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.

Mohini is the only female avatar of Lord Vishnu. She is also known as an enchantress because she is supernaturally beautiful and feminine by nature.

Etymology of the Name

Mohini means ‘erotic magic or spell’. The name has its origin in the word ‘moha,’ which means ‘delusion personified’ or enchant, perplex, or 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, the only female Avatar of Vishnu, became an important part of the ‘Samudra Manthan.’ She acquires ‘Amrita’ from Asuras (demons) and gives the Devas to make them immortal.

In original texts, Mohini is referred to 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 became popular, it was expanded, retold, and re-written in several texts. The tales of Mohini-Vishnu gradually increased among various other religions.

A similar Mahabharata version of the story is expanded in the Bhagwat Purana in the 10th century CE, where Mohini becomes the formal Avatar of Vishnu.

Relationship with Shiva

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 Bhagavata Purana, after Vishnu deceives the Asuras by his Maya, the female form, Shiva wants 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, goes to Vishnu’s home and asks him to retake Mohini’s form. Vishnu started to meditate on the Goddess, and in place of Vishnu stands the gorgeous Mohini.

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

Son of Shiva and Vishnu

According to various texts and Puranas, Shiva and Mohini have a union that led to the birth of their son Ayyappa. He is known by different names in different parts of the country. Ayyappa is also called Mahashasta, Sastava, Manikandan who is believed to be an incarnation of Dharma Sasta, the offspring of Shiva and Vishnu.

Lord Ayyappa is generally depicted in a yoga posture, wearing a jewel around his neck, hence named Manikandan, which 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 Asura named Bhasmasura rather than a sexual transformation. Mohini was reincarnated or transferred from Vishnu’s physical body to a beautiful ‘apsara.’ Mohini does not have an independent existence; she exists only as a temporary form and is merged back into Vishnu after serving her purpose.

Temples of Devi Mohini

Among various temples of Mohini,

  • 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.
  • Harikanyaka Temple is also one of the ancient Hindu temples named after Mohini, situated near Guruvayur.
  • Ryali Jagan Mohini Temple is another holy temple which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

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