Chausath Yogini Temple: Saraswati

As you walk through the circular hypaethral Chausath Yogini Temple, do closely observe the yogini figurines. You would witness the strong influences of Buddhist Tantra; Greeks, Romans, and Japanese cultures on the sculpture. During a period of Tantric dominance within Buddhism, many of the Mahayana Buddhist texts were transmitted through the Himalayan passes to Nepal, Tibet, Java, China, and eventually Japan.

It seems that the people of other civilizations took a keen interest in the Chausath Yogini Temple. Was it only for trade and commerce? Or was it also for the acquisition of the ancient knowledge of occult power? It still remains shrouded in a mystery.

In this blog, I will give an insight into the unknown aspects of the Yogini Saraswati. As we take a closer look at the 22nd, 23rd, and 30th Yogini figurines with their various aspects in the Chausath Yogini Temple, we get reminded of the Indian goddess Saraswati. Some researchers consider the 22nd, 23rd, and 30th yoginis as Saraswati, Birupa, and Kaumari respectively.

Saraswati can be considered as Indian counterpart of the Greek Athena, the goddess of warfare, art, and crafts; the Roman Minerva, the goddess of music, poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, and crafts; the Egyptian Seshat, the goddess of wisdom, music, and speech; the Celtic Brigid, the goddess of the hearth, medicine, arts, and wisdom; the Tibetian Neela Saraswati, the Buddhist Vajra Saraswati, Vajrana-Sarasvati, Vajra-Sarada and Mahasarasvati; and the Japanese Benzaiten, the goddess of wisdom, fertility, and abundance.

Neela Saraswati is a manifestation of Tibetian goddess Tara who is associated with speech (‘Vacdevi’ is another name of Saraswati), culture, and learning. In the Tibetian tradition, Neela Saraswati is known as Yang Cheng Mo. She is the goddess of performing arts, especially music. In her musical moment and demeanor, Neela Saraswati is called Piwa Karpo. Her Chinese Buddhist name is Miao-yin-mu.

The 22nd Yogini figurine, depicted as a four-armed deity, gracefully stands on a serpent, with a stringed instrument stretching from the left shoulder to the right thigh. She is seen twitching her moustache with her left upper hand. Her braid of hair looks like a rising flame, some kind of a curse for those men who have exploited vulnerable women throughout the ages. It is as if the power is being raised from the earth by drawing the energy from the element of fire.

Here we find an association of Indian Saraswati with the Egyptian Seshat who also has a musical instrument in her hands. Snake is — at times — linked with the Roman Minerva and the Celtic Brigid, and well associated with the Japanese Benzaiten who is at times depicted with a white snake headdress. Snakes, dragons, and foxes are strongly linked with this Japanese goddess. Both the deities, Athena and Minerva are seen having olive trees along with them.

The 23rd Yogini figurine, depicted as a two-armed figurine with a braid of hair on her head. This yogini is without any ‘vahan’ or vehicle. There are lines of water flowing below her feet. Some call her the river goddess and some refer to her as ‘Saraswati’. In the Vedas, we do see the reference of Saraswati as a river with strong healing properties. The Japanese Benten/ Benzaiten is also associated with water, thunder, and lightning.

The figurine seems to be a non-tantric, benign, graceful, and yet a powerful form; an epitome of purity standing in the ‘dwibhanga’ pose on the rippling water/ waves of a flowing river. To me, she seems to strike a balance with her right foot firmly placed on the solid pedestal and her left foot on the carved ripples created by the flowing river.

The 30th Yogini figurine stands on a peacock-like bird. The Indian Saraswati is associated with both swan and peacock while the owl is associated with both Greek Athena and the Roman Minerva.

I was quite fascinated and tried to communicate with the three yogini figurines. The message that came through was to traverse through the challenges of life stoically with the head held high, employ the strength of willpower, and yet to remain flexible till the end of Life’s journey.

The write-up is based on the knowledge acquired from a teacher, my observation, and my research work when I had visited the Chausath Yogini Temple thrice between the years 2015 and 2018.

(to be continued…)

Originally published at https://www.speakingtree.in.

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