the origins of a tradition
The Series:feminism in indian culture
the origins of a tradition
shakthi worship and philosophy
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feminism is usually associated with the movement that started in the west (especially in america). however, all of the old cultures in the world have feminist orientations in that they have all (at least in the beginning) worshipped mother goddesses and celebrated the feminine as divine. patriarchy eventually distorted the cultures and traditions, but nonetheless, these roots do exist. indian culture has a whole school of thought that traces back to a couple of centuries BC. *three cheers for nice ancestors! :D*
pre vedic religion was female - oriented. Aditi was the main goddess, who personified the great womb in which the whole universe was said to be contained. she holds agni in her womb as a mother contains a foetus. the feminine, being regarded as the wellspring of life, almost all the primary gods of the vedic pantheon were born of Aditi.
the vedic period seems to have marked a distinct shift to patriarchy. prithvi and surya, initially goddesses, were cast as male gods in vedic times. several of the goddesses were relegated to the background. however they made a reappearance in post vedic literature and regained their primacy in classical and medieval hinduism. puranic literature gives various names to the universal feminine power. these, and the hundreds of treatises written since 200 AD form the structural body of the philosophy and traditions of shakthi worship. hardly any of these earlier works have survived, but they are discussed in several philosophical and religious works of the shaktha system from post buddhic times to 1200 AD. this knowledge is also the basis of the tantric thought.
medieval hinduism considered women to be feminine divinity manifest. the female consorts of gods were considered the source of the gods' powers, and were often regarded as being more powerful. in several songs, epics and poems, the gods (shiva downwards) voice their inability to manifest or create without the consorts, who however, can exist and manifest without them.
kali dances on a prostrate shiva
(nb: i was thoroughly muddled at first, but this is how it seems to work - the shakthi here, is different from shiva's consort. the nature of the sum of the cosmic force is considered feminine, and this is called shakthi. she thus contains prakrithi and purush.)
in tantrik and shaktha doctrines, the feminine power continues to be held supreme. archetypal women are celebrated in different goddesses, and womanhood is the essence that raises the human being to semi divine status, freeing the mortal from the bonds of stereotypes of beauty and docility.
(far from being taboo, breasts were revered - goddesses were bare breasted,
depicted only with jewellery for adornment)
shaktha philosophy also includes male shakthas (worshippers). for them, the worship activates the feminine qualities in the male. there is sometimes even a ritual tranvestism practised (literally unman-ing), so that the male destructive ego may be shed to allow the feminine to be assumed. vaishnavism still follows this quite strictly. even in the mainstream hinduism we see today, the equal activation and harmonious fusion of male and female qualities is emphasised, using gods like ardhnarishwar.