Strange temples that beat the canons of popular architecture echo the presence of an esoteric cult of the Mother Goddess in the form of "Chaunsat Yogini" shrines. Though the cult of the Goddess has survived in a more favorable way of ritual worship, few examples bring to life the extreme form of this worship during the 8th to 12th cen A.D.
In the darkness along the gushing course of the Narmada River, atop a hill in the silence of the moonless night a lamp is lit. The fire of the lamp lights up the faces of 64 Yoginis within the walls of a great temple, the temple of the Goddess. Shakti trasforms into power here, she is pure feminine beauty, she is sexuality and she is life. Raw female power is awakened within these walls of a circular roofless temple and as the ritual unfolds, these graceful yoginis begin to dance. These forms of the Goddess are full breasted and voluptuous with slim waists as they move with grace exuding beauty as the Sadaka worships their many forms, imbibing the very element of Shakti into his experience of the Goddess. As the Chausathi Mahamayavi Tantra and the Chandi Purana of the 15th century composed by Sarala Das describe through folk songs of the era, these yoginis constitute the different parts of the body of the Mother Goddess herself.
As the night deepens, the winds dance with the flames presenting a divine spectacle. Shiva leela, of a more potent kind spreads through the air within the walls of this temple. 64 beautiful yoginis pronounce the woman in all her grace and beauty to Bhairava, the form taken in by the Sadaka. Casting dancing shadows on the rocky temple floor, these 64 yoginis dance around Shiva and take up their place and sit in Lalitasana within the circle of Bhairava (3 in red in top right corner in the picture below).
Seduction gushes forth as these Goddesses come alive, dressed in flowing skirts held together by an ornate girdle worn low on their hips. Shimmering necklaces and garlands cover their chests, as the sounds of their bangles and anklets in sweet notes fill the air. 64 yoginis, charge the air as they dance around Bhairava, their elaborate hairdo pronouncing their lush beauty, their earrings shimmering in the light of the fire that wakes the sleeping night within this temple. Their lotus eyes bring sweetness to their beings, grace to their forms and warmth to their presence. Bhairava, the potent Lord dances with them within his circle, the Chakra of life, it is an experience for the living. This is the world of the tantriks, this is the world of Bhairava Shiva as the fire cuts through the darkness bringing on the experience of the Goddess divine.
The aspirant goes into deep meditation, invoking the yoginis as he performs his rituals. Bhairava dances on, waking up the essence of Kuala Marga. The attainment of perfection is the path to Siddhi, one that brings perfection and a higher spiritual bliss of a different kind. The conquest of power and the taming of the Goddess's wilderness, the harnessing of her Supreme beauty into energy render the Sadaka powerful. Five elements are offered to the Yoginis, Matsya (fish) first followed by Mamsa (meat), Mudra (parched grain) and Madya (liquor) and finally Maithuna (couples in intercourse). The juices of life are offered to the yoginis at the culmination of this ritual. The depth of Tantrik sadhana is reached and the energies are imbibed by the aspirant as the 64 yoginis look on from within their niches.
The air is still, the lamp light is feeble, as the floor is flooded with the ritualistic syllables of the Goddesses. This magical world descends into darkness. Most yogini temples have the dancing Bhairava fiercely rendering his presence at the center of the courtyard. Here he dances with the 64 damsels through the night. At the temple of Bheraghat, Lord Shiva descends within the temple, seated with his beautiful consort Parvati on the back of Nandi Bull in the central shrine as they make their way into the tantrik rituals of this temple.
Bheraghat is one of 9 temples that dot the Indian landscape. Other Yogini Shrines are at Hirapur, Ranipur Jharial, and Khandriya Mahadeva temple Khajuraho to name the most prominent. There are dilapidated structures that dot the countryside of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
These temples redefine a strange cult practice that involved human sacrifices and offerings of blood, or the use of fresh corpses out of war (Dead kings, soldiers and warriors) and ritual practices of a tribal (Adivasi) kind that invoke the power of Kali and Mahakala Bhairava of the ancient Tantrik tradition. These 64 yoginis have also been grouped into 8 supreme Goddesses known as the Astamatrika. Interestingly in these temples even Ganesha has a feminine form - Ganeshani (bottom right in red in picture above).
Ganeshani at Bheraghat
These ritual practices have probably died with time or have moved back into the tribal villages of Orissa. What remain are powerful eerie temples that reflect the fury and tantrik power of Shiva Bhairava and the Mother Goddess.
64 Yoginis dance with Bhairava
Potency of Lord Shiva – Part 2
Ekapada Shiva - The one legged Shiva