In the Tantric pantheon, the sixth mahavidya (Great Cosmic Wisdom) is Chhinnamasta, the goddess without head also known as Chhinnamastika and Prachanda Chandi. In Tantric Buddhism she is known as Chinnamunda.
Hindu literature first mentions Chhinnamasta in the upapurana Shakta Maha-bhagavata Purana (c. 950 CE) and the Devi-Bhagavata Purana (9th–12th century). Elisabeth A.Benard, the author of Chhinnamastā: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess, says that whatever her origins may be, it is clear that Chhinnamasta/Chhinnamunda was known in the 9th century and worshipped by Mahasiddhas( Great siddhas).
The iconography of Chhinnamasta is described in the Trishakti Tantra the Tantrasara , the Shakta Pramoda and the Mantra mahodadhih (1589 CE)
She is both the food and the eater of food, thereby symbolizing the whole world by this act of being devoured and the devourer. The dichotomy of receiver and giver or object and subject collapses into one.
While other fierce Hindu goddesses like Kali depict severing the heads of demons and are associated with ritual self-decapitation, Chhinnamasta’s motif reverses the ritual head-offering, offering her own head to the devotees (attendants) in order to feed them.
Chhinnamasta is “a figure of radical transformation, a great yogini”. She conveys the universal message that all life is sustained by other forms of life, and destruction and sacrifice are necessary for the continuity of creation.
The seer Ganapati Muni (a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi) associated the Mahavidyas with prakasha (“Light”) and nada (“Sound”) in stages of creation. Chhinnamasta is the violent interaction between the Light and the Sound enabling Creation. Chhinnamasta severing her own head is interpreted symbolic of the disconnecting of the Source and the Chhinnamasta signifies that life, death, and sex are interdependent. Her image conveys the eternal truth that “life feeds on death, is nourished by death,necessitates death, and that the ultimate destiny of sex is to perpetuate more life, which in turn will decay and die in order to feed more life”. While the lotus and the lovemaking couple symbolize life and the urge to create life, manifest Creation.
The head is celebrated as a mark of identity as well as source of the seed. Thus, the self-decapitation represents removal of maya(illusion or delusion), physical attachment, false notions, ignorance, and egoism. The scimitar also signifies severance of these obstacles to moksha (emancipation), jnana (wisdom),and self-realization. The goddess also denotes discriminating perception. Chhinnamasta allows the devotee to gain a consciousness that transcends the bonds of physical attachment, the body, and the mind by her self-sacrifice.
One interpretation suggests that her three eyes represent the sun, the moon, and fire while another links the third eye to transcendental knowledge. Unlike other Hindu deities who are depicted facing the devotee, Chhinnamasta generally looks at herself, prompting the devotee to look within him- or herself.
The Chhinnamasta icon is also understood as a representation of the awakening of the kundalini – spiritual energy.The copulating couple represent the awakening in the Muladhara chakra, which corresponds to the last bone in the spinal column. The kundalini flows through the central passage in the body the Sushumna nadi and hits the topmost chakra, the Sahasrara at the top of head – with such force that it blows her head off. The blood spilling from the throat represents the upward-flowing kundalini, breaking all knots (granthis) , those things which make a person sad, ignorant and weak – of the chakras. The severed head is “transcendent consciousness”. The three blood streams represent the flow of nectar when the kundalini unites with Shiva, who resides in the Sahasrara. The serpent in her iconography is also a symbol of the kundalini.
A single jewel attached to a snake in the area of the crown of the head,symbolizes kundalini at crown The goddess has three open eyes that radiate plenty of light.
On her sides there are two other goddesses, whose names are Dakini and Varini. Chinnamastadances over the bodies of Kama, the God of love and his wife, Rati symbolizes union of masculine and feminine energies of the human psyche .In some traditional representations, in their places are Radha and Krishna.
Another interpretation associates Daknini, Varnini, and Chhinnamasta with the three main nadis – Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna, respectively – flowing free. The goddess is generally said to be visualised in one’s navel, the location of the Manipurachakra where the three nadis unite, and symbolizes consciousness as well as the duality of creation and dissolution. Another tradition associates her with the Ajna chakra, the location of the”third eye” of wisdom between the eyebrows, the other meeting point of the three nadis.
At the level of the energetic structure, the Great Cosmic Wisdom Chinnamasta acts mainly on Ajna Chakra,opening the third eye and symbolizing the light that offers the essential direct perception of the surrounding reality that casts away the ignorance inherent to duality. Due to her association with the ascendant pranic flux of energy through sushumna Nadi, Chinnamasta is also correlated with udana vayu, the subtle energy causing the ascension of Kundalini Shakti andthe deep transformation of the human being. Nonetheless, Chinnamasta manifests at all levels when the yogi achieves an act of perception that goes beyond the normal condition.
There are in fact three streams of blood coming out from Chinnamasta’s throat: a central stream that she herself drinks, and two other placed on the left and on the right sides of this central stream, signifying the subtle energies from ida nadi and pingala nadi, and which are drunk by the two goddesses Dakini and Varini. Chinnamasta’s cut head represents the consciousness that was freed from the various limitations of the body and of the mind, while her lightning-shaped hair and radiant eyes are symbols of the direct perception of God’s Absolute Consciousness. On the other hand, the sword she holds in her left hand signifies the discernment (viveka) .
This particularity suggests her capacity of transcending the mind and its functions, so that in the end she achieves the ecstatic reabsorption in the Supreme Void of the Absolute Divine Consciousness.
The headless image of Chinnamasta caused along the centuries, many adverse reactions and erroneous interpretations even amongst the specialists in Hinduism, as she is associated with the obscure magical practices and traditions of Tibet and India.
The modern man, whose behavior and way of thinking is mainly reasonable and logical, considers that “losing one’s head” equals losing touch with the regular sense of reality, which is nonetheless true from certain points of view. However, from a spiritual point of view, these aspects have completely different significance.For the initiate yogis, being without head is one of the known subtle metaphors referring to the transcendence of one’s identification with the bodily consciousness or to the overcoming the attachment towards thoughts and desires. From the yogic spiritual tradition, the condition of the headless state represents in fact our true inner nature, of the divine and perfectly detached witness.
Moreover, this idea of the absence of the head is frequently used as a spiritual metaphor in the spiritual tradition of Jnana yoga, Advaita Vedanta and Zen.
Consequently, the Great Cosmic Wisdom Chhinnamasta whose representation is headless, is the Great Cosmic Wisdom which helps the sincere and devoted yogi to dissolve his or her mind,including all the ideas, attachments, habits, preconceived ideas into the Pure Divine Consciousness, helping him or her to transcend the mind and to merge with the supra-mental state (unmana) of the Divine Beatific Void.
In fact, the only path to the spiritual awakening is theso-called “sacrifice of the mind”,implying the renunciation at the complicated mechanism of attachment and possession thoughts, of which the most persistent is the idea “I am the body”. In the spiritual tradition this sacrifice is symbolized by the cutting off of the head,suggestively indicating the separation of the mind from the body, that is the freedom of the consciousness from the material outfit of the physical body.
We can still ask ourselves: why does this concept need to be pictured in the terrible image of Chhinnamasta when it could be explained and analyzed theoretically in less “shattering”conditions? The answer is that usually the visual images have greater and more dramatic impact on the subconscious determining faster and more forceful changes in one’s conceptions and actions, and achieving more effective breaks to the essential nature than a theoretical lecture .Generally speaking, the mind can accept the points of view presented in a theoretical lecture, and still avoid the reality of these teachings, while the impact of the image cannot be avoided as easily, because the image “communicates” more intensely and more directly with the spiritual heart of the being. The suffering caused by the sacrifice of the ego represents for many people a tough experience, which many try to avoid, although they admit its spiritual importance.
Therefore, in the tradition of the tantra, Chhinnamasta represents Atma-yajna, meaning the self-sacrifice, manifested when someone offers one’s own being with great honesty to the Divine, through an act called “the sacrifice of the mind”, in order to live fully in the unity of the divine consciousness.
Ref : 1) Chinnamastā: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess: Elisabeth A. Benard
2) Tantric Visions ofthe Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās. University of California Press: Kinsley,David R. .
3)Mystery, Wonder, and Knowledge in the Triadic Figure of Mahāvidyā Chinnamastā: Bhattacharya Saxena,Neela .
Featured image by Mattias F. at pinterest