Why Indian Women Pray for Long Lives for their Husbands Even as Millions are Killed for Dowry


Last week millions of Hindu women proudly celebrated a festival whose fundamental tenet is misogynistic. This is the festival of Karva Chauth. Women deprive themselves of food and water all day, and after sunset break their fast after they’ve viewed the moon through a kitchen sieve. They’ve been told that if they do this, the gods will ensure long lives for their husbands. In a country where every year, more than a 100,000 married women are murdered for dowry — burnt, hung, stabbed, poisoned, drowned, or driven to suicide — by their husbands and in-laws, and not a day goes by without media reports of such deaths, this womanly fixation on ensuring a long life for the husband seems sort of bizarre. But there is a cultural explanation for Indian women’s fixation on their husbands’ long lives….

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE http://www.huffingtonpost.in/rita-banerji-/karva-chauth-a-womanly-ce_b_8429386.html

The Feast of Love! India’s Forgotten Valentine

The Sex and Power Discussion Blog

Unknown to many, the festival of Holi is actually a celebration of  India’s ancient Valentine’s Day!

It was called ‘The Festival of The Love God,’ and was celebrated to coincide with the arrival of Spring (symbolic of lust and life) just as the western Valentine’s Day is!

Below is an excerpt from my book Sex and Power on this festival:

rati kama redKama, the love god, was [evoked]…in the celebratory tribal songs of the Holi festival…[along] with his consort Rati (sexual pleasure).  His return to life…would be celebrated (each year) during Holi, which coincides with the spring season, [a symbolism of]..rejuvenation and fertility. 

The celebrations were called ‘Mojin Kama’ (Playing with Desire), [also referred to as ‘The Feast of Love’] and entailed songs with erotic lyrics and dances with unabashedly sexual gestures…as people jubilantly doused each other with perfumed water and coloured powders…The sacred text Shaiva Agama instructed that the Feast…

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Giving Thanks for Taking by Giving

An American friend today emailed me some of his favorite ‘Thanksgiving’ anecdotes.  And I in turn sent him one of mine.  And then I thought maybe I should share it on my blog too — it might resonate with others as it has with me.  

This happened when I was living in Washington D.C.  This is one city, that during the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving etc. becomes a ghost town.  Everyone clears out.  I had neighbors, women who retired from the State Department, and had lived three-fourths of their lives in D.C., who would say “I’m going home for Thanksgiving,” and then leave for New York State, or Ohio or wherever it was that they were born and raised.

In the end there would only be a motley handful of us, foreigners from various countries, left behind (more…)

Diwali: Festivals and the Lies they Foster


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…)

Worshipping Gods by Dishonoring the Planet!

Priests one of many ceremonies for the Goddess Durga

First published on Pickled Politics

Calcutta is in the midst of the Durga Pujathe 10 day carnival celebrating the goddess Durga.  It is the annual climax of Calcutta’s cultural ethos.

Not having grown up in Calcutta, I had never actually attended this celebration as a child. So at 30 when I moved to the city, I was fascinated and curious. I photographed the celebrations from every angle and asked a million questions.Hundreds of pandals— elaborate temple like structures of bamboo, cardboard and jute—are are set up all over the city, which house the idols of the goddess and her family. There are different ceremonies marking each of the 10 days with enthralling symbolisms.

Yet, within a couple of years my puja fever had died down, and that was largely because I didn’t appreciate a lot of what I was discovering about the pujas.

So much so, that over the last 5 years, I have consistently boycotted the Pujas and urged others to do the same. Here are my reasons why:

1.  Junking the River: At the end of the celebrations all the idols are immersed in the Hoogly – the city’s river, a tributary of the Ganges. There are more than 40,000 idols dumped into the Hoogly every year. These idols are larger than life, some of them 10-20 feet tall, and most are made of non-biodegradable materials like concrete, fiberglass and metal. These don’t wash downstream. They sink to the bottom and make the river bed one big junkyard.

2. Poisoning the river: Most of the paints used on the idols are toxic and also carcinogenic (cancer causing). And because the junk sits at the bottom of the river, it just keeps leaching this poison into the waters.

3.  Poisoning the City’s Water supply: This poisoned water of the river Hooghly is the water supply for the city of Calcutta .

4.  Poisoning the food: The people of Calcutta don’t just drink this poisoned water, but they are a fish eating community and they eat fresh water fish from this river, fish that have also imbibed this poison.

5.  Increasing rates of Cancer:  The rates of various types of cancer in Calcutta and Bengal have been increasing steeply.

6.  Extinction of wildlife species:  The Gangetic River Dolphin, which is evolutionarily blind and navigates by echo-location (a hard task for sure with all the junk in the river) is almost on the brink of extinction because of this kind of dumping on and poising of the river.

7.   Perpetuate Ignorance and Myths:  The myth bought by many Indians, is that the river Ganges is so powerful that it can take all the rubbish that people dump into it and effectively cleanse itself. That is not true! The river needs proper management and care and citizens must act responsibly.

8.  Perpetuates the use of the river as city’s garbage dump: The river is not a garbage dump and the only solution is to stop all immersions as soon as possible.

9.  Perpetuates Mindless and Destructive Traditions The tradition of idol immersions is recent and man-made. Earlier Durga idols showing the goddess spearing the demon, as displayed at the Indian Museum, are in bronze, with the clothes and accessories sculpted on. These were certainly not for immersion. Calcuttans must put their heads together and come up with an alternative way of symbolizing the ‘leaving’ of the goddess, without actually junking the idols, a method which is environmentally sustainable and not harmful to community health. Traditions change and it is time for this one to. Why not – if we can have pujas offered on the internet!

10.  Waste of Millions of Dollars Needed Elsewhere:  The cost of the puja is estimated at over a billion rupees, all collected through donations from citizens and private companies!! But is a self-destructive and wasteful spending of money. Calcutta obviously has the means to mobilize grassroots funds on a massive scale as proven by the chanda (puja donations) collected. So I would also want to see puja committees using at least 80% of the chanda collected for long-term projects that will serve the community – like schools, clinics, shelters for women, and parks.

The river is not a garbage dump.  It is a source of life and living for humans and all other plant and animal life forms.  Th only solution is to stop all idol immersions in the river as soon as possible.

Hundreds of pandals (temporary temples) like this are built all over the city. They are elaborate and take more than a month to erect. And they block lanes and neighborhoods!

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