Book Review: Mystical glimpses from world of sixty-four Yoginis

Whispers of the Unseen: The Quest for Sixty-Four Yoginis book cover

Book cover of Whispers of the Unseen: The Quest for Sixty-Four Yoginis

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‘Whispers of the Unseen: The Quest for Sixty-Four Yoginis’ reveals mystical pathway to self-discovery

By Bhawna Malik

New Delhi, April 19: Painting Yoginis was Bhakti for Dr S. Beena Unnikrishnan. She embarked on a journey of self-realisation and also self-discovery as she set out to paint sixty-four yoginis on the canvas.

Inspired by the idols of the Yoginis at Hirapur temple in Odisha, Dr. Beena painted Chaunsath Yogini, the sixty-four Yoginis, and thus was born her maiden book ‘Whispers of the Unseen: The book takes readers on an enchanting journey of mysticism.

The book gives an account of her spiritual journey to all the yogini temples. She dwells on the concept of Shakti, which for her is manifested through sixty-four Yoginis. The Yoginis are the divine feminine expressions and a better awareness about them can help the people be more sensitive to the gender issues, the author guides the readers to understand the inherent feminine and masculine energy in each person.

Shakti is a divine concept worshipped in the Hindu religion by devotees throughout the country with several Shakti Peeths, from Vaishno Devi in Katra to Kamakhaya Devi in Guwahati.

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The foreword by Mr Bibek Debroy, Chairman, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, lauds the author for documenting the yoginis. He lauds the author for telling tales of yoginis while underlining that an aura of secrecy surrounds the cult. Mr Debroy notes that most of the yogini temples in the country are in states of ruins. Statues were looted and plundered, he adds in the foreword.

The gender stereotypes practiced in the society are challenged in the chapter ‘Ardhnarishvarar’. Dr. Beena writes: “The Ardhanarishwarar form explains how inseparable the masculine and the feminine in us are. It represents the presence of the masculine and the feminine power in us. The realization of the duality in us can take us to a perpetual state of ecstasy. The union of Purusha and the Prakriti is the source of the power of all creation.”

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The author brings forth the point that the gender sensitivity can be attained with the full understanding of the concept of the yoginis.

“The concept of Ardhanarishwarar aspires to resolve the paradox of opposite in unity. This concept transcends the distinction between the genders and the limitations of being a male or a female and takes us beyond genders, resulting in liberation,”. She writes.

The power of the folklores associated with the Yogini temples gains prominence in the chapter the ‘sacred sojourn’. The author gives an account of her visits to the several of the yogini temples all across the country.

Dr Beena shines in storytelling as she shares the story of bees as protectors of a yogini temple. Writing on the ‘Bheda Ghat’ temple in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, Dr Beena shares quotes a local priest, saying: “During an invasion to destroy the temple, a swarm of bees emerged from the temple’s core, deterring the invaders from entering the Garbha Griha. The invaders were forced to flee, unable to withstand the onslaught of the bees.”

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Sharing another interesting anecdote, Dr Beena explains, why the popular Bhimeshwar Dham doesn’t have a typical temple structure. A local story talks about “how the devotees tried to build a temple structure around the jyotirlinga, deep inside a forest. But the entire structure would be destroyed by dawn by elephants in the area. Locals say that after dusk, elephants too come to say their prayers, seek blessings and pour water in devotion over the lingas.

Giving an account of Adishakti Peethas in the country, the author shares the legend of Sati. Legend has it that “After Sati’s self-immolation in her father Daksha’s yagna, Shiva was in a state of rage and sorrow. He carried her body and performed the Shiva Tandava that shook the heavens and the Earth. In a bid to stop him, Lord Vishnu sent his Sudarshan Chakra which split Sati’s body into 108 pieces that fell at 108 different locations.  Four of these spots are very sacred and came to be known as Adi Shakti Peethas”.

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Tantrik  mysticism, often  associated with the cult of Yoginis, also finds an explanation in the chapter ‘Yogini Chinnamasta’. The author writes: “Tantrism has several negative connotations to any regular non-expert, the practice is shrouded in mystery and taboo, mainly owing to the portrayal of goddesses such as Chinnamasta, with bright red and at times black skin, strings of blood spurting out of her neck, her decapitating head in hand, and standing atop a copulating couple. Goddess Chinnamasta is not for the faint hearts. Her fighting persona tends to intimidate even devotees, let alone non-devotees, who do not quite understand her essence, and what she stands for.”

She also argues that “beside Tantra, Mantra and Yantra, absolute devotion and by casting aside the ego, the people can adopt the Bhakti marg for self-realization and fulfilment”.

The author says that “the symbol of the yogini represents self-sacrifice for the sake of those who believe in or depend on her”. With this depiction, the author writes that the goddess represents detaching the ‘I’ from oneself to gain broader, more detached outlook on life. The book has been published by BluOne Ink.

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