Traditional Tantra Yoga invokes the graces of various gods and goddesses. Their mythology provides much food for thought on your spiritual journey of cosmic awakening. While there are very pragmatic reasons to study Tantra, like improving your social skills, self-confidence, sex life, etc., these sublime meditations of divine beings will elevate your perception of your Life and your being. In this section we will explore the history and legends of several key Hindu gods and goddesses: Kali, Parvati, Shiva, Krishna, & Durga.
Kali & Parvati
“Parvati is typically portrayed as a benign and friendly goddess. The Linga Purana describes Shiva asking Parvati to defeat the demon Daruka, who received a boon that would only allow a female to kill him. Parvati merges with Shiva’s body, reappearing as Kali to defeat Daruka and his armies. Her bloodlust gets out of control, only calming when Shiva intervenes. The Vamana Puranahas a different version of Kali’s relationship with Parvati. When Shiva addresses Parvati as Kali, “the dark blue one,” she is greatly offended. Parvati performs austerities to lose her dark complexion and becomes Gauri, the golden one. Her dark sheath becomes Kausiki, who while enraged, creates Kali. Regarding the relationship between Kali, Parvati, and Shiva, Kinsley writes that:
In relation to Shiva, she [Kali] appears to play the opposite role from that of Parvati. Parvati calms Shiva, counterbalancing his antisocial or destructive tendencies; she brings him within the sphere of domesticity and with her soft glances urges him to moderate the destructive aspects of his tandava dance. Kali is Shiva’s “other wife,” as it were, provoking him and encouraging him in his mad, antisocial, disruptive habits. It is never Kali who tames Shiva, but Shiva who must calm Kali.
Kāli appears in the Sauptika Parvan of the Mahabharata(10.8.64). She is called Kālarātri (literally, “dark blue night”) and appears to the Pandava soldiers in dreams, until finally she appears amidst the fighting during an attack by Drona‘s son Ashwatthama.
Another story involving Kali is her escapade with a band of thieves. The thieves wanted to make a human sacrifice to Kali, and unwisely chose a saintly Brahminmonk as their victim. The radiance of the young monk was so much that it burned the image of Kali, who took living form and killed the entire band of thieves, decapitating them and drinking their blood.
n Kāli’s most famous legend, Durga and her assistants, the Matrikas, wound the demon Raktabija, in various ways and with a variety of weapons in an attempt to destroy him. They soon find that they have worsened the situation for with every drop of blood that is dripped from Raktabija he reproduces a clone of himself. The battlefield becomes increasingly filled with his duplicates. Durga summons Kāli to combat the demons. The Devi Mahatmyam describes:
Out of the surface of her (Durga’s) forehead, fierce with frown, issued suddenly Kali of terrible countenance, armed with a sword and noose. Bearing the strange khatvanga (skull-topped staff ), decorated with a garland of skulls, clad in a tiger’s skin, very appalling owing to her emaciated flesh, with gaping mouth, fearful with her tongue lolling out, having deep reddish eyes, filling the regions of the sky with her roars, falling upon impetuously and slaughtering the great asuras in that army, she devoured those hordes of the foes of the devas.”
Shiva is known as the “Creator, maintainer and the destroyer” within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity that includes Brahma and Vishnu. In Shaivism tradition, Shiva is the Supreme being who creates, protects and transforms the universe. In the tradition of Hinduism called Shaktism, the Goddess, or Devi, is described as supreme, yet Shiva is revered along with Vishnu and Brahma. A goddess is stated to be the energy and creative power (Shakti) of each, with Parvati(Sati) the equal complementary partner of Shiva.He is one of the five equivalent deities in Panchayatana puja of the Smarta tradition of Hinduism.
According to the Shaivism sect, the highest form of Shiva is formless, limitless, transcendent and unchanging absolute Brahman, and the primal Atman(soul, self) of the universe. There are many both benevolent and fearsome depictions of Shiva. In benevolent aspects, he is depicted as an omniscient Yogi who lives an ascetic life on Mount Kailash as well as a householder with wife Parvati and his two children, Ganesha and Kartikeya. In his fierce aspects, he is often depicted slaying demons. Shiva is also known as Adiyogi Shiva, regarded as the patron god of yoga, meditation and arts.
Shiva is considered the Great Yogi who is totally absorbed in himself – the transcendental reality. He is the Lord of Yogis, and the teacher of Yoga to sages.As Shiva Dakshinamurthi, states Stella Kramrisch, he is the supreme guru who “teaches in silence the oneness of one’s innermost self (atman) with the ultimate reality (brahman).”
The theory and practice of Yoga, in different styles, has been a part of all major traditions of Hinduism, and Shiva has been the patron or spokesperson in numerous Hindu Yoga texts. These contain the philosophy and techniques for Yoga. These ideas are estimated to be from or after the late centuries of the 1st millennium CE, and have survived as Yoga texts such as the Isvara Gita (literally, “Shiva’s song”), which Andrew Nicholson – a professor of Hinduism and Indian Intellectual History – states have had “a profound and lasting influence on the development of Hinduism”.
Other famed Shiva-related texts influenced Hatha Yoga, integrated monistic (Advaita Vedanta) ideas with Yoga philosophy and inspired the theoretical development of Indian classical dance. These include the Shiva Sutras, the Shiva Samhita, and those by the scholars of Kashmir Shaivism such as the 10th-century scholar Abhinavagupta. Abhinavagupta writes in his notes on the relevance of ideas related to Shiva and Yoga, by stating that “people, occupied as they are with their own affairs, normally do nothing for others”, and Shiva and Yoga spirituality helps one look beyond, understand interconnectedness, and thus benefit both the individual and the world towards a more blissful state of existence.
Krishna & Bhakti Traditions
He is worshipped as the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu and also as the supreme Godin his own right. He is the god of compassion, tenderness, and love in Hinduism, and is one of the most popular and widely revered among Indian divinities.
The earliest text containing detailed descriptions of Krishna as a personality is the epic Mahabharata, which depicts Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu.Krishna is central to many of the main stories of the epic. The eighteen chapters of the sixth book (Bhishma Parva) of the epic that constitute the Bhagavad Gita contain the advice of Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield. The Harivamsa, a later appendix to the Mahabharata contains a detailed version of Krishna’s childhood and youth.
Krishna grows up with Nanda Baba and his wife Yasoda near modern-day Mathura. Two of Krishna’s siblings also survive, namely Balarama and Subhadra, according to these legends. The day of birth of Krishna is celebrated as Krishna Janmashtami.
The legends of Krishna’s childhood and youth describe him as a cow herder, a mischievous boy whose pranks earns him the nickname a Makhan Chor (butter thief), and a protector who steals the hearts of the people in both Gokul and Vrindavana. The texts state, for example, that Krishna lifts the Govardhana hill to protect the inhabitants of Vrindavana from devastating rains and floods.
Other legends describe him as an enchanter and playful lover of the gopis (milkmaids) of Vrindavana, especially Radha. These metaphor-filled love stories are known as the Rasa lila and were romanticised in the poetry of Jayadeva, author of the Gita Govinda. They are also central to the development of the Krishna bhaktitraditions worshiping Radha Krishna.
Across the various theologies and philosophies, the common theme presents Krishna as the essence and symbol of divine love, with human life and love as a reflection of the divine. The longing and love-filled legends of Krishna and the gopis, his playful pranks as a baby, as well as his later dialogues with other characters, are philosophically treated as metaphors for the human longing for the divine and for meaning, and the play between the universals and the human soul. Krishna’s lila is a theology of love-play. According to John Koller, “love is presented not simply as a means to salvation, it is the highest life”. Human love is God’s love.
The use of the term bhakti, meaning devotion, is not confined to any one deity. However, Krishna is an important and popular focus of the devotionalism tradition within Hinduism, particularly among the Vaishnava sects.Devotees of Krishna subscribe to the concept of lila, meaning ‘divine play’, as the central principle of the universe. It is a form of bhakti yoga, one of three types of yoga discussed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
By 1965 the Krishna-bhaktimovement had spread outside India after Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (as instructed by his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura) traveled from his homeland in West Bengal to New York City. A year later in 1966, after gaining many followers, he was able to form the International Society for Krishna Consciousness(ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement. The purpose of this movement was to write about Krishna in English and to share the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy with people in the Western world by spreading the teachings of the saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In the biographies of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the mantra he received when he was given diksha or initiation in Gaya was the six-word verse of the Kali-Santarana Upanishad, namely “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare; Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. In Gaudiya tradition, it is the maha-mantra, or great mantra, about Krishna bhakti. Its chanting was known as hari-nama sankirtana.
The maha-mantra gained the attention of George Harrison and John Lennon of The Beatles fame, and Harrison produced a 1969 recording of the mantra by devotees from the London Radha Krishna Temple.Titled “Hare Krishna Mantra“, the song reached the top twenty on the UK music charts and was also successful in West Germany and Czechoslovakia. The mantra of the Upanishad thus helped bring Bhaktivedanta and ISKCON ideas about Krishna into the West. ISCKON has built many Krishna temples in the West, as well as other locations such as South Africa.
She is the warrior goddess, whose mythology centres around combating evils and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity and dharma of the good. She is the fierce form of the protective mother goddess, willing to unleash her anger against wrong, violence for liberation and destruction to empower creation.
Durga is also worshiped in the form of her nine epithets called Navadurga.
She is a central deity in Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, where she is equated with the concept of ultimate reality called Brahman. One of the most important texts of Shaktism is Devi Mahatmya, also known as Durgā Saptashatī, which celebrates Durga as the goddess, declaring her as the supreme being and the creator of the universe. Estimated to have been composed between 400 and 600 CE, this text is considered by Shakta Hindus to be as important scripture as the Bhagavad Gita. She has a significant following all over India, Bangladesh and Nepal, particularly in its eastern states such as West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar. Durga is revered after spring and autumn harvests, specially during the festival of Navratri.
Originally she is Adi Parashakti, present before creation and after destruction of the entire universe. She is the ultimate energy but to defeat the Asura Mahishasura all the gods invoked her and as she was present in the form of shakti in all the gods, so she manifested herself from the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the other gods. Thus her manifested form was born/emerged from the gods to end the torture of AsuraMahishasura. She was gifted with different weapons, ornaments, valuable clothes and gold jewelleries with precious stones and a lion as her mount before going for the war.
Durga traditionally holds the weapons of various male gods of Hindu mythology, which they give her to fight the evil forces because they feel that she is the shakti(energy, power). These include chakra, conch, bow, arrow, sword, javelin, shield, and a noose.These weapons are considered symbolic by Shakta Hindus, representing self-discipline, selfless service to others, self-examination, prayer, devotion, remembering her mantras, cheerfulness and meditation. Durga herself is viewed as the “Self” within and the divine mother of all creation. She has been revered by warriors, blessing their new weapons. Durga iconography has been flexible in the Hindu traditions, where for example some intellectuals place a pen or other writing implements in her hand since they consider their stylus as their weapon.
Archeological discoveries suggest that these iconographic features of Durga became common throughout India by about the 4th century CE, states David Kinsley – a professor of religious studies specializing on Hindu goddesses. Durga iconography in some temples appears as part of Mahavidyas or Saptamatrkas (seven mothers considered forms o Durga). Her icons in major Hindu temples such as in Varanasi include relief artworks that show scenes from the Devi Mahatmya.
Durga appears in Hindu mythology in numerous forms and names, but ultimately all these are different aspects and manifestations of one goddess. She is imagined to be terrifying and destructive when she has to be, but benevolent and nurturing when she needs to be.While anthropomorphic icons of her, such as those showing her riding a lion and holding weapons are common, the Hindu traditions use aniconic forms and geometric designs (yantra) to remember and revere what she symbolizes.
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