Chamunda – Brief Conceptual Resonancies For The Storm Facing Of Wrathful Sky Divinity


It is Friday – Devi’s Day – And so therefore, as has become our custom, we present a brief commentary to go with a beautiful work of (A)Arti-fice …

In this case, a fine sandstone sculpture, about a thousand years old.

Something which manages to convey a sense of Her ‘Forcefulness’, Her ‘Essence’ … even if all that is present, here, is the Head.

I have chosen to focus in upon the Visage because this forms an admirable ‘entry-point’ to a broader comparanda for Chamunda in an Indo-European context.

Chamunda is, specifically, one of the more overtly Terrific forms of the Goddess. That is to say – She Begets Terror. And this is overtly communicated via Her iconographic rendering.

Hence why we tend to find Chamunda being shown as … well, something approaching the modern style of ‘undead’, I suppose we might say – taut skin over bone, wrathfully projecting eyes, accouterments of death and panoply of the pyre about Her Form. You get the idea.

Now, if we were to cast our net a bit more broadly, we might hear of some strikingly similar parallels elsewhere in the Indo-European Sphere.

These might include the Cailleach figure found in the Celtic sphere – a figure Who is, of course, depicted as a rather ‘withered’ old woman … and Who has a name that is, it should appear, directly cognate with Kali – deriving from Proto-Indo-European *Kel, to refer to a ‘Covering’ (as in, a ‘Veil’ – or the Blackness of Night, the Shroud between Life and Death, you get the idea. ‘Hel(l)’ is similarly etymologically derived … )

We would also make mention of the entirely not unrelated ‘Banshee’ – as this helps us to illuminate the suite of ‘Proto-Chamunda’ (we might fairly suggest) figure(s) encountered in the AtharvaVeda … the Ghosini [‘Powerfully Voiced’, or ‘Howling’], They Who are engaged in the ‘Gharudo’ [‘Howling’, ‘Wailing’] , and Who are rather pointedly depicted engaged in such conduct in the circumstances of somebody’s funerary circumstances.

We presume that They may also … cut out the middle-man, so to speak.

These female figures of Roudran association are also described via terms such as Keshini and Vikeshi – that is to say, with rather distinctive (tangled, matted) Hair … and that is a fair summation, I feel, of the locks , potentially braided , that we find upon this Chamunda statue here. (We would also note that these terms, too, are ‘female counterparts’ to well-known Roudran theonymics / characteristics … just as with the ‘Howling’ terms aforementioned; and with the additional point of interest concerning Vikeshi specifically of Vikesi occurring as a name for Rudra’s Wife in later scripture as well).

We should also mention the ‘Sambhunjati’ – ” ‘Those Who Eat [Their Prey] Together’, or rendered by Manasataramgini as ‘[who] devour their targets’; or, perhaps, ‘Those Who Devour Completely’, if we take a different sense of ‘saṃ’] in pointedly mutually resonantly-reinforcing (indeed, ‘comradely’) terms. ” … to quote myself upon the subject.

And not to be neglected is the fearsome Dance that They are said to engage in as part of these (Perhaps assumedly ‘pre-emptory’ ‘funerary’ Rites) for the ensured downfall of the would-be transgressor against the properly pious supplicant.

But there is a further Figure we ought make mention of in the course of our general ‘broad’ (if very, very brief!) Indo-European Comparanda viz. Chamunda …

… and that is Athena.

It may seem like a very odd connexion to make – and yet, there is quite some sensibility to it.

We have earlier extolled the Aegis in terms of its ‘Gorgoneion’ description: linking this to the ‘Ghora’ [‘Terrifying’] Facing found in the Hindusphere for both Mahadeva and His Wife – and it is utterly uncoincidental the suite of deifics we find equipped with the Aegis in the Classical lore:

Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Apollo. And also, for the sake of completeness, there is a specifically Black-Aegis description (Melanaigis) also given for an Erinyes (singular) in a work of Aeschylus (that being Seven Against Thebes – and we would note the situation, of course, of Demeter Erinyes / Demeter Melaina , as we have so often done at this juncture), where this personification of Enraged Sanctioning is dually invoked alongside the Moira (‘Fate’).

Tellingly, this ‘Melanaigis’ epithet also occurs for Dionysus, in another context – but more upon this, perhaps, some other time.

The situation of the Gorgoneion, we have suggested based around a suite of contextual and other such evidence to be a ‘Storm Face’, a ‘Terrifying Face’ of the Sky Father and the Goddess … and therefore its immanent connexions to Power and Sovereignty as displayed within the Hellenic sphere.

The Foremost Power(s) in the Universe, in a most decided ‘Get It Cracking’ expression.

[‘Get It Cracking’, musical associations aside, .. well, you see, PIE *gerh₂- … it connotes a ‘Harsh’ noise – ‘Crack’ being derived from such, along with several terms for ‘Thunder’ (for reasons that ought be obvious) including the Sanskrit ‘Garjati’, etc., terms for the Corvid, and we would suggest an implicit resonancy of concept viz. the ‘Gharudo’ / ‘Ghosini’ terms that we have met earlier … ‘Howling of the Storm Wind’, ‘Crash of Thunder’, ‘Roar of the Storm’, one instantly apprehends the vibe]

And because I really do rather like it:

Here’s Quintus Smyrnaeus’ ‘Fall of Troy’ [XIV, Way translation]:

“She donned the stormy Aigis flashing far, adamantine, massy, a marvel to the Gods, whereon was wrought Medusa’s ghastly head, fearful: strong serpents breathing forth the blast of ravening fire were on the face thereof. Crashed on the Queen’s breast all the Aigis-links, as after lightning crashes the firmament. Then grasped She Her Father’s weapons, which no God save Zeus can lift, and wide Olympos shook. Then swept She clouds and mist together on high; night over earth was poured, haze o’er the sea. Zeus watched, and was right glad as broad heaven’s floor rocked ‘neath the Goddess’s feet, and crashed the sky, as though invincible Zeus rushed forth to war.”

It reads somewhat interestingly in light of this excerpt from the Devi Mahatmyam [Markandeya Purana LXXXVII, Pargiter translation]:

“Then at his command the Daityas, led by Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa, and arrayed in the four-fold order of an army, marched with weapons uplifted. Soon they saw the Goddess, slightly smiling, seated upon the Lion, on a huge golden peak of the majestic mountain. On seeing Her some of them made a strenuous effort to capture Her, and others approached Her holding their bows bent and their swords drawn.

Thereat Ambikā uttered Her Wrath aloud against those foes, and Her Countenance then grew dark as ink in Her Wrath. Out from the surface of Her Forehead, which was rugged with frowns, issued suddenly Kālī of the terrible countenance, armed with a sword and noose, bearing a many-coloured skull-topped staff, decorated with a garland of skulls, clad in a tiger’s skin, very appalling because of Her emaciated flesh, exceedingly wide of mouth, lolling out Her tongue terribly, having deep-sunk reddish eyes, and filling the regions of the sky with Her Roars.

She fell upon the great Asuras impetuously, dealing slaughter among the host, and devoured that army of the gods’ foes there. Taking up the elephants with one hand She flung them into Her mouth, together with their rearmen and drivers and their warrior-riders and bells. Flinging likewise warrior with his horses, and chariot with its driver into Her mouth, She ground them most frightfully with Her teeth. She seized one by the hair, and another by the neck; and She kicked another with Her foot, and crushed another against Her breast.

And She seized with Her mouth the weapons and the great arms which those Asuras abandoned, and crunched them up with Her teeth in Her fury. She crushed all that host of mighty and high-spirited Āsuras; and devoured some and battered others; some were slain with Her sword, some were struck with Her skull-topped staff, and other Asuras met their death being wounded with the edge of Her teeth.

Seeing all that host of Asuras laid low in a moment, Caṇḍa rushed against Her, Kālī, Who was exceedingly appalling. Muṇḍa the great Asura covered Her, the terrible-eyed Goddess, with very terrible showers of arrows and with discuses hurled in thousands. Those discuses seemed to be penetrating Her Countenance in multitudes, like as very many solar orbs might penetrate the body of a thunder-cloud.

Thereat Kālī, Who was Roaring frightfully, Laughed terribly with excessive Fury, showing the gleam of Her unsightly teeth within Her dreadful mouth. And the Goddess, mounting upon Her great Lion, rushed at Caṇḍa, and seizing him by his hair struck off his head with Her sword. And Muṇḍa also rushed at Her when he saw Caṇḍa laid low; him also She felled to the ground, stricken with Her scymitar in Her Fury. Then the army, so much as escaped unslain, seeing Caṇḍa laid low and most valiant Muṇḍa also, seized with panic fled in all directions.

And Kālī, holding Caṇḍa’s head and Muṇḍa also, approached C’aṇḍikā and said, Her voice mingled with passionate loud Laughter—“Here I have brought Thee Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa, two great beasts; Thou Thyself shalt slay Śumbha and Niśumbha in the battle-sacrifice.”

[…]

Thereon, seeing those two great Asuras Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa brought to Her, auspicious Caṇḍikā spoke to Kālī this witty speech, “Because Thou hast seized both Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa and brought them, Thou, O Goddess, Shalt therefore be famed in the world by the Name Cāmuṇḍā!”

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