Important Tantra and Yogini Temples
There are many temples associated with the study of tantra in India. The importance of the temples is often determined by the follower with some temples being more important than others, depending on ones belief and desires. The more publically acknowledged important temples are as follows, listed in alphabetic order.
Bharatpur (off the Jaipur-Agra highway), Rajasthan:
near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh:
Temple, Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh:
Bhairon Temple, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh:
Kolkata, West Bengal:
Temple, Gawhati, Assam:
Bhagavathy Temple, Kodungallur, Kerala:
Temple, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh:
Devi Temple, Kollur, Kerala:
Devi Temple, Valayanad, Calicut, Kerala:
Some inscriptions found in certain Yogini temples further indicate that the cult was practiced even in the 16th century. It is still not clear as to when exactly the Yogini cult bowed out of limelight, and equally intriguing as to why its temples were abandoned. The entire phenomenon of Yogini worship and the construction of temples has its roots outside the hold of orthodox Brahmanical tradition. The Yogini in the shape of a Sakta-Tantric cult came into existence in the 7th-8th century AD. It continued to flourish as an important manifestation of Sakta Tantricism. This cult with primitive ideas on the efficacy of magical rituals and spells, sounds and gestures, is a movement that has a deep connection with rural and tribal traditions. If we were to look for the origin of the Yoginis, we must turn to the simple village cults and to the gram devis, the local village goddesses.
In the villages of India, especially in Orissa, these are the favored deities. Each gram devi, be she Ramchandi, Shyamkali, Harachandi, Tarini, Viraja, Bhagavati, Durgamata, Sarala, Bhadrakali, Kamakhya, Bhabani, Mangala etc., presides over the welfare of the village. These village goddesses seem to have been gradually transformed and consolidated into potent numerical groupings of sixty-four (sometimes eighty-one, sometimes forty-two) acquiring thereby a totally different character. It was Tantricism that elevated these local deities and gave them new form and vigor as a group of goddesses who could bestow magical powers with a view to the destruction of enemies.
The remains of Yogini temples in various parts of the country clearly reveal that the exponents and followers of this esoteric cult made vigorous attempts to popularize it and this cult was of impelling and vital significance from the 9th to the 12th century. Later inscriptions added to certain Yogini temples indicate that the shrines were in worship even in the early 16th century. We do not know exactly when the Yogini cult lost its following or why its temples were abandoned. Nine Yogini temples discovered so far are distributed in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, with the ravage of time, only few of the Yogini temples survive today and Orissa has the distinction of preserving two of these outstanding temples – one at Hirapur, a picturesque village near Bhubaneswar and another at Ranipur-Jharial in Bolangir district.
The Cakra is alternatively known as "Yogini Cakra", "Kaula Cakra" (the circle of time) or the "Bhairavi Cakra" (the circle of Bhairavi, the female companion of the terrifying form of Shiva known as "Bhairava"). The 'Marga', or path, that defines five ways to perform penance to attain liberation and happiness are 'Matsya' (fish), 'Mamsa' (meat), 'Mudra' (parched grain), 'Madya' (liquor) and 'Maithuna' (sexual intercourse). A large collection of historical texts mention that to attain 'Siddhi' (spiritual powers), the 'Sadhakas' (the Tantric worshippers) unanimously offered flesh, blood and wine to the Yoginis, a tradition still in practice in several parts of Orissa. Devotees offer all these things to most of the village goddesses on important festive occasions, in times of crises, and each time these goddesses manifest themselves in dreams or otherwise to the devotees, demanding such sacrifices.
Oftentimes, the Sadhakas took recourse to Maithuna to attain the power of the Yoginis. According to the Kaula path, women of lower caste such as the 'Rajaki' (washerwomen), 'Carmakari' (leather worker), 'Vesya' (prostitute), 'Matangi' (an outcaste) and 'Madhumati' (vintner's caste) are the most suitable partners in the ritual of Maithuna. It further suggests that Maithuna practiced along with yoga leads to the most consummate and soul-lifting physical experience.
near Bhubaneswar, Orissa
The Hirapur Temple is the smallest of the Yogini temples in India. It measures only thirty feet in diameter, and is hardly eight feet high. The temple is built of coarse sandstone blocks with laterite as its foundation. The Yoginis are carved out of fine-grained gray chlorite. The inner walls of the temples have sixty-four niches with sixty Yoginis still in place.
The recently reconstructed small central pavilion has eight niches. Four of these have the images of the remaining four of the sixty-four Yoginis, while the other four have images of the Bhairavas depicted with erect phalluses as is customary of the images of Shiva in Orissa. The images are about 2 feet tall, and the niches, in which they are placed, were probably treated as miniature shrines.
The credit for building the Yogini temple of Hirapur goes to the Bhauma and Somavamsi rulers of Orissa who were known for their tolerance, liberality and eclecticism. Their rule, which lasted from mid-8th to mid-10th century A.D., has been depicted as the 'Golden Age' mainly due to their contribution in the field of, philosophy, and literature. During this period, there was a gradual amalgamation of Shaivism (worship of Shiva), Shaktism (worship of the Mother Goddess) and the Vajrayana, or Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism in the region. It is believed that the Yogini Temple at Hirapur was built towards the end of the Bhauma rule, in the 9th century A.D.
The sculptures of Hirapur temple are extraordinarily beautiful. Faces are delicately carved often with a gentle smile and with coiffures of various styles and heavily ornamented. The architecture of this temple combines a highly original sculptural tradition with extraordinary craftsmanship.
A visit to the Yogini temple at Hirapur marks only the beginning of the journey into Orissa's mysterious past. It also throws light on the role the worship of feminine cults played in promoting harmony through the synthesis of major religious traditions of medieval Orissa.
Cradle of the Yogini Cult
While some of the Yoginis of Hirapur are portrayed as huntresses with bows and arrows, others are shown balancing on a pair of wheels, or playing a drum. Most of them have two hands, but a few are also shown with four. Some of them are poised over a mount that could commonly be a fish, parrot, turtle, frog, snake, scorpion, rat, or a decapitated male head, an archer, to name a few. Some of the Yoginis also have non-human faces of animals such as the horse, ass, rabbit, elephant and lion.
In Orissa, the ancient practice of witchcraft is still practiced. Among the Santals of Mayurbhanj district, the Santali witches often leave behind their husbands in bed in the midst of the night to assemble in a forest. Completely naked, they spend the rest of the night dancing and singing with 'bongas' (spirits or deities) and lions as their partners. At the break of dawn, they return to their beds, back to being what they originally were. The Santals believe that the 'talent' for witchcraft is not innate, but is attained through strict discipline.
of Chandi Purana
Further, Vajrayana Buddhists were empowered to violate laws, kill human beings, and seduce women. They propounded a common slogan - identical actions by which mortals struggling for hundreds of billions of cycles could liberate the 'Yogin' (the Enlightened Man).