ShaShThI sUktaM

bANa’s kAdambari mentions ShaShThI and skanda being painted on the walls of the birthing room of the heroine, and he also alludes to her in the harShacharita. This shows that the worship of ShaShThI was prevalent in North India at least till the first quarter of the 600s of the CE. A long history of ShaShThI worship can be established through much of northern Indian: For example both bauddha and jaina sources mention shrine of devI ShaShThI being present at vishAla at the time of two nAstIka founders. The archaeological studies by NP Joshi ( Hindi essay: devI ShaNmukhI yA ShaShThI), PK Agrawala (mathura nAgI=ShaShThI), VS Agrawala (ShaShThI-devasenA on yaudheya coins) have recovered considerable iconographic material of ShaShThi from kushAna and yaudheya sites, especially the early shrines of the deity in mathura.

Today the worship of ShaShThI has faded away in most of India except in the va~Nga country (and amongst knowers of the archaic kaumAra path). Interestingly, even in the late medieval period the worship of ShaShThI remained vigorous in Bengal and surrounding areas (also probably Nepal) as suggested by the Bengali poem ShaShThI ma~Ngal composed in the mid-1600s of CE. Of course the tradition of ShaShThI worship is rather ancient. Attempts to trace it take one back to the late Vedic period, where she appears just like her mate skanda. Interestingly, the upAkhyAna of ShaShThI in the devI bhAgavataM mentions that her rite is connected with the kauthuma school of the sAmaveda. The meaning of this allusion becomes clear when one searches for the earliest surviving traces of ShaShThI worship.

We first encounter ShaShThI in rites associated with the kR^iShNa yajurvedic tradition of the taittirIyaka-s. The AyuShya sUkta, which is deployed among other purposes, for the first year rite of a child has the formula:
shriyaM lakShmIM-aupalAMbikAM gAM ShaShThIM cha yAM indrasenetyudAhuH |
tAM vidyAM brahmayoni{\m+} sarUpAm ihAyuShe tarpayAmo ghR^itena ||

With this formula shrI-lakShmI, ambikA associated with the aniconic stone and the heavenly cow (as in rudra’s wife; cf. the shUlagava ritual), ShaShTI and indrasenA are invoked as the manifestations of the knowledge of the brahma, and for the sake of long life are pacified with offerings of ghee.

This old formula appears to have been a popular, as it was reused in at least two later tantric upaniShad-s to identify shrI the shakti of nR^isimha and vinAyakI the shakti of gaNapati with all the primary goddess.

nR^isiMha pUrva tApanIya states:
sa IM pAhi ya R^ijIShI tarutraH sa shriyaM lakShmIM-aupalAMbikAM gAM ShaShThIM cha yAM indrasenetyudAhuH | tAM vidyAM brahmayoniM sarUpAm ihAyuShe sharaNamahaM prapadye ||

varada-pUrva-tApanI 2.2 (a tantric upaniShad of the gANapatya school describing the valagahan anuShTubh of gaNesha):
sa IM pAhi ya R^ijIShI tarutraH sa shriyaM lakShmIM-aupalAM aMbikAM gAM ShaShThIM cha yAM indrasenetyuta Ahus-tAM vidyAM brahmayoni-svarUpAM | tAMihAyuShe sharaNaM prapadye ||

The medieval upaniShadic commentator nArAyaNa explains that this formula equates the shakti of the primary deity of the tantric upaniShad with shrI-lakShmI the shakti of nArAyaNa, aMbikA the shakti of rudra, kAmadhenu, ShaShThI the shakti of skanda and indrasenA, who is indrANI.

This transfunctional equation of the goddesses also plays out in the most definitive early source on the worship of ShaShThI from the kR^iShNa yajurvedic tradition of the maitrAyaNIya-s. The mAnava gR^ihya sUtra 2.13, termed the ShaShThI kalpa records a rite performed over 6 shulka ShaShThI-s in 6 months or in 3 months on both ShaShThI-s. The rite involves a day of sexual abstinence and homa offering of a sthAlIpAka to ShaShThI with a hymn termed the ShaShThI sUkta, followed by individual Ajya oblations.

The ShaShThI sUktaM:

dhanadA{\m+} vasum IshAnAM kAmadA{\m+} sarva-kAminAm |
puNyA{\m+} yashasvinIM devI{\m+} ShaShThI{\m+} shakra juShasva me ||

nandI bhUtishcha lakShmIshchAdityA cha yashasvinI |
sumanA vAk cha siddhishcha ShaShThI me dishatAM dhanaM ||

putrAn pashUn dhanaM dhANyaM bahvashvAja-gaveDakaM |
manasA yat-praNItaM cha tanme dishatu havyabhuk ||

kAmadA{\m+} rajanI{\m+} vishvarUpA{\m+} ShaShThIm upavartatu me dhanaM |
sAme kAmA kAmapatnI ShaShThI me dishatAM dhanaM ||

AkR^itiH prakR^itir-vachanI dhAvaniH padma-chAriNI manmanA bhava svAhA ||

gandha-dvArAM durAdarShAM nityapuShTAM karIShiNIM |
IshvarI{\m+} sarva bhUtAnAM tAmihophavaye shrIyaM ||

nAnA-patraka sA devI puShTish-chAti-sarasvatI |
ariM devIM prapadyem-upavartayatu me dhanaM ||

hiraNyaprAkArA devi mA{\m+} vara AgachChatvAyur-yashash-cha svAhA ||

ashva-pUrNA{\m+} rathamadhyA{\m+} hastinAda-pramodinIM |
shriyaM devIm upavahye shrIr mA devI juShatAM ||

upayantu mAM deva-gaNAn-nAgash-cha tapasA saha |
prAdur-bhUto.asmi rAShTre.asmin shrIH shraddhAM [kIrtIm vR^iddhiM] dadhAtu me ||

shriyai svAhA| hriyai svAhA| lakShmyai svAhA| upalakShmyai svAhA| nandAyai svAhA| haridrAyai svAhA| ShaShThyai svAhA| samR^iddhyai svAhA| jayAyai svAhA| kAmAyai svAhA||

mAnava gR^ihya sUtra 2.13

The parallels between the ShaShThI sUktaM and the shrI-sUktaM from the khila of the RV or the bodhAyana tradition of the taittirIyaka-s cannot be missed. This transfunctional association between ShaShThI and shrI-lakshmI is explicitly stated in the skandopAkhyAna of mArkaNDeya from the mahAbhArata:
evam skandasya mahiShIM devasenAM vidurbudhAH |
ShaShThIM yAM brAhmaNAH prAhur lakShmIm AshAM sukhapradAm |
sinIvAlIM kuhUM chaiva sadvR^ittim aparAjitAm || (Mbh 3.218.47 )

Here the queen of skanda devasenA or ShaShThI is explicitly identified with lakShmI, as well as as the other lunar goddesses such as sinIvAlI and kuhU. Thus, the link with lakShmI is not a mere innovation of the mAnava GS of the maitrAyaNIya-s but appear to be a well-established facet of the goddess ShaShThI in that period. Another point to note is the presence of the name manasA in the ShaShThI sUktaM. This archaic element appears to have remarkably survived in Bengal, where a goddess manasA is commonly associated with ShaShThI, and corresponds to the cobra-headed goddess associated with kumAra. This suggests that the devI bhAgavataM’s upAkhyAna of ShaShThI is recording the presence of a rite similar to that of the maitrAyaNIya-s of the kR^iShNa yajur veda amongst the kauthuma-s. It would be of interest to see if any of the surviving gR^ihya parishiShTha of the kauthuma-s records such a tradition.

~ by mAnasa-taraMgiNI on December 9, 2007.

 
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