Monthly Archives: February 2015

Reviving Shakti: Restoring Feminine balance in Indic Society

Parvati Devi

Switch on the TV and with almost frightening regularity you will see an instance of horrendous rape being reported or a young girl being snuffed in the prime of her life by her husband and in-laws in what is known as dowry deaths. On local TV channels it becomes 24/7 screaming headlines until the next breaking news event occurs. It’s a case of lots of noise with expert analyses which gives the viewer no new insight nor tackles the underlying causes for it. This then is picked up by international media and “atrocities on Indian women” becomes the talking point internationally. The result is that the image of India that gets perpetuated internationally is one of a country of rapists and wife beaters/burners where women are simply not safe.

My point here is not to deny that such things take place but to state that we are no wiser at the end of each such episode on how to tackle the underlying cause for this deviousness. Instead what we have in the TV studios are assorted women’s rights activists who do not offer much more than outrage at the events and who use the opportunity to vent ire, usually at male dominance and patriarchy. The terrible fallout of all this loud “debate” is the international image of India. At this point it is important to ask if being pro-women, as activists claim to be also includes being pro-society. I ask this question because it often seems to me from the TV debates that one is exclusive of the other: that to be a truly liberated woman, one has to essentially be anti-society and a rebel. Does being a truly liberated woman mean that one is divorced from society, and if so is that really a pro-woman stance? This is a question that should be asked by women and particularly young women. I would like to show here that there is a different way to approach this issue. In Dharma lies the solution to correct the ills of society if we only take the time to rediscover it and respect its profundity. We have to revive the Shakti–the Divine Feminine– in Indic Society.

Status of the Indian Woman today

Indian society did and does have its share of ills and baggage, but the context and situations of Indian women are not the same as in the West. India is the one land where women enjoyed an exalted position in the past. India is the only culture that sees divinity in women so much so that goddesses are the custodians of the domains of wealth and knowledge. Lakshmi and Saraswathi are the goddesses in charge of the two respectively. Apart from this it is again a goddess who is said to be the Ardhangini or the other half of a divine marital couple. Goddess Parvati is the Shakti to Shiva and Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanareeswara (a complete form with one half male and the other female). However, as we should be willing enough to admit, India is now also the land where girls are killed even when they are in the womb resulting in a skewed sex ratio in many parts of the country. Women are beaten, oppressed and exploited by males especially when poverty which is widespread in this ancient land, is also accompanied by alcoholism.

Alcoholism which is a major problem both in the extremely poor sections as well as the extremely well-to-do sections of society is generally ignored by the government and powers that be; for alcohol is a major source of revenue for the State. Here is a very revealing article on the state of affairs in Tamil Nadu, but which in varying degrees can be the story right round the country. This menace can have a devastating impact on women in general. It is compounded further when the State colludes to exacerbate the problem.

If alcoholism is one kind of problem, the male gaze is another (though not unique to India). Sexual advances are regularly made by males on the streets and in public places, and generally women are too diffident to speak out against it for fear of being branded dishonorable. Generally it is assumed that it is the girl who invited the unhealthy attention, and it is her lot to bear up. Honour is very intimately tied to chastity.

Girls are discriminated against in households where there is preference for a male child, and while there is a perception that this generally not explicit, there are many subtle ways in which the discrimination plays out.

It has come to the point where the Central Government is thinking of measures to undo the imbalance. The centre has announced the scheme called Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, Educate the girl child). India’s Prime Minister Modi in a very telling address to a large gathering at the launch of the program, describes very poignantly the ills that plague Indian society today with respect to the girl child. This initiative shows that the Indian state has started responding to the skewed balance and slowly this will then drive the Indian society to change their attitude too. But what are the forces driving this positive change? Are they external and foreign or internal and indigenous?

Indian Feminism

Swami-Vivekanand-Quotes

Indeed, the trajectory of Indian feminism has been quite interesting. For all the global discourse about India being a patriarchal society, the feminist movement in India was initially spearheaded by males. In the 19th century, Indian males were the first to own up to the problems that Indian females faced and worked to abolish the system of sati, child marriage and encourage widow re-marriage to name a few. They were also the first to demand that women need to be better educated. Women joined the men only much later, and then the movement got put on hold while the nation was engulfed in the throes of nationalism. Men and women from all across the country worked shoulder to shoulder to oust the British from India.

Gandhiji brought women to the fore exhorting them to join the freedom movement, but this call was always in sync with the ethos of the Indian woman’s way of living. He made it a point to accord utmost reverence to the roles that an Indian woman played as a caring, sacrificing, giving mother, sister, wife. And probably on account of that, he inspired millions of women across the country to rise in revolt against the British.

Independent India drew up a constitution that guarantees equality to women. The constitution also gives Indian women the right to vote, and indeed she exercises her franchise most decisively at every election. This is something for which the Western woman has had to fight. It is also interesting to note that rural women go out to vote more than their urban counterparts. So do rural women understand their rights better and indeed care more about whom they ask to govern them, compared to the urban? It’s a point worth thinking about.

Post-Independence Indian Feminism

Post independence, a brand of feminism that has been championed by the West has gained ground in India. Some of the ideas are indeed good and need to be implemented fully. For example, equal wages for similar jobs among men and women is certainly a much required and indeed necessary demand of the Indian woman.  Access to education is another which unequivocally is a must for restoring the dignity and importance of the role an Indian woman plays in all spheres of human activity. While these are positive and affirmative actions in the social and economic spheres, when western feminist notions enter the familial space, it is a different ball game. I tend to think that such notions play havoc with the fabric of the familial identity in ways that could be potentially devastating for the future of the family as a unit. Worrying signs are present even as we speak, but it is still not too late to reclaim them.

India has been a family oriented society since millennia. The western idea of the primacy of the individual and her/his rights are not part of the genetic make- up of Indian society. India is a very traditional society that has rights and more importantly duties built into the family structure. Hence, the way the family unit has functioned here is vastly different from the way it has panned out elsewhere. Dharma is the bedrock of the Indian family. Dharma works on the concept of Purusharthas loosely translated as the objects of human pursuit. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are considered as the valid purusharthas for man. Briefly, Dharma is living by the rules of the universe. It means going by the primordial rhythm that makes life possible. In short, it means the “right way of living” which includes having rules, laws, and conduct in all spheres of activity and for all manner of organisms.

Artha is the pursuit of means to sustain life, or simply put, it is the pursuit of wealth or economic success. Kama is the pursuit of pleasure, physical, emotional and psychological. Moksha is the ultimate goal of all living beings. It is the liberation or release from the cycle of birth and death. It is the state when one is not different from the One. However, our shastras state that Dharma alone is the means to this Moksha and is placed above Artha and Kama. What this essentially means is that the right way alone is to be used for the pursuit of the other two. If Dharma is sidelined in the pursuit of Artha or Kama, it leads to social chaos.

I find this an extremely profound way to regulate lives. And in it, I clearly see the way for progress of society. But the Western idea, being a very seductive and attractive proposition in the short term while being ruinous in the long term, has women being drawn to it like flies. And it is slowly beginning to take its toll on the Indian family. S. Gurumurthy insightfully provides us with a lesson in what Indian society is all about. He says, “Ancient Indian literature in all Indian languages reveres parents, teachers and women as the divine in human form. But reverence, on which tradition rests, is anathema to modernity[1].

The discourse, that has its roots in the western feminist movement, has surreptitiously slipped into the small conversations, messages and jokes that get shared on social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook etc. Sample this message which came as a forward on Whatsapp. It goes like this:

“She changes her name, changes her home, leaves her family, moves in with you, builds a home with you, gets pregnant for you, pregnancy changes her body, she gets fat, almost gives up in the labour room due to the unbearable pains of child birth, even the kids she delivers bear your name. Till the day she dies everything she does, (cooking, cleaning your house, taking care of your parents [….])” and then says, “So who is really doing whom a favour? It rambles on further and then does an expansion on the word “Woman”. All good, except that when giving an explanation for the letter “n” in “Woman”, it says, “N-NICEST GIFT TO MEN FROM GOD”. The caps too are part of the message by the way.

There are many problems with such ubiquitous messages which are supposed to be uplifting for women. I will dwell on just a few, those which have been marked in bold.

Does the woman in a marriage get pregnant for her husband? I do not think any educated Indian woman will really subscribe to this. It would then mean that the coming child is an unwelcome one to at least one partner in the marriage who in this case happens to be the woman. Are urban Indian women ready to accept that? Now, let’s come to the fact of getting fat after a pregnancy. Since when did Indians start obsessing about the statuesque figure?

Empowerment through Objectification?

Yes, it is very much in vogue today. However, I see this obsession to be thin and reedy only in the women of today. I think Indian men by and far still like women to be voluptuous. I agree that it’s not healthy to be obese but this obsession with maintaining a figure dictated by western mores is something that has gained currency since the advent of satellite TV and global content, which has resulted in the import of Western notions of beauty to India. Body image is a huge problem in the West affecting many a girl’s self esteem and self worth.

Do we want to replicate this syndrome among Indian girls? Do we want our girls to start dwelling so much on that perfect figure that they turn out to be bulimics or anorexics?

Now let’s tackle the favor aspect of the marital relation. When you say “So who is really doing whom a favor”, are you not making it a case of tolerance on the part of the wife towards the husband? Is tolerance the basis of a modern urban marriage? Then it is certainly a bad commentary on the state of the institution of marriage in India. When faced with such explanations, I am sure most women and indeed some men too, forwarding such sexist messages in the garb of glorifying womanhood, will and should pause to think.

Finally, after supposedly championing the cause of the woman, the message ends with a blatantly regressive remark stating that a woman is the nicest gift to men from God. Is the woman not entitled to an existence without being a “gift” to men? Is she not someone who has an equal right to existence just as the man has? It is seriously a message which is completely confused about its content. It is peddled in the garb of liberating the woman and making her feel special and instead at the end, she is finally told that she has an existence only as a gift for man. Nothing about partnership, nothing about complementarity. And this is a message which I believe must have been forwarded countless times by women and also by some men who thought they were celebrating women.

Its not just Indian women; there are women who live in the West who have been so fully influenced by the Western narrative that they have only the most hateful things to say about India and its culture which is a rather sad thing. Sample this article where a daughter talks of the anguish and daily hell that her mother endured while she went on living the pretense of a marriage with her ever absent father. The daughter heaps abuse on Indic traditions for the plight of her mother because she feels her mother lived exactly by the rules laid down by Indic traditions and obliterated herself for family when married. She talks of how getting a divorce and giving wings to her dreams and ambitions has helped her mother become free.

This is how a self hating, inferiority complex ridden native informant trashes her mother culture without any credible knowledge of the deep and profound essence of its teachings. Many young Indian women may express indifference as they may feel Indian men are being rightfully criticized, but they should remember that they too are under the scanner…

It is rather amusing when Western media comments about Indian culture and Indian mothers as this article does, with nary an idea about what it is. The article talks about the preponderance of mother-in-law, daughter-in-law conflicts and serials in India. While I do not endorse the over the top, ludicrous caricaturing, it’s rather hypocritical of the Western media to comment on a different society when the structure of its own is in shambles. Maybe its better for them to analyze their own before they proceed to analyze others.

Ulterior Motives?

        

This assault on Indic culture was first started during the period of colonial rule in India. It has its origins in the atrocity literature which was regularly churned to highlight ills (imagined and real) which existed in Indian society by the British. A similar thing happens even today when Stanley Kurtz, an anthropologist specializing in Indian studies makes a ridiculous statement like this on Indian women and his interpretation of how they treat motherhood (hear in this 30 Second Clip) [2]:

I am sure no Indian woman would subscribe to the above view of the Western scholar. Indeed in a talk during the launch of Invading the Sacred held at Mumbai in 2007, the audience could only laugh heartily to see such absurdities being peddled in the name of Indian motherhood.

We find it very amusing but the westerner takes it in all seriousness, and this is the kind of information that gets compiled into reports which are then used to paint a horrible picture of the human rights scenario in India. Such kind of scholarship mainly emanating from the West and lately being further facilitated by Indian scholars completely out of sync with the true story of India, is serving to demonize this ancient society and certainly this does not bode well for the future of Dharma. Do we need this human rights report from outsiders? Is it even factual? And if not, isn’t it time to question whether this human rights industry seriously has any real concern for the Indian woman.

ReversingTheGaze1

The background picture of this twitter handle IndiaRapeWatch should make you wonder whether there is any real concern for the Indian woman by this supposed watchdog. The picture seems to want to state that white women are unsafe in India which is full of leering, loutish men. There is nothing whatsoever (in the visual) about the Indian woman for who it ostensibly professes concern.

Evolution of Indic Society

Given this atrocity literature industry dating back to the colonial era, perhaps this is the time to take a look at our roots and a second look at whether our own ancestral heritage can provide the inspiration to elevate Indian women to their rightful position in society. Indic society is very old. In Vedic times, women enjoyed an exalted position in the social order. “The Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures give numerous examples of women philosophers, politicians, teachers, administrators and saints[3] . There were women like Gargi, Maitreyi and Lopamudra among others who were equal to or more accomplished than their male counterparts in their knowledge of the Vedas and their grasp of philosophy. We also have the example of Ubhaya Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra who was defeated by Adi Shankara in a debate in as late as arguably the 8th century C.E. Ubhaya Mishra, a woman, was chosen to be the judge for the philosophical debate between Adi Shankara and Mandana Mishra for she was considered to be a very accomplished scholar in her own right. The beauty of the story was that Ubhaya couldn’t declare a winner until she too was rhetorically defeated by Sankara, because she was her husband’s other half.

These are only some examples of the prowess of our Dharmic women. However, like in any society, norms established for societal behavior, changed over time and certain unwanted elements crept in too. Certainly, every system goes through an evolution from birth, to youth, maturity, degradation and demise and rebirth. And so it was with Indic culture. Indeed, Bharat was a self correcting society and whenever societal structures stagnated, there would come a movement which would infuse new life into society and give birth to another movement. In India, all changes until about the 10th century C.E came from a system that was inherently grounded in Dharma be it the Jainism movement or later, the Buddhism movement. Both these systems were born from the bedrock of Vedic Dharmic culture. Hence reforms happened without the dismantling of the basic foundation of Dharma which is considered to be Sanatana or eternal.

Something happened around the 10th century C.E which would repeat over the next few hundred years. This would go on to take a toll on the Dharmic cultures that had existed side by side in this country until that point of time. Wave after wave of foreign invasions by people of non-Dharmic faiths from about the 10th century C.E. engulfed India in a tide of civilizational Total War. This was followed by colonial subjugation for a period of over 200 years. Obviously, in the course of this 1000 year continuous assault many things worked their way into the collective psyche giving rise to all sorts of societal ills. For example, the Sati system where the wife gives up her life when her husband dies, by immolating herself on his funeral pyre, became widespread. What was originally a voluntary act at first became a way to safeguard honour when the Turkic hordes came invading and began to ravage the spoils of war. Whole groups of women began to commit what was called jauhar, a mass self immolation, to escape becoming slaves of the foreigners. This later began to be considered as an obligatory act when the husband died. Thus it began to take on the colour of oppression and patriarchy, whatever its original intent.

Similar stories can be found for the practice of wearing of the ghoonghat (covering up one’s face or head when in male company. Interestingly, this practice was never followed in south India which was generally shielded from the worst impacts of the invasions). Dowry considered as such a scourge in India today is an interesting phenomenon that merits study. Veena Oldenberg, author of the book Dowry Murder, The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime says in an interview to Times Of India, “Prior to the arrival of the British In India, land was not seen as a commodity which could be bought and sold”[4]. She goes on to then say that the British made land property ownership exclusively the right of males which led to the creation of a male economy. This then made the practice of female infanticide more rampant for people who wanted a male heir to their property.

The attempt by the British to codify all social and cultural practices which were inherently flexible, into a set of legal codes which of course excluded women, made the systems frozen and hostile to women. Dowry–originally known as Stridaan–began as a local practice of honoring a bride with a property gift from her father which would only be inherited matrilineally. However, it later began to be looked at as a means to extort money by grooms who were anyway in high demand due to the administrative policies of the British. In the midst of this corrupting of the Indian society, it must be emphasized that the British were no champions of women causes. They had absolutely no qualms in treating Indian women as chattel via indentured labor.

Sikkimese Woman carrying a Brit “Gentleman”

Such practices later, began to be used as tools for oppression and exploitation of the Indian woman. The sad consequence is that the girl child has today come to be looked upon as a burden rather than an asset to a family. 20th century saw India getting independence from the British but the independence was only in name and we had as a civilization just become incapable of picking ourselves up in any meaningful way. Our mindset had become colonized and the foreign system of education that was thrust upon us (incidentally started by Macaulay for a specific reason) ensured that we remained chained to the way of thinking that the British had institutionalized over the course of their 200 year stay here.

Along with impoverishing our nation they brilliantly succeeded in impoverishing our minds too. And if we had the British then, we have the foreign funded NGO movement today which does its utmost to work on the faultlines existing in Indic society, exaggerating them even more and making divisions where none existed before. We would do well to listen very carefully to what Madhu Kishwar has to say about the workings of these NGOS in the below video. The video touches upon the aspect of how these NGOs treat the incidents of sati, dowry and the newest phenomenon under their scanner, the Khap panchayats.

So what is the Feminist Movement?

Feminism can be called as a collection of movements and ideologies that have a common goal. What is this common goal? This ostensible goal is to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal and social rights for women. It also includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

To understand the feminist movement, it is important to understand the role of Christian theology regarding the status traditionally accorded to women in the West. Linda Woodhead, a professor in the sociology of religion states that it’s the Book of Genesis that first mentions the Christian theological basis for forming a position on the roles of women. In the Book, the conclusion is that women are generally inferior to men. It also states “that the image of God shines more brightly” in men than women. All Abrahamic faiths and Christianity is no exception, have traditionally accorded a very inferior status to women. Women had no rights, social, political or economic and indeed no rights even over their own body and how they related to it.

Sin is at the heart of Abrahamic theology and hence while it is a truth claim of Christianity that all mankind is sinful, the woman is exceptionally so for it is she who initiated that first act of sin in the Garden of Eden. Eve, the biblical first woman on earth, was the one who was tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. She not only ate from the tree herself, she also made Adam do the same and hence compounded her guilt. This eating of the forbidden fruit made both of them realize they were naked which fact they weren’t aware of until that point. Thus was born sin. This then was what shaped attitudes to women in the West. So the first wave of feminism was a reaction to the general status of women in Western society and their lack of political voice. This first movement, which started in the late 19th century, brought voting rights to women.

The second wave of feminism which began in the 1960s was more about the skewed gender relations and the effects of that on economic and social equality. Second wave feminists strove to change the sexism inherent in power structures whether they be in the political, economic or social spheres and were greatly influenced by the communist ideology. There is also a third wave of feminism which co-exists with the second wave and deals with issues of sexuality which, according to them, were not addressed properly during the second wave. While second wave feminism was firmly and shrilly of the view that pornography was a form of violence against women, third wave feminists prefer to look at it as an exercise of free will.

Andrea Dworkin was a leading feminist voice and was called a radical feminist. Such feminists are of the view that patriarchy is the sole reason for all of woman’s problems. They posit that the woman is the “Other” who needs to be suppressed and marginalized by the patriarchy. Dworkin’s  astonishing views on sexual intercourse have very deeply influenced  third wave feminists who are advancing a trajectory of gender relations that has potential for immeasurable harm to the natural relations between sexes. Dworkin’s strong views made her a very controversial person and her detractors say that she peddled hate in the garb of feminism[5].

Third wave feminists are associated with the “raunch culture” as they see it as “expressions of femininity and female sexuality as a challenge to objectification”. They believe that women should be allowed to dress, act or express themselves in any manner they pleased since they are only exercising their basic freedom. Third wave feminists are also at the forefront of what is called as reclaiming abuse words like “b*tch”, “slut” and so on, associated with women and giving it an expression that they think defines the word for today.

Taking off from radical feminism, third wave feminists are advancing a position which sees heterosexuality itself as a political regime which needs to be overthrown and destroyed. Are we then to say that the day is not far off when women will wholly make do without men?

threeminusone
3 Parent Baby Minus 1 = A different 2 Parent Baby?

Given the advances in reproductive technology, it’s not an impossible scenario.

Are the romantic dreams of a woman wishing to find her right man going to be doomed?  Is this society envisioned by feminists ultimately beneficial to women or indeed men when women are viewed only in such objectified nominally “sex positive” terms? Is this what women really want?

 Has Feminism helped the Plight of the Western Woman?

After taking a brief look at the movement and its evolution, let us now look at some statistics. “Nearly 1 in 5 women in U.S Survey say they have been sexually assaulted”[6]. The fact is that women, for all the feminist movements, do not find themselves in a safe place in the West. “Approximately 2/3rd of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim”[7]. These are stats with respect to rape in the West.

Women of course have become more independent and earn on par with their male peers in the West. They are very much in control of their destinies in general but what about the institution of marriage and the concept of family? An eye opening article by Pew research points out that, “Less than half (46%) of U.S kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage”[8].  The article also says that the trend is that Americans generally seem to be delaying marriage or not reposing faith in the institution at all. It is worthwhile to go through the article for some very interesting stats. Fatherlessness is another of the fallouts of this movement. It is a growing concern in the U.K. and is often accompanied by economic disparity. “Fatherlessness is now reaping a whirlwind of destruction in U.K society[9] says Jonathan Bellamy .

Has Feminism helped the Indian Woman?

If the feminism of the West has been so liberating, why is it not borne out by facts? Worse, why is India buying into the idea? The horrific gang rape of a woman in Delhi in 2012 saw a spontaneous outpouring of emotion on the streets and there were many in the West who were indeed warmly surprised by the reaction of the Indian people. While such righteous outpouring is welcome, let’s see some stats on where India stands globally on the issue of rape. “United Nations data shows that in Sweden the rape rate is 63.5 per 100,000. In the US, it is 27.5; but as more than four-fifths of forcible rapes in the US are not reported at all (National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center Report July 2007), the effective rapes in the US will be more than 137.5 per 100,000! And what is the figure for India? Just 1.8!”[10].

The extreme left in India has what is called the Naxalite movement and this movement has abused and exploited women under the guise of women’s or worker’s rights, especially in the tribal areas where they are ostensibly there to improve the lot of the tribal woman. “Sexual exploitation of tribal women cadres in the Maoist camps have been disclosed in statements of several surrendered women CPI (Maoist) cadres of Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states. Such instances of sexual exploitation include rape, forced marriage and molestation by senior male CPI (Maoist) cadres”[11]. The draconian anti-dowry laws are instruments used by feminists to willfully extort and demonize men as Deepika Bharadwaj will testify.

Sankrant Sanu in an article said. “Violent gang-rape is indeed an aberration in our society, hence the outrage[12]. But we have to indeed analyze and understand why such heinous acts are committed for it is not there either in our millennia old texts nor has it been prevalent in our society on such a scale until recently. We have to think and reflect on whether the “increasingly sexualized mass media message” is responsible for the changing behavior patterns. Sankrant’s article argues also in favor of lower marriageable age at least for rural communities as was the practice earlier so that youngsters can be sexually active at an earlier age within the bonds of a legal relationship like marriage. While this may or may not be an acceptable solution to all, and is indeed open to debate given our shock at any suggestion so contrary to our laws, it nevertheless is one which should be explored. In a bid to correct the wrongs of a previous era, we have arbitrarily applied a one-size-fits-all kind of law without pausing to understand the ramifications of such a draconian move.

The Way forward: Reviving Shakti

Ardhanareeshvara

All this is relevant to me as a woman and as a member of Indic society. Dharma has always been context sensitive. It has never been about rigid unbendable absolutes. There is right and wrong, but it is always placed within a context and a situation. Society always occupies background space applying reasonable restrictions which helps to keep individual relations in equilibrium. Dharma is even handed and follows a middle path veering neither towards one extreme of mortification of flesh and ascetism nor towards the other extreme of selfishness and hedonism.

Therefore, measures for restoring the dignity of ideally half of India’s population should be in accordance with Dharma: context sensitive and in keeping with the times. Dharma offers the best chance for an individual and specifically for a woman to find herself fully. We have many examples of Dharmic women from history who were trailblazers for their time.

Today, an Indian woman may be educated and be part of the workforce driving the economy of the country. However, she should have the choice to also step out of it to nurture her family if she so desires. And there should be no derision attached to this choice. Often, we now hear people (especially those wanting to make a point about feminism) deriding the choice of a highly qualified woman choosing to stay at home to look after home and hearth. Education can never go in vain. It will help her guide her children to make the right choices and become responsible individuals. Such individuals then make a responsible society.

Creating a responsible society is no less a valid choice than one to pursue Artha in material terms. Kama is a valid pursuit in Dharma, but it is not a commodity to be paraded on the streets. It is to be enjoyed privately between two loving partners according to norms that are mutually comfortable without having labels of misogyny and misandry attached to it. The ultimate aim of a person’s journey according to Dharma is Moksha. Isn’t it better to aim for it in harmony with the rhythm of the cosmos than to seek it kicking and screaming and trying to bend nature’s will to yours? Would take you that many more lives if you try the second path…

Purusha and Prakriti or Shiva and Shakti: whichever way you want to look at it, one is not complete without the other. It is only the partnership and complementarity between the two that can lead to the One. And therein lies the potential of awakening Shakti in Indic society once more.

References:

[1] http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/s_gurumurthy/Modernity-has-failed-to-stop-deviance/2013/10/15/article1835599.ece

[2] Pg. 60, http://rajivmalhotra.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Invading-the-Sacred-Final.pdf

“The special relationship between the Hindu mother and her son appears here as a variation on a distinctive Hindu pattern rather than as a mere intensification of a style of intimacy found in the West . . . Nursing is not therefore, an occasion through which mother and child cement on an emotional union. The child is frequently fed, yet the mother seldom lingers to mirror the baby’s satisfaction. Thus, while the child no doubt develops a strong emotional attachment to the mother as a result of the physical gratification she provides, the mother does not respond by setting up a Western-style loving, emotional partnership.”

[3] http://indiafacts.co.in/status-women-ancient-india/

[4] http://www.ibtl.in/news/opinion/2021/how-the-british-created-the-dowry-system-in-punjab/

[5] http://reason.com/archives/2005/04/19/womans-hating

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/health/nearly-1-in-5-women-in-us-survey-report-sexual-assault.html?_r=0

[7] https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-offenders#.U5SBGMQ1AsM.twitter

[8] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/

[9] http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/life/Rioters_Are_NOT_Scum_They_Are_The_Fatherless/44210/p1/

[10] http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/article1453514.ece

[11] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Naxals-extorting-Rs-140-crore-annually-Govt/articleshow/45453398.cms

[12] http://www.rediff.com/news/column/view-is-rape-a-new-development-indicator/20121231.htm

http://beingdifferentbook.com/

I wish to thank N.R.I Pathi for the help rendered  to bring out this article. It would simply have not been possible had I not received such generous help and guidance.

Literature: Satavahana Hala’s Gathasaptasati

Having previously commenced our study of Classical Indic Literature, we now take our first look at Classical Indic Poetry. Appropriately, our first selection is from Andhra itself and dates back to the glorious Empire of the Satavahanas.  This great dynasty featured mighty Conquerors such as Gautamiputra Satakarni and is famed for the Art & Architecture of Amaravati. However, it also produced talented poets such as King Hala, an earlier dynast. He was the compiler of and contributor to the Poetic Anthology Gathasaptasati (known as Gaha Sattasai in the Maharashtri Prakrit in which it is composed)

Translated into many Indian, European, and Middle Eastern languages, the Sapta sati (also known as Gaha koso–or ‘Treasury of Gathas’)  is considered to be one of the earliest surviving anthologies of Classical Indic Poetry.

Author

Not much is known about Emperor Hala (pronounced Haala). According to Western archaeology he is tentatively dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE (but likely much earlier according to the indigenous Indic Chronology). The 17th Satavahana dynast in the pauranic king lists, Hala himself is called Kavi-vatsala (‘he who has parental affection for poets’). Considered to be religious, he is famous for his patronage of Prakrit over the more popular and elite Sanskrit of the time. Despite this, the influence of his anthology extended to poets centuries after him, such as Govardhana, who wrote the Sanskrit work, Aryasaptasati . He is mentioned by many other Pan-India litterateurs such as Bana of Harsacarita fame.

Maharashtri Prakrit was considered the finest of all Prakrits, and is appropriately used in this work and many other classical ones. Only a portion of the Gathasaptasati, 44 of the 700 verses, are attributed to the Satavahana Emperor. The remainder are said to have been collected from assorted poets, most anonymous. There were as many as 7 or 8 women poets  in an estimated 261 total, truly making it the poetry of the people.

Composition

While Sanskrit reads in an highly refined and courtly fashion, Prakrit is far more bucolic and earthy, fitting for the red earth of the Krishna-Godavari. Indeed, if Sanskrit literally means “refined”, Prakrit literally means “natural” and “common”. As such, while composed by none other than a great king, this work is appropriately written from the common woman’s perspective. Indeed, it is a fitting riposte to all those who seek to brand Classical Indic Literature as “elitist” and disconnected from the masses.  Rather, it intimates a close awareness and love for village life and the village itself. While it is indeed Love Poetry, it is as much an ode to the Deccan, its rivers, its plant life, and its rural life. Gardens, assorted flowers, maidens, ploughmen, hunters and sisters are all mentioned and appreciated. Indeed, it is a celebration of the common life.

Replete with imagery, the Godavari River itself is treated by the Gathasaptasati as a metaphor for the flow of love and desire. The banks of the nadi itself are viewed as a near aphrodisiac.  It has, with good reason, been called “a woman’s book, a compendium of her gestures, utterances and silences”.

Contrary to modern characterizations, kavya literature is neither uniformly prudish nor prurient. It very much runs the spectrum, as do Hala’s 700 single verse poems (Sapta – satti), in Gatha form (the Prakrit counterpart to the Sanskrit Sloka and the Apabramsha Doha). Satakas are famous in Telugu literature, and the pre-Telugu period of the Andhras was no different. A gatha, or song, consists of as many as 27 different variations, but is generally structured with 30 matras (syllabic instants) in the first line, and 27 in the second line. It is composed in the traditional Arya meter. The Kashmiri literary theorist, Anandavardhana wrote on the importance of dhvani, or resonance, in his suitably titled Dhvanyaloka. According to him, the gatha is the poetic embodiment of dhvani, and he himself was a poet in Prakrit. Indeed, in contrast to the ornamental and elegant Sanskrit of Kalidasa, the Prakrit of Hala et al truly resonates in unadorned yet evocative form. Simple, quick, and powerful.

The sthayibhava and rasa are undoubtedly Rati and Sringara respectively. The anthology records every day trials and tribulations of Love and the Erotic, as well as the ebb and flow of affection. Indeed, it describes the escapades of various lovers and how they seek each others forgiveness, while others remain loyal. As described in our previous post, merely because the masses fall short of the ideal, should not mean that people should refrain from aspiring to them. Many of the descriptions are indeed erotic, touching on both the romantic and physical nature of love in real life. The selection below, however, gives a only a taste of rati bhava and focuses more on sringara rasa. Enjoy.

Selections

§

Separated from the woman you love,

To sit beside one you do not is

To double your sorrow. I honour

The goodness that brings you. (24)

§

Distance destroys love,

So does the lack of it.

Gossip destroys love

And sometimes

It takes nothing

To destroy love. (81)

§

Oh Mahua

Blossomed

On Godavari’s

Arboured bank

Shed

Your flowers

One

After

One (103)

§

Their love by long years secured,

Sharing each other’s joys and sorrows,

Of such two the first to go lives,

It’s the other, dies. (142)

§

Bookish lovemaking

Is soon repetitive:

It’s the improvised style

Wins my heart. (274)

§

Stag and doe

Enter the forest

Separately looking for

Herbage and water,

And stay unparted

Till death. (287)

§

He, for whom I forsook

Shame, chastity, honour,

Now sees me as just

Another woman. (525)

§

He looks deeply in her face;

She is sunk in his vision

Thus looking at each other in great joy

As if for them they were all alone in the world. (743)

§

* Numbering diverges from original. Done according to Albrecht Weber's German translation.

It is available for Purchase today in Telugu and English editions:

Prakruta Gatha Saptasati                                                                              The Prakrit Gatha Saptasati

References:

  1. Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna. The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasaptasati of Satavahana Hala. Penguin: Delhi. 2008
  2. http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/prakrit-gatha-saptasati-text-with-english-translation-NAB828/
  3. Peter Khoroche; Herman Tieken (2009), Poems on life and love in ancient India: Hāla’s Sattasaī
  4. Amaresh Datta (1988) Encyclopaedia of Indian literature vol. 2 Chennai: Sahitya Academy
  5. Winternitz, Maurice. History of Indian Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. 1985

The Death of Romance

Antônio Parreiras, The End of Romance

It is sometimes said that “Analysis is the death of sentiment”, but I disagree. As with all things in life, balance here is required as well. The truly fulfilling life is the one which is equidistant to the two. It uses reason to determine the correct course of action based on duty to others, and uses sentiment to experience the splendid possibilities and experiences and rasas life has to offer, with romance and true love being the most prized.

However, in our era of “hookups”, one-night stands, and office relationships, has the so-called “sophistication” of modernity killed off true love? Has the rise of prurience uber alles resulted in destroying the very bonds that once raised armies of rescue and launched a thousand ships? Is The Death of Romance upon us?

Real romance is not a function of skill in the bedroom or the frequency of neurotransmitter release, despite what people today may read in cosmo, playboy, huffpo, jezebel or whatever other intellectual cul de sac they rely on to educate themselves. Real romance is about putting the other person’s needs above our own–even thinking about their interests before our own. It is not about convenience, but constancy. It is not about hopelessness but hoping against hope. But do materialism, fancy shoes, and “Mr. Right now” instead of “Mr. Right” ultimately lead to happiness? Whatever the latest push to downgrade monogamy as boring and marriage as “obsolete”, the end result of the lives of these fictional characters below (and their real life imitators–male and female) is instructive.

Indeed a poster for the movie Nymphomaniac features a series of men and women in various states of tumescence featuring the caption “Forget About Love”.  This isn’t just limited to Hollywood, but rather the state of Bollywood, and now increasingly Tollywood, is testament to this.

Somewhere along the lines of the mid-2000s, the soulful sentiment that once pervaded mainstream Hindi filmdom ( I am purposely avoiding the word cinema here) from screenplay to song, diluted, and then vanished.

Hits steeped in sentiment like “humko humise churalo” have been replaced by chart toppers like “char bottle vodka”…Even the romantic songs once riveting with equal parts longing and mourning and charm and rapture now pass off romance as de riguer, easily substitutable in the buffet table of modern hedonism. A timepass or recreational commodity, on demand courtesy of tinder, snapchat, okcupid or whatever else the kids are using these days, that separates the desired product (romance, sex, etc), from the person. These of course are punctuated with nice club dance beats and other assorted chart toppers.

Even the word “beloved” has been cheapened beyond the point of recognition. What was once deemed a word worthy of our spiritual other half, our second heart, is merely a detachable moniker for the infatuation of the moment or the source and recipient of a serial concupiscence. The reality however is that love without sincerity is mere simulacra.

Men you may now have been taught by the media to think that all girls are wannabe Sunny Leones who want bad boys and Ladies, you may think all men are the same or only run after “insincere” girls. The truth, however, is most men either want a good woman to settle down with or after wasting 20 year of their lives, realize the value of a good woman. And most women may often confuse arrogance with confidence, but they too dream of a gentlemen. Yes there are bad man and bad women, but the majority are in the middle. The question is whether catastrophic loss of culture will cause them to gravitate to promiscuity over Prema.

Given all this, the Death of Romance is invariably upon us. And this is not an East vs West commentary, but a Modern vs Traditional one, as it is only circumstance that has resulted in the western world first being infected by this plague of insincerity—rapidly affecting “Modern India”. Nowhere was this more obviously seen than in the TV series How I Met Your Mother.

*Spoilers Ahead*

In our era of global satellite television, many of you in both hemispheres may be familiar with How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). While the 2005-2014 production was hailed for its creativity and crisp writing/performances, it was above all the story of a young man, Ted Mosby, in his 20s/30s seeking his one true love over the casanova lifestyle. In fact, while one friend openly embraces it, and another escapes it by sheer good fortune of meeting his future wife at a young age, Ted consciously chooses to pursue it–and over the course of 8 years, is punished for it, repeatedly. Despite all this, he nevertheless soldiers on.

If the story of Ross & Rachel were about how true love is possible, but is frequently complicated by other romances, Ted & Tracy was about choosing real romance in a distinctly unromantic time. What  was originally hailed as the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. of the 2000s decade and arguably the TV show for all hopeless romantics, had all the potential to be one of the great small screen romances of our time.

Flat panel had accomplished what today’s film was increasingly failing to do–capturing and communicating real sentiment of longing for love.

Ted Mosby, a Manhattan Majnu had committed to finding his Laila, and after  e ^ 1000 embarrassments, heartbreaks, bad advice and wrong-turns over the course of a decade, he finally did.

One would think the finale and story would have ended there…but nooo. 9 years of character development and story-telling were ruthlessly destroyed in a mere five minutes with this abomination from network-approved naraka:

As you can see, the final scene is emblematic of how the show’s internal logic was destroyed, and also why it contributes in general to the Death of Romance…real romance. While it was fittingly panned as one of the worst finales in small screen history, it had nevertheless done its work. In the process, it led to such pearls of wisdom from pan-hellenic Platos and other assorted tequila fueled supporters as “omg! it makes perfect sense, you have many one true loves!!“, “yeah, i completely get it, you don’t stop loving after your lover leaves“,  “i totally want that–true love and a back up relationship!“…”i want to have my cake, and i’ll eat it too!

Now don’t get me wrong. Life most assuredly isn’t simple. There is indeed an element of bittersweet in romance as all lovers are doomed to be parted on this Earth. Indeed some die far too soon. But what this show, and celluloid in general, is today advocating is that lovers are indeed replaceable. Thus from the Ayodhyan heights of Ram refusing to marry again and having a gold statue fashioned in Sita’s image, we have fallen to widowers deluding themselves into thinking old casual relationship exes (who never themselves were really interested in romance) can fill the void left behind by the woman they claimed to have dreamt of for the better part of an era. It is almost as though the very nature of romance had been mutilated, convoluted and turned into a consumer good.

*End Spoilers*

Why this tangent“–you ask? Well, admittedly in our fast-paced world where professionals don’t necessarily have arranged marriages, or have relationships prior to having one, Pehla Pyaar may not be an option for everyone. Indeed, divorce/remarriage may be appropriate for some and romantic pasts are never simple. Nevertheless, simply because we end up falling short of the ideal, or need a Dusra or Teesra , doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire towards it in the first place. It is certainly  better for us in the long run than Sau or Sahasra. Waiting is not weak. Principles are not prudishness.

Now, I’ve always been part of the camp that was always fine with Valentine’s Day. Whatever the actual history behind it, in theory, it’s a rather lovely way to celebrate and connect with the one whom we love. The problem however is what it has become in practice. Rather than a day of soulfully cherishing love for one’s spouse (or soon-to-be spouse), it has become a mere veneer of romance to legitimize mechanical debauchery, with unseemly displays of public affection. Those left alone due to circumstance are mocked or seen as curiosities, while the elect happily trot about adducing their rent-a-date or fling-of-the-moment as evidence of their possession (consumption?) of “love”.

This much is made additionally clear from friends with benefits and serial monogamy substituting for real relationships to pornography’s psychologically and sociologically harmful effects to laws that destroy incentive for trust in marriages.

What’s more, the rise of the PDA is feted as somehow as a sign of liberation rather than indecency. Blatant disregard to civic decorum and respect for elders is not romance. While I certainly don’t support the institution of a “Ministry of Vice and Virtue”, those young people feeling prohibitively passionate should keep personal acts for the private sphere. True, Classical Indic society was not repressive in these matters, but it wasn’t libertine either. It merely stressed that there was a time, place, and manner for such things.  There was and is no “right of way for ribaldry”. Rati-bhava divorced from Sringara-rasa is not love at all, but lust seeking pretext.

It has become part of common parlance to say chivalry is dead, and feminism killed it. A corollary of that of course is that romance is dead, and lust killed it. The moment a society exults in the divorcing of sensuality and marriage, is the moment romance truly dies. Because when marriage itself is no longer looked forward to by the majority of society for having children or moving in together, let alone maithuna, that is the moment when it becomes a mere formality. Rather than the fulcrum of one’s life, it becomes merely a trophy or label.

When “Love” is commoditized, the consumers themselves become replaceable and interchangeable.Living for the moment, treating lovers as disposable, and lust as an assortment of flavors may be fun and fashionable, but this lifestyle more often than not leads to this result.

Real romance is not a mere veneer for licentiousness, but has an element of sacrifice. “The Beloved” is not merely the flavor-of-the-month object of prurience, but a person willing to sacrifice for us and for whom we are willing to sacrifice. It is reciprocal.

Marriage is not the end of romance, rather it is the celebration of it. And true love is the highest form of romance. It recognizes the inherent oneness of the male and female halves of an individual soul to the exclusion of all others. It is why a Sati could voluntarily commit sati or an Aja (grandfather of Rama) could climb on to Indumati’s (his wife) funeral pyre in inconsolable grief.

There is an old joke that men need money for women, and women need men for money (though such equations have been changing). Now assuredly, however tempting money may be for women, so it is for sex and men. Thus there are men and women who sacrifice the pursuit of romance for these mere commodities instead. But as with all material things, we need more and more only to feel less and less. In their waning years, such men then realize the value of a good woman (rather than many “hot” ones) and such women realize by serially pursuing Mr. Money Bags or Mr. Right Now, they lost the interest of Mr. Right. The greatest of lotharios from Don Giovanni to Sam Malone may be the envy of most men, but in the end, do the sheer notches on their bed posts fill their inevitable void of loneliness?

To get the woman or man we seek we must be the man or woman that person would want. Love that stands the test of time is not driven by superficial states or faddish fetishes. Looks fade, money comes and goes, but companionship and qualities are truly timeless.

In our topsy turvy age of polyamory and serial monogamy, such notions may seem quaint. After all, these gyaanis and gyaaninis ask, “isn’t restriction of our love to only one person (or gender) selfish, even primitive”? But as always, a little knowledge, in the hands of the foolish, is a dangerous thing. Setting aside the fact that monogamy comes naturally to us, the benefits are manifold as well.

First and foremost comes validation (real validation that one-night stands and serial lovers could never afford). The idea that someone out there is eager and willing to commit himself or herself to us to the exclusion of all others is not only validating but downright scintillating. It affirms not only our sense of self and self-worth, but adds to our esteem in a way that single-serving lovers never could. After all, if we are irreplaceable, there truly must be something to us. And if we’re not, well, we’re just emotion-less commodities driven by base pleasure.

Second, comes security. Not only the security in having someone you can trust no matter , but the security in knowing that the connection isn’t temporary (as all superficial infatuation tends to be) like fads and fetishes. Ultimately, marriage forms the ideal environment needed to ensure that children from this union will securely have a mother and a father as a parenting unit, providing the steady love and care required in child rearing.

Family First, and Marriage makes it one

Fundamentally, marriage is about children, whatever our modernistas may say. That is because society then mandates that a man not only fulfills his responsibility to provide for the pregnant mother, but not abandon the children after birth and leave them without food and shelter. While it is true that there are those who marry and do not have children, since when is the exception the rule? Because of “except after ‘c’, does that mean ‘i’ shouldn’t be before ‘e’?”. Because the vast majority of marriages past and present have resulted in children, they must be the fulcrum of our consideration, not our passing fancies and whims.

Third, it gives us a sense of balance and stability. Life is full of ups and downs. Career success is fleeting, even friends fade in and out, but a true life partner provides us with both wind and ballast as needed. When we are sad, they cheer us up, when we are angry, they cool us down, when we are lonely, they give us companionship, and when we need a kick in the seat of our pants, they gladly give us one. After all, just as a meal that is shared is most delicious, so to is the life that is shared most fulfilling.

Sita-Rama

So if you want to rekindle romance (sringara) in society again, you must be the change you want to see. Without Juliet, there is no Romeo. Without Sita, there is no Ram. It is the virtues of women that ultimately inspire the virtues of men. That is why, in ancient civilizations, muses are personified as feminine. Even in our Indic civilization, it is Goddess Saraswati who inspires. Indeed, it is Saraswati’s knowledge that is the source of Brahma’s creative power, Lakshmi’s prosperity that is the source of Vishnu’s preservation power, and Parvati’s Shakti that is the source of Shiva’s destructive power. That is why our society does not stress being overly masculine or overly feminine—but advocates balance.  Yin and Yang, Female and Male, Nari and Nara must exist in harmony. It is the synergy between that two that empowers society and rekindles real romance, just as Sita’s chastity adorned Ram’s nobility.

The point is not to advocate hypocrisy but to educate that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. Actions have opportunity costs, and to seek what we really want, we ourselves must be worthy of it, for nothing in this world worth having comes easy. Many of you may be despondent about being alone a week from now, but fear not. It, or many such days, may come and go, but if you truly commit to true love, it commits to you.

So what then is the cornerstone of a good marriage and true love? Fidelity. This is because Fidelity breeds Trust, Trust breeds Friendship, and Friendship breeds Love. And that, dear reader, is what will result in the reincarnation of Romance.