Bagalamukhi the Paralyzer and How Stillness Moves Us Forward
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Stillness and movement work together and can help us sense what we deeply desire, what’s gotten us stuck, or how we might want to change.
Once upon a time, there was a great cosmic storm. The world was thrown into chaos, and the storm threatened to destroy the universe. The god Vishnu, the Sustainer, did not know what to do, so he went down to his sacred pond, Haridra, to meditate. Vishnu prayed to the Great Goddess and asked for her help. She manifested as Bagalamukhi the Paralyzer, a strange crane-headed beauty that played and danced in the sacred pond. Vishnu was mesmerized by her beautiful dance, and by the time she stepped out of the water, the cosmic storm had stopped. Bagalamukhi had used the magic of stambhana, the ability to stun or still, to calm the storm, so the universe could resume its spinning.
Bagalamukhi represents the idea in Tantra that many binaries—things that appear to be polar opposites—are actually two sides of the same coin. Stillness and movement, like dark and light, beauty and ugliness, and life and death, are simply aspects of a cycle; one always eventually gives way to the other. Bagalamukhi stuns Vishnu and the storm into stillness with movement, through her playful dance. When the storm quieted, the universe could move forward again.
We all have cosmic storms in our own minds. When we are in movement, in the deep flow of a power yoga class, for example, or when we are so busy we don’t have time to sit down and eat, our internal storms subside. Sometimes we make ourselves busy because we want to freeze our own pain, swallowing stress like a drug that will keep our demons at bay. When we are in stillness, however, in savasana or when we sit down to meditate, that’s when our internal thoughts, emotions, and ideas really start to spin—sometimes out of control. We need to balance stillness and movement so that we can tolerate our internal storms and allow them to help us move forward in our lives.
In another story, a demon named Madan had gained the power of vak siddhi, the ability to make whatever he said come true. He ran his mouth all over town, wishing his enemies dead, and the gods couldn’t have that. So they petition Bagalamukhi for help. She uses her crane senses to catch him and immediately nails his tongue to the ground, stopping his speech. Just as she raises her great, Flintstones-style club to bash his head in, he looks up at her with great devotion, recognizing her as the great goddess, and asks that she spare him so he can worship her forever. She agrees. Her iconography usually includes Madan praying at her feet, his tongue eternally pinned to the ground.
Bagalamukhi enters our lives when we need to slow down and shut up. When we speed through the day telling anyone who will listen how busy we are, we don’t have time to feel our feelings. This is often when we get sick or injured, as if our bodies are nailing our tongues to the ground for us. Alternatively, when we are stuck in the same routine, obsessing inside of our repeating mental storms, Bagalamukhi asks us to move our bodies, to get outside, to change something. Stillness and movement work in relationship to each other, and in balance, they can help us sense what we deeply desire, what’s gotten us stuck, or how we might want to change. Then we have the power do something about it. That’s stambhana: the galvanizing power of Bagalamukhi the Paralyzer.