Dhumavati is ugly, unsteady, and angry. She is tall and wears dirty clothes. Her ears are ugly and rough, she has long teeth, and her breasts hang low. She has a long nose. She has the form of an angry widow. Her eyes are fearsome and her hands tremble. She rides in a chariot that has a banner with a crow emblem. In one hand she holds a winnowing basket, and with the other hand she makes a gesture of conferring boons. Her nature is rude. She is always hungry and thirsty and looks unsatisfied. She likes to create strife, and she is always frightful in appearance.
Dhumavati is barely known outside the Mahavidyas. If she had an independent cult prior to her inclusion in the group, then very little evidence remains. However, Dhumavati bears striking similarities to a few goddesses who appeared in early Hindu traditions. One goddess whom Dhumavati is identified with is named Alaksmi. In one of the early texts praising Sri Laksmi (Mahavidya Kamala), Sri is asked to banish her sister, Alaksmi. Alaksmi is said to appear in such inauspicious forms as need, poverty, hunger, and thirst. Laksmi is her exact opposite, and the two do not dwell in the same place at the same time; by their natures, they are incompatible and are unavailable to exist when the other is present. Alaksmi is described as “an old hag riding an ass. She has a broom in her hand (the Sweeper). A crow adorns her banner.”
While similarities between Dhumavati and her predecessors are unmistakable, there are some important differences. One is that she is a widow. She is also described as fierce, frightening, and fond of blood. She crushes bones in her mouth and the sound is awful. She is said to make the noises of drums and bells, which are frightening and warlike. She wears a garland of skulls, chews the corpses of the demons Canda and Munda, and drinks a mixture of blood and wine. Her eyes are glaring red, stern, and without tenderness. She carries Yama’s buffalo horn in her hand, symbolizing death. She dwells with widows, in ruined houses, and in wild, uncivilized, dangerous places such as deserts.
Dhumavati also has certain important positive characteristics and is interpreted by some as an effective symbol or power for achieving spiritual knowledge and liberation. None of the other preceding goddesses had any positive aspects. Dhumavati, then, stands in a tradition of inauspicious goddesses who symbolize the more difficult and painful aspects of life and reality.
One origin myth says that she was born when Sati burned herself to death on her fathers sacrificial fire or was burned on that fire after she committed suicide by willing her own death. Dhumavati was created from the smoke of Sati’s burning body. She emerged from that fire with blackened face; she appeared from that smoke. Born in such circumstances, embodying both the mood of the insulted, outraged goddess Sati at the time of her death and her funeral smoke, Dhumavati has a sad frame of mind. She is Sati in the form of smoke.
She is said to be the embodiment of the tamas guna, the aspect of creation associated with lust and ignorance. She likes liquor and meat. She is the aspect of reality that is old, ugly, and unappealing. The Mahavidyas are supposed to represent the diversity of reality, so there are females in young and beautiful forms and the ugly and fearsome forms. Dhumavati is generally associated with all that is inauspicious: She dwells in areas of the earth that are perceived to be desolate, such as deserts, in abandoned houses, in quarrels, in mourning children, in hunger and thirst, and particularly in widows.
The inauspicious if not dangerous overtones of Dhumavati as a widow may be better understood in the context of the Nepalese belief in boksis, a class of dangerous, inimical spirit beings who possess widows. To become a boksi it is necessary for a woman to sacrifice her husband or son. Widows are here associated with the murder of their husbands and sons, with willful evil. They are understood as bringing about there own inauspicious condition by despicable acts or as being vulnerable to possession by evil spirits who will prompt them to undertake such acts. Widows by definition, are suspect as dangerous beings who are likely to cause trouble and who therefore be avoided. As the divine widow, the symbolic widow par excellence, Dhumavati is to be feared.
So it appears that Dhumavati is primarily a being to keep at bay. Indeed, the majority of people are advised not to worship her, and married people, in particular, should keep her at a distance. That anyone would approach her seems, at first glance, highly unlikely.
In several texts, however, it is said that she grants siddhis (paranormal powers) to those who worship her, that she rescues her devotees from all kinds of trouble, and that she grants all rewards and desires, including ultimate knowledge and liberation. It is said that inside she is tenderhearted. Her worshipers, in general, have a feeling of wanting to be alone and have a distaste for worldly things. In this vein, her worship is appropriate for world renouncers. She gives ‘anything the devotee wants’ which is unusual among deities. She is partial to unmarried people, and to those who have been widowed. It is said, only unmarried people could withstand her great power and successfully spend a night in her temple.
In concluding, Dhumavati attracts and probably encourages and reinforces a certain kind of independence, or solitariness, that is experienced outside of marriage. It is important to remember, though, that the highest stages of the spiritual quest can only be undertaken alone, after the aspirant has left home and family.
Ten Mahavidyas – Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine – Kinsley
Lunar Cycle: Crescent Moon Sighting… she roams.