Saptamatrikas: Seven Mothers
Matrikas are goddesses of the battlefield. Saptamatrikas are a group of seven Hindu mother goddesses, each of whom is the shakti, or female counterpart, of a god. The seven goddesses are always depicted together. Each of the goddesses have come to take their name from a particular god; they are Brahmani (shakti of Brahma), Vaishnavi (shakti of Brahma), Maheshvari (shakti of Brahma), Indrani (shakti of Brahma), Kaumari (shakti of Brahma), Varahi (shakti of Varaha avatar of Vishnu) and Chamunda or Narasimhi (shakti of Narashimha avatar of Vishnu). They arearmed with the same weapons, wear the same ornaments and ride the same vahanas and also carry the same banners like their corresponding male Gods do. Representations of the goddesses are found in shrines throughout India, frequently flanked by Virabhadra (a ferocious form of Lord Shiva) on the left and the elephant-headed Ganesha on the right.
The are many accounts about the matrikas.
Puranic myths state that the matrikas are the Shakti of Shiva, Indra and other gods; and
they are goddesses of the battlefield. According to a legend Shiva and Vishnu joined together and tried to kill the asura named Andhaka and failed. They then created the seven mothers to kill him. Andhakasura had a boon according to which from each drop of blood that fell on the ground there rose another asura. It is believed that the seven goddesses drank up that blood and did not allow it to fall on the ground, this made it easier for lord Shiva to kill the Asura.
The Vamana Purana gives another version about the birth of Sapta Matrikas. A war took place between the Devas and the Asuras. When the Asuras, Chanda and Munda, were killed, another asura named Raktabija entered the battlefield with chariots, elephants, horses and infantry. Seeing the large troop, Kauisiki and Kali (goddesses) made a loud sound and from their mouth Maheswari and Brahmani came out seated on a swan and wearing rosary and holding water pot in their hands. From the lion of Maheswari came out Kaumari, seated on a peacock and holding a lance. Vaishnavi came out from Kaumari's hand, seated on Garuda and holding a conch, discus, club, sword, bow and arrow. From her posterior came out Varahi, seated on the Seshnaga (serpent), and from her heart came out Narasimhini with fierce claws, and from her foot Chamunda came out.
The Varaha-purana, however states that these mother goddesses are eight in mother and includes among them the goddess Yogeswari, the Purana further says that these matrikas represent eight mental qualities, which are morally bad,
• Yogesvari represents Kama or desire;
• Maheswari, Krodha or anger
• Vaishnavi lobha or covetousness
• Brahmani, mada or pride,
• Kaumari moha or illusion
• Indrani, matsanya or faultfinding
• Chamunda pasunya or tale bearing
The Mahabharata narrates in different chapters the birth of warrior-god Skanda (the son of Shiva and Parvati) and his association with the Matrikas – his adopted mothers. In one version, Indra (king of demi-gods) sends the goddesses called "mothers of the world" to kill him. However, upon seeing Skanda, instead they follow their maternal instincts and raise him.
Another account mentions the Matrikas, a group of the wives of six of the Saptarishis (7 great sages), who were accused of being Skanda's real mothers and thus abandoned by their husbands. They request Skanda to adopt them as his mothers. Skanda agrees and grants them two boons: to be worshipped as great goddesses and permission to torment children til they are younger than 16 years and then act as their protectors. These six goddesses as well as the Saptamatrikas are identified or associated with Vedic Krittikas, the constellation Pleiades.
Interesting facts about Saptamatrikas
The earliest sculpted forms of Mother Goddesses date back to third century B.C The matrikas are idolized as caring and protective mothers by the sculptures as against their frightening and ferocious depiction in the scriptures.
In some places the goddesses are each provided with a child each, which is placed either on the lap or is made to stand by the side.
Harshananda, S. (1982). Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math.
Meghali Goswami, D. I. (2005). Sapta Matrikas in Indian Art and their significance in Indian Sculptura and Ethos: A Critical Study. Anistoriton , 9.