The general belief based on Puranic texts has been that from the body of Adi Parasakthi came out eight great female demi Goddesses called Ashta Matrikas when she was in the form of Sati. As per ‘Kaula Tantra’, which is an ancient and dynamic spiritual tradition that guide people to attain highest wisdom, and also a school of thought in different Schools of Tantrism, those eight Ashta Matrikas namely Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheswari, Indirani, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Narasimhi in turn brought out from their bodies eight Divine Shaktis each, called Yoginis, totalling to 64 Tantric Yoginis. There has always been some confusion over no of Matrikas manifested whose idols are seen in the precincts of the temples. While seven Matrikas are generally seen in temples, in some of the temples one cal also see eight Matrikas enshrined.
The Yoginis who emerged out from the Matrikas, in turn married 64 Bhairavas who too simultaneously emerged from eight Bhairavas released by Lord Maha Kala Bhairava who was initially released by Lord Shiva from his body to destroy the Daksha Yagna along with other forces. Thus the 64 Bhairavas became the consorts or guardians of the sixty-four Yoginis who are mentioned in several tantric texts. The names of the eight Bhairavas who first emerged from Lord Maha Kala Bhairava were Asitanga, Ruru, Canda, Krodha, Unmatta, Kapala, Bhisana, and Samhara. Each of those eight Bhairavas released seven Bhairavas to assist them and all the 64 Bhairavas were under the overall control and command of Maha Kala Bhairava.
Yogini means ‘power of union’ or ‘the power that facilitates union’. Those 64 powerful Yoginis have unique personas and powers to fulfil ones desires, drive away negativity and fear, prevent misfortunes, give knowledge, peace, all-around prosperity, good progeny, and auspiciousness of all kinds. In tantric tradition, Yoginis are considered to be fertility goddesses. Their aspects are also innumerable such as benevolent, fierce, rule over the negative or positive tendencies of humans. Yogini in others view has been a demoness or sorceress, possessing magical powers. References on the 64 Yoginis and their powers are found in the ancient scriptures like Brahmanda Purana, Agni Purana, Skanda Purana, Kalika Purana, Nandikeswara Purana, and Chandi Purana written by Sarala Das besides many texts on Tantrism.
The ‘Kularnva Tantra’ text is one of the best tantra texts of the Kaula School which contain numerous references to the Yoginis and gives significant information on the Yoginis and the cult associated with them. The tantric text ‘Kaulajnananirnaya’ belonging to the Yogini Kaula School and authored by the Maha Siddha Matsyendranath, also popularly known as Macha Muni (he is the Guru of Siddha Gorakshanath, with whom he founded the School of Hatha Yoga) provides noteworthy clues to the tantrism powers under the command of the Yoginis. The details narrated in them are so secretive that it is intentionally expressed in abstruse language understandable only by the Gurus who had mastered knowledge in them. According to a legend, Matsyendranath overheard from the belly of a fish the esoteric teachings on the mysteries of the Universe by Lord Shiva to Goddess Parvati. He composed the Kaulajnananirnaya Tantra and became well-known in Tantric circles.
In recent times, extremely important information has been gathered from a 400 hundred year old text called ‘Sri Matottara Tantra’, which is reportedly available only in the Nepal National Archives. The doctrines written in the text form in Sanskrit language is narrated in the form of dialogue between Lord Shiva and Goddess ‘Kubjika’ wherein the Lord clarified what the tantrism was, the secrets of 64 Yoginis, the relevant chakras attributed to them etc. ‘Sri Matottara Tantra’ is in the nature of a compendium of ritual circles called chakras in which significance of each ritual practices associated with each are given with diagrammatic presentation.
The Sadhaks believe that Goddess Kubjika is a manifestation of Mother Goddess Adi Parasakthi whose aspect (Goddess Kubjika) is closely related to the tantrism worship through the Yoginis. She is a powerful Tantrism goddess who is one of the many manifestations of Goddess Kali and Adi Parasakthi and worshiped in secrecy by sects of Newari in Kathmandu to gain tantrism powers through the Yoginis who are controlled by Goddess Kubjika. An exclusive holy scripture dedicated to the Tantric worship of Goddess Kubjika is known as ‘Kubjikamata Tantra’. She is also known as Vakreshwari, Varika or Vakra. The cult of Goddess Kubjika is believed to have originated in the Himalayas. Nine Natahas is believed to have propagated the cult of Kubjika throughout Nepal and North India. The cult was very popular during the 12th century AD.
There is dispute on the no of Yoginis who are worshiped in the universe. While some claim them to be 64 in number, some other Hindu texts refer them as 42, 60, 81 Yoginis and even in crores. But only a list of 64 Yoginis whose names are found in the temples of Yoginis constructed during 8th or 12th centuries and as narrated in the main texts in Hinduism are considered as important Yoginis in the world of tantrism.
Besides the Yoginis who came out of the Ashta Matrikas during Daksha Yagna, another story gives different information on the emergence of the Yoginis. Once upon a time, when an asura called Mahishasura continuously tortured the Gods, Goddesses and divine celestial, they prayed to Goddess Parasakthi to protect them from the tortures of the asura. Goddess Adi Parasakthi allayed their fears by creating Goddess Durga from her own body, who in turn created another eight demi divines called Ashta Matrikas from her body from each of whom emerged eight Yoginis thus totalling to the manifestation of 64 Yoginis. Those 64 Yoginis joined with the forces of Goddess Mahishasuramardini and annihilated asura brothers Kamban, Nisumba along with their entire asura forces. All those Yoginis worship Goddess Lalitha Parameswari.
Though the Yoginis are stated to be 64 in nos that is not the actual figure since the puranic texts mention emergence of Yoginis at various points of time from different divines to assist them in their battle with asura and demonic forces. Thus there were crores of Yoginis who had emanated. This is revealed by Shri Adi Sankara who praised and wrote on Goddess Lalitha Parameswari. He mentions that while she was seated in her abode Manidweepa, she was guarded not by mere 64 Yoginis but also assisted by one crore subordinate Yoginis to each of the Yoginis thus totalling to 64 crores of Yoginis along with other celestial forces.
There lived one greatest scholar named Shri Bhaskara Raya, who hailed originally from Maharashtra and settled in Tamilnadu. He was a great devotee and authority of Mother Goddess and had Tantric and Vedic traditions at his fingertips. He was learned pundit in many Sasthras, Puranas and Vedas and has written a commentary to the Lalitha Sahasranama to explain the meaning of all the 1008 names of goddess surrounded by Yoginis with great insight which cannot be done unless there was divine grace to him. There is still a village which was given to him and is called Bhaskararayapuram in the northern bank of river Kaveri in South. While on tour to many places in India, he defeated many learned Pundits and scholars in debates. In one such occasion, when he was in the holy city of Kasi, large group of scholars assembled with an intention to defeat and humiliate Bhaskara Raya in a debate since he belonged to the ‘Kaula tradition’ of the ‘Shakta’ Tantrism. They attended one of the Yagna ceremonies performed by him and challenged him by asking not easily answerable questions and asked him to spell out from the ‘Rahasya Sahasranama’ the names of 640 million Yoginis who reportedly surrounded the specific Goddess seen in the list of 1008 names of Goddesses. Without waiting even for a minute, Bhaskara Raya answered all the questions of the scholars to their complete satisfaction and asked them to take down the details on Yoginis. When he began to narrate the names of all the 640 million Yoginis one after another with minute descriptions, they could not continue noting down the names and surrendered to him accepting the defeat when one amongst them Shri Kunkumananda Swami, warned the challengers not to test him further because he saw the goddess herself sitting on the shoulder of Bhaskara Raya reciting the 640 million names. Though others were unable to have a complete vision of Sri Devi, they were able to see the luminous form of the Goddess on his shoulders. The narrative of Shri Bhaskara Raya to the scholars established that the Yoginis were not simply 64 in no but were over 640 million as mentioned earlier by Shri Adi Sankara.
The Yoginis were very powerful as they possesses tantric and yogic powers. The puranic texts suggests that if a Sadhak worshiped the Yoginis by performing proper rituals, the Sadhak would derive enormous tantric and Yogic powers. Worship of Yoginis is called tantra worship. Interestingly all the Yoginis are female goddess and therefore in the by gone era, the Yoginis worship was confined to females Yogis and Sadhviks.
The practice of worshiping the 64 Yoginis is one of the most esoteric and powerful of all tantrism practices. The Yogini cult had emanated from the Ashta-Matrikas tradition because the 64 Yoginis emerged from the divine energies of Ashta Matrikas and Devis.
Who really are the Yoginis? There are many interpretations on Yogini such as an attendant deity of the goddess, or the Yoginis are divine energies of Goddesses and therefore carry their aspects. Only the divine energies of the Goddesses have been emerged out as different demi divine Yoginis- either in ferocious or sober form. Yoginis are a class of divine and semi-divine deities emerged in the 5th century AD and remained in worship till 13th century AD, after which the Yogini cult slowly began to diminish.
The Yogini was sometimes perceived in the later era even as a sorceress or a witch because of the ill acts of tantric or sorcerers or Sadhaks who misused the tantric powers they derived. Originally Yoginis were considered as esoteric attendant deities to the prime divines, but as time passed, Yoginis became separate prominent tantric deities by themselves in the wider religious landscape as attested by their entry into Puranic literature. They were therefore even enshrined in temples specially constructed for them in specific shape and manner. The moment they became tantric deities, the Yoginis were shown in demonic features and composite bodies. Some of them were seen as youthful maidens, flesh-less or potbellied. The Sadhak believe that the Yoginis preferred to dwell in ghoulish spaces such as cremation grounds.
Initially the Yogini temples were called Yogini Peedas which were the centers of Sadhaks for performing tantric practices with an ultimate goal of acquiring extraordinary powers or abilities such as supernatural powers to control body and mind, temporarily regulate the natural elements, gain wealth, heal the sick etc. But unfortunately the powers were even misused by some for destructive purposes.
According to the historians, such practices were wide spread after 7th century when the religious divides were high, and people were under the influence of Buddhism, Jainism and so many other sects all of which flourished till 13th or 14th century, but again the Yogini cult slowly began to fade out. In legends and tales on Yoginis, they are stated to possess magical powers to travel flying through air like birds, transform people into animals or birds and vice versa. In Hindu texts, there are said to be at least four texts, dated between 9th to 13th Century AD, which mention just the power of the Yoginis. They are the Chaturvarga Chintamani, Prathista Lakshan Sar Samuchaya, Mattotara Tantra and Mayadipika which is now lost.
Mrs Vidya Dehejia* is the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian Art at Columbia University where she has taught since 1982. She holds a BA, an MA, and a PhD from Cambridge University and a BA from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University and was also awarded the Padma Bhushan award by the Indian government. Mrs Dehejia was appointed as visiting Research professor in an University in Goa. She is the author of many books, catalogs and essays on topics in the cultural and intellectual history of India. According to her “the Yogini traditions are tantric in nature and therefore have strong connections to rural and tribal traditions. The origin of the Yoginis appears to be in small, rural villages. They are local village goddesses or Grama devathas who looked over the welfare of an individual village. Through Tantrism, such local deities were able to gain new forms and vitality as a group of goddesses who could impart magical powers to those who worshiped them. Village goddesses progressively transformed and merged into powerful numerical groupings’. Mrs Dehejia indicates that ‘it is not easy to identify an image of Yogini as there are about thirty different lists from various sources listing the names of Yoginis and their mounts. These name-lists seldom correspond with each other”.
Initially, the concept of Yoginis reportedly risen from little villages in order to represent all the negative things that need to be feared and warded off. Scholars firmly believed that Yogini worship was outside the Brahmanical norms and traditions. Hence, the tantric nature of Yogini worship grew in rural areas where farmers and lower castes chose to worship local goddesses who were to look after the villages and protect the people from diseases to other evils. When women were associated with important deities and tantric worship began to gain momentum to attain super natural powers, they were considered as the village deities in the form of Yoginis and worshiped by locals. During 9th to 14th Century AD in Orissa, there were dynasty of six queens, and their rule passed on from mother to daughter,daughter to her daughter and so on which also contributed to the rising status of the female deities.
The concept of Yoginis was reportedly first mentioned in the 9th century text of Agni Purana in its 52nd chapter. Although it is believed that the cult originally started around the 7th Century, it reportedly grew to prominence in the 9th Century and remained popular through the 13th and 15th Century. The Yogini cult, an important sectarian in Shaktism in the medieval period and its practices were esoteric and unknown to common world till 8th or 9th centuries. Yogini as a female protective deity is associated with the Sakti worship among which the only male deity who takes into the center stage was Lord Bhairava. It is generally said that the esoteric ritual and practices can be transferred to one in the form of initiation only by a Guru and cannot be learnt by reading books. Also the initiation is done on an oath of not transferring the knowledge to non-initiated Sadhak.
Since tantrism was fused with female Shaktism, in the dead of the night, the Sadhaks indulged in the Panchamakaras tantrism– madya (wine), mamsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudra (grains) and maithuna (sex) – and chanted mantras invoking the Yoginis in Yogini Pitas. Pleased with their worship, the Yoginis appeared before them dancing, bestowed blessings and rewarded the Sadhaks with the super natural occult powers desired.
As per the tantric text called ‘Jnanarnava Tantra’ a person transmitting sacred secret knowledge to one who is uninitiated, will become food for the Yoginis since the Yogini Cult remained a well-guarded secret over the centuries. Jnanarnava means Ocean of Knowledge which reportedly has 26 chapters. It is considered to be one of the foremost textual compositions of the worship of Sri Vidya and emphasize the worship of Goddess ‘Tripuri’ who is identified as the highest form of knowledge or wisdom surrounded by crores of Yoginis. The text cast in the familiar agamic form as a discourse between Goddess Parvathi and Lord Shiva, the goddess started her query with doubt on the tantra and sought to know the true nature of Shri Vidya. Lord Shiva dilated in detail the secrets about Shri Vidya, the different mantras, rules of reciting mantras, inner worship, Yoginis, rules of initiation and forms of Tripura etc, etc in detail.
As per Vedic astrology there are eight Yoginis who control ones’ life. Each Nakshatra (planet) is assigned to a Yogini. The Yoginis are Mangala, Pingala, Dhanya, Brahmari, Bhadrika, Ulaka, Siddhida, and Sankata. Each one of the Yoginis are associated with one of the nine grahas (planets). The Yogini Dasa is considered while predicting ones horoscope in North India. Ketu does not play a role in this Dasa. Out of the eight Yogini Dasas, four are considered to be good while others are considered inauspicious. The total period of Yogini Dasa in one’s life period is 36 years. Influence of Yogini depends strongly upon the natural character of the Yogini. So the bad Yogini dasa result in difficult periods and vice versa. It is believed that the aspects of Yogini Dasa was first taught by Lord Shiva to Goddess Parvati.
The Yoginis were also sometimes referred as Dakini in some quarters. A Dakini is a type of sacred female spirit in Hinduism while Tibetan literature mentions them as sky dweller or sky dancers. Dhakinis is a term used to describe a ‘sky dancer dancing over the skies with supernatural powers. The Chandi Purana referred them to be celestial of different parts of Devi’s body. The Yoginis and the Dakinis have the powers to move through the air by flying and always moved as a group and not individually. They normally fly and visit cemeteries and worship Lord Bhairava who stay in cemeteries. Yoginis are associated with cemeteries and battle field where they are said to devour upon the dead. They were worshiped by kings and soldiers before going on a battle for good luck and victory. There are references on Dakinis in the Bhagavata Purana, Brahma Purana, Markandeya Purana and Kathasaritsagara. Dakini is stated to be a demon in the train of Kali who feeds on human flesh. Devi Kavacham (mantras to be chanted) in Markandeya Purana provides protection against Dakinis and other tantric Yoginis.
Veneration of Dakinis who were also a sub sect or attendant ganas to the Yoginis appear as fierce, outrageous, intense or playful and nurturing forms. They were worshiped in India sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries. Some in them had even appeared as a human being or as a beautiful goddess or wrathful demi divines decorated with skull besides appearing in naked forms. Though the Dakinis were viewed originally as evil and malevolent spirits, the fact is otherwise. They actually guided the Sadhaks to attain wisdom or enlightenment through tantric rituals. It is stated that their digambara (naked) form represented pure state of mind the sky being their clothes, free of evil thoughts and their movements represent the wavering mind. In order to test the firmness of the mind of the Sadhaks who pray them, the Dakinis deliberately appear before them in naked form with overtones of lust to divert and distract their attention. Today the Dakinis are most closely associated with tantrism in Tibetan Buddhism.
During the renaissance of Jain-Buddhist tantric worship the number of devathas (Yoginis) kept on increasing as three, seven, sixteen, 64, 86, 108 etc correspondingly adding up the magical chants meant for each of them. New devathas (Yoginis) were created to impress the commoner. The devathas (Yoginis) were segregated as good and evil bad by Sadhaks who with the support from the ruling class ensured that some of them were even enshrined in the temples.
During the period of middle age, various devathas (Yoginis) were excluded as evil. Those statues which appeared naked, fierce looking were covered with clothes and some were even thrown away into the fields. In due course of time some of those neglected devathas (Yoginis) became village guardian deities, or placed outside the temple precincts with added up stories.
Let us first understand who the Matrikas were since they reportedly emanated the Yoginis. There are different stories on the manifestation of Ashta Matrikas who emanated the 64 Yoginis. While it is stated that the Ashta Matrikas emerged during the Daksha Yagna from the body of Adi Parasakthi when she was in the form of Sati, some other puranic texts like Devi Mahatmyam tell that seven Saptha Matrikas (as may be found on the outer walls of the Shiva temples) were generated by male gods to help in the war waged by Lord Shiva to annihilate Demon Andhaka. The Matrikas released by the male divines were stated to be Brahmani from Lord Brahma, Vaishnavi from Lord Vishnu, Indrani from Lord Indra, Kaumari from Lord Karthikeya, Varahi from Lord Varaha and Chamunda from Goddess Devi herself. From Lord Narasimma (another form of Lord Vishnu) came out Narasimmi. The eighth of the Matrikas emerged from the flames from the mouth of Lord Shiva was known as Maheswari.
There is confusion who the Matrikas were who helped in the war waged by Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga against the demonic forces since some of the names of Matrikas appear commonly in both the list. The Pundits aver that there need be no confusion on the nos of Matrikas who surfaced in the war waged either by Lord Shiva or by Goddess Durga or during the birth of Lord Karthikeya. All of them had initially originated only from Adi Parasakthi and remained incognito assisting their Mistress Goddess in silence after Daksha Yagna and re surfaced again and again whenever and wherever they were called for to help the divines during their war against demonic forces and were anointed sometimes with other names. Hence the confusion on Saptha and Ashta Matrikas. Whatever be the case, the Tantric literature from the 6th century which has survived to our present time, reveal that the worship of those Goddesses were there in temples throughout India by the 9th century.
Now let us go back to Yoginis story again. The Yoginis are also popularly known and worshiped in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism in several countries in the name of Bhairavis, Dhakinis, Shakinis, Sakinis, Sakthis, etc. The Yoginis are mentioned in the Skanda Purana variously as Yoginis, Dakinis, Shaktis or Bhairavis. The Lalitha Sahasranama and Vishnu Bhagavata Purana reverently call the Divine Mother Shakti as Maha Yogini and Kula Yogini. Sometimes Goddess Durga is even referred to as the queen of the Yoginis because in some of the legends it is stated that the Yoginis came out of the body of Goddess Durga.Out of the generally accepted 64 Yoginis, regardless of their number the most important amongst them is said to be Yogini Mahamaya. Sometimes she is described as the mother of the universe and her appearance is largest compared to the other 63 Yoginis. Vaishnava scholars in the state of Orissa believe that Yogini Mahamaya was the same Yogini who occupied the eyes of Lord Vishnu in the name of Yoganitra, hence she is seen at the entrance gate of the Hirapur temple.
The term Yogini is also used for mysterious female celestial or demi god or angels who can effect extraordinary change in the Siddi powers of Sadhaks who invoke them with mantras. The Yogini tradition in Hinduism, involving the practice of Yoga philosophy and Tantra was well established by the 10th century. This development was not limited to Hinduism, and was practiced also in Buddhist tantra traditions.
Mrs Vidya Dehejia* who wrote a book on Yogini Temples was interviewed for the famous daily ‘The Tribune (https://www.tribuneindia.com/2000/20000430/spectrum/main4.htm )’ in which she has stated thus.
-The worship of 64 Yoginis is seen commonly between 800 and 1300 AD. Most of the temples dedicated to Yoginis are built in this era. The cult is influenced by tantric rituals and a great deal of the worship was conducted to achieve powers of black magic. The number 64, being a multiple of 8, is considered to have magical powers in the numerology of India. Devotees who performed this worship were known to conduct the Shava Chhedan ceremony — meaning beheading of a dead body as the ultimate symbol of detachment from earthly desires. The members of this cult never harmed living beings and never conducted animal or human sacrifices.
Until 1500 AD, there are references in history to the widespread following of this cult. In the eastern provinces, there are reports that Yogini worshipers would ask for corpses from poor families with a promise of a grand funeral and provide this after their Shava or corpse ritual** was over. But in later centuries, out of scary nature of the rituals and because of the growing stronghold of the Bhakti movement all over India — which preached love of god as the finest path to self-realization — this cult died a slow death, and remained only in small pockets of India. Thus, today, several Yogini temples are dilapidated and neglected with even tourists scared to enter them”
**Shava sadhana is one of the tantric worships involving Yoginis and is conducted generally on a new moon day. This is practiced more in Bengal. The Sadhak is left alone with the corpse in the night in the cremation ground or cemetery, or in an abandoned house, a river bank, a mountain, or any other lonely place. The Sadhak repeats a mantra initiated to him by the initiator while bringing the corpse to the designated site of the ceremony to purify and worship as a form of Lord Bhairava. The hair and feet of the corpse are kept tied to ensure that the energy does not escape and to control the spirit of the corpse. Then, the Sadhak will then sit on the corpse for meditation and worship the 64 yoginis and the guardians of all the directions before starting the main ritual and remain seated on the corpse till the ritual is completed. As said earlier, only when the Sadhak attached importance to the Panchamakaras tantrism rituals with wine, meat, fish, yogic practices and intercourse and perform the fete, it is believed that the Yoginis will lead them into the path of attaining highest order level of knowledge and high degree of super natural powers.
References of the Yoginis in the name of mothers can be seen in Mahabharata which has eighteen main stories in which the nineth Parva (part) is called Shalya Parva. The Shalya Parva has 65 chapters and contains several stories including manifestations of River Saraswathi and Lord Karthikeya called Skanda (Lord Muruga) under 44th Chapter. The stories were reportedly narrated to King Janamejaya by a sage named Vaishampayana who was the disciple of Vyasa Muni and from whom he learned the verses of Mahabharata.
The sage revealed to Janamejaya that in the war with Tarahasura, Lord Karthikeya was assisted by several hundred beautiful, sharp nailed, sharp teethed and youthful female goddesses originated by Lords Yama, Rudra, Chandra, Kuber, Varuna, Indira, Agni, Vayu, Brahma and Kumara himself. They were all Yoginis. Sage Vaishampayana after mentioning the names of hundreds of those female mothers said :
These and many other mothers, O bull of Bharata’s race, numbering by thousands, of diverse forms, became the followers of Karthikeya. Their nails were long, their teeth were large and their lips also, ………………………. all of them, endowed with youth, were decked with ornaments. Possessed of ascetic merit, they were capable of assuming any form at will. Having not much flesh on their limbs, they were of fair complexions and endued with splendor like that of gold. Some amongst them were dark and looked like clouds in hue and some were of the colour of smoke…………………. And some were endued with the splendor of the morning sun and were highly blessed. Possessed of long tresses, they were clad in robes of white. The braids of some were tied upwards, and the eyes of some were tawny, and some had girdles that were very long. Some had long stomachs, some had long ears, and some had long breasts. Some had coppery eyes and coppery complexion, and the eyes of some were green.
Capable of granting boons and of traveling at will, they were always cheerful. Possessed of great strength, some amongst them partook of the nature of Yama, some of Rudra, some of Soma, some of Kuber, some of Varuna, some of Indira, and some of Agni, …………………..And some partook of the nature of Vayu, some of Kumara, some of Brahma……………………………. and some of Vishnu and some of Surya, and some of Varaha……………………….. In splendor they resembled fire. In battle they always inspired their foes with terror. Capable of assuming any form at will, in fleetness they resembled the very wind. Of inconceivable might and energy, their prowess also was inconceivable.
They have their abodes on trees and open spots and crossings of four roads. They live also in caves and crematoriums, mountains and springs. Adorned with diverse kinds of ornaments, they wear diverse kinds of attire, and speak diverse languages. These and many other tribes (of the mothers), all capable of inspiring foes with dread, followed the high-souled Karthikeya at the command of the chief of the celestial.
Once upon a time the tantric practices were widely practiced to invoke Yoginis and Dakinis to gain super natural powers during the rule of many Kings especially in the states of Orissa, Kashmir, and Madhya Pradesh and in areas surrounding them. Even today, in and around Ujjain one can find many temples which are centers of powerful tantric powers many of which were worshiped by the famous Indian King Vikramaditya who ruled the then Ujjain and whose kingdom was threatened by the machinations of a sorcerer. King Vikramaditya who carried a dead body possessed by a Vetal in a cemetery to a yogi or holy man without knowing the nefarious game of the holy man, but the dead Vetal aided the King and thwarted the yogi’s nefarious design. Vetal is considered to be a celestial ghost (Bhootha gana) which assists the Yoginis.
The medieval literature such as Somadevasuri’s Yasatilaka, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini and Somadeva’s Katha-saritsagara speaks of several myths and legends about the Yoginis by viewing them as goddesses.
In support of Yogini worship, one of the Kashmir texts, namely ‘Rajatharangini’, meaning river of Kings, which contain 7826 verses written by a Kashmir Brahmin ‘Kalhana’ and who was the first historian of Kashmir, describe the tantric practices which prevailed during the rule of some of the Kings. The 7826 verses, have been divided into eight books called Tarangas (waves). Kalhana may have been a witness to various tantric or agamic cults and practices during the period of Kashmir rulers since he mentions several tantric masters, esoteric practices of the Yogini cult, the installation of Shaiva images etc in the text of Rajatharangini.
As per stories in Rajatharangini some of the Kings were involved in the tantric practices to gain more powers while some of the Kings had also lost their Kingdom due to the tantric Gurus who misguided them. One of the stories narrate the bloody offering of the chief of Damara (Damara is a landlord or wealthy cultivator possessing much land) who was slayed to appease Lord Bhairava and the mothers (Yoginis) in a temple, which were tantric deities.
During those period of time, circles of goddesses or mothers were commonly invoked to gain supernatural powers. Although human flesh or blood etc were often offered to those goddesses, but human sacrifice was less commonly prescribed.
In yet an other interesting story, Kalhana states that one of the ministers named ‘Sandhimat’ in a Kingdom ruled by King Jayendra was murdered for wrong reasons, but the group of Yoginis, sitting in circular form, with their extraordinary supernatural powers revived him to give fresh lease of life by putting together the burnt body bones of Sandhimat at the request of his ‘Guru Ishana’. For some time Sandhimat enjoyed himself with the intoxicated Yoginis as a leader of their circle and subsequently became a King in the same Kingdom. The scene of his revival at the cremation ground is clearly a tantric feast of Yoginis.
Many texts in the ancient literature tells us on the power of Yoginis and their occult powers by way of legends and stories, some of which are not disputed.
As I mentioned earlier, the Yogini temples were initially known as Yogini Pitas and later came to be called as Yogini temples. There are four major extant shrines of the Sixty-four Yoginis in India, two in Odisha and two in Madhya Pradesh. One of the temples in Odisha is the ninth century Chausathi Yogini Temple, Hirapur and the other is the Chausathi Yogini Pitha in Ranipur-Jharial, near Titilagarh in Balangir district. The Yogini temples are not covered on top with concrete shelters and are always open to sky. The Yogini temples are also constructed with a circular cloister, except one temple, the rectangular Yogini temple at Khajuraho.
Two notable Yogini temples in Madhya Pradesh are the ninth-century Chausathi Yogini Temple in Khajuraho, near Chhatarpur and the 10th century Chausathi Yogini Mandir in Bhedaghat, near Jabalpur. The unique aspect of Yogini temples are their intricate sculptures.
The iconography of the Yogini statues in the four Yogini temples are not uniform, nor are the Yoginis the same in each set of 64. While the Yoginis in the Hirapur temple appear in standing posture with the carrier vehicles (Vahana), 62 out of 64 yoginis in the Ranipur-Jharial temple are very large and shown in dancing posture. Two statues are reportedly destroyed or damaged. Fourteen Yoginis are animal headed showing animals like Cat or Elephant in head.
The Chausathi Yogini shrine in Ranipur-Jharial is a rock structure in round shape. The temple has a rock statue with something like a perch at the center, which is claimed as the idol of Lord Brahma, though many believe it to be the statue of Lord Shiva whose manifestation Lord Bhairava control the Yoginis. This confusion is because of the fact that the Lord here considered to be Lord Shiva has three faces and eight arms and is shown with symbol phallus in hand. Everyone knows only Lord Brahma has three heads.
Surprisingly the Yoginis in the Bhedaghat temple are in seated postures and are 81 in nos instead of 64 Yoginis. Though the general opinion has been that the temple was dedicated to sixty-four Yoginis only and the rest of the cells were occupied by other related deities like Matrikas, and other divines at some later stage, some of the historians opine that the original construction of 81 cells would have been to accommodate 81 Yoginis and at later era some of the statues may have been either destroyed or stolen away and in those empty places the statues of other divines may have been installed by some rulers in Kushanas period. Most Yogini temples are dedicated to sixty-four Yoginis. Skanda and Agni Puranas also mention about sixty-four Yoginis only.
There is an interesting local folk lore on this temple. When the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb was destroying the temples of the Indian continent, he reached Jabalpur and started destroying this Yogini temple. When a part of his forces began to destroy the idols of Yoginis and another group of forces went to the central shrine of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati sitting on Nandi Bull to destroy, he could not destroy them due to the sudden appearance of thousands and thousands of honey bees which came from somewhere and attacked the forces. Forces of Aurangzeb ran away in fear unable to contain the fury of honey bees. The local belief has been that the honey bees were non but Yoginis themselves who furious at the action of Aurangzeb, transformed themselves as honey bees and attacked his forces.