For thousands of years, there are some sects within Hinduism that have been actively involved in esoteric practices. Their core beliefs on ‘mukhsa’ (free from the cycle of endless rebirth) contradict the traditional philosophy and teachings of Hinduism, which is widely recognized as the Vedic religion.
In Vedic philosophy, the cycle of rebirth is solely based on one’s karma, but the followers of Tantrism (Yes, we’ve given it a name) believe that they can bypass the cycle of rebirth by worshiping special tantric deities and practicing some secretive rituals. Despite the contradiction they share, both tantrism and Vedic religion fall under the great umbrella of Hinduism.
You may ask why?
Hinduism is not like any other religion that exists today in the world. Because the word “Hinduism” is really a wider term used to define the collective group of its smaller and diversified sects whose religious and even cultural beliefs are totally different from each other.
History Of Tantrism
Tantrism is a very small section of the entire hindu religon which can be dated back to 400–600 A.D. Although many scholars have their different take on the accuracy of the time of its origin. Some experts argue tantrism to have existed before the Indus valley civilization, and to some, it had been an integral part of Indian culture from the start.
The entire tantrism and their obscure secret beliefs and practices revolve around the great goddess of Devi Shakti. They worship Devi or the feminine energy as the supreme deity and the divine mother. Many tantric texts suggest that only the Devi Shakti has the capacity of granting the dual aim of Mukti ,and Bhukti.
However, don’t confuse Bhukti with Bhakti, as they are two different concepts. Bhukti simply means the desire to experience worldly happiness, or materialistic happiness. Whereas Bhakti means unconditional devotion to something, be it is god, guru, or someone else.
In tantrism, the feminine energy is believed to be the absolute creative force of the universe, and that is the reason it is also identified as shakti (power). Even according to the Devī Māhātmya, only she is eternal and the one who can grant the boon of absolute liberation from the cycle of infinite rebirth.
The invincible Devi Shakti has many many manifestations, among them Durga, Ambika, the Saptamatrikas, Ashtamatrikas, and Kali are the most prominent. Although when we talk about tantric goddesses, kali and her other manifested forms come up to the top as the favorite goddess of tantric practices.
It is especially true in the eastern side of India and Nepal as these regions are full of Kali temples. As the fierce and the final member of Devi Shakti, Goddess Kali persists in the most feminine power and is the deity who presides at the instant of enlightenment.
Goddesses Of Dasa Mahavidyas
You may have heard of the Dasa Mahavidyas or the ten great pearls of wisdom in many youtube videos. The followers of tantrism believe that whoever harnesses these powers of the “Dasa Mahavidyas” can live a life beyond comfortable standards and can possess certain supernatural powers.
The story of how the “Dasa Mahavidya ” came into existence comes as the result of a quarrel between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Once the angry Shiva attempted to leave Goddess Parvati, she quickly multiplied herself and blocked all the directions to prevent his escape. Each of her clones or you can say “avatars” revealed a new truth to Lord Shiva.
Hearing the truth, he finally acknowledged the superiority of the Goddess. And this is how “Dasa Mahavidya” became the favorite goddess for the followers of tantrism to worship and seek enlightenment.
The Only God Of Tantrism
In this article, we are going to talk about the “dasa mahavidyas” and their representative goddesses. However, it’s not like only goddesses are being worshiped in tantrism.
Actually, Lord Shiva had always been linked to the great Goddess, but in tantrism, he often appears as the fearsome Bhairava.
In the list of Dasa Mahavidyas, goddess Kali is the first who represents the ultimate destruction, as well as the remover of material attachment and fears. Although a normal person might think, if Goddess Kali herself looks horrifying, how come she is the remover of fears.
Well, tantrism is all about rejecting the conventional. As tantrism and its secretive practices involve complex rituals, mantras, spells, and magic, it is hard for a normal person to grasp their philosophy. Sometimes it makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Tara is the second goddess on the list of “Dasa” (meaning ten) Mahavidyas. She is often considered a form of “Adishakti” (the first source of feminine energy) and the tantric manifestation of Goddess Parvati.
Her mention can be found several times in the Devi-Bhagavata Purana, and interestingly it is said that her favorite place is in China. If you have never seen a picture of Tara before, then you’d think of her as Kali. Because they both look very similar in appearance.
Tripura Sundari is also known with other names, such as Rajarajeshwari, Shodashi, and Lalita. Out of the other nine Dasa Mahavidyas, Tripura Sundari has also been glorified outside of the main tantrism with the famous Hindu text called “Lalita Sahasranama”.
It’s a sacred Hindu text where Tripura Sundari (aka, Lalita) has been glorified with thousand names. She is the highest respected goddess outside the core tantrism, and there are also many temples of her that can be seen throughout the southern part of India.
The fourth member amongst “Dash Mahavidya” is Bhuvaneshvari. She is also known as “Adi Parashakti” as she is said to be the earliest form of “Shakti”. There are many temples of hers across India.
The oldest temple of Goddess Bhuvaneshwari is located at Gunja, north Gujarat. There is also a 900+ years old temple dedicated to this Bhuvaneshvari as the prime deity of the temple.
Bhairavi is the goddess of decay, and is the fifth goddess on the list of “Dasa Mahavidyas”. She is the destroyer of all impediments which come in the way of clearing the mind from evil thoughts.
The word “chinnamasta” literally means “She whose head is severed”. The goddess is shown where she cut off her own head to feed two of her daughters with the stream of blood that is coming out of her neck.
I have noticed many times that the followers of Hinduism are kind of afraid of this goddess. As a sixth member of “Dasa Mahavidya”, her duty is to stagnate any bad activities of the mind and to remove ignorance.
The seventh on the list of “Dasa Mahavidyas” Dhumavati is portrayed as an old and ugly widow who brings destruction, hunger, and thirst. As far I know, she hardly has any independent identity outside of the “Dasa Mahavidya”.
Only the serious practitioners of secretive tantric rituals are allowed to worship her.
According to encyclopedia.com, “Bagalamukhi is a dynamic deity who is invoked to obtain siddhis (supernormal powers)”. The goddess has 108 different names and is very popular in some village folk stories.
If you have listened to any tantrism-related story then you must have heard of her once. In the picture, she is shown holding the tongue of a demon to keep him from saying evil speeches.
The ninth goddess of Dasha Mahavidya is Matangi who symbolizes death and impurity through her association with music and learning. The followers of Tantrism worship her to acquire supernatural or mystic powers, especially gaining control over their enemies.
Finally, the last goddess of Dasa Mahavidya is Kamala. As per ancient texts, she is a very beautiful goddess who has a golden complexion, and if pleased she can grant gifts to her devotee with power, peace, and prosperity.