The Virgin Goddesses of India

draupadi

by Mita Oza Sheth

With the onset of Navratri, the mind turns to the worship of Devi in her different forms; Durga, Laxmi, Kali, (all virgin goddesses) honouring their virtues in different ways.

In certain parts of India, girls are taught Pratah smarniya(dawn invocation) of panchasati. The five virgins; Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara, Mandodari tatha, Pancha-Kanya smaren nityam, mahapatak naashaka.

Translation: Remembering these five virgins constantly destroys great failings.

Ahalya was a sensuous beauty married to Gautam Maharishi. It is said Indra took the form of her husband and seduced her. On hearing of her adultery, Gautam Maharishi turned her into stone. The curse was lifted when Rama touched the stone with his feet and reunited the couple asking Gautam Maharishi to forgive her.

This begs the question,’ What was she punished for? If it was deceitful seduction, as Indra had taken the form of her husband, what was her crime?

Some scriptures say she realised it was an imposter but continued as her pleasure senses had been heightened to a point of no return. In this case too I reiterate, “Was her crime so great so as to be punished thus”?

ram laxman ahalya

Draupadi had five husbands and she allotted equal time to each. God forbid i mention she might have had a preference of one over the others. She was fodder for them to be staked in a game of dice, and when disrobed turned to a Sati as Lord Krishna saved the day.

Sita on the mere suspicion of adultery had to undergo ‘Agni Pareeksha’.

Renuka, though not mentioned in the Panchasati is worth a mention in this context, she was the mother of Parshurama. One day while bathing she saw a handsome Gandharva and desired him intensely. Her husband Jamadagni, enraged at her lascivious thoughts ordered Parsurama to behead her. On complying, Jamadagni granted Parsurama a boon and he asked that his mother be brought back to life. Today Renuka is also revered as Godess Yellamma.

So basically, after they all went through the purification process they gained sainthood. Purification via symbolic death(turning into stone ,walk through fire and beheading by axe).

In all these cases the common ground is a woman’s sensuality and passion. Why does it scare men so much?

Years ago i had read a book by Geraldine Brooks ,’Nine parts of desire‘ based on her experiences with middle eastern women and her research on Islamic studies. She mentions, when God was handing out attributes e.g. patience to women and physical strength to man etc., when it came to desire he gave man one part and the woman nine. (That would never be acceptable by all men let alone mid-eastern).

Anyhow according to her that was how genital mutilation of women became a religious rite in many countries (cut off a woman’s centre of pleasure and she will be left with no parts of desire). Sadly not many people know of this inhumane practice which still continues in Africa. Mind you i am not backing or opposing the writer on her interpretation of the religious books.

Brings me back to the fear of woman’s sexuality.  So when a man desires he is Virile but a woman desiring a man is a slut. Since we are in a civilized world we will settle for character mutilation instead of genital.

Interpretation of mythology to suit one’s limited world is a norm. In today’s world Rape is considered an abhorrent act. But how many will step forward to embrace that woman as a partner, especially in India.

These are women who had no say in the matter. So accepting women who are open about their sexuality is a far cry. They are subjected to lewd innuendos. Also no purification process exists presently.

For me purification is defined as Liberation from norms and a self realization of what a miracle you are and the endless possibilities ahead of you on breaking the shackles. I say do not go to the temple and worship a Devi if you cannot respect her in her human form.

A woman has abundance of love in different ways. Embrace her every aspect, because passionate love is not about the body, she can feel it in every walk and situation. As a mother, partner,  daughter and a caregiver. So if you revere her in those, do not judge her in others. She is Shakti and she should not be tampered with, she is shining and beautiful as she is.

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