Shakti Sadhana

 by Devi Bhakta
In the Hindu pantheon, Goddess Saraswati is universally recognized as the personification of all knowledge; all arts -- music, dance, literature, etc.; all sciences, crafts and skills. She is also the paradigm of total "sattva"; of complete spiritual purity.

Goddess Matangi, on the other hand, is a comparatively obscure deity, barely known outside beyond her role as one of the "Dasha Mahavidya," or "Ten Wisdom Goddesses" of Tantric lore. In that context, she is usually known as the Outcaste Goddess, presiding over all that is polluted or impure, the goddess of scraps and leftovers (see my introductory comments on the Maatangi section of the homepage).

Here is a nice introduction to the Goddess, by Elizabeth Greenleaf, an artist who has beautifully painted Her yantra: "Daughter of hunter-king, Matanga, and of Buddhist as well as Hindu origin, Matangi's home is deep within the jungle. She is radiantly dark in color, dressed in red, has the disc of the moon on her forehead and is usually flanked by two parrots. She is of low caste, a Chandala. She is known as 'Ucchista-Matangini' ['ucchista' meaning 'leftover']: The bestower of all boons on the unwashed, and She asks, in turn, for polluted offerings -- a goddess for our age of pollution and waste. No vows or preparation of any kind are needed to ask for her blessing and the uninitiated are welcome. She offers psychic power and liberation to consciousness bound by social conformity and conventionality. She nourishes the sixty-four arts and plays the veena. One can ask her for poetic talent or any other gift associated with creation."

And so we have Saraswati -- Goddess of Purity -- and Matangi -- Goddess of Pollution. On the surface, they could not be more different. And yet they are (or at least I believe they are) one and the same: A pure Vedic and a pure Tantric vision of the same Divine Reality.


My analysis begins with the contrasting Vedic and Tantric conceptions of the Gunas -- the three elements that make up Creation: Sattva (the spiritual element of uplift), Tamas (the material element of down-drag), and Rajas (the element of action and motion, shifting between the other two). Vedic Hinduism characterizes Saraswati as Pure Sattva (just as Kali is Pure Tamas and Lakshmi is Pure Rajas).

According to Tantric Shaktism, however, every manifestation of Devi (Goddess) involves a different combination of all three elements. In practice, this means that each Goddess must have both a dark (fearsome, destructive) side, and a bright (beautiful, compassionate) side. The dark side destroys ignorance and tears away illusion; the bright side bestows Supreme Knowledge and spiritual liberation. But by that analysis, the Vedic goddess Saraswati -- composed as she is of pure sattvic (spriritual) energy -- must necessarily be an incomplete representation of Shakti. She is all brightness and no darkness. And so the Tantric approach to Hinduism offers a "completed" Tantric counterpart -- the Goddess Matangi.

It's really not such an outrageous proposition: The same process occurred when Tantra "completed" another ancient Vedic goddess, namely, Lakshmi (or Shree), in the form of the 10th Mahavidya, Goddess Kamala. As Kamala, Lakshmi -- who is almost always conceived as a Consort Goddess, co-equal with or (more frequently) subordinate to, a Male God -- becomes a fully Independent Goddess, a full manifestation of the Divine Feminine. Rather than being purely benevolent, She takes on fearsome traits as well -- although She is still the least fearsome of the Mahavidyas. This Lakshmi-Kamala connection is widely known and accepted. However, the fact that the 9th Mahavidya, Matangi, is Saraswati, seems to have been mostly overlooked or forgotten.

I want to stress that I'm not holding up Matangi as being "better" than Saraswati, or even different from Her -- in fact, my feeling is that She *is* Saraswati, just a different conception of Her. In an old Club discussion of this point, our longtime member dkSesh wrote that he agreed with this idea:

Maatangi is the Tantrik form of Saraswathi. Here Maatangi also means that Saraswathi imparts knowledge on Tantra and Maya as the same manifestation of Brahman [the Supreme Divine] and is something that is not to be disliked and gotten ridden of as a Vedantic beginner thinks but to be worshipped as Brahman. For Brahman is described as one without the second, which means that Maya must also be another form of the same Brahman. It's in there on this path, that many manifestations and traits are removed in a Tantric way unlike the Vedantic way. Many are violent. The Vedantic sees the violent removal of a trait differently than a Tantrik. Hence the reason why I called it an issue of perception -- and for a Tantrik, it's the mother with her sword, removing the trait a/k/a, the asuras [inner demons]. Hence the form and the weapons and the differentiated name. Gnanis [those following the Yoga of Knowledge] don't see the difference but a Saadhaka [one engaged in worship of a God/dess form] under practice and pressure for emotional support needs a form that can re-assure him that the Lord [Brahman] is here to kill the trait. Maybe the requirement for the Lord as Maatangi."

Once again, the outcaste/leftover goddess Matangi -- like the pure Saraswati -- is also a goddess of learning, wisdom, the arts and sciences. They are identical to the extent that they are both worshipped using the same bija ("seed") mantra, "Aing" or "Aim." However, there are some significance differences in the way these two manifestations of Saraswati carry out their work.

The traditional, Vedic Saraswati mainly "represents the knowledge and virtue of the Brahmin or learned class which never departs from propriety," according to Frawley. Her arena tends to be "ordinary learning, art and culture." Matangi, on the other hand, "is the form of Saraswati directed toward inner knowledge. She is Her dark, mystical, ecstatic or wild form." As an outcaste or residue, Matangi lives beyond the bounds of convention, propriety and norms of "respectable" society.

To deepen our understand this conception, I will next compare the ways in which these two Goddess forms are conceived.

b>* Complexion

Saraswati is purely a creature of transcendent spirituality. Usually depicted as an extremely beautiful and graceful woman, She is pure white in complexion -- one prayer describes her as being "fair as a garland of moon rays."

Matangi, on the contrary, is very much a creature of manifest nature. She is also "a beautiful young woman," usually said to be 16 years old, but is usually shown with "a dark or black complexion." (Alternatively, for reasons I'll discuss later, she is portrayed with a blue or green complexion; and sometimes, like Saraswati, She is shown as white. But her primary forms have very dark complexions.)

She is usually conceived as what Indians call a "tribal" -- a member of one of India's indigenous forest/jungle-dwelling societies. Specifically, Matangi is said to be a daughter of the Chandalas, a tribe considered by orthodox Brahmins to be so polluted (as meat- eating hunter-gatherers) that its name became a synonym for "outcaste."

The message conveyed by the Goddesses' respective complexions is twofold: On a purely symbolic level, Saraswati's whiteness symbolizes Her purity, whereas Matangi's darkness (or greenness!) emphasizes her impurity or pollution. On a societal level, it should also be noted that there is something of the enduring Vedic color/class/caste consciousness here: Even in modern India, the old prejudice persists that a fair-skinned woman is somehow more beautiful than one who is dark-complexioned.

As for clothing, Saraswati is usually depicted "clad in spotless white apparel, and seated on a white lotus. Her conveyance is a white duck [or swan]." Mantangi is most often depicted wearing bright red clothing and ornaments. In Tantra, this is the color of the Divine Feminine (mystically representing menstrual blood; in contrast to the Masculine white, mystically representing semen). On a certain level, then, Saraswati's appearance embodies and endorses the patriarchal, Brahminical vision of feminine perfection. Matangi's completely opposes it. To accept Matangi requires a much more complete acceptance of the primacy and reality of the Divine Feminine.

* Sexuality

Saraswati is a rarity among Hindu goddesses in that she is generally not associated with fertility (at least in Her modern incarnation; in Her original conception as a Vedic river goddess, there was certainly a fertility association); motherhood; or sexuality (although She is officially Brahma's consort, the primary legend of their marriage concerns Her cursing Him for trying to consummate it).

Though she portrayed as a beautiful grown woman, She is said to be sweetly innocent, even childlike. In a way, She is Hinduism's closest approach to Christianity's Virgin Mary -- the very definition of ideal femininity unsullied by any sexual associations; even thinking of Her in a sexual context would seem a sort of blasphemy. As an essentially non-sexual goddess, Saraswati is especially venerated by monks and celibate seekers - it is not unusual to find a Hindu swami taking "Saraswati' as part of his monastic name.

Now contrast Saraswati's image with that of Matangi. Her descriptions always stress Her "highly developed breasts" and a "very thin waist," (recalling the imagery of ancient forest nymphs or apsaras). She is also portrayed as being wet with perspiration; sometimes with a line of superfluous pubic hair trailing up to Her navel; as having "wild" and "intoxicated" eyes and limbs; as walking with the graceful swaying gait of an elephant; wearing her hair loose and wild like Kali's.

If Saraswati is the paradigm of self-controlled, purely spiritual Femininity, then forest-dwelling Matangi is the paradigm of unashamed, untamed natural Femininity. Again, on one level, She is everything a strict brahmin would find "low class" in an outcaste tribal woman -- while She proudly wears and even flaunts Her pariah status. On a deeper level, the stress is on the all-pervasiveness of the Divine Feminine: If everything is a manifestion of God/dess, then nothing and no one can truly be impure. Everyone and everything is essentially Divine.

* Instruments

Because Saraswati's cult is ancient and pan-Indian, Her iconography is now completely standardized: She has four hands - two of them hold a veena (an Indian lute); one holds an aksamala (a string of prayer beads), and one a pustak (a holy book, often labeled as the Vedas). Matangi, however, is a less well-known goddess, and so Her iconography is less settled and more varied (NOTE: Matangi appears in many forms all over India; I will discuss some of the implications of this in future posts). Like most Mahavidyas, She wears a crescent moon on Her forehead, underlining Her status as a form of Parvati.

Like Saraswati, she almost always carries a veena, and sometimes a set of prayer beads. Interestingly, Matangi usually carries Her veena in one hand, to leave room for a darker arsenal of instruments. I've found about a dozen diverse descriptions of these other instruments, which include, in part: a noose; a sword; a shield; an elephant goad; a club; a skull; a skull-bowl; a machete; a mace; a pair of scissors.

These tools signify that unlike Saraswati, Matangi functions not only as a bestower of knowledge, but also as a destroyer of Ignorance. Again, this reflects Matangi as Saraswati's Kali aspect. As for iconogaphical settings, Saraswati is usually shown seated in a forest by a river, with the Himalayas towering in the distance and Her vehicle, a white swan, by Her side. Matangi, true to Her tribal persona, is shown in the jungle, flanked by parrots.

* Some Dhyanas (Meditation Descriptions)

From "Sakti: A Dictionary of Female In Hindu Mythology," by Subodh Kapoor:

"Lord Shiva is also known as Matang. His Shakti (power) is called Matangi. Her complexion is dark and possesses a moon on her forehead. The three-eyed goddess is seated on the crown decorated with jewels. Her lustre is like a blue lotus and is destroyer of the demons (forest) like a fire. In each of her four hands, she has a noose, a mace, an axe and a hook. She is a destroyer of the demons by enchanting them first with her beauty and a fulfiller of every desire of her devotees. She is worshipped for the attainment of great powers, power of speech, happiness in family life etc."

From “Tools for Tantra” by Harish Johari

“The one who has an enchanting veena embedded with rubies. The one who has intoxicating beauty and whose speech is charming. The one who is tenderly built and has the glow of a blue sapphire. That kanya [daughter] of Matang should be meditated on.

“She is supposed to be Shyama (the Dark One) of a beautiful emerald-green color. She is called Chandali because she was born as the daughter of Matang Rishi, who was from the lowest caste, known as Chandal. … [She is] seated on a beautiful ratnapith [throne embedded with precious gems], radiant like the moon, charming tender, of dark complexion, having nicely braided hair, dressed in red garments, playing beautiful music with her veena decorated with radiant rubies. She wears beautiful ornaments, has a parrot that recites enchating verses in a human voice, and has a pot made of a beautiful conch shell.

From Exotic India (unattributed):

"I meditate on Matangi, who,
Seated on the gem-studded throne,
listens to the sweet utterances of the parrot,
is aglow with youth,
has one foot on the lotus,
has her forehead bedecked with the crescent moon,
plays on the veena,
has a garland of jasmine flowers,
has a fitting bodice adorning her,
wears red garments,
has a conch-vessel,
is inebriated with honey sweet wine,
has the vermilion mark on her forehead adding luster to it.
Matangi, the daughter of sage Matanga,
supportively plays the ruby-bejeweled veena
leisurely in her self-glory
charming in her sweet vocal expression of song
her delicately soft limbs, lustrous like sapphires."

Here is a synthesis of dhyana mantras for Her forms as Ucchista Maatangini (from the Brihat Tantrasaara), Maatangi (from the Purashcharyaarnava), and Raja-Maatangi (from the Purashcharyaarnava and Saaradaa-tilaka):

"She is seated on an altar and has a smiling face and a green complexion. Her eyes are intoxicated. Her clothes and all of Her ornaments are red. Around Her neck is a garland of kadamba flowers. She is sixteen years old and has very full breasts and a very slim waist. She holds a skull on Her left side and a bloodied chopping blade on Her right, and She plays a jewel-encrusted veena. Her hair is long and wild, and the disc of the moon adorns Her forehead. She perspires slightly around Her face, which makes Her all the more beautiful and bright. Below Her navel are three horizontal folds of skin and a thin vertical line of fine hair. She wears a girdle of jeweled ornaments, as well as bracelets, armlets, and earrings. She represents the 64 arts and She is flanked by two parrots."


Matangi also plays a significant role in Srividya, as the “minister” of Lalitha Tripurasundari. Here again She is referred to as Rajamatangi, and She is strongly associated with the veena. A Srividya acquaintance of mine stresses that, ultimately, there is no difference between Maatangi and Lalitha -- or for that matter any form of Devi. They are all The Goddess. But as to Matangi specifically, some extremely interesting discussion has taken place in the Ambaal group regarding this Devi:

Aum Maatangyai Namahe: Matangi is the first name in Sri Meenakshi Ashtottaram and Meenakshi Madurai is known as Rajamatangi.

An origin myth: Sage Matanga did penance on Ambaal (Devi) and received the boon that She would take birth as his daughter. Sage Matanga belonged to a low caste ("the fourth varna"), and he had done penance to win the title of Brahma Rishi. But Ambaal told him that She could not grant that and asked him to choose something else. So wise Matanga asked Her a greater boon -- that She should be known to the world as his daughter.

So he and his wife Siddhimati gave birth to Ambaal, whom they named as Laghushyama. That daughter is considered a manifestation of the Goddess Raja Shyaamala. But because She was born to Matanga, the world even today remembers him through Her name Matangi. Because of this, even other daughters of sage Matanga attained the status of Shaktis (goddesses) and they serve Raja Shyamala.

Ambaal's avatara as Meenakshi has this connection with Matangi: Whenever there is a reference to Matangi, one can infer that She is also Meenakshi. The Ambaal Group notes: "The fact that shrii miinaakShii is also a mahaa paNDitai in sa.ngiita shaastram gives that link."

That Group's Aravind Krishna adds: The names Shyamala, Matangi and Meenakshi represent the same deity. First she incarnated as Shyamala along with Lalita. Shyamala is the minister of Lalita. "She is seated on geya chakra or giiti chakra ratam besides lalitaa who is seated in Sri chakra ratam."

Krishna adds: Devi manifested as the daughter of Matanga. … As Matanga was a Chandala [outcaste tribal] she is known as Uchista Chandali. 'Mati' is bhuddi or intellect. Mata is thought. First thought manifests and then we try to convey that through sound. Devi in the form of Nada (or the eternal subtle sound) shapes the thoughts in the form of words (Matanga). Such Bhuddi Shakti is known as Matangi. This is the reason why she is the deity of [Worship Through Music].

In a similar vein, David Frawley writes: "Mata" literally means "a thought" or "an opinion." Matangi is thus the Goddess power, which has entered into thought or the mind. She is the word as the embodiment of thought. She also relates to the ear and our ability to listen, which is the origin of true understanding that forms powerful thoughts. Matangi bestows knowledge, talent and expertise. She is the Goddess of the spoken word and of any outward articulation of inner knowledge, including all forms of art, music and dance.

Aravind Krishna mentions yet another Matangi Dhyana: "To visualize, Matangi is seated under a kadamba tree with a veena in her hands. A parrot is seen on her shoulder that sings in tune with her veena music. Such a dhyana itself is extremely pleasing. She holds similar status as Lalita and is hence called as Raja Maatangi. Kalidasa [known as "India's Shakespeare"] was an ardent devotee of Matangi.

Ambaal Group's Dr. V Sadagopan notes: "Sri Matangi and Raja Matangi are descriptions of the energy behind the ninth object of Transcendent Knowledge [i.e. the Ninth Mahavidya] .In this form, She is also known as Moha Raathri or the Elephant Power. … The Elephant Power or Matangi is invoked for establishing the reign of peace and prosperity. Besides Her association as the daughter of Sage Matanga, Lord Shiva is known as the Elephant (Matanga), based on His auspicious virtues as the destroyer of the evil. Hence His divine consort is recognized as Matangi. The Elephant is the symbol of royal power and the power of domination (i.e., King of the Forest ).”

Sadagopan adds: "As you know, Madurai Meenakshi sitting in the Mantrini Pitha is recognized as Matangi."

Some Other Names of Matangi/Meenakshi:

* Shyaamaa: "This means She who is dark in complexion. … This is often portrayed by blue or green color. This name also occurs in sahasranama as shyaamaabhaa. … Her darkness symbolically indicates that She is like dark cloud (full of water) filled with compassion and every ready to shower Her grace on Her devotees whose hearts are dried by the fire of desires. That grace quenches the error-prone fire of desires and brings peace to the devotees."

* Mantrini: "Even though Shankara does not refer to Her as Mantrini in the Meenakshi Stotram, he calls Her 'Muni-sute,' indicating Her as a daughter of a sage and it is needless to say that this denotes Her as Matangi.

* Kadamba Vanavasini: "This calls her the daughter of Matanga and vividly describes her how she bears the veena and is fully immersed in playing and singing in tune with it."

* Shukapriya: "Shuka means parrot. Hence, this name means She is fond of parrot. What does the parrot in this name signify? "It can signify Nada (music/sound) then it means She is fond of worship through music (Naadopaasana). She can be easily pleased using Naadopaasana. The essence of all Naada is Aum and Aum is Her symbol as the iishwarii of this jagat. Through meditation on Aum which is most pleasing to Her, one can worship and realize Her. Or the parrot can signify the Vedas. She delights in hearing the Vedic chants and the Vedas delight in praising Her. Or the word shuka can denote Jnanis [followers of the Yoga of Knowledge] like Sage Shuka and Sge is fond of them. In the Gita She declares (as Krishna) that a Jnani is Her own Self and She is most pleased and fond of Jnanis. Similarly, Jnanis delight in meditating and contemplating on Her."

* Nipapriya: "Nipa = Kadamba. She is fond of kadamba trees. Whenever the reference to kadamba comes in Ambaal's name, it reminds one of Meenakshi. She is Kadambavanavaasini. {Her temple at Madurai] was once a kadamba forest according to the Thiruvilaiyadal Purana.

* Kadambeshya: "Kadamba means a collection or multitude, and it denotes the cosmos. She is the God(dess) (ishii) of this cosmos. This implies that She is not only transcendent but also immanent. She is indeed all this as material cause of this jagat [Creation]."

For more detail and scriptural citations, as well as further information on Madurai Meenakshi, look here and here.

Another Srividya View:

"Matangi is the intelligible manifest sound. The primordial throb (Adya spanda), which originates by the self-volition of the Supreme, starts a series of vibrations that take the form of nāda. This is the Eternal Word, the creatrix of manifestation. The manifestation takes place in four steps: sthula (gross, matter principle), sukshma (subtle, life principle), Kārana (causal, mind principle), and mahākārana (great causal, original rythm). These steps correspond to the four steps of jāgrat (waking state), swapna (dream state), sushupti (deep sleep state), and turiya ( transcendental state).

"Tāntrics locate the four steps of sound in the nervous system: parā, pashyanti, madhyama, and vaikhari. Parā: the first and supreme source, it is unmanifest, but turned towards manifestation (Tāra). It is the mahā kārana seated at the mulādhāra. Pashyanti: the word that percieves. This is the kārana, located at the manipura chakra. Madhyama: the word in the middle subtle region between the navel and the throat (anāhata chakra). Vaikhari: the expression of speech, Goddess Matangi.

"Matangi is greenish dark in complexion (Syamala). Her tender limbs have the glow of sapphire. She is known as Ucchista Chāndāli. Sage Mātanga was a Chandala by birth. Goddess of Speech manifested as the daughter of the sage and hence Her name Chandala Kanya.

"Mati is the thinking mind and mata is thought. The unmanifest Word perceives itself for manifestation and then reaches the thinking mind for expression (Matanga). When the word fashioned by the heart and formulated by the mind is expressed it is Matangi. The Word of pristine purity becomes colored during expression (varana). The speech descends from the Supreme Source, bringing into expression only part of its Glory, hence the name Uchhista [Leftover] Chandali. By catching the tail-end of the Word (articulated speech), one can get to the source. The worship of Matangi leads one to the realization of the residual above (Lalita). She is the Mantrini of Lalita. She represents the power of attraction of Lalita. Her main purpose is to lead aspirants to Lalita Upasana. Matangi is the Akarshna. Lalita uses Her mantra to attract devotees to Her."

Here is the original source of the above passage.


There are more layers of Maatangi iconography in Tantric Buddhism, which both illuminate and obscure Her nature. For example, there is Shoshika, a Buddhist form of Maatangi. Historically, it appears She was (1) an aboriginal Indian tribal deity borrowed by proto-Hindu Goddess worshippers, then (2) absorbed by Tantric Buddhism and forgotten by Hinduism, then (3) absorbed back into Hindism as a Mahavidya by Shakta sects in Kashmir and then Bengal ... and so on.

To try to trace any of this is great detail, however, boggles the mind! And it obscures more than it reveals, wrapping the seeker in a web of academic and theoretical hair-splitting. Maatangi's ultimately create the impression (probably intended and certainly true) that Her nature -- like that of any Devi form -- is ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.

As I've pointed out before, Maatangi is one of Sri Durga's primary 108 names. She is also called a form of Kali, a form of Parvati, a form of Sati, even a form of Lakshmi. Maatangi, you see, is ubiquitously lurking in the jungle shadows -- a dark, wild presence found almost everywhere in Devi's vast mythology; now seen, now gone again.

In one Mahavidya text, I saw Her called "the Goddess of Royalty." Another says She "establishes the rule of peace, calm and prosperity." The modern Tantric master Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni (1878-1936) -- whose sadhana centered on the Mahavidyas -- taught that "Matangi is the highest of the Goddesses in that She allows all their powers and principles to be realized."

These towering and mighty characteristics certainly suggest Her "Raja Matangi" form. And yet here another paradox arises: Raja Matangi's dhyana is anything but royal; in fact, it conveys the essence of her persona as a polluted outcaste, or tribal girl -- and certainly not a queen.

Again, Matangi -- like Dhumavati -- is a Mahavidya meant "to strip away the sadhak's prejudices about purity and pollution -- which are, after all, just more divisions in a world we are supposed to be understanding as the manifestation of a united Shakti-Shiva. Matangi is an outcaste girl; Dhumavati is a widow. Both are inauspicious in the sense that they have no place in orthodox Hindu society; they are avoided and looked down upon And yet in Mahavidya Tantra, the worshipper is supposed to kneel down and prostrate at their feet as Goddess."

To further add to the Maatangi's "outsider" associations, Kinsley notes as follows: "In many festivals celebrating village goddesses in South India, a low-caste woman called a 'maatangi' plays a central role. During the festival, the 'maatangi' represents the goddess. Possessed by the goddess, she dances wildly, uses obscene language, drinks intoxicants, spits on spectators, and pushes people about with her backside. She seems to take special delight in abusing members of the high castes. During this festival an inversion of the usual social codes and rules takes place. The 'maatangi' personifies social topsy-turvy. Exactly what the connection might be between these low-caste women and the goddess Maatangi is not clear."

In any event, the “outcaste” lesson is completely lost (and replaced by nothing) if the worshipper chooses the form of Maatangi most suited for her/his spiritual "state of mind and evolution," as some have suggested. In essence, that allows the worshipper to say, "Hey, I'm not a spiritual lowlife; I'm going to worship Maatangi as royalty rather than as an outcaste." And what would be the point in that? And how does it possibly square with the overall challenge of Mahavidya worship?


As for the legend of Maatangi as the daughter of the sage Maatanga, see my (upcoming) post on Matangi as Meenakshi. In that legend, Maatangi is a manifestation of Ambaal or Meenakshi -- or in any case, an avatar of the Supreme Devi. But in my opinion, this is a later Hindu reworking of a much earlier Indian Buddhist legend -- and in many ways, it is an attempt to avoid the unpleasant issue of Maatangi being an outcaste.

In the Buddhist version (which has been famously retold by the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, in his story "Chandalika"), Maatangi is still the daughter of a great man called Maatanga -- but here, Maatanga is not a Hindu sage, but an outcaste tribal (Chandala) chieftain. In this primal legend, the Buddha's disciple Ananda is said to have become thirsty when he saw a girl drawing water from a well. He approached her and asked her for a drink.

Maatangi replied, "My name is Prakriti [Nature]. I am a Chandala, the daughter of Maatanga. Should I give you water?" Ananda said, "I am not asking what your caste is, I am only asking for water." So she gave him water, and watched the beautiful young man as he drank it, falling in love with him.

To lure Ananda away from the monastic life, Maatangi asked her mother, Mahavidya-dhari [is this name a mere coincidence?] to cast a love-spell on him. Sure enough, Anada was lured to the lovely Maatangi's bed, but at the last moment he prayed to the Buddha to save him, and Maatangi's spell was broken.

Maatangi, outraged at her loss, went to the Buddha himself, and told him that she still desired Ananda as a husband. To make a long story short, the Buddha explained that her desire was a karmic attachment (she and Ananda had been lovers in another life) and Maatangi eventually became a Buddhist nun.

A conversation about this story:

DKSesh quotes the passage, "To lure Ananda away from the monastic life, Maatangi asked her mother, Mahavidya-dhari [is this name a mere coincidence?] to cast a love-spell on him. Sure enough, Anada was lured to the lovely Maatangi's bed, but at the last moment he prayed to the Buddha to save him, and Maatangi's spell was broken."

And he notes: I don't think its a co-incidence. :-) Regarding the buddist stories, the Ananda, the maatangi, the daughter of maatanga, the maahavidya all sound too much to be called a coincidence. I am sure it is more symbolic a practicing saadhaaka on that particular path can explain best.

Devi Bhakta replies: There is even more. The idea that Maatangi tried to force Ananda's love by using a magic spell -- so powerful that it could only be broken by the Buddha himself -- presages Maatangi's modern use by lower Tantrics seeking siddhis [magical powers] from Her. She is, after all, said to grant siddhis that enable Her devotees to control others, particularly the opposite sex.

As for her mother the sorceress being being named "Mahavidya-dhari" in the tale -- it certainly seems more than a coincidence that her daughter would end up in Hindu form as a Mahavidya! But then again, a legitimate translation of the mother's name would be simply "She who is skilled in Great Mantras" -- which also fits the tale perfectly, requiring no coincidences at all. I, however, prefer to believe that there is a meaning behind almost every coincidence!

The story I alluded is a VERY early Indian Buddhist legend (dating from the first hundred years or so after the Buddha's death). In it, we appear to have the first Sanskrit reference to an outcaste woman named Maatangi, who possesses the power to control others. The scholar David Kinsley speculates that this legend prefigures by 1,000 years or so the first appearance of a similarly outcaste Matangi as one of Tantra's famous "Ten Mahavidyas" or "Ten Wisdom Goddesses." It also suggests a possible continuity dating back to pre-Vedic or pre-Aryan Indian Goddess cults.

In this legend, Maatangi identifies herself by telling Buddha's disciple Ananda, "My name is Prakriti [Nature]. I am a Chandala [outcaste tribal], the daughter of Maatanga [i.e. Maatangi]." Her mother is called Mahavidyadhari.

For our members who are fans of the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore – Tagore, in the early 20th century, reworked this ancient legend into a nationalist-flavored play called "Chandalika" (a feminine, diminutive grammatical form of Chandala). In this play, the daughter is Prakriti (as in the Buddhist original), and the mother is Maya.

DKSesh responds: “It is very significant. What it means is that the siddis are very tempting. So a saadhaka could go very near to the extent of falling into the trap. But then, the lord will bring in an awareness in the saadhaka and the Ananda(also the joy) is saved by divine consciousness. The mind with the power of siddi by itself also gets purified by the goal and the path taken by the ananda. At the end the maatangi and ananda are in the clear fold of Bhudda.

Assuming the bhuddist version is an extension/ corruption of the vedantic version that existed before it, its quite significant and quite true. So its not a co-incidence. Really. :-). The symbolism could be more that what words can describe here. Since the tantra does not differentiate between maya and brahman, then the perception of the sadhaaka viewing traits varies a little from a vedanti. Was trying to see how Maatangi fits into the whole picture and how the One god concept is still retained.

Thanks again. I am of the view that all texts say the same thing. Its just that the words differ and thereby the means appear to be different. A vedantic on his nirvikalpa samaadhi will know that Maya and brahman are teh same and also purusha and prakrithi are the same. A tantrik at the end of his goal will also veer around the same meaning and will know that it is the same.

To people who follow puranas to understand it, the maahishasura mardhini story is very revealing. God emerge our of Durga and gods merge in Durga. I am sure there cannot be a better example.


Finally, I wish to point out that Matangi Devi is my Ishtadevata, and therefore I have studied, contemplated and researched upon Her more than I have on other Goddess forms. The volume of material I've presented (which really only scrapes the surface) is not an intended to exhault Matangi as the "best" Goddess form. As is always the case in Shaktism, Devi's "best" form depends entirely upon the personality, needs, spiritual development, etc., of Her individual devotees. Each devotee will find the form most suited to her/his Sadhana. My posts are, rather, a small token of devotion and appreciation to Maatangi Devi. I hope you found some of it interesting.

Some sources see the Ten Mahavidyas as merely aspects of Kali - not as complete goddesses in and of themselves. Each lesser goddess (in ascending order from ten to one), they say, removes a little more ignorance than the one before; each opens the devotee's eyes wider to Kali Herself -- the very expression of Supreme Reality.

In that view, then, the 10th Mahavidya (Kamala/Lakshmi) is only the bottom step of a ladder up to Kali; She means nothing much on Her own. Matangi, as the 9th Mahavidya, would be only slightly higher in importance. Sources with this view (one such is the "Mahanirvana Tantra") say that worship of the lower Mahavidyas is useful only for gaining siddhis - limited occult powers. They certainly won't get you enlightenment/moksha/nirvana/supreme knowledge, etc.

But that view seems inaccurate to me. The mythology of the Mahavidyas is of two main varieties -- either they are all manifestations of Sri Parvati or they are all manifestations of Sri Kali. In the case of Matangi individually, two origin myths (from outside Mahavidya lore) call Her a form of Parvati. And in mainstream Hinduism, Matangi is listed as one of the 108 names of Durga, and the first of Meenakshi's names as well.

That is in line with the basic Hindu theory of the ishtadevi -- i.e, that any avatar whom he devotee chooses to worship is ultimately and will ultimately lead her/him to the Supreme Devi.

The modern Tantric master Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni (1878-1936) -- whose sadhana centered on the Mahavidyas -- taught that Matangi was the Goddess presiding over Manifestation. Through Her, thought becomes word, unmanifest sound is struck into music, ideas unfold into expression, potential becomes being -- Divine Consciousness becomes the created Universe.

According to Muni, "Matangi is the highest of the Goddesses in that She allows all their powers and principles to be realized."

Other manifestations of Devi are "the highest" in other ways. To me, that sounds like the very definition of Shakti.

Aum Maatangyai Namahe


Selected sources:

* Frawley, Dr. David. "Tantric Yoga and the Ten Wisdom Goddesses," (Passage Press, Salt Lake City, 1994).

* Kinsley, David. "Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas," (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997).

* Satpathy, Sarbeswar. "Sakti Iconography in Tantric Mahavidyas," (Punthi Pustak, Calcutta, 1991).

* Johari, Harish. “Tools for Tantra,” Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 1986.