Feminine Divinity, Symbolism of Shakti and Women’s Empowerment in Contemporary India

It was a great honor for India when Indian women peacekeepers in Liberia were honored with medals for their courage and service in maintenance of peace and security in the West African country, January, 2016
It was a great honor for India when Indian women peacekeepers in Liberia were honored with medals for their courage and service in maintenance of peace and security in the West African country, January, 2016

Since 1947, India has been somewhat isolated globally because it stands alone and is not part of any of the usual groups or clubs. India is not a white or western country, it is not an Islamic country, it is not an Arabic country, it is not a communist country and it is certainly not a military dictatorship. It was part of non-aligned movement which did not have any natural commonality in its members. India still remains isolated because it stands alone on many international fora owing to India’s unique ancient history. India was described as a “functioning anarchy” by a former US ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith. Break-up or disintegration of India has been ritually predicted and invoked by so many western analysts and thinkers. Numerous international conspiracies have been hatched since 1947 to materialize support for further partition of India. Some have even refused to accept the nation-hood or statehood of India in a geo-political sense. Others have erroneously credited the British colonial empire for bestowing the sense of nationhood on India as a unique colonial contribution.

As India changes its direction and gathers some self-confidence, there has been resurgence of talk in the mainstream media and academia for the last two years about the threats facing the so-called “Idea of India”. The terms like “Idea of India” and “Intolerance” have been utilized as code-words or proxy to pillory Hindu traditions and Indian Renaissance. There seems to be an obvious nexus between Indian mainstream media and the western mainstream media in an exercise in bashing India, Indian tradition and Indian growth trajectory. Isolated incidents have been magnified. Indeed, the naysayers and the “Nattering Nabobs of Negativism” have predicted impending doom for India. Heinous crimes against women, though very unfortunate, have been given so much prominence in the media as if they were normative occurrence in India without taking into consideration the positive aspects of Indian society and Indian traditions. The movie “India’s Daughter” by Leslee Udwin was a prime example of this India bashing exercise. The western protagonists and their Indian acolytes, owing to an inherent Hindu-phobic and anti-India bias, have failed to take into consideration the frequency of such crimes in US or UK or elsewhere in the world presenting a very sensational and distorted picture of India. Powerful international and local forces are at work to portray our Hindu tradition as sexist, anti-women, misogynist and anti-feminist. India’s leftists, liberals, card-carrying communists, caste-ists, Islamists and feminists have built up a de facto “alliance of convenience” and a political “coalition of the willing” in conjunction with the western NGOs that funnel monies to these local groups. There is a method to this madness. Alliance of Indian feminists, nay, Femi-nazis with their western sponsors poses a real national security threat to the fabric of the Indian nation. Women are the real fabric of the nation. A nation can be defeated only if its women are subjugated by fraud, deception or brute force. While pillorying Indian (read Hindu) society as patriarchal, misogynist and anti-women, these groups fail to appreciate the plurality and the extreme diversity of Indian traditions with still prevalent matriarchal subcultures in the contemporary Indian society, e.g.; the Nairs in Kerala, some sections in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh and the Khasis in Meghalaya. People in Kinnaur, HP follow a matriarchal system; they also practice polyandry following the historical example of the Pandavas from Mahabharata times.

Ancient India and Concept of Devi, the Divine Femininity:

In this article we will recapitulate the venerable place, honor and respect given to women in the ancient Hindu tradition. We will also review the historical vicissitudes of the status of women in ancient, medieval, colonial eras and in modern India. We also delineate and emphasize those foreign factors that adversely influenced the status of women in the Indian society and subjugated them in the colonial era that lasted approximately one thousand years. We also discuss the very uniquely Hindu concepts of Devi (female divinity), Shakti and the veneration of Shakti as the ultimate mother and its symbolic use in women’s empowerment in the contemporary Indian society. Female divinity is unique to Hinduism. The word Devi in Sanskrit means the illuminated or the illustrious one. Like the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh or Shiva, there is divine female trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Uma, all three equally holy, divine and worthy of worship in their own right. Woman always comes first in various Hindu traditions, be they Vaishnava, Shaiva, Tantra, Vama-marga, Vedanta etc. That is why we have expressions like Sita-Ram, Radhey-Shyam and Gauri-Shankar. It is never Ram-Sita, Shyam-Radha, Narayan-Laxami or Shankar-Gauri. Shakti comes first, and Shiva comes afterwards. Hindu Males always follow, venerate and vow to protect the females, as the divine mother who gives birth, as loving daughter to be given away as kanyadanam during marriage (the ultimate danam a Hindu male can do for the perpetuation of human race), as sister to be protected or as wives to be cherished as ardhangini. The concept of mother-goddess is so deeply enshrined in Hinduism that per Bhagwat Purana there are seven mothers: the one who gives birth (biological mother), wife of your teacher (gurupatni), wife of priest (brahmani), queen (rajpatni), cow (dhenu or gaumata), one who raises you (foster-mother or dhatri) and earth (Prithavi). There is a saying: mata prithavi, putroham prithivyam!

All Hindu rituals are conducted primarily by women, men have to sit quietly and follow the women. Woman is the leader; man is the follower and the participant. A Hindu man is incomplete without his wife during religious rituals and yajanas just as even Rama was incomplete without Sita during the ashwamedha yajana!  He had to have a statue of Sita sit by his left side while performing the yajana. During the festival of Navaratras, the Devi, the feminine divinity, the Goddess is worshipped in her nine different forms! These nine different forms are Durga, the invincible mother, Bhadrakali, the mother of fortune and wealth, Amba, the universal mother, Annapoorna that feeds the world by providing Anna, Sarvamangala that brings peace and joy to the world, Bhairavi, the divine mother that brings good to good people & evil to bad people, Chandika, the fierce one, Saraswati, the goddess of learning & beauty, Bhavani, the Goddess of mercy, and Mookambika, the Goddess of Shiva and Shakti. The symbolism that woman comes first and the man just follows her becomes apparent when one watches the contemporary Hindi TV serials be it Kum Kum Bhagya, Pavitra Rishta, Suhasini or Woh Rahane Waali Mahlon ki! The female lead character always epitomizes the Hindu woman as Shakti, as a warrior princess or Durga who fights for her rights, defeats the evil and always protects the good but in that arduous, long-drawn journey, she also sacrifices her personal needs while nurturing others in her family!

Let us make no mistake. There are enormous cross-cultural differences in the gender roles and gender behaviors in Indian society versus western societies. However, in Hindu context the women have traditionally exercised tremendous political power through their fertility, i.e. progeny unlike the West where women exercise their power and autonomy using their sexuality and art of seduction. Indian society has historically emphasized dignity and honor of women instead of a pseudo-equality and gender role substitutability. The concept of the divine mother as the originator of the srishti is so unique to Hinduism only. Invoking divine qualities in the mother Goddess gives a unique and special status to Hindu women who have attained motherhood and in no way diminishes them for exercising their fertility unlike so in Western societies. In fact, the suffix or the title Sreemati in Sanskrit literally means the lady who possesses wealth and prosperity!

A famous quote from Manu Smriti, that has been demonized by the leftist cabal as anti-women, states:

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता: ।

यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफला: क्रिया: ।।

Yatra Naryastu Pujyante Ramante Tatra Devata


Yatraitaastu Na Pujyante Sarvaastatrafalaah Kriyaah

Meaning: “Where Women Are Honored, Divinity Blossoms There; And Where They Are Dishonored, All Action Remains Unfruitful.”

That is the essence of and epitome of the exalted status given to women in ancient Indian culture and Hindu tradition.

Concept of Shakti in Hindu Tradition:

Shaktism is the worship of the Supreme being as the Divine mother in the form of Shakti or Devi. Etymologically, the word Shakti in Sanskrit is derived from the “shak” dhatu or root which literally means “CAN DO”! Shakti literally means one who “CAN DO”! Shakti is the eternal supreme power. Shaktiman is the one who has Shakti, who is endowed with Shakti, i.e. energy! Shakti is the one who can accomplish victory over evil by the virtue of her creative energy force. In Hindu traditions, woman is the vessel of Shakti. The identification with Shakti stipulates woman as a fountainhead of both creative and destructive power. Each Hindu God has his Shakti, Brahma has Saraswati, Vishnu has Lakshmi and Shiva has Gauri or Parvati. Each is incomplete without his Shakti. Unlike Hinduism, in Christianity the myth has been created that Jesus was celibate and his historically acknowledged wife Mary Magdalene was a fallen woman. A prostitute who had merely become his disciple! In Islam, the woman has just one-fourth the value of a man in testamentary capacity! Shakti, the supreme energy force, is the personification of God in all the Indic traditions including Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Tibetan New Year Losar is essentially a celebration of Shakti. Even the 10th Sikh Guru, Govind Singh worshipped goddess Durga and named his fighting sword Chandi as a symbolism of Shakti.

There are four Adi Shaktipeethas in Shakti tradition. Fifty-one Shaktipeethas are located all over the entire Indian subcontinent. In ancient Indian history and literature (carried through oral traditions), there are honorable mentions of women as Shakti, a divine feminine energy force or Urja. Examples are Mahishasur Mardini or Kali, Chandi, Durga a warrior goddess. There are other examples of women warriors in ancient Indian history. Kekayi, the youngest wife of King Dashratha obtained those infamous three boons from him by saving his life in the battlefield. Naturally, the question arises as to what Kekayi was doing in the battlefield except for combat!

In tantric tradition, the woman is considered of higher status than the man. Tantra stipulates that mortal women are “life-itself” and Goddess-like because they embody the principle of Shakti. The institution of Bhairavi in Tantra and Vamamarga tradition does not suggest exploitation or anti-women attitude of Indian society. Bhairavi in Tantra tradition epitomizes the powerful feminine achievement by embarking a journey of supreme spirituality, sublime sensuality and symbiotic sexuality with her Bhairava who just follows her and is by her side, every step of the way, in her raising the kundalini energy! And yes, Bhairavi is not ashamed of her symbiotic sexuality because it is the ultimate life-force and she is the protagonist, she is the leader (and not the cheer-leader), she is initiator! Bhairavi, in that particular tradition, is neither repressed nor oppressed nor exploited!


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