The Ashta Matrikas
How the Ancient Mother Goddesses Elevate and Transform Consciousness
Excerpt from an upcoming book By Swami Ayyappa Giri, Tantracharya, Yogini Ashram, Norwalk Ca.
“The classic battle, from which the ancient Mothers famously emerged victorious, represents the war between the inmost Divine Self and the ego. Victory over ego and destruction of illusion alone is the great battle of every sincere soul in their journey to enlightenment. On a macrocosmic level, it heralds the ultimate victory of the collective divinity in achieving full awareness of the one limitless undifferentiated consciousness.”
From the Mists of Antiquity
A small group of ancient Mother-Goddesses have emerged from hoary antiquity, possibly as early as 2000-3000 BCE or earlier. Tantric literature from the 6th century which has survived to our present time, tell us that worship of these Goddesses became a standard feature in temples throughout India by the 9th century. It is said that each of these eight Goddesses manifested as eight themselves, resulting the the celebrated 64 Yoginis, so central to Tantra. Each of these Goddesses represents the core energy and potency of the primary male deities. Each is associated with a certain level of perfection in the awakened woman and man. This ultimately leads to the attainment of miraculous powers (siddhis) which are manifested in the yantras, mantras, kriyas and pujas associated with these Goddess energies. Seven in number, the Goddesses are Brahmani, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaisnavi, Varahi, Indrani, and Chamunda. These Matrikas are found in power shrines throughout the Indian subcontinent. The individual mothers can be identified in various ancient temples by their weapons, ornaments, animal mounts (vahanas), and banner emblems, which are in some cases the same as that of their corresponding male deities. Artifacts from the ancient Indus Valley civilization suggest that this or a similar shakti cluster connected to the constellation Pleiades, emerged many thousand years ago.
The image at right, more than 4000 years old, is sometimes referred to as the Seven Mothers of Harappa. It is considered by adherents of Goddess worship, (Unmani Shaktism) to be the first representation of the the ancient mothers, so treasured by Tantra. These seven Mothers are thought to be connected to Pleiades and in turn, by Muruga, the dravidian God of war and beauty, whose origins are identified with a constellation in Ursa Major and described in Ancient Tamil texts. During medieval times, an eighth mother, Sri Lakshmi, was added to the Shakti Cluster resulting in the Ashta Matrikas (the eight mothers of wisdom).
Although the specific origins of the Matrikas are shrouded in the mists of antiquity, the Matrika tradition was popular and well established by the 6th century, and reached a further peak in terms of followers prior to the 11th century The tradition continues today in tantric and shakti traditions, in whom the divine female is worshipped.
Advent of the Goddesses Kali and Durga
Two overarching Goddesses emerge from ancient times. Kali and Durga. Kali is Durga and Durga is Kali. Although they are differentiated, they are also seen as one. The texts record that even the residents of the celestials in the Divine realm (Deva Loka) could not defeat the buffalo-demon Mahisha, who was running amok creating problems for all those in the light. Mahisha, in fact, is the personification of ego and darkness of consciousness. Turning to Shiva, the celestials were advised to release their inner spiritual power, for the benefit of all. In doing so, Kali Durga was born. Yoga and Tantra have always taught that the impetus and capacity for action comes from the inner divine female and that the capacity for discrimination emerges from the inner divine male. Thus, the inner power, the shakti energy of the Gods emerged in female form.
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