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Story Of Goddess Hariti In Buddhism – Devour Children – Turned Goddess By Buddha

Hariti is one of the minor divinities in Buddhism. The name literally means one who steals. Hariti was a yakshini, an other-worldly being who used to steal and devour children. According to some legends, she was an ogress who had made a vow in her former birth to devour the children of Rajagriha and thus was born as a yakshi. Though yakshinis were usually fierce ad full of spite and vengeance, addicted to man-and-beast killing, some of them got kinder and humane under the moralizing influence of Buddha.

Originally, Hariti was a Magadhan tutelary Goddess who resided at Rajagriha with her spouse Pancika, a general of yaksha army, variously known as Kubera, Jambhala, Dhanada and Vaishravana.

She began destroying the children of Rajagriha by smallpox and so earned the name of Hariti, by which she is also known in Buddhism. Metaphorically, she is said to devour children as an ogress, in which form Buddha encountered her.

Buddha adopted the tactic of hiding her last-born child, Pingala, who had been a human being in a previous birth but was born now as a yaksha as a penalty. When she lost her own child, she realized the pain she had been causing others and converted to Buddhism. But as she could not seek her accustomed food anymore, Buddha promised that she would receive regular offerings from pious Buddhists as a patroness of children and fertility. In later literature, therefore, Hariti is considered the Goddess of smallpox, Goddess of fertility, patroness of children, and mother of demons.

Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim belonging to the 7th century CE, also refers to her as the mother of yakshas whom people prayed to for an offspring. Hiuen Tsang and I-Tsing refer to her cult and worship in Gandhara, and a stupa was erected in her honor by Ashoka. She was given offerings of food in every monastery and in return she was supposed to provide offspring to barren women.

A great number of sculptures of Hariti and Hariti and Pancika have been found from numerous sites in India and elsewhere. The theme was particularly popular in Gandhara art. Hariti in particular is depicted with a child on her lap or with children on her shoulders. She has a diadem-like coiffure and holds grapes and a wine-cup. Pancika is often shown as holding a lance. Numerous sculptures of this and other types are displayed in several museums in India and abroad.

In the rock-cut Mahayana Buddhist monuments in western India, such as Ajanta, Aurangabad and Ellora, there are several panels of Hariti and Pancika in special sub-shrines or at strategic places such as in pillared porch-chambers.

In Nepal, at Swayambhunatha stupa shrine, Hariti is worshipped even today. In China and Japan also her sect is popular, while in Tibet she is worshipped as Vasundhara. In a temple at Candi Mendut near Borobudur in Indonesia, Hariti and Pancika are shown surrounded by children.

Hariti has some resemblance to Mother Goddesses of Iran, Syria and Egypt, such as Ariadne in the Dionysiac myth. Hariti and Iranian Ardoksho both hold a cornucopia, symbol of abundance.