I was researching on this topic around two years back, when I came to know about some specific Matrikas. Later on, I got to know about sapta matrikas and ashta matrikas. Matrika is a sanskrit word, whose meaning is mother. We can also see a relation between words likes Mati-Matara-Murtika-Matruka-Matrika-Murti . But we will keep these words for later research. Let us concentrate on Matrikas.
Matrikas are usually depicted as a heptad, they are called Saptamatrika. The names are as follows: Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheswari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Narasimhi. However, they may sometimes be eight, Ashtamatrika or "eight mothers".Whereas in India, Saptamatrika worship is prevalent, the Ashtamatrika are venerated in Nepal. We will, here, discuss mainly SaptaMatrika.
Their description in ancient Puranas, such as Varaha Purana, Matsya Purana, Markandeya Purana etc refers to their antiquity. Each of the mother goddesses (except for Chamunda) had come to take her name from a particular God: Brahamani form Brahma, Vaishnavi from Vishnu, Maheswari from Shiva, Kaumari from Skanda, Varahi from Varaha and Indrani from Indra. They are armed with the same weapons,wears the same ornaments and rides the same vahanas and also carries the same banners like their corresponding male Gods do. The earliest reference of Sapta Matrika is found in Markandeya Purana and V.S Agarwalla dates it to 400 A.D to 600 A.D.
There are different Puranic versions related to the origin of Matrikas. According to Puranic myths Matrikas are Shakti of Shiva,Indra and other gods and they are goddesses of the battlefield. But in the sculptural portrayals, they are depicted differently as benevolent, compassionate and aristocratic mothers. It is said that the Sapta-Matrikas are connected with Shiva. Their names reveal that they were born from the bodies of Brahma, Vishnu, and other Gods. There is a story that when Shiva and Vishnu joined together and tried to kill the asura named Andhaka and failed, they then created the seven mothers to kill him. From each drop of blood that fell on the ground of Andhakasura there rose another asura. It is believed that the seven goddesses drank up that blood and did not allow it to fall on the ground, which made it easier for lord Shiva to kill the Asura. Another version about the birth of Sapta Matrikas is found in the story in Vamana Purana (Chap 56). A war took place between the Devas and the Asuras. When the Asuras, Chanda and Munda, were killed, another asura named Raktabija entered the battlefield with chariots, elephants, horses and infantry. Seeing the large troop, Kauisiki and Kali made a loud sound and from their mouth Maheswari and Brahmani came out seated on a swan and wearing rosary and holding water pot in their hands. From the lion of Maheswari came out Kaumari, seated on a peacock and holding a lance. Vaishnavi came out from Kaumari’s hand, seated on Garuda and holding a conch, discus, club, sword, bow and arrow. From her posterior came out Varahi, seated on the Seshnaga (serpent), and from her heart came out Narasimhini with fierce claws, and from her foot Chamunda came out. From the eye of Brahmini came out Maheswari with three eyes, seated on bull and wearing snakes as bangles and earrings, holding a trident. According to the Matsya Purana, when Shiva shot Pasupata on Andhakasura, the blood gushed from the body of that demon, and thousands of Andhakasuras sprang forth from that blood, and the wound of those demons also similarly multiplied itself into hundreds of demons. Then Shiva created the Divine Mothers to drink their blood. They were fearful looking and they all drank the blood of these demons and were exceedingly gratified. But when they were no longer capable of drinking their blood, the demons again began to multiply by leaps and bounds; therefore Shiva went to seek the help of Vishnu. Then Vishnu created Sushka Revati who, in a moment, drank the blood of all and they were completely annihilated. It was assumed that the people locally worshipped these goddesses, such an example is also described in Zimmer Heinrich book The Art Of Indian Asia, about the seven shrines of seven Mother Goddesses worshipped locally. Later on all these goddesses were incorporated in the mainstream.
From among the Vedic sources what appears to be more important to the Sapta Matrikas is the symbology of heptads. This numerical pre-figuration is often found in Rigveda as a sacred number. The numerical fixations of the Puranic materials as group of seven goddesses is linked to the Vedic sacred number seven. The Vedic Aryans considered that the universe consisted of seven regions having seven Adityas. Also the chariot of Surya, or Sun God in Hindu mythology, is driven by sever horses. The colour of the spectrum was reinforced on the idea that seven was the basic unit of measuring life. Therefore, the connection of the Sapta Matrikas with the Vedic sources would be fundamental. In the book Iconography of Saptamatrikas by Kathrine Anneharpen, she says that Babylonians, Greeks, Hibrus and Indonesians recognize number seven as sacred too.
Let us concentrate more on SaptaMatrikas in Odisha now. In Odisha, several temples are associated with the famous SaptaMatrikas.
As regards their representation on stone the earliest images of Sapta-Matruka are found carved in the projecting rock about 30' long and about 5' in height near the village Ghodar in Bolangir district. The Ghodar Panel of Sapta-Matrukas is the work of Panduvamsis, the earlier Somavamsi rulers.
Two sets of Sapta-Matruka figures are noticed at Jajpur. The first set is preserved in the SDO compound and there are only three mutilated images of Indrani,Varaha and Chamunda of Sapta-Matruka group. Perhaps the rest of the images have been destroyed by the iconoclasts. A second group of Sapta-Matruka, located at Dasasvamedhaghat on the right bank of Vaitarani is assigned to the epoch of the Somavamsis.
The deities were installed during Ashwamedha sacrifice of Yajati Keshari for protection. The design of the idols dates back to 11th Century AD. During the rule of KalaChand in Murshidabad their armies came to destroy the Hindu temples in around Jajpur, then the Brahmins have hidden the images of SaptaMatrikas in a tunnel near Baitarni river. Later the images were recovered and worshipped by Brahmins of Jajpur.
The renovated temple of Saptamatrikas lie on the south bank of Baitarni river in Jajpur. The Budha Ganesh Temple and Dashaswamedha Ghat are also adjacent to this shrine. People take a holy dip in Chaitra month during the Krishna paksha Chaturdasi with Shatabisha nakshatra here. Regularly the goddesses are said to be attendants of goddess Viraja and protecting inhabitants of Jajpur.
A similar set of mother Goddesses is found on the bank of the sacred tank at Puri known as Markandeya Sarovara.
The mothers made ofchlorite stone very much resemble the Jajpur mothers in type.
The Matruka images of these places may be assigned to the same period of Samavamsi rule.
In Madalapanji, it has been mentioned that a king known as Bhima Keshari had installed seven sisters on the eastern side of the Markandeswar tank. It is quite clear that the Sapta Matrukas, still existing on the eastern side of the Markandesvar tank, Puri are referred to in the Panji as the seven sisters (Sata Bhauni) installed by Bhima Keshari. This Bhima Keshari has been identified with the famous Somavamsi ruler Bhimaratha (955–98 A.O.), the suceessor of the king Yajati I of the Keshari dynasty.
Parsurameswar is a Saiva Shrine, yet it contains the images of Sapta-Matrukas. The images with their two associates Ganesha in the beginning and Virabhadra at the end are beautifully carved out from the South-west corner of the northern wall upto the middle.
The representation of Sapta- Matruka images is found in the temple of Vaitala, constructed by the Bhauma queen Tribhubana Mahadevi. Here the images are beautifully sculpted bearing the art tradition of the Bhaumakaras. Chamunda is the presiding deity locally known as Kapali.
This temple is called Boitala Deula as according to legends, SaptaMatrika came in a boita, a ship, and Chamunda was their leader at that particular time. Also we can see the structure of temple is a reversed ship. Also called Tini Mundiya temple, as the three pointed edges of temple represents that the Chamunda possessed the power of Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati and Mahakali. On the top, we can have a look of Shiva in Nataraj pose and Sun God on his chariot pulled by Seven Horses.
Belkhandi in the district of Kalahandi is another important place of Sakta influence during the reign of the Somavamsis. From the archaeological excavation we get the information that there existed at Belkhandi a famous shrine dedicated to the seven mother Goddesses.Chandi or Chamunda is the presiding deity of this shrine.
Mukteswar temple of Bhubaneswar is univocally praised by the art historians as the “gem of Odishan architecture”. The ceiling of the Jagamohana contains most beautiful sculptures of a group of Sapta-Matruka with Virabhadra on an eight-petalled full-blown lotus at the centre, each petal being occupied by a deity.
The Sapta-Matrukas of Khiching in the district of Mayurbhanj, carved out of chlorite stone are beautiful pieces of art of the Bhanjas. Goddess Chamunda of the Matruka group is worshipped as Goddess Kichakeswari, the tutelary deity of the Bhanjas. These Sapta-Matruka group of images are now preserved in the Khiching Museum.
A shrine is also there in Kendrapara district in odisha. Pentha, is situated in between the great River Chitrotpala & Luna (Karandia). It’s only 12 km far from Kendrapara Town & 5 km from Patkura. It is famous for Maa sata Bhauni Temple is situated in the middle of the village.
A temple is also there in Amberi village in Tirtol block in Jagatsinghapur district. It is situated on the bank of river Paika near Brahman Sahi.
One Sata bhauni temple is there in Brahman sahi in Rayagada district.
Now, we have another Seven historical figures who are also known as Seven Sisters or SataBhauni or SaptaBhagini. They were followers of the famous Tantric princess Lakshminkara, and although they came from low families they came to be very respected and even feared and they are still worshiped today. They were Nitei Dhobani, Jnanadei Maluni, Gangi Gauduni, Sua Teluni, Luhukuti Luhurani, Sukuti Chamaruni, and Patrapindhi Saharuni.
It was in the 9th/10th century A.D. that there appeared these seven famous Tantric maidens at Patna (Patnagarh) region which was then called Kuanri-Patana. Because of their miraculous power and feats; they have been later on deified and worshipped by the folk people. Among these, Nitei Dhobani and Jnanadei Maluni are very famous. Lots of stories are also associated with these seven sisters.
One such temple of Jnanadei Maluni is located in Sonepur in Odisha.
This temple was built by Biramitra SinghDeo. This temple is very unique temple in Odisha, since it does not have any entrace gate. once upon a time this temple was very famous site of Tantrism.
Some people worship Nitei Dhobani as a powerful personality, and in Chodanga Sahi, in the place called Badu Mahapatra Jaga, there is a small temple with the image of Nitei Dhobani and Chodaganga Deva.
Nitei Dhobani, here called Garedi Suni (“lady practicing witchcraft”), is sitting on astool and operating the husking machine that was used for the contest. Chodaganga is seated on a throne and armed with bow and arrows, with two attendants on his sides (one holding the royal umbrella and the other holding the chamara), and two other attendants on the pedestal (one with an elephant and one with a horse). Previously Jagannatha’s Mahaprasadam was regularly offered here to these two Deities, but it seems that the ritual has been discontinued about 40 years ago. On Vijaya Dasami (Asvina sukla Dasami) an annual function is still held here; the Bada Mahapatra from the Jagannatha’s temple takes the Balabhadra’s prasada, offers it to Vimala Devi within Sri Mandira, then carries a portion to the Deities of Nitei Dhobani and Chodaganga, as well as to a Hanuman Deity, that is housed in a small temple there.
We must not get confused when we are talking about SevenMothers and SevenSisters. Both the cults are different. SaptaMatrikas belong to the Hindu Cult and Seven Maiden Tantriks belong to Buddhism or precisely Vajrayana Cult. But in Odisha, SaptaBhagini seems to be merged with SaptaMatrika, as even in MadlaPanji, it has been written that there is a SaptaBhagini temple in Puri near Markandeswar tank, which actually is a SaptaMatrika temple.
But when we think in other way, all these are related to the Shaktism. In Odisha, Shakta cult was the main cult and from here this cult spread in the mainland India and then in world.The worship of Shakti or mother Goddesses continues to prevail in different parts of Orissa under different names.
Well I don’t want to go further in depth as there are lots and lots of things which I can’t explain here. So, I am keeping myself here but just think that having such a long and rich heritage about Shakti in our Odisha, in today’s modern society are we really giving true and proper respect to our MAA????