- The yoni (vagina or womb), seen as the embodi-ment of the great GODDESS, is worshipped in emblematic form in many Indian traditions. It can take the form of a pot or other vessel, a cleft rock, or a pond, lake, or pool. In certain esoteric rituals, a human vagina is worshipped directly. The association of female genitals with the divine female principle, and the correlation of women’s reproductive and sexual cycles with the Earth’s seasonal and vegetative cycles, have given the yoni cosmological significance.Considered the gateway between life and death, as well as the generative force behind all existence, the yoni has had special importance particularly in the KAULA, SHAKTA, and TANTRA tra-ditions. However, even ordinary Shaivite devotees worship the yoni together with the SHIVA LINGAM (phallus); the popular icon consists of a rounded stone shaft placed upright on a horizontal circular base that forms the yoni.All of these practices are probably based on pre-Vedic, prepatriarchal civilizations. Many female figurines have been discovered in a pre-Harappan site in the Zhob Valley dating to the midfourth millennium B.C.E. Many of these fig-ures had pronounced breasts and yonis, perhaps signifying their generative function. Cowry shells, a common representation of the vulva, were also found at these sites. Scholars believe women most likely used these objects in rituals, perhaps together with their own menstrual and sexual flu-ids, in order to ensure a fruitful harvest.Numerous seals, ritual objects, and yoni/lin-gam structures from the later INDUS VALLEY CIVI-LIZATIONS of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa also point to an early understanding of the sanctity of female sexuality and its association with the Earth’s fertility. Reverence of the female principle and the belief that it controls the perpetuation of the human and vegetative life cycles seems to lie at the base of these civilizations.In the fourth century C.E., the cult of the god-dess Lajja Gauri arose across the subcontinent. The most well-known images depict a woman with her legs bent and open and her vulva com-pletely exposed. Often, her head has been replaced with a pot filled with vegetation. In some depic-tions vegetation emerges from her yoni. These iconographical representations of the Goddess seem to have originated in the early Indus Valley, or even pre-Indus Valley civilizations. Lajja Gauri and another goddess of vegetation, Sakhambari, are worshipped today as the embodiment and generator of fertility, fortune, abundance, and life-force energy, qualities that are also associated with the yoni. The Goddess in general is conceived as the elemental source of all animal and plant life, as creative power personified.Creative female sexual power is represented in various symbols even today. The lotus has become a quintessential symbol of the yoni. In SHAKTA and TANTRA texts, the yoni, as is the lotus, is a symbol of perfection, symmetry, and beauty. In Hindu cosmology waters are considered the perennial source and equated with the Goddess’s womb. As the lotus rests on the water and remains unsaturated by water, not soiled by mud, to Shakta tantrics, so the yoni remains perpetu-ally pure.In Hindu architecture, the temple is con-ceived as a microcosmic representation of the macrocosmic whole. The inner sanctum of Hindu temples, regardless of religious sect, is called the garbhagriha, which means “womb-house.” In Guwahati, Assam, at the site of the Kamarupa Temple, the Goddess in her form as the Great Yoni is worshipped. Here she is worshipped in aniconic form as a dark wet rock over which a natural spring flows. Each summer this water turns red and is worshipped as the Goddess’s menstrual blood.KAMAKHYA, in Assam, is a PILGRIMAGE site to Shaktas, Kaulas, and Tantrikas who worship a woman’s menstrual blood as the sacred and potent elixir of life. In these traditions, women’s men-strual cycles relate to processes of the universe. The body itself is considered the link between earth and cosmos, a microcosmic representation of the macrocosmic whole. In Kaula, Shakta, and tantric cosmogony women play a divine role due to the nature of their sex. In these ideologies lib-eration (MOKSHA) is possible to humans within this lifetime, but only through ritual sexual practices and the worship of the yoni, female sexual fluids, and menstrual blood.In the first section of the Yoni Tantra, Shiva tells DEVI, the Goddess, that all gods and their power of creation, maintenance, and destruc-tion originate in the yoni. In the Yoni Tantra the Mahavidyas, 10 tantric goddesses of spiritual liberation, are each associated with different parts of the yoni.The tantric Sri Chakra cult also gives special importance to the yoni. The main iconic emblem of the Goddess, the SRI YANTRA, is composed of interlocking triangles. Five of these, symbolizing the yoni, point downward; the other four, symbol-izing the LINGAM, point upward, in reference to the union of feminine and masculine qualities and representing the mysteries of creation and destruction.Further reading: Arthur Avalon, The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga, 7th ed. (New York: Dover, 1974); N. N. Bhattacharya, History of the Tantric Religion (New Delhi: Manohar, 1999); Carol Radcliffe Bolon, Forms of the Goddess Lajja Gauri in Indian Art (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997); Madhu Khanna, Yantra: The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity (London: Thames & Hudson, 1979); Michael Magee, The Yoni Tantra, Vol. 2 (Harrow, England: Worldwide Tantra Project, 1995); Ajit Mookerjee, Kali: The Feminine Force (New York: Destiny Books, 1988); David Gordon White, Kiss of the Yogini (Chicago and London: Univer-sity of Chicago Press, 2003).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.