Yogini (Sanskrit: योगिनी, yoginī, IPA: [ˈjoɡiːniː]) is the feminine source word of the masculine yogi- and neutral/plural "yogin." More than a gender label for all things yogi, "Yogini" represents both a female master practitioner of Yoga, and a formal term of respect for a category of modern female spiritual teachers (in both hinduism and buddhism) in eastern countries such as India, Nepal, and Tibet.
In the Hindu tradition, mother is first guru (teacher) and in the Yoga tradition, proper respect of Yoginis is a necessary part of the path to liberation. A Yogini is the sacred feminine force made incarnate: the goddesses of mythology (Lakshmi, Parvati, Durga, Kali) as well as the ordinary human woman who is enlightened, both having exuberant passion, spiritual powers and deep insight, capable of giving birth to saints, peacemakers, and Yogis. In the initiatory traditions of both yoga & shamanism, self-mastery of sexual energy within a moral code of sacred sexuality for both females and males (as monastic sannyasins or as householder brahmacharis), as opposed to merely yoga-asanas.
Numerous great yoginis and female mystics are mentioned in the Vedas; in fact, many of the vedic rishis were yoginis, rishikas. In classical Sanskrit literature, Yogini is the name of a class of female tantric sorceresses in the train of Durga, sometimes enumerated as 60, 64 or 65 (Harivaṃśa, Kathāsaritsāgara).
Female power here denotes balance. In her book Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism, scholar Miranda Shaw writes that a large number of women like Dombiyogini, Sahajayogicinta, Lakshminkara, Mekhala, Kankhala Gangadhara, Siddharajni, and others, were respected yoginis and advanced seekers on the path to enlightenment.
In the Tibetan Buddhism and Bön tradition, a female practitioner is known as a ngagma (see ngagpa), and in the Drikung Kagyu school of Buddhism, togdenma (Tenzin Palmo). These married tantric practitioners are required to devote significant time to retreat and spiritual practice. Ngagma are particularly known for performing birth rituals, weddings, funerals, divinations, and pacification of spiritual disruptions. Some ngagmas are comparable in practice to the Mahasidda yoginis of Indian Buddhism.
Past and present contexts
Yogini is a term that finds reference in several texts related to Hinduism and Buddhism where its literal meaning is "shaman" or wisdom seer (rishi), a definition that could just as easily be interpreted as “alchemist.” Some of the greatest of the ancient rishis were in fact women. A female rishi is known as a rishika.
In a wider and general context, a Yogini is a human woman who, through the practice of Yoga, may possess supernatural powers, including the ability to transcend the normal aging process via internalization of the reproductive power known as urdhva-retas (upward refinement of the seed-force) and even death, attaining divya sharira (immortal divine body).
Though the leaders of the modern Yoga-asana & meditation tradition have often been male, the vast majority of modern practitioners are female, including many who have attained mastery via steadfast awareness through the Shakti cessation of menses, fertility, childbirth, and breastfeeding. In the Shakta branch of hinduism, creation myths place the Divine Feminine at their center, taking the Tantric view that the nature of the Cosmos (or Macrocosm) is reflected in the human body (or Microcosm), and it is the Female who gestates and gives birth to new life. "Only the female can awaken the muladhara chakra (the seat of the Kundalini-shakti) via fertility and sexuality; the male must use kriya Yoga."
In some branches of tantra Yoga, ten wisdom goddesses (or dakinis) serve as models for a Yogini's disposition and behavior. In the mythological context, the word Yogini may indicate an advanced Yoga practitioner who is one or more of the following:
- A female who is an associate or attendant of Durga, a fierce aspect of the Divine Feminine, who slays illusion and delusion through insight and liberation.
- In several Tantric cults, the term refers to an initiated female who may take part in maithuna tantric rituals.
During the Hindu goddess Durga’s battles with the forces of inhumanity (asuras), eight yoginis are described emanating from the body of Durga, and they assisted her in the battle. In later texts, the number of Yoginis increased to sixty-four. All these Yoginis represented forces of vegetation and fertility, illness and death, Yoga and magic. All Yoginis are worshipped collectively and together, each one is enshrined in an individual position in a circular temple open to the sky (Sri Yantra). Legendary Indian Classical Vocalist Dr. Prabha Atre is conferred with the title Swaryogini.
Yogini as tantrika
According to the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika text, a yogini is a woman initiate who can preserve her own genital ejaculate (rajas) and contain the male semen (bindu) by means of the practice of the vajroli-mudra, also practiced in reverse by advanced yogis.
The Sixty-Four Yogini temples
There are four major extant "sixty-four yogini" temples in India, two in Odisha and two in Madhya Pradesh. One of the most impressive yogini temples in Odisha is the 9th century CE hypaethral Chausathi yogini (sixty-four yogini) temple located at Hirapur in Khurda district, 15 km south of Bhubaneshwar. Another hypaethral sixty-four yogini temple in Odisha is the Chausathi yogini pitha in Ranipur-Jharial, near Titilagarh in Balangir district. Presently only 62 images are found in this temple.
Two notable Yogini temples in Madhya Pradesh are the 9th century CE Chaunsath yogini temple to the southwest of the western group of temples in Khajuraho, near Chhatarpur in Chhatarpur District and the 10th century CE Chaunsath yogini mandir in Bhedaghat, near Jabalpur in Jabalpur district.
The iconographies of the Yogini images in four Yogini temples are not uniform. In Hirapur yogini temple, all Yogini images are with their vahanas (vehicles) and in standing posture. In Ranipur-Jharial temple the yogini images are in dancing posture. In Bhedaghat temple Yogini images are seated in Lalitasana.
The 64 Yoginis that have been depicted in the Hirapur Chausat Yogini Shrine are
1. Bahurupa 2. Tara 3. Narmada 4. Yamuna 5. Shanti 6. Varuni 7. Kshemankari 8. Aindri 9. Varahi 10. Ranveera 11. Vanara-Mukhi 12. Vaishnavi 13. Kalaratri 14. Vaidyaroopa 15. Charchika 16. Betali 17. Chinnamastika 18. Vrishabahana 19. Jwala Kamini 20. Ghatavara 21. Karakali 22. Saraswati 23. Birupa 24. Kauveri 25. Bhaluka 26. Narasimhi 27. Biraja 28. Vikatanna 29. Mahalakshmi 30. Kaumari 31. Maha Maya 32. Rati 33. Karkari 34. Sarpashya 35. Yakshini 36. Vinayaki 37. Vindya Balini 38. Veera Kumari 39. Maheshwari 40. Ambika 41. Kamiyani 42. Ghatabari 43. Stutee 44. Kali 45. Uma 46. Narayani 47. Samudraa 48. Brahmini 49. Jwala Mukhi 50. Agneyei 51. Aditi 52. Chandrakanti 53. Vayubega 54. Chamunda 55. Murati 56. Ganga 57. Dhumavati 58. Gandhari 59. Sarva Mangala 60. Ajita 61. Surya Putri 62. Vayu Veena 63. Aghora 64. Bhadrakali
Association with Matrikas
Often the Matrikas are confused with the Yoginis which may be sixty-four or eighty-one. In Sanskrit literature the Yoginis have been represented as the attendants or various manifestations of Durga engaged in fighting with the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, and the principal Yoginis are identified with the Matrikas. Other Yoginis are described as born from one or more Matrikas. The derivation of 64 Yogini from 8 Matrikas became a tradition. By mid- 11th century, the connection between Yoginis and Matrikas had become common lore. The Mandala (circle) and chakra of Yoginis were used alternatively. The 81 Yoginis evolve from a group of nine Matrikas, instead of seven or eight. The Saptamatrika (Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani (Aindri) and Chamundi) joined by Candika and Mahalakshmi form the nine Matrika cluster. Each Matrika is considered to be a Yogini and is associate with eight other Yoginis resulting in the troupe of 81 (nine times nine).
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