India, Nepal and Bangladesh are probably the only countries in the world where widespread worship of the ancient Goddess (and other female divinities) continues till date – an unbroken tradition that may be traced way back to the Indus Valley Civilization, five thousand years back.
But then we know for sure that glorification and celebration of the Goddess, i.e. of divine feminine power, does not necessarily reflect the actual status of women (and girls) in the country. If anything, the inverse is true, if the incidence of crime against women in India is anything to go by.
But then, does the celebration of the Mother Goddess give any message or any hope to women of India – at least to Hindu women? I think it does, and does so in different ways.
Ultimately, while Men have to learn to behave and let go of our archaic, chauvinist and oppressively patriarchal notions, beliefs, systems and practices, it is women who have to appropriate for themselves their equal rights. Women should not wait for men to ‘grant’ them their rights and acknowledge their agency; women need to appropriate this and grant this to their own selves.
And here I think, the fascinating narrative of the Goddess takes on contemporary psycho-social relevance.
So what does the idea of the Goddess potentially imply for women, Hindu or otherwise, of India?
Firstly, for the believer, at the metaphysical level, it could be seen as a feminine personification of a/the divine power that may be invoked and propitiated for the well-being and benefit of the female believer/worshiper.
Secondly, it could be an entirely philosophical construct, in that the Goddess is seen as a metaphor for the energy that flows through and sustains the universe, through life and death (and rebirth?); as the sustainer of the creative world and of human culture itself.
Thirdly, the Goddess could be entirely symbolic of the potential power women possess (often unrealized or partially realized) in the real world we live in; of the legitimacy, potency and beauty or women’s true strength and agency, subversive of general notions of patriarchy and male chauvinism.
In each of the three cases, the idea of the female Goddess potentially provides self-affirming inspiration or a ray of hope to women. These narratives give possibilities to women to draw strength, power, agency and character from the Goddess, or the very idea of the Goddess.
Worship of the Goddess does, in my understanding, subvert the view engendered by patriarchy that women’s power is inferior to that of men, or even dangerous.
In that sense the idea the Goddess represents, potentially supports women’s trust in their own power, will and agency. It potentially enables a woman to know and believe in her will, and most importantly, understand that her will can and has to be realized in practice – something that is otherwise denied by patriarchy.
And then, there is an equally strong message for men who worship the Goddess in equal numbers to women, with equal piety and fervor, seemingly sometimes more.
In India, as male worshipers of the Goddess, we need to shed our individual and collective hypocrisy and double standards and extend the power and agency we so gladly and spontaneously project on material images of the Goddess, to living women of the real world, i.e. in other words – acknowledge and embrace the fact that women and men are equal, with equal rights.
We need to do this in our day to day lives, in practice, not just in rhetoric.
As noted earlier, we need to learn to behave as real men, nothing more.
So much for the Goddess and so much for women and men in general, now for all my wonderful friends.
Warm greeting of the Autumn Season – ‘Sharodio Subeccha’, as we say in Bengali to all!