History of Kundalini

How man discovered Kundalini

Right from the beginning of creation, man witnessed many transcendental happenings. Sometimes he was able to read the thoughts of others, he witnessed somebody else’s predictions coming true, or he may even have seen his own dreams manifesting into realities. He pondered over the fact that some people could write inspiring poems of compose beautiful music whereas others couldn’t; one person could fight on the battlefield for days together and another person couldn’t even get up from his bed. So he wanted to discover why everybody seemed to be different.

In the course of his investigations, man came to understand that within every individual there is a special form of energy. He saw that in some people it was dormant, in others it was evolving and in a very small minority of people, it was actually awakened. Originally, man named this energy after gods, goddesses, angels or divinities. Then he discovered prana and called it prana shakti. In tantra they called it kundalini.

What the various names for Kundalini mean

In Sanskrit, Kundal means a coil, and so kundalini has been described as ‘that which is coiled’. This is the traditional belief; but it has been incorrectly understood. The word Kundalini actually comes from the word kunda, meaning ‘a deeper place, pit or cavity’. The fire used in the ceremony of initiation is kindled in a pit called kunda. Similarly, the place where a dead body is burned is kunda. If you dig a ditch or a hole it is called kunda. Kunda refers to the concave cavity in which the brain, resembling a coiled and sleeping serpent, nestles. (If you have the opportunity of examining a dissection of the human brain you will see that it is in the form of a coil or snake curled up upon itself.) This is the true meaning of kundalini.

The word kundalini refers to the shakti or power when it is in its dormant potential state, but when it is manifesting, you can call it Devi, Kali, Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi or any other name according to the manifestation it is exhibiting before you.

In the Christian tradition, the terms ‘the Path of the Initiates’ and ‘the Stairway to Heaven’ used in the Bible, refer to kundalini’s ascent through sushumna nadi. The ascent of kundalini and ultimately, the descent of spiritual grace, are symbolized by the cross. This is why Christians make the sign of the cross at ajna, anahata and vishuddhi chakras, for ajna is the center where the ascending consciousness is transcended and anahata is where the descending grace is made manifest to the world.

Whatever happens in spiritual life, it is related to the awakening of kundalini. And the goal of every form of spiritual life, whether you call it samadhi, nirvana, moksha, communion, union, kaivalya, liberation or whatever, is in fact awakening of kundalini.

Kundalini, Kali and Durga

When kundalini has just awakened and you are not able to handle it, it is called Kali. When you can handle it and are able to use it for beneficial purposes and you become powerful on account of it, it is called Durga.

Kali is a female deity, naked, black or smoky in color, wearing a mala of 108 human skulls, representing the memories of different births. Kali’s lolling tongue of blood red color signifies the rajo guna whose circular movement gives impetus to all creative activities. By this specific gesture, she is exhorting the sadhakas to control their rajo guna. The sacrificial sword and the severed head, held by the left hand are the symbols of dissolution. Darkness and death are by no means the mere absence of light and life, rather, they are their origin. The sadhaka worships the cosmic power in its female form, for she represents the kinetic aspect, the masculine being the static which is activated only through her power.

In Hindu mythology, the awakening of Kali has been described in great detail When Kali rises in red anger, all the gods and demons are stunned and every body keeps quiet. They do not know what she is going to do. They ask Lord Shiva to pacify her, but Kali roars ferociously, throwing him down and standing on his chest with her mouth wide open, thirsty for flesh and blood. When the devas hold prayers to pacify Kali, she becomes calm and quiet.

Then there is the emergence of Durga, the higher, more refined and benign symbol of the unconscious. Durga is a beautiful goddess seated on a tiger. She has 8 hands representing the eightfold elements of man. Durga wears a mala of human heads to symbolize her wisdom and power. These heads are generally 52 in number, representing the 52 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, which are the outer manifestations of Shabda Brahma or Brahma in the form of sound. Durga is the remover of all evil consequences of life and the giver of power and peace that is released from mooladhara.

According to yoga philosophy, Kali, the first manifestation of the unconscious kundalini is a terrible power; it completely subdues the individual soul, represented by her standing on Lord Shiva.

It sometimes happens that by mental instability, some people get in contact with their unconscious body and see inauspicious, ferocious elements— ghosts, monsters, etc. When Kali, the unconscious power of man, is awakened she goes up to meet the further manifestation, being Durga, the superconscious, bestowing glory and beauty.

Symbolic representation of Kundalini

In the tantric texts, kundalini is conceived of as the primal power or energy. In terms of modern psychology, it can be called the unconscious in man. As we have just discussed, in Hindu mythology, kundalini corresponds with the concept of Kali. In the philosophy of Shaivism, the concept of kundalini is represented by the shivalingam, the oval-shaped stone or pillar with a snake coiled around it.

However, most commonly, kundalini is illustrated as a sleeping serpent coiled three and a half times. Of course there is no serpent residing in mooladhara, sahasrara or any other chakra, but the serpent has always been a symbol for efficient consciousness. In all the oldest mystic cults of the world you find the serpent, and if you have seen any pictures or images of Lord Shiva, you will have noticed serpents girdling his waist, neck and arms. Kali is also adorned with serpents and Lord Vishnu eternally reposes on a large coiled serpent.

This serpent power symbolizes the unconscious in man. In Scandinavian, European, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries and many different civilizations of the world, the concept of the serpent power is represented in monuments and ancient artifacts. This means kundalini was known to people from all parts of the world in the past.

However, we can conceive kundalini in any manner we like because actually, prana has no form or dimension, it is infinite.

In the traditional descriptions of kundaljni awakening, it is said that kundalini resides in mooladhara in the form of a coiled snake and when the snake awakens it uncoils and shoots up through sushumna (the psychic passage in the center of the spinal cord), opening the other chakras as it goes. (See Sir John Woodroffe’s The Serpent Power.)

Brahmachari Swami Vyasdev, in his book Science of the Soul, describes the awakening of kundalini in the following way:

“Sadhakas have seen the sushumna in the form of a luminous rod or pillar, a golden yellow snake, or sometimes as a shining black snake about ten inches long with blood red eyes like smouldering charcoal, the front part of the tongue vibrating and shining like lightning, ascending the spinal column.”

The meaning of the coils of the serpent is as follows: The 3 coils represent the 3 matras of Om, which relate to past, present and future; to the gunas: tamas, rajas and sattva; to the 3 states of consciousness: waking, sleeping and dreaming; and to the types of experience: subjective experience, sensual experience and absence of experience. The 1/2 coil represents the state of transcendence, where there is neither waking, sleeping nor dreaming. So, the 3 1/2 coils signify the total experience of the universe and the experience of transcendence


Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Kundalini Tantra 1984

Bihar School of Yoga

Ganga Darshan

Munger, Bihar


KRP The Brain