Updated: May 26, 2022
The cult of mother goddesses is not new but has a universal appeal known since the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. There are many claims about its origin. Regions like Syria, Asia Minor, and Egypt are known to encourage this cult where the rituals were related to the primitive agricultural matriarchate. Excavators have also found the relics in Mohenjodaro and Harappa which has strongly proven the presence of this cult. Cult ideas were even popular in the hymns of Rigveda that could completely relate to the mother goddesses. Even today, rural regions strictly abide by these cults more than the ones in the Urban region.
What is the Tantra Cult?
Although not applicable to the entire population, the Tantra Cult has still been a mystery. It involves eroticism, and women in the Tantra are the mother, the matrix, the embryo, the source of all the things, and the essence of fertility.
However, the Tantra speaks about the productive sex but not the hedonic sex. This cult also talks about the biological principle of production where there is a cosmic concept of vaginal source (Yoni), and the earth. Moreover, the trees, the serpent, and mountains are the different expressions of this cosmic urge to reproduce.
Why mother goddesses are associated with the mountains?
The word ‘Durga’ literally means the mountains, and it can’t be forgotten that most of the Devi shrines in India are located on the mountain tops and associated with mountains even if located on plains. The mountains are the male principle that is symbolized in :
Linga ( Mukambika, Kollur)
Anthill (Durgamma, Bellary)
Rock ( Kamakhya Devi, Assam: A rock sneered with red ochre )
Stone block (Shashti, West Bengal: Stone under the Jack tree)
Wooden pillar ( Khond and Khambeshwari temple, Odisha)
Clay (Pujamma, Peddamma, Gangamma, Doddamma, or Maheswari, South India: Worshipped usually under a tree )
The mountains are the abode of the mother goddess and are identified with her only. Since mountains were geographically like the fortress which protects the hamlet and its neighborhood, and so is the Durga ( the protector). Vana Durga and Vindhyavasini are characteristically the mountain deities known so far. Here is the list of a few shrines that are considered essential for the township’s protection:
Karni Mata: Bikaner
Arbud Mata: Mt. Abu
What are the various rituals of worshipping the Matrikas?
Matrikas or mother goddesses are considered as the principle of abundant growth, proliferation, and progeny. They are worshipped in various forms in India, such as:
In Trees: Kadamba, Nimba and Asoka
In plants: Sakambhari: Symbolising harvest in agriculture
In leaves: Nava Patrika, a ritual in Durga Puja
Earthern pots with mango leaves on the top with vermilion
Linear diagrams: Sri yantra or Sarvado Bhadra Mandala
What is the Tantrik significance of Maya or Durga?
According to the Tantra, males and females are not distinct. If a female is a set then male is her subset, and she is complete in herself projecting the male whenever needed. A Female is the Chakra while a male is the Bindu inside that Chakra.
In Tantra, the mountains are depicted in the form of an upward triangle with its base as male while the trees are depicted as the hanging triangle with its base as female. When these triangles come together, they form Maya or Durga (A union).
What is the significance of the red color?
The association of the mother goddess with red is very ancient and dates back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. It was found that the relics figurines of the mother goddess were painted in red. Red is the color associated with procreation, and the mother goddess is conceived of as red in complexion all over. Red garments are dear to her, and so we consider this color to be auspicious. Besides the garments, the association with red is in many forms:
Red hibiscus flower
How mother goddesses are associated with epidemics?
The mother goddesses with their curative capacity are generally known as Pidari ("enemy of distress"). They are generally associated with the epidemics like :
Cholera: Mariamma (South), Moti Mata (Central India), Mari Bhavani
Plague: Bombaimayi ( Gaya Dist.), Olai Chandi (Bengal), Peddamma (South India)
Smallpox and measles: Mutyalamma, Sukhajamma, Uddalamma
How did the Iconography of the Matrikas evolve?
Initially, the images of Matrikas were very coarse rough, and ready, and there were no arms and legs in the image. The head was delineated with the torso draped with garments and adorned by necklaces. Later, wood was used as a material for a rough carving when people started feeling the impact of stylized iconography and began to represent the full human figures. There was no distinction between the fixed ( in the sanctum) and processional images of Matrikas. Huge clay idols and small wooden replicas were used for processions.
Further people began to make the Matrikas with the weapons they carry, and every weapon was associated with different characteristics of each Matrika.
Originally, the mother goddess has local relevance and symbolizes fertility. Due to this reason, she came to be known as Ma or Amma. This word is neither Sanskrit nor entirely Indian but derived from the below terms:
The Matrika is the mother with the majestic form, the queen of the earth and its vegetation, the lady who befriended and ruled over animals, the protectress of fortresses, and inhabiting mountains, glens and forests.
Source of Information: Indian temple traditions, Prof. S.K. Ramachandra