The expression Dasa Mahavidya in Hinduism refers to ten forms of Great Wisdoms of Parvati or Adi Parashakti (original supreme power). Ten Mahavidya comprise Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari or Shodoshi, Bhuvaneswari, Tripura Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala. The manifestations of the spectrum of these ten aspects of transcendental knowledge representing the cycle of time and cosmic energies and encompassing all potential past, present and future range from the horrendous virago to the raving beauty. Therefore, according to some Hindu traditions the forms of Mahavidya are classified into two. Tara, Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneswari, Matangi and Kamala are the eleemosynary and generous forms, whereas, Kali, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati and Bagalamukhi are the terrible manifestations. According to Shaktaism, the eternal abode of the supreme goddess is Manidweepa which is posited in the mid-ocean called Sudha Samudra (The Ocean of Nectar).

Legends behind Dasa Mahavidya:

There are a number of legends behind the origin of the manifestation of Dasa Mahavidya. The most popular among them is such. According to Brihaddharma Purana, the root cause of Dasa Mahavidya is a conjugal quarrel Between Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. King Daksha Prajapati, a descendant of Brahma and the father of Sati, being infuriated in the marriage of his daughter with beggarly vagrant Lord Shiva, arranged a yagna (fire sacrifice) to humiliate his son-in-law. He invited all gods and goddesses except Lord Shiva. But Sati, despite her husband’s stern forbiddance, insisted on attending her father’s yagna.

Foreseeing dire consequences, Shiva did not give permission to Sati to attend the ceremony. Then enraged Sati with her ten different forms circumvented absconding Lord Shiva from ten cardinal directions to make him aware of the eternal spiritual truth and the superiority of woman power.

According to another legend, once while Shiva and Parvati were engrossed in playing numerous love games, the jest and fun took a serious turn. The mock fight reached to such a grave extent that Shiva walked out on his consort. Then Parvati applied all her power of cajolement and coaxing to convince Shiva in vain. Finding no other way, Parvati with her ten different forms besieged Shiva from all cardinal directions to make him aware of their eternal mutual love.

1. Goddess Kali:

Divine Mother Kali is considered the first manifestation in the series of ten Mahavidyas. Etymologically, the word ‘Kali’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kaal’ i.e. time. She is the devourer of time. Her three eyes symbolise past, present and future. She is the slayer of the ‘mada’ i.e. pride or ego. She is the personification of the ultimate wrath of the Goddess Durga. She is often depicted as the Goddess of Death. She is the embodiment of contradictory qualities like light and darkness, beauty and beast, humanity and divinity and absoluteness and relativity. Her complexion is darker than the pitch darkness of the night symbolising that eternal darkness from which all forms of life springs up. In Devi Mahatmya, Goddess Kali is depicted as an emaciated building with dark flesh hanging loosely from her bones and dishevelled hair. Her protruded tongue is lolling to quench her thirst of blood. She dons a tiger hide and is adorned all over with the skulls of demons and their bones. One of her four arms is equipped with a kharga (scimitar) smeared with dripping blood. She holds the severed head of a fierce demon called Raktabija. Other two hands are in abhaya mudra (providing courage) and varada mudra (dispensing boons) gestures to bless her devotees with sumptuous boons. Kali trampling on Shiva’s chest represents supremacy of Prakriti (nature) over Purush (man).

2. Maa Tara:

Tara in the succession of Dasa Mahavidya is the second form. She is considered as the Goddess of protection and guidance. When Lord Shiva swallowed the venom secreted by Vasuki, the great snake king of the Nagas, during Samudramanthan (Sea churning) to save the universe, he fell unconscious. Then Goddess Durga manifested as the mother of Lord Shiva to breastfeed him that acted as antidote. All sources of energy including the sun emanate from her. She offers ultimate knowledge of salvation. According to Tantrism, She is the embodiment of Shakti, female primordial energy. She, like Kali, symbolizes death of the ego and earthly thraldoms. Though the word ‘Tara’ literally means star, it is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘tr’ meaning to cross. Maa Tara closely resembles the preceding form Kali except her light blue complexion. Her head is covered with dishevelled hair creating a backdrop like a nimbus cloud. She is wearing a crown and a skirt of tiger hide and a garland of skulls. She has three eyes like Kali. A snake is coiled around her throat. She is standing upon a supine Shiva in an inert corpse-like state.

3. Tripurasundari:

Tripurasundari or Shodashi is the third form in the series of Dasa Mahavidya. The name Tripurasundari itself connotes peerless beauty in the Three Worlds i.e. Swarga (heaven), Marta (earth) and Patal (underworld). According to another interpretation she resides in ‘irda’ (mind), ‘pingala’ (spirit) and ‘sushmna’ (intelligence). She is the supreme deity of Manidweepa, the eternal abode of the Dasa Mahavidya. Her four arms are attributed with a noose, a goad, a bow and five arrows. Her complexion is like molten gold and the first splendour of the rising sun. Her face with three placid eyes expresses a disposition of comportment and calmness. Her limbs are adorned with ornaments. She is seated on the lotus shaped navel of Lord Shiva. The four props of her throne comprise Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswar and Rudra. Therefore, she is the conglomeration of female counterparts of the Trinity who are entrusted with the power of creation, maintenance and destruction. She is also known as Lalita and Rajarajeshwari (the queen of queens).

4. Maa Bhuvaneswari:

Bhuvaneswari or the Goddess of the Universe is the fourth form of Dasa Mahavidya. Pleased with the austere penance with the desire of creating the Universe by Lord Brahma, the primordial female energy manifested as Bhubaneswari. She is considered the supreme goddess who embodies cosmos. She symbolizes the cycle of creation, sustenance and destruction. She is also identified as Mahamaya, Viswarupa and Sarvarupa. She is omnipotent. Bhubaneswari is of red complexion. She is seated on a lotus flower symbolising the source of all creations. Crescent moon is shining on her head and her body is bedecked with ornaments. Her two hands are equipped with a goad and noose and other two hands assume the gestures of blessing and assurance. Her three eyes represent ubiquitous knowledge of past, present and future.

5. Bhairavi or Tripura Bhairavi:

Next female version of Dasa Mahavidya is Bhairavi or Tripura Bhairavi. She is a female yogini with the knowledge of Kundalini Tantra. Her complexion is flaming red. Her entangled hair tied up in a bun decorated with a crescent moon and her three terrible eyes evoke horror. She is bedecked with a pearl necklace around her neck. Garlands of skulls and girdles of chopped hands adorn her breast and waist. She has four arms. Two of her hands are adorned with a sword and a trident. Other two hands are in the gestures of abhaya mudra (providing courage) and varada mudra (dispensing of boons). Besides, Bhairavi is also found holding a book symbolising knowledge and a rosary indicating devotion. Goddess Kali manifested in Bhairavi form to kill Chanda and Munda, the two powerful demons.

6. Maa Chinnamasta:

One of the most horrific forms of Dasa Mahavidya is Chinnamasta or Prachanda Chandika. The self-decapitated Goddess is quenching the thirst of herself along with Jaya and Vijaya metaphorically Rajas and Tamas, two of the three subtle basic components of nature (trigunas). Once Parvati accompanied by her two friends Dakini and Varmini also known as Jaya and Vijaya was taking bath in the Mandakini River. Parvati was overwhelmed with elation. At that very moment her two friends felt sudden pangs of hunger. They entreated Parvati to feed them and satisfy their hunger. Then Parvati slit her throat with her fingernail and decollated her head from her torso. Three spurts of blood directly poured into the mouths of the decapitated head of Parvati and her two accomplices. Chinnamasta is of red complexion. Her decapitated crowned head is held in one hand. Other three hands are attributed with a Kharga, a bowl containing blood and a lasso. All the three are adorned with the garlands of skulls. Chinnamasta form represents the spirit of sacrifice and atonement.

7. Dhumavati:

Dhumavati is the seventh incarnation of Dasa Mahavidya. Once Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati were whiling away leisure hours in Kailash. Parvati being very hungry entreated Lord Shiva to arrange some food to satisfy her hunger. But Shiva’s repeated requests to keep patience made her restless and she devoured her husband who was in deep meditation to appease her hunger. Immediately, smoke started emitting from her body. Shiva arose from meditation and reminded Parvati of the mystery of Purush and Prakiti. This widow form of Goddess Parvati is worshipped in the nomenclature of Dhumavati. Dhumavati with grey complexion, wrinkled skin, bloodshot eyes, fallen out teeth and dishevelled hair is the ugliest form of Parvati. She is attired white without ornaments like a widow. She represents hunger, poverty, thrust, belligerence and such other inauspicious and negative aspects of life. She is beyond frustration and all kinds of imputation. The crow appears emblazoned on her banners. She represents the Great Void into which creation and dissolution are imbibed.

8. Bagalamukhi Maa:

Bagalamukhi is one of the ten forms of Dasa Mahavidya. The word ‘bagla’ is the distorted pronunciation of the Sanskrit word ‘valga’ (rein or bridle). Therefore, the Goddess Bagalamukhi possesses the power to control or rein and even paralyze the enemies. According to a popular legend, a huge storm once lashed the universe threatening to destroy the whole creation. Then all the gods invoked Mother Goddess Sati on the shore of Haridra Sarovara to save the creation from the tempest. Appeased by the austere penance of the gods, the goddess manifested as Bagalamukhi and quelled the storm and restored the order of the universe. In another legend, when an asura named Madan blessed with Vak-siddhi (absolute power of speech), abused his power, the goddess grabbed his tongue and immobilized his power of eloquence. She stands for the power of hypnotism. The complexion of her body is golden yellow. She is seated on the throne of nectar surrounded by yellow lotuses.

9. Matangi or Tantric Saraswati:

The ninth form of Dasa Mahavidya is popularly known as Matangi or ‘Tantric Saraswati’. She is the presiding goddess of language, art, finer qualities, deeper wisdom and inner thought. She is named after her father Rishi Matanga. She leads her devotees to Om, the primordial cosmic sound. She is depicted as emerald green in complexion. She with her dishevelled black hair and three placid eyes is bedecked with ornaments all over. She is seated on a royal throne. Her three hands are attributed with a scimitar, a skull and a venna and the fourth one is in the gesture of bestowing boons to her devotees.

10. Tantric Form of Lakshmi:

In the succession of Dasa Mahavidya, Kamala is the tenth manifestation. She is also identified as the Tantric form of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. She is one of the fourteenth Ratnas (gems or treasures) that emerged from the sea during Samudramanthan (Churning of the Sea). She is the goddess of creation and consciousness. She is exquisitely beautiful. The goddess with golden complexion is seated on a full-bloom lotus that signifies purity and piety. She is the goddess of material happiness and earthly possessions. She is being showered by two elephants. She holds two Parijat Flowers (heavenly flowers) in her two hands. Other two hands are in the gestures of abhayamudra and varadamudra as well.


Dasa Mahavidyas are combinations of contradictory elements, qualities and characteristics. There are confounding juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, creation and annihilation, fear and fair, assurance and frustration, sex and death, attraction and repulsion, materialism and immaterialism and so on. However, the ten Mahavidyas represent the collective sublimation of spiritual truth and inner spirit. For pursuers of spiritual truth, these ten forms of Mahavidyas represent different states of inner awakening leading to the path of Moksha (emancipation from the cycle of birth and death) and enlightenment (divine knowledge). Needless to say, such a spiritual school of thoughts establishes unequivocal supremacy of esoteric female power and wisdom over male counterparts. 

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