Does the worship of goddesses in India have a feminist under-pinning? This is one of the questions I was looking at while researching for my book Sex and Power.
The answer to my question I found, was both ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ I discovered that there were two main streams of religious thought that had completely different origins and were diametrically opposite in how they viewed women, feminine sexuality and power. One of them, based in the tradition of the Vedas, was extremely patriarchal in its leanings, and even though it had goddesses, like Sarawati for instance, it regarded them as passive, inert manifestations whose sole aim was to nurture and sustain the men.
The other stream of religious thought was that of the Shaktas. These were worshippers of ‘Shakti’ which is the female personification of power as a concept. Below is an excerpt from Sex and Power on the feminist underpinning of the Shakta philosophy.
At the very core of the Shakta philosophy lay the seeds of a feminist rebellion. The Shakta goddesses revolutionized the concept of the feminine in India, turning the [earlier] Vedic male version of it upside down. These goddesses… (more…)
Posted by Rita Banerji on March 6, 2013
The question that led to the writing of my book Sex and Power was, why is India with its erotic history, so neurotic about sex today? See “India Uptight over Erotica in Hinduism?”
Yet, there are two other factors I observed over the course of my research. Firstly, there continues to be an underlying sexuality to the practice of Hinduism, which Indians seems bizarrely blind to, and in denial of even as they practice it!
Secondly, modern India has the most extreme form of cultural tolerance for various types of sexually deviant social behavior – like sex-trafficking in the form of marriage! As I tried to understand why this was so, a theory from Freud explained it quite clearly, and also made a projection. As I searched further, I realized that Freud was right! The biggest shocker for me was making the connection that the female genocide in India today is a direct result of India’s confounded, perverted social attitude to sex and sexuality!
Below is an excerpt from the last section of my book.
The lingam-yoni which continues to be worshipped by millions in India is perhaps one of the most blatant sexual allusions in Hinduism. It is not just the terminology, the actual use of the words ‘penis’ (lingam) and ‘vagina’(yoni), but it is the representation as well, the idol (bearing) a likeness (to) the respective anatomies…an unambiguous portrayal of sexual intercourse. Yet, surprisingly, most Indians will vehemently deny (more…)
Posted by Rita Banerji on February 6, 2013
What makes people voluntarily deaf, dumb and blind to the workings of their culture and tradition?
Take the festival of Diwali in India — also sometimes called “the festival of lamps” because once a year, everyone lights their houses with lamps.
The symbolism here is that of lighting a lamp in the dark — good over evil, etc. — which is what makes it so appealing to people visiting India at this time. That in addition to the fact, that everything looks so pretty with hundreds of lamps lit everywhere.
The story behind Diwali, that millions of us in India have grown up with, is that of the victory of the Indian king Ram. Ram’s wife, Sita, is said to have been kidnapped by the Sri Lankan king Ravana. After a massive, bloody battle, Ram rescues Sita and brings her home. And to welcome him home and celebrate his victory over evil, the people of India lit lamps. Thus today essentially marks Ram’s victory in battle over Ravana — who in India is considered a force of evil.
Across the strait, in neighboring Sri Lanka, however, there is another version of this story (more…)
Posted by Rita Banerji on October 26, 2011
Finally the U.N. has woken up and is moving towards declaring the caste system as racist. What is India’s response? Defensive and unconcerned. Surprise! Surprise!
Some argue it’s just a form of “social organization.” That’s what Gandhi said too. He opposed its abolishment. But is that so?
The Sanskrit for caste, ‘Varna’ literally means ‘color.’ India’s ancient texts designate caste on basis of color and race. The supreme Brahmin is ‘white,’ and the lowest caste, also sometime called dasa (slave) is ‘black.’ In between you have the browns and yellows.
Through centuries of mixing India now is a conspicuous brown cocktail (of many hues), but not so to the Indian eye! A Brazilian journalist from the magazine Super Interessante, while interviewing me last year, for my book Sex and Power, said that some Indians have explained to her how she can identify a person’s caste. The people of the highest caste are very fair. The lowest are almost black! I challenged her to walk into any restaurant in town, randomly pick out a few customers and test that theory.
The only real give away to caste in India today is a person’s last name. When an Indian politely asks for your “good name,” (more…)
Posted by Rita Banerji on May 14, 2010