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The Mythic Yonder of Sree Lalitopakhyanam: Self, Life and Living

Updated: Feb 29


The author’s canvas of the Maha-Yagna facilitating the birth of Lalita devi


As I explore the mysteries of mythology through Sree Lalitopakhyanam, a dedicated Hindu scripture, part of Brahmanda Purana that captures the divine episodes of Lalita devi, goddess, I feel I can access the myriad expressions of the human Self. These are  unique yet universal. I have charted it as an attempt here to tune into the mythic-mystic fantasies of this scripture that speak to me of my inner cosmology and immerse me in decoding its living quality. It became a transcendental, and cathartic, meaning making process for me—giving me the eyes to see the evergreen awe-inspiring knowledge. Let’s walk through it together.  


Here, I outline the significant episodes before the birth of the creation mother, Lalita devi narrated by Lord Hayagriva (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) to the sage Agastya, consequential to understand devi’s raison d'être, her purpose for being. These episodes from Sree Lalitopakhyanam evoke a curiosity for the numinous, psychological maturation and milestones of knowing the self for me that I share here…


An ostentatious Lord Indra was once cursed by Durvasa rishi, a sage who enjoyed the blessings of the goddesses of victory and wealth, and was so deluded by his inflated pride that he refused the garland sent by Lord Rudra. Instead of wearing it, he gave it to his celestial elephant, Airavatha. Seeing this, Brihaspati deva, god then took over the baton to teach Lord Indra how not to behave unrighteously, performing adharma. This was the time when the rule of the danavas, the demons, rose and so the devas had to take the reins back into their own hands to create a just world. Lord Vishnu set up the churn to milk the ocean and gain the elixir of immortality, amrit, for the devas to reinstate their prominence. He even transformed himself as an enchantress Mohini to entrap the asuras, demons who were after the immortality elixir (Rao, Sree Lalitopakhyanam, pp.6-18).


A curse, a boon of immortality, and a battle between the asuras and devas. Reading this in 2024 may seem like a metaverse experience in contemporary language. Such  confusion and contemplation was also dealt with by Joseph Campbell, who tried to understand whether the modern world had become bereft of the numinous (Myths Dreams and Religion, pp.119-133). Like Campbell, I want to focus on rekindling mythic consciousness and opening the abysmal psychological symbolism of the curse, boon, and battle. Self development is attributed to balanced actions, so getting rid of the shackles of a negative self-construct (just like Indra’s pride), as well as the hope-like aspiration for amrit, is transformative for a waking Self. This can be achieved by favoring and balancing the inner alchemical symbols in the battle between the demons and the divine, the asuras and the devas.


Sree Lalitopakhyanam then speaks of the portentous birth of Bhandasura after the episode of churning the ocean for amrit. Seeing her husband (Lord Shiva) humiliated at her father’s (Lord Daksha) organized yagna sacrifice, Sati couldn’t take it and sacrificed herself in chid-agni, sacred fire. When Shiva heard of this he marched to the yagna, and destroyed it for taking away his beloved. This was the beginning of Sati devi’s transformation to goddess Parvati. Thereafter an asura was born and could only be decimated by a son of Lord Shiva. As Shiva was in samadhi at that time, the highest meditative state, his third eye got activated and he burned the demon down to ashes. It was only after Shiva-Parvati’s wedding that Chitra Karma-Gananadha (a form or epithet of Lord Shiva) shaped the ashes of the burned demon into a human form and presented it to Lord Shiva. Seeing the renewed human form, he embraced him, taught him the Sata-Rudriya Mantra, a divine chant and conferred upon him his blessings and boons of his desire. He was also given the rule of all the worlds and was gifted the supreme armaments to assist in his battles. This form born of ashes thus became Bhandasura. When Lord Brahma saw this creation, he said well done, which in Sanskrit means Bhanda. This is how he got the name, Bhandasura. Gifted by the mightiest of the mighty, Bhandasura so became unconquerable. This was threatening to the devas and they attempted to stop him by requesting Lord Vishnu to lure him with the erotic charm as Mohini, but that didn't last long, and Bhandasura undertook his mission to weaken the protective shield of the devas in his attempt to conquer the devas and devaloka, dwelling of the gods. But as these shields were created by Lalita devi and were impervious, it reassured devas of their belief in their divine rescuer.


Bhandasura’s birth was the beginning of kama-pralaya, the ultimate dissolution which could only be countered by the birth of the devi. The devi was so powerful that she was the protector of the devas and the prana, life of the worlds, and what follows is her birth myth.


All devas, in order to pray for their protection, performed a yagna wherein they offered their flesh and limbs into the sacred fire from which emerged the goddess. Different kinds of births, such as the mind, sweat, seed, egg, and womb born were rendered to this homa kunda, a sacred fire pit made to perform the yagna. Lord Shiva Shambhu, too, prayed to strengthen devi Lalita’s powers during her creation so she could battle and defeat Bhandasura. In the sacred yagna, Lord Shiva poured all oceans as offerings like the sacred ghee, clarified butter, to amplify her prowess against the demon and his army. Her birth marked the beginning of the restoration of the divine and along with Kamesvara deva, her partner, she was enthroned to rule Sri Nagara, a city created by the goddess after the ultimate battle. All bodies renounced in the maha-yagna, the divine sacrifice for the goddess, were resurrected after this momentous win and the restoration of the worlds took place thereon. From Lalita devi’s physical being rose the sun, moon, fire, sky, winds, directions, stars, flowers, the past, present and the future; in short, life itself. And so she triumphed, crumbling Bhandasura’s illusional city into dust, reinstating and populating the worlds (Rao, Sree Lalitopakhyanam). 


Campbell posits that myths are divine stories that offer guidance, realizations, and new perspectives, even a slice of life in the here and now (Myth and Meaning, Conversations on Mythology and life, p. xv). Understanding Bhandasura and goddess Lalita’s mythic origins in this context, I want to bring to light its present psychological manifestations. 


“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” born of ashes and nestled by Lord Shiva, Bhanda’s birth is a representation of the impermanence of life, which helps us dwell on our inward relationship to ourselves (Ronnberg & Martin, Book of Symbols, p. 728). Bhanda’s birth from ashes, and then being reduced to ashes yet again by the goddess, is a lesson on how impermanence teaches us to give way to adaptive, flexible strategies for personal growth.  


As Campbell puts it, myth is as nurturing as a bird’s nest and functions as a base for the psyche to actualize, and carve out our own unique journey (Myth and Meaning, Conversations on Mythology and Life, pp. 4-7). The visual of the devi shielding the gods from the demon with barriers, making them stronger each time they were demon attacked, serves as a symbol of strength for us. It helps us deal with the contradictory inner turmoil and to construct a harmony as sustainable as the barriers. 


From time immemorial agni, fire blazes as a source of consciousness and the all-consuming principle of life. Lalita devi’s birth from the fire of consciousness glows on us, illuminating our light, power, purity and transformation. Fed with the divine, it represents the birth of the numinous in us. This mythic genesis communicates the primary feminine essence of life. This is the mythic recipe for an  energy system that permeates our present thought, action, and feeling. It is the source of our functioning, the source of our life force. (Ronnberg & Martin, Book of Symbols, pp. 82-84) 


As a woman, I wonder about and reimagine my being through the eyes of goddess Lalita. Juggling many roles in order to flourish and endure, I experience the numinous divine in all the stages of womanhood today, balancing the masculine and feminine voices within as a dedicated effort toward a wholesome, yet complex way.  So when Kamesvara deva is needed by the goddess’s side for her to be enthroned and begin a new world, or Lord Shiva performs yagna to empower the goddess for the battle ahead, it is a metaphor for a path that establishes my inner commitment to psychologically renew myself in preparation for new experiences, fostering creativity and fertility. 


The notion of renewed worlds understood as the bodily offspring of the Goddess can also be seen as a classic example of the iconography of the symbolic processes of mythology. Its creations are our inherited symbols helping us to experience societies, cultures, people, circumstances more deeply and dream the dream of life onwards. Understood in this way, the mythic realm, the sacred, gods and angels are our Sri Nagari, our divine dwelling grounds that gives us wings to experience the yonder. 


Let God, God in Us (Campbell, Myths Dreams and Religion, p. 137). 


Collage of the moon, a pegasus and red and white flowers, on a red background with The Message of the Myth Episode 2 next to it.

This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 2, and Myth and Meaning.

 

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A casual picture of Joseph Campbell
"From a psychological standpoint – trying to recognize where humanity is, in all of this – one sees everywhere the same symbols, and this becomes then the problem of first concern. And what transforms the consciousness is not the language, but the image; it's the impact of the image that is the initiating experience. If you get the point of mythology and see that what's being talked about over here is what's being talked about over there too, you don't have to quarrel about the vocabularies."

-Joseph Campbell





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