Random Meditations Through Her 1000 Names (XVII): The Eyebrows Which Trigger Evolution And Involution Of Worlds

Random Meditations Through Her 1000 Names (XVII): The Eyebrows Which Trigger Evolution And Involution Of Worlds A Devi Saraswati vigraha on the occassion of Mahalaya (Wikimedia Commons)
  • The eyebrows of the Goddess are described as the gateway arch leading to the house of Kama.

    But kama here is not libido, but a desire that is more fundamental and hence more elevated - the desire for liberation.

Read previous part here.

As the form of the Goddess arises in the inner fire pit of the yogi, her eyebrows become visible. Sri Lalita Sahasranama calls her eyebrows the gateway arches to the house of Kamaraja - the lord of kama: Vadanasmara-mangalya-grihatoranachillika.

The term used to describe the eyebrows of the Goddess is torana. Torana is etymologically 'tura-tvarana’ - a transitional passing from one space to another - a gateway.

Here, when Kama does auspicious activities then the eyebrows of the Goddess becomes the gateway for his household.

Throughout Sri Lalita Sahasranama, there is an emphasis on Kamadeva. The very foundational Puranic context of Sri Lalita marrying Shiva as Kameshwara, and fighting against Bhandasura, assumes significance here.

Bhandasura himself was born of the ashes of Kama when Shiva burnt the deva of desire with his third eye. It would be the graceful eyes of the Goddess that would resurrect the burnt Kama.

As ‘Anna’ Subramaniyam states - the desire towards the lower aspects gets burnt by Shiva. The desire for liberation then resurrects by the grace of the Goddess.

So, when Sri Lalita Sahasranama speaks of kama, it provides meaning not only at the level of poetic aesthetics but also at cosmological level and at the plane of inner yogic-psychology.

Her face arouses the desire of Shiva. That is auspicious for all existence. And in arousing that divine desire of Shiva, it is the face that is the field of operation for Kamadeva. Then, her eyebrows become the torana - the arches signifying the gateway.

This Puranic, poetic description also contains in it another significant dimension related to the very existence of all the universes. The famous Nasadiya Sukta of Rig Veda (X.129) points to the primal role of Kama in creation :

"That seed primordial born of the Mind, That Desire then arose in the beginning. The wise seers searching their hearts through intuition realized that the relation between that which is and which is not".

The importance of this kama and the development of this aspect throughout the Puranic lore of Sanatana Dharma is brought out clearly by Stella Kramrisch, one of those rare Western Indologists from the Coomaraswamy-Tagore school of Hindu studies :

According to the hymn, there was in the beginning neither non-existence nor existence, neither death nor life. Ensconced in an impenetrable flood of dark emptiness there was mind only; in inner incandescence (tapas), mind became, was “born” as Abhu, the life potential. It was overcome by desire (kama) and “that one” (tad ekam) was the first seed of mind (manas) (RV. IO. 129. 1-4). From this seed sprouted the entire creation. ... Time grew organically in the substance of the cosmic egg. Before that it was nonexistent. Kama, the desire in Svayambhu, was prior to, and also within, Brahma. Kama was the urge in the creative mind toward manifestation, condensation, and substance. The arrows of Kama -of which the Puranas speak- were directed hitherward. God Kama with his arrows, the arrows of desire, intensified from the outside the urge that had been shaping Brahma even before Brahma had come to be. ... Kama entered the universe of Rudra after Ardhanarisvara let the Great Goddess send forth her Sakti, her power. Then Rudra became the target of Kama. Desire entered the world of Rudra. The Great Goddess had prepared the way.
Stella Kramrisch, The Presence of Siva, Princeton University Press (1981), p.216,p.217, pp.219-220

This passage gains significance in the meditation of the relation between kama and the Goddess because Kramrisch, perhaps unknowingly, ends up re-asserting in academic language what Adi Shankaracharya had revealed in Saundarya Lahari beautifully.

He in fact brings out both the cosmological and the mystic and poetic dimensions of the eyebrows of the Goddess in two verses that sing their glory.

In Saundarya Lahari verse 24 he states:

The Dhaatr creates the world ; Hari sustains it ; Rudra destroys it; making all this disappear, isvara causes his own form to disappear as well; while Sada-siva, in pursuance of the mandate from Thy slightly-knit creeper-like eyebrows, blesses all this.

The commentary explains:

The evolution and the involution of the Macrocosm preparatory to its creation once again, are indicated in this stanza. The world is in a state of evolution, through Brahman discharging his function of creating it and Vishnu discharging his function of sustaining it. Then commences the involution with the destruction of the world by Rudra, whereupon Iswara causes the destroyed universe to disappear along with Brahman, Vishnu and Rudra, and himself disappears. During the process of involution, the lower Tattvas merge into the higher Tattva, Isvara, who represents the lower Tattvas in their collective form, ceases to have an independent existence, after the process of involution is complete. There, then, remains Sada-siva alone, who is the all-witness, and absorbs all the Tattvas including Isvara in the Bija-form within himself, and in his passive attitude implies his approval of the actions of the lower powers, who carry out the work of involution in obedience to the preordained laws of evolution and involution, himself standing changeless and eternal, preparatory to the creation of the universe once again, at the instance of the Devi, who conveys her mandate through the knitting, of her eyebrows, as represented in this stanza. The implication is that the Devi is All-supreme and the five powers, through whom she carries out her mandates, are but her agents.
Saundarya-Lahari of Sri Sankara-Bhagavat-Pada: Translation & Commentary: Pandit S. Subrahmanya Sastri & T.R.Srinivasa Ayyanagr, The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, 1937 pp.101-2

Then in verse 47 the seer-poet states again:

O Uma, ever intent on the annihilation of the world’s fear! I see in Thy slightly knitted pair of eyebrows the bow of Rati’s consort, strung with Thy bee-like pair of eyes, and held (aloft) in his left hand with the middle part-hidden, his wrist and clenched fist covering them.

Here a very beautiful paradox is provided.

While the Sahasranama likens her eyebrows to the arches in the gateway to the functional domain of Manmatha, here they are likened to his bow.

Yet, this bow does not weaken us.

It removes our fears.

Clearly, the kama here is not libido but a desire that is more fundamental and hence more elevated - the desire for liberation.

Combining both, one can see very clearly how the eyebrows of the Goddess, that trigger the five basic functional archetypes that sustain cycles after cycles of the involution and evolution of the universes, are the one that allow Kama to start the whole process, as sung by the Vedic seer in the Nasadiya Sukta. The later Puranas poetically and aesthetically expand upon this Vedic kernel with their beautiful discourses.

The Sahasranama as well as Saundarya Lahari, through the invocation of the eyebrow and the Kama theme, reinforce the Vedic and Puranic vision through devotional instruments, immersing us in the contemplation of the mysteries of the Consciousness that is the ground of all existence.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.


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