Perceived as the Void, as the dissolved form of consciousness, when all beings are dissolved in sleep in the supreme Brahman, having swallowed the entire universe, the seer-poets call her the most glorious and the eldest, Dhumavati. She exists in the form of sleep, lack of memory, illusion, and dullness in the creatures immersed in the illusion of the world, but among yogis she becomes the power that destroys all thoughts, indeed [she is] Samadhi itself.
– Ganapati Muni
Disappointment is a multilayered teacher. Not many of us would choose to apprentice with her, yet sooner or later, most of us do. People disappoint us. Luck runs out. Status declines. Strength fails us. Then, the goddess Dhumavati flies into our awareness, accompanied by her crow, a harbinger of worldly misfortune who ironically also bestows the inner gifts of detachment, emptiness, and freedom.
Dhumavati’s name means “the smoky one,” and is also called “the widow.” In traditional India, especially in the higher castes, widowhood is the worst thing that can happen to a woman.
From a worldly point of view, Dhumavati stands for despair, sadness, and failure. Yet she has significant and subtle boons to give, especially for someone on the path of awakening. With her grace, we can mine the exquisite wisdom hidden in the heart of life’s most difficult moments.
Dhumavati is one of the group of ten goddesses known as the Mahavidyas, or Great Widsoms. They are goddesses who incarnate different stages on the path of self-realization, or states of unfolding consciousness. In the Tantric tradition of the Mahavidyas, Dhumavati represents the void stage which we all must go through on the path of higher awareness.
Symbolism of Dhumavati
Dhumavati is described as tall, ugly, unsteady, and angry. She represents everything that a “normal” person rejects. She is one of the rare goddesses who is not conventionally beautiful–perhaps because we view disappointment as ugly. If we allow ourselves to look her clear in the eye, we see that she is pure beingness in its raw form. She has the power to teach us that outer beauty fades, but our divine Self always remains intact. If we can see ourselves this way regardless of what falls aways, we’ve tapped into Dhumavati’s strength. However, not everyone can go into the cave of disappointment and find the secret wellspring. Most of us do our best to avoid failure, as indeed we should–which is why Dhumavati is not a popular goddess.
She sits on a stalled chariot which contains a deeper meaning. It represents the stillness of the eternal present, the action that arises from non action, the void state where forms dissolve in deep meditation. In Indian cosmology, Dhumavati represents the Shakti present during the cosmic dissolution in which the physical world melts back into the void, and all beings, ready or not, are freed of their bodies, desires, and karmas. In other words, she stands for the cosmic moment of complete renunciation. As energy in the physical world, she represents the absence of fertility and life-giving moisture. She lives in whatever is desolate, abandoned, unfortunate, and unpleasant. She denies the ordinary sweetness of life.
The Power of the Goddess
Although she represents all things considered “not good,” she also represents the strength of the outcast and the power that turns bad luck into enlightenment.
In any creative or growth process, there’s a difficult but necessary stage of void. All your efforts have been fruitless. You know there is further to go but you don’t know how to get there. At such a moment, the only way through is to let go of expectation, hope, and your desire for comfort, money, recognition, or even spiritual experience. These are the times in life when you come face to face with your inability to control outcomes, when your skills seem to have deserted you. You find yourself in a state of emptiness and vulnerability, broken open by disappointment or loss or by your own failure to live up to your expectations of yourself.
The secret to Dhumavati is to find her enlightened core, the transformative power within hopelessness and failure. This requires inhabiting your worst fears and facing your inner demons. Often in a moment when the worst possible outcome happens, you discover an enormous dignity and peace in simply standing in what you are. In such a state, it doesn’t matter how things look from the outside or even what you think your life should be. In failure, Dhumavati is our guide. She takes us down into the cave of the soul, and when we follow her, she shows us the spring that bubbles up out of the empty places in the Heart. She gives her devotees whatever they desire–when you look lovingly into the face of disappointment, you tap into her love and power. As you look closer at her, you recognize that behind her eyes is an infinite, clear space, the space of the peaceful void beyond desires.
Dhumavati reminds us that any one of us could lose everything, that when safety nets break down, no one is immune from losing their health, money, or mind. Dhumavati asks the questions: Can your inner equilibrium survive that level of collapse? Can you find your yogic groove when everything falls away? These are two of the great questions yogic practice is meant to answer. Tantric practitioners contemplate the dissolution of the body as a way of transcending fear of death. Dhumavati can show you how freedom really does come when there’s nothing left to lose.
When a wave crashes over your head, your survival depends on diving into the wave rather than fighting it. Dhumavati is your capacity for letting go. It’s a skill that you carry through repeated experiences of radical disappointment; a skill that arises through a particular form of grace. “Let go” is Dhumavati’s deepest mantra. It arises in the subtle whisper in the heart when you meet her irresistible force and realize that, in crushing you, it expands your borders until borders have no more meaning. Then you flow through reality like smoke and stare out at the world with a vision that understand that you are everything.
Origins of Dhumavati
Dhumavati rises from the smoke of Sati’s funeral pyre after Sati immolated herself at her father’s sacrifice. Her face blackened by the flames, Dhumavati comes into the world filled with the outrage and despair of the insulted Goddess Sati and also with the evanescent, nearly transparent quality of smoke. Smoke dissolves, it wanders, it has no abode–thus the social invisibility of the Goddess Dhumavati.