All posts by Nilambari

Personalities: Savitri

savitri

After the great King Sagara, the time has come to study the life of yet another exquisite Royal Personality in Bharat’s great tradition. Not just men, but inspirational women too, have set an example on how to balance personal dreams and aspirations with familial and national duties.

Our next Personality in our Continuing Series is none other than the legendary Savitri.

Background

More than just a timeless, girl-saves-guy love story, Savitri & Satyavan is nidarsana katha in its highest form.

Savitri is among the five Satis of Sanatana Dharma and is held up as being a role model for pativrata. The story of Savitri and her husband Satyavan, first occurs in the Mahabharata in the Vana Parva. Her story is recited by sage Markandeya when Yudhisthira asks him if there is any woman who is as devout a wife as  Draupadi.

Princess Savitri was the daughter of the King of Madra, Asvapati, and his wife, Queen Malavi. Asvapati was a childless ruler, and as he grew older he began to feel anxious that he did not have an heir to succeed him. He thus undertook all sorts of penances and prayed to the goddess Savitri, residing in the sun, to bless him with a son to carry on his line. 18 years of hard penance earned him the goodwill of the goddess who appeared to him and told him he will be blessed with a spirited daughter. Soon, a daughter was born to him and he named her Savitri in honour of the goddess who blessed him.

Aryavarta

Savitri grew into a beautiful young woman and her beauty was so bedazzling that suitors got intimidated by her. Hence no one came forth to ask for her hand in marriage. Finally, her father told her that since no one was coming forth to marry her, she must go out and find a husband for herself. She set off on the search for a husband, and soon fell in love with Satyavan, the son of the  blind and impoverished king Dyumatsena. This ruler had been exiled from his kingdom (Salva desa) and was living as a hermit in the forest.

Savitri’s father was very displeased with her choice and wanted her to make another choice, but she refused to change her mind. Her father wished to hand over the kingdom to the groom so that his daughter would have a comfortable life. However, she refused this too and was adamant that she would stay in the forest with her husband and his parents.

But there was something even more dire than all the previous issues with the choice that she had made. Satyavan was destined to die one year from the day they got married. This was unbearable for Savitri’s father, who tried to dissuade her from going ahead with her plan. But Savitri, being the ever independent minded person said to him, “Once only one gets one’s inheritance, once only a daughter is given away and once only a father says, ‘I give her”’ These are three ‘once only’ acts. I have once chosen my husband, long-lived or short-lived, virtuous or wanting in virtue, I have chosen my husband once, and I shall not choose for the second time”. Faced with such strong resolve, Savitri’s father could only give in to his daughter’s wishes. Thus were Satyavan and Savitri married.

Savitri had not the slightest hesitation in giving up her royal robes and riches for the simple and humble attire of a hermit’s wife. She settled into her new life as wife and daughter-in-law and won the hearts and minds of all in that hermit’s abode, with her conduct. However, she never lost sight of the fact that in a year from the date of her marriage she was destined to lose her husband. She kept close watch on the count of days passing by and when there were but four days left to the date of Satyavan’s death, she undertook a fast for three days and three nights in order that her husband might be spared.

AchievementsPhoto: kidsgen

  • Saved her husband’s life
  • Restored her father-in-law’s health and wealth
  • Safeguarded her father’s future and her native kingdom’s security

On the appointed day of his death, when the day was halfway through, Savitri’s in-laws told her that she should break her fast. But Savitri refused, saying that she would eat only after sunset. Satyavan, in the meanwhile, had picked up his axe and was going out of the hermitage when Savitri came to him and told him that she would accompany him into the woods. Satyavan tried to dissuade her from accompanying him, telling her that her fast of the past three days would have tired her out. This, however, did not deter Savitri, and she followed him into the forest.

As Satyavan was working, he suddenly felt his head beginning to ache and began to sweat profusely. He felt so weak that he felt unable to stand. Savitri immediately took him in her arms and sat down, letting his head rest in her lap as he began to collapse. Yama, the god of death (and Dharma) appeared before her said that Satyavan’s life on this earth had reached an end and he was going to take his lifebreath away. So saying, he took a thumb length of Satyavan’s sookshma sareera even as his material body lay lifeless on the ground, and started proceeding southwards.

Savitri began to follow Yama and seeing her follow him, Yama asked her why she was following him. This was Savitri’s answer. She said, “I must go wherever my husband goes. It is established by the eternal ancient law that the wife should always follow her husband wherever he goes or wherever he is taken. By virtue of the austerities I have practised, and by the power of my love for my husband, as also the potency of my vow, and by your grace too, unimpeded I would go.” This was the Pativrata Dharma (one echelon of Stree Dharma) that she had been taught and what she lived by. Savitri then began to converse with Yama in her most elegant and refined manner, which gladdened the heart of Yama though he disapproved of her accompanying him. At last, her cultured and refined behaviour wore down his defences and he told her she could demand a boon of him as long as it was not the life of her husband. She demanded that her father-in-law’s eyesight be restored and that he be allowed to become “strong and shining in spirit like the sun and the fire.” That boon was granted and yet Savitri continued to walk with Yama.

After a while, seeing she had no intention of turning back, Yama inquired of her why she was still trailing him and whether she wasn’t tired. To that, the ever virtuous Savitri replied, “Why should I be tired when I am with my husband? I go wherever he goes. Besides, even a solitary meeting with the great is desirable; it never goes in vain. It is always beneficial to be in good company.” Now, Yama is not a welcome entity, normally, because he is the harbinger of death and hence grief. But Savitri living by her Dharma of seeing the goodness and greatness in everyone and stating that, made the normally bad tempered Yama feel honoured.

He asked her to name a second boon that did not involve bringing her husband back to life and she promptly asked that her father-in-law’s kingdom be restored to him. That wish was also granted and they continued on their way. In her pleasing manner, Savitri thus received additional boons; the third was that her own father should be blessed with a hundred sons, the fourth that she herself would be blessed with a hundred sons. Yama smiled, and said so be it.

As Yama began walking away, Savitri again followed him. Finally enraged, Yama asked how Savitri could continue to follow him after he had blessed her with so much. The clever Savitri then said “Oh Yama deva, you have graciously blessed me with a hundred sons, but how can I conceive them without my husband?“. Realising he had been out-witted, the Deva of Death praised this wise and devoted wife as an example for all time, and happily told her to ask for final boon (but this time he omitted his previous injunction against asking for Satyavan). She naturally asked for Yama to return her husband to life, which he did. Yamadeva  blessed Savitri and Satyavan, and disappeared.

In all the above chronology of the wishes expressed by Savitri, we see her selflessness shining through. Though her burning desire was to see her husband brought back to life, she was always aware of her duties a as a daughter-in-law and daughter to the elders that made up her family. Her concern for her in-laws and her own parents was placed before her own concerns and this alone was enough for Yama to understand the depth of her love for her  husband and her deep understanding of the values that a woman has to uphold and live by. Both women and men are expected to be unselfish under Dharma.

What is the lesson to be drawn from this story?

Satyavan_Savitri

The lesson of Savitri is that even the Gods bow before a woman who is forever protecting her husband and safeguarding his well-being. What she achieved through wisdom and prayer, other women may also do through the sword and strategem. But more than that, Savitri is a model for how husbands and wives are expected to be devoted to each other—that is the true driver of love.

We all are governed by the karmas we have accumulated over our many lifetimes and hence our destiny is pre-ordained. But, while that is the broad grand plan, how we respond to them and the dignity and unselfishness with which we conduct our lives, determines who we really are.

However, there are no short cuts or quick fixes to achieve it. Only by upholding dharma in the highest possible way and living life according to the Dharmic principles prescribed for each one of us, as daughters, women, wives, daughters-in-law, mothers and so on (in the case of women, with a similar list being there in the case of men), can we hope to overturn destiny. The greatness of Dharma lies in the fact that there is a possibility to make changes in our destiny but that it requires great will and tapasya to actually be able to accomplish it. The most meaningful lives, for both women and men (yes, I mean you too, boys..), are those that are lived for others. The selfish existence is the empty existence. Savitri stands as a shining example for all time. She was an empowered woman who charted her own course in life, but while she asserted her rights, she never forgot that rights go together with duties.

Such selfless women are rarely ever matched by men, and fewer still are the stories where the girl saves the guy. Savitri is one such heroine who commands our respect and admiration.

Legacy

SavitriVsYama

Contrary to modern debutantes, Savitri is a strong character and embodiment of Bharatiya Stree Shakti. Neither passive nor aggressive, she is assertive. She is intelligent, knows both her duties and her rights, and is not afraid to live up to the former while asserting the latter. But she does so with maryada (courtesy & propriety)—this is the true mark of culture and refinement.

Like the Great King Sagara, whether she too is Legendary or not, Savitri is an example and exemplar of Dharma. She exemplifies the very concept of ardhangini, which demonstrates that women cannot and should not be trod and trampled upon, but have 1 half of the share of responsibilities and rights in society. They are not worth only half of men like other cultures, but in fact the other half of men, and entitled to their share of respect and influence in society. Savitri personifies precisely how real strong women command respect.

vat_savitri_vrat_sms_wishes_3735098624

Savitri is an extremely wise woman from our epics who outwitted Yama himself and brought her husband Satyavan back to life through her intelligence. This was truly the ultimate girl-saves-guy love story. She is revered as a pativrata, as one of the pancha-satis and “Women worship Savitri by tying colored sacred threads to the Vata (banyan) tree as part of observance during the rainy season in many parts of India, the occasion being called Vatasavitri”. [2] This festival is to this day honoured, so that women too can hope to gain the wisdom and character of such a complete woman.

mahaSavitri

Beyond movies in languages such as Hindi and Malayalam, the English composer Gustav Holst was even inspired by the story to write an opera on it in 1916. What inspires even foreigners, Bharatiyas take for granted.  From the ancient Puranas to modern Popular culture, Savitri of Madra is one of the dazzling lights of our sanskriti, who attained eternal fame, and even gave the very name “Sati-Savitri”.

It may be a common joke in today’s jaded, pub-hub, dance club age for “liberated” girls to say “don’t be such a Sati-Savitri!“. But if Savitri means being an empowered woman who chose her own husband, saved his life, and secured the happiness of her family, in-laws, and nation, maybe we in fact should be.

References:

  1. Sarma, Bharadvaja. Vyasa’s Mahabharatam. Academic Publishers. 2008. pp. 329–336. Vana Parva
  2. SarDesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview: Boulder, Colorado. 2008

Questions of Identity

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on December 24, 2014


aadhar_idindia

Read this article to learn about another type of “identity crisis”

Hi, I’m Nilambari and I’m here to share my ideas on a few subjects from Carnatic music and Kerala to Cinema and Historical math & science . Born a Mallu but having lived variously in Andhra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, I am fairly comfortably multilingual and enjoy exploring languages (such as Telugu) and the cultural nuances transmitted through them.

While I enjoy our classical musical tradition (Nilambari is one of my favorite ragams), it must also be said that I do enjoy other forms of melodious music. However, rap or heavy metal is not my cup of tea or more correctly filter kaapi. I enjoy movies too but am a bit picky and choosy about the kind of movies I will watch. In general, I have a very high level of curiosity on most subjects which stems from a wish to understand what is at the root of the various topics that interest me. I will try and share with you my thoughts on various areas that pique my interest and hope you will enjoy the journey and be a fellow traveler.

Today I start with sharing a few thoughts on the question of identity with reference being only to the geographical territory of India. A great ancillary read for this essay is Why India Is A Nation.

Below is one of the popular links from a movie, which glorifies the legacy of our mathru bhoomi’s Sanskriti, and my own native Kerala.

Now, let’s start…

What is identity?

To me, identity is intimately connected to geography and language. I believe it is good for both to be in agreement so that the identity formed is secure right from childhood. When I say agreement, I believe that if one is a Malayalee for instance, it is good that the formative years or childhood years are spent in the geography that is the birth place of Malayalam and the resulting culture. This means that a Malayalee child is better served if s/he spends childhood in Kerala. In earlier times, that was indeed the case for the large part of the population of India. However, post independence, the need to earn a livelihood meant that many people left their land of birth to look for livelihood options elsewhere and eventually ended up making a life in their karma bhoomi and not janma bhoomi. Their children were born in the new home. The parents carried the culture and language of their janma bhoomi and hence had a secure identity. Their children however, being born in a new place did not have it easy. They spoke the language of their parents at home and followed a culture that was passed on to them from their first generation displaced parents. At the same time, the children were exposed not only to the culture of the new place, but also various other influences some of which will be discussed below.

A child born to immigrant parents learns to adapt and interact seamlessly when moving between the inherited culture and the lived culture. The negative, though, is that over time a sense of rootlessness about intrinsic identity starts creeping in. Added to this sense of confusion is the acquiring of English skills as a pre-requisite to a “good education”. The newly immigrant parents working hard to fend for themselves and their small families generally gravitate to schools offering English as the medium of instruction since they believe they are providing for a bright future for their child. They believed that “English opened doors“.

The small and nuclear family is one of the first departures from the culture of their original land. Immigrant (not extremely poor), reasonably educated parents are most often found staying as a nuclear family without the traditional Indian joint family support structure. This forms a significant break with the parent culture since the joint family is an absorbing and cushioning medium for the shocks that life deals out to people. It must be understood here that the entire family is coping with the changes that the move away from the homeland forces individuals to make.

It is inevitable that in time, the parents also adopt certain ways of the local culture into their own lifestyle thus beginning to modify the primary identity. This adoption happens either through necessity or through own volition. For instance, if a Malayalee lives in say a place like New Delhi, s/he is forced to make certain eating habit changes. For example, coconut oil is an essential ingredient in Malayalee cooking for that is the oil that is geographically abundantly available in Kerala. However, the Malayalee in Delhi would not be able to cook with coconut oil since it is not widely available and even if one can procure it, it is rather expensive and cannot be an everyday option. Thus, it becomes an adaptation out of necessity. So, a dietary change has already happened in the displaced Malayalee household.

coconut

The parents with fond nostalgia for the coconut oil of their culture adapt to the locally available oil for cooking. The children, being used to the local oil right from birth either begin to consider coconut oil as an exotic indulgence or even begin to dislike it. Thus, there is a subtle shift away from the original culture. This is highlighted as an example to say that there are multiple small shifts away from the original culture that eventually becomes a blend of various ingredients locally available in the new place adapted to the original one.

Indeed the cross fertilization makes for an interesting study and does shape the individuals of the first generation immigrants differently from the origin culture. In many ways, it exposes the children of such displaced parents to pluralism early. The child learns to navigate between different worlds and this is a precious skill that stands her/him in good stead in adult life. The flip side of course is that a certain rootlessness begins to make itself apparent in the child which can create disorientation regarding a secure identity. This rootlessness starts getting accentuated when the child begins schooling thereby getting introduced to English to add to the mother tongue and the local language exposure. Soon, the three language formula in Indian schools and the insistence on English in urban, upmarket schools starts working on the child. The thought processes start getting framed in English–another step away from the parent culture.

While the child usually does follow and speak the mother tongue at home, more often than not, reading and writing in the mother tongue is not learnt. Thus, another link to parent culture via literature in the mother tongue is lost to the child. Access to the local culture and language is also alienated as a result of the imposition of English. English literature and English discourse starts replacing original or even local culture and discourse. Slowly, the narratives favored by English speaking peers and intellectuals start to seep into the mindset and psyche of the child. The result is a growing alienation from the roots and a growing disdain for the original culture. This happens because English language discourse hardly respects the regional language’s intelligence or culture.

As the child grows and as English replaces the original tongue as a medium of expression, the child begins to inhabit a world rather divorced from the reality on the ground. Thoughts, ideas, ideologies and worldviews begin to resemble what the English narrative propagates. The result of this slow indoctrination is that the child becomes confused about his/her identity. At home, parents still live according to some of the customs remembered from older times from their land of birth. The child on the other hand picks up some amount of the old homeland narrative, but increasingly also believes in the English narrative that is shaping his/her thoughts. This rootlessness created as a result then leads to a quest for identity for a small minority. Most go through life without resolving this confusion which leads them to commit many blunders along the way. The few who address the problem start out with a directionless, general quest. However, they finally find out the reasons for their restlessness and then work towards correcting that imbalance. If they are persistent, they eventually work back towards their original roots.

However, sometimes the journey back to roots can also leave one dissatisfied because the root culture has also been exposed to the vagaries of time and has changed complexion. Those who eventually retrace their steps back to their roots then look for those elements in the root culture that can be adopted by them. In a way, the displaced seeker has a much wider angle view of his/her original culture and is able to see the distortions and changes that have happened to the original culture. A person still immersed in the original culture is more prone to accept changes without much questioning thinking that change is the only constant in life.

In conclusion, displacement from original culture has both positives and negatives. The positive is that for those who understand that they are grappling with a rootlessness, it is a rather enriching journey to get back to the roots. They have the wider exposure to be able to appreciate better their own traditions but for those who do not understand or study this restlessness that they experience, they live a life where they are continually trying to grasp at an identity that will neither be wholly theirs nor be fulfilling. It’s a privilege to be born and to spend your life in your homeland. However, if you are displaced, see it as an advantage to understand your mother culture better. Make sure you recognize your restlessness as actually the manifestation of rootlessness. Be a seeker and find your true identity. Love your motherland and the language and culture that defines it; for ultimately you are defined by it whether you like it or not.

Before I end, here is an excellent talk by Shri. Rajiv Malhotra who touches on some other aspects of identity especially among the urban youth of India who today are going through some very confusing times as a result of the shrinking of the globe and the pervasiveness of a global culture.

I Leave you with a montage that certainly defines who I am. Until we meet again…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqqPlgpNsMM

Reviving Shakti III: Raising Durgas

RaisingDurgas

The Third Part of our Shakti Series of Posts is one that is both long-needed and the need of the hour. In parts I and II, readers may recall our exegesis on the importance of restoring feminine balance and the power of Stree Dharma. Part III asserts that the need for Raising Durgas.

In this concluding installment, we will discuss the imperative of raising powerful warrior women who can contribute as citizen, guide as leader, nurture as mother, and if need be, protect as fighter.

Introduction

durgadance

Modern Indic Society and modern Indian women are at a crossroad. Traditional Society vs Modern “my choice”.

What’s more, recent controversies have rocked the nation and parliament, and have brought the story of Mahishasura Mardini to the fore. The story of Durga destroying Mahishasura is a well known one from the Siva Purana.

But she is in the news today for all the wrong reasons. She has been defiled in the most derogatory terms by students of JN University and it has taken a Durga-like form in Smriti Irani to call out the dishonor meted out to her.

In these times when Devi Durga has been so maliciously maligned, it is time we parents looked into how we should bring up our daughters. Our civilization looks upon the feminine as divine, worships it and looks upon it as that which sustains and nurtures. However, today, we live in a completely globalised world where other cultures and other worldviews easily flow into our living rooms via the television and internet. Other worldviews have not had a civilizational trajectory like ours and don’t necessarily understand ours either. As is amply evident from this infuriating article, condescension and often a dismissal and denigration of our culture is what goes for reporting about us, and now, even Indian women are not spared.

So for all you girls who stupidly think foreigners are coming to save you, think again. Yesterday they demonised old conservative men, today it is mummy jis, tomorrow, by virtue of being a different race, the one being demonised will be you. You may be able to change your passport, you may be able to change your religion, but you cannot change your race. Even if you get plastic surgery, you, like Michael Jackson, will always be reminded of who you really are. And if even this is not enough to convince you, remember, 1 day, you too will become a mummy ji or a behen ji.

In their cultures, mummy ji may be feared, but in our culture, mata is respected. They may have no regard for women of a certain age, but in our culture, the wisdom of and respect for women only increases with age. Recent attempt to malign Goddess Durga perhaps demonstrates underlying euro-abrahamic fears of strong women & the divine feminine. Rather than caving in by acceding to girls being exploited as “trophies” or “exotic erotic assistants” in the name of “my choice”/”liberation”, perhaps it’s time we revive their Shakti by Raising Durgas.

On the one hand we have the uber-conservative traditionalists who advocate pativrata and on the other we have those who advocate “my choice” debauchery. But in this dichotomy of SitaSatiSavitri vs Surpanakha, I choose none of the above. Instead, I choose Durga and it is a natural choice for me coming as I do from a state that is famous for its matrilineal traditions.

As mentioned by Neha Srivastava, to face the challenges of the coming years, the answer should not be to lock up your daughters (though common sense during riots is advisable), rather, we should be inspiring them to think like Durga. As such, Part III of our Shakti Series of Posts is to inculcate Stree Dharma by “Raising Durgas”

Raising Durgas – A Curriculum

Maa_Durga-870x1110Who is Durga? What does she represent?

Durga is Mahishasura Mardini and she represents the fierce and valorous side of feminity which is invoked only in the most extreme circumstances. In normal circumstances, she is the soft side of feminity but when Dharma is in danger, it is Durga who is invoked. Hence a woman needs to be prepared not only with the soft and nurturing side of her nature but also as the fierce side which is unleashed only with due care and under extraordinary circumstances. Durga unleashed is very potent and can consume everything.

Not all women have the same inclinations, and hence the preparation to be Durgas differ for each of them. Education is a lifelong process and does not stop once you leave the halls of a formal educational institution. It is not for nothing that it is said that life is the greatest teacher of all. However, formal education has its place and access to basic literacy is a must for ALL women. Some however want to go beyond basic literacy/primary education, and they specialise in one stream and become well-educated. A tiny fraction however love to go deeper and do super specialisation in their chosen field thus becoming highly educated. So basic literacy is a must for all girls while going beyond depends on the girl’s interest and inclination.

Formal education is only one aspect. Sanskriti as practised in homes through immersion in rituals, stories, food habits, festivals, and celebrations, embed the vitals of the civilization in a girl. Niti (lessons of life) comes from problem solving which should be promoted through exposing the girl to real life problem situations. Finally, Dharma is the bedrock of any Bharatiya and so dharma should be ingrained in the girl by helping her understand that pursuit of Artha or Kama are always in line with Dharma. She will imbibe these as she watches her immediate family living their lives. Apart from all this, and specifically to keep the fire of Shakti burning for today’s circumstances, every girl must be trained in some martial art like kickboxing or krav maga, though traditionally it would have been Kalaripayattu or karate.

I. Pregnancy

durgafire

Seemantam is a samskara that usually is conducted in the 7th month of pregnancy. It literally means parting of the hair.

It is an auspicious ritual praying for the well being of the foetus and a safe delivery for the mother. It essentially prepares a mother for her new role.

II. Infancy (birth to 1 year)

balakanda-chapter66_image002

Various samskaras are performed in infancy. Namakarana (naming ceremony), Karnavedha (ear piercing ceremony) and Annaprashna (first taste of cooked food) are some of the samskaras that are performed in the first few months after the child is born. Rather than recognise dowry for greedy bridegrooms, restore the traditional Streedhana to be given to the daughter at her wedding. Saving within means for that purpose will ensure she will be empowered as an adult, to use the money as she deems necessary.

Each of them is a milestone of the child becoming an individual separate from the mother. The child should be welcomed and an auspicious environment should be created with a positive view of the birth of a daughter, bringing music and laughter to the home.

selfiewithdaughter

III. Childhood (2-9 years)

SarasvatiShakti

Vidyarambham is a samskara which signals that the child is now ready to start education. It is usually performed around the age of three now but in earlier times, it used to be around the age of five.  Essentials such as puja, pranayama, and mantra should be taught, and she should be regaled with tales from her mother and grandmother. While this is the time for play, it is also the best time to learn and absorb, especially languages.

  • The girl should at this stage be enrolled in an educational environment where she will start interacting with peers for the first time. These are important lessons in community behaviour.
  • Various practical exercises to introduce the alphabet and the basics of maths should be started.
  • While the school imparts some lessons, sanskriti is the domain of the family. If you want your daughters to grow up dharmically inclined, then this is the time to fill their environment with dharmic symbols: exposure to classical music, classical dance, visits to temples, kirthana, flowers in hair, bangles, anklets, traditional dresses, stories from the Panchatantra, Ramayana and Mahabharata, stories of veerata (valour) both from women and men and so on. Slightly older children should be introduced to Amar Chitra Katha. There is no better source for stories from our puranas and itihasas than these. The child will be wonderstruck by the magic and drama in Uncle Pai’s comic books.
  • It is imperative that the girl picks up her mother tongue in these formative years. Conversation at home should be only in the mother tongue. Other tongues (i.e.English) will be learned at school. Foundational thinking should be in the mother tongue.

IV. Youth (10-16 yrs)

gajalakshmi

Upanayana is the formal initiation into the serious world of study. In vedic times it is believed to have been done even for women, but in later times ceased to be a practice for women. Whether this is done or not, essential values and morals should be communicated and also explained as to why they are important.

  • At this stage, focus on studies should become more pronounced. This is the time when the girl starts to decide how she would want to steer her adult life.
  • As they learn to read, write and decode the physical world around them, they should also learn to understand their own physical self and the changes it undergoes as they move from childhood to youth. Today most families have done away with the coming-of-age rituals, but in times of yore, a girl who attained puberty was feted and celebrated as passing from girlhood to womanhood attaining the ability to bring a life into being on her own. The rite was called ritu kala samskaram.
  • The girl should also pursue interests in the arts. She could take up music or dance or drama or any of the 64 traditional arts (prescribed by the sastras). This is the time to hone the skills both academically and aesthetically. It is a way to channelise the energies constructively. Talent at this time should be nurtured and given opportunities to excel.
  • Training in any one of the martial arts is a must for the present world is not such a safe place for women. Sastra should be balanced by Suhstra.
  • Of particular importance is the art of debating. If your daughter is exhibiting a flair for language, get her to understand logic and use it to hone her skills at debating. It is a big asset to have if your daughter is going to go into the public domain where she will need to be an effective communicator with conviction in her ideas. If possible introduce her to Sanskrit education which has excellent potential to helping her develop logic, wisdom and conviction and thus help her in debating.
  • As the physical changes appear in the girl, the mind also changes. Attraction towards the opposite sex is also very natural at this stage. Traditional parents advise against dating, and there are good reasons for this advice. These have to be explained tactfully to the girl by someone older to her in the family, i.e. aunt or elder sister.
  • Mother, aunt, or elder sister should also educate her (not just lecture but also examples/news items) to ensure she is worldly-wise and knows how to avoid dangerous people, and if she decides to have relationships anyway, to be wise enough to avoid being taken advantage of.
  • A girl should be taught that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and strange men may seek to ply them with flattery, attention, gifts, or wine for bad agendas.
  • Self-respect should be inculcated by teaching that true beauty is inner beauty. While it is good to look good, one should be healthy too, and external validation or magazine models should not negatively affect a girl’s self-image and sense of worth.
  • Just as there are many types of intelligence, there are many types of beauty. Because not everyone sees it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

V. Post-secondary Schooling

TriShakti

All women may not wish to go beyond secondary schooling, but for those who want to, this should be the period to consolidate the knowledge they have acquired. Women in Ancient India were not only Upadhyayinis (teacher’s wife) but also Upadhyayaa‘s (lady teachers). Irrespective of whether she becomes a traditional teacher or professor, a girl should be taught to stand on her own two feet, give sound advice, and even lead when required.  Girls must become complete women, like the three forms of Goddess.

  • They should start building the capability to expand on this knowledge and probably look to take it further with their own new insights.
  • They should learn how to dharmically generate wealth, manage it, and give charity
  • They should know how to wield power (social, political, financial) effectively and for collective and societal good.
  • As for the arts, this should be the period when the public performances should begin. For music and dance, there is the ritual called Arangetram (the first formal solo stage performance) which should be undertaken at this time. This sets the stage for the formal entry of the girl into the adult world.
  • Even if she doesn’t go to college or even vocational school, she should be taught a valuable and honourable occupational skill so she can be self-reliant.

This is also the period when girls are deciding whether they want to go for the traditional way to marriage or whether they want to go for ‘love marriage’. Better to introduce her to our stories rather than simply “ban” or disourage reading. This will captivate her imagination in positive ways. For girls who decide they want ‘love marriages’ however, here is some practical advice as well, that parents or at least elder sisters/cousins should impart.

  • It is good to broaden horizons, but also smart to avoid bad influences.
  • Understand if the men in your family tell you an area is not safe.
  • Be aware of surroundings and timings, be careful of accepting drinks, be wise about choosing friends.

VI. Single Woman

sitasvayamvara

The single woman is a phenomenon from the recent past since in earlier times girls were married at a younger age. Hence there are no clear cut samskaras defined for this group, only preparation for vivaha, if not previously done. It is the period when the woman is most often in an earning position these days and when she enjoys financial independence. It is also the time when the girl potentially leaves the parental home because she has found a job elsewhere. But increasingly, this is also the time when women can get carried away and indulge in inappropriate behaviour drunk on the intoxication that financial independence brings them. It is the time when the sanskars they have imbibed from their upbringing play a decisive role. If these are strong, the woman stays steady to her sanskriti and starts to become an actively contributing member to her rashtra and desa.

  • Pay attention to societal issues facing community, state, nation
  • Read widely (history,etc )to understand how world works,not just how we want it to
  • Give guidance to younger women, particularly those in college so they make wise and responsible decisions. Teach them to use technology carefully.
  • While it’s good to be empowered, keep family or at least sisters/female cousins in the loop about decisions. The world is not a Bollywood movie.
  • Socialise responsibly. Avoid bad company and keep good company.
  • Do not trust strangers easily, especially strange men. Test them, trust your instincts, and avoid risky situations where you don’t have friends you trust around.
  • Values and advice exist to protect us. Seek wisdom over gossip.
  • Being a patriot doesn’t mean being a jingoist, but it doesn’t mean being anti-national either. Take pride in your culture, but critique intelligently.
  • Be cosmopolitan and appreciate the world, but stay connected to your roots. No matter where you are or what your citizenship, you will be seen as Indian only. Be a good citizen, and a good Indian person. Appreciate without losing your culture.

For girls who decide they want ‘love marriages’ , here is some practical advice as well that parents or at least elder sisters/cousins should impart.

  • Learn to distinguish between men who are superficial and flattering you only to gain your acceptance. Relate to men who respect you, and care for your safety and comfort and make sure you are not drawn into vulnerable situations.
  • In this age of size zero and chemically aided beauty treatments, it is important for you to feel comfortable in your own skin. The natural look is always preferable to peroxide and is safer for you in the long run. Do not obsess about body but do not become obese or anorexic. Eat healthy and keep positive thoughts.
  • Rights come with responsibilities. The law is there to protect you, not for you to use it as a weapon for personal anger.
  • It’s all about inner beauty, moral independence, and strong character, and if you are comfortable on the inside, naturally it will show up on the outside.
  • To find a good mate, a girl must respect herself first (without ahankar). This is the path to not just finding a stylish or fashionable man, but a good man.

VII. Married Woman

IndiaTvc12821_debina-gurmeet-ramayan

Vivaha completes the cycle of samskara for the woman. The woman who is grounded in her sanskriti will be at this point a very attractive and intelligent person whether she has studied only till the secondary level or whether she has gone on to earn further accolades. From here, the married woman has to be the other half of her husband within the family and grow to become the mother that Bharatiya society venerates, fiercely protective and nurturing of all that is hers to shape. Increasingly, she is also playing the role of shaper of the rashtra’s destiny outside her home too because she is an active contributor to its economy. And in this, she becomes the Durga, the one capable of holding her own within and without the traditional home and hearth.

shiv-durga-poster-DG94_l

  • Marriage is about creating a culture. Women are the fountain of culture
  • Raising a big family is not a burden, but a societal good. Single child families might raise entitled, selfish children. Larger families of 3 or 4 teach children how to share, work together, and ensure retirement security for parents(rather than gov. security).
  • Modern education of children should be balanced by cultural education. The world is not a Bollywood movie.
  • Just because a movie says some people can be trusted with your children, doesn’t mean its true.
  • Don’t just gossip with other women, form committees to improve your community
  • Get to know your neighbours, especially if they follow your sampradaya, and take care of their children when they need you to, so they will do the same for you
  • Encouraging women to perform prayers for family well-being (like Lakshmivratha, and Durga Puja) is good. They re-emphasise respect for wife as Griha-Lakshmi
  • Understand if the men in your family tell you an area is not safe or if people are attempting to take advantage (financially, etc). Women know motives of other women. Men know motives of other men.
  • Learn to be a wise woman like Upakosa, who protected her family, outsmarted her enemies & defeated lecherous men with her wits. She was honoured by her people
  • It is always good to be prepared for a rainy day or an emergency. It’s just good common sense.

Streeya Maryada Uttama

Conclusion: Reviving Shakti

rp_parvati-devi.jpg

In our culture, we have the concept of Ardhanareeshwara, of Shiva and Shakti, of Purusha and Prakriti. These two are complementary and one is not complete without the other. Indic society is not complete without the other gender. Here we are not talking of equality. We are talking of complementarity.

I don’t want to ask for reservation of any kind as a woman. For instance, I think it is simply more beautiful to have a man vacate his seat in a bus on seeing a woman than a woman forcefully demanding it as a right or complain if he vacates. Chivalry still makes a woman feel special and helps to keep her softer feminine side alive. I believe that when a man vacates a seat of his own volition, he does so because he respects the woman and values her as a person. When you force the man to do it because of a regime of rights and reservations, it is done under duress and with some level of dissatisfaction of having been forced to do something. This in turn affects the respect one feels for the woman because inherently, one is having to forego one’s rights to accommodate another. This breeds a certain transactional value in relations which can then turn into disrespect and at its worst, abuse.

It is becoming increasingly clear that not only the media but entire governments are turning a blind eye to the subject of women’s honour. True, many men out of genuine concern for the safety of women, object to them being in the armed forces or being outside in the late evening due to realities about rape, abduction, and unit cohesion.

While there may in fact be a very good argument against inducting women into regular combat as part of mixed units, the time may be fast approaching where every day women will need to know the basics of combat. I am personally not for women taking to combat roles. Woman is the protectress of society. She should be invoked onto the physical battlefield only as a last resort. It is not because woman is not capable of fighting alongside men. Durga herself is a fierce form. And we have many examples ranging from Rudramma Devi to Jhansi ki Rani, women warriors who never flinched from fighting for their land. But a woman is not made for the warfront. She is the one who keeps society from becoming barbaric. She is the check and balance to a man’s natural aggressiveness.

MahaShakti

Our civilization of course has had very principled rules for warfare. In times of yore in Bharatvarsha, women were not called to the battlefield and not used as trophies. But other ideologies from other lands seldom have the same respect for women. A woman even today values her honour immensely and I can only imagine the devastation of a woman who might fall into enemy hands at the battlefront. War is about baser instincts and a woman is made for finer things. We don’t have to go far to know about what war can do to women. A cursory look at the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 or the tragic case of Captain Saurabh Kalia, is enough to make one’s blood go cold, and help us understand why men are so protective of women.

At the same time, if called to fight at last resort, then the Bharatiya naari has vaunted lineage of warrior women from which to take inspiration. Rani Naikidevi famously defeated Ghori at the Battle of Mt. Abu, with her son Rajkumar Mulraj in her lap. Even beyond Rani of Jhansi or Rani Rudramma Devi or Rani Durgavati, even the common women have fought beside their men. In fact, when the Turkic Khiljis invaded Maharashtra under the Seunas, these warrior women did just that. “The opposition was organised by Kanha the local administrator and consisted of soldiers provided by his friends and two noblewomen of the area with their armed retainers. According to Isami, the Marathas charged the invaders who were nearly swamped and forced to fall back but a counter-charge led by Ala-ud-din ended with the withdrawal of the Marathas after suffering heavy loss. Ala-ud-din addressed his troops and pointed out the difficulty of their undertaking because in a country whose women could fight so well, the men were bound to be formidable foes.”[5]

We need to rediscover ourselves. We need the Durgas only to intervene at the most crucial moments to restore the equilibrium between Shiva & Shakti. Our Durgas must be empowered and equipped to strike: strike with both words and weapons, sastra and suhstra. They must be trained in the art of self defense as also the art of vigorous and fearless debate. When Durga strikes, it should be to restore Dharma. And such a day is now approaching in Bharatavarsha.

Jai Bhavani!

References:

  1. http://indicportal.org/reviving-shakti-restoring-feminine/
  2. http://indicportal.org/reviving-shakti-stree-dharma/
  3. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Poona. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.
  4. http://theweek.com/articles/442947/woman-standing-indias-abused-husbands
  5. Sandhu, p.222
  6. http://hinduonline.co/Scriptures/Puranas/ShivaMahaPurana.html
  7. http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21591745-curse-mummyji
  8. Kumbhare, Arun R. Women of India: Their Status Since the Vedic Times. Ne York: iuniverse. 2009
  9. Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Principal Upanisads. London: Unwin Brothers.1968
  10. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/why-my-choice-featuring-bollywood-actor-deepika-padukone-is-not-everyones-choice/articleshow/46790471.cms
  11. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007

Reviving Shakti II: Stree Dharma

MahaShakti

Continuing our series on Reviving Shakti is Part II: Stree Dharma. Part I discussed the historical path of Indic Society and how each Civilization has its own trajectory, and Dharmic Society must chart out its own.  However, it must do so while adapting to time and place and the modernity in our midst.  We cannot turn back the clock and we must understand that society has changed, and we cannot force-fit stone tablets from another Millennium or Yuga into the present one.  Dharma must adapt to the present time.

With that in mind, having reviewed Sastra, Smriti, Itihasa, and Purana,  we present a Dharmic guidebook of Principles for Young Bharatiya Ladies to ensure society empowers them, and also educates them on being ethical citizens, equal stakeholders, and responsible co-leaders in the Revival of our Civilization.

I.Introduction

The events of the recent past have made this Post a necessity. In this 21st century, the lines between the genders are fast getting blurred. This is a welcome phenomenon to skewed traditional imbalances in societies around the world. However, it does make me wonder if all such movements eventually have as their aim, the enrichment of the future world for all. From the current discourse, it seems as if wholesome unity and complementarity of the two sexes is not the goal of such fulsome movements. The clamour for individual rights (more from the side of women), is ironically leading to fissures in society while “liberating” the individual.

When these issues are playing out as per rules and paradigms defined and presided over by the West, I thought the time has come to do a stock taking of the narrative from our own civilization. After all, our civilization has followed a different path from the rest of the world and I felt that it was worthwhile to trace gender relations and especially Stree Dharma through the ages and see if our culture offers more harmonious options regarding the relationship between the sexes than is seen today.

Down the ages, the status of women has undergone a change. This can be attributed to many developments that impacted Bharatiya civilization but the end result is that by the 20th century, the Bharatiya woman had lost the exalted status she once enjoyed. From Maitreyi who was wife of Yajnavalkya and an expert of the Vedas, much water has flowed down the river Ganga. The 20th century also saw many movements working for the emancipation of the status of the women in the West, who had never enjoyed it all through history. I believe that adopting the same narrative of emancipation that the West used for its women, to help change the condition of the Bharatiya stree, was and is still an error and inflicting huge damage to the fabric of Bharatiya society.

This video shows the current discourse that is taking firm root at least within the circle of “Idea of India elites”. It is heartening that our civilizational ethos is still not yet damaged beyond repair because the above video was not very well received as this article demonstrates. The video prescribes a stree hood which is quite removed from the sanskriti that defines and marks Bharatiyas. “My Pleasure could be your Pain“?–is this ethical living? I think not. So obviously an imported ideology and framework cannot help in helping defining the Dharma of the Stree.

Today, ideas about family as a social unit itself are changing, “The spread of liberal attitudes to love and marriage empowers individuals, especially young women, but it causes its own complications. One is the increasing fragility of the nuclear family, especially in the rich world.[1] Hence I believe it is important to revisit Dharmic ideas of yore to understand if there are lessons to be learnt and adapted for today’s scenario.

Another aspect that needs to be re-defined is the concept of power in gender relations. Today’s woman is certainly quite powerful. But with power comes great responsibility and tragically, that maturity is not being exhibited as this article is testimony. Hence, we need new paradigms and definitions of stree empowerment.

It is now time to revisit Stree Dharma as it was conceived and perceived in our civilization. But before we do so, it is important to assert that rights and responsibilities are reciprocal. In fact, what creates a society (especially an ethical and dharmic one) is reciprocal duties. So before we provide principles for women, let us first issue some demands to men. And so,  I briefly hand the palm leaf manuscript over to my colleague and co-author, Nripathi.

II.Nara Dharma to Naari

sitaram

If there is a Naari Dharma, then surely, there must be a Nara Dharma to Naari. If rights come with responsibilities, then men who seek to assert their rights must remember that they too have responsibilities under the Dharma, especially to women, their other half. Therefore, here we summarise Nara Dharma to Naari.

  • Maathru Devo Bhava
  • Streeya Maryada Uttama
  • Protect thy society. Neglect not thy wife.
  • Daughters are Music of the Home

§. Maathru Devo Bhava

Man’s relationship with Woman is not 1 dimensional, as it may be in other modern societies. In fact, in our Tradition, we view women first and foremost as mother.

It is first Maathru Devo Bhava…then Pithru Devo Bhava…then and then only Acharya Devo Bhava…and in this era, depending on his character and cultural origin, maybe, Atithi Devo Bhava. But above all a mother. Because even if she is not our mother, she is a potential one, or a mother to someone else. This is the foundation of respect for women in our society. And it has been since time immemorial.Though modesty (of demeanor and dress) are advisable for both  genders, it is mentality that matters more. If you lust and lech, no amount of modesty is enough, it is mentality that needs to to change. Also, this ensures healthier relationships with the women who will be the mother of our kids. Mother is the fountain of all good things.

It is not for nothing we say…

§. Streeya Maryada Uttama

Those of you familiar with Sanskrit and Sanskrit-enriched languages (like my own honey sweet Telugu) know that a single phrase, can mean many things. So it is with this one.

Firstly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

Honouring of women is the best path. The first lesson we are taught is Mathru Devo Bhava, and for good reason. Mother is the first guru. How can we not honour her? In our tradition, there is no lower form of life than an ungrateful student. A criminal may not be able to help his criminal tendencies, but even a thief looks after his mother. But like the Rakshasa who immediately seeks to use his boon against Mahadev, so too is the son who fails to respect and look after his mother. Showing honour to women, especially the one who gave you birth, is the best path not only for men, but for women, and for civilization itself.

Secondly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

Protecting a woman’s honour is of highest importance to man. More than his, more than his family’s, more than even his religion’s, is protecting a woman’s honour. In fact, it is the essence of all true religion. A society that fails to fight for its women’s safety, a society that seeks not to safeguard its stree, is no society at all. Dharmena heenaha pashubhih saamannaha. One without Dharma is like a beast.

In the great divide between “honour societies” and honourless societies are various questions about whether honour itself should be honoured. But whether a woman is honourable or not, the Shakti within her should be honoured through man’s good behaviour.

This means first and foremost controlling himself around her and not behaving like an animal. Man’s own civilization spouts from and depends upon his relationship and treatment of women. A man who barters his own woman’s honour or preys upon the women of others, is no real man. Whether she is his woman, someone else’s woman, or she’s her own woman, a man is not his own man if he cannot seek to protect women.

Rakshabandhan exists for a reason. Every woman who is not your wife is your sister (or mother or daughter). Safeguard her, welcome her, and above all cherish her.

Thirdly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

In the presence of women, being honourable is best. Here, Maryada means not just honour, but also propriety. Man should not simply content himself with not being a criminal.

Uddaret atmane atmanau. One should elevate one’s self. This means behaving appropriately in the presence of women. This neither means being an uxorious wimp nor a rude, crude, ruffian. It means being a man who respects others because he respects himself. For a woman to lose respect for a man is the kiss of death and a quest for cuckoldry. So man must respect himself. But, a true gentleman treats women well, not because of what it says about her, but because of what it says about him.

Finally, Streeya Maryada Uttama

For women, honourable courtesy is best.

Bhagvan Ram was known as the Maryada Purushottam not just for his propriety around women, but for his courtesy. A true gentleman of gracious mien.  Whatever “Surpanakha’s Daughters” may say, Ravana’s sister was not punished for being a wanton woman or a “liberated lady”. Lakshmana punished her for attacking Sita. Rama had been courteous to her up until that point.

Sri Rama was not only only proper in the presence of women and elders, but was also courteous and pleasant to all. It is chivalry and gentlemanliness that delights young and old or  our mother and mother of your children. It is not just good manners or due courtesy, but that rare charm of friendly decency, to high and low, man or beast. It is not over-sophistication, but cultivation, of not just manners, but personality & prudent ideals.

So yes, accept the exhortations of the Smritis and be like Ram! But also be, the Ram…of the times. Yudhisthira attempted to be the Satyaharishchandra of the Dvapara, but Draupadi paid the price via dice as she was not born in the Treta. True Dharma lies in honouring women, safeguarding women’s honour, being honourable in the presence of women, and honouring through courtesy. Streeya Maryada Uttama.

DharmaMandir

§. Protect thy Society. Neglect not thy Wife.

Do your duty as a citizen, as a leader, as a protector, and as a father, but also as a husband. Do not neglect your wife.

If protecting one’s society first means protecting one’s womenfolk, then it also means not neglecting them. If Selfishness is the Real Root of all Evil, then neglect is its CO2. There is no greater poison in a relationship than neglect. There is no worse emotional feeling than feeling alone when you’re in fact with someone.

Not being a neglectful husband is more than just asking how her day was, or taking her out once in a while, or listening to her for 15 minutes then tuning her out the rest of the day. Neglect is also emotional distance, isolation, and cold-hearted selfishness: brutishness. If you can’t think of someone before you think of yourself, then you are not doing your dharma to your marriage, and your society.

This isn’t to say women are perfect. Nilambari has described at great length how ill-treatment of men and abuse of marriage laws is a precipitous path for society. But she and others like her have stood up for men. It is time we stood by such women, and not neglect our good fortune.

§. Daughters are Music of the Home

Sons may carry on lineages. Sons may carry on names. Sons may even carry us on to the afterlife (all per the Smritis). But daughters are the music of the home.

For far too long has the place of daughters been diminished in our own eyes as a dowry burden. Researched and presented by Nilambari in the first of our Shakti Series of Posts, dowry is adharmic, stridhaan is not. Stridhaan is not a profitable asset for greedy bridegrooms, but a gift to a bride from her own family, for her own security and maintenance.  Even the Dharmasutras permit a young woman to choose her own suitor if one cannot be found by her father. If there are only greedy, money hungry would-be matches, better to let her be, and make her own choice and meet her own match.

Therefore, the birth of daughters should no longer be a financial calculation, let alone a burden. Daughters are in fact the music of the home. If we encourage young men to marry a wife to add colour to his life, then we should encourage them to welcome daughters to bring music to his home. From laughter, to singing, to dancing, to innocence, to sweetness, more than his own wife, it is his own little girl that softens a man, and his own rough edges.

At a time in the dread Kali (5117), when daughters more than sons are increasingly looking after parents, the veritable dhvani for any true garhapati is his putri and dauhitri.

Thus spake Nripathi on Nara Dharma to Stree.

III.Stree DharmaSatyabhama&Krishna

Following from where Nripathi left off. I want to say this is not a set of laws written in stone for all time. Rather, it is a guidebook for women of all ages (and an education for some spoiled brat men) on what the Dharma of the Bharatiya Stree is. In the context of Reviving Shakti, Stree Dharma is naturally not passive nor long-suffering nor meek, but powerful and empowering. Unlike the pie-in-the-sky ‘my choice’ clap trap and irresponsible individualism and selfishness of adarsh liberals, it re-establishes women as ardhanginis and saha dharmacharinis and equal stakeholders of society. As opposed to other traditions who say women are worth only half of men, we of the Dharmic Tradition and Indic Civilization say, Women are the Other Half of Men! And here is our Dharma, the Dharma of the Stree.

  1. Streeya Maryada Uttama. Oh Ladies! Propriety is best.
  2. As a young girl, be immersed in living the symbols or the external adornments of dharma ie. in dress, in stories, in going to temples, in arts and so on.
  3. Precociousness of childhood should slowly give way to sabhyata, saujanya, maryada and achara through the medium of external adornments as in 1 above at younger ages and through conscious guidance of elders as they grow older.
  4. For the teenager, awareness of the physical changes in her body and how it ties in with cultivating appropriate qualities like those described in 2 is paramount.
  5. Pursuing with passion and with aim to do the best in any field or fine arts/crafts is a must.
  6. Cultivation of the habit of helping around with household duties in preparation for her eventual role as a house manager is a must.
  7. Pursuance of academic goals with intent to be useful not just to self but to society at large is a must. Studies are good. Study of Niti is better. Study of Dharma best of all.
  8. Healthy interaction with the opposite sex with ability to lay down personal boundaries in order to be able to deal with the adult world is a must.
  9. As a young woman, having clear sight of academic goals and working towards it is a must.
  10. If working, should be able to independently take decisions in professional domain so as to maximize personal growth while not affecting family and peer dynamics.
  11. Traditional dharmic principles are not in favour of either drinking or smoking. Even today it is advisable to follow these injunctions, but if one chooses otherwise, then it should be done responsibly with consideration for health, safety and reputation.
  12. Traditionally, it is not advisable to indulge in pre-marital sex. In the age of STDs, cancers and unwanted pregnancies, it is still the best advice but if a young woman disagrees, then the same advice as given for 11 above holds good for this too.
  13. Abortion has traditionally been considered a Mahapataka, and advised against, and its still so in the modern time unless there are dire circumstances. Therefore, it is better to be safe than sorry with regard to sexual relations both without and within marriage.
  14. As a wife, the woman has to balance to the best of her abilities, duties towards her marital household while not abandoning her own parents.
  15. Conjugal relations between the husband and wife have to be mutually respectful and fully consensual. Fidelity leads to Trust. Trust leads to Friendship. Friendship leads to love.
  16. Conjugal relations when being for pleasure should not lose sight of the procreation aspect. Pursuit of Kama should be in line with Dharma.
  17. A woman is fully entitled to be protected during her pregnancy and her wishes respected with regard to where she would like to deliver her baby.
  18. As a mother, it is the prime duty of the woman to give care and comfort to the child in its growing years.
  19. A mother is responsible for transmitting the cultural values, customs, and rituals to the child through whatever means.
  20. Usually, the mother is working these days and she has to balance her work commitments along with her commitments as householder.
  21. Financial decisions and planning for the future has to be joint exercise between the husband and the wife. Saving for a rainy day should be the goal in order that those in your care do not suffer hardship.
  22. Greed is Not Good.
  23. In-laws have to be respected and consulted on decisions that impact them.
  24. Silence is Golden
  25. Age gracefully and see to it that you withdraw respectfully from your children’s lives once they become independent and start their own lives.
  26. Be the grandmother your grandchildren need and nurture them without interfering unduly. Neither smother your grandchildren nor abandon them. It is your duty to transmit while you are here, what you learnt of dharma through living your life.
  27. Beware the Arishadvargas (kama, kroda, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya). [2]
  28. Be a good global citizen by being a good local, state, and national citizen.

IV. Stree Dharma Principles & Explanation

While traditional Stree Dharma focuses on the married woman and her duties and responsibilities the most, a woman has to perforce go through other stages in life. She begins life as a little girl, grows into a teenager, then a young woman, a married woman, a wife and a grandmother. There is an Achara (conduct and custom) for all these stages which Bharatiya women unconsciously imbibe through generations of transmission.

a. Svadharma 

Nripathi was being kind to us ladies when he told men there were four different meanings for Streeya Maryada Uttama! The truth is, there is a fifth: Oh Ladies! Propriety is best!

This one guidance ensures not only that a woman makes the right and ethical decision in situations, but guilts men into behaving properly around them. This is also rooted in the purusharthas as maryada is a stepping stone to dharma, which guides, artha (wealth) & kama (love & pleasure) and leads to moksha. Wealth and love have their rules not to imprison us, but to guide us and protect us from greed, selfishness, and jealousy. Therefore, if there is one principle a lady,  young or old, takes from this, it is this. But from here, we move on specifically to the young.

The most significant stages of a woman’s lifecycle are the next two stages, that of a wife and then a mother. It is so because it is the stage when the stree has to align and adapt her svadharma with those of her husband’s and her new family’s and then go on to be the role model for her children. The below is an illustration of what I was saying about aligning svadharma as your circumstance changes.

As can be seen from the picture below, Bharatiya mothers and modern ones at that are quite capable of marrying tradition and modernity with elan i.e doing their svadharma. Surely most of them are mothers and it is important for today’s mothers to also nurture their individual talents along with caring for their family and children. Indeed, such mothers are beacons for their daughters, being achievers in the normally male dominated world of the sciences and also being wholesome and rooted mothers. These women below are certainly worthy of being worshipped for they are serving themselves and their families according to their svadharma and thereby contributing to Bharatiya society.

isro-celebrates

Lady Scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation

b. Pativratha

Gurumata Anasuya, the wife of Maharishi Atri, teaches Sita the spirit of Pativratha

Sita is upheld as an epitome of pativratata and while she is not a figure very dear to many “liberated” modern women, her story has shaped the worldview of almost all Bharatiya women. Pativratata is the defining quality of a married woman whereby she reveres a man as her lord and surrenders herself to him. The Vishnu Dharma Sutra lays out the relationship between husband and wife in quite a practical manner. It says, “...now then the duties of wives (are declared); they should perform the same vratas (observances and vows) which the husband undertakes; they should honour the mother-in-law, the father-in-law, other elders, gods, guests and keep the household utensils well arranged; they should not be extravagant in giving to others; should keep the goods well guarded; they should have no liking for magical practices (to win love) and should be devoted to auspicious conduct.“[3]

An aspect of pativratata is decision making. Issues on which the wife feels differently from the husband are sorted out through dialogue and action is taken after mutual consent. The end result could be one of three possibilities with the wife winning or the husband winning or they jointly taking an alternative route. And this does not even violate our sastras! The sastras say, Husband and wife (pati and patni) made for one complete entity, with wife mentioned specifically as one-half of the whole (ardhangini).Marriage vows to date have included the groom consulting his soon-to-be spouse in all matters involving dharma (religion and duty), artha (material matters), and kama (enjoyment of sex). [4]

On the issue of conjugal relations, it is worth noting that our sastras were extremely fair minded. Both husbands and wives were entitled to expect their spouses fulfil their conjugal duties, the punishment for the husband being double that for the wife” [5]. Sexual relations were primarily for the process of procreation but procreation with sacredness for how else can one reconcile the Kamasastra, with a biological act for procreation? The Kamasutra has very detailed procedures for the act of consummating a relationship. Prior to consummation of marriage, it is then the appropriate time for an aunt or elder sister to pass on limited knowledge from Dharmic selections of it. Sexual union, maithuna, is not considered dirty per the sastras. But dharma stipulates rules for cleanliness, before, during, and after. They apply not just to women, but also to men. Menstruation rules are known to women, but they should know that men too have similar rules for 2 days after a sexual act has been committed.[6]

Staying with conjugal relations, abortion or bruna-hatya is considered as an aparadha, indeed mahapataka (terrible sin) except in some extremely rare situations. Varahamihira in his Brihat Samhita advises that couples avoid relations during certain sacred festivals, pujas, and phases of the moon. By regulating the frequency of relations, he writes that there will be no need to resort to dreadful measures (i.e. abortion, etc) for family planning. Hence moderation, as in all things, is advised for dharmic enjoyment of conjugal relations. Arthasastra asserts that “Causing abortion was a serious crime”. [7] Ashwatthama was punished because he committed bruna hatya on Abhimanya’s unborn son Pareekshit.

However, as stated before there are some exceptional cases like this tragic one where an abortion would have saved the woman’s life. It is clear that abortion is neither ‘on demand’ nor a birth control option. It is considered as paap just as in other cultures around the world. However, if the woman engages in abortion, it should be done in a responsible manner so that the women undergoing the abortion do not have to face this.

For those advocates of free love, free sex and individual rights, here is a MUST READ article which shows how a society will collapse if it works on these principles.

Savitri is an extremely intelligent woman from our puranas who outwitted Yama (the god of death) and brought back her husband Satyavan to life through her intelligence. She is revered as a pativrata stree, as one of the pancha satis and “Women worship Savitri by tying colored sacred threads to the Vata (banyan) tree as part of observance during the rainy season in many parts of India, the occasion being called Vatasavitri” [8]

Photo: kidsgen

vat_savitri_vrat_sms_wishes_3735098624

 

Saha-dharma-charini (“one with whom dharma is conducted equally”) is probably a better role for the women of today.

Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha |

Panchakanyah smarennityam Mahapataka nashinim ||

Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari

One should forever remember the panchakanya who are the destroyers of great sins [9]

The Pativratha standard as extolled in the Dharmasastra and Purana, is indeed the highest most aspirational form on the path to moksha. But those of us who live in the modern context may require a more accessible standard. These women (the panch kanyas mentioned in the sloka above) may not be Pativrathas in the traditional sense of “complete virginity before and chastity mind/body/soul within marriage, “, but they were nevertheless great women, great stakeholders of society, and great “saha-dharma-charinis”. They shared the dharma of their husbands equally, and managed despite their own complicated circumstances. So let that Pativratha standard be there for those who pray for Rama, but for women who hope for Arjuna (given his complicated love life), this second-highest standard within Dharma exists as well, that of saha-dharmachara.

Dharma is a big tent.Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.” Even the commentaries on Dharmasastra provide for separation from or reconciliation with wives who have transgressed. Whether or not a husband chooses to forgive, ladies, remember all make mistakes on the path to Dharma. But the best course is not to consort with or ogle other men. Husband should be the object of affect. Fidelity leads to Trust. Trust leads to Friendship. Friendship leads to Love. That is the basis for a strong marriage and the Hindu Family System.

Inheritance & Finance

The daughter, according to the Hindu family system, becomes a part of her husband’s family after marriage, and inherits her husband’s or son’s property according to well laid down principles. However, dharma sastra and vyavahara (formal law digests) have tried to create some security for the unmarried daughter (and a married daughter in distress). The unmarried daughter has the right to be maintained by her father and brothers, and also the right to be married off for which the father or the brother may draw from the ancestral corpus.After the death of the father, property devolves upon the brothers, and they are under the obligation to look after the unmarried sister. They also have the pious duty to arrange her wedding.”[10, 87]

On the issue of women having the right to property, our sastras have this to say: “The purpose of giving women the right to property is to afford protection in the case of calamity’ (3.2.34)”.–meaning protection not only of women, but protection by women of their family.[10]

As such both women and men have a responsibility to think not only of their individual needs, but to think of the needs of the family/society and plan for a rainy day.

With respect to non-ancestral property, “Apastamba said that husband and wife had a joint interest in the (acquisition and disposal of) wealth.” [11]

With respect to ancestral property, “Devana, Madhava, Candesvara, and Varadaraja agree with Vijananesvara that a wife who has received her stridhana gets only half the share or proportionate share” [12] The traditional rule is that if she has received her stridhana, then she is not entitled to ancestral property.

Bharatiya economy is a feminine one because it is the women who run it. Shri. Gurumurthy explains it well in this video. He writes about Indian economy as feminine, with women as leaders of the household and key decision-makers.Even per the sastras, men may be Chief Executive Officer, but women are Chief Operating Officers. Rather than being Gandhari and covering her eyes, she should give sight when her husband lacks it.

c. Mathru Dharma

YashodaKrishna

Mathru devo bhava.

This is one role revered by our civilization. Stree as a mother is the most exalted status that a woman can enjoy. Bharatavarsha is imagined as a mother and motherhood is considered as the pinnacle or crowning glory of being a woman. Manu says, “The acharya exceeds by his greatness ten upadhyayas, the father exceeds a hundred acharyas, a mother exceeds a thousand fathers“. [13]

But for mother to be a guru or herself to be an emanation of God, she must behave like one and be a good example, not just after motherhood, but even before. Also, mother herself cannot spoil her child. While her first principle is to love the child and nurture it, the second is to teach and punish where necessary. In an era where corporal punishment is frowned upon by modernists, mothers who refuse to engage in it still have other tools to correct misbehaving children (such as refusing gifts and not rewarding bad behaviour). The consequences of a mother indiscriminately indulging the child rather than disciplining it when occasion demands lead to an irresponsible adult as can be seen from the clip below.

On the other hand, Jijabai was the example of a mother, a strong Independent woman who raised a Shivaji to become a brave and fearless patriotic warrior. Her love for him was not blind but one in which discipline was a key ingredient to help him realise his potential.

jijabaiputra

d. Kutumba Dharma

whatfamilymeans

While families in Bharatvarsha are turning more and more nuclear, strangely there is a spate of regressive and outright moronic genre of soaps playing out on tv sets across the country; the saas-bahu soaps. In a cruel twist to traditional dharma, the characters who play daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law in these myriad serials are shown to be uni-dimensional characters portraying only good or bad. Nuances are lost, and these characters have no resemblance to real life people. Yet, these mindless serials hold our women in thrall, and worsen relations not only with in-laws, but even mothers and sisters. It is a bit frightening to think that households might soon start mirroring such mindless nonsense with real life resembling reel life.

We turn to our Itihasa, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to draw inspiration. In the below clip form the Ramayana, Sita’s mother is advising her daughters and nieces who have been married to the brothers Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna on how to deal with their mothers-in-law, particularly Kaikeyi who has banished Sita to vanavas with Rama.

In reality, mature relations between parents-in-law and daughters-in-law engender that there is mutual respect between them. Decisions may not always be acceptable to all concerned but if they enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, things can be sorted out through discussion and dialogue. And where there is no middle ground possible, the son (husband of daughter-in-law) should be allowed to take a final decision which may be least trouble to all concerned. The daughter-in-law has to understand that if they are in-laws to her, they are parents to her husband and that he also has his dharma to uphold. The Mahabharat has a scene (see below) which shows Kunti clearing telling Draupadi that she will step back and let the daughter-in-law take primary responsibility. If such maturity was displayed then by putting Stree Dharma principles into action maybe it is a lesson for today’s bickering saas-bahus if they are there, that there is another way to go about things.


e.Samaaja dharma

Mothers are indeed people who form the citizens of tomorrow through their sons and daughters. Hence it falls on the mother to inculcate such values in her children so that they in turn become upholders of dharma.

If that is one part of the deal, the other is that when the child strays away from the path of dharma, the mother has to correct the child for the greater common good of the society even if it means punishing the child severely. For instance, in this clip from the movie Mother India.

We can see how a mother keeping aside her matriarchal affections towards her son, does not hesitate to draw the trigger on him when he behaves badly with a girl from the village. Here, the mother has discharged her samaaja dharma by sacrificing her son who had gone astray from the path of dharma, to keep the honour of the girl who he tried to violate. “She is a daughter of this village”. Here we see here not only as a mother in a family, but a leader of a community. Dharma is not one dimensional, but must balance these different interests.

f.Rashtra/Desa dharma

rani(2)

Our tradition is filled with examples of women who were extremely well versed in political administration and many were also brave warriors & participants in society.

If we take the Satavahana dynasty of ancient Andhra desa, “Royal ladies like Naganika, Balasri played a dominant role in the affairs of the state….One of the outstanding features of the Satavahana society was the high status accorded to women. One can presume that some women occupied high positions in the administration as we come across the terms like Mahabholi, Maharathini and Mahasenapatini in the inscriptions…

The Satavahana women were fashion-conscious. In the paintings at Ajanta and sculptures of
Ellora and Amaravati we come across different hairstyles that were in vogue in those times. They were also fond of ornaments and bedecked themselves with a variety of jewels like earrings, necklaces, bangles,bracelets, and anklets. They did not have any inhibition in partaking intoxicants or participating in entertainments like Madanotsava, Ghatani
Bandhana Kaumadi Yagam where both sexes mingled freely.

In short, the Satavahana society was free and open but not permissive. The
people had developed a healthy attitude towards religion, morals, and sex” [14]

Chandra Gupta II’s reign is rightly known for the efflorescence of culture”. [15] His daughter Prabhavati Gupta ruled the Vakataka Empire of Maharashtra as regent. Yet she did not usurp the throne for her family, but did her duty on behalf of the family she married into and passed the throne on to her son.

The Portuguese traveler, Fernao Nunez, says, before: ‘[The king of Vijayanagar] has women who write all the accounts of expenses that are incurred inside the gates, and whose duty it is to write all the affairs of the kingdom and compare their books with those of the writers outside;….even the wives of the king are well-versed in music…It is said that he has judges, bailiffs and watchmen who every night guard the palace, and these are women” [16]

Then there is the story of Rudrama Devi who was the daughter of Kakatiya king Ganapati Deva. Since the king did not have sons to continue his lineage, he conducted a putrika ceremony that made his daughter the legal equivalent of a male successor. She proved herself to be an illustrious and worthy co-ruler along with her father.

Besides, there is the famous Maratha Ruling Queen of Indore, Ahilyabai Holkar, and the more modern story of Jhansi ki Rani who is held up as a symbol of valour and an icon of the First War of independence in 1857.

Hence dharma is replete with examples of brave and valorous women who took rashtra and desa dharma to be part of their stree dharma. Today’s woman also has a duty towards her state and country, and must remember this as a single woman or a married mother. There is also plenty of stree shakti in Bharatvarsha’s armed forces. Besides, there are many women in positions of power and responsibility in politics, economics, environment etc., who have the potential to be game changers in the growth story of this sacred bhoomi.

g. Bhoomi dharma

Satyabhama

Be a good global citizen by being a good local citizen. Be a custodian of the environment in your own land and own patch of land, and the world will benefit.

In the rural milieu, land has always been considered as sacred and tilling the land for sustenance and not exploitation has been a way of life for the Bharatiya farmer. This means that everything associated with that land, be it people, be it the animals, be it the crops themselves are considered as sacred. This safeguards against the tendency to exploit the land and its resources indiscriminately. The rural family believes that even its livestock is part of its sampatti and usually it is the woman who  nurtures and cares for this sampatti.

Therefore, there is a Bhoomi Dharma too, to honour the Earth and living harmony with it rather than taking more than we need for fashion or fashionability. Decisions we make as consumers affect more than just us, and therefore, must be made responsibly. Woman feeding healthy organic  food to her family especially her children, ensures healthy individuals are being nurtured to become responsible and contributing citizens of this country. This also promotes human civilization and agriculture that is in harmony with the land. By valuing nature and Mother Earth (Bhoomi Devi) at the local level, we become better global citizens in the process.

BhoomiDevi
V. Teaching Stree Dharma 

After going through all the texts and reflecting and debating, it all comes down to what is practically possible and feasible in today’s context. Our smritis are not written in stone and are meant to be adapted for the times. Thus Stree Dharma is a constantly evolving concept rooted however to its tradition. So, even if we change something today, it is an organic evolution of a principle that was previously there in our texts.

Women are the culture carriers of a civilization. Hence what Dharma a mother, an aunt, a grandmother follows will be transmitted to the child of the next generation. This transmission should be both overt and subtle; overt via visible symbols, rituals, stories etc, and subtle via how the elder women conduct themselves in various situations.

This is the only way dharma has survived thus far and how it will in future too. So, the onus is on you, the woman reader, to take the lead. Prepare well the dharmic women of tomorrow.

VI.Conclusion

rp_Dharmachakra-300x300.png

Today, Bharatavarsha stands at the crossroads. In fact there are two Bharats today. One, the rural Bharat where the woman works as hard as the man but that is just in keeping with her dharma of providing for the home and hearth. She tills the land, cooks, looks after the children and her husband and is the general manager of the family. There is the urban Bharat where the woman fills two roles. One as the general manager of the family and the second as a career woman in whatever role at her workplace. Thus her loyalties are divided between her personal and professional spheres. And it is among these women that Stree Dharma has its confusions and complexities. It is here that sometimes the woman is unable to prioritize and understand her roles and responsibilities.

While it is not possible to turn the clock back and go back to archaic ways of thinking about what constitutes Stree Dharma, it may well be that when in doubt, the modern working woman, should go over the practical dharma prescribed for a woman of today (drawn from the traditional dharma itself) and decide whether following any of those will give her the peace and harmony that she is entitled to in her life. I think most women do that unconsciously and without much reflection. This has been the reason for the reasonable stable nature of Bharatiya families.But such compromises do not come easy and without the reflection, they can be cause for dissatisfaction with personal life.

However, if the woman stops to reflect and understand her traditional roles and responsibilities and then make the compromises in a conscious fashion if she chooses to, she will be more comfortable with her decisions and in turn will transmit this harmony to her family. For, there is no doubt that it is the stree who is the glue of the family and therefore the society and finally the country. If she is at peace with her decision, peace is ensured for all the remaining.

Therefore, O Bharatiya naari, arise, awake, revisit your traditional roles, adapt them and make them practical for today, understand them and make your decisions after due reflection. It will really define Stree Dharma for you, and your coming generations. What values we imbibe is what we transmit. And what we transmit is what will be carried forward by our daughters. And our daughters will define the Bharat Varsha of tomorrow.

bharatmatacharan

References:

  1. http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21688585-love-and-marriage-have-become-more-individualised-smaller-smarter-families?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/smallersmarterfamilies
  2. see “7 should defeat the 6)http://indicportal.org/reprint-post-prema-is-not-moha/
  3. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Vol.2.P.1. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.p. 564
  4. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008
  5. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992
  6. Same as 5 above
  7. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992. p. 68
  8. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 110
  9. Apte, Vaman S. The Student’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary (2 ed.). MLBD. 1970.p. 73
  10. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992. p. 66
  11. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007 p. 70
  12. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007 p. 73
  13. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Poona. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.p. 580
  14. Rao, P.R., History And Culture Of Andhra Pradesh, Sterling. Delhi.1994.p.18 Satavahana Dynasty Of Amaravati
  15. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 79
  16. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 152
  17. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/why-my-choice-featuring-bollywood-actor-deepika-padukone-is-not-everyones-choice/articleshow/46790471.cms
  18. http://m.ibnlive.com/news/india/on-womens-day-read-the-suicide-note-of-a-man-971895.html
  19. Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Principal Upanisads. London: Unwin Brothers.1968
  20. Iyer, N.C. The Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira. Delhi: Satguru.1987

 

Reviving Shakti: Restoring Feminine Balance in Indic Society

The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on February 22, 2015


Parvati Devi

Switch on the TV and with almost frightening regularity you will see an instance of horrendous rape being reported or a young girl being snuffed in the prime of her life by her husband and in-laws in what is known as dowry deaths. On local TV channels it becomes 24/7 screaming headlines until the next breaking news event occurs. It’s a case of lots of noise with expert analyses which gives the viewer no new insight nor tackles the underlying causes for it. This then is picked up by international media and “atrocities on Indian women” becomes the talking point internationally. The result is that the image of India that gets perpetuated internationally is one of a country of rapists and wife beaters/burners where women are simply not safe.

My point here is not to deny that such things take place but to state that we are no wiser at the end of each such episode on how to tackle the underlying cause for this deviousness. Instead what we have in the TV studios are assorted women’s rights activists who do not offer much more than outrage at the events and who use the opportunity to vent ire, usually at male dominance and patriarchy. The terrible fallout of all this loud “debate” is the international image of India. At this point it is important to ask if being pro-women, as activists claim to be also includes being pro-society. I ask this question because it often seems to me from the TV debates that one is exclusive of the other: that to be a truly liberated woman, one has to essentially be anti-society and a rebel. Does being a truly liberated woman mean that one is divorced from society, and if so is that really a pro-woman stance? This is a question that should be asked by women and particularly young women. I would like to show here that there is a different way to approach this issue. In Dharma lies the solution to correct the ills of society if we only take the time to rediscover it and respect its profundity. We have to revive the Shakti–the Divine Feminine– in Indic Society.

Status of the Indian Woman today

Indian society did and does have its share of ills and baggage, but the context and situations of Indian women are not the same as in the West. India is the one land where women enjoyed an exalted position in the past. India is the only culture that sees divinity in women so much so that goddesses are the custodians of the domains of wealth and knowledge. Lakshmi and Saraswathi are the goddesses in charge of the two respectively. Apart from this it is again a goddess who is said to be the Ardhangini or the other half of a divine marital couple. Goddess Parvati is the Shakti to Shiva and Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanareeswara (a complete form with one half male and the other female). However, as we should be willing enough to admit, India is now also the land where girls are killed even when they are in the womb resulting in a skewed sex ratio in many parts of the country. Women are beaten, oppressed and exploited by males especially when poverty which is widespread in this ancient land, is also accompanied by alcoholism.

Alcoholism which is a major problem both in the extremely poor sections as well as the extremely well-to-do sections of society is generally ignored by the government and powers that be; for alcohol is a major source of revenue for the State. Here is a very revealing article on the state of affairs in Tamil Nadu, but which in varying degrees can be the story right round the country. This menace can have a devastating impact on women in general. It is compounded further when the State colludes to exacerbate the problem.

If alcoholism is one kind of problem, the male gaze is another (though not unique to India). Sexual advances are regularly made by males on the streets and in public places, and generally women are too diffident to speak out against it for fear of being branded dishonorable. Generally it is assumed that it is the girl who invited the unhealthy attention, and it is her lot to bear up. Honour is very intimately tied to chastity.

Girls are discriminated against in households where there is preference for a male child, and while there is a perception that this generally not explicit, there are many subtle ways in which the discrimination plays out.

It has come to the point where the Central Government is thinking of measures to undo the imbalance. The centre has announced the scheme called Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, Educate the girl child). India’s Prime Minister Modi in a very telling address to a large gathering at the launch of the program, describes very poignantly the ills that plague Indian society today with respect to the girl child. This initiative shows that the Indian state has started responding to the skewed balance and slowly this will then drive the Indian society to change their attitude too. But what are the forces driving this positive change? Are they external and foreign or internal and indigenous?

Indian Feminism

Swami-Vivekanand-Quotes

Indeed, the trajectory of Indian feminism has been quite interesting. For all the global discourse about India being a patriarchal society, the feminist movement in India was initially spearheaded by males. In the 19th century, Indian males were the first to own up to the problems that Indian females faced and worked to abolish the system of sati, child marriage and encourage widow re-marriage to name a few. They were also the first to demand that women need to be better educated. Women joined the men only much later, and then the movement got put on hold while the nation was engulfed in the throes of nationalism. Men and women from all across the country worked shoulder to shoulder to oust the British from India.

Gandhiji brought women to the fore exhorting them to join the freedom movement, but this call was always in sync with the ethos of the Indian woman’s way of living. He made it a point to accord utmost reverence to the roles that an Indian woman played as a caring, sacrificing, giving mother, sister, wife. And probably on account of that, he inspired millions of women across the country to rise in revolt against the British.

Independent India drew up a constitution that guarantees equality to women. The constitution also gives Indian women the right to vote, and indeed she exercises her franchise most decisively at every election. This is something for which the Western woman has had to fight. It is also interesting to note that rural women go out to vote more than their urban counterparts. So do rural women understand their rights better and indeed care more about whom they ask to govern them, compared to the urban? It’s a point worth thinking about.

Post-Independence Indian Feminism

Post independence, a brand of feminism that has been championed by the West has gained ground in India. Some of the ideas are indeed good and need to be implemented fully. For example, equal wages for similar jobs among men and women is certainly a much required and indeed necessary demand of the Indian woman.  Access to education is another which unequivocally is a must for restoring the dignity and importance of the role an Indian woman plays in all spheres of human activity. While these are positive and affirmative actions in the social and economic spheres, when western feminist notions enter the familial space, it is a different ball game. I tend to think that such notions play havoc with the fabric of the familial identity in ways that could be potentially devastating for the future of the family as a unit. Worrying signs are present even as we speak, but it is still not too late to reclaim them.

India has been a family oriented society since millennia. The western idea of the primacy of the individual and her/his rights are not part of the genetic make- up of Indian society. India is a very traditional society that has rights and more importantly duties built into the family structure. Hence, the way the family unit has functioned here is vastly different from the way it has panned out elsewhere. Dharma is the bedrock of the Indian family. Dharma works on the concept of Purusharthas loosely translated as the objects of human pursuit. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are considered as the valid purusharthas for man. Briefly, Dharma is living by the rules of the universe. It means going by the primordial rhythm that makes life possible. In short, it means the “right way of living” which includes having rules, laws, and conduct in all spheres of activity and for all manner of organisms.

Artha is the pursuit of means to sustain life, or simply put, it is the pursuit of wealth or economic success. Kama is the pursuit of pleasure, physical, emotional and psychological. Moksha is the ultimate goal of all living beings. It is the liberation or release from the cycle of birth and death. It is the state when one is not different from the One. However, our shastras state that Dharma alone is the means to this Moksha and is placed above Artha and Kama. What this essentially means is that the right way alone is to be used for the pursuit of the other two. If Dharma is sidelined in the pursuit of Artha or Kama, it leads to social chaos.

I find this an extremely profound way to regulate lives. And in it, I clearly see the way for progress of society. But the Western idea, being a very seductive and attractive proposition in the short term while being ruinous in the long term, has women being drawn to it like flies. And it is slowly beginning to take its toll on the Indian family. S. Gurumurthy insightfully provides us with a lesson in what Indian society is all about. He says, “Ancient Indian literature in all Indian languages reveres parents, teachers and women as the divine in human form. But reverence, on which tradition rests, is anathema to modernity[1].

The discourse, that has its roots in the western feminist movement, has surreptitiously slipped into the small conversations, messages and jokes that get shared on social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook etc. Sample this message which came as a forward on Whatsapp. It goes like this:

“She changes her name, changes her home, leaves her family, moves in with you, builds a home with you, gets pregnant for you, pregnancy changes her body, she gets fat, almost gives up in the labour room due to the unbearable pains of child birth, even the kids she delivers bear your name. Till the day she dies everything she does, (cooking, cleaning your house, taking care of your parents [….])” and then says, “So who is really doing whom a favour? It rambles on further and then does an expansion on the word “Woman”. All good, except that when giving an explanation for the letter “n” in “Woman”, it says, “N-NICEST GIFT TO MEN FROM GOD”. The caps too are part of the message by the way.

There are many problems with such ubiquitous messages which are supposed to be uplifting for women. I will dwell on just a few, those which have been marked in bold.

Does the woman in a marriage get pregnant for her husband? I do not think any educated Indian woman will really subscribe to this. It would then mean that the coming child is an unwelcome one to at least one partner in the marriage who in this case happens to be the woman. Are urban Indian women ready to accept that? Now, let’s come to the fact of getting fat after a pregnancy. Since when did Indians start obsessing about the statuesque figure?

Empowerment through Objectification?

Yes, it is very much in vogue today. However, I see this obsession to be thin and reedy only in the women of today. I think Indian men by and far still like women to be voluptuous. I agree that it’s not healthy to be obese but this obsession with maintaining a figure dictated by western mores is something that has gained currency since the advent of satellite TV and global content, which has resulted in the import of Western notions of beauty to India. Body image is a huge problem in the West affecting many a girl’s self esteem and self worth.

choeating

Do we want to replicate this syndrome among Indian girls? Do we want our girls to start dwelling so much on that perfect figure that they turn out to be bulimics or anorexics?

Now let’s tackle the favor aspect of the marital relation. When you say “So who is really doing whom a favor”, are you not making it a case of tolerance on the part of the wife towards the husband? Is tolerance the basis of a modern urban marriage? Then it is certainly a bad commentary on the state of the institution of marriage in India. When faced with such explanations, I am sure most women and indeed some men too, forwarding such sexist messages in the garb of glorifying womanhood, will and should pause to think.

Finally, after supposedly championing the cause of the woman, the message ends with a blatantly regressive remark stating that a woman is the nicest gift to men from God. Is the woman not entitled to an existence without being a “gift” to men? Is she not someone who has an equal right to existence just as the man has? It is seriously a message which is completely confused about its content. It is peddled in the garb of liberating the woman and making her feel special and instead at the end, she is finally told that she has an existence only as a gift for man. Nothing about partnership, nothing about complementarity. And this is a message which I believe must have been forwarded countless times by women and also by some men who thought they were celebrating women.

Its not just Indian women; there are women who live in the West who have been so fully influenced by the Western narrative that they have only the most hateful things to say about India and its culture which is a rather sad thing. Sample this article where a daughter talks of the anguish and daily hell that her mother endured while she went on living the pretense of a marriage with her ever absent father. The daughter heaps abuse on Indic traditions for the plight of her mother because she feels her mother lived exactly by the rules laid down by Indic traditions and obliterated herself for family when married. She talks of how getting a divorce and giving wings to her dreams and ambitions has helped her mother become free.

This is how a self hating, inferiority complex ridden native informant trashes her mother culture without any credible knowledge of the deep and profound essence of its teachings. Many young Indian women may express indifference as they may feel Indian men are being rightfully criticized, but they should remember that they too are under the scanner…

It is rather amusing when Western media comments about Indian culture and Indian mothers as this article does, with nary an idea about what it is. The article talks about the preponderance of mother-in-law, daughter-in-law conflicts and serials in India. While I do not endorse the over the top, ludicrous caricaturing, it’s rather hypocritical of the Western media to comment on a different society when the structure of its own is in shambles. Maybe its better for them to analyze their own before they proceed to analyze others.

Ulterior Motives?

        

This assault on Indic culture was first started during the period of colonial rule in India. It has its origins in the atrocity literature which was regularly churned to highlight ills (imagined and real) which existed in Indian society by the British. A similar thing happens even today when Stanley Kurtz, an anthropologist specializing in Indian studies makes a ridiculous statement like this on Indian women and his interpretation of how they treat motherhood (hear in this 30 Second Clip) [2]:

I am sure no Indian woman would subscribe to the above view of the Western scholar. Indeed in a talk during the launch of Invading the Sacred held at Mumbai in 2007, the audience could only laugh heartily to see such absurdities being peddled in the name of Indian motherhood.

We find it very amusing but the westerner takes it in all seriousness, and this is the kind of information that gets compiled into reports which are then used to paint a horrible picture of the human rights scenario in India. Such kind of scholarship mainly emanating from the West and lately being further facilitated by Indian scholars completely out of sync with the true story of India, is serving to demonize this ancient society and certainly this does not bode well for the future of Dharma. Do we need this human rights report from outsiders? Is it even factual? And if not, isn’t it time to question whether this human rights industry seriously has any real concern for the Indian woman.

ReversingTheGaze1

The background picture of this twitter handle IndiaRapeWatch should make you wonder whether there is any real concern for the Indian woman by this supposed watchdog. The picture seems to want to state that white women are unsafe in India which is full of leering, loutish men. There is nothing whatsoever (in the visual) about the Indian woman for who it ostensibly professes concern.

Evolution of Indic Society

Given this atrocity literature industry dating back to the colonial era, perhaps this is the time to take a look at our roots and a second look at whether our own ancestral heritage can provide the inspiration to elevate Indian women to their rightful position in society. Indic society is very old. In Vedic times, women enjoyed an exalted position in the social order. “The Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures give numerous examples of women philosophers, politicians, teachers, administrators and saints[3] . There were women like Gargi, Maitreyi and Lopamudra among others who were equal to or more accomplished than their male counterparts in their knowledge of the Vedas and their grasp of philosophy. We also have the example of Ubhaya Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra who was defeated by Adi Shankara in a debate in as late as arguably the 8th century C.E. Ubhaya Mishra, a woman, was chosen to be the judge for the philosophical debate between Adi Shankara and Mandana Mishra for she was considered to be a very accomplished scholar in her own right. The beauty of the story was that Ubhaya couldn’t declare a winner until she too was rhetorically defeated by Sankara, because she was her husband’s other half.

These are only some examples of the prowess of our Dharmic women. However, like in any society, norms established for societal behavior, changed over time and certain unwanted elements crept in too. Certainly, every system goes through an evolution from birth, to youth, maturity, degradation and demise and rebirth. And so it was with Indic culture. Indeed, Bharat was a self correcting society and whenever societal structures stagnated, there would come a movement which would infuse new life into society and give birth to another movement. In India, all changes until about the 10th century C.E came from a system that was inherently grounded in Dharma be it the Jainism movement or later, the Buddhism movement. Both these systems were born from the bedrock of Vedic Dharmic culture. Hence reforms happened without the dismantling of the basic foundation of Dharma which is considered to be Sanatana or eternal.

Something happened around the 10th century C.E which would repeat over the next few hundred years. This would go on to take a toll on the Dharmic cultures that had existed side by side in this country until that point of time. Wave after wave of foreign invasions by people of non-Dharmic faiths from about the 10th century C.E. engulfed India in a tide of civilizational Total War. This was followed by colonial subjugation for a period of over 200 years. Obviously, in the course of this 1000 year continuous assault many things worked their way into the collective psyche giving rise to all sorts of societal ills. For example, the Sati system where the wife gives up her life when her husband dies, by immolating herself on his funeral pyre, became widespread. What was originally a voluntary act at first became a way to safeguard honour when the Turkic hordes came invading and began to ravage the spoils of war. Whole groups of women began to commit what was called jauhar, a mass self immolation, to escape becoming slaves of the foreigners. This later began to be considered as an obligatory act when the husband died. Thus it began to take on the colour of oppression and patriarchy, whatever its original intent.

Similar stories can be found for the practice of wearing of the ghoonghat (covering up one’s face or head when in male company. Interestingly, this practice was never followed in south India which was generally shielded from the worst impacts of the invasions). Dowry considered as such a scourge in India today is an interesting phenomenon that merits study. Veena Oldenberg, author of the book Dowry Murder, The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime says in an interview to Times Of India, “Prior to the arrival of the British In India, land was not seen as a commodity which could be bought and sold”[4]. She goes on to then say that the British made land property ownership exclusively the right of males which led to the creation of a male economy. This then made the practice of female infanticide more rampant for people who wanted a male heir to their property.

The attempt by the British to codify all social and cultural practices which were inherently flexible, into a set of legal codes which of course excluded women, made the systems frozen and hostile to women. Dowry–originally known as Stridaan–began as a local practice of honoring a bride with a property gift from her father which would only be inherited matrilineally. However, it later began to be looked at as a means to extort money by grooms who were anyway in high demand due to the administrative policies of the British. In the midst of this corrupting of the Indian society, it must be emphasized that the British were no champions of women causes. They had absolutely no qualms in treating Indian women as chattel via indentured labor.

Sikkimese Woman carrying a Brit “Gentleman”

Such practices later, began to be used as tools for oppression and exploitation of the Indian woman. The sad consequence is that the girl child has today come to be looked upon as a burden rather than an asset to a family. 20th century saw India getting independence from the British but the independence was only in name and we had as a civilization just become incapable of picking ourselves up in any meaningful way. Our mindset had become colonized and the foreign system of education that was thrust upon us (incidentally started by Macaulay for a specific reason) ensured that we remained chained to the way of thinking that the British had institutionalized over the course of their 200 year stay here.

Along with impoverishing our nation they brilliantly succeeded in impoverishing our minds too. And if we had the British then, we have the foreign funded NGO movement today which does its utmost to work on the faultlines existing in Indic society, exaggerating them even more and making divisions where none existed before. We would do well to listen very carefully to what Madhu Kishwar has to say about the workings of these NGOS in the below video. The video touches upon the aspect of how these NGOs treat the incidents of sati, dowry and the newest phenomenon under their scanner, the Khap panchayats.

So what is the Feminist Movement?

Feminism can be called as a collection of movements and ideologies that have a common goal. What is this common goal? This ostensible goal is to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal and social rights for women. It also includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

To understand the feminist movement, it is important to understand the role of Christian theology regarding the status traditionally accorded to women in the West. Linda Woodhead, a professor in the sociology of religion states that it’s the Book of Genesis that first mentions the Christian theological basis for forming a position on the roles of women. In the Book, the conclusion is that women are generally inferior to men. It also states “that the image of God shines more brightly” in men than women. All Abrahamic faiths and Christianity is no exception, have traditionally accorded a very inferior status to women. Women had no rights, social, political or economic and indeed no rights even over their own body and how they related to it.

Sin is at the heart of Abrahamic theology and hence while it is a truth claim of Christianity that all mankind is sinful, the woman is exceptionally so for it is she who initiated that first act of sin in the Garden of Eden. Eve, the biblical first woman on earth, was the one who was tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. She not only ate from the tree herself, she also made Adam do the same and hence compounded her guilt. This eating of the forbidden fruit made both of them realize they were naked which fact they weren’t aware of until that point. Thus was born sin. This then was what shaped attitudes to women in the West. So the first wave of feminism was a reaction to the general status of women in Western society and their lack of political voice. This first movement, which started in the late 19th century, brought voting rights to women.

The second wave of feminism which began in the 1960s was more about the skewed gender relations and the effects of that on economic and social equality. Second wave feminists strove to change the sexism inherent in power structures whether they be in the political, economic or social spheres and were greatly influenced by the communist ideology. There is also a third wave of feminism which co-exists with the second wave and deals with issues of sexuality which, according to them, were not addressed properly during the second wave. While second wave feminism was firmly and shrilly of the view that pornography was a form of violence against women, third wave feminists prefer to look at it as an exercise of free will.

Andrea Dworkin was a leading feminist voice and was called a radical feminist. Such feminists are of the view that patriarchy is the sole reason for all of woman’s problems. They posit that the woman is the “Other” who needs to be suppressed and marginalized by the patriarchy. Dworkin’s  astonishing views on sexual intercourse have very deeply influenced  third wave feminists who are advancing a trajectory of gender relations that has potential for immeasurable harm to the natural relations between sexes. Dworkin’s strong views made her a very controversial person and her detractors say that she peddled hate in the garb of feminism[5].

Third wave feminists are associated with the “raunch culture” as they see it as “expressions of femininity and female sexuality as a challenge to objectification”. They believe that women should be allowed to dress, act or express themselves in any manner they pleased since they are only exercising their basic freedom. Third wave feminists are also at the forefront of what is called as reclaiming abuse words like “b*tch”, “slut” and so on, associated with women and giving it an expression that they think defines the word for today.

Taking off from radical feminism, third wave feminists are advancing a position which sees heterosexuality itself as a political regime which needs to be overthrown and destroyed. Are we then to say that the day is not far off when women will wholly make do without men?

threeminusone
3 Parent Baby Minus 1 = A different 2 Parent Baby?

Given the advances in reproductive technology, it’s not an impossible scenario.

Are the romantic dreams of a woman wishing to find her right man going to be doomed?  Is this society envisioned by feminists ultimately beneficial to women or indeed men when women are viewed only in such objectified nominally “sex positive” terms? Is this what women really want?

 Has Feminism helped the Plight of the Western Woman?

After taking a brief look at the movement and its evolution, let us now look at some statistics. “Nearly 1 in 5 women in U.S Survey say they have been sexually assaulted”[6]. The fact is that women, for all the feminist movements, do not find themselves in a safe place in the West. “Approximately 2/3rd of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim”[7]. These are stats with respect to rape in the West.

Women of course have become more independent and earn on par with their male peers in the West. They are very much in control of their destinies in general but what about the institution of marriage and the concept of family? An eye opening article by Pew research points out that, “Less than half (46%) of U.S kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage”[8].  The article also says that the trend is that Americans generally seem to be delaying marriage or not reposing faith in the institution at all. It is worthwhile to go through the article for some very interesting stats. Fatherlessness is another of the fallouts of this movement. It is a growing concern in the U.K. and is often accompanied by economic disparity. “Fatherlessness is now reaping a whirlwind of destruction in U.K society[9] says Jonathan Bellamy .

Has Feminism helped the Indian Woman?

If the feminism of the West has been so liberating, why is it not borne out by facts? Worse, why is India buying into the idea? The horrific gang rape of a woman in Delhi in 2012 saw a spontaneous outpouring of emotion on the streets and there were many in the West who were indeed warmly surprised by the reaction of the Indian people. While such righteous outpouring is welcome, let’s see some stats on where India stands globally on the issue of rape. “United Nations data shows that in Sweden the rape rate is 63.5 per 100,000. In the US, it is 27.5; but as more than four-fifths of forcible rapes in the US are not reported at all (National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center Report July 2007), the effective rapes in the US will be more than 137.5 per 100,000! And what is the figure for India? Just 1.8!”[10].

The extreme left in India has what is called the Naxalite movement and this movement has abused and exploited women under the guise of women’s or worker’s rights, especially in the tribal areas where they are ostensibly there to improve the lot of the tribal woman. “Sexual exploitation of tribal women cadres in the Maoist camps have been disclosed in statements of several surrendered women CPI (Maoist) cadres of Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states. Such instances of sexual exploitation include rape, forced marriage and molestation by senior male CPI (Maoist) cadres”[11]. The draconian anti-dowry laws are instruments used by feminists to willfully extort and demonize men as Deepika Bharadwaj will testify.

Sankrant Sanu in an article said. “Violent gang-rape is indeed an aberration in our society, hence the outrage[12]. But we have to indeed analyze and understand why such heinous acts are committed for it is not there either in our millennia old texts nor has it been prevalent in our society on such a scale until recently. We have to think and reflect on whether the “increasingly sexualized mass media message” is responsible for the changing behavior patterns. Sankrant’s article argues also in favor of lower marriageable age at least for rural communities as was the practice earlier so that youngsters can be sexually active at an earlier age within the bonds of a legal relationship like marriage. While this may or may not be an acceptable solution to all, and is indeed open to debate given our shock at any suggestion so contrary to our laws, it nevertheless is one which should be explored. In a bid to correct the wrongs of a previous era, we have arbitrarily applied a one-size-fits-all kind of law without pausing to understand the ramifications of such a draconian move.

The Way forward: Reviving Shakti

Ardhanareeshvara

All this is relevant to me as a woman and as a member of Indic society. Dharma has always been context sensitive. It has never been about rigid unbendable absolutes. There is right and wrong, but it is always placed within a context and a situation. Society always occupies background space applying reasonable restrictions which helps to keep individual relations in equilibrium. Dharma is even handed and follows a middle path veering neither towards one extreme of mortification of flesh and ascetism nor towards the other extreme of selfishness and hedonism.

Therefore, measures for restoring the dignity of ideally half of India’s population should be in accordance with Dharma: context sensitive and in keeping with the times. Dharma offers the best chance for an individual and specifically for a woman to find herself fully. We have many examples of Dharmic women from history who were trailblazers for their time.

Today, an Indian woman may be educated and be part of the workforce driving the economy of the country. However, she should have the choice to also step out of it to nurture her family if she so desires. And there should be no derision attached to this choice. Often, we now hear people (especially those wanting to make a point about feminism) deriding the choice of a highly qualified woman choosing to stay at home to look after home and hearth. Education can never go in vain. It will help her guide her children to make the right choices and become responsible individuals. Such individuals then make a responsible society.

Creating a responsible society is no less a valid choice than one to pursue Artha in material terms. Kama is a valid pursuit in Dharma, but it is not a commodity to be paraded on the streets. It is to be enjoyed privately between two loving partners according to norms that are mutually comfortable without having labels of misogyny and misandry attached to it. The ultimate aim of a person’s journey according to Dharma is Moksha. Isn’t it better to aim for it in harmony with the rhythm of the cosmos than to seek it kicking and screaming and trying to bend nature’s will to yours? Would take you that many more lives if you try the second path…

Purusha and Prakriti or Shiva and Shakti: whichever way you want to look at it, one is not complete without the other. It is only the partnership and complementarity between the two that can lead to the One. And therein lies the potential of awakening Shakti in Indic society once more.

I wish to thank N.R.I Pathi for the help rendered  to bring out this article. It would simply have not been possible had I not received such generous help and guidance.

References:

[1] http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/s_gurumurthy/Modernity-has-failed-to-stop-deviance/2013/10/15/article1835599.ece

[2] Pg. 60, http://rajivmalhotra.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Invading-the-Sacred-Final.pdf

“The special relationship between the Hindu mother and her son appears here as a variation on a distinctive Hindu pattern rather than as a mere intensification of a style of intimacy found in the West . . . Nursing is not therefore, an occasion through which mother and child cement on an emotional union. The child is frequently fed, yet the mother seldom lingers to mirror the baby’s satisfaction. Thus, while the child no doubt develops a strong emotional attachment to the mother as a result of the physical gratification she provides, the mother does not respond by setting up a Western-style loving, emotional partnership.”

[3] http://indiafacts.co.in/status-women-ancient-india/

[4] http://www.ibtl.in/news/opinion/2021/how-the-british-created-the-dowry-system-in-punjab/

[5] http://reason.com/archives/2005/04/19/womans-hating

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/health/nearly-1-in-5-women-in-us-survey-report-sexual-assault.html?_r=0

[7] https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-offenders#.U5SBGMQ1AsM.twitter

[8] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/

[9] http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/life/Rioters_Are_NOT_Scum_They_Are_The_Fatherless/44210/p1/

[10] http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/article1453514.ece

[11] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Naxals-extorting-Rs-140-crore-annually-Govt/articleshow/45453398.cms

[12] http://www.rediff.com/news/column/view-is-rape-a-new-development-indicator/20121231.htm

http://beingdifferentbook.com/


Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Attukal Pongala – A Woman’s Sabarimala

pongalaFollowing up on my previous post regarding the restriction on entry of women to the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala, I think I have to follow it up with its counterpart, the Attukal Pongala (mentioned in that article) where men are simply not allowed to participate.

First, the Guinness record. Here is the link to the record. It states:

The largest annual gathering of women is achieved by 2.5 million women in an event organised by ATTUKAL BHAGAVATHY TEMPLE TRUST in Kerala, India, on 10 March 2009. Attukal Pongala festival is a tradition of Hinduism.”[i]

This was in 2009. In the edition of the festival held in 2015, the number was supposedly around 4.0 million!

I think nearly four million women have participated in the Pongala festival,” said a temple committee member.[ii]

So, what is the festival about?

The festival is a 10 day long temple gathering which happens in the Attukal Pongala temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the small state of Kerala. The onset of the summer months in Kerala is a season for temple festivals. It happens in almost every temple in every town, district, and village in Kerala and is celebration time. Depending on the resources a temple has and the antiquity of the temple (which means the antiquity of the story attached to it), the festival it has runs from 3 to 10 days. So, the older and more established temples like the Attukal Devi temple has a festival that runs for 10 days.

Life becomes slower during these days as it is the time to indulge the senses. But the dharmic worldview of indulging the senses does not mean mindless pleasure seeking. Each day, the temple will have rituals and a percussion tableau (called as the melam) with lots of cultural programmes thrown in. Since the festival revolves around the temple deity, the pleasing of the senses is achieved with the carrying out of those activities like the melam, umpteen number of pujas, dance and music programs all infused with the sense of bhakti. Attukal Pongala is no different.

However, there is one difference with the Attukal temple festival. On the 9th day of the festival, there is a congregation of women who gather to cook a particular sweet porridge called pongal out in the open. This is made as an offering to the presiding deity of the temple, Attukal Bhagavathi or Devi, the mother goddess. It is this gathering of women that has earned its place in the Guinness book of records. The pongal is made in a clay pot on a fire which is lit between three bricks out in the open. The fuel for the fire is brought by the women from their homes and it is usually dried coconut rind and fronds.

The city starts filling up well before dawn and from last year’s (2015) accounts, streets in a 10km radius were cordoned off for the cooking ritual. The temple conducts the pujas to the Devi as three men seated in a hut recite the story of Kannagi’s  life. Kannagi is believed to be a reincarnation of the Devi. The story that is recited at the temple for Pongala can be read from links below. However, there is a point in the story where Kannagi destroys the city of Madurai with fire. This point in the story is the cue for the temple priest to light the holy fire in the temple. The cooking then commences with the fire that is lit from this first one, the fire being passed down to the women one by one from the original one.

The women wait in the gathering smoke and heat until their pot boils over with its contents.

Pongal is made of rice, jaggery cooked in water and garnished with coconut. The cooked dish is then served around all the assembled people as prasadam blessed by the Devi. While cooking, the women ask the Devi for blessings for whatever it is that is on the top of their list of priorities for the year. During this entire episode, menfolk are not allowed anywhere in the vicinity unless they happen to be the temple administration officials or someone connected with the actual conduct of the rituals. Permission is needed if a man wants to enter the area and men generally keep away without complaint.

At the end of the day, the women gather all their belongings and leave the place. And last year, it is said that the women cleared up every single thing after they finished so that they left the place clean and tidy. This was a gesture in support of the Swacch Bharat campaign launched by the present Government of Bharata desam.

At this festival of the women, by the women and for the women, there are no caste barriers, no class barriers and in recent years, no religion barriers either. It is however a Hindu festival in its nature, its origin and its ethos.

attukal

Excerpts from a Foreigner’s Account of the Pongala

At the outset I must say that I usually view any foreigner’s account of our traditions with suspicion because they do not understand our culture like we do. Hence I do not like to quote such studies.

However, during my research on the festival I came across a paper/article written by a foreigner on this festival which had so many points that I would like to reproduce here. The writer of this article/paper does have many misconceptions which I do not want to elaborate on here. However, she makes some beautiful points in her paper which I would like Bharatiya women to read carefully and understand before embarking on their ‘Happy to bleed’ and confrontationist path with men.

With regard to Kerala, it must be stated that Kerala had a matrilineal system from ancient times. It is in this context that I reproduce the writer’s words [Emphasis mine].

There were several positive consequences for the status of women and children in the system. The mother was the most significant parent in every respect, and women were indispensable for the continuation of the matrilineage, which was understood to be an indivisible combination of the people, land, and ancestors. There was no prepuberty marriage, and the marriage ritual was simple, with no transfer of wealth or power as in a dowry system. Because women did not leave their homes, they and their children had no loss of power or status. Legitimacy, which was the main concern in the rest of India, was relatively unimportant. Females had high visibility, indeed were indispensable. The trauma of widowhood was avoided (Gulati, Ramalingam, and Gulati 1996, 4). A female, from the moment of her birth, was “perceived as the (potential) purveyor of prosperity, fertility, and good fortune. The female is an auspicious category” (de Tourreil 1995, 17).”

The below extract is true for all Hindu families, not especially Kerala ones, as far as I know. However, it is important to highlight it since it is a luxury the West does not have. And we never appreciate it fully enough ourselves.

Shakunthala’s daughter, Gigi, married at twenty-two, later than women in other parts of India, and returned home to her mother when she was five months pregnant with her first child. When I told her that this would be unusual in the United States, she was very concerned: “Who will give the girl and baby the massages?” In their ayurvedic system, birth is an event that holds great possibility for healing and also for poor health. They believe that with proper care, any existing condition can be cured. Before birth and for forty-one days following, the women of the family provide the mother and baby special massages and diet. Wealth as well as healing and natal care continues in the matrilineal line.

On the inclusive nature of the festivities:

“ On Pongala day, not only every street but every courtyard is filled with women. It is auspicious to live near the temple because Pongala brings prosperity. In return for this advantage, each family, including Christian and Moslem ones, invites women to cook Pongala in their courtyard. It is a blessing to be able to receive the women in the name of the Goddess Bhagavati and good luck for the occupants of the house. Every courtesy is extended to the women–both those who have been invited and those who just show up.

On what it means for this lady to be at this festival and how it is significant for her society, the Western one.

“The journalist continues, “The way it is generally perceived here is that in the West you don’t value your family. Given that background, does Pongala seem relevant? Because here too, we are changing.

I answer, trying to be truthful and trying to make a bridge:

Yes, we care about our families and what is happening to them. I think that is why women in the United States are looking at spiritual traditions and practices. Some women are looking into their own traditions, but some of us are looking to older religions, religions that have the concept of a deity as a mother. We don’t have that concept in the West; we don’t have the concept of the Divine Feminine. Many women in the West are trying to find rituals and ways to help reconstruct and revision our families and our society.

… You still massage your babies and pregnant mothers, and we have forgotten that need. You still go to the snake groves to ask for children and are content if you only have two and both are girls. Christians, Moslems, and Hindus from all communities come together to do Pongala for the Goddess, united in their wishes for healthy and happy families. When I have shown films of Pongala to women in the West, they are inspired.

… “Because here, too, we are changing”; the words of the reporter repeat in my mind. I am profoundly disturbed by the changes because they remind me of what I believe we have lost in the West and the consequences of that loss. As Hema says, “We are trying to change like you at the same time you are trying to find out about us.

On the unselfish nature of the wishes that the devotees ask of their Devi while doing the Pongala as also the spirit of sharing that this festival is infused with.

As a researcher, I have been asking women what they ask Bhagavati for. Many respond, “I asked for the health and well-being of my family.” The vegetable seller asks that her family never goes hungry. Asha asks for a job. Shreemadi asks that her granddaughter do well on her school tests. Tara asked for a good husband.

When you go to the Pongala you try to share everything there. There is nothing that belongs to you exclusively. So you don’t try to exclusively appropriate something that belongs to you and not share it with another person. If you did, then you would be immediately given a sign of it before you reach home.” “What kind of sign?” I asked. “Some small disaster that you wouldn’t forget. People don’t cheat. They don’t steal. If they would take something, then double that would be taken away. The women stay there without quarreling until they reach home.

And finally, a gesture from our menfolk that is at once simple and celebratory and at the same time reinforces my idea that most of our men still consider the feminine as divine.

“The men begin to come back. When the helicopters do not arrive to shower the departing women with flowers, the men take buckets of petals and, standing on top of the walls, do it themselves. I am astonished. This is why I come here.”

As a woman, this simple and uncomplicated celebration of womanhood is exhilarating. Which woman does not want to be showered with petals! Unrelated men just celebrating the earth that you are trodding on because you are considered divineI can’t imagine a woman not being moved by that gesture.

The full paper can be found here.

Conclusion

I have only this to conclude with. To my women counterparts I say, let us not demonize our men so much that they eventually start being the demonic beings from the foreign/media projections that are made on them. Understand the evolution of our society. It is different from the trajectory of the West. Appreciate that difference and by all means change and evolve. But do it with a civilizational lens that is compatible with ours. Don’t use the lens of the West to analyze, dissect and deconstruct our culture. It is only bound to fail.

To the men: I have to say, we are proud to be complementary beings to you. You have a culture of looking upon us as the divine. Do not lose that reverence in the noise that is generated today. It is the one thing that has kept the women of Bharata desam safer than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. At the same time, in keeping with the changed times, do your best to encourage the woman to achieve her potential in whatever it is that she may choose to do. Be the supporter, the care giver, the baby sitter when the need arises. It will only make the relationship more harmonious.


Post Script: For those whose curiosity is piqued, the festival calendar for Attukal Pongala this year is between 15 Feb and 24 Feb. The Pongala itself therefore falls on 23 Jan. Do join and celebrate the divine woman.

References:

[i] http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-annual-gathering-of-women/

[ii] http://www.dailypioneer.com/nation/millions-of-women-offer-pongala.html

[iii]http://www.cnanthropology.com/article-475-1.html

[iv] http://www.attukaldevi.com/pl/attukal-devi-history.htm

[v] http://www.attukaldevi.com/pl/story-kannagi.htm

[vi] http://attukalpongala.blogspot.in/


Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa – “Happy to Bleed”

attukal+pongala+actress
Malayali women at women only Attukal Pongala

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa – “Happy to Bleed”

Incongruous as the title might sound, that is the sense of disharmony that one feels in this holy season of the Sabarimala deity Ayyappan.

Makara Sankranthi has just gone by and bhaktas from all over India have congregated to this hill shrine in what previously were dense jungles in the Western Ghats of Kerala. But amidst the chanting of Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa (Ayyappa you are our refuge) and the overwhelming feeling of being on a different plane with the chanting of these words by the faithful, another harsh shadow looms over this temple shrine.

Far away from Kerala’s jungles and in the capital city of Bharata desa, Delhi, the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court has raised a question.

The question that the Supreme Court has asked is that the temple has to explain why it bars entry for women devotees between the ages 10-50 at the shrine. This is the outcome of a case that has been filed by some women lawyers many years back.

The Issue

Like all things Hindu, the story and the history of the temple is shrouded in some mystery. This is because Hindus do not base their belief in historical events in iron clad terms. There are no absolutes in history as long as the story is cohesive. There are many stories regarding this hill shrine all more or less having the same subtext. However, the consensus among all these narratives is that Ayyappan is a celibate god.

I am not getting into the stories about Sabarimala and a curious reader can go through the links below this article for the various versions of the history of this shrine.

Now, the reason given by the temple authorities for barring of women in the reproductive age is that since the deity is celibate, he cannot be defiled with the ‘impurity’ of menstruating women. This obviously has not impressed the court which looks at this defense as pure discrimination in an age when ‘rights’ rule the world.

Outlining the issue: Using a western lens to solve a dharmic problem and how it is inappropriate

Bharata desa faces a peculiar problem today. Her civilization is many millennia old. The length of her existence is still a matter of debate but much research today points to her being the mother of all civilizations[i]. What has shaped the worldview of this civilization then? It is the culture, language, and tradition of that part of humanity that today calls itself Hindu. Many present day traditions have an unbroken continuum with her ancient civilization. Today, the group of people practicing these traditions are called Hindus but they belong to the same stock as their ancestors who believed in the system of Sanatana Dharma. Civilizations developed in other lands (and I’d like to believe from the same common root) and gave rise to organized religion in the form of the three monotheisms seen today.

Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is completely different from the organized religions. With regard to women and science here is the difference.

Organized religion in its canons or holy books, looks upon women as being inferior beings and the source of temptation and evil. Sanatana Dharma however, considers women as divine. In fact, as someone remarked on twitter, the three main portfolios of education, finance and defence if we were to look at ministries in a political setup, are controlled by women in Hinduism. Goddesses preside over these three ministries. Hence, using a western framework to deal with issues of our civilization is not just without merit but even dangerous. When the lens used is wrong, obviously an analysis made with such a lens will yield an outcome which will eventually serve to facilitate cultural genocide.

As a result of women being considered inferior to men in organized religion, for the largest part of history, this group has found itself to be severely oppressed. Additionally, organized religion has been in continuous conflict with science. This is due to the linear notion of time in organized religion related with the idea of when the world was created by god and how it will have a finite time period to exist. It was not until the enlightenment movement that an uneasy truce was reached between religion and science. Bharata desam has suffered no such conflict on either issue by and large. While the above statement lays me open to accusations of supporting brahmanical oppression of women and other classes, I have to state that I think these theories were also propagated by the colonial invaders. In my view, there is no oppression inherent in Hinduism’s philosophy. As we have seen above, woman is considered as divine as man and worshipped as goddess. In fact purusha and prakriti are complementary and necessary for the creation of a whole.

To come back to the point, organized religion needed to have various movements to release its adherents from the centralized control of the powers that be. The enlightenment movement helped science to achieve a level of truce with religion. Then the feminist movement helped women break free of the shackles that made them second class human beings. Since a fight was involved to secure basic freedoms, this society then latched on to the rights paradigm for everything. It became a feminist rights movement, animal rights movement, human rights movement and so on. Thus, the society that was shaped from this churning was one which was based on individual rights.

In the case of Bharatiya civilization, it is a society that has evolved with the family as its bedrock. Duties are more important than rights here since people are committed to the greater common good. The basis for all behavior is Dharma. Hence the tree has its own dharma, a dog has its own dharma, a woman has her own dharma, a man has his own dharma, why, even a mountain has its own dharma. However, while they have their individual dharma, they are all connected like in Indra’s Net[iii] (introduced to me by Rajiv Malhotra) where each microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm infinitely. It is this inter-connectivity which finally ensures that the individual karmas (deeds) are in harmony and for the benefit of the larger good. This is such a powerful and affirmative concept while the rights based paradigm is a debilitating and negating concept.

This rights based paradigm is alien to the Bharatiya worldview and is in fact helping to destroy this culture. In fact I fear for Bharata desa when I see how much the western rights based paradigm has come to dominate our thinking. I was trying to research a little bit on the Sabarimala issue and I was aghast to see my google search throw up page after page of shrill shrieking articles advocating ‘Happy to bleed’, castigating the temple authorities and generally making enormous noise for menstruating women to obtain this right. I counted fourteen google search pages which had almost every article shrieking about women’s rights. After the 14th page I was dejected enough to not want to search anymore. There was not a single article trying to explain the rationale properly for this ban on women of reproductive age! As a woman, I found this upsetting.

Trying to explain the restriction

sabarimaladevaswom

When the Supreme Court question broke out, there were many of us on social media trying to understand this prohibition. This blog had a lovely take on the subject of menstruating women and how they are looked at in Bharatiya culture.

There is a build up of energy in the days leading to menstruation as the body prepares for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not take place and menstruation starts, this built up energy gets dissipated from the body during menstruation. During menstruation, Vata is the predominant dosha. Apana vayu, one of the elemental air functions of the Vata Dosha, is responsible for the downward flow of menstruation. Therefore, any activity that interferes with this necessary downward flow of energy during menstruation should be avoided. During menstruation, women are more likely to absorb other energies in their environment. This forms the basis of most of the cultural practices around menstruation in India.[iv]

However, I know there are many who think Ayurveda is some pseudo-science and that all this talk of energy is so much gobbledy gook. We are of course afflicted with the disease of over-rationalising, a gift from the science versus religion battle of the West. Rationality and ‘science’ are the buzzwords today and even when science admits there are things it doesn’t know (which is why most scientists in the field of astronomy and space research are humble and believe in the divine), we are so fixated on negating anything that does not fit into the limited paradigm of science. This is a kind of arrogance of science that has replaced the arrogance of religion. While we dismiss talk of energy as being hogwash, the same is being studied very keenly by neuroscience experts in the West and the day is not far off when it comes out with a theory similar to the one explained in the above blog. Then of course we will all embrace it as science. For such of us who worship “rationalism” (as distinct from logic) as if it’s the new god, explanations like the one which the blog uses will be brushed off as force fitting an idea to feel good.

For such doubters here is a blog that explains why women cannot go to Sabarimala.

I have been going to the temple at Sabarimala for over 25 years and one question that people ask me often is “Who placed the restrictions on women entering the temple?” And the short answer is, Ayappa himself! According to legend, Ayappa is celibate so that he can focus on answering the prayers of his devotees. And he will remain celibate till the day kanni swamis (first-time devotees) stop coming to Sabarimala.[v]

The author of this blog uses a story or legend associated with Ayyappa to explain the position. Do read the rest of the blog to know the story. He is right. It is Ayyappa himself who does not want mentruating women to visit him. But then, rationalists can rationalize that these are human beings speaking for Ayyappa and that they are basing their explanation on some unverifiable myth; easy to take down. The author also goes on to say, “Since he [Ayyappa] is celibate, he should not be distracted”. This is easy pickings for the shrill feminist. I would like to use his words but back it up with something very simple. The explanation for why women are not allowed is simply explained by the following twitter thread.

What it basically explains is that for Hindus, a murthi in a temple is not simply a lifeless idol. Prana pratistha is done which means that the deity being consecrated is considered to be infused with the physical presence of the divinity represented. Thereafter the god/goddess is deemed to be physically present in that place and that the space where s/he resides belongs to him/her. Hence, no decision regarding the working of that temple, the rules to be maintained, the rituals to be followed can be taken without consulting the resident deity. The deity’s preferences are determined through various methods lightly touched upon in the twitter thread.

So, if it is the decision of the deity (in this case Ayyappan) to not have women in the reproductive age visiting him, why is it that his wishes cannot be honored? Even in legal terms, the deity can be considered to be a respondent and the court is bound to take note of this living practice of Hindus in the running of their temples as is explained in this article on the rights of Hindu religious institutions.

Further, which woman wants to offend the deity if he wants not to have her in his presence. What would she want to prove by going against his wishes? She claims to be his devotee which means he is her ishta devata and she has surrendered to him as per Hindu sastra. That being so, why would she not want to respect his wishes?! What kind of a devotee does that make her? I don’t think any real devotee of Ayyappa male or female will want to go against his wishes. If you do so, then you lose claim to be a devotee and hence the right to decide how things must be run at his shrine.

pongala
Women only Attukal Pongala

Moreover the assorted brigade of feminists will never tell you that the same Kerala has a tradition called Attukal Pongala where men are absolutely not allowed. In contrast, in Sabarimala, it is hardly a blanket ban on women. Girls who have not yet reached puberty and women who are post menopausal are most welcome to visit. At the Pongala no such leeway is provided. It is an out and out women only festival with no admission whatsoever for men or boys of any age. How come none of the placard hoarding, ‘Happy to Bleed’ feminists highlight that. Can not our menfolk also start a petition to cry foul of this discrimination?

Here’s another article from Kerala again, where it is shown that the woman is the only one who has the rights to do puja in this temple. Am sure you will find many such instances of temples with women only archakas or rituals where only women can participate. Contrast this with the church where even today, no woman can be a priest. What explains this? This is so because Sanatana Dharma is multi-layered. It is not limited to binaries, let alone false dichotomies. When will our people begin to realize this?

This is what a purely rights based paradigm does. It sees things only in black and white. The binary mode of Western thought permeates the rights based lens to look at issues. Dharma is far more nuanced and cannot be force fitted into the rights regime that is imported from the Western experience. Bharat Ganarajya’s laws are not really representative of the dharmic nature of her civilization. Many of the laws have been framed using the western lens which the outgoing British left for posterity in the minds of Bharatiya lawmakers. The true success of the British regime is that it left the Bharatiya populace (particularly the section that has the means and wherewithal to steer the course of this country) mentally colonized while physically being independent.

Conclusion

While I think the lawyers and elites need to mentally decolonize, the Bharatiya citizens need to do this more urgently; otherwise what explains the ineffectiveness of the Ayyappa temple authority spokesman’s defence of the temple ritual? He opened himself up to ridicule by calling menstruating women as impure and demanding for a scanning machine to check if women devotees were having their period when they came to Sabarimala. Why could the temple authorities not take the help of Agama shastras to explain why the rules at Sabarimala are what they are? They are the strongest argument against letting the discrimination charge leveled by the feminist brigade. We really need to rearm Hindus to develop their self confidence and knowledge about their own customs and traditions. A thousand years of foreign invasion and rule has crushed the spirit of the Bharatiya. It will take time to decolonize the mind and build the confidence. But do we have the time given the realities in the world?

References:

[i] http://swarajyamag.com/ideas/was-the-indian-sub-continent-the-original-genetic-homeland-of-the-europeans/

[ii] http://beingdifferentbook.com/

[iii] http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/youth/bridges/workshop7/indra

[iv] https://mythrispeaks.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/unearthing-menstrual-wisdom-why-we-dont-go-to-the-temple/

[v] http://m.firstpost.com/india/why-women-are-barred-from-sabarimala-its-not-because-they-are-unclean-2583694.html

[vi] http://www.sabarimala.org/lord-ayyappan.htm

[vii] http://creative.sulekha.com/agama-shastra-and-temple-worship_333405_blog

[viii] http://dharmasastha.co.in/legend.htm

[ix] Chandra, Lokesh.  The Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara Vol.1. Abhinav: New Delhi. 1988

[x] http://scienceoflife.in/index.php/workse/hindusymbolism?showall=&start=5

[xi] http://indrasnetbook.com/

[xii] http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/High-Priestess-of-a-Serpent-God/2016/01/16/article3227986.ece


Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.