Sri Ambal in Indian Paintings

Sri Ambal or Mother Goddess or Shakti or Devi is one of the most revered Goddesses in Hinduism. She is featured in several Indian paintings types as various divine forms and incarnations. It is to be noted that women were worshiped in the ancient world as Freya and Isis in the Norse and Egyptian mythology respectively. Similarly, the Greek worshipped several goddesses like Diana, Venus, Juno and Hera. While in the Far East, countries such as China, Japan, and Indonesia worshipped goddesses such as Kwan Yin, Amerterasu and Chandi respectively. The Malay people worshipped Goddess Chandi too.

Today the worship of goddesses has taken a different route as there are several village goddesses that are revered with utmost piety. These goddesses take the human form and their worshipping is more about customs than agamas. Each section in the community worships its own deity such as ‘kula devatha’, which is not portrayed in human form. They are worshipped in the form of lamps, stone pillars, tridents, etc. Each goddess has its own prayers, poojas or rituals. Shaktam is a sect followed by those who worship Shakti or goddess, which has a number of sub-sects. It went on to become the part of the six codified system, as prescribed by Adi Shankara. Consequently, both Saivaism and Vaishnavism became one. Kali has been worshipped since ancient times by the Tamils as Iyai, Nisumbasoothini, and Chamundi after the Sangam period. Nisumbasoothini was worshipped by the Tamil kings as their ‘kula devatha’.

Sri Devi Mahathiyam, a scared book, contains three historical parts and seven hundred mantras. There are three parts in the book that deal with the killing of Mahishahura, Madhukadipa, and Sumbanisumba. When the killing of Nisumba was to take place, Kali takes form as the one who would annihilate the three asuras (demons) viz. Chandan, Mundan, and Rakhtapeejan. This particular incarnation of Kali is called Nisumbasoothini. The oldest temples found in the country all had this form of Kali as the principal deity. There are several other forms of Kali such as Maha Kali, Adhya Kali, Badrakali or Pathirakali and Dasamuki. The word ‘badra’ or ‘pathira’ embodies all that is auspicious though it suffers a negative connotation now.

The oldest form of Badrakali is the Mahakali at Ujjaini in North India. Ujjaini, historically, is the land of Vikramaditya, associated with the worship of Sakthi in folklore traditions. It is also famous as the birthplace of Kalidasa, the greatest Sanskrit poet who wrote literary masterpieces like Shankuntala and Meghdoot.

Though Kali appears to be bit macabre and creepy, one needn’t be overly taken by it as worshipping her is considered very auspicious and is said to give one peace and tranquillity. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his great disciple Swami Vivekananda were true followers of Kali. She dwells in many temples of India as the principal deity.