The male-female equation is present beyond geographical and political limits. It cuts across cultures and species. For a balanced upbringing, the child needs the inputs of both the parents. It is not male vs female universe. This is what the ancients accepted
The ancient writings of our land clearly demarcated the physical differences between the Female and the Male in most of Creation. The Sun, Moon, Thunder, Lightening, Rain and the Natural Wonders were seen as the first Divinities. Most of the shlokas of the Rig Veda are addressed to the Nature-based deities. Yajna or fire sacrifice, predates the Vedas. One can imagine the marvel of an oblation crumbling to nothing but ashes in the burning embrace of the Fire. Out of such imagery came a philosophy of existence and divinity that has remained undimmed through millennia of conflict and persecution.
Examine the mystery of Death. For inexplicable reasons the daily sleep cycle would extend into something more permanent. Simply put, it would be a state that would brook no change, however hard be the effort to do so. Corpses of once-living things, whether animal or human, had to be disposed of by cremation, burial or drowning or being left to decompose into different organic forms.
The wonder of Birth was the other marvel. In our land were born babies millennia before Dr Spock was one! The terrible labour pains were described as worse than animal (or human) attacks. It was the fierce love of the mother for her offspring that ensured the survival of generations of human life.
Tradition goes that the joy of sexual coupling is in all species. That the Male seed is a MUST to create new life is as much as the womb that sustains it till the moment of Birth. That the Male of the species has been designed by Nature to spread his seed far and therefore be prone to multiple sexual partners is anathema to feminists. Yet among the creatures of the wild, fathers are known to kill their offspring. Generally, it is the mother who nurtures the babies. Bone for the child"s mini skeleton is leached from the mothers" bones. Mother"s milk provides sustenance for the infant for a long time.
Birth is considered to be a far more positive event than death. And from that flowed the veneration of the Female body that made Birth possible. The very first drawings and statues scattered through historical sites that somehow survived centuries of destruction are often explicitly feminine, many depicted with pendulous breasts and a heavily pregnant stomach.
Two millennia ago, the Veneration of the Mother Goddess held sway throughout the world. Matrilineal societies came into being. Motherhood and its attendant love for the child was a provable fact that was celebrated, even as Fatherhood was based oftentimes on the sheer physicality of Nature. Today, while the Veneration of the Mother Goddess has gone from reality to history and thereafter to myth for some people, such a form of devotion remains in full vigour in India.
Coming to the core concepts of the ancestral faith of this land, Hinduism has thirty three crores of Divinities, both major and minor. As in the case of countries, civilisations and human beings, Deities themselves go through good and bad times. At present the main streams of divisions of Hindu Gods are Shaiva (pertaining to Shiva), Vaishnava (pertaining to Vishnu) and Shaktheya (that of the Mother Goddess). Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the Trinity of Hinduism responsible for Creation, Preservation and Destruction respectively and their Feminine forms are Saraswati (the Goddess of Learning) Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) and Parvati or Kali (the Goddess of Destruction).
While every student bows before Saraswati for gaining knowledge (and good grades!), Her spouse Brahma is worshipped in temple-rich India only in Pushkar. Brahma of course has His existence within the Trimurti concept of the Hindu Trinity. Lakshmi is the darling of businessmen, housewives (as Griha Lakshmi), politicians and the Indian population at large. Such is Her popularity that Bhoo-Devi or the Earth Goddess who is the first wife of Vishnu, the Preserver, takes second place to Lakshmi"s flamboyant gifts. Being financially independent, Lakshmi is a happy wanderer, ready to give Her blessings randomly. The Goddess also shows just how important it is for a woman to be economically stable on her own terms.
Parvati and Kali are the two forms of Shiva"s wife. Kali is the Controller of Time. The supremacy of Time is stated in Shri Adi Shankara"s concept of "Kaaloth Jagat Bhakshaka", or the World being eaten away by Time. Time is the greatest entity that controls even the fortunes of the Devas. In Hindu philosophy, Death does not mean a full stop. Death is considered to be yet another manifestation of the theory in Physics that states that Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can but change its form. A world wherein nothing dies would make each new birth an additional burden. Natural resources would not be able to keep up. Struggle for existence and survival of the fittest would take on epic proportions. Hence the essentiality of death is recognised.
At the centre is the Mother Goddess, who has many forms. The esoteric Bindu, the enchanting Balaa, the aged Vana Durga, the beautiful Tripura Sundari and so many more. The faith even has the Mongoose faced Nakhudi as opposed to the Snake-headed Nageshwari. Kindly note that the Snake and the Mongoose are deadly foes in Nature. "Bahurupa" or She of Many Forms is yet another epithet of the Mother Goddess.
Adwaitam and Dwaitam are of course two of the important philosophies of Hindu way of life. Adwaitam believes in total unity of the Worshipped and Worshipper. Here there is NO division. The greatest aspiration of a human being becomes to refine himself ultimately to Godhood. (This does NOT mean the bloated egos of the many Gods and Goddesses getting their devotees to declare them Divine!)
Dwaitam, however stresses on a gap. The worshipper is a supplicant here. God is Supreme. And generally it is a single God. The feminine forces are accoutrements and embellishments for the Supreme God. The moment a division comes in whichever field, hierarchy creeps in. Conventions take on the garb of tradition and are touted as age old Truths when in fact they are but the constructs of pedantic minds.
Constricted by artificially created "traditions" that vary from the foundational tenets of the longest surviving faith system (with Judaism being the next), more often than not, it is the Mother Goddess who suddenly finds Herself at a disadvantage. From being an Adi-yoni or primal womb, She is reduced to merely press Her Lord"s undoubtedly great feet! Her wealth and capabilities are of value only as they add to Her spouse"s stature. It is not the worth of the Male God that is in question here. It is the lack of independence of the Female force that is proclaimed by pseudo-traditions that go against the equality of Man and Woman that forms the core of ancient Indian theology.
The Dashavataar or the Ten Incarnations of Mahavishnu start from that of the Fish (life started in water) and go inexorably on to Kalki, His tenth Avataar of the future. This is also seen as the chain of evolution. Krishna, the ninth Avatar of Mahavishnu is considered to be His "Poorna" or complete incarnation. Yet it is Rama who dominates in the largely patriarchal society of parts of India. The Ramayana is the story of the greatness of Rama. Hanuman and Bharata and Lakshmana and even Sita are revered because of their innate love, bhakthi or service to Rama.
But take the case of Shiva"s wife Sati (the syllables of Sita are reversed) who was later on reborn as Parvati. Her love for Shiva is unqualified and absolute. Her attitude is that of a strong woman, powerful in her own right. Shiva too acknowledges his beloved Shakti to be His left half, the part that has the heart. As Ardhanareeshwara, Shiva has no hesitation in being part of his wife. In fact the Sanskrit word "Shiva" is reduced to "Shava", meaning corpse, if the "I-kaaram" (or the feminine symbol) is removed! Such is the bond between the two. "Shiva Shakthya yuktho" starts the Soundaryalahari which states that NOTHING will be there, without the mingling of the dual Energies. The same composition of Shri Adi Shankara depicts Shiva, Mahadeva, God of Gods putting His Head by the Goddess" feet!
The male-female equation is present beyond geographical and political limits. It cuts across cultures and species. For a balanced upbringing, the child needs the inputs of both the parents. It is not male v/s female universe. This is what the ancients accepted. Parvati has fights with Shiva about the impetuous Ganga He bears blithely on His head. Shiva trembles at Parvati"s rage over the accidental slaying of Her son. He is double quick to do reparations.
As a couple, they are together forever. As they say, copying a dominant sex is disaster. The differences between the male and the female were therefore acknowledged and celebrated. Application of force, either to suppress or unduly elevate either of the sexes (or the third gender) could, it was held, only result in an unnatural and ultimately skewed situation. Hence what was celebrated was the essential equality of the sexes, an equality embraced even by the Gods and Godesses of the Hindu pantheon. Hopefully, this will not be forgotten by those who claim to be the protectors of tradition, yet who persist in regarding the female as being somehow weaker than the male, in total opposition to the tradition of this most ancient of living civilisations.
(Thiruvathira Tirunal Lakshmi Bayi is XII Princess of the erstwhile state of Travancore)