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Lalitā Tripurāsundarī, the Red Goddess
Dear One, Tripurā is the ultimate, primordial Śakti, the light of manifestation. She, the pile of letters of the alphabet, gave birth to the three worlds. At dissolution, She is the abode of all tattvas, still remaining Herself – Vāmakeśvaratantra
What is Śrī Vidyā and what relationship does it have to the goddess Lalitā and to her yantra, the Śrī Yantra? Vidyā means knowledge, specifically female knowledge, or the goddess, and in this context relates to her aspect called Śrī, Lalitā or Tripurasundarī whose magical diagram is called the Śrī Yantra. She is a red flower, so her diagram is a flower too.
The tantrik tradition views its symbols as having a gross aspect, a subtle aspect, and a supreme aspect. In terms of Lalitā, the gross form is the image of the goddess with her four arms and so forth, the subtle form is as yantra, and the supreme form is her mantra, all three being the goddess in different aspects. Behind the very often colourful symbolism is deep wisdom coupled with practical methods for realising yourself.
Lalitā loves pūja. This term is usually translated as worship. However, this is misleading, as it introduces a duality into a process intended to bring the practitioner (sādhaka or sādvika) to a non-dual position. There can be various pūjas including daily rites, those performed at the four twilights, rites done for specific objects, optional rites done on festival days, or on otherwise auspicious days such as lunar eclipses or the entrance of the sun into a sidereal constellation, rites in assemblies or groups, and rites accomplished with a partner. Subhagodaya, on this site, is a translation which gives a relatively full pūja of Tripurasundarī or Lalitā. There are, however, very many longer pūjas.
Lalitā means She Who Plays. All creation, manifestation and dissolution is considered to be a play of Devī or the goddess. Māhatripurasundarī is her name as transcendent beauty of the three cities, a description of the goddess as conqueror of the three cities of the demons, or as the triple city (Tripurā), but really a metaphor for a human being.
What then is a yantra? The word is usually translated as a machine, but in the special sense of the tantrik tradition refers to the Devī in her linear or geometrical form. Yantras, by the way, are generally to be flat. They may be two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Every aspect of Devī has her own mantra and yantra. The yantra of Devī Lalitā is Śrī Yantra. The divinity of the yantra always occupies the centre or apex.
The different parts or petals and lines of the yantra are usually arranged in concentric circles (maṇḍalas) and contain rays or sub-limbs of devī. The Śrī Yantra has nine of these maṇḍalas, each filled with various aspects of the Devī. In Śrī Yantra there are 111 aspects. The Śrī Yantra is said to be a geometric form of the human body, which implies that goddess as Macrocosm is one with human being as Microcosm.
Formation of the Śrī Yantra
The creation of the Śrī Yantra is described in the Yoginī Hṛdaya (Heart of the Yoginī Tantra). There is an English translation. This is said to be the second part of the Vāmakeśvara Tantra.
“From the fivefold Śakti comes creation and from the fourfold Fire dissolution. The sexual union of five Śaktis and four Fires causes the cakra to evolve. O Sinless One! I speak to you of the origin of the cakra.
“When she, the ultimate Śakti, of her own will (svecchaya) assumed the form of the universe, then the creation of the cakra revealed itself as a pulsating essence. From the void-like vowels with the visarga (:) emerged the bindu, quivering and fully conscious. From this pulsating stream of supreme light emanated the ocean of the cosmos, the very self of the three mothers.
“The baindava of the cakra has a triple form, dharma, adharma and atma, and matri, meya and prama. The cakra of nine yonis is the great mass of consciousness bliss and is the ninefold cakra and the nine divisions of the mantra.
“The baindava is placed on a dense flowery mass and is the Chitkala. Similarly, the ambika form of eight lines is the circle of the vowels. The nine triangles quiver forth the effulgent form of 10 lines. The Śakti, together with her surrounding nine blossomed forth the 10 trikonas. The second quivering form of 10 lines has Krodhisha as first of the 10. These four cakras, of the nature of light, create the 14-fold form, the essence of perception.” — Yoginī Hṛdaya, I 6-16.
At the very heart of the bindu or centre of the Śrī Yantra is that which caused it to emanate. This is Kamakala, consisting of the three bindus or potentials. One is red, one is white, and one is mixed. The red bindu is ova, the white bindu semen, and the mixed bindu the union of Śiva-Śakti, the individual as potential Śrī Cakra.
Father and Mother are represented in Śrī Vidyā by two limbs or aspects of Lalitā known as Vārāhī and Kurukullā. The semen of Vārāhī, the father-form, gives four alchemical dhātus to the child. The ova of Kurukullā, the mother-form, gives five dhātus to the child. Consciousness enters via orgasm. The three bindus, collectively known as Kāmakāla (digit of sexual desire), are the root potential of sun, moon and fire. It is like sun and moon coming together in an eclipse, or the seed from which the plant called the human being grows.
Vārāhī’s four alchemical dhātus are known as the four fires. Kurukullā’s alchemical dhātus are known as the five śaktis. The combination of these five śaktis (downward pointing triangles) and four fires (upward pointing triangles), forms the complex figure in the centre of Śrī Cakra.
Vārāhī’s four fires are the 12 (3 x 4) sun Kalas, 12 sidereal constellations. Kurukullā’s five triangles are the 15 (5 x 3) Kalās of the moon, 15 lunar days. The complete individual grows within nine months to be born as a Śrī Yantra or plant. The flowering of this plant is shown by the 24 petals of the yantra. The above all gives rise to the familiar shape of the Śrī Yantra. The yantra is usually arranged in one of two forms. In the Bhuprastara, it is two dimensional and laid flat, usually facing the east, but sometimes the north, depending on the practice. The Meruprastara has the yantra in a pyramidal form. Unless the yantra be decorated with the appropriate bija and other mantras, it is worthless. It is also dead unless it is installed with life and the individual doing the pūja is initiated into one of the lines (parampara).
The Nine Maṇḍalas of the Śrī Yantra
The Earth Square or Bhupura
This maṇḍala represents the enclosing walls or fence of the zonule of a practitioner. The three lines of the bhupura of Śrī Yantra each has a set of subsidiary aspects or sub-limbs of the goddess. On the outer line are the eight world protectors (lokapalas), the guardian spirits of the directions and intermediate directions.
On the middle line are eight Siddhi Śaktis identified with the senses. On the inner line are eight Śaktis ruling Desire, Anger, Envy, Delusion, Greed, Jealousy, Virtue and Vice. They are the eight Matrikas. These śaktis are collectively known as the Obvious Ones (Prakata Yoginīs). A form of the triple Devī known as Tripurā rules all these śaktis in this individual maṇḍala of the yantra known as ‘The Chakra Ruling the Three Worlds’. She has four arms, is the colour of crystal, is adorned with pearls and holds a book, a pot, and a beautiful lotus. her Vidyā is Aṃ Aṃ Sauh.
Outer line: Indra (E) wears yellow, rides an elephant; Agni (SE) wears red, rides a ram; Yam (S) wears black, carries a staff; Nirriti (SW) wears dark green; Varuna (W) wears blue, and his vehicle is a makar; Vayu (NE) wears pale clothes; Soma (N) wears pure white; Ishana (NE) is a form of Māhadeva Śiva.
Middle Line: The Siddhi Śaktis are smeared with vermilion, wear red garlands, carry noose and goad, and are as bright and beautiful as red lotuses.
Inner Line: Brahmi wears yellow, has four arms, is beautiful. One hand dispels fear, one grants boons, the others hold a jewelled jar and makes the gesture of purification. Mahesvari wears white, has three eyes, holds trident, skull, axe, and vessel containing sour curds. Kaumari wears yellow, holds shakti-dart, Javelin, and makes the gestures of dispelling fear and granting boons. Vārāhī is dark in colour, holds conch, discus, dispels fear, grants boons. She wears many ornaments and gems. She has the head of a pig, holding plough, mace, sword and shield. Indrani is black, carrying a bright blue lotus. Camunda is black, holds trident and damaru (hourglass drum), holds axe, and milk in a bowl. Mahalaksmi wears yellow, holds serpent, shield, bell and milk in a skull shaped cup.
The nature of this outermost maṇḍala is fire of fire. The gem is topaz. The time is 24 minutes (360 breaths). The Mudrā is the All Agitating.
The śaktis in this circle are known as the Hidden Ones.
The whole maṇḍala of 16 petals is called ‘Fulfiller of Desire’. The presiding form of the Lalitā is Tripureshi. Her vidyā is Aiṃ Klīṃ Sauh. She is described as ornamented with all gems, carrying a book and a rosary. The 16 yoginīs in this maṇḍala are associated with the attainment of desires by the cultivation or strengthening of power over mind, ego, sound, touch, sight, taste, smell, intellect, steadiness, memory, name, growth, etheric body, revivification, and physical body. They are described as the Nityā Kalas. Each holds a noose, a goad, pot full of nectar, and makes the sign of giving. They are very red.
The gem of the maṇḍala is sapphire. The dhātu of physical alchemy is chyle, the first product of the disintegration of food by the biological fires. The time is three hours (2700 breaths). The Mudrā is the Wettening Mudrā. The nature of the maṇḍala is sun of fire.
The śaktis in this maṇḍala are called the Very Secret Yoginīs. The whole circle of eight petals is called the ‘All Exciting Cakra’. Presiding here is Tripurā Sundarī. Her vidyā is Hrīṃ Klīṃ Sauh. She is described as swaying because of her love intoxicated state, with her eyes full of bliss.
She smiles with passion. She shows the mudras dispelling fears and granting boons.
The eight śaktis in each of the eight petals of the maṇḍala are described as śaktis of Speech, Holding, Walking, Excreting, Pleasure, Abandoning, Concentration and Detachment. They are described as sapphire blue, holding noose, goad, dispelling fear, and holding blue lotus. Their names (Ananga, Madana etc) all convey terms of loving sexuality.
The gem is cat’s eye. The dhātu is Flesh. The time is day and night (21600 breaths). The maṇḍala’s nature is moon of fire.
This maṇḍala is called ‘The Cakra Bestowing All Good Fortune’. The Yoginīs are called ‘Concealed by Tradition’. The presiding form of the devī is Tripurā Vasinī. Her vidyā is Haiṃ Hklīṃ Hsauh.
She is very red and very beautiful. Fourteen śaktis of the triangles are associated with the chief nāḍīs or currents of bioenergy. They are described as being proud, wanton, young, colour of cochineal, ornamented with gems, holding noose, goad, mirror, winecup full of nectar. They are the Akarshanis or Attractors.
The gem is coral. The dhātu is blood. The time is weekday. The Mudrā is called All Subjugating. The nature of the maṇḍala is fire of sun.
Outer 10 Triangles
This maṇḍala is called ‘The Cakra Bestowing All Objects to the Sādhaka’. The śaktis are called the Kula Kaulas. The presiding aspect of Red Devī is Tripurā Śrī.
Here, the goddess is as effulgent as 1,000 rising Suns, adorned with celestial ornaments, with large rising breasts, holding book and rosary, dispelling fears and granting boons.
The 10 śaktis in the triangles are described as having thrilled faces, holding noose and goad and adorned with various crystal and heavenly gems.
These are the Yoginīs of the 10 vital breaths. The gem is pearl. The dhātu is Ova/Semen. The time is Lunar Day (tithi).
The Mudrā is called the All Intoxicating with Love. The nature is sun of sun.
Inner 10 Triangles
The maṇḍala is called ‘The Cakra Protecting All’. The Yoginīs are called Without Origin. The presiding aspect of Lalitā is Tripurā Mālinī. Her vidyā is Hrīṃ Klīṃ Bleṃ.
She holds noose and goad, dispels fear, and holds a skull. She is of vermilion brightness.
Her śaktis are the colour of 1,000 rising suns, adorned with pearls and gems, holding noose, chisel, and showing the gestures of knowledge, and giving boons. They are the śaktis of the 10 Vital Fires. The gem is emerald. The dhātu is Marrow. The time is Lunar Fortnight. The Mudrā is the Great Goad. The nature is moon of sun.
This maṇḍala is called ‘The Cakra Destroying all Disease’. The yoginīs are known as the Secret or Rahasya yoginīs. The presiding aspect of the Red Goddess is Tripurā Siddhā.
Her vidyā mantra is Hrīṃ Śrīm Sauh. She is described as the Destroyer of Poison.
Her yoginīs are the colour of pomegranate flowers, wearing red clothes, smeared with red scent, each carrying five arrows and a bow. These śaktis are the rulers of Cold, Heat, Happiness, Sorrow, Desire, and the three gunas Sattvas, Rajas, Tamas. They are also called the eight Vaśinīs (mistresses)and rule the eight Sanskrit letter groups. The gem in this maṇḍala is diamond (Vajra). The time is month. The Mudrā is Khecarī Mudrā. The nature of the maṇḍala is said to be fire of moon.
The Four Weapons
In between the maṇḍalas of eight triangles and the central triangles are the four weapons of the Red Goddess — flowery bow, flowery arrows, noose and goad.
This maṇḍala is called ‘The Cakra Giving All Success’. The Yoginīs are called Very Secret. Lalitā dwells here as Tripurā Ambā, her Vidyā being Hsraiṃ Hsrklīṃ Hsrsauh.
She is also known as Sampatpradā Bhairavī, coppery effulgent, like 1,000 suns, with three eyes, a face like the moon, adorned with white gems, with a beautiful figure, rising swelling breasts, intoxicated, wanton, young, proud, holding book, dispelling fear, holding a rosary and granting boons. See also Paradise Island.
Her three śaktis are called Lady of Lust (Kāmeśvarī), Adamantine Lady (Vajreśī), and Flowery Vagina (Bhagamālinī). Kāmeśvarī is called the Rudra Śakti. She is white in colour, besmeared with camphor, adorned with pearls and crystal, and various other gems, holding book, rosary, bestowing boons and dispelling fear.
Vajreshi is the Viṣṇu Śakti. She is bright as red powder (Kuṅkuma), adorned with flowers and gems, like the dawn sun. Her eyelids are smeared with sapphire dust, she holds sugarcane how, flowery arrows, bestows boons, dispels fear.
Bhagamālinī is the Brahma Śakti. She is effulgent as molten gold, adorned with priceless gems, holds noose, goad, and shows the gestures of knowledge and bestowing boons.
The gem of the maṇḍala is Gomaya. The dhātu is Fat. The time is season (two months). The Mudrā is the Bīja Mudrā. The nature of the maṇḍala is sun of moon.
This maṇḍala is called ‘Purely Blissful’. The Yoginī in this maṇḍala is the Queen of Queens, Rājarājeśvarī, the Very Red One, her Transcendent Majesty Lalitā Maheshvari Māhatripurasundarī.
Her vidyā (Kāmarāja vidyā) is ka e i la hrīṃ ha sa ka ha la hrīṃ sa ka la hrīṃ, plus a secret 16th syllable. Her description is that given in Vāmakeśvara Tantra.
Surrounding her are the Fifteen Nityās. The gem is ruby. The dhātu is hair. The time is year. The mudra is Yoni Mudrā. The nature of this central maṇḍala is moon of moon.
Yantra Mantra Tantra of Lalitā
Lalitā, as primordial devī, rays out her attendants and śaktis as modifications of moon, sun and fire. In this Śiva has no place, no qualities, is without the ability to act. Only when united with devī may ‘he’ act.
This is based on the subtle and practical idea of Śiva as pure consciousness, witness of the triple manifestation of his Śakti. This Śakti, the very essence of the three gunas of Sattvas, Rajas, and Tamas, is the cause of all manifestation in the universe and as a human being. The three śaktis, by blending and reblending, create all things.
Śakti is triple as sun, moon and fire — that is to say of all the sidereal constellations and planets, and therefore of Time itself. She is triple as Will (Iccha), Knowledge (Jñāna) and Action (Kriya). She is threefold as intellect, feelings, physical sensation.
Śakti is triple as wake-dream-deep sleep. What is called the Fourth is the witness, Śiva, who is said to pervade the whole cosmos just as heat pervades a red hot iron.
The physical body, according to the precepts of Ayurveda, is triple as the ‘humours’ Vata, Pitta and Sleshma. The varying combinations of these three śaktis make up the physical body.
Śakti is also fivefold as aether, air, fire, water and earth. The combination of the five elements and three gunas produce Lalitā’s Eternities (Nityās) — 15 in number, each identified with a lunar day of the bright fortnight. The moon, symbolising Śakti, is the mirror or reflection holding together all creation.
A close examination of the details relating to the nine maṇḍalas of Śrī Yantra reveals that the śaktis of the whole circle represent the human being, who, in potential, is Śakti-Śiva united. The aim is for a person to realise that all powers, energies and manifestation are śaktis of consciousness, pure awareness.
The yantra may be examined in two ways, either as manifestation or dissolution. Maintenance is an intermediate state between the two polarities. When she is worshipped as creatrix the order is from centre to perimeter. As dissolver, the pūja is from perimeter to centre.
In Sivananda Yogi’s Subhagodaya is given the daily ritual or pūja of Lalitā’s Śrī Yantra — based on the Vāmakeśvara Tantra. This rite is based on non-dualism, in a spiritual sense the realisation of the intrinsic oneness of macrocosm and microcosm.
As the pūja is intended to banish all thoughts of difference, the devī is first felt or visualised in the heart, and then drawn out via the breath and installed in the yantra. She is then worshipped as actually residing there. But a clear link has been made between subject and object. The true home of devī is as cosmo-creatrix in the heart of the body which is the devī in human form.
The Various Maṇḍalas of Śrī Yantra
The Triple Goddess, from her own will to manifest, extends herself in a ninefold way, as modifications of moon, sun and fire. The attributions of the various maṇḍalas shows the type of energy represented. The meditation in Bhavana Upaniṣad is a figurative way of describing this celestial city or mountain which is a human being.
The island of jewels is the gross human body with its 9 alchemical bases or dhātus. Each is figuratively described as a gem — diamond, emerald, sapphire, ruby &c. The sea of nectar (semen/ova) is the base for the arising of the human body. The diagram suns up the meditation. We can see that this island of gems is a very pleasant place to he, full of gardens, with a beautiful, begemmed palace, wafted with a gentle breeze upon which is carried great fragrance, cool, alluring.
This indicates the Kaula view that one gains liberation by a very pleasant way, enjoying as one goes. This paradise island is very, very close. Each of the elements in the island meditation has a subtle meaning associated with the esoteric physiology of Śrī Vidyā.
She, Lalitā, united with Śiva, is subtlety of subtlety, hidden behind the curtain hanging from the canopy. Her forms may appear to become progressively less subtle, but she still remains herself.
Although Tripurasundarī, as mother of the universe (jagadamba) is the aspect most often met with in works of Śrī Vidyā, she is also worshipped as Bālā (a young girl), and as Bhairavī (a crone).
As Bālā, she is 16 years old, a virgin, very playful and dear. Bālā has her own yantra and mantra. her vidyā is Aim Klīṃ Sauh.
Bhairavī is also an aspect of Lalitā, but represents Śakti in whom menstruation has ceased, and has some affiliations with Kālī.
Applications of Śrī Vidyā
There are many prayogas (ritual uses) related to Śrī Yantra. Some rites depend on auspicious times, such as Full moon days or nights in specific solar months
Devī also manifests as the five elements of aether, fire, air, water and earth. The śaktis are purple (air), white (water), red (fire), yellow (earth), blue (aether).
Chapter II of Vāmakeśvara gives a large number of rites, which one is not entitled to perform unless the daily rite is also accomplished. These rites are called the shatkarma, six acts: protection, peace, victory, wealth, punishment, destruction. The categories vary occasionally. When punishing an enemy it is necessary to both protect yourself and to know the right time for performance, according to the rules, and also the vulnerable points, which vary with the phase of the moon and with astrological aspects.
It is important to remember that Śrī Vidyā was primarily oral, and vital information was often left out of the written versions, so it is necessary to know a host of things before a rite can be started.
Devī Lalitā may be installed in a disciple, a yantra, or an image. All the methods essentially follow a similar form, but the right time must be selected. A disciple must have the necessary qualifications and potential.
After initiation, she or he is to perform an operation to endue the vidyā with energy or life. This involves the recitation of the root vidyā a specified large number of times, although other valid methods exist for preparation.
The Vidyā (Mantra)
There are said to be 15 lines of mantra, each perceived by a different Rishi (Seer). The most widespread seems to be that called Kadi (beginning with ‘Ka’), which itself has three sections. The other main division is Hadi, although it is said that the Kularnava Tantra incorporates both in a division called Kahadi. Devotees of the Kadi line worship the Śrī Yantra from the perimeter to the centre, while Hadi devotees worship it from the centre to the perimeter. Some of the lines of the vidyā are said to be broken, and do not run in a continuous stream.
The 64 Kaula Tantras
These tantras are enumerated in Vāmakeśvara and Kulachudamani Tantras, and in other places. At some time in history a school of Śrī Vidyā was formed on an orthodox Vedik basis. A proponent of this school, Lakshmidhara, wrote a commentary on the famous Śrī Vidyā hymn called Saudaryalahari.
Unfortunately, most of the 64 tantras are lost. But their contents may be gauged from Lakshmidhara’s commentary. We have to remember that the descriptions are based on an orthodox Vedic interpretation.
1) Mahamaya Sambhara. Deluding of intellect and senses. 2) Yoginī Jala Sambhara. Involving the agency of Yoginīs. 3) Tattva Sambhara. Causing elements to appear and transform. 4-11) Eight Bhairava Tantras. The commentator says that these are objectionable as they belong to the Kapalikas or skull wearers such as Naths, Aghoris, and so forth. 12-19) The Bahurupa Astaka. Importance attached to the eight śaktis or Matrikas.
20-27) The Eight Yamalas. Of these, only Rudra Yamala seems to have survived, although it is doubtful that the text which exists is the same as the original. Other of the yamalas do exist in part as quotations in later tantras. The commentator says these relate to Siddhi. 28) Candra Jñāna. Expounds the 16 Nityās, but condemned as ‘it smacks of Kapalika tenets’. 29) Malini Vidyā. Enabling one to cross great oceans. This could be the Malini Vijaya Tantra, a work of the Kashmir Saivites which includes magical operations based on the 36 tattvas.
30) Maha Sammohana. Hypnosis. 31-33) Vamajusta, Māhadeva and Vatula. These are condemned as they deal with Vamachara. 34-35) Vatula Uttara and Kamika. The latter is still extant, and belongs to the Kashmir group of Agamas. The chief guru of this school is the famous Abhinavagupta. 36) Hridbheda Tantra. Condemned through Vamachara. 37-38) Tantrabheda and Guhyatantra. Condemned because of retaliatory magic. 39) Kalavada. Digits of the moon, induction of chandrakalas, which are the 108 parts of the moon found in a horoscope.
40) Kalasara. The rules of colour. There is no reason given for its exclusion. 41) Kundika Mata. Attainment of siddhi through elixirs and drugs. 42) Mata Uttara. Deals with ‘quicksilver’. See the Matrikabheda Tantra. 43) Vinakhya. Power over Yakshinis. 44) Trotala. Magical practices of medicine and clairvoyance. 45) Trotala Uttara. Bringing the 64 crores of yoginīs face to face. 46) Pancamrita. Nectar from the body. The five nectars are mentioned in the Kaula Jñāna Nirnaya. 47) Rupabheda. 48) Bhuta Uddamara. 49) Kulasara. 50) Kullaoddisha. 51) Kulacudamani. 48,50 and 51 are still available. The commentator says these tantras are not sanctioned by Veda.
52-56) Sarvajna Tantra, Mahakali Mata, Arunesi, Modinisa, Vikunthesvara. They are all declared reprehensible as they belong to the digambaras (naked sadhus). 57-64) East, West, South, North, Uttara Kaulas, Vimala, Vimalotta, Devī Mata. One of these lines still exists.
The Nine Nathas
Each of the nine Nathas or lords is identified with an aperture of the human body, and with one of the nine maṇḍalas of the whole Śrī Yantra. One’s own guide is Śiva as pervading these nine cakras, and is identified with the current of bioenergy called Susunna. They are all meditated on as white, with two eyes and two arms, showing the gestures banishing fear and giving boons. They may be visualised as being in sexual intercourse with the presiding aspects of the Devī in the nine maṇḍalas.
The Four Oceans
The four duties of a human being are described as oceans because of their limitless extent. The sādhaka in the zone is at the junction point or field of action of these four oceans, on the island of gems.
The Nine Bodily Dhatus
Each of the nine matters (dhātu) in the body is presided over by an aspect of Lalitā. The Universe, in Śrī Vidyā, is said to be time, space, and a combination of the two. The first is Śakti, the second Śiva, and the third Śiva and Śakti in union. These are also the three eyes on Lalitā’s face, and sun, moon, fire.
The Island of Nine Gems
On this island, which is all and everything, seed and sprout, the six seasons all manifest simultaneously. The Aeon Trees (Kalpadruma) are identified with resolution as any act undertaken with resolution is fruitful. The six seasons are identified with the six tastes of a human being.
Horses are the five senses as they lead one forward into action, figuratively taken as war. It is Lalitā who slayed the demon Bhanda with all his fearful hordes. All her śaktis assisted her in this. Then the celestial city, the Nagar was built. Elephants are the objects of senses, or the impressions.
Śrī Vidyā implies unity between knower, means of knowledge and knowledge itself. These are the three cities. This means that the knower, by means of the five instruments of knowledge, offers to knowledge itself, Devī in the yantra. (See Bhavanopanishad).
The Fifteen Nityā Śaktis
These are modifications of Lalitā as red goddess with her three gunas and her five elements of aether, air, fire, water and earth. They are identified with the 15 days of the lunar fortnight. As the moon remains itself, though appearing differently according to phase, so too Lalitā. Each Nityā has her own vidyā, yantra and group of energies (śaktis). Lalitā or Tripurasundarī is the 16th day or Full moon, with her 15 digits. Each of the 15 Nityās has a certain number of arms, the totality of arms (= rays) of the whole circle being 108. Because any unit of time is taken as a microcosm or parallel of any other valid unit, each of the 15 Nityās has 1440 breaths.
One lunar fortnight is 21600 breaths — which is the number of a whole cycle or process. The breaths of a human being during one day and night are 21600 -10800 of which are solar, the other 10800 being lunar. By this device, the unity of the 15 Nityās, time, space and a human being is shown. As time is breath in Śrī Vidyā, we find that the periods of the four famous yugas are also based on breath. Each breath is influenced during the day by the planets in their waxing and waning of power.
These cause poisons to accumulate in the physical body. Nectar is released when the sun mandal ‘melts’ the moon mandal, and one attains to Hamsa. This is the nectar of compassion.
Lalitā as the Whole Universe
Tantrik rites often include ‘nyāsas’, the placing of some principles in a certain sequence on one’s own body. The idea is that this process purifies and divinises.
Lalitā’s Sodha (sixfold) Nyāsa is a highly complex rite in which a practitioner places on the body the 51 letters of the alphabet, the planets, the 27 naksatras or lunar mansions, the 12 sidereal constellations, and the 51 sacred sites (pithas) of all India.
Placing these different things on the body the practitioner comes to realise oneness with the whole cosmos. This ritual also illustrates some important concepts. The Tantraraja states that there is no difference between the circle of the letters of the alphabet and the sidereal Zodiac. Lalitā as devī is Śakti as all language, mantra, sound, music and vibration. She is also Śakti of Time as all planets and constellations. She is the very essence of sun and moon. Each of these realms requires inner comment.
51 Gaṇeśas and 51 Letters
The image of Gaṇeśa illustrates the three realms. elephant, his body human, and his vehicle a mouse. These are three realms in one being. He is lord of obstacles in three ways. As elephant, his great strength can break harriers. As human, he can use his intelligence. As mouse, he can penetrate the smallest places. Every aspect of Śrī Vidyā may be understood in three ways — gross, subtle, and supreme — and so the meaning of things often remains uncertain unless you already know someone who has the key, or belong to the in group.
As letters of the alphabet, Lalitā is Matrika Śakti, who deludes by her Māyā through words, speech, mantra.
The tantriks knew the seven traditional planets of western astrology, and also had a greater number of shadowy planets, of which Rahu and Ketu — the nodes of the moon — are the best known. The planets are important to an understanding of Śrī Vidyā, but the details are so extensive that they must be reserved for a later time.
These constellations were thought of as beyond the 12 sidereal constellations, so remote they were almost beyond time itself. These 27 are employed in Śrī Vidyā to determine suitability of partners, constructing Vajra Yantras, and so forth. Each of the 27 has its own animal. A yoni or lingam is classified as being harmonious or the reverse according to the position of the natal moon in these constellations. They are also associated with sacred herbs and trees, and much used in specific or optional rites.
The Yoginīs of the bodily centres (dhātus) reveal very much of interest as they are associated with the well known but much misunderstood cakras. These Yoginīs are really images of the ayurvedic or alchemic bases in the body.
They can only be understood in relation to such an alchemy. Kundalini is the body shakti, the great deluder, the trickster, the cause of sleep. To raise her means to become conscious of her manifestation. Śakti in the body has her various forms as Prana (Breath) Śakti, fire Śakti and so forth. When Prana Śakti becomes agitated, she zigzags up the body. At this time one starts to experience dissolution. Various things my be seen and felt.
Dakini, Rakini &c. preside over the alchemical physical bases of skin, blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow. The last of these yoginīs presides over the highest dhātu, highest as it forms the physical basis for new life — ova/semen. In this form she is truly limitless, as she manifests as the Aeon Tree (Kalpadruma). The Dakinis and Rakinis &c. are pictured as terrifying as they consuners of the food one ingests.
Twelve Rashis (Constellations)
These are viewed as 12 great suns or sun Kalas, mighty Adityas presiding over great affairs, feeding on human beings and their essence.
These are places in India particularly sacred to devī, as they mark the spots where the parts of her body fell after it was sliced into pieces by the discus of Viṣṇu. The yoni fell at Kamarupa, hence the special spiritual regard in which this place is held by Kaulas.
Nadi means river, and is extended to include other currents and courses, such as those of the bioenergy and the pulse. Ayurvaidyas have written works distinguishing various types of pulse indicating dysfunction of the three powers. Nadi is also 150th part of the ascendant in a birth chart based on the sidereal zodiac. Such a birth chart is called Rashi Kundali. It is impossible to cast accurate charts without knowing which nadi rules a person or time. Each nadi has an aspect of the devī ruling it, and a solar and lunar part — hence there are 3600 in the zodiac.
There are said to be 72000 nāḍīs in the human organism. This number indicates a large but not infinite number of channels of bioenergy. They are the pathways of Prana Śakti.
The chief pathways are Susumna, extending from a point between the anus and genitals to the top of the head; ida and pingala, which are the solar and lunar pathways coiled around the central channel. This Susumna is Śiva and Śakti in sexual union. The human body is conceived of as a tree — the root is at the top of the head, and it ramifies downwards. These channels are the pathways or body vehicles for Vata, one of the three dosas or humours in Ayurveda of the human body, and constitute the central nervous system with three main concentrations.
Marmas are 108 in number, well documented points of the human organism which, if pierced, usually cause death. Many are recognised by western medicine. On the Śrī Yantra, marmas are represented by the confluence of three or more lines.
These are joints in the human frame, knee joint, elbow joint &c. The body is the temple of the devī. On the Śrī Yantra sandhis are represented by the junction of two lines.
Meaning of Kula
A ‘kula’ is a Śakti. The foregoing shows that each Śakti in the yantra is some energy of the human organism in its gross, subtle, or causal aspects. ‘Akula’ (lit. ‘not Kula’) is Śiva.
“Having abandoned her family of young Kula women, she becomes Śiva, with no qualities, no characteristics, devoid of the form of time.” — Vamakesvara Tantra
“All things the body. The body is the sacrificial ladle. Knowledge is the food.” — Śiva Sutras II, 9-10.
The Weapons of Lalitā
Lalitā holds five flowery arrows, noose, goad and bow. The noose is attachment (moon). The goad is repulsion (sun). The sugarcane bow is the mind. The flowery arrows are the five sense impressions. When oonsciousness perceives these, the outward directed arrows stop being dry sticks.
These five flowery arrows together with the bow are personified as six Krishnas or Kamadevas. V84 of ch xxiv of Tantrarajatantra states that Lalitā assumed a male form as Krishna, and ‘by enveloping all women enchanted the whole world’. Each of the six forms is like dawn, with six arms, holding flute, noose, goad, sugarcane bow, flowers, sour milk.
Eroticism in Śrī Vidyā
The physiology of Śrī Vidyā postulates macrocosm and microcom as one. From this follows the realisation that the sexual union of man and wanan mirrors the cosmic creation. It is natural that loving sexuality should be seen to have a cosmic status.
Kaulas have been criticised as their works emphasise love and death, but they were always realists. Many tantras establish that the terrifying Kālī and the benign Lalitā are two sides of the same coin. This coin or currency is called life. Lalitā, with her waxing moon, represents creation, and Kalika with her waning moon dissolution. Each is a complete symbol, of high sublimity and loaded with spiritual significance.
The 15 Syllable Mantra
A chart, in Sanskrit, in the Adyar Library edition of Varivasya Rahasya, which deals with the 15 lettered Vidyā of Lalitā, is so useful to an understanding of Śrī Vidyā and the yantra that we have summarised its contents below.
The Kadi Vidyā runs ka e i la hrīṃ: ha sa ka ha la hrīṃ: sa ka la hrīṃ. There is also a secret 16th syllable said to be the quintessence of Lalitā.
Vidya, yantra, guru, disciple, goddess are all conceived of as being one. The Śrī Yantra is within the wheel of time (Kalacakra), and represents the human body (microcosm), and the universe (macrocosm). These 15 letters are conceived to exist within the meru or spine of a human being, from the base to the top of the head.
The seven (or nine) ‘cakras’ are strung along this thread of light, as are the different maṇḍalas or circles of Śrī Yantra. Note that the Lalitā Vidyā is itself divided into three parts, each represents fire, sun and moon.
Different letters of the alphabet all exist in a subtle form within the spinal cord. Each cakra is presided over by a Yoginī whose function is connected with the transmutation of food, which is alchemy of the food factory.
There are 50 petals associated with these six cakras as there are 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. 21600/50 = 432. The cakra of the absolute or semen/ova itself has 1,000 letters or petals. Semen is conceived of as residing here because of its alchemical nature as an elixir produced by the synthesis of the forms of food.
These three which are oneness are knower, means of knowledge, object of knowledge. Their union is called samarasa.
The three corners of the central triangle of the Śrī Chakra are presided over by three symbolic Nathas. The Fourth Nātha, Śiva Himself, is united with Śakti in the centre of the Bindu.
This Bindu, united Śiva Śakti, creates the cosmos. If we observe nature we see that the Śrī Cakra (child) comes from the sexual union or samarasa (perfect assimilation) of man (Śiva) and woman (Śakti).
Their samarasa is known as the Fourth, because it appears when all three are present, and also produces or has the three as its powers or śaktis.
This Fourth is awareness, the witness, the enjoyer, the measurer, the measuring stick, and the measured, Adinatha, the merulingam, beyond time and space, and therefore outside the Śrī Yantra or the cosmos as modification or play of sun, moon and fire. These last three form the body of Lalitā.
The three śaktis of the Fourth are known as Kamesvari, Vajresi and Bhagamālinī, in the symbolism of Śrī Vidyā.
They are also the śaktis Iccha, Jñāna and Kriya (Knowledge, Will, Action), and in their aspects as Creator, Maintainer and Destroyer are known as Vama, who vomits forth the universe, Jyesta who maintains, and Raudri who dissolves.
The body of a human being is made up of these three in combination and blending. They are active, passive and reconciling.
The three are also symbolised as three holy mountains known as Kamagiri, Purnagiri, and Jalandhari. The apex of these foothills is the very secret Oddiyana, at the centre of Śrī Yantra. The three also represent three symbolic lingas within the human frame.
Conceived of as the human body, and as the Meru or subtle spine, these three places are points of convergence or pilgrimage of the channels of bioenergy connected with the sun and moon. There is a correspondence between these channels in the body, and the luminaries in the heaven.
As the Śrī Yantra is Time and Space, all constellations, planets, lunar mansions, are conceived of as being the body of Lalitā, Māha Tripurā Sundari. It was these three cities that were destroyed by Lord Śiva, and described in the Śiva Mahimna Stotra.
At the confluence of the three rivers of bioenergy are three lingams of Supreme Śiva, resorted to by the wise. One united with the Fourth is liberated. Others are deluded by the Māyā or play of the goddess, who, with her three aspects in all is known as Mahamaya Adya, the womb of all.
She deludes by her every process, and has the form of Matrika devī, or goddess of speech and words. The 15 syllables of the vidyā are usually disguised in symbolic design or code. The three Hrims are called the three maya granthis or knots of delusion. This Hrīṃ breaks down into Ha for Śiva, Ha for Śakti, and Im for samarasa.
The Fourth (Turiya) also pervades consciousness in its states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. This is also expressed in the Śiva Sutra.
Meaning of Śrī Vidyā
The Yoginī Hṛdaya, the second part of the Vāmakeśvara Tantra, states that the mantra has several meanings. Some are literal, others traditional, inner, Kaulika, occult and real.
The syllables represent Śiva and Śakti. The first part, Ka E I La Hrīṃ, is called Vagbhava, and is Vama Śakti, Brahma, Jñāna Śakti, and Eastern Face. The second part, Ha Sa Ka Ha La hrīṃ, is Kamaraja, Jyesta Śakti, Viṣṇu, Iccha Śakti, and Southern Face. The third part, Sa Ka La hrīṃ, is called Śakti, is Raudri Śakti, Rudra, Kriya Śakti and Western Face. The fourth part, the hidden or secret syllable, is mother goddess, Shambhu Nātha, the totality of the three śaktis of Knowledge, Will and Action, and the Northern Face or amnaya.
Ka = air, Ha = fire, Sa = water, La = earth, Ha = aether. The vowels are above aether. The 15 syllables are 1 of aether, 2 of air, three of fire, four of water, and five of earth. The three forms of La represent the three Worlds. The five forms of the letter Ha represent sound.
The vidyā shows oneness of Śiva, Guru, devī and disciple; as it is Śiva in sound form (Śakti) which preserves the line.
The Mother goddess is known as Gaṇeśī (Lady of Hosts), because of her great number of rays. These are the Gaṇeśas of the sixfold Nyāsa. Devī has three eyes which are sun, moon, fire. She has three śaktis which are Will, Knowledge, Action. She has three gunas which are active, passive, reconciling. These are the nine planets. The 27 naksatras are 10 Knowledge and Action modes, 10 objects of senses, Devī, Deva, three gunas as one, and the four inner causes. The six yoginīs have their names beginning Da, Ra, La, Ka, Sa, Ha — and end in ‘akinī’. They preside over the physical bases (dhātus) of the body. The 12 sidereal constellations are the 10 vital breaths, the embodied being (jiva), and the Supreme Creator. The 51 pithas correspond to the letters of the alphabet, and are points of confluence one should visit within the body. Each of the three sections of the vidyas represents speech — in potential, in formation, in manifestation. The Devī is Matrika Śakti. There is an elaborate nyāsa on this site, from the compilation called Nityotsava.
Breath is Time
This is a fundamental postulate of Śrī Vidyā and much of the symbolism is based on it. The letters of Sanskrit said to represent the embodiment of Laiita as mantra are 52 in number: 16 vowels and 36 consonants. These, multiplied together, total 576. This number, divided by nine yields 64. The Śrī Yantra is said to have 64,000,000 yoginīs in the nine sub-maṇḍalas.
Each maṇḍala has a unit of Time associated with it. The basic unit is a breath. One nadika is equal to 24 minutes or 1440 seconds, and each breath is one 360th of this, or four seconds. A human being breathes 21600 times each 24 hours.
A Kālī Yuga is 432,000 years of 360 days. A Dvapara Yuga is 864,000 years. A Treta Yuga is 1,296,000 years. A Satya Yuga is 1,728,000 years. The circle of the sidereal zodiac has 12 constellations, each of which has nine parts (navamshas). These 108 (12 x 9) are called Candrakalas.
Each Candrakaia is, itself, a micro-constellation. The number of degrees in the sidereal cakra is 360. The number of minutes is 21600. A conjunction is 21600′, a square 5400′, an opposition 10800′. Each eternity (Nityā) of the root mantra has 1440 breaths. (See the prayoga of Bhavana Upanishad). This implies that Lalitā is 21600, as she is the collectivity of the 15 Nityās.
Lalitā’s cakra is the grand synthesis of Time, Space, and humankind. Her 36 tattvas are the whole cosmos.
Ritual Accessories (Upachara)
These can be multiplied indefinitely. The chief are scent (earth), incense (air), flame (fire), water, and flowers (aether). They should all be red, or tinged with red. They represent, in their basic form, the five impressions. See Gandharva Tantra.
Devatas of the Leftovers
At the end of the rite Vaṭuka Nātha is in the NE, and takes flame leftovers; Yoginīs in the SE take mantra leftovers; Kṣetrapāla in the SW takes scent and incense leftovers; Gaṇeśa, in the NW, takes mudra leftovers. The aspect of Lalitā called Sosika consumes everything that is left. She is worshipped in the NE in a circular pit.
This is the name of a specific kind of mantra used at the four twilights of dawn, midday, dusk and midnight. There are Vedik and Tantrik gayatris. Lalitā has her own which is tripurasundaryai vidmahe kameshvaryai dhimahi tanno klinne prachodayat.
Esoteric Meaning of the Vidyā
This leads the sādhaka to identify the vidyā with moon, sun and fire, as sections of the central or Susunna Nadi, relating to Intellect, Emotions, and Physical Sensations. These have to he brought together for the Fourth to appear. There are 10 fire kalās, 12 sun kalās, and 15 moon kalās. The 16th includes them all.
The letters of the vidyā are Nada, or sound, and the absolute, and end as uttered sound. When charged with the consciousness of the Fourth these mere letters become mantra. Otherwise, words continually delude.
The 16th syllable of the vidyā also represents the Fourth. This Fourth is Kāmakāla. Beyond it is the Ultimate Absolute (Atiturya – beyond the Fourth), and beyond any sort of description.
Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2021. Translations are © Mike Magee 1975-2021.Questions or comments to email@example.com