Monday, December 18, 2006

The Goddess in India

I recently purchased a copy of The Goddess in India, by Devdutt Pattanaik. It is a fantastic book, I recommend buying it, it is the best summary of Goddess Worship in India that I have seen. In addition to a careful discussion of various ideas in Goddess Worship, the book also provides an insightful overview of the structure of modern Hindu theology.

I was also forwarded this article by Terence Kealey.

In the article Terence says:

The standard explanation is that Hinduism harnessed sex in the service of mysticism

This is incorrect.

It is not "Hinduism" that says anything about sex or mysticism. Mysticism is a catch-all phrase devised to pretend knowledge when when one clearly lacks it. It is Goddess Worship views sex as a representation of a greater union between two components of the Cosmos. The act of union between these two components, is refective of a greater sense of balance in the Cosmos.

The ideas of Goddess Worship were incorporated into the main "Hindu" theologies ages ago. At various levels, in the Vedas, the Veda Suttas, the Puranas, the Itihas, the Upanisads, and the Commentaries on the Upanisads, these ideas were injected with considerable precision. In addition to this, Indian folklore which is a derivative of the Puranas was also infused with ideas of Goddess Worship.

I can very convincingly argue that modern "Hinduism" which draws considerable inspiration from the Bhakti Era is founded on the rock of Goddess Worship and though it cannot be dated accurately into the Common Era, "Hinduism" appears to have hosted several key notions in Goddess Worship long before they expressed themselves elsewhere. The idea of Gaia, the living goddess of the Earth, a living entity that pervades the planet and lends itself great consciousness is something the "Hindus" have been talking about for a while.

You can probably go to a specific sculpture in any "Hindu" temple, and work out based on the style and the context, the exact idea of Goddess Worship that the sculptor was attempting to convey.

I agree that there is a strain of misogny in "Hinduism" too, however this strain is not dominant. The same cannot be said for Islam or Christianity which are over infused with ideas of male dominance. It is only under the influence of misogny that sex as an act is denigrated and its depiction considered undesirable. By contrast to Christianity and Islam which harbour unfathomable distaste and implicit rejection of Goddess Worship, in "Hinduism" these ideas are revered and celebrated.

I note with some amusement this statement by Terence Kealey

but we scientists...

Actually Terence, as a scientist, you have to follow something called the scientific method. A greater part of this method involves actually taking the trouble to look up the specifics of what you are talking about rather than drawing random connections to things you might think you know something about.

The connection drawn up between misogny and depictions in temples is a preformed conclusion that does not agree with the bulk of detailed scholarship in the field of architecture.

For the record, unlike medieval Europe and the sandy lands of Arabia where the Church or the Mosque was the only stable structure standing and consequently the center of all social activities, "Hindus"had plently of other built up structures in their towns and villages. They didn't need their temples to double up as brothels, there were plenty of other places to go to.

If all else fails, an appeal to reason, a quiet romp in the night in Soho probably costs a few quid, I imagine for a few hundred thousand pounds, you could reasonably hope to catch a few minutes with Her Majesty herself but if you try to buy any one of those "pornographic" temple images, you will be shelling out quite a bit more than a few million pounds. Ever wonder why that is?


At 7:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think sex as act itself is
disliked in islam
it is only disliked outside the bounds of marriage
Secondly what do you mean mosques as only stable centres while hindus have either centres too ?
You seriously need to read some Ghazali stuff to get to know about islam

At 11:29 AM, Blogger maverick said...


I have not read Ghazali's work as much as I would like to. Tragically the liberalised and vibrant social structure described by Ghazali does not exist in Islamic society today. I am sorry if I sound like Osama Bin Laden, but after its interaction with the West, Islamic society has coiled into fetal position. It is basically in almost complete stasis.

What I am saying is not about sex itself. The level of acceptance of "sex" is only one marker for a greater acceptance of the idea that the divine itself has feminine qualities and that is something that Islam rejects quite vehemently. Please try to understand, it not "God Created Adam, and from him He created Eve." It is about saying things like "Eve was the first, even before God, there was Eve, from Eve arose God, and from God arose Adam." There is no analogous document to the Hindu Devi Bhagvatam in Islam.

Islam actually goes to great lengths to deny that the divine has any human attributes outside of the fact that it was a revelation to a human, the Last Prophet.

As the Last Prophet was a man, male egocentrism has dominated orthodox thinking. What is now emphasised as core teachings in Islam strongly suggests that a woman's purity be sheilded let it be stained. To this end a vast regime of sexual segregation is practiced in Islam.

This exaggerated sense of chastity or overemphasis on virginity and a unquenchable desire for sexual segregation, all speak to a deep sense of misogny in Islam. This hostility towards the Goddess ideology, effectively casts women and everything associated with them in a negative and inferior light.

I sometimes wonder if this has to do with Islam's strong roots in the lands of Arabia. The lands of Arabia when Islam was born, supported a population that was mostly nomadic or urbanised. Agriculture was an almost insignificant fraction of the economy. Islam expansion significantly centered on its appeal in urban populations.

You see the appeal of the Mother Goddess concept is strongly felt in agrarian communities. Here the key analogy of the Mother Goddess, i.e. the earth itself as a mother like provider of sustenance is most dramatically visible. While in urban contexts, the provider and sustainer is a more abstract concept. An interesting contrast are Muslim agriculturalists in India who tend to worship in a number of local goddess dieties that are shared with their Hindu neighbours. Also in the region, there is a rich tradition of worship of local Pirs and Faqirs among Muslim farmers. These local icons are endowed with karamati powers to induce fertility both in land and women. The nature of this worship, invoking sacrifices and open obessiance to idols is stunningly similar to Goddess Worship in Hinduism. Needless to say even Hindus routinely visit and worship these Pirs.

Perhaps the most direct representation of Islam's hostility towards the Goddes is in the fact that there are very few women credited with spiritual leadership in Islam. Women it would appear are merely social ornaments worn by men as a mark of their stature.

Going by architectural patterns even in Ghazali's time, the Mosque remained the biggest and most imposing building in the towns and the bazaars usually sprung up in the lands near the mosque. In India things weren't like that. Temples, Palaces, Havelis, etc... competed for land. In substance, in places outside India, Islam completely wiped out other religions and took their space. The same can be said of Christianity elsewhere also.
By contrast in India due to the sheer diversity of worship, the Temple was never the center of human activity, there was always a lot of other stuff to do and places to do it in.


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