Description of the Mother and Her Abode
The Mother is said to be red in hue “Aruṇa”. Her abode is Maṇidwīpa, the island of gems and pearls. It is also called Śrī 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 Kāmeswara, is worshiped there by lakhs of Her attendant deities. She is called Kāmakalā, the manifestation of desire due to the desire for cosmic sport that She acts and even out of desire for pleasing the Lord and union with the Lord She plays. Ever smiling, blissful and granting the boons to 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:
sindūrāruṇa vigrahām trinayanām māṇikya mauLisphurattārā nāyaka śekharām smita mukhīm āpīna vakṣoruhām pāṇibyām aLi pūrṇa ratna caṣakam raktotpalam bibhratīm soumyām ratna ghaṭastha rakta caraṇām dhyāyet parām ambikām
Meaning the seeker meditates on the Mother Ambikā, who is eternal, saffron-red in hue, having crown embedded with gems, with Moon as an adornment over the head, three eyed, ever smiling, having high breasts, with hands holding jeweled wine cup and red flowers, ever soft and peaceful, with Her red lotus feet rested on a gem-decked pedestal.
Arunām karunā tarangitākshīm dhruta pasa ankusa puspa bāna cāpām aNimādibhirāvrutām mayūkhaiH ahamityeva vibhāvaye bhavanīm
Meaning: “The seeker is meditating on the Mother, red in hue, colored and shining as Sun God, whose looks shower waves of grace and mercy, with hands holding noose, goad and cane-bow that shoots flower-arrows, with Goddesses with mystical powers in the outer rungs of Her palace-city.”
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 ŚrīVidyā, which are explained through the powers of Goddesses, the weapons held.
The Origin and Philosophy of ŚrīVidyā
Lalita Sahasra nāma in Brahmānda Purāṇā, the hymn that praises the Mother with Her 1000 names, gives a comprehensive description of ŚrīVidyā, its philosophy and methods. Besides, it is called yoga sahasra, which explains the secrets of all forms of yoga and consciousness studies.
ŚrīVidyā is a well developed form of Śāktā Tantra. The various constituent Vidyās are well organized and arranged in a more systematic hierarchy compared to other sampradāyas. Saundarya Lahari, a hymn composed in praise of the Mother in a hundred verses, is said to be one of the most beautiful and profound explanations of ŚrīVidyā. ŚrīVidyā is followed by śmārta as well as Tantric schools. There is no clear separation between them. Smṛti followers are said to be śmārtas. They follow elements of tantra to the extent that they do not contradict śmritis.
ŚrīVidyā is found in the Rig Veda as Śrī Sukta, the hymn with 15 verses. It is said that this is fashioned after pancadāśi, the central Mantra of ŚrīVidyā. Śrī Sukta, with its application of single-syllable bījas like īm, kām, srīm, appears more in line with the Śāktā Mantra Śāstra than the classical Rig Vedic Mantra Śāstra.
ŚrīVidyā tantra has two major Vidyās, pancadāśi and Shodaśi. Pancadāśi is the mantra with 15 syllables. Shodaśi is the mantra with 16 syllables. Shodaśi is one of the 10 disciplines of Śāktā tantra, called dasa mahāVidyās. The Vidyā is called triputi, having three parts. They are Agni (fire), Surya (sun) and Candra (moon) khāndas (parts). The Mother is said to shine in these three worlds.
Also, Lalita, Śyāmala and Vārāhi symbolize the powers of Śrī Devi’s divine will, knowledge and action. Lalita Herself is the power of divine will, her associates Mātangi and Vārāhi represent the powers of knowledge and action respectively. This is evident from their roles – Lalita is the ruler, Matāngi the minister and Vārāhi the general.
Śrī Sukta, for the same reason, praises the Mother as Suryā and Candrā. It does not praise Her as Agni, but the Sukta itself is addressed to Agni.
Vedic and Paurānika 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 – Śāktā parlance, we find Śiva-Śakti dual to be similar to this. Śiva is Īśvara, the Lord. He is the guiding principle. Śakti 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 Īśvara and Vedic Agni, the divine will, can be seen as Śakti in Saiva – Śāktā parlance. The close association of the Mother with Vedic Agni is further explained through Her epithets like Agni Kunḍa samudbhava, Agni Sikhā. 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 Paurānika trimurty concept, Brahma, Viṣṇu and Rudra preside over creation, sustenance and dissolution functions. They are representatives of Śatva, Rajas and Tamas. According to Yāska, they derive from the Vedic triplet Agni, Āditya and Vāyu. The older Śāktā schools like Candi speak of this triplet. In the more recent ŚrīVidyā, the corresponding aspect of Vāyu finds a replacement with Śoma. Both Vāyu and Soma are aspects of Rudra. However Vāyu signifies strength while Śoma 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 sṛṣṭi, sthiti, laya, tirodana and anugraha The Mother presides over these five functions, and hence is called Pancha Krtya Pārāyana. The representatives of these five functions are Brahma, Viṣṇu, Rudra, Īśvara and SadāŚiva. 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, Viṣṇu, Rudra and Īśvara forming four legs and SadāŚiva forming the plank. Hence the Mother is called Pancha Brahmāsanāsīna. Pancha is five, āsana is seat, asīna 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 Pancha Pretāsanāsīna or seated on the seat of five corpses. Preta means corpse.