The Chhinnamasta belongs to the Mahavidyas (embodiments of great cosmic wisdom), the quirkiest of the Hindu devi pantheon. While the word devi inspires in one's mind an image of the calm and beauteous maternal figure, the das (ten) Mahavidyas are each poles apart from the same. Chhinnamasta, the sixth of the ten embodiments, is the severed-head version of the Tibetan Buddhist Devi Vajrayogini (in Sanskrit, 'chhinna' means 'separated', 'masta' 'head'). Her iconography is unsettling, in keeping with the rest of the Mahavidyas. She rides the most ferocious of wild beasts between Her legs (as opposed to the usual sidesaddle of Hindu devis), a lion so bloodthirsty its tongue protrudes out of its mouth from between its powerful white teeth. The streams of blood that spurt out of Her slashed-through neck pour straight into the mouth of Her own severed head, which She holds in one hand. With the rest of Her four hands She carries a container of fresh blood, wields a sword that she dips the tip of in the blood, and fondles the mane of Her trusty steed. The rest of Her is every bit in keeping with typical Indian iconography: a beauteous form clad in ample silks and jewels, an ornate crown with a moon sitting on it, and long black tresses that captivate the onlooker.
This watercolour conveys the contradictions that Devi Chhinamasta is all about. Her sahasranama is laden with paradoxes - from Prachanda Chandika to Sarvanandapradayini. This goes to show that Her wrath could be turned to something infinitely blissful with worship and devotion. Note the peacefulness that pervades the landscape behind Her. Undulating verdure punctuated with cool, still, grey lakes (one of which is in the foreground, at the superbly lifelike paws of the lion) and flower-laden shrubs and trees. A couple of birds soar against the light of the setting sun, while pristine templetops could be seen in the distance. These ar ein stark contrast to the superimposed imagery of blood and gore.