The Dasa-Mahavidyas, or Ten Great or Transcendent Wisdoms is a circle of ten goddesses associated with transformative Tantric practice. This circle of goddesses have been known as a group since the early medieval period, around the 10th century CE. In this circle each shows up as a manifestation of the great mother goddess, Kali. Some of these goddesses were known before this circle came to be and continue to be known individually. Kali, Kamala, Tara, and Tripurna-Sundari are all known separately and have varying degrees of popularity today.
There are several accounts of how this dynamic circle was formed. In one version, Siva is living with the goddess Kali in the Satya Yuga, the first and most perfect of the four periods of the world cycle. Eventually Siva grows restless and decides he is tired of living with Kali. He gets up and when she asks him where he is going he answers, “Wherever I wish!” She does not reply and he begins to wander off. However, in no matter what direction Siva goes, a form of Kali appears as one of the Mahavidyas” first Kali herself is constellated, then Tara, Tripurna-sundari, and Bhuvanesvari, then Chinnamasta, Tripura-bairavi, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and finally Kamala. Experiencing the all-pervasive essence of Kali in these goddesses, one by one at every turn, Siva sees through his yearning to leave Kali and wander about, having gained the wisdom (vidya) that she “fills the four quarters in the ten directions” so that wherever he goes, she is there in one of her energetic forms. Siva, at last, comes home to the reality that She, in all her prismatic forms, and He are One.
- Kali – Transcendent power of time.
- Tara -the refining fire of transformation.
- Tripura Sundari – The fountainhead of beauty and ever young, the source of inspiration..
- Bhuvanesvari – (Lady of the spheres) – Illuminates the universe with grace and beauty. The chief projection of space-consciousness.
- Chinnamasta – The end of existence, consummation of ever-burning, ever-devouring life cycle that proceeds and influences resurrection.
- Tripura Bhairavi – Reveler and teacher, conferring the power of awakened consciousness..
- Dhumavati – Goddess of ultimate destruction, of cosmic slumber.
- Bagala Muhki – Destroyer of illusion, the great silencer.
- Matangi – The jungle goddess, bestower of boons on the unwashed and nourishes the arts.
- Kamala – A form of Laksmi, abundance, enlightenment.