SAPTA-MATRIKAS. By Diti were born to Kasyapa two sons known as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu. They were respectively killed by Vishnu in his Varaha-avatara and Nrisimha-Avatara. Prahlada,the son of Hiranyakasipu,became a devotee of Vishnu and renounced all concerns of worldly life.
After him Andhakasura began to rule over the Asuras. By piously practicing a long series of austerities,he obtained several boons from Brahma and became very powerful. He then began to cause annoyance to the Devas; and they ran to Kailasas to complain Siva about the troubles caused by the Asura chief. When Siva was listening to their complaint, Andhakasura appeared at Kailasa with a view to carry away Parvathi. Siva thereupon got ready to fight the Asura; he made three well-known snakes Vasuki,Takshaka and Dhananjaya serve as his belt and bracelets. An Asura named Nila, who had secretly planned to kill Siva came out in the meanwhile in the form of an elephant. Nandi came to know of this and informed Virabhadra;and he took the shape of the lion(the natural enemy of the elephant) and attacked and killed Nila. The skin of this elephant was presented by Virabhadra to Siva. It was worn by Siva as his upper garment. Clad with this curious garment and ornamented with the serpents and wielding his powerful Trisula, Siva started out on his expedition against Andhakasura taking with him his army consisting of the Ganas. Vishnu and the other Gods also went with him to offer help. But in the struggle that ensured Vishnu and other Devas had to run away. At last Siva aimed his arrow and shot at the Asura and wounded him; blood began to flow in perfusion from the wound,and each drop of it,as it touched the earth assumed the shape of another Andhakasura. Thus,there arose thousands of Andhakasuras to fight against Siva. Immediately Siva thrust his Trisula through the body of the original and real Andhakasura and began to dance. Vishnu destroyed with his Chakrayudha the secondary Asuras produced from the blood-drops. To stop the blood from falling on the earth, Siva created out of the flame that was issuing from his mouth,a Sakthi called Yogeswari. Indra and other Devas also sent their Sakti to serve the samke purpose. They are Brahmani, Maheswari, Kaumari, vaishnavi, Varahi, Indraniand Chamunda. These are the female counterparts of the gods Brahma, Maheswara, Kumara, Vishnu,Varaha,Indra and Yama and are armed with the same weapons,wear the same ornaments and ride the same Vahanas and carry the same banners as the corresponding male gods do. Such is the account of the origin of the sapta-matrikas or the seven mother goddesses.
The VARAHA-PURANA,however,states that these Mother-Goddesses are eight in number and includes among them the goddess Yogeswari mentioned above , although all other Puranas and Agamas mention them to be seven. The Varahapurana further says that these Matrikas represent eight mental qualities which are morally bad; accordingly Yogeswari represents Kama or desire; Maheswari-Krodha or Anger;Vaishnavi-Lobha or courteousness;Brahmani-Mada or pride; Kaumari- moha or Illusion; Indrani-Matsarya or fult-finding; Yami or chamunda, Paisunya that is tale bearing; and Varahi,Asuya or envy.
The seven Matrikas caught all drops of blood as they fell in the battle between Siva and Andhakasura,and thus stopped the further multiplication of secondary Andhakasuras. In this struggle, Andhakasura finally lost his power known as Asura-maya and was defeated by Siva. Nevertheless through Siva’s grace he gained a good end.
The Kurma-purana continues further the story of the Matrikas. After the chastisement of the Asura Andhaka,Siva commanded Bhairava and the Matrikas to retire to the patala-loka,the abode of the Tamasic and destructive Vishnu Nrisimha. They accordingly did so; but very soon Bhairava,being only an Amsa or part of Siva became m erged in Siva and the Matrikas were left alone without any means of subsistence. They began to destroy everything in the universe for the purpose of feeding themselves. Bhairava then prayed to Nrisimha to abstract from the Matrikas their destructive nature and it was thereupon withdrawn from them.
According to the Varaha-Purana the account given of Andhakasura and the Matrikas is an allegory; it represents Atma-Vidya or spiritual wisdom as warring against ‘Andhakara’ the darkness of ignorance:’Etate-te Sarvam-akyatamatma-vidyamritam. The spirit of vidya, represented by Siva, fights with Andhakasura, the darkness of Avidya. The more this is attempted to be attacked by Vidya,the more does it tend to increase for a time; this fact is represented by the multiplication of the figures of Andhakasura. Unless the eight evil qualities,kama,krodha etc. are completely brought under the control of Vidya and kept under restraint,it can never succeed in putting down Andhakara.
In the Suprabhedagama it is said that these seven Matrikas were created by Brahma for the purpose of killing Nirrita. The General description of these Goddesses is briefly given in the Agama thus: Brahmani should be sculptured like Brahma; Maheswari like Mahesvara, vaishnavi like Vishnu, Varahi as a short woman with an angry face and bearing a plough as her weapon; Indrani like Indra; and Chamundi as a terrific woman. This last goddess should have her hair in disheveled condition, should possess a large complexion and have four hands; she should wield the Trisula in one of her hands and carry a kapala in another. All the Matrikas are to be seated images and should have two of their hands held in the Varada and Abhaya poses, while the other two hands should carry weapons appropriate to the male counterparts of the female powers. They are shown seated upon Padmasanas in the sculptures.
BRAHMANI This goddess has four faces and a body bright as gold. In the back right hand, she carries the Sula and in the back left hand as Akshamala; the front right hand is in the Abhaya pose and the front left hand in the Varada pose. She is seated upon a red Lotus and has the Hamsa as her Vahana as also the emblem of her banner. She wears a yellow garment(Pitambara) and her head is adorned with a karandmakuta. Her situation is under a palasa tree. Such is the description of her in the Amsumadbhedagama; the Vishnudharmottara,as quoted in the Vachaspatya, gives her six hands the left ones of which are characterized by Abhaya,Pustaka(book) and kamandalu, while the right ones are characterized by Varada, Sutra and Sruva. It also adds that her dress is deer-skin. On the other hand, the Purva-karanagama agrees withb the first work quoted above in ascribing only four hands to Brahmani, although it states that she carries the Kamandalu and Akshamala in two of her hands and holds the other two in Abhaya and Varada poses.
VAISHNAVI Vaishnavi carries in one of her right hands the Chakra and in the corresponding left hand the Sankha; her two other hands are held in the Abhaya and the Varada Poses respectively. She has a lovely face and beautiful breasts and is of dark complexion. Her eyes are pretty, and she wears a yellow garment. On her head is a kirita-makuta. She is adorned with all the ornaments generally worn by Vishnu, and the emblem of her banner as well as her vahana is the Garuda. Her place is under a Rajavriksha. The Vishnudharmottara states that like Brahmani she has also six hands; the right hands are characterized by the Gada, Padma and Abhaya and the left ones by Sankha,Chakra and Varada. In the Devi-Purana she is represented as possessing four hands in which she carries Sankha, Chakra, Gada and Padma. She wears the Vanamala,the characteristic garland of Vishnu. In respect of this last description, the Devi-Purana agrees with the Purvakaranagama.
INDRANI The figure of Indrani has three eyes and four arms; in two of her hands she carries the Vajra and Sakthi, the two other hands being respectively held in the Varada and Abhaya poses. The colour of goddess is red, and she has on her head a kirita; on her body she wears various ornaments. Her vahana as well as the emblem of her banner is the elephant and her abode under the Kalpaka tree. According to the Vishnudharmottara, she should have a thousand eyes and should be of golden colour. She should have six arms, four of the hands carrying the sutra, Vajra, Kalasa(a pot) and Patra(a vessel)and the remaining hands being held in Abhaya and varada poses. The Devi-purana states that she carries the Ankusa and the Vajra only, the Purvakaranagama mentions that she has only two eyes. According to the last authority, the Goddess Indrani holds a lotus in one of her hands.
CHAMUNDA. The Goddess Chamunda has four arms and three eyes and is red in colour. Her hair is abundant and thick and bristles upwards. She has Kapala(Skull) in one hand and Sula in another while the other two hands are respectively in the Abhaya and Varada poses. She wears a garland of sculls in the manner of the Yajnopavita and is seated upon Padmasana. Her garment is the tiger skin, and her bode is under a fig tree. Her seat, it is said in the Vishnudharmottara, is the dead body of a human being, and she has a terrific face with powerful tusks. She has a very emaciated body and sdunken eyes and ten hands. The belly of this goddess is thin and apparently empty. She carries in her hand the following things: Musala, Kavacha, Bana, Ankusa, Khadga, Khetaka, Dhanus, Danda and Parasu. To this description the Purvakaranagama adds that she should have her mouth open and should wear on her head the digit of the moon even as Siva does; that her Vahana is an Owl and the emblem of her banner an Eagle.In one of her left hands she carries a Kapala which is filled with lumps of flesh; and in another left hand there is fire. In one right hand she holds a snake. She wears in her ears Kundalas made of Conch shell (Sankha Patra) or Kundala.
MAHESVARI. Mahesvari has four arms; two of which are in the Abhaya and Varada Poses while the remaining two hands carry the Sula and Akshamala. Her Vahana is the Bull. This Goddess is said in the Vishnudharmottara to have five faces, each possessing three eyes and she wears on her crown the crescent moon. Her colour is white and she has six arms; in four of the hands she carries the Sutra, Damaru, Sula and Ghanta, the two remaining hands being respectively in the Abhaya and Varada poses, her head is adorned with the jata-makuta. Her banner also has the Bull for its emblem.
KUMARI. The figure of Kumari is a feminine copy of that of Subrahmanya who is known as Kumara. Kumari has four hands, in two of which she carries the Sakti and the Kukkuta, the remaining two hands being respectively in the Abhaya and Varada poses. Her Vahana is the Peacock and the same bird forms the emblem on her banner. She has a Makuta said to be bound with Vasika or Vachika. Its meaning cannot be found out. Her bode is under an Udumbara or Fig tree. She has, according to the Vishnudharmottara, six faces and twelve arms, two of her hands being respectively held in the Abhaya and Varada poses, and she carries the Sakti, Dhvaja, Danda, Dhanus, Bana, Ghanta, Padma, Patra and Parasu in her other hands. The Devi Purana adds that her garland is made of red flowers and the Purvakaranagama substitutes the Ankusa for Kukkuta and adds that the Goddess should be so sculptured as to suggest the ideas of Valour and Courage.
VARAHI. Varahi has the face of a boar and the colour of the storm-cloud. She wears on her head a Karanda-Makuta and is adorned with ornaments made of corals. She wields the Hala and Sakti and is seated under a Kalpaka tree. Her Vahana as well as the emblem on her banner is the elephant. To this description the Vishnudharmottara adds that she has a big belly. According to this authority, she has six hands in four of which she carries the Danda, Khadga, Khetaka and Pasa,the two remaining hands being respectively held in the Abhaya and Varada poses. The Purvakaranagama says that she carries the Saringapdhanus, the Hala and Musala as her weapons. She wears on her legs Nupura-anklets.
We have already mentioned that on one side of the group of the Mother-Goddesses there is the figure of Ganesa, and on the other side that of Virabhadra. This latter God is described as having four arms and three eyes and having a pacific look. On his head is a jata-makuta and he is decked with various ornaments. His colour is white. One of the right hands is in the Abhaya pose and the other holds the Sula; one of the left hands is held in the Varada pose and the other carries the Gada. He is seated on a Padmasana under a Vatavriksha (Banyan tree). His banner has the bull as its emblem. Ganesa might be figured here either as standing or as seated on a Padmapitha.
The sculpturing of the sapta-matrika group of Gods and Goddesses found in the cave temples of Ellora conform largely to the descriptions given above. They, however differ in a few points; for instance, the goddesses in some cases are all made alike with a single face each; and these are distinguished from each other by their weapons and the Lanchhanas or emblems worked out below them in small niches or countersunk panels. Thus, Brahmani is recognized by the small figure of a swan sculptured in the seat below. In some cases the goddesses are each provided with a child, which is placed wither on the lap or is made to stand by the side. The group is invariably made up of the seven seated mothers flanked on either side of Virabhadra who is seen playing upon a Vina and Vinayaka, there being some blood-thirsty ghosts surrounding Chamunda.