MYTH AND MAGICK OF EAST INDIA’S SERPENT GODDESSES
By Jan Fries
From the authors’ Introduction:
“The wild, bizarre and epic tale of the serpent goddess Manasā has inspired poets for more than five hundred years. It’s not really much. Five hundred years are practically yesterday. However, we are talking about literary works. Before them, an oral tradition existed, and before that, rituals, prayers and offerings, and yearning for the divine. Serpent worship is an ancient faith. In India, it can be traced to at least 1,000 BCE. But that’s only serpent cults in general. Here, our question is: how old is Manasā? In a text called Rājamārtaṇḍa , allegedly composed by King Bhoja (c. 1040-1060), goddess Manasā is briefly mentioned. Sadly, King Bhoja had no sense of priorities and failed to provide details. A few centuries earlier, an anti-serpent spell naming Manasā was included in the Garuḍa Purāna. It introduces her as Śiva’s daughter and provides useful mantras. You’ll read it further on. How about something earlier? A Buddhist text of the sixth century mentions a goddess called Manasā who expels toxins. Here’s the story. One day, a Buddhist monk called Svāti was bitten by a serpent. Undaunted, the Buddha improvised a spell to cure his follower. The charm was called Mayūrīvidyā (Wisdom/Magic /Science of the Peacocks). Peacocks, as everyone knew, are snake-killers and immune to their poison. The spell made it into Buddhist literature and was used to cure snakebite. Here is the passage, quoted by Maity (2001:154), slightly amended:
Hail Buddha. Hail Dharma. Hail Saṅga.
Thus it is: (O Goddess) who are pure,
blameless, devoid of impurities, auspicious,
of golden complexion, the female energy of the Golden Egg,
good, very good;
who art characterised by all-round goodness,
marked by prosperity;
who art a means to achieve all objects,
an instrument to the realisation of the Ultimate End,
a pacifier of all evils and a means to bring about all kinds of goodness,
Manasā, broadminded, unshaken, wonderful,
most wonderful, free, the releaser, the liberator,
devoid of the rajas ‘element’ (the quality of fierce passion),
(full of) nectar, immortal, divine,
manifesting thyself as the Sound of Brahman, perfect;
who fulfils all kinds of desires, liberated, living;
protect Svāti from all calamities, fears and diseases.
I salute you.
The setting is Buddhist. The contents are not. Our spell is far from the stern creed which the historical Buddha taught in the fifth or fourth century BCE. Indeed, it is much closer to Hinduism and early Tantra.”
FORTHCOMING FROM AVALONIA THIS SPRING.