By Lynda Aiman-Smith
A Level II Final Project for Dark Moon’s Heart School
(© 2019. All original material in this site is under copyright protection and is the intellectual property of the author.)
“The Crone, the Reaper, is not an easy Goddess to love. She’s not the nurturing Mother. She’s not the Maiden, light and free, not pretty, not shiny like the full or crescent moon. She is the Dark Moon, what you don’t see coming at you, what you don’t get away with, the wind that whips the spark across the fire line. Chance, you could say, or, what’s scarier still: the intersection of chance with choices and actions made before. The brush that is tinder dry from decades of drought, the warming of the earth’s climate that sends the storms away north, the hole in the ozone layer. Not punishment, not even justice, but consequence.”
In Hinduism there is wide acceptance that the Goddess manifests Herself in varying forms. The Devi (the Mother Goddess) is extolled in the Vedas, scriptures over 2500 years old. “Before the beginning of the universe I alone existed, with none other than myself. That Self-Nature is called by the names of Consciousness, Wisdom, and the Supreme “-- from the Devi Gita (quoted in Frawley, 1994).
Sometimes aspects of the Devi will appear as a group - just as in Celtic cultures there are honored aspects of a triple Goddess (e.g. the Maiden, Mother, Crone). One example of a grouping of manifestation of the Devi is the Ten Mahavidyas, of whom Dhumavati – the focus of this final project - is one.
The most common story of the manifestation of the Mahaviyas comes from tales of Sati, the first named consort of Shiva. (In Hinduism the major male Divine manifestation is a triple divinity- Brahma who creates; Vishnu who sustains; and Shiva who destroys). In the story, Sati’s father (Daksa) decides to perform a big rite – and throw a big party - and invites all the beings in the heavenly spheres to attend. That is, everyone except Sati and Shiva. Ostensibly. Daksa disapproves of Shiva’s ash-covered body and dreadlocks, and does not appreciate how Shiva is so unpredictable. Upon realizing her father is going to clearly insult her and her consort by excluding them, Sati becomes outraged and declares she is going to crash the party and confront her father. Shiva, who usually enjoys being in the midst of a little chaos, for some reasons says that is not a good idea. They fight. Sati becomes furious, and as she loses her temper, she enlarges to gigantic proportions, and then splits into ten forms, the ten Mahavidyas. They emerge with different guises – some young and beautiful, some terrifying, but all with power and presence.
The seventh Mahavidya to emerge is Dhumavati. She is the clearly the aspect of the Crone; the Eldest, the Grandmother, the One who has experienced the greatest movement of Time, the Ancestral guide. In paintings and statues, Dhumavati is depicted dressed as a Hindu widow, wearing white – but in Her case, the robe is ragged, torn, and splashed with mud and dirt. Her face is lined, with ashes smeared on Her forehead and cheeks. Part of Her name – Dhum – can be translated as “smoky,” which reflects that She walks the cremation grounds, and is fond of smoke. Her hair is gray and uncombed. The devotee of Dhumavati knows that this aspect of the Goddess understands human troubles, sorrow, suffering, and loss. As One who can bring such troubles, She also can draw them back into her hands and dismiss them. The Dhumavati devotee strives to see the energy forms behind the material forms. Giving reverence to sorrow and loss as forms of the Divine Friend who have come to teach us is a way to honor Dhumavati. Devotees of Dhumavati behold and honor the Divine Goddess in the form that is considered ugly and repellent in a society that values youth and beauty.
As with other aspects of the Crone from other cultures (such as Baba Yaga from Russia, Cerridowen from Ireland, Hecate from Greece, Grandmother Spider from the Southwest USA) Dhumavati is almost always depicted with a crow – perched nearby, or in Her lap, or pulling the cart in which She sits, or on a banner that flies near Her. Dhumavati holds a winnowing basket in her left hand (the better to separate out the grains of the soul from the chaff of the body). With Her right hand She makes the mudra of knowledge.
Her worship takes place in wild, lonely places – or in India in a cremation ground, a bone-yard. It is pretty clear to me that some Buddhist practices, especially meditation on death, including meditation in cremation grounds, are directly related to honoring the aspect of the Goddess Dhumavati as the Crone who roams the place of the dead. Devotees of Dhumavati recognize that it is only through recognizing and working with suffering that we humans can move toward transcendence. She can take away and transform those things that are terrifying. That is another connection to teachings from most Buddhist schools.
Frawley describes Dhumavati as existing in “…sleep, lack of memory, illusion immersed in the illusion of the world. But among the yogis she becomes the power that destroys all illusion, Samahdi itself. “One of the most useful resources I discovered that describes a number of devotional practices to Dhumavati is Harish Johari’s (1986) Tools for Tantra. This delightful text by the North Indian Ayervedic scholar, is not some sex-as-spirit interpretation of Tantra to titillate Westerners; but rather a straightforward explanation of a basic set of tools used to express worship and honor the Divine.
There are three components of Tantric practices: Tantra - the Teaching; Mantra - the songs, chants, sounds; Yantra - a geometrical design used for trance and meditation. Johari notes that when we devotees focus on the Goddess, that other mantras and other symbols may start coming through, and can incorporated into the Yantra. Mandalas are extended and connected forms of yantras, through which a devotee develops deeper concentration in prayer and meditation. Tantric practices stem from Hinduism, and this is also how Tantric Buddhists develop visualization and deep concentration. As well, similar frames of devotional practices can be applied in other traditions.
One framework that is reference regularly in teachings from the Center for Action and Contemplation (an ecumenical center with an emphasis on contemplation and mysticism) devotional practices should engage the individual’s inner consciousness; as well as outer consciousness. The faculty at the Center for Action and Contemplation regularly refers to this dual consciousness framework, and the same framework also has a tradition in Tantra.
Tantra practices always speak to this dual nature - outer worship/devotion (ritual, making offerings, drawing the yantra, chanting the mantra)- and inner worship (meditation, dream work, insights that come up, prayers said silently inside).
Traditional Tantric ritual incorporates five offerings – an oil (usually with fragrance) for the earth; incense (for air), a flame (for fire), a liquid food (like herbal tisanes, teas, melted butter or milk) for water - and usually flowers or drawings of natural beauty to represent ether. So any offerings to Dhumavati should include one or more of these offerings. So as an example of integrating the inner and outer consciousness: making an offering to Dhumavati would engage my outer consciousness via the senses (say, making an offering of incense so I see the burning end; smell the smoke; see the smoke rising into the air). As I offer the incense and pray, my inner consciousness should be engaged moving toward that moment of Silence, or hearing Her voice.
There are two yantra associated with Dhumavati.
There is also a Dhumavati mantra. The root mantra is:
Dhum Dhum Dhumavati Thah
Dhum Dhum Dhumavati Thah
Dhum Dhum Dhumavati Thah
Dhum Dhum Dhumavati Thah Svaha!
When chanting the mantra, Dhumavati is sung to as the primordial deep, that dark chaos from which all creation springs. When chanting the mantra, the devotee sings to Dhumavati as the Void, the Silence, the Cessation of the constant chatter of the mind. As part of my prayer practice during working on this Final Project, I drew many Dhumavati yantra in chalk on my cement patio, while chanting Her mantra. It is a powerful practice!
Frawley (1994) makes the point that in Tantric teachings, the Goddess is the Divine Word, and is such we humans as part of creation can speak with Her. He discusses speaking with Her on four levels, and associates each of those levels with a chakra. First is audible speech, verbal prayer, done when the devotee is awake. Of course, audible prayer is associated with the throat chakra. What he calls thought form speech, is done while in that twilight dreaming state, when the devotee is not quite awake, not quite asleep. Thought form speech is seated in the heart chakra. Frawley’s third type is illuminated speech, done while in deep dream, which he says is seated in the solar plexus chakra. And then the deepest level is transcendent speech done while in samadhi, seated in the root chakra. Frawley says that energetically, Dhumavati is seen as the energy blending behind the solar plexus and heart chakras, moving through that entire heart to solar plexus area, and coming from behind the body.
As continuing work with Dhumavati, I plan to incorporate setting intention before going to sleep that She will communicate with me in Dreaming and that I will remember that communication.
Original creative work as part of this project
For this portion of the Level II final project, as well as drumming and chanting regularly (my own chant with the traditional words) I also created a meditation mandala for use in devotion to Dhumavati.
To do the meditation mandala I first worked coloring yantra. There are two yantra associated with Dhumavati, and I chose one to work with that shows the various petals of transcendence, with the bindu in the center. I copied and colored nine of those. The second aspect of this meditation mandala is the picture of the bones in the middle. Since Dhumavati can be worshiped in wild places, or in bone yards, I am fortunate that there is a place near my home that has both. It is actually an art installation, lovingly built by community members -- the final resting meadow of the Million Bones Project. The bones laid there are not actual human bones, but they are anatomically correct ceramic bones that have been molded and fired as part of this art installation. I myself have hiked three times to the remote meadow to lay down bones as an act of prayer. The last trip, I took photos of a small portion of the expansive bone meadow.
This Dhumavati meditation mandala is my own original creative work
Here are some other pictures of the bone meadow. It is the work of hundreds of human hands. As part of the creation I took part in creating bones during the 2018 Clay Festival held in my town, and laying bones down during the year 2018-2019. The final installation of the Million Bones forms a sobering area to meditate on impermanence, and to honor Dhumavati.
Photos of the bone meadow, July 2019 (taken by me). Two friends are walking the paths and honoring the dead.
As an elder woman and a widow, I feel a connection with the Goddess in her aspect as the Crone. Dhumavati's worship is appropriate for those of us who are in the fourth stage of life - world renouncers – especially widows who after loss of our beloved partner, choose to remain alone and more focused on spiritual matters. Dhumavati is described as being partial to widows. Widows are considered the only beings with the strength to not only withstand Her power, but draw from it.
Dhumavati, as the Crone Mahavidya, speaks to me. Not only is She syncretic to various other cultural aspects of the Crone (e.g. Baba Yaga), but I can see practices in her worship that are echoed in various Buddhist teachings I have received. Jai Jai Dhumavati!
Center for Action and Contemplation. Information accessible at https://cac.org/about-cac/
Clay Festival 2019 One Million Bones event accessible at https://clayfestival.com/one-million-bones
Frawley, David (1994). "Dhumavati: The Grandmother spirit". Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses: Spiritual Secrets of Ayurveda. Lotus Press.
Johari, Harish (1988) Tools for Tantra. Destiny Books.
Sanatan Society: Harish Johari. Accessible at http://www.sanatansociety.com/artists_authors/aa_harish_johari.htm
Starhawk (1993). The Fifth Sacred Thing. Bantam.
The Ten Mahavidyas (2010, June). From Mahavidya: Scholarly Resources for the Study of Hinduism. Accessible at http://www.mahavidya.ca/category/major-hindu-sects/saktism/sakta-deities/the-ten-mahavidyas/