Dasa Mahavidyas – The Ten Forms of the Devi

Dasha Mahavidhyas

Dasa Mahavidyas are the ten manifestations of Mother Goddess Shakti. The Sanskrit word ‘Dasa’ means “ten,” Maha means “great,” and Vidya means “knowledge.” The names of the Dasa Mahavidyas and the story of their appearance on earth vary in some scriptures. This particular story of the origin of Dasa Mahavidyas is from Shiva Puran. It was after a disagreement between Lord Shiva and Sati, his consort, that the Dasa Mahavidyas were created.

Apart from worshiping the nine roopa’s of Goddess Durga some sadhaks also propicate 10 form of Godess Kali popularly known as Dus Mahavidya. The worshiping of Dus Mahavidya is known for destroying negative tendencies. It can also be performed for fulfillment o desires, like to attain victory in court cases, for abundance of wealth, to cure any sort of disease, to defeat rivals, to remove poverty for to bring luck and money and to safeguard oneself against any type of black magic. The worship of these dasa mahavidya also safeguards one against evil planetary effects.

Dasha Mahavidhya

The term MahaVidya comes from the Sanskrit Terms Great & Wisdom. The Tantra tradition worships these ten aspects of the Mother Goddess as they represent the cycle of time and life and the ultimate consciousness that flows through our lives and the cosmos. 

काली तारा महाविद्या षोडशी भुवनेश्‍वरी । भैरवी छिन्‍नमस्‍ता च विद्या धूमावती तथा ।।
बगला सिद्ध विद्या च मातंगी कमलात्मिका । एता विद्या महेशानि महाविद्या प्रकीर्तिता ।।

Kali Tara mahavidya Sodashi Bhuvaneswari | Bhairavi Chhinnamasta cha vidya Dhumavti tatha ||
Bagala siddha vidya cha Matangi Kamalatmika | Etaaha dasamahavidyaaha gupta vidyaaha prakeertitaaha ||

Story of the Origin of the Dasa Mahavidyas

Sati, the consort of Shiva was the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, a descendant of Brahma. Sati had married Shiva against the wishes of her father. The vain Daksha performed a great yagna (with the sole aim of insulting Shiva), to which he invited all of the gods and goddesses except his son-in-law, Lord Shiva. Sati learned about her father’s yajna from Narad Muni. She asked Shiva’s permission to attend the yajna, saying that a daughter did not need an invitation from her father. Shiva said that Daksha was trying to insult him, and so even if Sati attended the yajna, the fruit of the sacrifice would not be auspicious. Therefore he bade Sati not to attend the yajna.

Sati was enraged because he did not want to be in the Daksha’s Yajna and did not treat Sati as the mother of the Universe. She assumed different forms of the Adi Shakti to show Shiva her divine form. The oceans raged, the mountains shook, and the atmosphere was filled with the wonder of her form.

Shiva began to shake and tried to flee. But in every direction that he tried to flee, the Divine mother stopped him. The Divine Mother had multiplied herself into ten different forms, guarding each of the ten directions, and try as Shiva might, he could not escape from her, as she had blocked every escape route. These ten forms of Divine Mother are known as the Das Mahavidyas. Each form has her own name, story, quality, and mantras.

The Das Mahavidyas are Wisdom Goddesses. Das means ten, maha means great, and vidya means wisdom. The Das Mahavidyas are considered forms of Divine Mother Kali, who is the first of the then Mahavidyas. Each Wisdom Goddess has her own name, story, quality, and mantras.

Dasa Mahavidyas

Each form of the Divine Mother is a Mahavidya.

The Dasa Mahavidyas are: Kali, Bagalamukhi, Chinnmasta, Bhuvaneshwari, Matangi, Sodasi, Dhumavati, Tripurasundari, Tara, and Bhairavi.

1. Kali – The Supreme Reality

Sati first took the form of Kali. She looked terrible, and her hair was left loose. Her body was dark, like a storm cloud. She stands on a corpse and wears a garland of skulls and earrings fashioned from the bones of corpses. She has four hands – one holds a skull, and the other a curved and bloody sword. Kali represents the power of consciousness in its highest form. Kali is the symbol of transformation. She enables the process of transformation from the human to the Divine. She is the only common form of Goddess in Navdurga and 10 Mahavidyas.

Kali Maa

Kali is the first among the Mahavidyas, because she comes before time, and before light itself. Black-skinned and four-armed, she wears a garland of fifty-two skulls, representing the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, and also the mortality of her human children. In one of her hands she holds the sword of enlightenment, and from another hand dangles a severed human head, representing the ego.

2. Tara – The Compassionate

Similar in appearance to Kali, Tara is the maternal, peaceful aspect of the goddess, who helps her devotees cross the turbulent seas of deceit to the shore of enlightenment. Tara is worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists. She is the Goddess of compassion and protection. Tara means “star.” One of her names is Samsaratarini meaning “she who takes one across the ocean of worldly existence.” When the Milky Ocean was being churned, a deadly poison came out of it, and Lord Shiva drank it to save the world. But he fell unconscious due to the effect of the poison. Goddess Durga then appeared as Tara, put Shiva on her lap, and breastfed him. This neutralized the poison. Tara’s maternal instinct makes her very approachable to devotees.

Goddess Tara

 Tara is frequently depicted holding a severed human head, has a protruding belly and wears a Tiger skin. Her head is adorned with five half Moons. Devi Tara may appear terrible but for the devotees, She illuminates the mind, removes what is not of the highest good for Her children. Her power is the force of sound, the importance of silence to delve deeper inside the mind. Worshipping and chanting the Devi’s Dus Mahavidya Beej Mantra also helps to garner Her blessings. The effects of Planet Jupiter (Guru) on Earth is controlled by Her.

3. Tripura Sundari – The Beautiful

Tripurasundari, or Goddess Shodashi, is the most beautiful in all the three worlds. She represents Goddess Parvati. As a form of Mahalakshmi, she represents wealth. She has four arms, and she holds five arrows of flowers, a goad, a noose, and sugarcane as a bow in them. The noose signifies attachment, the goad signifies repulsion, the sugarcane bow symbolizes the mind, and the arrows are the five senses. Tripurasundari symbolizes the state of awareness that is characterized as “I am this” (aham idam). She is the beauty that we see all around us.

Tripura Sundari

The third Mahavidya is named Tripura Sundari. Tri means three, pura can refer to city or citadel or world, and Sundari means beautiful. So her name literally means she who is beautiful in all three worlds: the material, the astral, and the causal. A less literal, but more meaningful interpretation is that she represents the beauty of pure perception, the supreme consciousness above everything else. She is most often represented as seated on Shiva who is lying on a throne. The legs of the throne are formed by the gods Brahma, Vishnu and various forms of Shiva. This shows her supremacy to all the other gods. Her origin story is fairly complicated; suffice it to say that it involves the killing of a powerful demon, the meddling of various gods, the death of Kamadeva, the god of love, by an angered Shiva, and his subsequent reincarnation.

Tripurasundari Goddess Shodashi

4. Bhuvaneshvari – The World Mother

Bhuvana means universe and isvari means sovereign. The fourth Mahividya is the ruler of the entire cosmos. The universe begins and ends in her. Just as Kali represents Time, so Bhuvaneshvari represents Space. These two Mahavidya thus represent the two main aspects of the Mother Goddess: the infinite, and the eternal. Bhuvaneshvari also represents maya, or illusion, which veils ultimate reality. My favorite story about her goes like this: once, the Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were arguing over who among them was most important and powerful in the universe. The Goddess Bhuvaneshvari intervened and enlightened them that she was the creator of the universe, and also of themselves. Then she gave them her shakti, or energy, in the form of the Goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati to help them create, preserve and manage the world – until its ultimate destruction, when the cycle will start anew.


Bhuvaneshvari closely resembles Tripurasundari. Bhuvana means ‘this living world’, and Iswari means ‘female sovereign’. She is also called Mahamaya, meaning “she whose magical power is great”. Maya is the power to create a magical appearance. Her other names are Sarvarupa (“she whose form is all”) and Vishwarupa (“she whose form is the universe”). All the things we experience in this life form the Divine Mother. She is red in color and sits on a lotus flower. Her body is resplendent and adorned with jewels. She has a noose (paasa) and a curved sword (ankusham) in two of her hands. The other two show Abhaya mudra and Varada mudra. She dwells in Shiva’s heart.

5. Bhairavi – The Fierce

Bhairavi is the fierce manifestation of the goddess, quite close to Kali herself. She hates and punishes evil-doers. Her consort is Bhairava, the equally fierce manifestation of God Shiva. One of Bhairavi’s forms is Chandi, a ferocious goddess who helps Kali destroy the demon Raktabija, he of the boon regarding spilled blood. Chandi is also famous for destroying the demons Chanda and Munda. She is fearless, and inspires fearlessness in her devotees as well. She is often depicted seated on her loyal donkey, her mouth stained with demon blood, another hand holding a blood-stained sword. But she is not only a warrior goddess. Bhairavi is also the goddess of speech, with the potential to destroy all opposition to spiritual growth. She is thus the remover of all obstacles, physical and mental, on the path of spiritual evolution.


Bhairavi means “frightful,”. She is regarded as the Chandi in the Durga Saptashati who kills Chanda and Munda. Sometimes she sits on a headless corpse in the cremation ground. She has four arms. She holds the sword of knowledge in one hand and the demon’s head that represents the destruction of the ego in another. The other two hands show the Abhaya mudra and the Varada mudra. Often, they also hold a mala, symbolizing devotion, and a book, representing knowledge. Bhairavi also represents divine wrath, but it is a result of her maternal protectiveness, which seeks to destroy ignorance and all negative forces that keep us in bondage.

6. Chhinnamasta – The Self-decapitated

Chinnamasta is also known as Prachanda Chandika. Chinnamasta means “she who is decapitated”. She supposedly cut off her own head. Once Parvati and her friends, Dakini and Varnini, went to take a bath in the Mandakini River. Her friends felt hungry and asked Parvati for some food. Parvati told them to wait for a while. After a while, her friends again pestered her, reminding her that she was the Mother of the Universe and they were her children who wanted food immediately. Parvati laughed and cut her head with her fingernail. Her blood spurted in three directions. While her friends drank the blood from two of the directions, Parvati drank the blood from the third direction. Because she cut her own head, she got the name Chinnamasta. She represents the great and rare courage that one needs to make the highest sacrifice.


This is one the most frightening forms of the goddess, and yet how benign the explanation for her severed head is. Yes, the goddess decapitates herself! She holds her severed head in one hand, a scimitar in the other. Three jets of blood spurt out of her neck, one feeding her own severed head, and the others beings drunk by two attendants, Jaya and Vijaya. She is often depicted nude and red-skinned, standing or sitting on a copulating couple. Do you see all the contradictions? Life-giver, life-taker. Blood, death, sex, sacrifice. The symbolism is pretty heavy and there are various stories behind it.

7. Dhumavati – The Widow

Dhumavati represents the dark side of life. The name means “she who is made of smoke’. Once, Sati swallowed Lord Shiva to satisfy her extreme hunger. Later she disgorged him at his request. Following this, Shiva rejected her and cursed her to assume a widow’s form. She is associated with a crow which is also her mount. She represents poverty, hunger, thirst, anger, quarrelsomeness, and negativity. She is old and ugly, with sagging breasts and her teeth are crooked or missing. She wears dirty rags. Dhumavati represents time’s erosive power which steals our loved ones, our strength, vitality, health, and whatever else makes us happy.

Goddess Dhumavati

Goddess Dhumavati represents the dark side of life. Dhumavati means “she who is made of smoke.” One of the effects of fire is smoke. It is dark, polluting, and concealing; it is emblematic of the worst facets of human existence.

8. Bagalamukhi – The Vanquisher

She is the “goddess who paralyzes enemies.” In Tantric yoga, Bagalamukhi has an association with Pranayama. This Goddess can control and paralyze enemies. Hence, she has the name, Devi of Sthambhana. Bagalamukhi means “the one who checks the mouth.” She can silence speech and still the mind. Once Ruru, an asura, performed severe penance to win Lord Brahma’s favor. Since Ruru was very powerful, the Gods became afraid and performed Aradhana (propitiation) to yellow water (yellow stands for peace). Pleased with their prayers, the Divine Mother appeared to them as Bagala. Bagala stops all motion, silences the words of evil beings, and also controls their tongues.


She is a goddess of great occult power, who smashes her devotees’ misconceptions with her cudgel, who paralyses and silences her enemies. She is often depicted beating a demon with a cudgel in her right hand, while she pulls out his tongue with her left hand, denoting the ability to stun or paralyze an enemy into silence. The story goes that there was once a demon called Madan who gained Vak-siddhi, by which whatever he said came true (siddhi means supernatural power). He used it to great destructive effect, killing many people. The gods requested Bagalamukhi’s help. The goddess grabbed the demon’s tongue and thus neutralized his power.

9. Matangi – Goddess of Outcastes

Matangi is seen as an outcast and impure Goddess. She is a Tantric form of Saraswati, who is the Goddess of knowledge and the arts. They have many traits in common. Once, Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi, visited Shiva and Parvati. While dining, the deities dropped some food on the floor. From this food arose a beautiful maiden who asked for their leftovers. The deities gave her the left-overs as prasad. This is the Ucchishta (leftovers) of the deity. Shiva then said that those who recite her Mantra and worship her would have all their material desires satisfied and also triumph over their foes. This maiden’s name is Ucchishta-matangini.


Matangi is another form of the goddess associated with inauspiciousness, and therefore also deeply interesting to me. She is described as Chandalini, a low caste Hindu who deals with the disposal of dead bodies. She is associated with groups outside conventional Hindu society including those who dispose of waste, work in cremation grounds, and in meat processing. She is also associated with tribal groups who dwell in forests. She is offered left-over food with unclean hands. Thus she represents the divine self which is “left over” when all else perishes.

10. Kamala – The Lotus Goddess

Kamala is the tenth of the Mahavidyas. She is often compared with Goddess Lakshmi and is also regarded as Lakshmi. She is also called the Tantric Lakshmi. She offers prosperity and wealth, crops and fertility, and good luck. She is not the wife of any male deity. Other names for her are Rudra (“the howling one”), Ghora or Bhima (“the terrifying one”), or Tamasi (“the dark one”).


The last of the ten forms is none other than Lakshmi herself, the goddess of wealth, and wife of Vishnu. She is a deeply important deity in Hinduism and is worshipped along with the elephant-headed Ganesh by many Hindu households. Of course, she is associated with all things auspicious and wonderful: wealth, riches, happiness, beauty, and grace.

Kālī (Sanskrit: काली)
Bagalāmukhī (Sanskrit: बगलामुखी)
Chinnamastā (Sanskrit: छिन्नमस्ता)
Bhuvaneśvarī (Sanskrit: भुवनेश्वरी)
Mātaṃgī (Sanskrit: मातंगी)
Ṣodaśī (Sanskrit: षोडशी)
Dhūmāvatī (Sanskrit: धूमावती)
Tripurasundarī (Sanskrit: त्रिपुरसुन्दरी)
Tārā (Sanskrit: तारा)
Bhairavī (Sanskrit: भैरवी)

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