Category Archives: d. Women in Hinduism

The Kama Sutra (Book Seven: Erotic Esoterica)

Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra is an ancient Hindu text belonging to the Kama Sastra genre of literature (Rodrigues 152). The title, Kamasutra, is composed of two Sanskrit words: kama meaning “desire/pleasure,” and sutra meaning “treatise” (Doniger and Kakar 13). The Kamasutra covers a variety of topics, among them ways of attaining the goals of life (dharma, kama, and artha), finding and keeping a partner, sexual positions and techniques, adultery, and dealing with or as a courtesan (Danielou 20-21).

The last section of the Kamasutra, Book Seven, deals with “erotic esoterica” (Doniger and Kakar 233) or “occult practices” (Danielou 487). Book Seven consists of two chapters, “Making Luck in Love,” and “Rekindling Exhausted passion,” each of which is made up of three sub-divisions (Doniger and Kakar 233-242).

The first chapter, “Making Luck in Love” begins with a preamble stating that the methods and recipes mentioned in Book Seven should be utilized only if the methods discussed in previous books have proven unsuccessful (Danielou 489). From there, the chapter continues with methods to make yourself lucky in love. Techniques in this section claim to either enhance beauty or sex appeal, promote good luck, or make one “lucky in love” (Danielou 490-491). Methods include: wearing a garland of lotus flowers, wearing an amulet made with a conch shell or jujube berries while chanting verses from the Atharvaveda, or applying a makeup, cream, or ointment made from honey or butter and a variety of plants, flowers, or fruits. The section ends with methods specifically for courtesans and performers- many of which involve extending a daughter or servant girl’s hand in marriage in exchange for money or “special favours on a musical instrument” (Doniger and Kakar 233-235).

The second subdivision of the first chapter deals with “Putting Someone in Your Power” and contains a variety of recipes for ointments and powders which claim to enchant, captivate, or subdue a person or their sexual partner when applied to certain parts of the body (Doniger and Kakar 235). One recipe involves mixing powdered milk hedge, red arsenic, and sulphur with monkey feces; it is stated that if you sprinkle this mixture over a girl, she will not feel attraction towards anyone else (Danielou 497).

The final part of chapter one covers “Stimulants for Virility” (Doniger and Kakar 236). This portion contains multiple recipes one may consume to increase virility, and/or lifespan (Danielou 499-503). Most of these recipes include milk and/or butter, sugar, and honey. Other ingredients include, but are not limited to, “dog’s-fang,” asparagus, and prickly-fruit (Doniger and Kakar 233-237). There are also multiple recipes that claim to provide the ability to copulate with numerous women. A recipe for biscuits made from crushed sweet potatoes, sugar, honey, cow’s milk, ghee, and wheat flour claims that consumption will provide a man with the capability to sleep with countless women (Danielou 501).

The chapter comes to a close with a passage that says one may learn erotic techniques from magicians, experienced people, and the Vedas. It is stated that one should not employ procedures that are harmful, dangerous, painful, or unhygienic; apply only methods prescribed by Brahmins or other competent people (Doniger and Kakar 237-238).

The second chapter, “Rekindling Exhausted Passion” begins with a section of the same title. It is stated that if a man is unable to satisfy a woman, he should fondle her with his hand prior to copulation, engage in oral sex, or make use of an artificial phallus (some of which may require harnesses or attachments) that may be made of copper, gold, horn, iron, ivory, lead, tin, or wood (Danielou 508-510). According to Vatsyayana, those made of wood most closely resemble a real penis, and therefore are the most sought after (Doniger and Kakar 238-239). The rekindling passion section concludes with methods for piercing a penis, including ways to clean, widen, and accessorize said piercing (Danielou 512-513). According to the Kamasutra, “a man whose penis has not been pierced does not experience real sex. And so the people of the South pierce a boy’s penis just like his ears” (Doniger and Kakar 239).

The next section of chapter two is “Methods of Increasing The Size of The Male Organ” (Doniger and Kakar 240). The techniques mentioned claim to cause swelling of the penis that can last up to a month, six months, or a lifetime- depending on the technique used. One technique that is said to produce permanent swelling involves rubbing the penis for ten nights with a mixture of oil and the hairs of tree-inhabiting insects; when swelling begins, one should sleep face-down on a wooden cot and allow the penis to hang through a hole in the cot (Danielou 514-515). The Kamasutra warns that all of the methods for increasing penis size should be learned from an expert (Doniger and Kakar 241).

The final section “Unusual Techniques” contains methods for making objects invisible, turning iron pots into copper, removing passion, changing hair color, and causing insanity, among other things (Doniger and Kakar 241-241). One technique claims that if a woman bathes in buffalo’s milk with mint, extract of cow’s bile, and yellow amaranth mixed in, any man who sleeps with her afterwards will become impotent (Danielou 516). The Kamasutra comes to a close by stating that sensible people will not be consumed by passion; one must know when it is appropriate to make use of the practices mentioned (Danielou 520).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Danielou, Alain (1994) The Complete Kamasutra. Rochester: Park Street Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2003) “The “Kamasutra“: It Isn’t All About Sex.” The Kenyon Review 25(1): 18-37.

___ (2002) “On the Kamasutra.” Daedalus 131(2): 126–129.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) “Hinduism the eBook: an Online Introduction.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books. 0-9747055-4-3.

Vatsyayana, Mallanaga (2009) Kamasutra. Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Atharvaveda

Kamasutra

Kama Sastra

Mlecchita vikalpa

Nandi

Ayurveda

Vatsyayana

Kama

Artha

Dharma

Sutra

 

Noteworthy Websites related to the Topic

http://www.sacred-texts.com/sex/kama/kama703.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kama_Sutra

http://ipmnation.com/underthecovers/blog/episode-10-the-kama-sutru-more-than-just-a-sex-manual

 

Article written by: Riley Wilcox (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sexuality in Hinduism

Sexuality in Hinduism is most notable through the observance of kama, one of Hinduism’s catur-purusartha’s (four human aims).  Within the Dharma Sastras contain prescriptions for how one should live one’s life, as well as outlining various religious duties (dharma).  Kama in this instance refers to fulfilment of sensual and sexual pleasure (Lidke 108).  Attainment of kama for males is prescribed in the second of the four asramas (life stages), the grhastha stage. This stage of life is known as the householder stage, and in it Hindus are expected to marry.  Sexual relations within a Hindu marriage are meant to be for procreation, however it is expected that couples will be intimate for pleasure also.  Sexual indulgence can become a problem that will cause unhappiness for grhasthas and self-restraint is cautioned.  Mentioned in various scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita is extramarital sex, considered taboo as marriage is seen as contractual and for life (Mehta 66-67).  The catur-purusartha exists within Hinduism’s caste system, and only the upper three classes undergo the rituals that transition from one asrama to the next (Mehta 63).

Rgveda 10.85 begins by telling us that there is a divinity to human marriage, in that it is modeled after the gods, before focusing on more on the humanness of marriage.  Simply by being a woman, a bride is seen as having inherent value to not only her husband, but her husband’s family as well.  This has to do with the expectation that children will be the result of a marriage (Menski 56).  If a husband dies before the woman has conceived, she is not destined to remain a widow, but can be married to another member of her husband’s family in the hopes of conception.  Ideally the original marriage will bear children, and so gods are invoked in certain rituals in the context of fertilization; Indra is invoked for strong sons while Agni is invoked for many sons (Menski 56).  At the same time that a bride is seen as an asset to her husband and his family, she may also be seen as a danger.  On a couples’ wedding night there is an expectation that the hymen will break and a woman will bleed during the act of intercourse.  This, of course, will defile the bedding, but it is also seen as a destructive blood in a Vedic marriage.  For this reason, a husband may consult a Brahmin to purify the cloth and bring longevity to the marriage (Menski 58).

Some Puranas personify kama as Kamadeva, the god of desire and passion.  By contrasting this god with Siva in the Siva Purana, this Purana is full of insight into how Hindus view sexuality.  As Siva is sometimes seen as the eternal brahmacarin and supernaturally chaste, his interactions with Kamadeva show the sexual side of Hinduism (O’Flaherty 141). Much of the literature focuses on Kamadeva as he relates to Siva, but the information gathered in these texts give the reader some idea of what influenced Hindu attitudes and rituals relating to sexuality.

While Siva is seen as chaste in many rituals, the idea that he is tempted or does not remain chaste throughout are common. Some of the myths actually place him in the position of the creator, with an erect penis (linga) and seminal fluid that acts as the seed of creation (O’Flaherty 143).  Siva’s chastity is, however, his most powerful weapon in myths in which he is juxtaposed with Kamadeva.  In one such myth, Siva is responsible for burning Kamadeva up, destroying him.  Modern interpretations of this myth hold it as a temptation story, whereas early interpretations view it as a wholly asexual act.  Siva, being compared to fire, when the two interacted is said to have melted or destroyed Kamadeva, who is likened to snow.  In this analogy, Siva is so pure and chaste that Kamadeva’s sexuality could not possibly have affected him (O’Flaherty 143-34).

The Puranas include a different story of Siva burning Kamadeva.  Siva may be aroused by the act or bring Kamadeva back more powerful.  In the Puranas, it is suggested that Siva, rather than being so chaste that he is not affected by Karmadeva, in fact recognizes his power and possibly admires him (O’Flaherty 145).

Hinduism is unlike many western religions in that it does not have a single canonical text, but many.  Other texts from early Hinduism that mention sexuality include the Upanisads and the Tantras (Doniger 2011).  Some Upanisads compare Vedic rituals to sexuality, such as the oblation of butter into the fire resembling the acts of procreation.  Each action taken in the ritual has a counterpart in love-making and eventual birth.  The Tantras take this notion one step farther and suggest that sexual intercourse is not simply like a ritual, but that the act itself is a ritual (Doniger 2011). The most in-depth text dealing with kama is the Kamasutra, a text from approximately the third century B.C.E.  By modern standards, the Kamasutra is a liberal text, with thoughts put forth on subjects such as women’s sexuality and homosexual behavior (Doniger 2011).  In opposition to the Vedas, the author of the Kamasutra, Vatsyayana, dismisses the notion that people should only have to procreate.  There is also the idea that since people of all ages are capable of understanding sexual acts, all should be familiar with the text.  The idea of female pleasure and sexuality is strong in the text, even suggesting a woman leave her husband if he is not satisfying her, in contrast to what earlier law texts say (Doniger, 2011).

The Dharma Sastras’ view of homosexuality is one of taboo; a man who engages in same sex activity is to be punished, however slightly, for the transgression. Vatsyayana holds different ideas, where instead of the defamatory kliba [translated as eunuch, but holds many other meanings] he uses hijra, a term that means third gender.  Rather than transgressive, third genders in the text are described in a more neutral way; hermaphrodites and bi-sexuals are treated the same as all others.  Throughout the Kamasutra are references to servants and friends who perform oral sex on members of the same sex.  The Kamasutra is unlike other texts, it is not a law book, but rather one that categorizes and attempts to explain sexuality.  In this way, it is not judgmental (Lidke 124).  This lighter view of homosexuality and transsexuality is found throughout both ancient and modern India (Doniger 2011).

Homoeroticism is an important aspect of Hindu literature, even if textual authorities disagree on its morality.  The Hindu concept of rebirth, as well as its views of gods as being androgynous, means that gender and sexuality can be viewed as fluid.  Heterosexuality, however, is still highly regarded as the normative sexuality (Lidke 124-125).  Hijras can also be found in the stories of the epics, such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.  In the former is the story of Sikhandhin, who begins the tale as Amba and is captured by a warrior.  After spurning his advances in favor of one she loves elsewhere, she is eventually rejected by both the one she loves and later the warrior and his brother.  She is granted a boon by Siva and asks to be reborn a male.  She is reborn as a female hijra, her boon having not been granted as she had hoped (Lidke 126-127).  Despite a long history of hijra populations and homoeroticism attitudes about sexuality and behavior changed during and after colonization. The British imposed anti-sodomy laws in 1860 and worked to impose Christian values (Lidke 127).  Despite the efforts of the British, hijras still exist in India to this day and include those who proclaim themselves neither man nor woman.  For a majority of Hijras the dominant gender is female, with dress and mannerisms being feminine whether one is biologically male or biologically female.  In lesbian relationships this means that both partners are feminine, since masculine hijras are rare (Penrose 4).

The Kamasutra also speaks explicitly about females and their sexuality, not only in regards to hijras and males but also in regards to their relations with other females.  There are references to penetration with sex toys, both of males and females.  The word used for the penetrator is svairini, although some translators also put forth that svairini can also mean oral sex partner or prostitute (Penrose 15).  The Kamasutra describes women as penetrators, both of men and of other women.  The text, while describing homosexual acts, does not categorize the women as such (see Kama Sutra 2.8.13).  Women’s sexuality in this context is defined by her dominance in the act of penetrating, not by the gender of her partner (Penrose 16).

Sexuality in Hinduism has been influenced by divine myths and written and revealed texts and has an effect on many aspects of life.  Each of the four stages of life (asram vyavastha) have something to say on the topic and dharmic prescription in place.  Sexuality also includes how gender is defined for Hindu’s, as the large and continuing hijras population is proof of.  The texts also often have a lot to say about how one should conduct oneself in regards to sexuality, although with multiple texts there are often times contradictions.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Benton, Catherine (2006) God of Desire: Tales of Kamadeva in Sanskrit Story Literature. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2011) “From kama to karma: the resurgence of Puritanism in contemporary India.”   Social Research 78:1. Accessed February 7, 2016.

Herdt, Gilbert H (1994) Third sex, third gender: beyond sexual dimorphism in culture and history. New York: Zone Books

Kalra, Gurvinder “Hijras: the unique transgender culture of India” International Journal of Culture and Mental Health 5:121-26. DOI:10.1080/17542863.2011.570915

Lidke, Jeffrey S (2003) “A Union of Fire and Water: Sexuality and Spirituality in Hinduism.” In   Sexuality and the World’s Religions, edited by David W. Machacek and Melissa M. Wilcox, 101-32. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Mehta, J.M (2009) Four Spans of Human Life: Ashram Vyavastha. Daryaganj: Hindoology Books.

Menski, Werner F (1991) “Marital Expectations as Dramatized in Hindu Marriage Rituals.” In Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women, edited by Julia Leslie, 47-67. Jawahar Nagar: Shri Jainendra Press.

Nanda, Serena (1990) Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijaras of India. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1973) Siva the Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

Penrose, Walter (2001) “Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a “Third Nature” in the South Asian Past.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10:3-39. Accessed February 7, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3704787.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Kamasutra

Ashram vyavastha

Kamadeva

Sati

Sita

Siva

Visnu

The marriage of the Pandeva’s

The Ramayana

The Mahabharata

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2852834/Hidden-world-hijras-Inside-India-s-4-000-year-old-transgender-community-religious-respect-doesn-t-protect-modern-day-discrimination.html.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qs3_oHuMdE.

http://www.holifestival.org/legend-kaamadeva.html.

http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/the-kama-sutra-beyond-the-sex/.

http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/homosexuality-and-hinduism/.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kama_Sutra.

 

Article written by: Adam Smith (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

The Kama Sutra (Book Two: Sex)

The Kama Sutra is one of the most recognizable titles in much of the literate world.  The reasons for this, however, are largely misinformed.  Thanks, in large part, to both common misspelling and mispronunciation many assume the text’s title is actually Karma Sutra.  However, the book is not about karma.  Additionally, due to publications like The Cosmo Kama Sutra: 99 Mind-blowing Sex Positions, Kama Sutra: A Position a Day, and other such titles readily available in a Chapters bookstore or on the Amazon website, it is also widely believed that the Kama Sutra in its entirety is all about sex.  Again, this is not true.  Rather, it is better regarded as a guide to the pursuit of sensory pleasure.  Kama refers to more than simply sexual pleasure (Rodrigues 152).

Nevertheless, this article is indeed about the segment of the Kama Sutra that is dedicated to sexuality.  Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar offered their translation of Vatsyayana Mallanaga’s ancient text in 2002.  Although this is not the first or only translation, it will be the translation used throughout this article.  The entire text is divided into seven “books”, each with its own chapters.  For the purposes of this article, the word “book” will refer to the portion of the Kama Sutra which Doniger and Kakar title as “Part Two: Sex”.  The purpose of this book is educational in nature.  Richard Shusterman contends as much, indicating that it was created with the understanding that “human sexual performance therefore can and should be rendered more enjoyable and rewarding through the application of knowledge, methods and refinements introduced by learning, thought, and aesthetic sensitivity” (Shusterman 61).  As such, the pages of this book are divided into chapters providing information on everything from genital size to sexual positions to the manner in which an encounter of sexual intercourse should be ended.  The rest of this article will be spent examining each chapter.

The first chapter deals with “sexual typology.”  Men and women are categorized according to the size of their genitals, and regarding the joining together for sexual intercourse, it is suggested that “among these, the equal couplings are the best” (Doniger and Kakar 29).   Additionally, temperament and endurance are discussed in terms of their variations.  The author discusses a variety of arguments regarding differences in orgasm for men and women.  He concludes that “the woman should be treated in such a way that she achieves her sexual climax first” (Doniger and Kakar 35).  Different types of love are said to take four forms, listed as “arising out of habit, erotic arousal, transference, and the objects of the senses” (Doniger and Kakar 37).

Chapter 2 is titled “Ways of Embracing.”  These ways are divided into two categories, the first of which occur “when a man and woman have not yet made love together”, and are intended to “reveal the signs of their love” (Doniger and Kakar 40).  Some of the descriptions are very specific and provide an incredibly intimate understanding of the culture (Doniger 2007:75).  The second category describes embraces that are meant to be used during the act of lovemaking.   Vatsyayana specifically notes that massaging does not qualify as a form of embrace, as it “takes place at a particular time set aside, has a different use, and is not enjoyed by both partners” (Doniger and Kakar 41).

The next three chapters discuss kissing, scratching and biting.  The author argues that there is no specific order in which these three actions must occur, because they all involve passion; “Vatsyayana says: Everything at any time, because passion does not look before it leaps” (Doniger and Kakar 42).  Having said that, kissing is the first topic discussed.  Despite noting the near endless variety of kisses, Vatsyayana argues that varying local customs permit specific types only and, as such, not all types of kisses are for all people (Doniger and Kakar 42).  Types of kissing are outlined, as well as the best kisses to be used depending on how comfortable and familiar the individuals are with each other.

Following the chapter on kissing comes a chapter on scratching.  Vatsyayana is careful to note that scratching is not for everyone, and not meant for all times: “Scratching is for their first time together, or on a return from a journey or a departure for a journey, or for a woman who has just relented from her anger or is drunk” (Doniger and Kakar 45).  He discusses different sized fingernails and the types of scratching the sizes are capable of.  Additionally, he suggests that illicit lovers ought to leave marks only in concealed places, so as to “increase their passion and make them remember” (Doniger and Kakar 47).  It is worth noting that, right before this remark, he contends that variety can help keep the passions alive.  This variety extends beyond the imaginations of a monogamous couple; indeed, an entire portion of the Kama Sutra is devoted to showing men how to win other men’s wives.  This chapter ends with the words “there are no keener means of increasing passion than acts inflicted with tooth and nail” (Doniger and Kakar 48).

Biting is the next topic discussed, in chapter five.  It is said that all “the places for kissing are also for biting, except for the upper lip, the inside of the mouth, and the eyes” (Doniger and Kakar 48).  Vatsyayana briefly notes that there are both good teeth and bad teeth; he then discusses the types of biting.  Ultimately, when a man scratches or bites, “he is making advances” (Doniger and Kakar 49).  However, it is important that a man “treat a woman according to the nature of the region she comes from” (Doniger and Kakar 49); Vatsyayana then outlines the different sexual demeanors of women from a variety of areas in and around India.

Chapter six is the chapter that spawned the idea of the Kama Sutra as a guide to sexual positions.  Indeed, this chapter discusses the “Varieties of Sexual Positions” (Doniger and Kakar 51).  Sexual positions are described largely in terms of the size of one’s genitals.  For example, a woman thought to have a small vagina, in terms of both depth and circumference, is referred to as “doe” (Doniger and Kakar 28).  Vatsyayana says, “A ‘doe’ generally has three positions to choose from”; he then proceeds to outline three positions in which, one assumes, it would be easier and more comfortable for such a woman to receive a larger penis into her vagina (Doniger and Kakar 52).  It could be said that at least some of the information presented surely must have been intended to teach readers how to give a woman pleasure (Doniger 2003:30).  Further general positions are mentioned, some of which “can only be done with practice” (Doniger and Kakar, 54).  Doniger suggests that even Vatsyayana himself regarded some of the positions as “over the top” (Doniger 2007: 77).  Vatsyayana then mentions “unusual sexual acts”, some of which simply include different sexual positions; however, he also mentions threesomes and group sex.  The final unusual sexual act mentioned is “sex below”, that is, anal sex (Doniger and Kakar 56).

Chapter seven of the book is entitled “Modes of Slapping and The Accompanying Moaning.”  Much of the chapter is devoted to outlining manners in which a man might strike his lover during sex.  While some of the described acts seem rather violent and might elicit cries from the woman, there is no mention of stopping the action.  Doniger suggests that this passage “inculcates what we now recognize as the rape mentality – ‘her mouth says no but her eyes say yes’” (Doniger 2007: 70).  Vatsyayana does warn of the dangers of certain regional customs and practices, mentioning two women who had died and one who had been blinded as a result of certain slapping techniques (Doniger and Kakar 59).

The next chapter begins with “The Woman Playing the Man’s Part.”  It briefly discusses the woman-on-top position during sex, before delving into the various movements a man might make with his penis while having intercourse.  Of note, there is mention of certain movements causing a woman’s eyes to “roll when she feels him in certain spots” (Doniger and Kakar 62).  This could represent an ancient recognition and understanding of what we refer to as the G-spot (Doniger 2007: 75).  There is further discussion of a multitude of manners in which a man may thrust during intercourse, along with a brief mention of movements a woman can make whilst on top, or “playing the man’s part”.  It is said that “a man can learn everything – a woman’s personality, what sort of sex excites her – from the way she moves on top” (Doniger and Kakar 64).  At the same time, Doniger argues, Vatsyayana “acknowledges a woman’s active agency and challenges her stereotyped gender role” when he discusses women taking on the “man’s role” during sex (Doniger 2003:29).

Chapter nine discusses oral sex, in terms of both the act itself as well as the type of people who like to engage in it.  Eight acts of oral sex are outlined when it is performed by a “person of the third nature” (Doniger and Kakar 67).  This “third nature” may be reference to cross-dressing men and women, and Doniger discusses this particular portion of text at length in a separate article (Doniger 2003: 26-28).  Ultimately, though Vatsyayana himself seems opposed to the idea of oral sex, he nonetheless suggests that, “since learned men disagree and there are discrepancies in what the religious texts say, one should act according to the custom of the region and one’s own disposition and confidence” (Doniger and Kakar 68).

The tenth and final chapter of the book begins by discussing the “start and finish of sex.”  Vatsyayana mentions a specific room in a man’s house, “dedicated to sex” (Doniger and Kakar 70).  There is mention of friends, alcohol, music, and touching, utilizing “the embraces and so forth that have already been described” (Doniger and Kakar 70).  When it has been determined that the woman is aroused, and at which point the friends have been sent away, the man loosens the knot of the woman’s waistband; “that is the beginning of sex” (Doniger and Kakar 70).  The end of sex is outlined in great detail.  The man and woman leave the room separately, to bathe, “embarrassed, not looking at one another, as if they were not even acquainted with one another (Doniger and Kakar 70).  Upon returning from bathing, they are no longer embarrassed.  Indeed, they relax and enjoy some food and drink, sometimes retiring to the rooftop porch to “enjoy the moonlight and tell stories to suit their mood” (Doniger and Kakar 71).  Furthermore, “as she lies in his lap, looking at the moon, he points out the rows of the constellations to her; they look at the Pleiades, the Pole Star, and the Garland of the Seven Sages that form the Great Bear.  That is the end of sex” (Doniger and Kakar 71).

Before the chapter is complete, Vatsyayana mentions the “different kinds of sex” according to levels of passion or levels of class (Doniger and Kakar 72).  He finishes the chapter, and this book, with a brief discussion of the causes of “lovers’ quarrels”.  How might one avoid such quarrels?  The solution comes in studying the sixty-four arts alongside the Kama Sutra.  Indeed, “the lover who employs in this way the sixty-four arts of love that Babhravya taught is successful with the best women” (Doniger and Kakar 73).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Betageri, Ankur (2011) “Books at a Glance.” Indian Literature 55, No. 2: 222-224.

Doniger, Wendy (2007) “Reading the ‘Kamasutra’: The Strange and the Familiar.” Daedalus 136, No. 2: 66-78.

Doniger, Wendy (2003) “The ‘Kamasutra’: It Isn’t All about Sex.” The Kenyon Review 25, No. 1: 18-37.

Grant, Ben (2005) “Translating/’The’ ‘Kama Sutra’” Third World Quarterly 26, No. 3: 509-516.

Kureishi, Hanif (2011) “It’s a sin: the Kama Sutra and the search for pleasure.” Critical Quarterly 53, No. 1: 1-5. Accessed February 4, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8705.2011.01984.x

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Shusterman, Richard (2007) “Asian Ars Erotica and the Question of Sexual Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65, No. 1: 55-68.

Vatsyayana. (2002) Kamasutra. Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Alternate translations of the Kama Sutra (Richard Burton, Alain Danielou)

Kama

Kama Sastras

Lingam/Yoni

Tantric Sex

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kama_Sutra

http://www.indohistory.com/kamasutra.html

http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/texte/etcs/ind/aind/klskt/kamasutr/kamas.htm

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27827

 

Article written by: Eric Selles (2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

The Kula Ritual

An important text that has been used to fully introduce the Kula ritual is Dupuche’s book entitled: Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual: As Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka (2003). The Kula ritual is cited within the Tantraloka and therefore falls within tantric Saivism, particularly the Trika Saivism sect (Dupuche 8). Research of Abhinavagupta and his contributions to Trika Saivism is an important part of fully grasping what the Kula ritual includes and the ideologies that are related to it. Abhinavagupta wrote the Tantraloka, which is still an extremely important treatise within the Tantric tradition (Rodrigues 283). It is essential to note that Abhinavagupta did not fully reject the Vedic tradition, however his work is not considered to belong to Hindu orthodox work (Dupuche 8). The orthodox Vedic traditions emphasize living a pure life and then has a host of items, actions, foods, etc. that would be considered impure. The Kula ritual does not have a preference for purity or impurity. Dupuche’s even states that it “uses forbidden foods and forbidden women” (Dupuche 9).

Overall, the general idea and structure of the Kula Ritual is the ‘secret ceremony.’ It is shrouded in mystery, but at the very root of the Kula ritual; it is the worship of Perfect Beings. Dupuche describes Perfect Beings as: beings that “occupy a place midway between gods and mankind” (Dupuche 80). He further explains that these beings enjoy siddhi and try to lead others to the same state (Dupuche 80). A paper written by Karel Werner tries to explain the complicated and confusing factor of the Kula Ritual. The writer continues to suggest the “aim of the Kula Ritual is to overcome every day common dualisms” (Werner 117). Tantric tradition seeks to go beyond dualisms, which equivocate to spiritual ignorance (Rodrigues 399).  Werner goes on to explain that another overarching theme of the Kula Ritual the idea of finding one’s true self (Werner 117). The ritual has various separating factors that include: qualified and unqualified persons, men and women, niracara and sacara, pure and impure, and initiated and not initiated persons.

The elaboration of those that are qualified to practice the Kula ritual and those who are unqualified simply fall under the categories of disciple and guru or simple layperson. The category seems rather arbitrary because it implies that anyone who wishes to practice the Kula ritual would simply need to search for a guru and become his disciple. Only those that have a specific “seed” that are related to the Kula tradition may be considered qualified. Since the “seed transmission” is implied to the transfer of semen, it implies that only men can be considered a qualified, initiated guru. Abhinavagupta lists “six qualified gurus” and “six unqualified gurus” (Dupuche 74). He further goes on to dichotomize the transmission of seed and the transmittance of vibrating power of Siva. The transmission of seed is the transfer of semen (Dupuche 74). Those who do not have potent seed are seen as not functioning and therefore do not have disciples and must remain celibate. Those that do have proper functioning seed are qualified to practice the Kula tradition. Even so, the Kula ritual allows for both male and female practitioners. To understand how women are seen within the Kula ritual, one needs to be aware of how niracara and sacara are related to religious philosophy. The term niracara speaks toward those who are not attached to any ritual and the term sacara defines those who are attached to or emphasize ritual practice. Many of the qualified women that are part of the Kula ritual are considered to be niracara and therefore should be seen and treated as goddesses (Dupuche 77). The ‘officiate’ of the ritual is the guru, typically male, and because of his role with the ritual he is seen as the sacara aspect of it.

Abhinavagupta composed Tantraloka 29 in eight different sub-topics. The Tantraloka is a text that is found within the Saivism sect. It outlines a series of rituals and practices. However, Tantraloka 29 discusses the topic of the Kula Ritual. It explains specific rituals that an individual who practices the Kula ritual abides by. These topics are grouped under rituals for those who are initiated and rituals for those who are not initiated. However, as a prelude to the sub-topics there are preliminary rituals. “The Essence [of the Kula ritual procedure]” (Dupuche 70) is an important subsection within the prelude. The section has been speculated to truly be the essence of the Kula ritual as it is the opening of the Tantraloka 29 and sets the tone for the entirety of the chapter. The structure is ultimately laid out in three categories: daily, occasional, and optional rituals (Dupuche 85). Daily rituals, as with many other religions, are set to happen every day at the same time. Occasional rituals are performed during certain and specific events. Optional rituals happen at times when the practitioner chooses. While there are clearly defined rituals for the initiated and not initiated, the sub-topics are not evenly distributed. However, before the start of the categorized sub-topics there is an Opening Ritual that is involved. There stands to be four sub-topics that are involved with the initiated rituals and three sub-topics that are involved with the not initiated.

The opening ritual is a separated ritual that also serves as an introduction to procedure of the chapter (Dupuche 93). The mechanics of a ritual is important- and Abhinavagupta goes through it quite comprehensively. Similarly to the Vedic traditions, purity is an important part of ritual. So, to mirror certain practices one must bathe prior to the start of the ritual. The practitioner is also required to cleanse instruments that are to be used in the ritual. He mentions that after cleansing procedures, two important stages take place (Dupuche 94). The first step that a practitioner must come to is an achieved state of bliss that is called a “state of Bhairava” (Dupuche 94) and “sprinkles himself… with droplets taken from the vessel” (Dupuche 94). The droplets may be related to alcohol (wine). A further continuation of the opening ritual starts to deviate from the Vedic traditions. Many rituals within the Vedic traditions are done in the public eye. In contrast, the Kula Opening Ritual is meant to be private- to never be seen in public, to avoid societal influences may contribute to. However, while the ritual is not meant to be in public, it is also not meant to in the private space that is considered the home (Dupuche 94).

There are three great mantras used within the Opening Ritual. As previously mentioned there is a strong tie between external manifestation and the state of Bhairava. The three mantras are used as a “form of bath the external sort of which is discounted in the Kula rituals” (Dupuche 100). A keystone of the opening ritual is the filling of the Vessel. The practitioner is responsible for filling the vessel with various forbidden items such as: wine, meat, and sexual fluid (Dupuche 101). The items lead to bliss, which is considered to be one of the highest realities (Dupuche 101). However, the bliss that is mentioned within the document is related to consciousness. Within the literature, there is great implication that sacrifice is an act that is a manifested within the individual’s consciousness. Dupuche supports this claim by stating “[t]hree inter-related internal acts may be considered here since they are the essential method of all the Kula sacrifices,” and that “[i]t brings into reality the object which exists only as a desire” (Dupuche 102). By participating in the Opening ritual, the practitioner realizes his state as Bhairava and is now able to engage in Sacrifices (Dupuche 104). Within his text, Dupuche highlights the sacrifices one, two, and three. Dupuche quickly brushes over each subject. Sacrifice one is considered to be the “external celebration of splendor of consciousness” (Dupuche 105).

Sub-topic three is part number two of the rituals for the initiated. It is entitled “the Ritual of Adoration.” Sub-topic three and Sacrifice two are closely related. Sacrifice two is related to the dualism of the term sakti. It relies on the idea and philosophy that sakti is the female principle and is the principle that is seen as responsible for all activity in the world. Due to the nature of the tantric tradition, one may assume that the term refers to an actual woman. However, within Dupuche’s text, he explicitly states, “it does not refer to an actual woman” but rather “is based on the “internal sakti.” The Ritual of Adoration is concerned with sacred sites (pitha) and four stages of Krama (Dupuche 113). The sacred sites that are being referred to correspond to the sites on the practitioner’s own body, and note external landmarks, rooms, etc. These pitha correspond to spaces on the “sexual dimensions on the body” and the pitha symbolize the “sacred union of ‘the faculty and its object’ (Dupuche 115). The four stages of Krama include: emanation, maintenance, reabsorption, and a section entitled “Nameless.” The first step (emanation) is considered the “installation of the sites” (Dupuche 116). It ensures that these sacred sites are defined. The male reabsorption starts from his hands and slowly moves down his body and ends in his toes. The nine women that are to be included within the ritual are to be considered ritually impure within the classical Vedic traditions (Dupuche 117).

Sub-topic four is entitled: The Ritual with the Sexual Partner. There are two defined sub-sections. The main sections within this particular sub-topic are participants and the ritual. Within the Vedic tradition, brahmacaya is the student phase that promotes celibacy. Within the Tantraloka 29, Abhinavagupta describes brahman as “the bliss between Siva and sakti” (Dupuche 125). There are elements of sub-topic four that have been focused upon within Tantraloka 28. One of the key elements of Tantraloka 28 is the circle sacrifice. The circle sacrifice within the context of the Tantraloka 29 refers to the “theatrical aspect of the gathering” (Dupuche 129). This circle ritual aspect also advocates for consent of all those involved, as well as searching for the true interpretation of sakti. The ritual has three emissions that include: emanation, reabsorption, and blending. The emanation of the ritual has three trajectories in which can be viewed as subsections of emanation. The first trajectory is “Emphasis on Action” in summations focuses on the erotic nature of the Kula ritual and tries to explain the bond between bliss, Siva, and sakti. The second trajectory is Emphasis on Knowledge. This section goes on to explain differentiated though “leads to absorption and the emission of the fluid” (Dupuche 138).  The final trajectory is entitled “Emphasis on the sakti.” This section starts with defining the important of sakti and the “immediacy of her impact” (Dupuche 139). It further goes on to state that sakti goes beyond the other two trajectories and is much more complex. As a closing statement to the third trajectory, Abhinavagupta state that “sexual fluid… results from consciousness” (Dupuche 140). After the three trajectories that are housed under the first emission are explained, the second and third emissions are briefly summarized. Reabsorption (the second emission) explains the “a human of flesh and blood” reach a state of bliss, rest, and then ultimately fall into a state of non-bliss. At this point of time the circle ritual that is described above is stopped. The final emission, the “Union” or “Blending.” There are various sexual connotations and it seems that the over-all reason for such emissions is to conceive a child that would be the counterpart of Rudra (Dupuche 147).

The last ritual for those that have been initiated is “The Ritual of the Secret Teaching” or sub-topic five. The fifth sub-topic focuses on sacrifices four, five, and six. Sacrifice four is based on the body, the fifth on the Subtle-breath (prana), and the sixth is based on the mind. In a way it does make sense that all three of these sacrifices are closely related to one another. Within sacrifice four, Abhinavagupta explains that human bodies are akin to the mandala (Dupuche 148). The fifth explains that the satiation that is found within the third sacrifice also satiates the fifth sacrifice (Dupuche 149). Lastly, the sixth sacrifice is simply stated that at the highest level it is consciousness that has been obtained (Dupuche 150).

The next three sub-topics are considered to be rituals for those that need to be initiated. The first of these three is sub-topic six. There are two types of initiation: Ordinary Initiation and Initiation as the Son. After the two types of initiation are explained, Abhinavagupta goes on to explain a section entitled “On the Son who Desires Enjoyment.” The reason for ordinary initiation does not focus on the “external events” but rather focuses on the reabsorption of energy (Dupuche 154). It also is the search for the balance between liberation and sexual pleasures. It is the first step toward being initiated as a Son. After one goes through ordinary initiation, one may be able to initiate as a son. This proves to be the next step toward becoming a master within the rituals. In order to be initiated as a son one must be able to be “brought to liberation and only then can he be properly receive the enjoyment which penetration procures” (Dupuche 158). However, as this is only initiation into the Kula ritual, the initiate focuses on himself rather than the sexual aspect of the ritual (Dupuche 162). Sub-topic seven simply discusses anointing the adept and the master (Dupuche 164). Finally Sub-topic eight focuses on the penetration. This form of penetration concerns breaking through various bondages that a person find himself naturally in.

The Kula ritual is a ritual and tradition that is shrouded within a lot of mystery and secrecy. It is split between two groups of people: Those who are already initiated and those who still have yet to initiate into the ritual. There are various sexual themes that are associated with the ritual.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Basu, Srishchandra (2004) The Esoteric Philosophy of The Tantras. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Dupuche, John R. (2003) Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual: As Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Muller-Ortega, Paul E. (1997) The Triadic Heart of Siva. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) Rituals and Practice of Tantra Vol. I. India: Cosmo Publications.

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) Rituals and Practice of Tantra Vol. II. India: Cosmo Publications.

Werner, Karel. (2005) “Review of Books.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 15#1 (April): 116-118.

 

Related topics for further investigation

Tantraloka

Tantraloka 29

Abhinavagupta

Savism

Siva

Tantra

Esoteric

Hairava

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaula

http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/back-to-the-basics-understanding-jati-varna-gotra-and-kula/

http://interfaithashram.com/2015/10/25/abhinavagupta-the-kula-ritual-as-elaborated-in-chapter-29-of-the-tantraloka-2003-551-pp/

 

Article written by: Jessica Mariano (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Female Ascetics in Hinduism

Women in Hindu society generally take on a role of and are identified as householders, thus providing for a husband and family. However, some women, though a clear minority, choose a different life path which is the life of the ascetic. An ascetic is regarded as someone who abstains from worldly pleasures often in search of spiritual goals through renunciation (Denton 2). Ascetics seek to free themselves from the cycle of rebirth entirely and thereby reach salvation. Although there are a variety of ascetic forms such as celibacy and tantrism, renunciation and the sannyasas or sannyasinis are the most recognizable.

The term sannyasa (male) or sannyasini (female) means ‘abandonment’ or ‘laying aside completely’. Entry into this lifestyle involves a dramatic ritual to symbolically discard the world in which they currently live. To take on the role of a sannyasini one must establish their ritual death. This is done by figuratively cremating oneself or performing their one’s own funeral rites and also by uttering the phrase “None belongs to me, to none do I belong” or a simpler yet no less powerful phrase “I leave absolutely everything behind” (Denton 94). Initiation ceremonies into ascetic life differ from one ascetic to the next, but ritual details such as offering balls of rice to ancestors and creating grass statues of themselves which they later burn to symbolically represent cremation, remain consistent elements to the initiation process (Leslie 219). This initiation ritual into asceticism marks the rejection or separation from householdership; a commitment to a particular path towards ideals such as liberation (moksa), acquiring knowledge of the Absolute (Brahman) or salvation (mukti) through union; and the admittance into a community of fellow ascetics. This initiation process completely relieves a woman of their original social identity and alters the former relationship they had with householder women. They thereby embrace a new set of values far different than those of the ideal woman, wife and householder in Hindu society (Leslie 214). As the practice of world renunciation is seen as a primarily masculine way of life usually for male twice-borns, females who take on the path of renunciation are seen as ones who have left the orthodox norm behind. However, they may often be found to say what is in the minds of many orthodox housewives in regards to their disagreement with family life, ties and what is expected of women at the householder stage (Clementin-Ojha 1988). Some ascetic women have declared nothing but relief over their choice to leave householdership. As one renouncer-ascetic (sannyasini) stated, “In the householder life, you know great pleasure and sorrow, but you cannot know peace. That life is in a state of constant change and so your mind cannot become still. In the ascetic life, you are single-minded and so you can achieve salvation” (Leslie 215). Each sannyasini is different in their pursuit of activities or religious path in that some focus on study, meditation and wandering, where others are found to focus on preaching and teaching ascetic values, hymns and sermons to householder disciples who visit (Denton 95).

An interesting fact about ascetic women and girls is their variation in appearance. One may choose to wear a white sari while others wear red; some tie ochre (gerua) cloth around their torso whereas others may choose to wear white or bright yellow (kesar). In regards to hair, some ascetics choose to have their heads shaven, others with loose and flowing hair; some will trim the hair at earlobe length and oil it and others form it into matted strands (jata) by rubbing ashes into the hair (Leslie 218). The vast majority of ascetic women fall in a cluster around the age of 60, but in the city of Varanasi there is a diversity in the age group of ascetics which correlate well with two types of asceticism, celibacy and renunciation (Denton 122). Since the majority of younger ascetics are unmarried and from high-caste families, it suggests that their families cannot afford dowries thereby leaving their daughters unwed and undesirable. This causes families to send their daughters to Varanasi where young girls will enter brahmacarya or celibacy, which guards their purity and guarantees them a ritual standing higher than that of an ordinary orthodox householder (Denton 123). While the younger ascetic females are free to leave Varanasi and ascetic life at any time, most choose to stay in the city or frequently travel to other city centres where ascetic festivals and feasts occur (Leslie 220). Cities such as Varanasi give proof that although ascetics may give up traditional values of the Hindu social world, they do not necessarily give up society and can actually be found to be comfortable with and accepted by others.

Ascetics tend to put forward a religious reason as to why they chose this life path of worldly renunciation to find their salvation (Clementin-Ojha 1988). However it is difficult to describe a religious practice of a female renouncer because in choosing the life of the ascetic one is no longer committed to a specific path (Leslie 22). A female renouncer-ascetic may follow a “path of knowledge” (Leslie 221) by engaging in the repetition of a mantra or “sacred utterance” (Rodrigues 70) and focusing on meditation. Some may also choose to devote the hours in the day to yoga or sitting in the lotus posture, while others may offer rituals of worship to a goddess such as Durga (Leslie 221). Since renunciation itself bestows such large amounts of freedom upon each individual that one can choose how they devote themselves to a religious path and how they explain their beliefs as well.

The life of a renouncer-ascetic may cause orthodox Hindus to put these women under criticism and scrutiny. Dharma is righteousness, duty, morality, law, social obligations or particular religious teachings (Rodrigues 546) that an individual is expected to follow in Hindu society. To not live according to one’s dharma is considered to be a main offense in Hindu tradition. Women who renounce the life of the householder and the orthodox traditions expected of them are considered to be adopting ‘adharmic’ behavior. They can be seen as rebels, as renunciation from the world is considered to be an effort at achieving their own individual freedom instead of following the life that the orthodoxy had prescribed for them (Clementin-Ojha 1988). Female renouncer-ascetics have strong beliefs, but do not use these beliefs as a way to criticise traditional aspects of Hindu society. By living amongst orthodox Hindus, ascetics show and encourage other members of society to respect their svadharma (one’s own dharma) as they respect the orthodox traditions and its stri-dharma (woman/wife’s code of righteous behavior (Rodrigues 564). Not only do these ascetic women respect the traditions of Hindu society, they often discourage other females to do what they themselves have done by leaving householdership. In research conducted by Catherine Clementin-Ojha, the late Svami Karapatri, a supporter of orthodoxy but also an ascetic, upheld that women could obtain a higher state of consciousness and could become ascetics and guides. However, he did not allow women into his ascetic order and denied that there have never been a “single real sannyasini in India” (Clementin-Ojha 1988).

Although not as common or influential, two other types of female asceticism exist: celibacy and tantrism, both different phenomena from renunciation. Celibate asceticism or a celibate student (brahmacarya) is often one of the first stages of life (asrama) prescribed for twice-born males. It can also occur in a number of other ways, such as a female choosing an institutionalized lifestyle of celibacy and regarding themselves as brahmacarinis, like the classical rite into studentship, or the first twelve years prior to initiation into sannyasa (Denton 96). Celibacy is the intention to remain pure for as long as possible and avoid pollution. Tantric asceticism on the other hand relies mainly on oral tradition. However, there is no ritual of initiation into tantric asceticism as there is for orthodox renunciation and celibacy. Those who define themselves as tantric undertake a “fierce discipline” (Leslie 225) and are said to have achieved powers (siddhi) by practicing difficult acts. It is believed that these acts include sex rituals (maithuna) and a disciplined relationship between themselves and their teacher (Leslie 225). Unlike renunciation, tantric asceticism acknowledges full liberation but also full divinization, putting emphasis on finding a state of bliss (ananda) or madness (pagalpan).

Evidently the life of a female ascetic in Hinduism is a complex, underappreciated and understudied phenomenon in Hindu society. With only little research conducted on the life of female ascetics, mostly over the past few decades, it is hard to determine what truly prompts a Hindu woman to leave the orthodox life of a householder, wife and mother, but it is exceptional to see that these women are willing to defy the norms of traditional Hindu female expectations and let themselves become equal with their male sannyasa counterparts and live out their svadharma and find liberation at their time of physical death.

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Expectations. New York: Routledge Hindu Studies Series.

Chowdhry, Prem (1996) “Marriage, Sexuality and the Female ‘ascetic’: Understanding a Hindu Sect.” Economic and Political Weekly 31.34 2307–2321.

Clementin-Ojha, Catherine (1988) “Outside the Norms: Women Ascetics in Hindu Society.” Economic and Political Weekly. 23(18): WS34-6

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Cranbury: Farleigh Dickinson University Press

Mitra, Kana (1983) ‘Women in Hinduism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 20(4), 585

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism – the eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Teskey Denton, Lynn (2004) Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Related Topics

Celibacy

Dharma

Moksa

Sannyasa

Women in Hinduism

Women’s Roles in Hindu Society

 

Related Websites

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/essays/ascetics.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sannyasa

 

Article written by: Kenzie Campbell (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hijra Religion

The Hijras are an institutionalized third gender in India. They live mainly in Northern India, with the major Hijra temple located in Gujarat, near Ahmedabad (Nanda 1990:xxii). Hijras are biological men who renounce sexuality and dress and act like women. Some Hijras are born hermaphrodites, or with ambiguous genitalia (Nanda 1990:5), but most Hijras are impotent or infertile men who undergo a sacrificial emasculation procedure called the nirvan operation, which involves the removal of male genitalia (Reddy 2005:56). This ritual emasculation is said to give them the power to bestow fertility to newlyweds and prosperity to newborn children (Reddy 2005:2). The traditional work of a Hijra is to perform at the birth of a child, at weddings, and at temple festivals; a group of Hijras will dance, sing, and bestow blessings in an exaggerated parody of female behavior, for which they receive payment (Nanda 1990:3, Reddy 2005:84).

Hijras practice a pluralistic form of religion: identity formation is related to Hinduism, but many Hijras also identify as Muslim (Reddy 2005:99). Hijras, being neither male nor female, are able to blur gender boundaries within Muslim traditions (Reddy 2005:102). They will sometimes embark on the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Karbala or Mecca or Medina, but unlike Muslim women, they do not need to be accompanied by a male relative (Reddy 2005:103). Muslim Hijras will wear a burqa when not performing (Reddy 2005:104), but are also permitted to wear male clothing upon returning from their pilgrimage (Reddy 2005:105). [see Reddy, 2005 for more information on Muslim Hijras]

Hindu Hijras trace their origins back to the time of the Ramayana (Reddy 2005:9). A common myth that Hijras tell regarding their history is that when Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was exiled from Ayodhya, the entire city followed him to the edge of town to say goodbye. Everyone was in tears when they reached the banks of a river, and Rama asked all the men and women to stop crying for him and to go back to their homes. The Hijras, who are not men and not women, waited for fourteen years on the banks of the river. Upon his return, Rama was so moved by their extreme devotion that he gave them a blessing: he told them they would be kings in the kali yuga (Reddy 2003:189). [A yuga refers to a cosmic period in Hindu Cosmology (Reddy 2003:189)] . It is interesting to note that we are currently in the kali yuga, and that Hijras are entering the political sphere in India (Reddy 2003:164) as somewhat ideal candidates for leadership due to their celibacy and lack of kinship ties (Reddy 2003:182).

Within the Hindu pantheon, Hijras identify primarily with the god Siva (particularly in his ardhanarisvara state, when he is portrayed as half man, half woman), Arjuna, a hero from the Mahabharata epic and incarnation of Visnu, and the goddess Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). In one Hindu creation myth, Siva was appointed to create the world but he took so long that the job was given to another god, Brahma (the Creator). When Siva was finally ready to begin creating the world, he saw that it was already done, and was so angry that he broke off his phallus and threw it into the earth (Nanda 2003:195). Hijras, like Siva, bury their severed penises in the ground, which they believe gives them the power of creation (Reddy 2005:97). By giving up individual fertility, they acquire universal creative power (Reddy 2005:97). Another clear identification for the Hijras is with Arjuna from the Mahabharata epic (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). During the epic Arjuna spends a year in the court of king Virata disguised as a eunuch named Brhannala, dressing like a woman and teaching dance to the women of the court (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). However, worship of Bahuchara Mata (a version of the mother goddess particularly associated with transgendierism and transvestism) is the most important for Hijras. Each Hijra household has a shrine to her and it is in her name that Hijras bestow their blessings of fertility and prosperity (Nanda 1990:24). [See Nanda, 1990, for myths attesting to Bahuchara’s special connection to Hijras]

Hijras engage in two kinds of occupations: badhai work, (singing and dancing at marriages and births) which is seen as a respectful occupation, and kandra work (sex work), a practice which is criticized by senior Hijras but is still the main source of income for roughly half the Hijra population (Reddy2005:15,80). Some Hijras will even take on regular clients as ‘husbands’ (Reddy 2003:165). Reddy suggests that due to their association with sex work and their ambiguous gender identification, Hijras are generally viewed as outside of the social order (Reddy 2003:166). They are seen as besarm (without shame), and people are often afraid to interact with them (Reddy 2003:166). Hijras have the power to bless but they also have the power to curse; if they are not adequately compensated for their services they will threaten to expose their mutilated genitals, a sight which is believed to cause impotence (Nanda 1990:7). For this reason Hijras are socially marginalized, but they are also feared (Nanda 1990:8). Badhai refers to the payments Hijras receive for their services, usually in the form of flour, cane sugar, sweets, cloth, saris or money (Nanda 1990:3). At the birth of male children Hijras will dance, entertain, and bless the child with fertility, prosperity, and long life. They will also examine the genitals of baby boys; if they are ambiguous they will sometimes try to claim the child as one of their own (Nanda 1990:2-5). Hijras will also perform at marriages; the social class of the bride and groom determines how elaborate the performance will be. They will bless the newlywed couple with fertility in the name of the mother goddess (Nanda 1990:5).

In the Hindu tradition chastity and renunciation of sexual activity gives one tapas (inner heat) which is associated with creation (Reddy 2005:96). For men in particular, abstinence or semen-retention is seen as a way to generate tapas (Reddy 2003:175). A Hijra is seen as a kind of sannyasin (renouncer) who has transformed their sexual impotence into procreative power (Nanda 2003: 195). Hijra men are said to receive a call from the Goddess Bahuchara Mata to serve her: those who deny her risk seven cycles of impotent rebirths (Nanda 2003:195). The nirvan operation is a form of rebirth in many ways; and the post-operation rituals mirror post-childbirth rituals (Nanda 2003:195). Only after the nirvan operation are Hijras truly believed to be able to channel the power of Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195). Although the operation is currently illegal in India, it is still practiced. The operation is a way of gaining respect within Hijra communities (Reddy 2005:93). Sex work is seen as contradictory to the ascetic ideal of sexual renunciation (Nanda 1990:12). The view among Hijras is that the ‘real’ Hijras are the ones who renounce sexuality completely and undergo the nirvan operation as proof of their legitimacy (Reddy 2003:175).

The gender neutrality of the Hijras has captured the imaginations of gender studies scholars worldwide (Reddy 2003:164). They are also beginning to enter the political sphere. They have become increasingly visible worldwide. Many Hijras see this as a fulfillment of Rama’s diving prophecy, and believe this to be the beginning of a new era. [I have included some links to current events articles regarding Hijras and politics, see below]

 

Bibliography

Nanda, Serena (1990) Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Nanda, Serena (1985) “The Hijras of India: Cultural and Individual Dimensions of an Institutionalized Third Gender Role” in Richard Parker and Peter Aggleton eds. Culture, Society, and Sexuality: A Reader, p 237-250. New York: Routledge

Nanda, Serena (2003) “Hijra and Sadhin: Neither Man nor Woman in India” in Constructing Sexualities: Readings in Sexuality, Gender and Culture. Suzanna LaFont (ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 192-201

Reddy, Gayatri (2005) With Respect to sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India. London: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2003)”Men Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics” in Social Research, vol 70 (1), p p163-200

Lal, Vinay (1999) “Not This, Not That: The Hijras of India and the Cultural Politics of Sexuality” in Social Text, No. 61, p119-140: Duke University Press.

 

Related Readings

Cohen, Lawrence (1995) “The Pleasures of Castration: The Postoperative Status of Hijras,
Jankhas, and Academics” in Paul R. Abrahamson and Steven D. Pinkerton eds. Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2006) “Bonds of Love: The Desire for Companionate Marriages Among Hijras of India” in Hirsch, J and H. Wardlow eds. Modern Love: Companionate Marriage and the Politics of Love, University of Michigan Press

 

 Related Research Topics

-Tapas

-Asceticism

-Siva

-Arjuna

-Bahuchara Mata

-Transgender

 

Suggested websites

General information

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijra_(South_Asia)

http://www.everyculture.com/South-Asia/Hijra-Religion-and-Expressive-Culture.html

Current events

http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2008/05/hijras-indian-changing-rights\

http://www.ibtimes.com/third-sex-transgenders-eunuchs-run-political-office-pakistan-1104224

Photos of Hijras

http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/hijras

http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/hijra_bangladesh

 

 

Written by Molly Matheson (April 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

 

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is affectionately referred to by her followers as “the hugging saint”, or simply Amma, which is the Sanskrit word for mother.  She is a modern-day “avatar-guru”. This means her followers consider her to be an incarnation of a Hindu deity- in this case Devi, or Sakti (Copley 255). The goddess, Devi, represents the female aspect of the divine, and is the core form of every Hindu goddess.

In contrast to this divine reputation she holds today, Mata comes from very humble beginnings indeed. She was born in 1953 into a low-caste fishing family in the South Indian state of Kerala (Warrier 3). Her path to divinity started very young as she would spend excessive amounts of time immersed in meditation and prayer (Warrier 3). At the tender age of twenty-one Mata self-identified with the goddess Devi, and proclaimed that she was in fact the human manifestation of the Great Divine Mother (Warrier 3). It is due in part to Mata’s more well known moniker, “The Hugging Saint”, that she has gained this motherly image. Mata’s devotees will queue for hours on end after hearing her speak, just to receive a hug from her. An embrace from Mata is believed by her followers to be a divine experience, often equated with a spiritual awakening (Copley 259).

Mata dons the traditional garb of the goddess Devi whenever she appears in public, in order to present her divine nature to her followers. These public appearances are referred to as darshans, or “viewings” (Warrier 3). Mata herself has a slightly more involved perception of darshan. She is quoted as saying: “Darshan is a divine embrace. When I hold someone, it allows him to experience true, unconditional love; it can help to awaken his spiritual energy” (Luc, 41). Mata’s followers strive for spiritual enlightenment through worship of Mata herself, and by extension, the goddess whom she represents. This branch of the Hindu faith is called bhakti (Copley 255). However, worship and devotion to Mata is not the only thing expected of her followers. The main practice that all of Mata’s faithful followers must adhere to is that of seva. Seva, at its most basic definition, is the act of selfless service (Copley 264). Universal love, as well as selflessness, lie at the core of Mata’s philosophy. Mata works to spread this message, and related activism, throughout the world via her charitable organization The Mata Amritanandamayi Mission (henceforth referred to as The Mission).

The Mission is an eclectic organization involved in everything from supporting orphanages and colleges, to establishing hospitals with the highest standard for medical care (Copley 259-260). The unique thing about these organizations founded and/or managed by The Mission is the fact that they are almost entirely funded by donations from Mata devotees from around the world (Warrier 7). This is where seva plays its most pivotal role. The most revered form of seva is selfless service to the Mission itself. So by devoting time, effort, and donations to any one of the many humanitarian projects championed by Mata and her mission, the devotee is improving his or her own personal karma, while at the same time helping to further the impact of The Mission (Copley 265). It is this somewhat circular process which is largely responsible for the dramatic, worldwide spread of The Mission. Mata is revered as the ideal example of seva. As her followers attempt to emulate her tireless dedication to selflessly serving the entire world, they are at the same time vastly increasing the global scope of The Mission itself (Copley 265).

Another important factor at play here is that the majority of Mata’s devotees, in India and abroad, are middle-class, white-collar professionals (Copley 260). This demographic could be considered Mata’s greatest resource for spreading her message of universal love. It has been said that Mata possesses an unparalleled ability to recognize the most valuable attributes in a person, as well as the most effective way to utilize those attributes in an effort to further her cause (Copley 272). Mata’s devotees offer their various forms of expertise to The Mission as an expression of seva (Copley 272). Many of these individuals are seeking a way to contextualize their Hindu lifestyle in an increasingly modern world, which may not fit with traditional values or practices. A large part of Mata’s appeal as a guru lies in her flexible approach to Hindu worship. Her followers are permitted, and in fact encouraged, to pursue their faith in whichever way suits their lifestyle (Copley 263).

Mata lives a life governed by the same ideals as Hindu renouncers even though she does not truly belong to any such group (Warrier 6). Her social status could be described as above and beyond any traditional caste system. When she is not travelling the world, or visiting the various ashrams set up by her devotees, she spends most of her time at the ashram in her home-state of Kerala (Warrier 6). Ashram simply means “spiritual hermitage” (Copley 259). It is here that she works with individuals striving for brahmacharya, life as an ascetic, by closely monitoring their behaviour and guiding them in their spiritual quest. Once Mata believes they are finally qualified for brahmacharya she carries out an initiation rite (called the brahmacharya diksha), which officially recognizes the individual as a renouncer (Warrier 6).

Bibliography

Warrier, Maya (2003) Guru Choice and Spiritual Seeking in Contemporary India. International Journal  of Hindu Studies, 7: 31-54.

Viginie, Luc (2008) In God’s Name: Wisdom From the World’s Great Spiritual Leaders. New York:  Melcher Media.

Copely, Antony (2003) Hinduism in Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender, and Sampraday. New Delhi; New York: Oxford India Paperbacks.

Warrier, Maya (2005) Hindu Selves in a Modern World: Guru Faith in the Mata Amritanandamayi    Mission. Oxfordshire: RoutledgeCurzon.

Related Websites

www.amma.org

www.amritapuri.org

www.embracingtheworld.org

http://www.odditycentral.com/news/mata-amritanandamayi-devi-indias-hugging-saint.html

Related Words

Sakti

Bhajans

Seva

Darshan

Devi

Ashram

Prarabdhas

Sannyasin

Sankalpa

Sanatana dharma

Bhakti

Brahmacharya

 

Article written by Dylan Williamson (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Prthivi, Usas, and Ratri (Vedic Goddesses)

The Vedic Goddesses: Prthivi, Usas, and Ratri

Worship of natural phenomena has dominated Hindu religious practice since its origin. Many natural phenomena are seen to have feminine properties and it is these properties which led to the centralization of goddess worship (Kinsley 10). Some feminine traits abundant in nature include fecundity, fruitfulness, and fertility present in the earth, mothers and cows (Wangu 29). Another feature common in goddess worship is their ability to uphold rta, cosmic order (Wangu 28; Kinsley 10; Chitgopekar 55).  All these common features of nature are prominent in three of the main goddesses in Vedic literature; Prthivi the earth, Usas the dawn, and Ratri the night (Kinsley 14, 178; Kumar 67).

The origin of worship for the earth is based out of the sacrality of the earth for its fecundity and stability, and due to these attributes, the earth has been worshipped as a goddess throughout the Hindu tradition (Kinsley 178). The earth as a goddess has a basis in the underlying perception that the earth and the cosmos is a living being itself. And it is this “cosmic organism” that is worshipped as the earth goddess, Prthivi (Kinsley 178). The earth as a solid mass and an anthropomorphic goddess is the two ways in which Prthivi is identified. And it is the reverence to the stability and fecundity of the earth that provides the basis of the hymns dedicated to Prthivi (Kinsley 178). Within the Samhitas, Prthivi has three aspects of her being. She is seen as the “universal mother of physical creation” as well as the earth as a physical entity that sustains life (Pintchman 30). The third aspect of Prthivi’s nature describes her as manifest matter itself, just like the waters in the creation narrative that is formed from the cosmogonic process (Pintchman 30). In some myths the creation of the world came from the released energy from Prajapati which became the substance that makes up the earth and provides life for everything on its surface (Kinsley 178). In another myth from the Visnu Purana, the earth, Prthivi was born from the foot of Visnu (Wilkins 16). In other myths Prthivi is said to have germinated from Aditi, which in later Hindu tradition is almost completely identified with Prthivi in the Brahmanas (Kinsley 178). In later texts new names were introduced for the earth goddess such as Bhu or Bhudevi (Sullivan 76). A central and dominant quality of Prthivi is her maternal nature (Pitchman 30). She often hailed as mother and is worshipped for her fertility by providing sustenance to all living things that live on her (Kinsley 9). Because of this, she is often likened to a cow, who provides milk for her calf. It is through the worship of Prthivi and other motherly goddesses that the status of the cow is heightened (Wangu 36). Prthivi is often described as a firm, supportive, benign being whose fertility and abundance helps with the growth and well being of all living things that thrive on her surface (Kinsley 8, 126). She is said to be the source of strength, vigour and she quickens life (Kinsley 11).

Hymns in many texts emphasize Prthivi’s nourishing and creative nature in which she provides seemingly inexhaustible sources of plants and herbs, and especially crops. Prthivi is often called the all-producer based on these associations (Kinsley 9, 126; Wangu 35). Another name given to the earth goddess is rtajna, she who knows rta (Chitgopekar 55). She does not distinguish between poor and wealthy, good and wicked beings, or demons and the gods, who call her broad expanse home (Kinsley 9).  In some hymns she is described as the splendid energy of women, the fragrant mother, the light and luck in men and goddess of emotional and material abundance (Wangu 35, 36; Kinsley 9). Prthivi is one of the few goddesses in the Vedic scriptures that can be considered a goddess in her own right (Kinsley 9; Wangu 35). Even with this high status as her own deity, Prthivi is almost always found in hymns linked with Dyaus, the sky god. For some scholars Prthivi is associated with the sky as well as the earth and not just exclusively the earth, though in later texts and in the Atharva Veda she is more commonly portrayed as an individual (Kinsley 8, 9).  This divine couple, sometimes called Dyavaprthivi (sky-earth), are said to be the creators of the world and the universal parents of the gods (Sullivan 76; Kinsley 8; Wangu 35). They are said to be the preservers of all their creations and are described as energetic beings who encourage virtue (Wilkins 13). Together they are said to have created full, fat, nourishing waters and represent a realm of safety and abundance where rta pervades and happiness prevails (Kinsley 8). This multivalent duality is said to have been born through Soma and they sustain life by generating fertility through their reciprocal roles (Chitgopekar 47; Wilkins 13; Kinsley 25).  It is said in myths that Dyaus fertilizes Prthivi with the rain which represents his seed (Kinsley 8). They are often petitioned to bring happiness, to expiate sin and to protect people from danger and Prthivi is said to provide material well-being and good luck to those she blesses (Kinsley 11). In some myths, Prthivi’s worshippers will perform rites in the form of sacrificial rituals, amulets and prayers in order to appease and propitiate the earth (Kinsley 178; Wangu 35). Sacrifices were believed to replenish and rebuild the energy lost by Prajapati when he created the earth. These sacrifices, with the continuous release of power by Prajapati uphold rta and the balanced cycle (Kinsley 178). Like Prthivi, most other Vedic goddesses have a strong connection with rta and natural phenomena (Wangu 28; Kinsley 10; Chitgopekar 55). One such goddess is Usas, the dawn.

The conception of the dawn dates back to the time of the primitive Aryans (Kumar 67). Both the Hellenic and the Hindu Aryans have philologically corresponding names for the dawn as a goddess; Eos in Greek, Aurora in Roman, and Usas in the Hindu pantheon (Kumar 67; Walker 536). Though even before the Aryan dichotomy, the ideal of the goddess of the dawn, or guardian of daybreak was present (Walker 536). The poetic beauty found in the hymns dedicated to Usas is only matched by that of those dedicated to Eos in the time of Homer (Kumar 67). The hymns in the Rg Veda dedicated to Usas are said to be some of the most beautiful use of poetic language and for the Vedic poets, one of the most beloved objects of celebration (Wilkins 48; Sullivan 236). With over 20 hymns dedicated just to Usas she is the most popular goddess in the Rg Veda (Kinsley 17; Wangu 32; Walker 536). In spite of her popularity in earlier times, Usas is rarely mentioned in later texts (Kinsley 18). Usas, the dawn, is associated with light and is often said to be the mother of the gods (Kinsley 7). As an auspicious deity, Usas is seen as luminous, many-tinted, and delicate (Kinsley 7; Walker 536; Kumar and Ram 66; Wangu 32). She is often seen as a young maiden (Kinsley 7), a skilled dancer decorated with gems (Wangu 32; Wilkins 48), a “gaily attired wife appearing before her husband, a beautiful girl coming from her bath” (Wilkins 48) or likened to a cow (Kinsley 7). Worshippers believe that Usas, like a cow presenting her udder to her calf, will present her bosom to the patron as well as for the benefit of humankind as a whole (Wilkins 48; Kinsley 7).

By bringing light forth for humankind to every place of dwelling Usas is a friend to all mankind (Kinsley 7; Walker 536). Her light uncovers all people and things, with no preference to status or wealth from the night’s darkness (Walker 536; Kinsley 7). She is seen as an ever young maiden being born daily with the coming of the light at each new dawn (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). At each dawn she is said, in some hymns, to come forth, bringing the light, in a hundred chariots (Kinsley 7). In other hymns she is said to have a single shining chariot drawn by either cows, ruddy horses, or by the Ashvins, her sons (Wilkins 48; Wangu 32). Usas, in one or many chariots, leads the way for and is urged on by Surya, the sun (Kinsley 7; Sullivan 236). She is praised for awakening all life forms but leaves the deceased to their rest (Kinsley 7, 8; Wangu 32). Usas is associated with the life and the breath of all being that she is the one that impels life (Kinsley 7). As the reoccurring dawn, Usas is a reminder to people of their limited time through the disappearance of generations and the wasting away of lives (Sullivan 236; Wilkins 48; Kinsley 7). It is through this immortal rebirth at the dawn twilight that Usas supports rta, the cosmic order (Kinsley 7; Chitgopekar 55).The dawn sets everything into motion, causes birds to leave their nests, and awakens the sleeping to go and perform their varied duties just like a young housewife (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). Usas provides a service to other gods by arousing the people off to perform their daily sacrifices and entices the gods to help kindle the fires for sacrifice by getting them to drink Soma (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48; Wangu 32).

In some hymns Usas is said to be the “eye of the gods”, who sees everything that people do (Kinsley 7). As the dawn, Usas is said to have been fathered by the sky, Dyaus or the sun, Surya (Chitgopekar 56; Wangu 32; Kumar and Ram 159). In another myth Usas is said to have been fathered by Prajapati. It is in this myth that all living things were said to be created by the shape-changing of Usas who was fleeing her incestuous shape-changing father (Walker 536). This myth and others helps to support her motherly nature. Usas is said to give wealth, strength, and fame and is believed to give her petitioners joy, longevity, sons, horses and cattle (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 52). People will often invoke Usas to punish or drive away one’s enemies, though she is rarely called upon to forgive the transgressions of humans (Kinsley 7). Usas is also asked to dispel the darkness and drive the chaotic forces and evil demons far away (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). She is praised for disclosing the hidden treasures by driving away the night, her sister, Ratri (Wilkins 48; Walker 536).

Ratri, the night, is mainly found in the Rg Vedas when she is linked to her sister Usas; though like Usas, Ratri is rarely found in later texts (Kinsley 14; Wangu 66). In these hymns Ratri and Usas are said to be powerful mothers who strengthen the vital powers of individuals. At times they are described as twins whose never ending cyclical appearances support rta through the alternating yet predicable flow of light and dark, and vigour and rest (Kinsley 14). Like her sister Usas, Ratri is sometimes identified as a beautiful maiden though descriptions of her physical appearance are mentioned rarely (Kinsley 14). Ratri is affiliated with darkness and is often called gloomy and barren when compared to Usas (Wangu 33; Kinsley 14).  In some hymns of the Rg Vedas, she is referred to as hostile despite her usual depiction as a benign being (Kinsley 14). Unlike Usas, whose abode is not known, Ratri is said to live in the abode of Yama the god of death in the south (Wangu 33; Kumar and Ram 66). Ratri is admired for the stars she bares as light in the darkness, letting all creatures rest and for giving dew. Though she is seen as the guardian of the night but she is also seen as the very things, both hostile and benign, that thrive in the night (Kinsley 14). People will petition Ratri for protection against the evils of the night such as thieves, wolves and any other creatures that could do them harm. In the Rg Vedas, there are hymns in which Ratri, the night and darkness, is chased away by the god of fire, Agni and Usas (Kinsley 14). Unlike Usas and Prthivi, Ratri is not as well studied.

Bibliography and Related Readings

Bunce, Fredrick (2000) An Encyclopaedia of Hindu Deities, Demigods, Godlings, Demons and Heros with Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes, Vol 1. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian Religion. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Cush, Denise, Robinson, Cathrine, York, Michael (2008) Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Friedrichs, Kurt (1989) The Encyclopaedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Kapoor, Subodh (2000) The Hindus Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: Vol 5 Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kapoor, Subodh (2002) Encyclopaedia of Vedic Philosophy: The Age, Religion, Literature, Pantheon, Philosphy, Traditions, and Teachers of the Vedas, Vol 4. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kumar, R., Ram, S (2008) Hinduism: Religion and Philosophy. New Delhi: Crescent Publishing Corporation.

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Stutley, Margaret, Stutley, James (2003) A Dictionary of Hinduism: Its Mythology, Folklore, and Development 1500 BC – AD 1500. London: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce M (1987) Historical Dictionary of Hinduism. London: The Scarecrow Press Inc.

Walker, Benjamin (1983) Hindu World: An Encyclopaedic Survey of Hinduism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings and Models. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Wilkins, W. J (1975) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: Rekha Printers Ltd.

 

Related Research Topics

Aditi

Ashvins

Bhu / Bhudevi

Dyaus

Prajapati

rta

Soma

Surya

Triloka

Yama

Related Websites

http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/omw/omw63.htm (Usas)

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/av/av07018.htm (Prthivi)

http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/sas/sas04.htm (Ratri)

http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Nature_Worship5.htm

Article written by: Nicole Stevenson (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Brahma Kumaris

THE BRAHMA KUMARIS

In traditional Hindu religion patriarchal sects are the most profuse. However, this is not so for one contemporary sect, the Brahma Kumaris (Daughters of Brahma) (Babb 399). Although the Brahma Kumaris was founded by a man, Dada Lekhraj, its female membership is three times higher than male (Wallis 72). It is not just the case that females are predominant in numbers, they are held as more spiritually significant than males and hold the power of control in the community. Dada Lekhraj’s higher regard for woman has been said to date back to his days as a successful diamond merchant in the province of Sindh. (Wallis 33). His success in the position apparently helped him to gain an above ordinary insight into women’s concerns, due to his regular contact with them (Wallis 34). In the late 1930’s when Lekhraj had reached the age of sixty, he began to have frequent startling visions of the deities Siva and Visnu, along with images of the destruction of the world (Wallis 34). These visions of demolition were followed by images of an earthly-like paradise, unlike what Lekhraj was living in. This paradise included things like sexual equality, food in abundance, and painless death (Wallis 34). Lekhraj retired from his profession as a consequence of these visions, as they became so prevalent at one point he seemed to act as a medium in order to deliver a message from Siva: “I am the Blissful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Knowledgeful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Luminous Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Form of Self, the Form of Knowledge, the Form of Light” (Wallis 376). Following this episode, Lekhraj began to preach to those around him that everyone is a soul trapped in an earthly existence. It was not long before many others, predominantly women, began to experience similar visions and came to him (Wallis 376). These women, who were permitted to very few social outings, were allowed by their husbands to attend satsangs (religious meetings) with Lekhraj (Hodgkinson 10). They called him Om Baba and these satsangs became known as the Om Mandli, the absolute circle or association (Babb 402). The Om Mandli is considered the foundation that would eventually become the Brahma Kumaris University (Wallis 35).

In 1937, Lekhraj put his entire trust and fortune into nine women who formed the administration and managing committee of the group, which had changed its name to prajipita brahmakumari ishvariya vishvavidyalaya or the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (Wallis 36). His initial goals for the university can be summed up in this quote:

Dad Lekhraj gave special encouragement to women to develop their spiritual lives and take leadership positions…some few years after his life transforming visions, he came to believe that celibacy was necessary to achieve salvation, he rejected the Hindu practice of restricting the elevated status of celibate seeker to men (Howell 454).

Lekhraj believed that the Bhagavad Gita had become distorted and filled with errors, yet he had personally experienced its authentic truth as a ‘modern-day Krsna’ (Wallis 34). Their promotion of celibacy is what initially caused the Brahma Kumaris to be so poorly received by opposing groups (Babb 411). These opposing groups, mostly consisting of men whose wives had taken a vow of chastity, rose up against the Brahma Kumaris, and pushed them into a period of persecution and isolation (Wallis 377). Lekhraj heavily interpreted this segregation as a reoccurrence of the Pandavas isolation in the major Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata (Wallis 38). The rest of the Indian population can then be inferred to represent the Kauravas.

In the 1950’s, as a consequence of the Brahma Kumaris moving from Sindh to Mt. Abu Rajasthan, the situation changed and Lekhraj began to emphasize worldly service over isolation and rejection of the rest of the world (Wallis 379).  He allowed his teachings to extend to outsiders with the desire to expand his university. The first centre to open was in Delhi in 1952, following through Asia to London in 1971, to the United Kingdom, Europe, and eventually the rest of the world (Wallis 380). Today, the Brahma Kumaris presents itself as a ‘divine university’ and offers many classes in knowledge of doctrine and meditation (Babb 404). As of 2007 there was 450 000 members of the Brahma Kumaris University, in 4000 centers, in 77 countries worldwide (Wallis 380).

The Brahma Kumaris believe that their members should live like the Goddess of Prosperity, Laksmi, and her husband, Narayan (Visnu) – and love one another with pure spiritual love, and no physical love (Babb 403). This enforces their most important norm; the practice of celibacy. Celibacy relates back to Lekhraj’s vision and of everyone being a soul. His belief is that we are atmas (souls), and how we identify ourselves becomes conflicted with the physical bodies we inhabit in the prakriti (material world) (Babb 405). The true home of our atmas is the paramdhari, the ‘supreme abode’, and our souls periodically leave the paramdhari to inhabit bodies in the material world, thus forgetting who they are (Babb 405). This idea of a lost soul is what the Brahma Kumaris recognize as our problem. Every 5000 years the world begins a new cycle of history and rejuvenates itself; currently we are at the end of the cycle and as Lekhraj foresaw, soon the world will be destroyed in order for this to happen (Babb 407). The view of the destruction of the world is referred to as millenarianism (Wallis 32). The Brahma Kumaris believe that it is at this point of destruction that all souls will return to the paramdhari and await renewal into the new cycle. Siva, the supreme soul, through Lekhraj will make knowledge of our separation from our souls available to those souls prepared to listen. These will be the souls that will be transferred into the next cycle (Babb 407). Lekhraj’s belief was that he had prepared his followers, the Brahma Kumaris, for this by fulfilling his instructions initially put forth to him through his visions. His belief included the idea that everyone (namely, the Brahma Kumaris) who ends up in the beginning of a new cycle becomes a deity who endures no hardship or pain, and at every new beginning sexual intercourse is said to be nonexistent and unknown. This is because it is ‘inconsistent’ with the purity of the deities (Babb 406).

Male and female deities are equals in the beginning and have a special power that allows them to conceive without intercourse. As the introduction of intercourse becomes prevalent, their level of purity will decline and this power will diminish causing the earth to move from svaj (heaven) to narak (hell) (Babb 407). It is sexual lust that is the cause of all other violence and evil in humanity, including the onset of inequality and suppression towards women, which will continue to happen with each cycle (Babb 408). Sexual lust is what causes the destruction of the world, and celibacy can be seen as the way of the deities, in the eyes of the Brahma Kumaris. This goes along with the fact that initiation into the sect requires you to ‘die’ in your previous life, as you are born again into the divine family of the Brahma Kumaris where you receive a divinely inspired name (Wallis 38).

The act of celibacy can be seen as a traditional aspect of religion, which ironically is one of this ‘new age movement’s’ primal norms. Along with celibacy, the Brahma Kumaris have other rules that govern day-to-day behavior. Abstaining from meat and alcohol, along with other ‘passion-inducing’ foods and drinks is enforced (Babb 411). Raja Yoga is the central element associated with communication to Siva, the supreme soul. (Wallis 52). The meditation associated with Raja Yoga is considered to be a technique that helps a person discover the soul’s consciousness and gain experience to oneself as a soul rather than a physical body (Babb 411). Raja yoga is a gateway to the access of one’s own atman, their true identity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Babb, Lawrence (1984) “Indigenous Feminism in a Modern Hindu Sect.” Signs 9, 3.  p. 399-416.

Hodgkinson, Liz (2002) Peace and Purity: The Story of the Brahma Kumaris: A Spiritual  Revolution. Florida: Health Communications Inc.

Howell, Julia Day (1998) “Gender Role Experimentation In New Religious Movements:  Clarification of the Brahma Kumaris Case.” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 37, 3. p. 453-461.

Wallis, John (1999) “From World Rejection to Ambivalence: The Development of  Millenarianism in the Brahma Kumaris.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 15, 3.  p. 375-385.

Wallis, John (2007) The Brahma Kumaris as a ‘Reflexive Tradition’: Responding to Late  Modernity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

RELATED WORDS

Dada Lekhraj

Siva

Paramdhari

Mt. Abu Rajasthan

Om Mandli

Krsna

Lakshimi

Narayan

Visnu

Millenarianism

RELATED WEBSITES

www.bkwsu.org

www.bkwsu.org/canada

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada_Lekhraj

http://www.shivbaba.ca/introduction.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma_Kumaris_World_Spiritual_University

www.brahmakumaris.info/


Article written by: Katrina Nogas (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahadevyakka

Mahadevyakka was a twelfth century female mystic/saint within the Virasaivism movement.  Mahadevyakka renounced her life and devoted herself to the worship of Siva.  From her experiences she composed poetry in which she conveyed her stories and her love for Siva, whom she believed to be her husband (Blake-Michael 363).  Mahadevyakka is also known for her rebellions against social norms of the time.

Mahadevyakka was born in Udutadi, a village in Sivamogga (Ramanujan 111).  Mahadevyakka’s religious devotion began as a young girl.  At a young age she became a Siva-worshipper and continued to grow up as a devout worshipper of the Lord.  The form of Siva that she worshipped in his ascetic form as Cennamallikarjuna, translated as “the Lord White as Jasmine” (Ramanujan 111).  It is said that Mahadevyakka’s beauty caught the attention of King Kausika who wanted to marry her.  It is debated by scholars as to whether she did marry him or if she rejected his proposals.  One story claims that she married the King against her will.  Mahadevyakka was very upset about the marriage because the King was a follower of Jainism (Blake-Michael 362).  She asked him to convert but he refused.  One evening, after rejecting his sexual advances, Mahadevyakka left the palace naked, covered only by her braids (Ramanujan 111).  This began her spiritual journey in pursuit of spiritual union with Siva.  She would wander to different towns and areas in search of union.  Mahadevyakka believed that she was already the wife of Siva and would not marry any other man.  In her journey Mahadevyakka found herself in Kalyana, which was a central city for Virasaivism at the time.  She was, at this point, accepted into the group of saints after being questioned by the other saints (Blake-Michael 363).  The dialogue between Mahadevyakka and Allama, a guru of the school, has become a famous legend.  In this legend Mahadevyakka won over Allama and joined the group as a result of her powerful and convincing words.  She was able to prove to Allama that she has complete devotion to Siva as a good wife to her husband (Blake-Michael 363).  After many years in Kalyana, Mahadevyakka decided to continue on her spiritual journey and left Kalyana.  Her journey ended in her late twenties when she reached Sri Saila, a holy mountain.  It is recounted that it was here that she found union with Siva (Ramanujan 113).  A union of this variety cannot be expressed and only experienced, although Mahadevyakka used her poetry as an attempt to express her love for Siva and her pains of separation from his union.  Her poetry and her opposition to social norms made her a revered saint of her time.

Mahadevyakka was a member of a Saiva sectarian movement called Virasaivism, which was founded in the twelfth century in South India by a man named Basava (Basavanna).  Virasaivism translates as “heroic Saivas.”  They still flourish today and are known as Lingayats, “wearers of the Linga” (Olson 409).  This group, which has been referred toas a protest movement, rejects many of the social constructs of the time period.  This group rejects the caste system and the marriage of children.  They also allow widows to remarry and the dead are buried rather than cremated.  Finally, they declare the sexes equal and that temple worship, sacrifices and pilgrimages are unnecessary.  Virasaivis devotees believe in the equal access of salvation for everyone (Blake-Michael 361).  With these protests to the social constructs of society of her time, Mahadevyakka became known as a rebellious woman but at the same timean important figure in the anti-Brahminical and anti-caste movement.  Unlike the other female saints within Virasaivism, Mahadevyakka was viewed as even more rebellious than other devotees.  This was because she chose to wander naked and was unmarried.  One half of the other female saints within Virasaivism at the time were married (Ramaswamy 43).  The marriage status of these women was important in the explanation of their spirituality.  Mahadevyakka remained independent from male domination.  Her spiritual quest was different than that of the married housewives of Virasaivism because she did not rely on guidance from any male figures; she only trusted in her devotion to Siva.  According to traditional Virasaivism, one was to work and be self reliant, and Mahadevyakka represented a paragon of self reliance (Ramaswamy 52).  Typically, both presently and in the past, Virasaivism female saints who were married, were thought to collaborate with their husbands in their spiritual quests (Ramaswamy 22).  Studies indicate that Mahadevyakka was criticized by other female saints for not wearing clothing.  Her nakedness was seen as an ultimate defiance and thus Mahadevyakka is not paid homage to in any of the other female saints’ writings (Ramaswamy 43).  As a result of the anti-Brahminical and anti-caste beliefs of Virasaivism, Mahadevyakka became symbolic of rebel and female saint.

Mahadevyakka chose to reject the traditionally prescribed roles of a Hindu woman.  Traditionally, it was believed that only high caste men were able to become renouncers.  Hindu society identified women with family and sexual pleasures, and thus were not seen to possess the ability to become ascetics.  Mahadevyakka disagreed with the power of the Brahmins.  As a rejection of the traditional roles of men and women, Mahadevyakka strove to transcend her gender through her spiritual practices.  As she described in her poetry, she is female in form, but is the male principle (Ramaswamy 14).  Through this sentiment Mahadevyakka was able to dissolve the notions of women as untrustworthy and temptresses.  Sexual transcendence was seen as a higher stage of spirituality. The gender boundaries were erased and the saint becomes asexual.  As Mahadevyakka expresses:

Transcending the company of both,

I have attained to peace.

After forgetting this cluster of words,

What if one lives

An integral life?

Once I am joined

To Lord Cennamallikarjuna,

I do not recognize myself

As anything. (Olson 498)

It is at this point that the saint becomes naked.  For male saints this does not represent any social disturbance, yet for female saints this was seen as even more freeing due to the prohibitions placed on females within society (Ramaswamy 40).  Mahadevyakka renounced her family and her clothing and freed herself from any social conventions.  She had but her braids to cover her private body parts to decrease the temptation of others (Ramaswamy 41).  For Mahadevyakka and many other saints, she viewed her body as an aide to her self realization and spirituality.

A further act of rebellion by Mahadevyakka was that she remained unmarried physically to a man.  This resulted in society viewing her as ‘deviant’ (Ramaswamy 27).  Within Hindu society, unmarried women are largely viewed as temptations to men yet Mahadevyakka believed that she was married to Siva and that he was her groom (pati) (Ramaswamy 34).  She also journeyed with no male escort.  In conventional society, this would be viewed as a very dangerous act for a woman.  Mahadevyakka believed she had transcended gender and caste and thereby believed that she could take part in living as any of the other male ascetics and saints.  Through Mahadevyakka’s poetry it is clear that her spiritual quest is for union with Siva.  Her poetry exemplifies her beliefs and quest for union with Siva, while she opposed society’s views and presented the independent strength of the female saint.

The poetry of Virasaivism was passed on orally for centuries prior to being collected into what is called Sunyasampadane.  The type of poetry that Mahadevyakka composed was medieval bhakti (devotion) poetry called vacanas or sayings of their saints.  Mahadevyakka’s poetry consists of what can be interpreted as the three forms of love: love forbidden, love during separation, and love in union (Ramanujan 113).  Her poetry expresses her quest to find love and union with Siva, while wandering:

O swarm of bees

O mango tree

O moonlight

O koilbird

I beg of you all

one

favour:

If you should see my lord anywhere

my lord white as jasmine

call out

and show him to me. (Ramanujan 122)

In her poetry Mahadevyakka refers to Siva as “…my lord white as jasmine,” or, as in the previous poem, “Lord Cennamallikarjuna”.  Through her poetry, Mahadevyakka also expresses her emotions of being torn between being female and at the same time as being human.  Her yearning is expressed by her desire to transcend the boundaries placed on her as female and human to achieve true union with Siva.  As she states with reference to gender limitations:

As long as woman is woman, then

A man defiles her;

As long as man is man,

A woman defiles him.

When the mind’s taint is gone, is there room for the body’s taint?…

(Ramaswamy 15)

Further study of Mahadevyakka’s poetry reveals her life story.  One can follow Mahadevyakka’s life through her poetry with respect to her marriage to Siva.  Her poetry begins with King Kausika, her rejection of the world and ends with her final union with Siva through whom she escapes the human world.  Her final union with Siva is described in her vacana:

Hear me, O Father Linga:

This feeling has become my life…

Mark you, Cennamallikarjuna:

Worshipping Thee with all my heart,

My wheel of births has ceased! (Olson 495)

Mahadevyakka’s metaphors of human love are expressions of her mystic journey. She is revered as the most poetic saint among the Virasaiva saints (Ramanujan 113).

References and Further Recommended Reading

Blake Michael, R. (1983) “Woman of the Śūnyasampādane: Housewives and Saints in Virasaivism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 103, No. 2.

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources.  New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Oxtoby, Willard G. (2002) World Religions: Eastern Traditions.  Oxford: Oxford

University Press.

Ramanujan, A.K. (1973) Speaking of Śiva.  Hollingsworth : Penguin Publishing.

Ramaswamy, Vijaya ( 1996) Divinity and Deviance: Women in Virasaivism.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Female mystic

Saint

Guru

Virasaivism

Lingayats

Linga

Basava (Basavanna)

Female Pollution

Bhakti

Siva

Saiva Devotionalism

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.indiayogi.com/content/indiangurus/female-saint-mahadeviyakka.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akka_Mahadevi

http://sacred-songs.blogspot.com/2007/06/mahadeviyakka.html

Article written by: Virginia Williams (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its contents.