Yogi Superheroes Round 2 – Day 5 – Chinnamasta

This blogpost should probably come with a warning….here it is:

Chinnamasta is NOT your average run-of-the-mill goddess.  If you need warm and fuzzy, she’s not it. In fact, she’s pretty extreme.  And there will be some explicit material contained herein, so proceed at your own risk!

Still with me?  I thought so…

“Chinnamasta” means “she whose head is severed.”  Yep, she’s the self-decapitating goddess.  Take a look:

She holds her head – her own, live, head – in one hand and a scimitar in the other.  (Yes, it is fair to assume that she used it to cut off her head.)  She has 3 columns of blood squirting out the top of her neck, and if you look closely you’ll see that her two companions are drinking form the two side columns of blood, and that the central column is being consumed by Chinnamasta’s own head. Chinnamasta and her attendants (who are named Dakini and Varini) are all naked and wearing garlands of skulls, and Chinnamasta herself also has a snake coiled around her trunk.  Finally, she’s standing on a “copulating couple” (this is the phrase all the other resources use, so I am sticking with it!), and all of them together are pictured within a pink lotus flower.

Hmm!  Seems like there is a LOT going on here.  But what??

Let’s start with the snake around her neck, which will lead us to the good stuff.  In nearly all Hindu iconography, the snake represents kundalini.  Kundalini is the coiled, dormant force at the base of the human spine (in the muladhara or root chakra) that represents potential awakening and the potential power that arises from connection to universal consciousness.  This force can be awakened through a number of techniques, including hatha yoga, meditation, and even transmission via a guru.  When it awakens, the whole energy body vibrates with life and energy travels along the body’s central column – the sushumna – as well as its left and right channels, the ida and pingala, respectively.  It’s been said that the kundalini is rising so powerfully in Chinnamasta that it blasts her head right off!  And, what do you know, there are three columns of blood emerging from her – the central one, the sushumna, she drinks, and the other two are taken in by her companions on her left and right.  Cool, huh?  So Chinnamasta is spiritually awakened, in a BIG way.

A "puja" or altar to Chinnamasta

Chinnamasta is awakened to the cycle of life, which her iconography very clearly represents.  She is dancing atop a couple having sex….sex is the creative urge that can in fact create new life.  She is drawing from their life-creating energy to feed herself.  Then, she cuts off her head (which, for most people, would result in death – not so for her…) to feed her companions.  They drink her blood and are nourished.  They die, decay, and return to the earth to feed more life.  These lives get together and create more life, which eventually dies.  And the circle goes around and around.  Chinnamasta both gives (her life and blood to her attendants) and takes (energy from the couple on which she stands).  These two actions cannot be separated.

However, Chinnamasta decapitates herself and LIVES!  This may indicate that she possesses “siddhis” or supernatural powers that are the result of an awakened kundalini.  Or, it may be seen to suggest that she has escaped the cycle of birth, sex, death, and rebirth.

I prefer to look at her act as an extreme sacrifice – of her own individuality for the good of the whole.  She is willing to cut off her own head – the seat of the ego and individual self – to feed others with her life force.  And because this is such a noble act, she doesn’t die in that process.  She lives on – maybe in her own body, or maybe in the way her work and power has nourished others.

One blogger, Certified Anusara Instructor Eric Stoneberg writes that Chinnamasta’s act can be seen as one of “radical affirmation.”  In his words:

“She affirms herself so deeply that she is no longer willing to listen to inner voices of doubt, fear or unworthiness. She no longer chooses to listen to ANY voice of limitation. “I can’t, I don’t know, I don’t care, I’m not ready, Someday when, If only…” Chinnamasta is done with such inner dialogue. She is no longer willing to play small. She longs to imbibe a direct experience of her own power. She is happy to cut off her own head because such a sensational act no longer frightens, instead it empowers her desire to experience the whole of herself. She grants herself permission to imbibe her own ecstatic essence. ” – Eric Stoneberg, SugarHill Yoga Blogpost Jan. 27, 2011

This may at first seem to be a little self-aggrandizing – “I am so cool I am going to imbibe my own essence…”  But, if you remember that our own essence is DIVINE, that every one of us is a microcosm of the amazing, intricately detailed and overwhelmingly powerful universe, well, then, it’s not so egoic at all.  In fact, it’s ANTI-egoic.  Her act is a gigantic offering to universal consciousness.  Wow!

I’ll leave you with a story of how I stumbled upon this goddess.  About a month ago, I was attending a workshop on sacred geometry and yantras in Park City, UT with John Friend.  My friend, Vanessa Sulzer, a beautiful and bold yogini in her own right, told me to go into the retail store and look at the collection of about 25 or so yantra stickers being sold and tell her which one I felt most drawn to.  Vanessa, being a kindred sister, had been drawn to Durga and Kali, and was lamenting the fact that she was never pulled towards the sweet, kind goddess.  (I’m pretty sure she figured I wouldn’t be either and wanted some company in that department!)  So I went in and took a look and in about one second my eyes were riveted to one particular yantra.  It said “Chinnamasta.”  I looked her up in the accompanying binder and it said “the self-decapitating goddess.”  (When I went back out to tell Vanessa this I am pretty sure she felt a whole lot better about Durga and Kali!) And thus began an investigation of this radical and esoteric lady.

Here’s the yantra in question.  Two versions.  I love them both!


~ by bridgetannlyons on September 23, 2011.

4 Responses to “Yogi Superheroes Round 2 – Day 5 – Chinnamasta”

  1. thanks for sharing! i find the 1st pic fascinating, because all the characters are different colours, which i think, is meaningful. Also, the couple having sex, the woman is always on top, and as this seems to be a feminist depiction, its quite interesting..

  2. Hi, you may want to watch Joseph Campbell’s Mythos II video “illumination”. he describes the head being cut off as Kali, in Hindu mythology (much more colorful and varied than Buddhist symbols) represents the discriminating nature with her sword and cuts off the head of God, letting go of false consciousness. God is a personification of our most highest selves. Our shadow side not only projects our bad characteristics but also our good ones. People often project their best sides onto gurus or gods. The final obstacle to your enlightenment, as described by the Buddha, is your own god. If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him. Cut off the head of your beliefs. Become purely and only one with that which is happening, without any concepts.

    As scarey as she may be, Kali is the vehicle to reach the most optimal point of consciousness and become one with the universe. Destruction is necessary for without it there can be no transformation. In the end, Kali cuts off her own head. Metaphorically, because she is still standing in the picture holding a sword. The sword is the sword of knowledge, that cuts the knots of ignorance and destroys false consciousness (the severed head).

    The Siva and Sava that she is standing on are the old self and the god, one dead (sava as in savasana) and her husband siva, she is standing on her own god because she has gone beyond him.

  3. Loved this explanation. After something I said, my spiritual teacher said I reminded her of Chinnamasta. So, of course, I had to look her up. I can relate to her in a big way and feel really empowered about the working I am doing! Thank you for the no-nonsense write-up that I can understand!

  4. I like it

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