Marichi, Goddess of the Dawn

Marichi. From

Marichi (from Sanskrit “ray of light”) is the Goddess of the Dawn, who is revered in the Buddhist tradition as a heavenly warrior and powerful protector. Her name in Tibetan is Oser Chenma, which means “Goddess of the Great Light.”

Marichi protects human beings from physical dangers and harm, sudden death, thieves, wildlife, snakes, poisons, fire, and other forces. She also removes doubts about faith in those who have lost their way, and illuminates the minds of those who are searching for a spiritual awakening. The dawn and the light associated with the goddess symbolize the radiance of spiritual illumination and enlightenment. The protective power of the goddess is invoked mostly by travelers, who repeat her mantra or carry an amulet with her image.

In India, Marichi is associated with Ushas, the Vedic goddess of the dawn that appears in the Rigveda and Surya, the Hindu God of the Sun. Later, as her aspects became more closely related to war, she was associated with Parvati’s martial incarnation, Durga. Various forms of the goddess were transmitted to Tibet, where her image gained more characteristics.

In both India and Tibet, Marichi appears in two roles: as an independent goddess and as part of Tara’s retinue. As an embodiment of one of the twenty-one Taras, she is called “Marichi, who provides longevity and healing power to the sick.”

In both traditions, the image of Marichi undergoes some transformation, which can be seen mainly in her iconography. In the earlier stages, she appears in a simple form, sitting in a padmasana (lotus pose), with two hands – the right hand in varada mudra (the gesture of generosity), and the left holding a flower or branch of the Ashoka Tree. The magical and healing properties of this tree, as well as its connection to female fertility and sexual desire and love, are deeply embedded in early Buddhism, particularly in relation to the figures of yakshini. In the case with Marichi, this element of her iconography implies her initial relationship with nature, and although in the later stages her prime role is as a celestial warrior, the Ashoka Tree remains as her distinctive feature.

Marichi. Illustration by the author

The goddess is depicted in gold, yellow, white, or red colors, with one or three faces and three eyes. She is sitting in a padmasana or lalitasana (pose of royal ease). Her hands may be two, six, eight, ten, twelve, or fourteen, holding different attributes, including a branch of the ashoka tree, bow, arrow, vajra, hook, lasso, sword, trident, kapala, vase, the severed head of Brahma, as well as a needle and a thread, symbolizing the “suturing” of the eyes and ears of the people causing harm, and thus neutralizing them.

Marichi is usually depicted sitting on a lotus, a boar, or a chariot drawn by seven wild boars or horses. The boars symbolize the militant and defensive force of the goddess and can sometimes be seen as part of her ornamentation or as extra heads. The number of the seven boars is associated with the seven planets governing the days of the week in Indian astronomy. Thus the goddess is also assigned the role of managing the planets and supporting the Sun and Moon, which are often painted over her.

Marichi is depicted primarily as an independent deity, but some Buddhist texts mention that she is Buddha Vairochana’s spiritual wife, as well as his emanation. In rare cases, she appears as a partner of Hayagriva, an wrathful aspect of Avalokiteshvara. In the Tantric tradition, images of the goddess in union with Hayagriva are occasionally seen.

Marichi plays an important role in the Buddhist tradition of India and Tibet and, like most of the Mahayana goddesses, she saves sentient beings from suffering, illuminating their hearts with the light of enlightened wisdom. The tradition of her worshiping is still alive today, especially in Tibetan ritual practices, where from a heavenly goddess she became a strong protector overcoming all kinds of obstacles.

See more

In Praise of the Goddess Marichi by Jigme Lingpa

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