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Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XVII

I seek refuge with Tripurasundarī,
The Spouse of the Three-eyed One,
Who dwells in the Kadamba forest,
And who is ever wandering;
The Large-eyed One who holds a golden vīnā,
Wearing a necklace of priceless gems,
Whose face is glowing with wine,
And who of Her mercy grants prosperity to Her devotees.
Tripurasundarīstotra, Hymns to the Goddess, Arthur Avalon

Now for some brief comments on verses 30-31 of Anandalahari.

Verse 30:

You are eternal,
served on all sides by rays of light,
Aṇimā and the others arising from Your own body, so
if someone ever meditates, “I am You”
and treats the wealth of the three-eyed one as mere straw,
then who can be amazed
if even the great, destructive fire
performs the flame ceremony for him?
translation, Clooney, 2005, p54

Some interpretive possibilities…

You are eternal,
served on all sides by rays of light,
Aṇimā and the others arising from Your own body…

This is an obvious reference to the goddess-in-extension in the Śrīcakra – her “rays of light 1 …. “arising from Your own body” being her numerous aspects or emanations arrayed within the organising grid of the yantra – see this post. Aṇimā being the first of the siddhishaktis arrayed around the points of the Bhupura. The devotee, of course, may approach devi gradually – via her emanations, through the graded practices of the Śrīcakra. However:

if someone ever meditates, “I am You”
and treats the wealth of the three-eyed one as mere straw
then who can be amazed
if even the great, destructive fire
performs the flame ceremony for him?

The suggestion here is that the supreme practice is the continual identification of devotee with the goddess herself – which grants the direct encounter – sākṣātkāra. This is superior to the conscious desire for liberation, i.e “the wealth of the three-eyed one” (Śiva) to which this kind of devotee is indifferent, or to the pursuit of siddhis such as Aṇimā and so forth. The final three lines are, at first glance, rather cryptic, but what we have here is a metonymic relationship being established between two kinds of fire.

The ‘flame ceremony’ is the ārati ritual sequence by which the gods are honoured by being offered the flame from burning wicks soaked in clarified ghee or camphor – one of the traditional upacāras of puja – often performed near the close of the ritual. 2

The other kind of fire here is the “destructive fire” – Kālāgni – (usually translated as “the fire of time”) which is personified as Kālāgnirudra – a form of Śiva 3 who emits the destructive fire which burns up the universe. 4 This is related to the process of Saṃhāra (see post xv). Many of the goddess’ epithets stress her fire-like essence, for example, stanza 597 of Lalita Sahasranama: Trikoṇāntaradīpikā ([“she who] shines like a flame within the triangle”) 5. Here, the term is saṃvartāgni which is used, in the Yoginīhṛdaya to signify the three Yoginīs who surround the goddess 6 – the Sarvasiddhimāyā cakra or Sarvasiddhiprada cakra who bestow both fullness and nonfullness.

As it has already been established in previous verses that the goddess is worshipped by all the other gods, then the implication here is that the superior devotee, who has realised her or his total identification with her, is so worshipped by all deities – and that the Kālāgni (and all that it implies) becomes, for such a devotee – who has achieved the realisation of nonduality (saṃvidaadvaita)- a propitiation to the goddess.

Some contemporary commentators on this verse tend to stress that it reinforces the view that mental worship is superior to external ritual.

Verse 31:

After deceiving all the worlds by the sixty-four tantras
dependent on the perfections attributed to them
Paśupati rested,
but due to his connection with You
He once again brought down to earth Your tantra
which of its own accord
accomplishes all human goals at once.
translation, Clooney, 2005, p54

Verse 31 extols the virtues of the practice – that is to say, ŚrīVidyā – given in Saundarya Lahari as compared to the systems/texts which preceded it – a common assertion found in many tantras. The path of Saundarya Lahari – as revealed by Paśupati (i.e. Śiva) is more accessible – offering a direct encounter with the goddess; hence its superiority to the earlier tantras – which are oriented towards the attainment of particular siddhis. As Clooney (2005, p156) comments: “The hymn is itself a beneficent utterance; to hear it enables one to draw on the riches latent within it. Śaṅkara’s extraordinary gift intends the widest possible audience: all those willing to look upon Her.”

That there are “sixty-four tantras” is an ideal number, often taken as a literal indication that there are only sixty-four recognised tantras – it is however, more of a ‘symbolic’ number (associated with auspiciousness) as there are also other groups of sixty-four – the sixty-four arts (Catuḥṣaṣṭi-kalā enumarated in the Kāmasūtra; the varying lists of sixty-four Yoginīs; a grid of sixty-four squares used for town planning in the Vastu Purusha Mandala; sixty-four mudras in the Natyasastra; and so forth.

To be sure, several commentators on Saundarya Lahari – Lakṣmīdhara for example – give lists of sixty-four tantras, as do key texts such as Nityāṣodaśikārṇava (“Ocean of the tradition of the sixteen Nityās”); Śrīkaṇṭhī Saṃhitā; and the Vāmakeśvara tantra. However, there is wide variation, as one might expect – probably down to lineage (i.e. which texts are considered to be authoratitive) in such lists. In his commentary on verse 31, for example, Lakṣmīdhara characterises the 64 tantras as avaidika. (see this post for some discussion of Lakṣmīdhara’s position) due to their Kaula orientation (see Lalita Tripurasundari, the Red Goddess for Lakṣmīdhara’s list of sixty-four tantras and his reasons for rejecting them).

Both of these verses stress that it is the goddess who grants liberation-in-life (jīvanmukti) by her grace, and that her path – that which stresses Tantric bhakti (although not to the total exclusion of ritual)- supersedes all others.

Arthur Avalon Anandalahari (Ganesh & Co., 1953)
Arthur Avalon Hymns to the Goddess (Luzac & Co., 1913)
Francis X. Clooney, Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Douglas R. Brooks Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Srividya Sakta Tantrism in South India (SUNY, 1992)
K.V. Dev (ed) The Thousand Names of the Divine Mother: Sri Lalita Sahasranama, with Commentary (Mata Amritanandamayi Center, 1996)
Teun Goudriaan, Sanjukta Gupta Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature (Otto Harrassowitz, 1981)
Meera Kachroo, The Goddess and Her Powers: The Tantric Identities of the Saundarya Lahari (MA Thesis, McGill University, June 2005)
André Padoux, Roger Orphé Jeanty, The Heart of the Yogini: The Yoginīhṛdaya, a Sanskrit Tantric Treatise (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Pandit S. Subrahmanya Sastri and T.R. Srinivasa Ayyangar, Saundarya Lahari (Theosophical Publishing House, 1948)
Rajmani Tigunait Śakti Sādhanā: Steps to Samādhi : a Translation of the Tripurā Rahasya (Himalayan Institute, 1993)


  1. see also post vii
  2. This can be a short, or elaborate procedure in its own right. Durga Puja for example, may include the offering of 108 lamps – one for each of Durga’s 108 forms.
  3. Or, in the Krama, a form of Kali
  4. Meditation upon Kālāgnirudra is given in some tantras such as, Vijnanabhairava (Dhāraṇās 20-30 ); Śiva Sutrās (v4) – as a means of destroying all impurities. The impurity-destroying Kālāgni is frequently homologised with the fire of Kundalini.
  5. This is often interpreted as denoting the goddess’ presence in the trikona of Muladhara Chakra, however, it can also indicate the goddess’ rulership of any triadic arrangement.
  6. see Yoginīhṛdaya, 156-158.