I come from a family of strong women and yet, all these strong women that I look up to are faithful followers of a religion that has no place for the Goddess. Monotheism has no place for a female deity and I could wax eloquent for pages on why that is a travesty, but that is not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to focus on pantheistic religions like Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma, where the Goddess held complete sway, until very recently.
The ancient Tamizh country or the ancient Meitei country (now Manipur) was home to many religions and cults dedicated to the Goddess. Down South, Goddesses like Mariamman (Tamizh), Maisamma (Andhra), Yellamma (Karnataka) and Bhagavati (Kerala) have always been popular and continue to have hordes of devotees. In Manipur, Goddesses like Lairemma Panthoibi and Changning Leima or even the much-revered Nongthang Leima always had the support of worshippers and commanded huge cults filled with hordes of devotees. These Goddesses continue to be worshipped today, but with just a fraction of devotees giving them exclusive praise. What changed then? When did the worship of the Goddess — once the mainstream — become the marginalised?
Aryan religion brought with it the worship of the God. Goddesses were often married to Gods to ensure they were ‘domesticated’. The Goddesses of the Aryan faith were equally strong and commanded much fervour from their devotees. A Durga, Kali, Parvati and Saraswati were not any less powerful in the hearts of their devotees and therefore, a marriage to a God seemed necessary to domesticate them. The patriarchy from monotheism seeped into polytheism.
Today, these ancient kingdoms and cultures that worshipped the Goddesses, have shifted to the worship of Gods. In the Tamizh country, Sivan, Perumal and Murugan reign supreme… while in Manipur, Pakhangba (Sanamahi) and Gobinda (SriVaishnavism) seem to be the popular deities. How did this happen and where have our Goddesses gone?
In times like these, representations of Goddess worship are like a salve to a pulsating wound. I was moved to tears when I saw trans women represent the eight popular Ammans of the Tamizh country at an event last month. Also, occasional films like Aravindante Athidhikal (Malayalam) consciously choose to showcase the strong faith communities that worship Goddesses like Mookambika. Everywhere else, I only see Gods replacing Goddesses and I mourn the triumph of patriarchy even in the divine. Hopefully soon, a change will take over, and we will look at chaos (feminine energy) as beautiful and order (masculine energy) as boring. Hopefully soon, India will see the resurrection of the Goddess, the Devi, as the primordial deity, and she will once again receive her rightful place!
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