Siddhilakṣmī and Nepalese Sarvāmnāya Tantra

In what follows, we read an excerpt from an article by Śaivācārya Sthaneshwar Timalsina in which he describes features of the Tantric worship of Siddhilakṣmī, which ties together the traditions of Kashmir and Nepal.

Although a goddess of prosperity, Siddhilakṣmī is neither the smiling goddess sitting atop a lotus nor is she a mahāvidyā deity, as her mantra, maṇḍala and visualizations differ dramatically. Commonly visualized as riding a Bhairava who himself rides a corpse or a Vetāla and possessed of multiple faces and arms, bearing a skull-cup, freshly chopped head, and weapons that include the sword, skull, staff and trident, she displays attributes of the Kāpālika tradition. Nonetheless, the Siddhilakṣmī tradition is not entirely divorced from the other, more familiar, Lakṣmī practices. Rather, it incorporates within itself a sophisticated structure to support a bewildering array of Lakṣmīs with rich traditions of practice.

The secretive nature of the Tantric tradition has kept the visualization, mantra and maṇḍala of the deity out of the public domain. In the context of Siddhilakṣmī, she is publicly worshipped in a water-vase. The name of the deity is frequently changed, and the public name of the goddess can differ from her textual name. (...) Iconographic evidence places the goddess in Kashmir, and the Kashmiri ritual manuals further strengthen this relationship. Ethnographic study has established that this same Siddhilakṣmī is one of the main deities of the Kathmandu Valley. The patron deity of several Malla kings, Siddhilakṣmī remains the clan deity of many Nevār families, playing a vital role in Nepali kinship structure. These instances relate Kashmiri and Nepalese Tantric traditions.

(...) Ultimately, it is the role of the main temple priest to weave together the various forms of rituals and visualizations that the community members perform, thereby building a metasystem uniting the community in a spiritual harmony. (...) My argument is that any specific Tantric tradition, here that of Siddhilakṣmī, (a) reproduces its own vibrant cosmogony with multiple sets of private and public practices uniquely suited for various social strata; (b) manifests a complete maṇḍala with the possibility of infinite emanations; (c) establishes interrelationships between the deities of various transmissions; and (c) relates the external, visual or mundane to the divine through a complex process revealing the embodied world itself as the body of the maṇḍalic deity.

Siddhilakṣmī is considered as the primary deity of Matseyndra, who is traditionally identified as the founder of the Tantric Kaula system. (...) The Tantric tradition of Nepal found in Sanskrit literature relies upon the āmnāya system. The āmnāya, generally translated as 'transmission', is the directional source of the deities who manifest from the five different faces of Lord Śiva. When incorporating the lower face, this system is described as having six transmissions, and when the ordinal directions are included, its expanded form is called 'ten transmissions'. Following the Nepalese Tantric tradition, a practitioner is initiated with the mantra of various deities of all the transmissions in order to achieve authority in practicing and initiating in all transmissions. This process is called kramadīkṣa, initiation within a sequence. Following this, Siddhilakṣmī falls under the northern transmission (cf. Puraścaryārṇava, p. 16).

(...) (Siddhilakṣmī) contains within herself the Purāṇic Lakṣmī - a gentle, loving figure linked with the beneficent Nārāyaṇa - while also embodying a Tantric nature that demands the consumption of wine, blood offerings and other left-handed elements clearly linking her with Śaiva Tantra and specifically the Kāpālika tradition. Some of the iconic forms of Siddhilakṣmī practice, particularly that of Viśvalakṣmī and Pratyaṅgirā, represent the most horrific forms of the deities visualized. Placement of Siddhilakṣmī within the deities of the northern transmission further suggests that Siddhilakṣmī, like other deities in the Śaiva family, emanates from Lord Śiva and specifically falls within the family of Kālī.

(...) The manual of Siddhilakṣmī worship (Siddhilakṣmīpūjāviddhi) further identifies the goddess with Kālī in gesture and aspect. She is invoked as Mahācaṇḍayogeśvarī, visualized with an enflaming tongue, and prayed to as the one who devours time and dwells in the cremation ground. She is envisioned as the one consuming blood, fat and flesh. Her 24-syllable mantra invokes her as Kālikā and Saṅkarṣinī, further affiliating her with Kālī. She is envisioned as both formless and in form. (...) The manuals of Siddhilakṣmī preserve certain elements of the Krama tradition. For instance, the deities are grouped into the sections of Vyomavāmeśvarī, Khecarī, Gocarī, Dikcarī and Bhūcarī. The texts also ritualize complex structures of visualization, adding further categories to those found in the Krama tradition.

The Sanskrit tradition of Siddhilakṣmī preserves the most esoteric aspects of the goddess cult, as the nuances found in her ritual and visualization connect her with the Tantric Mata and Krama systems. This is to argue that her origin can be found in both the western and northern transmissions, linking her with Kubjikā and Kālī. Siddhikubjikā, worshipped by the Rājopādhyāyas, the priests of both the Siddhilakṣmī and Taleju temples, incorporates both these transmissions in a single deity (Nepalese manuals identify Siddhilakṣmī with Kālī and Kubjikā).

(...) The Malla kings of Nepal worshipped Taleju as their main clan-divinity. The tradition of Taleju and Siddhilakṣmī share much in common. Strikingly, in the Bhaktapur Taleju temple, the toraṇa image exactly follows the description of Siddhilaksmī, with five faces and ten arms (Puraścaryārṇava, p. 53). A slight variant is that, in this particular image, the deity appears riding a lion, resembling the buffalo-slaying Durgā image.

(...) I have argued that the centrality of a deity resides in her compatibility with other deities. This is apparent in the context of Siddhilakṣmī, who is clearly a combined form of the deities of Siddhi (Siddhayogesvarī) and Lakṣmī. During the Durgā ritual, the visualization of Siddhilakṣmī incorporates aspects of all three divinities worshipped. Her white body represents the aspect of Sarasvatī, her red garment and other weapons suggest that she is Mahālakṣmī, and her weapons, such as a freshly chopped head and skull-staff, represent aspects of Kālī. This resemblance solidifies the goddess as the central deity of the popular Śākta tradition. Furthermore, the deity, with her five faces, represents the five transmissions (āmnāya), making possible the visualization of all different deities within the body of a single goddess. This "economy of visualization," in which multiple goddesses are imbedded within a singular image, is one of the core components that defines the centrality of the godeess.

(...) The "ritual" of the goddess is the fusion of the priestly and the public rituals. As a priest performs rituals in a shrine or maṇḍala, so does the public participate, but in different ways. For instance, public offering, circumambulation, or witnessing the rituals performed by others merge in such a way that all these, in a higher level, construct a single ritual performed collectively. The deity and the maṇḍala do not differ from the temple of the goddess in which she resides. The priestly ritual of worshipping the deity who is the core of the shrine and the public ritual of circumambulation around the temple which is the visible or the external form of the deity incorporate a ritual that envelops both aspects. The maṇḍalic structure of the floor plan that underlies the Nyātapola temple supports its five upper floors and depicts the five faces of the deity. During the ritual, the maṇḍala is visualized with five enclosures, a symbolic representation of the goddess with her five faces. The temple, in this case, is yet another physical manifestation of Siddhilakṣmī herself, and the goddess and the temple are identical. In this way, the goddess not only dwells within the temple but also is herself the temple. The public, even though not allowed to enter into the shrine of the goddess, is already within the shrine of the goddess, the goddess manifests in the form of the temple.


"Terrifying beauty: interplay of the Sanskritic and vernacular rituals of Siddhilakṣmī"

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