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.

Elements of yoga in Tantras

Despite the fact that some traditions criticise methods of other sampradāya, sometimes it happens, however, that they themselves utilise them. For example, Abhinavagupta and others criticised Patañjali’s methods. Even though you can often come across the usage of methods of yoga in Kaśmir Śaivism and other tantric traditions, they are actually considered there as an integral part of tantra. In the same way as tantra, they are supporting elements on the path of yoga. I can cite a simple example of such quotations from the description of several techniques from Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra (VBT), which were commented by Śivopadhyaya. In one part, he explains a method from VBT quoting Patañjali, and in another he quotes Viveka-mārtaṇḍa of Gorakśanāth.

सर्वस्रोतोनिबन्धेन प्राणशक्त्योर्ध्वया शनैः |
पिपीलस्पर्शवेलायाम् प्रथते परमं सुखम् || ६७ ||

sarvasrotonibandhena prāṇaśaktyordhvayā śanaiḥ |
pipīlasparśavelāyām prathate paramaṁ sukham || 67 ||

By blocking all channels (jñānendriyas), the force of prāṇa slowly goes upwards. Then there is a sensation like the motion of an ant, and it comes the highest state of euphoria.

First of all, it is clear that it is a description of yoni-mudrā (or ṣaṇmukhi-mudrā). Also, there is an interesting description of kuṇḍalinī movement, which is characterised as pipīlikā-calana (like the motion of an ant) in Nātha texts. That could often be found in Nātha texts in the description of Śakti uprising, in addition to some other motions like vihaṅgama (bird), sarpa (snake) etc. Furthermore, Śivopadhyaya, in his comments to this technique quotes Patañjali, where he defines prāṇāyāma.

.बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृित्तः देशकालसङ्ख्यािभः पिरदृष्टो दीघर्सूक्ष्मः॥५०॥

bāhyābhyantarastambhavṛttirdeśakālasaṅkhyābhiḥ paridṛṣṭo dīrghasūkṣmaḥ 50

The fluctuations of prāṇa could be outward and inward (exhales and inhales), it could also come to a standstill (of breathing). It should be observed, that this process would be elongating, subtle, happens according to time, place and quantity.

Also, Śivopadhyaya cites sutra 49, where Patañjali defines prāṇāyāma as a cessation (vicchedaḥ) of inhales and exhales (śvāsapraśvāsa). Although the term ‘viccheda’ could indeed be translated like that, I would define it in other way. It could also mean ‘cutting off’, like something that is no longer needed ‘comes off’. If the goal of prāṇāyāma is calming of consciousness and prāṇa (with which it’s connected), than it is exactly ‘cutting off’ prāṇavṛtti and cittavṛtti. But, it is actually happening in a natural way with the involvement in the process of proper contemplation. Consciousness, being agitated by the sensual experience is unable to calm down, it is fragmented. Only when the practise enables an involvement in higher orientations and higher dimension, it subsides and everything in excess ‘comes off’, ‘cuts off’ by itself. It happens as at the level of sensual perception, as well as of prāṇa and mind.

Equally interesting explanation of the quotation from the Viveka-mārtaṇḍa, also the Bhagavadgītā appears in the description of a technique from VBT in the other part of the text:

मध्यजिह्वे स्फारितास्ये मध्ये निक्षिप्य चेतनाम् |
होच्चारं मनसा कुर्वंस् ततः शान्ते प्रलीयते || ८१ ||

madhyajihve sphāritāsye madhye nikṣipya cetanām |
hoccāraṁ manasā kurvaṁs tataḥ śānte pralīyate || 81 ||

With the middle of the tongue (it is the tip, if you look at it from the particular angle), pointed in the centre of something that is widely open (the head area – ‘ākāśa’), you should mentally recite the uprising sound ‘ha’, dissolving your mind in calm.

Śivopadhyaya quotes this śloka:

कपालकुहरे जिह्वा प्रविष्टा विपरीतगा|भ्रुवोरन्तर्गता दृष्टिर्मुद्रा भवति खेचरी ॥

kapālakuhare jihvā praviṣṭā viparītagā|bhruvorantargatā dṛṣṭirmudrā bhavati khecarī

When the tongue points backwards and enters the cavity of skull, and the look is directed between the eyebrows – it is khecarī-mudrā.

Śivopadhyaya points out that it is from the Viveka-mārtaṇḍa (68), although you can come across it in many texts – it seems that many authors have copied it from Gorakśanāth. You can see it in the Dhyānabindu Upaniṣad, the Yogacūḍāmaṇi Upaniṣad, in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā etc. It’s quite obvious that Śivopadhyaya implies khecarī-mudrā, which is known in haṭhayoga in particular, in spite of the fact that in Kaśmir Śaivism it is also known as the practise performed inside consciousness. It is clear, that in India, some masters could claim that practises from different traditions cannot be mixed, but other gurus boldly mixes them and see their interconnection. I incline towards the latter approach. It is interesting that Śivopadhyaya quotes śloka from the Bhagavadgītā while commenting this śloka from VBT:

स्पशार्न्कृत्वा बिहबार्ह्यांश्चक्षुश्चैवान्तरे भ्रुवोः।
प्राणापानौ समौ कृत्वा नासाभ्यन्तरचािरणौ ।।५.२७।।

sparśānkṛtvā bahirbāhyāṃścakṣuścaivāntare bhruvoḥ
prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantaracāriṇau ।। 5.27।।

Leaving with external (world) the tangency (of consciousness), concentrating the look between the eyebrows, a yogin balances prāṇa and apāna.

This technique is known in haṭhayoga as bhrūmadhyadṛṣṭi or śāmbhavī-mudrā. It is for a reason, that it is often associated with sādhana of khecarīmudrā. However, in Kaśmir Śaivism, this practise means the way to achieve pratimilanasamādhi, or bhairavīmudrā (the union of internal and external spaces), that is often acquired through the practise of maithuna in kaula ritual. Then in accord with the Tantrāloka and the Mahārtha Mañjarī (the text which is connected with Gorakśanāth according to nāthas), the sound ‘ha’, which is made during mahākśobha (orgasm) – is the sound of anāhata, which dissolves (laya) the mind. However, it is more likely that in this practise it is implied ‘the internal coition’ of Kuṇḍalinī Śakti, upraised to Śiva in sahasrāra cakra, where Śakti was released in the space above the crown of the head.

All these methods, actually, could become the one unified process for those who don’t stuck in modern yoga, where everything is being ‘divided’,everyone ‘comes up with something new’ because of the obsession with markets and trade concepts.


The connection of Bagalāmukhī Goddess with yoga practice

Originally, the term “Bagalāmukhī” was mentioned in the Vedas, precisely as the name of the Goddess वल्गा माता (valgā mātā, Valga Mata). Further, “va” in the Valgā name was transformed into “ba” by transposition and changing varṇa-vyatyaya letters, “la” and “ga” swapped, so the “Bagalā” term  appeared . The Goddess herself is described as “the one who eliminates enemy magical actions”. She is mentioned in Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda (6.2.10) and Śukla Yajurveda (5.23-24) and described there as the Goddess Vaiśṇavī, eliminating magical effects, as well as the one by virtue of whom prāṇa is controlled.

शिरो वा एतद् यज्ञस्य यद् धविर्धानम् प्राणा उपरवाः ।
हविर्धाने खायन्ते तस्माच् छीर्षन् प्राणाः ।
अधस्तात् खायन्ते तस्माद् अधस्ताच् छीर्ष्णः प्राणाः ।
रक्षोहणो वलगहनो वैष्णवान् खनामीत्य् आह वैष्णवा हि देवतयोपरवाः ।
असुरा वै निर्यन्तो देवानाम् प्राणेषु वलगान् न्य् अखनन्  तान् बाहुमात्रे ऽन्व् अविन्दन्  तस्माद् बाहुमात्राः खायन्ते । इदम् अहं तं वलगं उद् वपामि ।

śiro vā etad yajñasya yad dhavirdhānam prāṇā uparavāḥ ।
havirdhāne khāyante tasmāc chīrṣan prāṇāḥ ।
adhastāt khāyante tasmād adhastāc chīrṣṇaḥ prāṇāḥ ।
rakṣohaṇo valagahano vaiṣṇavān khanāmīty āha vaiṣṇavā hi devatayoparavāḥ ।
asurā vai niryanto devānām prāṇeṣu valagān ny akhanan  tān bāhumātre ‘nv avindan  tasmād bāhumātrāḥ khāyante । idam ahaṃ taṃ valagaṃ ud vapāmi ।

The mention of Valgā occurs in the same context in both Taitiriya Brahmana and Śatapatha Brahmana (3.5.4). Further,  she is mentioned in Atharva Veda in the form of sūktam, as “abolishing the negative magical  impact”. The very term “Valgā” is translated as “harness,” like the one by which horses can be controlled. By the way, a horse is a symbol of prāṇa (the life force) in the Vedas. In the literal sense, it is about management and control. Actually,  that is one of  several meanings of  a term “yoga”, derived from युज् (yuj),  which can mean “harness” too. The earliest mention of the term (from which the yogic context can be derived) that I was able to discover with a help of Tara Michael, a French scholar, is found in the Rig Veda. The first one is the Hymns to Savitur  (RV 5-81.1):

युंजते मन उत युंजते धियो विप्रा विप्रस्य बृहतो विपश्चितः। वि होत्रा दधे वयुनाविदेक इन्मही देवस्य सवितुः परिष्टुतिः ।

yuṃjate mana uta yuṃjate dhiyo viprā viprasya bṛhato vipaścitaḥ। vi hotrā dadhe vayunāvideka inmahī devasya savituḥ pariṣṭutiḥ ।

He is a priest who “harnesses” his spirit, harnesses his sublime thoughts. Only he knows all the rules of sacrifice. Sublime praise of God Savitur.

I.e. there is a hint here that the yogic state is  a basis of full devotion. Which, by the way, we can find in many Purāṇic and Tantric pūjās, where such yogic elements as prāṇāyāma or bhūta-śuddhi always go first in the ritual.

Also in the Hymns to Brahmanapasthi  (RV 1 – 18 6-7):

सदसस्पतिमद्भुतं प्रियमिन्द्रस्य काम्यम् । सनिं मेधामयासिषं ।

sadasaspatimadbhutaṃ priyamindrasya kāmyam । saniṃ medhāmayāsiṣaṃ |

The one, who is a dear friend of Indra, the beautiful lord of the seat, I honor for the sake of gaining intelligence.

यस्मादृते न सिध्यति यज्ञो विपश्चितश्चन ।
स घीनां योगमिन्वति ॥७॥

yasmādṛte na sidhyati yajño vipaścitaścana ।
sa ghīnāṃ yogaminvati ॥7॥

He, without whom the yajña is not  complete, even if he is sincere. He subordinates thoughts through yoga.

Yoga, as a discipline of controlling prāṇa, mind, senses and a body, is  examined in many texts, and in this case it is very  similar in  meaning to that of the Goddess Valgā or Bagalā (Bagalāmukhī). Also, for  a  proper sādhaka, in the first  place, She is the Goddess, helping to subdue or paralyse inner enemies, such as kāma, moha, matsarya, etc. Although, of course, many worldly people, who are worshipping Bagalāmukhī, hope to subordinate external enemies instead of eliminating their internal  ones. That is a form of internal obscuration.  By virtue of Bagalāmukhī, controlling his  prāṇa, mind and indriyas, a sādhaka gradually passes from  a southern āmnāya to the upper one in a state of samyama. There he gains the experience of Bagalāmukhī in the form of light, consciousness or the Goddess Lalitā. Bagalāmukhī is related to the Śri Tradition (Śrikula), and it is no accident that She is mentioned as Vaiśṇavī in the Vedic texts. Although, in some Tantras She is also seen as Kalī of yellow color – Pīta Kalī. In any case, in the form of Kalī, She helps to overcome time  limitations, since there is also a connection between time and prāṇa. If you can  set your prāṇa  to balance and calmness, then you will go beyond time. And it is no coincidence that Bagalāmukhī is connected with Śiva Mṛtyuñjaya – the Сonqueror of death.