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.

Alternative view on Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa

Speaking of Rādhā, we cannot leave out her śaktimānKṛṣṇa. As you know, a number of Tantras correlate Kṛṣṇa with Kālī, who is manifested through him. However, Tantras are an immense ocean of the most diverse possibilities, multidimensional perception of apparently one and the same phenomenon. So for example, according to the Tantra-rāja-tantra (34/11), the Goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī is also manifested through Kṛṣṇa:

कदाचिदाद्या ललिता पुंरूपा कृष्णविग्रहा |
kadācidādyā lalitā puṃrūpā kṛṣṇavigrahā |

Sometimes (kadācit) the primordial (ādyā) Lalitā appears in the masculine form of Kṛṣṇa (puṃrūpā kṛṣṇavigrahā).

It may seem contradictory for those, who are used to dividing the  worshipping of Lalitā and Kālī in a strict way, but Kālī  could also be a part of Śrīkula. When through Śrīkula you obtain the experience of fullness, you come to the liberation from limitations of time, for which Kālī is responsible. Therefore, she is also inseparable from Tripurasundarī. We can say that Kāmakalā Kālī (the highest form of Kālī), worshiped in Urdhvāmnāya (of Kālī–kula krama), is most strongly associated with Tripura. Or, we can consider Tripurasundarī itself as Rakta Kālī (Red Kālī). Thus, we can see one reality from different perspectives.

The unity of Śrī and Kālī-kula is  revealed in the story described in the kaula text the Rādhā Tantra. In short, it describes a long story of how Viṣṇu with the blessings of Tripurasundarī is embodied in the form of Kṛṣṇa, and Lakṣmī in the form of Rādhārānī (in fact, she herself is considered as a manifestation of Tripurasundarī). They both worshiped Kālī and also Kāmākhya, where Kṛṣṇa invokes Kālī into the Rādhā’s body. The first part of the Rādhā-tanra describes the famous mantra of Lalitā Pancadaśī, it also speaks of Ten Mahāvidyās, of which Tripurasundarī is the main one (tasmād daśasu vidyāsu pradhānaṃ tripurā parā). These Mahāvidyās are worshiped in a special way in Śrīyantra by experienced practitioners. The Rādhā Tantra speaks of her as giving realisation of the four puruṣarthas (dharmārthakāmamokṣadāyinī), and because of her worship in kaula-sādhana, Kṛṣṇa realised all siddhis. We know many stories about the successes of Kṛṣṇa, and all His siddhis, according to the Rādhā Tantra, were achieved through this upāsana. The text also frequently mentions  the term ‘yoga’ in relation to tantric sādhana; in the second part of the RT (ślokas 3-4), the union of Kṛṣṇa and Śakti (Rādhā) is called Śakti Yoga. The famous Hare Kṛṣṇa maha-mantra can also be found in there. There is also a description of the preliminary practice of purification (karṇa-shuddhi), the ability to purely hear the tantric mantras of Mahāvidyā. Periodically, recommendations for contemplating sacred places in one’s own body are given there (Ch. 5, ślokas 11-12 or Ch. 14, ślokas 1-2), for example, Govardhan Hill in sahasrāracakra, etc. It also refers to the kula-kuṇḍalinī awakening through yoni-mudrā (Ch. 15 / 19-21). Apparently, the text speaks of yoni-mudrā as the body of the Goddess, rather than the technical practice of haṭha-yoga in the likeness of ‘ṣaṇmukhi–mudrā’. Although, for a long time, it is no secret that the essential elements of tantra are also connected with many practices of the well-known and popular haṭha–yoga, the essence of which is currently understood by  a very small number  from millions of practitioners.

From my point of view, Gaudiya Vaiṣṇavism was once influenced  exactly by vāmācāra, but in a Vaiṣṇava Śakti format. In the  course of time, most likely, everything came down to formal substitutions (anukalpa) and symbolism, so the doctrine became more refined.

Today is the Rādhāṣṭamī festival associated with Śrī Rādhika, Śakti of Kṛṣṇa.

My congratulations and blessings to everyone. Jay Śrī Rādhe!