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Hārītī (Avestan Harauhuti), is an Iranic ogress and Bactrian (Peshawari) mythological figure who was later transformed into a symbol for the protection of children, easy delivery, happy child rearing and parenting, harmony between husband and wife, love, and the well-being and safety of the family. Women without children sometimes prayed to her to help them become pregnant.
Unlike her Indian cognate Saraswati (the Sanskrit version of the Avestan word Harauhuti, both words meaning the Indus River), who was to the Indians, a goddess, Hariti to the Iranian Gandharans was originally a cannibalistic daeva or demon. Bactrian mythology describes Hariti as having hundreds of children whom she loved and doted upon but to feed them, she abducted and killed the children of others. With the arrival of Buddhism to Gandhara from across the Indus River, this mythology takes a new twist. That is, the bereaved mothers of Hariti's victims begin to plead to Śākyamuni Buddha to save them.
Śākyamuni steals Aiji, youngest of Hariti's sons, and hides him under his rice bowl. Hariti desperately searches for her missing son throughout the universe. Finally, she pleads with Shakyamuni for help. The Shakyamuni Buddha then points out that she is suffering because she has lost one of hundreds of her own children, and asks her if she could imagine the suffering of those parents whose only child she has devoured. Hariti replies contritely that their suffering must be many times greater than hers, and vows to protect all children. She repents, converts to Buddhism and from then on, only feeds upon pomegranates as a substitute for children's flesh. So after the arrival of Buddhism in Gandhara, Hariti is transformed from an Iranian demon to the Buddhist figure of easy birthing as well as that of protection and parenting of children. More likely though, the alteration in the story of Hariti and her successful conversion to Buddhism seems to be an early strategy with which to convert the Iranian Gandharans from Zoroastrianism, and Animism to Buddhism.
And so the legend of Hariti, though Iranian in origin, became incorporated into Buddhist lore after the arrival of Buddhism to Bactria, and with it, spread to the far reaches of east Asian lands such as China, and then Japan; a country where the Gandharan Hariti is today known most commonly as Kishimojin (鬼子母神, from the Chinese words for "ghost/demon child mother deity").
In Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, the temple of Hariti resides in the premises of Swayambhunath stupa as a Hindu Shrine. She is called "Harati" instead of Hariti in Nepal. She is believed to be the protector of children and mostly worshipped by Newars of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur & Lalitpur. The Newar people also called her "Ajima" meaning grandmother in Newari Language.
According to Vajrayana Buddhist Newars & Hindu Newars of Kathmandu valley of Nepal, Harati Ajima is believed to have 500 children who was a demon in Peshawar,ancient India(Present day at Pakistan) who fed her 500 children by sacrificing others' children. She used to give lot of trouble to people by taking away their child in order to sacrifice until Lord Gautam Buddha hid her youngest son. Harati searched everywhere for her beloved youngest son but her search went in vain. Then,she went to Lord Buddha and begged for her son. After that,Lord Buddha make her realized the pain of losing own's child as she has killed hundreds of children and she has given huge grief to those poor parents by taking their one and only single sons. After realizing her mistakes, she apologized to Buddha and Lord Buddha gave her son back but Buddha make her promise that she would never kill another's son and she must leave cruelty offence & sacrifice. Then, Lord Buddha made her a goddess who'd look after children,help poor people and cure sick humans. Lord Buddha gave her the extreme knowledge of "Bodhitwo", simply known as the knowledge of enlightenment. Since from that moment, Demon Harati turned into Harati Maa, the protector of children. She has got 500 children. But in these modern days, only eight children are widely recognized by devotees. Harati Ajima's 8 children are; 1.Dhanabhaju 2.Dhanamayju 3.Dilanbhaju (Jilanbhaju) 4.Dilanmayju (Jilanmayju) 5.Laatabhaju 6.Laatimayju 7.Washibhaju 8.Washimayju These children of Harati Maa are twin brothers & sisters. First and second ones are son & daughter, third & fourth ones are also son & daughter and so on. Dhanabhaju is the eldest son whereas Dilanbhaju is the youngest one. But Dilanbhaju is mistaken as the second elder son of Maa as he is given second place after Dhanabhaju and Dhanamayju while listing in the auspicious "Bhajans" (religious enchants or songs of Hindus) of Harati Maa. However,Dilanbhaju is the actual youngest and the most beloved son of Harati Maa who was the one, whom Lord Buddha hid for controlling devil Harati's activities at previous times. Dilanbhaju is listed as second son of Harati Maa because, he resides at the lap of Harati Maa. As he is beloved son of Harati Maa,it is said that she herself gave him priority as second elder son. In this Kalyuga,Harati Maa is believed to appear as a curing goddess in the form of mediums in humans or shamanist. She is believed to be powerful to withstand black magic, evil powers and cure sick people.
Hariti is also compared to
- Kangimo (Japanese: 歓喜母 "Bringer of happiness)
- Karitei (Japanese: 訶利帝, Shingon name)
- Kariteimo (Japanese: 訶梨帝母, another Shingon name)
- Kishimojin/Kishibojin (Japanese: 鬼子母神)
- Koyasu Kishibojin (Japanese: 子安鬼子母神 "Giver of Children and Easy Delivery")
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