Yogini

Yogini

[yoh-guh-nee]
A yogini is the female origin of a practicing male yogi: having a steadfast mind cultivated by the disciplined pursuit of transcendence through Yoga. Tantric scholars have written about yoginis as independent, outspoken women with a gracefulness of spirit without whom Yoga can fail in its purpose and remain sterile.

In the Hindu tradition, mother is first guru (teacher) and in the Yoga tradition, proper respect of yoginis is a necessary part of the path to liberation. A yogini is the sacred feminine force made incarnate, an enlightened woman with exuberant passion, spiritual powers and deep insight, capable of giving birth to saints, peacemakers, and yogis.

The yogini, having a female body that is a matrix for menstruation and childbirth transformation through an awakened mooladhara (root chakra, which is the actual physical cervix in women), thereby has an advanced physical foundation for the cultivation of various other physical, mental, and spiritual yogic powers (siddhis) that take the male practitioner much longer to cultivate.

Past and present contexts

A woman dedicated to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and mystical insight, or a yogini, has many faces: from devotional to demure, and from fiery to fierce; all of these can be embraced under the rubric of a yogini. Yogini is a term that finds reference in several texts related to Hinduism and Buddhism where its literal meaning is "shaman" or wisdom seer (rishi), a definition that could just as easily be interpreted as “alchemist.” In some branches of tantra yoga, ten wisdom goddesses (or dakinis) serve as models for a yogini's disposition and behavior.

In the mythological context, the word yogini may indicate an advanced yoga practitioner who is one or more of the following:

  • A female who is an associate or attendant of Durga.
  • In several Tantric cults, the term refers to an initiated female sexual partner, who may take part in tantric rituals.

In a wider and general context, a yogini is a woman who may possess supernatural powers, including the ability to transcend the normal aging process via internalization of the reproductive power known as urdhva-retas (upward refinement of the seed-force) and even death, attaining divya sharira (immortal divine body).

During the Hindu goddess Durga’s battles with the forces of inhumanity (asuras), eight yoginis are described emanating from the body of Durga, and they assisted her in the battle. In later texts, the number of yoginis increased to sixty-four. All these yoginis represented forces of vegetation and fertility, illness and death, Yoga and magic. All yoginis are worshipped collectively and together, each one is enshrined in an individual position in a circular temple open to the sky (Sri Yantra).

Yogini as tantrika

According to the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika text, a yogini is more specifically a woman initiate who can preserve her own genital ejaculate (rajas) and contain the male semen (bindu) by means of the practice of the vajroli-mudra, also practiced in reverse by advanced yogis.

The sixty-four yogini temples

There are four major extant sixty four yogini temples in India, two of them are in Orissa and the other two are in Madhya Pradesh. One of the most impressive yogini temples in Orissa is the 9th century CE hypaethral Chausathi yogini (sixty-four yogini) temple located at Hirapur in Khurda district, 15 km south of Bhubaneshwar. Another hypaethral sixty-four yogini temple in Orissa is the Chausathi yogini pitha in Ranipur-Jharial, near Titilagarh in Balangir district. Presently only 62 images are found in this temple.

Two notable yogini temples in Madhya Pradesh are the 9th century CE Chaunsath yogini temple to the southwest of the western group of temples in Khajuraho, near Chhatarpur in Chhatarpur District and the 10th century CE Chaunsath yogini mandir in Bhedaghat, near Jabalpur in Jabalpur district.

The iconographies of the yogini images in four yogini temples are not uniform. In Hirapur yogini temple, all yogini images are with their vahanas (vehicles) and in standing posture. In Ranipur-Jharial temple the yogini images are in dancing posture. In Bhedaghat temple yogini images are seated in Lalitasana.

Association with Matrikas

Often the Matrikas are confused with the Yoginis which may be sixty-four or eighty-one. In Sanskrit literature the Yoginis have been represented as the attendants or various manifestations of Durga engaged in fighting with the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, and the principal Yoginis are identified with the Matrikas. Other Yoginis are described as born from one or more Matrikas. The derivation of 64 Yogini from 8 Matrikas became a tradition. By mid- 11th century, the connection between Yoginis and Matrikas had become common lore. The Mandala (circle) and chakra of Yoginis were used alternatively. The 81 Yoginis evolve from a group of nine Matrikas, instead of seven or eight. The Saptamatrika (Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani (Aindri) and Chamundi) joined by Candika and Mahalakshmi form the nine Matrika cluster. Each Matrika is considered to be a Yogini and is associate with 8 other Yoginis resulting in the troupe of 81(nine times nine).

Notes

References

  • Chopra, Shambhavi. Yogini: The Enlightened Woman, Wisdom Tree Press, India, 2006
  • Dehejia, Vidya. Yogini Cult and Temples: A Tantric Tradition, National Museum, New Delhi, 1986.
  • Feuerstein, Georg. The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga, Shambhala Publications, Boston, 2000
  • Kamayani Gupta, Roxanne. A Yoga of Indian Classical Dance: The Yogini's Mirror, Inner Traditions, U.S., 2000
  • Parvati Baker, Jeannine. Prenatal Yoga & Natural Childbirth, North Atlantic Books, 2001
  • Muktananda, Swami. Nawa Yogini Tantra: Yoga for Women, Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar, 2004
  • Shaw, Miranda. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism, Princeton University Press, 1994
  • Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. Images of Indian Goddesses, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 2003

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