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Mohini – The Only Female Avatar of Lord Vishnu


Mohini is introduced in the Hindu legends of the narrative epic of Mahabharata. She appears as a form of Vishnu, who acquires the pot of Amrita from Asuras(demons) and gives it back to the devas(gods) helping them retain their immortality. She is the only female avatar of the lord Vishnu. Mohini is also known as enchantress because she is supernaturally beautiful and feminine by nature.

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Etymology of the Name

Mohini means ‘erotic magic or spell’. The name has its origin in the word ‘moha’ which means ‘delusion personified’ or to enchant, perplex or to delude. Therefore, moha is the quality of desire after which the Mohini has been named. In Sanskrit, Mohini simply means Enchantress. The name also has an implied connotation of “the essence of female beauty and allurement”.

Historical Background

She was first introduced in the Mahabharata. Mohini, who was the only female Avatar of Vishnu, became an important part of the ‘Samudra Manthan’ in which she acquires ‘Amrita’ from Asuras (demons) and gives it to the Devas to make them immortal. In original texts, Mohini is referred simply as an enchanting, female form of Vishnu. But in the later versions, Mohini is described as Maya (illusion) of Vishnu. Once the Mohini legend becomes popular, it was expanded, retold and re-written in several texts. The tales of Mohini-Vishnu gradually increased among various other religions. The similar type of Mahabharata version of the story is expanded in the Bhagwat Purana in the 10th century CE where Mohini becomes formal Avatar of Vishnu.

Relationship with Shiva

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The most famous and prominent tale of her life is her union with Shiva. The connection of Shiva with Mohini became popular everywhere. According to Bhagwat Purana, after Vishnu deceives the demons by his Maya, the female form, Shiva wanted to meet her again. Every god started praising Lord Vishnu and the beauty of Mohini. This incident overwhelmed Lord Shiva so much that he immediately visited Vishnu along with his wife Parvati. In the Bhramanda Purana, when sage Narada tells Shiva about Vishnu’s Mohini form that deluded the demons, Shiva dismisses him. Shiva, along with Parvati go to Vishnu’s home and asked him to take the form of Mohini again. Vishnu started to meditate on the Goddess, and in place of Vishnu stands the gorgeous Mohini.

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When Vishnu turned himself into a beautiful and seductive lady, Lord Shiva fell for her. Overcome by lust, Lord Shiva ran behind the gorgeous Mohini and grabbed her arms and embraced her but she escaped. During her violent coupling, Shiva’s seed fell on the ground and that led to the birth of another God known as Ayyappa.

Son of Shiva and Vishnu

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According to various texts and Puranas, Shiva and Mohini have a union which led to the birth of their son Ayyappa. He is known by different names in different parts of the country. Ayyappa is also called as Mahashasta, Sastava, Manikandan who is believed to be an incarnation of Dharma Sasta, the offspring of Shiva and Vishnu. He is generally depicted in a yoga posture, wearing a jewel around his neck, hence named as Manikandan which literally means “with a bell around the neck”.

Appearance of Mohini

According to mythologist Puttanaik, the appearance of Mohini is just a disguise to delude the demon Bhasmasura, rather than a sexual transformation. Mohini was reincarnated or transferred from Vishnu’s physical body to a beautiful ‘apsara’. Westerners may interpret the Shiva-Mohini union as homosexual, but traditional Hindus do not agree with this interpretation. Similarly, Shiva’s union cannot be considered as homosexual as it was done with Mohini (the avatar) not with Lord Vishnu himself. Mohini does not have an independent existence, she exists only as a temporary form and is transformed back into Vishnu after serving her purpose.

Temples of Devi Mohini

Mohini - Female Avatar of Lord Vishnu
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Among various temples of Mohini, there is Jagan Mohini Keshava Swami Temple of Mohini Devi in Andhra Pradesh East Godavari district of Rayali, India. There is also one of Mahasala which is located in Nevasa, Maharashtra, India. Similarly, Harikanyaka Temple is also one of the ancient Hindu temple named after Mohini which is situated near Guruvayur. Similarly, Ryali Jagan Mohini Temple is another holy temple which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

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Likewise, Mohini is still worshipped in many places today. Thus, there are many other temples named after Mohini Devi.