By Purnima Coontoor
The Srichakra is an all-inclusive form of worship of the mother goddess that can appeal to every kind of seeker.
Much before Archie’s and Hallmark made it fashionable to celebrate Mother’s Day, and Dan Brown made such a compelling case for the sacred feminine in his Da Vinci Code, ancient Indian culture has regarded the creative cosmic force as feminine and accorded the highest place to this energy. The Adi Parashakti is worshiped as the mother of the universe, and prominent deities of wealth, knowledge and power are all goddesses (Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati). The Upanishads hail the mother, ahead of the father, guru and guest, as God (Matru devo bhava…). The half man and half woman, Ardhanaarishvara, is another symbolic representation to suggest that the male is incomplete without the female. Yatra naryaastu poojyante, ramante tatra devataaha, says a verse in Sanskrit (angels revel in places where women are revered). Shakti pooja is thus a very old Indian tradition, and Srichakra worship is the foremost among them.
Three Phases of Devotion
The practice of ritualistic worship is deep rooted in the socio-cultural life of Hindus – it reflects their basic philosophy of life. Swami Vivekananda has declared that ‘…the Hindu does everything in a religious manner. He eats religiously; he sleeps religiously; he rises in the morning religiously; he does good things religiously; he also does bad things religiously.’ A Hindu’s religious devotion has a myriad forms but can be classified into three major ones, says Prof S. K Ramachandra Rao in his book, Sri Chakra-Its Yantra, Mantra and Tantra.
In the first method, the godhead is conceived as a familiar human form, giving rise to iconic worship. Here, the devotee gives God the attributes that he himself would like to possess, and worships the icon (the saguna form) often with the objective of fulfilling his worldly desires. This phase of devotion is the most basic and appeals to extroverts fond of rituals. This mode of worship has a strong social base, and is called yantra (a device or gadget) worship.
The second method is for persons who can go beyond the physical, and conceive of the godhead as consisting of primordial verbal modulations. This mode disposes of physical props and relies on man’s capacity to intensely articulate his thoughts and feelings in meaningful sounds. Often, a prayer and eulogy of the godhead, this worship through chanting is called mantra (‘thought that protects’) worship.
The last method is for the more evolved. Here, the godhead is perceived as the formless, nirguna, beyond both physical form and verbal modality. It is an entirely individualistic form of worship with no physical activity, involving only thoughts, introspection, exploration and understanding. This mode goes by the expression tantra worship (meaning, ‘protection by expansion’). Tantra seeks to harness individual energy to harmonize with the cosmic energy, to reconcile the microcosm with the macrocosm.
In India, all three modes of devotion coexist harmoniously and complement each other. Representing body, speech and mind, idol worship, prayer and meditation form a comprehensive unit of devotion. As such, the Srichakra also lends itself beautifully to all forms of worship, encompassing all levels of evolution in man.
The Srichakra is a stylized geometrical representation of the universe (see image on pg 57). The drawing, or the mandala, is central to yantra worship. The mandala is defined as ‘that which gathers the essential details’. It is a symbol of concentrated energies, which gathers unto its center all the significant aspects of the world in which the devotee lives. The center of the mandala, called the bindu, also represents the center of the devotee. The bindu is the seed from which spiritual transaction sprouts and spreads and fills the devotee and his world. Thus the mandala activates the energies both within and outside the devotee.
The Srichakra mandala is regarded as the body of the universal mother, Laitha Tripura Sundari, meaning the transcendental beauty of the three worlds. The design of the mandala represents this divinity’s court. She is imagined to be seated at the bindu, on a cot whose four legs are Brahma (creation), Vishnu (preservation), Rudra (dissolution) and Ishan (withdrawal). The plank resting on the four legs signify Sadasiva, the grace (anugraha) of the goddess. These five principles represent the five activities of the universal mother. Seated at the center, the life-giving creative energy signifies the union of the ultimate male principle (purusha) and the ultimate female principle (prakruti).
Spiritually, the Srichakra signifies the play of cosmic consciousness in the acts of creation, preservation and dissolution of the universe; the play of individual consciousness in the three states of a human being, controlled by the mind, and the five senses which are attached to or repulsed by life.
The Srichakra is formed by the intersection of nine isosceles triangles. These triangles intersect at various precise points and form a matrix which is the main body of the design. Four of these nine main triangles are upright and represent Shiva, and the five inverted triangles represent Shakti. The nine triangles signify the nine fundamental elements or universal basic matter (moola prakruti) of which man is made up of. They are skin (trak), blood (asrk), flesh (mamsa), fat (medher), bone (asthi), semen (shukla), marrow (majja), vital breath (prana) and the individual soul (jivatma). The nine interlocking triangles form a further set of 44 triangles, which include the central primary one.
The central primary triangle is called the kamakala, the residence of the goddess and the most creative section of the universe. Surrounding this pattern are two concentric circles called lotuses. The inner one has eight petals (dala) and the outer, 16. These, in turn, are enclosed by three concentric circles or girdles (valaya). The whole design is placed inside a square field made of three lines (the courtyard or bhupura). On each side of the square is a gateway (dwara).
This then, is the composition of the Srichakra: three-angled figures (trikonas) arranged in nine successive enclosures (nava-avaranas). These nine enclosures of the Srichakra represent the initial emanation (srishti), intermediary preservation (sthiti) and the ultimate dissolution and absorption (samhara) of the phenomenal universe. They are ruled by the elements of sun (surya), moon (chandra) and fire (agni).
Other ancient cultures also consider intersecting triangles highly significant. The Jewish six-pointed Star of David and the Christian five-pointed Star of Bethlehem are cases in point. The five-pointed Pentagon is often used in witchcraft to drive away evil forces. Further, the geometry of the Srichakra, linear as well as the three-dimensional, coincides with the geometry of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, whose base angles measure 51.5032 degrees. This is called ‘phi’ or the ‘golden proportion’ which acts as a preservative for the objects inside the enclosure.
The worship of the Srichakra involves the systematic worship of the nava-avaranas or nine enclosures one after the other. These are said to reveal the true form of the universal mother, and progressively represent the cycle of the phenomenal universe, from creation to dissolution, and an individual’s journey towards fulfillment, culminating in total absorption with the cosmic consciousness.
The first enclosure, Bhupura, the square field in which all enclosures are positioned, represents the first part of the creation of the universe, denoting emanation. It has three lines (rekha) or forts. The 10 spiritual accomplishments (siddhis) reside in the 10 directions of the first fort. The eight abilities (ashtasaktis) reside in the eight directions of the second fort. The guardians of the 10 directions (dasa mudra saktis) reside in the third fort. The three lines symbolize the feet, knees and thighs of the Srichakra deity.
The second enclosure is that of the 16-petaled lotus, shodasa-patraka, and represents the second part of the emanation chakra. The 16 deities reside here.
The third circle of eight petals, ashta-dala-padma, symbolises the third and final part of the emanation chakra, and has eight deities.
The fourth, a figure with 14 angles and triangles, chatur dashara, signifies the first part of the preservation chakra. Fourteen deities reside in this chakra.
The fifth enclosure with 10 angles and 10 triangles (bahir-dashara) represents the second part of the preservation chakra. Ten auspicious deities reside here.
The sixth, with 10 angles from 10 triangles, antar-dashara, represents the third part of the preservation chakra. Ten deities reside in this chakra.
The seventh is a figure with eight corners, vasu-kona. It represents the first part of the dissolution chakra.
The eighth, the primary triangle, trikona, represents the second part of the absorption chakra. The primary triangle is white, indicating purity and the union of Shiva and Shakti.
The ninth and the innermost point, bindu, represents the last stage of the third chakra. It is the personification of Shiva and Shakti.
The nine enclosures signify the complete absorption of the phenomenal projections into the very self of the universal consciousness, giving rise to freedom from duality and filling the individual consciousness with bliss.
The tantra of Srichakra is called Srividya. This practical discipline holds that the individual contains within himself all the essential dimensions of the universe, that the entire universe unfolds itself in the development of the individual. So tantra works with the human model of chakra organisation. The six centers in the human body, in groups of two, represent the centers of cosmic activity and consciousness whose presence activates the centers. The mooladhara and swadhisthana centers represent emanation, the manipoora and anahata represent preservation and the visudhha and ajna represent absorption. From the mooladhara to the visuddha are 10 principles (the five senses of smell, taste, form, sound and touch, and the five elements – earth, fire, water, air and space). The body centers are also grouped into three knots (granthis) and represented by Rudra at the swadhisthana, Vishnu at the anahata and Brahma at the ajna.
The whole tantra practice is the effort to raise the energy lying in the mooladhara chakra towards the sahasrara chakra on the top of the head, through systematic meditation on all the chakras. The supine energy rises up like a serpent through the sushumna naadi, pierces through all the granthis and chakras, and unites with the topmost center, the 1000-petaled lotus, thus flooding and illuminating the body, mind and soul with bliss (brahmananda).
This is the ultimate aim of human life.
The Srichakra can be worshiped by external rites (bahir yaga) either at home or in public places like temples, etc, either for one’s own benefit (svartha) or for the good of the community (parartha). Though the prescribed ritualistic worship is elaborate and tedious, an individual is allowed to worship the same according to his abilities (yathashakti). The Srichakra can also be worshiped by ‘inner sacrifice’ (antar yaga), by means of articulations of the mantra and meditation on its symbolism. The Shodashakshari mantra, however, is revealed only to those who can surrender at the feet of a guru. Lastly, the body can be looked upon as the temple with the mother goddess installed in it, and worship offered only mentally (bhavana).
Undertaking any ritual without being aware of the bigger picture is a futile exercise. It can be likened to the fate of a donkey which painstakingly bears a load of sandalwood without enjoying its fragrance. So an understanding of the significance behind traditional rituals is imperative for them to bear fruits. The Srichakra worship is an admirable conception of the universe within and without, which has stirred the Indian mind and facilitated spiritual progress in this ancient land of ours.
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