The Invocation of Katyayani

Satsang by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

28th October 2012, Paduka Darshan, Munger

There is a story of the Katyayani havan as the sankalpa for the Sannyasa Training, which begins with the establishment of Sannyasa Peeth on 6th December 2010, the first anniversary of the Mahasamadhi of our guru Sri Swami Satyananda.

In order to commence the activities of Sannyasa Peeth and personally to seek the grace and the blessings of the Cosmic Mother, the inspiration came to invoke the power of Durga. For the first year from 2nd January 2011, I conducted the Sri Durga invocation as my sankalpa and sadhana, and that was concluded on 2nd January 2012.

Then, the 3 Year Sannyasa Training started. I thought about how we can receive the benedictions and the blessings of the Divine, and what the aspirations of the Sannyasa Training should be. Keeping in mind the aspirations of the Sannyasa Training I chose the form of Katyayani and took the sankalpa for three years.

Durga and Katyayani

In the Indian tradition, the cosmic power is known as Adi Shakti, the cosmic creative power, the primordial energy, the first form of shakti pervading the entire cosmos. In order to recognize the existence of this shakti, an identity is given and the identity is that of Durga.

Durga is a name just as ‘yoga’ is a name, and they are both generic terms. The word yoga by itself indicates something which is very vast and broad, so when the word yoga is used, in reality it is not known what is being indicated because it is a general term. But if the term hatha yoga or raja yoga or kriya yoga or kundalini yoga is used, then the specific branch of yoga becomes clearer and is identified. In the same manner, Durga is a name of that cosmic power. The meaning of the name Durga is that power, that shakti, which removes distress from life.

Last year the invocation was of Durga, the complete shakti, and this year, the form of Durga being invoked is Katyayani. The relation of the names Durga and Katyayani is like that between the terms yoga and raja yoga. Durga is the overall cosmic identity and Katyayani is a form of that cosmic identity. In the tantric traditions, as well as in the vedic traditions, this cosmic power is recognized by different names.

Nine Forms of Durga of the Vedic Tradition

The vedic tradition recognizes nine forms of Durga and the tantric tradition recognizes ten forms of Shakti. The nine forms of Durga according to the vedic tradition are connected with Parvati, the consort of Shiva. Parvati was an ordinary person who took birth and lived in the mountains, and who married Shiva in the mountains. This Parvati is also recognized as Adi Shakti.

Through sadhanas and spiritual efforts an ordinary person is able to come to some realization of a higher nature within, and gains the ability to express that higher quality. At the moment one gains the ability to express that higher nature or power, one is connected with one’s spirit. In normal life, everyone is connected with their mind and with their senses, but in spiritual life one is connected with shakti. That shakti can manifest and become tangible. It can become touchable, recognizable and perceivable as a manifestation in this life of a higher force.

Parvati was one of the preceptors of tantra, and the Shakti Tantras emanated from her. Parvati had attained mastery over the tantric concepts of consciousness and energy, and was able to manifest those powers or qualities to help the situation and the people, the devotees, the sadhakas, of the time. At various times in the course of her life Parvati encountered situations which were destructive, negative and restrictive, and would not allow the spiritual nature of a person to flourish. Her manifestation as Divine Shakti would happen whenever there was any conflict or struggle with the negative, destructive powers.

Similarly, in one’s own life one is subject to the problems of the mind, and at times these problems drag one down into the depths of depression, anxiety, pain and suffering. At that time there is some form of inner intervention which says, “Listen, you are going through this stage, come out of it.” When some form of inner awareness about the situation dawns within with the realization that one has to come out of this situation of crisis, one makes an effort.

In the same manner, this cosmic power is not a passive power, rather it is an active power, as its purpose is to lead us from avidya to vidya, from ignorance to knowledge, wisdom. This movement from ignorance to wisdom is what is known as spiritual development or growth. Spiritual development and growth is not having visions of saints and sages and the Divine – that is mental hypnosis. In practical life, one’s problems don’t go away by visualizing God. In practical life, problems can be eradicated if one makes the effort, knows where the problem is and its cause, and manages that. This is the idea of the Durga Shakti.

The nine forms of Durga according to the vedic tradition represent those aspects of this cosmic power which help in the eradication of the negative, the destructive, the limiting, the confining; the factors, moods and situations which restrict the free expression of spirit. In these nine forms of Durga, it is Parvati who takes on a role to fulfil one aspiration. The nine forms of Devi can be heard in the chanting: Prathamam shailaputri cha dvitiyam brahmacharini, Tritiyam chandraghanteti kushmandeti chaturthakam. Each name or each form of this Parvati is to overcome a specific and particular condition and situation in life. Katyayani is the sixth form of Devi or Durga: Shashtham katyayaniti cha.


What does this sixth form of Devi represent? The name Katyayani indicates that in this form Devi has the power to remove the rigidity, arrogance and the hard shell covering the spirit. The rigidity of life is eliminated by Katyayani. Arrogance and the negative and destructive ego is destroyed by Katyayani, and purity arises with the invocation of Katyayani. This is also the meaning of the word Katyayani: one who is able to remove rigidity and the destructive, negative ego.

Mantras are sound vibrations and they affect the psyche. By chanting the mantras specific to this form of Shakti and creating and feeling their vibrations, the mantras clean and remove the hard shell and make one soft. Many people often experience that with the chanting of mantras tears begin to flow. Even so-called hard, rigid, sensible people become sentimental and they say, “I don’t know why I am crying”, but they are experiencing the effect of the mantra, at a deeper, psychic level and not at the intellectual level. Mantras tend to bring out the sensitive qualities of life, and to stimulate and purify the human psyche. When the mantras are specific to a particular idea, whether it be in relation to chakras or cosmic powers, they do attract those particular powers and change whatever needs to change within us.

Sannyasa and Spiritual Awakening

Katyayani is most appropriate for sannyasins. What is the purpose of sannyasa? I have said many times that the purpose of sannyasa is not self-realization. Self-realization is only an idea, and it indicates a state of mind which is awakened. For example, you sleep at night and later you wake up. While you are sleeping at night you are unaware, and when you wake up you become aware. There is a difference in the perception of your consciousness when you sleep and when you wake up. There is a difference in the behaviour of your consciousness and mind, and there is a different interaction of the mind with the world, with the senses, and with images, memories and impressions when you are asleep and when you wake up. So, in normal life sleep and wakefulness can be seen very clearly and distinctly as different to each other. In the same manner, in spiritual life spiritual awareness can be compared to being awake, and material awareness can be compared to sleep. The spiritual traditions say that in our life, since spiritual awareness is not active within us, we are asleep, and we have to wake up. That awakening is spiritual – it is not physical, or mental, or emotional, it is spiritual.

So for sannyasins and the sannyasa trainees the primary requirement is to become innocent and simple and to have purity of heart and mind. What can help to attain this? What can help to overcome one’s rigidity in life? What can help one to manage the detrimental ego in life? It is the power of Katyayani. As preparation for sannyasa understanding, to deepen the awareness of sannyasa, to experience sannyasa, to attain purity, and to manage our own arrogance and destructive, negative egos which manifest in the life of everyone at any time, this particular havan is being applied.

Ten Mahavidyas of Tantra

In tantra the same power is seen as ten forms of Shakti, known as the ten mahavidyas, the highest knowledge of the cosmic principle. In this aspect of Shakti there are another set of ten different forms, including Tara and Kali. From the tantric perspective, these ten mahavidyas, the knowledge of the ten cosmic powers, are for the development and awakening of internal shakti, and not for smoothening out the processes of life. The vedic process can be considered as a means to arrange one’s life in a better manner, and the tantric process as a means to awaken the shakti within. So the vedic approach is exoteric, while the tantric is esoteric.

According to the mythology and stories, Durga is a universal power belonging to all three of Shiva, Narayana and Brahma. In order to help and assist the process of evolution, growth and development, this cosmic power divided itself into three different identities: Saraswati, as the shakti of Brahma, Lakshmi, as the shakti of Narayana, and Shivaa or Parvati, the shakti of Shiva. Of these three pairs, Narayana and Brahma and their respective shaktis are emanations or projections of Parvati. In the entire tantric system, it is Parvati who represents the Adi Shakti.

The sister of Krishna

Parvati is also depicted as the sister of Narayana. At the time of Krishna’s birth there were many prophecies. The prophecy told to the king that “the eighth-born of this family will kill you”, so the king destroyed all the babies that were born before Krishna to ensure that there was no eighth child. But what is destined is destined; nobody can change it.

This Shakti took the form of the sister of Krishna and replaced Krishna after his birth. When the king, Kansa, came to kill the eighth-born child, he saw this girl instead of a boy, and said, “Why shall I destroy the life of this girl? She can’t do anything.” However, he had some very good advisors who said, “How do you know this girl is incapable? She might be more capable than a boy.” So Kansa decided to kill this baby also, but when he lifted the child and tried to dash her to the ground, she slipped from his hands and rose up in the air. Taking the form of eight-armed Durga, she pronounced “Kansa, your destroyer has already taken birth”, and then disappeared.

So from this aspect she is considered to be the sister of Krishna. Krishna told her, “After announcing my birth, go to Vindhyachal and stay there in this form of eight-armed Devi.” This Devi went to Vindhyachal and established herself there as Vindhyavasini, one who resides in the Vindhya mountains.

The character of Krishna is well-known: he did everything in life but always remained pure, untainted by everything. This purity was from Shakti, his sister. Krishna attained so much but never in his life was there an iota of arrogance. He was free from ego, and he lived his life spontaneously and naturally. This was the grace of Shakti. There was never any rigidity in Krishna’s life, he was resilient like water and fluid like water. This also was the grace of Shakti. So in this manner, Katyayani is recognized as Krishna’s sister. The same Katyayani in South India is known as Kanya kumari, meaning the virgin power, purity, untainted.

Preparation for the journey

For initiating any kind of spiritual journey, there has to be some basic preparation. When a person begins a journey from his home, he packs his bags. He prepares himself physically for travel, and he also prepares himself mentally. He organizes things so that he can travel without worrying about what is happening back home. In the same manner, when one embarks upon one’s spiritual journey, preparation has to take place.

Just coming and practising one’s yoga, pranayama and meditation is not embarking on one’s spiritual journey. Embarking on a spiritual journey begins when one begins to modify the limiting, negative, restrictive and destructive behaviour of one’s nature. A person can practise their asana, pranayama and meditation life-long and still will not be a spiritual aspirant.

There are millions of people in the world who are practising yoga, but they are not spiritually inclined. Most of them connect only with their bodies, or only with their minds. Most of them are connected with their problems and are seeking solutions to their problems. There is nothing spiritual in the life of most people; most people have never made any effort to better themselves. Rather, they have fallen deeper and deeper and deeper into the rut every passing day, consciously and wilfully, without making the effort to extract themselves.

Yoga and spirituality are two different things: yoga is a sadhana, while spirituality is an awareness of life and the creative expressions in life. The Katyayani invocation which is being conducted as part of the three year sankalpa during the Sannyasa Training is meant for that spirituality. As Sri Swami Satyananda said, “Devi, that cosmic power, does not know any language. She does not know English, she does not know Hindi, nor Latin nor Greek, nor even Sanskrit; she only understands the language of the heart.” If the heart is tainted then there is no communication, but if the heart is pure then one can commune with the Divine, and that is our mother Katyayani.