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By Jayant Kalawar, January 17, 2023
In this post I am extending my thoughts from my last post on role of VyAkaraNA in our cognitive process . I want to explore how our ancestors embedded their insights into mUrtis and the role that plays in our upAsanA (the sitting in contemplation next to the Divya Shaktis). The mUrtis embed a subtle language to provide a reflection (pratibimba) of the self. What I offer here is my mimAmsA (interpretation) through a few examples.
As I have been chanting the Sri LalitA SahasranAma almost daily over more than a decade, I have noticed that some of the names spring up spontaneously as I go about on my long daily walk or during mundane chores like washing dishes or doing the laundry. Not only do the nAmAs arise as sound, they emerge as a visualization of the imagery being described. There is a contemplation, a soft churning in the mind, that seems to happen. And sometimes a small insight may emerge. Let me give you an example.
Consider the 17th nAmA of Sri LalitA: ashTami chandra vibhrAja daLika sthala shobhitA. Most of the thousand names, indeed thousand mantrAs, seem tongue twisting to start with. Chanting them with the rhythm of the anushThuba chandA helps us perform ucchAraNa to bring out the sounds – and the flower of the seed mantra begins to blossom. As I do SravaNa of the mantrA, manana follows. ashTami reminds me of the tithi on which we celebrate rising of Sri DurgA Devi during NavarAtri. I imagine looking up in the night sky on ashtami and visualizing a clear bright chandra, slightly greater than half. The mantrA helps me visualize that part of the sky as the Devi’s forehead. With just a slight cognitive shift, I visualize the mantrA’s message that space (the brilliantly lit forehead in the sky) and time (ashTami tithi) is one aspect of the Devi’s myriad spandanA. As that visualization arises, I stop breathing for a few moments. Stopping of the prANic connection, even momentarily, has the potential, when spurred by the mantra, of dissolving one into the ephemeral, beyond space-time.
This one mantra, describing the forehead of the Devi’s Murti, has the power to raise one to ephemeral heights!
The Four Hands, Chatur Bahu, of the Devi’s MUrti
Now let’s consider a more sanguine set of mantrAs, which describe another aspect of Sri LalitA Devi’s Murti: nAmAs 7 to 11.
The 7th nAma describes Sri LalitAmbA’s mUrti as one having four arms, chatur bAhu samanvitA. And then 8th to 11th go on to describe what each of the four arms hold.
In the lower left arm, the Devi Murti holds the noose. In the lower right arm, the goad. The upper right arm holds five long stemmed flowers described as arrows and the upper left arm holds a sugarcane stalk. Next time you contemplate Sri LalitAmbA’s MUrti notice the four arms and what they are holding. Our ancestors designed MUrtis meticulously embedding them with compressed insights.
It is an entire epic manifesting before you. Sri LalitA SahasranAma holds the keys to the treasure of knowledge embedded in the mUrti of Sri LalitAmbA.
The 8th nAmA, rAga-swarupa-pAshADyA, describes the noose in the lower left hand. The shape (swarupa) of the noose (pAshADyA) stands for hungry desire (rAgA) to consume. The hungry desire to consume material objects. Such desire becomes a noose around our neck. It is as if we are on a leash and the hungry desire leads us to consume mindlessly. Sri LalitAmbA’s mUrti is designed to enable introspection, as a reflection of ourselves (pratibimbA).
The 9th nAmA, krodha-AkArA-kushojjvalA, describes the elephant goad in the lower right hand. As a pratibimba of ourselves, the goad (kushojjvalA) is the drive that is made of AkArA (knowledge arising in forms, shapes in space-time) and passion (krodha). Thus, the desire (rAga, a form of IcchA shakti, the kAraNA) transforms into AkArA in space-time (a sukshma manifestation) and results in action in the sthula, through the channel of passion (krodha). As we know, each word in Sanskrit can be and has been interpreted differently (the MimamsA-TarkA process). Here I am using the pratibimba paradigm (a reflection of ourselves), while at the same time staying true to the Shruti: the Devi is IcchA shakti – JnAna shakti – KriyA shakti swaroopiNi (658th nAmA in the Sri LalitA SahasranAma).
The 10th nAmA, mano-rupekshu-kodandA, describes the sugarcane stalk in the upper right hand. The kodanda (bow, sugarcane stalk) indicates the potential to manifest the shapes, forms (rupa) in the mind (mana). The shapes, forms in space-time which are referred to as AkArA are acquired by this potential of kodanda to become rupa in the mind. The cognitive process of acquiring the object and transforming into nAma-rupa is represented by the upper right hand of the mUrti.
The 11th nAmA, panch-tan-mAtra-sAyakA, described the 5 arrows of flowers in the upper left hand. The five arrows represent the five senses, which are deployed to go out and acquire the AkArA, the object, to the manas, to transform it into rupa with an associated nAma. Through such nAma-rupa association, meanings begin to be created.
Thus, the four hands of the Devi’s mUrti are designed to reflect back to the upAsakA (the one who sits at the mUrti’s feet in contemplation), the upAsakA’s own nature. The Lalita SahasranAm is a guide to the upAsakA as she / he visualizes Sri Lalita’S mUrti within themselves and begins to become aware how the Devi’s shakti is manifesting within them.
In that sense LalitAmbA’s mUrti is a yantra, an artifact, embedded with language designed to help us contemplate and understand our cognitive processes as spandanA and how the mAnav spandanA is one of the myriad spandanA of the Devi. As I have shown here through a few examples, guides to open up the mystery, the rahasyA, of each mUrti, are accessible through sravaNa and manana of the corresponding sahasranAmAs[i].
[i] Those, among readers of this article, who wish to research more I would suggest LalitA-SahasranAmA with BhAskararAyA’s Commentary, English Translation (Translated by R. AnanthkrishNa Sastry), The Adyar Library and Research Center, Chennai, 600020, India, 2010. While it is titled as Commentary, it may be more appropriately described as a meticulous compilation of multiple interpretations of each nAmA by many mimamsakAs over millennia. It is a treasure trove of contemplation for upAsakAs.