The Yoginihrdaya: The Heart of the Yogini, by Andre Padoux, is among the principal works of Tantric Hinduism. It discusses this Yantra and the details of construction and symbolism of each level, and goddess and her puja in detail.
Original gouache, gold, mineral paints on cotton. 2014
The Sri Yantra, also known as Sri Chakra, mandala is considered to be the greatest of all yantras. It is the subtle form of the goddess Lalita Tripurasundari, the Red Goddess. The gross symbolic form of the goddess would be an image of a 4 armed goddess, and the most subtle, the supreme form, are the sounds of her mantra. All three are the goddess in her different aspects, that is, ways that we humans can connect to the energy that she represents. Practitioners are initiated into the use of a particular mantra to connect to the god or goddess of the mantra after a certain level of study to arouse the inner life force to its fullest potential. The detail and significance of every aspect of the Sri Yantra is lengthy and has been written about by many scholars over the centuries. I am hoping to give just the “cliff notes” to help people have a better appreciation of the symbol and the refinement of the people who drew it, people who were highly aware of their own nature and the nature of the cosmos, and our connection to that. It dates back, at a minimum, to 1200 BC.
The meaning of “Lalita” is “she who plays”. This means that this playful goddess, in her delight, creates all of manifestation. Her yantra is a map of that creation; it is also a map of the emergence of energy from the most inner subtle vibration to the most coarse outer level of form.
The central dot, or bindu, represents the goddess herself: aware, conscious, and full of potential for movement and creation. From her a pulsating stream of light creates the tattvas, the 37 levels of consciousness, which are represented here by the various shapes emerging from the center. Five downward facing triangles represent female energy, they intersect with four upward facing triangles of male energy and converging they create the universe. Each perimeter level of smaller triangles in the center is associated with a deity. The triangle area is surrounded by a nimbus of green, the energy radiating off the goddess, like an aura, or the nimbus drawn around the head of deities.
Next, there is an inner ring of petals containing 34 of the 36 consonants, that spell out the deity’s names of that level, placed according to their proper direction. After that is an outer ring of petals with the Sanskrit vowels placed according to the deity and direction they represent. People commonly say Sanscrit is a holy language: after painting this image I thought that the early languages are perhaps more “holy” than the contemporized forms of them because they were formed at a time that people were closer to nature and their own Selves…. Feelings and impressions, coalescing into idea,s formed into sounds that came from a heart less obscured.
After that the outer square level represents the earth, with the doorways on the sides, called a “bhupura”. The doorways represent ways that one may study, or use their given temperment, to approach the knowledge of the center. The topmost gate is the eastern gate and represents the way of mantras, the western gate at the bottom represents the performance of rites and rituals, the northern gate to the left is entryway via the path of wisdom, and the southern gate is an entryway through the spirit of devotion, or bhakti. Each gate also stands for a chakra, or energy center in the body.
I chose to draw the deities of the earth level in this rendition, to represent the fact that the earth layer is the one most like us, and we can relate to the energies there through the imagery of forms that we can see. Sometimes the Yab/yum couples of the energies of each direction are portrayed at this level and sometimes just the male or female aspect. I chose to use (mostly) the female aspect, using the forms of the Matrikas, 7 ancient fierce mother goddesses that have evolved over time into other deities. They all make the gestures of “Fear Not” and “Granting of Blessings” with their central hands, and their other hands hold implements representative of their states. Often the Matrikas are portrayed in a line, with Ganesh to their left in the first position, and Bhairava, the fierce form of Shiva, to their right, so I painted them in the northeast and southeast corners respectively.
Practitioners always invoke the help of Lord Ganesh before conducting rituals, and so it is fitting that he is at the top left corner, where we would naturally start reading from – left to right. The order I talk about them keeps going in the same direction. This is also one of the ways the energy moves in the body, in a clockwise circular pattern. At the top (the east) is Varahi, who later evolved into Vajra Varahi, the deity of the Vital Force, with a sow face. She is usually portrayed in dakini stance. The position of the arms and legs represents that same clockwise energy flow – the right leg tucking up as the energy surges upward in that direction, and so on. Her symbol is a red flower.
The matrika associated with Shiva is Maheshvari and so her energetic state is present,in the southeast but represented by Siva/Bhairava. She is also called Raudri, or Rudani or Maheshi, but they and Shiva all represent the same energy of destruction. Chamunda is placed in the south, representing perishable matter. Destruction has no meaning unless there is matter to be destroyed. You might also think of her as destruction of the ego. She later evolved into Kali, or Troma Nagmo. Here she is in a cremation ground setting. Southwest is occupied by MahaLakshmi (Lakshmi) herself. Her earlier Matrika form is Vaishnavi. Lakshmi’s consort Vishnu, the maintainer of the universe, is associated with the energy of this direction. They both represent the energy of bhakti, devotion. In the west is Brahmani. Her four faces represent the 4 Vedas, or consciousnesss, ego, intellect, and mind. Her consort is Brahma, the creator aspect of the trinity of male Hindu deities. She is Brahma’s power, or Shakti. She is a kindly aspect of the mother goddess Devi. Northwest is the youthful matrika Kaumari, daughter of Lalita, or Saraswati in later periods of time, goddess of knowledge, education, and the arts, often shown with a peacock. She is also associated with Skanda, god of war, and her temple is on the southernmost tip of India. To the north is Indrani, associated with Indra, the god of heaven. As a goddess she makes one’s body lighter than air so that we can fly anywhere at will.