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Approaching Lalita: three modalities

“Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual movement the execution of ritual gesture,
my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other acts the rite of sacrifice,
my lying down prostration in worship, my every pleasure enjoyed with dedication of myself,
let whatever activity is mine be some form of worship of you.”

I approach Lalita through her singular form (image) which has stories attached (her history, deeds) which exists in relation to others and she unfolds, through her yantra, into her innumerable forms. Her Shaktis (powers, capacities, affects). She is simultaneously singular and multiple. Lalita-as-yantra expands Her into her multiple affects. Each point in the yantra a crossing, a capacity; each capacity potentially able to fractally expand into a yantra itself. An infinitude of capacities, waiting to be encountered. Infinite recursion and expansion. Each moment: flowers bursting forth, folding in.

“When she, the ultimate Shakti, of her own will (svecchaya) assumed the form of the universe, then the creation of the chakra revealed itself as a pulsating essence. From the void-like vowels with the visarga emerged the bindu, quivering and fully conscious. From this pulsating stream of supreme light emanated the ocean of the cosmos, the very self of the three mothers.”
Heart of the Yogini Tantra

Srividya is, at its core, monistic. There is one Goddess – Lalita. She created the Universe, she is the Universe, and she is everything that makes up the Universe. She is simultaneously utterly transcendent and utterly immanent. She is present in everything, and so everything is, inherently, divine.

Yet, as much as She is singular, Lalita is multiform – as indeed the Universe is, because in order to enjoy Herself – to play, Lalita becomes everything. She is the perceiver, the perceived, and the very act of perception – meaning that She is present and is the source of all cognitive events.

There are three main routes for reconnecting with Lalita. The iconographic, the motive, and the spatial (these are my terms). The iconographic is the use of iconic images (statues, paintings, visualisation etc.). The motive is the speaking of Lalita’s sixteen-syllable mantra – and the mantra is Lalita. The spatial is most readily understood as the Sri Yantra – Lalita as a nexus of unfolding interrelationships. Some practitioners have tended to view the mantric & yantric modalities as superior to the practice of approaching Lalita as an icon or anthropomorthic image. Hence the iconic is called sthula (“physical”) the mantra-Lalita practice suksma (“subtle”) and Yantra-Lalita practice is called para (“supreme”). Yet these modalities are not seperate, but interdependent, as Lalita is threefold – hence She is often addressed as Tripurasundari – “she who is beautiful in the three worlds”.

Lalita, in her supreme aspect (parasakti) is often described as “beautiful” (saundarya) and “benign” (saumya). Yet She encompasses all aspects of goddess in every possible form. Whilst she is benign, she is also frequently described as terrifying (ugra) – all of her qualities are complemented by their opposites.

The sthula modality of Lalita is often considered to be her exoteric or simplest form – suitable for approaching Her through devotion (bhakti). The anthropomorphic mode of Lalita can be thought of as a gateway to her mantric and yantric modalities.

My longtime relationship to Kali is not lessened if I acknowledge Kali as an aspect of Lalita – or indeed, vice versa. In some versions of the Lalitopahkyana Kali (and Ganesa) are created as byproducts of Lalita’s battle against the demon Bhandasura. In the Yantra-magic of Lalita, a Goddess arises out of each intersection between the lines. Each goddess can be approached as “seperate” to Lalita, and yet remains Lalita ultimately. Each Goddess may reveal Her own yantra, her own mystery – on and on in a potentially endless fractal-like recursiveness. The Yantra is simultaneously the Goddess, the Universe, and one’s being-in-the-world. Are Kali and Lalita seperate, are they aspects of each other – my answer is only that it is a case of yes, and no, and somewhere inbetween.

Lalita’s mystery can be apprehended in moments when we enter into the sentiment which is that of wonder-joy. It is in moments of joy, of wonder, of surprise, that we become one with Lalita (Lalita can be translated as “the playful one”). So Lalita’s sadhana (methodology) can be that of opening up to opportunities that afford us experiences of joy, wonder, surprise, and to understand that they are gifts offered in order that we may share Her joy, Her wonder of Her eternal play.

Knowing all this to be true, I strive to live according to this realisation – that everything is divine – that everything and anything may, if I allow it, afford me a glimpse of Lalita, a shared glance, a mutual recogniton.


  1. Digambaranath
    Posted September 16th 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Nice thoughts. It’s interesting that the yantra is ranked above the mantra, like abstract visual is better than abstract aural.

    Posted September 28th 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    This post influenced my effort to integrate Sri Vidya intomy PhD. Here is the abstract written paetly under the inspiration of this post. Any comments will be appreciated:

    “This essay develops the cosmographic possibilities of spatial navigation through a comparison between exploration of city space and exploration of forest space. These are represented by my exploration of the cosmographic scope of the city of Benin, Nigeria, and Susan Wenger’s development of the cosmographic values of the Osun forest in Nigeria.

    This comparison is carried out in terms of a body of ideas depicting spatial navigation as a physical and cognitive act. These ideas are related, explicitly and implicitly, to the relationships I establish between the visual forms and ideational values of Benin Olokun graphic symbols, Yoruba Orisa symbolism and Indian Sri Vidya symbolism.

    These symbolic forms are correlated through their depiction of human existence in terms of intersecting vertical and horizontal lines representing the conjunction of consciousness with opportunities for interpretation and action as these emerge within the context of time and space.

    These symbolic forms facilitate the creation of conjunctions between the individual as an entity developing through time within various spaces and the broadest circumference of understanding they are able to reach.”

    • Phil Hine
      Posted September 28th 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink


      If you’re interested in spatial relationships and yantras then you might want to look at:

      Mandalas and Yantras in the Hindu Traditions by Gudrun Bühnemann et al (DK Printworld, New Delhi, 2007)
      The Goddess Within and Beyond the Three Cities: Sakta Tantra and the Paradox of Power in Nepala-Mandala Ph.D thesis by Jeffrey S. Lidke, University of California, 2000
      available via Proquest – or maybe you can get it through your university.

        Posted September 29th 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        Thank you very much, Phil. Deeply appreciated. I just read your Three Essays on Tantra on Scribd. Beautiful writing.