Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XVI
Just as Devī,
Your most beloved, endless pool of bliss,
Is inseperable from you,
So may your devotion alone
Be inseperable from me.
Utpaladeva, Shivastotravali 1.9
Now for some brief notes on verses 28-29 of Anandalahari.
All the sky-dwellers,
Vidhi, Śaṭamakha, and the rest,
came to a bad end even after they drank the nectar
that confers immunity to fearsome old age and death, and
if there is no time limit on Śambhu who swallowed virulent poison,
it is due entirely to the great power of Your earrings,
translation, Clooney, 2005, p54
Verse 28 returns to the theme of poison-nectar 1 and the churning of the world-ocean 2. Even though the “sky-dwellers” – gods – such as Brahma, Indra, etc. drink of the nectar they still perish at the time of dissolution; and Śiva’s longevity – despite his swallowing of the poison of time (thus earning himself the epithet Nīlakaṇṭha) is entirely due to the power of the goddess’ earrings.
The goddess’ earrings express her auspicious nature as signs of royal/ascetic power. Verse 22 of the Lalitā Sahasranāma says that the goddess’ earrings are the Sun and the Moon. The goddess is thus the agentive power that orders the universe – particularly the power of Time – and that the ordered universe is a product, almost, of her ornamentation. The concept of beauty – and ornamentation – as a form of ethical self-arrangement and expression is a common theme in the poetics of ornamentation (skt: alaṃkāraśāstra). Daud Ali (2004, p177) points out that: “The great chain of being which linked all the elements of the universe into a coherent set of relationships was … typically represented in courtly sources as a vast ‘ornamental order’. The king, particularly in his role as the worldly embodiment of a cosmic overlord, often formed the centre of these representations, his sovereignty itself conceived as of adhering to his person like a vast array of ornaments.” This is a useful point to bear in mind when we attempt to interpret the ornamentation of the goddess and its significance within the text.
Again, this verse stresses the indivisibility of the goddess and Śiva. To worship one is to worship the other, and they reveal each other to the devotee.
“Avoid the crown of Viriñci there in front of You!
You’ll stumble over the hard crest of Kaiṭabha’s slayer!
Avoid the headgear of Indra, foe of Jambha!”
All three lie prostrate there, and
thus is the cry of Your servants
when Śiva appears suddenly, coming to Your abode.
translation, Clooney, 2005, p54
Verse 29 shifts focus to a scenic view – that Indra, Brahmā and Viṣṇu – are formally paying obeisiance to the goddess in her royal pavilion. 3 They are prostrate before her, when Śiva – well known for not respecting rules and formalities – makes an unannounced appearance. The goddess’ attendants – who are speaking here – caution the goddess to be careful not to trip over the crowns of the devas as she rushes to embrace Śiva.
There are several points of interest here. Again, and perhaps simply enough, the verse stresses the goddess’ devotion to and desire for union with Śiva – she is clearly in a hurry to greet her lord, hence the warning of her attendants. But I feel there is an implicit critique of formal rules and ritual with respect to bhakti – that heartfelt devotion is superior – for the goddess to Śiva (and by extension, her devotees to her) is superior to orthopractic actions – that spontaneity and passion trump procedure and that devotee’s desire for union with the goddess should be as the passion between she and Śiva.
The goddess’ royal pavilion is situated in her abode – the Śrī Chakra. In this verse, the aspect of the goddess that is being stressed is her Kāmakalā form – the purest embodiment of the principle of iccha-śakti – desire in its most generative and impelling power. The image of the goddess, rushing forwards to meet Śiva – and the warning of her attendants to avoid the crowns of the prostrated gods, is strongly suggestive of the ascenion of Kundalini-śakti. The “obstacles” her attendants are warning the goddess not to stumble over would be the three granthis – Brahmā granthi, Viṣṇu granthi and Rudra (Indra) granthi – which the goddess is said to “break” or open 4 and are sometimes referred to as crowns.
Much of contemporary yoga discourse tends to interpret the granthis as points of “blockage” – either in terms of psychodynamic or energetic “obstacles” which must be overcome in order to allow the free-flow of Kundalini. However, Śrīvidya texts make less of distinction between granthis and chakras. The Yoginīhṛdaya, for example, has twelve granthis – the six chakras from mūlādhāra to bramharandhra – and the six intermediary nodes along the suṣumnā nāḍī. These compacted nodes of consciousness arise from the diversity-producing activity of the goddess as maya-śakti.
Daud Ali, Courtly Culture and Political Life in Early Medieval India (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Arthur Avalon Anandalahari (Ganesh & Co., 1953)
Constantina Rhodes Bailly Shaiva Devotional Songs of Kashmir: A Translation and Study of Utpaladeva’s Shivastotravali (State University of New York, 1987)
Francis X. Clooney, Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary (Oxford University Press, 2005)
K.V. Dev (ed) The Thousand Names of the Divine Mother: Sri Lalita Sahasranama, with Commentary (Mata Amritanandamayi Center, 1996)
Meera Kachroo, The Goddess and Her Powers: The Tantric Identities of the Saundarya Lahari (MA Thesis, McGill University, June 2005)
André Padoux, Roger Orphe-Jeanty The Heart of the Yogini: The Yoginīhṛdaya, a Sanskrit Tantric Treatise (Oxford University Press, 2013)
S.K. Ramachandra Rao, Lalita-Kosha: Being a Collection of texts in Sanskrit bearing on the cult of Lalita with an Introduction and translation of the Thousand Names (Sri Satguru Publications, 2008)
David Shulman, More than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India (Harvard University Press, 2012)
Pandit S. Subrahmanya Sastri and T.R. Srinivasa Ayyangar, Saundarya Lahari (Theosophical Publishing House, 1948)