Emerald green in color, she sits on a throne and rests her delicate feet on a lotus. Clad in red robes and a garland of flowers, she glows brilliantly, with drops of perspiration on her face that emanate from her own radiance and render her even more alluring. A crescent moon crowns her head of long and wildly flowing hair. She is four-armed and wields a bloodied scimitar in the first, a veena (stringed instrument) in the second and a parrot in the third, while the fourth forms a boon-bestowing mudra. Another parrot rests on Her lap, looking up at her intoxicated eyes. This is the iconography of the ninth Mahavidya, Matangi.
Other iconographies of Matangi also exist, some with fiercer (a disheveled sixteen-year old girl sitting atop a corpse, wielding a pair of scissors in one hand and a bowl of blood in another) or gentler (a radiant, sweetly smiling, dark complexioned young woman playing the veena and surrounded by the music of parrots) forms. In all cases, Matangi is thought to depict another form of Goddess Saraswathi symbolizing knowledge and most importantly, the power of expression, i.e., speech. Matangi, like Saraswathi, is worshiped by all forms of expression – music, art, writing, debate and so on. Her sadhana is simple; it is the outpouring of any of these modalities of expression. With practice and engagement, the particular form of expression is refined over time.
According to Vedic lore, speech occurs in four stages that also correspond to the four states of consciousness. The manifest or gross form of speech is called “sthula” (also known as the physical structure of matter) and corresponds to “jagrat”, the waking state that operates in the world of matter. Sustaining the gross speech is its vital life-force called “sukshma” (subtle) and this corresponds to “swapna”, the dream state (the play of mind that is subtler than the physical world). Nurturing the sukshma is the still subtler “karana” (causal), which the consciousness beyond the life force, and this corresponds to “sushupti”, the deep sleep state (pure consciousness without the gross objects of the physical world or the subtle objects of the mind). Further upstream is the “mahakarana” (primordial), which corresponds to “turiya”, the fourth “state” that transcends the three states of waking, dream state and deep sleep.
Furthermore, “vak” (speech) in its three states of manifestation is located within the various subtle neurobiological centers along the spine. The as-yet unmanifest speech turned toward manifestation (paraa vak) is located at the muladhara (root center) at the bottom of the spine, sustaining the spine and the other centers. This center is ruled by Tripura Bhairavi, the fifth Mahavidya who represents the pent-up energy and force of tapas (practice or austerity). Next comes pashyanti vak or the speech that perceives that is located in the manipura (navel center) and is governed by Tara, the second Mahavidya who represents the glory of “Om”. Expressed or articulated speech (vaikhari vak) is located in the vishuddhi (throat center) and is governed by Matangi.
Matangi is represented as a dark goddess because in order to find expression, the wordless, objectless and pristine truth (mahakarana or turiya) has to descend into the “darkness” of physical matter through decreasing levels of subtlety. Just as turiya is seemingly “lost” in the absolute identification of the waking state, speech most often defiles the pristine state of its origin. The great light that transcends all colors and forms becomes colored as it descends into articulation. It is thought that Matangi has her name from being the wife of Shiva, also known as Matanga. However, matanga is the process whereby the unmanifest speech first perceives itself and then touches the thinking mind to be transformed into expression. Matangi is the shakti of this process of matanga.
In various tantras, Matangi is also known by her fierce name, Uchistha Chandali. Chandali is a derogatory name given to a woman of the lowest section of society that subsists on the left-overs of the other classes. It is a common practice in some tantric sects to worship Matangi with food left-over from their plates served with dirty hands and other taboo offerings such as menstrual blood. The significance of Matangi as Chandali surpasses these superficial customs. Chandali represents what is left over of the Supreme mahakarana or turiya that descends into expression. She remains undiminished, eternal and infinite no matter what is created “out of” her supreme brilliance as turiya or mahakarana. Thus, the sadhana of Matangi calls for no ritualistic cleansing or preparation. She will accept all offerings “as is” since she is the source and the end result of all creation.
The tantras also describe similarities between Matangi and the elephant-headed deity, Ganapathi. Like Matangi, he is often referred to as “Uchistha Ganapathi”. Matanga is a synonym for elephant and like Matangi, Ganapathi is hailed for his wisdom, memory and intelligence. As expression, he represents all four aspects of vak – as para vak, he rules over the muladhara, as the “Om”, he represents pashyanti vak in the manipura and in the visuddhi as vaikhari vak. As Uchistha Ganapathy, he represents mahakarana or turiya, the never-diminished “left-over” of expression. Thus, Matangi and Ganapathi represent the same aspect of divinity, the power of expression.
In Sri Vidya Sadhana, Matangi takes the prominent role as the minister of Lalitha or Tripura Sundari, the central goddess of the path and the third Mahavidya. Tripura Sundari permeates and transcends all the triads of states of consciousness, gunas and action. As Matangi controls the descent of the transcendent Supreme into their triads of expression in the states of consciousness, gunas and actions, she is the gateway to the knowledge and wisdom of Sundari. As this “Rajamatangi” or minister, she has two distinct personalities that represent fluency and brilliance of speech (Vagvadini) and the path of energy up the three centers along the spine that results in the fluency of articulated speech (Nakuli). In the silence created by the strike of Bagalamukhi, these two personalities transform ordinary expression into wisdom. The stem of the veena in her hands symbolizes the sushumna (the subtle energy channel that traverses along the spinal cord) and the strings by the energy channels emanating from the sushumna. In the hands of Matangi, the sadhaka becomes the veena, blessed with the loss of internal conflict discord and disharmony.
Just as a parrot with no human faculties can imitate human speech, a sadhaka surrenders his/her discursive thoughts, allowing expression to flow from the play of the Divine Mother. In this surrender, a miraculous shift takes place. While inquiring into direct experience, first we see that our experiences of the world are limited to the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. In direct experience, all we can ever know is, for example, the color and fragrance of an object such as a flower. The labeling of the experience as a “rose” or “lily” is not part of the direct experience – that is added from memory and learning.* Furthermore, all experiences arise and fall in a sequence that gives the illusion of the experience being “true” – first the seeing of the color and shape, then the memory of “rose” or “lily” and then the thought that says “this is a rose”. By step three, the direct and vivid experience of the color is lost as the mind takes center place. Bagalamukhi takes away this illusion of inference such that direct experience of our bodies, minds and the world is made possible. With this inquiry, our identity as the person begins to fall away, giving way to the vast awareness that is our true nature. The “I” that bound us to our personality, body and mind is also seen to arise in awareness. Nothing in our experience is found to be “outside of” awareness; objects are then known to be not separate or different from awareness.
As inquiry progresses, the deeper association between language and inference becomes clear. While previously, language seemed to indicate the truth (“rose” or “lily”) in definite and fixed ways, the association loosens up and it becomes obvious that expression is always only inference, and can never be the truth. In fact, language comes to be seen as not referring to truth in any way. How could the Supreme Truth ever be adequately expressed in limited language? Thus, our own views and ideas begin to be seen in a new and joyful light of “not really true”. All expressions are gradually seen to be equally (or neither) true or false ,as attachment to the pairs of opposites (such as true/not true, pure/impure, beautiful/ugly, good/bad, black/white, day/night and so on) begins to be severed by her great scimitar. This is why Matangi can be offered “impure” things like left-over food or menstrual blood – no object or offering is ever “outside” of her – she is the basis of all opposites and transcends them all. Pure and impure offerings are of the same “substance” – her, and yet can never refer to her as her true supreme nature. All offerings are only inferences and do not actually refer to purity! Thus, the darkness represented by her “descent” into matter (where expression had previously been equated to physical and mental objects as the absolute truth) begins to lift as all is seen through the eyes of awareness. Paradoxically, expression begins to become refined by the wisdom and kindness generated by this inquiry through the loss of “tightness” around expression and language.
In this fire of inquiry, all experiences are gleefully and indiscriminately offered up to her as Uchishta Chandali – the good, the bad and the ugly thoughts, ideas, memories, dreams and speech that form the basis of our states of consciousness and expression. As the great fire, she willingly consumes them all and burns them into the uniform ash of mahakarana or turiya, preparing us for the last of the Mahavidyas, Kamalatmika.
Image source: Sulekha.com
* This description is from my practice of the “Direct Path” as expounded by Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon and Dr. Greg Goode. For those interested in the Direct Path, I highly recommend the following books: “The Direct Path – A User’s Guide” and “Standing as Awareness”, both by Dr. Goode. In my case, the Direct Path has most definitely contributed to a deeper understanding of tantra and the sadhana of the Mahavidyas.