Matrikas, Mahavidya and Ganesha

Illustration from the Devi Mahatmya: Bhairavi on tiger vahana (vehicle) defeating demonic and igorant forces. Kashmir, 19th century. Gouache and gold on paper. 12 X 17 cm.Though the Devi rides a tiger, her third eye and serpent encircling her neck indicate Bhairavi.

Devi Mahatmya: Bhairavi[ her third eye and serpent encircling her neck] on tiger vahana defeating auras. Kashmir, 19th c. Gouache and gold on paper.
Source –

The group of seven mother-like goddesses, Matrikas( मातृका) are,  Brahmi, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda.  The origin of  [सप्तमातृका, seven mothers] is narrated in Devi Mahatmya, the Matrika goddesses were created by male gods [ Brahmi form Brahma; Vaishnavi from Vishnu; Maheshwari from Shiva; Kaumari from Skanda; Varahi from Varaha; and Indrani from Indra] in order to aid Mahadevi in her battle against the demons Shumba and Nishumba.

 Matrikas description is also found in ancient Puranas, such as Varaha Purana, Matsya Purana, Markandeya Purana etc refers to their antiquity.  They are armed with the same weapons,wears the same ornaments and rides the same vahanas and also carries the same banners like their corresponding male Gods do.  The earliest reference of Sapta Matrika is found in Markandeya Purana and dated back to 400 A.D to 600 A.D.  The Gandhara period (1st century B.C. to 5th century A.D.) was the period when one could find sculptures of mother goddesses exhibit aesthetic maturity and divine charm. A sculpture of this period is found to represent Matrikas with Ganesha.    From the sixth century onwards inclusion of Ganesha in the format became a standard practice.  Saptamatrika panel begins with Ganesha, the presence of Ganesha at the beginning of the panel, it is explained, is prompted by the faith that Ganapati [lord of the Ganas] would remove obstacles; help the devotee in his pursuit; and guide him along his endeavor. In the Matrika panels at Aihole and Elephanta caves Ganesha and Skanda are shown as child gods along with Shiva.

Saptamatrikas in Ramesvara, Ellorasource

Apart from the Saptamatrikas are the mention of Ashtamatrikas, eight Matrkas, which is most prevalent in Nepal region.  The additional eighth Matrika is called Maha-Lakshmi (she is different from Vaishnavi). Narasimhi does not figure in the lists of either Devi Purana or Nepal.  Infact it is said that Kathmandu is encircled by the Astamatrika pitha [अष्टमातृका पीठ] which consitutes into a mandala [मण्डल - circle] with each of the matrika shrines situated at one of the eight cardinal directions.

The temples outskirts are situated such that, Mahalaksmi at Mahakal, Camunda at Dathumala, Brahmhayani at Sadhusmasana, Raudrayani[Maheshwari] at Upasmasana, Varahi at Vamdol, Indrayani at Itagum, Kaumari at Salamkhvah and Vaisnavi at Ivica. The guardian goddess Simhini is at Saranakhealgum and Byaghrini is at the bank of the river to the east of the town.    Inside the town  Raudrayani is outside the gate of Samgadhvaka, Vaishnavi is at Yambaha, Mahesvari is at Calakhu Quarter, Indrayani is at Vambaha, Svetabhairav Brahmhayani  is at Salkha quarter and Ganesa Varahi is at Bhaudhvaka,

Nritya ganapati & Mahavidya 19th century Pata Painting, Orissa.Source:

Nritya ganapati & Mahavidya 19th century Pata Painting, Orissa.


It is common to see Ganesh with the saptamatrikas, but extremely rare to see him with Mahavidyas. Even rarer is such a representation of a  mandala with Ganesh as the central figure. Perhaps it reflects the influence of Rasamandala in the city of Jagannath, although it is an essential element in tantric ritual.  Mahavidya goddesses cult has remained especially popular in Bengal and Orissa. They are of course all emanations of the goddess and include such well-known deities as Tara and Chinnamasta.   There is nothing unusual about the Nritya Ganesha except for the fact that there is no apupa [अपूप] is included. As per Sritatvanidhi, Nritya Ganapati, is dancing under the boon-tree [कल्पवृक्ष], He has four arms [चतुर्भुज]. He is golden in colour. His hands hold the single tusk, the elephant goad, the noose[पाश], the axe (परशु) or the hatchet (कुठार). The dhyana sloka also clearly specifies that one of the four hands can show a cake apupa [अपूप]

The four goddesses in the four corners – Ganga and Yamuna at the bottom and Sarasvati and Lakshmi at the top – also dance in poses from the Odissi dance.

Further References:

The Devi-Purana mentions nine Matrikas, by including Gana-nayika or Vinayaki.   Devi Purana also describes  Matrkas (Matra-panchaka), who help Ganesha in killing the demons. The five mothers named are: Kaumari, Rudrani, Chamunda, Brahmi and Vaishnavi.

The Devi Puja vidhi  mentions sixteen Matrikas (Shodash Matrika) and names the sixteen as : Gauri; Padma; Sachi ; Medha; Savitri ; Vijaya; Jaya ; Devasena; Svaha; Svadha ; Matru: lokamatru; Dhriti; Pusti; Tushti; Kuladevi. The Shodash Matrika along with Ganapathy are invariably worshipped at the commencement of the marriage rituals.