It is believed that the entire universe is created, penetrated and sustained by two fundamental forces, which are in a perfect, indestructible union. These forces are called Shiva and Shakti. In Hindu mythology, Shakti represents the creative energy of life. Kundalini (a form of divine feminine energy) also known as Shakti originates at the base of the spine. The tradition has associated these principles as a form, to that of a masculine and a feminine deity. Lord Shiva represents the constitutive elements of the universe, and Shakti depicts vigour, making these elements come to life and act.
Maheshwari is one of the sapta matrikas (seven mother Goddesses) and represents Maheshwara’s (also known as Lord Shiva) Shakti. Several legends are associated regarding the origin of sapta matrikas. There is one thing common in all of them, i.e, when devas were fighting the powerful asuras (demons) and were unable to defeat them on their own; they sought help from other gods, who lent their power in the form of matrikas. Thus, matrikas were formed to kill Shumbh- Nishumbh (from the Markandeya Purana). Later, at the request of Indra to kill Nirrt (Suprabhed agama) and other asuras such as Andhakasura, Mahishasura and Chand- Mund. As described by different scriptures, Brahmi, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Indrani, Varahi and Chamundi are some of the commonly accepted names of sapt matrikas. In Purva karana (ancient) times, Maheshwari was described as a white complexioned, three-eyed, four-armed, having a crown of matted hair, and riding upon a bull.
Vishnu-dharmottar (a Hindu text, dealing in cosmology, cosmogony, geography , astronomy, cuisine, metrics and division of time) describes her as five-faced, six-armed, carrying akshai mala (rosary), damaru (hand drum), ghanti (bell) and a bhaala (spear). Agni Purana describes her as having a bana (arrow), dhanushya (bow), and chakra (divine wheel) in her hands. Historian GH Khare further gives a list of ayudhas (weapons) mentioned in Anshubhed agama, Matsya Purana (a Vaishnavism text named after the half-human and half-fish incarnation of Lord Vishnu) Markandeya Purana (a Sanskrit text named after sage Markandeya), Roopmandan, Shilparatna (a text on performing arts), Vishvakarma shastra and Sritattvanidhi (a 19th century treatise on the iconography and iconometry of divine figures in South India). The list includes shool(spike), akshai mala, kapal (skull bowl), khatvang (a long club), trishul (trident), damru (a two-headed drum), ghanta, vajra (thunderbolt), naga (serpent), and khadga (sword) .
Purva Karan agama, Anshubhed agama, and Sritattvanidhi describe her as trinetra [three-eyed]. Matrika’s attributes [ayudhas and vahana] are shown as the same as that of the god they represent. Hence, Maheshvari’s vahana (vehicle) is supposed to be a bull. However, Matrika patta at the Devakali temple at Lakhimpur Khiri in Uttar Pradesh shows a figure of lion instead of a usual bull sitting by the side of her feet as her vahana.
Assisting editor, Rhythima Agrawal
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