It is a delight to see that Devi: Goddesses of India is becoming available to readers in this new edition published by Aleph Book Company. Those who contributed chapters to the book two decades ago hoped that their essays would form a resource of long-lasting interest. We are all grateful to Aleph for helping fulfil this dream-and for doing so from India itself rather than abroad.
Developments we anticipated in the Prologue have certainly come to pass. Studies of Hindu goddesses have flourished in the Western academy since the publication of Devi, and a great many of the scholars responsible for making this happen are women. The same is true in India, and in a way that tale is even more dramatic since so few Indian universities house departments of Religious Studies. Historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and scholars of literature and gender carry the Goddess's burden in their separate fields. Few of these thinkers have forgotten to ask the question put forward by Alf Hiltebeitel and Kathleen Erndl in the title of the volume they edited in 2000- Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Goddess continues to touch both of us in our own work. Consider, for example, the north Indian town of Vrindaban, where Jack Hawley was based this past year. Vrindaban is a major focus of pilgrimage because of its strong associations with Krishna; it is where he is thought to have spent his boyhood and youth. Yet goddesses-and the Goddess-surround him there, and in some ways this is even truer in 2017 than it was when Devi was first published. Radha, Krishna's favourite sweetheart and the subject of Donna Wulffs chapter in this book, reigns in a special way in Vrindaban. People greet each other in her name - 'Radhe Radhe!' -and troupes of singers, Bengali or otherwise, still pass through the streets glorifying her along with Krishna. But Radha is not the only goddess on the scene. There is also the river Yamuna, on whose shores Vrindaban was built-a goddess in her own right and to many Krishna devotees his chief consort. These days the Yamuna is diminished and polluted, but a campaign to 'Save the Yamuna' seeks to provide a means by which her energies may be revived. The name echoes that of another campaign to save a river goddess, the Narmada (Narmada Bachao Andolan, 1980s-1990s), and it draws strength fro long-standing efforts to clean the Ganga (Svacch Ganga). Diana Eck presents portrait of the goddess Ganga in these pages.
Other goddesses also make their presence felt in today's Vrindaban. Since the 1990s, when this book first appeared, the primary automobile access to Vrindaban: has shifted from the Mathura road to one that links the town directly to Del via National Highway 2. Who rises above the flat alluvial landscape to welcome you as you make the turn and head into town? It is a massive statue of Vaishno Devi riding high on her lion mount, inaugurated in 2010. Further down the ro: you encounter a similar outdoor image of the cave-goddess Jvala Mukhi, also Himalayan presence transported here. Both of these resonate to 'Devi, the Great Goddess', as she is described in the title of Thomas Coburn's chapter in this boo This overwhelming Devi , often called Durga, is a familiar presence throughout north India, but she is new to Vrindavan. Schoolchildren visiting the Vrindav: abode of Vaishno Devi-a 100-foot-high image perched above a replica of h Himalayan abode-now shout Jai Mata Di ('Victory to the Mother') in a chorus Punjabi-inflected approbation, thus affirming implicitly that Vrindavan has come under the Goddess's spell in a new way. Thus the Himalayan Lion-Rider Seranvali as described by Kathleen Erndl in this book, now joins the Yamuna in linkii Krishna's paradise to the national scene and especially to the nation's capital.
As for the film goddess Santosi Ma, who anchors our introduction but who once-ubiquitous presence has faded in recent years, even she seems alive and well in Vrindaban. A little pavilion near the Yamuna has just been repurpose so that it can serve as a brand-new temple for her. In every way, then, the story of India's goddesses is an ongoing story. No doubt that story will seem different from Vrindaban's, depending on where you live, work, read, or worship. All we can say as this book enters its Aleph edition is how privileged we feel to play our part
One of the critical developments in the recent history of Western religion has been the effort to make clearer contact with the feminine dimension in religious experience. This has taken a myriad of forms. Women are now ordained ministers and rabbis in a number of communities where a few years ago the idea would have been laughed away. Gender-neutral language is mandated in many hymnals, prayer books, and new translations of the Bible. Much attention has been focused on feminine images for God in the scriptures and elsewhere. Groups of women have labored to rescue the word witch from its infamous past by becoming witches themselves-and demonstrating whose infamy it actually was, when witches were burned at Salem and elsewhere. Finally, there has been a determined assault on the very history of Western religion in an effort to discover at its origins a Goddess who was widely worshiped before the champions of patriarchy suppressed her. Could she not be worshiped again? Indeed, she is.
The Abrahamic faiths nonetheless place many barriers in the way of seeing the divine as feminine. Those who assert that a coherent culture of the Goddess once prevailed across the Mediterranean world and Europe acknowledge that it has long since been defiled, broken, obscured.' In the task of reconstruction-at the scholarly level as well as in the realm of practice-great creativity will be required before Westerners can discover the Goddess again.
Not so for India. All through the archaeological remains of the Indus Valley Civilization, which created a new standard of culture for South Asia in the third and second millennia B.C.E., one finds a distinctive set of female terracotta figurines-thousands of them. We cannot tell exactly what functions they served or what they meant to those who made and kept them, but there seems no question about their ubiquity or importance. Moreover styles of modeling they display were carried forward into subsequent ages Female sculptures from the Mauryan period (fourth to second century B.C.E.) and even later often look very much like their Indus prototypes that time one also has much dearer evidence of a religion that projected divine in both masculine and feminine terms. True, the Aryan civilization that became increasingly dominant in North India at the level of high culture from 1000 B.C.E. onward allotted only minor roles to goddesses, material evidence shows that the indigenous culture never died out. one scholar recently suggested that "the history of the Hindu tradition be seen as a reemergence of the feminine."4 As the Sanskrit textual, tradition developed up through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the place of the Goddess in it became ever more firmly established.
Thus, in the religious life of Hindus today there is no need to resuscitate the Great Goddess. She is alive and well. She proliferates in ever new forms of herself (many would say, in fact, that she is fundamentally plural rather than singular), and she animates the religious lives of hundreds of millions; of people. Her generic name in Sanskrit and the many Indian language: relateded to it is devi, a word that, like its Latin and Greek cognates dea and thea means simply "goddess." This is a book about Devi, singular and plural Goddess and goddesses of India.
It has a forerunner. A decade ago, Donna Wulff and I publisher lection of essays (five of which reappear here, in altered form) under title The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India That volume focused on Radha, the consort of the well-known Hindu god Krishna, a: as a primary aim the task of making her better known and understood side ofIndia. Other goddesses were arrayed around Radha, with the particular desire of illuminating her place in the broader Hindu tradition: book that emerged was the first collection of essays in English on Hindu goddesses, but because of the intimate relation between Radha and Krishna it inevitably laid a certain emphasis on goddesses who are understood wives or consorts.
This time we intend to shift the balance so that independent goddesses and goddesses who dominate their male partners can take center stage. In part, this reflects the redirection of Western scholarship in the intervening decade, which is in turn partially a response to the vigorous feminist ence in the field of religious studies. But this attempt to readjust the balance. in the earlier book also has a logic of its own. However wide-ranging the balance says that The Divine Consort comprised, the name of the book quite wrongly suggested that male gods (and perhaps male religion) are the fundamental point of reference in Hinduism. Indian society may be overwhelmingly patriarchal, as is often said, but in the realm of religion the picture more complex.
The entrance of many women scholars into the field of Hindu studies has also facilitated another important change that is reflected in this book. These women have often been able to pursue research into aspects of the living religion of India that their male predecessors could only approach in- directly. In a society where women and men often lead separate lives, women scholars can observe and enter into conversation with Hindu women far more easily than men. Of course, it would be wrong to think that Hindu goddesses are worshiped exclusively or even primarily by women, but female devotees certainly figure importantly in the communities that revere them. Several chapters in the book-those by Cynthia Humes, Donna Wulff, Lindsey Harlan, Kathleen Erndl, Sarah Caldwell, and Rachel McDermott- especially benefit from this new mode of access to the Goddess, and in gen- eral the focus on lived religion here is stronger than it was in The Divine Con- sort, which had a predominantly textual orientation. Because most Indian texts about goddesses, whether consort or "free," have been composed by men, this increasing disengagement from the hegemony of the written word is doubly significant.
Critics may well observe that another hurdle is yet to be jumped: most of the authors represented here are not themselves Hindus. Only one has an Indian language as her mother tongue. With the rapid movement of South Asians into a Western diaspora, and with the gradual (if sometimes grudging) acknowledgment in India itself that religion is a respectable field of study, another decade will doubtless not only demand but make possible further- changes of perspective in a collection such as this. More Hindu voices will be heard-and particularly, more voices of Hindu women.
ONE GODDESS AND MANY, NEW AND OLD
In 1975 the movie Jai Santoshi Ma emerged from the thriving network of studios that make Bombay one of the major capitals of the international film industry, and within months a new goddess was being worshiped through- out India. The name of the movie can be loosely translated as "Hail to the Mother of Satisfaction," and it heralded a divinity-"The Mother of Satisfaction," Santosi Ma - who had hitherto remained entirely unknown to most Indians. In fact, although a temple to her existed in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, she had evidently not been known very long under that name or in that form even there. Before 1967 the temple now dedicated to her had belonged to a goddess called Lal Sagar ki Mala, "The Mother of the Red Lake," near whose banks it stands, and the characteristics of the earlier god- dess diverged in important respects from those of Santosi Ma, Most significantly, Lal Sagar ki Mata was a carnivore, to whom goats and other animals were periodically sacrificed, whereas Santosi Ma is a vegetarian, with chick- peas and unrefined sugar at the center of her diet.
Children’s Books (84)
Brahma Sutras (84)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend