What is the importance of these ten Śakti-s? Why the Divine dynamic energy is projected in different forms with different attributes? Why they are mostly related to corpses and skulls? Why they are mostly worshiped as per Tantra? If we try to address these aspects of Daśa Mahāvidyā, we may not get into the underlying principle. The fundamental aspect of spiritual life is about understanding Shiva and Śakti. Shiva is the static form of cosmic energy and Śakti is His own power and is not different from Shiva in any manner. How can a man’s power be segregated from His own self? Without man, his energy obviously cannot exist and a man without energy cannot do any activities or he becomes inert. A man and his energy is always interdependent. Let us take another example. How can a mind exist without body? Mind and body are interdependent. The interdependence is the foundational aspect of Tantra śāstra-s. Tantra always attaches more importance to both internal and external purification. Inner purification is by practicing prāṇāyama and bhūtaśuddhi. Externally they worship with what have been admonished by Vedic tradition, as Shiva is everything to them. For Tantric practitioners, inner purification and mind control is more important than external purification. The best of tantric practitioners never get attached or addicted to anything. For them, everything is Shiva consciousness alone. Broadly they divide consciousness into four divisions – manas (associated with ego and hence dual in nature), manovijñāna (non-dual consciousness), ālayavijñāna (unconscious associated with ego), amalavijñāna (pure consciousness, the self or jīvātman). Out of the four, manas is not considered as vijñāna, which is the faculty of discernment or of right judgment or to put it simply, knowledge of Shiva. Mind is not considered as knowledge (intellect), as it is very mundane in nature and is influenced by ego, causing powerful duality. The rest three are related to knowledge that is not related to dualism. Ritualistic worships start and end only with manas. Ritualistic worships do not go beyond manas as non-dualism begins to percolate into the mind from intellect (vijñāna), making an adept to commence his spiritual journey. During this transformation, he enters the phase of manovijñāna and then ascends to ālayavijñāna and finally realizes Shiva within (individual soul or jīvātman) at amalavijñāna.

Even though tantric practitioners consider consciousness as the ultimate reality, yet approach consciousness through masculine and feminine energies or static and dynamic energies of Shiva. For them everything is Shiva and Shiva alone. They consider union between a man and a woman as the union between Shiva and Shakti. As the result of union between man and woman, kuṇḍalinī of the novice is activated. For tantric practitioners, nothing is right and nothing is wrong, as everything is Shiva. “Everything in Tantric sādhana is aimed at satisfying the senses, comes from profound understanding of human nature. Tantric novices do not leave a single hidden residue, a single unsatisfied desire or a single dream remaining within. Any experience linked to ego, desire or possession has nothing to do with Tantrism. When Shiva penetrates Śakti, it is a complete sacred act. All repressions that are not flushed out or satisfied, produce bouts of thought processes and evade realization of Shiva. They will never achieve divine spontaneity. This is one of the reasons why Tantrism is misunderstood by many who see an opportunity for impulsive debauchery where the divine exercise of spontaneity and the radical elimination of unsatisfied desires intersect.” Tantric practices are always pursued in absolute privacy and not in groups. Lalitā Sahasranāma 870 and 871 explain this and these two nāma-s are reproduced here for the sake of convenience.

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.

As far as Tantric doctrine is concerned, everything is consciousness and consciousness can be reached through Bliss (sat-cit-ānanda). Sat is existence, the reality; Cit is consciousness, the Absolute; and ānanda is Bliss. Without experiencing Bliss, the state of Absoluteness can never be attained. Mind cannot be controlled that easily. It will always have traces of desires. According to Tantra, one has to experience the desire and then burn it for ever, as any traces of desire in the mind will not make a person completely realized. It will only be falsified or deceptive realization. The influence of Śakti is so powerful, that even after realization, one tends to fall down from the pinnacle of spiritual path due to Her māyā.   When Bliss is fully experienced, one enters the state of Shiva without any hitch. Bliss is the state of being with Śakti and Cit is the state of being with Shiva. As long as one remains in the state of Śakti, there is always a danger of falling down. In order to prevent spiritual ruination, māyā, is to be completely removed through perpetual practice (sādhana) leading to Her Grace.  This is the intrinsic principle of Tantrism. In order to tune our mind to the reality of the world (Sat in sat-cit-ānanda), sādhana is required. Fruits of sādhana does not depend upon the duration, but the quality. If we understand the reality of our very existence, it is the Supreme Knowledge. In the final stages of amalavijñāna, a yogi transcends māyā; he moves away from sat-cit-ānanda to sat-cit-ekaṁ-brahma (om sat-cit-ekaṁ-brahma is known as mantrodhāra).

Position of ten Mahāvidyā Devi-s in our body.

1. Kālī – She controls both the biological heart and clairvoyant heart chakra. She also controls blood.

2. Tārā – She controls tongue. She is in total control of the final stage of speech paśyanti. This is how she is connected to knowledge. She controls navel chakra and her presence goes up to ājñācakra.

3. Tripurasundarī – She is at sahasrāra, the crown chakra.

4. Bhuvaneśvari – She is the space in which the soul resides in heart chakra. According to Kaṭha Upaniṣad, the Self resides in a cave in our heart. This cave is said to be space of ākāśa.

5. Chinnamastā – She also controls ājñācakra and is in charge of upward movement of prāṇa.

6. Tripurabhairavī – She is in mūlādhāra in the form of Kuṇḍalinī. It can be said that Kuṇḍalinī is also her name.

7. Dhūmāvatī – She also resides in heart chakra. But her energy is powerful and at the same time, it is always subtle. Negative thoughts and emotions emerge in the mind, when her energy is hyperactive.

8. Bagalāmukhī – She is in the upper palate, called Indra yoni (or Indra yoga) or the orifice of Indra. This portion is extremely important as Divine nectar (cerebrospinal fluid) drips from the skull through this orifice. She is also related to heart chakra. She plays an important role in transmigration.

9. Mātaṅgī – She presides over throat chakra (viśuddhi) and controls the delivery of speech. Hence she is treated on par with goddess Sarasvati, as she also controls Sarasvati nāḍi running from ājñācakra to the tip of the tongue, conferring the abilities of foretelling.

10. Kamalātmikā – She pervades in heart chakra and causes all sorts of auspiciousness and beauty of the mind. She completely works on material world and fulfils all material desires. Only when the material desires are fulfilled, Self-realization can happen. Without realizing the Self within, Liberation is not possible. Therefore, one’s fundamental spiritual quest is handled by her and she continues to stay till he/she crosses all materialistic desires. She affirms that body is the temple and soul within is the sanctum sanctorum.

If we look at their placements in human body, all their function are related to higher chakras, except Tripurabhairavī, who is posited at mūlādhāra. These ten śakti-s work on subtle body and inculcate higher spiritual knowledge to realize Shiva.

If we seriously look at these ten śakti-s, each of them control different activities and different attributes or different aspects of mind and intellect. When they are depicted amorously, it signifies deeper meaning of Shiva and Śakti union. Dhūmāvatī is depicted in a horrifying manner to convey the meaning that Shiva is not only good, but also equally bad. If Shiva is not both good and bad, then He can never be called omnipresent. Shiva’s power is Śakti and She manifests through various attributes in the form of these ten śakti-s. There is no question of who is superior or inferior, as all the ten śakti-s are needed for our very existence. Each of these śakti-s work on our subtle bodies to gain supreme knowledge leading realization of Shiva within and ultimately to become one with Shiva, the liberation.

During the final stages of liberation, there will be no mantra and no more practices. Mantras can help only to a certain extent, in the initial stages of spiritual life. Mantras are only to protect the mind, not even to control the mind. The power of letters causes subtle vibrations in the body which makes kuṇḍalinī ascend. When kuṇḍalinī is awakened, absorption begins to unfold and during this stage, mantras percolate into our subconscious mind through manas chakra and there is no need for any mantra at this stage and beyond. When mantra ceases, meditation begins to happen on its own. When the meditation happens on its own, trance is triggered. One begins to realize the Self during high velocity trance. There is no need to sit for long hours to meditate. One can remain in the highest stage of mediation for ten to twenty minutes. During the highest stages of meditation, ego is dissolved to almost nothingness; all doubts are cleared (amalavijñāna). When ego is dissolved and mind is pure, one’s consciousness becomes purer and purer over a period of time. The purest form of Consciousness is Shiva.