New Delhi, M.R. Narayan Swamy: Book Review: 7 Secrets of the dominant Hindu Goddess
Title: 7 Secrets of the Goddess; Author: Devdutt Pattanaik; Publisher: Westland Ltd; Pages: 259; Price: Rs.395
Title: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You; Author: Devdutt Pattanaik; Publisher: Penguin Books; Pages: 179; Price: Rs.299
Goddess Lakshmi massages Lord Vishnu’s feet; is this male domination? Goddess Kali stands on Lord Shiva’s chest; is this female domination? Lord Shiva is half a woman; is this gender equality? Devdutt Pattanaik, a medical doctor by education and a mythologist by passion, delves into these questions and more as he unveils the secrets of seven goddesses, including Gaia, the earth mother in Greek mythology.
According to Pattanaik, the value placed on the feminine has been attributed to the popularity and influence of the village goddesses or ‘grama devis’, which have been revered in settlements across rural India since the dawn of time. This is more so in southern India. So important are the Hindu goddesses that any attempt to worship god without goddess is discouraged. The Puranas underline that the essence of all male gods is female, but the opposite is not true.
Using photographs and calendar art, Pattanaik delves into the secrets of (besides Gaia) Kali, Gauri, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The author also writes about Vitthai, the ‘mother Vitthal’ in the eyes of Maharashtra’s sage Dnyaneshwar. Vitthal is the popular name of Lord Krishna in the state.
Shikhandi is all about queerness in Hindu tradition – Shikhandi who became a man to satisfy the wife, Mahadeva who became a woman to deliver his devotee’s child, Bhagirath who was born of two women, Aruna who became a woman when the sun passed, Ila who became a man when the moon waned, Samavan who became the wife of his male friend, and so on. The celebration of queer ideas in Hindu stories, symbols and rituals is in stark contrast to the ignorance and rigidity we see today in Indian society.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy is Executive Editor at IANS. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com. The views expressed are personal.)