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Siddhi Lakshmi, meaning the "Auspiciously Accomplished One", is a fierce manifestation of the powerful Hindu goddess Durga, where 'accomplished' means both spiritual power and magical abilities. Along with Shaivite-related goddesses like Guhyeshvari, Tripura Sundari and Taleju, she is one of the most secret and important tantric protectors of the Malla Kings, who ruled over the Kathmandu Valley between the 13th to 18th century. However, only her few initiated Newar priests or pujaris may enter her temple and see her iconic image, with two of her temples being located in the ancient Newar city of Bhaktapur. The most famous of these is the impressive Nyatapola, or 'five-storey' temple, which was built over a seven-month period in 1702 to placate the ferocious 'sky-gazing' head of Akash Bhairava that was wreaking havoc in this principality. Thus Siddhi Lakshmi manifested in order to control Bhairava, as she is the only deity capable of subjugating all manifestations of Bhairava, who is the most wrathful aspect of Shiva-Mahadeva. Various forms of Siddhi Lakshmi seated upon different aspects of Bhairava and Rudra-Shiva are carved on the 108 struts that support the five pagoda-like roofs of this temple.
In this essentially black and white paubha painting the Newar tantric artist Gyankar Bajracharya (1954-2017), has depicted this secret tantric goddess, Siddhi Lakshmi, in her five-faced and ten-armed form. Each of her five subjugating faces have three eyes and are adorned with a tiara of five jewel-topped skulls. She wears golden earrings, necklaces, bracelets, armlets and anklets, a garland of severed heads, an embroidered silk skirt, and a long silk scarf that loops around her shoulders. Siddhi Lakshmi's circular inner aura is decorated with scrolling roundels, with a ring of lotus petals, skulls, and stylized flames forming her outer aura.
With her five right hands she makes the boon-granting varada-mudra, and holds a vajra-handled curved-knife, an iron hook, a skull-cup, and a sword. And with her five left hands she makes the abhaya-mudra of protection, and holds a skull-topped khatvanga staff, a three-feathered dart (bhindipala), a pellet-drum or damaru, and an iron trident.
She sits in a squatting posture, with her two feet supported by two of the four hands of the great god Mahadeva-Shiva, who sits upon his white bull vehicle Nandi, as it rests upon the cushion of an ornate lion-throne. Shiva has three eyes and four arms, and with his second pair of hands cupped together in front of his heart as he makes the anjali-mudra of adoration to the great goddess Siddhi Lakshmi, whom he supports. Shiva wears a five-skull crown, gold ornaments, a serpent necklace, a long scarf, and a silk and tiger-skin loincloth. Squatting on either side of Shiva are two Newar khyak spirits, who frequently appear as Lakshmi's attendants: one carries a sack of jewels, and the other holds a trident as it licks blood from a skull-cup with its protruding tongue.
Below Shiva at the bottom centre is the Mahavidya or "Great-Knowledge" goddess Tripura Sundari, who sits on a 'corpse-throne' of the decapitated heads of five great Vedic gods. In her four arms she holds the subjugating attributes of an iron hook, five arrows, a rope noose, and a bow. To the left and right of Tripura Sundari are elephant-headed white Ganapati and red Kumara, who each have four arms. Ganapati sits upon his rat or shrew vehicle, holding the attributes of a rope noose, a white radish (mueli), an axe, and three Indian sweets (laddu). Kumara, the 'youthful', sits upon his peacock vehicle and makes the abhaya-mudra of dispelling fear as he holds a three-feathered dart, a spear, and a water flask.
Above Siddhi Lakshi is a generic form of Bhairava, who is wrathful, four-armed, blue-black in colour and sits upon the corpse of a human enemy. He makes the bindu-kapala mudra with his first pair of hands, and holds aloft a damaru and khatvanga with his other two hands. In the upper left and right corners are the white lion-headed guardian goddess Simhini, and the yellow tiger-headed goddess Vyaghrini, who both hold a curved-knife and skull-cup, and a damaru and khatvanga in their four hands.
Encircling Siddhi Lakshmi from the bottom left corner to the bottom right corner are the "Eight Mother Goddesses" (Skt. Astamatrika) of the Shakta-Tantra tradition, who, as female counterparts of seven great Vedic gods along with Mahalakshmi embody the shakti or primordial energy of these male Vedic deities. 1. From Brahma came Brahmani: 2. From Yama came Chamunda: 3. From Vishnu came Vaishnavi: 4. From Kumara came Kaumari: 5. From Indra came Indrani: 6. Mahalakshmi: 7. From Varaha came Varahi: 8. From Rudra-Shiva came Rudrani. This is the order in which these eight Mother Goddesses appear in this composition, and with the exceptions of the fierce Chamunda and Varahi, the other six are peaceful and make the bindu-kapala mudra with their left thumbs and third-fingers touching above the skull-cups that they hold in their right hands.
1. Brahmani (bottom left) is yellow, her vehicle is a white goose, and her two upper hand attributes are a rosary and a sacred text.
2. Chamundra (above) is blood-red and fierce, with an emaciated body: her vehicle is a male corpse, and she holds a rope-noose and a skull-topped club in her two upper hands.
3. Vaishnavi is green, her vehicle is a garuda, and she holds a discus and club in her two upper hands.
4. Kaumari (upper left) is red, her vehicle is a peacock, and she holds a three-feathered dart and a spear in her two upper hands.
5. Indrani (upper right) is yellow or flesh coloured with a horizontal third eye: her vehicle is a white elephant and she holds a vajra and a parasol in her two upper hands.
6. Mahalakshmi (below) is golden-yellow and also has a horizontal third-eye: her vehicle is a white lion and she holds a golden mirror (darpana) and a Newar vermilion powder container (sinhamu) in her two upper hands.
7. Varahi is red with the wrathful head of a boar: her vehicle is a black buffalo and she holds a fish and an iron hook in her two upper hands.
8. Rudrani or Maheshvari (bottom right) is white, her vehicle is a white bull, and she holds a damaru and trident in her two upper hands.
© text by Robert Beer