Worship of Women

by K.L.Kamat

Written: May 29 1999

The Indians see most of things in the female form. The earth, the country, rivers are in female forms. There are more words in the feminine than any other genders. "Shakti" representing the woman hood is the driving force behind all human activities. Thus she is the symbol of fertility, birth and death. In all these activities, she is closely associated with Lord Shiva. It is implied that Shakti in association of Shiva is burdened with running the entire universe. Even Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are her subjects and as per her wishes carry out their respective functions of creation, sustenance and destruction.

K.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri
<em>Nagna Kabandha</em> Alampur sculpture, Andhra Pradesh
Nagna Kabandha Alampur sculpture, Andhra Pradesh

The basic concepts of the Indian religions were borrowed from the Upanishads, which emphasized on austerities and penance tapasya in life. Over a long period of time, such hard and rigid disciplined norms made people lose interest in life itself. In order to rejuvenate faith in worldly affairs, Tantra Cult or Tantricism was propounded in the third century A.D. The masses were encouraged to disregard extremely rigid fundamentalism and advised to follow five principles (Panchamakaras or symbol) to attain salvation moksha in this life. They were asked to eat fish (matsya), flesh (mansa), food staffs (mudra); drink liquors (madya), engage in coitus (maithuna) and be happy! It was emphasized that foods are for welfare of the body, wines are for stimulating the senses and coitus is for immense pleasure which surpasses any worldly gratifications. Thus, by satisfying all human desires one can attain moksha. As this new philosophy of life proposed the best of worlds that is, love and eroticism (yoga and bhoga), the masses who revolted against orthodoxy in religion, went in for good things in life. 

A section of the society interpreted that Tantric Cult is a license to indulge in immoral activities. In the name of goddess they sacrificed fowls, goats, buffalos, and feasted on their flesh. On special occasion they even sacrificed human beings to attain supernatural powers. In the company of men the women also indulged in liquor-drinking bouts. The original concept of yogic union in coitus (philosophical rather than physical) was forgotten. Instead "bhoga" was termed as "yoga", and all evil became acceptable. It was emphasized that man and woman in coitus should forget everything including themselves! Thus "Shakti" became personified in flesh and blood. Honestly, they believed that this is the only way to attain moksha! At time they also went in for performing the "black magic" (abhichara) for this purpose. Once in a while they went in for mass orgasm. An equal number of men and women met at a secret place and performed what is known as "Chakra puja". The male and the female companions were selected by lots and they indulged in sexual activities all through the night. The participants were prohibited from revealing what happened at the function. These kind of undesirable activities brought a bad name to the cult and became unacceptable to majority of god-fearing people.

Very elaborate description of this cult could be found in tantric texts. They employ the magical spells (mantras) and diagrams (tantras) to please the goddess. Awakening the latent Shakti (Kundalini Yoga) in human being is an important aspect of the cult. Six wheels (chakras) are identified in the human body, commencing from the anus and extending all the way to skull. Shakti is supposed to be located at the bottom, who like snake (Kundalini) traverses through the entire length of the vertebral column to unite with the Shiva located in side the cranium. It is presumed that a given individual could be activated only through Kundalini. Shri Shankaracharya of Sringeri Math accepted this hypothesis and established Shrichakra math.

The mantras are the integral part of this cult. When these oral mantras are converted into written form they are termed as "mandals". When a complicated mandal is drawn by utilizing different geometrical symbols such as circles, triangles, squares, hexagons, decagons, they are known as "yantras" or "chakras". A chakra drawns to dedication of a god or goddess is termed as "shrichakra." It may be drawn on the floor with vermilion ("kumkuma"), sandalwood paste (srigandha) or white chalk. Very orthodox people get them engraved on copper, brass, silver and gold for permanency. This aspect of the cult has developed to such an extent that it has become a science ("shastra") itself. In old palm-leaf manuscripts, and books, one will find innumerable such diagrams and texts concerned with it.

Complex  Circular Designs
The "Union" Mandala

The tantric cult could not inspire the Indian artists for creation of erotic art as they were extremely secretive in their rituals. However, once in a while, one comes across some rudiments of such art work. At Kolaramma Temple Kolar,  in Karnataka there is an ancient icon of the goddess which has been dumped in the attics and nobody is allowed to have glimpses (darshan) of her! It depicts a youthful lady without any clothes. She is wearing elaborate ornaments on her hair-bun, head, earlobes, neck, shoulders, hands, waist and feet. She  is  shown holding a drinking bowl in her raised right hand. 

In remote Barsur village of Bastar district of Madhya Pradesh, there are some scattered sculptures of a ruined temple which exhibits the influence of this cult of erotic art. In one of them, two commoners are embracing each other holding the drinking bowls in their hands. In another, a male offers a drink to his mate prior to coitus. Even Lord Shiva is holding a drinking bowl while sitting in meditation. Shiva-Shakti union has given rise to "Ardhanareeswara" ( a.k.a Uma-maheswara) concept which resulted in innumerable icons in stone and metal.

K.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri
Man and Woman in a Tantric Ritual
Man and Woman in a Tantric Ritual
Sculpture from Barsur, Madhya Pradesh

After decline and fall of this cult the people converted their temple into that of Lord Shiva. Worship of female deities also continued and this gave the Indian artisans ample opportunities to chisel out beautiful icons of different goddesses. South India is having numberous Marikamba icons but one that is located at Sirsi in  Uttar Kannada district  is richly decorated and attractive. Mahakali's icon could be fearsome or docil. Sharadamma of Sringeri math is considered to be goddess of education. Every year the artisans of West Bengal mount several earthen idols of goddess Durga for Dasara festival and at the end of the festival they are immersed in the river Bhagirathi. In the Horanadu Chikkamagluru district of Karnataka, there is beautiful icon goddess Annapuranashewari. Different types of yantras and shri-chakras could be seen all over the county. 

It is a fact of life that Tantric cult has left a permanent influence on the Indian art and population


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