Daśa Mahāvidyā दश महाविद्या
This is one of the beautiful verses of Divine Mother which goes like this: “O! Bhavānī, sages and saints describe Your gross forms. Vedas speak about Your subtle forms (mantra forms); some adore you as the origin of speech (Śabdrabrahman); some address you as the root of worlds; but we think of You as Universal ocean of mercy and compassion and nothing else”. This is how Śakti worship begins. Śiva is always Self-effulgent and hence He is addressed as Prakāśa (Light) and Śakti is His Power to distribute His Light so that the universe is made visible. She is Vimarśa or cognizance. Light without cognizance and cognizance without light is of no use and based on this principle, Śiva and Śakti are always interdependent and also inherent (prakāśa vimarśa sāmarasyātmaka parabrahmasvarūpiṇi). In a human being, Śiva exists as the Soul and Śakti exists as Māyā. Again as the Soul and Māyā, they are inseparable. However, the separation happens at the time of realization of the Self. Śakti moves away revealing the True Nature of Śiva, who can be revealed only by Her. Towards the final stages of Self-realization, She becomes the Guru (Gurumūrtiḥ) to the aspirant and imparts the knowledge of Śiva (She is Śiva-jñāna-pradāyinī). Apart from the material gains, She is also worshiped for the purpose of realizing the Self (Śiva). Hence worshipping Śakti has attained greater significance and is often called Śākta cult or Śākta tradition. Śakti has two aspects; one is spiritual in nature and this is known as Cit-śakti (the Power of Consciousness) and the other is Māyā-śakti (the power of delusion) relating to the materialistic aspects of life. Then what is the difference between Śiva and Śakti? In reality, there is no difference and they are so interdependent and the one without the other becomes inert. Śiva is static energy and His own power Śakti (Svātantrya Śakti) is kinetic energy. They are also known as Nirguṇa Brahman and Saguṇa Brahman and only after realising Saguṇa Brahman, one can merge into Nirguṇa Brahman, the purest form of Consciousness, Śiva. But for realising Śiva or merging unto Him, we need Her stamp of approval. Main purpose of worshipping Her is to get Her Grace to merge unto Śiva (She is kaivalyapadadāyinī).
Most of Tantra Scriptures dwell on Consciousness and in fact they elucidate more practical and realistic approach to God realization. Arthur Avlon said, “The Tantra has no notion of some separate far-seeing God. It preaches no such doctrine in it as that God; the Creator rules the Universe from heaven. In the eye of the Tantra, the body of sādhaka is the Universe”. He further says that ātmaśakti within the body is what is sought for and it is the deity of the sādhaka, often called as Iṣṭa Devata. Unfolding of ātmaśakti is to be brought about by self-realization or ātmadarśana, which is to be achieved through persistent practice, which is known as sādhana. Ultimately understanding and realizing that the ātmaśakti and the Supreme Power or Śiva are one and the same and this ultimate knowledge completes one’s spiritual journey and at the end of which one is Liberated.
Daśa Mahāvidyā-s are ten types of disciplines to reach the ultimate goal of one’s spiritual life. All the ten Mahāvidyā-s are also known as Brahma Vidyā. It is often misunderstood that pursuing any of these Mahāvidyā-s lead to Liberation. It is a wrong notion. Every sādhana takes forward the sādhaka towards the highest spiritual attainment viz. the liberation in successive stages. It is not that one gets liberated immediately on receipt of a mantra from a guru. Sādhana means leading straight to a goal (Liberation) and in the process bringing about, carrying out, accomplishing, fulfilling, completing, perfecting spiritual practices. Sādhana is not merely ritualistic worship; it begins with ritualistic worship and over a period of time realizing the fact, that the body is the temple and the Self within is the Sanctum Sanctorum. It is said that body is the temple and the jīvātman within the body is the Self. What is the difference between Parmātman and jīvātman? Parmātman is nirmala or without impurities, no guṇa-s or attributes and in fact nothing except Purity. Jīvātman is that state of Parmātman, who is encased, veiled and covered by His own Power known as Māyā, which is full of spiritual ignorance. Unless the veil of māyā is removed, Parmātman within cannot be realized. The process of removing the veil of māyā is known as sādhana. What will happen when the veil of māyā is removed? There will be Ātmadarśana or realization of Śiva will happen which will lead to ultimate Liberation.
Tantra śāstra-s attach more importance to Consciousness, which can be attained through puruṣārtha-s, the fourfold values of human life. They are dharma (righteousness or virtues), artha (wish or purpose), kāma (desires and pleasures) and mokṣa (the liberation). It is clear that the ancient scriptures do not prohibit these great human values. What they say is not to get attached to them. On many occasions this concept is misquoted and misunderstood. The first three of puruṣārtha-s are known as trivarga. Dharma is not bundle of Scriptural dictums, most of which are post Vedic origin. Dharma typically means the Law of Nature. We have to go with Nature or Prakṛti. In fact, the trivarga is controlled only by Nature. If any overdoing or overindulgence is done, Nature interferes and stops further indulgence and this is known as Law of Nature, which is controlled by Śakti. As long as the triads are within the Law of Nature, nothing will go wrong. This is what exactly Tantra śāstra-s advocate. According to Tantra śāstra-s, kāma means sensuality, the basis of which is Kāmasūtra of Vātsyāyana (4th century). In Kāmasūtra 64 types of postures are described and each of these postures has relation to each of these 64 Tantra śāstra-s revealed by Śiva to Śakti. According to Tantra śāstra-s conjugation is also related to Consciousness. Tantra-s argue, when everything is Śiva, why set aside sex alone? Spiritual path cannot exist independently of the hedonic path; but there should be harmonious integration between the two; only then pinnacle of spirituality can be attained along with material comforts through rightful means. Absolute and perfect integration should be there between material and spiritual life. Without body, how can we work on our breath and mind to realize Śiva within? It is all about spontaneity in the life of a tantric student. What is spontaneity? It is the quality of being spontaneous and coming from natural feelings without constraint. This is exactly what Tantra advocates. It is said, “To be spontaneous is to be Divine that goes beyond all notions of ego of separation. An action dictated by the ego can never have the grace of true spontaneity.” But this sacred freedom should not be confused with impulsiveness. Tantric aspirant does not have single unsatisfied or hidden desires as he experiences everything through his tough sādhana. Repressions will never take us forward in spiritual path as the mind wanders around the repressions only and with this state of mind, divine spontaneity can never be achieved. But there are strict methods through which such repressions are satisfied. Tantra accepts desire as the sole motivating force of the universe and does not advocate renunciation of desires. This is the significant difference between Vedanta and Tantra.
Most practices in Daśa Mahāvidyā-s fall under Tantric system. But the intensity of the system varies according to Guru Lineages. Some follow left hand path, some right hand path and some use five M-s (pañcamakārat-s), etc. Daśa Mahāvidyā talks about ten forms of the same Goddess Parāśakti (aparā, parā and parāparā), but with different qualities such as power, delight, beauty, wealth, etc. They are all Her various manifestations. True seekers are threatened with dire consequences if something is done in a wrong way inadvertently; some gurus talk about secrecy which are nothing but their egocentrism. Nothing is secret in spirituality. How can there be secrets when She is omnipresent? While pursuing Daśa Mahāvidyā-s, the first criterion is to shed their ego, which is the worst enemy to spiritual pursuit. Parāśakti is both Citśakti and Māyāśakti. First She is to be understood thoroughly and only then one’s spiritual journey come to a logical conclusion.
There are different views about the origin of Daśa Mahāvidyā-s, all relating to purāṇa-s. One of the stories goes like this. Śiva was very angry with His Consort Satī, as She decided to attend a Yajña conducted by Her father Dakṣa. After this, Śiva was not courting Satī and She got upset and became terribly wrathful and this anger was reflected in Her eyes. As Śiva could not see Her wrathful and red eyes, He closed His eyes and when He opened His eyes again, He saw a woman with blistering lustre. Śiva was so scared of Her form and started running away from Her. To make sure that Śiva does not move away, She manifested in ten different forms (or She created ten forms). When Śiva asked that woman who are they, She said that they are known as Kālī, Tārā, Ṣoḍaśī, Bhuvaneśvarī, Chinnamastā, Tripurabhairavī, Dhūmavatī, Bagalāmukhī, Mātaṅgī and Kamalā. Śiva Purāṇa gives different version. What is important here is to note that all these worships lead only to Parāśakti, the source of all gods and goddesses and their allocated powers and from Her proceeds everything else. She is the Independent and Absolute Power of Paramaśiva and only through Her Grace, merging unto Paramaśiva is possible to get liberated.
With this brief introduction, this series will discuss about these Ten Mahāvidyā-s.