By Monidipa Dey
The term Yogini is often viewed with fear and wary reverence, as these devis are associated with tantric cult and dark supernatural powers. While there are various theories on the start of this cult, there is a general believe that Yogini worship started sometime around 7th century CE and remained popular well into the 15th century CE, especially in eastern India. Yoginis find mention in various old texts that include Agni Purana (9th century CE), Kalika Purana (10th century CE), Skanda Purana, Chaturvarga Chintamani (13th century CE), and different tantric texts, such as Maya tantra, Kamakhya tantra, etc.
It is believed that Yoginis that occupy various positions in the Sri Yantra, represent conjoint energies that are a part of the Transcendental Power or Maha Sakti, the Devi (popularly believed to be devi Durga). On temple walls they are seen in all directions, often by the side of the gods whose energies they represent.
Within the portals of astrology, Yoginis are seen as cosmic energies that move in all directions at all times in a day. It is believed that the Yoginis attract the buddhi and ahankara of a devotee viewing them, transforming them by bestowing increased powers, and helping them in achieving the final union (moksha) with the Supreme Soul or Brahman.
Though the Yogini cult was once popular in India, only few temples remain now. Of the four major extant temples of the Yogini cult popularly known as the Chausath yogini temples, two are in Madhya Pradesh and two in Odisha.
Chausath Yogini temple (Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple) in Morena
This temple is situated on top of a small hill, and shows a circular plan. The temple is built on a high plinth and shows pillared cloisters that run around the wall facing an open courtyard. The small cells that form 64 subsidiary shrines have a shallow pillared mandapa in front; while a circular main shrine facing east stands in the middle of the courtyard. The cells and the main shrine are flat topped, but it is believed that initially each had a shikhara on top. While the 64 Yoginis originally placed in the 64 subsidiary shrines are now missing, a Shiva linga has taken their places in each cell. The central shrine also holds a Shivalinga. According to an inscription, the temple was constructed by Maharaja Devapala of the Kacchapagata dynasty, dated VS 1380 (1323 CE).
The uniqueness of this Yogini temple is its circular shape that is popularly believed to have inspired the design of the Indian Parliament, though there are no historical proofs for this. The circular shape is likely to have represented a Sri-Yantra in which the Yoginis reside, with the Supreme Yogini or Maha Sakti residing in the centre (represented by the circular central main shrine).
Chausath Yogini Temple in Jabalpur
Built by the Kalachuris in the 10th century CE, the Chausath Yogini Temple in Jabalpur is situated near the river Narmada in the Bhedaghat area, between the Dhuandhar falls and Marble Rocks, some 5 km from Jabalpur. The temple is partly ruined, with distinct later period re-constructions, especially on the mandapa shikhara part. Located on a hill top, one has to climb more than 100 stairs to reach the temple premises. The view from top is beautiful, and one gets a bird’s eye view of the river Narmada down below. Inside the temple there are 64 sub-shrines in a circular fashion going around the main temple with each shrine holding an exquisitely carved Yogini.
The main temple has a mandapa in front and holds the murti of Shiva and Parvati on Nandi in the sanctum.
Travel tips: Chausath Yogini temple in Morena is situated close to Gwalior, and a day trip to this site can be easily clubbed with the Bateswara temple and Padawali garhi that are situated nearby. Chausath Yogini Temple in Jabalpur can be clubbed with a trip to the Bhedaghat area.
(The author is a well-known travel writer. Views expressed are personal.)