Vindhyavasini: Local Goddess yet Great Goddess Cynthia Ann Humes (from Devi: Goddesses of India, University of California

Press, 1996) The village known as Vindhyachal, literally "Vindhya mountain," sits midway between Allahabad and Banaras where the Vindhya mountain range touches the southern shores of the holy Ganges. This bustling pilgrimage town has grown up around the ancient temple complex devoted to Vindhyavasini, "the goddess who dwells in the Vindhyas." If you ask her devotees who Vindhyavasini is and why she is famous, nearly all will respond with a variant of her best-known myth, about how she saved the baby Krishna from being killed by his wicked uncle, king Kamsa. Kamsa learned he was destined to die by the hand of his cousin Devaki's child. When Visnu incarnated himself as Krishna, he exhorted Yoganidra ("Yogic Sleep," or she who causes such somnolence), who is also Mahamaya ("Great Delu-sionary Power"), to cast her spell on Kamsa and his forces and to take birth herself of the cowherd couple Nanda and Yasoda. With the aid of the Goddess's delusionary power, Devaki's husband, Vasudeva, carried Krishna undiscovered to Nanda's home and returned with the divine girl-child. When Kamsa learned that Devaki had given birth, he rushed there, grabbed the baby by her foot, and sought to dash her head against a stone, but she slipped from his hand. Assuming her eight-armed form, she announced that Kamsa's slayer had been born. She then flew off to Vindhyachal, where she became known as Vindhyachal Nivasini or Vindhyavasini"shewho dwells in the Vindhya mountains" (see figure 4).

One prominent aspect of this account gives expression to a feature of Vindhyavasini that seems to be historically true. The myth suggests that she had an independent force and identity before she became incorporated into the legend and worship of Krishna, and that her power could be mobilized to support the ongoing evolution of Hindu religion. Indeed, many scholars accept on various grounds that Vindhyavasini is among the more ancient of Hindu goddesses. She and her cult are believed to have contributed importantly to the rise of a Hindu theology of the Great Goddess. As R. C. Hazra explains, in the early centuries of the common era, when local female deities grew in prominence, "to give these new goddesses a position in the Sakta pantheon, they had to be connected either with Uma [Siva's spouse] or with Vindhyavasini (or Yogamaya )"a phenomenon that has been confirmed by J. N. Tiwari and others. i

dusty. Vindhyavasini's modern devotees still maintain that she is Adisakti and say that Uma is but an incarnation of this power. who was understood as the single Adisakti. Grieving. You will probably have arrived by one of the many hot. as Uma claims to absorb Vindhyavasini. especially the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa. local goddesses and thereby draw them into a larger Sakta network is relatively well known. As you follow the flow of . Siva danced angrily with her lifeless body over his shoulder. who jam the aisles and lean out the windows. so was her region of dominance and immanence perceived to be vast. however. was incorporated into early Brahmanical written traditions. Interpreting all goddesses as incarnations of Uma was acceptable to those who primarily worshiped Siva. The ancient hymns incorporated into Sanskrit epic literature. which served in turn to spread her worship beyond the Vindhyas. She was closely connected with nature and was believed to exist within the actual region: she literally "dwelt in the mountains. As Sati. Vindhyavasini was thus capable of providing the nuclear origin for a cult of the unmarried.E. found it more appealing or useful to understand all goddesses as incarnations of the great power behind/of Visnu. They are packed with other pilgrims. Vindhyavasini's association with motifs of absorption and identification helps to explain how she could be consistently linked with her local contextmountain-dwelling societies and their often "unorthodox" traditionsyet at the same time be understood as possessing the monistic characteristics of Mahadevi. extending from the west to east coasts across middle India.The power of Uma (or Parvati ) to assimilate other. Some of the most influential ancient scriptural references to a single Great Goddess (Mahadevi ). Vindhyavasini acts separately and is thus held apart from an identity determined by marriage to Siva. Kausiki is the dark goddess who is formed from the kosa or "sheath" of black skin that was sloughed off when Uma assumed a golden complexion. Thus the goddess of the Vindhyas. The virgin Kausiki then rushed to the Vindhyas to slay the demon brothers Sumbha and Nisumbha. originally a native and "non-Sanskritic" deity. at her father Daksa's sacrifice and committed self-immolation. Although she is thus absorbed into Uma's mythology. and to Visnu. her power was not controlled or diminished by a more powerful husband.who responds to devotees' personal appeals by manifesting herself in other forms. This fusion of so-called "little" and "great" traditions is readily visible to anyone who visits Vindhyavasini's temple today. Vindhyavasini sometimes retained her independence and was not subsumed to Uma. and the pastoral deity Krishna." Just as the Vindhya mountain range is a large one. Moreover a third alternativeVindhyavasini's diverse mythological associations made her a highly effective means of absorbing others. Unlike Uma. and parts of her body fell to the earth. virgin Great Goddess. But as another myth reveals. These same works mention peripheral groups who routinely offered this mountain goddess liquor and sacrifices of animals and humans. thereby suggesting her origins among tribal peoples. Those who preferred Visnu or an independent goddess. Indra. by the sixth century C. Siva. Her mythology not only linked her to a wide region but connected her to other goddesses. refer to Vindhyavasini's mythology. A Pilgrimage to the Vindhyachal Temple What is it like to be a pilgrim in Vindhyavasini's temple? Imagine you have come on one of the days special to the goddess. bumpy buses that inch along the roadways at a punishing forty kilometers per hour. all describe Mahadevi as either "dwelling in the Vindhyas" or as the goddess who becomes incarnate to aid Visnu. Uma became enraged by the insult to her husband. for example. Thus. the world's primeval power. as most pilgrims do. spawning a host of regional goddesses. so Vindhyavasini claims to absorb Uma. Well-known mythological threads from various Sanskrit texts were woven into her worship.

and during the semiannual nine-day Navaratra festivals sacred to the Goddess. you soon enter a maze of narrow village lanes. fruits. and surrounded by ritual paraphernalia (a brass or silver pot of purifying Ganges water. advice. others peddle metal utensils. . and bundled up the offering. and more. Since there are numerous images in the Vindhyachal temple complex. and in the mid1980s temple priests sponsored the inscription on its high marble walls of the sixth-century Sanskrit Devi Mahatmya. Merchants raucously call out to you to buy sweets. at a l0 per cent loss. vegetables. not spiritual. cloth. where a crude. you will soon learn that pandas are quite different from panditas. from two to six hours or even longer. flowers. conch shells. Whereas pandits rarely demean themselves by pursuing customers. wearing cotton dhotis dyed an auspicious yellow. milk products. "learned.brilliantly colored crowds along the road. bargained for. and little red squares of cloth to offer to the goddess and thereby to ensure her favor. black stone image of the goddess is housed in a tiny and otherwise unremarkable plain stone edifice." Seated patiently on their mats of holy kusa grass. coconuts. Guides offer ritual. incense. what is best to offer at each site. for heavy pocketfuls of coins. or "triangle pilgrimage." the Vindhyaksetra (see figure 6). Affluent-looking pilgrims unaccompanied by a family priest are usually approached several times on the temple grounds and sometimes even at the bus stop or along the paths by Brahmin pilgrim guides of Vindhyachal known as pandas (also a variant of the word pandita ). It is considered preferable for pilgrims to leave some gift at the feet of every idol they worship. looking forward. sweets. By the time you actually reach the steps of the temple. beauty items. This open-air pavilion was constructed by the king of Vijayanagara in the last century. and performing marriage ceremonies and other rituals for interested pilgrims. and stacks of books). Your guide will earn his keep not only by leading the way and providing a running commentary on the "glory" of each site visited but also by shielding you from overly aggressive beggars and the tireless appeals of temple priests. the "Seven Hundred [Mantras] of Durga. Slipping your shoes off near the stairs of the templeor for a small fee wisely giving them over to a shopkeeper's protection you merge into the great ill-shapen "line" and walk barefoot into a large hall adjacent to the goddess's main shrine (see figure 5). or "Glorification of the Goddess. the goods varying according to the shopkeeper's caste. chanting efficacious mantras in Sanskrit (the "perfect language" of the gods). you gaze at the text. These religious specialists are called pandits. Once you have chosen. incense. who to see. These small stores are usually the outermost rooms of Vindhyachal homes: nearly all citizens wealthy enough to own a dwelling in the vicinity of the temple participate in the commercial opportunities afforded them by the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who wend their way past their homes every year along Vindhyachal's sinuous paths. childrens' toys. Looking up. sweets." that links this temple with two other goddess sites in the wider "sacred field of the Vindhyas. flowers. you see a dozen men sitting cross-legged facing the temple and reciting the text in a low drone." already familiar to readers of this book. Shops in Brahmin homes may sell ritual accouterments. these pandits spend their days reciting religious texts such as the Devi Mahatmya. A myriad of shops line three sides of the temple for many city blocks. now surrounded by a multitude of shrines appended over the years. pilgrims are advised by the "money vendors" strategically located adjacent to the temple to prepare for this duty by trading their paper money. explaining where to go. "and the pavilion is now named Saptasati Bhavanam (''Saptasati's Abode"). from the Sanskrit pandita. you arrive at the top of a crest. and how to offer it. They may even accompany customers throughout their trips. The text is best known locally as the Durga Saptasati. guides often aggressively try to convince pilgrims that without their professional help in performing religious worship the trip to Vindhyachal will be less fruitful. especially if the pilgrim wishes to perform the popular trikona yatra. ii Despite the similarity in their titles. dry goods. you have learned from your neighbors that you will probably have to wait for some time to earn Vindhyavasini's darsan often thirty minutes or more.

Some of the bolder guides vigorously berate customers even while inside the temple if they do not provide sufficient remuneration for their services. Foreigners may feel this especially. As for the pandits. these guides expect some economic reward.In return for their assistance. but many Indian Hindus do as well. food. But you needn't be too intimidated: as in most commercial transactions in India. or all three. cash. guides expect their patrons to bargain. they generally prefer to work with guides who first convince their clients to request specialized ritual services and then refer them to "their" pandit (who will split the reward with the guide according to a predetermined percentage). whether it be clothing. Some of the most memorable events you experience at Vindhyachal may well be connected with the unpleasantness of the goddess's worship in its manifestation as a business. .

but tasty. bored drummers beat single-handedly without any noticeable rhythm. holding one palm outstretched. you are continually interrupted by demands for money. palm open. and. Equally brazen are the hordes of young local girls who perch like rows of crows atop temple walls and flap fans to cool those waiting in the humid heat to see the goddess. you flip down one of the small coins you have purchased and pass by unharmed. why not? . with fingers still sticky and flaked with blood. sacrifices of goats and chickens to the goddess in her manifestation as the bloodthirsty Kali. they will walk up to you in line and smile pleasantly. ever on the lookout for parents with young children in need of a ritual haircut (mundan). with a touch of the writhing cobra some wear as a necklace in emulation of Siva. holding their menacing swords at their sides. if you're game. Having positioned themselves on the marble floors in places where they deliberately obstruct traffic. Barbers to your left sit amidst mounds of black hair. you hand over a few paise and try to enjoy the rush of air they propel over your head. attentively scanning the crowds. These muscled men lean against the entrance. beckoning devotees to come forward and offer costly. For just ten paise. Realizing again that often they "accidentally" hit pilgrims on the head with their fans (giggling knowingly to one another) if no coin is surrendered. resting on their heels with legs folded like accordions. you can see several animal sacrificers in a bloody ritual arena ornamented by a waist-high statue of a lion. as you follow the line away from the pandits and their recitations. These dusty. nearnaked men offer to bless you with Siva's sacred ash or.Indeed. Now you are quite near: looking down into a small pit immediately adjacent to Vindhyavasini's shrine. Usually one or two mendicants attend the many small shrines of Siva in the temple environs. Noting that the drummers sometimes get attention by actually striking pilgrims with their sticks or holding onto their clothing.

Adorned with a large silver nose-ring and encircled by dozens of flower wreaths. birdlike face of the goddess. The priest cracks your coconut on the stone at her feet and tosses your money into a corner. you will actually be able to take a moment to look at the black. you seek to gaze into her wide silver eyes so that she may gaze back into yours: this is darsan iii But soon. you crane your neck past your neighbor to gain your first sidelong glimpse of the Goddess. and candies are proffered at her feet for an instant. you finally reach the doors of the small shrine.After being jostled for what seems like ages. Then. who wears a red sari. you touch the litter-strewn but hallowed floor and raise your now-sanctified fingertips to your forehead. Bending through the low doorway. Pressed forward by the crowd. standing wedged between other squirming devotees. and without warning. After the cloth. listening to and sometimes joining in the popular folk songs that well up spontaneously like waves from the surging crowds. you extend your hands through the bars and give one of the priests tending the goddess your bundle of overpriced goods together with some cash. you receive most of the items back if. you reach up to the lintel and touch the feet of the Lord of Obstacles guarding her doors the elephant-headed Ganesa signaling that at last your goal is nearly attained. Your head is forced down and you are . Excitedly. you are grabbed by a strong bare-chested priest working like a barroom bouncer to control the crowds. she stands upon a small black lion. the priests working that day are conscientious or you are accompanied by a protective guide. that is. Most important. flowers. She stands in a brass enclosure that protects her from the milling throng. If you are lucky.

you may wish to perform the triangle yatra and visit the two other sites where the goddess is believed to be established in other forms: Kalikhoh ("Kali's cave") and Astabhuja. humid recesses of the suffocating temple. reverberating brass bells. Visiting these three the "short" or "easy" (laghu) triangle yatra is said by some to satisfy the same requirements as completing the longer journey. and your body by the thousands of flies. your hearing by the shameless begging. where in bewilderment you stand up shaking and rack your brain trying to process such intense sensory input did the goddess see me? Indeed. your nose by the heady odor of cheap incense. and the many background layers of voices trilling like a wild raga accompanied by the drone of ritual mantras. They gawk open-mouthed and wideeyed. flowers. small temples immediately adjacent to the Vindhyavasini shrine. and your neighbor's sweat. and eventually. which are also arranged in a triangular format. the "eight-armed" goddess (see figure 7). thick storm-clouds of ghi.hurled through the tiny exit. It was always quite easy for me to determine which pilgrims had never before been to Vindhyachal just by gauging the level of shock and disorientation visible on their faces. and the mixture of sticky rotting coconut milk. . In the early to mid-nineteenth century. the senses can easily become dazed during a temple visit on a busy day. dirt. and Ganges water that tenaciously pastes your bare feet to the floor at each step. the constant pressing of the crowds. Now that you have seen Vindhyavasini. shrieking shehnai reed instruments. the popularity of this yatra led to the establishment of other worship sites to Kali and Sarasvati. particularly after having been ejected like cannon-balls from the dark. pounding drums. But these ancillary temples were clearly established for commercial reasons to attract the pilgrim trade and rigorous devotees believe that only the original pilgrimage offers the full vision of the Great Goddess in her three forms. Your vision is assailed by the sight of such unfamiliar and chaotic activities.

All other goddesses are understood as portions or manifestations of her. however. . particularly by describing her "glory" (mahatmya). Guides claim that pilgrims' visits will be more fruitful as a result of their intervention. similarly. and folk traditions remain significant only for particular cores of rural clientele. Instead. the Goddess's blessings are believed to be open for purchase. the Devi Mahatmya. This is not an evolution from simple to complex. Concomitant with this development. Hindu temples have functioned as economic centers. as are all gods and all the universe. allowing for greater diversity of interpretation. from early times. "who possesses most of the classical characteristics of ultimate reality as understood in the Hindu tradition" and who subsumes all "particular goddesses under her as partial manifestations of her. which is the sthala-mahatmya ("glorification of the sacred site") of Vindhyachal. not on the Vindhya Mahatmya. Quotes from the Devi Mahatmya are included in the pamphlets to confirm the authenticity of the sthala-mahatmya's claims about each site. It describes a single. new interpretations are regarded as more effective. As at many North Indian temples. the qualityless brahman that submits itself to a process of self-qualification." including the "Dweller in the Vindhyas'' (Vindhyacala Nivasini) mentioned briefly in its eleventh chapter. The portions chosen are largely those that confirm the vision of the Goddess found in that pan-Indian paean to the generic Great Goddess. iv At Vindhyachal. the text displayed in the temple's entrance hall. The explanation of ultimate reality found in the early-nineteenth-century Vindhya Mahatmya is quite sophisticated. which is believed to be best expressed in Sanskrit texts. since they are able to gain access to her power more fully than could pilgrims. Bookstalls sell cheap abridged versions that highlight the major sites found today in Vindhyaksetra. pandits have skills in the recitation of mantras that elude the layperson.It seems that at every step on one's visit to the Vindhyachal temple there is someone to pay and something to purchase. The Vindhya Mahatmya thus betrays a preference for a specific philosophy of the Goddess as understood within the Vindhyavasini mythological framework and insists on the supremacy of the Vindhya region as a sacred space where the Goddess is immediately accessible. the right to prosper from ritual acts performed for pilgrims is the hereditary "property" of the guides and the pandits they authorize. By contrast. The theology taught by their ancestors. In a sense. the Devi Mahatmya offers another way to express the identity of all Hindu goddesses. there has thus been a shift away from understanding Vindhyavasini as an immediate. Instead. Here the business of religion is intricately subdivided. Certain texts are held to be more conducive than others to promoting the vision of Vindhyavasini that the guides and other religious officiants wish to evoke. That this religious site has commercial dimensions is not unique. is no longer thought to be as appropriate or marketable as it once was. But guides and pandits must attract pilgrims to the temple in the first place. transcendent primeval power extolled in the Devi Mahatmya. however. She exists in transcendent and proximate form within Vindhyaksetra. transcendent Great Goddess. and whose recitation the guides urge their clients to sponsor. The theology of the goddess that the guides routinely offer their customers today is heavily dependent on the Devi Mahatmya and its sub-texts.the single. These pamphlets do not describe the major events as they are recounted in that text. This they do in a variety of ways. priests promote her identity as the generic Adisakti . Yet all guides make at least passing reference to the Vindhya Mahatmya. which is thus the most powerful and sacred area in all the worlds. selling their product requires them to advertise the special qualities of the goddess and promote her intercession. site-specific form of Mahadevi. The local text posits a unity of all goddesses by affirming Vindhyavasini as the ultimate power. generically conceived and independent of a particular region. with pilgrims milked for every possible paisa throughout. which previously brought pilgrims to the complex. whereas the Devi Mahatmya is in fact more vague in its philosophy.

. the primacy of the Vindhya region. It explains procedures that bestow on them supernatural powers (siddhi) and tells how to construct a yantra. she is Vindhyaksetra. is yet especially focused within this sacred land. To some degree it is a historical description idealized. Yet these potential limitations have not impeded the conviction that the Devi Mahatmya gives a more "accurate" vision of the Goddess and her abode than does the Vindhya Mahatmya. Fourth. Finally. Ultimately. In addition. "misunderstood"although these used to be readily accepted as appropriate to Vindhyavasini's cult when she was still understood in a mythological and sectarian fashion. sadly. The text intersects with the context of the temple and its cult in a number of ways. both to legitimate the site as a glorious place and to add another service . those who practice a spiritual discipline (sadhana) that they believe can empower them to attain any material or spiritual desire. and rituals that are now viewed as inappropriately "regional" or "heretical. this text serves as a sourcebook for the Brahmins who work at Vindhyachal in that it legitimates and aggrandizes worship at various sites and festivals for which they should be hired. In part. Thereby the Tantric may experience directly the Goddess who. mythologies. Sthala-mahatmyas are often chanted aloud to please the resident deity. like many other sthala-mahatmyas. Thus sthala-mahatmyas may "spring up" at potentially lucrative sites. a few of its most popular tales are still related to curious pilgrim clients." or. usually of geometric interlocking triangles and circles" that in some way represents the cosmos. The Devi Mahatmya offers a very different theological vision of Vindhyavasini :it sees her as one among various incarnations of a generically conceived Great Goddess. the Vindhya Mahatmya includes specific instructions for Tantrics. a diagram.many religious officiants now insist on a theology that forbids or radically deemphasizes incarnations. almost none of the sites that occupy the attention of the Vindhya Mahatmya are mentioned. and the Tantric may in this way become her. the text functions as a historical document. and Brahmins are paid for this service. recited by pandits. Second. A yantra is a "'device' for harnessing the mind in meditation or worship . Why? Why do Vindhyavasini's caretakers prefer the Devi Mahatmya over the Vindhya Mahatmya. First. the Vindhya Mahatmya details the glory of Vindhyavasini and her sacred domain of Vindhyaksetra. and quoted by guides. its elaborate description of the area stresses its distinctiveness and highlights the local concentration of the Goddess's transcendent activity. The text provides a means to envision the sacred sphere underlying the phenomenal realm and speaks of the other avatars the Goddess assumes in response to the appeals of distraught devotees.their potential customers. as a source of theology the Vindhya Mahatmya explains the nature of Vindhyavasini and her relations to the myriad deities who have come to dwell near her. immanent in all. for devotees. and what impact does this preference have on conceptions of Vindhyavasini and her cult? Hindu deities are believed to enjoy listening to generous praise: reciting the "glory" of a god or goddess is one way to get divine attention and favor. Nor does there appear to be much connection between that text and the land of Vindhyaksetra. they hope to increase the number of her potential adherents .. Competing Glorifications of Vindhyavasini In approximately two thousand verses. and indeed the pan-Indian text seems to deny. I believe that financial considerations are a major reason why most of the Vindhya Mahatmya is ignored. to be sureof the area and its goddess as they would have appeared during the early 1800s. whereas the Devi Mahatmya is inscribed in temple walls. this shift reflects the concern of the guides and pandits to universalize her appeal: by downplaying her specificities and appropriating a more universalistic glorification that also allows for a variety of interpretations. Third. or at the very least ignore. v The yantra is created either by physical movement through Vindhyaksetra or by embedding the sites it contains within oneself.

The Vindhya Mahatmya explains that the Goddess bestows both liberation (moksa) and material enjoyment (bhoga). The detailed theology of Vindhyavasini contained in the text is not utilized. many of the sites are no longer maintained. while others saw the establishment of sacred bathing spots in their own honor within Vindhyaksetra. beyond attributes. Indeed. an eternal dualism of matter and spirit. This unified prakrti then separates into the three constitutive qualities of the universe called gunas. the worship of the three goddesses. Guides explain that the Devi Mahatmya is the best text available anywhere in India for the practice of devotion to the Goddess and that people should glorify the Great Goddess enshrined at Vindhyachal with that preeminent text rather than one preoccupied with specific local incarnations. the single Great Goddess is brahman. Brahman "gives rise" to "undistinguished" or "unseparated" material nature (prakrti). tamas . guides continue. The Goddess is known simultaneously as Narayani. literally "strands" . which styles itself the core or "short'' (laghu) Vindhya Mahatmya and tells about the triadic yantra of temples. although all preserve the pilgrimage to the triad of goddess temples. without whose sakti no creation is possible. pilgrims are encouraged to witness each site in person through the divine lens provided by the text." And many guides appear to know the text well. adore Vindhyavasini as the supreme. The text's elaborate description of literally hundreds of sites stresses Vindhyachal's distinctiveness and highlights the "localness" and immediacy of Vindhyavasini's divine activity. In this restricted sense. To some degree. It is only as she exists in manifest forms of prakrti that people see her as Siva. it seems the area is studded at every step with sites of worship holy to all manner of gods. at least on a phenomenal level. But this pilgrimage has changed. Field research has confirmed that among the philosophically inclined. the Greatest. she is One. the Vindhya Mahatmya still acts as a pilgrimage priest's "primer. The glorification facilitates visualization of sacred Vindhyaksetra. The Goddess's self-transformation into the phenomenal world in fact follows the satkaryavada philosophy that effects preexist in their cause.sattva. to tell the "glorification" (mahatmya) of Vindhyachal to their pilgrim clients. and how some were able to vanquish various demons through her power. At Vindhyachal. Thus. This view of ultimate reality specifically rejects a bipolar Sakta theology of sakti and purusa. including Visnu and Siva. the most common interpretation of Vindhyavasini offered by devotees was this monistic satkaryavada view affirming that the world is the actual transformation of its underlying substratum. even by the gods. it is deliberately kept obscure. Change at Vindhyachal thus attests first to the success of efforts to unify regional . thus the world is not mere appearance (vivarta). and none can see her. The world is an effect that is an actual transformation (parinama) of the underlying substratum. devoid of qualifies. and the vernacular precis of the Vindhya Mahatmya omit most of the sites that occupied the greatest attention in the text. the text further explains at length how all deities. as brahman. To perform a pilgrimage there is to participate in Vindhyavasini's sacred abode. the philosophy of the Goddess found in the Vindhya Mahatmya is continuous to this day.occupation to the pilgrimage economy. The "short" Vindhya Mahatmya which begins in chapter 26. albeit perfunctorily and selectively. for reasons I will explain. and yogis. But the abridged vernacular pamphlets rarely encode more than the most basic features found in chapters 26 through 31. Today. rajas. however. In this sense. In dozens of chapters. over time. accordingly explains how the goddess manifests herself within the land and in specific incarnations to protect the world and her devotees.and the interaction of the gunas constantly causes creation. the absolute. not only is the Vindhya Mahatmya not recited in its entirety but. and the Eternal. goddesses. and the defeat of Sumbha and Nisumbha. Ultimate reality is revealed as One. for instance any female aspect of Siva or as Sarasvati. but it does affirm sakti as the power underlying and constituting ultimate reality itself.

which is conceived as existing in a center point (bindu). or activity. although the sthala-mahatmya could serve as a visualization tool for devotees. Mahakali by tamas. Third. or goodness. Each Great Goddess then incarnates herself into other manifestations. They do so because they believe the ultimate reality. Vindhya Mahatmya 27. The earliest historical reference to this pilgrimage appears in a journal entry written by the pilgrim Enugula Veeraswamy in 1830. because it remains unpublished in its entirety it does not serve this function today for any significant numbers of devotees outside of the Vindhyachal region itself. because they believe to gain a complete vision of the Goddess.vii However. At Vindhyachal the Great Goddess Mahalaksmi the unmanifest central point (bindu)manifests herself in increasingly material forms. conceived as brahman and power. and Mahalaksmi is Vindhyavasini. At each corner. Vindhyavasini has transformed herself into three mahadevis ("Great Goddesses") who are distinguished by the primacy of one of the gunas :Mahasarasvati by the quality of sattva. or darkness.goddesses as incarnations of a single trans-geographical Great Goddess. if pilgrims can visit only one of the three temples. where Vindhyavasini dwells. they visit the Vindhyachal temple. vi Nearly one-third of today's pilgrims perform it. first in a state of three-guna potentiality.Mahalaksmi exists within Vindhyaksetra in the form of a yantra. next in transcendent yet unembodied forms. The Unmanifest Vindhyavasini in the Point (bindu) Parabrahman/Adisakti/Mahalaksmi Transformation into Undifferentiated Prakrti Three-guna Vindhyavasini Transcendent Forms of Vindhyavasini Mahakali (tamas) Mahalaksmi (rajas) Mahasarasvati (sattva) Manifest Forms of Each of the Three Transcendent Mahadevis Mahakali As Kalikhoh Devi Mahalaksmi As Vindhyavasini Devi Mahasarasvati As Astabhuja Devi The triangle yatra is a tour of the triad of temples housing the three manifest forms of the goddess. The following diagram outlines the transformations. and finally in manifest form as Vindhyavasini. the base of which is a triangle superimposed over brahman. viii . exists most intensely at this shrine. Mahakali as Kalikhoh Devi resides at "Kali's cave''. and Mahalaksmi by rajas. one must see her in all three aspects. Mahasarasvati becomes Astabhuja Devi. and second to the prominent rise of the Devi Mahatmya as the bhakti text par excellence for those who worship her.3 introduces another name for ultimate reality conceived as brahman and power: Mahalaksmi ("Great Laksmi "). whose earthly name is interpreted by some (in a play on words) to reflect her ultimate nature as the "Dweller in the Point": Binduvasini.

The guardians of the directions are in turn assisted by twenty-four protective saktis.The play on words between Vindhyavasini as a manifest goddess to be adored and Binduvasini as the unmanifest Goddess to be contemplated is paralleled by a pun pointing to the conception of Vindhyaksetra as both a pilgrimage field to be seen and a Tantric mechanism to be exploited. Finally. The Tantric adept can ritually construct the triangle yantra through the proper use of visualization. explain the Tantric activities that must be performed at each of the three goddess shrines if the adept intends to construct this huge yantra and properly worship the goddess of the Vindhyas. Sixteen devis surround the mothers in a second set of petals. prayers. Yoginis stand outside on all sides. the text must provide not just a glimpse of the divine play at Vindhyaksetra. movement. These two triangles are then surrounded by three groupings of lotus petals. and Mahakali in the south. and doing so can yield mundane benefits. none of whom are popularly known today. spiritual and magical powers (siddhi). Mahasarasvati in the west. at the four city gates that complete the yantra. who are paired with eight Bhairavas. Siddhinatha at the west. The bindu is enclosed by a triangle pointing downward. The first set of petals contains eight mothers. and invocations to the goddesses dwelling within the Vindhyachal yantra. At the corners. the text requires thirty-six chapters to describe adequately the "glory" of the sacred area. This method emphasizes correct ritual preparation. and mantra. each separated by circles. and/or enlightenment (moksa). In contrast. and Ruru at the north. Chapter 27 elaborates the yantra of Mahalaksmi. At the corners. Three chapters. Two interlocking triangles enclose the inner triangle. and Vikaratana stand guard. For the devotee. including cleansing rituals. Ganesa. comprising half of the "short" Vindhya Mahatmya. Kumara. Puspadanta. At the center the Great Goddess Vindhyavasini dwells in the form of a point (bindu) as the unmanifest absolute (see figure 8). while four deifies bestow siddhi and success on practitioners: Ananda Bhairava at the east gate. and these goddesses are protected by eight guardians of the directions who stand amidst the eight pairs. Kapala Bhairava at the south. six saktis are established. but a sustained vision of celestial glory on earth. . "root" mantras. Mahalaksmi dwells in the east. To establish the yahira is to place the macrocosm within oneself. In ethnographic interviews pilgrims often mentioned that the triangle yatra is actually a powerful triangle yantra.

adepts can construct the Vindhyachal yantra for themselves. or they drew on an appendix to the text called the "Secret Pertaining to Primordial Matters" (PradhanikaRahasya). assumed another form as Mahakali by means of pure tamas. the Vindhya Mahatmya itself was not once quoted to me. The Tantric application of the text remains constant to this day. who eventually helped to create the . In this Tantric vision. Through intense religious devotion and practice with a guru who relied on the Vindhya Mahatmya. that formed by Mahalaksmi. He performs both the pilgrimage and the diagram internally by the practice of nyasa. her actual transformation into the world. In all likelihood. phenomenal sense. Krishna Mohan Mishra. without any physical movement. and Mahakali. then a second sattva form as Mahasarasvati. hundreds of deities are believed to be embedded in and between the petals.on a very superficial level for the many pilgrims who travel between the three major shrines. By traveling to these places in particular patterns while performing the requisite rites and chanting the proper mantras. The Vindhya Mahatmya itself repeatedly states that its wisdom is the most secret of Tantras and should be taught only to the initiated. he has learned where each of the deities of the yantra is located in Vindhyaksetra on the exoteric level. triangles. and thereby conjure up its power. then . All three forms of mahadevis produced sets of male-female twins at Mahalaksmi's request. however. explains that. But Tantrics like Mishra also know how to "do" the triangle yatra and yantra on an inner level. The sight (darsan) of them reveals the unfolding of the magnificent deity into phenomenal reality.protecting the sanctity of the entire yantra. In answer to questions about the triangle yatra. they often referred to the vernacular pamphlet descriptions based on the Sanskrit text. and circles. it was invariably the pan-Indian Devi Mahatmya. but they added no further data from the sthalamahatmya on the three primary sites or on Tantric activities. constituted of the three gunas. most modern-day Vindhyachal devotees seek only to trace the innermost triangle. Tantrics believe that the esoteric knowledge preserved in the text is privileged information. Specifically. since yantras are abodes constructed by and for the Goddess to inhabit. Thus. many of the deities embedded in the petals and points never had shrines that existed in the conventional. If they did refer to any Sanskrit text concerning the three primary sites. they recited the two verses that mention the Great Goddess's intent to take birth again to destroy Sumbha and Nisumbha and then dwell in Vindhyachal. Its typology is similar to that found in the Vindhya Mahatmya and may well have influenced its theology. Their comments were always made in the context of portraying the pilgrimage as yantra. The Pradhanika Rahasya describes the Great Goddess as ultimately one but as evolving into two other great goddesses. a priest who decorates the image of Vindhyavasini Devi and is renowned for his spiritual powers. and thus the ritual reconstruction of the yantra is possible today. thus physically demonstrating the precise theology of the Vindhya Mahatmya. and since the Goddess is believed to dwell forever within the yantra. When I asked hundreds of pilgrims and non-Vindhyachal pandits questions about Vindhyavasini's mythology. the most "sacred space" of Vindhyachal should be restricted to the properly initiated. the embedding of the deities within his own body. using the requisite mantras and visualizations that are described in detail in the Vindhya Mahatmya. but on a profound level for the select few. Although the Vindhya Mahatmya describes this yantra in amazing detail. all of the pilgrimage sites of the triangle yatra are themselves the Goddess. the triangle yatra and triangle yantra are both external and internal. The triangle yantra is within but beyond the physical place. Mahalaksmi. ordinary vision. Mahasarasvati. But according to Tantric adherents they truly exist there. it constitutes a subtle sacred realm far more "real" than what we can see with our limited.

beginning thus: When the twenty-eighth era in the Vaivasvat Manu interval has come. is described as both formless and possessed of form. also [named] Sumbha and Nisumbha. she offers them a boon. I will slay these two.10. "That is odd. In response. born in the house of the cowherd Nanda. Mahalaksmi. The earliest battle. dwelling on the Vindhya mountain. Furthermore. in ultimate form she is extolled in terms resonant within Advaita tradition: brahman. Finally. Then." "I am not sure. The Vindhya Mahatmya thus differs from the Devi Mahatmya and its appendix in four major ways. the location of the battle is said to be the Himalaya mountains. The eleventh chapter opens with the gods singing a lengthy hymn of praise to the victorious Goddess. Pleased. the Vindhya Mahatmya describes Krishna's birth and his connection with Vindhyavasini in some detail. as well as explaining variations as to how and where they are killed. Two more great demons. whereupon they ask for the pacification of all miseries and the destruction of their enemies. Vindhyavasini/Mahalaksmi in manifest form as Vindhyavasini is composed primarily of rajas. after which the Goddess's future destruction of the twin demons is predicted (chapter 26). I never noticed that before. she graciously promises to incarnate herself in the future whenever demons arise.34-35) and sometimes as a future event (11. In other portions of the appendix's twenty-nine verses. bindu.37-38). nearly all looked at their books as if for the first time and made faltering comments such as. as well as detailing certain practices concerning the text's recitation. born of Nandaand that the location of their battle will be the Vindhya mountains. appearing from the womb of Yasoda. during which numerous events are repeated. The Devi Mahatmya devotes six of its thirteen chapters (5-10) to the story of Sumbha and Nisumbha's defeat. (11 . First. The two mahatmyas also treat the Sumbha and Nisumbha myth quite differently. When I asked eighty reciters of the Sanskrit text about the identity of these "other" two demons. Second. Several reciters said that there are many eras. 12. such as the killing of Sumbha and Nisumbha. In a near reversal of the Devi Mahatmya. will be born. ix Third.37-38) In this slaying of a second demonic pair named Sumbha and Nisumbha. taking place in the Himalayas.universe. and so on. is later dispensed . although the Devi Mahatmya's angas do explain how to envision various goddesses. This interpretation allows for the defeat of the twin demons independent of a Krishnaite context." or "It must be an elaboration of the third episode" (namely. it specifically enjoins that Tantric and Smarta methods be employed to conjure and honor her as the power within and beyond all. the mother of the world. Many expressed confusion and dismay that their text was so vague on important points. or how the three goddesses at Vindhyachal relate to each other and which came first to the mountains. the Vindhya Mahatmya is far more explicit about the worship of the Goddess. especially the Goddess's rebirth during the Vaivasvat age to destroy the two demons. the Vindhya Mahatmya depicts Vindhyavasini not as one among many expressions of the Great Goddess but as the most transcendent form of Mahalaksmi. but without once mentioning Vindhyavasini or Krishna. Moreover. The Devi Mahatmya describes the defeat of Sumbha and Nisumbha sometimes as a fait accompli (5. the destruction of Sumbha and Nisumbha). unlike the Devi Mahatmya. so "other'' Sumbha and Nisumbha pairs have been (and will continue to be) killed. it is made explicit that the goddess who will defeat them will be the substitute sister of KrishnaVindhyavasini.

x The Vindhya Mahatmya follows a similar approach to the regional myth even as it retains some of the Devi Mahatmya's temporal ambiguities. transcendent Great Goddess of all India. in his 1830 journal Enugula Veeraswamy recorded the same myths from the "short" Vindhya Mahatmya that are told today. Mahamaya became manifest in the Himalaya mountains. the Vindhya Mahatmya takes great pains to deemphasize the "earlier" defeat in the Himalayas. Its primary claim is that the destroyer of the twins is the goddess of a specific placethe Vindhyasand is ever rooted there. then she appears in the Himalayas and kills the twins. her Brahmin caretakers lay greater stress on nonmythological elements and the nonsectarian worship of a single." universalist arena. rather than the proximate. myths of the major sites. However. xi . The "short" Vindhya Mahatmya details the triangle yatra. evidence shows that. and the rest of that chapter describes at length the second battle in the Vindhyas. texts predating the Devi Mahatmya set the myth within the Vindhyas. much of the text was explained to pilgrims. Today. which betrays a distinct preference for the Vindhyavasini tradition. Maya. In their claim to universalization. slew the twin demons. rather than the local text. It is unclear whether the Vindhya Mahatmya was ever popularly recited in its entirety. appearing almost as an afterthought. Further. "Yogamaya" also called "Ashtabhuji" is said to reside on the mountain 4 miles from here. Its brief mention of the next birth of the goddess in Nanda's home vitiates regional claims to Vindhyavasini's supremacy and immediacy by demoting her to the status of a secondary manifestation of the Goddess. and by severing the connection with Krishna Gopala by the intervention of five chapters elevates the independent local tradition instead. at least in the form of oral lore. geographically embedded Goddess dwelling in the Vindhyas." he visited only the Vindhyavasini shrine. They are Maya Bhoga. known well and controlled by "orthodox" Hindu deities. Selected segments from this section of the text are almost always told to pilgrims today. but his guide told him about all three major sites: Three Shaktis are said to be manifest here. Thirty-seven verses then recount the Goddess's second destruction of the two within Vindhyaksetra. and then predicted that the demons would take birth again during the twenty-eighth interval of the Kali age. Further. All the sacrifices are made before Kali. Purascharanas are performed before Yogamaya whereas Rajopachara is made for the worship of Bhogamaya. and the goddess who destroyed the demons was the regional but great goddess Vindhyavasini. Kali is said to reside on one side nearby here. The Vindhya Mahatmya's description seems to suggest three incarnations of the Goddess: she is first born of Nanda and helps Krishna. During Veeraswamy's stay in "Vindhya Vasini Kshetram. finally. guides and pandits emphasize the universalist nature of the Goddess instead. and they form the lion's share of the material for the brief pamphlets sold as the essence of the Vindhya Mahatmya. Bhogamaya is said to reside near the town and receive the raja naivedyams. In contrast. The task of connecting Krishna's birth with the defeat of Sumbha and Nisumbha is accomplished haphazardly in the Vindhya Mahatmya. she is born of Nanda again now to destroy the demons. but in the Vindhyas. She advised the gods to come to Vindhyaksetra when the two threatened again.with in just a few verses (31. In the first battle. and Kali. Scholars have concluded that the Sumbha-Nisumbha myth is a fragment of Great Goddess mythology that was current among North Indian peoples who only later came to know of the heroism of Krishna Gopala. and specific ways to worship the three goddesses. The Devi Mahatmya removed the battle site to the Himalayan mountain range. a more "civilized. since that is where she would have gone after taking birth in Nanda's home. This seems to reflect a redefinition of how the Goddess is viewed at Vindhyachal.4-6).

wife of Siva in the form of Durga.10 extols her as Mahesvari. Kalikhoh Devi was formed next by Yogamaya and slew various demons. they are directly linked to male deities. is wedded to Lord "Sambamurti" (Siva) and quite literally pacified or "tamed" by marriage to him. it is no longer taught. She therefore took shape as Mahakali and reduced the burden of Earth. however. homage. The celestials then prayed to her to destroy the rakshasas (demons) who had escaped destruction by Lord Krishna. xii This passage assumes that Astabhuja Devi appeared first." which extoled the merits of Rama Gaya. "Is Vindhyavasini married? If so. whereas the third manifestation. only goddesses born from her lowliest transformations are married. claiming for herself the roles of the male Hindu trinity Brahma. I asked 115 pilgrims and priests. and Vindhyavasini receives sumptuous "royal" offerings (rajopacara). On the planes of transformation. queen of the godshomage. The text also asserted its own prominence by noting its mention in various Puranas. although to varying degrees.10 and in the Tantric sections on the triangle yantra. a local river site where one makes offerings to ancestors. bestower of desires." Here she is clearly married to Siva. that Vindhyavasini is wed to Siva. On the other hand. a man "from the Ganges" described to Veeraswamy the "Vindhya Vasini Mahatmyam. who creates. For instance.Thus. too. in the prayers to the mahadevis beginning at 27. As for Kalikhoh Devi and Astabhuja Devi. and all of the three mahadevis manifest at Vindhyachal are portrayed as unmarried throughout most of the Vindhya Mahatmya. while verse 30. clearly superior to the male gods who are merely her devotees and remain dependent on her invigorating power (sakti) to perform even the simplest task. the consort relationship to male deifies is de-emphasized. she therefore became a Bhogashakti giving up her "Ugraswarupa" or fierce manifestation. the unmanifest Great Goddess is depicted as transcendent and unmarried. it is she who escaped from Kamsa. Yet what Veeraswamy heard from the "man from the Ganges" is indeed found in the Vindhya Mahatmya. O Mahalaksmi. Veeraswamy's account is clearly supported in the Vindhya Mahatmya. on any level. With regard to the specific incarnation of Vindhyavasini/Mahalaksmi. prefers animal sacrifices. they unanimously denied the veracity of all these elements: Vindhyavasini is the primordial manifestation and is unwed. Vindhyavasini. they insisted. sustains. Astabhuja. All the above cohere with the text of the Vindhya Mahatmya itself and with the manner in which Vindhyavasini is understood today. He wrote: Yogamaya born of Yasoda escaped from Kamsa and is said to reside on this mountain. to whom?" These were the results: . and destroys the world as Sarasvati. and Siva. Thereafter she desired to join her Lord Sambamurti. And yet such visions of the Goddess and her manifestations are not promoted today. On the one hand. When I asked guides about this entry.16 lauds her thus: "O Mahamaya. In addition. as well as confirming that "Vindhya Vasini Ksetram" grants release to pilgrims. verse 27. or even generally understood. reflecting rajas. But Veeraswamy also related stories that conflict with modern interpretations. Astabhuja Devi is Vac ("Speech"). Thus. enjoys the pure recitation of mantras (purascarana). Visnu. Yogamaya and Mahakali are unmarried. dominated by tamas. as early as 1830 each goddess received different offerings in accord with her essential nature as determined by gunas: Kali. Kalikhoh Devi is called Bhairavi and Siva (the feminine forms of Bhairava and Siva) but is seated either on Garuda (normally Visnu's vehicle) or on the elephant Airavata (normally Indra's vehicle). they remain unmarried but are affiliated with male deifies through their epithets and qualities. dominated by sattva. she who is dear to Hara.

" "sanitizing" guides. it was not until November 1989. none let me have even a glimpse. What. has become radically simplified by efforts to universalize the Goddess." but this would seem to be a roundabout way of vindicating Vindhyavasini." Other authors take pains to discredit any rumors to the effect that Vindhyavasini was not the first or preeminent deity to govern the area. Now that I have read it. The Triumph of the Devi Mahatmya Despite the fact that many guides whom I knew quite well could gain easy access to copies of the Vindhya Mahatmya. but do not know to whom Married to Visnu Married to Siva Sakta dualist interpretation As the ultimate she is unmarried. Today. but when manifest she is Mahalaksmi and is married to Visnu As the ultimate she is unmarried. which was preserved in local traditions glorifying her. and although I had heard of this work from the very first day I visited Vindhyachal in August 1987. Mahalaksmi is accorded supremacy and therefore must be "first. Historical accounts mention many lingas. phenomenal sites and activities. that I was able to procure a photocopy of a manuscript. Guides kept telling me that "soon" they would show it to me. but our cordial relations notwithstanding. then. does the history of the Vindhya Mahatmya tell us about the nature of religious activities at Vindhyachal today? Most obvious is the fact that an increasing disparity exists between the "text" of the Vindhya Mahatmya and the "text" of the Vindhyaksetra. This suggests that the nineteenthcentury text's "sacred map" used to correspond much more closely than it now does to Vindhyachal's actual. but when manifest she is Mahalaksmi and is married to Siva 41 59 7 2 1 1 2 2 Thus. this map survives merely as an ideal construction. There.Do not know She is ever virgin Married. although all say the triangle yatra is a "powerful yantra. and temples described in the text but that have since disappeared. the Vindhya Mahatmya is an inconvenient reminder of an overly developed regionalist theology. What are these guides afraid of? Why has there been such a concerted effort on the part of her Brahmin caretakers to distance the goddess Vindhyavasini from the highly developed theology that the Vindhya Mahatmya offers? Pamphlets written by guides that are intended to popularize the worship of Vindhyavasini and prove her orthodoxy specifically omitand some even outright discredit or refute"Tantric" interpretations of Vindhyavasini. and for those favorably inclined toward Tantra. I realize there are many reasons why it was in their best interests to keep it obscure. There . uprooting her from a proximate. immediate. tanks. we see that a once complex understanding of the goddess and her relations to deities of the Hindu pantheon. after appealing to a renowned religious figure of Banaras (who had no connection with the Vindhyachal temple). To "Sanskritizing. and localized immanence and supplying her with a more lofty and dislocated transcendence. the text contains information best kept hidden from the uninitiated. This they do not by quoting the Vindhya Mahatmya the obvious text but by resorting to the PradhanikaRahasya of the Devi Mahatmya.

The demon Taraka. The sole link to religion consisted in their efforts to win the blessings of Vindhyavasini. After the British successfully stigmatized these groups by attributing to them unorthodox activities. Kalikhoh was the central temple of the so-called Thugs ("deceivers") who supposedly for centuries murdered naive travelers and subsequently dedicated a portion of their loot to Kali at Vindhyachal. established a linga and tank called Tarakesvara Kund. Opting for practices and beliefs that reflected the "improved" standards was not. Many devotees retain the conviction that Vindhyachal is indeed home to the Great Goddess. Now on the defensive. animal sacrifice. The etymology popular today links the village to the demoness Taraka.has been a gradual disintegration of the vivid sacred reality that was once considered to be the direct transformation of the goddess herself into phenomenal Vindhyaksetra. the 'Thugs" were neither a bizarre religious cult nor any kind of homogeneous group. rather than to Taraka. Gordon has convincingly shown. Because the rights to work at the sites are divided on a daily rather than a site-specific or perennial basis. Tantric practices. is an interesting case in point. the long vowel having shifted to the third syllable. no single family feels responsible for temple upkeep. Many Hindus believed that the most authentic interpretation of Vindhyavasini was as a Vedicized. Pamphlets include only a few verses about it. xiv Their superiors ordered them to extort cash needed for purchasing weapons and paying mercenaries who would do battle with the British. particularly if they were from warrior castes. It would seem that a contributing cause to this decreasing correspondence is economic incentiveor disincentive. in their view. Such projects parallel a trend to legitimize shrines by etching the Sanskrit (and hence sacred) word into stone. and even the village named for the site is now pronounced Tarakapur. a knee-jerk reaction to the British. Although the Vindhya Mahatmya devotes twelve of its forty chapters to describing the battles and shrines that lend this Saivite bathing pond its glory. guides have begun to repair dilapidated sites and to attract people by inscribing verses from the Vindhya Mahatmya on the temple walls. however. By the late nineteenth century the great temple of Kalikhoh had deteriorated into a tumble-down condition. Of late. however. A further case of change illustrates the power of politics. Only lucrative sites that may create new job opportunities for a younger generation of severely underemployed Brahmin men are chosen for refurbishing. a devotee of Siva. . defeated by Rama. whereupon all devotees at Vindhyachal temples became suspect. Smaller. xiii As Stewart N. The tank known as Tarakesvara Kund. the guides took great pains to prove their orthodoxy and their faithful cooperation with the British. and the elevation of the regional power and authority of the goddess all came to be increasingly discredited by those who wished to justify religious practices in Vindhyaksetra by aligning them with progressive social values. nor have several committees formed since the 1950s to address this problem succeeded in maintaining temples properly. the text that most accurately "describes" the scenery of Vindhyachal is the Devi Mahatmya. who as the greatest regional Goddess was believed able to bestow the authority to rule on those whom she chose. however. But this hardly amounts to an effort to restore the Vindhyaksetra of the Vindhya Mahatmya. Tarakesvara Kund is conspicuous by its absence in pilgrimage practice today. I did not meet a single pilgrim who had visited it (and I interviewed hundreds). Those labeled Thugs were teams of marauding soldiers from various regions who stole and killed not out of religious compulsion but from economic and political motives. a view pleasing to her increasingly "sophisticated" pilgrim clientele who took to the now safer and improved roads in pursuit of her blessing. the demon devotee of Siva. and universalist goddess. they proceeded to wipe them out in the 1830s. less lucrative temples consequently fall into disrepair. but. such a position also eliminates the need to preserve shrines specific to the sthalamahatmya that are not mentioned in the Devi Mahatmya. vegetarian. Of course.

The Vindhyachal temple offers one of the most visceral. priests have constructed a correspondingly extended framework to describe the goddess at Vindhyachal. And urban devotees who traveled great distances to reach Vindhyachal." but tolerated. and non-Tantric goddess. from a specific and local sense of self to a more cosmopolitan identity. . As particularism is pushed out of the public arena and regionalism decried. the Vindhya Mahatmya does not reflect the way in which Vindhyaksetra and its deities are understood today. Priests and pamphlets alike describe only the most easily acceptedand most remunerativepractices. localized existence thus tended to support the Vindhya Mahatmya's insistence that the center of the universe is ever in Vindhyaksetrathat the sacred space is right there. The local goddess is deemphasized and relocatedand she is only resurrected when small groups of rural neighbors come to practice their "antiquated. interviews revealed that those who were educated. the priests have had to give up local claims to truth. less educated people from local rural areas. such as recitation of the Devi Mahatmya. secular state. and intense pilgrimage experiences for which one could hope. vegetarian. then. When they explained why she was famous. and that these clients bring with them a broader range of issues and identifies that they seek to integrate into themselves as they worship. and instead adopt a more tolerant. To furnish them with a means to make sense of their world. while recognizing her as the Great Goddess. she lived right there. too. a move from immanence to transcendence." she ruled the area. albeit pan-Indian. even while drawing on its sacred authority. It also dovetails with the recent rise in politicized religiosity that goes by the name of Hindu fundamentalism. and it is frequented by both rural and urban patrons. This more universal goddess can assure pilgrims that they are worshiping the goddess of the dominant group. Perhaps priests have discovered that the world of many of their pilgrim clients is larger than the Vindhya range nowadays. Thus it is that the ambiguous. and so forth. and specifically there. and therefore so lucrative? Perhaps in part the changes in theology mirror shifts in pilgrims' personal sense of selfspecifically. immanent. regardless of their background. Here. In contrast. Why have this universalist theology and its accompanying practices. except in those cases where the elites of society have reached a consensus. whether educated or not. text is exalted above the regional and sectarian. they both affirmed and exalted Vindhyavasini's regional identification. Today. human greed. habits. and governmental meddling. she was the specific goddess who had aided their ancestors. brief pamphlets quote only short. On both descriptive and theological levels. This outcome likewise accords with India's development as a modern. To gain enough support for their livelihood. Having grown up in nearby lands and therefore within or near Vindhyaksetra.These examples underscore the fact that guides are subject to the vicissitudes of theological orthodoxy. even those backed by elaborate philosophical justifications. innocuous portions of the Sanskrit Vindhya Mahatmya. Because the most influential priests at Vindhyachal today actively promote a single. tended to offer comments that laid greater stress upon her regional and geographical character: she was the "village deity. truth is relativized so that competing visions can be seen as equally valid. become so widely accepted. they referred to her being Adisakti and the goddess of all the worlds. universalist identifies promote national unity. not a backward superstition left over from an unenlightened past. tended to perceive the Goddess in a universalist sense. less definite attitude. "correct" view of Vindhyavasini as a monistic. Those whose sense of self remained rooted in an immanent. Yet despite the intensity and particularity of temple practices. evinced a combined respect for her immediacy as well as her station as the Great Goddess of all India. A dogma of alternatives is thereby embraced. those portions of the Vindhya Mahatmya that identify her as the wife of Siva and those that present Tantric elaborations of the triangle yantra and methods to gain siddhi are simply no longer mentioned.

In each age. she who is beyond human history. the truths of the Vindhya Mahatmya are reenacted by the Goddess but differently. Only the Great Goddess dwelling at the timeless center (bindu) remains unchanging. .When asked to evaluate the increasing dissonance between ideal and real maps of Vindhyaksetra. In this sense. they said. and any changes there are a necessary condition of our existing in time. but in her manifest state she kindly transforms herself and moves within and throughout human history. her "glory" is in constant transition because she is. some informants explained that the glory of the Goddess and her sacred domain must be understood in terms of "layers" and gradual evolution and devolution. Vindhyaksetra today preserves references to some of these incarnations. as well. Vindhyavasini is the transcendent ultimate.

Notes i R. pp. 1985). and Charlotte Vaudeville." a fact that is taken to support the common belief that Vindhyavasini flew like a bird to her new home. Enugula Veeraswamy's Journal. Tiwari. Studies in the Upapuranas. Coburn. The goddess is adorned by a necklace of 108 skulls. On her right side is a dancing Ganesa atop his mouse vehicle. One guide explained that "Binduvasini" Devi is the primordial deity whose entire temple used to be merely a flat stone. 1986). vii viii ix x xi xii xiii Interestingly. 84-85. David Kinsley. being unfamiliar with her transcendent nature. and the fourth displays the abhayamudra. Coburn. and one had gone to Kalikhoh. 1987) Some of the devotees with whom I spoke quoted portions of the PradhanikaRahasya to refute the understanding perpetuated by local guides and pandits that Vindhyavasini is dominated by the rajas guna. and trans. Devi-Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition (Delhi and Columbia. 1985). 247. interview. Eighty out of 257 interviewed had performed the triangle pilgrimage. Mo. "pandit. Krishna Mohan Mishra. p." . iv v vi Sri P. For a closer examination of the PradhanikaRahasya. p. and trans. a gesture of fearlessness. often defined as "she of the sheath" (kosa). understood to be a simple point. The goddess has four arms: three hands bear a conch shell. but there are no chipped parts. ed. Radha. eight others had visited Astabhuja. 109-15. 1982). the Vedas. p. as do her feet.: Motilal Banarsidass and South Asia Books. I translate panda as "guide" throughout this essay. see Thomas B. and the Great Goddess. Thomas B. 30. meaning one who cheats or deceives. Hawley and Wulff. 1963). pp. whereas I render pandita in a semi-anglicized form. 1991). Goddess Cults in Ancient India (Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan. 1973). In an interview conducted on October 18. They argued that at Vindhyachal the Great Goddess is Mahalaksmi and therefore must be triguna (consisting of all three gunas) even at the manifest level. pp. Knopf. 132.. the former from thag.. 2. vol. both the word thug and the term loot are derived from Hindi. Sitapati.. On her left side a yogini ("goddess or mistress of yoga") sits on an elephant howdah with a fan. 378. 6-9. and a mace. Banaras. N. See also.C. September 23. Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of Its Interpretation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1989. and an ax. pp. Enugula Veeraswamy's Journal (Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Government Oriental Manuscripts Library and Research Institute. for example. In addition to taking darsan of Vindhyavasini. Hazra. Diana L. who appears to hold sweets. p. But the term kausika also means "owl. Eck." ii iii The icon is believed to be an image of Kausiki. p. added further detail. a Vindhyachal priest who specializes in icon decoration. 84. Sitapati. the latter from the verb lutna. identified her by her place of residence (Munna Prasad Pandey. "Krishna Gopala. Ibid. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press. she was later called "Vindhyavasini" Devi by those who. . meaning "to plunder. a discus. Vindhyavasini's nose has some small cracks. Sakta and Non-sectarian Upapuranas (Calcutta: Sanskrit College. City of Light (New York: Alfred A." in The Divine Consort. J. 89-90. ed. ed.

D.: American University Press. and Mafiosos: Religion and Politics in the Worship of Vindhyavasini. Humes. ed. Sabrina Petra Ramet and Donald J. no. "Scarf and Sword: Thugs.xiv See Stewart N. "Rajas. See also Cynthia A. Gordon. and State-Formation in 18th-Century Malwa." Indian Economic and Social History Review 6. ." in Render unto Caesar: Religion and Politics in Cross-cultural Perspective. Thugs. Marauders. 4 (1969): 403-29.C. 1995). pp. 219-47. Treadgold (Washington.