Śrī Vidyā is one of the four great schools of Śaktism, which draws from the Kaula, Trika and Krama schools of Kashmir Saivism, as well as, from South Indian Śaiva Śiddhanta. It is the only remaining living tradition of Śakta Śaivism. It is from the southern teaching tradition called the Dakṣiṇāmnāya. The earliest written emergence of Śrī Vidyā can be glimpsed in the Śaiva mystic writings of the Tirumūlar of Tamil in the sixth century. Its systematic literary profusion flourished in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Śrī Vidyā pervades widely in South India and indeed throughout India in a non-tantric form. The teaching survives in north India, in Kamakhya, in its tantric form.
Śrī Vidyā means Highest Clarity or Highest Knowledge. The Śrī Vidyā tradition is a highly developed, sophisticated and systemized teaching of Śakta practice with a large cannon in Sanskrit. It adopts the Kashmir Saivite non-dual world view and theory of resonance, sound and mantra technology. It incorporates the practices of kundalini yoga with emphasis on the unfolding of the powers in chakras. It incorporates the ritual components of nyasāḥ, mudra, japa, and yantra contemplation while coupling these with outer ritual offerings.
The distinctive characteristics of Śrī Vidyā tradition is the worship of the Goddess Lalitātripurasundarī, the recitation of the three-part fifteen (or sixteen) syllable Śrī Vidyā mantra, and the employment of the Śrī Chakra yantra.
The main goddess in the Śrī Vidyā tradition is Tripurasundarī. She and her retinue of yoginīs are the focus of worship in the Śrī Chakra pūja sadhana or spiritual practice.
Tripurasundarī means the “Beautiful Ruler of the Three Cities”. She is the resplendently beautiful respiratory process of the physical, mental/emotional and spiritual dimensions of the universe. She is unimaginable possibility and abundance in every dimension beyond any imaginings. Tripurasundarī is the unconditional love, beauty, and auspiciousness which exists in the center of our hearts. “She is to be realized in the heart of the yogin as own’s own Self.” Yoginīhrdaya.
In her traditional iconography she is white in color, tinged with red with three eyes and red lower garments. In the tantric form, she is all red. She has four arms holding a noose, hook, and a bow and arrows. These represent her powers of will (noose), knowledge (hook) and action (bow and arrow). She is seated on the seat of prostrate Śiva on a throne held up by Viśnu, Indra, Agni and Rudra. Thus, she is both imminent and transcends the five great forces in the Universe of creation, maintenance, concealment, dissolution and grace.
Tripurasundarī is surrounded in her Śrī Chakra by 9 chakras with the 98 seats for her retinue of yoginis or powers. These yoginis express her various dynamic potencies as she pervades the universe and indeed our own bodies and selves. In the worship of the Śrī Chakra, we make the effort to come into contact, alignment and flow with the Goddess and all her powers.
LALITĀ PŪJA, LALITĀTRIŚATĪ AND ŚRĪ CHAKRA ABHIŚEKA
Every morning at TMC, a team of pūjaries (ritual assistants) honor and worship the Goddess installed in the Meru Śrī Chakra on the meditation hall altar. The pūja is dedicated to the Goddess Lalitā, “the Beautiful” or “the Charming.” She is the same as Tripurasundarī.
In the pūja, the Śrī Chakra altar is placed in the center of the meditation hall. Facing east and the sunrise, sitting before the altar, the pūjari first goes through the ritual process of installing the powers of the Goddess upon their body (nyasāḥ), transforming and identifying themselves into the deity. Then, with the awareness of themselves as divine energy, one with the Goddess, the ritual assistant offers worship and gifts to the Goddess on the altar on behalf of the entire community. Their offerings are in prayer for the health, peace and spiritual prosperity of our teachers, our community, all our loved ones and indeed the world.
The offerings presented represent the five senses and the five traditional gifts given to an honored guest in the Indian tradition: flowers, scented perfume (sandalwood powder), light, incense, sweet food and drink. In the mornings, we offer a cup of tea! Additionally, song in praise of the Goddess is offered by all those present by singing the auspicious and powerful Lalitātriśatī mantra chant.
Once a month on the new moon, the Lalitā pūja begins with an abhiśek of the Śrī Chakra. The abhiśek is a ritual cleansing of the Śrī Chakra, in which the residue energies of the month prior are washed clean in order to make space for renewed brightness in the coming month. The pūjari washes the Śrī Chakra with seven white and gold substances: milk, yogurt, sugar, honey, ghee, saffron, and coconut water. The jewels of the Goddess are cleansed, a fresh red sari and garland are offered and draped around her. Special items such as pearls and gold leaf may be given. It’s a sumptuous and poignant ceremony in which we ourselves take the opportunity to drop the tensions of our lives and begin afresh into the new moon cycle.
The daily Lalitā pūja begins immediately after morning meditation when the gong is struck, at about 7:10 am and lasts for about 20 minutes. It is a beautiful, uplifting and sweetly devotional way to start the day. All are welcome to attend.
Lalitātriśatistotra is a devotional mantric chant containing three hundred names in praise of the Goddess Lalitā. The names in the chant are arranged in fifteen consecutive sets of twenty names. Each of the fifteen sets begins with a syllable corresponding to the Pañcadaśakṣarī, the Vidyā mantra of the Goddess Tripurasundarī. Thus, singing the chant is supremely auspicious in that it is both a praise in honor of the Goddess and a mantra recitation imbued with the energy of the Goddess herself.
The practice of the Lalitātriśati chant was transmitted to The Movement Center community by Swami Chetanananda in 2013. TMC is now very fortunate to have a new translation of the full 15th century Lalitātriśatistotra text by renowned Sanskrit scholar, Alexis Sanderson, who gifted the translation to our community in 2016. The translation of the text including the longer Nāmāvalī, along with a commentary by Alexis Sanderson is available for purchase through Rudra Press.