परिक्षीणा मध्ये परिणतशरच्चन्द्रवदना।
धनुर्बाणान् पाशं सृणिमपि दधाना करतलैः
पुरस्तादास्तां नः पुरमथितुराहोपुरुषिका॥
parikṣīṇā madhye pariṇataśaraccandravadanā|
dhanurbāṇān pāśaṁ sṛṇimapi dadhānā karatalaiḥ
purastādāstāṁ naḥ puramathiturāhopuruṣikā||
Meaning: Parāśakti’s gross form is described by Śaṁkarācārya in this verse. “O! Parāśakti, the vaunting Power of Śiva, appear before us with the melody arising from your waist girdle made up of tiny bells; with heavy bosoms looking like the head of a young elephant making you slightly flexed forward; with slender waist, with face appearing like the full moon of autumn, holding bow, arrow, noose and goad in your four hands.”
Śaṁkarācārya, through this verse prays to Her to appear in person with the above features. There are many verses describing Her gross form. Śaṁkarācārya is said to be an incarnation of Śiva Himself. Therefore, for those who are still associated with gross form of worship, He describes the gross form of Parāśakti, the Supreme Power of Śiva. She is non-existent without Śiva and without Her, Śiva too becomes inert. One may have power, but one should know how to use the power in the right way. Śiva is the static energy and His power Śakti is the dynamic energy. Though Śiva Śakti are separately described, in reality they are One and not two. Since She takes care of every aspect of the universe, She is fondly called Śrī Mātā (Lalitā Sahasranāma 1).
This verse can be explained from several angles. In fact all these descriptions are there in Lalitā Sahasranāma composed by eight Vāc Devi-s, who always remain with Her. They are Her personal attendants. Śaṁkarācārya prays for Her divine vision not for him, but for us. As explained earlier, he is said to be an incarnation of Śiva. Whenever gross forms are described, it goes without saying that it is explained based on dualism; dualism because, She is considered as a separate entity from us. As long as worshipper and worshipped are assumed as different, it is related to duality. When worshiper and worshipped become one, it is non-dualism. Former is known as dvaita and the latter is known as advaita. All the Upaniṣad-s are based on advaita (non-dualism) philosophy. When the level of devotion is very deep, divine visions appear in deep meditative states. Such visions are possible in two ways. One is due to Her Grace, which purely depends upon the depth of devotion. Second is repeated contemplation on a particular form. Dhyāna verses rely on the descriptiveness given by great saints and sages.
Further, Saundaryalaharī is said to be a master piece on tantra śāstra, which will have both gross and subtle interpretations. But, generally gross interpretations are made public and subtle interpretations are not made widely public. Even if subtle interpretations are made public, the depth of interpretations does not go deep. There are many verses in Soundarya laharī like this.
These are the forms that we see in sanctum sanctorum of temples. First, Śaṁkarācārya (he is also called as ācārya, which means spiritual guide) talks about the tiny bells in Her girdle. The girdle is a decorative ornament that is worn on the waist of women. Why Śaṁkarācārya has chosen to mention the waistband? He could have chosen many other things that a woman wears. Waistband refers to the navel chakra from where the tejas, known as life force originates. Tejas refers to fire element. Therefore, when Śaṁkarācārya talks about Her waist belt, he subtly conveys the origin of sound from the tiny bells in the waist belt, but also talks about the origin of life in the form of fire in the navel chakra. Lalitā Sahasranāma 38 says: Ratna-kiṅkiṇikā-ramya-raśanā-dāma-bhūṣitā रत्न-किङ्किणिका-रम्य-रशना-दाम-भूषिता meaning She is adorned with girdle studded with mini bells and gems.
After having described about the origin of fire energy at the navel chakra and the origin of sound from Her waist band, Śaṁkarācārya proceeds to discuss about Her act of sustenance. She has five fold activities relating to the universe – creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and finally Grace or liberation. Creation happens due to the fire energy at the navel chakra and whatever is created are to be nourished and this nourishment is subtly conveyed through the description of Her bosoms, which refer to nourishment. She nourishes the entire universe like a mother nourishing her child with her milk. Lalitā Sahasranāma nāma-s 33, 34 and 36 also talk about Her heavy bosoms. It is also said that there is a bend in Her structure due to Her heavy bosoms. This bend is due to Her compassion. She sits on the left lap of Śiva. As She is the universal mother, She bends forwards and looks down at the universe with great compassion and concern. This also subtly conveys the heart chakra, through which universal love is expressed.
Her waist is very slender. Lalitā Sahasranāma 34 and 35 also describe Her waist. Waist refers to creation due to the heat that originates from navel chakra. When it is said that Her waist is thin when compared to Her bosoms, it subtly conveys that She is more concerned with the sustenance of the universe. Every mother is naturally concerned about the wellbeing of her children. Having created, She ensures that all Her creations are properly nourished. After all, She is the most compassionate mother.
Her face appears like autumnal moon. When compared to other seasons, autumn moon is brighter. Hence, Her face is described as autumnal moon (pariṇataśaraccandravadanā). Her face is beautifully described in Śrī Śakti mahimnaḥ (verse 39) by sage Durvāsa thus: “You appear to Your devotees with face enamoured by all the sixteen kalā-s of the moon (moon has sixteen kalā-s and the moon with all the sixteen kalā-s is known as the full moon; kalā means a part) full of bliss (ānandaśakti), smile and curiosity; eyes appearing more beautiful than the fully blossomed lotus petals; and teeth resembling jasmine flowers.” This is the face that Śaṁkarācārya talks about in this verse. Since Her total beauty is reflected in Her face, Her face is the most beautiful part of Her body. After having finished the description of Her gross body, next the weaponries She holds are being discussed.
The verse says that She holds four weaponries in Her four hands (Lalitā Sahasranāma 7 - Caturbāhu-samanvitā चतुर्बाहु-समन्विता which means that She has four hands). These four hands are described in Lalitā Sahasranāma. Nāma 8 says, Rāgasvarūpa-pāśāḍhyā रागस्वरूप-पाशाढ्या Rāga means desire or a wish. Pāśa is a type of rope used to pull an object. She pulls all the desires of Her devotees using this rope. There are three śakti-s (śakti in this context means power) – iccā, jñāna and kriya. This nāma talks about iccā śakti or the desire. She never allows Her devotees to sink with desires. This arm is Her left lower arm. Nāma 9 says, Krodhākāraṅkuśojvalā क्रोधाकारङ्कुशोज्वला She holds an elephant hook in her right upper arm. Krodha means hatred and akāra means knowledge. This nāma talks about subtle body. Knowledge is always subtle. She uses this elephant hook to destroy the hatred if developed in Her devotees and gives them knowledge. Nāma 10 says Manorūpekṣu-kodaṇḍā मनोरूपेक्षु-कोदण्डा Mind involves both saṃkalpa and vikalpa. Saṃkalpa means resolve, process of thought. Vikalpa means difference of perception. Both are opposite to each other. Mind is also subtle like knowledge. Mind is reflected through the five sensory organs. It has both saṃkalpa and vikalpa quality as it acts through the impressions received from sense organs that get fine tuned in the form of thought and finally explodes in the form of actions. Ikṣu means sugar cane and kodaṇḍa means a bow. She is holding in Her left upper arm a bow of sugar cane. Why sugarcane bow? If sugarcane is crushed, sweet and tasty juice is obtained from which sugar is obtained. It means if one crushes his mind (controlling the mind), he gets the sweet reality of the Brahman. Nāma 11 says, Pañcatanmātra-sāyakā पञ्चतन्मात्र-सायका Pañca means five and tanmātra-s are sound, touch, sight, taste and smell, the subtle modifications of the five basic elements ākāś, air, fire, water and earth. The earlier nāma spoke about the bow and this nāma talks about Her arrows. She has five arrows. These five arrows are made of flowers. The five flower arrows represent five subtle elements. These five flowers or arrows are described differently in various tantra śāstra-s. These five flowers are lotus flower, raktakairava flower, kalhara flower, indivara flower and flowers of mango tree. These five flowers represent excitement, madness, confusion, stimulation and destruction. The arrows are used in wars targeting the enemies. Lalitāmbikā targets Her devotees with these arrows to destroy the illusion or māyā as the five subtle elements are associated with māyā. This is Her right upper hand.
Sage Durvāsa in his Śrī Śakti mahimnaḥ (verse 50) says that the one who meditates on these weaponries not only becomes famous but also gets rid of māyā and fear from death.
It is important to note in this verse that Śaṁkarācārya prays to the Divine Mother, the embodiment of the pride of Śiva to appear in person not for him, but for us. Since there is no selfish motive in his prayer, he is known as ācārya, the spiritual preceptor. Knowledge alone is not the criteria for being an ācārya; he should also be egoless and should have great concern for his disciples and their upliftment.
Further reading on Śakti: Śakti is the svātantrya śakti of Śiva. It is Śiva’s exclusive and independent Power. There is no other power beyond His Power. A person’s power is inherent in him and in the same way, Śiva’s Power is inherent in Him and His inherent Power is known as Śakti. Śiva is the static energy and Śakti is dynamic energy. Śiva is the masculine energy and Śakti is the feminine energy. There is no significant difference between Śakti and Śiva. They are subjectivity as against objectivity expressed through the rest of the 36 tattva-s of Trika philosophy. They represent universal “I” ness, the ultimate purity. If one really wants to find some difference between the two, it can be said that Śiva is knowledge or jñāna and Śakti is kriyā or action. The union of Śiva and Śakti is generally expressed in the form of Ardhanārīśvara (a form of Śiva with half of the body being His body and His left half is Śakti’s body). The material world is full of kriyā or action, which is nothing but the manifestation of Śakti and a lot is written about worshipping Her in the form different śāstra-s, the predominant being Tantra śāstra-s. Śakti’s manifestation can be understood only through the study of 36 tattvas. Śakti is always identified with Cit or Śiva.