Tuesday, February 06, 2007

God is a woman. Without bawling babies.

Outside the Bhuleshwar Temple, I clicked this photograph of Durga, the great Warrior Goddess. India has so many goddesses - some fierce, some kind, some to be feared, some to be adored.

But strangely enough, for a country that is hung up about fertility, none of the goddesses I see in temples today seem to have borne children.

Parvati, the only major goddess with kids, did not carry them in her womb. This, in spite of several chapters in the Shiva Purana detailing her amazing love life with Shiva.

Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, has no kids either. And as for Saraswati, Goddess of Learning, she just sits there on her swan, looking pretty. No sign of ever bearing children, not with that waistline. She's a river goddess originally, dammit. She ought to be more fertile than that!

Goddesses weren't always like that though, thankfully.

Excavations in the Indus Valley have revealed several terracotta figurines of a pregnant goddess. And in many places in India, there are carved sculptures of "Lajja Gauri" - a naked Goddess depicted in squatting position. By the fourth century, Lajja Gauri had become accepted into the Hindu pantheon as the consort of Shiva. The Shiva Purana tells the story of Parvati and Shiva in an unending coitus - when they were suddenly interrupted by a visitor, Parvati bashfully covered her face with a lotus. Between the 6th-12th centuries, the worship of Lajja Gauri was pretty popular in the Chalukyan Empire (you’ll see Lajja Gauri statues if you go to Badami). Some of the oldest Lajja Gauri sculptures are from the 1st to the 3rd century, such as this one from Amravati.

But coming back to today – Goddesses these days seem to be sanitized versions of what they once were. Santoshi Maa, for example.

Santoshi Maa is a 1950’s phenomenon, and represents the best modern hope for all-suffering virtuous Hindu wives. Her myths tell the story of a young wife forgotten by her husband and abused by her in-laws. The pious wife, however, remains loving and faithful. Chiefly by means of prayer to Santoshi Maa and fasting once a week, she sees the return of her husband. He has newly acquired wealth, and she moves with him into her own house (thereby earning freedom from her in-laws, I presume). And – nine months later, she has a son.

With a storyline like that, I’m not surprised this cult spread like wildfire.

But does Santoshi Maa - the Goddess of Contentment have a baby herself?


God is a Woman. Without bawling babies.


sambar42 said...

I had never thought about it. Interesting. Why do you think that is? Maybe they are trying to tell us something? A solution to the population explosion, maybe?:-)

CanisLupus said...

Wasn't the concept of the virginal woman considered "pure" thereby preventing any debates about her "godliness?". And when they did have children it was either in other's wombs(Parvati) or through immaculate conception (Mary).

The story of tellers of yore probably thought that women could not feel godly, after spending night after night of interrupted sleep, constant nappy changing and cleaning up after a bunch of rugrats :)


Santosh said...

Indian mythology is full of such things.. probably they did not perceive goddess as someone spending time on her child rather than focussing all the people who are her children..