Daśa Mahāvidyā दश महाविद्या

3. त्रिपुरसुन्दरी Tripurasundarī

This is the third of Mahāvidyā-s and is popularly known as Śrī Vidyā and the Goddess worshiped is known as Ṣoḍaśī. Śrī Vidyā is an ocean with different Guru Lineages. She is called as Tripurasundarī because She rules all the three worlds. In Sanskrit, pura means a city or town. Tripura means three cities or towns. Original reference about Tripura is in Śrī Rudraṁ, as an addition at the end first anuvāka. Śrī Rudraṁ says that Śiva is “tripurāntakāya” which means three cities ruled by demons and antaka means causing death. This refers to a story where Śiva destroyed three cities ruled by three demons. His Consort is Tripurasundarī. Sundarī means beautiful.

Lalitā Sahasranāma 626 is Tripurā, which is explained as below:

“There is an ancient scripture titled Tripura rahasya in the form of dialogue between sage Bhārgava and sage Dattatreya.  The original text consists of three parts – The glory of Devi, Her rituals and knowledge about Her.  This nāma could also mean that She is in the form of all triads.  For example, She is in the form of Brahma, Viṣṇu and Rudra; Icchā, jñāna and kriyā śakti-s; the three kūṭa-s of Pañcadaśī;  creation, sustenance and destruction;  the three nādi-s, iḍā, piṅgala and suṣumna; three worlds, bhūr, bhuva, suvaḥ;  three guṇa-s sattvic, rajasic and tamsic.  She is in the form of all such triads and once these triads are transcended, the Brahman is attained.  Brahman is pure consciousness and can be visualized in three ways.  The first one is paramātṛ-caitanya (consciousness limited by intellect). The second one is pramāṇa-caitanya (consciousness limited by knowledge).  The third one is jīva-caitanya (consciousness limited by individual soul).  These three types of consciousness are also known as triad.”

There are many hymns in Her praise such as Lalitā Sahasranāma, Saundaryalaharī, etc. She is worshiped in Śri Cakra, which is considered as one the most auspicious yantra-s (mystical diagram supposed to possess occult powers, if properly consecrated). She is worshiped in Śri Cakra through navāvaraṇa pūjā. Complete explanation of Śri Cakra and navāvaraṇa pūjā is available in this link Understanding and worshiping Śri Cakra. Tripurasundarī manifests in different shapes and forms such as Bālā Tripurasundarī, Lalitāmbikā, etc. Out of the ten Mahāvidyā-s, Śrī Vidyā is considered as the most auspicious and powerful. Śiva is often compared to the sun and Tripurasundarī to moon. During full moon days, She is exactly opposite to Śiva and when She prevails in the full moon, Her mantra form is Pañcadaśī. During new moon days, She conjoins with Śiva and hands over Her sincere devotees to Him for Liberation. During new moon days, Her mantra form is Ṣoḍaśī. It is always better to repeat Her mantras during full moon days and new moon days.

She is worshiped in Śri Cakra and all the gods and goddesses have a place either in Śri Cakra or in Śri Nagara, which is full of forts and forests. Journey through Śri Nagara towards Śri Cakra is explained in Journey to Śri Cakra. One is entitled to worship Śri Cakra only after proper initiation. Great importance is attached Guru in Śrī Vidyā. The ultimate aim of Śrī Vidyā is to consider that there is no difference between Guru, the mantra initiated and Her. When this triad dissolves in the mind of  sādhaka, She reveals Herself to the sādhaka. From this point onwards, She takes over the sādhaka as his Guru. But when She reveals Herself? This is explained in Lalitā Sahasranāma 870 and 871, which are reproduced below.

Antarmukha-samārādhyā अन्तर्मुख-समाराध्या (870)

She is worshipped by those who look within.  She has to be realized by internal search and exploration.  This is based on the theory that Ātman resides within.

{Further reading: Kṛṣṇa explains the concept of looking within exhaustively in Bhagavad Gīta Chapter VI consisting of 47 verses and a gist of which is reproduced here as explained by Swami Chinmayananda. Karma yoga practiced without regard to the fruits of actions, form an external aid to better meditation. The process by which lower is brought under the direct management and discipline of the higher are all together called spiritual techniques. No Guru can take the responsibility; no scripture can promise this redemption; no altar can, with its divine blessing make the lower the higher.  The lower mist necessarily be trained slowly and steadily to accept and under the influence of the discipline of the higher. When a seeker has come in his life to the state explained as yogārūdāḥ, and when in that state of equipoise, the mind is held steadfast in the contemplation of the Supreme, the self-controlled one, in all serenity is capable of maintaining his consistency on meditation in all circumstances, favourable and adverse, at all levels of his personality.  In the right understanding of his own self and the resulting realisation of his own Self, he becomes Self everywhere.  To him, who has realised himself to be Self which is all-pervading, the entire universe becomes his own Self, and therefore, his relationship with every other part of the universe is equal and the same.  For this the seeker should try to withdraw himself from his mental and physical preoccupations.}

Bahirmukha-sudurlabhā बहिर्मुख-सुदुर्लभा (871)

Previous nāma conjoins with this nāma to declare the process of Self-realisation.  She is very difficult to attain for those who are not able to look within.  Mind is the prime factor to look within.  Unless senses are controlled, it is difficult to control the mind. This nāma says that She cannot be attained only by external means. Saundarya Laharī (verse 95) says “It is difficult for those who have not controlled their senses to attain you.”Kaṭha Upaniṣad (II.i.2) also explains this. “Immature people run after external objects and they invariably get caught in the widespread net of death.  Wise people, however, know where true immortality is.  That is why they reject everything in this world, knowing that these things are short lived.”This nāma says that She cannot be attained by those who continue to be addicted to sensory pleasures.  Addiction is different from necessity.  Nāma 188 is durlabhā.  Durlabhā means difficult and su-durlabha means very difficult.

Brahman is Saccidānanda, which means existence (sat), consciousness (cit) and bliss (ānanda). Only the pure and un-afflicted knowledge is capable of producing spiritual consciousness. In other words, Sat refers to infinity, Cit refers to Śiva and Ānanda refers to Her, who is in the form of Bliss. When She thinks that someone is eligible for Liberation as discussed earlier, She moves away, initiating the process of Liberation and Liberation happens with Sat-cit- ekaṁ-brahma, which means there is no Ānanda here; only Cit, also known as Consciousness, where one realises and merges with Brahman, not to be reborn.

Śrī Vidyā means auspicious knowledge.  Everything concerned with Lalitāmbikā is auspicious. Knowledge about Her is passed on from a Guru to his disciple by way of initiation.  Guru initiates his disciple into a mantra japa called Pañcadaśī mantra or any other mantra of his choice.  Normally the first initiation is Her younger form called Bālā.  Based upon the disciple’s progress, Pañcadaśī mantra and Ṣoḍaśī mantras are initiated.  The supreme mantra japa of Lalitāmbikā is known as Mahā-Ṣodaśī mantra, which leads the practitioner to emancipation. It is wrong to say that Mahā-Ṣodaśī mantra will lead only to Liberation. This mahā-mantra will also give material benefits. The mantra has three Lakṣmī bījā-s and these bījā-s will shower auspiciousness, prosperity and wealth. Because of the presence of Parābījā sauḥ, it is said that this mantra gives only liberation.

Śrī Cakra is Her abode.  Śrī Cakra is made up of four triangles known as Śiva cakra-s facing up and five triangles known as Śaktī cakra-s facing down.  The total triangles formed out of the intersection of the nine triangles are forty four including the central dot or bindu.  Instead of nine triangles, if we take only eight triangles, the resultant triangle becomes static, instead of its present dynamic form.  Static is the quality of Śiva and dynamism is the quality of Śaktī.  Hence, this cakra has been made dynamic as this is the abode of Lalitāmbikā.  Śrī Cakra  is also known as the cosmic cakra.  A comparison can be drawn between Śrī Cakra and the nine cakra-s of kuṇḍalinī (six cakra-s + sahasrāra + kula sahasrāra + akula sahasrāra thus making it to nine).  Śrī Cakra is also compared to a human body, upper cakra-s representing the portion above the navel and lower cakra-s representing the portion below the navel.  Alternatively, this can be explained thus.  Śaktī koṇa-s (triangles) represent skin, blood, brain, muscles and bones.  Śiva koṇa-s represent soul, prāṇa, tejas and sperms or ova.  Śaktī  koṇa-s represent gross matters and Śiva koṇa-s represent subtle matters.  A life comes into existence only if both gross and subtle matters conjoin.  The five Śaktī angles also represent the five elements ākāś, air, fire, water and earth and its modifications like karmendriya-s (hands, feet, etc), jñānendriya-s (eyes, etc), tanmātra-s (taste, etc), whereas the four Śiva  angles represent antaḥkaraṇa comprising of mind, intellect, individual consciousness and ego.

Bindu also known as dot is placed inside the centre triangle that faces downwards.  This bindu is said to be the cause of creation of the universe.  This can be compared to a tiny seed causing the growth of a huge tree.  The place around this bindu is the cause for bliss and this is the reason for calling this cakra as sarva-ānanda-mayī (sarvānandamayī).  The cause of the bliss is because Śiva and Śaktī stand united here (nāma 999).  This place is meditated at sahasrāra in the form of a bindu.  Not only Śiva-Śaktī form is meditated here, but also one’s iśṭa devatā and Guru are also meditated at sahasrāra.  Worshiping Śrī Cakra  is known as navāvaraṇa pūja.  Nava means nine and āvaraṇa means roundabouts.  Following is the number of goddesses worshipped in Śrī Cakra before reaching the central bindu.  In the first āvaraṇa twenty eight goddesses, in the second āvaraṇa sixteen goddesses, in the third āvaraṇa eight goddesses, in the fourth āvaraṇa fourteen goddesses, in the fifth āvaraṇa ten goddesses, in the sixth āvaraṇa ten goddesses, in the seventh āvaraṇa eight goddesses and in the eighth āvaraṇa three goddesses and four of Her weaponries (nāma-s 8 – 11).  In the central triangle fifteen tithi nitya devi-s are worshipped, five on each side of the triangle.  Lalitāmbikā is worshipped at the bindu.  Apart from these goddesses, one’s guru lineage is also worshipped just above the central triangle.  Śrī Cakra and Mahā Meru are the same.  Mahā means great and meru means mountain.   She lives at the top of Mahā Meru, (the vertical form of Śrī Cakra is known as Mahā Meru).  Śrī Cakra is flat in formation and the bindu or the central dot is in the centre and in the case Mahā Meru, which is vertical in formation where the bindu is at the top. She is worshipped in bindu sthāna.

The main mantra of Lalitāmbikā is Pañcadaśī which consists of fifteen bīja-s.  A bīja-s need not be a single Sanskrit alphabet.  It could be a combination of alphabets.    For example, sa is a bīja and it is a single alphabet, whereas hṛīṃ is also a bīja but a combination of many alphabets.  Each alphabet in Sanskrit has a meaning.  If we take the first letter a (अ) in Sanskrit alphabet, it conveys many things.  It is the origin of ॐ (OM); it also means unification, non-destruction, etc.  The interpretation of meaning for such bīja-s mostly depends on the context in which it is used.  Pañcadaśa means fifteen.  Since this mantra has fifteen bīja-s, it is called as Pañcadaśī.  Pañcadaśī mantra consists of three groups consisting of bīja-s and each line is called kūṭa or group.  The three kūṭa-s are known as vāgbhava kūṭa, kāmarāja kūtā or madhya kūṭa and śakti kūtā.  Vāgbhava kūṭa represents Lalitāmbikā’s face, kāmarāja kūṭa represents the portion between Her neck and hip and the last one śakti kūṭa represents the portion below Her hip.  The whole form of Lalitāmbikā is made up of these three kūṭa-s.  This is one of the reasons why Pañcadaśī is considered as very powerful.  These three kūṭa-s are joined in such a way that an inverted triangle is formed which represents Her yoni, the source of the universe. This is why this mantra is considered as highly secretive.  Vāgbhava kūṭa is the right side of this triangle, kāmarāja kūṭa the upper side and śakti kūṭa forms the left side of the triangle.

Vāgbhava kūṭa consists of five bīja-s viz. ka-e-ī-la-hrīṁ (क-ए-ई-ल-ह्रीं).  Madhya kūṭa consists of six bīja-s viz. ha-sa-ka-ha-la-hrīṁ (ह-स-क-ह-ल-ह्रीं).  śakti kūṭa consists of four bīja-s viz. sa-ka-la-hrīṁ (स-क-ल-ह्रीं).  Thus, we have fifteen bīja-s of Pañcadaśī.  This mantra is not revealed by these bīja-s, but by the following verse in Sanskrit.

kāmo yoni: kamalā vajrapāṇirguhāhasā matariśvābhrāmindraḥ|

punarguhāsakala māyayā ca purucyeṣā viśvamātādividyā||

कामो योनि: कमला वज्रपाणिर्गुहाहसा मतरिश्वाभ्रामिन्द्रः।

पुनर्गुहासकल मायया च पुरुच्येषा विश्वमातादिविद्या॥

This is the verse where in the fifteen bīja-s of Pañcadaśī are hidden.  This is a clear indication of the highly secretive nature of this mantra.  From this verse, the fifteen bīja-s of Pañcadaśī are arrived thus.  kāman (ka) yoni: (e) kamalā (ī)vajrapāniṛ (la)-guhā (hrīṃ) ha (ha) sā (sa) mathariśvā (ka) abram (ha) indraḥ (la)|  punar (punar means again) guhā (hrīṃ) sakala (sa,ka,la) māyayā ca  (hrīṃ) purucyeṣā viśvamātādividyā.

The first kūṭa has five bīja-s ka-e-ī -la- hrīṃ.  The entire three kūṭa-s end with hrīṃ and this hrīṃ is called hṛllekha.  A lot of importance is attached to this hṛllekha which is also called as māyā bīja.  Vākbhava kūṭa is also known as agni khaṇḍa and indicates jñāna śakti of Lalitāmbikā.  Ka means Brahma, the creator. e means Sarasvatī the goddess of jñāna. ī means Lakṣmī, la means Indra and hrīṃ means the merger of Śiva and Śaktī. The bīja ka is the root of kāma bīja klīṁ (क्लीं).  ka also bestows peace and prosperity to the sādaka.  The next bīja e prevents misfortunes to the sādaka.  ī bestows wealth and all good things to sādaka.  The bīja la gives victory to the sādaka.  Thus, the first four bīja-s give peace, prosperity, prevention of misfortunes, auspiciousness and a status like Indra.  This means victory to sādaka in every step he puts forward.  (Indra is the chief of all gods and goddesses and is victorious in all the battles against demons).  

hrīṁ is made up of twelve letters.  H + r + ī + m and a bindu.  Bindu is a dot on the letter m (ṁ).   But this is not just a dot.  This dot comprises of ardacandra, rodhinī, nāda, nādānta, śakti, vyāpikā, samanā and uṇmanī.  Beginning from bindu and including these eight, is nāda (total nine).  This nāda comprises of two V-s one above the other (each V has two lines and two V-s together have four lines) and four dots each at the open ends of V and one dot on the top these four dots.  This is the combination of bīja hrīṁ.  More than these V-s and dots, the pronunciation is important.  There are specifications of length of timing for pronunciations of each bīja.  The entire kūṭa should be pronounced in eleven mātrā-s (a mātrā is the time taken for a winking, possibly lesser than a second).  There are guidelines for pronouncing the bīja-s.  The pronunciation of Vākbhava kūṭa should commence from mūlādhāra cakra and end at anāhata cakra, contemplating the entire kūṭa as the fire.

The second kūṭa is kāmarāja kūṭa or madhya kūṭa is to be meditated upon Lalitāmbikā’s neck to hip.   This kūṭa has the highest number of bīja-s, six.  They are ha-sa-ka-ha-la- hrīṁ.  Out of these, ka, la and hrīṁ have been discussed in the first kūṭa, leaving two new bīja-s in this kūṭa.  Out of the new bīja-s, ha has been repeated twice.  The first ha means Śiva; the second ha means ākāś element (Saundarya Laharī (verse 32) refers this second ha as the sun) and sa in this place means Viṣṇu.  With reference to the five basic elements, sa means air element.  The bīja ha is also known as eunuch bīja.  Probably this is the reason why the bīja hrīṁ refers to the union of Śiva and Śaktī.  In the first kūṭa, Brahma was mentioned, as the first kūṭa refers to creation.  In this kūṭa of sustenance, Viṣṇu is mentioned as He is the lord of sustenance.  This kūṭa should be pronounced in a time frame of 11.50 mātrā.  This kūṭa is to be contemplated from anāhata cakra to ājñā cakra in the form brightness that is equivalent to millions of suns.  This kūṭa is also called sūrya khaṇḍa and forms the second act of Brahman viz. the sustenance.  Since it is associated with sustenance, desire is attached to this kūṭa.

The third and the last kūṭa which is called śaktī kūṭa, has only four bīja-s.  This kūṭa is to be meditated upon the portion between hip and the feet of Lalitāmbikā.  The four bīja-s are sa-ka-la- hrīṃ.  The first kūṭa has five bīja-s, second kūṭa six bīja-s and the third has only four bīja-s.  Possibly this could mean that sustenance is the most difficult act and dissolution is the easiest act.  Vākbhava kūṭa refers to subtle intellect, kāmarāja kūṭa refers to preponderance of valour, wealth, fame, etc and the third kūṭa, the śakti kūṭa expands the conveyance of the previous two kūṭa-s. It can be noticed that two ha bīja-s in the madhya kūṭa is removed in this śaktī kūṭa.  This kūṭa is to be pronounced in a time frame of eight and a half mātrā-s.  The entire Pañcadaśī mantra should be pronounced in thirty one mātrā-s.  In the case of continuous recitation of this mantra, without leaving time gap between the kūṭa only twenty nine mātrā-s are prescribed.  But the time factor does not apply when the mantra is recited mentally.  This kūṭa is to be contemplated from anāhata cakra to the middle of the forehead in the forms of brightness comparable to the millions of moons.  There are nine stages from anāhata to the middle of the forehead.  These nine stages are nothing but the nine components of nāda which was discussed under hrīṃ.  This kūṭa is called chandra khaṇḍa and forms the third act of Brahman, the dissolution.  The dissolution is represented by the bījā ‘la’ which means the destructive weaponries viz. vajra (thunder bolt), cakra (the wheel.  Possibly meaning the Sudarśana cakra of Viṣṇu), triśūla or trident of Śiva and the gada of Viṣṇu.  There are three hrīṃ-s in Pañcadaśī each representing creation, sustenance and dissolution.

Śaṃkarācārya also talks about the bīja-s of Pañcadaśī in a secretive manner in Saundaryalaharī (verse 32).   In the second kūṭa out of the two ha bīja-s, Śaṃkarācārya means sun instead of ākāś element.    The interpretations of the bīja-s differ from scholar to scholar.   It is also pertinent to note that chanting of one round of Pañcadaśī mantra is equivalent to three rounds of recitation of pūrṇa Gāyatrī mantra.  Pūrṇa Gāyatrī means an addition of paro rajase sāvadom as the last line in addition to the existing three lines.

Ṣoḍaśī has been explained under nāma 587.  All mantra-s are considered as secretive in nature and Ṣoḍaśī is not an exception.  Recitation of Ṣoḍaśī leads to liberation.  This mantra does not give any materialistic gains.  It leads straight to the Brahman.  Normally, one is not initiated into this mantra straight away.  Guru decides the timing of initiation into this mantra.  Generally one is first initiated into Bālā.  Depending upon one’s progress, Pañcadaśī is initiated.  If Guru considers that his disciple is fit for final liberation, he initiates him into Ṣoḍaśī. One should recite 900,000 times of this mantra followed by puraścaraṇa rituals to attain siddhi.  Then only liberation is possible. It is also said that initiation into Ṣoḍaśī depends upon one’s karmic account.

Ṣoḍaśī vidyā is considered as Brahma vidyā, the knowledge of the Brahman.  Brahman is depicted in the form of mantra-s in Ṣoḍaśī vidyā. Since Ṣoḍaśī depicts the Brahman in the form of mantra-s, it is treated as secret.  But the important aspect of its secrecy is the replacement of second ॐ in this mantra with ātma bīja.  The third aspect of the secrecy is the worship of ninth āvaraṇa that deals with parā, parāpara and apara states (these states have been dealt with while discussing nāma-s).  If one is able to reach the fourth stage of turya or turīya, he gets prepared to attain liberation in the next stage of turyātīta.  Turya is reached without any difficulty when Ṣoḍaśī mantra is chanted regularly.

(Turya and turyātīta: Turya is the fourth state of consciousness, the other three being awake, dream and deep sleep. Turya stage transcends all the above three stages by bundling them out. The level of consciousness at turya stage is very close to the stage of blissfulness, derived from experiment and observation rather than theory. Turyātīta is the stage where one’s consciousness transcends turya stage.  In this stage of blissful consciousness, the Brahman is realised where one feels that “I am That” or aham brahmāsmi. The final stage of merging into the Brahman is kaivalya, when a soul ceases to transmigrate.}

In Pañcadaśī one can transcend the fourth state of consciousness, the turiya state.  In Ṣoḍaśī one can merge with the Brahman, by reaching the fifth state of consciousness, turyātīta. There is nothing beyond this.  What happens if one transcends turya state? The self is replaced by SELF.  This transformative realization happens in a fraction of a second where near death-like situation is experienced. One is not the same person after that ‘second’.

(Tripurasundarī vidyā to be continued)