Moulding the Void

Page 1

MOULDING THE VOID �other in the Making
Translations from Sanskrit and Commentaries

MOULDING THE VOID �other in the Making

The Goddess Devi, the primordial Shakti, is a revelation of the eternal Brahman in a maternal aspect. She is worshipped during the autumnal festival of Durga Pujo in Bengal every year.

In this volume, Peter Bjørn Franceschi presents a photographic exploration of the mother goddess in the making, a visual diary of the clay idols of Goddess Durga, from conception to finished form. The book takes us through the winding lanes of Kumartuli, home to the master artists who craft the clay idols of the Devi for the Durga Pujo.

Accompanying these photographs are verses from Sankaracharya’s poetic work Saundaryalahari (Waves of Beauty), translated by the scholar Minati Kar. The work is a paean to Goddess Durga, entwining Advaita Vedanta and Tantra philosophy to paint a splendid picture of Devi, starting from the crown of her head and ending at her feet. These poetic descriptions serve as a deeper layer to the visuals, and as an alternate way of interpreting the process of image-making.

Delving deep into the philosophical and artistic aspects of the divinity of Goddess Durga, this volume is a visual celebration of her many forms, and also of the artisans who have occupied a centuries-old caesura between devotion and art.

With 192 photographs.


PETER BJO⁄RN FRANCESCHI MINATI KAR photography translations from sanskrit and Commentaries
MOULDING THE VOID �other in the Making

First published in India in 2019 by

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Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd

Text © Minati Kar, Andrea Loseries

Photographs © Peter Bjørn Franceschi

All rights reserved under international copyright conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,including photocopy, recording or any other information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

The moral rights of Minati Kar, Andrea Loseries and Peter Bjørn Franceschi as the authors of this work are asserted.

ISBN: 978-93-85360-42-8

Editor: Andrea Loseries

Design: Raj Gope

Copyediting: Neha Manke / Mapin Editorial

Production: Gopal Limbad / Mapin Design Studio

Printed at Thomson Press (India) Ltd.

Dedicated to our dear friend Prof. Dr. Minati Kar (1947–2014)
27 DEV R P YA . A 29 D i vy avi rbh avah . Emergence of the Devī 43 Saundaryam˙ The Beauty 57 Kir i t . a m˙ The Crown 67 Cikura h . The Curly Locks of Hair 81 Lal at . am˙ The Forehead 89 Bhr . vau The Eyebrows 95 Nayane Divyanayan a m˙ The Eyes and Wisdom Eye 111 Danta h . The Lips and Teeth 121 Jihva The Tongue 135 Gri va h . The Neck 145 Bhuj a h . The Arms 167 Stanayug a m˙ The Breasts 183 Yoni The Womb 193 U ruyuga m˙ The Thighs 205 Cara n . au The Feet contents 8 Foreword 10 EDITOR’S PRELUDE 19 INTRODUCTION
235 NATURE OF K L 240 Mun . d . am a l a Garland of Letters 255 NIMAJJANA Immersion 261 APPENDIX 263 Dhya namantra Mystic Words of Meditation 270 Ornaments of Durg a 272 Durg a’s Arms in Action 273 Mudra s Hand Gestures 274 Durg a’s Multiple Appearances 276 Durg a’s various Epithets 219 DAs´AMAH VIDY The Ten Wisdom Goddesses with their Meditation Mantras 220 The Myth 223 Ka l i The Black Goddess 224 Ta ra Saviour in the Trouble 225 S . od . as´ i Tripura sundar i Allurement of the Three Worlds 226 Bhuvanes´var i The Cosmic Queen 227 Bhairav i The Passionate One 228 Chinnamasta The Self-Guillotined Goddess 229 Dh u ma vat i The Power of Darkness 230 Bagal amukh i The Transfixer or Incapacitator 231 M ata n · g i The Exiled Goddess 232 Kamal a The Lotus Goddess 278 Bibliography 280 A Note on kumartuli Acknowledgements 282 Contributors

She is light itself and unsurpassable. Her limbs are rays in thousand, Two thousand, and hundred thousand, Tens of millions, a hundred millionThere is no counting their numbers. Devī, by your light only everything appears! 1 Bhairava Yamala

When one’s mind is merged with the Void, one embraces the Great Womb of infinite space, luminous and blissful. That which cannot be defined was given many names since the beginning of mankind. In Bengal, it mirrors as Mā, the Divine Mother. In folk myth, she descends on earth every year and her presence is worshipped in the reflection of her image in clay.

India is the only country where the goddess is still widely worshipped today, in a tradition that dates to the culture of the Indus Valley Civilization of 3000 BCE and earlier. Mother-goddess and fertility cults in which female divinities predominate appear to have constituted the indigenous beliefs of the prehistoric period. In many parts of India, megalithic domes and dolmens are built as ‘womb chambers’, and their entrances resemble the Great Mother’s yonic passage. Cave sanctuaries, too, are identified with the womb of Mother Earth.2 From Kashmir, through the Vindhya range, to South India, monuments dating from as early as 8000 BCE to 2000 BCE symbolize ‘the great active power of the universe’, the feminine principle, śakti. 3 Evidence of feminine ultimacy is widely prevalent in India—whether venerated as Nature or the Life Force, as Mother or Virgin, as Great Goddess or as the Ultimate Reality.

The study of Vedic literature reveals that the feminine divinities popular in the earlier indigenous cults influenced even Vedic religious thought, and that some of these deities were absorbed into the Vedic pantheon. The Vedic pantheon had one goddess to compare in importance and influence: Aditi. The Vedic seers regard her as the great womb into which the entire universe has entered. R º ig Veda (7,10,4) names her a progenetrix of cosmic creation. She holds Agni, god of fire and creator-god, in her womb like a mother. Aditi is the yoni of the universe, the mother-womb. Almost all important gods of

11editor’s prelude

the Vedic pantheon owe their birth to her. Aditi has also a close connection with light. She is a shining, luminous devī. She is also the guardian of the cosmic order. She is benevolent and gentle. She is identified with the cow, for the milk stored in the cosmic cow pours down as our daily nourishment, inexhaustible and circulating as life substance in all that exists.4

Other goddesses venerated in the Vedas are Uṣā, the great Goddess of Dawn, Rātri, the Goddess of Starlit Night, Sūryā, the Sun goddess, Pṛthivī, the Earth Goddess, and Sarasvatī, the Goddess of Knowledge.5

In the patriarchal frame of the Vedic period, the pre-Vedic goddesses went, to some extent, underground. They reappear in postVedic literature and in classical and medieval Hinduism. The term śakti is applied to this phase. In epic and Purāṇic literature, we find innumerable goddess names to the universal feminine power, and the various goddesses take on distinct iconographic forms. Since the late epic period (c. 400 CE) the goddess Śrī Lakṣmī became associated with God Viṣṇu as his consort and wife. Rivalling Lakṣmī in popularity is Goddess Pārvatī, who is identified as the reincarnation of Śiva’s first wife Satī. Others are Rādhā and Sītā. Then there is the warrior goddess Dūrgā whose roots seem to be among the tribal and peasant cultures of India, which eventually leavened the male-dominated Vedic pantheon with several goddesses associated with power, blood, and battle. Then there is Kālī, the black,

usually naked goddess with long, dishevelled hair. The earliest reference to Kālī dates to the early medieval period, around 600 CE. Further, the Mātr º kās (the Mothers) appear since the first century CE. Then there are the Mahāvidyās, a group of ten goddesses who are mentioned rather late in Hindu tradition, which are Dhūmāvati, Kālī, Tārā, Chhinnamastā, Bhuvaneśvarī, Bagalā, Kamalā, Mātaňgī, Sodaśī and Bhairavī.

Hundreds of treatises have been written, from 200 CE to the present day, for the consolidation and development of the śakti cult. Our knowledge is based on the religious works of the Śākta system from post-Buddhist times about 1200 CE. The term Tantra came to be used for such works, particularly developed and practised in Bengal.6 The rudimentary idea of Tantric philosophy is the doctrine of prakr º ti and puruṣa as propounded in the Saňkhya school. According to this idea, puruṣa is inactive while prakr º ti is active. Therefore, prakr º ti is more important than puruṣa. To the Śāktas, śakti is the eternal dynamic source of all beings. It is pervaded that all beings proceed from the womb of a woman who is regarded as the ultimate creative principle in terms of the “mother”, and not the “father”.7 Śakti means power, force, the feminine energy, for she represents the primal creative principle underlying the cosmos. She is the energizing force of all divinity, of every being and every thing. The whole universe is the manifestation of śakti. A Śākta, a follower of śakti-worship, regards her as the Supreme Reality. The ritual

13editor’s prelude

side of the Śākta philosophy consists of the worship of the different forms of this universal energy personified as goddess. Śakti is known by the general name Devī, from the Sanskrit root div, “to shine”. She is the shining one, who is given different names in different places and in different appearances, as the symbol of the lifegiving powers of the universe.

It is in the medieval period that a feminine divinity is regarded as the “power” of her consort-god, and she is often represented as superior to him. While in the Śivaitic Purāṇas, the male puruṣa is regarded higher than the female prakṛti, 8 in Tantric and Śākta doctrine, śakti, the feminine power, is supreme, and the gods are virtually relegated to the secondary position. In her supreme form, her worshippers identify Mahādevī or Mahāmāyā, the Great Goddess, as śakti. She is the power that creates and destroys, the womb from which all things proceed and to which all return. She is the “Great Mother”, because all possible objects are latent and manifest in her womb. In her absolute aspect of Reality, she is formless, attribute-less. Kālī is worshipped as Ādya-Śakti, the Beginning of All. In the Śaktisaňgama Tantra it is stated:9

“I am Kālī, the Primal Creative Force. After the great dissolution, Kālī alone remains, as avyakta prakr º ti (unmanifest nature) in a state of potential power, the Supreme śakti, the Eternal Feminine.”

The worship of Kālī is characterized by a fervent self-surrender to the Mother. The hymns to Kālī

express the praise of her endless forms, though she is one. The vast Śākta literature contains many poems to illustrate the Goddess’s worldplay (līlā), the realization which dispels all fears. For in the folk belief, the Mother is not seen as terrible, but as sweet and loving.10 She only appears terrible to those who are living in the illusion of separateness; who have not realized their unity with her, and do not yet know that all her forms are for enlightenment.

The poetry of Ramprasad11 and the writings of Sri Ramakrishna12 reflect the pure bhakti, the devotional worship of the Goddess as the Only Mother.13 Sri Ramakrishna, who was wont to fall into ecstatic trances, expressed his complete surrender to the Divine in songs. He identifies the Mother with the Absolute, when he sings:14

Is my Divine Mother black?

Oh my mind! What do you say?

The Infinite is the garment that She puts on! Though black, She illuminates the lotus of the heart.

This volume displays photographs taken in the workshops of the traditional idol-makers in Kolkata by the Danish artist Peter Bjørn Franceschi. In his works, he deals with interplays of layers, fluidity and luminous space. In the pictures presented here, the artist expresses his fascination for the skills of the Bengali craftsmen by revealing the nakedness while “moulding the Mother” as a symbol for the natural mind. Seeing for the first time his photographs of “the


Mother in the making” spread on the floor of my garden-house in Santiniketan, I was thrilled and emotionally deeply moved. This was material for a work of art, not just illustrations for an anthropological study on the centuries-old process of forming sacred images out of clay. Thus, I encouraged the artist to sweeten this publication, basically an art book, with the best of quotes from sacred and authentic texts. These visuals of the Divine Mother in clay resound in selected verses quoted from the rich literature of the Purāṇas, Śākta-Tantras and Candī Pāṭha, translated from the original texts for the first time

into English. For instance, Devī Māhātmya is contained in the Mārkaṇdeya Purāṇa, one of the oldest Purāṇa, compiled and edited in the Gupta period. It consists of thirteen chapters and is a scripture of highest sanctity. The text describes the Supreme Principle of Reality invoked and glorified under the name of Devī of the Vedic doctrine, of an all-powerful goddess of supreme transcendence, as propounded in Āmbhr º ṇisūkta and Dāksāgatrīsūkta.

In Minati Kar, we found an erudite Sanskritist who took great care in collecting the suitable

15editor’s prelude

quotes from the scriptures. Without her endeavour and interest in the topic despite her poor state of health, this book could not have been completed. Alas, Minati Kar could not see the birth of this publication as she quietly passed away on 25th February 2014 after bearing with great courage and patience an inconceivable ordeal of physical suffering. With her passing, we have lost a dearest loving friend and sister of the heart. Her kindness and brilliant mind will always be remembered.

The preparation of Moulding the Void: Mother in the Making was a hard task. Any book editing is similar to giving birth. This birth was difficult. But unlike the current trend in India for pressing upon the mother in spe to undergo caesarean instead of natural birth15, we gave space and time for maturation. This was as much in regard to assembling the research material for the selected images as in regard to editing the “divine” script Devanāgarī, the transliteration of the Sanskrit with diacritical marks as well as discussing


the final poetic version of the literal English translation with Minati Kar. But, also, the search for and selection of a suitable printing house was causing more delay than expected.

This volume is a unique combination of the artistic eye and refined scholarship, of contemporary vision and ancient wisdom of “making the

Mother by moulding the void”. It is a meditative perspective of the Divine Mother in clay.

May it be an inspiration for perfecting the wisdom within!

Sarva Mangalam!


1. Translation by Minati Kar; adaptation by the editor.

2. The Sanskrit term for a sanctuary is garbha griha, meaning “womb-chamber”, see the prehistoric megalith in Bolhai, Madhya Pradesh; shrine of Kalika Mai in Kaimur, central India.

3. Mookerjee, Ajit, Kali - The Feminine Force, Repr. London 1995 (1988): 11.

4. See Mookerjee 1995: p. 16.

5. See Kinsley, David, Hindu Goddesses. Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Delhi 1986: p. 6.

6. See Mookerjee 1995: p. 21.

7. Jash, Pranabananda, “The Tantras. An Excursus into Origins,” In N.N. Bhattacharyya (ed.) Tantric Buddhism: Centennial Tribute to Dr. Benoytosh Bhattacharya, New Delhi 1999: p. 144.

8. ‘Alles weibliche Gekennzeichnete ist die Göttin prakṛti, geboren aus meinem Körper. Das männlich Gekennzeichnete, o Brahmanen, ist der aus meinem Körper entstandene puruṣa (Lingapurāṇa 1.33.3. und 1.33.4), see Syed Syed, Renate: “Materie, Göttin, Frau: zur Vorstellung des Weiblichen im indischen Denken dargestellt anhand ausgewählter shivaitischer Puranas,” In Hutter, M. (ed.) Die Rolle des Weiblichen in der indischen und buddhistschen Kulturgeschichte, Graz 1998: p. 185.

9. Mookerjee 1995: p. 69.

10. On the ‘Sweetening of the Mother’s picture’, see Fell McDermott, Rachel, “Popular Attitudes towards Kali and her poetry Tradition interviewing Shaktas in Bengal,” In Micheal Axel, Vogelsanger C., Wilke A. (ed.), Wilde Goddesses in India and Nepal. Proceedings of an International Symposium Berne and Zurich, November 1994, Studia Religiosa Helvetica Jahrbuch, Vol.2. Bern 1996: pp. 383-416.

11. See MacLean, Malcolm, Devoted to the Goddess: The life and Work of Ramprasad Sen, Albany 1996.

12. See Gupta Mahendranath, The condensed Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna according to M., a son of the lord and disciple, Madras 1978.

13. On the bhakta movement in Bengal, see Fell McDermott 1996: p. 396.

14. Gupta 1978: p. 121.

15. More than 80% of women in contemporary India have to undergo caesarean surgery for giving birth due to monetarilyfocused medical attendants. This disaster deserves as much attention as female foetus abortion practiced in this noble land (ārya deśa) called India.

17editor’s prelude


“The Mother in the Making” (Devīrūpāyaṇa) depicted through photographs has many levels of interpretation. The portrayal of the artistic photographs is interpreted here from the stance of Advaita Vedānta and Tantra. The root div means “to shine”, hence Devī who is worshipped as the Mother is resplendent in her gorgeous form. In the Tantric view, she is Śakti, feminine energy, and reality as such.

Reality means cosmic and transcendent existence. Reality in its static aspect is Parābrāhman, and its dynamic facet is Parāśakti. Śakti means energy. The Devī is called Parāśakti, present in all animate beings and inanimate objects (yā devī sarvabhūteṣu śaktirūpeṇa saṁsthitā, Caṇḍī Pāṭha). There are four aspects of Parāśakti: Maheśvarī, Mahākālī, Mahālakṣmī and Mahāsarasvatī. These powers confer wisdom, strength, harmony and perfection. The worship of the Divine Mother gives us strength and endows us with the realization of unity in multiplicity. From the point of view of Tantra, the Supreme Being is conceived as the Great Mother. She is consciousness and benignantly gracious.

Goddess Devī, the primordial Śakti, in reality, is Brāhman revealed in her motherly aspect. In Yoginītantra, Kālī says of herself: “I am existence, consciousness and bliss, I am Brāhman, I am self-revealing and emanating radiance” (saccidānanda-rūpaham brahmaivāham sphurat-prabhām, part 1, chap. 6). Śakti is known as svatantra (her existence does not depend on anything extraneous to herself).

The Devī as Parābrāhman is beyond all forms and qualities (guṇa). The forms of the Mother are threefold: supreme (para), subtle (sūkṣma) and gross (sthūla). As the mind cannot settle in the subtle form, a gross form or image is created in concordance with the tenet of Tantraśāstras and Caṇḍī Pāṭha. Through the worshipper’s single-minded meditation, the clay image is visualized as the conscious Mother.


The Story

Durgā Pūjā is observed as the autumn festival of Bengal. This is also called the “untimely worship” (akālabodhana). As the story goes, Rāma in order to kill Rāvaṇa, who had abducted his wife Sītā, wanted to propitiate the Devī to obtain her blessings. According to the scriptures, the rituals began on the sixth day of the waxing moon in the month of Ashwin. On the ninth day, a pūjā was performed with offerings of fruits and flowers. The Goddess arrived but concealed herself while accepting the offerings. Thus, Rāma doubted that the Goddess was appeased and feared that there was no recourse to rescue Sītā.

Vibhīṣaṇa, a brother of Rāvaṇa who had joined Rāma’s camp, advised another means for redemption. He suggested that in order to please Durgā, she should be worshipped with onehundred-and-eight blue lotuses. As these lotuses are rare she would surely be pleased. Hanumān vowed to bring these flowers wherever they might be. Vibhīṣaṇa informed that they are to be found in just one place on earth, called Devīdaha, but it would take ten years to reach. Yet, Hanumān reached there with the speed of the wind and plucked one-hundred-and-eight blue lotuses of thousand petals each and returned, again like the wind. Thus, Rāma, with concentrated mind, began to worship the Goddess. But the Goddess stole one lotus to test Rāma’s devotion to her. Not finding the last flower of offering, Rāma

remembered that people called him the “lotuseyed”. He took out an arrow from his quiver and was about to shoot one of his “lotus eyes”, when the Goddess, satisfied with his devotion, appeared and blessed him, saying that she will desert Rāvaṇa so that he may rescue Sītā from Rāvaṇa’s clutches. Rāma completed the pūjā on the tenth day and immersed the Goddess’s idol in water.

Devī Māhātmya (Glory of the Goddess) or Caṇḍī Pāṭha is recited during the Durgā Pūjā as well as on many other ritualistic occasions. The subject matter of Caṇḍī Pāṭha is given here in a nutshell for the perusal of the readers.

Śāktism is based on the central theme of Devī Māhātmya. It is a hymn written in Sanskrit in 700 verses (chapters 81–93 of the Mārkaṇdeya Purāṇa). In this, Sage Mārkaṇdeya describes to Kraustuki (or Bhaguri), the son of a brāhman,1 the history of the world through manvantara of its cosmic ages.2

Devī Māhātmya is the story of a king, a merchant and a sage. The deposed King Suratha and the merchant Samadhi, cast out by his family, meet Sage Medhas deep into a forest. Sage Medhas narrates to them, in a vivid manner, three mythological stories describing the supreme power of Devī. These mythological narratives


project the outer and internal experiences of human beings. Outwardly, the asuras therein allude to evil forces which jeopardize righteousness (dharma). Inwardly, they represent ego-based unawareness that imperil human predicament.

Yoga Sūtra Bhāṣya3 (1.12) proclaims “the socalled river of the mind flows both ways. It flows towards vice as well as in the direction of ultimate bliss”. One who fails to discriminate between good and evil moves from birth to birth in the eternal labyrinth of earthly life (saṁsāra) Through discrimination, austere practice (sādhanā) and mental discipline one can revert its flow towards supreme blessedness. Hence it can be discerned that there is a constant tension between divine and evil tendencies.

Devī Māhātmya or Caṇḍī Pāṭha is divided into three canti or caritas. The first canto (prathama carita) introduces Devī’s eternal immutability (nitya). The presiding deity is Mahākālikā. The second canto (madhyama carita) propagates her playfulness (līlā). Devī’s destructive side vanquishes evil, whereas her sublime side projects auspiciousness. The presiding deity is Mahālakṣmī. The third canto (uttara carita) discusses the power of knowledge (jňāna). It is a garland of fifty letters. The presiding deity is Mahāsarasvatī.

Caṇḍī Pāṭha asserts that Devī is the primordial energy. In the second story told by Sage Medhas to King Suratha and the merchant Samadhi, the barbarous demonic forces were harassing the world; the powerful gods were incompetent to curb their might. So, they needed a goddess, and not a god, since a female dynamic energy was mandatory. Hearing the entreaties of the gods, from the rage-filled countenance of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva and from the bodies of the other gods (sarvadevaśarīrajam, 2.13) emanated a great light, fusing and becoming one. That light was blazing brightly and pervaded the whole sky. The light coalesced into a female form and permeated the universe with its resplendence. Her body was golden and shining with the splendour of 1000 suns. Then Devī laughed loudly filling the entire space with its roar. Thus, the emergence of Devī relates to the divine light.

That the radiance emerging from the male gods coalesced into a female form does not mean that Devī is derived from the male gods. Sage Medhas says that she is the sovereign of all. She wields power of creating, sustaining and destroying. The energy (tejas) within the gods is indicative of Devī’s indwelling power in every being, which was fragmented but then united again. Devī Durgā is one of the most spectacular of all personifications of cosmic energy.


Of the three characters in Devī Māhātmya, the king and the merchant are deluded by Mahāmāyā (great illusion). The supreme Devī veils her infinitude and appears in the universe with name and form. The sage instructs them about how Mahāmāyā creates this universe and deludes even the minds of wise men. Yet, she is also the highest knowledge and perpetual cause of liberation. The benevolent nature of Devī destructs the evil-doer with infinite compassion and unconditionally showers grace on him.

Devī Māhātmya has a philosophical basis. It is interpreted from the Advaita Vedāntic stance and also from the Śākta-Tantric viewpoint. Both Śākta philosophy and Advaita Vedānta adhere to non-dualism more or less.4 Devī says: “In this world I am alone; there is no other equal to me (ekaivāham jagatyatra dvitīyā kā mamāparā).”

As for the underlying theology, the battleground may be taken to be the human heart and mind. There are multifarious encounters struggling between the polarities of love and hate, virtue and vice, and right and wrong. When with austere devotion one prays to Devī, the indwelling divinity, she unveils herself and leads the aspirant to ultimate bliss. It is said in Devī Māhātmya or Caṇḍī Pāṭha (verse 4.17): “Devī, when remembered in distress, removes fear from every creature. Reminisced by the aspirant she instils more tranquillity of mind. She dispels

poverty, suffering and fear from all the worldly people. She is ever intent on showering grace to everyone without discern.”

Devī is the great Mahāmāyā. She is the highest Prakr º ti. She is the embodiment of three qualities, satva, rajas and tamas, the three basic energies whose complex interactions create the physical universe. She is the creator, also eventually devouring everything. Devī is also Ādyā Śākti, devoid of all dualities she is Absolute Reality. Brāhman and māyā of the Upaniṣads are called Śiva and Śakti in Śākta philosophy. They are non-dual. It is designated as Śiva when realized as the unchanging ground of experience. Śakti is the dynamic power of origination known as māyā śakti manifesting as mind and matter. Through this māyā śakti, a universe is created; a universe that is none other than the resplendent form of the formless (śūnyākāra). Here spirit, mind and matter are one. “The universe is a kaleidoscope of limitless possibility, of breath-taking beauty and appalling horror, where life oscillates between pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, and success and failure” (Devadatta Kali, trans. and commentory, Devīmahātmya, 2006).

Pārvatī is Śiva’s consort, she is also known as Umā, Durgā and Caṇḍī. She is usually described as the daughter of Himavān and an important goddess of the Hindu pantheon. She earned the name Durgā after slaying the demon Durgama.

She is mounted on a lion and has ten arms. When the demon Mahiṣāsura became invincible, she was created by the divine energy of gods, and each god gave her one weapon. She not only killed Mahiṣāsura, but also Śumbha and Niśumbha when she took upon the form of Goddess Kālī.

The demon Durgama’s nature has two facets. In the worldly life, it creates selfishness in human beings. Mother Durgā saves everyone from this suffering. In the path of the spirituality, it takes the form of avidyā (neissance). Mother Durgā by the sword of knowledge severs the knot of avidyā that binds one to the treacheries of the world. Another meaning of Durgā is that her true nature is difficult to know. Her symbolic number is ten, and she brandishes ten weapons in her ten hands.

Kālī is worshipped by saints as well as sinners. Kālī’s nature is based on opposites: benevolent, beautiful and destructive. In Tantraśāstra, Kālī is stated to be in the form of letters (vyjyate iti varṇah): “Whatever has the power to manifest is called varṇa.” In Sanskrit, all the vowels, from a to aḥ, and all the consonants, from ka to ma, are the mātr º kas (group of mother goddesses) themselves in the form of letters. And, the mātr º kāvarṇa or varṇamālā is symbolised in muṇdamālā (the

garland of heads) worn by Goddess Kālī. In the depiction of Kālī, her tongue is protruded. The tongue represents the mystic letters, as all letters are produced by the tongue. The essence of Kālī is fruitful (sārthaka) with the letters a, u, ma, ardha candra (the crescent moon) and biṇdu (the dot). Kālī’s feet on Śiva indicate that she is nondual with Śiva. Devī is in reverse sexual position (viparīta-ratāturā), indicating that she is ever intent on delivering her devotees from the cycle of birth and death.

In conclusion it may be said that the visuals of the different features of the Mother’s form starting from the crown to the feet are described according to the philosopher-saint Śańkarācārya’s poetic work Saundaryalaharī (“Waves of Beauty”). In this poetic work he has entwined Advaita Vedānta and Tantra in a superb way. Through his unique poetic diction, he gives a splendid picture of Devī, the Mother. This is the first time I have delved deep into the philosophical aspect of divinity and have ventured in describing Devī from the point of view of Śańkarācārya corroborating with the visual artistic photographs.

Minati Kar Kolkata, March 2012


1. Mishra, Rajkishore, A Peep into the Caṇḍī Text, http://

2. Manu-antara, units of time measurement on a logarithmic scale.

3. Sastri, Sri Rama and S.R. Krishnamurthi Sastri, Pātňjala-

Yogasūtra-Bhaṣya Vivaraṇam of Śaňkara-Bhagavatpāda (critically edited with Introduction), Madras: Government Oriental Manuscript Library, 1952.

4. (Note of the Editor) This subtle difference was not elaborated by the author.




Peter Bjørn Franceschi is a Danish visual artist working from Copenhagen, Kolkata and southern France. Trained as a glass artist from the Danish School of Design, he presently works in a wide range of media. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in Europe, the Middle East and India.

ādhānikarahasya, 7)

Paper Jewels Postcards from the Raj Omar Khan

Water Treasures of the Himalayas Serge Verliat and Jean Philippe

The Uprising of 1857 Edited by Rosie Llewellyn-Jones

“…incredible… Kumartuli, the home of master artists who craft the idols of the Devi, comes alive in the book.”
—Nirmal Jovial, The Week
g ISBN 978-93-85360-42-8 ₹3500/$65/£52 PHOTOGRAPHY Moulding the Void Mother in the Making Peter Bjørn Franceschi withtranslationsby Minati Kar Forewordby Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Fmr.PresidentofIndia 284pages,192photographs, 8.25x9.70”(210x247mm),hc ISBN:978-93-85360-42-8 ₹3500|$65|£52 Spring2019||Worldrights
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