By Swami Ayyappa Giri, Tantracharya, Yogini Ashram
Published on the Sacred New Moon & Winter Solstice 2014
“Sixty and four are the instruments of enjoyments that tempt the individual soul (jiva). Sixty and four are the divisions (kalas) within jiva; Sixty and four are the chambers of jiva’s chakras; Sixty and four; where Shiva-Shakti reside.“Thirumandiram V. 1418
An examination of the ancient Tantric tradition reveals a particular sanctity assigned to the number eight. The eight mother faculties (tatvas) of the manifested universe, the eight directions with four cardinal and four intermediate points (digbandahs), the eight miraculous yogic powers (ashta siddhis), eight “limbs” of Yoga (ashtanga), eight forms of the Divine Mother (ashta matrikas) are just a few examples. Following the Aryan migration into the Dravidian Indus region, the number eight, sacred to the Dravidians, was merged with the numbers 100 and 1000, sacred to the Aryans. Thus, they formed the sacred numbers 108 and 1008, which have come down to us from those ancient times.
The square of eight, or sixty-four, occupies an even more profound position in the field of Tantra which, from the point of view of the Kaula Marg practitioner, identifies both the sixty-four Yoginis and the sixty-four tantric kriyas. Although the Yogini tradition of early medieval times also produced temples featuring forty-two and eighty-one Yoginis, the bulk of tantric temples have venerated sixty-four yoginis. A representation of the sixty-four Yoginis is found on the ancient Khechari Yantra. Each of its sixty-four petals represent one of these ancient feminine deities of Tantra, the Yoginis. Within this yantra is also obscured the sacred geometry of Kriya Babaji, the reviver of Kriya Tantra Yoga for this age. Babaji’s yantra is a bindu, centered in a triangle, and encompassed by a square, surrounded by a circle. This sacred geometry has often been associated with the root chakra. Within the Khechari Yantra, Babaji’s triangle is shrouded within, and as a portion of, the hexagram star. There can be no doubt that the Khechari Yantra is rich with mystic symbolism. Its very name, transcribed from the mystical mudra of tongues tip, suggests its esoteric importance as unbounded space itself. (Kha=space)
The sixty-four practical techniques (kriyas) of trance and transformation correspond with the Yogini energies within nature, all of which interact together to produce spiritual growth when the appropriate catalyst is available. Their purpose is to pull souls out of illusion. This is precisely the significance of both the sixty-four hexagrams seen in the Taoist tradition as well as the sixty-four yoginis of the Shakti Tantric tradition. The Tantric literature itself is said to be composed of sixty-four spiritual books, also referred to as Tantras. In this sense, the word tantra conveys the meaning of “canonical manuscripts”. The sixty-four sacred texts of Kaula Tantra are enumerated in classical texts such as the Vamakeshvara-tantra.
Similar references in classical literature includes the sixty-four yogic induced paranormal powers (siddhis), the sixty-four divisions of the arts (kalas), and, within the ancient Saiva Siddhanta tradition, the sixty-four saints (nayanars). There are also sixty-four forms of Bhairava, sixty-four tantric mudras, as well as sixty-four siddhas, beyond even the 18 Maha Siddhas, which are more commonly celebrated, and so on.
This sacred number is intimately associated with power and life itself. In the Indian classic, Mahabharata, Lord Krishna fired sixty-four arrows and in a separate skirmish, Bhishma’s armor was pierced sixty-four times. The Aitereya Brahmana speaks of the sixty-fourth and final step into the heavenly world.
Most importantly, the sixty-four Yoginis are understood within Babaji’s Kaula Marg tradition of Kriya Tantra Yoga as fundamental emanations of Maha Kali. Each of them rules over different aspects of creation, has a very distinct personality, and offers a doorway into undifferentiated awareness. Thus, it is eventually understood that the number sixty-four has a profound association with the classical path of Kriya Tantra Yoga, the tantric literature of India, and the mystical experiences of sunyata and other forms of samadhi.
Babaji and the 64 Tantric Yoginis
As seen, there is a strong correlation between the tantric Yoginis and the sixty-four tantric kriyas. The word Kriya often suggests a very specific set of techniques, and the actual practice will vary slightly, according to the lineage. Nonetheless, Babaji stands at the headwaters of all of these sacred paths. In its broadest sense, kriya suggests far more, and includes any practical technique that expands consciousness. Of the thousands of practical techniques (kriyas) used for the purpose of revelation of the inmost Self, sixty-four have been referred to in the classical training as the core or hub of the Kaula Tantra Yoga tradition. Although he taugh 144 Siddha Yoga techniques, close disciples of my diksha guru, Yogi Ramaiah, under whose direct training I spent more than two decades, would recall that he referenced the sixty-four tantric kriyas, but did not teach them, save for one technique, in his advanced training. His intimacy with Kali, the great Goddess of Tantra, however, was profound, evidenced by his massive aura and by the fact that she directed him to construct a Kali Temple in upstate New York. He often referred to her as the favorite diety of the tantrics.
One particular Maha Kali bija mantra, coming directly from Sathguru Babaji, has always been considered the most powerful bija mantra by Yogiar. Close initiates of Yogiar will recall that he expressed that its energy was driving the dharma of the Kriya Yoga teachings. Yogiar had explained the story of this great Kali Chew Mantra both in his lectures, and in an early issue of Kriya magazine. Babaji, in the late 1800’s, had manifested before a Tamil textile trader who was traveling through a Malaysian jungle village. The great Sathguru, emerging magnificently from the forest, dripping wet from a bath and wearing a simple dhoti, asked the trader to stick out his tongue. Babaji then proceeded to write the sacred mantra on the man’s tongue.Through a mystic process, the trader heard the mantra from within. That textile trader was Yogiar’s maternal grandfather. In due course, Yogiar’s grandfather passed it to his daughter (Yogiar’s mother) who, after many years of sadhana, passed it to Yogiar. The circle of dormitory Kriya Yoga sadhaks will remember that Yogiar extoled the power of that mantra above all others. It appeared to me that he considered it his connection with Kali. These two great forces of Maha Kali and Babaji served as the energetic driving force of Babaji’s dharma expressed through Yogiar during his incarnation. He had stated on more than one occasion that if the mantra was inappropriately utilized, it would cause damage to the individual or even others, but if chanted silently with a pure heart, great blessings would accrue for all. In that way, he reminded us, many of the siddha techniques are double edged swords. Yogiar used this reference to explain why the Siddhas were so cautions about releasing the most powerful Kriyas. In the end, the teacher shares in the karma of any damage done by the student. Used properly, they will benefit humanity but if misused, ego and illusion may prevail and become harmful to the user or others. As we learn to control and contain the descending Shakti incrementally and use the grace of discrimination (viveka) to protect us from illusion, more blessing ensue. Kriya Yoga Sadhaks who lived in the Sangam dormitory and ashram will remember that Yogiar passed down this great Kali Chew Mantra to only one soul in his lifetime. That soul was Shivagami, my life partner, who transitioned to the subtle planes seven years ago. She used the mantra with great intensity. She was a sadhana wolf, attacking her practices with great focus. I attribute her Kali sadhana to the successful development of Kali Loka, our forest retreat in the San Bernardino mountains, where many souls benefited from the training and initiations provided. Through the grace of Babaji, after more than a decade of sadhana with it herself, she initiated me into the mantra. I must say, It has been the greatest blessing of my life. It has become apparent that the mantra works differently in each soul.
This Kali mantra has been pushing me toward the sixty-four Yoginis since I received it two decades ago, first in establishing the mountain retreat (Kali Loka), where great work with the Yoginis was performed, and then developing Yogini Ashram and its activities. The Kali temple at Yogini Ashram has a collection of sixty-four engraved yantra plates containing the sacred geometry of each of these Yoginis, as Babaji has given. Behind the sadhana, Kali and her sixty-four Goddess entities were ever present. These manifestations of Kali are not “witches” as some misguided but well meaning academics have proposed, but literal doorways to the highest consciousness, the oneness of Brahma, knowledge of self, the goal of the great Chakra Pujas as described in the Mahanirvana Tantra and performed with Kali and her magnificent Goddess clusters.
Later, my esteemed Tantric guru, who was also a direct disciple of Sathguru Kriya Babaji, Swami Rudranath Giri Maharaj of Tara Peeth, provided the training into the sixty-four tantric kriyas that I had sought, as well as a powerful doorway of experience to the Yoginis. While instructing me on the path of Babaji’s Kriya Kaula Marg Tantra, I could see that he lived the great message of the Yoni Tantra. Therein, Shiva spoke to Parvati as follows, ““O My Beloved… in other systems a Yogi cannot be a person of sensual enjoyment (bhogi) nor can such a person of sensual enjoyment be a Yogi, but in the Kaula Tradition, both Yoga and Bhoga have a joyful union”. Similar or identical quotes are found in other texts within tantric literature.
A fundamental principle of spiritual life is that we do no harm. Beyond that, Tantra aspires to break through the barriers in human consciousness that separate human illusion from divine vision. In this way, the tantric reaches a state of seeing the oneness in every aspect of nature. The original source alone exists, in and through all that exists. The Yogi and Tantric have a shared goal. To turn the search light of consciousness back to its very source. Oneness pervades the source of the light from which all creation has come. Like one universal hologram, that same oneness is present in the light beams that project to form all creation as well as the background upon which the beams terminate. Thus all aspects of the manifested universe are to be seen as one with the yet fully un-manifested source.
Through the grace of Kali, the knowledge obtained has not been theoretical or based from a book. Books cannot be ones guru. My guru once advised that for those who are too attached to the intellect and books, would be better off simply throwing the texts in the ocean. Books are a means to an end. Direct mystical experience is more important even than holy books. No one, Yogiar stated, has ever attained samadhi by reading a book.
With the inspiration of Babaji, I have plunged into extensive use of sacred geometry (yantras), and particularly of the sixty-four yoginis. The classical methods of sadhana have been employed dedicated to all these amazing forms of Devi. In this avenue of spiritual growth, the practice of the pancha-makaras was used for decades. During the 1990‘s, a group of dedicated southern California residents joined these exclusive chakra pujas at Kali Loka, the mountain retreat of Yogini Ashram, near Big Bear. Since then, this work has continued at Yogini Ashram with the practice and teaching of the sixty-four Tantric Kriyas. Coexisting harmoniously with Kriya Kundalini Pranayam and the advanced Kriyas, a few select souls have been initiated into Babaji’s Kaula Marg. The seminal practice is Bhairavi Kriya (Babaji’s Breath of Ecstasy Technique). All this has been the manifested work of Maha Kali and her sixty-four emanations.
There are five Yogini Temples in sacred India that have, to varying degrees, survived the centuries. All have received deliberate and significant damage but the original energy generated by the powerful techniques of tantra remains in each of them. Each Yogini temple in India has a unique shakti cluster. None are the same. The identification of these sixty-four varies, both in the temples and the literature. A stated goal of Kriya Tantra Yoga has always been to bring souls into direct communication with the great Mahasiddha, Kriya Babaji. To receive his training and discipline directly is an opportunity of lifetimes.
The immortal maha yogi once instructed, “These sixty-four practices include the techniques taught to Ramakrishna by Yogini Bharavi Brahmani, who was an incarnation of your beloved Mataji. Other forms are also valid. Some of these you have learned and others will be given…(long pause)…This should be the basis of the work which you have been attempting on my behalf. Know that my consciousness is beyond all practices.” Through a process directly experienced yet not fully understood by the author, a long phrase can be received in a fraction of a second and the words, when recorded, are burned into the consciousness. Nonetheless, the blissful ring-of-truth echoes even now as I reflect on his message. They have left me saturated with profound peace and joy but also a determination to continue to work in this direction until the death of these mortal coils. Reflecting on Babaji’s words, one could not help from musing on similar experiences described by previous disciples of Babaji.
A muni, it is said, is one who has attained perfection in Mananam. Mananam is the process of thought, investigation, testing, and reflection which marks the independent thinking mind as opposed to mere acceptance on blind faith by the lower intelligence toward what is heard. In the Mahabharthya it is stated, “The vedas differ, and so do the smrtis. No one is a muni who has no independent opinion of his own.”
One such Muni is Machendranath, also known as Macchamuni, who codified tantra from disparate sources in the ninth century. He must be identified specifically, as he has been a great source of inspiration for this sacred work. Yogiar placed him as one of the elite siddhas that the earth has spawned and experience has shown me that his grace can propel the sincere soul to great heights in this razor path. Swami Rudranath Giri too extolled his many contributions to tantra. Machendranath attained perfected knowledge in both Saiva Siddhantha and Kaula Marg tantra. His incarnation is legendary. He integrated both with seamless consummation. May he bless this work as well.
It is with humility and appreciation of the great ones that this unique presentation of Kriya Tantra Yoga and the sixty-four Yoginis is being enumerated, some of it publicly for the first time in modern history. Such is the mystery of the Divine, whose role seems to be to both obscure and reveal eternal truth. The sixty-four Yoginis are powerful assets in providing growth and development of the gross, subtle, and causal planes within each of us. This is the very foundation needed for soul awakening on the highest level. As far as the sixty-four kriyas are concerned, many of these techniques may be practiced by the sincere sadhak, even with limited training. Others require specific instruction and in some cases, a psychic transmission and direct cosmic assistance from the Sathguru. This high esoteric tantra can never be learned from a book and involves an awareness of the divine source behind the transmission. There are things that cannot be stated, things that must be experienced directly. Those who have touched the higher reaches find it difficult to express, as such expression is most often misunderstood or misconstrued by the darkness of human ego. Spiritual initiation (diksa) is understood to the degree with which one has found connection to their own inner power through yogic practice (sadhana) and internal surrender (saranam).
Ramakrishna and the 64 Tantric Kriyas
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, broadly acknowledged as one of India’s foremost holy men, was initiated into Tantra in 1859 and was comprehensively trained in the sixty-four tantric kriyas. Following four years of secret nighttime meetings with his tantric guru under a peepal tree in a secluded area of the temple garden, he mastered the sixty-four sadhana practices. His tantric guru, Bhairavi Brahmani, recognized
Ramakrishna as an Avatar. Progressing through the practices, she introduced Ramakrishna to the sacred panchamakaras, the five forms of worship performed during a chakra puja. The practice culminates in ritual intercourse (maithuna) but according to Ramakrishna’s biographers, the mere suggestion of ritual maithuna was enough to send Ramakrishna into a spiritual ecstasy. Although Ramakrishna steered his young brahmachari students toward celibacy, the great Avatar nonetheless affirmed that Tantra and the sixty-four Tantric Kriyas were a valid path and method which leads to the highest Samadhi.
Any visit to Dakshineshwar Kali temple by Kaula Marg Tantrics should include a meditation under that sacred peepal tree, which was still alive at my last visit in 2009. Few souls know that Brahmani is actually an avatar of Kriya Mataji, who mastered the Sahajiya-Kaula branch of Gaudiya Vaishnava Tantra, and had successfully trained two other disciples prior to meeting the great Ramakrishna.
Shridi Sai Baba and the 64 Yoginis
Like Babaji and Ramakrishna, Sai Baba is a Sathguru and Avatar as well. The peerless sage was born in 1838, and lived on the physical plane until the age of 80. In our current time, his fame has literally spread throughout the world. The sage of Shridi has a powerful connection with the sixty-four yoginis. In this respect, he is a great source of inspiration to all tantrics. The inspired text Shri Guru Charitra describes his connection to the sixty-four Yoginis.
The great Sathguru Shridi Sai Baba lived under a tree by a river near a rural village for many years. He was treated pretty much as an outcaste by the village. As he was never seen in the village seeking or eating food, local Brahmins were puzzled about how he survived. In fact Baba, like Babaji, did not require food to live.
One morning, several Brahmins began secretly to observe Baba. In a most mysterious way, at mid-day, the energy changed dramatically. Inexplicably, the Brahmins were seized with fear. Alarmed, they promptly abandoned the idea of watching him and returned to the village. Word spread and the mystery continued. After some time, a great lover of God, and mystic in his own right, was tending his field by the river side. He was a struggling but devout humble farmer named Ganganuj. Grace descends to the humble. At mid-day he observed that sixty-four divinely radiant females, each bearing multiple arms, emerging from the depths of the river. He watched in wonderment as they each bowed to Baba in turn, and then escorted him directly into the river as they danced with joy. Through Babas‘ siddhi, a passage was created by movement of the river water, into which they all entered. After some time, Ganganuj observed that Baba emerged from the same passage and returned to his tree. The next day, promptly at noon, Ganganuj, observed the same divine event. He summoned his courage, and discretely followed Baba and the Yoginis through the passage. There, to his amazement, he saw a magical temple filled with precious stones, and a beautifully decorated elevated throne. Upon the throne, Baba was seated lovingly by the Yoginis. Ganganujh observed that Baba was being ceremoniously worshipped by the these sixty-four Yoginis with an Arati Fire.
Abruptly, Baba directed his gaze at Ganganuj and asked him. “How did you get here?” Ganganuj replied, “I came here to see thy holy Self.” and he too bowed at the feet of Baba. Baba then said to him, “Your miseries are wiped away. Henceforth, your desires will all be fulfilled. However, you must not disclose to anyone what you have seen here, else you will lose all that you have gained.” Then, in bliss, they both returned to the sacred tree under which Baba lived.
Within days, while Ganganuj was working in his field, he discovered a treasure buried under the soil. He was an evolved soul in his own right, and understood that this was literally a soul gift from Baba, and that the greatest treasure of all was the true wisdom of Brahma consciousness (Jnana Siddhi) which Baba had also given him. Thereafter, Baba became his guru, to whom he and his family served with great devotion.
Later in his life, Ganganuj aspired to visit the sacred river at Kashi and Prayag for a holy bath. He asked Baba if such a pilgrimage would be possible, since a bath in the sacred waters holds great spiritual merit (punya). A true Sage sees the divine equally in everything. Referring to the local rivers, Baba replied “Panch Ganga Sangam is as holy as the Prayag, and the river Jugul is as sacred as Kashi. However, If you wish to see Kashi and Prayag, I shall show them to you.”
Shridi Sai was sitting on a tiger skin. He asked Ganganuj to shut his eyes and to hold the rear portion of the skin firmly. Miraculously, they instantly reached Prayag. The whole incident certainly reminds one of a flying carpet. After having a morning bath they went to Kashi at midday. They had darshan of Kashi and returned to Babas’ sacred tree that very same evening. Siddhas like Shridi Sai, Ramalinga Swami and Babaji have the yogic power to transport themselves and others instantaneously to anyplace in the physical world.
Later, when Baba decided to leave his sacred tree, the sixty-four Yoginis were distraught and appealed to him, “Why are you leaving us?” they said. “All our miseries are wiped away when we see you.” Shridi Sai smiled and said, “I will always be at this sacred tree. Therefore, be joyful in your life here.” Tantrics can benefit greatly by meditating at the holy site. Here, the energy and consciousness of Baba and the Yoginis is massively tangible.
Baba and the Yoginis have stated that all the desires of the devotee will be fulfilled, and they will gain in spiritual duty (dharma), prosperity (artha), pleasure (kama), and liberation from illusion (mosksa). Baba has promised that “One who worships the sacred tree and Baba’s sandals (padukas) for seven days will achieve every desire. If one recites a mantra at this sacred spot with a pure mind, great virtue (punya) is attained. One hundred thousand rounds of mantra under this tree will wipe off all disease and one’s body would become bright as gold. Such is the power of this site.”
The words of Sathguru Kriya Babaji and Sathguru Shridi Sai Baba and their amazing relationship with the 64 Yoginis remind us that spiritual power and truth is not merely in the ancient past but is alive and vibrant in the present. One can still visit that sacred tree and in meditation, feel the vibrant pulse of the living Sai Baba and the sixty-four Yoginis.
History and Archeological Evidence
Worship of the divine female has always been linked to Tantra and emerged prehistorically. One unique characteristic of tantra was the use of round temples. The Raja and Rani of Kashmir, King Jalauka and Queen Isanadevi, built circular Tantric temples dedicated to the mothers (matrikas) as early as the third century BCE. Worship of the tantric mothers (matrikas) is identified to have existed as a continuation in the first century and continued until our present time. There is abundant scriptural evidence that each of the eight mothers manifested eight extensions of herself, thus arriving at the sixty-four Yoginis that remain a core feature of Kaula Marg Tantra. Archeological and textual evidence leaves no question that the full development of the sixty-four Yogini Tantric tradition was well established by the eighth or ninth century. Typically, the yoginis were placed around the circumference of the open air temples, each looking in toward the center. Often, and perhaps always, a Bhairava Shiva form was placed in the center. The author noted during a pilgrimage to the Ranipur-Jhural temple that the Bhairava Shiva form is ithyphallic, showing an erect phallus. This might explain why the Bhairava is missing from the other temples, particularly Hiripur. It was likely offensive to conservative fundamentalists, both Hindu and Muslims. Muslim extremists have been notorious for destroying these temples over the centuries, and would most easily explain the destruction of most of the sixty-four Yogini temples. It is likely in fact that the central Shiva forms were all ithyphallic and would explain their nearly complete disappearance.
In these temples chakra pujas, including ritual intercourse (maithuna) were performed. No comprehensive training and experience of Kaula Marg Tantra could be complete without participation in the chakra puja. Among other things, it has been an historical forum for initiation into the tradition. This is the most classical form of group sadhana in tantra. Chakra means wheel. Chakras often refers to the vortexes of energy in our subtle bodies. In Tantra, the chakra puja is also used as a tool for inner realization and empowerment. Chakra puja also refers to a circle formed by Tantric couples who utilize the vortex of energy created by the closed circumference to enhance the power of their practice. The circle represents the zodiac, the all-seeing eye, time, and energy itself. It is the ultimate symbol of the inmost self.
This process incorporates many aspects of yogic practice including mantras and yantras and will include sexual intercourse with a partner as a sacrament. One type of energy can be converted into another type of energy. The practitioners are referred to as hero (vira) sadkaks, as a great deal of courage is required to circumvent the established social protocol. Many fears must be faced and ones social programing rebooted. The chakra puja uses the tremendous sexual energy generated with the partner to achieve a transcendental experience of the divine in the partner and ones self, embracing the physical plane to transcend the physical plane, converting lust into an ocean of love for the partner and then riding on that sea of love to embrace all humanity leading to the great mystic universal vision of love which is referred to as vinjnana samadhi in yogic literature. God alone exists. The Tantric embraces the divine in all things and thus attains to the Brahman consciousness. Utilization of this powerful group energy technique requires spiritual maturity from all participants. Yoga has always maintained that every act of human existence can be made sacred. Tantra refuses to shy away from that reality. The process is admittedly a challenging prospect for so many who have been socialized to artificially separate these two vital areas of life; sexuality and spirituality. In doing so our societies has created a neurotic fragmented consciousness.
Orthodox Hindus are sometimes upset by the Tantrics insistence on the worship of the Divine Mother through the use of the panchamakaras, or five sacred M’s; grains (mudra), fish (matsya), meat (mamsa), wine (madya) and sexual intercourse (maithuna). The only one of these items which is culturally acceptable within the Brahman traditions is the use of grain. The Tantras authorize that some of these items could be substituted. Kulanarva suggests that garlic or ginger can replace meat but nothing can replace maithuna.
While the vast bulk of Tantric literature relating to the chakra puja has been written over the most recent millennium, references to chakra pujas can be found in much earlier texts. Sage Kalhana is said to have made numerous references to yogini chakras nearly 2000 years ago in his Rajatarangini Manuscript.
Because of the sensitivity of the subject, few souls have bona fide experiences with which to share with the world. Although many people have written books on the chakra puja, few participants have related actual experiences. Some apologists have even suggested that they are theoretical or symbolic, particularly in our current era. The author is obligated to inform the reader that they are not! Over the last three decades, dozens of traditional chakra pujas have been conducted by the author with increasing success at building and containing group spiritual energy, both for the individual and collective benefit of participants and those whom their life touches. The challenge is overcoming the negative conceptions of sexuality and simultaneously accessing high consciousness with mantras and kundalini practices. Our experience has focused around a puja which honors structure as a means to an end. Without having realized Self one should not give up ritual altogether. If a teacher is not available, following the method outlined in the Mahanirvana Tantra is an excellent methodology. When the fruit representing Love of God appears, the blossoms of ritual drop off entirely by themselves. They need not be pulled off prematurely. In fact, ritual serves as an important tool. One buys a tool at a hardware store to construct something. Later, one might give the tool to another who needs it. The tool served as a means to an end. Chakra puja is such a tool. One should continue with ritual until tears of joy are shed at the very thought of God, the divine mother.
Like Stonehenge, Gobekli Tepe, and other ancient temples, all of the sixty-four Yogini temples are open to the sky. Like these other early temples, most of the Yogini temples are round in construction. As it should be, there is no single sixty-four Yogini temple having identical deities to any other. Each Yogini temple is wonderfully unique in that respect. In these temples, each Yogini has their own individual recess or seat and all Yoginis face the center of the temple.
Yogini sadhana by tantrics of Kriya Kaula Marg involves many aspects but a key principle is that, for the Shakta, each of the sixty-four Yoginis is worshipped in turn over time as verily ones sexual partner. Shiva becomes the central form of devotion for the Shakti. When combined with the sixty-four tantric kriyas and performed with high consciousness, the practice leads to a massive increase in auric energy and experiences of inward bliss. The techniques must be learned from a qualified teacher (adihari guru). It is widely understood that these practices including the chakra puja were conducted by spiritual clans (kulas) at these great temples. Below is a brief outline of the temples which have survived the ages.
Khajuraho 64 Yogini Temple.
Known as the Chausath Yogini Temple, this tantric temple lies adjacent to the main temple complex of Khajuraho in Madya Pradesh. This Yogini temple is a most wonderful location to perform early morning sadhana in, as it receives very few visitors compared to the other temple of the region. There are no images that have survived the onslaught of intolerant centuries, but the energy remains nonetheless after more that a millennia. All that is required to tap into their majesty is to plunge into the inner stillness of meditation. The author has performed tantric sadhana here and initiated several aspirants into advanced practices.
The Yogini temple is the oldest temple in the Khajuraho complex and stands well apart from the others. This Yogini temple was constructed with local course granite blocks and thought to have been completed in 885 AD. Other later temples in Khajuraho are constructed in sandstone. The temple is built on an elevated platform that rises fifteen feet (4.6 meters). At this temple, each of the sixty-four Yoginis had their own small temple, placed around the circumference of the elevation in a rectangular shape. A regional legend explains why no images of the Yoginis have survived. It is said that due to inadequate pujas by the Chandella Priests, the moorthis left the site centuries ago and established themselves in the Bheraghat Yogini temple 250 kilometers to the south.
The rectangular shape of the temple makes Khajuraho an exception, as most other yogini temples are round. This Chausath Yogini Temple is the oldest temple in Khajuraho and the only local temple which is not oriented due north and south, but rather northeast to southwest. The temple is in partial ruins but carefully protected at present by the Indian Archeological survey. Comfortable hotels and even an airport nearby make access particularly painless. The celebrated tantric guru, Osho, brought a number of his students to this temple, where they performed a tantric practice.
Bheraghat 81 Yogini Temple.
This temple, located in Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh, overlooks the beautiful Narmada river. In the early 1960’s, Osho did sadhana here, attaining samadhi, as MahaShakti prepared him for the fulfillment of his dharma to bring tantra to the modern world. The author too, had a profound bliss experience in the ashram by the temple road, which was related to the readers of this blog in an earlier posting. (see “Samadhi Secrets of the Himalayan Mahavatar Babaji”)
The temple, which has 81 Yoginis, was unknown to all but locals for many centuries. It is the largest of the Yogini temples, with an inner diameter of 125 feet. It was discovered to scientific archeology in 1874. This temple is one of the four major extant temples containing carvings of the yoginis. Only a very few of the images have escaped damage. Built between the years 945 and 1000 ad, the temple mount commands a marvelous view of the river flowing through the marble rocks far below. Artisans abound in the area and sacred Shiva lingams, birthed by the Narmada river, can be obtained.
Tantrics of the early middle ages had many enemies. Over centuries, their temple moorthies were destroyed and the tantrics were not infrequently killed by ignorant zealots. Therefore, the construction of secret emergency escape tunnels was not uncommon. Bheraghat Swami Maharaj, who enjoys a small ashram next to the temple grounds, exuberantly showed me the exit to such a tunnel, situated about a half kilometer up river from the Yogini temple itself. Given its dilapidated condition, I chose not to enter the tunnel. The vibrations of the entire region are profoundly affected by the temple and the great souls that have done sadhana there for so many centuries. The usual central Shiva platform is not present here. Instead, an out of proportion and oddly positioned Shiva temple was constructed over the destroyed Shiva platform hundreds of years after the original construction. It was placed so that it would be difficult or impossible for faithful devotees of Shakti to walk around the temple and communicate with each of the Yoginis.
Mitauli 64 Yogini Temple,
The Mitauli Yogini Temple is a beautifully round stone structure situated on a hilltop overlooking the village of Mitauli, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. From the hilltop on a clear day, one can view the green countryside for kilometers. The temple has a radius of 170 feet (52 meters). Thus it is a mid sized Yogini temple, larger than Hiripur and smaller than Ranipur-Jharial. This temple, built in the tenth or eleventh century, and was a model for the design of the Indian Parliament House, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, before it was known to be a Yogini temple.
As with other yogini temples, the goddesses were positioned inside the temple looking toward the center, where Bhairava Shiva resided. There are sixty-four pedestals on the inside circumference. An additional pedestal may have held Maha Kali Durga. In Tantric cosmology, this represents the original Shakti energy which gave birth to first sixty-four emanations, and then an infinite number of manifestations. Each pedestal contains a Shiva lingam where its missing shakti once stood. Unfortunately none of the sixty-four Yogini images, or that of Durga, remain. The engraved names of only four Yoginis have survived. Ironically, their absence has a positive benefit for tantrics, as few people visit the temple. For meditation and accessing the Yoginis in the subtle planes, the energy remains quite high and their presence tangible.
Hiripur 64 Yogini Temple
Generally attributed to the ninth century, this temple is located at the very small village of Hirapur, Odisha. It is quaint and beautiful, the smallest of all the Yogini temples. I have had the good karma to visit this temple many times over the last four decades. Years ago, it was difficult to find, as it was not adjacent to a paved road, the route was unmarked, signage did not exist, and its existence was nearly unknown by cab drivers. Now thanks to its close proximity to Bhubaneshwar, increasing fame, and due to its designation as a national historic site, it is visited frequently, not so much by mystics or devotees, but by curious vacationers and international travelers. Approaching the temple now, the road is good and the route well marked. Further, most cab drivers in Bhubaneshwar are aware of it. The deities are carved out of black chlorite stone in standing posture. The author led a secret sadhana here four decades ago with a group of eight tantrics, but that is no longer possible, as the old tantric priest who lived in an adjacent mud hut is long gone, the site is far more developed, and many visit this temple each day. Surrounding the outside of the temple are images of nine protective dieties. No other Yogini temple has external dieties. There is only one entrance, which some have noted, gives the temple an appearance of a yoni when viewed from above. The top of the entrance is so low that nearly everyone is required to bow ones head in passing through. The central platform has survived, but not the Bhairava Shiva that it supported. The Yogini images are massively inspiring, though many have been broken. The open roof above this quaint and cozy temple is a delight !
Ranipur-Jharial 64 Yogini Temple
Located in the Balangir district of Odisha, next to the twin hamlets of Ranipur and Jharial, this Chausath temple is adjacent to many other ancient temples. The beauty of the Yogini temple is magnificent. It is constructed with stone and sits upon a massive round rock that overlooks a serene lake and a landscape dotted with many early brick temples. One approaches the temple advancing on a gentle inclined plane of the rounded rock upon which it is built. The entrance is simple but elegant with four steps up and no overhead arch. Between the gates one sees the stylish elevated platform upon which Bhairava rests.
The Bhairava form, with three heads, represents Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The dynamic form is ithyphallic, showing an erect lingam and a snake, which winds around his waist. The snake crawls between his body and his phallus, which it touches. This eroticism might explain why the Bhairava is missing from other Yogini temples, particularly nearby Hiripur, which has a similar elevated space in the center of the temple. Around the Bhairava form, the sixty-four Yoginis dance in ecstasy. The thighs of all 64 Yoginis are abducted suggestively. I have enjoyed deep and reflective meditations at this site and later enjoyed a puja in the Shiva mandir by the lake just below the Yogini temple. The priest was highly conscious.
The nearest railway station from the temple is Titlagarh, where a few hotels are available. From there one can get a taxi to Ranipur Jharial which is about thirty km from Titlagarh. One way travel time is about 1 hour so one should plan for a four hour excursion at minimum, as there are many other ancient temples in the area worth exploring.
Bodah Yogini Temple
The authors pilgrimage to the Ashta Matrikas and Yogini Temple of Bodah was an adventure. In planning the travel, I had understood from internet reports that the ancient Shakti site was a few kilometers from Kulhar train station, Madya Pradesh. Surely, I thought, there would be public transportation, like nearly any other small village in India. Arriving at the station, I was greeted by a sign indicating the site was eighteen kilometers away. Given a few kilometers to navigate the massive site, I understood that I was looking at a round trip of about forty kilometers. Stepping out of the station, I surveyed the area. No hotels and no vehicles were available. I returned to the station and introduced myself to the station master. He explained that there were no rickshaws, no bus stops, and no public transportation of any type within kilometers. The kindness of that station master knew no bounds, however. He invited me to leave my bags in his office and I went out to begin a long foot pilgrimage to the sacred site. Om Babaji ! Just as I began the foot pilgrimage, a motorcycle pulled up next to me and a warm hearted soul, discovering my destination and intent, asked me if I wanted a ride to the site. Apparently someone had passed the word that I needed transportation. When I returned to the station hours later, the station master had requested that his wife prepare an extra lunch and the station master and myself sat together and enjoyed it. Jai Ma!
The first stop at this ancient complex of temples was a tree covered hill which led to a shakti cave-temple, perhaps the oldest at the site. As I followed the rugged trail up the hill toward the temple by foot, a tree covered cave was seen adjacent to a rock carving which displayed eight images seated together in line. Archeologists have identified this as one of the earliest representations of the seven mothers (sapta matrikas) with Veera Bhadra on the far left. The Sapta Matrikas are primordial emanations of Kali Durga, assisting her in her role as a ego-demon killer and grantor of siddhis. These Matrikas, or divine mothers, represent the inner power (also referred to as shakti) of the primary male deities responsible for creation, preservation and destruction. In later centuries, Lakshmi was incorporated with the Matrikas to round out the mothers as eight (ashta matrikas). The hill breeze and wonderful shade makes this an excellent area for meditation. During the dhynam, Mataji, consort of Mahavatar Babaji, made her presence known. On a hot summer day, one might well remain here for hours without encountering another soul. The entire complex at Badoh is rarely visited, making it ideal for tantric practice.
Although some travel reports refer to a round yogini temple, the author was not able to locate a round Matrika Yogini Temple. The locals I met were not familiar with it either. A Jain temple which is said to have been built from the ruins of another ancient shakti temple is a likely candidate. Its reincarnation from an earlier temple is clear even to a layman, as the cut stones used to build the retaining walls and other structures has script and images inconsistent with a Jain temple. Perhaps this makes it an excellent place to reflect on the reasons for reincarnation, protected by the echoes of the Divine Mothers ancient past.
The main claim to fame for the Badoh complex is the Gardamal temple, which has largely survived the onslaught of the ages. Beautiful carvings of of apsaras and siddhas are displayed on its walls. I suggest, for those who wish to visit the Badoh complex, they obtain a hotel room in Lalitpur and negotiate a round trip by taxi.
Kaula Marg Tantra and the ancient lineage that gave birth to the 64 Yogini temples is a living tradition. I have endeavored to give a general accounting of these amazing structures which are literally shrines to eternal tantra. Every true and sincere tantric would be massively graced to visit these great temples. They are all monuments to the infinite forms of the Goddess, the Tantric Siddha Macchendranath and Mahavatar Babaji. They are a grand tribute to the tens of thousands of hero-tantrics that had the courage to perform the ancient secret rituals like Chakra Puja in order to achieve transcendental bliss. They were not just risking their reputation in a judgmental world. At times they were risking their very life, as thousands were massacred for their beliefs. May Maha Kali saturate their souls with peace. May all souls rise to glorious heights with high tantra!
Swami Ayyappa Giri
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