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Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, Vol. 52, No.

1, December 2003 (1)

Yogini Cult in the Kathmandu Valley

Makiko ITO

This paper is focused on the figure of a Mayogini, a female healer in Patan.


Nepal, and her relation with the goddess of Vijesvari Temple, from whom she
derives her power. In particular, I am interested in the source of the Mayogini
power's and the ritual by which she heals.
It seems significant that all temple pujaris have suggested the possibility that the
special source of power of the Mayogini is connected to wider cultural attitudes to-
ward female impurity. It seems -that Hinduism influences this concern with female
impurities. Thus, the position of the Mayogini is much more complex, in the sense
that while Mayoginis are claimed to be Buddhists in practice, they have been much
influenced by Hindu as well as Buddhist Tantric practices. However, when we con-
sider the position of women in society generally, the prestige given to the Mayoginis
is a significant phenomenon.
Newar Tantric Buddhists in the Kathmandu Valley, worship four voginis : Vij-
esvari Akasayogini ,Vajrayogini, Khadgayogini, and Vajravarahi. Yoginis are con-
sidered as possessed of supernatural power and able to fly freely in the sky ; as it
were they are witches. The yogini cult has been also popular in India. It is well-
known that Tibetan Buddhists worship voginis as powerful goddesses.
In the northern part of the Kathmandu Valley there is a Newar Buddhist temple
named Vijesvari (Skt.Vidyesvari).Tibetan Buddhists and Newar Hindus also visit
it and worship Vijesvari, i. e. Akasayogini who is the main deity of this temple. In
the main hall of this temple, three other voginis are also enshrined : Vajrayogini,
Vajravarahiand Khadgayogini. Vijesvari Temple functions as a center of the Yogini
cult in Newar society.
In the Katmandu Valley there are many healers called Dyoma in Newari. They
cure people through the special means of possession. Those Dyomas who are given
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(2) Yogini Cult in the Kathmandu Valley (M. ITO)

divine power by voginis are called Mayoginis. 'Ma' means "mother", and May-
oginis are confined to women as this word shows. According to Mr. Ratna Sakya
who is a piujari working at Vijesvari Temple, Vijesvari gives her power only to
women, because the deity is herself female. Further, he observed that women who
visit Vijesvari temple everyday and make offerings to the Goddess Vijesvari are
given such power suddenly in a dream by Vijesvari. That is to say, a firm belief
in the Goddess Vijesvari steers her to the Mayogini. From the day that the goddess
appears and gives the power in dream, the woman is considered to be a living god-
dess. Consequently, even family can not take any meals together with her. Further-
more, she take a shower frequently each day to keep her body and mind pure. In
this manner, Mayoginis live under numerous rules to keep their purity and power.
Devi Maha Sakya is, a Mayogini who lives in Patan. I visited her house three
times, on August 26' 28' and 30' 2000. I observed her methods of treatment and
rituals and came to know about her personal history. The following (Case 1) is
evidence that her son observed the occurrence when she received her power. Case
2 is evidence that Mayogini Devi Maya recollecter her memory at that time.
Case 1 : It was in 1975 or 1976 that she suddenly began to suffer from stomach
aches. She went to hospitals and took various medications, but her body did not
get well. One month thus passed without any change in her condition. Then, we
thought that she would die. But one day, her left hand began to shake. We, namely
family members, tried to stop her hand from shaking, but it was impossible, even
though two men tried to hold her body. The next day, her body began to shake
with hooded eyelids when we tried to give her medicine. Then she began to stand
up and walk about, even though she was unconscious. This condition continued for
seven days, while she neither ate nor drank. We thought that some evil spirit had
possessed her. In order to expel the spirit from her body, we hit her with shoes or
sticks. Then she said, "I am a Mayogini. Do nothit me. Do not do bad things to
me, for I can heal people," and she danced likea yogini. She assumed some postures
of yoginis. I remember she was dancing like a Khadgayogini. Next, she asked us
to make a special chair. Hence, we made a special chair, following her instructions.
When the chair was made, she jumped on it. Halfa month after that day, she was
curing people.
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Yogini Cult in the Kathmandu Valley (M. ITO ) (3)

Case 2 : I was racked with pain from a stomach ache. I do not have any other
memories. I have no recollection of dancing like a yogini choking with medicine.
One day, the Goddess Vijesvari appeared in a dream, and she said, "Your illness
does not have any reason. Now I test how you can endure. But do not worry any
more. You will not become ill any more. For nowI live with you. You will receive
a kalasa and begin to cure people."
Formerly, the Mayogini Devilformerly had visited Vijesvari Temple only once
or twice year. Therefore, there is a discrepancy between the Mayoginil'smemory
and the remarks of Mr.Ratna at Vijesvari Temple. However, both Mr. Ratna's ob-
servation and the Mayogini'smemory are in accordancein that the Goddess Vijesvari
appears and gives power in a dream. Since then,the Mayogini Devil has been
offered puja by her elder son twice a day. He offers a song of praise, which is
offered to the goddess vogini togetherwith rice, incense, flowers and the like. When
the chant of clients started, she repeated yawns. After she cramped in body, and
took the pose of Khadgayogini. Finally, a fire of a lamp was put in her mouth by
her son, and gradually she came back to her normal state.
It seems that sddhanas are still practiced in Newar Buddhism.') However the
actual situation is not clear. It is pointed out that sddhana has incorporated some
aspector of possession.2)A Newar sculptor of Buddhist statues who lived in Patan
told me that he made statues based on images that appear in visualization. According
to him, possession (dvesa) and sadhana (realization)are mutually dependent on
each other. Sddhana is not possible without possession,and possession is not possible
without sddhana. Some dvonrds consider the action by which they invoke a deity
as a kind sddhana.

1) AnjelaDietrich,TantricHealingintheKathmandu Valley,Delhi: BookFaithIndia,1998,


pp.130-144.
2) M.Tachikawa, "Mandala Visualization
and Possession,"
NewHolizonsinBonStudies(ed.
by S.G.Kai-mayandY.Nagano),Osaka: NationalMuseumof Ethnology,2001,p. 245.

keywords) Yogini,Shadana,Dyoma
(GraduateStudent,NagoyaUniversity)

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