Chinnamasta, also known as Chinnamastika and Prachanda Chandika is one of the Tantric goddesses in Hinduism. In Tantric Buddhism she is known as Chinnamunda. Chinnamasta devi is a form of Shakti who is ferocious, and Chinnamasta means ‘severed head’. The Hindu Divine Mother is commonly identified with her fearsome iconography. Chinnamasta is one of the most outrageous forms of divinity in Hinduism. The self-decapitating Goddess is one of the important and worshipped Shaktipat goddess. Chinnamasta symbolises both life-giver and life-taker. One of the goddesses of Mahavidyas, Chinnamasta is considered both as a symbol of self-control on sexual desire as well as an embodiment of sexual energy, depending upon interpretation.
The mythology emphasizes her sacrifice with maternal element, her sexual dominance and her self-destructive fury. As her approach is dangerous and ferocious, she is not worshipped everywhere. Her temples are mostly found in Northern India and Nepal. So She is recognised by both Hindus and Buddhists. Chinnamasta is closely related to Chinnamunda - the severed-headed form of the Tibetan Buddhist goddess, Vajrayogini. Chinnamasta is mostly depicted nude and with dishevelled hair in blood red or black coloured body. In the texts, She is described to be a sixteen-year-old girl with full breasts and has a blue lotus near her heart. She is standing over a naked couple. The couple is said to be Rati, Goddess of sexual desire, and her husband Kama, God of love. Chinnamasta is depicted wearing a serpent as a sacred thread and a garland of skulls or severed heads and bones like Maa Kali. Blood streams out of her neck and Her two female attendants Dakini and Varnini (also called Jaya and Vijaya) are drinking the blood. On the left hand, She carries her own severed head (in a platter or a skull-bowl). On the right hand, She holds a khatri (a scimitar or knife) by which she decapitated herself.
There are many stories about the birth of Chinnamasta Devi. In a story from the Shakta Maha-Bhagavata Purana, which narrates the creation of all Mahavidyas including Chinnamasta, Sati, the daughter of Daksha and the first wife of the god Shiva, feels insulted that she and Shiva are not invited to Daksha’s yagna (“fire sacrifice”) and insists on going there, despite Shiva’s protests. After futile attempts to convince Shiva, the enraged Sati assumes a fierce form, transforming into the Mahavidyas, who surround Shiva from the ten cardinal directions. Chinnamasta stands to the right of Shiva in the west. Similar legends replace Sati with Parvati, the second wife of Shiva and reincarnation of Sati or Kali, the chief Mahavidya, as the wife of Shiva and origin of the other Mahavidyas. While Parvati uses the Mahavidyas to stop Shiva from leaving her father’s house, Kali enlightens him and stops him, who was tired living with her, from leaving her. Devi Bhagavata Purana mentions the Mahavidyas as war-companions and forms of the goddess Shakambhari.
One legend of Narada-pancharatra narrates this story—Once while having bath in Mandakini river, Goddess Parvati got sexually excited and turned black. Meanwhile Her two attendants Dakini and Varnini (also called Jaya and Vijaya) get hungry and beg the goddess for food. Though Parvati initially promises to give them food once they return home, She looks around but couldn’t find anything to eat. So She severes her head and the blood flows in 3 directions; one in Jaya’s mouth, other in Vijaya’s mouth and the third in Parvati’s mouth.
Another story shows Chinnamasta who is standing over a naked couple which is said to be Rati and Kama. Standing on the body, the goddess masters the physical body, and to free her mind from this, Chinnamasta cuts her head. Chinnamasta signifies that life, death and sex- three forms of transformation, three parts of the cycle . Chinnamasta is not that popular as an individual goddess. Tantric practitioners worship Chinnamasta for acquiring siddhis or supernatural powers. Her mantra is Srim hrim klim aim Vajravairocaniye hum hum phat svaha.
Taken all together, the symbolism in Chinnamasta’s depiction represents the transcendence of the body. Standing on the couple having sex, she has mastered the physical body, and then by cutting off her head she frees the mind. Her happy face shows the joy that she feels in bringing together life, sex, and death—three forms of transformation, three parts of the cycle. She signifies that life, death and sex are interdependent. Chinnamasta’s image conveys the eternal truth that “life feeds on death, is nourished by death, necessitates death, and that the ultimate destiny of sex is to perpetuate more life, which in turn will decay and die in order to feed more life”. While the lotus and the lovemaking couple symbolize life and the urge to create life, in a way gives life-force to the beheaded goddess, the blood flowing from goddess conveys death and loss of the life-force, which flows into the mouths of her devotee yoginis, nourishing them. The scholar P. Pal equates Chinnamasta with the concept of sacrifice and renewal of creation. Chinnamasta self-sacrifices herself and her blood—drunk by her attendants—nourishes the universe. An invocation to her calls her the sacrifice, the sacrificer and the recipient of the sacrifice, with the severed head treated as an offering.
While other fierce Hindu goddesses like Kali are depicting severing the heads of demons and are associated with ritual self-decapitation, Chinnamasta’s motif also reverses ritual head-offering, in which she offers her own head to the devotees (attendants) to feed them. In this way, she symbolizes the aspect of the Goddess as a giver. At the same time, she subdues and takes the life-force of the copulating divine couple, signifying the aspect of the life-taker like Kali.
Chinnamasta standing on a copulating couple of Kamadeva (literally “sexual desire”) and Rati (“sexual intercourse”) is interpreted by some as a symbol of self-control of sexual desire, while others interpret it as the goddess, being an embodiment of sexual energy. Her names like Yogini and Madanatura (“one who has control on Kama”) convey her yogic control and restraint on sexual energy. Images in which Chinnamasta is depicted sitting on Kamadeva-Rati in a non-suppressive fashion, the couple giving sexual energy to the goddess, and where Shiva is depicted in coitus with Chinnamasta are associated with the other interpretation. Chinnamasta’s names like Kameshwari (“goddess of desire”) and Ratiragavivriddhini (“one who is engrossed in the realm of Rati—[copulation or sexual desire]”) and the appearance of klim—the common seed syllable of Kamadeva and Krishna—in her mantra support this interpretation.
An 18th-century painting of Chinnamasta, seated squatting on Shiva, in coitus with him. They sit on a cremation pyre.
The Chinnamasta icon is also understood as a representation of the awakening of the kundalini—spiritual energy. The copulating couple represent the awakening in the Muladhara chakra, which corresponds to the last bone in the spinal cord. The kundalini flows through the central passage in the body—the Sushumna nadi and hitting the topmost chakra, the Sahasrara at the top of head—with such force that it blows her head out. The blood spilling from the throat applies the upward-flowing kundalini, breaking all knots (granthis)—which make a person sad, ignorant and weak—of the chakras. The severed head is “transcendent consciousness”. The three blood streams is the flow of nectar when the kundalini unites with Shiva, who resides in the Sahasrara. Another interpretation associates Daknini, Varnini and Chinnamasta with the three main subtle channels (nadis): Ida, Pingala and Sushumna flowing free. Sushumna connects the Muladhara and Sahasrara and is cognate with the spinal cord. Ida courses from the right testicle/ovary to the left nostril and is linked to the cooling lunar energy, feminine and the right hand side of the brain. Pingala courses from the left testicle/ovary to the right nostril and is associated with the hot solar energy, masculine and the left hand side of the brain.
The self-decapitation also represents removal of false notions, ignorance and egoism. The ability to remain alive despite the beheading is associated to supernatural powers and awakening of the kundalini. The triad of the goddess and the two yoginis is also philosophically cognate to the triad of patterns, “which creative energy is felt to adopt”.
You’re dressed as Rasavihari,
Your mantras are various
and so are Your activities; who can grasp them?
The subject is extraordinarily difficult.
Half Your body’s matchless Radha,
a woman, and the other half’s a man—
a yellow cloth tied at Your waist,
Your wild hair knotted back, and a flute
in Your hand.
Once You infatuated Tripura’s Enemy
stealing sideways glances at Him, but this time
it’s women You tempt
with Your beautiful black figure
and hinting eyes.
Your laugh used to be dreadful;
it threw into a panic
the three worlds.
Now You speak sweetly.
Girls in Vraj swoon.
As Syama, You danced in a sea of blood; today Your favorite waters
are the Yamuna.
Prasad laughs, flooded with delight:
after thinking hard, I finally get it—
Siva, Krsna, and the black-bodied Syama
they’re all one
but nobody else can see it.
Multi-colored Kali. Wat Naphramera. Ayutthaya, Thailand (Photo by Richard Bishop)
Yantra (sigil) of dhumavati, Goddess of Cosmic Dissolution (pralaya) and Death. She is The Void that exists before creation and after dissolution.
(C) Musée Guimet, Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Benjamin Soligny / Raphaël Chipault
Section Himalaya du musée Guimet
Kali est, dans l’hindouisme, la déesse du Temps, de la mort et de la délivrance, mère destructrice et créatrice. C’est l’aspect féroce de la Devi, la déesse suprême, qui est fondamental à toutes autres déités hindoues. Kali était déjà présente dans les Veda, comme étant une des sept langues de feu du dieu Agni (la même racine que le mot latin ignis).
Le processus de la recréation est décrit comme le « jeu de Kali ». Kali est considérée comme la force qui détruit les esprits mauvais et qui protège les dévots. Elle est la parèdre de Shiva.
Son nom dérive du mot kāla, le temps en sanskrit, celui qui détruit toute chose. Celui qui la vénère est libéré de la peur de la destruction. C’est également la femelle noire, à l’inverse de son époux, Shiva, couvert de cendres, qui est blanc ; c’est sa shakti, l’énergie sans laquelle le dieu n’est qu’une enveloppe vide. Source
Shmashana Tara stands on Bhairava while jackals pick at the human bones littered around them.
Hello! I do indeed worship both Krishna and Kali. I worship Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead (meaning, there are many incarnations of God, and many forms of divinity, but Krishna is the utmost), and my primary practice of this is through the daily chanting of the maha-mantra (you can read more about this here). I worship Kali, however, as a goddess particular to my pastimes within the material plane, and my practice includes nightly puja.
I worship Kali alongside Kalki for their martial connection; in Kalki Purana the two merge into one on the battlefield. I worship Kali and Krishna in tandem as siblings. In one aspect, Jagannath as Krishna and Subhadra as Shakti along with their brother Balaram are often worshipped together. Also, in Srimad Bhagavatam, when King Kamsa attempts to kill a child of the imprisoned Devaki who he fears will fulfill the prophecy that such a child will lead to his death (this child being Krishna), the infant manifests as Durga:
Having uprooted all relationships with his sister because of intense selfishness, Kaṁsa, who was sitting on his knees, grasped the newborn child by the legs and tried to dash her against the surface of a stone.
The child, Yoga-māyā-devī, the younger sister of Lord Viṣṇu, slipped upward from Kaṁsa’s hands and appeared in the sky as Devī, the goddess Durgā, with eight arms, completely equipped with weapons.
The goddess Durgā was decorated with flower garlands, smeared with sandalwood pulp and dressed with excellent garments and ornaments made of valuable jewels. Holding in her hands a bow, a trident, arrows, a shield, a sword, a conchshell, a disc and a club, and being praised by celestial beings like Apsarās, Kinnaras, Uragas, Siddhas, Cāraṇas and Gandharvas, who worshiped her with all kinds of presentations, she spoke as follows.
O Kaṁsa, you fool, what will be the use of killing me? The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has been your enemy from the very beginning and who will certainly kill you, has already taken His birth somewhere else. Therefore, do not unnecessarily kill other children.
After speaking to Kaṁsa in this way, the goddess Durgā, Yoga-māyā, appeared in different places, such as Vārāṇasī, and became celebrated by different names, such as Annapūrṇā, Durgā, Kālī and Bhadrā.
Purport to the last verse:
The goddess Durgā is celebrated in Calcutta as Kālī, in Bombay as Mumbādevī, in Vārāṇasī as Annapūrṇā, in Cuttack as Bhadrakālī and in Ahmedabad as Bhadrā. Thus in different places she is known by different names. Her devotees are known as śāktas, or worshipers of the energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whereas worshipers of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself are called Vaiṣṇavas. Vaiṣṇavas are destined to return home, back to Godhead, in the spiritual world, whereas the śāktas are destined to live within this material world to enjoy different types of material happiness. In the material world, the living entity must accept different types of bodies. Bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā (Bg. 18.61). According to the living entity’s desire, Yoga-māyā, or Māyā, the goddess Durgā, gives him a particular type of body, which is mentioned as yantra, a machine. But the living entities who are promoted to the spiritual world do not return to the prison house of a material body (tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti so ’rjuna). The words janma na eti indicate that these living entities remain in their original, spiritual bodies to enjoy the company of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the transcendental abodes Vaikuṇṭha and Vṛndāvana.
If you have any further questions or anything you would like to discuss, please let me know! Hare Krishna!
India, late 19th century. See more
Skulls, by Kali Tara Deva
Bhadrakali, with fourteen arms, each holding an attribute
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
San Diego Museum of Art
Chhinnamasta Kali - Assam, India