It’s difficult to make your way through the bustling crowds at the normally serene Kamakhya temple in Assam during Ambubachi Mela. MAA’s energy is wild and potent, and She is alive in the palpable energy that pulses through the throngs of Her devotees gathered outside Her temple. Almost every square inch of the grounds is covered with crimson-clad devotees who sing, chant, meditate and shout their devotion to the Divine Mother, positioning themselves just outside Her most holy shrine during the time of Her annual menstruation.
The Ten Mahavidyas (Daśa Mahāvidyāḥ) are central to the practices of Shakta Tantric tradition. Kamakhya is primarily and equally identified with Durga (especially as Mahiṣāsuramardinī), Kālī, and Ṣoḍaśī (also known as Mahā Tripurāsundarī, Lalitā, or Rājā Rājeśvarī), but she is also closely identified with all of the Mahavidyas, as is revealed in these mantras. Thus her traditions are diverse, expansive, mysterious, and unique in the world of Tantra.
Ganesha is an important deity throughout Hinduism. With an elephant’s head and the body of a man, he is one of the most recognizable gods, and is beloved throughout the world as the remover of obstacles, master of the arts, and cheerful, strong companion to devotees as they begin any task.
Devotion, along with humility and compassion, is one of the greatest tools and biggest allies on the Tantric path. The Manthanabhairavatantra Siddhakhandah declares:
Devotion (is of three kinds, namely, devotion) to the Transmission, devotion to the teacher, and devotion here to the teaching itself. Devotion is power and the Transmission is transmitted by power. Speech is transmitted from the Transmission and the Command operates by Speech. Devotion is liberation that beholds the end of the Transmental.
– MBT, SKh 4:36-7. Translated by M. Dyczkowski.
There is a lot going on in this statement – but what I want to focus on is the necessity of devotion on the Tantric path.
Sarasvati Puja is the day that celebrates the Mother of knowledge, learning, music, the arts, and language. Sarasvati (or Saraswati) is literally “she who continuously flows,” and as Vak is the the divine voice that created the universe in the Rg Veda, the ultimate power of divine speech itself. Sarasvati was also a divine river of the Vedas that provided food, water, and sustenance. Her esoteric form is Matangi, the Mahavidya of inner knowledge and hidden wisdom. As the Mother of speech and language, she is the mother of all mantras, as she created language as a vehicle for divine power.
Puja is a feast for the senses – beautiful flowers, intoxicating incense, delicious food, beautiful murtis. Performing puja makes us feel good, like we’re doing something, like we’re serving God/dess.
“When offerings are made in worship, with or without proper knowledge, I will receive them gladly, and also the fire offerings made in a similar way.”
– Devi Mahatmyam 12.11
In this verse from the twelfth chapter of Devi Mahatmyam (also Chandi Path or simply the Chandi), the Goddess tells us that She accepts all worship, regardless of whether it is performed with proper knowledge. What is proper knowledge? The “right” mantras, the “right” procedures, the “right” pronunciation, the “right” gestures, the “right” understanding. There is another kind of “right” understanding, which is quite personal and flows from pure devotion.
In the West, there is often a lack of understanding about the tradition of touching the Guru’s feet. Such an act can seem like groveling, or an act of inflating the Guru’s ego. But this shows a very limited understanding of what it means to pay respect to the Guru.