Śrī Vidyā is one of the most comprehensive and popular Vidyās in Śāktā. In the context of Hindu spiritual practices, a Vidyā can be defined as the worship of a God/Goddess. Literally Vidyā means learning; it is from the word-root “vid” – to know. Knowledge is called Veda and learning is called Vidyā. 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 worshiper into that of the God, realizing the God and His nature. Therefore the knowledge and worship of each God is called a Vidyā. Thus Śrī Vidyā is the knowledge and worship of Mother Goddess Śrī Devi. She is also called Śrī Mātā Tripura sundari.
“Śrī” means prosperity, auspiciousness, divinity. Śrī Devi is the Divine Mother who bestows bliss and plentitude on Her devotees. In Veda, She is praised as Śrī. Vedic knowledge diversified and developed into different schools like śmarta, Śrauta, Paurānika and so on. Tantra is another school of practices that combines methods of worship with philosophy and theology. With these developments, Śrī Devi came to be known and worshiped in different forms. In Purāṇās, Śrī is called Laksmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. The worship of Śrī Māta or Tripura sundari, developed as ŚrīVidyā, one of the major cults in Śāktā Tantras. The kaula-practitioners of ŚrīVidyā differentiate it as Śrī Kula Tantra, while Śrī Vidyā Tantra is the general name used by all the Śrī Vidyā practitioners.
Tripura sundari literally means the most beautiful lady of three worlds. Mother Śrī is said to be the most beautiful Goddess among all God-forms. Tripura sundari is worshiped in different names and forms like:
Lalitā Upākhyāna – The Story of Lalita Tripura sundari
In Brahmānda Purāṇā, the story of Lalita Tripura sundari is narrated by Lord Hayagrīva 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 Śiva’s third eye. From those ashes, a demon by the name Bhanḍāsura emerges. He acquires many powers through penance and defeats the army of Gods. He lived in his capital Śūnyaka, constructed for him by Māyāśura, the architect of demons.
Unable to withstand the might of Bhanḍāsura, the gods had nowhere to go. Nārada advised them to worship Śakti, the divine Mother. The gods worshiped the mother and performed a sacrifice to propitiate Her. The Mother emerged 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 Kunḍa Samudbhava. As She emerged to protect the gods and to fulfill their aspirations, She is called deva kārya samudyata. She is red in hue, the most beautiful Goddess. Lord Śiva in the form of Kāmeśvara takes Her as His consort.
She then set out for destroying Bhanḍa and his armies. She is accompanied by Rāja Mātangi, Her minister on the one side. Rāja Mātangi is also called Rāja Śyāmala, Mantriṇī and Nakuli. On the other side Vārāhi accompanied Her, the general of the Mother’s armies. Vārāhi is also called Dandanāta. They were followed by the gods and their armies.
They announced war on Bhanḍāsura’s capital, Śūnyaka and there was a fierce battle. Vārāhi and Śyāmala started demolishing the armies of Bhanḍa and killing his generals. Bhanḍa sent his sons to arrest the attack of the divine armies, the eldest of them being Caturbāhu. Bāla Mahā Tripura sundari, the child-form of the Mother, volunteered to fight Bhanḍa’s sons and killed them.
After this, Bhanḍa’s brothers Viṣañga and Viśukra, who were earlier vanquished and fled from the field, came back to fight Śrī Devi’s armies. Bhanḍa also applied a mystical contrivance to obstruct the march of Devi’s armies, called vighna yantra. When the Mother was merely glanced with love by the Lord Kāmeśvara , She gave birth to Gaṇeśa. Gaṇeśa destroyed the vighna yantra much to the happiness of the divine armies. Then Bhanḍa inspired demon Gajāśura to fight Gaṇeśa, who was also killed by Him. The divine armies of Śrī Devi marched forward and Viṣañga was slained in this encounter by Mother Mantriṇī and Viśukra by Vārāhi.
Bhanḍa faced the Mother directly, attacking Her with weapons inspired by mystical powers. Śrī Devi destroyed his weapons with weapons inspired by the ten forms of MahāViṣṇu, that emerged instantly from the ten nails of Her hands. Weapon inspired by Pasupati demolished the demonic armies. Finally the weapon inspired by MahāKāmeśvara , destroyed Bhanḍāsura along with his capital Śūnyaka. The Mother was applauded and worshiped along with Lord Kāmeśvara.