Top: Kali, Tara, Maha Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneshvari, and Bhairavi
Bottom: Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi, and Shodashi

The Mahavidya (Sanskrit: महाविद्या, IAST: Mahāvidyā, lit. Great Wisdoms) are a group of ten Hindu[1] Tantric goddesses.[2] The 10 Mahavidyas are usually named in the following sequence: Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneshvari, Bhairavi , Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Shodashi.[3] Nevertheless, the formation of this group encompass divergent and varied religious traditions that include yogini worship, Saivism, Vaishnavism, and Vajrayana Buddhism.[4]

The development of the Mahavidyas represent an important turning point in the history of Shaktism as it marks the rise of the Bhakti aspect in Shaktism, which reached its zenith in 1700 CE. First sprung forth in the post-Puranic age, around 6th century C.E., it was a new theistic movement in which the supreme being was envisioned as female. A fact epitomized by texts like Devi-Bhagavata Purana, especially its last nine chapters (31-40) of the seventh skandha, which are known as the Devi Gita, and soon became central texts of Shaktism.[5]


Shaktas believe, "the one Truth is sensed in ten different facets; the Divine Mother is adored and approached as ten cosmic personalities," the Dasa-Mahavidya ("ten-Mahavidyas").[6] As per another school of thought in Shaktism Mahavidyas are considered to be form of Mahakali. The Mahavidyas are considered Tantric in nature, and are usually identified as:[7]

The ten mahavidyas, Rajasthan. Top: Kali. Second row (l->r): Bhairavi, Bhuvaneshvari, Tara. Third row (l->r): Bagalamukhi, Shodashi, Chhinnamasta. Last row (l->r):Tripura Sundari, Matangi, Dhumavati
  1. Kali The goddess who is the ultimate form of Brahman, and the devourer of time (Supreme Deity of Kalikula systems). Mahakali is of a pitch black complexion, darker than the dark of the dead of the night. She has three eyes, representing the past, present and future. She has shining white, fang-like teeth, a gaping mouth, and her red, bloody tongue hanging from there. She has unbound, disheveled hairs. She wears tiger skins as her garments, a garland of skulls and a garland of rosy red flowers around her neck, and on her belt, she was adorned with skeletal bones, skeletal hands as well as severed arms and hands as her ornamentation. She has four hands, two of them had the trident called the trishula and the sword and two others carried a demon head and a bowl collecting the blood dripping from a demon head.
  2. Tara The goddess who acts as a guide and a protector, and she who offers the ultimate knowledge that grants salvation. She is the goddess of all sources of energy. The energy of the sun is believed to originate from her. She manifested as the mother of Shiva after the incident of Samudra Manthana to heal him as her child. Tara is of a light blue complexion. She has disheveled hair, wearing a crown decorated with the digit of the half-moon. She has three eyes, a snake coiled comfortably around her throat, wearing the skins of tigers, and a garland of skulls. She is also seen wearing a belt supporting her skirt made of tiger-skin. Her four hands carry a lotus, scimitar, demon head and scissors. Her left foot rests on the laying down Shiva.
  3. Tripura Sundari (Shodashi, Lalita) The goddess who is "beauty of the three worlds" (Supreme Deity of Srikula systems); the "Tantric Parvati" or the "Moksha Mukta". She is the ruler of Manidvipa, the eternal supreme abode of the goddess. Shodashi is seen with a molten gold complexion, three placid eyes, a calm mien, wearing red and pink vestments, adorned with ornaments on her divine limbs and four hands, each holding a goad, lotus, a bow, and arrow. She is seated on a throne.
  4. Bhuvaneshvari The goddess as the world mother, or whose body comprises all the fourteen lokas of the cosmos. Bhuvaneshvari is of a fair, golden complexion, with three content eyes as well as a calm mien. She wears red and yellow garments, decorated with ornaments on her limbs and has four hands. Two of her four hands hold a goad and noose while her other two hands are open. She is seated on a divine, celestial throne.
  5. Bhairavi The fierce goddess. The female version of Bhairava. Bhairavi is of a fiery, volcanic red complexion, with three furious eyes, and disheveled hair. Her hair is matted, tied up in a bun, decorated by a crescent moon as well as adorning two horns, one sticking out from each side. She has two protruding tusks from the ends of her bloody mouth. She wears red and blue garments and is adorned with a garland of skulls around her neck. She also wears a belt decorated with severed hands and bones attached to it. She is also decked with snakes and serpents too as her ornamentation – rarely is she seen wearing any jewelry on her limbs. Of her four hands, two are open and two hold a rosary and book.
  6. Chhinnamasta ("She whose head is severed") - The self-decapitated goddess.[8] She chopped her own head off in order to satisfy Jaya and Vijaya (metaphors of rajas and tamas - part of the trigunas). Chinnamasta has a red complexion, embodied with a frightful appearance. She has disheveled hair. She has four hands, two of which hold a sword and another hand holding her own severed head; three blazing eyes with a frightful mien, wearing a crown. Two of her other hands hold a lasso and drinking bowl. She is a partially clothed lady, adorned with ornaments on her limbs and wearing a garland of skulls on her body. She is mounted upon the back of a copulating couple.
  7. Dhumavati The widow goddess. Dhumavati is of a smoky dark brown complexion, her skin is wrinkled, her mouth is dry, some of her teeth have fallen out, her long disheveled hair is gray, her eyes are seen as bloodshot and she has a frightening mien, which is seen as a combined source of anger, misery, fear, exhaustion, restlessness, constant hunger and thirst. She wears white clothes, donned in the attire of a widow. She is sitting in a horseless chariot as her vehicle of transportation and on top of the chariot, there is an emblem of a crow as well as a banner. She has two trembling hands, her one hand bestows boons and/or knowledge and the other holds a winnowing basket.
  8. Bagalamukhi The goddess who paralyzes enemies. Bagalamukhi has a molten gold complexion with three bright eyes, lush black hair and a benign mien. She is seen wearing yellow garments and apparel. She is decked with yellow ornaments on her limbs. Her two hands hold a mace or club and holds demon Madanasura by the tongue to keep him at bay. She is shown seated on either a throne or on the back of a crane.
  9. Matangi - The Prime Minister of Lalita (in Srikula systems), sometimes called Śyāmala ("dark in complexion", usually depicted as dark blue) and the "Tantric Saraswati". Matangi is most often depicted as emerald green in complexion, with lush, disheveled black hair, three placid eyes and a calm look on her face. She is seen wearing red garments and apparel, bedecked with various ornaments all over her delicate limbs. She is seated on a royal throne and she has four hands, three of which hold a sword or scimitar, a skull and a veena (a musical instrument). Her one hand bestows boons to her devotees.
  10. Shodashi (Shodashi) The lotus goddess; sometimes called the "Tantric Shodashi". Shodashi is of a molten gold complexion with lush black hair, three bright, placid eyes, and a benevolent expression. She is seen wearing red and pink garments and apparel and bedecked with various ornaments and lotuses all over her limbs. She is seated on a fully bloomed lotus, while with her four hands, two hold lotuses while two grant her devotees' wishes and assures protection from fear.

All these Mahavidyas reside in Manidvipa.

The Maha bhagavata Purana and Brihaddharma Purana however, list Shodashi (Sodasi) as Tripura Sundari, which is simply another name for the same goddess.[9]

The Todala-Tantra associates the Mahavidyas with the Dashavatara, the ten avatars of Vishnu, in chapter ten. They are as follows:

Todala-Tantra Association between the Mahavidyas and the Dashavatara
No. Mahavidya names Dashavatara names
1. Kali Krishna
2. Tara Matsya
3. Tripura Sundari Parashurama
4. Bhuvaneshvari Vamana
5. Bhairavi Balarama
6. Chhinnamasta Narasimha
7. Dhumavati Varaha
8. Bagalamukhi Kurma
9. Matangi Rama
10 Shodashi Buddha

The Guhyati guyha-tantra associates the Mahavidyas with the Dashavatara differently, and states that the Mahavidyas are the source from which the avatars of Vishnu arise.

Guhyati Guyha-Tantra Association between the Mahavidyas and the Dashavatara
No. Mahavidya names Dashavatara names
1. Kali Krishna
2. Tara Rama
3. Tripura Sundari Kalki
4. Bhuvaneshvari Varaha
5. Bhairavi Narasimha
6. Chhinnamasta Parashurama
7. Dhumavati Vamana
8. Bagalamukhi Kurma
9. Matangi Buddha
10 Shodashi Matsya

Note: In the above list do not get confused the names of Matanga Bhairava with Matanga Rishi, and Narada Bhairava with Narada Rishi.

See also


  1. ^ Kinsley (1997) pp. ix, 1
  2. ^ (Shin 2018:316)
  3. ^ Shin (2018, p. 17)
  4. ^ (Shin 2018:316)
  5. ^ Brown, Charles Mackenzie (1998). The Devī Gītā: The Song of the Goddess. SUNY Press. p. 23. ISBN 9780791439401.
  6. ^ Shankarnarayanan, S (1972). The Ten Great Cosmic Powers: Dasa Mahavidyas (4 ed.). Chennai: Samata Books. pp. 4–5. ISBN 9788185208381.
  7. ^ Kinsley (1997) p. 302
  8. ^ Daniélou, Alain (1991). The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollingen Series. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. pp. 284–290. ISBN 978-0-89281-354-4.
  9. ^ Kinsley, David R (1987). Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass Publication. pp. 161–165. ISBN 9788120803947.


  • Shin, Jae-Eun (2010). "Yoni, Yoginis and Mahavidyas : Feminine Divinities from Early Medieval Kamarupa to Medieval Koch Behar". Studies in History. 26 (1): 1–29. doi:10.1177/025764301002600101. S2CID 155252564.
  • Shin, Jae-Eun (2018). Change, Continuity and Complexity: The Mahavidyas in East Indian Sakta Traditions. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-32690-3.