पुरा नारी भूत्वा पुररिपुमपि क्षोभमनयत्।
स्मरोऽपि त्वां नत्वा रतिनयनलेह्येन वपुषा
सुनीनामप्यन्तः प्रभवति हि मोहाय सहताम्॥
purā nārī bhūtvā puraripumapi kṣobhamanayat|
smaro'pi tvāṁ natvā ratinayanalehyena vapuṣā
sunīnāmapyantaḥ prabhavati hi mohāya sahatām||
Meaning (not verbatim): “You are the conferrer of happiness, wealth and prosperity to those who worship You. Viṣṇu, only after having worshipped You, attained the form of a woman and disturbed Śiva. Cupid also worshipped You and attained good looks and using the charm of his wife Rati and other beautiful celestial women enticed even saints and sages.”
There are two stories associated with this verse. At the time of churning the ocean by gods and demons, Viṣṇu assumed the form of a beautiful woman called Mohinī (Mohinī means causing concupiscence in living beings) and enticed demons. Śiva, who is beyond all worldly desires was agitated by the beauty of Mohinī (Nārāyaṇīyam-29.8 and 9). It is said that Viṣṇu was able to get this most beautiful form, that is capable of even disturbing Śiva through the blessings of Devi. There is a separate pañcadaśi mantra in the name of Viṣṇu and is different from the regular pañcadaśi mantra which has only three kūṭa-s as against six kūṭa-s of Viṣṇu pañcadaśi mantra. It is also said that Devi personally initiated Viṣṇu into pañcadaśi mantra.
The second story is about Manmatha, the god of love, who is also known as Cupid and Eros. He is also known as Kāma and presides over the law of physical attraction. Manmatha is a great worshipper of Devi and there is another pañcadaśi mantra in his name, which is the regular one.
It is also said that sage Nārada advised Viṣṇu to worship Devi as Viṣṇu was not able to fulfill a promise given to a group of demons. Śiva saved the world by destroying Tripura, a fort of demons constructed using gold, silver and iron in the three spheres of sky, air and earth. This fort is the most powerful one and none can ever destroy it. As the demons were frequently causing trouble, Śiva destroyed this fort and killed the demons. Demons, in order to save their lineage prayed to Viṣṇu to save a few of them from the dreadful wrath of Śiva. Viṣṇu had promised them on this. While Viṣṇu was planning to approach Śiva who was full of rage, sage Nārada advised Viṣṇu to worship Devi. As a result of Devi’s worship, Viṣṇu was able to attain the form of Mohinī and could cause the agitation in Śiva. It is also said that their union resulted in the birth of Lord Iyappa also known as Śāsta. (It is also said that if one is afflicted by the planet Saturn, worshipping Śāsta will obviate the evil effects of the planet.)
By worshipping Devi through pañcadaśi mantra, Manmatha got a boon from Devi that on whomsoever he casts his eyes, they will be induced into passion. When he tried to cast his spell on Śiva, He got furious and burnt him into ashes. Subsequently, due to the grace of Devi, Manmatha was resurrected from the ashes and was made visible only to the eyes of his charming wife Rati (Rati means amorous enjoyment).
This verse conveys more than what is grossly described here. Entire Soundarya laharī is tantra śāstra and hence each verse has both gross and subtle interpretations. The gross interpretation of the verse is that when Gods like Viṣṇu worship Her, it is imperative that one should worship Her to get his or her desire fulfilled. The verse says that the entire world worships Her by holding Her in the highest reverence. She gives more than what is asked for to Her devotees. But the devotion that is spoken of here is not just spending time before Her image. One has to always contemplate Her. Just a few minutes of prayer will always go unanswered. On the other hand, if one always stays attuned with Her, gets his or her wishes fulfilled. Manmatha got his power of enchantment only through Her Grace. The verse asks when they worship Her, why not we?
Subtly, this verse talks about the law of attraction and consequent creation and sustenance and the inherent tussle between the good and the bad. Śiva is cit śakti (Pure Consciousness that is Self-illuminating) and nobody can go anywhere near Him. But it is the desire of Śiva to manifest the universe and this desire has been symbolically said as kāma. Soundarya laharī is about Śakti, the all powerful Universal Mother, the power of Śiva. Śiva is static and Śakti is the dynamic energy. She alone sustains the universe. She creates both good and bad as there is always a need for contrary aspects to undo one’s karma. If everyone ceases to indulge in evil things, then the law of karma has no significance. Everyone will attain liberation and there will be none in the world to live. In such a scenario, She has nothing to do. No annihilation is necessary. Therefore, there is always a need for two opposite forces in creation, sustenance and destruction.
When Śiva burnt Kāma (Manmatha) into ashes, it is only Śakti who resurrected him. Why should She do this? She needs persons like Manmatha to test the true nature of sages and saints. There are sages who have failed in this test. They have succumbed to the beauty of Rati. They have failed in the test held by Her. They have fallen victim to Rati’s seduction. They realise their mistakes and bounce again with more purity by prolonged practice. By succumbing to the play of Manmatha, they would have completely emptied their karmic accounts. Śakti also needs Kāma for the purpose of creation. Without his play, procreation cannot happen. Śāstra-s never disallowed conjugal bliss. Unless there is creation, sustenance and destruction have no relevance. Therefore, the fundamental aspect of creation is represented by Manmatha at Her command. Nothing can happen without Her command. She used different energies to create, sustain and destroy and each energy is known by different names. For example, fire is known as Agni, who is also worshipped. Since Manmatha is not visible to anyone except Rati, he acts subtly in all the beings, by inducing them to indulge in conjugation. God of creation is Brahmā and the cause of creation is Manmatha and both of them function directly under Her control.
In the same way Viṣṇu, the God for sustenance worships Her. Viṣṇu is known for His compassion and mercy. He upholds dharma and kills notorious evil doers. Whenever there is imbalance between dharma and adharma, He incarnates in human forms and sets examples to uphold dharma. In the process He annihilates demons, who are nothing but the embodiment of evils. They are born as demons because of their horrible karmic account. They become too powerful and celestial intervention is needed to annihilate them. She sends Viṣṇu to annihilate them and He ensures that there prevails the right balance between good and bad.
This verse conveys that one should worship Her in Śrīcakra through pañcadaśi mantra. Mantra repetition leads to proper concentration which is the basic requirement of good meditation. Through proper meditation, one can activate the dormant kuṇḍalinī, which is nothing but Her subtlest form. Through further practice with the help of a Guru, one can take the kuṇḍalinī to the top of the skull, brahmarandra, where Śiva awaits Her. Their union is called Śivaśakti aikya (Lalitā Sahasranāma 999).
There are certain remedial measures prescribed for each verse of Soundarya laharī with certain yantras and certain number of repetitions and offerings. But they appear to be not authentic.