Common anecdote of Mahāvidyās We all are aware of the story of Śiva and His first wife Satī, who was daughter of Dakşa and was reborn as Pārvatī. However, only few know about the association of Satī with Mahāvidyās.
Śiva and Satī
The story goes like this- when Dakşa began a Yajna without Śiva, the great sage Dadhīca objected to it and advised Dakşa to either invoke Śiva or offer oblations in The Lord’s name to make the Yajna complete. But Dakşa ignored Dadhīca’s advice and insulted the later, after which the great sage left the venue, warning the Prajāpati of the dire consequences. At this, sage Nārada, a well wisher of Dakşa went to Mount Kailāśa to invite Śiva and Satī to the Yajna. But Śiva refused, as Dakşa did not invite them and the Lord did not want to confront the later. However, an enraged Satī insisted upon visiting Dakşa’s place to make Her father honour Śiva. The Lord did not approove of this and forbade Satī from going. At this, Satī transformed into Mahākālī, seeing whom Śiva tried to flee. But ten Devīs poured out of Mahākālī and surrounded Śiva from every direction.
Mahākālī and Daśamahāvidyās
These Devīs were- Kālikā, Tārā, Tripurasuńdarī, Bhuvaneśvarī, Bhairavī, Ćhinnamastā, Dhūmāvatī, Bagalāmukhī, Mātańgī and Kamalā. When a scared Śiva asked who Mahākālī and the ten Devīs were, She introduced Herself as Satī and the ten Devīs as Her forms known as Mahāvidyās. Satī explained that She has to go for Lokakalyāņam, since people will lose their faith in Śiva if Dakşa manages to complete his Śiva-less Yajna. Now Śiva allowed Satī to go, and Satì went away to Her natal place riding a chariot yolked by lions and driven by Nańdī. Whatever happened after Satī reached Dakşa’s place is known to us. Kālikā
Kālikā or Kālī is Ādyā Devī who created Brahmā, Vişņū & Śiva and directed them to perform the tasks of creation, preservation and destruction. At that time, Vişņū was reclining upon coils of Anańtanāga floating upon The Cosmic Ocean, and was engrossed in deep Yogic slumber called Yoganidrā. Brahmā himself was situated upon the umbellical lotus emerging from Vişņū’s navel. Since presence of land was necessary to support life, Kālī performed an incredible Līlā that no one else could think of; She assumed the form of Kāmākhyā and appeared before a sleeping Vişņū.
Embodiment of the creative desire, Kāmākhyā or Kāmeśvarī poke Her fingers into Vişņu’s ears, created two demons out of Vişņū’s ear wax, named them Madhu & Kaițabha and granted them with the boon of “Ićhāmřtyu”, wherein the blessed person gets to decide the time and mode of his/her death. She directed them to kill Brahmā. Upon seeing both Asuras charging towards Him, a scared Brahmā prayed to Vişņū for redemption; however, Brahmā’s prayers fell into deaf ears as Vişņū did not respond. As a result, Brahmā now began praying to Kālikā to withdraw Her spell from Vişņū and wake Him up from Yoganidrā. Kāmākhyā, who is also Mahāmāyā, invoked Vişņū and directed Him to fight Madhu & Kaițabha. Even after fighting the two Asuras for 500 years when Vişņū couldn’t kill them, He sought the help of Kāmākhyā; Mahāmāyā enchanted Madhu & Kaițabha, because of which they got lethargic and desirous of granting Vişņū a boon. The Lord grabbed the opurtunity and asked death of Madhu & Kaițabha at His hands. The Asuras agreed on the condition that they can be killed on a spot which was not submerged under water. Hence, Vişņū places them on His thighs and beheaded them with His discus. After bathing in blood of Madhu & Kaițabha and annointing herself with their fat, Bhūdevī became firm and capable of bearing life-forms. Tārā
There are two versions of Her origin narrative- according to one, Tārā was born out of Mahākālī’s third eye, to slay an Asura called Hayagrīva and restore the order on earth. Tārā produced many Yoginīs from Her body, who put an end on Hayagrīva. As per the second version, Pārvatī assumed the form of Tārā to redeem Śiva after the later had drank Halāhala venom that emerged from Samudra Mańthana. When Śiva had fallen unconscious due to the effect of venom, Tārā came, turned Śiva into a child Sadyojāta and breastfed Him with Her milk.
Tripurasuńdarīappeared when Bhaņđāsura, a demon born from Kāmadeva’s ashes had unleashed a reign of terror. Empowerd by Śiva’s boon, He and his associates would enter the body of Devas, drink their vital fluids and thus weaken them. To seek help of Śiva and Pārvatī, Devas lead by Brahmā and Vişņu went to Kailāsa but found no one there. Then they went to the edge of Brahmāņđa (universe) and prayed to Śiva and Pārvatī. As a result, Mahāśambhu & Ādī Parāśakti appeared before them and directed the Devas to conduct a Yajna to propitiate Lalitā Devī. During the Yajna, dry oceanbed became Yajna-Kuņđa, forests became firewood, Mahāśambhu became the priest, Cidāgni kindled fire and Devas jumped into the fire, acting as oblations andthus made the ultimate sacrifice. Propitiated, Devī Lalitā Tripurasuńdarī emerged from Cidāgni-Kuņđa, resurected all Devas, and created an army of goddesses. She waged war against Bhaņđāsura and slew him after a fierce battle. Bhuvaneśvarī
In this form, Ādyāśaktī is Queen of Maņidvīpa, Mūlaprakřti and both Brahman as well as Brahmaśakti Herself. She is Svādhīnavallabhā, as She is both Puruşa and Prakřti in the same form. It is Bhuvaneśvarī who had appeared as Umā Haimavatī (Brahmavidyā) and enlightened the Devas when they were tested by Brahman in the form of a Yakşa and had their infated ego crushed. Bhairavī
This form of Devī is non-distinct from Navārņa Caņđikā, who slew Mahişāsura as eighteen-armed Mahālakşmī during Svārociśa Manvańtara.
During another eon, there lived a demon called Kolhāsura who had built the city of Kolhāpur and ruled it peacefully. Upon growing old, he installed his eldest son upon the throne and retired to forest by taking Sanyāsa. However, Kolhāsura’s sons were wicked and troubled people, because of which Deities killed them. Furious, Kolhāsura returned to avenge death of his sons and conquered Svarga, driving Devas out of their abode. This time, Navārņa Caņđikā assumed the form of Mahālakşmī and slew Kolhāsura, restoring order once again. She became the patron deity of the city and is till date worshiped as Kolhāpur Mahālakşmī. Ćinnamastā
Once when Pārvatī alongwith Her friends Jayā & Vijayā went to bathe in Mańdākinī river, She began to meditate upon Śiva and Her complexion turned dark. She hence came to be known as Pracaņđa Caņđikā. At this time, Jayā & Vijayā got hungry and prayed to Pārvatī to provide food to them. They got restless when Pārvatī asked them to wait, and transformed into Đākinī and Varņinī. Seeing this, Pracaņđa Caņđikā decapitated Herself and fed Her friends with Her own blood. Hence, Pārvatī came to be known as Ćhinnamastā. Dhūmāvatī
Once owing to an argument, Satī swallowed Śiva. As a result, smoke started to emit from Satī’s body. The Lord magically emerged along with smoke, and Satī was transformed into a widow. This widow form of Ādyāśakti is known as Dhūmāvatī. Bagalāmukhī
Empowered by boon of Brahmā, once upon a time a demon called Madana started troubling people on earth and gods in heaven. He triggered a storm that could destroy life on earth, and in order to stop it Vişņu began meditating upon Tripurasuńdarī for redemption on the shore of Haridra Sarovar in Dantiya at Śaurāśțra (Gujarat). As a result, Devī emerged as Bagalāmukhī, stopped the storm and slew Madanāsura to restore Dharma. Mātańgī
After death of Mahişāsura, Śumbha & Niśumbha became kings of demons. They defeated Devas, siezed their possessions and deposed them out of heaven. Devas took shelter on earth and begsn to ponder thus “After Mahişāsura’s death when we Devas had propitiated Bhagavatī Durgā with our hymns, She assured us that She will come to our rescue whenever we are in need.” The Devas then went to Himālaya and started singing hymns in praise of Mahişāsuramardinī Devī. Meanwhile, Ādi Parāśaktī in the form of sage Matańga’s daughter Mātańgī was staying in an Āśrama, and enquired Devas thus “To whom are you praying?” Before Devas could answer, another Devī manifested from the outer sheath of Mātańgī and answered “Defeated by Śumbha and tormented Niśumbha, these Devas are praying to me.” Since this Ambikā Devī had manifested from the outer sheath of Mātańgī, She became renowned as ‘Kauşikī’; on the other hand, Mātańgī Herself turned black and became renowned as ‘Kālikā’.The former started haunting Himālaya and subsequently slew Asuras Dhūmralocana, Caņđa, Muņđa, Raktabīja, Śumbha & Niśumbha; on the other hand, Kālikā stayed back at Himālayas in a Yogic trance, ready to vanquish those who dared to disturb the Yogins living there. Thus She came to be known as ‘Bhīmā’ or ‘Bhīmākşī’ Devī, and subsequently slew Ruru Daitya.
Kamalā, Kamalātmikā or Gajalakşmī is consort of Vişņu; She manifested during Samudra Mańthana as daughter of Varuņa (Ocean god) and chose Vişņu as Her consort. Along with Sāvitri and Pārvatī, Lakşmī is one of the Tridevīs and resides in Vaikuņțha.