गिरामाहुर्देवीं द्रुहिणगृहिणीमागमविदो
हरेः पत्नीं पद्मं हरसहचरीमद्रितनयाम्।
तुरिया कापि त्वं दुरधिगम निस्सीममहिमा
महामाया विश्वं भ्रमयसि परब्रह्ममहिषि॥

girāmāhurdevīṁ druhiṇagṛhiṇīmāgamavido
hareḥ patnīṁ padmaṁ harasahacarīmadritanayām |
turiyā kāpi tvaṁ duradhigama nissīmamahimā
mahāmāyā viśvaṁ bhramayasi parabrahmamahiṣi ||

girām devīṁ - the goddess of speech, Sarasvatī; druhiṇa gṛhiṇīm – consort of Brahmā (Sarasvatī); āhuḥ - describe You; āgama vidaḥ - knowers of āgama śāstra-s; hareḥ patnīṁ padmaṁ - consort of Hari (Viṣṇu) Lakṣmī; hara saha carīm – Consort of Śiva; adritanayām – daughter of Mountain (Himavat), Pārvatī; turiyā kāpi – the fourth stage of consciousness; tvaṁ - Your; duradhigama niḥsīma mahimā – inscrutable and infinite Glory; mahāmāyā - the great Divine Power of illusion (mahāmāyā is of two types, which is discussed in the interpretation below); viśvaṁ bhramayasi – causing perplexity in the universe; parabrahma mahiṣi – the Consort of Supreme Brahman (Paramaśiva).

“Wise and learned men describe You as Sarasvatī, the Consort of Brahmā and Lakṣmī, the Consort of Viṣṇu and also as the daughter of Himavān, the Consort of Śiva. But, You are the great Divine Power with inscrutable and infinite Glory, the Consort of Supreme Brahman Paramaśiva. You are the fourth stage of Consciousness”

This is one of the bejewelled verses of Saundaryalaharī, which describes the Powers of Śiva and Śakti. It is necessary to understand two words in this verse before we understand the grandeur of this verse.

Parabrahman: Though Vedānta describes Parabrahman without any name, for the sake of realizing His Glory and Grandeur, He is described here as Paramaśiva. Paramaśiva is explained in this article.

Mahāmāyā (Reproduced from Lalitā Sahasranāma 215): Māyā means illusion.  She is known as mahā-māyā svarūpinī.  The entire universe functions on the basis of māyā or illusion.  If She does not cast Her effect of māyā on this world, there will no activity at all.  Her spell of māyā makes us to seek the Brahman, Heranother form, Prākaśa Vimarśa Mahā-māyā svarūpinī.  Even the sages and saints are no exception to Her spell of māyā.  The intensity of māyā is felt depending upon one’s karma.  In advaita philosophy (non-dualism) to some thinkers the terms māyā and avidyā mean the same thing. But some advaitins differentiate them and say that māyā is an auxiliary to Īśvarā and avidyā is an auxiliary to soul. The main function of māyā is projection, projecting the Brahman in various shapes and forms.  But avidyā can both obscure and project, but covering is the main function of avidyā. According to some, the substrate of avidyā is soul and according to some others, avidyā resides in the Brahman. The root of māyā is mā which means ‘to measure’. The infinite Brahman appears as if measured due to the effect of māyā. The root mā also means, leading to the ideal of illusionary appearance.  The word māyā can be split into mā + yā.  Then it means that which is not, but appears to be. Māyā is regarded as Śaktī, the attribute of the Brahman.  Brahman is essentially without attributes and is known as nirguṇa Brahman.  But viewed in relation to māyā, it is saguṇa Brahman or with attributes.  Just as a magician conjures up many things by his magical power which he really does not possess, so Brahman with māyā śaktī projects the appearance of the world.  As things conjured up by the magician are false, so the projected world is ultimately false.  The phenomenal world is mere illusion or māyā.  It is in reality non-existent. It appears to exist only because of the external objects that are related in the self, behind the mind.  It is nothing but a mere illusory projection of ātman.

According to Trika Philosophy, Mahāmāyā is of two kinds. One is aparā and another is parā. Aparā Mahāmāyā is the state of the aspirant, whose awareness is pure. This aspirant is free from karma and māyā, but he is not free from ego, hence the one who attains this state is called vijñānakalā, the state of no-bliss. Typically speaking, this is the first step towards Self-realization and the one who reaches this state never falls from his existing spiritual level. From this state, the aspirant moves forward to his ultimate goal of liberation on his own. He does not need a preceptor. This is the state of Śuddha Vidyā, where I and This (more emphasis on This than I) are still present because of the presence of ego. If ego is dissolved, he will not take notice of This as there cannot be any difference between Brahman and him (the principle of ahaṁ brahmāsmi).  Therefore, this is the stage of transition of the aspirant into that of a yogi (yoking of the self with the Self). Another is Parā Mahāmāyā, where aspirants are realised souls, but still consider the material world different from them. In Aparā Mahāmāyā, only Prakāśa (Śiva) is present without Vimarśa (Śakti). Aparā Mahāmāyā is above māyā and Parā Mahāmāyā is the lowest strata in Suddhavidyā and below this is māyā (illusion and duality). If one falls from Suddha Vidyā, he again enters to the unfathomable pit of māyā. It is also important to understand that all types of māyā are only the Absolute Power of Authority of Śiva, which is also known as His svātantrya śakti. This svātantrya śakti of Śiva is known as Śakti and She is not a separate entity and is part of Śiva. With this brief introduction, we now enter into the discussion part of this verse.

This verse says that She is not just Sarasvatī, Lakṣimī and Pārvatī; but She is the Consort of Parabrahman, Paramaśiva, hence She is adored as Parabrahmamahiṣi. The moment we hear about parabrahmamahiṣi, our thoughts go to Lalitā Sahasranāma 233, mahākāmeśamahiṣī and the next nāma Mahātripurasundarī. Kāñcī Paramācārya has given a detailed interpretation for this verse. In the first place, he says that She is Mahiṣi and not Mahārājñī (Lalitā Sahasranāma 2). He explains the difference between Mahiṣi and Mahārājñī, He says, “Mahiṣi means the chief queen of the king; but Mahārājñī means a queen who rules in her own right. In this verse, She is not addressed Mahārājñī, but as Mahiṣi, which clearly explains that She is the Consort of Paramaśiva and not a Supreme Queen who has absolute power of authority. Therefore, it is authoritatively concluded that She is not the ultimate authority, but Paramaśiva is the ultimate authority of the universe. Yet, She alone is powerful as She is the Svātantrya Śakti of Śiva and nobody has this kind of power of authority except Parabrahmamahiṣi.

Next question that arises in our minds is whether Sarasvatī, Lakṣimī and Pārvatī come under Her control? This can be explained in two different angles. As long as we distinguish between different forms of gods and goddesses, we follow only Dvailta philosophy (dualism). From moving to Advaita from Dvaita probably could take several births. Entering into the path of Advaita is the beginning point of spiritual life. All kinds of external worships fall under Dvaita only. As long as we consider Her different from us, it is only dualistic worship. Non-dualistic contemplation can happen only in the mind. When She is known as Parāśakti, She encompasses every aspect of Brahman.

The other interpretation is based on Lalitā Sahasranāma 614, Sacāmara-ramā-vāṇī-savyadakṣiṇa-sevitā, which says, “Goddess Lakṣmī (Ramā) and Goddess Sarasvatī (Vāṇī) stand by Her side and fan Her.  This nāma means that those who contemplate Her get wealth and intelligence without even asking for them.” This can be further explained that every creation comes under Her direct control and supervision. This verse does not in any way undermine other deities, but explicitly says that She alone is the Supreme Authority, simply because, She holds the unique and Absolute Power of Śiva and the entire creation begins from this Power, known as Mahāmāyā or Parāśakti.

The next question that arises in our mind is as to why Śaṁkarācārya chose this specific verse to demystify Parabrahman (who is named as Paramaśiva for the purpose of understanding) and Mahāmāyā in this verse? In the initial verses of Saundaryalaharī, he described about Her various attributes, which enabled us to contemplate Her form well. During the first part of Saundaryalaharī, he described Her gross form and in the next part Ānandalaharī, Śaṁkarācārya dwelt on Ānanda or Bliss, which is Her essential nature. When Śiva is Cit, She is Ānanda, and they are together known as Cidānanda (ultimate reality of both Consciousness and Bliss existing together), which can be compared to Śiva-śakty-aikya-rūpiṇī (Lalitā Sahasranāma 999). Though Cidānanda can be explained differently, the subtle meaning is that Ānanda does not exist as a separate entity, but exists inherently in Cit (Consciousness or Śiva). This is known as Paramaśiva. The subtle conveyance of this verse is, as we progress in our spiritual path, we have to move away from Mahāmāyā to Paramaśiva. Parāśakti can only pave way for liberation, by showering Her Grace on us (Śaktipāta), but the final liberation can be given only by Śiva.  When Śakti dissolves into obliviousness, Śiva is realized. In other words, duality of worldly process (māyā) is dissolved, Brahman is realized.

There is yet another conveyance in this verse about the fourth stage of consciousness. There are three states of consciousness, jāgrat, (normal active stage, or stage of awakening) svapna (dream stage) and suṣupti (deep sleep state). Beyond these three normal and mundane levels of consciousness, there are two other stages known as turya and turyātīta. Turya is the fourth stage of consciousness, which is used in this verse.  It cannot be experienced automatically.  This stage can be attained only through meditation.  This stage is not related to any of the three mundane stages.  In the waking stage we are associated with consciousness.  In the dream stage our mind is associated with our consciousness.  In the third stage of dream-less sleep, consciousness has no part to play as the mind at this stage is at rest.  But in turya stage, one has to tune his mind to become unaware of consciousness.  This can be attained only by practice.  In this stage one is neither the Brahman nor his own self.  If one is able to advance to the next stage of turyātīta, he merges with the Brahman.  If he falls from turya stage, he is again bound by worldly actions and the associated miseries.  She exists in the form of turya stage.  This state of consciousness is witnessing the consciousness of the other three stages (in the deep sleep, consciousness is inactive). The consciousnesses in the other three stages are subjected to modifications.  In this stage, the consciousness alone remains looking up for something Superior that has not been experienced by it so far.  Therefore the normal consciousness ceases to exist in this stage.  Only when we talk about consciousness, we talk about subject and object.  There is no subject and no object and in fact nothing exists.  This stage of ‘nothing exists’ leads to the transformation of awareness.  This can possibly be interpreted as a seed ready to sprout.  The transformed consciousness leads to the single pointed or focused consciousness to know about the Brahman or even ready to merge with it.

Kāñci Paramacāya (Voice of God) in his discourse on this verse said, “Nirguṇa Brahman has no connection with Māyā. In order to take people practicing devotion according to Śākta doctrine, Śaṁkarācārya makes Parabrahman and Mahāmāyā as Divine Couple.” This means that only Brahman exists everywhere and He alone is to be realized. Following Śākta doctrine is only to understand the Supreme Power of Brahman, which is projected as Parāśakti. The idea is that one has to first understand Absolute Power of Brahman, which is termed as Parāśakti. When His Power Parāśakti is realized, it is comparatively easier for all of us to realize Brahman. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā (VII.25), “Veiled by My Yogamāyā, I am not manifest to all....” which goes to prove that Mahāmāyā is nothing but the Divine Potency or Divine Power of illusion. By His own power, Brahman veils Himself through the effects of Mahāmāyā, making His realization difficult. In the process, we continue with all dualities, ego, pride, arrogance, etc. Those with these inferior qualities continue to remain as transmigratory objects without any hopes for liberation.

Towards the end of Saundaryalaharī, Śaṁkarācārya clearly explains the path of liberation to us. It is up to us assimilate his teachings and move forward towards the goal of Emancipation.