ekAnamshA: a deity of tantric vaiShNavism

The core pantheon of the sAttvata branch of the pA~ncharAtra texts is the chaturvyuha or the serial emanations of nArAyaNa. The primary manifestation of nArAyaNa is vAsudeva, from whom emerge saMkarShaNa and pradyumna. From pradyumna emerges aniruddha. This pantheon appears to be a unique feature of the yadu tribes (the sAttvata-s of the late vedic texts) that subsequently seems to have spawned the classical pA~ncharAtra. However, the early texts suggest that there was another parallel system that appears to have largely passed out of subsequent vaiShNavism. That was the cult of the goddess ekAnamshA. Who is she ?

namaste .astu ekAnamshAyai | yogakanyAyai namo .astute |
viShNor sharIrajAm nidrAM viShNor nirdeshakAriNIM | vivesha rUpiNI kAlI kAla-meghAvaguNThitA | kAlI cha kAmarUpiNi sarvaharasya sakhI tatha | mahendra-viShNu-bhaginI kAlarAtri cha mohini |

Salutations be to ekAnamshA, salutation to the yogakanyA. She is Sleep, born of viShNu’s body and carries out the instructions of viShNu. Of diverse forms, of the form of time, she is enveloped in black clouds. She is kAlI, able to assume any form, and the friend of the destroyer of all. She is the sister of the great indra and viShNu, the night of total destruction between kalpas and the deluderess.

Mythology of ekAnamshA

In the days of yore deva viShNu in the form of the terrifying nR^isiMha had rent apart the entrails of the great daitya hiraNyakashipu at his own doorstead, after emerging from a pillar. After that viShNu of a thousand heads retired to his eternal loka in the ekArNava, where he lay in a deep slumber on the coils of the snake of time. But his sleep was not to last for long — the leadership of the demons had passed on to the dAnava kAlanemI- the wheel of death. The other devas came to him to seek his aid in the battle against the dAnava emperor. From his forehead emerged the beautiful black goddess, ekAnamshA, veiled by a dark nebulosity. Then viShNu arose and assumed a terrifying black form. His hair filled the skies like a dark nebulosity, his eyes shone like suns at the end of the kalpa and his body was covered with a deep yellow robes. He held in his 8 arms the famed shara~Nga bow, the nandaka sword, the long-handled mace, the chakra, the lA~Ngala missile and other weapons, and a dagger in his belt. Mounted on tArkShyo ariShTanemI, with his elder brother mahendra and he and other devas set forth for battle against kAlanemI and his demons. The goddess ekAnamshA proceeded with them to delude the demons with her mAyA.

A fierce battle with the demons ensued. indra fought a demon virochana and his several daityas, varuNa fought hetI, mitra fought prahetI, yama fought with kAlanAbha the brother of kAlanemI, the ashvins fought with vR^iShaprava and his hordes, rudra dealt with the vicious jambha and his armies. The six-headed son of deva rudra fought the terrifying demon krodhavAsa, while savitA fought bANa. indra and the devas used weapons known as bhusundi-s, chakra-s, maces, R^iShTi-s (cone-headed spears), paTTiShas (flexible blades), shakti-s (broad-headed spears), ulmuka-s (fire-throwers), prAsa-s and axes. They shot missiles such as nistrimsha-s, bhAllas (broad-headed arrows) and hurled fiery clubs such as, parighas (dome-headed mace), mudgara-s (blade-sided mace), and bhindipala-s (electrical maces). The demons surrounded indra and attacked him with a shower of shakti-s, but wielding his vijaya bow he shot fiery bhAllas that destroyed the dAnavas’ weapons before they left their hands. The devas started gaining the upper hand, when kAlanemi dispatched utkalAsura an expert in mAyA to delude the devas. But ekAnaMsha countering his spells with her own, she attacked him directly. Bending her bow to a circle, she aimed a vastsadanta missile at his car and shattered the axle of his wheel. He jumped out deftly and aimed a shilImukha shara (toad-poisoned dart) at her. But she intercepted it in mid-air with an a~Njalika missile and pierced his palms with the painful naracha arrows. As a result utkala dropped his bow, but he quickly rallied back by hurling a gadA. She parried it her own mace and without giving him a chance pierced his neck with a nArAyaNa missile and killed him.

Seeing him fall, the supporters of kAlanemi, mAlI, sumAlI and malayavAn charged at viShNu with their gadAs upraised. But garuDa flew deftly avoiding their strikes and viShNu hurled his chakra and beheaded all three of them. kAlanemI himself charged at viShNu with a hail of arrows, which viShNu countered with a continous stream of bearded missiles from his shara~Nga bow. Finally with an ardhachandrabha missile he cut in twain the bow of kAlanemI. kAlanemI now mounted on his lion, rushed with a tomara, shaktI, prAsha and a R^iShTi. viShNu for long parried the blows from these weapons with the lA~Ngala and finally destroyed them. kAlanemI hurled his final weapon, the terrifying trishUla at viShNu. But viShNu deftly avoiding the strike, caught the weapon himself and hurled it back at kAlanemI. Unable to bear the trishUla, the dAnava and his vAhana were burnt to ashes by it.

Though it appeared that kAlanemI was dead towards the end of the KR^itayuga he was to re-appear before the beginning of the downward turn of the wheel time (the age of kali) as the evil king of the bhojas, kaMsa. There were six powerful dAnavas, grandsons of hiraNyakashipu, who threatened the world with their invincibility. The all-knowing viShNu, entered them in a dream and stole their prANas an kept them in the care of ekAnamshA for future use. Aeons later when kAlanemI reincarnated as kaMsa, viShNu was asked by the brAhmaNas and pR^ithivi to intercede and save them from the duShTa kShatriyas. viShNu decided to duely incarnate and slay kaMsa, but this intelligence was leaked by nArada to kaMsa. So viShNu directed ekAnaMshA to place those 6 dAnava prAnas she had maintained in suspension in the womb of devakI while she was in prison. Each time she gave birth kaMsa killed the child, thus riding the world of the 6 dAnavas. On the seventh occasion she brought the kAla-sarpa or the saMkarShaNa as an embryo and placed it in the womb of rohiNi, while she put the original embryo in rohiNi’s womb into devakI’s womb, where it miscarried. Then she converted herself to an embryo and entered yashodA’s womb. Finally, when vasudeva exchanged his child with that of yashodA, he had actually brought back ekAnaMshA. When kaMsa tries to kill her, she slips from his hand flies to the sky and from there announces that his future killer still lives.

ekAnamshA is said to have been then sent by indra to live amongst the yadus, where vasudeva brought her up with great care. kR^iShNa and balabhadra are said to have embraced her after returning to dvAravatI from their campaigns. She is said to have stood between saMkarShaNa and vAsudeva when she was worshiped by the yadus.

The harivaMsha then gives detailed account of the associated vaiShNava theology of the yAdavas: viShNu is the axis of time. The time coils around him in the form of the kAla-sarpa, shesha. It is this terrible snake that manifests as saMkarShaNa. At the end of the kalpa the snake spews flaming venom that destroys the loka, the main duty of saMkarShaNa. The nidrA of viShNu is the goddess ekAnaMshA, who manifests as the dark nights, the kAlarAtri-s between the kalpa. She is the friend of samkarShaNa and envelops the world in darkness while he re-absorbs it. As the world manifests its components constantly keep emerging or return to viShNu borne by the flaming waves of his breath. ekAnaMshA as the yoginI, consumes all the entities that return. Every year, she seizes viShNu with a sleep in the rainy season, when indra takes over his place as the supreme being and nourishes the world [comparable of mahAmAya of the mArkaNdeya purANa, who withdraws from viShNu allowing him to kill madhu and kaiTabha. In the kula tantric parlance she is svapnavArAhI, the goddess of yoganidra]. She is both the sister of indra and viShNu and manifests as kAtyAyani or durgA on the vindhya mountains where her principal shrine is present. Thus, the holy triad of saMkarShaNa, ekAnaMshA and nArAyaNa was seen by the parama-bhAgavata akrUra. Her shrines are said to be all over bhAratavarsha where she is offered sacrificial offerings of meat and wine.

Historical worship of ekanamshA
The astronomer varAhamihira recommends (bR^ihat saMhitA, chapter 58) that temples should contain triads of saMkarShaNa holding the musala known as sunanda, a halAyudha and a sthUNakarNa weapon in his four hands. Then there should be ekAnaMshA and finally nArAyaNa with a chakra, gada, sha~Nkha and lotus. ekAnaMsha may be of a two, four or eight handed form. In the two handed form she holds a lotus and one hand is on the hip. In the 4 handed form she holds a book, lotus and rosary. In the eight handed form she has a bow, arrow, lotus, mirror, book, rosary and abhaya-varada gestures. The two handed form is recommended by the Agama section of the viShNudharmottara (3.85) and the tamil text the paripATal mentions that she should be flanked by saMkarShaNa and vAsudeva.

-ekAnaMshA appears in coins of the provincial governors of the shu~Ngas (e.g. the Besnagar silver coins from Vidisha) and also the yavanas like Agathocles around 180 BC. Subsequently a feudatory of the kANvas, vIrasena, also depicts her on his coins. A possible late-maurya-shu~Nga depiction of her with baladeva and vAsudeva is seen in sketch by a certain dabuka on the walls of a cave at Tikla.

-The kushAnas, vima khadphises, vima takto and kanishka built several temples of the samkarShaNa-ekAnaMshA-nArAyaNa triad idols in red sandstone with two armed ekAnaMshA-s between 50-200 AD. vima takto also built a pentad temple with all five deities including, the pradyumna and the aniruddha.

-nR^isimhagupta bAlAditya, the destroyer of the hUnas, built a temple for the triad in magadha.

-cave temple 27 of Ellora houses the triad

– The great rAja bhoja built a temple for the triad in Etah.

After that the deity appear to have vanished from the later traditions of vaiShNavism. The original tradition may be linked to saptarAtra rather than the parallel pA~ncharatra tradition that remained dominant in the later period.

I was prompted to investigate ekAnamshA in the connection of the origin of the vidhyAvAsini durgA cult due to the photographic collection presented by NP Joshi in his Hindi pamphet entitled: devI ekAnaMshA ki kushANa kAlIn mUrtiyAn.

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