2. Devi, Shiva’s consort
Kashi is compared to a woman (Kashi Khanda 7.66) ‘whose two beautiful eyes are Lolarka (in the south) and Adi Keshava (in the north), whose two arms are the Varana (in the north) and the Asi river (in the south). That is how the territory between the two rivers and two divine spots merges into a divine energy represented in the form of a woman. At the next level, there are two shrines of the ‘City as Goddess.’ The small shrine of Kashi Devi at Lalita Ghat is eulogised as the giver of relief from all the sins and the cycle of transmigration (cf. Kashi Rahasya 17.29). Similar description is also narrated for Varanasi Devi, whose shrine lies in the Trilochan temple (cf. Kashi Khanda 33.127). However, sometimes the city itself is referred to as the mother goddess (cf. Kashi Khanda 30.71).
The images, forms, motives involved, varieties of rituals performed, role of sacred place and sacred time, etc. are vividly described in the Puranic mythologies that helped to maintain and continue the tradition of goddess worship, reaching at its zenith by the turn of 12th century CE (for details see Singh and Singh 2006). According to the Kashi Khanda, dated ca. 13th century, there developed multiplicity of layers, orderings, locations and hierophanies of goddesses, thus reference of 324 forms are enumerated, among which today only 96 are existent, and the rest merged into theses form still invoked in rituals with a different name. The notable categories include Yoginis, Durgas, Gauris, Matrikas, Chandis, Kali, Kshetra Devis, Mahavidyas, and folk goddesses. All these forms converge into spatial patterning and cosmic ordering, resulting to form a complex system where goddesses exist as omnipresent and omniscient in the sacredscape of Varanasi.
The KKh (70.10-97) describes the list of Kshetra Devis, representing combination of all the important forms of goddesses, which includes all Durgas, Gauris (of course, sometimes variant names), and many other goddesses of Kashi in addition to Chandis who in different contexts and from different directions and different places protect the territory of Kashi; their number reaches to 41 (Fig. 9.2). By this combination the numerical symbolism of the inner portion of the Sri Yantra is represented; of course, the total number of triangles in the inner part of the Sri Yantra comes to 45, based on the crossing and superimposition of nine triangles. Performance of pilgrimage to their shrines is prescribed on each of the ninth or eighth day of the waxing or waning of the lunar month. However, this pilgrimage is not undertaken these days, and most of the goddesses of this group are worshipped together with other goddesses.
The KKh (70) describes the spatial and divine characteristics of the Kshetra Devis. Vishalakshi is described as adjacent to Vishala Kund (‘water pool’), which was once connected to the Ganga River. However, at present this water pool does no longer exist. This sacred place is eulogised as Mahapitha (“the great seat”), which possesses the strong power to liberate the soul from transmigration (KKh 70.16). The myth that her worship helps to get conception attracts a large mass of newly married ladies (KKh 70.15). The other prominent Kshetra Devi has been Maha Lakshmi, located in the neighbourhood named after her, i.e. Lakshmi Kund. In the month of Ashvina (September-October), the bright fortnight is especially auspicious for goddess worship. These distribution patterns of 96 goddesses are in close correspondence with the self-organising system, representing the idea of opposite poles and corresponding opposite forces.