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Reading the Saundarya Lahari – X

In this non-dualist tradition, adepts affirm the distinction between subject and object (in this case between human and divine) through darśan in order to dismantle distinctions between human and divine natures. The ritual’s aim is not to affirm a sacred space occupied by the śrīcakra in order to distinguish its “sacrality” from the “profane” ordinary world but to affect a transformation in understanding concerning the everyday world by identifying it as structured through the cakra’s form.
Douglas R. Brooks, The Srividya School of Sakta Tantrism: A Study of the Texts and Contexts of the Living Traditions in South India

“In this way the united Kāma and Kalā are the (three) letters whose own form (Svarūpa) is the three Bindus. It is She who is the Mother manifest as the three Gunas (Triguṇa-svarūpiṇī) and who assumed the form of the triangle.”
Kāmakalāvilāsa, v25

And so to verse 19 of Anandalahari.

Whoever makes Your face the center point
and places under that Your breasts
and under that a half of Hara,
whoever meditates that way on Your desire portion,
O Hara’s queen,
at once he fascinates women, easily, but very soon
he also whirls about even the goddess of the three worlds
who has sun and moon as her breasts.
(Transl. Clooney, 2005, p52)

Verse 19 is one of the more explicitly tantric and esoteric verses in Saundarya Lahari – an exposition of the kāmakalādhyāna (“meditation on the female aspect of desire”). As Annette Wilke (2012, p58) points out, meditation on the face, breasts and vulva of the goddess is a well-established practice of Śrīvidyā, and can be found in core Srividya texts such as Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava, Kāmakalāvilāsa and the Yoginīhṛdaya.

This practice, which may be interpreted, as Brooks delicately puts it, as “the worship of the exposed female organ as the trikoṇa” (1987, p287) has been at times contraversial, due in no small part to its association with Kaula practice, and the disfavour of Laksmīdhara (see this post for some related discussion). As to whether or not this practice was one of visualisation, or involved a living woman, is also subject to intense debate. In the Paraśurāmakalpasūtra for example, the kāmakalādhyāna is a visualisation which precedes ritual intercourse:

“By means of the dot/drop (bindu) he should create [imagine] the face, by means of the two dots [or: the duplication of the dot] the two breasts, by half of the “ha” (sapara) [he imagines] the vulva (yoni). This is the way to visualise the kāmakalā.”
(transl. Annette Wilke, 2012)

Here, the goddess is identified as the source of the universe; the kāmakalā being the union of Śiva and Śakti. 1 The “half or Hara”, according to Laksmīdhara’s commentary on this verse indicates the trikoṇa (“triangle”) and that this triangle is the yoni of the goddess. Through this practice, the practitioner achieves total identification with the goddess.

Sir John Woodroffe (aka “Arthur Avalon”) in his preface to the English translation of Puṇyānandanātha’s Kāmakalāvilāsa explains kāmakalā in three modalities: a “gross” mode – wherein Devi is meditated upon as an external relation to the sadhaka. Here, the Sun is identified with Devi’s face, the Moon and Fire her two breasts, and her womb or yoni with Hārdhakalā. The bindu is identified as Ganībhūta-Śakti – the condensed “mass” of undifferentiated Śakti just prior to the moment of creation. The “subtle” aspect of kāmakalā is Devi-Kundalini, active in all that is “moving and motionless”. The third aspect of kāmakalā is Devi as mantra-body, present in all things, and her Face, breasts and Yoni identified with the four Vedas. These three modalities are sometimes identified with three modes of sadhana: the physical (kāyaki), verbal (vācikī) and mind (mānasi). 2

The goddess is visualised – made fully present – in her Kāmakalā form – the embodiment of desire as generative, active, excess (Icchā-Śakti). Wilke (2012, p54) refers to this practice as simultaneously “recoding the natural” and “animating the virtual”:

“Ultimately speaking, what is imagined takes such a dominant place that the real-world woman becomes but a faint shadow compared with the extremely erotic goddess whose image gains a hyperrreal life of its own by being constantly called to mind … The externalization of the goddess is at once an internalization, her sexuality is highly metonymic and metaphorical, and her worship largely mental and verbal. Like other ritual cycles the one of Lalita involves a substantial amount of contemplation of non-duality.”

and under that a half of Hara
This cryptic utterance – at least on the surface – seems to refer to the left half of Śiva in the form of Ardhanarishvara – i.e. Devi.

Not only does meditation on the goddess in this form cause women to be “fascinated” with the practitioner, but it also causes the goddess herself to “whirl about”. There is a kind of intersubjective fusion going on here – between the devotee coming to embody the desire-making/causing potentiality of the godddess.

There is much more that can be said of this verse – in particular how it can be decoded according to the interrelationship between Sanskrit phonemes (and graphemes – what Guy L. Beck terms “sonic theology”) and yantra & mantra. This is complex stuff, so I’m going to leave it for now, and return to it at another point.

Arthur Avalon Kāmakalāvilāsa by Puṇyānandanātha with the commentary of Natanāndanātha (Ganesh & Co., 1953)
Arthur Avalon Wave of Bliss: Anandalahari (Ganesh & Co., 1953)
Douglas R. Brooks The Srividya School of Sakta Tantrism: A Study of the Texts and Contexts of the Living Traditions in South India (Ph.D thesis, Harvard University, 1987)
Francis X. Clooney, Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Meera Kachroo, The Goddess and Her Powers: The Tantric Identities of the Saundarya Lahari (MA Thesis, McGill University, June 2005)
André Padoux with Roger-Orpheé Jeanty, The Heart of the Yogini (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Annette Wilke, Recoding the Natural and Animating the Imaginary: Kaula Body-practices in the Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra, Ritual Transfers, and the Politics of Representation in István Keul (ed) Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond (Walter de Gruyter, 2012)


  1. Wilke speculates that the kāmakalā meditation’s prototype may have been the “headless” goddess Lajjā.
  2. According to Bhāskararāya, each method (upāsana) brings about the same result, but the collective use of all three is the most efficacious.