Chousithi (64) Yogini

I learnt about the Chousithi Yogini temple when two friends researching feminism and the Shakta-Tantric practice drop by Odisha. A lesser known cult, active between the 9th and 12th century AD, that some experts believe may have evolved from the tradition of village cults or gram devatas.

The journey to the temple (not quite such a secret) felt like a discovery nonetheless. About 20 km outside of Bhubaneshwar, a drive that takes you along an old canal, past expanses of paddy fields, lies the small, quiet village of Hirapur.

The Chousithi Yogini shrine here is one of two such temples in the state of Odisha. The other is to be found in Ranipur -Jharial, of Bolangir district. It was discovered, in ruins, by historian Kedarnath (KN) Mohapatra in 1953. He pretty much pieced it all back together to the circular, roofless structure --unlike any other Brahmanic shrine or Buddhist stupa— that holds the 63 female divinities. There is one missing.

They include a Ganeshani, the fire goddess Agneyi, and the holy rivers of India, each standing on pedestal or vahini of her own, each with a unique hairdo and the most delicate of accessories that suggest the shrine dates back to a little after 800AD. At the centre stands a Chandi mandap with four depictions of Bhairav or Shiva. While the outer walls of hold nine Katyayanis in niches (reminiscent of Bhuddhist practice*) with two dwarapala’s, Kala and Akala on either side of the entrance.

Many of the faces have been destroyed by Kalapahad, the man blamed for the destruction of thousands of temples in these parts of the country. But there’s enough to support Charles Louis Fabri’s conclusion that “the fleshy humanity and sensual beauty of these belles” is the work “of a great master, sophisticated, sensitive, full of inventions, inspired and delighting in the sensual beauty of the feminine form.”

An elderly archaeological guide is on hand if you need him. In his bag he carries an INTACH produced book, written by Suresh Balabantaray..Some of the captions below have been borrowed from this book. But a better read is the chapter in Fabri’s History of the Art of Orissa.

left: bindhyabalinin, centre: Narayani with a wine keg
top right: Ganga on a crocodile; Top left: Yamuna with dreadlocks balancing on a tortoise;
Top left and centre: Narasimhi; Bottom left: Ajita on a stag; Centre bottom: a skeletal, four armed, Chamunda, holding up a lion
Left: Vira-Kamauri (warrior virgin)
Matangi/Shitala vainayaki/Ganeshani
A close up of one of the faces, a mask of exquisite beauty with an engaging Leonardesque smile, and the loveliest treatment of the cheeks. Th richly bejewelled hair-dress, with a diadem and elaborate earrings is characteristic of the 8–9th centuries AD, but it is far above the average in quality — Charles Louis Fabri. (and not miss the flowers in the hair)

Fabri personally believes, that the “Yoginis grew out of the local yakshis or the female godlings, and in the splendid manner in which the Indian mind , ever since the Rigveda, could see unity in diversity, and managed to identify any divinity with any other …, or made an avatara of Vishnu out of a Buddha, identified Rama with Krishna, and insisted that Krishna was really, and only, another Vishnu, in the same manner the little local darlings of the people, sprites and fairies, nereids, naiads, orcades and dryades they profoundly believed in, were identified and given a sectarian justification by calling them Yoginis.” And that is why he says the list of their names, whether in the purana and other scriptures, or at Beraghat, differ so much.

Other Yogini temples can be found in Madhya Pradesh — at Khajurao, Mitaoli (Morena), Bhedaghat (Jabalpur).

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