(Sanskrit: मोहिनी, Mohinī) is the only female
avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.
is introduced into the Hindu
belief system in the narrative epic of the Mahabharata. Here, she
appears as a form of Vishnu, acquires the pot of
(an elixir of
immortality) from the asuras (demons), and gives it back to the devas
Many different legends tell of her various exploits and marriages,
including union with Shiva. These tales relate, among other things,
the birth of the god Shasta and the destruction of Bhasmasura, the
ash-demon. Mohini's main modus operandi is to trick or beguile those
she encounters. She is worshipped throughout Indian culture, but
mainly in Western India, where temples are devoted to her depicted as
Mahalasa, the consort of Khandoba, a regional avatar of Shiva.
2 Legends and history
2.1 The Amrita
2.2 Slayer of demons
2.3 Relationship with Shiva
3 Cultural interpretations
5 Customs and ceremonies
6 See also
9 External links
Mohini comes from the verb root moha, meaning "to enchant,
perplex, or disillusion," and literally means "delusion
personified." In the Baiga culture of Central India, the word mohini
means "erotic magic or spell." The name also has an implied
connotation of "the essence of female beauty and allurement."
Legends and history
Part of a series on
Brahma (Dvaita, Acintyabhedabheda)
Mohini distributing the
Amrita to the Devas (left), while the Asuras
The earliest reference to a Mohini-type goddess appears in the Samudra
manthan episode of the 5th century BCE Hindu epic Mahabharata. The
Amrita, or nectar of immortality, is produced by the churning of the
Ocean of Milk. The Devas and the
Asuras fight over its possession.
Asuras contrive to keep the
Amrita for themselves, angering the
Devas. Vishnu, wise to their plan, assumes the form of an "enchanting
damsel". She uses her allure to trick the
Asuras into giving her the
Amrita, and then distributes it amongst the Devas. Rahu, an Asura,
disguises himself as a god and tries to drink some
Surya (the sun-god) and
Chandra (the moon-god) quickly inform Vishnu,
and he uses the
Sudarshana Chakra (the divine discus) to decapitate
Rahu, leaving the head immortal. The decapitated body becomes Ketu.
Rahu and Ketu are both regarded as celestial bodies that assume one's
destiny. The other major Hindu epic,
Ramayana (4th century BCE),
Mohini story briefly in the Bala Kanda chapter. This
same tale is also recounted in the
Vishnu Purana four centuries
In the original text,
Mohini is referred to as simply an enchanting,
female form of Vishnu. In later versions,
Mohini is described as the
maya (illusion) of Vishnu. Later still, the name of the avatar becomes
Mohini from the original phrase describing his deliberate false
appearance (mayam ashito mohinim). Once the
Mohini legend became
popular, it was retold, revised, and expanded in several texts. The
tales of Mohini-
Vishnu also increased among devotional circles in
various regions. The same expanded
Mahabharata version of the
story is also recounted in the
Bhagavata Purana in the 10th century
Mohini becomes a formal avatar of Vishnu.
This legend is also retold in the Padma Purana and Brahmanda
Purana. In the Brahmanda Purana, however, Vishnu-
Mohini simply, after
meditation upon the Great Goddess Maheshvari, acquires her form to
trick the thieving asuras.
Slayer of demons
Mohini by Raja Ravi Varma.
Bhasmasura (left) is about to
place his hand on his head following the dancing
Mohini (centre), as
Shiva (right) looks from behind the tree.
Mohini also has an active history in the destruction of demons
throughout Hindu texts. In the
Bhasmasura, the "ash-demon".
Bhasmasura invokes the god
performing severe penances. Shiva, pleased with Bhasmasura, grants him
the power to turn anyone into ashes by touching their head. The demon
decides to try the power on
Shiva runs terrified.
Vishnu, witnessing the unfortunate turn of events, transforms into
Mohini and charms Bhasmasura.
Bhasmasura is so taken by
Mohini that he
asks her to marry him.
Mohini agrees, but only on the condition that
Bhasmasura follows her move for move in a dance. In the course of the
dance, she places her hand on her head.
Bhasmasura mimics the action,
and in turn, reduces himself to ashes. The legend of
retold in the Buddhist text Satara Dewala
Devi Puvata, with a slight
variation. In this tale,
Vishnu assumes his female form (the name
"Mohini" is not used) and charms Bhasmasura. The female
Bhasmasura to promise never to leave her by placing his hand on his
head as per the usual practice to swear on one's head. On doing so,
Bhasmasura is reduced to ashes.
In a similar legend related to the birth of Ayyappa, the demon
Surpanaka earns the power to turn anyone into ashes by his
austerities. The tale mirrors all other aspects of the Buddhist
version of the
Bhasmasura tale, where he is forced by
Mohini to severe
fidelity by keeping his hand on his head and is burnt.
The prelude of the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana, the
demon Nontok is charmed and killed by Mohini-Vishnu. Nontok misuses a
divine weapon given to him by Shiva. The four-armed Mohini-Vishnu
enchants Nontok and then attacks him. In his last moments, the demon
Vishnu of foul play saying that
Vishnu first seduced him and
then attacked him.
Vishnu decrees that in his next birth, Nontok will
be born as the ten-headed demon
Vishnu will be a mortal man
called Rama. He will then fight him and defeat him.
In a lesser-known tale in the
Ganesha Purana (900–1400 CE) the wise
asura king Virochana is rewarded a magical crown by the sun-god Surya.
The crown shields him against all harm.
Mohini then enchants
Virochana and steals his crown. The demon, thus unprotected, is killed
Another legend about the demon Araka associates
Mohini with Krishna
rather than the god himself. The demon Araka had become virtually
invincible because he had never laid eyes on a woman (extreme
Krishna takes the form of the beautiful
Mohini and marries
him. After three days of marriage, Araka's bonds of chastity are
Krishna kills him in battle. Transgender Hijras
Mohini to be a transsexual deity.
Relationship with Shiva
Shiva have been popular in South Indian
texts. In the southern version of the Bhagavata Purana, after
Vishnu deceives the demons by his maya female form,
Mohini. He becomes "bereft of shame and robbed by her of good
sense," runs crazily behind enchanting form, while his wife Parvati
(Uma) looks on.
Shiva is overcome by
Kāma (love and desire) in this
version of mythology. Shiva's seed falls on the ground creating ores
of silver and gold.
Vishnu then states that emotions are difficult to
overcome, and states that Maya will become a half of Shiva's
Shiva then extols Vishnu's power.
The Tripurarahasya, a south Indian
Shakta text, retells the story,
giving more importance to the Goddess. When
Shiva wishes to see
Mohini form again,
Vishnu fears that he may be burned to
ashes like Kamadeva by the ascetic Shiva. So,
Vishnu prays to goddess
Tripura, who grants half of her beauty to Vishnu, begetting the
Shiva touches Mohini, his seed spills, indicating a
loss of the merit gained through of all his austerities.
Brahmanda Purana when the wandering sage
Narada tells Shiva
Mohini form that deluded the demons,
Shiva and his wife
Parvati go to Vishnu's home.
Shiva asks him to
take on the
Mohini form again so he can see the actual transformation
Vishnu smiles, again meditates on the Goddess, and in
Vishnu stands the gorgeous Mohini. Overcome by lust, Shiva
Parvati hangs her head in shame and envy.
Mohini's hand and embraces her, but
Mohini frees herself and runs
Shiva grabs her and their "violent coupling" leads
to discharge of Shiva's seed which falls on the ground and the god
Maha-Shasta ("The Great Chastiser") is born.
Mohini disappears, while
Shiva returns home with Parvati.
Shasta is identified primarily with two regional deities: Ayyappa from
Kerala and the Tamil Aiyanar. He is also identified with the classical
Hindu gods Skanda and Hanuman. In the later story of the origin of
Shiva impregnates Mohini, who gives birth to Ayyappa. Another
variant says that instead of a biological origin, Ayyappa sprang from
Shiva's semen, which he ejaculated upon embracing Mohini. Ayyappa
is referred to as Hariharaputra, "the son of
Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva
(Hara)", and grows up to be a great hero. Another tale says after
Shiva wishes to see
Mohini and mesmerized by
her looks, has union with her resulting in the birth of Ayyapppa.
The Tamil text Kanda Puranam narrates about the birth of Shasta
identified with Aiyanar. The text tells just before the tale that
Vishnu is Shiva's
Shakti (wife and power)
Parvati in a male form. The
legend begins with Shiva's request and Vishnu's agreement to show his
Mohini form, that he assumed for the distribution of
Shiva falls in love with
Mohini and proposes a union with her.
Vishnu declines saying that union of two same sex women was
Shiva informs Mohini-
Vishnu that he was just one of forms
of his Shakti. Thereafter, their union resulted in the birth of a dark
boy with red locks, who was named Hariharaputra. Further, he was also
known as Shasta and Aiyannar.
Shiva sees "
Mohini on a swing" (1894 by Raja Ravi Varma). The painter
suggests her seductive nature by showing her torso peeping through her
In the Agni Purana, as the enchanted
Shiva follows Mohini, drops of
his semen falls on the ground and become lingas, Shiva's symbols. His
semen also generates the monkey-god Hanuman, who helps Vishnu's avatar
Rama in his fight against
Ravana in the Ramayana.
says that by the mere glimpse of Mohini,
Shiva spurts out his seed.
The seed was collected and poured into the ear of Anjani, who gave
birth to Hanuman, the incarnation of Shiva. The latter is retold
in the Thai and Malaysian version of the Ramayana. Though Hanuman
strings from Shiva's seed, he is also considered as a combined son of
Vishnu and Shiva.
The Buddhist version of the
Bhasmasura tale continues with Shiva
(Ishvara) asking the female-Vishnu, who is seated on a swing, to marry
him. She asks
Shiva to get the permission of his wife Umayangana to
take her home.
Shiva returns with Umayangana's consent to find the
Vishnu pregnant, who sends him back to get permission to bring
a pregnant woman home. When he returns, a child is born and
Vishnu is pregnant again. She requests
Shiva to seek approval
to bring a pregnant woman with a child home. This happens six more
Shiva brings Umayangana with him to witness the
Vishnu then returns to his male form. Umayangana
embraces the six youngest children merging them into the six-headed
Skanda, while the eldest, named Aiyanayaka ("eldest brother") remains
intact. Aiyanayaka is identified with Aiyanar.
Mohini seduces the sages.
Mohini is depicted nude, adorned with
garlands and ornaments, holding a lotus and a parrot, leaning on a
stick. The sages pray to her, as their phalluses point to her.
Mohini plays a lesser role in a Shaiva legend in the Skanda Purana.
Shiva to teach a lesson to arrogant
sages. A group of sages are performing rituals in a forest, and start
to consider themselves as gods. To humble them,
Shiva takes the form
of an attractive young beggar (Bhikshatana) and
Vishnu becomes Mohini,
his wife. While the sages fall for Mohini, their women wildly chase
Shiva. When they regain their senses, they perform a black magic
sacrifice, which produces a serpent, a lion, an elephant (or tiger)
and a dwarf, all of which are overpowered by Shiva.
Shiva then dances
on the dwarf and takes the form of Nataraja, the cosmic dancer.
The legend is retold in the Tamil Kovil Puranam and Kandha Puranam
with some variation. This legend is also told in the
Sthala Purana related to the
Chidambaram Temple dedicated to
Another legend from the
Linga Purana says that the embracing of
Mohini led to be their merging into one body. At
Vishnu again, resulting the composite deity
Harihara, whose right side of the body is
Shiva and left side is
Vishnu in his male form. In the temple in Sankarnayinarkovil
Kalugumalai is one of the rarest exceptions to iconography of
Harihara (Sankara-Narayana). The deity is depicted similar to the
Ardhanari, the composite form of Shiva-Parvati, where right side of
the body is the male
Shiva and left side is female. This image's
female side represents
Mohini and it, as a whole, symbolizes the union
Shiva and Mohini. The influence of
Shakta traditions on Shaiva
ones may have led to the development of composite images like
Vishnu is identified with Shiva's consort, or
Mohini. Like the Kanda Puranam narrative, the Shaiva saint Appar
Parvati (Uma), the female counterpart of
Mohini at Belur.
According to mythologist Pattanaik,
Mohini is just a disguise to
delude the demon Bhasmasura, rather than a sexual transformation in
Mohini is a disillusion, Vishnu's maya.
Stories in which
Shiva knows of Mohini's true nature have been
interpreted to "suggest the fluidity of gender in sexual
attraction". Pattanaik writes while Westerners may interpret the
Mohini union as homosexual, traditional Hindus do not agree to
this interpretation. He also writes that those focusing only on
homoeroticism miss the narrative's deeper metaphysical significance:
Mohini's femininity represents the material aspect of reality, and
Mohini's seduction is another attempt to induce the ascetic
taking an interest in worldly matters. Only
Vishnu has the power to
"enchant" Shiva; a demon who tried to enchant and hurt
Shiva in form
of a woman was killed in the attempt.
Another interpretation posits that the
Mohini tale suggests that
Vishnu's maya blinds even supernatural beings.
Mohini is "the
impersonation of the magically delusive nature of existence which
fetters all beings to the rounds of births and deaths and vicissitudes
Mohini also does not have an independent existence; she
exists only as a temporary delusion, and is absorbed back into Vishnu
after serving her purpose.
The legend of the union of Mohini-
Shiva may also be written
as part of the desire to have a common child of the two cosmic
patriarchs of Hinduism.
On the fifth day of Brahmotsavam,
Venkateshwara is dressed as Mohini
and paraded in a grand procession.
Mohini is worshipped as
Mahalasa Narayani. She is
the Kuladevi (family goddess) of many Hindus from western and southern
India, including Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Karhade Brahmins,
Daivajnas and Bhandaris. The chief temple of
Mahalasa Narayani is at
Mardol, Goa, though her temples also exist in the states of Karnataka,
Kerala, Maharashtra, and Gujarat.
Mahalasa has four hands,
carrying a Trishula, a sword, a severed head, and a drinking bowl. She
stands on a prostrate man or demon, as a tiger or lion licks blood
dripping from the severed head.
Goud Saraswat Brahmins
Goud Saraswat Brahmins as well as
South Canara identify her with
Mohini and call
her Narayani and Rahu-matthani, the slayer of Rahu, as told in the
Mahalasa is also called Mhalsa, the consort of Khandoba, a local
incarnation of Shiva. As the consort of Khandoba, her chief temple -
the Mohiniraj temple - is located at Nevasa, where she is worshiped as
a four-armed goddess and identified with Mohini. Mhalsa is often
depicted with two arms and accompanying
Khandoba on his horse or
standing besides him.
The central icon of the Jaganmohini-Kesava Swany temple at Ryali,
discovered buried underground by the king in the 11th century,
represents the male
Vishnu in the front, while the back of the icon is
the female Jagan-
Mohini ("one who deludes the world") or Mohini, with
a female hairdo and figure. A
Sthala Purana tells that the flower in
Mohini's hair fell at
Ryali ("fall" in Telugu) when
Mohini was being
chased by Shiva.
Customs and ceremonies
Mohini as depicted in Yakshagana
Mohini has an important, dramatic role in several mythical works of
South Indian drama like
Yakshagana and Kathakali. In Kerala, however,
where Mohini's son Ayyappa is popular, the
Mohiniattam ("the dance of
Mohini") is honored as an independent dance form. Named after the
goddess, it is a dance meant exclusively for women and "an ideal
example of the erotic form." The origins of
Mohiniattam form are
unknown, though it was popularized in the 1850s, but later banned as
it was used by "loose women" to attract customers. The ban was lifted
in 1950, after which it has seen a renewal.
The legends of
Mohini are also being depicted in other dances,
including the modern Kathak. The Sonal Nati, performed in the Saho
area of Chamba district, Himachal Pradesh, retells the
Bhasmasura tale, and hence is known as the Mohini-Bhasmasura
dance. It is performed on festive occasions, especially in the Saho
fair held in Baisakh in the precincts of the Chandershekhar
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Avatars of Vishnu
1 The list of ten avatars varies regionally. The two
substitutions involve Balarama,
Krishna and Buddha is considered the
avatar of Vishnu.
Krishna is almost always included; in exceptions, he
is considered the source of all avatars.
Hindu deities and texts
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali