Chhinnamasta's symbolism and associations
Chhinnamasta's individual cult is not widespread, but she is well known and important among Tantrikas (a type of Tantric practitioner) and is worshipped and depicted as part of the Mahavidya group in goddess temples. Temples and public worship of Chhinnamasta are rare, and her private worship by lay worshippers is probably uncommon. Within the esoteric Tantric tradition, Chhinnamasta is a significant deity. She enjoys "active worship" in eastern India and Nepal; her temples are found in Nepal as well as in the Indian states of Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. Benard remarks that she could not visit any Chhinnamasta temples in Bengal, however was "assured" that Chhinnamasta is a popular goddess in Bengal. The goddess is venerated in the Kalikula ("family of Kali") sect of Shaktism, the Goddess-centric sect of Hinduism. Her individual worship is mainly restricted to heroic Tantrikas, and those who worship her say only yogis and world renouncers have the ability to meditate on her, using her icon. The lack of worship of Chhinnamasta by lay worshippers is attributed by Kinsley to her ferocious nature and her reputation for being dangerous to approach and worship.
Chhinnamasta's nudity and headlessness symbolise her integrity and "heedlessness". Her names like Ranjaitri ("victorious in war") celebrate her as the slayer of various demons and her prowess in battle.
Chhinnamasta's nakedness and free-flowing hair denote rejection of societal stereotypes and her rebellious freedom, as well as her sensual aspect.
The triad of the goddess and the two yoginis is also philosophically cognate to the triad of patterns, "which creative energy is felt to adopt". Besides the Nadis, Chhinnamasta, Varnini and Dakini also represent the guna trinity:
- sattva (purity),
- rajas (energy), and
- tamas (ignorance).
While discussing Mahavidya as a group, Chhinnamasta is associated with rajas (in the Kamadhenu Tantra and the Maha-nirvana Tantra) or sattva (based on her lighter complexion).
While the goddess is a mature sixteen-year-old who has conquered her ego and awakened her kundalini, the attendants are described as spiritually immature twelve-year-olds who are sustained on the goddess's blood and have not become liberated from the delusion of duality.
In portrayals where the goddess's hair is tied like a matron and her attendants have free-flowing hair like young girls, the goddess is treated as a motherly figure of regal authority and power; the tied hair and headlessness represent contrasting ideas of controlled and uncontrolled nature, respectively.
Chhinnamasta's association with the navel and her red complexion can be connected to the fire element and the sun, while the lotus in her iconography signifies purity.