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Paintings > Hindu > Goddess > Chhinnamasta, Who Decapitates Herself to Feed Devotees
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Chhinnamasta, Who Decapitates Herself to Feed Devotees

Chhinnamasta, Who Decapitates Herself to Feed Devotees

Chhinnamasta, Who Decapitates Herself to Feed Devotees

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Artist- Kailash Raj

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This shocking image of the headless nude female and her two nude companions, drinking blood gushing from her torso, rendered against an opaque pale background, is a 'tantrika' manifestation of the Divine female. This form of the Divine female is widely known as Chhinnamasta. As suggests her name, Chhinnamasta, one of the ten 'Mahavidyas', is the goddess who severs her head ? 'mastaka', by her own hands to feed her devotees. Chhinnamasta, despite of decapitation, does not symbolise death, dissolution or end, but only life, which she sustains by feeding the severed head, as well as others, with her own blood. Biologically, everyone feeds one's head with one's blood. But, centred on himself, he feeds only his own head. Chhinnamasta cuts off her head ? symbolically, the centredness, and this enables her to also feed others besides herself. The form of Chhinnamasta inspires the 'tantrika' to cut off his head, that is, to relinquish his centredness, as this alone would give him the power to live beyond death, to live across decapitation. Deity's own prominently depicted sex organ and breasts, one bearing life and the other nourishing this life, subordinate death to life.

Chhinnamasta stands ? and this form is in exact adherence to the established tradition, on the figures of Kamadeva and Rati, respectively the god of love and his consort, engaged in the unbroken act of sexual intercourse. Chhinnamasta displays her nude form, though a pendant of one of her necklaces has incidentally covered her vulva. It is the same with her devotee-companions, Varnini on the right side and Dakini on the left. Varnini stands for 'Satoguna' ? brighter aspects, and Dakini, for 'Rajoguna' ? darker aspects, but the emphasis on displaying their sex organs is exactly similar. Texts prescribe for Varnini a white complexion in consideration of her representing 'Satoguna', but the artist here preferred a similar blood-red complexion for all three figures, as the same sex-energy is charging them alike. A 'tantrika' believes that a body charged in sexual intercourse alone is capable of harbouring such energies which lead to spiritual sublimation. Chhinnamasta, by her bodily contact with Rati and Kamadeva, is infusing or rather sucking into her blood the energies that Rati and Kamadeva are generating by sexual intercourse and the same she is transferring, through her blood, into the forms of her devotee companions. Sex in Chhinnamasta-cult is the ultimate instrument that perpetuates greater life.

The rendition is largely in adherence to textual prescriptions. Chhinnamasta has the same body complexion corresponding to the red hibiscus flowers. Dakini also has the prescribed complexion, though that of Varnini's varies. The goddess has her severed head with a gaping mouth swallowing blood gushing from her neck, in her left hand and a sword in the right, as texts prescribe. Blood is flowing from her torso in three streams reaching three mouths. The entire drama is enacted on the base consisting of a half circle comprising half lotus. An inverted triangle contains the figures of Rati and Kamadeva engaged in inverted firing, that is, Rati riding over Kamadeva. Though some headless nude female sculptures are reported from early times, a regular Chhinnamasta form becomes available only from around 12th century. This 'tantrika' form emerged as quite popular in both, Brahmanism and Buddhism, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, instantly. In Buddhism, it was identified as Vajrayogini, a name suggestive of great energy and effectiveness. The 'sadhana', rendered to Chhinnamasta, makes strides more steady and firm, and the mind more resolute.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.

Of Related Interest:

Chinnamasta in Art

Meet the Mahavidyas

Paintings of the Ten Mahavidyas

More Art by Kailash Raj


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