The group of seven mother-like goddesses, Matrikas, as commonly accepted, consist Brahmi, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda.
“Brahmi Maheshwari Chaiva Kaumari Vaishnavi tatha |
Varahi Cha thathendrani chaamundaa saptaatarah ||”
According to a version of their origin, as narrated in Devi Mahatmya, it is said, the Matrka goddesses were created by male Gods in order to aid Mahadevi in her battle against the demons Shumba and Nishumba.
The Matrkas emerge as Shakthis from out of the bodies of the gods: Brahmi form Brahma, Vaishnavi from Vishnu, Maheshwari from Shiva, Kaumari from Skanda, Varahi from Varaha, and Indrani from Indra.
They are armed with the same weapons, wear the same ornaments and ride the same vahanas and also carry the same dhwaja like their corresponding male Gods do. Saptamatrkas as a group indicate transformation of the male identities of gods into goddesses. These seven mother goddesses, celebrated as a group, are an embodiment of the female principle of prakrti, the counterpart of purusha.
The Saptamatrka group is, thus, composed of: Two Vaishnava Shakthis (Vaishnavi and Varahi),
Two Shaiva Shakthis (Maheshwari and Kaumari),
One Brahmi Shakthi, in addition to Indrani (Aindri) and Chamunda.
It is a group of six Deva Shakthis and one Devi Shakthi, making it into an integrated unit of seven.
Many have attempted to explain the rationale in the composition of Saptamatrka group. One explanation mentions that the group of seven goddesses was derived from the gods that were considered important during the Gupta period.
By then, the major gods – Shiva and Vishnu – had already attained independent – super status within the Vedic pantheon. Brahma was in any case one among the trinity, though a less impressive one. And, Skanda had risen into prominence since the time of Kushanas when he was absorbed into Shiva pantheon; and he developed further during the Gupta era.
Varahi the counterpart of Varaha was more popular during the Gupta period than any other avatar of Vishnu. Aindri is the only counterpart of the Vedic gods who by then had lost their importance. Chamunda, of course, represents the principal feminine force. The omission of the counter part of Surya who was a major god, acceptable to all sects, during the Gupta period is rather surprising. Similarly, of Ganapathi who was just beginning to rise to prominence.
The Saptamatrkas were earlier connected with Skanda (Kumara), but in later times were absorbed into the sect of Shiva himself. Aptly, the Saptamatrka panel begins with Ganesha, the son of Shiva, and ends with an aspect of Shiva such as Bhirava or Virabhadra.
Sometimes, Natesha or Vinadhara – Dakshinamurthy represents Shiva. The presence of Ganesha at the beginning of the panel, it is explained, is prompted by the faith that Ganesha as the Lord of the Ganas would remove obstacles, help the devotee in his pursuit, and guide him along his endeavour.
From the sixth century onwards inclusion of Ganesha in the format became a standard practice.
Thereafter, depiction of Ganesha and Shiva, and sometimes along with Skanda, became quite common. For instance, In the Matrka panels at Aihole and Elephanta caves Ganesha and Skanda are shown as child gods along with Shiva. Thus, in association with Chamunda, the Saptamatrka panel was rendered into a composite unity.
As regards the presence of Ganesha and Virabhadra at either ends of the Saptamatrka panel, elsewhere: The Saptamatrikas symbolically represent the seven different aggressive tendencies of the female part of a human being.
When unleashed, they tend to destroy the wellness that comes out of a fostering mother. Children below the adolescent age are likely to be influenced by such harmful energies. Those adverse influences breed in kids a sort of ’non- motherly’ destructive attitude. And, these aggressive tendencies (energies) are meant to be contained and held in check by the two male energies: of Vinayaka who was ‘mother- born’ and who regarded all women as mothers; and of Virbhadra who could invoke motherly virtues in any woman. Between the manifestation of rational Vinayaka and the fiery Virabhadra these female energies were to be harnessed.
The Significance of order:
The other significant aspect about the Saptamatrka group formation is the order in which they appear in the traditional texts. The order symbolizes the cycle of creation and its cessation; and presents it as the functions of female power-Shakthi.
The order of the Saptamatrka usually begins with Brahmi symbolizing creation. It is often represented by the all-comprehensive primordial Nada Om (pranava).
Then, Vaishnavi provides the created world with symmetry, beauty and order.
Maheshwari, who resides in the hearts of all beings, breaths in life and individuality. Kaumari, Guru-guha, the intimate guide in the cave of one’s heart, inspires aspirations to develop and evolve.
Varahi is the power and aggressive intent to go after enjoyment.
Indrani is the sovereignty intolerant of opposition and disorder .
Chamunda is the destroyer of delusions and evil tendencies, paving way for spiritual awakening.
The most important significance of Saptamatrka symbolism is the implication of the cyclical universal time and its cessation. In the standard versions,
Brahmi symbolizes creation;
Vaishnavi the preserver occupies the central position flanked by three goddesses on each side.
The cycle of periodic time ends with dissolution symbolized by Chamunda. She is the only Devi Shakthi among the Matrkas. She is at times depicted as one who exists beyond death and time.
Kalabhairava, who usually appears at the end of the Saptamatrka panel, symbolizes liberation from cycle of birth and death.
Thus, it is said, Saptamatrkas epitomize the process of creation, preservation and death; and, the final liberation that takes one beyond time. This is in tune with the Shaktha theology which rationalizes creation, preservation and destruction of the world as the functions of female power-the Shakthi.
In Sri Chakra:
In the Sri Chakra, Chatushra the outermost four-sided square field (bhupura – the earth stretch) known as Trailokya-mohana-chakra is composed of three lines which make way for four doors (dwara) on four directions.
These sets of lines are also described as the layers of the enclosure wall which surround the city of the Devi (Tripura).
The three lines are understood to represent three planes of existence: attainments, obstructions and powers.
The three planes are related to the body-mind complex and its experiences with the world around. The associated goddesses are worshiped by the aspirant seeking protection and guidance as he/she enters into Sri Chakra.
Along the outer line the ten Siddhis (attainment-divinities) reside; along the middle line reside eight Matraka the Mother-like powers; and, and along the inner line are the ten Mudra-devatas (goddess who empower).
As said; the middle wall (line) is guarded by the Matrkas. The wall is red in colour; the red of the rising sun, signifying the Rajo guna of the Matrkas who are said to represent eight types of passions. The Matrkas, according to Bhavanopanishad of Bhaskararaya Makhin, are said to be dark blue in color; wearing red garments; carrying a red lotus and a bowl filled with nectar.
The Bhavanopanishad (9) recognizes Matrkas as eight types of un-favourable dispositions, such as: desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride, jealousy, demerit and merit.
Tantra-raja-tantra (36; 15-16) expands on that and identifies
Brahmi with desire (Kama);
Maheshwari with the tendency to degenerate and dissipate (krodha);
Kaumari with youthful longings to enjoy (lobha);
Vaishnavi with power to fascinate and delude (moha);
Varahi with pride and arrogance (mada);
Indrani with jealousy and envy (matsarya);
Chamunda with urge to sin (papa) and hurt(abhichara); and
Mahalakshmi with doing good (punya) with other than altruistic reasons. Matrkas who rule over such un-favourable dispositions are worshipped by the Sadhaka with prayers to suppress and overcome the evil tendencies that obstruct his progress.
As one may notice, the Matrkas of Rajo–guna who govern over human passions are on the outer layer of the Sri Yantra. This signifies that the Sadhaka should get past passions and prejudices before he enters into the city of the Devi.
Source: research on historical representation of Devi devatas from Purana in historic era by Sreenivas Rao
Dr Sindhu Prashanth