12x16 inches; Watercolor, Pen and ink on acid free textured paper (Click on image to enlarge)
The name ‘Dhuumavati’ denotes ‘one who is formed of smoke’. She is the void that exists before creation of the universe and after its destruction. She is the haze and smoke of ignorance that envelops all creation and keeps us intoxicated and attached to the world of illusion, ‘Maya’, but she is also the guide who shows us the path out of that smoke if we seek her out and ask for guidance. She is the embodiment of everything that we fear as inauspicious and unwanted because of our ignorance and greed in this material world, and our unwillingness to attain complete independence from what we consider ‘favourable’ to our aspirations. She blatantly tells us that our aspirations are going to go up in smoke (she is associated with the smoke that rise from the burning pyres at the cremation grounds) and we should look beyond such petty aspirations. She consumes all and she discards that which is unnecessary.
She is one of the Dasa Mahavidya (10 cosmic wisdom) and the Shakta mythology has three stories of her manifestation.
1. - Maha-Bhagavata Purana narrates that Sati, the first wife of Shiva, felt very angry and insulted by her father Daksha because he had not invited them to an auspicious fire sacrifice, arranged by him, where all the other divinities had been invited. Sati insisted that she should be allowed to go and confront her father for such an insult, but Shiva tried to stop her. In her rage Sati brought forth the Dasa Mahavidya and surrounded Shiva. Dhuumavati appeared at that time, along with the rest of the nine Mahavidyas.
2. - Shaktisamgama-Tantra narrates that after confronting her father Daksha at the Yagna, Sati gave up her will to live by burning herself in the fire sacrifice and Dhuumavati rose as the smoke from Sati's body. She is Sati, ultimately free of her worldly attachments and sense of honour or betrayal, and risen like smoke over Sati’s unsatisfied desires. Hence she is all consuming, and yet always unsatisfied.
3. - Pranatosini-Tantra narrates that once, Sati developed this insatiable hunger and kept asking Shiva to provide her with food. When Shiva declined, she devoured him whole to satisfy her extreme hunger. She was satiated and her body turned dark and smoke started emerging from her. Shiva pleaded her to disgorge him and set him free, she unwillingly obliged. Shiva then left her and cursed her to live as a widow. That is when Sati transformed into Dhuumavati.
What these narratives have in common is the dissatisfaction born out of unfulfilled desires and the self destructive nature of human ego, and most importantly the fierce transformation achieved after sacrifice of that ego.
A woman who asserts herself over her father and husband and goes as far as to physically consume her husband proving him non-essential for her survival, beyond becoming the means of satisfying her all consuming hunger (physical, emotional and spiritual), is surely not a good example of desirable woman to be glorified in a patriarchal society. A widow by choice (similar to any woman who remains single by choice), who is not under the control of any man, (father, husband or son) is completely independent and a huge challenge to patriarchal conditioning. Having consumed the Purusha (male energy) in the universe, and disgorging what is unnecessary she has become a self sufficient form of Shakti (female energy)! How can patriarchal society let such a goddess be glorified?
Over the ages her iconography has transformed into projection of all that is undesirable and inauspicious, to be feared and not embraced. Time and again she has been used as a warning for women who questioned the control of men or wanted to remain free of the bonds of family. She has been demonized, often portrayed as an old, ugly widow (A widow who is beautiful and alluring will be desired and be a threat to the moral codes and ‘family values’ which patriarchy holds so dear!) though her thousand-name hymn alludes to her unparalleled beauty and calls her "She whose form is Rati". Rati literally means "sexual intercourse" and is also the name of the Hindu goddess of love and sexuality. Dhuumavati is portrayed to be malnourished, always hungry and thirsty, restless and wicked, astute and crafty, always spiteful and instigating quarrels which cause separation and isolation. Her companion is a crow which directly links her to death, and she is most often associated with poverty, frustration, anger and misfortune. Amplifying such aspects of her manifestation only helped thicken the smoke around her and inspired repulsion rather than devotion.
Women are not encouraged to worship her as she inspires detachment by showing the futility of existing in the smoke bubble of Maya, though she is also called tender-hearted and giver of boons. Dhuumavati is also described as a great teacher, one who reveals ultimate knowledge of the universe, which is beyond the illusory divisions, like auspicious and inauspicious, more the reason to discourage her worship by promoting fear of bad luck and misfortune befalling the devotee.
But those who can see beyond the smoke screen carefully held in place by manipulative powers, will see that the symbolism associated with Dhuumavati can be interpreted differently. For example her association with the crow does allude to death and its inevitability. But is it something to be feared? On the contrary, she tells you not to get too attached to your worldly existence as that leads to fear of death which is inevitable. She might be associated with disappointments, misfortunes, frustrations, defeats or losses, but she also guides you through those adverse situations to bring about a deeper spiritual transformation, if you are open to her guidance. Through adversity she destroys ignorance and teaches you to identify and value what is truly important. Look at the winnowing basket that she carries. It is used to separate the grain from the chaff. What does that signify? It again alludes to ending ignorance and understanding what really matters in the cloud of manufactured desires. And such enlightenment will surely inspire detachment and a need to discard the unnecessary baggage. She allows us to distance ourselves from toxic relationships without compromising our dignity and integrity. She teaches us to set ourselves free from social conditioning which restrains us from realizing our true potential and releases our consciousness from the physical constraints of the body.
She is the smoke of the soul rising from the body after life ends. She is the void that embraces you when your world is destroyed, and she teaches you not to be afraid to embrace her back.
- Kinsley, David R. (1988). "Tara, Chinnamasta and the Mahavidyas". Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (1 ed.). University of California Press.