Manifestation of Dread and Wrath : The Shaktic cult of the Yoginis, evokes varying emotions - reverence, fear, awe, puzzle and inquisitiveness. This exhibition will take the viewer on a finding journey of a long lost and esoteric cult at Hirapur and Ranipur-Jhariyal Temple Complexes, Orissa.
The cult stimulates one’s mind into asking questions like ‘After all, who were these Yoginis?’ What is the significance of knowing about them? It is not easy to arrive at a consensus regarding them, as the term ‘Yogini’ has multiple connotations in reference to different contexts. In modern context, the term is often used to refer to a woman hermit or even a female Yoga practitioner. However, the Yoginis of this early medieval cult – which is said to have been prevalent during 9th to 12th centuries- are the semi demonic, semi divine demigoddesses of the various forms of the Shakti.
Hosts of Puranic texts such as Candi Purana, Devi Mahatmya , Skanda Purana etc. emphasizes that the Yoginis were regarded as the varying aspects of the Great Goddess (Durga) who, through these Yoginis, manifested the totality of her presence.(Dehejia, 1986:22). These Yoginis are thus auxiliaries of the great Goddess on the battle field-in her battle against the demons- as well as her personal attendants and messengers.
Here, in the picture we can see an emaciated yogini holding a lion’s carcass, wearing a skull garland. This Yogini, can be seen as a manifestation of Chandi. Another yogini on black buck.
These Yoginis - whose cult was central to Kaula Practice - possessed the power of flight, they took the form of humans, animals or birds and often inhabited trees (White,2003: 27). Here we can see a yogini in form of Sarpasya (literally meaning "Snake faced") - A four armed Snake faced Yogini with an ornate girdle around her waist. Dehejia opines that most of the yoginis depicted at these temples, have their genesis in local village deities/grahma devis. Hence, this yogini could be related with the Naga cult of Mansa.
These Yoginis are Theriocephalic, which make them appear ghastly. Just like the Ganas or the attendants of Shiva, these Yoginis too have heads of animals, birds and even flora at times. It is perhaps reflective of their supernatural powers which render them the ability to appear in any form. It is indeed phenomenal that instead of being despised as witches or beasts, they are instead venerated. An Ass headed yogini standing on a tree or a creeper. She is perhaps holding a damru in her right hand. Simhamukhi, Lion faced yogini, standing on creepers and rocks.
Image of three yoginis, the first one is a two armed yogini, standing on a corpse, with a trident in hand.The presence of the corpse at the pedestral of these images, indicates the Sava Sadhana or corpse ritual (as suggested by Dehejia, 1989:58-59) in order to acquire occult powers by the practitioner.The middle one is having a snake by her side and can be seen standing on flowers. The third Yogini can be seen with a drum. Beneath the drum is a covered earthen pot. The beating of the drum can be seen as an announcement of the war.
On the Outer wall : Guarding the Temple
Hirapur temple has sculptures of females on its outer walls as well. Here, we can see a Yogini standing on a human head with her hair open adding to her fearsome looks with a Katari/dagger like weapon in one hand and spear in another, emphasizing her being on battlefield.
The images on the outer surface of the temple, like this one, represents the nine katyayanis, the awe inspiring and ferocious manifestation of Sakti who according to the Oriya version of the Kalika Purana, were created by Durga along with the sixty four yoginis for the sake of killing the demons. (Brighenti, 2001 : 300, citing K.C Panigrahi) She has an attendant figure, standing on a human head. She is holding a falchion in one hand.
Circular wall, Inner face,Yoginis
Three yoginis, two standing on their respective mounts and the third one without a mount. The Yogini in the middle can be seen standing on a lotus. She is holding a shield in one hand (reflects her being on the battlefield) and wearing a sarpamala i.e. serpent garland around her body. The one in extreme right is standing on a peacock mount.
Invocation of Yoginis and Bhairava is still practiced in the recitation of the Aarti of the Amba in every Hindu household. The lyrics goes as "Chausanth Yogini Gaawat, Nirtya Karat Bhairav-Thus sings the 64 Yoginis in your praise and Bhairava dances to the tune". Here we can spot a dancing yogini with her left hand on her knee. The middle one is a three headed and four armed yogini with a trident in one hand and rosary in another. The third one is an emaciated yogini.
Image credits: American Institute of Indian Studies.
Curator: Swati Goel
Courtesy for Street Views: Archaeological Survey of India
1. Cunnigham, Alexander. Archeological survey reports, Varanasi: Indological Book House.
2. Dehejia, Vidya (1986) 'Yogini- Cult and Temples, A Tantric Tradition', New Delhi: National Museum, Janpath.
3. Donaldson, Thomas E.(2002) Tantra and Sakta art of Orissa, Vol 2,New Delhi: D.K Printworld Ltd.