Dhumavati is a tantric widow goddess in the Dasha Mahavidya pantheon. She is the only Mahavidya without a consort. Unlike other Goddess that have exhibit immense beauty and attractive appearance, Dhumavati is old and rather ugly widow associated with strife, loneliness, unfulfilled desires and inauspicious things of life. Dhumavati is the embodiment of tamas guna, associated with ignorance and darkness. She likes meat and wine, both tamasic in nature. As an ancestor or Grandmother Spirit, she embodies a great teacher and guide, granting knowledge of the ultimate truth of life and death. Dhumavati is called ‘Arikshyaykar’ or ‘one who destroys both the external as well as the internal enemy’.
The Dhumavati Tantra describes her as an old and ugly widow with a body made of smoke (Dhumara). She is thin, tall, unhealthy, and has a pale complexion. Her face is wrinkled without any charm. She is described as restless and wicked. Unadorned with any jewel, she wears old, (Galit Ambara )dirty clothes and has disheveled hair (Mukta Keshi ). Her eyes are (Ruksha Netra) dry and fearsome, She has a long crooked nose along with ugly rough ears. She possesses long fang-like teeth (Viral Danta )of which some have fallen out, leaving her smile with gaps. Her ears are ugly and rough; her breasts hang down. In one of her trembling hands, she holds a (Shurp Hasta) winnowing basket, while the other makes a boon-conferring gesture (varada-mudra) or knowledge-giving gesture (chinmudra).
She rides a chariot pulled by crows and has a flag with crow emblem (Kak Dwhajini). She has a voice of howling jackals. Dhumavati is also said to be fierce, frightening and fond of blood. She is astute and crafty. Always hungry and thirsty, Dhumavati initiates quarrels and invokes fear (Kalaha Priya). Dhumavati is often said to appear at the time of Maha-pralaya, the great dissolution of the cosmos and is equated with the dark clouds that rise during Pralaya.
In the Prapancasarasara-samgraha, Dhumavati is described as having a black complexion and wearing ornaments made of snakes. Her dress is made of rags taken from cremation grounds. She holds a spear and a kapala in her two hands. The spear is sometimes replaced by a sword. Another description in the same text says Dhumavati is aged with a wrinkled, angry face and cloud-like complexion. Her nose, eyes, and throat resemble that of a crow’s. She holds a broom, a winnowing fan, a torch, and a club. She is cruel and frowning. she wears the simple clothes of a beggar. Her breasts are dry and hairs are disheveled, grey, her teeth crooked and missing, and her clothes old and worn.
She is attracted to smoke as smoke symbolizes destruction. She prefers insane offerings and smoke from the pyre; also she likes white flowers and clothes, liquor or wine, Bhang , cigarettes or chillam , especially salted items. She does accept the offering which is not made up of smoke.
The Shaktisamgama Tantra says that Dhumavati can be worshipped for the Uchhatana (eradication) of a person. A worshipper should imagine the world and the goddess’s mantra as grey. He should blacken his teeth and wear black clothes and observe regulations, such as eating little, sleeping on the ground, and subduing his senses. In this worship procedure called kakakarma (crow-procedure), he should “transform his mind into a crow” by which one can cause harm to a person.
Dhumavati’s worship is performed in the night in a cremation ground, bare-bodied with the exception of a loincloth. The fourth lunar day of the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksha) is considered the special day to worship her. The Sadhaka should observe a fast and remain silent for a whole day and night. They should also perform a homa (“fire sacrifice”), wearing wet clothes and a turban, repeating the goddess’ mantra in a cremation ground, forest, or any lonely place
Though legends connected to the origin of Goddess Dhumavati is not very – popular, we can still find references in the texts.
In Durga Saptasati (5.120) Durga vows that “He who conquers me in battle, removes my pride and is my match is strength in the world shall be my husband.” Since It has not happened so far, she is still unmarried. She is without wealth and husband.
According to Pranatosini-Tantra Once Parvati, the spouse of Lord Shiva sat near him in Kailash. She was extremely hungry and her body racked with pain. She urged Lord Shiva to give her something to eat, as she was famished. Lord Shiva, told her to be patient and to wait for some time, after which he would give her whatever she wanted to eat. Saying this, he went back to continue with his meditation. She appealed, again and again, urged her husband to provide her with some food to eat, but Shiva again told her to wait for a while. After urging for a long time, she lost her patience as she felt that she would starve to death.
Lord Shiva was also not paying proper attention towards her asking for food. Soon she became indignant and put Shiva himself inside her mouth and gulped him down. After a little while, Lord Shiva persuaded her to disgorge him, as smoke began to rise from Parvati’s body. She appeared with smoke covering her entire body; this smoke was her Maya or Magical Power of illusion. Then Lord Shiva came out of her body and shouted, O Devi! You are a woman without a husband, it’s called a widow. She must remove her ornaments and marks of married women. The smoke from her took the form of Dhumavati.
Another story in Devi Bhagavat says that when Sati performed self-immolation at the yagya of Daksha Prajapati, While getting burnt, Sati came out of her body in the form of smoke and came to be known as Dhumavati.
The Moola mantra of Dhumavati is
“Dhum Dhum Dhumavati Svaha”, It has the Dhumra Beeja ‘Dhum’.
The old and widowed appearance of Dhumavati symbolizes Shaktiman or Purusha, which is Shiva the enjoyer of Shakti or Prakriti. Energy cannot be utilized in pure form, it needs to be used through a medium. The medium is Shiva, when the energy is enjoyed by Shaktiman it is bright, opulent and happy. When there is an absence of the enjoyer, everything becomes barren, ugly and spreads unhappiness. For example, if there is no rain the fertile earth cannot produce and becomes dull and barren.
Another symbolism associated with Dhumavati points out to the negative aspects of life, asking us to develop a sense of detachment and ultimate perfection. She guides devotees to rise above the glimpse of material opulence to the real truth of life that is the state of ultimate knowledge which is above the Opulence. By obscuring or covering all that is known, Dhumavati reveals the depth of the unknown. Dhumavati obscures what is evident in order to reveal the hidden and the profound. Dhumavati’s youth and freshness are burnt out, and what remains is the smoke of her spent life. And like smoke, she is restless and wandering.
Dhumavati also symbolically portrays the disappointments, frustrations, humiliation, defeat, loss, sorrow and loneliness that a woman endures. Goddess also represents a stage of a woman’s life that is beyond worldly desires, beyond the conventional taboos of what is polluting or inauspicious. Dhumavati is the knowledge that comes through hard experiences after the youthful desires and fantasies are put behind.
The bowl of fire she holds burns ignorance, ego and also indicates that all things are eventually destroyed. The winnowing basket is “viveka” or intelligence, the power of discrimination that separates the grain (real) from the chaff (unreal). On an outer level, she seems like poverty, destitution, and suffering, the great misfortunes that we all fear in life. But in truth, she directs us to look beyond the small ambitions.
Dhumavati’s worship is considered ideal for bachelors, widows, Sannyasins, and Tantrics, It is advised that people who are married should not worship Dhumavati, as She instills a desire to be alone and an aversion to worldly things. She encourages a certain kind of aloofness and independence; and sets one on the spiritual path; this can hinder the married life.
Dhumavati is the primordial darkness and ignorance, from which rises the world of illusion. She represents the darkness/ignorance before creation and after decay. This ignorance, which obscures the ultimate reality, is necessary because, without the realization of this ignorance, true knowledge cannot be achieved. Dhumavati also represents Yoganidra, the pre-creation state of consciousness or the voids in which all creation would dissolve and reach the ultimate reality of Brahman. This void is pure consciousness, the cessation of movements of the mind, and silence. Dhumavati’s ability to spread disease is also considered positive, as disease punishes the wicked and restores cosmic order. Dhumavati is also associated with the heart or middle region of the body.
Dhumavati also shares her characteristics with Nirriti, Jyeshta and Alakshmi. All three goddess personify inauspiciousness, ugliness, poverty, quarrels and never-ending hunger.