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.

Balaji, Bharatpur (off the Jaipur-Agra highway), Rajasthan:
An important centre for exorcism which attracts those "possessed by spirits" to come to Balaji. Not for the faint hearted as wails and screams can be heard afar, and visiting the temple leaves one with a question about man's beliefs.

Baijnath, near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh:
Followers of tantra visit Baijnath to seek healing powers possessed by Shiva, the Lord of Physicians where the water here is reputed to possess remarkable digestive properties.

Bhubaneswar, Orissa:
The 8th-century Vaital temple dedicated to the Goddess Kaali is a powerful tantric center. Inside the temple stands Chamunda (Kali), wearing a necklace of skulls with a corpse at her feet.

Ekling, Rajasthan:
An unusual four-faced image of Shiva carved from black marble can be seen at the Shiva temple of Eklingi near Udaipur in Rajasthan. Dating back to AD 734 or thereabouts, the temple complex draws a steady stream of tantrik worshippers almost throughout the year.

Jwalamukhi Temple, Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh:
Within the grotto are two small pools of crystal-clear water, fed by natural underground springs, and three orange yellow jets of flame flare continuously, just inches above the water surface which seems to be boiling. However the apparently boiling water is refreshingly cold. The temple is guarded and cared for by the fierce-looking followers of Gorakhnath.

Kaal Bhairon Temple, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh:
The Temple has the dark-faced idol of Bhairon, known to cultivate tantric practices and draws those with an interest in the tantric. Consumption and offering of raw, country liquor is a component of Bhairon worship.

Kalighat, Kolkata, West Bengal:
A Kaali Temple, and an important pilgrimage for tantrics. When Sati's corpse was cut into pieces, one of her fingers fell at this spot. Many goats are sacrificed here and an important place for tantrics who take their vows of self-discipline in this temple.

Kamakhya Temple, Gawhati, Assam:
Kamakhya is perhaps the most important of the tantric temples in India. Legend has it that when Lord Shiva was carrying the corpse of his wife Sati, her "yoni" (female genitalia) fell to the ground at the spot where the temple now stands.

Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh:

Temples here are known for beautiful temples and erotic sculptures, but it is an important tantric centre. An important consideration is that if one is aroused by these (outer) sculptures, then it is difficult to transcend worldly desires, reach out for spiritual exaltation, and finally nirvana (enlightenment).

Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple, Kodungallur, Kerala:
Also known as the Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple, houses the Goddess Bhadrakali, unique as it has eight hands. The Goddess is popularly known as Kodungallooramma. There are many beliefsas to the origin of the temple: Built to commemorate the martyrdom of Kannakis; the sixth avatar of Vishnu, Sage Parasurama built it for the prosperity of the people; Bhagavathi temple was created in the heart of the town to serve a special purpose; Built by Parasurama, the creator of Kerala; The temple was once a Buddhist monastery; Built by Charan Chenguttavan; That it was a Shiva shrine.

Mahakaleswar Temple, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh:
While many ceremonies are held here, the daily "bhasm aarti" (ash ritual, only one of its kind in the world) is when the Shiva lingam is 'bathed' with ash from a corpse that has been cremated the day before. The belief goes that those who are fortunate to watch this ritual will never die a premature death.

Mookambika Devi Temple, Kollur, Kerala:
Dedicated Mookambika Devi, one of important shrines in Karnataka and Kerala. Associated with Adi Shankara who installed the idol of Mookambika Devi in the temple more than 1000 years ago. The Temple is well revered as Goddess Mookambika is regarded as a manifestation of Shakti, Saraswathi and Mahalakshmi.

Valayanad Devi Temple, Valayanad, Calicut, Kerala:
Dedicated to Bhagavathy. In a fight between Kings Zamorin and Valluva Konathiri, Zamorin was defeated in spite of a better military. Zamorin established that the Goddess Bhagavathy's blessings were with Valluva Konathiri. Zamorin constructed this temples subsequent to his seeking and following Bhagavathy.

Yogini Temples
The Yogini cult has its origin in the simple tribal and folk tradition of India that, by the 7th-8th centuries A.D., in conjunction with the "Sakta-Tantric" form, meaning the worship of the Mother Goddess combined with certain magical rituals, had acquired a more definite shape. A large body of Tantric texts and a similar number of shrines found in various parts of the country reveal that several inexhaustible attempts made by its exponents and followers went to popularize this esoteric cult between the 9th and 12th century.

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 Legends
In the ancient scriptures, often Yoginis are depicted as consorts of 'Yogis', and like their male companions practiced 'Yoga' (mediation) to gain mastery over science and acquire magical powers. "Kaula Marga", a tantric form of worship further includes Yoginis of different categories in its "Cakra" (circle) associated with lord Shiva.

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.

HIRAPUR, near Bhubaneswar, Orissa
The Yogini Temple, also known as the "Mahamaya Temple", has an ambience that is quite charged. The temple conveys an impression of the overwhelming power of its sixty-four Yoginis. Mahamaya, the presiding deity of the temple is found adorned with red cloth and vermilion. The deity is still worshipped by the local villagers.

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.

The Cradle of the Yogini Cult
Simple circular enclosures without a roof are an unusual phenomenon among the religious shrines in India. In addition, the circular walls of these enclosures have niches that enshrine sixty-four female images known as "Yoginis". These shrines are referred to as the "Chausati" (sixty-four) Yogini temples, and the cult associated with them is known as the Yogini cult. In some other religious texts, Yoginis are also referred to as the attendant deities of the Great Goddess. In contrast, another tradition categorized the 64 Yoginis into potent numeral groupings of 8 forms - those that signify the eight Great Goddesses or the "Asta Matrakas" The images of these Asta Matrakas are widely found in India, and especially in Orissa in their larger-than-life forms.

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.

A number of ancient texts recount terrifying stories highlighting the sorcery or witchcrafts aspect of the Yoginis. According to these stories, Yoginis could acquire certain magical powers with which they could transform human beings into animals and birds. A few other stories talk of a category of witches referred to as 'Dakinins', known for their ability to fly, besides their appetite for human flesh.

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.

Legend of Chandi Purana
The ”Chandi Purana", a 15th century A.D. text, written by Sarala Das of Orissa, refers to Yoginis as forms of the 'Devi' or the Supreme Goddess of the 'Saktas', based on the story of the Goddess 'Chandi' or 'Durga' killing 'Mahisasura' or the buffalo-demon, is a clear reflection of the extreme form of Tantrism practiced in coastal Orissa of those times. According to the text, the Goddess Chandi is said to have liberated an innumerous number of female soldiers known as Yoginis, who were excessively fond of flesh, blood, bone and marrow. And to fulfill these desires, the soldiers fought incessantly with the demons till they were killed and could be consumed. The text says that numerous goats, rams and buffaloes were killed every day to propitiate the Goddess Sarala and the Yoginis.

Vajrayana Buddhism
The Vajrayana or the Tantric form of Buddhism, which evolved against the principles of earlier Buddhism preached by the Buddha himself, had laid great emphasis on the theory of emancipation. The preachers of Vajrayana Buddhism redefined 'Nirvana' (liberation) as 'Sunya' (void), 'Vijnana' and 'Mahasukha' (extreme pleasure) that could be achieved by embracing a woman. In this newly restructured nirvana, women were designated as 'Shakti', and their union with the 'Sadhaka' came to be known as yoga.

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).