Dhumawati is ugly, unsteady, and angry. She is tall and wears dirty clothes. Her ears are ugly and rough, she has long teeth, and her breasts hang down. She has a long nose. She has the form of a widow. She rides in a chariot decorated with the emblem of the crow. Her eyes are fearsome, and her hands tremble. In one hand she holds a winnowing basket, and with the other hand she makes the gesture of conferring boons. Her nature is rude. She is always hungry and thirsty and looks unsatisfied. She likes to create strife, and she is always frightful in appearance.
The legend behind Dhumawati's origin says that once, when Shiva's spouse Sati was dwelling with him in the Himalayas, she became extremely hungry and asked him for something to eat. When he refused to give her food, she said, "Well, then I will just have to eat you." Thereupon she swallowed Shiva. He persuaded to disgorge him, and when she did he cursed her, condemning her to assume the form of the widow Dhumawati. The myth underlines Dhumawati's destructive bent. Her hunger is only satisfied when she consumes Shiva, who himself contains or creates the world. Ajit Mookerjee, commenting on her perpetual hunger and thirst, which is mentioned in many places, says that she is the embodiment of "unsatisfied desires." The myth also emphasizes that Dhumawati as a widow is inauspicious. This is compounded by the fact that she has also been cursed and rejected by her husband. Her status as a widow is curious. She makes herself one by swallowing Shiva, an act of self-assertion, and perhaps independence.
The crow which appears as her emblem atop her chariot is a carrion eater and symbol of death. Indeed, she herself is sometimes said to resemble a crow. The Prapancasarasara-samgraha, for example, says that her nose resembles a crow's.
The dress she wears has been taken from a corpse in the cremation ground. She is said to be the embodiment of the tamas gun, the aspect of creation associated with lust and ignorance. Her thousand-name hymn says that she likes liquor and meat, both of which are tamsic. Dhumawati is also interpreted by some tantra scholars as "the aspect of reality that is old, ugly, and unappealing. She is generally associated with all that is inauspicious: she dwells in areas of the earth that are perceived to be desolate, such as deserts, in abandoned houses, in quarrels, in mourning children, in hunger and thirst, and particularly in widows.
The goddess tends to be in a sad state of mind and is quarrelsome. Her eyes are glaring red, stern, and without tenderness. Her lips too are red, covered with blood.
This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.
Kinsley, David. Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997.
Mookerjee, Ajit, and Madhu Khanna. The Tantric Way: Art, Science, Ritual. Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1977.