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At Durga Puja, Hindus wrestle with the West’s sexualized destroyer

(RNS) — Together with the crisp, cool air of fall arrives the Hindu pageant that celebrates Hinduism’s goddess, Durga, in all her kinds.

Some communities will rejoice it as Navratri, a Sanskrit phrase loosely translated as “9 nights.” In different communities, significantly these from India’s japanese state of West Bengal, it’s the time for Durga Puja, or Durga worship time, when the goddess is believed to go away her heavenly abode to go to devotees. Each Navratri and Durga Puja might be celebrated by the South Asian diaspora throughout the USA, with Navratri starting on Oct. 7 this yr and Durga Puja on Oct. 11.

Navratri’s 9 days rejoice Durga’s 9 kinds as she transforms from benevolent mom to Mom Kali, her fiercer aspect. In some legends, Durga really offers beginning to Kali (She Who Is Dying) to defeat the demonic forces. However Durga herself is well known right now as Mahishasura Mardini: the one who killed the unconquerable demon, Mahishasura. 

As Kali she is depicted as carrying a blood-splattered sword in a single hand and the top of a demon in one other. She wears a string of human heads round her neck and a girdle of human palms. Her blood-red tongue protrudes from her mouth, and her eyes are blazing. Together with her one foot positioned on the thigh of her consort, Shiva, who lies in a supine state, and one other on his chest, she has mystified students and given beginning to quite a few legends.


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In Western portrayals, and bigger feminist discourse, this picture of Kali is held as much as emphasize empowerment and wild sexuality. Taken out of her cultural, non secular and philosophical context, nonetheless, a lot of her Western depictions make her fairly unrecognizable to me.

In her essay “Kali’s New Frontiers,” scholar Rachel McDermott writes that within the Western interpretation, Kali has come to be seen as a tantric goddess, with most of the rituals to her dedicated to intercourse. McDermott describes how Kali is depicted on the net as a “Playboy centerfold.” Within the early to mid Nineties, Tantra journal used to publish a daily column of questions and solutions on intercourse directed to Kali referred to as “Pricey Tantric Goddess.”  

Kali has additionally been appropriated into many New Age rituals that depict her as “a patron of sexual success,” McDermott defined. McDermott has discovered scores of Kali worshipping teams in her analysis: Witches Internet of Days, Temple of Kali, the “Daughters of Kali,” amongst others, that conduct unique rituals, together with animal sacrifices. In a single such ritual, initiates are requested to leap into an inky cauldron to expertise rebirth.

Picture by Sonika Agarwal/Unsplash/Inventive Commons

Many extra rituals associated to Kali are touted on the web. One blog provides recommendation on a yoga asana the place one “takes a goddess squat” and lets out “a number of primal roars from the stomach” to “invoke the vitality of the Goddess.” Another suggests that Kali “may also help you get in contact along with your sexuality and ask for what you need out of your companion as a result of she doesn’t attempt to conceal or conform. She expresses herself freely with no disgrace.”

One can discover purses, garments, souvenirs, even boxer shorts or panties, all with a picture of Kali emblazoned on them.

In all these rituals and paraphernalia, Kali is imagined as unique, fierce, wild, sexual and damaging. It’s a reminder of what Edward Mentioned described in his 1978 ebook “Orientalism,” because the West’s constant illustration of the East as unique and inferior. One other scholar, Hugh B. City, writes that this illustration goes again to the broader “colonial morality” and “British attitudes in the direction of sexuality and gender” within the 19th century, when Indian ladies had been generally imagined to be “excessively sexual, darkish and seductive … ,” which, as he argues, is mirrored within the “aggressively sexual picture of Kali.”

Scholar Frédérique Apffel Marglin additionally writes about how Western understandings of feminine sexuality within the Hindu world have been strongly coloured by cultural meanings from Western traditions. “All too typically acquainted meanings have been projected onto much less acquainted cultural details. The Hindu world is advanced,” she writes. Certainly, scholar McDermott asks in her essay, whether or not within the palms of her new interpreters Kali would grow to be “unrecognizable to the tradition from which she sprang.”

On my altar, I see Kali as Parvati, the shape during which she undertook extreme penance to marry Shiva. She is Sati, one other avatar, who immolates herself when her father seeks to humiliate her consort. She is Durga, who fights the evil forces of the world. She can be the mom, who creates the god Ganesha out of her personal physique.

An Indian artisan smokes as he works on idols of Hindu goddess Durga inside a workshop in Gauhati, India, on Sept. 20, 2018. The idols are being made for worship for the upcoming Durga Puja festival. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

An Indian artisan stands amongst clay statues of Durga as they’re being readied for the Durga Puja pageant inside a workshop in Gauhati, India, on Sept. 20, 2018. (AP Picture/Anupam Nath)

Rising up, I noticed Kali as a private goddess of my mom. Her picture, encrusted over time with choices of vermillion and sweets, nestled in an alcove in my mom’s kitchen.


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Throughout Navratri, this alcove would come alive as my mom included the Hindu apply inside her Jain custom. She would additionally invite younger ladies from the neighborhood, as is the non secular customized, to worship and provide meals as if they had been goddess embodiments. Watching my mom selecting her personal private goddess, defying custom, was by itself empowering to me.

Right now, Durga, in all her kinds, accompanies me on my life’s journey by means of its joys and travails, a lot as she did for my mom. In gazing upon her, I’m additionally reminded directly of the innumerable tales, folklore and legends which were a part of my life. Maybe there’s a cause in India, the tradition the place she originated, that the goddess is well known not in her elements, however as a complete — one pageant of 9 days, recognizing her completely different kinds.

My Navratri celebrations are easy and infrequently with out rituals or fasting. Very like my mom’s, it’s a time of the yr that jogs my memory of the vitality of Durga or Kali, each round me, and likewise, as Indian philosophy says, inside me. Her a number of manifestations appear to simply accept and love each aspect to me. And that’s what is actually liberating.

(Kalpana Jain is a senior editor for faith and ethics at The Conversation. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)

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