Sunday, October 7, 2012


The seven Tantric maidens

Also called the Sat vaheni (“seven sisters”), they were followers of the famous Tantric princess Lakshminkara, and although they came from low families they came to be very respected and even feared in Puri, and they are still worshiped today. They were Nitei Dhobani, Jnanadei Maluni, Gangi Gauduni, Sua Teluni, Luhukuti Luhurani, Sukuti Chamaruni, and Patrapindhi Saharuni

Nitei Dhobani

The most famous of the Seven Tantric Sisters in Puri is probably Nitei Dhobani, credited for the successful rise of king Chodaganga Deva to the throne, as we have mentioned in the chapter on Orissa’s history. The last king of the Keshari dynasty, Surya Keshari, had wronged one of his generals, Vasudeva Rath Vahinipati, so the Vahinipati went to Bhubaneswar where he engaged in austerities to please Lord Lingaraja. Lingaraja appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to find Ananta Varma (the future Chodaganga) and help him win the throne. It is said that Ananta Varma was the son of the Ganga king Devendra Varma Rajaraja I and his mother Rajasundari was the daughter of the great Chola king Rajendra Chola. However, there are other versions that would better explain why Ananta Varma was so happy to leave his own homeland and move to Puri to win a kingdom for himself. In fact, in Orissa his story is used as an example for any poor man without a family who suddenly rises to prominence: people will often call him “randi pua ananta”.

According to this other version, Ananta Varma was actually the son of a widow (randi) and his illegitimate father was called Gokarna. Chodaganga was a young boy playing the part of a king in a game with other boys when Vasudeva Vahinipati communicated to him the orders of the Lord Lingaraja to conquer Orissa and found a new royal dynasty. The boy was happy to take the opportunity offered to him by the Vahinipati and Nitei Dhobani, who taught Ananta Varma the occult arts and helped him, with advice and assistance, to dethrone Surya Keshari.

Chodaganga’s reign was a turning point for Orissa and especially for Puri, so much that he was called “the second Indradyumna”; he built the present Jagannatha temple in Puri, organized the city in Sahis (long neighborhood streets) and started the compilation of the Madala Panji.

The first meeting between Ananta Varma and Nitei Dhobani was particularly interesting. When the boy went to see “Auntie”, she was cooking her noon meal by using her own legs as fuel, and carrying a baby on her lap.

The Tantric Guru who had been supported by the Kesharis, Acharya Someshvar, was a worshiper of Aghora Shiva Markandeya. He challenged Nitei Dhobani, a staunch devotee of Jagannatha, to test her powers, and a date was fixed for a public test. Whoever was able to produce rice from dry rice husk in a dhenki or udukhalo (a pedal husking machine) would be the winner. Someshvar offered prayers to Shiva and bowed to the machine, but in spite of his efforts he was unable to produce any rice. Nitei Dhobani chanted her prayers to Jagannatha, offered respects to the machine, and immediately the rice started to flow out.
Still today some people worship Nitei Dhobani as a powerful personality, and in Chodanga Sahi, in the place called Badu Mahapatra Jaga, there is a small temple with the image of Nitei Dhobani and
Chodaganga Deva. Nitei Dhobani, here called Garedi Suni (“lady practicing witchcraft”), is sitting on a stool and operating the husking machine that was used for the contest. Chodaganga is seated on a throne and armed with bow and arrows, with two attendants on his sides (one holding the royal umbrella and the other holding the chamara), and two other attendants on the pedestal (one with an elephant and one with a horse).
Previously Jagannatha’s Mahaprasadam was regularly offered here to these two Deities, but it seems that the ritual has been discontinued about 40 years ago. On Vijaya Dasami (Asvina sukla Dasami) an annual function is still held here; the Bada Mahapatra from the Jagannatha’s temple takes the Balabhadra’s prasada, offers it to Vimala Devi within Sri Mandira, then carries a portion to the Deities of Nitei Dhobani and Chodaganga, as well as to a Hanuman Deity, that is housed in a small temple there.

Jnanadei Maluni

Jnanadei, a beautiful malini (garland maker) lived in Puri under the reign of king Mukunda Deva.
Nobody really knew who she was or from where she came.

One night an old temple florist had a dream where he saw a little girl and he was told that he should accept her as an adopted daughter. The little girl actually came by his house on the next day and she became his adopted daughter, although nobody really knew where she was coming from.

After the death of her father she continued his service, making garlands for Lord Jagannatha and selling them to the people who visited the temple. In spite of her beauty, she never married. In fact she remained always indifferent to men, and she did not allow anyone to touch her even by mistake. She lived alone in her father’s house, but she kept many domestic animals, such as sheep and parrots, to whom she taught to sing the names of Jagannatha. Naturally the fantasy of the young men in Puri was excited by the idea of this beautiful girl who lived alone.

Once the son of a Panda went as far as touching her hand. Jnanadei never gave the garlands into the hands of anyone: she packed the garland in a clean banana leaf and put the packet down to be collected by the purchaser. The young man snatched the packed garland directly from her hand to get an excuse to touch her, but he was horrified and scared when he immediately experienced a great pain and loss of energy in his own hand.  The rumor spread and the interest of the young men in Puri was roused even more. A mix of strong attraction and fear pushed several young men to try to approach her, but at the last moment they backed out, terrified of being burned to death for their offense. However, fear did not stop the gossip and the fantasies that kept spreading like wild fire. Her neighbors were constantly looking for proof of her illicit sexual relations; at some point they started to say they had found hoof prints around her house, and this must mean that someone was going to see her secretly at night.

One day, in 1268, the King came to the temple and was also captivated by her beauty. After being informed about the gossips on her secret lovers the King ordered an investigation, but the spies were unable to even enter the house. They saw many amazing things, though. For example, under heavy rains in November Jnanadei was walking without umbrella, yet when she reached home, she looked perfectly dry.

People then started believing she was a powerful tantric yogini, so the neighboring ladies crowded her house to get treatment for disease for their children. Jnanadei kindly helped them, giving miraculous water from her pot. The temple priests became more and more envious of her fame and employed black tantrics to stop her by making her become dumb, but they were unsuccessful.

In fact, their black magic backfired against them and they were the ones who became dumb. However, the black tantrics were able to reveal the secret of the five sheep in the house of Jnanadei, who were actually great tantrics that took the form of sheep during the day but at night returned to their normal shape.

The priests believed they had finally found some argument to accuse Jnanadei of immorality and they went to complain to the King, saying that the lady was a dangerous black tantric who enslaved men and transformed them into animals to have illicit sex with them. They mentioned that one of such men was the prince of Suvarnapura.

Frustrated in his own lust and worried about the power that this woman could have on princes from other kingdoms, the King became angry and ordered his soldiers to raid the house of Jnanadei and board it up. Before the soldiers arrived, one of her parrots warned Jnanadei of what was happening, but she remained undisturbed and did not run away, trusting in Jagannatha’s protection. When the soldiers arrived, Jnanadei asked to be taken to the King’s presence with her five sheep.

The King questioned her about the prince of Suvarnapura, who had gone to meet her. Jnanadei replied that indeed the prince had come to learn Tantra from her and he was still staying with her voluntarily. Then she patted one of the sheep and it immediately transformed into a young man, who bow ed to the King.
Also the other four sheep turned into men, and defended the character of Jnanadei, explaining that the priests were simply envious of the yogini’s great spiritual powers.

Then the King asked Jnanadei if she could restore the priests’ power of speech, and when she prayed to Jagannatha a great shadow descended taking the shape of Lord Jagannatha Himself. The priests were  instantly cured, and Jnanadei offered Lord Jagannatha a dhanva mala, a special traditional garland that is 12 feet long garland and is worn between His arms.


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