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KUALINĪ . The Sanskrit term kualinī is used in Hindu yogic and Tantric literature to refer to the divine female energy (śakti ) that lies dormant within every human body. Derived from kuala, a word meaning "coil," kualinī is imagined in the form of a coiled serpent who sleeps at the base of the spine in the lowest energy center of the body, called the mūlādhāra cakra. Through specialized techniques of meditation, physical postures, and breath control, kualinī can be aroused and raised through the body to unite with the divine male principle (personified as Lord Śiva) that resides at the top of the head. Although kualinī is used primarily in Hindu yogic traditions, Buddhist Vajrayāna texts describe an analogous kind of fiery internal energy that is usually called caālī, the "outcaste woman" or, in Tibetan, gtum mo, the "inner heat."

The figure of kualinī does not appear in the early Indian yoga literature, such as Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra, but only emerges in the later Tantric and Haha Yoga texts from roughly the eighth century onwards. The earliest reference to a coiled internal energy appears to be in the Tantrasadbhāva Tantra (eighth century), which describes the serpent goddess Kualī"she who is ring-shaped"imagined as a snake lying in deep sleep. The first mention of kualinī as it is understood today seems to be in such Tantric texts as the Jayadrathayāmala (eleventh century) and Rudrayāmala Tantra (thirteenth to fourteenth century). The latter describes Kualinī as the "master" and "mother of yoga," who is "like poison" when dormant in the lower body and "like nectar" when uncoiled and raised to the top of the skull. Finally, in the later Haha Yoga literature, Kualinī is portrayed as a serpent coiled three and a half times around an internal ligam (phallus), with her hood or mouth covering its top.

However, this image of Kualinī as a coiled, slumbering serpent may well have much older roots in Indian mythology, iconography, and architecture. It appears in the mythology of the Purāas, a body of texts composed from roughly 300 ce to 1000 ce. In the Purāas, the great serpent Śea, or Ananta, floats on the cosmic ocean, serving as Lord Viu's couch; Indian temples are symbolically supported by a serpent that coils around their foundations, and images of Buddha, Viu, and Jain saints are often represented seated upon a coiled serpent, whose hood provides a protective umbrella over their heads.

In most human beings, this coiled energy lies dormant, representing the sleep of ignorance in which most beings are lost in the world of sasāra (rebirth). The aim of yogic practice is to awaken this coiled energy and direct her upward through the body, using a variety of methods, such as yogic postures, locks and bonds (bandhas, postures in which organs or parts of the body are contracted), repetition of mantra s (japa ), regulation of breath (Prāayāma ), and intense meditation (dhyāna, bhāvanā ).

Once aroused and uncoiled, Kualinī becomes a fiery energy which is then made to rise through the central channel (nāī ) of the body, the suumā nāī. As she ascends, she successively pierces a series of vital energy centers (cakras ), awakening the various powers associated with each one, until she reaches the top of the head. Here, Kualinīas the divine female energy or śakti is united with the divine male principle, Lord Śiva, who dwells in a thousand-petalled lotus in the highest center of energy. The result of this internal union is an intense ecstatic bliss, a kind of internal orgasm, which is no less than the union of the individual self (ātman ) with the absolute reality (brahman ). The yogi who achieves this inner union is said to achieve the most supreme worldly and otherworldly benefits, including supernatural powers (siddhis ) in this life, as well as the ultimate goal of spiritual liberation (moka ). In some Tantric traditions, kualini may also be awakened using techniques of ritual sexual intercourse (maithuna ). Here, the union of male and female partners in orgasm serves as the physical embodiment of the wedding of the divine male and female principles in ecstatic union within the individual self.

The awakening of Kualinī is not, however, without certain dangers. Indeed, Kualinī is also described as a tigress who can drain a man of his vital energy and semen. If not properly controlled, she can cause all manner of physical and psychological disturbances. One of the more striking cases is the account of a modern Indian author, Gopi Krishna, who accidentally awakened the serpent power, which then proceeded to rise not through the central suumā channel but through one of the side nāīs. After a period of intense physical distress and near insanity, Krishna sought the advice of a guru who helped him return Kualinī to her seat in the mūlādhāra cakra and then raise to raise her through the proper, central nāī.

Today, the practice of Kualinī yoga is found widely throughout South Asia in many non-Tantric and even non-Hindu traditions, including some forms of Sufism and Sikhism. Since the 1964 publication of Arthur Avalon's The Serpent Power, moreover, Kualinī has also made her way to the West, and has now been popularized in various forms of occult, New Age, and alternative spirituality throughout Europe and the United States.

See Also

Cakras; Jīvanmukti.


For good historical discussions of Kualinī and her symbolism, see David Gordon White, The Kiss of the Yoginī: "Tantric Sex" and Its South Asian Contexts (Chicago, 2003) and The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (Chicago, 1996). A good discussion of kualinī, mainly in the Kashmir Śaivite tradition, is Lilian Silburn, Kualinī: Energy of the Depths (Abany, N.Y., 1988). The earliest and most famous work on kualinī in English was Arthur Avalon's translation, The Serpent Power, Being the at-cakra-nirūpaa and Pādukā-pañcaka (Madras, 1964). Other important sources include The Hahayogapradīpikā of Swāmi Svātmārāma with the commentary Jyotsnāof Brahmānanda, translated by Srinivasa Iyangar (Madras, 1972) and the Yoga Upanishads, edited by A. Mahadeva Sastri (Adyar, 1968). A fascinating modern account of kualinī by an Indian practitioner is Gopi Krishna, Living with Kundalini: The Autobiography of Gopi Krishna (Boston, 1993).

Hugh B. Urban (2005)