Dasa Maha Vidyas - I
Mahavidyas (Great Wisdoms) or Dasa Mahavidyas are a group of ten aspects of the Divine Mother or Devi in Hinduism. The Ten Mahavidyas are Wisdom Goddesses, who represent a spectrum of feminine divinity, from horrific goddesses at one end, to the ravishingly beautiful at the other. The development of Mahvidyas represents an important turning point in the history of Shaktism as it marks the rise of Bhakti aspect in Shaktism, which reached its zenith in 1700 CE. First sprung forth in the post-Puranic age, around 6th century C.E., it was a new theistic movement in which the Supreme Being was envisioned as female. A fact epitomized by texts like Devi-Bhagavata Purana, especially its last nine chapters (31-40) of the seventh skandha, which are known as the Devi Gita, and soon became central texts of Shaktism.

The name Mahavidyas comes from the Sanskrit roots, with maha meaning 'great' and vidya meaning, 'revelation, manifestation, knowledge, or wisdom.


Names
Shaktas believe, "the one Truth is sensed in ten different facets; the Divine Mother is adored and approached as ten cosmic personalities," the Dasa-Mahavidya ("ten-Mahavidyas"). The Mahavidyas are considered Tantric in nature, and are usually identified as:
  1. Kali: The ultimate form of Brahman, "Devourer of Time" (Supreme Deity of Kalikula systems)
  2. Tara: The Goddess as Guide and Protector, or Who Saves. Who offers the ultimate knowledge which gives salvation (also known as Neel Saraswati).
  3. Lalita-Tripurasundari (Shodashi): The Goddess Who is "Beautiful in the Three Worlds" (Supreme Deity of Srikula systems); the "Tantric Parvati" or the "Moksha Mukuta".
  4. Bhuvaneshvari: The Goddess as World Mother, or Whose Body is the Cosmos
  5. Bhairavi: The Fierce Goddess
  6. Chhinnamasta: The Self-Decapitated Goddess
  7. Dhumavati: The Widow Goddess, or the Goddess of death.
  8. Bagalamukhi: The Goddess Who Paralyzes Enemies
  9. Matangi: the Prime Minister of Lalita (in Srikula systems); the "Tantric Saraswati"
  10. Kamala: The Lotus Goddess; the "Tantric Lakshmi"
The Mahabhagavata Purana and Brihaddharma Purana however, list Shodashi (Sodasi) as Tripura Sundari. The Guhyatiguyha-tantra associates the Mahavidyas with the ten avatars of Vishnu, and states that the Mahavidyas are the source from which the avatars of Vishnu arose. All ten forms of the Goddess, whether gentle or terrifying, are worshiped as the universal Mother.


Legend
The 'Mahabhagvata Purana', describes the origin of Mahavidyas, as the result of an argument between Shiva and Sati (Dakshayani), an earlier incarnation of Parvati. When Shiva and Sati were wed, Sati's father Daksha disapproved of the match and organized a great sacrifice to which he invited everyone except for the newlywed couple. Sati, incensed, insisted on attending the sacrifice, which Shiva forbade until Sati transformed herself into a terrible appearance and multiplied into the ten Mahavidyas, whereby she subdued Shiva's resistance and attended the sacrifice.


Dhumavati: The Goddess of Silent Inertness
Dhumavati is the eldest among the Goddesses, the Grandmother Spirit. She stands behind the other Goddesses as their ancestral guide. As the Grandmother Spirit she is the great teacher who bestows the ultimate lessons of birth and death. She is the knowledge that comes through hard experience, in which our immature and youthful desires and fantasies are put to rest.

Dhuma means "smoke." Dhumavati is "one who is composed of smoke." Her nature is not illumination but obscuration. However, to obscure one thing is to reveal another. By obscuring or covering all that is known, Dhumavati reveals the depth of the unknown and the un-manifest. Dhumavati obscures what is evident in order to reveal the hidden and the profound. Dhumavati is portrayed as a widow. She is the feminine principle devoid of the masculine principle. She is Shakti without Shiva as a pure potential energy without any will to motivate it. Thus she contains within herself all potentials and shows the latent energies that dwell within us.

Dhumavati shows the feminine principle of negation in all of its aspects. On an outer level she represents poverty, destitution, and suffering, the great misfortunes that we all fear in life. Hence she is said to be crooked, troublesome, and quarrelsome - a witch or a hag. Yet on an inner level this same negativity causes us to seek a greater fulfillment than can be achieved in the limited realms of the manifest creation. After all, only frustration in our outer life causes us to seek the inner reality. Dhumavati is whatever obstructs us in life, but what obstructs us in one area can release a new potential to grow in a different direction. Thus she is the good fortune that comes to us in the form of misfortune.

Dhumavati represents the darkness on the face of the deep, the original chaos and obscurity which underlies creation. She is the darkness of primordial ignorance, Mulavidya, from which this world of illusion has arisen, and which it is seeking to transcend. Dhumavati represents the power of ignorance or that aspect of the creative force which causes the obscuration of the underlying light of consciousness. While Maya is the magic or illusion power of the Lord that makes the one reality appear as many, ignorance is a form of darkness which prevents us from seeing the underlying reality. Dhumavati is the void, wherein all forms have been dissolved and nothing can any longer be differentiated. Yet this void is not mere darkness. It is a self-illumining reality free of the ordinary duality of subject and the object.

Dhumavati represents the negative powers of life: disappointment, frustration, humiliation, defeat, loss, sorrow and loneliness. Such experiences overpower the ordinary mind, but to the yogi they are special doors of opportunity to contact the reality which transcends desire. Dhumavati is the elder form of Kali, Kali as an old woman. She represents time or the life-force dissociated from the process of manifestation. She is the timeless which never really enters into the process of time.

Dhumavati is portrayed as a tall and thin old woman with disheveled and matted hair. She is fearful, unattractive and dark in complexion, with a wrinkled face, and her limbs are red. She has a harsh look in her eyes and she is missing a number of her teeth, which are otherwise large in size. Sometimes she is portrayed with fangs and her nose is long and snout-like. She is dressed in old or dirty clothes and her breasts hang down. She rides a chariot whose insignia is a crow. In her left hand she carries a winnowing basket and with her right makes the gesture of knowledge (Chinmudra). In other accounts she carries a skull-cup and sword in her two hands. She wears a garland of severed heads and is ever hungry and thirsty, always provoking quarrels and misunderstandings.


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