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The Feminine Goddess

Kshama Rangarajan

By Neela Bhattacharya Saxena
Indialog Publications, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 324, Rs. 295.00


In western thought, the binary polarities of, spirit/matter, body/mind, nature/culture emotion/rationality, chaos/order, to name a few, are well established. Moreover, in the patriarchal order, mind and rationality have been considered to be ‘male’ virtues. In religious philosophy too the same gender bias may be discerned—God is the repository of all the noble androcentric qualities such as reason, spirit and justice—only He has these attributes in immeasurable abundance. Women have been viewed as lacking these exalted traits and their subjugation was justified on that account. While early feminists denied the validity of such differences, in recent times there has been a trend towards acceptance, and even celebration of gender oppositions.   If in the West, a feminine God has yet to make an appearance, she was never absent from the Indian mindscape. The indigenous people of India worshipped Mother goddesses, and, female divinities such as Vac, Sri are mentioned in the Vedas. Goddess-centered religions have taken firm root in the Indian ethos. Of all the great goddesses of the Indian pantheon, Kali, the supreme Goddess, is the most awe-inspiring and appears to symbolize a reversal of the patriarchal order. Wearing a garland of skulls that represent the letters of the alphabet, and wielding a fearsome cleaver, she strides atop the supine Shiva. Regarded both as the divine Mother and as the cultic goddess of the somewhat antinomian Tantra practitioners, her adherents are to be found predominantly in eastern India. The author of the book under review, Neela Bhattacharya Saxena recounts that she grew up in a milieu suffused with Kali/Durga worship and says that she was drawn to the dark Goddess early in life. Her experiences in the West seem to have reinforced her devotion, and in this book, she has tried to synthesize her tantric leanings with modern feminist, and poststructuralist concepts.   Calling Kali a ‘pregnant nothingness’ (the author has a penchant for oxymoronic phrases), she says Kali appeared to her in ‘unexpected’ places. She says that it is in desire, specifically feminine desire, that she discerns the ‘footprints’ of the Goddess. She has chosen certain ‘thought periods’ where Kali has manifested as desire. This ‘desire’ is exemplified in some selected texts. These works form the subject matter of the book which she calls a ‘textual journey’. Saxena has artfully tried to deflect criticism of the conjoining of the ‘ thought periods’ and texts ...

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