Symbolism of Khadgamala

Devi Bhakta

A member of the group yesterday sent me an interesting comment on the Khadgamala Stotram: basically, she found its core symbolism to be off-putting -- and as a result is reluctant to try it. Maybe others among you have have reacted similarly, I don't know. In any event, I felt it was merely a misunderstanding -- but I thought I'd share my response, and invite other members to comment:

The member told me she felt conceptually alienated from the Khadgamala Stotram because, "For me, the symbolism of the SWORD and the mention of COITUS was enough to send me away. The SWORD is a power symbol." Specifically, she said, one denoting patriarchal domination, as argued in Eisler's "The Chalice and the Blade." The COITUS of Shakti and Shiva, for its part, was objectionable because it relied on rigidly enforced social codes and sexual roles. She added an Indian correspondent had once told her that "he sees Shakti as power. Hence, a sword. But I see Shakti as energy, limitless possibilities, including for conscious peace and prosperity - not as a SWORD."

My reply: I agree with your definition of power to a large extent, but not with your interpretation of the symbolism in this particular case.

Remember, the Sanskrit word 'SHAKTI' does in fact mean power, or energy. The term 'Shakti Sadhana,' believe it or not, is often translated into English as 'The Cult of Power.' Sir John Woodroffe's six-volume survey of Shakta theology and practice is entitled 'The World as Power.' But Woodroffe, like most commentators, goes out of his way to clarify that POWER does not imply any kind of earthly coercive force. It simply means POWER as a universal force -- a mere synonym for ENERGY, really, which does in fact seem to be a much less loaded, much more neutral term.

So let's stick with ENERGY as the definition of SHAKTI. However, let's first acknowledge that in fact POWER is the default translation of the term by most English-speaking Indians. Thus, I would assume, [your correspondent's] use of the term was quite innocent.

Whether you call it POWER or ENERGY, the meaning conveyed does indeed encompass yours: 'energy, limitless possibilities, including for conscious peace and prosperity.' It is *all* Energy, whether perceived (from our perspective) as positive or negative in effect. Einstein said all matter is energy. Shaktism says everything that is, is energy -- that it constitutes the three worlds, and that it is all DEVI. SHIVA is the term for Consciousness. Consciousness energized by Power = the UNIVERSE. Energy animated by CONSCIOUSNESS = the UNIVERSE. Love -- the desire of SHAKTI and SHIVA to Unite -- is the essence of all Creation.

That is where the term 'IN COITUS' comes in. That note in the Khadgamala was mine; the Khadgamala itself says 'on the lap of' -- but Shaktas are very suspicious of this term, which is often manipulated in mainstream Hinduism into a mini consort goddess on the lap of a gigantic Supreme God. The actual historical-religious meaning of the term is much more direct: They are having sex. As the final verses of the Khadgamala clarify, the configuration is Shakti sitting atop the supine Shiva -- just as you so often see in Shakta (and even Shaiva) art.

The meaning is that SHAKTI is here fully animated by Consciousness -- as noted elsewhere in the Stotram, She is in an eternal state of orgasm. The human sexual impulse is merely a metaphor for the Cosmic Creative Impulse that created that all we see and do not see. Her Energy (or Power, if you will) is fully animated and in a state of active unfolding of Creation. The Stotram is inviting us to ride that wave with Her; in essence, to become Her.

As for the SWORD, I am aware of Eisler's "Chalice and the Blade" analysis, and in general I find her argument to be convincing. To be fair, however, Shaktism -- and in fact, Hinduism as a whole -- has a very different, very ancient saet of interpretations for SWORD iconography. Eisler's analysis, I think, applies to Persia and points West -- not to the very different iconographical/religious histories of India, China, Japan, etc.

In Hinduism, the SWORD virtually always symbolizes the power (Energy) that enables us to transcend attachment, enabling Self-Realization. The Deity holds the SWORD (be the Deity female or male) as a promise to her or his devotee that the Deity will be the portal through which this desireable goal can be achieved.

That is the Sword referred to by the Khadgamala. As Amritaji wrote, specifically describing the Khadgamala's symbolism: "Khadga means a sword and mala means a garland. The Sword [metaphorically] severs the head, separating body from mind. It can be interpreted also as Wisdom -- that which separates, categorizes, and classifies. So it is a symbol of Knowledge. Khadgamala is about imagining a garland of synergistic ideas, nourishing and protecting them and putting life into them."

To me, it sounds like you and he are talking about the same thing!

Mary Ann

Thanks for sharing this DB. Some thoughts I have had on this:

I can see the heterosexual imagery as inseparably linked to society's depiction of the genders as in a power relation or struggle, which struggle is often shown between Shiva and Shakti. Even in Buddhist iconography where coitus represents the union of Wisdom and Compassion, one quality is still depicted as male and the other female. Why gender the qualities? Same with consciousness and energy - these elements or energies don't need heterosexual coitus to come together (in any sense:) And again, the scripture writers have all been men (or in Buddhism, women who were called "patriarchs"). Not separating sexual desire from the human/societally created power dynamic may even be responsible for the fact that men's left and right brain hemispheres do not communicate as much as women's (which science has shown).

For too long, each gender has been carrying a burden due to this proscribed power relation and the struggles and limitations caused by it. I think this is why we have so much violence in the world. Of course, this is all IMHO!!!! But thanks for the opportunity to share it, though. As usual, you are a thoughtful and thought-provoking inspiration.
This is why I appreciate the Ardhanarishwari so much, I'll say yet again (even though you say in the home page notes on this deity that it may have been a Goddess onto which Shiva was superimposed - i.e. power struggle...). I like to see this deity as representing one being that contains all human qualities, rather than as a depiction of marriage between Shiva and Shakti.

Addendum to my earlier post: I wanted to clarify that, while it takes sperm and a uterus (or sperm and a test-tube? or one day, something else and a test-tube??!) to make a baby, there is no need for the power struggle. THAT is created by humanity, not Divinity.

I am interested in other group members' feedback on these ideas.

Om Parashaktyai Namah

swastik108

devi_bhakta writes In Hinduism, the SWORD virtually always symbolizes the power (Energy) that enables us to transcend attachment, enabling Self-Realization. The Deity holds the SWORD I lived in Bengal for a year and watched at least 40 sacrifices of goats take place at various temples.

Its a habit to transform everything into metaphor, but the sword seen in the hand of Kali and other Goddess, Tara, Chinnamasta etc. etc. is without a doubt the same Khorgo used to behead goats and in earlier times even the occasional human! Considering that it is a staple attribute of Ma Kali I would not say that it is a patriarchal symbol at all.

Whenever I talked to Tantriks who knew some English they translated Shakti as power, but I agree to the undiscerning mind it is easily taken the wrong way in it's over aggresive sense, but....

Isn't this Universe a very aggresive harsh place??? Surely it is! You always find Tantriks in cremation gorunds i.e. places of death.

I can see how this is off-putting to very sensitive people, therefore I would say Shakti worship certainly isn't for everyone!

It seems that accepting Kali means accepting life in all it's harshness, denying nothing.......this wouldn't be for everyone.

Symbolically, sure the severing of your head represents detachment and also acceptance of the truth. I placed my head inside the vices used to hold the goat necks at various temples. I observed many people doing this as an act of piety, symbolically offering/sacrificing yourself to Ma like this.

Satish

Mary Ann wrote: I can see the heterosexual imagery as inseparably linked to society's depiction of the genders as in a power relation or struggle, which struggle is often shown between Shiva and Shakti.

Struggle between Shiva and Shakti? What are you talking about?

There is no difference between them. There are like the moon and moon-light. Fire and its power to burn.

Mary Ann

I have heard about struggles between them, one of them involving Ganesh, and who was the more powerful, Shiva or Shakti. Also, of married men and women, the idea is that they are one - and the law in England and America said that the one they formed was the man.

Satish Arigela

Some stories are made up. Some are meant for fun, and need not be taken seriously. A few of them are a part of a plan-lila for one of them to incarnate at some place or they are there only to illustrate the greatness or importance of something(like a person or a place etc).

There are five kinds of equalities between Shiva and Shakti. They can be known from appropriate scriptures which speak about them. They are one and the same and inseperable.

The Suta-Samhita says that Shakti can be meditated upon as a male or as a female or as having no form. Vishnu is a Shakti. Brahma is a Shakti. It is better not to bring in politics, human relationships and other stuff when trying to understand Shiva-Shakti.

sunelectric101

Mary Ann, I read your recent post regarding the Khadgamala Stotram. A couple of things come to mind. The real meaning and import of Tantrik symbolism can only be grasped through Sadhana and explanation from a Guru. No intellectualizing, no matter how erudite, well footnoted and backed by scholars can ever take the place of the expereince that comes from Sadhana.

Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to imply that Srividya is a cult of anti-intellectualism or a celebration of "know nothingness" but intellectual understanding is *at best* only auxillary to *experiencing* what the symbols are pointing to. Too much intellectualizing about these things without Sadhana is playing with the surfaces of Srividya. It may be entertaining and even illuminating but it is still surfaces.

My 2 cents on Siva/Sakti & the Khadgamala Stotram?

Put down the book on gender studies, pick up the Stotram and chant daily *over a long period of time* relax and observe the changes within and without. Pray that Devi send you someone to clarify your mind and best explain that which you need to know.

Mary Ann

I guess thousands of years without thinking and just acting are not responsible for the violence and oppression in the world? Pick up your gender studies book and start learning to incorporate it and the spiritual information together to bring unity and wholeness rather than compartmentalization and continued violence - that's my observation, anyway, my 2 cents.

sunelectric101

Regarding your reply below; OK I am game. I will pick up the gender studies if you will pick up the Stotram. What are the names of a couple of books that you like No, that is not what I am suggesting.

I am suggesting practicing the Stotram to understand & experience the Stotram. For me to understand gender studies/politics unrest etc I must read and study about these things. Im not saying the Stotram is a cure for every ill in the World nor will practicing it make me or you magically omniscient. But if you want to understand it, practice it that is all.

Mary Ann

I am game to work with the Stotram if you read Chalice & the Blade. The book is on the Shakti Sadhana reading list and it's worth reading if you can make it through. Some find it dense going. I loved it. So far, that is my only recommendation. Thanks for asking.

Devi Bhakta

Dear Mary Ann:

Any level of sadhana is effective at its own level. Any sadhana is a million times than no sadhana.

Simple praying is effective in general, especially if done on a regular basis. Countless masses of people will attest to this. Mantra japa is powerful, and mantra japa with guru diksha even more so. Chanting Her names is very purifying, and can transform your world in time. Seva is high sadhana indeed; it is the way we achieve the state in which our every thought and movement is an act of worship.

The Khadgamala, however, is a gateway to an entirely different level. It is, to use modern parlance, a "power tool." It is a mystical formula for kicking your sadhana into overdrive; like switching from typewriter to word processor. I am sorry to bring these rather crude metaphors into a refined conversation -- but those who take the time to learn the Khadgamala will very quickly understand what this means. And I think that is what SE101 is trying to convey.

Does the Khadgamala render all other tools obsolete? Of course not; that is absurd. Even a carpenter with the very best power tools still uses handtools all the time, as the job requires. But with power tools, you can often do the job with more efficiency, speed and precision. So that, for instance, you spend less time building your home and more time living in it.

My feeling, again, is this: The Khadgamala Stotram is an extraordinarily powerful and versatile power tool. As with any power tool, some will look and say, "Ugh, it's too complicated. Forget it." Others, though, will take the time to read the instructions, learn the technique -- and pretty soon (as with cordless drills and word processors) they'll be saying, "How did I ever live without it?"

That's why we're going through the headache of getting the Khadgamala "out there" as a special gift of love to every member. No one's forcing anyone to open the gift. But if they do, it might really change their lives.

That's all.

sunelectric101

Devi Bhakta wrote :The Khadgamala, however, is a gateway to an entirely different level. It is, to use modern parlance, a "power tool." It is a mystical formula for kicking your sadhana into overdrive; like switching from typewriter to word processor. I am sorry to bring these rather crude metaphors into a refined conversation -- but those who take the time to learn the Khadgamala will very quickly understand what this means. And I think that is what SE101 is trying to convey.

That is exactly what I am trying to say. And overdrive is not an out of place description of the feeling either. It *does* take an investment of effort and at times struggle. Especially if Sanskrit doesn't just roll off your tongue. So you can't dispair if it doesn't feel natural at first. It will probably feel more like flipping thorough pages and stuttering in baby speak than reverently worshiping the Divine Mother. That too changes with practice.

It isn't instantaneous (unless you are really lucky). But good things in life rarely are. One thing that is guranteed; if you do not chant it you will not understand its effects. Nor will *feel* or intuit the inner logic of the practice.

I too wondered why this particular Dhyanam, why the references to Devi as the Ruler of Desire (Khamesvari), Siva/Sakti in coitus etc. Why this, why that, why everything????? This formed the basis of more than a few long discussions with several people on this group and elsewhere. Then I asked the best why of all. Why not seek instruction in chanting it and see for myself.

Chumki

Dear Devi_bhakta

With all due respect,and I am not trying to be smart or funny when I ask this....its been said that the recitation shall give any reciter the sword that will empower him to be the lord of the cosmos....is it that simple?sounds easy.My assumption is of course this has to be done with total devotion. correct me if I am wrong.

Devi Bhakta

Hi Chumki

It's a good question. Do we recite this hymn to become Mistress or Master of the Cosmos? Well, ask yourself: WHO is that?

It is Goddess. It is God.

So rephrase the question: Do we recite the Stotram to become God? Yes.

Is it that simple? Nothing simpler: The sages and scriptures all assure us that we are already HER. We have only to realize it.

Is it easy? On this Earth there are at least 7 billion souls. Of that number, how many are Self-realized? I doubt it exceeds three figures, or maybe -- optimistically -- four figures? (Though I am told by those who know better than I that the process is accelerating and the number will soon begin to explode.)

So no, it's not easy. To use the old cliche, it's like walking the blade of a knife. Which is precisely why it's nice to have a beautiful puja like Khadgamala to help us find the energy to presevere and success in our quest.

And yes, I would say it definitely must be done with devotion in order to achieve its full effect. I'm hoping to post a FAQ by sometime tomorrow that will memorialize a lot of these questions and answers for easy reference.

Sankara Menon

Without devotion which must come naturally nothing works.

Detective_Mongo_Phd

I too wondered why this particular Dhyanam, why the references to Devi as the Ruler of Desire (Khamesvari), Siva/Sakti in coitus etc. Why this, why that, why everything????? This formed the basis of more than a few long discussions with several people on this group and elsewhere. Then I asked the best why of all. Why not seek instruction in chanting it and see for myself.

[ Back to The Forum Main Index ]

[ Back to The Forum Main Index ]