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Chamunda

Chamunda

In Hinduism, Chamunda (Sanskrit: चामुण्डा, ), also known as Chamundi and Charchika, is a fearsome aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother and one of the seven Matrikas (mother goddesses). She is also one of the chief Yoginis, a group of sixty-four or eighty-one Tantric goddesses, who are attendants of the warrior goddess Durga. The name is a combination of Chanda and Munda, two monsters whom Chamunda killed. She is closely associated with Kali, another fierce aspect of Devi. She is sometimes identified with goddesses Parvati, Chandi or Durga as well. The goddess is often portrayed as haunting cremation grounds or fig trees. The goddess is worshipped by ritual animal sacrifices along with offerings of wine and in the ancient times, human sacrifices were offered too. Originally a tribal goddess, Chamunda was assimilated in Hinduism and later entered the Jain pantheon too. Though in Jainism, the rites of her worship include vegetarian offerings, and not the meat and liquor offerings.

Origins

Bhandarkar says that Chamunda was originally an indigenous goddess, worshipped by the wild tribes of the Vindhya mountains in central India. These tribes were known to offer goddesses animal as well as human sacrifices along with ritual offerings of liquor. These methods of worship were retained in Tantric worship of Chamunda, after assimilation in Hinduism. He proposes the fierce nature of this goddess is due of her association with Vedic Rudra (called Shiva in the present form of Hinduism), identified with fire god Agni at times. Wangu also backs the theory of the tribal origins of the goddess.

Iconography

The black or red coloured Chamunda is described as wearing a garland of severed heads or skulls (Mundamala). She is described as having four, eight, ten or twelve arms, holding a Damaru (drum), trishula (trident), sword, a snake, skull-mace (khatvanga), thunderbolt, a severed head and panapatra (drinking vessel, wine cup) or skull-cup (kapala), filled with blood. Standing on a corpse of a man (shava or preta) or seated on a defeated demon or corpse (pretasana), she is described as having a skeletal body with three eyes, a terrifying face, drooping breasts, protruding teeth, long nails and a sunken belly. Chamunda is depicted adorned by ornaments of bones, skulls, serpents and scorpions, symbols of disease and death. She also wears a Yajnopavita (a sacred thread worn by mostly Hindu male priests) of skulls. She wears a jata mukuta, that is, headdress formed of piled, matted hair tied with snakes or skull ornaments. Sometimes, a crescent moon is seen on her head. Her socket eyes are described as burning the world with flames. She is accompanied by fiends and goblins. She is also shown surrounded by skeletons or ghosts and beasts like jackals, who are shown eating the flesh of the corpse, the goddess sits or stands on. The jackals and her fearsome companions are sometimes depicted as drinking blood from the skull-cup or blood dripping from the severed head, implying that Chamunda drinks the blood of the defeated enemies. This quality of drinking blood is a usual characteristic of all Matrikas, and Chamunda in particular. At times, she is depicted sitted on an owl, her vahana (mount or vehicle). Her banner figures an eagle.

These characteristics, a contrast to usual Hindu goddess depiction with full breasts and a beautiful face, are symbols of old age, death, decay and destruction.

Hindu legends

In Hindu scripture Devi Mahatmya, Chamunda emerged as Chandika from an eyebrow of goddess Kaushiki (a goddess created from "sheath" of Durga) and was assigned the task of eliminating the demons Chanda and Munda, generals of demon kings Shumbha-Nishumbha. She fought a fierce battle with the demons, ultimately killing them. Goddess Chandika took the slain heads of the two demons to goddess Kaushiki, who became immensely pleased. Kaushiki blessed Chandika and bestowed upon her the title of “Chamunda", to commemorate the latter's victory over the demons.

According to a later episode of Devi Mahatmya, Durga created Matrikas from herself and with their help slaughtered the demon army of Shumbha-Nisumha. In this version, Kali is described as a Matrika who sucked all the blood of the demon Raktabija. Kali is given the epithet Chamunda in the text. Thus, the Devi Mahatmya identifies Chamunda with Kali.

In Varaha Purana, the story of Raktabija is retold, but here each of Matrikas appears from the body of another Matrika. Chamunda appears from the foot of the lion-headed goddess Narshmi. Here, Chamunda is considered a representation of the vice of tale-telling (pasunya). The Varaha Purana text clearly mentions two separate goddesses Chamunda and Kali, unlike Devi Mahatmya.

According to another legend, Chamunda appeared from the frown of the benign goddess Parvati to kill demons Chanda and Munda. Here, Chamunda is viewed as a form of Parvati.

Matsya Purana tells a different story of Chamunda's origins. She with other matrikas was created by Shiva to help him kill the demon Andhakasura, who has an ability - like Raktabija - to generate from his dripping blood. Chamunda with the other matrikas drinks the blood of the demon ultimately helping Shiva kill him. Ratnakara, in his text Haravijaya, also describes this feat of Chamunda, but solely credits Chamunda, not the other matrikas of sipping the blood of Andhaka. Having drunk the blood, Chamunda's complexion changed to blood-red. The text further says that Chamunda does a dance of destruction, playing a musical instrument whose shaft is Mount Meru, the spring is the cosmic snake Shesha and gourd is the crescent moon. She plays the instrument during the deluge that drowns the world.

Association with Matrikas

Chamunda is included in the Saptamatrika (seven Matrikas or mothers) lists in the Hindu texts like Mahabharata (Chapter 'Vana-parva'), Devi Purana and Vishnudharmottara Purana. She is often depicted in the Saptamatrika group in sculptures, examples of which are Ellora and Elephanta caves. Though she is always portrayed last (rightmost) in the group, she is sometimes referred to as the leader of the group. While other Matrikas are considered as Shaktis (powers) of male divinities and resemble them in their appearance, Chamunda is the only Matrika who is a Shakti of the great Goddess Devi rather than a male god. She is also the only Matrika who enjoys independent worship of her own; all other Matrikas are always worshipped together.

Devi Purana describe a pentad of Matrikas who help Ganesha to kill demons. Further, sage Mandavya is described as worshipping the Māṭrpaňcaka (the five mothers), Chamunda being one of them. The mothers are described as established by creator god Brahma for saving king Harishchandra from calamities. Apart from usual meaning of Chamunda as slayer of demons Chanda and Munda, Devi Purana gives a different explanation: Chanda means terrible while Munda stands for Brahma's head or lord or husband.

In Vishnudharmottara Purana - where the Matrikas are compared to vices - Chamunda is considered as a manifestation of depravity. Every matrika is considered guardian of a compas direction. Chamunda is assigned the direction of south-west.

Chamunda, being a Matrika, is considered one of the chief Yoginis, who are considered to be daughters or manifestations of the Matrikas. In the context of a group of sixty-four yoginis, Chamunda is believed to have created seven other yoginis, together forming a group of eight. In the context of eighty-one yoginis, Chamunda heads a group of nine yoginis.

Hindu worship

A South Indian inscription describes ritual sacrifices of sheep to Chamunda. In Bhavabhuti's eighth century Sanskrit play, Malatimadhva describes a devotee of the goddess trying to sacrifice the heroine to Chamunda's temple, near a cremation ground, where the goddess temple is situated. A stone inscription at Gangadhar, Rajasthan, deals with a construction to a shrine to Chamunda and the other Matrikas, "who are attended by Dakinis (female demons)" and rituals of daily Tantric worship (Tantrobhuta) like the ritual of Bali (offering of grain).

Temples

In the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, around west of Palampur, is the renowned Chamunda Devi Temple which depicts scenes from the Devi Mahatmya, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The goddess's image is flanked by the images of Hanuman and Bhairava. Another temple, Chamunda Nandikeshwar Dham, also found in Kangra, is dedicated to Shiva and Chamunda. According to a legend, Chamunda was enshrined as chief deity "Rudra Chamunda", in the battle between demon Jalandhara and Shiva.

In Gujarat, two Chamunda shrines are located on the hills of Chotila and Panera.

Another temple is Chamundeswari Temple on Chamundi Hill, Mysore. Here, the goddess is identified with Durga, who killed the demon Mahishasura.

The Chamunda Mataji temple in Mehrangarh fort, Jodhpur, was established in 1460 after the idol of the goddess Chamunda - the Kula-devi (clan goddess) and Ishta-devi (tutelary deity) of Parihar rulers - was moved from the old capital of Mandore by the then ruler Rao Jodha. The goddess is still worshipped by the royal family of Jodhpur and other citizens of the city. The temple witnesses festivities in Dussehra - the festival of the goddess.

In Jainism

Early Jains were dismissive of Chamunda, the goddess who demands blood sacrifice - which is against the vegetarianism principle of Jainism. Some Jain legends portray Chamunda as a goddess defeated by Jain monks like Jinadatta and Jinaprabhasuri.

Another Jain legend tells the story of conversion of Chamunda into a Jain goddess. According to this story, Chamunda sculpted the Mahavir image for the temple in Osian and was happy with the conversions of Hindu Oswal clan to Jainism. At the time of Navaratri, a festival that celebrates the Hindu Divine Mother, Chamunda expected animal sacrifices from the converted Jains. The vegetarian Jains, however, were unable to meet her demand. Jain monk Ratnaprabhasuri intervened, and as a result, Chamunda accepted vegetarian offerings, forgoing her demand for meat and liquor. Ratnaprabhsuri further named her Sacciya, one who had told the truth, as Chamunda had told him the truth that a rainy season stay in Osian was beneficial for him. She also became the protective goddess of the temple and remained the clan goddess of the Osvals. The Sachiya Mata Temple in Osian was built in her honour by Jains. Some Jain scriptures warn of dire consequences of worship of Chamunda by the Hindu rites and rituals.

References

Further reading

  • Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003). Images of Indian Goddesses. Abhinav Publications. 280 pages. ISBN 8170174163.
  • Pal, P. The Mother Goddesses According to the Devipurana in Singh, Nagendra Kumar, Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, Published 1997,Anmol Publications PVT. LTD.,ISBN 8174881689
  • Kinsley, David (1988). Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06339-2
  • Kalia, Asha (1982). Art of Osian Temples: Socio-Economic and Religious Life in India, 8th-12th Centuries A.D. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 0391025589.
  • Handelman, Don. with Berkson Carmel (1997). God Inside Out: Siva's Game of Dice, Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0195108442
  • Moor, Edward (1999). The Hindu Pantheon, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 8120602374. First published: 1810.

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