Symbolism of the Chinnamastā image

Today is an interesting day, the birthday of Nṛsiṃha, the incarnation of Viṣṇu, and of the Goddess Chinnamastā. According to the Toḍala-tantra, the Ten Mahāvidiyās are associated with the Ten Viṣṇu avatārs.

What do the images of Chinnamastā and Nṛsiṃha have in common? According to one legend, Nṛsiṃha came to destroy the demon HiraṇyakaśipuHiraṇyakaśipu, performing austerities, asked Brahmā not to be killed either outdoors or indoors, either on the ground or in the air, either by humans or animals. Then Viṣṇu appeared in the form of a half-man and a half-lion, he killed the demon on the porch of his palace, placing him over his knee. So the demon was killed in a way that he did not expect. There is also a continuation of this story,  in which Nṛsiṃha gets drunk on the blood of the killed demon and becomes infected with it. After that, Śiva appears in the form of Śarabheśvara and neutralises the blood of the demon in NṛsiṃhaŚarabheśvara is depicted not  just as a lion, but with wings, i.e. he has a great  ability of manifestation in various  realms, since he is able to  fly through the air. Two Goddesses appear from his wings, one is Pratyaṅgirā and the other is Śūlinī Durgā, both of which are related to the elimination of the negative influence or witchcraft on the practitioner. In fact, Śarabheśvara is nothing more than an enhanced form of Nṛsiṃha. I heard from Indian tantrikas that there are no contradictions here, because Viṣṇu and Śiva are  fused in the form of Harihara.

If you  look at the  image of Chinnamastā, you will see that it stands on Kāma, the God of sex, who is in the intercourse with his companion Rati (Goddess of passion). Thus, Chinnamastā  gets energy from passion, but in its essence, this passion is also self-transformation or sublimation. Chinnamastā chopped off her own head and holds it in her hand, while her head drinks a stream of blood from the body. Two other streams are drunk by her two companions. This is a symbol of the three channels, where Chinnamastā herself symbolises suṣumṇā and the other two Goddesses – the channels iḍā and piṅgala. In other words, Chinnamastā is a certain single reality that is present in all channels, in the power of passion and creation. In fact, it is a single indestructible force within every living form. Her mantra is the same as the Vajravārāhī mantra in Buddhism,  who is also known there as the Goddess Khecharī (mudrā) of white color. The name Chinnamastā in the mantra is “Vajravairocanī” (‘the shining lightning’), and the term vajra  could also mean “indestructibility”.

From my experience of worshiping Chinnamastā, I can say that this form is associated with a deep comprehension of one element or aspect of self, through which it is possible to penetrate into all others. You  kind of unite them and go beyond them. In yoga, for example, you exhale smoothly (rechaka) and automatically comprehend the essence of the correct inhalation (pūraka). Through both of them you comprehend the essence of the retention (kumbhaka). Kumbhaka – from the root कुम्ब् / kumb ( something which encompasses, embodies in itself). Therefore,  a  vessel is often a symbol of female genitals  (yonī), from the root यु / yu, – something which connects, forms and holds in itself. Yonī  could also mean something that is associated with  various forms of birth, all creation comes from it, all forms of life, they dissolve in it. Kumbha or a vessel is a symbol of the body, both individual and the body of the universe, all life (amṛta) and the whole universe is in it. A vessel is a symbol of the unity of external and internal space (vyoman), the void inside  and outside a vessel is one in its essence. Therefore, there is one single reality in all our bodies. We  could say that these are parts: inhalation, exhalation, retention, like other parts of yoga, besides prāṇāyāmaāsanapratyāhāradhāraṇāyamaniyama, etc. All of them are one single sādhanā, one yoga, like other yogas (rājakarmajñānalaya). Unfortunately, people have separated all these methods now, although they have one goal and one reality. Once you comprehend one aspect well, you automatically come to the comprehension of its inextricable connection with  all others. Chinnamastā is a very paradoxical symbol, it is a symbol of cutting off all worldly things and at the same time it is a symbol of presence in everything. It is the transcendental, indestructible,  radiant emptiness that generates an abundance of life forms and is present in each such form.  Surely, she is associated with the complete absence of oneself in something, but also with the complete presence of oneself there. Chinnamastā is a symbol of spiritual death in which there is no conditioning by births, she is also a symbol of the fullness of life and the infinite wealth of life. Fear of death and fear of life are usually related. A yogi is one who dies for the world and through this death he is resurrected to a new vision of life in all its beauty and fullness. In this regard, Chinnamastā is a part of the Kālī pantheon (Kālīkūla), because Kālī is connected with time, which is divided into parts, into segments. The term Kālī is feminine from kāla (‘time’), which is  masculine.  It comes from the root कल् (kal),  which is the first gaṇa (group of roots) of ten in Pāṇini, and means सङ्ख्यान (saṅkhyāna – “to count”) , and कला (kalā) is from the same root – “a part of something  general, art, etc.” She teaches to control prāṇa, and through the management of prāṇa leads to going beyond time or death.

Goddess Bālāsundarī in Śrīvidyā and Nāth Sampradāya

This practise you can see in the Śiva Samhitā:

मूलाधारेस्ति यत्पद्य चतुर्दलसमन्वितम् तन्मध्ये वावभव बीजं विस्फुरन्तं तडित्यथम् || १९० ||
हृदये कामबीजंतु कधूककुसुमप्रभम् आज्ञारविन्दे शक्त्याख्य चन्द्रकोटिसमप्रभम्
बीजत्रयमिदं गोप्यं भुक्तिमुक्तिफलप्रदम् एतन्मन्त्रत्रयं योगी साधयेत्सिद्धिसाधकः || १९१ ||

mūlādhāresti yatpadya caturdalasamanvitam
tanmadhye vāvabhava bījaṃ visphurantaṃ taḍityatham ॥190॥
hṛdaye kāmabījaṃtu kadhūkakusumaprabham
ājñāravinde śaktyākhya candrakoṭisamaprabham
bījatrayamidaṃ gopyaṃ bhuktimuktiphalapradam
etanmantratrayaṃ yogī sādhayetsiddhisādhakaḥ ॥191॥

One needs to contemplate vāgbhava-bīja (in Śrīvidyā, it is bīja aiṃ ऐं) in the center of the four-petalled lotus (mūlādhāra), like the trembling light of lightning (vispurana). In the heart (anāhata-cakra) there is kāmabīja (known as klīṃ क्लीं in Śrīvidyā), it is similar to a bandhuk flower (in India it is associated with passion). In the lotus of the ājñā-cakra, there is śaktibīja (in Śrīvidyā they call it sauḥ सौः), it is like ten million moons (candrakoṭisamaprabha). This secret mantra bestows fruit both in the form of spiritual liberation and enjoyment. A yogin must diligently practice these three mantras.

Based on that, some people conclude that this is not a text of the Nāthas, but rather the vedantic one, belonging to the tradition of Śrīvidyā. But I don’t think so, the text could well belong to Nāthas. Because, one of the initiations in the Nātha-sampradāya, known as upadeśī-dīkṣā, implies the worship of the Goddess Bālāsundarī. To begin with, I will give you Her śabar-mantra with my translation. Pay attention to the description of the Goddess:

सत नमो आदेश | गुरूजी को आदेश | ॐ गुरुजीसों अलिय कलिय तारा त्रिपुरा तोतला |
बायें हाथ पुस्तक दायें हाथ मालाजपो तपो श्री सुन्दरी बालाजीव पिण्ड का तुम रखवाला इतना योगमाया स्वरूप उपदेशी मन्त्र सम्पूर्ण भयाश्री नाथजी गुरुजी को आदेश आदेश आदेश ||

sat namo ādeś | gurūjī ko ādeś | oṃ gurujī | soṃ aliya kaliya tārā tripurā totalā |
bāyeṃ hāth pustak dāyeṃ hāth mālā | japo tapo śrī sundarī bālā, jīv piṇḍ kā tum rakhvālā
itnā yogamāyā svarūp upadeśī mantr sampūrṇ bhayā | śrī nāthjī gurujī ko ādeś ādeś ādeś |

We pay respect to the highest being (truth), let there be its will (ādeś). Let there be the will of Guruji, with all respect to Guruji. Soṃ is the expression of the Goddess of Speech (aliya), Kālī (kaliya), Tārā (tārā), Tripurā (tripurā). She holds a scripture in her left hand, and japa-mala in her right. So (itnā) it was your (tum),Śrī Bālāsundarī (śrī bālā sundarī), in the form of the nature of yoga (yogamāyā svarūp), complete repetition (japa) and spiritual effort (tapas) of the upadeśīmantra (upadeśī mantr sampūrṇ bhayā) in the form of a living soul, located inside the body (jīv piṇḍ kā rakhvālā). Let there be the will (blessing) of the respected Ś Guru Nāth (śrī nāthjī gurujī ko ādeś).

It describes exactly the same image of the Goddess Bālā, which is worshipped in the Tradition of Śrīvidyā. We can argue about the varieties of syllables, the differences between Saṃskṛt mantras and Śabar mantras. But, that is the same as, for instance, we confidently say that Gorakṣagāyatrī is not Gāyatrī, because it does not correspond to the metric size, as there are no 24 syllables in it. Or, to argue about the fact that it is not right to consider the Gāyatrī mantra as so-ham. However, if you thoroughly study the topic of metric sizes, you will see that each metric size has many variations. One chandas can have variations with different numbers of akṣaras. On the other hand, Bālā is not limited to three bījas; there are combinations of six, nine, and even sixteen (ṣoḍaśī). Her bījas are parts of the Mahaṣoḍaśī mantra, inside of which there is the pañcadaśī or ṣoḍaśī (mantra) from kādi, hādi and sādi kūṭakṣaras, with the addition of śrīṃ, and also praṇava Om. In fact, the mantra of Tripura Bhairavī is also derived from the mantra of Bālā, in which bījas ha, sa and ra are added. The former is the essence of the Śrī Yantra, and also the form of Kālī. For that reason, virtually all the main mantras of Śrīvidyā are derived from Bālā. In general, Tripura Sundarī in tantrism is the Goddess of ūrdhvāmnāya, oriented on the ideals of mokṣa, the main goal in yoga.

I propose to analyse the shorter śabar-mantra of Bālā from the Nātha-Sampradāya:

The Nātha-mantra of Yoga Māyā Bālā:

ॐ सों इलीं क्लीं श्रीं सों श्रीं सुन्दरी बाला नमः ॥
oṁ sōṁ Ilīṁ klīṁ śrīṁ sōṁ śrīṁ sundarī bālā namaḥ ॥

These bījas are slightly transformed versions of the triakṣari, as well as of other mantras of Śrīvidyā (śriṃ, oṃ and sohaṃ) derived from it.

The Śrīvidyā mantra of Bālā:

ऐं  क्लीं सौः ॥
aiṁ klīṁ sauḥ ॥

Some are compressed according to the principle of pratyāhāra, some, on the contrary, are expanded. Let’s take a closer look.

The bīja सों soṁ is a combination of सोऽहं so̕haṁ and Parā (Śaktibīja सौः sauḥ. The bīja इलीं ilīṁ is simply a modified ऐं aiṁ (vākbīja), because ऐं aiṁ is nothing more than a sandhyakṣara from + , although there could be short variants of them. We get , then if we again add to it, we get . Just like joining + , we get , with bindu it will be praṇava ओं, and if we further ‘strengthen’ it, we will get , which can be a part of the bīja सौः, called Śaktibīja and sometimes Parābīja. In fact, इलीं could be understood as a compressed form that extends from to – the last akṣara of the Sanskrit alphabet (mātṝkā), with the exception of the first akṣara , from which the entire mātṝkā emerges. The bīja क्लीं klīṁ is the kāmabīja without modifications. This is just a small analysis of the parallels between the Nāth Tradition and the Śrīvidyā-tantra mantras. Of course, I cannot give out all the secrets of the mantras to those who are not dīkṣita. Nevertheless, even from that one can see a lot of connections and parallels of seemingly different traditions. In my opinion, the situation here is about the same as in Vajrayana, when many siddhas could not really separate themselves from Buddhism and from Nāthism at the same time. But after centuries, the paths diverged. Although, there are fewer differences between Śrīvidyā and Nāthism, since both traditions are theistic and have much in common.

Goddess Bālā is directly related to Gorakṣanāth, because she is young, just like Gorakṣanāth (bal-jati). Both deities are symbols of living energy, opened to everything new, without the weight of worldly affairs etc.

About Bhuvaneśwari

On the Bhuvaneśwari jayantī I want to write something about her famous and very significant mantra ह्रीँ (hrīm̐), which is sometimes called Mahāmāyabīja (the seed syllable that includes all dimensions). According to the Vedas, the first sound of the original yajña and creation was the famous praṇava Om. Out of it three mātras () three worlds arose, it is also a form of anāhatanāda creating or absorbing the creation. The practice of nāda is very significant for layayoga. However, each tradition has its own forms of praṇava, for example, in the Śаivasampradāya it is the bīja हुं (huṃ), in the Kaulasampradāya it is the bīja ऐँ (aim̐), in the Trika tradition it is the bīja सौः (sauḥ), and for the Śаktas the praṇava will be ह्रीँ (hrīm̐). Since so many do not at all distinguish the concept of tantra with śaktiupāsanā, in India praṇava is often associated with tantrism. Thus, the Goddess Bhuvaneśwari is the Mother of all worlds, of different dimensions (bhuvanas) and is very significant for Śaktism in general.