Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tantra and the Fierce Goddess~ Fierce Thoughts

After over a year of disappearing into my writing cave, I am happily teaching again! Oh, the ecstasy and Shakti this has brought! I find myself buzzing around, conquering long postponed to do lists, and having more energy and joy than I have felt in ages! My course, Tantra and the Fierce Goddess is being offered at Loyola Marymount University Extension in Los Angeles, and we have met the last two Tuesdays. Already there have been so many shaktified experiences and divine affirmations, that I am inspired to return to this blog after a long, long, long hiatus!

Tantra and the Fierce Goddess explores some of the more formidable manifestations of Goddess and calls into question what we consider to be "fierce qualities" of the Divine Mother. Is what is defined as "fierce"  reflective of our creative, sexual, and independent natures? Or is it tied up with more stereotypical and often negative qualities of "femininity?" In my class, we look at the paradoxical nature of Goddesses such as Durga, Kali, Bhagawati, Kamakhya, the Matrikas, Yoginis and others and consider how socially-constructed contradictions are reflected in the status of women and girls around the world today.

For example, the Kumari or Living Virgin Goddess is considered an embodiment of a fierce form of Goddess Durga known as Taleju.  The Kumari is chosen based on her "pure" and "virginal" status. In an earlier post from 2007, I discussed the original meaning of Virgin. Whole Unto Herself, however, in the case of the Kumari, her virginity is tied to a pre-pubescent/non-menstruating status. According to this tradition, this young girl (who is anywhere from 1 and 1/2 years to pre-teen/teen years) will serve as a living Goddess for the community from the time she receives the initiation until she has her first period, or bleeds from the loss of a tooth or injury. The Goddess that she embodies, Taleju, is a very esoteric and tantric Goddess in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Despite Taelju's appearance through the vehicle of a virgin girl, her rituals and mythology point to her sexually empowered status and connection to ancient fertility rites. The paradoxical nature of this situation is rather obvious here--a wild, untameable, and sexually mature goddess appears in the body of a young and "pure" virgin girl!? And the "fact" that the Goddess leaves the girl's body just as she comes into her power raises many questions. For one, who decides that this child is no longer divine, especially within a religious worldview (Shakta Tantra tradition) that supposedly considers all female as inherently, Shakti, or divine? And why would a Goddess who "demands" blood as an offering, leave her physical "vehicle" at the first sign of blood? Why would such formidable Goddesses as Taleju and Durga be associated with young girls? Can young girls be strong and "fierce" through their own agency? And what does this look like outside of being mean girls or bullies?

And then virginity. Yes. I return to this once again. Virginity and Fierceness. Virginity = Whole Unto Herself. Consider the implications for young girls who are exploring their sexuality...consider the implications for those of us adult women who wish to renew our Virginity and embrace our natural and sacred fierceness...consider the impact this would make in our lives, and in our world.

3 comments:

Ravi said...

I sent you a long email about the same issue - 10 mins later, i saw ur article. regards, ravi.

Ravi said...

added this one to get updates.

Freedomji said...

I am a fan of the Kumari- Living Goddess, though I haven’t seen the video yet and how they portray Her. I come from an astrological lineage that has very specific views on these deities and why they take the form they do. Two points I’d raise to this post.

The word kumaarii doesn’t just mean virgin. Kumaarii means a young girl generally before puberty. We can see this in the five stages of life as baala (infant), kumaara (child), yuva (adolescent), vRddha (adult), and mRta (old/close to death). Kumaara means a boy or prince, kumaara-tva means boyhood. Kumaarii is the feminine. A kumaarin is one who has children (not generally one who has virginity). Kumaarii can also be applied to an unmarried woman, relative to not growing out of that phase of life yet, look at the term kumaari-putra which is a child of an unmarried woman. Before puberty a woman is a virgin- so the word takes multiple meanings, but virgin is an inferred meaning, not literal. There are other words which also mean virgin. So instead of calling her the Virgin-goddess you could also call her the Child-goddess (child is just in the feminine tense which we don’t have in English for this).

The Living-goddess is a form of Bala-tripura. This is the goddess shining like the newly (baala) risen Sun represented by a girl of six years of age. Therefore the goddess that resides within these women is a non-menstruating goddess, and when a woman reaches the age of yuva (adolescence) then she no longer represents Baala-tripura. Local legend says that some of the earlier Kumaris sometimes didn’t menstruate till their 20’s because of that frequency of the goddess that lives in them. The kumara stage of life is represented by the planet Mercury, while the pubescent stage is represented by Venus (both by the Greeks and the Hindus). Tripura is a goddess connected to Mercury. The Kumaris were originally installed by the royalty to appease the various qualities of Mercury. Mercury represents the prince or the successor to the throne, or those who want to take power away from the king (Sun). Kumari myth says that when the Kumari changes it is a dangerous time for the Kings power. In Kamakhya, the little girls are all treated like Bala-tripura during the main festivals- all kinds of pujas and strange practices are done.
The goddess Dhoomavati is the goddess as a crone, Tripura Sundari is the goddess as a just matured girl of 16 (Vedic age of marriage/babies for a woman), and in this way, the Living Goddess is an incarnation of Bala-tripura who is eternally 6 years old. Having a daughter myself, I find it absolutely beautiful to approach the goddess in this young form, to see the goddess in the young girl (not woman, but girl); a soft form that laughs and screams and plays, and brings joy into our lives. People talk a lot of junk on the Kumari and recently there was a lot of negativity on the ways they verify the new Kumari, with people calling it child abuse, so I am a little defensive of my little Mother. I remain devoted to Her soft illuminating rays. aiM kliiM sauH..