"Threatening Beauty and Demonic Seduction: Unveiling Hārītī’s Sexuality"

Simona Lazzerini
cover of Nan Nu

The former child-eating demoness Hārītī is well-known throughout the Buddhist world as a fertility goddess, healer, and protector. However, two eighth-century Chinese esoteric texts, the Da yaochanü Huanximu bing Aizi chengjiufa (Sādhana of the great yakṣiṇī Mother Joy and Priyaṇkara) and the Helidimu zhenyan jing (Sūtra of the mantra of Mother Hārītī), shed light on a more obscure Hārītī, marked by her sexuality and romantic past. This article argues that Hārītī may be understood as a seductress, a potentially sensual deity who remains loyal to her husband but, at the same time, demonstrates the ability to displace her sexuality. More specifically, the article proposes that Hārītī should be recognized as a chaste seductress on two levels: through her relationship with her husband, and through her interaction with those who practice esoteric rituals. Furthermore, Hārītī’s threatening sexuality went beyond Buddhist texts and entered the world of Chinese literature: Song dynasty supernatural tales and Ming era fictional works reveal a less orthodox and more daring way in which the goddess is able to employ her sexuality.