Pages: 252 (Color Illus: 33, B & W Illus: 171, Figures: 18, Map: 1)
A simple circular enclosure with no roof and no hidden sanctum sanctorum, standing open to the sky and permitting the sunlight to pour into its exposed arena, is an unusual phenomenon for an Indian temple. Within the enclosure and placed in niches in its circular walls are a series of female images, generally sixty-four in number, with beautiful bodies but often with non-human heads. These shrines are referred to as Chaunsat (64) Yogini temple; the cult that gave rise to them has remained a mystery and total ignorance surrounds their character and construction. Intrigued by the curious nature of these temples and their enigmatic images, I embarked on a study of the Yoginis and their shrines, hoping to uncover the secrets of this mysterious cult.
Remains of this remarkable variety of temple are scattered over the northern part of India and with a few exceptions, they are located in sites remote and difficult of access. Most of the Yogini temples were reported by Cunningham in his exploratory tours of the late 19th century, but few have been explored since. My travels into the les frequented parts of central India where robber-gangs known as dacoits are still active, led to interesting encounters. At Dudahi (which has a Yogini temple) the villagers barricaded themselves in their huts fully convinced that I was the local dacoit queen, Hasina; while at the Yogini site of Naresar, I discovered that following a successful kidnapping, the temples were frequently used by the dacoits as a safe and unknown shelter.
One reason why the Yoginis and their temples have been neglected may be due to the deep sense of fear and awe that they inspire in the average person. People generally refer to the Yoginis in hushed tones, if at all they m