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Linguistic Deconstruction (On the Road)

Satyajit Sarna

By Giti Thadani
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2003, pp. 181, Rs. 250.00


Science students remember Moebius strips fondly; odd playful creations, a clever twist and a basic rule of space lies broken. Run your finger along the side and you feel a strange frisson of confirmation—you always knew what would happen, but it’s still strange. Similarly, Giti Thadani sets out on a road trip—and it’s been established that road trips have led to many a fascinating book, a la Blue Highways—but it’s an extraordinary feeling to find one that compels you to leave your seat and hit the highway. Ms. Thadani owns a Maruti Gypsy and she uses it as a two-ton passport to the lesser known vistas of Indian history. In her car, she drifts across the landscapes of India, dipping in and out of histories, meeting the usual panoply of interesting characters, the scoundrels and the dedicated.   History comes in layers, like lasagna. Strip away a mosque and you’ll find a temple. But, what’s lesser known is that if you strip away a temple, the chances are that you may find a shrine belonging to another age. These shrines, which lure the author across the landscape are dedicated to lesser gods and to a forgotten history of yoginis, of mythical women with powers, of a cosmology centred on the minds and bodies of women, linked to the discourse of tantra. Even in our newer, changed, phallocentric cosmology, goddesses like Kali, Maa and Durga remain—women who connect to the fundamental cosmic machinery of life, death and destruction. The history of religious and ritual discourses existing in the Indian subcontinent before the coming of mainstream vedic deities and their subse- quent marginalization is largely uncharted territory. The linkages and interplay bet- ween these subversive faiths and their contributions to what we inherit as “Hinduism” delineate an area into which any study is welcome.   Thadani drives from place to place, retelling histories long forgotten, and equally important, documenting them. She goes from one yogini shrine to another, finding all the same maladies—graffiti and chisels to deface and puritanical brahmins to hold in holy contempt. The most symbolic example is the recent imposition of lingams in the normally empty centres of yogini shrines. Across India, statues of the yoginis are defaced, tarred and chipped away. She discovers that the key to unlocking these histories is to look to the truth that is not easily ...

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