Reading the Saundarya Lahari – VII
When She, the Supreme Power, [becoming] out of her own desire, embodying all that exists perceives herself as flashing forth, the chakra then appears.
For this post, I’m going to briefly discuss verses 14-16 of Anandalahari.
Fifty-six rays in earth,
fifty-two in water,
sixty-two in fire,
fifty-four in air,
seventy-two in the heavens,
sixty-four in the mind:
but far above them all
are Your lotus feet. (14)
(Transl. Clooney, 2005, p51)
This is a rather difficult verse, so I’m going to fall back on some of the commentarial interpretations pertaining to the rays (Mayukhas). A common interpretation of this verse is that the six chakras are homologised to a lunar calendar of 360 tithis, divided into the six seasons. So for example, the 56 rays “in earth” correspond to the 56 days of Spring.
A second interpretation is that this verse represents the ordering of the Matrikas – here – letters of the alphabet, in the following manner: the fifty letters of the alphabet (minus ‘ksa’) plus the Bijas ‘Aim’, ‘Hrim’, ‘Srim’, ‘Aim’, ‘Klim’, ‘Sauh’ for Earth; the fifty letters plus the Bijas ‘Saum’ and ‘Srim’ for Water; the fifty letters – with the fourteenth letter repeated four times, with the Bijas ‘Ham’ and ‘Sah’ repeated four times, for Fire; the fifty letters, plus the Bijas ‘Ram’, ‘Yam’, ‘La’ and ‘Vam’ for Air; the first fourteen vowels repeated five times with the Bijas ‘Aim’ and ‘Hrim’ for Akasha (Space); and the sixteen vowels repeated four times for Manas (mind). This sequence of ordering the letters is for generating the requisite Nyasas for the six chakras.
A third interpretation is that these enumerations represent different groupings of the Tattvas – for example, The five elements; the ten organs of action; their ten distinctive functions, together with Manas – 26 in all, are duplicated, to give the 52 rays of Water.
Kaivalyasrama, in his Saubhagyavardhani treats each ray as a devata – there are 56 Parthiva-Mayukhas; 52 Apya-Mayukhas; 62 Taijasa-Mayukhas; 54 Vayavya-Mayukhas; 72 Nabhasa-Mayukhas; and 64 Manasa-Mayukhas. Each of these groups of devatas surround the deities who preside over each of the six chakras.
In Laksmidhara’s commentary, innumerable rays emanate from the the transcendent form of the goddess, residing in the candrakalachakra (i.e. sahasrasa or bindu). The three great lights – Sun, Moon and Fire – “collect” 360 of these rays, out of which emanates the entire universe. These 360 rays are termed Kalas. He groups 108 kalas to (Fire), 116 to Saurakhanda (Sun) and 136 to Somakhanda (Moon). These kalas then correspond to the 6 chakras as in the verse above. The tattvas – Maya, Suddhavidya, Mahesvara, Sadasiva and Samaya are, in Laksmidhara’s schema, transcendent to the 360 kalas.
The last two lines of the verse: “but far above them all, are Your lotus feet – can indicate that all of creation springs forth from the feet of the devi; or that, as regarded in the schema of Laksmidhara the goddess is ultimately transcendent or beyond the manifest universe.
As bright as autumnal moonbeams, as Your crown
You wear coiled hair plaited with the crescent moon,
and by Your hands You show
gestures bestowing boons and protecting from danger,
plus a rosary of crystal beads and a book:
so how could words holding the sweetness of honey, milk, and the grape
not be at the disposal of those good people
who have bowed before You even once? (15)
(Transl. Clooney, 2005, p51)
Verse 15 focuses attention on the goddess’ Sattvik qualities (see Gunas for some brief notes); that she is as radiant “as autumnal moonbeams” – wearing the crescent moon in her “coiled hair”. This latter phrasing is something we might expect to find in descriptions of Siva, but there tends to be a certain fluidity of visual imagery in descriptions of Hindu deities.
The poem recalls Tripurasundari – here identified with Sarasvati- giving the twin mudras of dispelling fears (abhaya) and granting boons (vara) with her upper two hands, and in her lower two hands, holding a rosary of crystal beads – which again may recall the 51 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet – and a book.
The final three lines allude to the siddhi of poetic excellence which devotion to the goddess grants – the sweetness of speech which is likened to honey (madhu), milk (kshira) and grape (draksha). Such is the grace of the goddess that a single genuine act of devotion may give rise, through her grace, to the siddhi of eloquence.
Some good people worship You as red Aruna,
warm as the morning sun
in the lotus grove of the minds of the chief among poets,
and so by their words,
a deep flood of eros fresher than those of Virinci’s spouse,
they give delight to good people. (16)
(Transl. Clooney, 2005, p51-52)
Now we turn to the goddess expressing her Rajasic qualities. Again, she is identified with Sarasvati – Virinci = Brahma; Virinci’s spouse = Sarasvati. Her worship causes the lotus-like blossoming forth of poetic excellence and delight in the hearts of her devotees – so that they become Sarasvati Putra – “children of Sarasvati” – in speech and knowledge. Such devotees experience a kind of “ripening” love (again, indicated by the redness of devi), equal to the passion of Sarasvati in her dalliance with Brahma.
“Some good people worship You as red Aruna”
Aruna is the charioteer of Surya – the sun. In the Puranas (for example, Agni Purana) it is recounted that Aruna’s father – Kasyapa – pleased with the services of two of his wives – Vinata and Kadru – granted both of them a boon. Kadru asked for a thousand naga sons, whilst Vinata requested two sons – with the stipulation that they would be more powerful than all the sons of Kadru. After time, Kadru gave birth to a thousand eggs and placed them in pots to incubate; Vinata did the same with her two eggs, placing each egg in a pot. After 500 years, the thousand pots of Kadru broke open, unleashing her thousand naga sons. Vinata was jealous, and broke open one of her pots – revealing Aruna, who was only half-developed. After another 500 years, Vinata’s other sun – Garuda emerged. In some versions of this tale. Aruna curses his mother to become the slave of her sister Kadru for 500 years.
Aruna has a particular association with the dawn, as he heralds the rising of Surya. Mahatripurasundari is frequently eulogised in terms of the dawn, in stotras which equate her redness with that of the sun at dawn, and her brilliant radiance is also frequently compared to and said to surpass the sun at dawn.
So here we have an inter-identification between the goddess and Surya’s charioteer. But Aruna himself is known for gender-shifting. Aruna also appears within another cycle of tales which concern a devoted wife – Silavati and her “lustful” husband Ugratapas. In one version of this tale, Silavati carries Ugratapas on her back so that he can visit a courtesan (Ugratapas is variously described as a leper, or paralysed – due to his sensuous excesses). They are interrupted by the sage Animandavya who, outraged at Ugratapas’ lustful ways, curses him that he will die at the rise of the sun the following day.
Silavati, through her austerities, causes Surya to sleep in, as it were, so that the sun does not rise. Aruna now takes the opportunity to slip off to Indra’s court, where he has heard that the Apsaras are dancing together. Knowing that this is a women-only event, Aruna takes the form of a beautiful woman – Arunidevi so that he might sport with them. Aruni is spotted by Indra, who takes her off to a remote place, enjoys her charms, and their union produces a son – Bali – who, at the insistence of Indra, is given over to the care of Ahalyadevi wife of the sage, Guatama. Aruna reassumes his male “form” and slips back to his sun-chariot.
In the meantime, the gods, having noticed Surya’s lateness in rising, have petitioned Anasuya – the wife of Ugratapas’ father Atri to intercede, and she persuades Silavati to suspend her austerities, and allow Surya to awaken. Needless to say, Surya notices his charioteer’s absence and demands an explanation, so Aruna has to ‘fess up, and recounts how he fooled the Apsaras by joining them in female form, and what happened when Indra was smitted with Arunadevi. Surya, it turns out, is also intrigued with Arunidevi, which in turn leads to Aruni giving birth to another son – Sugriva – who is also given up to the care of Ahalyadevi. Bali and Sugriva later become monkeys, and figure in the larger cycle of stories concerning the doings of Hanuman, but I’ll leave it there for now.
Arthur Avalon Anandalahari (Ganesh & Co., 1953)
Francis X. Clooney, Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary (Oxford University Press, 2005)
N.C. Panda (ed), Saundaryalahari of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpadacarya with the Commentary of Laksmidhara Translated by S.S. Sastri & T.R.S. Ayyangar (Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, 2009)
Pandit S. Subrahmanya Sastri and T.R. Srinivasa Ayyangar, Saundarya Lahari (Theosophical Publishing House, 1948)
Rajmani Tigunait Sakti: The Power in Tantra A Scholarly Approach (The Himalayan Institute Press, 1998)
Vanamali, Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God (Inner Traditions, 2010)