Sri Vidya is one of the most comprehensive and popular vidyas in sakta. In the context of Hindu spiritual practices, a vidya can be defined as the worship of a God/Goddess. Literally vidya means learning; it is from the word-root “vid” - to know. Knowledge is called Veda, and learning is called vidya. This includes the knowledge to be gained, different stages in the process of gaining such knowledge, the purpose of such knowledge, the procedure and practices for learning, pitfalls and corrective measures and so on. Worship of a God is the gradual process of elevating the level of consciousness of the worshipper into that of the God, realizing the God and His nature. Therefore the knowledge and worship of each God is called a Vidya. Thus Sri Vidya is the knowledge and worship of Mother Goddess Sri Devi. She is also called Sri Mata (Mother Sri), Tripura Sundari.
“Sri” means prosperity, auspiciousness, divinity. Sri Devi is the Divine Mother who bestows bliss and plentitude on Her devotees. In Veda, She is praised as Sri. Vedic knowledge diversified and developed into different schools like Smarta (following smritis like Dharma Sastras), Srauta (studying Sruti or Veda), Pauranica (following smritis like Puranas) and so on. Tantra is another school of practices that combines methods of worship with philosophy and theology. With these developments, Sri Devi came to be known and worshiped in different forms. In Puranas, Sri is called Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. The worship of Sri Mata or Tripura Sundari, developed as Sri Vidya, one of the major cults in Sakta Tantras. We can talk a little more about Tantra, later in the article.
Tripura Sundari literally means the most beautiful lady of three worlds. Mother Sri is said to be the most beautiful Goddess among all God-forms. Tripura Sundari is worshiped in different names and forms, like Lalita, Bala, Raja Rajeswari.
- 1 Lalita Upakhyana – The Story of Lalita Tripura Sundari
- 2 Description of the Mother and Her Abode
- 3 The Origin and Philosophy of Sri Vidya
- 4 Yoga and Sri Vidya Tantra
- 5 Geometry and Worship of Sri Cakra
- 6 Practical side of Sri Vidya
- 7 Mantra Vidyas in Sri Vidya
- 8 Texts
- 9 Notes
- 10 Bibliographies
Lalita Upakhyana – The Story of Lalita Tripura Sundari
In Brahmanda Purana, the story of Lalita Tripura Sundari is narrated by Lord Hayagriva (the horse-headed form of Lord Vishnu) to the great seer Agastya. Here is a brief of it.
There is a popular story in which Manmatha, the presiding deity of desire, is turned into ashes by the fire of Lord Siva’s third eye. From those ashes, a demon by the name Bhandasura emerges. He acquires many powers through penance and defeats the army of Gods. He lived in his capital Shunyaka, constructed for him by Mayasura, the architect of demons.
Unable to withstand the might of Bhandasura, the gods had nowhere to go. Narada advises them to worship Sakti, the divine Mother. The gods worship the mother and perform a sacrifice to propitiate Her. The Mother emerges from the fire altar to fulfill the wishes of the gods and to dispel their fear. Since She emerged from the fire altar, She is called Agni Kunda Samudbhava. As She emerged to protect the gods and to fulfill their aspirations, She is called deva karya samudyata. She is red in hue, the most beautiful Goddess. Lord Siva assumes the form of Kamesvara, and takes Her as His consort.
She then set out for destroying Bhanda and his armies. She is accompanied by Raja Matangi, Her minister on the one side. Raja Matangi is also called Raja Syamala, Mantrini and Nakuli. On the other side Varahi accompanied Her, the general of the Mother’s armies. Varahi is also called Dandanatha. They were followed by the gods and their armies.
They announced war on Bhandasura’s capital, Shunyaka, and there was a fierce battle. Varahi and Syamala started demolishing the armies of Bhanda and killing his generals. Bhanda sent his sons to arrest the attack of the divine armies, the eldest of them being Caturbahu (having four hands). Bala Maha Tripura Sundari, the child-form of the Mother, volunteered to fight Bhanda’s sons and killed them.
After this, Bhanda’s brothers Vishanga and Visukra, who were earlier vanquished and fled from the field, came back to fight Sri Devi’s armies. Bhanda also applied a mystical contrivance to obstruct the march of Devi’s armies, called vighna yantra (literally the machine of obstacles). When the Mother was merely glanced with love by the Lord Kamesvara, She gave birth to Ganesha (this is described as Kamesvara mukhaloka kalpita Sri Ganesvara). Ganesha destroyed the vighna yantra much to the happiness of the divine armies. Then Bhanda inspired demon Gajasura to fight Ganesha, who was also killed by Him. The divine armies of Sri Devi marched forward, Vishanga was slain in this encounter by Mother Mantrini and Visukra by Varahi.
Bhanda faced the Mother directly, attacking Her with weapons inspired by mystical powers. Sri Devi destroyed his weapons with weapons inspired by the ten forms of Maha Vishnu, that emerged instantly from the ten nails of Her hands. Weapon inspired by Pasupati (a form of Lord Siva) demolished the demonic armies. Finally the weapon inspired by Maha Kamesvara, destroyed Bhandasura along with his capital Shunyaka.
The Mother was applauded and worshiped along with Lord Kamesvara.
Description of the Mother and Her Abode
The Mother is said to be red in hue (Aruna). Her abode is Manidweepa, the island of gems and pearls. It is also called Sri Nagara. It is not reachable even for Gods like Indra. It is through Her grace alone, that one can reach Her abode. She, along with Lord Kameswara, is worshiped there by lakhs of Her attendant deities. She is called Kamakala, the manifestation of desire. Out of desire for cosmic sport She acts. Out of desire for pleasing the Lord, and union with the Lord She plays. Ever smiling, blissful and granting the boons of Her devotees, She is praised as personification of grace, bliss and mercy. She rules the universe and all aspects are Hers. All the beings, including the gods, act by Her inspiration and mercy.
In a verse meant for meditation on the Mother, She is described as:
Sindhuuraaruna vigrahaam trinayanaam maanikya moulisphurat Taara naayaka sekharaam smita mukheem aapeena vakshoruhaam PaaNibhyam aLi puurna ratna cashakam raktotpalam bibhrateem Soumyaam ratna ghatastha rakta caranaam dhyayet paraam ambikaam
Meaning the seeker meditates on the Mother (ambika), who is eternal (para), saffron-red in hue (sindhuuraaruna vigrahaa), having crown embedded with gems (manikya mouli), with Moon as an adornment over the head (taara naayaka sekharaa), three eyed (trinayanaa), ever smiling (smita mukhi), having high breasts (aapeena vakshoruhaa), with hands holding jeweled wine cup and red flowers (paaNibhyaam aLI puurna ratna cashakam raktotpalam bibhrati), ever soft and peaceful (soumyaa), with Her red lotus feet rested on a gem-decked pedestal (ratna ghatastha rakta caranaa).
Arunaam karunaa tarangitaaksheem dhruta pasa ankusa pushpa baana caapaam aNimaadibhiraavrutaam mayuukhaiH ahamityeva vibhaavaye bhavaneem
Meaning the seeker is meditating (vibhavaya) on the Mother (bhavani), red in hue (arunaa), colored and shining as Sun God (mayuukhaa), whose looks shower waves of grace and mercy (karunaa tarangitaakshi), with hands holding (dhruta) noose (pasa), goad (ankusa) and cane-bow that shoots flower-arrows (pushpa baana caapaam), with Goddesses with mystical powers in the outer rungs of Her palace-city (aNimaadibhiraavrutaa).
The first verse meditates on the Mother from head to feet. It is a general practice to meditate, describe and worship male forms or deities from feet to head upwards, and female forms or deities from head to feet downwards. Also, the Mother’s feet are said to be the abode of devotee, his ultimate destination. The second verse is about the aspects of Sri Vidya, which are explained through the powers of Goddesses, the weapons held.
The Origin and Philosophy of Sri Vidya
Lalita Sahasra nama in Brahmanda Purana, the hymn that praises the Mother with Her 1000 names, gives comprehensive description of Sri Vidya, its philosophy and methods. Besides, it is called yoga sahasra, which explains the secrets of all forms of yoga, and consciousness studies.
Sri Vidya is a well developed form of Sakta Tantra. The various constituent vidyas are well organized and arranged in a more systematic hierarchy compared to other sampradayas. Soundarya Lahari, a hymn he composed in praise of the Mother in a hundred verses, is said to be one of the most beautiful and profound explanations of Sri Vidya. Sri Vidya is followed by smarta as well as Tantric schools. There is no clear separation between them. Smriti followers are said to be smartas. They follow elements of tantra to the extent that they do not contradict smritis.
Sri Vidya is found in the Rig Veda as Sri Sukta, the hymn with 15 verses. It is said that this is fashioned after pancadasi, the central Mantra of Sri Vidya. Sri Sukta, with its application of single-syllable beejas (like eem, kaam, sreem), appears more in line with the Sakta Mantra Sastra than the classical Rig Vedic Mantra Sastra.
Sri Vidya tantra has two major Vidyas, Pancadasi and Shodasi. Pancadasi is the mantra with 15 syllables. Shodasi is the mantra with 16 syllables. Shodasi is one of the 10 disciplines of sakta tantra, called dasa maha vidyas. The vidya is called triputi, having three parts. They are Agni (fire), Surya (sun) and Chandra (moon) khandas (parts). The Mother is said to shine in these three worlds.
Also, Lalita, Syamala and Varahi symbolize the powers of Sri Devi’s divine will (iccha sakti), knowledge (jnana sakti) and action (kriya sakti). Lalita Herself is the power of divine will, her associates Matangi and Varahi represent the powers of knowledge and action respectively. This is evident from their roles – Lalita is the ruler, Matangi the minister and Varahi the general.
Sri Sukta, for the same reason, praises the Mother as Suryaa (Sun) and Candraa (Moon). It does not praise Her as Agni, but the Sukta itself is addressed to Agni.
Vedic and Puranic Concept
In the Vedic theology, there are two main deities that we find: Agni and Indra. Agni is the central deity of the Veda, and Indra is the head-deity. Agni is the face of Gods, and all Vedic worship is offered to various Gods through Agni. Thus Agni is central. And the Lord of all deities is Indra, thus Indra is the head-deity or the Godhead.
We can compare this, to the way in a family the husband is head of the family and the wife is the center of the family connecting and managing the entire family.
In Saiva - Sakta parlance, we find Siva-Sakti dual to be similar to this. Siva is Isvara, the Lord. He is the guiding principle. Sakti is pervading, the principle of manifestation, causing creation, sustaining and dissolving it. She does it, inspired by and for the Lord. Vedic Indra can be seen as Isvara and Vedic Agni, the divine will, can be seen as Sakti in Saiva - Sakta parlance. The close association of the Mother with Vedic Agni is further explained through Her epithets like Agni Kunda samudbhava (discussed above), Agni Sikha (having fire for Her hair). The symbolism of Lalita Herself assuming the form of the power of divine will reinforces this idea.
Further, triputi is directly related to the Vedic theology. In the Puranic trimurthy concept, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra preside over creation, sustenance and dissolution functions. They are representatives of Satva, Rajas and Tamas. According to Yaska, they derive from the Vedic triplet Agni (Fire God), Aditya (Sun God) and Vayu (Air God). The older Sakta schools like Candi (Mother Durga) speak of this triplet. In the more recent Sri Vidya, the corresponding aspect of Vayu finds a replacement with Soma (Moon God). Both Vayu and Soma are aspects of Rudra. However Vayu signifies strength while Soma bliss, and therefore the corresponding God/Goddess being worshiped have these qualities too. Thus, while Candi is representative of power and anger, Lalita is a pleasant form.
The three functions of creation, sustenance and dissolution, are further expanded into five functions. They are srusti (creation), sthiti (sustenance), laya (dissolution), tirodhana (veiling of individual consciousness through maya) and anugraha (unveiling, making the individual realize the Truth beyond Maya). The Mother presides over these five functions, and hence is called Panca Krtya Parayana. The representatives of these five functions are Brahma (creation), Vishnu (sustenance), Rudra (dissolution), Isvara (veiling) and Sadasiva (unveiling, absolute truth). All these five derive their life force, the strength to act, from the Mother. These five deities are said to form her royal chair, with Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Isvara forming four legs and Sadasiva forming the plank. Hence the Mother is called Panca Brahmasanaseena. Panca is five, asana is seat, asina is having sit on the seat. The five Brahmas are the five deities mentioned.
Without Her, they are lifeless corpses. That is why the Mother is also called Panca Pretasanaseena or seated on the seat of five corpses. Preta means corpse.
While Sakta is Advaitic in nature, there is a difference between Sankara Advaita and Advaita of Sakta Tantra.
There are three main schools that explain the relation between universe and Brahman. One is Arambha vada, which says universe has a beginning and an end. Nyaya and Vaiseshika follow this. The other schools hold that universe is eternal, its dissolution and next cycle of creation are linked with the continuity of the seed of creation. The second school is Parinama Vada, which says that the universe is a transformation of Brahman, emerges and dissolves in Brahman. The way a spider’s web comes from it, the universe comes from Brahman. Brahman is the essential substantial (upadana) cause for the universe. Sankhya, Yoga, Karma Mimamsa follow this. The third is Vivarta vada, which says that universe is a manifestation, an appearance over Brahman. Sankara Advaita comes under this. According to him, Brahman is the nominal (nimitta), substantial (upadana) and undifferentiated (abhinna) cause for the world. Sankara Advaita holds that Maya bounds and releases the being. World as it appears, appears because of Maya, and it is not what the world really is. The world, in reality, is Brahman only. Thus when one realizes Brahman and gets beyond the veil of Maya, then only Brahman remains, not the world. Sakta Tantra holds that Atman is same as Brahman, like other versions of Advaita, but the universe is real and eternal. It is not just an appearance that gets dissolved with realization. The Mother is primal rhythmic energy, Sakti and not Maya.
Sri Vidya is popularized by Sankara. The Vedic followers (who follow smritis and dharma sastras) of Sri Vidya go by Sankara Advaita. Atman is always liberated, but appears to be bound because of ignorance caused by Maya over the individual soul. Here Atman is to be called self. Soul is actually the subtle body that is constituted of subtle senses, mind and intellect. The Causal being of the universe, Isvara, associated with His consort Maya, rules the universe. The veil of Maya, is lifted through the grace of Sadasiva – and the individual being identifies its oneness with Atman which is beyond Maya.
Sublimation and Consecration
The primary difference between Vedic and Sakta Tantra philosophies lies in the fact that in Vedic philosophy desire is seen to be transcended. Though desire is not sought to be suppressed by force, it is not seen as a means to transcendence – it is sees as something that is to be grown over.
In Sakta, Nature, whether it is desire or natural tendency or instinct, is seen as a divine manifestation of the Mother Sakti. It is through fulfillment of it, with the sense that it is divine, as a form of worship of the Mother, that one seeks to please the Mother.
The Vedic practitioners of Sakta Tantra take a middle path, by praising the Mother as Maya who creates these tendencies to bind the being, seek to be liberated from these by Her grace.
Aspects of Agama
There are two major schools of literature in Hinduism. One is the Vedic literature, consisting of Vedas, various subjects that the Vedas deal with, Puranas, Dharma Sastras and so on. They deal with theology, spiritual philosophy, procedure and philosophy of rituals, various paths to salvation, code of conduct and righteousness, world views, the subjects one needs to learn to be able to understand such as the science of chanting, grammar, etymology, astronomy and so on. There is another stream of literature that deals primarily with the methods of worship. Though some of these are found in the Brahmana and Aranyaka portion of the Veda, Mimamsa (inquiry into the message of Veda), Kalpa Sutras (code and procedure for rituals), most of the elements practiced in popular Hinduism are from Agamas.
Agamas expound many aspects, including personal worship, temple construction and architecture, Iconography, worship in temple, Vastu and so on. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the popular aspects of Hinduism are found in Puranic and Agamic literature. Primarily Agamas are of three schools – Vaishnava Saiva and Sakta. They are followed by Vaishnavites, Saivaites and Saktas respectively. Agama has three parts, Mantra, Tantra and Yantra.
Mantra is a divine word which is chanted repeatedly as part of worship. Yantra in general, is a contrivance inspired by the power of a mantra. In many cases it is a geometric shape, carved on a metal plate or stone or crystal or floor. In case of Sri Vidya, it is Sri Cakra. Tantra is the entire philosophy and procedure of worship. The Tantra expounding Sri Vidya is called Sri Vidya Tantra, and is found in many Sakta texts like Prapanca saara and Rudra Yamala.
Uniquely to Sri Vidya, the name of the Vidya or the Goddess or Yantra does not have a separate name. It is not popularly called Lalita Vidya or Tripura Sundari Vidya. The tantra is called Sri Vidya, the Yantra Sri Yantra, the city of the Mother’s residence is called Sri Nagara. However “Sri” as we saw means divine and it is like saying divine Yantra, divine city and divine Vidya, without a specific name of the deity. Every other Vidya, is explicitly referred to, with the name of its presiding deity, Candi or Vishnu or Ganapati.
Yoga and Sri Vidya Tantra
Though Yoga is a very technical subject and its discussion is mostly restricted to teacher-student disciplines, any introduction to Tantra without the mention of Yoga is incomplete.
There are three major forms of Yoga, Mantra yoga, Laya yoga and Kundalini yoga. The aim of all the three is the same, though the methods vary slightly. Sri Vidya tantra involves all these three forms of yoga and integrates them.
Sound is produced through contact, vibration and obstruction. This is called Ahata. However cosmic hiss if one can hear is eternal and existent. This is called Anahata. It is not produced by us but only heard. A yogi can hear this. In sadhana one makes the sound oneself (by doing mantra japa), in a rhythm, resonant with the vibrations of his nadis and his breath. Through this one will be able to discover the deeper vibration. This way of merging individual with cosmic is called mantra yoga.
Mantra is said to be the sound-form of Devata (god-form). One realizes Devata through the chanting of mantra in mantra yoga. Mantra yoga concentrates on nada (sound) to strike rhythm between individual and cosmic vibration, to activate the right nadis, to expose one into the cidakasa or daharakasa (causal space). Sabda (sound) is the tanmatra (subtle attribute) of mahabhuta (primal element) Akasa (space). And through sabda one tries to turn his vision inwards from akasa to daharakasa, through chanting the mantra, by producing sound to slowly listening the anahata sound without producing it. Eventually when mantra yoga is achieved, one achieves laya yoga also, since his consciousness is directed to daharakasa where his devata resides.
Pancadasi, the root mantra of Sri Vidya is said to be the sound-form of the Mother. The mantra is divided into three kutas or parts with five syllables each. The first is called Vagbhava Kuta, the Mother’s head. The second is called Madhya Kuta, the trunk – from neck to navel. The third is Sakti Kuta, the part below navel.
Saraswati Sukta of the Rigveda says that Vak or word is of four forms – Para (eternal), pasyanti (experienced by seer in a state of deep consciousness), madhyama (when it translates as idea in the intellect) and vaikhari (when it is verbally expressed). Realizing Para Vak or Nada Brahman through a regulated chanting of mantra, first externally then mentally and then finally without producing it, is mantra yoga.
Meditation is the means in laya yoga. One controls mind through the control of breath, so that full concentration is possible in meditation. Through meditation, one’s consciousness merges in the object of meditation and one realizes Atman. The state in which the difference between the one who meditates, the act of meditation and the object of meditation dissolves, is called samadhi or sayujya.
One also observes during meditation one’s own being, the different sheaths of consciousness. There are five kosas or sheaths of consciousness of being - annamaya (physical), pranamaya (vital-life), manomaya (mental), vijnanamaya (intellect-knowledge) and anandamaya (causal - blissful). The first is gross, next three constitute subtle and the fifth causal being. The causal being is Isvara who resides in all beings, along with Maya His consort. She veils the unmanifest form of the divine, Brahman. The Mother is Maha Maya, who covers the world with veil of ignorance and lifts the veil out of grace, causing the entire play of creation. This is the cosmic sport She does for the Lord, Her lila. Her play, action can be seen in karana-akasa the causal space. She is the moon of that space, and is called Cidakasa candrika.
Gross (sthula), subtle (sukshma), causal (karana) and absolute (turiya) are the four states in which Brahman manifests. Realizing eternal through meditation is laya yoga. In Laya yoga one, through meditation, identifies himself progressively with the inner sheaths, and finally with the inner most being – Atman. The Mother is said to reside in and beyond the five sheaths – Panca kosantara sthita. Thus the seeker achieves oneness with the Mother through laya yoga.
In Kundalini yoga, one realizes divine consciousness through the activation of the hidden energy of Kundalini. There are six centers (cakras) in the spinal channel. Kundalini is said to be initially coiled up at muladhara. She is the Mother. She passes through these six from muladhara at the bottom of spine to ajna at the forehead, then to the crown of the head (sahasrara) where individual consciousness fully unites with cosmic consciousness. There, the Mother is said to unite with the Lord. This involves the opening of three knots or granthis in the path, called Brahma granthi, Vishnu granthi and Rudra granthi. There is one granthi per two cakras. Muladhara (pelvic) and swadhisthana (navel) associate with Brahma granthi, manipura (heart center) and anahata (midway between neck and solar plexus) associate with Vishnu granthi, visuddha (throat) and ajna (center of forehead) associate with Rudra granthi. These three are the triputi discussed above.
The worship of Sri Cakra with nine levels is also a means to this in Sri Vidya. Kundalini is said to be completely activated, with the Mother uniting with the Lord at Sahasrara, when the devotee reaches the bindu of Sri Cakra.
The union of Mother Kundalini with the Lord, is the liberation of seeker from Maya. This is possible with anugraha or grace as discussed above, and completes the cycle of births. This is the same as realizing Nada Brahman in mantra yoga, and sayujya of laya yoga.
Geometry and Worship of Sri Cakra
Sri Cakra is worshiped as the Mother Herself. In Sri Vidya, there is usually no other idol worshiped other than Sri Cakra. Even if an idol is worshiped, Sri Cakra is worshiped along with idol. All the upacaras or offerings are done to the Sri Cakra.
The worship of Sri Cakra is done through Devi Khadgamala (literally garland of swords, indicating energy) hymn, which enumerates the deities in each level. In an elaborate worship of Sri Cakra, each deity at each level is invoked, worshiped and offered oblations. However in a regular worship, it can be done in a much abridged way and Goddesses at each level are worshiped together.
Sri Cakra is a model of universe, which represents a Sakta world view. Sri Cakra or Sri Nagara is said to be the abode of the Mother, and She is its ruler. It has nine levels called avaranas. The nine levels are said to be nine levels in evolution of the seeker, beginning from the outer most to the inner most where the Mother resides. Sri Vidya tantra explains the Goddesses at each level (or the epithets or aspects of Mother at each level), the method of worship, and the mystical powers one attains through their worship. In the inner most level called bindu resides the Mother with Lord Kameswara. The various petals or lines and their number in each avarana signify the number of Goddesses worshiped.
Sri Cakra is worshiped in two and three dimensional forms. Planar Sri Cakra is called Bhu prastara (bhu – earth, meaning flat). Three dimensional Sri Cakra, where the outer most level is the base and each inner level is in elevation over the outer one, with bindu (the inner most triangle) as the peak, as if forming a cone, is called meru prastara (meru is a mountain, and the name indicates that the figure is similar to a mountain/cone). In an ardha meru or half meru, some of the nine levels are depicted in the same altitude.
Further, the nine are divided into three levels of three enclosures each. The outer most three comprise Srsti cakra (the orbit of creation). The next three comprise Sthiti cakra (the orbit of sustenance). The inner most three comprise Samhara cakra (the orbit of dissolution).
The geometry and worship of Sri Cakra is comprehensive and exhaustive. It explains the entire Sakta world view, its enumeration of the world, its philosophy and practice. Therefore we can only give a cursory glance at it, because otherwise it would become a book by itself.
The outer most level of Sri Cakra is square shaped, with three concentric squares and four gates on four sides. The next two levels are lotus petals, with sixteen and eight petals respectively. The next five levels are basically nine triangles drawn into each other, producing a total of forty three. These are seen as five levels of 14, 10, 10, 8, 1 triangles as we move inwards. The inner most or ninth level is bindu or a dot. This is also counted as a triangle, making the total count 44.
In each level, the Mother is described as causing those tendencies that bind beings at that level. If one successfully transcends the binding at one level, that is, when he seeks to proceed further without limiting oneself to the powers he gets at that level, then he will move to an inner level. Though all the levels of Sri Cakra are worshiped every time, one actually transcends or gets elevated to these levels gradually.
This is the outermost enclosure and has three concentric squares, with four gates on four sides. It is called so because most of the apparently mystic powers can be got here. It is said that even the Gods stop here without proceeding inwards, because their desires are fulfilled by the powers achieved at this level.
The three lines represent ten Mudra, Matrika and Siddhis (mystical powers).
Mudras are gestures, positions of fingers and hands, which are used for expressing various experiences. In case of worship, they are used as part of worship, to invoke certain experiences. The Mother is called dasa mudra samaradhya in Lalita Sahasra nama, meaning She is worshiped through ten mudras. They are Sarva Sankshobhini, Sarva Vidravini, Sarva Akarshini, Sarva Vasankari, Sarva Unmadini, Sarva Mahankusa, Sarva Khecari, Sarva Bija, Sarva Yoni and Sarva Trikhanda.
Matrikas are the seven primordial forms of the Mother, from which all the sound forms originate. They are Brahmi, Vaishnavi, Maheswari, Aindri, Kaumari, Varahi and Camundi.
There are ten mystical powers of the Mother which are personified as Goddesses. They are Anima, Laghima, Mahima, Isitva, Vasitva, Prakamya, Bhukti, Iccha, Prapti and Sarva kama siddhis. They include small powers like victory over hunger and sleep, to great ones like getting every wish granted, knowing things far off in distance and time.
This enclosure is also called bhupura or earthly (physical).
This avarana is called so, because at this level every desire of the devotee is fulfilled. This level of Sri Cakra has sixteen lotus petals. Correspondingly as this enclosure belongs to desire and their fulfillment, the Mother is praised as the one who attracts through the primal natural tendencies. The sixteen forms of desire are enumerated here. Praising the Mother as akarshini (one who attracts). This is where the effect of the Mother Maya is seen, as She attracts the beings with desire – making them bound with their senses, and other faculties. The sixteen forms are Kama (desire in general, but specifically sexual), Buddhi (intellect), Ahankara (ego), Sabda (sound - hearing), Sparsha (touch), Rupa (form - vision), Rasa (feel), Gandha (odor), Citta (impression), Dhairya (courage), Smriti (memory), Nama (name), Bija (seed), Atma (self), Amrita (immortality), Sharira (body).
Desire is the primary obstacle in detachment and liberation of being. While the smarta way is to transcend desire, the Sakta way is to fulfill it and consecrate it as a form of worship. Thus, fulfillment of desire is seen not only not negatively but rather positively in Sakta.
This avarana is named sankshobhana because the Mother here is praised as the one who causes agitation, instability, commotion. This enclosure has eight lotus petals, named Ananga kusuma, Ananga mekhala, Ananga Madana, Ananga Madanatura, Ananga rekha, Ananga vegini, Ananga ankusha and Ananga malini. It is Ananga (Cupid or Manmatha), the God of love, who agitates creatures in these ways.
This is the enclosure of mind.
Sarva Saubhagya dayaka
In the fourth enclosure, Sakti is worshiped as the granter of all kinds of prosperity. This level of Sri Cakra has fourteen trangles. The Goddesses or the forms of Mother in this enclosure are Sarva Sankshobhini (agitator of all), Sarva Vidravini (slayer or the one who dissolves), Sarva Akarshini (one who attracts), Sarva Ahladini (one who refreshes), Sarva Sammohini (one who mesmerizes), Sarva Stambhini (one who immobilizes), Sarva Jrumbhini (one who causes growth and expansion), Sarva Vasankari (one who controls all actions), Sarva Ranjini (one who pleases), Sarva Unmadini (one who intoxicates), Sarvaartha sadhini (one who fulfills all needs and desires), Sarva sampatti purani (granter of all kinds of prosperity), Sarva mantra mayi (one whose forms are all mantras), Sarva dvandva kshayankari (one in who all dualities dissolve into oneness).
In the fifth enclosure, the Mother is worshiped as the one who grants all whishes. In fact “artha” is not just a desire but a purpose. Thus the Mother grants all that we want, we need, and we need to fulfill. This level in Sri Cakra has ten triangles. The ten corresponding forms in which the Mother is worshiped here are Sarvasiddhi prada (granter of all powers), Sarva sampat prada (granter of all kinds of wealth), Sarva priyankari (one who grants all that pleases), Sarva Mangala kari (one who grants all kinds of auspiciousness), Sarva Kama prada (granter of all wishes), Sarva dukha vimocani (absolver from all kinds of sorrow and unhappiness), Sarvamrutyu prasamani (one who prevents all kinds of (untimely) death), Sarva vighna nivarini (one who prevents all obstacles), Sarvanga Sundari (one who is beauty personified, with each limb being perfect), Sarva Saubhagya dayini (granter of prosperity and well-being).
Sarva raksha kara
In this enclosure, the Mother is called the protector. It has eight triangles. The corresponding forms of Devi are Sarvajna (one who knows everything), Sarva Sakti (one who is all powerful), Sarvaisvarya prada (one who grants all worldly possessions and occult powers), Sarva jnana mayi (one who is knowledge personified), Sarva vyadhi vinasini (one who prevents all kinds of ailments), Sarva adhara swarupa (one on who rests the entire universe), Sarva papa hari (one who cleanses and absolves from all kinds of sins), Sarva ananda mayi (one who is bliss personified), Sarva raksha svarupini (the protector), Sarvepsita phala prade (granter of all desires, granter of the fruits of all deeds/worship/sacrifice).
Sarva Roga hara
The seventh enclosure has eight triangles, and Sakti is worshiped as the one who removes all kinds of ailment. Ailment can be biological, but in Vedanta, the cycle of transmigration itself is called an ailment. The Mother, as She is called Bhava Tarini, makes one easily cross the sea of phenomenal existence, its ups and downs. The eight deities of this level are called Vag-devatas, who preside over speech. They are Vasini, Kameswari, Modini, Vimala, Aruna, Jayini, Sarveswari and Kaulini.
Sarva siddhi maya
The eighth enclosure is a triangle. Here the Mother is called Kamakala, the personification of fulfillment. She signifies the desire of Isvara for cosmic sport. She is worshiped in eight forms in this level, with the names Banini, Capini, Pashini, Ankushini, Maha Kameswari, Maha Vajreswari, Maha Bhagamalini and Maha Sri Sundari.
Sarva ananda maya
The ninth or inner most enclosure is the bindu. It is called a dot, and also a minute triangle with edges almost falling into each other. The Mother resides here, united with Lord Kameswara, and is called Siva-Sakti-eka-rupini. Here Siva and Sakti are united, and are undifferentiated.
She is worshiped with nine names in the bindu, Tripura, Tripuresi, Tripura Sundari, Tripura Vaasini, Tripura Sri, Tripura Maalini, Tripura Siddhi, Tripuraamba and Maha Tripura Sundari.
Practical side of Sri Vidya
Sri Vidya is most popular in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, two of the major states in south India. There are two major schools in Sakta, Candi and Lalita. The Mother is worshiped as Durga, Candi, Camundi in Candi tradition, and as Lalita, Bala, Rajarajeswari in Lalita tradition.
There are many common aspects in both the traditions, with minor variations. Both are navarna, worshiped in nine levels. There are nine forms of Durga and She is worshiped in those nine forms in the navratri before Vijaya Dasami (Dussera festival). In fact, Candi Vidya itself is navarna, in the sense that the two main mantras have nine letters. The concept of nine levels of worship in Lalita tradition is visible in the nine levels of Sri Cakra.
It can be said that Candi is an older tradition, and Sri Vidya is a more recent and refined form. Tantric practices were extreme in India, with animal sacrifices and similar practices. Adi Sankara is said to have pacified those deities by installing Sri Cakra in famous Sakta temples through out the country, and prohibiting animal sacrifices in those places. These include Sakti peethas like Kamakhya (Guwahati, Assam) and Jogulamba (Alampuram, Andhra Pradesh) where such practices were rampant. Apart from these, he visited and installed Sri Cakra in many other temples like Sri Sailam, Kancipuram, Kanya Kumari, Kashmir and so on.
Though Sri Vidya was an older school, it gained popularity with Adi Sankara and Advaita philosophy. Today Sri Vidya followers go by Sankara’s Advaita.
Sri Vidya and other Gods
Though Tripura Sundari is the deity of Sri Vidya, most of the Goddesses like Lakshmi, Durga, Parvati are worshiped in Sri Cakra. Not only forms of Devi, but in general any God can be worshiped in Sri Cakra. Besides, there are Sri Vidya samputikaranas (compositions of verses/mantras) for different Gods. For example, when Ganesha and Dakshinamurty are worshiped in Sri Vidya tradition, they come to be known as Sri Vidya Ganesha and Sri Vidya Dakshinamurty respectively.
In case of a Goddess, this difference is not usually maintained. That is to say, Lakshmi is worshiped in Sri Cakra but not called Sri Vidya Lakshmi. Durga is not called Sri Vidya Durga or Candi-Durga when She is worshiped in Sri Vidya or Candi traditions. This is because, She is either worshiped with the same verses meant for Sri Cakra worship or with Lakshmi hymns, and not with separate verses. In case of Sri Vidya Ganesha, the worship is done with verses which are a combination of Sri Vidya and Ganesha vidya. Same is the case with Sri Vidya Dakshinamurty.
Though these are mainly schools of sadhana, there are temples too, where those forms are primary deities. There is a temple for Sri Vidya Ganesha in Bangalore. There is another installation of Sri Vidya Ganapati in Swetha Sringachalam.
Some Sri Vidya Practitioners and Lineages
Sri Vidya is practiced by many great seers. The Puranic seers like Agastya, Durvasa and Lopamudra (the wife of Agastya) followed Sri Vidya. Adi Sankara was a great exponent of Sri Vidya. The Soundarya Lahari hymn composed by him, is famous and chanted even today by many devotees – both practitioners of Mantra Sastra and followers of popular religion. There are many commentaries and translations of Soundarya Lahari, a few authors to mention - Lakshmi dhara pandita, Kaivalyashrama Swamy, Acyutananda Swamy, Vishnu Teertha and Narasimha Thakur. Practice of Sri Vidya is coming down for centuries, in teacher-disciple tradition. In some cases it is imparted from parent to the eldest offspring, in others it is from another teacher. Adi Sankara also gave a commentary on Lalita Trisati, the hymn-form of Pancadasi.
Kalidasa, a renowned poet and devotee of Devi, is said to have primarily worshiped Kali and Matangi. However his praises of the Mother include multiple forms, including Tripura Sundari – he calls Her Aruna (red in Hue, Lalita) and also Kali (black).
Adi Sankara established four monasteries in India, called Amnaya mathas (Amnaya means Veda, and matha in this context is monastery). Each of these specializes in one of the four Vedas. He also installed Devi in different forms, apart from Lord Siva in these mathas. To this day, all these are worshiped according to Sri Vidya. Apart from these, he established many other monasteries like Kanci matha. Devi is worshiped according to Sri Vidya School, in all these. For example, Saradamba is worshiped in Sringeri matha. Kamakshi is worshiped in Kanci matha. Besides, there are many other ashramas like Siddheswari Peetha of Kurtalam (a monastery), Kailasa Ashram of Hrishikesh, Lalita Peetha, Sri Vidya Vimarsana Peetha and innumerable local ashramas that primarily worship according to Sri Vidya discipline.
Sri Vidyaranya Swamy of 14th century AD was a great saint and scholar of Adi Sankara’s tradition. He gave a commentary on the Veda, along with many other works like Vedanta Pancadasi. Sri Vidyarnava, a compilation on the philosophy, practices and secrets of Sri Vidya, is said to be his work.
Bhaskara Raya from Bijapur area of Karnataka was a great Sri Vidya practitioner in the recent centuries. He belonged to 18th century. He lived in Varanasi for many years, and there are many stories about his devotion and the Mother’s divine grace over him. He was famous as a practitioner and an exponent of Sri Vidya in his times, and later. His name marks a lineage of practice in Sri Vidya. To this date, many generations after his times, Bhaskara Raya lineage is famous. Bhaskara Raya Mandali of Chennai, are among the practitioners of his school. Bhaskararaya’s commentary on Lalita Sahasra nama is said to be one of the greatest commentaries.
Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar who lived in 18-19 centuries was another exponent of Sri Vidya tradition. He was a multi-faceted personality, a genius. He was a great musician, a devotee, a Vedantist, expert in Mantra Sastra and a scholar. He belonged to Dakshinamutry tradition of Sri Vidya practice. (There are three main traditions in Sri Vidya, called Dakshinamurty, Ananda Bhairava and Hayagriva traditions.) He called Devi Kamalamba, and composed kritis (songs in Carnatic music) that extol the greatness of Her. Since they follow the progression in the worship of Sri Cakra, they are called as Navavarana Kritis. Kamalamba is the main deity in the temple at Tiruvavur whom he worshiped during his stay there. It was during that time he composed the songs, which expound Sri Vidya Tantra in an unmatched way. The songs that praise the deities in each enclosure of Sri Yantra, are composed in a separate Raga. So nine Ragas were used to compose the songs. Another uniqueness of these hymns is that they have different vibhaktis [Vibhakti is the suffix added to noun, that determines the role and state of noun, such as singular/plural, subject/actor. In Sanskrit, verb/noun is self-sufficient, and does not depend on other words. For instance, Rama, “Rama did”, “By Rama”, “Rama’s”, “to Rama” all these are independent words like Ramah, Ramasya, Ramou, Rame. And these words are formed by appending different vibhaktis to the word-root Rama. There are eight vibhaktis and one common to all. These nine forms are used by Sri Dikshitar in his songs corresponding to the nine enclosures of Sri Yantra].
Another great exponent of Sakta Tantra of the previous century is Kavyakantha Vasistha Ganapati. He is said to have worshiped many forms of Devi, including Sri Vidya, Chinnamasta and Tara. He contributed greatly in spreading and popularizing worship of Devi, initiated thousands of seekers into these schools. His disciples have in turn done that, along with establishing ashramas for the same. He was an associate of Ramana Maharshi of Arunacalam (Tamil Nadu). He produced great literature not only on Sakta but on Vedic knowledge in general. His consort was a teacher herself, and was primarily a Sri Vidya practitioner. Kapali Sastry, a disciple of both Sri Aurobindo and Kavyakantha Vasistha Ganapati, was a Sri Vidya practitioner too. He was the author of Siddhanjana, a commentary on Rigveda.
The previous head of Kanci matha, Late Sri Candra Sekharendra Saraswati, was a great exponent of Sri Vidya. He also gave an elaborate commentary on the Soundarya Lahari hymn.
There are different levels of practice in Sri Vidya. Usually, practitioners are initiated with Bala mantra first. After some practice, they will be initiated to Pancadasi or Shodasi, and Khadgamala. Khadgamala is the hymn, which is used to worship Sri Cakra. It enumerates the names of deities in each enclosure of the Sri Cakra. They are worshiped in the order they come in the hymn. Beyond, there are different stages like Paduka deeksha (roughly translated as the worship of Devi’s shoes). However, many will be happy in continuing their worship at one of these stages, without necessarily taking the later initiations. There are seers who do Pancadasi, Shodasi, Khadgamala, Paduka deeksha or even Bala alone. Tadepalli Raghava Narayana Sastry and Addanki Krishna Murthy of previous century are examples of people who worshiped Bala. There is also a practice of worshiping Devi with Sri Sukta.
Worship is done in many modes. Some worship everyday and some do collective worship on occasions. However some serious practitioners follow deeksha, for a certain period of time. During that, they follow severe austerities, worship Devi with red flowers and kunkum (vermilion), wear red clothes during worship and sleep on the floor. Being red in hue Herself, such practice is said to please Devi.
In recent years in Andhra Pradesh there started a practice of collective worship of Lalita, chanting and worship with Lalita Sahasra Nama hymn. This is done in various occasions and regularly (weekly) in groups by many. They include Laksha Kunkumarcana, in which a hundred thousand names of the Mother are chanted along with worship with Kunkum. (Sahasra nama hymn having thousand names is chanted hundred times – ten times each by ten persons). While there is a general trend of rise in Sakta practices, most of them follow Sri Vidya. There is also a general practice to worship Lakshmi in Sri Cakra domestically.
Though there is a different Yantra for different Sakta deities like Durga and Lakshmi, it came to be a practice that any form of Devi is worshiped in Sri Cakra in Sri Vidya procedure. In some places both Candi Navarna and Sri Vidya procedures are followed, for example Kanci. The main priests of all these temples are usually initiated into Sri Vidya.
There are many practitioners of Sri Vidya today. They not only initiate many seekers into the path and guide them, but popularize the school through lucid explanations and popular discourses, collective worship. Some of the famous teachers and practitioners include Dr Sri Veerabhadra Mahadev and Sri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma. Sri Mahadev is primarily a teacher and practitioner of Sri Vidya. Sri Shanmukha Sarma has reached out to people through his discourses, about the practice of religion. His discourses include praises and expounding the philosophy of all the major schools, Vishnu, Devi and Siva. He is a living example of how, having experienced the deeper reality, one can easily understand and see the same spiritual philosophy in different religions or theistic schools like Vaishnava, Saiva, Sakta. The same holds true in case of many seers – Vasistha Ganapati, Ramana Maharshi, Sri Aurobindo, Kapali Sastry, Candra Sekharendra Saraswati.
Mantra Vidyas in Sri Vidya
There are several mantra vidyas that are practiced as part of Sri Vidya worship. Broadly, there are two kinds of mantras – mula vidyas (the central or root vidyas) and anga vidyas (subsidiary vidyas).
There are four main or mula vidyas in Sri Vidya
(a) Gayatri: Vedic Gayatri, the primary Vidya that one is initiated into, before the Sri Vidya mantras like Bala or Pancadasi.
(b) Bala: The three lettered Vidya. The presiding devata, Bala Maha Tripura Sundari, is a child. Bala is said to be one of the most attractive and wonderful forms of Devi. Holding book and japa mala and sitting in a white flower, She presides over knowledge and bliss, and grants all the boons that the devotees ask for. It is a general practice to initiate Sri Vidya practitioners into Bala before initiating them into Pancadasi. However there are several sadhakas who are happier practicing Bala Vidya alone and have attained salvation. There are multiple Bala mantras, such as the Mala mantra and Bala Hridayam.
(c) Pancadasi: Pancadasi is the famous fifteen lettered Sri Vidya mantra. Dakshinamurty is said to be the seer of Pancadasi. There are several variations to pancadasi. There are twelve major variations, and are called dwadasa vidyas in Pancadasi. First two of them are the famous “ka-adi” vidya (begininning with ka) and “ha-adi” Vidya (begininning with ha). The remaining ten are said to be practiced by, and hence named after Manu, Candra, Kubera, Agastya, Nandikeswara, Surya, Indra, Vishnu, Sankara and Durvasa.
The Pancadasi is set of three putis or groups of beejas. Each puti is said to represent a level of consicousness, a kuta in mantra Sastra, and a granthi in kundalini yoga and in general a level in sadhana. Each puti ends with Maya or Bhuvaneswari beeja. Symbolically Devi is called Tri-pura Sundari, since there are three Bhuvanas or Puras She is ruling. Presiding Devatas of mantras with Maya beeja are usually pleasant forms, and Tripura Sundari is one of the most pleasant and beautiful forms.
(d) Shodasi: Shodasi is the sixteen lettered Sri Vidya. Pancadasi with an additional beeja (usually Sri beeja) becomes Shodasi. Tripura Sundari, the presiding Devata is said to be sixteen years old. Practitioners say that there is no form of Devata which is more beautiful and pleasant than Shodasi. The very incarnation of Devi in this form is to restore desire, creation and bliss in the world.
The several subsidiary vidyas of SriVidya are arranged into six Amnayas. Amnaya means Veda/Agama, and in Saiva there are five Amnayas. They are represented by the five faces of Siva facing Purva (eastwards), Dakshina(southwards), Pascima (westwards), Uttara (northwards) and Urdhva (upwards). In Sri Vidya there is a sixth Amnaya called Anuttara. Each Amnaya is associated with a guru mandala and several vidyas, astra kamya and para. Besides, all the vidyas are grouped at different levels. Some of the major vidyas are listed below.
The Purvamnaya contains vidyas for
- three gurus sva-guru, parama guru and paramesthi guru
- four peethas or seats of Devi, called Kamagiri, Purnagiri, Jalandhara and Odyana
- Ganapati , various forms of Syamala, Mrityunjaya, Pratyangira
Dakshinamnaya contains vidyas for
- eight Bhairavas
- nine Siddhas
- three Vatukas (celibates)
- the two feet of Devi, the prakasha and vimarsa
- forms of Bagala, Varahi, Dakshinamurty and Pasupata
Pascimamnaya contains vidyas for
- ten Duti Devatas (messenger Devatas)
- three mandalas (the Agni-Surya-Soma mandalas representing three putis of Sri Vidya)
- ten veera Bhairavas or warriors
- sixty four siddhas
- forms and associate Devatas of Vishnu
- nine grahas
- Sura mantras or mantras for Devatas like Indra
Uttaramnaya contains vidyas for
- Mudra Navakam or mantras for nine mudras
- Viravali or the five presiding Devatas of the universe (Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Isvara and Sadasiva)
- Forms of Durga, Candi, Kali etc.
Urdhvamnaya has vidyas for
- Malini or Matrika varna mala (the alphabet mantras)
- Guru Mandala
- Para Vidyas like Para Sambhavi, Paramba, Para Shodasi, Khecari, Ajapa, Tarakamba, Nishkala
Anuttaramnaya has vidyas for
- Catushpaat or Gayatri of four feet
- Various forms of nyasa, sankalpa and paduka vidyas
There are fifteen Nitya Devatas who preside over each day between a full moon and a new moon day. Each Nitya Devata is worshiped through a Vidya named after Her. They are
- Kula Sundari
- Neela Pataka
- Sarva Mangala
- Jvala Malini
The Tantric texts like Rudra Yamala expound Sri Vidya. Khadgamala Stotra, is the map and worship of Sri Cakra. Kamakala vilasa is a Sri Vidya text. Besides there are several Sri Kula texts in the oral traditions, either as compilations or as part of the mantra sastra texts like Mantra Mahodadhi, Mantra Maharnava and sakta texts.
Brahmanda Purana has the story of Lalita slaying Bhandasura. The Lalita Sahasra Nama in Brahmanda Purana explains Sri Vidya comprehensively. Lalita Trisati, which is also found in the same Purana, is the hymn form of Pancadasi Mantra. Sri Sukta, a hymn of Rig Veda found in its Khila part is also used in Sri Vidya worship. In fact Tripura Tapini Upanishad, an entire Upanishad is dedicated to Her. Adi Sankara's prapanca sara tantra mentions some of the Sri Vidya mantras. Devi Bhagavata describes Mani dwipa, the Mother's abode. Bhuvaneswari or Maha maya is worshiped as part of Sri Vidya and is primarily mention in this text.
- There is no direct relation between elimination of animal sacrifice and Sri Vidya. However, it became a general smarta practice to worship Sri Vidya, and also discourage animal sacrifices.
- This is known from the Sthala Puranas of these shrines.
- There is a historic debate about Sankara's relation to Sri Vidya, and it is said that Saundarya Lahari, TriSati Bhashya are not originally authored by Sankara. It is also said that the Sankara lineages worshiping Sri Vidya is a practice later than Sankara himself. However, the Sankara lineages and smartas in general do worship Sri Vidya.
- Sri Lalita Devi Caritra by Jagadguru Sri Siddheswarananda Swami, Published in Telugu by Swayamsiddha Kali Peetham, Guntur
- Sri Guru Samsmarana, The Souvenir on Centenary of Sri C V Swami Sastriji