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Sixty-Four Yoginis (Cult, Icons and Goddesses)

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The Sixty-Four Yoginis are the lesser-known forms of the Goddess Shakti in art and religion. Variously portrayed as malevolent goddesses, deities of tantric rituals, and yoginis of flesh and blood, they are seen as the sixty-four forms of the goddess and the sixty-four embraces of Shiva and Shakti. Abandoned temples, stretching from Banda in Uttar Pradesh to Bolangir in Odisha, once witnessed the evolution of the mysterious cult of these goddesses. Shrouded in secrecy, knowledge about them is, to date, closely guarded by the tantric Acaryas.

Sixty-Four Yoginis: Cult, Icons, and Goddesses deciphers the complex forms of the Yoginis by engaging with the subject historically, aesthetically, theologically, and anthropologically; identifies the Yoginis of the temple, of the Puranas, of the tantric texts, of folklore and finally of the Yogini Kaula; and examines the different layers of the complex phenomena based on rigorous fieldwork in the hitherto untraversed terrains where the Yoginis have their abode. The book offers valuable insights for researchers in the fields of religion, myth, culture, history and gender studies. The text of this handsomely produced volume is supplemented with a rich collection of photographs.

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Item Code: NAL538
Author: Anamika Roy
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2023
ISBN: 9789355532459
Pages: 380 (188 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 600 gm
Book Description
About the Author

Anamika Roy is Associate Professor at the Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, University of Allahabad.

Her interest in art and religious history shaped the contours of the present work. Her publications include Amaravati Stupa: A Critical Comparison of Epigraphic, Architectural and Sculptural Evidence and Brahmi Inscriptions of Northern India, and the co-edited volume Perspectives on Comparative Religion.



IN 2002, a chance visit to the Yogini Temple at Bheraghat in Jabalpur, led to a long academic journey into the mysterious and esoteric world of the Yoginis. Little did I realize while working on this project that this journey would turn out to be an enduring pursuit of what was a forbidden realm. As I was not initiated in the Tantras, a number of Acaryas were not forthcoming in revealing their secrets, the villagers were hesitant of the wrath of the Yoginis and the drivers were reluctant to drive into the interiors. In these moments of anxiety and frustration, what kept me going was the statement of one of my teachers that the work will be completed only by the wishes and the blessings of the Yoginis. Though it has taken long to complete this, the Yoginis appear to be finally pleased with me.

In this eventful journey, I am indebted to the different Acaryas for having shown the way, though I am forbidden by tradition to record their names, despite their reluctance, I did manage to engage in valuable dialogue with them. I would like to thank the drivers, local guides and the villagers from Banda (Uttar Pradesh) to Bolangir (Odisha), who helped me in their own ways. I am also thankful to my teachers, colleagues, and friends, who though encouraging, were apprehensive for this project and expressed it at different stages. I acknowledge my gratitude to Professors Vidya Dehejia, Kamalesh Dutt Tripathi, Devangana Desai, Hari Priya Rangarajan, and Acarya Ram Chandra Shukla for their wisdom and to Stella for her encouragement and friendship. The comments and suggestions that came from the anonymous referee were extremely helpful in sharpening some arguments and removing ambivalences in others. I am beholden to the UGC for the Research Award which I availed for three consecutive years, for facilitating this research. I thank the library staff of the following Universities and Research Institutions: the Department of Ancient History Culture and Archaeology, Allahabad University; the National Museum Library Allahabad; G.N. Jha Sanskrit Institute, Allahabad; Sampoorna Nand Sanskrit University, Varanasi; Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi; and Darbar Hall, Nepal, for all the help they extended to me.

I am indebted to Anupama, Hemang and Pakhi, who found my passion to my work bizarre, but never complained, to Jai-critic, cameraman, and field work companion. I dedicate this work to my late parents Usha and Siddheshwari who through their own example, taught me the virtues of selflessness, of giving and sharing without expectations of return.



WHO ARE THE Yoginis? When did their worship start and how were they W depicted? How can one identify a Yogini image? One may answer with diverse conceptual tools, going to tantricism, to art history, or to religious thought.

Yogini is a generic term. Always present in groups, Yoginis are of different types. Ascetics, there is a Yogini Dasha in astrology, Yoginis as attendants of the Goddess and so on. In some tantra texts, Yoginis are the deities of the directions. In the Kalika Parana it is said that the eight Yoginis should be worshipped before worshipping the Goddess. They are also supposed to be playing with the Bhairava. It could be the reason that in circular Yogini temples there is a Bhairava in the centre.

Yogini temples emerged from the AD 900-1200 and this was the period when most of the tantra texts and the Puranas were written. The Yogini temples stand distinct from the main stream of the temples. There is no Vimana, Shikhara, platform, or jangha. Most Yogini temples are circular and open to the sky. There are eighty-one, sixty- four, or forty-two niches in the inner wall to accommodate the Yogini images. The temple wall is not very high: from six to ten feet and the thickness is from twenty-five to one hundred and twenty-five feet. All these will be discussed in detail in Chapter 7.

The Yoginis and their worship did not have its origin in orthodox Hinduism. The Yoginis originated as simple local deities and village goddesses. With the spread of tantricism there was an elevation and transformation of these village deities. The texts were written for them and independent temples were built for them. As local deities they retained names such as Phanendri, Tarala, Tarini, and Badari. They were said to be sixty-four in number, figure that is said to be of convenience or auspicious. Thus village deities installed under trees or in a shrine, were assimilated as a group of sixty-four. The earliest reference to such ferocious deities may be found in the Gangadhar inscription of Mayurakshaka, AD 423-4. Mayurakshaka built a temple for the Matrikas along with Chamunda and it was surrounded by invisible Dakinis.

A second such important temple is mentioned in Skandagupta or Budhagupta's vihar inscription. It is significant as it mentions the erection of a yupa stambha and a temple for Skanda Matrikas, Bhadrarya or Bhadrakali. And Devaniketamandala, mandala here means either group of temples or yantra. Reference to temple of mothers may be found also in the Rajatarangini of Kalhana. Kalhana writes that Ishana Devi wife of king Jaluka, built matricakras, circle of mothers at a number of places of his empire. The Agni Purana mentions the method of carving of Yogini images. The Yogini images are usually huge: while body is sensuous, they may have fearful animal heads.

The tradition of the 'Yoginis' of the Yogini Kaula is preserved in some of the tantric texts of which the Kaulajnananirnaya is the most significant. The date of this manuscript is thought by RC. Bagchi to be no later than the 1100 AD. H.P. Sastri says that the manuscript is of AD 859. Abhinavagupta, however paid homage to Matsyendra Nath, it means he must be earlier than Abhinavagupta. The text consists of 1 ,000 verses and the MS belongs to the Darbar Hall Library No. 11.262 (H). The texts published do not bear the name of the author. Matsyendra Nath seems to be propounder of a section of the Kaulas known as Yogini Kaula school. There are 24 patalas in the book. It is in the dialogue form between Bhairava and Devi. It is about creation, destruction, moksha (liberation), meditation, rituals and how different types of Shaktis should be invoked and how different types of vessels should be used in rituals. Surprisingly, same arrangement is found in the Kularnava Tantra also. The conversation emphasizes the merit of the Shastra, which is known to each and every woman of Kamarupa. The most significant is that Bhairava informs the Devi that the Yoginis and Rudras can be worshipped either externally with flower, incense and offering or internally.

For the study of Sixty-Four Yogini's Matottara Tantra is also important. It is from Darbar Hall Library of Nepal edited by Janardan Pandey. It says that the followers of the Kaula path become specially dear to Yoginis. It also describes the Yoginis as capable of creating and destroying the world. Like most tantric texts it mentions Shiva at centre of the group of the Yoginis.

The Yogini Hridaya, also known as Nitya Hridaya and Sundari Hridaya is said to be one part of entire work known as the Nityashodashikarnava, the other part being often separately treated as the Vamakeshvara Tantra. This work which abounds in elliptical terms and code words is divided into three chapters corresponding to three parts (sanketa), described as chakra (or yantra), mantra and puja or worship.

Tantraloka is masterpiece of non dualistic Kashmir Shaivism. It contains the synthesis of the sixty-four monastic agamas and all works in both ritualistic and philosophical aspects. The condensed version of Tantraloka i known as Tantra Sara. Tantraloka is translated into Italian by Raniero Gnoli. The English translation by Mark Dyczkowski is still awaited. It mentions Macchendra Vibhu (Matsyendra Nath). Verse nos. 371 and 382 mention Yoginis, but it is not clear which Yogini they mean.

Vijnana Bhairava Tantra is a key text type of the trika school of Kashmir Shavism. It is discourse between Shiva and his consort. It briefly narrates the 112 methods of meditation. It mentions sixty-four Yoginis as Svara and Mantra on page numbers 98 and 172. It is edited by Jaideva Singh as Vijnana Bhairava or Divine Consciousness.

Tantra Raj Tantra is edited by Sir John Woodroff. Its verses 58-70 of Chapter VII narrate as to how to control Apsaras and Yakshinis. Chapters XVI and XVII deal with Dakinis. Verse 49 of Chapter XVII gives details of the rituals and fruits gained by them. Verses 50-58 mention the nature of 36 Yakshinis and verses 60-67 talk about 64 Chetakas. This text is supposed to be the king of all tantra texts, this is why it is called Tantra Raj Tantra.

The Tantra Sara Sangraha edited by Pt. M. Duraj Swami Aiyangar describes Yogini Nidra.

The Mahanirvana Tantra is edited by Arthur Avlon. It has 14 chapters. It also describes rituals for worshipping the Yoginis. Arthur Avlon says that some part of it is interpolation, and added by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Rudrayamala is used as a source by many other agamas, but the original appears to be lost.

Sri Kularnaoa Tantra is also a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati. Kularnaua Tantra is supposed to be situated in the hearts of the Yoginis. Abhinavagupta in his Tantraloka explains it like this. The process of dispensing of God through joy, knowledge and desire is known as Kauliki Shastra.


It is said that Matsyendra Nath who started Yogini Kaula, was of Nath cult and was the first Nath. Women have no entry in the Nath cult. Matsyendra Nath deviated from his path for some time. He was engrossed in the company of women and introduced a new cult known as 'Yogini Kaula'.

The oldest known legend about Matsyendra Nath is preserved in the Kaulajnananirnaya. The date of which can be fixed around AD 1100-1200 as Abhinavagupta has mentioned Matsyendra Nath, he must have been born before Abhinavagupta. In the sixteenth chapter Shiva says that he is super hero among fishermen (V.II) and in the 21st and 22nd verses tells Devi that it was Shiva himself, who has revealed the secret knowledge to her at Kamarupa. This secret knowledge, Shastra was stolen by Kartikeya (V.29) and he threw it into the sea. The Bhairava (in the incarnation as Matsyendra Nath) went to the sea caught the fish, which has swallowed the Shastra. He cut the belly of the fish and recovered the Shastra.




  List Of Illustrations vii
  Preface Xlll
  Introduction xv
  Part I  
1. Why Do The Yoginis Dance? 3
2. The Mask Of The Yogini 44
3. Small Goddesses And The Great Goddess 64
  Part II  
4. Yoginis In Tantric Tradition 73
5. Yoginis In Folklores 91
6 Yoginis As Tribal Deities 99
  Part III  
7. Yogini Temple Architecture: Beyond Convention 117
8. Patronage: Royality And Reality 131
  Part IV  
9. The Terrifying Beauties 141
10. Religion, Gender And Yogini Imageries 216
  Conclusion 227
  Locations And Narrations 233
  Appendix: An Unreported Yogini Temple 309
  Bibliography 329
  Index 337


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