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The Goddesses of India - A problem of presentation.

Jagat - Sat, 26 Jun 2004 08:34:20 +0530
I would just like to talk about a problem that I am dealing with right now at work. As you may know, I work for Mandala Media, a publishing house based in California that is owned by Raoul Goff, or Ramdas, a disciple of Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj.

Ramdas is a successful businessman, who has run a publishing clearing house, Palace Press International along, with his two brothers for some years now. His brothers are also, I believe, disciples of Puri Maharaj, but it is Ramdas who has taken up the banner of Mandala Media, which is, according to the World Vaishnava Association, its official publisher.

I must say that I don’t know much about the way the business is run, but certainly, in the beginning, a big part of its mission was to publish the books of Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj, some of which enjoyed a fair amount of success in a wider circle of devotees, especially since Puri Maharaj was still alive and held an important position in the Gaudiya Math world as the elder statesman among Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s living disciples. Puri Maharaj had a genuinely endearing personality besides being learned in the Gaudiya Math siddhanta, and many of the leading Western Vaishnavas like Paramadvaiti Maharaj were his regular visitors.

To publish the books of one's spiritual master is a noble idea for a disciple, but Ramdas has done a great deal more for his guru: he has contributed a great deal of money to the Gopinath Gaudiya Math—practically single-handedly building the Math’s ashrams in Mayapur and Puri, and he has remained faithful to his guru's wishes and mission by supporting his successor, Bodhayan Maharaj, its current acharya, who has the rather difficult task of following a great act.

However, the publication of religious material, especially for an audience as limited in numbers as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, is not very profitable. The Gaudiya world is small, highly divided, and extremely competitive--there are many people publishing a large number of titles, and most people tend to buy or distribute primarily the works of their own guru. This makes it hard for a publisher with a small mission like Mandala to promote books of a sectarian nature. There are limits to what one can do without an inexhaustible income, and that is rarely the case. Ramdas is not Bill Gates.

Nevertheless, he has a wider vision as well as being a smart businessman. He has taken as his model Shambhala, a very well known Buddhist publishing house that has been able to turn what is predominantly a sectarian mission—to print books about Tibetan Buddhism—and made it successful, primarily by finding other, related markets that can subsidize the publication of more esoteric works. With the gradual widening of Buddhism in the English-speaking world, in which Shambhala has played an extremely important role, they are able to even break even on those, less popular or commercial titles.

Ramdas has made a big coup in signing contracts with some of India’s leading religious artists—Indra Sharma and B.G. Sharma and others—for calendars, art books, etc. His layout people are truly excellent: what is more, they are devotees. From this point of view, Mandala has already achieved excellence and been recognized for it.

So, it is trying to use its strengths to find new publishing products to market, that will eventually subsidize its other, more directly mission-oriented goals. This is only good business practice, and on the whole noble and wise.

Now, I have been involved for the last several months on one of the first projects of this sort, which began as a gleam in Ramdas’s eye. His inspiration was simple: Let us have an introductory book on the goddesses of India, with beautiful artwork, which will culminate in the glorification of Srimati Radharani, who will be presented as the supreme goddess. In keeping with the Gaudiya Vaishnava insight, we will show that she is above even Krishna. And all this should be quite pleasing to a fairly important market, the upmarket California New Age yoga woman.

I won’t give the whole history of the affair, but suffice it to say that eventually the job of writing this book was given to Krishna Dharma Das, a Bhaktivedanta Swami disciple who has known a fair amount of success with his popularization of the Mahabharata, Ramayan and a number of other books. Though he is no John Grishom or Stephen King, he seems to be making a living as a writer, which is no small challenge in this world. Other than he, as far as I can see, only Satyaraj Das is able to come anywhere near making an independent income through writing books related to Krishna consciousness, though he too is hardly living in a mansion in the Hamptons.

So Krishna Dharma writes a fairly readable book—readable for devotees, that is. His book practically oozes with that familiar Hindu/Iskcon sexism that makes anyone whose consciousness was raised to these things positively recoil. This attitude is so all-pervading that it is practically impossible to imagine how to correct the problem.

When one reads the stories of the goddesses, they nearly all have a subordinate relation to some male god. For Krishna Dharma, the principles that God is a Male and women are the cause of material bondage are repeated again and again. Despite determined editing, these things cannot be erased without bowlderizing the myths themselves. But even when writing about the great Shakta goddesses—Kali, Durga, the Mahavidyas—Krishna Dharma did not hesitate to insist on the female principle’s subordination to the male.

Now it must be admitted that KD cannot be faulted entirely: it is already quite difficult to write about Hindu goddesses or women in Indian religious literature without rubbing violently in the direction opposite to the general spirit of modern womanhood—especially those women we have designated as our primary target audience. Indian society is patriarchal, and that is reflected in the stories of these goddesses.

Now, we tried to present the great image of Radha as superior to even Krishna in this book--the victoryof the feminine, if you like--but even here we have a huge problem. No matter how you cut the cake, Krishna is still God, writ large, even if we accept the argument that God is not just Krishna, but both Radha and Krishna simultaneously. The image of Krishna is still that of the Supreme Enjoyer, surrounded by countless women “hanging on to his every limb”, and Radha seems to be simply the sum total of all these admirers. Though Krishna can be isolated (even though we don’t) as creator, maintainer and destroyer of worlds, the ultimate goal of life, Radha never can. So how can we present the idea of Radha as the icon of love and devotion in a way that will appeal to a modern woman, even one interested in Indian spirituality, who would never allow her freedom to be compromised?

Two other restrictions, not yet mentioned, come into play as a result of a sectarian bias in both the writer and publisher. No tinge of either Mayavada or Tantra may blemish the accounts of Radha. As a matter of fact, the first draft was criticized for presenting Radha’s relation with Krishna as being of an erotic nature, which "might be misunderstood." It had to be presented as love, without any misleading statements about divine or spiritual Eros, which might be mistaken for Tantra.

I tried to exact some compromise with these latter restrictions, because even women from the demographic we have been talking about know a thing or two about sex and Tantra, they are also going to be pretty educated, and I think they are going to recognize if they are being talked down to, or preached to. And, I hate to say it, but that is exactly what they are going to think. As a matter of fact, in my humble opinion, if selling the book was really the priority, I'd say forget about it. That’s the way we should go. But doctrinal purity oblige.

So now I am writing the introduction to this book and I have a lot of loose ends that I have to tie up: I have to recognize the audience and their desire to read about goddesses. I have to prepare them for their likely disappointment at not finding stories with the kinds of strong independent archetypes or role models they want. I have to defend Hindu patriarchy—at least to the extent that I explain its existence and offer the hope that the understanding of the goddesses offers some potential for evolution in a direction that would be more acceptable in today's climate. And I have to defend the fact that the book has been written from a Vaishnava viewpoint--and all this without sounding too defensive.

My deadline has fortunately been moved back a day or two, but finished, it's not. So maybe I'll give you a draft tomorrow so you can comment.


This little story illustrates quite a few things: The principal point, I think, is that business is a complex affair: finding a product and marketing that product require a lot of work. It naturally works best when the creative process is as unfettered as possible. If you have principles, it will affect the purity of your product as a commodity, unless you already have a perfect fit of product and market. If you are tailoring a product for a market, however, if you don't sacrifice principle, you compromise market acceptability.

For Vaishnavas, of course, the idea of compromise is terrible, especially for those who are most orthodox in their principles. For them "purity is the force" and to compromise purity means to lose everything. Furthermore, the idea that the Deity could be used as a source of profit, for whatever reason, seems to militate against that purity of spirit. (And Ramdas has already been accused of this by several Gaudiya Math leaders.) So how much worse is commercialization if it leads to compromising the true spirit of the Vaishnava ideal.

At the same time, there is a need to find a way to make Gaudiya Vaishnavism meaningful to the world, i.e., to popularize it. Can we make compromises (real or apparent) with Mayavada or Tantra in order to "sell" Radha and Krishna? Can we make compromises with the patriarchal Hindu social structure and its apparently rigid views on sexuality?

Is the idea of male God, devotee Goddess a viable model of sexual roles? ("Men are from Mars, women from Venus" means that there is something powerfully resonant with this fundamental difference of the sexes.) Besides this, Radha and Krishna represent a powerful, eternal esoteric symbol that is found everywhere: the union of polarities, the coniunctio oppositorum. They represent the synthesis of inner psychic dualities as well as that of the sexes--but that is an idea that has distinctly Tantric overtones.

If we accept the Sankhya viewpoint that prakriti is nature, purusha is consciousness, and purusha is only freed by separating himself from prakriti, then we run into a fundamental obstacle in today's world of idealized sexuality. But I feel that Radha bhakti is completely incompatible with misogyny. I cannot see it any other way. By this, I don't mean that Radha-bhakti requires sexo-yogic sadhana. But the vikrIDitam verse, and the protkhAta-daMztrAyate verse of Prabodhananda mean that the opposite sex should not be a source of danger and terror. There has to be a more mature modus vivendi than fear and loathing, whatever justification the Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita give.

O.K. Off the soapbox and back to work.
Talasiga - Sat, 26 Jun 2004 09:42:37 +0530
Jagat, I appreciate your dilemma.
I hope this helps you to come up with your own resolution:-

1. The plain ol' everyday meaning of bhaga (see any Hindi or Sanskrit dictionary) is vulva and, interestingly, a lot of the key words pertinent to the Divine within a personal relationship or reciprocal context are founded on this bhaga - bhagavAn, bhagavad etc .

2. The specific distinction of Krishna from the vedic all pervasive "impersonal" Brahman is expressly put at Bhagavad GItA chapter 9, verses 4 and 5 and this superior distinction is itself supplanted by a devotional reciprocity (mutual pervasion)
resulting from a personal relationship between the bhagat and bhagavAn (verse 29).

For your consideration .....

jatayu - Sat, 26 Jun 2004 11:48:35 +0530

"Guhya", an award winning Indian documentary film with its main preoccupations: the link between sexuality and spirituality.

Guhya", an award winning documentary film, challenges most contemporary views on sexuality, gender and exploitation. C. K. MEENA writes of the film's focus on the link between sexuality and spirituality and its ability to question the roles played by caste, religion and social custom in relation to human progress.

THREE sari-clad women are sitting in a maize field in a village in north Karnataka. Their bodies are swaying, touching one another's whenever a burst of helpless laughter comes gurgling out of their throats. They're talking about sexual intercourse.

These women are devadasis. Aren't they those women whose bodies belong to many men? Women who are helpless victims of poverty and ignorance, forced to lead a life of shame? Who are exploited in the name of religion? What business have they to feel joyous or exuberant?

This is a scene from Kirtana Kumar's documentary film "Guhya", which recently won first place in the New Delhi Video Forum organised by the National Institute of Social Communications Research and Training. The jury commented on the film's "extraordinary treatment" of female sexuality, a subject that is "often relegated to the area of the forbidden". Kirtana, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1997, travelled in rural north Karnataka, Kerala, Assam and Meghalaya, documenting symbols and rituals specific to Mother Goddess worship.

The 55-minute film, shot by her husband Konarak Reddy who also composed the music, unsettles most viewers since it challenges prevailing views on gender, sexuality, freedom and exploitation. It also moves us to reflect on the dazzling array of regional traditions in India and the on-going attempts to subsume them in one single, grand "Hindu" tradition.

The efforts we see today to create a pan-Indian culture have been going on since Independence and are a throwback to the colonial era. The "licentious" god Krishna, in particular, was scorned by the British and it was not long before their puritanical spirit seeped into the minds of the Indian elite. Krishna, the god of erotic, mystical love had to be "purified" by reducing him to either the child or the hero.

Similarly, the colonial rulers found our folk religions and cults barbaric and inhuman and, two centuries later, we hear exactly the same sentiments expressed by modern Indians. "The urban drive to eradicate superstition and to render Hinduism respectable on all levels of society is penetrating rural areas and interferes with these folk traditions." (From the Introduction to Representing Hinduism, edited by Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich Von Stietencron, Sage Publications, 1995.)

By focussing on the Mother Goddess, "Guhya" reminds us that Hindu worship is not confined to mantras, arati, prostration, tinkling bells and sandal paste, but turmeric, meat, liquor, drumming, dancing, copulation, possession, self-mortification, and ritual abuse. Modern Hindus would call folk religion an aberration, says G. D. Sontheimer (in his paper included in Representing Hinduism), but the traditional brahmin's approach was to hierarchise it and assign it a rank. "Formerly, religious tradition could not and would not abolish folk religion."

The Mother Goddess of the indigenous folk cultures, in the form of Shakti, hark back to a pre-Vedic tradition. They are highly localised deities with region-specific names and have no male consort. They play a major part in tribal and lower caste rituals and worship.

"Guhya" begins with the announcement: "Guhya is the name of the goddess in an aroused form sitting deep in a cave." The name is apt, for it symbolises one of the film's main preoccupations: the link between sexuality and spirituality. Fertility is only one of the aspects of sexuality that Mother Goddess worship revolves around - for example, in the various Bhagavati (possessor of the bhaga or vulva) temples in Kerala and the Yoni temple at Kamakhya, Assam, the menstruating goddess is seen as auspicious.

There are the twin traditions of Angabhoga and Rangabhoga - serving the god through the pleasures of the body such as bathing, perfuming and sexual intercourse and through the arts such as a dance and music. Here one can see a connection to the Devadasi tradition.

The ancient custom of dedicating girls to temples was prevalent across the globe. There were women dedicated to the temples of the Great Mother Goddess in Babylon, Syria, Greece and Rome. Evidence has been found of the Mother Goddess cult, in West Africa, Central America, Egypt, Arabia, Japan and Borneo, observes Jogan Shankar in his Devadasi Cult: a Sociological Analysis (1990). Shankar estimates that the custom of dedicating girls became common in India probably in the 6th Century A.D. and has been practised ever since, mainly in southern, central and eastern India. Incidentally, he calls the system "sacred prostitution" and differentiates it from the "secular prostitution" carried on by sex-workers.

Perhaps one can use his book to illustrate how a late 20th Century sociological treatise can so remarkably resemble books written by missionaries in the early 19th Century. The same prejudices and superior tone colours his language. "Scheduled caste members suffer due to ethological susceptibility," goes one of Shankar's many mystifying statements.

He adds: "They are superstitious and ignorant." More than once he talks about devadasis having turned into "cheap prostitutes". He sounds distinctly unhappy that there is no stigma attached to their behaviour, and that they are respected in their community. "The very unchaste, inferior, derogative (sic) nature of their profession attains respectability as they are invited to be present during auspicious functions."

Here is W. Ward, Baptist missionary, writing about the devadasis of the Jagannath temple in Puri in 1815: "A number of females of infamous character are employed to dance and sing before the God." Around the same time, missionary Abbe Dubois talks of "sacred temples converted into mere brothels" and dancing girls whose "attitudes are lascivious and ... gestures indecorous".

Kirtana's triumph lies in her non-judgmental approach that helped build a high level of trust among all her subjects. Whether they were devadasis in Saundatti, sex-workers in Thrissur, or bhairavis (female tantriks) in Kamakhya, she respected their beliefs and articulations. One cannot imagine the devadasi women, for instance, baring their hearts to government officials, or to activists and social workers who have been fighting to "eradicate this heinous practice" in Karnataka for the last two decades.

Eradication and rehabilitation have been the guiding principles behind government programmes meant for devadasis in Karnataka. The Government "rescued"them and admitted them into State homes after the Karnataka Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act 1982 was passed. The women were taught embroidery, knitting and tailoring. They also imbibed "moral education". They were offered an incentive of Rs. 3,000 to get married. Special residential schools were set up for their children so that they would not adopt their mothers' bad habits. Eradication, though, remains a distant goal.

"It has been a very conscious decision to avoid the representation of any of the women in the film as victims," says Kirtana. "Devadasi women have for a long time been seen as only victims. We have not engaged with the varied aspects of their lives because of the tacit and politically correct understanding that any sort of approval or even mere acknowledgement will be misconstrued as validation of the devadasi system."

The subject can be viewed from an entirely new perspective when one focusses on the link between sexually affirming feminine rituals and the status of women.

"Guhya" reveals that the social status of devadasi women is higher than that of other women of their community - however, those who have migrated to urban brothels are not as respected as those who have remained in the village. Devadasis have a right to their ancestral property.

In the film, they proudly contrast themselves with married women, pointing out that the latter often suffer the husband's abuse when he is alive and society's abuse after he dies. "But for a devadasi, no one will ever call her randi-mundi."

The film takes the women's spiritual beliefs seriously and does not dismiss them as blind superstitions thrust into their heads by upper caste men, with vested interests. Goddess Yellamma has lakhs of devotees of whom only a minority are devadasis, or jogappas and jogammas (men and women who have dedicated their lives to a deity and therefore do not marry). At Saundatti, the epicentre of Yellamma worship, the various seasonal fairs or jatras that take place on full moon days between August and February are attended by approximately 15 lakh men, women and children from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Bettela seve or nude worship is common. Despite the government ban, hundreds of girls are dedicated to Yellamma in secret every year.

When is legal action against a social custom justified? How often do agents of social change listen to the views of those whom they intend to reform?

In the colonial era, British officials were stumped by the bewildering variety of our social practices and, by and large, preferred not to tamper with them. There was selective interference, however. Samita Sen, in her essay "Offences against marraige" (A Question of Silence? Edited by Mary E. John and Janaki Nair, 1998) shows how lower caste practices, especially those relating to cohabitation, were brought under the purview of colonial law. "British habits, judicial temper and Indian elite convictions converged to condemn and outlaw all female polygamous practices." A whole range of cohabitation arrangements among the lower castes were declared as legally invalid; they were seen as aberrations since they deviated from high caste practices and textual prescriptions. The blanket application of brahminical norms divested lower caste women of their customary rights and freedom in marriage, says Sen.

There is no lack of evidence to demonstrate how dalits and lower caste women enjoy a greater degree of freedom than their upper caste sisters who are bound by traditional patriarchal rules.

In a comparative study of groups of Bhangi, Vankar and Koli Patel women in Gujarat (The Silken Swing, edited by Fernando Franco, Jyotsna Macwan and Suguna Ramanathan, 2000), it was found that Bhangi women have less need to create spaces since they enjoy more equality than women of other castes. One of the reasons for their freedom is, ironically, their poverty. "The oppressiveness of poverty and caste creates a situation where gender inequality within the community becomes, in fact, almost non-existent."

The paradox is that when a lower caste group achieves better economic conditions, it strives to improve its social status through Sanskritisation, which in turn places curbs on women's free movement and economic independence. "The non-Brahminical cultural core offers women more autonomy than among the 'higher' castes but assimilation of 'upper' caste ritual practices creates tension in the women. The women assert themselves despite adoption of ritual precisely because they draw sustenance from the original non-ritualised core."

In the light of these observations, how are we to view "Guhya"? The film triggers several uncomfortable questions. It is clear that social customs, modes of worship, and norms of chastity and "correct" behaviours vary widely among different communities in India. Is there no place at all for reform, or what might be called human progress? The biggest challenge lies in finding the middle ground between reformism and revivalism, to neither romanticise every ancient tradition nor attempt to "cleanse" our culture of its "bad parts".

The breakdown of the devadasi tradition has no doubt led to the degeneration of the devadasis' social and economic status. It is no secret that many have migrated to city brothels. Sex-workers in India have started forming unions in the hope of improving their quality of life. Well-meaning groups and individuals who are eager to extend their help to these women are unfortunately unable to shed their baggage of prejudices and preconceived notions.

Kirtana describes her interactions thus: "Anyone who has spent time with either devadasi women or sex-workers will admit that there is a sense of something inexplicable - call it autonomy - I don't have the right words - but they have a quality that is to me desirable in all human beings. It is a directness, which comes from being beyond danger. It is to be experienced, not described."

Before one intervenes in the lives of devadasis, therefore, one must seek to discover what they truly feel, desire, believe. And yes, one must listen to their spiritual experiences with an open mind.

In the film, a jogappa dressed in a woman's attire (as many of them are) talks of the goddess' power to change human beings at will. An old and greatly respected devadasi, Basamma Ningenegowder, describes how the goddess appeared to her for a brief moment and transformed her life. "She gave me strength," says Basamma, her face tilted upwards and filled with wonder. "They don't understand her maya. She changes everything. She changes their very form. Nobody knows why."

"Guhya" is provocative. It carries no message - rather, it initiates debate. "I don't have any answers," says Kirtana. "All I wanted to do through the film was to widen the discourse on sexuality."
nabadip - Sat, 26 Jun 2004 21:29:34 +0530
Jagat: as you most likely know too, most people buy books to look at them, and to have them in their bookshelves for reference, rather than to read them (most people do not have time for that). What they do look at are the photos and they do read the captions. So, if the publisher is smart enough, he won't allow the author of the text to write the captions as well. He could get them written with an alternative point of view.

The second most important thing is probably the introduction. Your intro is most valuable, because of your three letters there, your Ph.D. So go ahead, do not apologize, but write your own view of things. Even in those few pages you can leave a different message, and tell them that there is more to it than what their author writes.

The iskconite world-view will only die out as the people die that hold it. Meanwhile new generations can make a difference by ignoring what these worn-out ideologists are preaching. People in general also know, that India provides another view on sexuality with the temples of Konarak and Kajurao. Photos of topless gopis might also derail the uniformity of a male sexist view. Even the Europe of the Middle-Ages was much more liberal than people in general think. It is possible that India was as liberal ages ago, without the pressure from the side of an ever more catastrophic population-growth present.

I wonder how Mother/Shakti worship is represented in that book. I think that type worship is quite strong among simpler people who are not exposed to brahminical dominance. At least when you go out into the country, into the villages of India, there is a lot of mother-worship going on, and there is no male present there.
betal_nut - Sun, 27 Jun 2004 01:00:56 +0530
I just read a good definition of nirvishesh brahma -

"Krishna without Radha is nothing more than nirvishesh brahma".

In other words, Krishna's existence as a person is dependent on her.
Present him as being dependent on her instead of the other way around.
Jagat - Sun, 27 Jun 2004 01:39:45 +0530
This is still not where I want it, but I am really letting it bog me down. Any comments will be welcomed. This is a already a kind of committe job, so why not let the world in on it?

Still a rough.

It is admittedly somewhat presumptuous of me to approach the subject of the Goddess in the Indian tradition. Any man who dares to write on such a subject in today’s world must have a solid awareness of the feminist critique of the world’s great religions, all of which grew and developed in societies that were patriarchical in structure, and which were used to ideologically support these sexist structures. Without such an awareness, no man can properly appreciate the biases of his own sex or the heartfelt concerns of the other, nor thus be able to treat a subject such as this with the proper empathy.

Certain segments of the feminist movement have recognized the importance of discovering or creating new religious forms that better incorporate images of the feminine and thus more adequately give expression to their own spirituality. An integral part of this process has been to revive ancient Goddess traditions, such as the worship of the Great Mother and Nature found in the so-called pagan religions such as Wicca. Others have recognized the potential for finding meaning in the goddesses of classical Greek or Roman mythology.

These seekers of the Goddess inevitably discover that the longest living and most developed traditions of Goddess worship in the world are to be found in India. Many are especially attracted to the powerful warrior and mother goddess figures of Shaktaism, like Durga and Kali, their iconography, elaborate rituals and rich cultural traditions.

The Hindu pantheon is full of many other goddesses, however, and this book is meant to serve as a general introduction to some of the most popular stories about them, as they are found in the various ancient texts--the epics, Puranas and later works by poets and devotees.

These goddesses are usually seen as manifestations of one Supreme Goddess, who is understood differently by the adherents of India’s different religious sects. The Shaktas, of course, believe that the supreme truth is most adequately expressed as a fully independent female Goddess, whereas Shaivas and Vaishnavas worship her as the Shakti, or energy of a male creator God. The implication of the term “Shakti” is that a male requires energizing from the female, but that the female does not have an independent or autonomous existence.

As such, a warning is perhaps in order: those who are looking for sources of feminist inspiration from these goddesses may not always find exactly what they are looking for. In a sense, this limitation is to be expected. After all, it was not the purpose of this book to design new stories to fit modern needs, but to relate some of the best-loved and most frequently told stories about the goddesses, and to convey the lessons that the Hindu tradition itself likes to draw from them.

Like most traditional societies, Hindu society observed a clear demarcation in the roles of men and women, particularly when speaking of ideal behaviors. As such, it adhered to the more or less universal division of sexual spheres, where the male occupies the outer world, while the woman rules the inner.

It is not the place, in this brief introduction, or even in this book, to investigate the validity of this duality, which nevertheless seems to be fundamentally and immutably situated beneath all cultural variants. Though the roles of men and women have evolved in modern societies, deep-rooted psychological differences in the genders remain as immutable as their physical differences—and popular books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, continually point this out.

Nevertheless, it must be said that cultures that attempt to enforce idealistic views of masculinity or femininity on men and women are the source of much of the world’s misery. No man in the world is psychologically or even physically an absolute male; nor is any woman the perfect image of the archetypal woman as socially constructed, at any time, past, present or future. Both the man who tries to suppress any individual characteristics that might be associated with feminity, as well as the woman who similarly tries to uproot all tendencies associated with masculinity, are doomed to lose their personal identity. Those societies that enforce stereotyped roles for men and women end up losing their vibrancy, their creativity, and even their humanity. The natural inherent qualities of men and women are to be celebrated, but each individual is meant to discover and make blossom his or her own uniqueness.

The 19th century Indologist Max Muller coined the terms kathenotheism or henotheism to describe how Hindus seemed to worship each god or goddess as the Supreme Being, one at a time. This concept of ishta deva, by which the seeker attaches him or herself to the particular form in which God is revealed to them, appropriate to their spiritual need. The particular genius of the polytheistic world view is that the multiple forms of gods and goddesses allow us to recognize that human beings, like them, are different and can seek personal and spiritual fulfilment though a variety of different paths.


But whatever the superstructure of Hinduism, with its countless gods and goddesses, its substructure is unitarian. The seers who wrote the ancient works of Indian wisdom known as the Upanishads intuited one undifferentiated truth underlying all existence, even while they were aware that this world is one in which everything came in pairs, dualities of pleasure and pain, gain and loss, life and death.

The Divinity is thus ultimately neither male nor female in the bodily sense. We are the ones caught up in categorizing it as male or female. The Satapatha Brahmana says:

In the beginning, there was one Soul. But alone, It was not happy. It desired a second. So It grew until It took the shape of a man and woman locked in embrace. And so the One Atma divided into two parts: man and woman. And from that pair came all this universe.

Finding the psychic unity symbolized by the embrace of the primordial Divine Couple is what Carl Jung called the coniunctio oppositorum, the “union of opposites.” According to the psychologist Karl Stern, the androgynous nature of the Godhead indicates that polarity in union is an expression of the fullness of being. Who has not heard of Plato’s Symposium, in which he tells the powerful myth of the splitting of the original androgynous being, which has doomed all men and woman to seek their “other half” for as long as they live?

The famous Tai Chi icon, showing the harmonious unity of Yin and Yang, cleverly symbolizes this idea, even to its two dots reminding us that nothing is ever absolutely one thing, that its opposite lies hidden within. The Sri Chakra yantra described in the 11th chapter of this book is another great symbol of the integrated unity of the opposites, the harmonizing of spirit and matter. Yet another famous symbol of this unity is found in the Ardhanarishwara, the combined form of Shiva and Shakti, as well as in the esoteric tradition of Vaishnavism that celebrates the unified form of Radha and Krishna.

The very pervasiveness of this idea in the world's esoteric traditions, though often obscured by other conceptions of Deity, is deeply revealing of human psychic and spiritual nature.

At this point, I must make a further confession. Because I am an adherent of a specific Indian religious tradition, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, my vision of the Goddess has been shaped by the theology developed in that school. Founded by the mystic Chaitanya, this school was inspired as much by his ecstatic personality as by his teachings. In time he came to be seen as personifying the union of God and Goddess in his own person, symbolized the fundamental unity of the Divine Couple.

“Radha and Krishna are one in their identity but they have separated themselves eternally. Now these two transcendental identities have again united in the form of Lord Chaitanya.”

In the mystic tradition that grew up around this inspiration, though Radha was understood to encompass all aspects of the Goddess within her, it was specifically the power of love and ecstatic joy that was identified as her supremely defining characteristic.

Thus, though the Vaishnava concept of God has its origins in a fundamentally masculine concept of God as creator, maintainer and destroyer of the world, it has undergone a complete change due to the introduction of the Goddess who ultimately shows her superiority throught the quality of her love.

Krishna Das, Chaitanya’s biography, summarizes this mood as follows:

I am the complete spiritual truth, full of unlimited joy, but Radha’s love maddens me. The strength of that love is unknown to me and it always overwhelms me. That love is my teacher and I its dancing pupil. Radha makes me dance in many ways. Her love is all-pervading, which leaves it no room for expansion, and yet it still expands constantly. There is certainly nothing greater than her love, which is devoid of pride. She is the abode of all love and although I experience great joy in being the object of that love, Radha’s joy is ten million times greater than mine. I hanker to taste her joy but I somehow cannot. If therefore I accept her mood and become the abode of love like her, only then will I be able to taste it. Only then too will I be able to experience the way she sees me and feel the happiness she feels when she sees my love for her.

Thus, the Vaishnava concept of the Goddess states this: That though both the masculine and the feminine principles are needed to attain union, it is predominantly the female qualities of love, compassion and mercy that are the unifying force.

In the balance of inner and outer worlds, it is ultimately in the inner world that the individual finds fulfillment.

I'll reserve comment, but I still see a number of problems.
Talasiga - Sun, 27 Jun 2004 07:39:00 +0530
QUOTE(betal_nut @ Jun 26 2004, 07:30 PM)
I just read a good definition of nirvishesh brahma -

"Krishna without Radha is nothing more than nirvishesh brahma".

In other words, Krishna's existence as a person is dependent on her.
Present him as being dependent on her instead of the other way around.

This roughly accords with the Gita verses I referred to earlier.
Krishna is Brahman but Krishna is more and those verses tell us this.
The yin/yang, Shakti/Shiva, Prakrit/Purush complementarity reflects an understanding of the pervasive (immanent) Brahman
and the parallel for Krishna at this level would be Rukmini/Krishna, Lakshmi/Narayan etc.
However, with regard to a transcendent devotional reciprocity,
Krishna is beyond that pervasive reality,
"matsthAni sarvabhUtAni
na cA 'haM teSv avasthitaH".

Ergo, the devotional Krishna, Bhagavan Shree Krishna,
is not an apposite within a 'tantric" yin/yang complementarity
and Radha is also beyond this.
She is inclusive of the Shakti but she is more.
Her distinction is Bhakti, not Shakti.
anuraag - Tue, 29 Jun 2004 02:31:13 +0530
"Krishna without Radha is nothing more than nirvishesh brahma".

tIna rUpa zrI kRSNa ko, vedavyAsa bakhAya
brahma aru paramAtma, aru bhagavAn kahAya

sarva zakti sampanna ho, zakti vikAsa na hoy
sat cit Ananda rUpa jo, brahma kahAve soy

sarva zakti saMyukta ho, nAma rUpa guNa hoy
lIlA parikara rahita ho, paramAtma hai soy

sarva Zakti prAkaTya ho, lIlA vividha prakAr
viharata parikara saGga jo, tehi bhagavAn pukAr

brahma prApti-patha jnAna hai, paramAtma-patha yog
kRSNa prApti-patha bhakti hai, adhikArI saba log!

Bhakti Shatak, Verses 21-25 - Jagadguru Sri Kripaluji Maharaj

vadanti tat tattvavidas tattvam yajnAnam advayam,
brahmeti paramAtmeti bhagavAniti zabdyate

(Bhagavatam 1.2.11)
babu - Sat, 28 Aug 2004 08:56:29 +0530
jagat, years ago on the vnn forums, you wrote a piece on the yin yang symbol as being representative of the relationship between Radha and Krishna...i thought it was most beautiful and insightful

love takes place without is not greater than the other... a total sharing...endless movement

it seems you have this understanding and so the problem seems to be that you are involved in writing an introduction to a piece that you aren't entirely behind as it strays from your understandings and presents love as being a patriarchal heirarchy but yet you are involved in mandala publishing and so with this relationship with them, you feel obliged to write the introduction...

its seems what is being done is trying to write a patronizing book about what is Goddess to capture an audience without the author knowing himself what is Goddess... with great concern of what those in your patriarchal tradition are thinking about it

i would suggest to the author and yourself that to find what Goddess is, explore what Mother is and you will discover