja, it is believed that it is beneficial to place rice stalks or an alternative form of grain at the altar as well. The grain is a symbol of abundance and the foundation of sustenance, both in the physical and spiritual sense. Many followers use a small bell with gentle sounds as it is believed that Laksmi does not like loud noises. On special days, followers will offer a basket or plate that contains a small piece of fine cloth, a small mirror, and comb (symbols of beauty in the manifest world), a small white conch or shell (symbol of clarity), and any kind of coin (symbol of material wealth). Lastly a small cup of coconut water or purified water is placed along with the offering (Hawley 180-185).

The practice of worship involves standing or kneeling in front of the altar and reciting Kamala’s pranama mantra. This mantra praises Kamala as the great goddess Laksmi who is beloved and grants all desires. She is seen as the goddess who encourages the spiritual life in her white form. White symbolizes the color of ultimate reality and presents her as the pure, gentle, independent, powerful, virgin goddess. Simple worship consists of additional movements and behaviours. A follower would use their left hand to ring the bell softly, while taking their right hand to wave the candle or lamp clockwise before the depiction of Laksmi three times. The mantra is repeated and the worshipper bows deeply before the image. A traditional gesture of great respect is kneeling or touching your forehead to the ground. This is when a follower can ask for blessing and offer thanks for all the blessing she has given. The puja ends with another bow. Objects used in worship hold significance and can be considered a blessing for Laksmi or saved for other special days or offerings (Kinsley 1988: 32-35). Presently at the Sri Sri Kamakhya Temple in Assam, India, the inner sanctum known as the garbha grha, which literally means “womb room”, of the temple houses is not only the pitha of Sri Sri Kamakhya Devi, but also of Matangi (Sarasvati) and Kamala (Laksmi). Therefore, when a follower receives the darsana of Kamakhya, they also receive blessing of Matangi and Kamala (Pintchman 289). Kamala is a powerful creative force that encompasses the beauty in everything. Her teachings of commitment to the spiritual path reach to eliminate poverty and create wealth among her devoted followers.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Amodio, Barbara (2011) “The Mahavidya (Great Lesson) of Sacred Transformation in Ten Mahesvan Icons of the Goddess: Secret Identities of Siva and the Goddess (Sakti) as One.” Journal of Indian Philosophy and Religion 16: 51-66. Accessed January 31, 2017. doi: 10.5840/jipr2011162

Colburn, Thomas (1988) Devi Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Danielou, Alain (1991) The Myths and God of Indra: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollington Series. Inner Traditions: Bear & Co.

Dold, Patricia 2012. “Pilgrimage to Kamakhya Through Text and Lived Religion: Some Forms of the Goddess at an Assamese Temple Site.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary Rodrigues, 46-62. Oxon: Routledge.

Hawley, John S. and Donna Wulff (1998) Devi: Goddesses of India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1988) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1999) “Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas.” The Journal of Religion 79, 1:179-181

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

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

Sharma, Arvind (2005) Goddess and Women in the Indic Religious Tradition. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

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Lakshimi Puja

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Article written by: Kirsten Cole (February 2017) 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..


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Severed heads

Cremation grounds

Role of women

Absolute reality

Magical powers

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