From the outset of my research on the Yoginis, I met dedicated and brilliant people with whom I became friends and began to meet with on a regular basis. We shared ideas, books and experiences and travelled together to many ancient sites, particularly to those related to the divine female energies.
Nilima Chitgopekar became essential to our gatherings, as she possesses a remarkable visionary mind and a vast store of knowledge. Her passionate interest in her field allowed her to provide a clear historical and factual framework for our discussions. Janet Chawla brought a perspective based on years of research on Indian women's birth rituals and the worship of ambivalent "birth goddesses"-responsible for the life or death of the new born. Her observations allowed us to make links with both the dangerous and protective aspects of the Yoginis. Seema Kohli's spirituality expressed through paintings, sculptures, films and performances, grounded our discussions about allegory and colours. Anamika Roy studied the mysteries of the Yoginis and was my first link to an art history scholar. She was of critical help in my early research. We also gave talks together in Delhi and Varanasi when I launched a small guidebook on reaching the Yogini sites and temples.
I deeply enjoyed discovering the many faces of the Yoginis and their historical and spiritual importance. They are present in folk tales, mentioned in different ancient texts and their temples are a testimony of their indisputable importance. Yet, it was only around the 10th century that the Yogini's spiritual path flourished. The momentum of their glory was accompanied by new ideas. Women were seen as having equal spiritual possibilities to men. In India, before and after the "special period" the concept prevailed that women needed to be born as men and in a Brahmin family in order to fulfil their spiritual goals. Only when Tantra permeated various spiritual paths, did women become venerated as the ones that could easily achieve the state of Non-duality and help others to reach this highest goal Unfortunately, for political or social reasons, women did not maintain this status and once again fell under the masculine spell. For centuries the name "Yogini" became relatively unknown or even had a negative connotation. Only in occasional Pujas or poems were the Yoginis briefly mentioned. Some Rajasthan paintings depicting female ascetics were titled "Yoginis". In the verses of the thousand names of the Goddess, the Shri Lalita Sahasramana, one of her names is Yogini representing the personification of the state of Non-duality, i.e. Union (Yoga)3. However, for almost eight hundred years, the Yoginis were shadowed by prejudices. For example, in South India, prostitutes were called "Joginis"4. Fortunately, in the past fifteen years, in India and abroad, scholars have translated ancient works related with the female energies. With the help of books and the Internet, the grand-public is extrapolating information towards a vast range of fields. The interest in the Yoginis has grown especially among women but also among tantric scholars, yoga teachers and sadhakas5. It has taken a thousand years to reopen the window to the Yoginis and to be able to express in female terms the quest for the state of Unity.
The name of the Yoginis most likely came from the same root as Yoga that means union, in the sense of coming together as a group. This idea of unifying diversity is the core of the power of the Yogini path that offered security and at the same time was the expression of a terrifying power. According to Dr. Shaman Hatley, groups of Yoginis shared some attributes with the early groups of Matrikas, mentioned in the fifth century in a Gangdhar inscription that described them as deities "who make the oceans tumultuous through powerful winds arising from tantras"6. The idea of the present book arose during a conversation with Mr. Vikas Arya at the Delhi Book Fair in 2015. Through the years, our discussions have always been a happy combination of knowledge and passion for cultural themes found in the vast Indian subcontinent. He always enjoyed my travel stories and the unexpected experiences that often occur when a pilgrim's eyes are suddenly opened.
Now, after so many years living in India captivated by the spell of the feminine divinities, I wanted to honour this special Yogini lineage that is spontaneously arising around the world. The word "Kula", often mentioned in texts related to the Yoginis, means family, community, tribe, etc. At the same time Kula also means divine energy, Shakti, the essence of the divine experience. Kula - manifested or transcendental - is the means and the goal of the Yogini path.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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