Jay Maa Kali! In this year, the Yogini Festival starts on the 23rd of December and runs until the 25th of December in front of the Yogini Temple (at Hirapur, Orissa). Many cultural programme like Odissi Dance, Sambalpuri Dance, Gotipura Nritya, Mahari Nritya, etc. are represented at this function. Many dancers from different states are participating in this festival; so, I invite you to come and enjoy!
- Surendra Nath Routaray
Hirapur's authorized archaeological guide, in a personal communication
The tradition of yoginī worship likely derives from ancient practices formalized and brahmanized in the Agni Purāṇa
. In this text, the mātṛkās
are said to be eight: Brāhmani, Maheśvarī, Kaumārī, Vaiṣṇavī, Vārāhī, Aindrī, Cāmuṇḍa, and Mahālakṣmi.
These eight goddesses are multiplied by eight (because of this number’s auspicious nature in Hindu belief) to derive the base of sixty-four yoginīs. The names of these sixty-four are given in the Kālīkā Purāna; although my contact at the temple, Mr. Routaray, has his own manifestation.
By the time of the 11th century CE, the worship of the yoginīs as connected to the mātṛkās is set in common folklore, and one can not easily talk about one group without mentioning the other. In fact, scholars often make classifications of yoginīs at temples or in textual nāmāvālis (name lists) based upon the presence (or absence) of the mātṛkās.
For example, at Hirapur, while iconographically one of the statues may appear Cāmuṇḍa-like, Vidya Dehejia, whose ovular text on the yoginīs, Yoginī Cult and Temples: A Tantrick Tradition
details how the yoginīs developed, how they are viewed and worshiped, and what forms they take historically in the literature, is reluctant to call Her such because the full array of mātṛkās is not otherwise apparent or documented. Upon seeing this statue year after year, however, I am quite clear (as are the locals who frequent the temple for active worship) that it is the presence of Cāmuṇḍa
who inhabits this place.
The yoginī temple at Hirapur, Orissa is located about 10km outside of Bhubaneshwar, the state capital. Those who visit are often treated to the services of a local village priest, no more than about 20 years old, who has been actively engaged in either orthodox pūjā or the maintenance of the circular, open-air temple where once the Mahāyāga rituals of yoginī worship were carried out by adhikārīs (male initiates) and bhairavīs (female initiates) of the tantrick heterodox path known as Kaula.
Although the exact nature of historical worship at this temple has not survived in documents, the divine yoginīs are still actively worshiped today through these and similar brahmanical rituals. Nevertheless, to be among the sixty-four yoginīs here is to feel the power of the goddess in one’s blood and bones. Upon entering the small temple, which one does through a vulva-like opening that proceeds past two skeletal male figures (which may at one time have been ithyphallic) and leads into the womb-like chamber around which the goddesses stand, the intensity of the figures and the feeling of being held and firmly embraced stands out in marked contrast to the open, expansive sky above. Can you imagine being in this temple, held in sacred embrace while the stars and blackness of a new moon bear witness to your rites?
Vidya Dehejia reports that at one time, the central image in the temple was of Śiva, although the particular statue (some report it was a large yoni-lingam) was stolen when the temple came into public notice in 1953. Today, merely the platform on which it resided remains.
At Hirapur, the exact philosophical and metaphysical relationship between the god and the goddesses is unclear, yet as Dehejia notes:
Kaula doctrine states that through such bhoga (enjoyment) [of the five "M"s of Tantrick fame] as opposed to yoga (renunciation), its followers will achieve a state of bliss that is termed Kula. Kula is defined as a state in which the mind and sight are united, the sense organs lose their individuality and sight merges into the object to be visualized. Akula is defined in the same manner and it is further stated that Kula is Śakti and Akula is Śiva, and that ultimate bliss arises from the union of the two.
Perhaps as the time of the Yogini Festival draws neigh this year, we can all together dance this dance of union into Tantrick bliss. What with the deeper meanings of Christmas and Yule at our fingertips, it seems only appropriate. May our work to do so therefore be blessed and our spiritual practice bring us much peace, harmony, and fulfillment...by the grace of the yoginīs themselves!
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