Sunday, 23 February 2014

symbol of fortune and well-being

HE MYSTERIOUS ADITI or LAJJA GAURI
There is an iconographically striking form of the Devi whose images can be found distributed almost evenly throughout India. This mysterious, lotus-headed Goddess - who is almost always portrayed with Her legs open and raised in a manner suggesting either birthing, self-display, or sexual receptivity - is most frequently referred to today as Lajja Gauri, though She is also known as Adya Shakti, Matangi, Renuka, and many other names.
- The abundance of names may be due to regional replacements of a lost original name,” suggests Carol Radcliffe Bolon, assistant curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Sackler and Freer Galleries in Washington, D.C. I have asked a few experienced upasakas whether they knew of any mantric or yantric representations of Lajja Gauri - they did not - You see ! one of them told me - Lajja is Aditi, the primordial mother. She is unimaginably ancient.
Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit- English Dictionary assigns to the name Aditi the concepts of “boundlessness, immensity, inexhaustible abundance, unimpaired condition, perfection, creative power”; as a proper noun, it defines Her as “one of the most ancient of the Indian goddesses (  her name implying] ‘Infinity’ or the ‘Eternal and Infinite Expanse’ )  This same Aditi is referenced in the Rig Veda in terms that perfectly express Lajja Gauri’s iconography:
devAnAm yuge prathame.asataH sadajAyata
tadAśA anvajAyanta taduttAnapadas pari 
bhUrjajNa uttAnapado bhuva AśA ajAyanta 
aditerdakSHoajAyata dakSHAd vaditiH pari 
In the first age of the gods, existence was born from nonexistence. The quarters of the sky were born from Her who crouched with legs spread. The Earth was born from Her who crouched with legs spread, And from the Earth the quarters of the sky were born. (Rg Veda, X.72.3-4)

The scholar Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty identifies Aditi as “the female principle of creation or infinity,” whose designation uttAnapad refers to “a position associated both with yoga and with a woman giving birth, as the Mother Goddess is often depicted in early sculpture: literally, with feet stretched forward, more particularly with knees drawn up and legs spread wide.
Bhattacharyya, in his “History of the Sakta Religion”, refers to “a seal unearthed at Harappa [a Saraswati Culture site], showing a nude female figure, head downwards and legs stretched upwards, with a plant issuing out of Her womb, which may be a proto-Aditi/Lajja Gauri figure. Similar images, some sculpted as recently as the 19th century, can still be found in Rajasthan, part of the region where the Saraswati Civilization once flourished. 
In discussing the Harappan seal, Bhattacharyya posits that “in the pre-Vedic religion of India, a great Mother Goddess, the personification of all the reproductive energies of nature, was worshiped.  The Harappan Magna Mater [ Great Mother ] was probably reflected in the [ later, Vedic ] conception of Aditi, the mother of the gods, thought to be a goddess of yore even in the Rig Veda itself. And here is where we find the Vedic rishis’ understanding of this Goddess, who was apparently as old as human consciousness itself: 
aditirdyaur aditirantarikSHam aditirmAtA sa pitA sa putraH .
viśve devA aditiH paNca janA aditirjAtam aditirjanitvam .
Aditi is the sky - Aditi is the air - Aditi is all the gods - Aditi is the Mother, the Father, and Son - Aditi is whatever shall be born.
(Rg Veda, I.89.10)
Aditi, Bhattacharyya concludes - was the most ancient Mother of the Gods, whose original features [had become] obscure even in the Vedic age.” Despite Her extreme antiquity, Lajja Gauri is still actively worshiped even today as a “fertility goddess” in some remote, rural locales. But we mustn’t let that obscure the totality of Her original (and eternal) significance. 
During the 6th to 12th centuries CE - a period in which “ Tantric kingdoms ” flourished across India (as detailed by David Gordon White in his 2003 study - The Kiss of the Yogini  ) the cult of Aditi/Lajja Gauri grew prodigiously. Her images proliferated, especially in central India - both in small terra cotta figures for use in home shrines, and in large ( even lifesize ) stone sculptures for richly endowed temples.
By the 13th century, however, She had begun a long slide into obscurity. Scholars partially attribute the decline to India’s Muslim and later British Christian rulers and their intolerance toward portrayals of human (and particularly female) nudity and sexuality. Another possible factor was the continued evolution of the Tantric systems, which developed ever more subtle and abstract ways of depicting the primal, creative force of the Divine Feminine.
LAJJA GAURI AND HER SYMBOLISM
Several myths exist concerning Lajja Gauri, but most scholars consider them to be inauthentic, late attempts to replace the Goddess’s original, forgotten lore. Many of these tales involve a dominant Lord Shiva testing his wife’s modesty by publicly disrobing Her, whereupon Her head either falls off or sinks into Her body from shame, thereby proving Her purity – and providing a more Shiva-centric explanation of how such a boldly self-displaying Goddess got a name like Lajja Gauri; literally, “Modest Parvati” or “ Ashamed Parvati ” ( or more interestingly - Innocent Parvati ) More useful clues to Lajja’s actual meaning may be found in the oral folktales that still circulate about Her in rural India.
For example, as noted above, She is sometimes referred to as Matangi, the “ outcaste ” form of Parvati, who is known for ignoring and flaunting society’s rules, hierarchies and conventions. Elsewhere, She is called Renuka – another outcaste woman, beheaded by a high-caste man. Rather than dying, Renuka grew a lotus in place of Her head and became a Goddess. These stories -both involving the deification of an outcaste woman - seem, among many other implications of course, to suggest the irrepressibility of the Feminine Principle. And lest we underestimate the primal persistence and importance of this archetype to the human psyche, recall that the oldest known sculpture made by a human being -  the so-called Willendorf Goddess or “ Venus ” created some 30,000 to 40,000 years ago - also depicts a nude female with sexual organs emphasized, and a flower for a head.
Whatever Lajja Gauri’s ultimate origins, She is clearly a very auspicious Goddess. Everything about Her suggests life, creativity, and abundance. Her images are almost always associated with springs, waterfalls and other sources of running water - vivid symbols of life-giving sustenance. Her belly usually protrudes, suggesting fullness and/or pregnancy; in earlier renderings, Her torso was often portrayed as an actual pUrna kumbha (brimming pot), another ancient symbol of wealth and abundance. Lajja Gauri’s head is usually a lotus flower, an extremely powerful, elemental symbol of both material and spiritual well-being. ( Interestingly, today’s images of Lakshmi - patroness of wealth and material fulfillment - are also rife with water, pots and lotuses. )
The often vine-like portrayal of Lajja Gauri’s limbs suggests a further creative association - the life-giving sap of the plant world; She is vegetative as well as human abundance. Her images are virtually always prone, laying at or below floor level in Her characteristic uttAnapad posture, as though rising from the Earth itself, a manifestation of the primordial Yoni from which all life springs. Indeed, Her birthing/sexual posture unambiguously denotes fertility and reproductive power. This is Devi as the Creator, as Mother of the Universe, as the Life-Giving Force of Nature. The late scholar David Kinsley, author of several respected studies of the Goddess in India, noted:
“Some very ancient examples have been discovered in India of nude goddesses squatting or with their thighs spread . The arresting iconographic feature of these images is their sexual organs, which are openly displayed. These figures often have their arms raised above their bodies and are headless or faceless. Most likely, the headlessness of the figures [ is intended to ] focus attention on their physiology, [ placing the ] emphasis on sexual vigor, life, and nourishment [ rather than an individual persona ].
Joshi has even drawn some tentative lines of association with the later Tantric Mahavidya ( Wisdom Goddess ) known as Chinnamasta, the self-decapitating Goddess. Bolon, for her part, judges that the artistically finest Lajja Gauri sculpture still in existence is a life-sized c. 650-700 CE murthi, originally worshiped at the Naganatha Temple in Naganathakolla, Bijapur District, Karnataka. That sculpture ( upon which this painting was based  ) is now housed at the Badami Museum. Of Her image, Bolon writes
- The modeling of the female figure is supple and sensitive. The suggestion of soft, sagging stomach flesh, like the slackening of a woman’s abdomen after childbirth, is masterly. The breasts are firm with folds of flesh beneath them. The arms and shoulders are delicate and feminine. The legs, in uttanapad, are spread more naturally than in other [ Lajja Gauri ] images; with the knees up, the feet are flexed with soles up, and the toes are tensed. The nude body is ornamented with necklace, channavira [ body-encompassing jewelry that hangs from the neck, crosses between the breasts, passes around the waist and up the back], girdle, bracelets, and armlets that are like a vine tendril wrapping around the arms and actually ending in a leaf. Tassels of the anklets also seem plantlike. There is a cloth woven through the thighs.” 
In place of a head, a “half-open lotus flower, sits like a ruff on [ Her ] shoulders,  turned three-quarters toward the viewer. The goddess holds, to either side of Her lotus head, a half-open, smaller lotus flower, the stalk of which winds around Her hand. The fingers themselves have a tentril-like quality. The fingers of the right hand seem to form a svastika, symbol of fortune and well-being. No doubt, the suggestion of Her relation to vegetation is intended. ... This image is a masterpiece of fluid modeling and conscious symbol-making.
As with the first artistic expressions of human consciousness in the Upper Paleolithic era, the primordial antiquity of the image does nothing to diminish the subtle elegance and refinement of Her beauty - both in the conception and in the physical representation. For those of us on the path of Srividya, She is a reminder of both the ultimate simplicity and the overwhelming antiquity of the teachings that we follow.
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