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The ten Mahavidyas

The Mahavidyas ( Sanskrit महाविद्या Mahāvidyā = "great embodiment" or "great knowledge") are a group of ten tantric goddesses , most of whom appear in wrathful and terrible forms: Kali , Tara , Chinnamasta , Bhuvaneshvari , Bagala , Dhumavati , Kamala , Mitangi , Sodashi (also Sundari ) and Bhairavi or Tripura Bhairavi.


In the Hindu literary tradition they only appear during the Middle Ages and probably represent an aspect of Mahadevi theology, as this manifests itself in different forms. So the Mahavidyas are also seen as appearances of Parvati , Kali or Durga .


Sati's father , Shiva's wife Daksha, planned a great sacrifice and invited all the inhabitants of the heavenly spheres to it. Only Sati and Shiva were not invited because Daksha did not agree with the wild behavior of his uncivilized son-in-law. Shiva was indifferent to this; However, Sati decided to go to the victim to disturb them. Shiva wanted to forbid her, and when Sati could not change his mind, Sati lost her form and the ten terrible Mahavidyas emerged from her. Shiva became afraid of Sati's terrible apparitions that surrounded him and gave his permission to go to the sacrifice of Daksha. Sati took the form of Kali, disturbed the victim, and then committed suicide. In another version of the myth, Sati went to the victim in her own peaceful form.

In another myth, which comes from the Shiva - Purana , a demon named Durgama conquered the control of the 4 Vedas through a bone of the creator Brahma , and thereby he got power over the whole universe. Therefore, a devastating drought developed on earth. The gods called on the goddess to save the world. This first brought water back to earth and fought a battle with the demon, in which she assumed the forms of the ten Mahavidyas and from these infinite forms of goddesses. She defeated the demon and brought the Vedas back to the gods. Since the goddess had defeated the demon Durgama, she was now called Durga .


In these myths, the Mahavidyas play the role of showing that the feminine itself is stronger than Shiva and the other male gods, and it is reasonable to assume that the Shaktas wanted to show the superiority of the Mahadevi .

The Mahavidyas are tantric goddesses and are said to be able to give their followers magical powers. In myth, Sati, in her terrible appearances, forces Shiva to give mantras and instructions for the worship of the Mahavidyas. Sati says she appeared in these forms so that believers might not only acquire moksha but also magical powers and desires.

In special forms of tantric practices and meditations, the Mahavidyas are considered Dasha Mahavidyas, "the 10 forms of knowledge", and are seen as the inner forces of the psyche and the universe, as a form of cosmic Shakti . In this tantra they represent areas of self-awareness and transcendence . Some appearances of the Mahavidyas represent the Great Mother herself, such as Sundari (also Lalita Devi), who is worshiped in South India, or Tara, who is worshiped in North and West India, in Kashmir and as a Bodhisattva in Tibet.

Relation to Vishnu

The ten Mahavidyas can also be viewed as Shakta versions of the avatars of Vishnu , because in the Guhyatiguhya Tantra each of the Mahavidyas is equated with an avatar of Vishnu and the avatars of Vishnu are said to arise from the Mahavidyas. Nevertheless, the Mahavidyas differ from the Avatars of Vishnu, as they are not guardians of the cosmic order and neither are they warrior goddesses like Durga , who conquers the demons.


  • David Kinsley: Hindu Goddesses . University of California Press, 1986, ISBN 0-520-05393-1 .
  • Sarbeswar Satpathy: Dasa Mahavidya & Tantra sastra. 2nd Edition. Punthi Pustak, Calcutta 1992, ISBN 81-85094-58-6 .
  • David Kinsley: Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine. The Ten Mahavidyas. University of California Press, 1997, ISBN 0-520-20498-0 .
  • David Frawley: Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses. 12th edition. Mothilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi 2012, ISBN 978-81-208-1357-1 , pp. 59-155.
  • Som Ranchan: The Mahavidyas. A contemporary discourse. 1st edition. Abhinav Publications, New Delhi 2012, ISBN 978-81-7017-526-1 , pp. 19-109.

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