Meaning of Sri Chandika


The mantra OṀ NAMASHCHANDIKAYAI invokes the Devī in her supreme, samaṣṭi form. Unknown in the Vedas, the name Caṇḍikā first appears in the Devīmāhātmya. Occurring there 29 times, it is second in frequency only to the term Devī itself. Thus we see that the name is both of non-Vedic origin and of great importance.

Caṇḍikā means “the violent and impetuous one, whose anger and fierce passion, according t othe commentator Bhāskararāya, inspire awe, vismaya. Nevertheless, this literal meaning should not limit our understanding of Caṇḍikā as only a fierce, horrific goddess. She is the ineffable Devī, whose many and varied manifestations in the course of the mythological narratives will reveal also a benign side that is maternal, protective, physically beautiful, and salvific.

Moreover, the Guptavatī, Bhāskararāya’s great commentary on the Devīmāhātmya, boldly asserts that “Caṇḍī[kā] is the highest Brahman,” the supreme nondual reality. She is saṁvit, the pure, unitary consciousness that projects the three vyaṣṭis in the process of cosmic manifestation. In the language of the Śāktas, these energies are called, respectively, Mahākālī, MahāsarasvatI and Mahālakṣmī.This threefold differentiation, Bhāskararāya notes, is described in the Svetaśvātaropaniṣad (SU 6.8) as Brahman’s icchā (“will”), jñāna (“knowledge”), and kriyā (“action”)— the divine will to create, the knowledge for doing so, and the action that carries out the intent. For Bhāskararāya, power (śakti) and the possessor of power (śaktiman) are one and the same, and the vyaṣṭis are non-different from the Devī’s ultimate unity.8 Accordingly, the name
Caṇḍikā represents both the formless Absolute in itself (Ādyā Śakti, or nirguṇa Brahman in Vedantic terms) and that same reality in association with its inseparable, threefold power (the Devī’s samaṣṭi form, or saguṇa Brahman). It is important to remember that this so-called aggregate (samaṣṭi) form, which is triguṇa (“consisting of the three guṇas”), is not the result of the combined energies of the vyaṣṭis; it is instead their source.

The Prādhānika Rahasya, which is part of the earliest commentary on the Devīmāhātmya, describes the supreme Devī as laksyālakṣyasvarūpā (“with and without distinguishing characteristics”). In essence, divine reality is both definable and indefinable—at once immanent and transcendent. In the 18th century this paradox was voiced by the Bengali poet Kamalākānta in the epithet śunyasyākāra (“the form of the formless”). Such utterances reflect the true sense of the mantra OṀ namaścaṇḍīkāyai:

“Salutation to the absolute consciousness that manifests as the created universe.”

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