Tonight will be the ninth night of the NauRatri (literally “nine nights”) festival that we Hindus specifically set aside twice annually to worshipping God as “female”. As a Hindu young woman, whose chosen form to worship God female – in my case specifically Saraswati, in whom all knowledge reposes and emanates – I’ve sometimes wondered how some Hindu men who also worship the Divine in her various female forms and incarnations, can inflict violence on females. But of course, violence against women isn’t confined to Guyana and certainly not only to Hindus.
It’s just that since we Hindus are supposed to have elevated women to the ultimate Divinity I was kind of hoping our menfolk would’ve seen us as in a bit kinder light than those from other religions that insist that God is male. And who might need to use a “rod of correction” ever so often.
In Hinduism, by contrast, while God is ultimately beyond categories – including sex or gender – the conceived female aspects are actually endowed with the Shakti – or animating power. In other words, the male manifestations are posited as completely inert (Pakriti) without the female. Can’t do a thing! So we have, for instance, the Creator Vishnu with his female counterpart Lakshmi. She’s the power behind whatever “creation” – or “projection” as we Hindus prefer – that’s going on. One third of Hindus are “Shaktas” – whose major object of worship is the Mother in her various manifestations. In Guyana, most Shaktas originated in South India and are lumped together as “Madrassis”, since they left India from the port of Madras.
While Vishnu has incarnated first as fish, tortoise, boar and half-man/half-lion, in all his human incarnations – whether as Ram or Krishna – Vishnu is accompanied by his Shakti. As Ram, for instance, his double is Sita. Bringing matters to the human level then, supposedly to provide a model for us to imitate, when one marries, the women is said to be “the Lakshmi of the house”. In offering prayers to the Divine, the male householder is incomplete and the offerings aren’t accepted if he’s not accompanied by his “Lakshmi”.
So what gives with all this wife beating and violence against females in our society?? Why hasn’t our elevation of women among Hindus as Goddesses increased respect for women? Well for one, in the “modern” world, we have all accepted that “religion” is just one aspect of “life”. Religion as a seamless, integral way of life as posited by Hinduism is “old fashioned” and “backward. Traditional Hinduism, we are convinced, can’t be “modern”. So our menfolk worship the Mother of the temple in the temple and then knock around the “Mother of the House” in the house.
The view that the man is the owner of all he surveys – in reflection of the man with the grey beard who’s floating in the sky above looking down at us – undergirds what is called “patriarchy”. In modern Hindu homes, unlike the original model of society in which the female was the boss in her own domain, boys and men are still socialised to see females as “their own”. And in a capitalist society, this becomes translated as their “property”. And more to the point “sexual property” which he “jealously” guards.
If we’re ever going to get rid of this mind numbing violence that’s inflicted daily on females, this structural power imbalance between males and females which starts in the home – ironically by mothers – must be eliminated.
What was it they said about “the hands that rock the cradle”? It can help to make “ruling the world” a bit more fair. All hail the Devi! Like a boss.