Mahavidyas: mother archetype and the great goddess

Mahavidyas, Creative Commons via wikimedia

According to Carl Jung, the qualities associated with the mother archetype are:

“maternal solicitude and sympathy; the magic authority of the female; the wisdom and spiritual exaltation that transcend reason; any helpful instinct or impulse; all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility.” [1]

In Hinduism, the mother goddess offers all of these traits, plus more. She is also the form of cosmic power and revelation.

The goddess is the slayer of demons; she defeats spiritual ignorance with her comic power. She empowers even the gods– Brahma, Visnu, and Shiva– who are powerless to battle the great demons of ignorance.

The goddess expresses herself through three primal aspects of the cosmos: creation, maintenance, and destruction. She reveals herself in the three primal forms: Prakriti (nature), expressing the primal material energy of which all matter is composed; Maya (illusion), expressing our illusionary attempts to measure the infinite; and Shakti (power), the primal power of the Cosmic Self and bestower of liberation.

The Ten Mahavidyas represent ten aspects of Shakti, and thus ten potentials of Self-liberation:


Kali is the ‘black goddess, beyond time’. Kali is said to be the mother of all. She has skulls around her neck; she stands on Shiva. She has a lolling tongue that licks blood. She kills the demons of ignorance, severing their heads and bringing them to the supreme Goddess. The Mahatmya, Markendeya Purana speaks of Kali:

“Om: Victorious, auspicious Kali, beneficent Kali, who carries the skull, the deliverer, forgiveness, peace, the supporter of all, the Divine offering, the ancestral offering, reverence to You! Be victorious, Goddess who destroys all passions! Be victorious, you who remove the afflictions of all beings! Be victorious, Goddess who pervades all As the dark night of time, reverence to You!”


Tara is the ‘star’ that guides us toward Self-knowledge. She is said to suckle Shiva. The Eight Verses in Praise of Tara (Tarashtakam) says:

“Salutations to mother Saraswathi who is of blue colour, who grants all luck and wealth, Who sits in the heart of Shiva in prathyaleeda pose, who has a smiling face, Who has three eyes similar to the fully open blue lotus flowers, who is the one who does, And who wears skull , lotus and sword , you are my only hope and so I surrender to you, Oh Goddess.”

Tripurā sundarī

Tripurā sundarī is the ‘beautiful Goddess of the three worlds.’ She is also called Lalita meaning ‘She who plays.’ She is said to play with her devotees like children. She is the supreme ruler, the one who will be our mother in our last birth. The Shankaracarya, Tripura Sundari Stotra speaks of Tripurā sundarī:

“Whose eyes are like a freshly-blooming lotus, who is dark like an autumn rain cloud — we take refuge in the wife of Lord Shiva, the three-eyed one, in Tripura Sundari, the Goddess of the beauty of the three worlds Who dwells in a forest of bliss, whose ornaments glisten with gold, who wears a great pearl necklace, whose mouth rolls with wine, who is the giver of great compassion, Who has wide eyes and wanders free — we take refuge in the wife of the three-eyed one, in Tripura Sundari, the Goddess of the beauty of the three worlds.”


Bhuvaneśwari gives shape to the creation of the three worlds or regions. The three worlds are bhūḥ (upper), bhuvaḥ (middle), svaḥ (lower). Frawley tells us: “Bhuvaneshvari represents the Void or original space in which things come into being. She is the Void in its creative form, the void within creation, from which creation springs and which supports the unfoldment of further creation.”


Bhairavi means ‘awe inspiring’. Bhairavi is the consort of Shiva. She is the goddess we pray to at the end of time. She walks the cremation ground. She is so fierce that the demons fear her.  Verse 15, of the Siva Sutras speaks to Bhairavi, as the Sakti of Bhairava (Shiva):

“She is bliss that can be experienced within oneself, she can be known only when one is freed of all thought-constructs. She is a state of one’s own Self that is Bhairava, hence she is known as Bhairavi, the Sakti of Bhairava. She is one whose essential nature is full of the delight of the unity of the entire universe. She is to be known essentially as the pure form filling (pervading) the entire universe.”


Chinnamasta is the fierce and nurturing mother. Her children are spiritual children whom she protects and grants boons. Chinnamasta means ‘she whose head is severed’. The severing of the head represents the sacrifice of individual identity and awakening of spiritual energy. She is the splendor of being, the surging forth of Shakti. Her great currents emerge from her sexual union with Shiva.


Dhumavati means the ‘smoky one.’ She is the widow, the void that exists between creation and destruction. She is the form of cosmic dissolution. She is a reminder to look beyond the superficial, to turn within. David Frawley says: “Dhumavati is the eldest among the Goddesses, the Grandmother Spirit. She stands behind the other Goddesses as their ancestral guide. As the Grandmother Spirit she is the great teacher who bestows the ultimate lessons of birth and death. She is the knowledge that comes through hard experience, in which our immature and youthful desires and fantasies are put to rest.” [2]


Bagalamukhi is the goddess with a face that has the power to paralyze or capture. She holds a cudgel that smashes delusions. Kinsley tells us “Bagalamukhi is associated with magical powers, which are sometimes referred to as siddhis, “accomplishments” or “perfections.” Among her epithets in her hymn of a thousand names are She Who Gives the Eight Siddhis, She Who Gives Magical and Mystical Powers (rddhis and siddhis), and She Who Gives All Siddhis.”


Matangi is a goddess of wisdom, associated with pollution. It is said that Matangi “emerges from Shiva and Parvati’s table scraps” [3].  She guides all in gaining Self-knowledge, and is said to bestow the highest knowledge of the Vedas.


Kamala is a form of the goddess Laksmi, an image of grace. Kamala means ‘she of the Lotus. Frawley speaks of the lotus: “The lotus is a symbol of unfoldment: it represents the opening of the lotuses of the different chakras of the subtle body, particularly the lotus of the heart. Though the lotus puts its roots into the mud and grows in marshlands, it produces the most beautiful flower, like the soul coming forth from the earth of the physical body.” [2]




  1. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1), para 157
  2. Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses by David Frawley
  3. Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās by David R. Kinsley