The Yogi and the Goddess


International Journal of Hindu Studies 1:2 (June,
1997), pp. 265-87.
Linked with permission from the editor

Note: diacritical marks may not show
on your screen

Without you (R�dh�), I (KŬ�a) am inert and am always
powerless. You have all powers (�akti) as your own form; come into my

— Brahmavaivarta Pur��a.
Brahmavaivarta Pur��a, Rak�ti-   

to �iva]: You should consider who you are, and who nature is. . . . How
could you transcend nature? What you hear, what you eat, what you see–it’s
all Nature. How could you be beyond Nature?

Skanda Pur��a


In the beginning there were disembodied spirits suspended in
space, unmoving and fixed in trance. Enter a dancing Goddess, creating solid
ground wherever she steps. Her dynamic gestures cause the spirits to stir and
gradually, one by one, they begin to dance with the Goddess. As they dance, they
take on bodies, and they, too, begin to feel ground beneath their moving feet.
Only one spirit named ��vara the Lord remains fixed and undisturbed. The cosmic
dance continues and becomes more complex, creative, and frenzied. ��vara,
however, begins to call the spirits back to their original state. He exhorts
them to give up their embodied lives, which to him are sinful and degrading. One
by one, the spirits disengage from the Goddess, throw off their bodies, and
return to their static state of complete autonomy and isolation. Without
partners the Goddess also falls into inactivity. The cosmic dance is finished
and the evolution of the world ceases.


In this chapter I entertain the thesis that Indian goddess
worship serves to balance masculine views of individual autonomy and separation
from the body and nature. As we have seen, Yoga Titanism does emphasize personal
isolation and is similar to Western Titanism in that respect. In the first
section I contrast the passive and inert views of the material principle
(primarily found in the West) with the dynamic and creative views of Hinduism.
The second section traces the philosophical origins of ��kta theology with a
focus on some basic problems of S��khya’s puru�aprak�ti dualism.
In the third section I demonstrate that Pur��ic writers appropriated the S��khya
principle of prak�ti and the Ved�ntist concept of m�y� to
establish a powerful goddess ontology, one that overcomes the alienation from
nature and other selves found in S��khya-Yoga philosophy. Hindu Tantrics used
the concept of �akti to produce the same results. In the fourth section I
draw on Stanley N. Kurtz’s psychoanalytic study of Hindu goddesses and present
his reasons why goddess worship survived in the Indian subcontinent. The fifth
section contains a critique of Kurtz’s view and confirms a suspicion that
traditional ��kta theology does not express a genuine female voice. If this is
so, then this mitigates somewhat the thesis that ��kta theology is an answer to
Titanism. Finally, I sketch briefly some encouraging manifestations of ��kta
theology among contemporary Indian women.


Recall Rammurti Mishra’s incredible claim about the yogi’s
nature in the previous chapter. Let us now rephrase these assertions in terms of
nuclear physics, � la Edward Teller: "Deep inside the hydrogen atom lies hidden
a tremendous force which will lead humans to omnipotence and omniscience." This
is not totally fair–physical and spiritual power are being conflated–but the
principal point is the conceptual convergence of Eastern and Western forms of
Titanism. Even though Yoga Titanism is a benign form of extreme humanism, it
nevertheless uses the same language of hubris, power, and conquest as Western

Let us dwell for a moment on Edward Teller, the Titanism of
Cold War militarism, and the cooption of female creative power. The first atomic
weapon was called "Oppenheimer’s baby" and the hydrogen bomb was known as
"Teller’s baby." There was some dispute over whether Teller was mother or
father, because some argued that is was Stanislaw Ulam who really came up with
the original idea. On this account Father Ulam inseminated Teller with the idea
and Mother Teller carried the fetus to term. Carol Cohn, who provides a
fascinating analysis of this phenomenon of male creation, also finds it
significant that all the bombs have male names. Therefore, nuclear scientists,
in Cohn’s words, have given "birth to male progeny with the ultimate power of
violent domination over female Nature. The defense intellectuals’ project is the
creation of abstract formulations to control the forces the scientists created,
and to participate thereby in their world-creating/destroying power."

The desire to become father of oneself is one of the general
features of the psychology of Titanism. By claiming the power of self-creation,
the Hindu Titan is able to eliminate the female role and manipulate ordinary
reproduction to his own advantage. For example, the Vedic father recreates
himself in the mother’s womb or a womb substitute. This theme is most explicit
in a late Upani�ad, the Yogatattva: "He who was his father is now his
son, and he who is his son will be again his father." For example, in the
K�rma Pur��a
Vi��u directly enters Aditi’s womb and is conceived as V�mana,
the dwarf incarnation. In the Bh�gavata version of the story, Vi��u first
"penetrates" Ka�yapa with his "ray" and then his semen his deposited in Aditi�s
womb.Stories of the Buddha’s conception in the Mah�vastu indicate clearly
the heavenly Bodhisattva is essentially placing a human version of himself in
M�y�’s womb.Praj�pati "placed the power to produce progeny in himself" and then
proceeded to create the devas and the asuras out of his mouth.
Other womb substitutes appear in many stories where Promethean churning (our key
root manth again) and giving issue from one’s mind or thigh seem to be
the most common form of male procreation. (Mind-born sons, the ten great sages,
are sinless and nonprocreating.) The following sons are said to have been
"thigh-born" of their fathers: asuras from Brahm�’s thigh, Vai�yas from
Praj�pati’s, Kutsa from Indra’s, a long awaited son from King Yuvan��va’s, Anga
(Vena’s father) from Uru’s, and Ni��da from Vena’s thigh. (P�thu, however, is
"churned" from his father’s right arm.) We also have the incredible example of
Brahm� giving "birth" to thousands of sages from semen prematurely ejaculated at
the sight of P�rvatī
as bride. In the Hebrew tradition we find a rib-born Eve and Jacob’s thigh-born
sons; and in Greek mythology we of course have the thigh-born Zeus giving issue
to Athene from his mind.

The cooption and exploitation of the creative energies of the
female have a long history in the West. Hesiod’s Theogony still preserves
the idea of primordial chaos and Gaia the earth goddess as the source of all
things, but the power of the Greek goddess was gradually coopted by male
deities, starting with Zeus and his self-created daughter, priests, and
philosophers. Although there is a more egalitarian human creation story in
Genesis 1:26, the Hebrew Zeus of Genesis 2 creates Eve out of Adam�s rib and the
"mother of all the living" becomes his subordinate. We now know that many
ancient Hebrews worshipped goddesses along with Yahweh, but this practice was of
course never condoned by the priests or prophets. The last trace of the feminine
in Hebrew scripture, a figure called Sophia (Yahweh’s helpmate in Prov. 8:30),
was replaced, except for the Gnostic sects, by the masculine Logos by Philo of
Alexandria. For Philo the cosmos becomes the mind-born creation of God, whose
Logos makes the world out of absolute nothing, not the feminine chaos implied in
Genesis 1:1. The final banishment of the goddess of watery chaos is implied in
the declaration in Revelation that in the "new heaven and new earth. . . the sea
[is] no more" (21:1). In the new creation, the writer is telling us, the
irrational goddesses will not bother us anymore.

In pre-Socratic philosophy the idea of phusis (Latin
), although not identified as female, was a creative and dynamic
material principle. This idea was replaced by inert atoms or by Aristotle’s
both passive and inactive material principles. Aristotle’s idea that the female
womb was simply a receptacle for self-contained male seed joined similar views
of human reproduction in the ancient world. The father essentially recreates
himself in the womb of the passive mother. One exception to Aristotle’s theory
of conception is this marvelous passage from the Talmud:

There are three partners in man . . . his father supplies
the semen of the white substance out of which are formed the child’s bones,
sinews, nails, and the white of his eyes. His mother supplies the semen of
the red substance out of which is formed his skin, flesh, hair and black of
his eye. God gives him the soul and breath, beauty of features, eyesight,
hearing, speech, understanding, and discernment.

Although sexist and theocentric, this Jewish view does give an
active role to the female in the formation of the fetus. The esoteric tradition
preserved the coequal partnership of male and female principles until, as
Carolyn Merchant has shown, witch hunts and mechanistic science virtually
eliminated the idea of dynamic nature in the West and the feminine symbolism
attached to it.


While male patriarchs in India established a society that
devalued women and severely restricted their autonomy, they consistently and
openly acknowledged the feminine as the source of cosmic matter and energy.
Although the Hindu Goddess tradition may go back as far as the Harrapan
civilization, Tracy Pintchman’s recent work has demonstrated that the Vedic
tradition may have been a greater source than has previously been thought.
Pintchman shows that "the waters" (ap), the earth goddess (P�thivī/Bh�mi),
Aditi (mother of the gods), Vir�j (coequal with Puru�a), V�c (the voice of the
mantra and essential breath �tman), and �acī/Indr�ni
(Indra’s consort) all echo in later portrayals of the Goddess. We have seen that
the S��khya dualism of puru�a and prak�ti constituted the
metaphysical basis for yogic retreat and isolation, but some Pur�nic writers
transformed prak�ti into a feminine power that sacralizes the body, the
emotions, nature, and human relations. The Goddess as prak�ti was
alternatively or simultaneously identified with the creative m�y� of the
Vedantist tradition and the powerful �akti of the Tantric schools. J. N.
Tiwari states that the

philosophical basis of the Great Goddess should be traced
to a theistic adaptation of Upani�adic Ved�ntism mixed with the S��khya
conception of Prak�ti. As it is, the Goddess is imagined as the Supreme
Principle in her own right, as eternally existing, as Supreme Knowledge, as
the cause of the bondage and the final liberation of beings, etc.

In the Brahmavaivarta Pur��a R�dh� as prak�ti is
identified with the energy of Brahman itself; she is the true form of Brahman,
or sometimes superior to it.

While early S��khya does not identify prak�ti as
feminine, the later S��khya-k�rik� contains a vivid metaphor of
as a seductive dancer who entices all the inactive puru�as
(save one ��vara, who remains free and detached) to join in her creation of the
world. The fall into the created world can be reversed only by breaking away
from prak�ti using the spiritual discipline of ��vara–the mah�yogin–as
a model for liberation. Successful yogic liberation would leave prak�ti
without any dance partners and she then returns to an undifferentiated mass.
"’Says the indifferent one [puru�a], �I have seen her�; the other [prak�ti]
ceases, saying �I have been seen.�" (As we shall see, the bashful prak�ti,
whose action reflects the ideal Hindu wife, is dramatically transformed in the
��kta tradition.) Puru�as not only attain complete separation from
nature, but also from ��vara as well. There is no union with ultimate reality as
in Upani�adic monism: "With the cessation of prak�ti . . . the puru�a
. . . attains isolation (kaivalya) which is both certain and final."

Kathleen Erndl acknowledges the influence of both S��khya and
Ved�nta on ��kta theology, but argues that the latter "differs from them in its
relentless exaltation of the material world. It is more thoroughly
‘world-affirming’ than either of them." We have seen that S��khya’s prak�ti
is more dynamic and creative than Western ideas of matter, but Erndl notes that
S��khya ultimately joins the Greek and Christian project of devaluing matter,
and in turn devaluing the female. (Even though prak�ti is the active
power, the figurative language of the S��khya literature always subordinates it
to puru�a, usually as a servant/wife to master/husband.) As we have seen,
prak�ti will, according to the original view, return to an inactive,
undifferentiated mass, and the puru�as will be free of its interference
and distractions. In contrast to the near universal myth of the clash of sky
father gods with earth or water goddesses, S��khya dualism contains little
conflict or tension. Indeed, enlightened souls discover that nature’s
intellectual and spiritual qualities (sattvagu�a) are their ultimate
means of escape from her. The S��khya-k�rik� is rich in powerful figures
of speech: "As the unknowing milk functions for the sake of the nourishment of
the calf; so the prak�ti functions for the sake of the release of the puru�a."

With regard to Ved�ntist influence on the ��kta movement, both
Erndl and Mackenzie Brown recognize that goddess philosophy generally avoids the
strict nondualism of the Advaitins. In their enthusiasm for the goddess to
preempt all previous ontological states, ��kta writers sometimes call Devī
nirgu�� Brahman (transcending all qualities) as well as sagu�� Brahman
(containing all qualities). Making the Goddess free of qualities does not mean
that phenomenal world then becomes an illusion, as it does in Advaita Ved�nta.
(As an example, only one major commentary on the Devī-M�h�tmya,
the one by N�goji Bhatta, describes the Goddess as static nirgu�� Brahman.
Another commentary by Advaitin Bh�skar�r�ya emphasizes that the Goddess as
nirgu�� Brahman is dynamic in nature and that the world she produces is real.)In
general ��kta theology is a thoroughgoing panentheism in which the Goddess is a
divine matrix for all things (hence, she is not any one thing in particular)
rather than an abstract unity transcending all qualities. Mackenzie Brown points
out that "absolute identity would preclude any real relationship," and relations
with people and nature are the real genius of the Goddess religion East and
West. S��khya’s commitment to the plurality of souls serves as an important
counter to the monistic impersonalism of Advaita Ved�nta. If selves are actually
unreal, then it is difficult to understand how there could be any intelligible
basis for personal and social relations.

In Aldous Huxley’s After Many A Summer Dies the Swan,
the protagonist says: "The more power we have, the more intensely do we feel our
solitude. I have enjoyed much power in my life." In terms of the ��kta theology
we have just discussed, this Western view of power, the power of the Titan, is
an illusion. This view of power is not exclusive to the West, for Hindu yogis
have claimed that, by their ascetic isolation, they have surpassed "the gods in
the realm of divinity." This claim is open to P�rvatī’s
rebuke (see epipgraph to this chapter) that no one escapes nature and the
limitations of its cosmic web of relations, and even the S��khya philosophers
held that prak�ti is the source of all power. Therefore, the completely
autonomous soul, according to ��kta theology, is impotent and passive, unmasking
the claim of "atomic" power by Rammurti Mishra as a vain and empty boast. The
yogi is actually a false Titan: he claims powers and attributes that his own
philosophy denies him. Catherine Keller prefers to see this act of
self-deception in Freudian terms. The male ego isolates himself because of the
fear of castration, but in effect he has castrated himself in the process. In
the nuclear age this has led to a sustained attempt at self-transcendence in a
"fail-proof phallus, the steel missile carrying the nux which cannot be

Even if this S��khya-��kta theory is wrong, most of us would
agree that the power of Huxley’s protagonist is ultimately destructive. �akti
power must be seen as shared power, for prak�ti gives power to all who
dance with her. In the West the concept of shared power is expressed most
clearly in feminist and process philosophies, which stand in opposition to the
orthodox Christian view of divine omnicausality.The power of the Titan is based
on possession, competition, fear, and control, whereas a view of shared power
requires openness and trust on the part of the participants. One could easily
argue that isolation and possession actually diminishes any constructive use of
personal power. David R. Griffin and John B. Cobb, two process philosophers,
state that the persuasive power "to open the future and give freedom [to others]
is a greater power than the supposed power of absolute control . . . ."




In the Pur��as the creative powers of prak�ti
are generally identified with each of the Hindu gods: rajas for Brahm�
the creator; sattva for Vi��u the preserver; and tamas for �iva
the destroyer. (The more sectarian texts sometimes combine all the gu�as
in either �iva or Vi��u.) The Pur��as that favor Devī,
however, make it clear that these powers are essentially feminine in nature.
Notice the explicit use of S��khya terminology in these hymns to Devī
from the Devī-M�h�tmya:

You are the primordial material (prak�ti) of
everything, manifesting the triad of constituent strands [of gu�as];

(You are) the cause of all the worlds . . . the supreme,
original, untransformed Prak�ti;

O you, the eternal, who become the power of creation,
sustenance, and destruction, abiding in the qualities [gu�as] of
primordial matter [prak�ti], actually consisting of those qualities,
O N�r�yanī,
praise be to you!

The great Goddess, here associated with Vi��u’s (i.e.,
N�r�yana’s) �akti, has taken over all the powers traditionally associated
with the male trinity. Indeed, the male gods are essentially impotent without
their �aktis. Here �iva laments the death of Satī:
"Arise O my beloved wife/ I am thy husband �iva/Open thine eyes and look at
me!/With thee I can create all things/Without thee I am powerless/I am a corpse
I cannot act. . . ." KŬ�a acknowledges that he has the same relationship to his
�akti: "Without you, I am inert and am always powerless. You have all
powers (�akti) as your own form; come into my presence." Even in the
tradition of Caitanya, which in its Hari Krishna expression has become very
anti-goddess, we find that "R�dh� is the full �akti and KŬ�a is the full
," which means "container of �akti."

In his insightful article "Consort of None, �akti of All,"
Thomas B. Coburn makes two significant observations. First, the Devī
of the Devī-M�h�tmya
is not specifically paired with either �iva or Vi��u, making this one of the
first truly ��kta Pur��as; and second, many of the �akti names are
original with this text. The author(s) obviously knows that traditionally
Indra’s consort is �acī, Vi��u’s wife is Lak�mī,
and �iva’s mate is Satī, Um�, or P�rvatī�;
but they deliberately coin feminized versions of the male names–Aindrī
for Indra, Vai��avī for Vi��u, and M�haswarī
for �iva–so as to dissociate these feminine divinities from any previous
mythological connections. The authors very much wish to stress that these are
not just wives of male deities; rather, they are very much their own power, or
more precisely, Devī’s

One critical moment in the narrative of the Devī-M�h�tmya
may be cause for some qualification to the current thesis. Knowing that
Mahi�asura cannot be defeated by man or beast, all the male gods combine their
own energy (tejas) to create the Goddess. The passage, in Coburn’s
translation, is as follows:

Then from Vi��u’s face, which was filled with rage,

Came forth a great fiery splendor (tejas),

(and also from the faces) of Brahm� and �iva.

And from the bodies of the other gods, Indra and the others,

Came forth a great fiery splendor,

and it became unified in one place.

An exceedingly fiery mass like a flaming mountain

Did the gods see there, filling the firmament with flames.

That peerless splendor, born from the bodies of all the gods,

Unified and pervading the triple world with its lustre, became
a woman.

The fact that Devī
is produced from the gods’ tejas appears to mitigate the thesis that Devī
is a cosmic power truly her own. Coburn has captured the meaning of tejas
nicely by combining the ideas of brilliance and luminosity, and it has been
variously defined as "fiery splendour, glory, fiery destructive power, energy."
Tejas can also mean virile semen, which relates it to another word for
male power–vīrya,
meaning "manliness, heroism; male seed." For example, Agni’s "fiery seed" (tejas),
which later becomes �iva’s, the incredibly hot semen that cannot be contained by
anything except the goddess Ga�g� (as P�rvatī’s
substitute womb), gives rise to the war-god Skanda.

Interestingly enough, especially for those used to Western
ideas of divinity, tejas is not a necessary attribute, i.e., it is not
inherent in the nature of the gods themselves. This explains why the devas
and the asuras both need soma or am�ta to keep themselves
"energized," and that is the reason the Manusm�ti frequently refers to
origin as the Vedas and the rituals they contain. In the same text
the derivative nature of tejas is seen in the phrase "the brilliant
energy of ultimate reality (brahm�)." Tejas is not only an
attribute of the gods and antigods, but it is also found in the Manus, sages,
priests, kings, and ordinary men. The priest "takes on a physical form of
brilliant energy (tejas) and attains the supreme condition . . . ;" and
the king is "made from particles of these lords and gods, therefore he surpasses
all living beings in brilliant energy (tejas)." Tejas ebbs and
flows, as can be seen in the man who breaks a vow of chastity, sheds his semen,
and loses his tejas back to the gods. Also significant is the case of the
man who loses his tejas by having sex with a menstruating woman, and the
priest who loses his vitality by looking at woman "putting on her eye make-up,
rubbing oil on herself, undressed, or giving birth. Even in their misogyny the
author(s) of the Manusm�ti give a back-handed compliment to the power of

The verbal root �ak gives rise to at least three words
in the Vedas: �akra ("powerful one"), a name for Indra; �acī
(personalized as Indra’s consort �acī); and �akti.
The latter two words have the general meaning of "ability, power, capacity," but
until the ��kta Pur��as they were not yet related to any notion of cosmic power
as feminine. Returning to the Devī-M�h�tyma
let us look at a crucial passage: "Whatever and wherever anything exists. . . O
you who have everything as your very soul, of all that, you are the power (�akti).
. . ." We can see that the first ��kta theologians have drawn on the Vedic �akti
to make a full-blown deity, separate from and now fundamental to the existence
of all gods and goddesses. As Coburn phrases it: rather than being
"quasi-independent of its possessor" (the Vedic view), �akti now "is not
something that a deity has, but something that the Goddess is . . . ."
is something Devī has as a necessary
attribute and, panentheistically, something that everything else in the universe
has by virtue of Devī’s
omnipresence. Phrased metaphysically, �akti is always a substance, not an
attribute, while the reverse is true of tejas, where even in Indian
physics fire (tejas) is just one of the attributes, along with air and
water, of a basic substance (bh�ta).

��kta theology appears to have broken the vicious cycle of the
Vedic maxim, explained superbly by Brian K. Smith (supra p. 116), that one gains
power only at another’s expense. The Vedic power game, as with most patriarchal
concepts of power, is a zero-sum game. Those who control the sacrifice, either
by hook or crook (with the gods dominating in the "crook" department), control
tejas. So the result is constant battles between gods and antigods, gods
and ascetics, and priests and kings. The ��kta view is different: even though
Mahi�a loses his tejas–Devī
teases him to show his "womanish" nature–he still presumably has his own �akti,
for this is a power that all beings have by virtue of their very existence. If
Devī has her own ontological status as supreme
and �akti, then we are compelled to read her "creation" out
of the gods’ tejas much differently than one might initially. In the
context of ��kta ontology, it must mean that the gods were simply able to make
her appear, or, as we shall see, to add attributes to a preexisting primordial
power. It might also mean that the gods are now assigning, as a sign of
deference (they give her all their weapons), their "brilliance" to Devī
and become "dim" in the same way that �iva becomes inert when K�lī
dances upon him. Significant also is the fact that Devī
calls on a god’s �akti, not his tejas, to join in her fight
against Mahi�a. Equally significant is the fact that when Mahi�a complains about
being "ganged up on" by so many goddesses, Devī
draws all the �aktis into herself and finishes the battle alone. Finally,
even though the text refers back to the creation out of the gods’ tejas–"born
from the bodies of the gods"–the very next verse states that the Goddess "was
born from the body of Gaurī (=P�rvatī),"
which essentially means that she is born out of herself, because, as Coburn sees
it, Gaurī as a "supreme form of the Goddess." Or
to see the question even more fundamentally the author(s) clarify Devī’s
"birth": "She is said to be born in the world, even though she is eternal."

My interpretation is confirmed by looking at the same event as
portrayed in the Devī-Bh�gavata
. Just as in the Devī-M�h�tyma,
the Goddess, here called Mah�lak�mī, appears out
of the gods’ tejas; but in the detailed description that follows, it is
clear that the gods are simply adding attributes to, or enhancing preexisting
attributes of a primordial deity. If Devī is
nothing but the sum total of the gods’ fiery energy, then the following
statement makes no sense: "Even Brahm�, Vi��u, Mahe�a, and Indra are never
competent enough to describe her form properly." The Goddess is "constant, she
is always existent; . . . She assumes different forms for the fulfillment of the
deva’s ends . . . ." In a clear allusion to S��khya, the author(s) describe Devī
as the actor and the gods as mere spectators. The Devī
"comes out of that mass of celestial light," which suggests that she comes out
on her own stage with the gods’ tejas as its brilliant lighting.

The Devī-Bh�gavata
combines Ved�nta, S��khya, and Tantra
in a marvelous synthesis. Devī is first and
foremost Nirgu�� �akti or Mah�m�y�. In her sagu�a form the Goddess is the
divine creatrix, and a combination of sattvic �akti, rajasic �akti,
and tamasic �akti brings the world into existence. For this purpose she
manifests herself as Mah�lak�mī (sattvagu�a)
making all intellectual and spiritual activity possible; as Mah�sarasvatī
(rajasgu�a) empowering all human and animal activity; and as Mah�k�lī
(tamasgu�a) giving us all things inert and death itself. (In other texts
Mah�laksmī and Mah�sarasvatī
switch gu�as.) After creation Mah�devī
reveals herself as the terrible K�lī and her
consort �iva; as Lak�mī, goddess of wealth and
wife of Vi��u; and finally as Sarasvatī,
Brahm�’s wife and the goddess of knowledge and wisdom.

It might appear that K�lī,
the blood-thirsty goddess of death and destruction, presents a very negative
image of women. As an alternative to the standard view that K�lī
represents a projection of a fear of female sexuality,Lina Gupta proposes that
K�lī represents a revolt against patriarchy’s
rules about the proper dress and behavior of women. Instead of wearing a
beautiful sari, K�lī is essentially nude; and
rather than being adorned with jewels, she wears skulls, severed heads and arms.
In contrast to P�rvatī, K�lī
is an independent "spouse" to �iva: she does not perform any wifely duties, she
has no children, and �iva is constantly attempting to counter her unconventional
activities. Violating Manu’s laws, K�lī’s
"femininity belongs to her and not to her husband."Even more significant is
Gupta’s observation that K�lī’s
wrath may well be the expression of the anger of all India’s oppressed women. As
Gupta states: "The dark goddess is perpetually present in the inner and outer
struggles faced by women at all times. Her darkness represents those rejected
and suppressed parts of female creativity, energy, and power that have not been
given a chance to be actualized."

The Devī-Bh�gavata
a presents an interesting feminist twist
to the story of Brahm�’s mind-born sons, who, as we have seen, are sterile.
Brahm� complains that they are more interested in meditating and performing
austerities rather than in creating worlds. In earlier accounts Brahm� succeeds
in producing a female partner with whom he can copulate and produce other
creatures, but the Devī-Bh�gavata
portrays Brahm� as incapable of making himself a consort and the gods are at a
loss about how to create anything at all. The Goddess kidnaps them in her
chariot, takes them to her "Jewel Island," whereupon she turns them into females
so that they now know the secrets of procreation. MacKenzie Brown shows how this
account of the Devī’s
Jeweled Island populated with female deities is a direct counter to the
account of N�rada’s journey to the White Island, where the
exclusively male residents are awaiting final union with the Lord. These stories
clearly display the tension between the world-denying asceticism of the yoga
ideal and the world-affirming themes of ��kta theology that are at the focus of
this chapter.

One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the Goddess as a
necessary material cause is found in the Ked�raka��a of the Skanda Pur��a.
Although not considered a ��kta Pur��a, it has been described by Doniger as
containing a "primitive" and "cynical" feminism because of its portrayal of
strong, assertive women, which results in a "satire on Hindu misogyny." One of
the main myths of this work is the story of the birth of �iva’s son Skanda
(=Kum�ra=K�rttikeya), who is destined to kill the asura T�raka. In order for
this prophecy to be fulfilled, the gods have to bring �iva and P�rvatī
together in sexual union. The gods persuade Himav�n, god of the Himalayan
mountains, to offer his daughter in marriage. When the two succeed in obtaining
an audience with �iva, the great god commands that P�rvatī
be removed from his presence. Contrary to his wish, P�rvatī
steps forward and engages him philosophically: "You should consider who you are,
and who Nature [prak�ti] is." Expressing what can only be called a form
of Yoga Titanism, �iva declares to P�rvatī: "I
will destroy Nature with my ultimate inner ascetic heat, and I will stay here
without Nature." P�rvatī’s
answer is swift and to the point: "How could you transcend nature? What you
hear, what you eat, what you see–it’s all Nature. How could you be beyond
Nature? You are enveloped in Nature, even though you don’t know it."

has adopted basic S��khya philosophy, but with a significant twist: without
nature all souls are inert and lifeless, and yogic isolation from the world is
no longer seen as a spiritual ideal. P�rvatī’s
rebuke also implies that for Indian philosophy nature now has intrinsic value.
Prak�ti’s dance is not temporary and is not just a means to an end: the
liberation of puru�as to their isolated lokas. Rather, Devī’s
dance–now performed by �iva, her principal ally–is eternal and her message is
clear: return to the earth, to the body, the passions, and to ordinary human
relations. In contrast to the ascetic tradition, the Goddess supports all
activities from worldly enjoyment (bhukti) to spiritual liberation (mukti).

The latter thesis is particularly well supported in our
present text, wherein P�rvatī
essentially becomes the embodiment of K�ma, even after �iva has burned him to
ashes with his third eye. The gods fall into despair and they beg �iva to
resuscitate the god of desire. The gods warn that the world cannot live without
love and that it will be ruined as a result his rash act. �iva refuses to see
the logic of this version of P�rvatī’s
argument that isolated puru�as are empty and impotent without the
life-giving qualities of prak�ti. �iva repeats his warning that desire is
the cause of the downfall of all beings, including the gods, who earlier, when
they recruited K�ma, admitted that they, too, were prey to lust. As a rejoinder,
the gods, never known for their philosophical acumen, present a very subtle and
effective argument. They remind �iva that the universe was created by desire;
"indeed, the whole of it is in the form of k�ma. That k�ma is not
killed." The gods then lay the philosophical noose around the great god’s neck:
"It is from k�ma that the fierce krodha (anger) takes origin. You
yourself have been won over by krodha." This response makes �iva even
more angry and he becomes "desirous of burning (everything) with his third eye."

In her Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of �iva,
Wendy Doniger presents a brilliant and thorough analysis of the �iva-K�ma-P�rvatī
relationship, and one of the most insightful references she found was a Buddhist
poem, which reveals succinctly the fundamental problem of Hindu asceticism:

Love and anger both are states

hostile to self-control

What then did �iva hope to gain

by slaying Love in anger?

The anger of the gods and sages, and the alacrity by which
they incinerate their opponents, represents a fatal flaw in their spiritual
discipline. Rather than find a Golden Mean like the Buddha or Aristotle
recommend, the Hindus are notorious for pursuing, as Doniger suggests, the
Golden Extremes of excessive eroticism on the one hand and excessive asceticism
on the other–both filled with the pride and hubris of a Titan.

The Skanda Pur��a presents P�rvatī
(here called Girij�) as the "mother of the universe": it was she "who created
the three worlds along with Brahm� and others. Making use of the qualities of
, sattva, and tamas, she caused the origin, sustenance,
and annihilation (of the worlds)." P�rvatī’s plan
for the seduction of �iva does not follow Buddhist lines; rather, it is
eminently Hindu–thoroughly excessive and thoroughly dialectical. (Her tapas
is so great that it dialectically coincides with the heat of her desire to
become his mate.) P�rvatī’s penance produces a
fire so great that it threatens the triple worlds. This leads to yet another
embassy of the gods to �iva, in this case led by Vi��u. This time �iva relents,
predicting that P�rvatī
will bring K�ma back to life. He still, however, warns about the dangers of
desire, but at least now he concedes the winning point in the previous debate:
"It is from it (k�ma) that anger is produced."

�iva concedes much more in the scene in which the two lovers
become engaged. While earlier praised as the "father, mother, and lord" of all
the worlds, �iva now proclaims P�rvatī
to be the creatrix of the universe by means of her m�y� and her
. The translator G. V. Tagare finds it odd that �iva launches into an
detailed exposition of S��khya cosmogony (with a bit of Ved�nta mixed in), but I
find it both natural and particularly conducive to my thesis. �iva admits that
P�rvatī as prak�ti is "capable of action
continuously," while he as the puru�a is totally inactive. (This gives �iva
the lame excuse that it must be P�rvatī who
actually proposes marriage!) The crucial passage is the following: "The being
devoid of gu�a has become enveloped by gu��s . . . The independent
one has become dependent. O goddess, a great thing has been achieved by you."
The great Goddess has persuaded a great, but reluctant Yogi that he must merge
with prak�ti, which amounts to a total transformation of the S��khya
philosophy. The alleged independence of the isolated puru�a has been
replaced by an interdependent social self. K�ma has indeed been reborn, viz., in
the �akti of the androgyne that is �iva-P�rvatī–the
Ardhan�rī�vara. By means of
a grand coincidentia oppositorum they have both reached a double goal:
the fire of yogic tapas and the fire of k�ma. In ��kta theology
the possibility of both mukti and bukti has been combined in one


A comparative study of the Goddess East and West reveals an
interesting puzzle: patriarchy succeeded in suppressing the Goddess in the West,
but millions of Hindus still celebrate her in India. I have already proposed one
possible solution: female energy became passive and inert in the West but
remained creative and dynamic in Hinduism. In his book All Mothers Are One,
Stanley Kurtz proposes a sociopsychological explanation for the survival of the
Goddess in India. Kurtz’s field studies of Santo�i M�, the most popular goddess
in India today, has led him to revise not only the traditional categories of
Hindu goddesses, but also to offer a revised psychoanalytic understanding of
child development in the Indian family.

In terms of classical Freudian theory, the typical Indian male
appears to have failed to resolve the Oedipus complex. As a way to explain the
demise of the Goddess in the West and the her continued presence in India, this
theory has very negative implications for the Indian psyche. The Indian male’s
unresolved and therefore unhealthy attachment to his mother is reflected in his
society’s continued celebration of the Goddess, whose two traditional forms
represent the bad, terrifying mother on the one hand (K�lī,
Durg�) and the nurturing domesticated wife-mother on the other (P�rvatī,
Lak�mī, Sarasvatī)
on the other. Therefore, while the typical Western male frees himself from this
ambivalent mother image and becomes an autonomous individual, the Indian male
remains trapped in the Oedipal phase and suffers a lack of ego identity and
self-esteem. The traditional psychoanalytic image of the Indian male is of a
young boy, spoiled by an overindulgent mother, suddenly thrust into a male
community that terrifies him and offers him no constructive way of coping with
the transition. Kurtz summarizes this position:

[Traditional] analysts give us a Hindu child locked in the
mother’s embrace. In this traditional account, the mother’s indulgent
presence surrounds the child until around the age of five the father’s
discipline intervenes traumatically. This juxtaposition of prolonged
indulgence and sudden frustration is said to mark the Hindu adult with a
hidden yearning for the idyllic past, a time when child and mother were one.

In contrast the Western male does not remain "locked in the
mother’s embrace"; rather, he forms a successful relation with both his
biological and spiritual father and leaves his mother and the Goddess behind.
Cosmic power then is coopted by the male and masculinized, as we saw in the
language of the defense intellectuals.

Kurtz tries to demonstrate how the evidence of Santo�i M�
dissolves the traditional distinction between unmarried goddesses of terror and
destruction on the one hand and married goddesses of domestic virtue on the
other. In the movie about Santo�i M�, a daughter of the elephant god Ga�e�a and
hence a granddaughter of P�rvatī,
she is portrayed as a benevolent virgin who is abused, both verbally and
physically, by the married goddesses. Even before the rise of Santo�i M�, there
were enough discrepancies in the traditional model to bring it into question.
For example, the ferocious, blood drinking K�lī
standing on the body of her husband �iva is a striking counterexample to this
model. (The fact that �iva eventually pacifies her does not entirely explain
away the anomaly.) The traditional model has also been undermined by Lynn
Bennett’s field studies in Nepal, which show a tension between "dangerous"
wives, especially when the young Hindu wife first enters her husband’s family,
and benevolent unmarried sisters.

In his investigation of Santo�i M�, Kurtz was frustrated by
the tendency of his respondents to redefine her in terms of the other goddesses,
especially Durg�. His failure to discover the specific sociological origins of a
"new" goddess led him to an even greater discovery: in India all goddesses are
ultimately one. There are not two types of goddess, one malevolent and the other
benevolent, but rather one Goddess who appears diverse because the typical Hindu
child, growing up in an extended family, experiences a wide variety of women. A
mother, heretofore perceived as completely benevolent, can now appear as
malevolent when she gives the child over to another female family member for
care. The child will forgive its mother when it returns safely to her, but will
still continue to mistrust her and other women in the extended family. In an
intricate new schema to explain the Hindu goddesses, Kurtz provides for a
malevolent-benevolent range for all the goddesses as psychological projections
of sisters, daughters, aunts, wives, mothers, or mothers-in-law.

Kurtz believes that many observers have misperceived the
Indian mother as a "smother" mother, a term more appropriate for the isolated
mother of Western nuclear families. Kurtz shows that the Indian mother, like
mothers in other non-Western societies, does not show inordinate affection for
her children. The conclusion that Kurtz draws is that the Indian child, far from
being less able to cope in the wider world, is better equipped psychologically
and emotionally to face the deepest issues of human life. This is especially
true if this psychological development is continually reinforced by hearing and
incorporating the stories of Hindu mythology. While the Western individual is
left alone to resolve the basic issues of separation, sex, violence, and death,
Hindu mythology provides the Indian with a public form of psychotherapy that is
free and readily available.

Finally, to correct the misapplication of Freudian models to
Indian culture, Kurtz says that Indian males pass through a Durg� complex rather
than an Oedipus complex. The Durg� complex resolves pre-Oedipal tensions between
the child and its "mothers" in the formation of an "ego of the whole," a social,
relational self that gives the child a sense that "he is whole and good in so
far as he contains and is contained by the group." On this account the isolated
Western self or yogic puru�a is the pathology, not the norm. (We need
only recall P�rvatī’s
rebuke of �iva to remind us of this truth.) Kurtz states that in "the Hindu case
. . . the movement is not away from the mother toward individuation and bonding
with other males. Rather, the movement is away from the biological mother toward
a more mature immersion in a larger and fundamentally benevolent group of
mothers . . . ."

Instead of the Western rejection of the mother and a life-time
of uncertainty about how to deal with women, the Indian male achieves a
healthier view of the role of women in his life. In the West the Goddess
virtually disappeared from established religion, appearing unresolved in dreams,
as witches in fairy tales, and as objects of ambivalent feelings for the
insecure, defensive, and sometimes abusive male. In India, however, the Goddess
continues her reign and millions of males worship her enthusiastically, without
embarrassment, in all her forms. "In worshipping the Goddess," Kurtz concludes,
"Hindus recapitulate and reinforce their successful developmental journey
through the world of women." Without something equivalent Kurtz’s theory must
imply that the Western male appears doomed to continue through life without a
satisfactory way of relating to women.


My emphasis on a dynamic and creative material principle and
Kurtz’s theory about Indian developmental psychology may help us understand the
pervasive role the Goddess plays in Hindu religious life. Sadly for the
theoretician and philosopher, social realities do not always map nicely onto
metaphysical theories. The marriage of �iva and P�rvatī–a
union of puru�a and prak�ti–did not end the strong ascetic
tradition of yogic personal isolation and escape. If Kurtz is right about the
Durg� Complex, how does he explain the widespread and time honored "aberration"
of the isolated yogi, one who has obviously failed to resolve pre-Oedipal
tensions in his prescribed way? Obviously many Indian males have not experienced
a "successful journey through the world of women." We need a better
understanding of why �iva thought that he could live without nature; or
alternatively, in the West, why males have wished to conquer it with technology.
In either view nature, and by implication the female, is devalued unnecessarily.
Why is it that, even within Hindu Goddess worship, male priests are still
largely in control of the ritual and access to Mah�devī?
Why are some males, even in the Indian context, still so confused and defensive
about female power? In India and the West this male frustration has
unfortunately turned into a cult of misogyny, whose tragic consequences are
found everywhere, especially in the West, in the physical and sexual abuse of
women. Immediately after taking refuge in the Goddess the Devī-Bh�gavata
has �uka condemning women who "suck the blood out of persons like leeches" and
"steal away the semen virile."

Sometimes this misogyny is transferred to the Goddess herself.
A "folk" Pur�na in Kannada presents the goddess �di�akti in a particularly
negative way. �di�akti, true to the ��kta theology, is the creator of the triple
world, and as she attains puberty she exclaims: "Ahha, nothing in sight to
satisfy my passion, to please my youth. I’ve to (be)get one myself." She then
creates Brahm�, who proves to be a paragon of virtue and resists her advances.
For his impudence he is burned to ashes. �di�akti creates Vi��u, who is also
aghast at his mother’s immorality, and he, too, is killed by the "eye of fire"
in her palm. Her third son �iva skillfully tricks his mother into giving him her
power, and then burns her to ashes. He resurrects his brothers and
creates three gentle and obedient wives from the Goddess’ ashes. Although there
is clear recognition of the feminine origin of all cosmic power, this myth is
obviously a patriarchal subversion of the positive aspects of ��kta theology.
Particularly clear is the hypocritical focus on female sexuality and the male
need to control it.

During the celebration of Dasain in Nepal the text of the
is read to men only, and the ritual is performed only by initiated males. Lynn
Bennett, whom Kurtz cites favorably, has observed that while Nepali men are much
more involved in Durg� worship, Nepali women are exclusively involved in the
cult of P�rvatī. Her explanation is that "Durg�
reflects a predominantly male view, focused on the problematic woman, while
P�rvatī presents Hindu
women’s own idealized perceptions of themselves and the problems they
experience." It is interesting to note that Durg� worship in Nepal was imported
from South India rather than the North, where Durg�’s role as good daughter-wife
is emphasized much more. In Calcutta, for example, the festival culminates in
Durg� being welcomed into all homes as the returning daughter, far removed from
in-laws where she was perceived as a threat.

More specific and sexist is the North Indian rule that a
husband must pay for fourteen recitations of the Devī-M�h�tmya
in order to control an unruly wife, but he only has to pay for twelve
recitations to defeat an enemy. A recitation of the Devī-M�h�tyma
may also protect a Hindu male’s penis and semen and help him get a good wife.
Therefore, it looks as if the Devī
myth contains far more unresolved pre-Oedipal conflicts than Kurtz would like to
admit. After all, Durg� is the king’s goddess, and her cult is administered by
him and his priests. In the not too distant past these same men went to war with
her blessings. If Durg� is leader of armies, then she is not so different from
Yahweh the Warrior, Lord of Hosts (=armies).

These observations raise some problems for my thesis that
Goddess worship serves as an answer to Hindu Titanism. If Durg� is primarily a
projection of male desires to control the world, then Kurtz and I are in
trouble. If Durg� is nothing but a female Titan, then my thesis is rejected, not
supported. In this view the Goddess represents an uneasy fusion of the
stereotypical compassionate mother and aggressive male-warrior. (Devotees are
never lovers of Devī, as
they are of KŬ�a, but children in her maternal embrace.) The maternal role is
virtually absent in the Devī-M�h�tmya,
and the words tejas and vīrya
(virile, heroic power) appear frequently. But even in the Devī-Bh�gavata,
where the maternal role is strong, anger, violence and aggression is also
present. Here her battle with Mahi�a is portrayed as contest between a real man
(the Goddess) and a eunuch demon, who has, as Doniger translates it, "no balls."
Devī reminds the demons that she has "manliness"
(pauru�a) as her "inherent nature," obviously referring to her puru�a
nature. Although the final goal of the authors of the Devī-Bh�gavata
is to present the Goddess as beyond gender, it is still significant to note that
in her cosmic manifestation (vi�var�pa) she appears in a male form
complete with penis.

It is also intriguing to note that one Indian artist has
portrayed Indira Gandhi not as Sīt�,
nor Sarasvatī, but as Durg�
riding on her tiger. This particular deification of Indira Gandhi brings us back
to one of the central themes of Hindu Titanism: the apotheosis of individual
human beings. This divinization of human beings was usually focused on the male
priest or the male yogi, but could, especially as ��kta theology became popular,
also be embodied in a woman as well. Both the humanization and feminization of
God is seen in Vasudeva S. Agrawala’s view that Brahman is both eternal man and
eternal woman. If Titanism is defining divinity in terms of humanity, here is a
possible source for both male and female Titans in the Hindu tradition.

Another objection could raised to the thesis that a dynamic
material principle is a necessary condition for Goddess philosophy. One of the
major philosophical shifts in Tantric Buddhism is that the powers of the male
and female agents are reversed: the male is now active and creative and the
female inactive and passive. (Hindu Tantrism preserves the original concept of
dynamic femininity.) This Buddhist reversal may already be evident in the pre-Tantric
stories of the Buddha’s birth, where the Sanskrit word m�y� is used to
name the Buddha’s mother, but her role is completely passive in nature. This
objection, however, is based on misinterpreting the Buddhist praj� and
up�ya as equivalents of the Hindu �iva and �akti.

Miranda Shaw’s recent book on women and Tantric Buddhism is
also helps us clarify some basic issues. First, Shaw believes that the
"confluence of Buddhism and ��ktism is such that Tantric Buddhism could properly
be called ‘��kta Buddhism.’" Second, her research has shown that women were
highly valued in both Hindu and Buddhist Tantric schools, so that this
revalorization of women had more to do with the Tantric subversion of
conventional gender roles than with any attention to the nature of the material
principle. Feminists may be inclined to praise Tantric Buddhism for the fact
that it, especially in its Tibetan schools, produced a very large number of
women spiritual masters. In the context of Yoga Titanism, however, one might
question whether encouraging spiritual asceticism in women locks them into
traditional male roles. In a provocative observation about Buddhist discipline,
Rita Gross states: "Maybe they are simply the creations of patriarchs who use
them to control life and distance themselves from others! Maybe that is why
Buddhism sometimes seems to glorify aloneness and be deficient in its emphasis
on relationship!"

A mitigating factor here is the fact that Tantric yogis and
yoginis are much more world- and body-affirming that their non-Tantric
counterparts. This means that Yoga Titanism, as we have defined it, may be
significantly mitigated in Tantric philosophy and religion. This is especially
true with regard to the concept of self in Tantric Buddhism. Shaw’s rich
description of this self contrasts significantly with the S��khya puru�a
or Jaina jīva:
"not a ‘soul’ in a ‘body’ but rather a multilayered mind-body continuum of
corporeality, affectivity, cognitivity, and spirituality whose layers are subtly
interwoven and mutually interactive." As we have seen, the concept of an
autonomous, nonmaterial self at odds with the body and nature is the distinctive
feature of Titanism East and West.


Westerners in search a Goddess in eclipse for nearly 2,000
years have the principal advantage of starting fresh. Most women and men are in
control of their own research and the reconstruction of the myths they wish to
live by. They are free to draw inspiration from a vast cross-cultural reservoir
of spiritual resources. If they perceive that ancient goddess worship has been
compromised by too much male interference, then they can choose from myths
selectively or create new ones of their own. Cynthia Humes’ field research in
Uttar Pradesh indicates that more Hindu women are now willing to reform their
own tradition. Humes agrees that there is a fundamental residue of sexism and
patriarchal subversion in traditional Devī
worship: "[I]ronically, men may more closely express divinity than females, even
when the Divine is viewed ultimately as the Goddess, for men are not ‘permeated’
with evils as women are, . . ." Nevertheless, Humes has observed significant
innovations. At the Vindhyachal temple near Mirzapur more women, having learned
Sanskrit in school, are now reciting the Devī-M�h�tmya
by themselves. Other women sing praises to the Goddess in the vernacular, and
one of the most famous singers is called guru by her own husband. Other
women are "channeling" for the Goddess, or in a substantial break from
tradition, are creating modern dances for her.

In the area of ecology one example is worthy of mention. In
her book Staying Alive Vandana Shiva draws on the principles of Goddess
philosophy and critiques the standard model of economic development in her own
Indian subcontinent. She calls it "maldevelopment" and claims that it is the
product of a partriarchal view of the world. Shiva describes this philosophy as
one that

ruptures the cooperative unity of masculine and feminine,
and places man, shorn of the feminine principle, above nature and women, and
separated from both. . . . Nature and women are turned into passive objects,
to be used and exploited for the uncontrolled and uncontrollable desires of
alienated man.

Shiva’s operative word for feminine power is prak�ti,
and she believes that India’s women (and the men who work with them in
ecologically sound occupations) are current embodiment of Goddess’ dynamic,
healing power. (She does not, however, realize that prak�ti’s
philosophical origin represents a dualism and a view of nature that is just as
objectionable as the one she finds in Western developmental models.) Shiva and
the brave women she writes about are using ��kta theology to fight their battles
over the forests, water, and food of India.

Before I present the last contemporary example, let me briefly
discuss one positive female model from the Mah�bh�rata, one that serves
as a balance to Durg� the warrior. This is the story of Draupadī,
common wife of the Pandava brothers and a goddess in her own right, at least in
the Tamil tradition. In the Mah�bh�rata KŬ�a is not, contrary to his
popular reputation, a god of peace and compassion, but a warrior god who leads
his own clan and his relatives into total destruction. One essential part of
KŬ�a’s plan is that Yudhishthira, the eldest and most pacifist of the Pandava
brothers, should lose a game of dice, which leads to the humiliation of Draupadī
and the exile of his brothers. In response Draupadī
dares to condemn KŬ�a:

As a man splits log with log, stone with stone, iron with
iron–things that [of themselves] can neither move nor think–so does the
Lord God, the Self-subsistent, the primal Grandsire, hurt one creature by
means of another, establishing for himself an alibi. Joining things together
only to disjoin them again the Lord acts at his own good pleasure, playing
with his creatures as children play with dolls. He does not treat his
creatures as a father or a mother would but acts in raging anger; and since
he acts so, others follow his example.

Although Draupadī
is not exactly an innocent agent in the high drama of this grand epic, her
indictment of God is as severe as Job’s. Yudhishthira is shocked at his wife’s
blasphemy and defends KŬ�a in ways very similar to Job’s friends. Finally,
Gandharī, wife of the Kuru
king Dhritarashtra, also curses KŬ�a for the destruction that he has wrought,
and predicts that his tribe will also be destroyed and that he will fall,
Achilles-like, to the arrow of a hunter.

Finally, let me feature Mallika Sarabhai, Gujarati dancer and
actress, most famous for her role as Draupadī
in Peter Brook’s Mah�bh�rata. In a recent interview in the Deccan
, Sarabhai tells how she fought for a rewriting of Draupadī’s
character. As she explains: "Despite researching the Mah�bh�rata for
eleven years, they are white Anglo-Saxon men. To them, the whole concept of
women as Shakti was unknown." Since then she has gone on to choreograph and
stage Shakti and Sita’s Daughters, both powerful expressions of
��kta philosophy. The first piece is in English, and when women’s groups
encouraged her to translate it and tour Indian villages, she realized that she
had to produce something more appropriate for village women. The result was
Sita’s Daughters
, which incorporated stories of rape and female infanticide
from village women themselves. The rural performances take three times as long
as the city ones, because the village women insist on interrupting the show and
telling their own stories.

In this chapter I have addressed several related questions.
The first was a quest for the reason why Devī
worship thrives in India but died out in the West. Even though social practices
do not necessarily follow from belief in metaphysical categories, I believe that
the strength of ��kta theology in India has something to do with how Indians
have conceived of the material principle. The worship of the Goddess appears to
require that we view matter, as did the ancients and Indians today, as dynamic,
organic, interrelated, and alive. We found that Kurtz’s psychoanalytic
hypothesis failed to explain the indomitable force and attraction of India’s
ascetic tradition and the spiritual Titanism that is manifest in its goals of
personal isolation and its illusions of spiritual power. (One has to admit,
however, that some significant difference in socialization must account for the
fact that Indian males worship the Goddess without embarrassment, while it a
great majority of Western males would find it very difficult to do so.)
Furthermore, we found that since males have written the scripture and still
control the ritual, the Hindu Goddess does not always speak with a true feminine
voice. Finally, however, we have found hopeful signs of Indian women reclaiming
the ��kta tradition as a means for constructive personal and social action.
These women will surely succeed in giving the Hindu Goddess a distinctively
female voice, and they will form a vanguard against the various liabilities of
Hindu Titanism.


In the beginning there were disembodied spirits suspended in
space, unmoving in their trance state. Enter a dancing Goddess, creating solid
ground wherever she steps. Her dynamic gestures cause the spirits to stir and
gradually, one by one, they dance with the Goddess. As they dance, they take on
bodies, and they, too, begin to feel the ground beneath their moving feet. Only
one spirit named ��vara the Lord remains unmoved and undisturbed. The cosmic
dance continues and becomes more complex, creative, and frenzied. The spirits
call to ��vara and encourage him to join them, but he resists saying that what
they are doing is sinful and degrading. The dancing beings persist in their
attempt to get the great Yogi to do the cosmic dance, and finally, but
reluctantly, he agrees. His steps are awkward at first, but gradually he, too,
is dancing wildly like the rest of them. At times it appears as if the Goddess
and the Yogi are a single, united body. The Goddess is well pleased and the
cosmos continues and all embodied beings are blessed beyond measure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *