The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions: Devi and Womansplaining [1st ed.] 9783030524548, 9783030524555

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The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions: Devi and Womansplaining [1st ed.]
 9783030524548, 9783030524555

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xi
Introduction: What the Goddess Said—What Her Speech Means to Us Today (Anway Mukhopadhyay)....Pages 1-11
Authoritative Female Speech and the Indic Goddess Traditions: An Overview (Anway Mukhopadhyay)....Pages 13-39
Divine and Divine-Human Speeches of the Devi: The Speech Contexts and the Dynamics of Authority in the Devi Gitas (Anway Mukhopadhyay)....Pages 41-68
Authority of Female Speech, Efficacy of Female Guidance: The Goddess and Women in Tantric Contexts (Anway Mukhopadhyay)....Pages 69-92
Two “Devis”, Two “Gurus” Speaking with Authority: Sarada Devi and Anandamayi Ma (Anway Mukhopadhyay)....Pages 93-122
Modifying Masculinity: Tantric Culture, Female Speech and Reframed Masculinities (Anway Mukhopadhyay)....Pages 123-149
The Beauty of Womansplaining: The Authoritative Speech of Devi in India, in the World (Anway Mukhopadhyay)....Pages 151-156
Back Matter ....Pages 157-171

Citation preview

The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions Devi and Womansplaining Anway Mukhopadhyay

The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions

Anway Mukhopadhyay

The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions Devi and Womansplaining

Anway Mukhopadhyay Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur Kharagpur, West Bengal, India

ISBN 978-3-030-52454-8    ISBN 978-3-030-52455-5 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


I would like to thank a lot of people for the way they enthused me throughout my work on this book. I thank my parents and sister, my colleagues and students and the various Shakta scholars, friends and acquaintances who, in diverse ways, contributed to this project indirectly. I especially thank the various monks and devotees of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission who have provided me with various kinds of necessary information on Shaktism in Bengal and have also facilitated my understanding of the persistence of the matribhava, the maternal feeling, of Ma Sarada through the male monks of the Math and Mission. In this context, special mention must be made of Swami Pararupanandaji, Matrimandir, Jayrambati, West Bengal, and Swami Alokanandaji, Ramakrishna Advaita Ashrama, Varanasi. In the same vein, I also thank the Matajis of the Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Dakshineswar, Kolkata, and the Sri Sarada Math, Varanasi. I heartily thank the ashramites of the Ma Anandamayee Kanyapeeth, Varanasi, including Jayadi, Geetadi and Guneetadi, for the help they have extended to me, time and again. Thanks are also due to the librarians of the University of Burdwan. Sri Utkarsh Chaubey must be thanked for the way he supplied me with texts on Shaktism and information on Indian spirituality in general. Professor Vanashree, Professor Emerita at the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, has always been a maternal figure for me and a great support and source of encouragement. I would also like to acknowledge the consistent support and affection I received from Professor B. L. Tripathi, Professor K.  M. Pandey, Professor Anandprabha Barat, Professor v



Angshuman Khanna, Professor Lata Dubey, Professor Banibrata Mahanta, Dr Madhvi Lata and Dr Vishwanath Pandey at Banaras Hindu University, Professor Nandini Bhattacharya and Dr Arpita Chattaraj Mukhopadhyay at the University of Burdwan, Professor Suchorita Chattopadhyay and Dr Debashree Dattaray at Jadavpur University and Professor Ashok Kumar Mohapatra at Sambalpur University. In my present workplace, that is, the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, I keep receiving academic stimulation from all my colleagues. I thank them heartily. However, special mention must be made of the following people: Professor Narayan Chandra Nayak, Professor Manas Kumar Mandal, Professor Suhita Chopra Chatterjee, Professor Chhanda Chakraborti, Professor Anjali Gera Roy, Professor Priyadarshi Patnaik, Professor Pulak Mishra, Dr Jayashree Chakraborty, Dr Jenia Mukherjee, Dr Anwesha Aditya, Dr Archana Patnaik, Dr Anuradha Choudry, Dr Somdatta Bhattacharya, Dr Dripta Piplai (Mondal) and Dr Bornini Lahiri. I am especially indebted to Professor Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, Professor at the Department of CSE, IIT Kharagpur, and the former Director of the institute, for the way he shared with me valuable information about spiritual sadhana in the traditions of Kriya Yoga and gave me his beautiful book on his Guru Ma, Mata Sharbani. I can never thank enough Dr Shreya Matilal, faculty member of the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law, IIT Kharagpur, and Dr Annapurna Matilal, faculty member at the Midnapore College (Autonomous), for the warm support I keep receiving from them, as a member of their extended family. I regularly have intellectually stimulating discussions on the Indic religious traditions with both Mr and Mrs Matilal. In the same vein, I would also thank Dr Tapas Kumar Bandyopadhyay, Dr Uday Shankar and Dr Arindam Basu of the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law; Dr Somnath Ghoshal of the Centre for Rural Development, IIT Kharagpur; Dr Sujoy Kumar Kar of the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, IIT Kharagpur; and Professor Somnath Bharadwaj of the Department of Physics, IIT Kharagpur. I also thank Dr Soumyatanu Mukherjee, previously my colleague at IIT Kharagpur and presently a Lecturer in Finance at the Southampton Business School, UK, and his wife, Shreya. I would also like to thank the research scholars who are working under my supervision  – Bijetri Datta Majumder, Ishrat Ara Khatun and Sudipta Chakraborty. Thanks are due to Neha Chatterjee as well, who was working with me as a research scholar before joining a



college as an Assistant Professor. Special thanks go to Dr Arghya Dipta Kar, who pursued his doctoral research under the supervision of Professor Madhu Khanna, for the stimulating discussions on Shaktism and tantra that I have had with him and the interesting works on goddess cultures he presented me with. In fact, it is Dr Kar who presented me with the book Durgamangal, in which the beautiful piece “Parvatipurana” is included. I also thank Shouvik Narayan Hore and Viraj Shukla, for the help they offered to me, regarding the insertion of diacritical marks in this book. However, unfortunately, I could not avail myself of this help due to the COVID-19 crisis in India, which led to a nationwide lockdown, thus making it impossible for Shouvik and me to sit together and work on the diacritical marks. This is what has led to the disturbing absence of diacritical marks from this book. Hence, for the absence of the diacritical marks, it is the coronavirus which is to be blamed. Finally, I must thank Amy Invernizzi, my editor at Palgrave Macmillan, and the peer reviewers for their help and suggestions. I cannot but thank Dr Patricia Dold heartily for her immensely helpful suggestions and appreciative comments. In the same vein, I must thank Vinoth Kuppan for providing me with necessary guidelines about the technicalities of the submission of the final manuscript. In fact, Amy and Vinoth have both been very co-operative throughout this project, and I cannot thank them enough.


1 Introduction: What the Goddess Said—What Her Speech Means to Us Today  1 2 Authoritative Female Speech and the Indic Goddess Traditions: An Overview 13 3 Divine and Divine-Human Speeches of the Devi: The Speech Contexts and the Dynamics of Authority in the Devi Gitas 41 4 Authority of Female Speech, Efficacy of Female Guidance: The Goddess and Women in Tantric Contexts 69 5 Two “Devis”, Two “Gurus” Speaking with Authority: Sarada Devi and Anandamayi Ma 93 6 Modifying Masculinity: Tantric Culture, Female Speech and Reframed Masculinities123 7 The Beauty of Womansplaining: The Authoritative Speech of Devi in India, in the World151 Index157 ix



Annapurna Upanishad Brihaddharma Purana, Madhya Khanda Brihaddharma Purana, Purva Khanda Bangmayi Ma Bhumika in Bangmayi Ma The Srimad Devibhagawatam (Devibhagavata Purana) The Devi Gita (from the Devibhagavata) Devi Upanishad Kulachudamani Tantra Kena Upanishad Kurma Puranam, Purva Bhaga Laksmi Tantra Shri Mahabhagavata Upapurana Mother Reveals Herself Nigama Tattvasara Tantram Pithanirnayah (Mahapithanirupanam) Rig Veda Srimad Bhagavatam Sankara-Dig-Vijaya The Siva-purana Sarasvati Rahasya Upanishad Shri Shri Chandi Shri Shri Mayer Katha Tripura Rahasya Yogini Tantra, Prathama Khanda



Introduction: What the Goddess Said—What Her Speech Means to Us Today

In the contemporary discussions on mansplaining (Solnit 2014a, b, Chap. 1; Pot’Vin-Gorman 2019, 54–55; Turner 2017), what is foregrounded is the arrogance of male speech that sees listening as the responsibility of the dominated and speech as the privilege of the dominant (Solnit 2014a, Chap. 1, subheading 1). As Rebecca Solnit points out, “Being told that, categorically, he knows what he’s talking about and she doesn’t, however minor a part of any given conversation, perpetuates the ugliness of this world and holds back its light” (Solnit 2014a, Chap. 1, subheading 1). What mansplaining denies systematically is “equiphony” (a la Isabel Santa Cruz [Amoros 2004, 344]), the right of women to speak and to be heard as much as men are entitled to. What is at stake here is the attitudinal dimension of the patriarchally sanctioned socio-cultural interactions. Within the circuits of such interactions, women have to constantly fight for establishing the legitimacy of their speeches: “Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being” (Solnit 2014b, Chap. 1, subheading 2). Mansplaining, one may argue, is a cross-­culturally evident phenomenon. It is not confined to specific geo-cultural cartographies. The Brahmin man mansplains to his wife in the most orthodox social scenarios of India, just as the white male boss of a (white/non-­ white) female employee does in his office, located in a Western metropolis. It is quite difficult to find out the “innocent” man, the humble listener to © The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




the female speech who does not conflate the binary of speaking/listening with that of male/female. However, while patriarchy and androcentrism are undeniably global in scope, discourses alternative or counterpointing to them are also present, throughout the planet, even though the global systems of patriarchy label them as obscure local cultures lacking global outreach. Hence, it is high time we reinstalled these “local”, “obscure” alternative traditions at the heart of the global culture today. Since we inhabit a more dynamic planet than our predecessors did, it is possible now to build bridges between discourses, imaginative “heterotopias” (Hetherington 1997, viii), multiple alterities, which would have remained unconnected in a less comprehensively networked globe. It is within this context that I situate the issue of the authoritative female speeches textualized in the Indic goddess traditions. In these traditions, the difference between the goddess and the woman is often blurred, as the concept of reincarnation brings the goddess and her human avatar – the fleshly woman – close to each other. The authority of female speech is underpinned in the various versions of the Devi Gita, a sub-genre of Shakta scriptural literature presenting the goddess  – either in her transcendental form or in her human avatar  – as authoritatively speaking to humans and gods on cosmic secrets and the way to moksha/liberation. Similarly, in various tantric texts, we come across humble male listeners who respectfully receive the enlightening speeches of the Goddess. Of course, in Indic scriptures, there is ample evidence of mansplaining: men impose their ideas on women; men assert their prejudiced ideas about women; men deny the intellectual potential of women; men deny women access to certain spiritual and intellectual resources  – in text after text, within the Sanskritic tradition. Hence, it is not that I have, in this book, set out to project a binaristic opposition between the mansplaining West and a womansplaining India. I have rather focused on the alternative traditions of womansplaining in Indic goddess cultures which are not just alternative to the Western traditions of mansplaining but also alternative to the Indian modes of mansplaining, both historic and contemporary. However, rather than continuously juxtaposing the traditions of womansplaining in India against those of mansplaining, I have tried to tease out those strands of womansplaining within the Indic goddess cultures which do not simply present a gynocentric reversal of mansplaining but rather necessitate a thorough re-imagining of gender in the present scenario. While Caroline Turner points out that both mansplaining and womansplaining might



sound disturbing to their recipients (of the opposite gender) (Turner 2017), Nell Stevens argues that womansplaining is different from mansplaining by virtue of being characterized by the sharing of wisdom with friendliness and love (Stevens 2018). I have tried to trace the ethos of womansplaining underlined by Stevens, from the perspective of an (implicit) “ethics of sexual difference” (Irigaray 2004, 7–19). Irigaray (2004, 8) questions: “Has a worldwide erosion of the gains won in women’s struggles occurred because of the failure to lay foundations different from those on which the world of men is constructed?” I would like to argue that the paradigm of womansplaining as presented by Stevens can be seen as an attempt at laying foundations of communication different from those that encourage mansplaining. Moreover, Irigaray’s philosophy of sexual difference motivates Britt-Marie Schiller to figure forth the “incomplete masculine” who knows that he is not “omnipotent” and that “the other is not at his disposal” (Schiller 2011, 132). A central objective of this book is to explore how the instances of authoritative female speech in the Indian goddess cultures necessitate a reframing of masculinity by impelling the male audience of authoritative female speech to understand and appreciate the significance of turning into the “incomplete masculine”. By drawing on the kind of work initiated by Miranda Shaw and Loriliai Biernacki and improvising on their approaches (Shaw 1995, 3–19; Biernacki 2007, 3–27), the present book focuses on the possible hidden connections between the textualized female speeches that exude the aura of authority and the non-textualized female presences, the embodied female speeches turned into silence by textual, cultural and political erasures. It is true that we can by no means establish an easy correlation between goddess traditions and empowered women. However, I would argue that while we cannot establish the presence of powerful women from the presence of empowered female speech in a goddess text, we cannot totally erase that presence as a possibility, either. Women’s history, in most of the cases, has been a history of shadowy traces, rather than concrete memorializations. Arguing that all textual representations of powerful female figures and voices are just figments of male imagination and have no connection with flesh-and-blood women will lead to lending omnipotence, at least theoretically, to male intelligence and male discourse (Shaw 1995, 12–14, 19; Biernacki 2007, 6–10, 20–27). However, in my work, rather than establishing any easy equation between goddesses and empowered women, I have followed two trajectories – (a) adapting the New Historicist paradigm (Brannigan1998, 6–9) to my requirements, I



have critically engaged with the lack of a robust archival presence of flesh-­ and-­blood women in the goddess traditions and tried to present some surmises (without claiming their absolute factuality) about the presence of empowered women behind or around the empowered female speech textualized in the Indic goddess cultures, and (b) following the political thrust of the Cultural Materialist method (Brannigan 1998, 9–11), I have argued for a recontextualization and reinterpretation of these textualized female speeches in the present scenario of India and the world at large. In Indic traditions, texts are always open; they have been subjected to multiple modifications, endless pluralization, in terms of adaptations, reshapings and ideological reframing. Most of the texts are anonymous, or assigned a mythical authorship. We don’t have a concrete history of the hands or mouths (Indian culture has been, largely, an oral culture) that worked behind the formation of these texts. In the case of the history of women in India, the impossibility of historiographical systematicity caused by the slippery fluidity of the texts at hand is doubly conspicuous. This book does not make any decisive statement regarding the “presence” of “real” women behind the coruscating, authoritative speeches entextualized in the Indic goddess cultures. However, I do present surmises in that direction, without claiming absolute authenticity for this position, and delineate the ways in which these speeches could be recognized today as specimens of womansplaining rather than examples of male ventriloquism instrumentalizing the figures of the Goddess. In short, I interrogate the position which would like to see the female speech as nothing but male speech using the Goddess to underpin male authority in the name of the Female (for an example of this position, see Adriana Cavarero’s reading of the Parmenidean goddess [Cavarero1995, 38–39]). Nevertheless, I have also remained acutely aware of the dangers of overlooking the instances of male ventriloquizing through the Goddess’s speech. That is why I have sought to appropriate those aspects of the Goddess’s speech which can be used to facilitate gender justice and, hence, ought to be isolated from the conservative ideological frames which strive to domesticate her female speech. However, rather than looking for the male voices lurking behind the textualized female speeches, I have tried to examine what we can do with those speeches today, what the Goddess’s speech may mean to us today – and how, in Gadamerian terms (Lawn 2006, 66–68; Sherma 2011, 5–6), our horizon and the Goddess’s horizon may be dialogized. In this book, I deal with the two most significant dimensions of the speech act and speech context within the frame of gender, as far as the



goddess-centred scriptures and religious performances in India (including especially the homology of the Goddess and the female guru) are concerned: the authority of the female speech, in religious, philosophical and social terms, and the receptivity of the male listener who receives the religious “womansplaining” with humility and attention. Drawing on these phenomena, I seek to present a detailed descriptive and analytical account of the authoritative female speech within the Indian goddess traditions and the socio-cultural implications thereof. While most of the works on Shaktism and tantra tend to focus on the issue of femininity in the tantric context, I dwell on the modification of the discourses and practices of masculinity, necessitated by the texts/practices foregrounding authoritative female speech. More specifically, I focus on the intricate ways in which the female speeches in these texts or religious performances underpin an alternative – receptive – mode of masculinity, underlining the fallacies of a domineering mode of masculinity. Tantric narratives written by Bengali male authors, for example, often evince this transmuted masculinity that is awed by the aura of the divine feminine and hence forced to deviate from the hetero-patriarchal celebrations of the “hegemonic masculinity” (Connell 2005, 77–78). It is exciting to look at the figurations of the “incomplete masculine” in these texts. This book, unlike many other ethnographic and text-based studies of the divine feminine in Indic traditions, centres round the potential for altering the prevalent gender ideologies and epistemologies in India which often indulge in a systemic gender injustice. I hint at the possible ways of actualizing the potential for inaugurating gender justice that might be excavated from the Indic goddess traditions, with reference to the authoritative female voices in these traditions. In this context, my venture squares with the projects of the eminent Tantra scholar Madhu Khanna who, through her institution Tantra Foundation and her published works, seeks to bridge the gap, in the Indic patriarchal structures, between the authoritative presence of the Goddess(es) in the religious/spiritual space and the disempowered women in the larger societal space (Mukhopadhyay 2017, 157–160). Anyone located in India who is researching the cultural archives of Shaktism and/or tantra would uphold the ethical concern about the disjuncture between the powerful goddesses and the disempowered women in Indian society. Hence, as a man located in India and working on these issues, I cannot but develop a kind of cultural materialist approach which seeks to roll the texts of the Indic goddess cultures into the vortex of diachronicity – to move the text into the present scenario, to analyse its



significance today, rather than focusing exclusively on its historical context. This is not just a re-contextualization of the texts in today’s India. They may be useful for today’s world as much as for today’s India, not only because India is not outside the “world” but also because patriarchy, as a network of interlinked oppressive systems, is global in scope. For similar reasons, I draw on the method of dialexis on which Rita Sherma (2011, 2) insists. According to her (2011, 2–3), an intersubjective hermeneutics would always resist the objectification of the Other and would rather stage a dialogue with the Other-as-Subject. As she (2011, 2) states, “Dialexis … refers to a form of intellectual engagement “across styles” that takes as its starting point an adequate accounting of contextualized signification.” I improvise on this model of dialexis by setting in motion an intersubjective hermeneutics in terms of gender, by listening to the female voices from other times which are entextualized in the goddess cultures of India, cultures to which I also have a personal affiliation. Sherma (2011, 1) underlines the necessity for “thealogical reflection and constructive engagement”. I would contextualize womansplaining within the domain of this sort of Indic thealogy that has been foregrounded, in different − direct or indirect – ways by Lata Mani, Madhu Khanna, Neela Bhattacharya Saxena and Rita Sherma (Mukhopadhyay 2017, 157–165; Khanna 2018, 173–199; Saxena 2011, 61–75; Sherma 2011, 1–16). Sherma (2011, 2) speaks of the capacity of such projects for providing “alternative insights on the multiple possible modes of envisioning female empowerment and the divine feminine in feminist theory discourse” and the “relevance of Hindu models of the feminine to cross-cultural philosophical, theological, ontological, or sociological interchange”. My project aims at finding and (re-)archiving resources for constructing such a broad-spectrum cross-cultural platform to renegotiate goddess cultures and feminism, with particular reference to empowered female speech. I take as a methodological point of departure Sherma’s focus on the “thealogical and activist methods” (2011, 1). I wish to explore what the Indic goddesses have in store for the womansplaining activists of today. Why am I, a “man”, speaking on the authoritative female speeches in the Indic goddess cultures? Is it not an act of “mansplaining” itself? Am I mansplaining – paradoxically – about womansplaining? I think the issue about mansplaining and womansplaining is not located merely in an androcentrism/gynocentrism debate. Womansplaining is not to be confused with an insistence on absolute male silence; it is rather related to the demand for male receptivity to female speech. In fact, my book is as much



an exercise in listening to female speech (that of the goddess, female guru or enlightened woman) as an exercise in speaking/writing. In fact, I don’t see my speech here as mansplaining at all. Rather, I see the present project as the presentation of a chronicle of my listening to the female speeches – textualized voices of the divine feminine, whispers of women from what Ashis Nandy (2003, 1–2) calls “nonhistoricised pasts”, layered and textured female speeches coming from women living around me, women who lived in recent or distant pasts, women whose voices come down to me through a complex chain of textual and flesh-and-blood male and female listeners. In fact, I would like to claim that I do exactly what the mansplainer would not do: I write what I receive from the female speeches that I listen to. Even though I do speak of interpreting or analysing them, this interpretation/analysis is not the academic mansplaining that male academics are encouraged to do. Of course, my mode of listening is not the only valid mode of listening. Listening, as well as speech, is plural in nature, but one does need to build up an “ethic of listening” (Parks 2019, xiv–xv), listening with love, listening in the “Open” (a la Rilke [Muller 2010, 32]) rather than listening from the windows of over-arching theories about female speech or female silence. Besides, working from outside the West, we come across many exciting, alternative configurations of gender. In fact, the present book seeks to foreground an alternative tradition of womansplaining to show that, in the non-Western goddess traditions of womansplaining, the male and the female are often semi-permeable categories. The Shakta sadhaka, in many secret traditions, is required to assume or “attain” femininity to proximate the Divine Feminine (Gupta 2009, 87). In the Hindu modes of sadhana, there is often a focus on becoming one with the god one worships. In the case of the goddess traditions, the sadhaka has to – and does – become, more often than not, one with the Goddess. Hence, my listening to the female speeches that I chronicle here allows me to come out of a male self-­ consciousness and makes my “speech” a textualization of the history of my listening to the female voices. However, I don’t claim to assume the authority to represent the female voices. Listening and representing are two different activities. Nevertheless, if a man believes that gender studies, Goddess spirituality (Mukhopadhyay 2017, xii) or feminism is “women’s business” and hence men should not deal with it, his “silence”, in that case, becomes worse than “mansplaining”. Unlike the West, where the goddess movement has been seen as an offshoot of the feminist struggles, in India, the goddess cultures involve both men and women in complex



webs of interactions and relationality (Mukhopadhyay 2017, xii–xiii; Pechilis 2011, 100–104; Shaw 1995, 12). I seek to understand whether there is a way to actualize the potential for gender egalitarianism in these traditions which Indian men have overlooked but can embrace now. As a researcher utilizing, context-specifically, the methods of both “autoethnography” and “observant participation” (Chang 2016, 9–10, 15–26; Brewer 2010, 60–61), as one speaking from within the Indic traditions that are explored in this book, I have sought to underline the continuum of the Indic goddess traditions, the continuum that exists thanks to, rather than in spite of, the multiple slippages, alterations, deletions and additions which have occurred within that tradition. I move between ethnography and textual/discourse analysis, as far as the methodology is concerned, and try to explore the slippages, as well as continuities, between the domain of textualization (the formation of the texts of Shaktism) and the domain of performativity (sadhana/spiritual practice) within the fold of Shaktism. As Rita Sherma (2011, 4) notes, even the researchers working from within a tradition often try to maintain a distance between their academic selves and the tradition which they study (to which they belong too). I have deliberately tried to avoid this kind of artificial self-­distantiation necessitated by the “hermeneutics of alterity” (Sherma 2011, 3–4) and to be objective without pretending much to distance myself from the tradition I study. Finally, my book seeks to clear the way for a constructive interface between the planetary feminisms (Morgan 1984, 1–37) of contemporary times and the traditions of authoritative female speech in the Indic goddess cultures, while simultaneously underscoring the necessity for the re-­ interpretation and feminist appropriation of the texts of Shaktism in India today, where violence against women and over-patriarchal attitudes on the part of men trying to promote hypermasculinity have become a persistent trouble. The gift that can be offered by this alternative tradition of “womansplaining” in a largely “mansplaining” globe needs to be accepted and utilized by the mainstream Indian society now, and it may also be extended to the planetary discourses of gender justice which struggle to ground gender equity in the principle of the re-epistemologization and expansion of the concept of “rights”. This book has seven chapters, including the present one that serves as the introductory chapter. Chapter 2 presents an overview of the diverse manifestations of authoritative female speech in the Indic goddess traditions. Chapter 3 deals with the divine and divine-human voices of Devi in



the Shakta Gitas and explores the speech contexts and the implications of female authority in these texts. Chapter 4 focuses on the dynamics of authoritative female speech in tantric texts and contexts and underlines the figure of the humble male listener of Devi’s speech. Chapter 5 discusses the direct homologization of the embodied woman and the Goddess in the case of the female guru in Hinduism who is often seen as the Devi herself in a human form or Devi’s incarnation, with specific reference to Ma Sarada and Ma Anandamayi, great female gurus from twentieth-­ century Bengal. Chapter 6 underscores the ways in which the authority of female speech, in the tantric cultures, often leads to the reframing and radical modification of the ideas and images of masculinity, by ushering in a receptive masculinity, a mode of masculinity manifested in the humble, receptive male listeners of female speeches. In Chap. 7, which is the concluding chapter, I focus on the diverse ways in which the goddess traditions of India can be yoked to the agendas of planetary feminisms and discuss how Devi’s womansplaining can foreground a culture of speaking and listening without violence and aggressivity.

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Khanna, Madhu. 2018. Here Are the Daughters: Reclaiming the Girl Child (Kanya, Bala, Kumari) in the Empowering Tales and Rituals of Sakta Tantra. In The Goddess, ed. Mandakranta Bose, 173–199. New  York: Oxford University Press. Lawn, Chris. 2006. Gadamer: A Guide for the Perplexed. London/New York: Continuum. Morgan, Robin. 1984. Introduction: Planetary Feminism: The Politics of the Twenty-First Century. In Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, ed. Robin Morgan, 1–37. Garden City: Anchor Press. Mukhopadhyay, Anway. 2017. Literary and Cultural Readings of Goddess Spirituality: The Red Shadow of the Mother. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Muller, Herbert F.J. 2010. Brain in Mind: Ontology Becomes Pragmatic Design in the Unstructured. New York/Bloomington: iUniverse. Nandy, Ashis. 2003. Time Warps: The Insistent Politics of Silent and Evasive Pasts. Delhi: Permanent Black. Parks, Elizabeth S. 2019. The Ethics of Listening: Creating Space for Sustainable Dialogue. Lanham/Boulder/New York/London: Lexington Books. Pechilis, Karen. 2011. Spreading Sakti. In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings, ed. Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, 97–120. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Pot’Vin-Gorman, Kellyn. 2019. Crushing the IT Gender Bias: Thriving as a Woman in Technology. Westminster: Apress. Saxena, Neela Bhattacharya. 2011. Mystery, Wonder, and Knowledge in the Triadic Figure of Mahavidya Chinnamasta: A Sakta Woman’s Reading. In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings, ed. Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, 61–75. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Schiller, Britt-Marie. 2011. The Incomplete Masculine: Engendering the Masculine of Sexual Difference. In Thinking with Irigaray, ed. Mary C. Rawlinson, Sabrina L. Hom, and Serene J. Khader, 131–152. Albany: State University of New York Press. Shaw, Miranda. 1995. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Sherma, Rita D. 2011. Introduction: A Hermeneutics of Intersubjectivity. In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings, ed. Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, 1–16. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Solnit, Rebecca. 2014a. “The Slippery Slope of Silencings”. Subheading 1  in Chap. 1  in Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays. London: Granta. N. page. rontcover&dq=rebecca+solnit+men+explain+things+to+me&hl=en&sa=X&ve d=0ahUKEwiDqeaT_a3nAhVzxzgGHY2NC5oQ6wEIKzAA#v=onepage&q=



rebecca%20solnit%20men%20explain%20things%20to%20me&f=false. Accessed 31 Jan 2020. ———. 2014b. “Women Fighting on Two Fronts”. Subheading 2  in Chap. 1  in Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays. London: Granta. N. page. =frontcover&dq=rebecca+solnit+men+explain+things+to+me&hl=en&sa=X &ved=0ahUKEwiDqeaT_a3nAhVzxzgGHY2NC5oQ6wEIKzAA#v=onepag e&q=rebecca%20solnit%20men%20explain%20things%20to%20me&f=false. Accessed 31 Jan 2020. Stevens, Nell. 2018. The Joy of Womansplaining. Boundless, November 20. Accessed 9 Mar 2019. Turner, Caroline. 2017. Mansplaining and Womansplaining: When Women Talk Down to Men. Huffpost, May17, 2016. Updated December 6, 2017. https:// www.huf y/mansplaining-and-womanspl_b_9995262. Accessed 8 June 2019.


Authoritative Female Speech and the Indic Goddess Traditions: An Overview

Between “goddess”, “woman” and “female”, there are troublesome semantic differences, and yet, when we set out to explore the dynamics of “female speech” in the Indic goddess traditions, we cannot help but bring them closer to each other, for the sake of a better understanding of their epistemic function within Indic intellectual and religious traditions. As Cheever Mackenzie Brown (2002b, “Translator’s Note” 37) notes, the author of the Devibhagavata Purana, while presenting a feminine theology, stubbornly sticks to certain orthodox, sexist assumptions about women’s place in society. If that is the case, then can we say that the author of this puranic text has refused to see goddess and woman as categories belonging to the larger semiotics of “female”? However, when we come to study the female speeches in the Indian goddess cultures, we are confronted with the baffling conjunctures and disjunctures between “goddess” and “woman” within the matrix of female speech, problematizing any attempt of either feminist repudiation or feminist appropriation of the goddess traditions. One may ask: Is not the goddess just a feminine mask for the male voice, like the Parmenidean goddess, as Adriana Cavarero (1995, 38–39) insists? Who is there behind the speaking female voice in the Indic texts  – men, men and only men under disguise, or women shrouded in silence? There can be no simple response to such issues. Nevertheless, Madhu Bazaz Wangu (2003, 103–104), drawing on the research findings of Miranda Shaw, strongly argues that women are elevated in Shaktism, and hence, there is a connection between empowered © The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




women and the female divinity, as far as Shaktism and tantrism are concerned. On the other hand, Mandakranta Bose (2018, 7) points out that the goddess culture may operate as a means of the perpetuation of women’s social subjugation and deprivation. Tracy Pintchman observes, as Bose (2018, 5) underlines, the ways in which “the idea of the divine feminine” makes the “goddess persona … into a model, though only by abstracting her gentler attributes for emulation”. Precisely, it might be said that the Goddess is not essentially empowering for women (Goldberg 2002, 146). However, my take on the issue would be very different. I would like to argue that the Goddess is not a frozen symbol but a semiotically and semantically open figuration of sacrality and power whose cultural, political and philosophical implications are subject to the ways we interpret her. What the Goddess does is not always exactly a reflection of what the male-­ dominated Hindu society would like the Hindu women to do. However, by virtue of doing what she does, the Goddess keeps open the vista of her cultural and political implications. If the androcratic appropriation of the Goddess is sexist, the female (or feminist) appropriation of the Goddess might be liberatory for women. I would like to argue that, when we see the speech of the Goddess as female speech, we can see that mode of speech as accessible and available to women as well. The Goddess need not be seen necessarily as a feminine mask of the male master(s) of the society; she can be seen as an open face which women, and not just their male exploiters, can claim as their own. The authority exuded by the female speeches of the Goddess can be appropriated by women, and thus the androcentric appropriation of goddess cultures can be effectively counteracted. In the West as well as in India, there are instances of such feminist appropriations of the Goddess by women, and it would be of interest to see whether and how such appropriation can be facilitated by the instances of authoritative female speech that this chapter presents. In this chapter I will present the larger historical spectrum of female speeches that can be excavated from Indic scriptures, especially within the fold of goddess cultures. It is interesting to note that these empowered female speeches, representing female authority, are diverse in terms of their speech contexts. Sometimes the Devi herself speaks in her transcendental, disembodied voice; sometimes she appears in the form of an embodied goddess. At other times, she speaks as the human avatar of the Devi. Sometimes, the source of the authoritative female speech is an embodied female human being, elevated to the status of the Goddess or seen as Her incarnation.



Jennifer Hornsby (2000, 87–92) argues that the philosophy of language can be brought out of its hidden androcentric bias only if speeches are seen as essentially “communicative speech acts”. They are context specific and relational in nature. In other words, one needs to locate the speech in its proper communicative, relational context. It is, indeed, necessary to focus on the context of a speech. Who speaks to whom in which context? Only a focus on the what, the “content” of the speech, would fail the attempt at decoding the meaning of that speech (Hornsby 2000, 89–92). I would like to insist that the authoritative female speech within or hyphenated to the Indic goddess traditions should be revisited from the critical perspective proposed by Hornsby, the perspective of speech as communicative speech act. We need to look at the contexts in which the Goddess, her human avatar or a woman associated, in various capacities, with the Goddess speaks to a male person and also the modality of the speaking. Authority is not a homogeneous thing. One may exert authority through loving relationality; one may exert authority with a whip too. The authority exerted by the Goddess – even when it inspires awe – involves both power and love, and includes loving engagement with those over whom it is exerted. As we proceed with our study of the instances of Devi’s authoritative speech from heterogeneous Indic traditions, this would become evident. We, therefore, need to critically negotiate with the multiple aspects of the female authority as well as those of the speech contexts under question. In her article, “The Joy of Womansplaining”, Nell Stevens (2018) says: “If mansplaining is the unnecessary interjection of unwanted information, then womansplaining is this earnest sharing of hard-earned wisdom across the generations”. If we go by this definition of “womansplaining”, the idea of Devi as womansplainer may seem confusing, as the goddess is not the same as a mortal woman, and hence, her speech is not the result of the “hard-earned (embodied) wisdom across the generations”. However, one may assume that the goddesses of the Indic religious traditions are not pseudo-feminine pillars standing out of a vacuum of female wisdom. These goddesses may well be connected – in surreptitious ways – with generations of wise women. After all, as Swami Vivekananda himself had noted, the tradition of mystic wisdom, especially that which propels the Shakta philosophy of a female deity involving both transcendence and immanence, begins with a woman in India. It is the rishika (female seer/sage), Ambhrini, who first articulates, in Vedic literature, the discourse of the self-revelation of the (female) divinity (Mukhopadhyay 2017, 22). As



Mandakranta Bose (2018, 2) observes, the Rigvedic Devi Sukta (or Vak Sukta, attributed to the female sage, Ambhrini) sets Devi “on a higher plane than all other deities” and “signals the rise of the divine feminine from the earliest time in Hindu thought and indicates a philosophical continuity from the Vedas to the Upanisads”. Wilke and Moebus (2011, 279–280) notice that, in the Indic construction of Language as Goddess, there is an emphasis on the sonic aspect of utterance. This is what, according to them (2011, 280), leads to the “language acts” that manifest “the inherent power of language”. They (2011, 286) observe that the Vedic culture had figured forth vac as “the goddess Voice” who was the “creator of the universe”. Following Adriana Cavarero’s arguments, I would argue that we can never dissociate the “goddess Voice” from the who in the act of saying. As Cavarero (2005, 30) points out, “The voice, which is embodied in the plurality of voices, always puts forward first of all the who of saying”. In other words, the voice is inseparable from the one to whom it belongs. Hence, even though there is a basic difference between the Voice as Goddess and the Goddess’s voice, we cannot but wonder whether the people who heard the Goddess Voice actually heard the voice of the Goddess, a feminine voice whose authority emerged from her authority as the creatrix. Is it the case that there were voices of human females as well which they heard and found to be noble enough to be elevated to the status of the Goddess Voice? In this context, it would be relevant to discuss the Devi Sukta which is a text structured in the format of self-disclosure. I cannot accept the reading of the Devi Sukta presented by Wilke and Moebus (2011, 373–376), where they identify the speaker of this text with Vac [in the sense of (spoken) language] and hence see her as the personification of Language, even though they acknowledge that this hymn is reported to have been articulated by a woman. I cannot but feel that it is probably not just to equate the speaker merely with a personified form of Language; I see the speaker of this sukta precisely as a spiritually vibrant female wielder of Language, in whose feminine agency is implicated the authority of her speech. In this text, the speaker, evidently female, reveals her identity as the transcendent Absolute which is paradoxically also immanent in the terrestrial universe (Hymn to Vak [RV 10.125.1–8]). The cosmotheism that Brown (2002a, Introduction 9–10) observes in the Devi Gita of the Devi Bhagavata is evident in the Devi Sukta of the Rig Veda too. However, it is quite difficult to decode the exact ontological status of the divine feminine asserting her Divine Self in the Devi Sukta: if the Devi speaks through the woman,



Ambhrini (as the Shakta traditions have generally held), then the source of the authoritative speech is Devi herself, and it comes directly from the Goddess. However, we need to remember that it gets articulated through the intellect of the woman, Ambhrini. The speech belongs as much to Ambhrini as to Devi. If we believe that Ambhrini, experiencing herself to be one with the ultimate (female) essence of cosmic existence, makes the statements that form the Sukta, then we have to admit that the source of the authoritative female speech that is embodied in the Devi Sukta is both the Goddess and the woman. Here, the female speech encompasses the goddess’s voice and that of the woman in an intricate way, making them inseparable. In this respect, the Devi Sukta may contradict Pintchman’s observation that the goddess functions in Hinduism as an elevated feminine model that urges Hindu women to emulate the “gentler” dimensions of the goddess persona: in the Devi Sukta, Ambhrini reveals the awe-­ inspiring, terrific aspects of her divine being (as she experiences herself as one with the ultimate spiritual entity, figured in feminine terms), as well as the gentler ones. She is the agent of destruction as well as creation and preservation (Hymn to Vak [RV 10.125.6–8]). When we move from the Devi Sukta to the Kena Upanishad, we find Uma, an enigmatic female figure enlightening Indra, the king of the gods, on the real nature and potency of Brahman, the transcendental reality upheld in the Upanishads. While the major gods become arrogant after their victory in a war against the demons, Brahman manifests before them in the form of a Yaksha, to humble their pride and to make them understand that it was actually the power of Brahman which made the victory possible. Agni and Vayu presumptuously approach the Yaksha but their pride is humbled. Then, they ask Indra to approach the enigmatic being and to know who it is. As Indra moves towards Brahman in the form of the Yaksha, the latter vanishes, and Indra comes to a shining woman, Uma Haimavati. Uma tells him that the Yaksha is none other than Brahman and it is the power of Brahman which is responsible for their victory over the demons (KU, 3.1–4.1). I have problems with Mandakranta Bose’s easy identification of Uma in this narrative as “the celestial spirit” and that of the Yaksha as Brahman figured in masculine terms – “it was the celestial spirit Uma who appeared and revealed to them that he was Brahman”, Bose (2018, 1) says [emphasis added]. In the original Sanskrit, the Yaksha is referred to by the neuter pronoun, kim, by Indra (KU 3.12). Besides, Uma is referred to as a stri (KU 3.12), which can be roughly translated as “female”, and not as a devi, goddess. Once again, we are faced with the



confusing ontological status of the origin of the female speech  – is it a goddess or a woman? From the context, however, it appears that Uma is a stri in the celestial sphere, as she belongs to the akasha, space (KU 3.12). While she does not speak much, it is she who makes the most important revelation about the nature of Brahman. Bose (2018, 1) justly raises the question: “How does it fall to this female being to hold the key to a secret that the principal gods cannot penetrate? Does femininity have anything to do with the power of revelation?” One may add that here the feminine has certainly something to do with the authority of spiritual speech. Uma, in this narrative, operates as the archetypal guru, the figure of the instructor-­revealer (Gambhirananda 2001, 37) which will emerge time and again in puranic and tantric literature. Uma in the Kena Upanishad remains an enigma. Sometimes she is seen as the hypostatization of Brahmavidya, the supreme spiritual wisdom, the knowledge of Brahman. Sometimes she is directly associated by the Hindu exegetes with the Great Goddess (Muir 1873, 420–437). In puranic and tantric literature, we see a peculiar shift, in terms of the ontological status of Uma in this particular narrative. In the “Umasamhita” of the Siva-­ purana, we find the narrative of Uma enlightening the gods about the futility of their pride, where she teaches the gods not just the supremacy of Brahman, but that of herself too, declaring, “I alone am Brahman” (SP49.1–43). The same shift from Uma’s illustration of the supremacy of Brahman to the gods to her illustration of her own supremacy – as one with Brahman – is visible in the Srimad Devibhagawatam (Devibhagavata Purana) too (DB12.8.11–93; Brown 1990, 44). In both of these puranas, Uma is the Great Goddess, and she does speak with the ultimate spiritual authority, revealing her omnipotence to the gods. Brown (1990, 191–192), in fact, relates the context of the appearance of Devi in the “aniconic, light-form” in the Devibhagavata Devi Gita to that of the Kena Upanishad episode of Uma’s appearance. In the Katyayani Tantra, a similar narrative is presented, but in this case, the authoritative revelation to the gods comes from Goddess Jagaddhatri, a form of Durga who makes them understand that they are able to work only through the power exerted by her. Jagaddhatri makes it clear to the gods that, without her power, their endeavours would become completely ineffectual (cited in Prameyananda 2013, 76–77). One can say that the authoritative female speech presented in the Vedic and Upanishadic literature provides the later proponents of Shaktism with the seeds of a female-centred theology. Or, alternately, we may say that the Shaktas find certain resources in the Vedic and Upanishadic



texts which they appropriate to further their theological and ideological agenda of foregrounding the supremacy of Devi. It is possible to argue that, in a similar way, these instances of authoritative female speech, both within the Shakta traditions and within the Vedic/Upanishadic traditions, can be appropriated by women today, as resources for empowerment. What has previously been appropriated by men (and women?) for theological purposes can be appropriated by women for socio-political purposes today. In fact, in various cultural performances in Bengal during the Durga Puja, girls or women perform a dance to the musical chanting of the Devi Sukta, where the powerful assertion of the aham (I) by Ambhrini becomes one with women’s cultural affirmation of the feminine self. This has become a prominent portion of the cultural repertoire surrounding Durga Puja and has assumed a non-ritualistic, almost secular performative character. In cultural programmes organized by Durga Puja Committees, or cultural programmes aired on Bengali TV channels on the occasion of Durga Puja, one can see women or girls dancing to the melodious recitation of the Devi Sukta, where the female voice uttering aham (I) and the dancing woman’s physical gesture of asserting her I-hood overlap aesthetically, in effect underlining the femininity of the “I” asserted in the Sukta. In the Shakta Upanishads, those associated with goddess traditions, Devi speaks with authority, or emerges as the authoritative revealer of the ultimate spiritual truth. In the Devi Upanishad, in response to the gods’ query about her true identity, Devi tells the gods about her real nature, her completely transcendent being which is nevertheless immanent in the whole phenomenal world. She tells the gods that it is thanks to her power that the universe is functioning properly and tells them about the spiritual secrets of her worship. Here, she speaks with the ultimate authority, transmitting the most elevated spiritual wisdom sought by the gods (DU1–32). Here, there is no intermediary between the Absolute and the seekers of the secret of that Absolute. The Absolute, figured in feminine terms, reveals herself immediately to the gods. Unlike the Kena Upanishad narrative, here, the goddess’s role is not that of an intermediary – she does not tell the gods about Brahman-in-the-third-person, but rather tells them about herself, as she herself is Brahman (DU 1–7). In short, in this communicative context, the speech act, the speaker and the content of the speech are part of the single sacred whole of Goddess spirituality. In the Sarasvati Rahasyopanisad [Sarasvati Rahasya Upanishad], the sages ask the sage Ashvalayana how he has obtained the supreme knowledge. He replies that it is by revering and meditating on Goddess Sarasvati that he



has attained the supreme perfection (SRU 1–5). In this Upanishad, we find Sarasvati manifesting her supreme spiritual authority and proclaiming that she is one with Brahman. She says that it is through her that the god Brahma achieved the supreme knowledge (SRU46). From the speech context within this text, it appears that the worshipper of Sarasvati can become one with her and hence one with Brahman, as Sarasvati herself is Brahman, the supreme spiritual entity (SRU31–68). As Annette Wilke and Oliver Moebus (2011, 313) point out, while Sarasvati, in the first part of the Sarasvati Rahasya Upanishad, operates as the “mythical language substance”, in the second part of the text, she emerges as the transcendental reality. Wilke and Moebus (2011, 313–314) argue that, while the first part of this text shows Sarasvati as the language goddess, as the “mythical substance that one can participate in”, in the second part, she has an emancipatory function. In other words, she is both speech and what transcends speech. I would, however, insist that the authority of her spiritually emancipatory speech is derived from her status as what transcends speech; her speech is, in other words, the verbal emanation of the Absolute. However, Sarasvati’s revelation is something which can be echoed by Ashvalayana too, as he has seemingly achieved oneness with Sarasvati. Here too, as in the Devi Upanishad, the Devi is no more a mediatrix between the supreme spiritual entity and the spiritual seekers, but rather the supreme entity itself, wherefrom the spiritual knowledge proceeds directly. She speaks with the authority of the ultimate being and reveals her grandeur as the non-dual reality of existence. In the Annapurnopanishad [Annapurna Upanishad], however, there is an interesting shift from this frame of the goddess speaking with authority about the supreme spiritual truth. Here, the great yogi, Nidagha, implores Ribhu, who has realized the oneness of the Self and Brahman, to reveal the secret of his achievement of the knowledge of Brahman. Ribhu replies that he had been initiated by his father in the practice of chanting the mantra of Goddess Annapurna, and he remained engaged in this spiritual practice. Annapurna, a form of Uma or Parvati, the daughter of the Mountain King Himalaya, pleased with Ribhu’s dedication, appeared before him and offered him a boon. Ribhu prayed to the Goddess that he might be blessed with the supreme spiritual knowledge of the Self. The goddess granted him this boon and vanished then and there. Then, through the intellectual understanding of the real nature of the world and the Self, Ribhu came to attain self-knowledge, which is the same as the knowledge of Brahman (AU 1–12). However, it is interesting to note that here the Devi does not



enlighten the sage with her speech explaining the Absolute but rather vanishes after giving him the boon. Should we say that she teaches him the truth of existence through silence? The living wisdom traditions of India often focus on the significance of silence (of the mind as well as the voice) as a necessary precondition for the emergence of divine knowledge. Besides, one can say that her silence implies that she becomes one with him, or lifts the veil of ignorance from his mind’s eye, thereby preparing him for the supreme knowledge. Is it the mystic experience of a deep, secret enlightenment, an apparently silent but tremendously effective operation of the divine-feminine authority? It is absolutely necessary to bring together all these instances of authoritative female speech within the domain of the Indic goddess cultures. Our focus should be as much on what the goddess says as on what she does. It is noticeable here that these different texts are linkable and comparable not just in terms of their theological “content” but also in terms of the frames of the speech contexts where Devi appears as the instructress in spiritual sciences, as the teacher par excellence. We find the echo of these goddess-speeches in the voices of the female gurus in later Hinduism. It is possible that these authoritative female speeches were textualized by men, not by women. However, what needs to be underlined here is that Shaktism has always remoulded the “orthodox” Hindu culture, by foregrounding the agency of Devi and by adapting the mainstream genres of Hindu scriptures (Upanishads, Gitas) to the goddess cultures (Brown 1990, 2–8, 11–12). Appropriation and adaptation have marked the culture of Shaktism, and hence, it operates within the frameworks of a multi-­ dimensional religious dynamics which makes its temper compatible with any transformative discourse about society, culture and politics. From orthodox Hinduism (Vedic orthodoxy) to peripheral forms of transgressive or radical tantric Hinduism, the goddess has functioned as a silent and hidden mediator, modifying both of these traditions often by asserting her superiority over any masculine figuration of the divine. In the Tripura Rahasya which seems to synthesize the non-dualist (Advaita) version of Vedanta and the tantric doctrines of prakasha and vimarsha (Venkataramaiah 2006, x), we have a narrative of the revelation of the Vidya Gita, where Goddess Tripura, who is the Transcendent Reality, the immutable and indivisible Supreme Consciousness, reveals her grandeur in her own words (TR20.29–135). The sage Dattatreya relates this narrative to Parashurama. At one point of time, there is a gathering of noted sages in the abode of god Brahma. Each of these sages claims that



the philosophical doctrine propounded by him is superior to the philosophical doctrines put forward by the others. Brahma then takes them to Shiva, “collecting Vishnu on their way” (TR20.1–20). Shiva understands that, under the present circumstances, he would not be able to clear the doubts of the rishis/sages. Hence, he suggests: “Let us meditate on the Goddess – Her Majesty Unconditioned Knowledge. We shall then be able to understand even the subtlest of truths by her grace” (TR20.1–20). Then, the text goes on to narrate in detail the meditation of the gods and the sages on the Goddess in the form of Transcendental Consciousness and the emergence of the Goddess in the form of a disembodied ethereal voice which instructs them on how to experience the supreme truth (TR 20.1–40). Here, unlike Goddess Sarasvati and Goddess Annapurna in the Upanishads titled with their names, the Goddess appears as a Transcendental Voice, rather than as an embodied goddess-form. It is this voice (evidently a female voice, as the transcendent consciousness is consistently figured in feminine terms in this text and defined as the essence of Goddess Tripura) which directly enlightens the seekers of the Truth on the science of spiritual elevation. Every word of this Gita dazzles with spiritual authority and it becomes evident that the Empress of the Three Worlds is speaking here. Though the female body of the goddess is absent, her female voice thunders in its all-pervasive grandeur. Here, we need to ponder over the larger context of the voices of empowered women, the silhouettes of whom are discernible within and around the text of the Tripura Rahasya. This text features the narrative of Hemachuda and his wife, Hemalekha. Hemalekha instructs him in the spiritual science of self-knowledge. It is interesting to notice that, in Hemalekha’s spiritual teaching, there is sweetness and not imperious intellectual bossism. She teaches her husband what the Goddess teaches the gods and sages in the Vidya Gita, in a loving, tender way. The text says that, after Hemachuda achieves the supreme spiritual knowledge and the resultant peace, he does not distance himself from his worldly duties. Rather, the worldly affairs of his state become grounded in the enlightened spiritual state he has achieved, thanks to the instructions given by his wife (TR 9.1–100; 10.1–61). Due to the spiritual illumination of Hemachuda, caused by his wise wife, the entire kingdom ruled by him becomes a domain of wise people: There were still worldly transactions in this ideal state, because the people consciously acted their parts as the actors in a drama, in accord with the rest



of creation. A mother would rock the cradle with lullabies expressive of the highest Truth; a master and his servants dealt with one another in the Light of that Truth; players entertained the audience with plays depicting Truth;… the court fools caricatured ignorance as ludicrous… The whole State was thus composed only of Sages and philosophers, be they men or women; servant-­boys or servant-maids; dramatic actors or fashionable folk; artisans or labourers; ministers or harlots. (TR10.43–61 [Emphasis added])

The sages name this ideal city the “Renowned City of Wisdom”. In this city, we are told, even parrots and cockatoos speak “words of wisdom” (TR 10.63–68). However, what is necessary to underline is that, at the heart of this collective illumination, there is the agency of a wise woman: The town where even the lower animals convey such supreme wisdom is famous to this day as the City of Wisdom on Earth, which reputation it owes to that one wise princess Hemalekha, by whose advice Hemachuda became a Jivanmukta, all the rest following in his wake. (TR 10.63–68)

It goes without saying that this particular narrative of Hemachuda’s enlightenment by Hemalekha thematically corresponds with the Vidya Gita. Karen Pechilis (2004, 16–19) finds in Hemalekha an archetype for the female guru in Hinduism and also notes that her teaching involves a focus on “the necessity of contemplating the Absolute Being, who is the Goddess Parameshwari (Tripura)” (2004, 18), but does not explore the possible thematic and functional connections between Hemalekha’s spiritual instruction and the Vidya Gita. However, I would strongly suggest that the Goddess of transcendental wisdom and the wise woman conveying that wisdom to her husband are part of the same thematic and tropological circuit which values authoritative female speech as a productive source of wisdom. Evidently, the utopia conjured up here is radically different from the Platonic utopia where the concept of wisdom is fundamentally androcentric (Buchan 1999, 29–31). Besides, Hemalekha’s wise speech ultimately leads to the spiritual enlightenment of the common women of the state, as well as men. When we probe deeper into the Shri Vidya traditions of tantric practices, we come to understand that a text like the Tripura Rahasya is not wholly detached from the hidden history of wise women, the flesh-and-blood ones who were engaged in the worship of Goddess Shri Vidya. As Munagala S.  Venkataramaiah (2006, ix) points out:



Sri Vidya (worship of the Supreme Being as Goddess) has a very holy tradition traced to the Vedas. There are two principal divisions, known as Kadividhya and Hadividhya. The former was practised by Indra, Chandra, Manu, Kubera, etc.; it is the simpler of the two and also more common. The other was practised by Lopamudra and approved of the wise.

Here, we come to see the significance of the Hadividya practised by Lopamudra, a woman. It is the rare and more complex spiritual practice. One might ponder over the possibility that the textual figures of the Goddess as Transcendental Consciousness and Hemalekha the wise queen are clandestinely linked with those wise women – like Lopamudra – who are stationed in the fissures of the mainstream, androcentric histories of spirituality. Lopamudra’s name is recorded within the Shri Vidya tradition. However, it is possible that there are other unrecorded names as well, behind the texts dealing with the Goddess. Who will negotiate with those spectral women hidden by His-Story? And how? In a later chapter I will discuss in detail the Shakta Devi Gitas. However, here, it would be pertinent to focus on the differences between the Vidya Gita (which is a Devi Gita par excellence) and the Devi Gitas included in the Kurma, Devibhagavata and Mahabhagavata puranas. In the Kurma Puranam, after Parvati is born to Mena and Himalaya, Himalaya is astounded to see the divine form of the daughter and then asks her to reveal her true identity to him (KuP, PB 12.43–46). The same narrative context is found in the Devi Gita of the Mahabhagavata Upapurana. There too, after the birth of Parvati, Himalaya asks her to reveal to him her true identity and to instruct him in the spiritual sciences (MBUP 15.10–57). On the other hand, in the Devibhagavata, the Devi Gita is pronounced before the birth of Parvati. Oppressed by the demon Taraka, the gods pray to the Goddess and she manifests herself before them in the form of an immense mass of light which does not have either a masculine or a feminine form. However, soon after, it turns into a female form, the form of Goddess Bhuvaneshvari (DG1.1–42). She then tells the gods, “My potency who is Gauri will be born to Himalaya” (DG1.63). On hearing this, Himalaya is gladdened immensely, as the World Mother will be born to him. He then asks the Goddess to reveal the greatest spiritual secrets to him. The Goddess enlightens the gods and Himalaya on the secrets of her majestic power and teaches them the spiritual sciences (DG1.66–74, 2.1–25).



What needs to be noticed here is that the narrative context of the “speech event” (Lieb 1980, 125–126) in these Devi Gitas problematizes the ontology of the source of the female speech that embodies spiritual authority and unsurpassable power. Who is speaking here – the goddess, or her human avatar, Parvati? Of course, in the case of the Devibhagavata, it is clearly the Devi in her divine glory who is speaking. She has still not assumed her human form, even though the very context of her speech emanates from her promise to be born as Parvati, her human avatar (Brown 1990, 185). Himalaya is her devotee and is happy that he has received the Devi’s grace. Devi here speaks as a female divinity who is just about to descend to the human world. On the other hand, in the other two Devi Gitas of the Kurma and the Mahabhagavata, Devi has already been born as Parvati, the human avatar, to Himalaya and Mena. Then, in the contexts of these two Devi Gitas, can we identify the female voice, from which the authoritative spiritual instruction emanates, as the voice of a woman (or rather a female child) rather than that of a goddess? However, it is very clear from the speech contexts of these two texts that there the source of the female speech is not a common woman or girl child. Parvati’s form is divine in the Kurma Puranam, and she appears to be a goddess in her full glory rather than a female infant. The same situation is noticeable in the Mahabhagavata too. In both cases, she is presented as an eight-­ handed, three-eyed goddess, embellished with a crescent moon (KuP, PB, 12.43–45; MBUP15.9–10). In the Mahabhagavata, it is only after explaining the diverse kinds of yoga to Himalaya that Parvati begins to suck the breast of Mena, as a human infant (MBUP19.2). Then, who is the subject of the utterances that constitute the Devi Gitas of the Kurma and the Mahabhagavata? I would like to insist that it is neither Devi-as-­ goddess nor Devi-as-human – it is the Devi in the phase mediating between her divine and human manifestations, as well as encompassing both of them. She seems to be half-human, half-divine or, maybe, human and divine simultaneously  – the goddess in the female child and the female child in the goddess. The Devi Gitas, thus, operate within a twilight phase between the goddess and the woman. Their appeal lies in this intermediary nature of the ontology of the female subjects of the utterances. As far as the goddess-centred Indic texts are concerned, we often feel that we are being forced to move between disembodied voices and embodiedness, between goddess-as-goddess and goddess-as-woman. In the Devibhagavata, it is stated that when Vishnu as a small child was lying on a leaf, the divine voice of Devi revealed to him the essence of the



Devibhagavata Purana itself which is but the message of her divine omnipresence (DB 1.15.1–67). In the same purana, there is a narrative where Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are brought by Devi to her divine abode and the three gods are transformed into female entities. Here we come across a unique context of the authoritative speech of the Devi enlightening the three (feminized) gods on her own true nature as well as the secrets of the Creation and other spiritual issues. The Goddess gives three Shaktis to the three gods, with whose succour they would be able to perform their cosmic functions. The gods come to understand that the Goddess can create unlimited Trinities out of her will and playfully produce endless universes (DB 3.2–6; Brown 1990, 206–212). It is significant that the three main gods of puranic Hinduism are presented here as capable of receiving Devi’s divine teaching only when they are transformed into female entities (Brown 1990, 208–209). A deconstructivist reader of the text may be tempted to insist that, here, the Goddess’s speech is contextualized within an implicit framework of goddess-woman homologization. If the male gods are less capable of being enlightened by Devi as male entities than as female ones, then, can we ramify this topos and argue that the human male, too, is less capable of receiving Devi’s enlightenment than his female counterpart? Can we extend the logic put forward covertly by the text and say that, here, this puranic text indirectly acknowledges the connection between wisdom and femaleness, thereby deconstructing, or rather putting under erasure, its own otherwise sexist ideological frame that Brown underlines? In other words, can we say that this is a fertile moment of ideological self-contradiction in the text? As Brown himself suggests, after this episode, the male Trinity are “humbled and enlightened” (Brown 1990, 210). The authoritative nature of the female speech is so important that its recipient, its audience, is also forced to assume femaleness. Authority, speech and femininity are intertwined in a magical way in this puranic episode where Devi is sometimes presented as disembodied, sometimes as embodied, but always figured in feminine terms (DB 3.2.1–30; 3.3.35–67). Here we need to recall that, in the Devi Gita of the Devibhagavata, the mass of light which first appears before the gods and Himalaya lacks a gender-specific form. However, it is only when it has assumed a female form that the instruction of the Devi Gita begins. The authoritative speech bringing about spiritual enlightenment within the Shakta context, thus, more often than not, emanates from a female source.



The authority of the Goddess as the Ultimate Controller of the universe is presented through her authoritative speeches in the Mahabhagavata, where it is her words which, from time to time, enlighten the gods about the cosmic scheme of things whose agency lies in her hands. She tells them how to proceed in their cosmic responsibilities (MBUP 3.27–35). She explains to them those things which are otherwise not intellectually graspable for them (MBUP 3.68–80; 11.34–42). In the Brihaddharma Purana, a similar kind of function of the Devi is evident. The Goddess does not just instruct the listeners in spiritual matters through her authoritative speech; she also enlightens her listeners on what is going to happen in the future. Her speech does not simply teach the listener how to transcend time. It also teaches them how to set foot on the temporal axis of mundane existence. For, she is immanent to time as well as time-transcending. In this text, when Brahma decides to worship the Devi to ask her for the boon of Rama’s victory over Ravana, he prays to the Devi to awaken her shakti, as it is the time for the rest of the deities. She manifests before the gods and asks them to perform the bodhana, the awakening rituals, under a bel tree. The gods, accompanied by Brahma, come to the earth and find a beautiful little girl sleeping on the branch of a bel tree in a very remote place. Brahma comes to understand that it is none other than the Great Goddess. He prays to the Devi and awakens her. Pleased with the prayer, Devi reveals the ways in which she will help Rama during his war against Ravana. She also foretells the resultant victory of Rama over Ravana (BDP, PK21.47–68; 22.1–40). Once again, it is the goddess’s authoritative speech which reassures the gods. Rama finally wins over Ravana (BDP, PK22.48–52). Interestingly, in this episode, the Devi manifests herself in the form of a little girl, in a human body. The goddess-woman inter-animation which is so peculiarly characteristic of the late Shakta puranic and tantric texts makes porous the borderline between the speaking goddess and the speaking woman/girl. In the same text, after Sati’s corpse is dismembered, Devi appears before Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and instructs them on their cosmic duties. She tells them that they should never disrespect women, as women are the living embodiments of Devi. She adds that anybody dishonouring or troubling women would be disliked by the divinities, as she is present in all women (BDP, MK11.31–102). This authoritative speech of the Devi, in a conspicuous way, establishes the close connection between the Goddess and women. Here, Devi speaks for women, and not men, and thus, the



authoritative female speech of Devi is targeted towards the facilitation of female existence in a presumably androcratic world. In tantric cultures, the organic connection between women and the Goddess is often dramatically and powerfully underscored. As Miranda Shaw (1995, 6) has observed, female gurus enjoy an elevated position in Indian tantric cultures. Besides, in certain texts and contexts, “male Tantrics are required to respect, venerate, and ritually worship women” (Shaw 1995, 6). It has also been assumed that “Tantra (both Hindu and Buddhist) originated among the priestesses and shamanesses of matrilineal tribal and rural societies” (Shaw 1995, 6). Shaw (1995, 19) vociferously argues that Indic tantric cultures show traces of not only enlightened women but also enlightening women who, though historically under-­ acknowledged, seem to be silhouetted behind the mystic female figures in tantric texts and iconography. Loriliai Biernacki (2007, 6), developing as well as complexifying Shaw’s approach, focuses on certain tantric texts produced in the Kamakhya region and underlines the alternative discourses on women formulated by these texts. She (2007, 6) points out that these texts offer certain “alternative images” of women which “afford an intriguing recognition of women as subjects”. Biernacki (2007, 8) says: Certainly, it may help us to know that a woman, Prathamesvari, ruled in an area of this region in the early eighteenth century and may have supported some of the writers and readers of the texts consulted here with her patronage of goddess-centered Tantra.

Biernacki (2007, 8) acknowledges that these texts do not offer any simple history of empowered women. Rather, we find only the “contours of the shadows left by women” which are “not the voices of women speaking, but, on the other hand, neither simple fabrication”. Precisely, Biernacki (2007, 8) insists that, in discourses about females in the medieval tantras of northeast India that she has studied, “we see traces reflected in an image, a representation of woman configured through a lens”. However, these indirectly available traces of empowered women, hidden behind the goddess-centric discourses of the tantric texts, help us in connecting the figure of the Goddess speaking with authority with women who did probably speak with authority although their authoritative speeches have not been accommodated in the mainstream history of Indic religions. We have only traces before us, and hence we can only make



speculations about the possible presence of flesh-and-blood women behind the textual presence of empowered female beings highlighted by Shaw. However, textualized female speech may operate as a portal between, on the one hand, the flesh-and-blood women today, in India and in the world at large, and, on the other hand, the possible or impossible presence of “real” women’s voices in the crevices of history. The textualized authoritative female speech may facilitate the dialogue between the uncertainty of the past and the certainty of the present, thereby providing significant resources for a feminist remapping of the future. The text may or may not encapsulate a reality hidden from our historic gaze, but its philosophical, political and cultural appropriation in the here and the now does have the potential for orchestrating an alternative reality. Hence, the textualized instance of authoritative female speech, even without any certified link to empowered women in “recorded” history, is not useless, when it is seen through the lens of “Cultural Materialism” (Brannigan 1998, 9–13). As Brannigan (1998, 96–97) illustrates, Cultural Materialism tries to articulate what Andrew Milner calls “an emancipatory politics”, by challenging the “traditional” and “conservative” readings of existing texts. It is interesting to see whether and how a new, liberatory feminist politics may be initiated through an unconventional reading of the authoritative female speech in a “traditional” Indic text. Nevertheless, we need to underscore the fact that authoritative female speech in Hindu texts and traditions is not exclusively confined to the tantric cultures. As Andre Padoux (1990, x) has observed, certain core speculations about the Word/Speech (Vac) have appeared continuously throughout the long history of the evolution of Hindu thought. Vac was, as Padoux (1990, x) observes, “conceived from the very beginnings as a creative power, the “mother of the gods””. Padoux (1990, x) goes on to argue: Those ancient notions, while subjected to transformations, have never been obliterated: change in continuity, as is well known, is a characteristic feature of India, whose culture has always succeeded in remaining unmovable in its essence, while following a constant process of evolution and adjustment. The ancient notions about vac were restated and developed in tantric Hinduism.



Hence, while we dwell on the emergence of authoritative female speech – intermittently – in Hindu texts and traditions, we need to search for such voices both outside and inside tantric cultures. As Padoux (1990, xiii) points out, Vac is “the embodied, divinized Word: the Goddess who is Word”. Here, we find a direct connection between goddess cultures and a theology of speech and speaking, so to speak, a connection that is conspicuous in tantric cultures, but is not absent from Vedic cultures, either. Padoux (1990, xiii) says that Vac is “both what is said, uttered, and that which says or utters – One who is said and is saying”. If this is the case, then we can say that, both inside and outside Tantra, Vac has been closely associated with femininity in terms of not only the hypostatization of the Word but also the covert indication of the female agency involved in the act of utterance in general. If speech is feminine, then speaking is not a wholly masculine act and hence it keeps its contours open to the incoming or emergence of the feminine. Besides, when speech is gendered feminine, it makes any exclusion or denigration of females’ speech inconceivably absurd and nonsensical. Is this then the secret behind the female presence of Uma in the Kena Upanishad that makes Mandakranta Bose wonder? If we are to follow the generic categorization of the agama and nigama texts of tantra by many scholars (both Indian and Western), we will find that, in a nigama text of Tantra, it is Devi who enlightens Shiva on the spiritual secrets (Winternitz 1996, 565; McDaniel 2004, 123; Banerji 1977, 2; Chakrabarty 1962, 220–221). She tells him about her own glory. In a way, she is, simultaneously, what is said and the sayer, “One who is said and is saying”. Drawing on Shaw’s and Biernacki’s formulations, and extending them, can we say that the nigama texts indirectly show the traces of empowered women speakers and that, probably, in the “mainstream” cultures too – and not just in tantric cultures – there were fleshly female speakers whose verbal skills came to be revered as divine, as Vac? Again, moving from historiographical speculations to the political actuality of the contemporary gender scenario, we can possibly argue that the womansplainer today can assume the feminine authority involved in any speech act – the feminine authority of Vac which makes speech possible. The womansplainer of today might claim to authorize a discourse where the female speaker is not symbologically dissociated from the (divine) femininity of speech (vac) itself but rather celebratorily lays claim to it. In Kashmir Shaivism, the highest form of vac or speech, Para Vac, is held in high regard. She is the Great Goddess, identical with the Absolute (Padoux 1990, 172–174). Interestingly, this Para Vac is not confined to



the anthropocratic domain of language but rather pervades the entire spectrum of living beings and non-living elements (Padoux 1990, 174). As we have already seen, Padoux has acutely observed that speech, authority and femininity are interconnected even in the so called mainstream culture of Hinduism. Instances of their interconnectivity are present – as we have seen  – in the Vedic and Upanishadic texts. In this context, it might be interesting to look at an event where two mutually conflicting exegetical paradigms in Vedic Hinduism get involved in dialectical friction, and the paradigm which emerges as victorious in this intellectual battle is declared to be so by a woman who is seen as an avatar of Sarasvati (Mukhopadhyay 2019, 87–97). However, here we do not have a simple goddess-woman equation which one could absorb into the fold of a feminist discourse unproblematically, but rather a narrative where authoritative female speech (and speaker) and goddess culture are held in a peculiar mode of tension. According to the Sankara-Dig-Vijaya, the hagiography of Shankaracharya composed by Madhava Vidyaranya, in the famous debate between Shankaracharya the Advaita Vedantist and Mandana Mishra the Mimamsaka on the right interpretation of the scriptures, Mandana’s wife, Ubhaya Bharati, officiated as the judge. At the end of this debate, with astonishing fairness, she declares Shankara to be the winner (SDV 8.131–136). However, she later tells Shankara that he should engage in a debate with her as well. Shankaracharya hesitates to engage in a “wordy controversy” with her, as she is a woman. She then says that a debater should not be concerned with the gender of his opponent and substantiates her point by referring to the examples of women debaters from the ancient texts. Finally, Shankara is convinced to engage in a debate with her. Ubhaya Bharati, understanding that the young ascetic, Shankara, is invincible in almost all domains of knowledge, asks him questions related to erotic knowledge. As Shankara has no experience of erotic affairs, he begs Ubhaya Bharati for a month’s time. Once she grants this request, he enters, through occult skills, into the corpse of a king named Amaruka and gathers erotic knowledge through his amorous dealings with the women in the royal palace. Then, when he returns finally to Mandana’s house, Ubhaya Bharati accepts that she has been defeated by Shankara in the debate and says that she will now leave the earth to return to her “heavenly abode” (SDV 9.44–109,10.1–76). Within the hagiographic framework of the text of Sankara-Dig-Vijaya, Ubhaya Bharati is consistently represented as an avatar of Goddess Sarasvati (SDV, 3.9–16; 8.131–136;



10.61–72). When she becomes ready to end her avataric function, Shankara tells her: I know that you are Saraswati, the consort of Brahma and the sister of Siva. It is you, who are of the nature of pure consciousness, that has become Lakshmi for the protection of worlds. I shall, in future, be instituting temples of worship for you in Risyasringa (Sringeri) and other places. I beseech you, Devi Saraswati, to manifest yourself in all those temples, receiving the adoration of devotees and bestowing boons on them. (SDV 10.61–72)

Ubhaya Bharati then disappears and becomes merged in the Brahmaloka (SDV 10.61–76). This narrative poses some unresolvable problems regarding the goddess-­woman connection within the context of authoritative female speech. It is very clear that Ubhaya Bharati enjoys a position of intellectual power, due to which she is deemed eligible to operate as the adjudicator in the debate between Mandana and Shankara. She boldly challenges Shankara in a debate and teaches him the necessity to know the erotic arts. However, finally, she simply disappears. Of course, if we see her as an avatar of Sarasvati, then her function is perfectly explicable in terms of her pre-destined role as the furtherer of Shankara’s intellectual and spiritual mission (SDV 10.61–72). However, it is not possible to say with certainty what really happened to Bharati the (flesh-and-blood) woman when she came to understand that, having been defeated by Shankara in the debate, her husband would now become an ascetic and follow Shankara as his disciple – the lot of the loser in the debate that was decided before the debate (SDV 8.131–136; 10.73–76). Is it the case that the text of Vidyaranya cannot allow Bharati to continue as a flesh-and-blood woman, as the matha of the Advaitin sannyasis would not accommodate a woman like her? Does she pose an aporetic trouble to the framework of Shankara’s spiritual mission which respects her but cannot accommodate her as a fleshly female presence in the male ascetics’ congregations? Then, is Shankara’s offer to set up temples in her honour actually a compensation for her exclusion (as a flesh-and-blood woman) from the later course of Shankara’s spiritual mission in which Mandana, after becoming an ascetic, could participate? Can we say that the reality is that, here, the woman is deified, made into a goddess, by the text, because it is only as a fleshless goddess and not as an embodied woman that she could be accommodated within the spiritual setups of Advaita Vedanta?



In his article, “Who Is a Hindu? The Importance of Ubhaya Bharati”, Devdutt Pattanaik (2018) reads in this narrative a tension between the Vedic and tantric (occult) ways of thinking. He (2018) concludes, “We are made to realize that Shankaracharya was an expert, both in the occult and the metaphysical aspects of Hinduism, making him the winner.” As I have noted elsewhere, “Pattanaik implies that, even though there are tensions between the Vedic and tantric ways of thinking, they, together, give rise to the “Hindu” ways of thinking. Shankaracharya, Pattanaik indicates, could integrate these two ways, at Ubhaya Bharati’s insistence” (Mukhopadhyay 2019, 90). Can we, however, associate Ubhaya Bharati with the tantric culture? In the narrative, the tantric/yogic/occult skills are shown by Shankara, and not by Ubhaya Bharati. Bharati’s main function as the judge in the debate on Vedic exegesis rather indicates her association with the Vedic culture and not obscure, occult practices. In short, she appears to be part of the “mainstream”, not the “alternative”. She is, however, finally defeated by Shankara, and hence it is impossible to find out any feminist message from this narrative. Nevertheless, Shankara claims to be her great devotee (SDV 8.131–136), and it is stated that she would be installed as the presiding deity in the temples established by Shankara. The presence of Devi in the mathas associated with Shankaracharya is of paramount theological importance. While these monasteries are inhabited exclusively by male ascetics, the deities installed there include goddesses as well as gods. Pattanaik (2018) says that while Shankaracharya has, in various ways, paid tribute to the feminine principle, “his followers chose to reject the feminine completely”. In a way, this statement is wrong, because, in all the mathas of Shankaracharya, the feminine deity is present. Ubhaya Bharati, if we go by the statement made in the Sankara-Dig-Vijaya, continues to be present in all the monastic setups and temples established by Shankara. Vanishing from history, this uniquely intelligent and erudite female voice becomes deified in Shankaracharya’s mathas. However, as Pattanaik (2018) rightly points out, “It is time for us to take notice of Ubhaya Bharati who taught Shankaracharya that wisdom cannot exist without including the household, the body and the woman.” In the popular Hinduism of contemporary India, Devi is mainly seen as a doer, not a speaker. She is the one who punishes the wrongdoer, kills the demons, rescues people from unrighteousness. However, simultaneously, there is the clandestine continuation of the theological and cultural tradition where Devi is predominantly the conveyer of wisdom, one who speaks authoritatively and offers spiritual counsel. As Brown (1990, 199)



observes, whereas in the Markandeya Purana, Devi’s heroic deeds are chronicled and celebrated, the Devibhagavata Devi Gita would focus on “the role of the Goddess as supreme spiritual teacher”. Brown (2002, 6) insists that, “in the centuries following the Devi Mahatmya”, the Shakta Gitas “developed the role of the Goddess beyond that of a mere demon slayer into a teacher of metaphysical and spiritual truths”. Similarly, Pechilis (2004, 11, 24) observes that the Devibhagavata Devi Gita presents the Goddess as the “supreme guru”, thereby reconfiguring Devi as “a universal teacher”. The female gurus of modern India like Sarada Ma (wife of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa) and Anandamayi Ma are seen as embodiments of Devi. They are credited with several miracles, which would place them on the axis of Devi-as-doer, but their main divine significance lies in their spiritual wisdom, in the life-transforming counsel coming from them, which would place them on the axis of Devi-as-authoritative-speaker. These goddess-women are the most evident markers of the tradition of the authoritative female speeches in Hinduism. While mainstream Hinduism may often appear to try to espouse the aggressivity of mansplaining, Hindu men, from time to time, do accept the agency and authority of goddesses and goddess-women. However, while they would most readily accept the authority of the Goddess in terms of her deeds, seldom would the men be interested in hearing the wise counsel coming from a female source – especially – acknowledging its source as female. In the case of the goddess-women, nevertheless, the prevalent gender ideology is transformed  – to varying degrees, as the woman considered to be the incarnation of the Goddess assumes the role of not just Devi’s avatar but also the female guru. Devi as a female guru – the figure that we have found in Hindu texts through millennia – is not so widely acknowledged by Hindu men in the mainstream performances of Hinduism as Devi the demon-slayer, but when they face the goddess-­ woman and accept her as such, Devi as the female guru comes to reveal herself to them. Then, the Goddess becomes a source of authoritative speech and not just the agent of some miraculous deed. It would be apt to end this chapter by referring to The Tantra Chronicles, the “original teachings from Devi, Shiva, Jesus, Mary, Moon”, received and collated by Ruth Frankenberg and Lata Mani. Here, Devi Amma unequivocally declares that she is assuming a revelatory function, re-­ introducing tantra to her human children for the sake of their enlightenment, for existentially reorienting them to a planetary ecological ethics grounded in the non-hierarchical principle of “isness” (Frankenberg and



Mani 2013, 1–2, 12–13). Devi here speaks in an authoritative, though loving, voice and proclaims that she is the Creator of the cosmos, of everything and everyone, including Shiva (her consort), Jesus, Mary and Moon, the other four speakers featuring in The Tantra Chronicles. As the cosmic creatrix, Devi is of course placed above all the other speakers here. Hence, in her speech is located the absolute and ultimate authority of teaching and speaking. As she points out, she has endowed her children with creative energies, even though she remains the ultimate Creator, while the others are only creaters (Frankenberg and Mani 2013, 4–6). Devi Amma here presents an eco-conscious, evidently feminist, teaching which crystallizes, extends and expands the tradition of authoritative female speeches in Hinduism. She has multiple empowered female speakers behind her  – women as well as goddesses – and her voice encapsulates the echoes of all their voices. Mani and Frankenberg, female collaborators and friends from two different cultures, participate in this tradition of authoritative female speech. They, as women, transmit the authoritative speech of Devi Amma, the Mother Goddess. Women and the Goddess, once again, come within the same circle, this time with a positive, empowering implication. Unlike Ubhaya Bharati and like Ambhrini, they become empowered female mediums for the Goddess’s authoritative speech. They are not women going silent to give rise to the Goddess’s speech, but rather the potent vehicles for carrying forward the flow of the authoritative female speech of Devi. In this case, the woman is not excluded to usher in the Goddess; rather, the Goddess descends into the woman to energize a feminine discourse of enlightened living which is then transmitted to the other humans – men as well as women. In this chapter, we have looked at the complex network of authoritative female speeches in the Indic goddess traditions. They form a web in which the spiritual aspirants, operating within the goddess traditions, often find themselves implicated. Even though these female speeches are not always evidently mutually connected, there are certain hidden connections between their spiritual and cultural contexts and symbolic significations within Indian goddess traditions. Whereas the Vedic or Upanishadic texts foregrounding authoritative female speech can be seen as giving rise, in Indic cultures, to an interest in the connection between speech and femininity, tantric cultures may be seen as engaged in extending that connection to a greater level, involving heterochromatic female figures and voices in their specific modes of textualization. On the other hand, the puranic tradition grounded in or inflected by Shaktism extends the figure of the



goddess as instructress, found in a seed form in the Kena Upanishad and developed in the Shakta Upanishads, to the genre of the Devi Gitas. The Tripura Rahasya, marked by an astounding generic hybridity as well as a powerful synthesis of Advaita Vedanta and Shaktism, also contains a Devi Gita (the Vidya Gita) that presents Devi-as-speaker in her disembodied, transcendent form. However, we have seen that we cannot establish any easy correlation between authoritative female speech, goddess traditions and women’s empowerment  – Ubhaya Bharati, in the Sankara-Dig-­ Vijaya, presents an aporia in this context. Said to be an avatar of Sarasvati, she is poised between speech and silence, inscription in history and erasure from history. However, the authoritative female speech of Devi, in the contemporary context of Indian feminism, continues to inspire “womansplaining”, not with an imperious authority but with loving wisdom, as is evident from The Tantra Chronicles. We can only speculate on the place of women’s voices in a past that seems to have been colonized by androcentrism, patriarchy and misogyny. However, the future is always open before us: it is something that can be created by those who inhabit the present. The authoritative female speeches in the Indian goddess cultures can become useful resources for creating the myths of the future: the myths of “womansplaining”, not just as counteractive to “mansplaining” but creative in a deeper sense, extending the contours of the possibility of speech and unlocking the apparent closures of the past. If men are to be sensitized to the ethics of listening (Parks 2019, xiv–xv) to female voices, they have to be taught to listen to the female voices of the past and recognize their value. Men need to learn to see the Goddess as a “feminine alterity” (Weller 2006, 138), rather than as an abstraction spiralling out of masculinist discourses.

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Divine and Divine-Human Speeches of the Devi: The Speech Contexts and the Dynamics of Authority in the Devi Gitas

While analysing the speech contexts of the Devi Gitas, we need to pay attention to the problematic ontological status of the utterer of the Gitas. As we have already seen in the previous chapter, in some of the Devi Gitas, the source of the authoritative speech/counsel is a being who is both goddess and woman. If we go by the feminine figuration of Speech as Goddess Vac, then we can see the speech as well as the speaker in the Devi Gitas in feminine terms. In fact, Gita itself is a term that is gendered feminine in Sanskrit. However, in this context, we have to focus on the female articulator of the Gita, the female speaker. Vac may be personified in feminine terms, but when that Vac is pronounced by a female subject, we need to pay attention to the gender context of that “speech event” (Lieb 1980, 125–126). As Sibajiban Bhattacharyya (1994, 72) notes, “grammarians like Bhartrhari do not accept the theory that speaking is ontologically identical with what is being spoken. A spoken word or a sentence, according to this theory, is a type of reality different from speaking”. Bhartrihari would place the instance of the utterance – the utterance of the Gita by Devi in this instance – under the rubric of the vaikrita-dhvani: “It is the actual sounds spoken by the speaker and heard by the listener” (Bhattacharyya 1994, 75). If we see, following Bhartrihari, the actual act of utterance as inferior to the sphota, the semantic unit embedded in the mind of the © The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




listener as well as that of the speaker (Bhattacharyya 1994, 74–75), then the speech context would become irrelevant. However, in the case of the Devi’s speech, what is interesting is that what she says is also what she is. She is the speech, the content of the speech and the speaker at once, if we go by the metaphysics of speech explored by Padoux (1990, xiii) in both Vedic and tantric cultures. More often than not, as in the cases of Uma’s self-disclosing speeches in the Siva-purana or the Devibhagavata or Devi’s ethereal speech to the gods and sages in the Vidya Gita of the Tripura Rahasya, the utterer of the speech is also the ultimate source and object of the metaphysical knowledge that happens to be conveyed by that speech. Hence, Devi’s words are, as it were, not just words producing knowledge, but Knowledge/Wisdom transmitting itself through words. In certain instances, her speeches are categorically different from what we understand to be shabdapramana or verbal testimony. In other words, they are not knowledge-producing but knowledge-bearing. The immediate revelatory force of these words tears apart all webs of spiritual and metaphysical doubts. That is why even Shiva cannot clear the doubts of the rishis in the episode of the Vidya Gita, because, he understands, when the sages are troubled by profound spiritual doubts, it is only the direct force of the words of Devi coming from her ethereal, disembodied voice that can liberate them from the clutches of those doubts. The Shri Shri Chandi, or Devi-mahatmya from the Markandeya Purana, which is, in many ways, the central text for the Shaktas, presents Devi as the gifter of spiritual wisdom from time to time. In the first chapter, the sage Medhas tells King Suratha that Devi is both the deluder and liberator of the human consciousness. She it is who binds us to the lures of the phenomenal world (SSC 1.55–56), but she, if pleased with her devotee, offers the boon of spiritual liberation (SSC1.56–57). She is the divine Vidya (Wisdom) that is the root cause of our liberation from the cycle of becoming (SSC1.57). Again, in the fourth chapter of this text, the gods, while singing a hymn to Devi, enunciate that she is the Parama Vidya that is the cause of mukti (liberation) (SSC 4.9). In the same chapter, she is praised as Medha (Sarasvati in her function as the intellectual faculty that enables one to understand the meaning of the scriptures) (SSC 4.11). In the 11th chapter, while singing a hymn to her, the gods proclaim that she has the dual function of throwing people into the vortex of delusion and leading them on the path of spiritual enlightenment (SSC 11.31). Finally, in the last chapter, when Devi, pleased with the austerities performed by King Suratha and Samadhi the Merchant, appears before them, Samadhi asks her to bless him with the spiritual wisdom that liberates one



from the shackles of attachment to the worldly existence (SSC 13.13–18). Devi blesses him with this boon (SSC 13.24–25). Thus, we find that, even though the Goddess in this text is predominantly a doer of miracles, a slayer of disastrous demons, she is also a wisdom goddess, a spiritual enlightener. However, one cannot but admit that this text presents the knowledge-bearing function of Devi as apparently secondary to her function as the destroyer of evil forces and maintainer of the stability of the world. As Raj Balkaran (2015, 2–4) points out, this text actually privileges the function of the king over that of the ascetic, the worldly duties of a king over the ethos of other-worldliness. The function of the Goddess as the giver of spiritual wisdom, which is apparently under-represented in this text, has, however, been amplified by some Bengali exegetes who have read the Goddess in the Chandi as the supreme spiritual enlightener (Satyadeva 2010, 1–2; Das 2018, 41). The text itself carries a lot of hints that justify such readings. The Chandi seems to present the Goddess as both an embodiment of Vidya and a provider of Vidya, a hypostatization of wisdom and its active transmitter. In Shri Shri Chandi: Rahasyalila, Mukti Chaitanya Das (2018, 41) presents an interesting and complex homologization of the figures of the Mother and the guru and the text of the Chandi itself as a source of spiritual wisdom. He (2018, 41) says that it is thanks to the grace of the Divine Mother that the mystic spiritual wisdom has been conveyed by the text of the Chandi. He (2018, 41) equates the Goddess Chandi with the text of the Chandi and enunciates that we can try to illumine ourselves with the light of wisdom conveyed by the text of the Chandi, which is matri-gururupi, that is, which has the form of the guru as well as that of the mother, only when we are energized by the guru-matrika shakti (the power of the guru who is also a mother) of Mother Chandi that dispels ignorance. Precisely, for Mukti Chaitanya Das, the text of the Chandi itself is the embodiment of Devi-as-Vidya and a direct manifestation of the enlightening power of the Divine Mother. It is the text itself which, by virtue of embodying the Divine Mother as guru, can enlighten the spiritual aspirant. Here, the exegete depends on the text itself to interpret it, as the text is not the object of interpretation, but rather the subjective source of divine wisdom, the energy of the Guru and the Mother that is encapsulated in the Goddess. In this case, we have a peculiar treatment of the idea of the knowledge-bearing speech of the Goddess. The text of the Chandi itself is, as it were, the Goddess, and hence, its utterances directly enlighten the mind of the aspirant, thus making the Goddess a composite figure that is wisdom and conveyer of wisdom at once.



The Devi Gitas, however, do not simply operate within the fold of the metaphysics of speech by grounding themselves in the feminine personification of Speech as Goddess Vac – a configuration that seems to propel the figuration of the text of the Chandi as both mother and guru in Das’s exegesis. They, rather, underline the significance of the actual “speech acts” (Austin 2011, 148) and the actual speech contexts. In Indian spiritual traditions, the necessity for the sadguru (real guru) is typically emphasized, as s/he would not just be the transmitter of the knowledge but would rather function as the source of the knowledge, on a specific occasion of producing spiritual knowledge in the disciple. The words s/he conveys may have been uttered or written earlier, but they become spiritually meaningful and effective thanks to their emergence from the voice of the guru whose own spiritual energy endows the words with the enlivening energy without which those very words would not only lose their effectiveness but also, in way, lose their meaning. Hence, even though many of the assertions in the Devi Gita of the Devibhagavata are quotations or echoes from earlier texts (Brown 2002, 11–12), Devi becomes not just a repeater of those older ideas but rather the enlivener of those ideas – she, as the ultimate origin of the transcendental truth, breathes life into them. As Brown (1990, 181) observes, generically, “a Gita is the direct revelation of supreme truth from the deity to the disciple”. He (1990, 181) insists that such “revelation” is enacted through “personal instruction (upadesa) by the deity and the manifestation (darsana) of his/ her “cosmic form” or forms”. Brown (2002, 12) focuses on the “basic Hindu presupposition that truth is not so much something to be discovered as recovered” and opines that “the Goddess in her spiritual counsel is merely recovering and revealing truths that are somewhat obscured in other sources.” If that is the case, then should we believe, with Bhartrihari, that the actual “speech act” (Austin 2011, 148) – the event of her uttering the Gita – is less important than what is spoken, as what is spoken here is eternal and has already been spoken earlier by other speakers? The point is that, in the Indian culture, the Gitas are always – generically – grounded in the significance of their speakers. The sacrality and power of a Gita is dependent on its speaker, who is, though apparently a transmitter of already existing spiritual knowledge, actually a unique facilitator in the hearer’s discovery of the truth, as every Gita presents a unique context of spiritual anagnorisis where recovery and discovery become one: the perennial truth, revealed anew by Devi in the Devi Gitas, shines with a new glory, endowed with the revelatory



grandeur of the female deity. The speech context and the speaker’s identity are no less important than the content of the speech, in the case of each of the Devi Gitas discussed in this chapter. While discussing the Nyaya theory of verbal testimony, Bhattacharyya (1994, 94) points to an interesting issue: “The hearer cannot acquire second-­hand knowledge if the speaker does not have first-hand knowledge”. Bhattacharyya (1994, 94–95) goes on to say that the speaker having first-hand knowledge must convey that knowledge truthfully – otherwise, the knowledge emerging from her testimony would become false knowledge. Besides, just as the speaker should be “qualified” to speak of the spiritual secrets, the listener too must be “qualified” to hear the spiritual/ metaphysical secrets. Now, when we critically look at this framework of valid verbal testimony from the perspective of the speech contexts of the Devi Gitas, we come to notice a significant contextual difference between the provider of valid verbal testimony upheld by Bhattacharyya and the Devi as the speaker of spiritual truths. Devi would disclose the spiritual truths only to the qualified listeners, be they gods or Himalaya, and it is also true that she is the most qualified person to reveal these truths. However, she is not one who has acquired the first-hand knowledge about the things she speaks of, because, within the Shakta metaphysical frame that shapes the Devi Gitas, she is herself the knowledge that she conveys, rather than being the acquirer of that knowledge. Here, Devi is not just the transmitter of knowledge but the source of knowledge, and, in a certain way, what her listener gains from her is not second-hand knowledge but first-hand knowledge. Epistemologically, in the Devi Gitas, Devi is the source and not the medium. Truth, in Hindu spiritual culture, emerges as lived and experienced truth with the occurrence of an event of revelation – a speech event in which the qualified speaker reveals the truth to the qualified listener or opens up before the latter the path to the truth, by offering her the most effectual guidance to find out the truth within and through her own consciousness. That revelatory moment transforms the listener and truth becomes an agent of regeneration. Devi’s speech, thus, becomes not just a process of recovering the truth, but rather the impetus to the listener’s discovery of the truth, the truth which is embodied in the speaker as well as in the speech. As Arindam Chakrabarti (1994a, vii) points out, “Vedic sentences were alleged to be infallible and morally binding because they were believed, by classical Mimamsa to be uncaused and speakerless”. As Chakrabarti (1994a, vii–viii) goes on to explain, since the speaker’s error may make the



message/speech erroneous, the Vedic messages, being speakerless, were supposed to be absolutely free from errors. When we juxtapose this Vedic concept of the auto-legitimizing nature of the Divine Word, independent of the speakerly agency, against the puranic and tantric focus on the significance of the speakers of divine truths, we realize that, while the later traditions have assimilated the auto-legitimizing force of the Vedic statements into their theological discourses, they have also gone on to emphasize perfect speakers who cannot err. Devi in the Devi Gitas is such a perfect speaker transcending all possibilities of error. In this context – the context of post-Vedic spirituality in textual and performative Hinduism  – the speaker is as important as (and sometimes more important than) the speech. As J. N. Mohanty (1994, 30–31) notes, in the debates on the epistemological value of verbal testimony in Indian philosophy, the possibility of word-generated knowledge is dependent on certain conditions that the utterer of the words has to fulfil. The utterer has to be competent, trustworthy and “known to be competent”. The auditor has to trust the speaker, in order to make the word-generated knowledge possible (Mohanty 1994, 30–31). A large portion of the post-Vedic spiritual practices in Hinduism is dependent on the issue of mutual trust between the speaker and hearer of spiritual truths. The puranas and tantras keep focusing on the centrality of the guru in the process of the spiritual aspirant’s enlightenment. In popular Hinduism as a lived religious experience, trust in the guru is often seen as the crux of spiritual enlightenment, while the possibility of a misguided and misleading guru is also alluded to. The possibility of an erroneous guru is what troubles the common Hindu spiritual seeker. She knows that the spiritual knowledge would emerge from the words of a guru, and, in fact, she does not seek out speakerless words. The search is, at its heart, the search for the speaker of the spiritual truth. To set the seeker’s quest in the context I am developing here, I would promulgate that the seeker knows well how difficult it is to expose oneself to the inner light of the self-vindicating Vac, in her divine-feminine aspect, and hence requires the words coming from the guru, words dependent for their inner transformative energy on the authenticity of their speaker. This search for true words, which are endowed with the genuine spiritual energy capable of spiritualizing one’s mundane life, is one of the central aspects of Hindu spiritual quests. In the Devi Gitas, we find an encapsulation of such a trope of the quest. In the Kurma and Mahabhagavata Devi Gitas, the motif of wonder is extremely important. Himalaya and Mena are wonderstruck on witnessing the mystic grandeur,



the dazzling divinity of their daughter. Himalaya wants to know who she is. Her self-revelation is followed by her teaching the spiritual secrets to Himalaya (KuP, PB, 12.42–51, 12.243–308; MBUP 15.12–36, 15.58–72). Is it then the case that her self-revelation as the Great Goddess validates her status as the speaker of her self-legitimizing statements embodying spiritual knowledge? It is possible that her self-revelation as the Goddess proves, in a way, her competence, trustworthiness and non-­ erroneousness, validating her speech in its epistemological context. As I will show here below, for the Kurma and Mahabhagavata Devi Gitas, it is only after witnessing her true form as the Great Goddess that Himalaya comes to fully believe in her competence as the utterer of the Gita. When we juxtapose the context of the Vidya Gita against those of the Kurma and Mahabhagavata Devi Gitas, the issue I have just mentioned seems all the more relevant. In the case of the Vidya Gita, when the gods and sages meditate on the transcendental Goddess, she emerges as a disembodied, ethereal voice. No one asks her who she is. There is no necessity for an episode of her self-revelation, either through words or through divine apparitions (TR 20.1–20). Immediately after they hear the Voice, the gods and sages prostrate themselves in reverence and begin to praise the Goddess (TR 20.21–28). Then they ask her to disclose to them the spiritual secrets which will clear all their doubts (TR 20.21–28). On the other hand, in the Mahabhagavata Upapurana and the Kurma Purana, after the birth of Parvati, Himalaya wonders at the grandeur of the divine appearance of his daughter and asks her to reveal to him who she is. Apparently, he is over-awed by the majesty of the female form of the eight-­ handed Parvati, and that is why he asks her to reveal her identity (MBUP 15.9–15; KuP, PB, 12.42–47). However, thanks to her self-revelation as the Great Goddess (KuP, PB, 12.51–60; MBUP 15.16–36), he is able to immediately trust her as the supremely trustworthy, legitimate and competent speaker of spiritual truths. In the Vidya Gita, probably, due to the disembodied, ethereal nature of Devi Tripura’s presence, the gods and the sages take her readily as the Divine Feminine, without any further request put forward to her for her self-disclosure. We are not told how they recognize her authority. Perhaps, her disembodiedness, her ethereality, is the prime proof of her competence, legitimacy and reliability as the speaker of the divine truth. As Arindam Chakrabarti (1994b, 103) rightly points out, the epistemic validity of verbal testimony can be seen as dependent on the “words of the authority”: “Usually, only such utterances count as knowledge-generating



as are themselves actually caused by the speaker’s knowledge of the very same fact”. Chakrabarti (1994b, 103) refers to a feminine bodily experience – that of motherhood – while speaking of the value of verbal testimony: “If my mother tells me about the time and circumstances of my birth I tend to have justified beliefs, rather than if strangers tell me about it”. Verbal testimony, especially of an esoteric nature, would always be intrinsically connected with the authority of the speaker. However, in the case of a Devi Gita, the utterance is not conditioned by the speaker’s temporal/experiential knowledge of the fact which she relates to her listener. For instance, when Devi tells Himalaya or the gods or the sages how to spiritually discipline themselves in order to achieve ultimate spiritual wisdom, she is speaking from the perspective of omniscience rather than that of temporal/experiential knowledge. She is – whether embodied or disembodied  – the manifestation of transcendental perfection. Hence, she herself has not gone through those spiritual exercises which she prescribes to her listeners. Still, she emerges as the ultimate authority to speak of these exercises. In the thematic context of this book, however, the most important issue is the gender dimension of this authority. In the Devi Gitas, the authoritative words emanate from a female authority. What we find here is the authority of the specifically female speech, whether it comes from an embodied female being or a disembodied one. This authority is the authority of transcendental knowledge rather than experiential knowledge and hence more encompassing than the latter. It is different from the epistemic authority of the mother to declare the details of the birth of her child. As we have seen, unlike the Vedic words, which are supposed to be characterized by auto-emergence, a sort of onto-theological self-­ sufficiency, Devi’s words belong to her. They are not speeches without speakers, words without pronouncers. Hence, the subject of these utterances constituting the Gitas and their concomitant speech contexts need to be underlined in order to gauge the real force of these utterances. In the Vidya Gita, we find the (male) sages troubled by intense spiritual doubts, as each of them has a system of spiritual theory and practice which is not compatible with the spiritual paths adopted by the others (TR 20.1–20). They frankly tell Brahma, “Which is the best among us? Please tell us. We cannot decide ourselves, because each thinks that his way is the best” (TR 20.1–20). We must note the inadequacy of male knowledge delineated here. The problem is not grounded simply in over-subjective approaches to the world and the Divine, but rather embedded in the



tendency to build systems of thought which characterize the patriarchal philosophical, theological and spiritual traditions. The masculine understanding of the world, one might argue, is shrouded by intense egotism. However, it is, fundamentally, an interrogation of male ego by men themselves which we seem to come upon in this text. Interestingly, the male deity, Shiva, who is omniscient, cannot clear the doubts of the sages, either. The male Trinity of Hinduism, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, are incapable of clearing the doubts of the sages once and for all. Shiva realizes that his words, too, will be useless in the enterprise of enlightening the sages with spiritual immediacy. Hence, he says: “Hear me, Rishis! Neither do I clearly see which is the method. Let us meditate on the Goddess – Her Majesty Unconditioned Knowledge. We shall then be able to understand even the subtlest of truths by Her grace” (TR 20.1–20). And then: On hearing these words of Siva, all of them, including Siva, Vishnu and Brahma, meditated on Her Divine Majesty, the Transcendental Consciousness pervading the three states of life (waking, dream and sleep). Thus invoked, She manifested in Her glory as the Transcendental Voice in the expanse of pure consciousness. (TR 20.1–20)

Even though the Devi is not manifested in her female physical form here, it is doubtless her voice which they hear. Her female voice is much more authoritative than Shiva’s male voice; it can do what Shiva’s voice can’t. This text is framed within a peculiar narrative and symbolic structure involving a multilayered presentation of the inadequacy and inefficacy of male voices and male subjectivity. The sages cannot determine the real nature of the ultimate spiritual truth. The Trinity, on the other hand, can intuit this ultimate spiritual truth that is inseparable from the essence of the Great Goddess Herself, but they cannot authoritatively convey it to the confused sages. If the male sages’ intellect is inadequate for understanding the truth, the male gods’ speeches are inadequate and inefficacious in making the sages understand the truth. Interestingly, the moment the Goddess emerges as a disembodied voice, the sages and the gods immediately recognize her as the Absolute Entity (TR 20.21–28). It is very clear that she is not just recognized as an enlightener such as the Parmenidean goddess (Canters and Jantzen 2005, 13–14); rather, she is the light and the enlightener at once, the very essence as well as conveyer of the jnana, the spiritual knowledge that alone can clear all doubts and



illumine the soul. After bowing to her with utmost reverence, the sages and gods say: Kindly tell us of Thy relative form and Thy transcendental state, Thy prowess, and Thy identity with jnana. What is the proper and perfect means for attaining Thee, the nature and the result of such attainment? (TR 20.21–28)

Here, the Goddess is one with the transcendent jnana; she is the subject of the knowledge-producing speech and its spiritual import, the maker of the statement and the embodiment of its meaning. She is not just the pathway to jnana; rather, she is it. And that is why, unlike Shiva or the other gods, she stands for the co-extensiveness of wisdom, words of wisdom and the wise speaker. Devi then goes on to explain that she is the non-dual essence of the cosmos, its creatrix and destroyer, the unchangeable supreme consciousness which is one with all the celestial and terrestrial beings (TR 20.31–40). As she asserts, “Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Ishwara, Sadasiva, Ganesa, Skanda, the gods of the eight quarters, their energies, other gods, celestials, celestial serpents and other superhuman beings are all manifestations of Myself. However, people do not know Me because their intellect is shrouded in ignorance” (TR20.31–40). Here, Devi’s pronouncements can remind one of those in the Devi-Sukta (or Vak-Sukta/Ambhrini-Sukta), discussed in detail in the previous chapter. She says, “I grant boons to those who worship Me. There is no one besides Me worthy of worship or capable of fulfilling all desires” (TR 20.41). However, the Vidya Gita, even while setting forth an Advaitic (non-­ dualist) theology, also involves what Gayatri Spivak (2001, 123) calls the “dvaita structure of feeling” that is so central to tantric and devotional modes of Hinduism. The Goddess in the Vidya Gita states, “My concrete form is the eternal couple  – the Supreme Lord and Energy  – always in undivided union and abiding as the eternal consciousness” (TR 20.31–40). Here the ostensible dvaita, the couple of the Great Lord and the Great Shakti, manifests a composite oneness, maintaining the Advaitic thrust of Devi’s teaching while refusing to negate the devotional focus on the dvaita-centric attitude. Devi’s manifestation as the ultimate Truth is quite significant here. Whereas Spivak (2001, 134–135) argues that “[h]owever the great goddess is made to occupy the place of power, it is always as fiction, not as “truth””, the Goddess, in the context of the Vidya Gita, does occupy the place of power as “truth”, a “truth” that is capable of mastering the



“fiction”, the power of maya to project fictive realities. As Brown (2002, 8–9) observes in the context of the Devibhagavata Devi Gita, Devi in Shaktism has a complex relation with Maya: Maya is seen as “inseparable” as well as “distinct” from Devi; in Shaktism, the creative rather than negative role of Maya is emphasized. However, in the Vidya Gita, Devi is clearly distinct from Maya in that the latter is an instrument in her hand, her power. In other words, if Maya is inseparable from Devi, then it is so because she is ontologically dependent on Devi, not because she is the same entity as Devi. Devi says: Although I am not involved in any manner and am always free, I wield My power  – called Maya. I become covered with ignorance, appear full of desires, seek their fulfilment, grow restless, project favourable and unfavourable environments, am born and reborn as individuals, until growing wiser I seek a teacher and Sage, learn the truth from him, put it in practice, and finally become absolved. All this goes on in My pure, uncontaminated, ever-­ free absolute intelligence. This manifestation of the ignorant and the free, and of others, is called My creation which is however, without any accessories – My power is too vast to be described. (TR 20.46–49)

This clearly indicates that the Goddess is not just fiction here; she is, rather, the wielder of maya/fiction and hence is the truth that operates as the matrix for her fictive play of “creation”. The Goddess here offers her audience the “nectar drawn out as the essence from the unending accumulation of sacred literature” (TR 20.30). As she is the origin of all sacred words, and as all sacred words – in this theology (or rather thealogy) – are not auto-generated but emanate from the Goddess as the embodiment of absolute authority, it is only she who can draw out the nectar hidden in the vast discursive domain of sacred lore. She is the truth hidden in all discourses. The systems of thought produced by male intelligence are but fictions which can never compete with the pure truth flashing forth from her voice. The Goddess teaches the sages that the only way to total fearlessness and joy is the stable, unwavering concentration on the Self which is one with her (TR 20.50–56). This spiritual self-realization, grounded in the principle of the oneness of the human self and the Divine that is central to Advaita Vedanta, informs the crux of Devi’s teaching in the Vidya Gita. As she points out:



Jnana (Supreme Wisdom) is the state devoid of thoughts, will and desire, and is unimpeded by ignorance… Emancipation is eternal and, therefore, here and now; it is nothing to be acquired… The cycle of births and deaths endures with all the apparent reality of a mountain so long as this manifestation lasts. As soon as the manifestation is realized to consist of the Self alone without any admixture of non-self, the cycle of births and deaths comes to a standstill, and is broken down to fragments like clouds dispersed by strong winds. (TR 20.68–77)

However, though the Goddess focuses on the necessity to continuously meditate on the real nature of the Self, she does not negate the value of devotion. Rather, devotion is praised as a potent means to achieve the ultimate wisdom (TR 20.96–102). She proclaims that she, as “the Goddess of the Self”, “remove[s] the devotee’s dullness according to his worship, quickly, or gradually, or in the succeeding birth” (TR 20.96–99). In other words, the way to spiritual wisdom is to be mediated by devotion and the Goddess herself is the only authentic object of this devotion. The Goddess here pervades the totality of the process of spiritual enlightenment: she is the ultimate Light that is to be achieved; she it is who leads the spiritual aspirant on the path of self-realization; however, it is she who is the essence of the self; if the aspirant is shrouded in psycho-spiritual inertia on the way to the Truth, it is she who should be worshipped; and it is she, who, when worshipped, will remove the inertia, as she is the controller of maya. Finally, and most significantly, it is she herself who reveals this entire process of enlightenment to the sages through her authoritative, doubt-­ dispelling speech. She says: He who unreservedly surrenders himself to Me with devotion, is endowed with all the requisites necessary for Self-realisation. He who worships Me, easily overcomes all obstacles to Self-realisation. On the other hand, he who being stuck up does not take refuge in Me – the pure intelligence manipulating the person – is repeatedly upset by difficulties, so that his success is very doubtful. (TR 20.100–102)

The Goddess upholds the principle of action informed by spiritual wisdom, saying that “the best among the Sages are never out of samadhi, be they working or idle” (TR20.127). The most perfect sages, as the Goddess points out, are “identical with” her (TR 20.128–133). At the end of her speech, the Goddess makes a “performative utterance” (Austin 2011,



6–9): “You need no longer be perplexed with doubts” (TR20.134). This event of the reassuring utterance clears all the doubts of the sages, and, after the Goddess becomes silent, they return to their own places (TR20.135). It is asserted in the text that the Vidya Gita is the best of all Gitas, as “it has proceeded from Abstract Intelligence Herself” (TR20.135). The force of the performative utterance of Devi at the end of the Vidya Gita, destroying all spiritual doubts, is felt in the Tripura Rahasya when we are told that “After Parasurama heard this from Sri Dattatreya he felt as if released from the meshes of ignorance” (TR21.1). Dattatreya tells Parashurama: Listen! Rama, I am now telling you the secret of accomplishment. Of all the requisites for wisdom, Divine Grace is the most important. He who has entirely surrendered himself to the Goddess of his own Self is sure to gain wisdom readily. Rama! This is the best of all the methods. (TR21.2–8)

Interestingly, here the entire dynamics of spiritual enlightenment becomes grounded in the emphasis on devotion to Devi. The male intelligence comes to understand that its essence is feminine. The self that has to be realized is the Goddess. The outward projection of the heroic male intelligence, the hubris of the “phallic self” (Moi 2003, 8), has to acknowledge its limitations, its inadequacy. The sages must surrender themselves to the Goddess and so must the gods. It is only by taking refuge in the cosmic feminine principle, the Goddess as the source of all modes of spiritual authority, that one can become enlightened. The systems of thought, the structures of all masculinist doxas, must be drowned in the luminous omnipresence of the Self-as-Goddess. This Goddess is not like the Parmenidean one – she is not the masculine Self’s outward projection of the Other endowed with fictive femininity (Canters and Jantzen 2005, 13–14). Rather, she emerges as the feminine core of the masculine Self. She is the essence of the wonder that arises when the masculine self suddenly discovers a female voice at the centre of the male intelligence and surrenders its masculine hubris to the power and compassion of the divine feminine. The Goddess’s voice in the Vidya Gita presents the echoes of the Devi-Sukta and the voice of Uma in the Kena Upanishad, and encapsulates the multiple authoritative female voices resonating in the Shakta Upanishads, but expands and modifies their symbolic function to a great extent, by re-gendering the male Self as essentially feminine and locating the feminine within the male self rather than outside it.



From the Vidya Gita, we will now move on to the Devi Gita of the Kurma Puranam. In this purana, Kurma, the turtle avatar of Lord Vishnu, narrates to the sages the advent of the Great Goddess as the daughter of King Himalaya/Himavan (KuP, PB 12.2–40). Her nature, in this purana, oscillates between the supreme status of the fully autonomous Goddess as the feminine Absolute and her status as the female half of Lord Shiva. Hence, the theology sometimes presents Devi as ontologically dependent on Shiva and sometimes foregrounds her autonomously absolute status (KuP, PB 12.6–38). She is said to be the Shakti of Shiva, the Great God. And yet, she is also the essence of jnana, endless, beyond all phenomenal qualities, non-dual and formless, transcendent in spite of being present in all beings and things as their ontological essence. She does everything that we attribute to the Great God. The Great God is beyond causality and hence unrelated to the domain of causality: the phenomenal universe. It is the energies of Devi as maya that are responsible for the existence of the world of phenomena (KuP, PB 12.9–37). Evidently, this theological paradigm places Devi in a confusing, intermediary space between “fiction” and “truth” (to draw on the Spivakian expressions I have elucidated previously). However, here, Maya is not just fiction or fiction-generating energy. It is equated with the ultimate truth of the Absolute Energy. Even though Shiva is seen as the ontological terrain of Shakti, its support, he is said to be one with and inseparable from Shakti (KuP, PB 12.26–36). Hence, according to the theology developed here, Shiva and Shakti are not two poles of a duality but rather a duality always grounded in Oneness. In her actual essence, she is one without a second  – unchanging, indivisible, supremely transcendent. Her real essence, it is said, is nothing but Brahman, the Absolute Entity, the unqualified, transcendent source of ultimate goodness. She is the ultimate goal of self-realization (KuP, PB 12.33–42). This sort of statement obliquely underlines her equation with the Self in Advaita Vedanta. This purana, while describing Devi’s glory, continuously oscillates between a conception of Devi as ontologically grounded in Shiva and Devi as the independently supreme reality. However, when Parvati, as Shivatmika (the self of Shiva), is said to offer absolute freedom from the sorrows of the phenomenal world (KuP, PB 12.38–39), we understand that, here, she is one with Shiva and not just a secondary deity parasitically dependent on the theological primacy of Shiva. After the birth of Parvati, Mena, her mother, asks Himavan to take a close look at the beautiful, lotus-faced daughter who has been born to



them to bless their penances. Himavan notices that his daughter is not an ordinary mortal girl; her form reveals the divine grandeur of the Great Goddess. She has four faces and eight arms. She is embellished with the crescent moon. Even though, quintessentially, she is beyond all limitations and phenomenal relativity, she appears in an embodied form. On observing her supra-terrestrial grandeur, Himavan falls to her feet and, over-­ awed by her glory, requests her to reveal her true identity to him (KuP, PB 12.40–46). Devi then tells him that she is the Supreme Energy whose support is Shiva the Great Lord, Maheshvara. She says that she is the non-dual essence of everything, the self of every living being. She adds that she is the manifestation of the supreme God-knowledge and the deliverer of all beings from the ocean of samsara. She then provides Himavan with divine sight which enables him to see her dazzling divine form which she manifests before him. She appears before him as the supreme energy present inside and outside the cosmos, pervading everything in the universe. She is the wonder of wonders, the simultaneous manifestation of transcendent terror and enthralling beauty. Himavan sees Devi in her ethereal glory, worshipped by the gods and the yogis, her faces, eyes, hands and legs extended in all directions (KuP, PB 12.48–58). Himavan is simultaneously terrified and overjoyed on seeing the cosmic form of Devi and then begins to sing a hymn to her by uttering her 1008 names (KuP, PB 12.59–60). Then, he requests Devi to manifest before him her tender, beautiful form that does not terrorize the devotees but soothes their souls. Granting his request, the Goddess appears before him in her wondrously beautiful form, and Himavan forgets the terror generated by her cosmic form (KuP, PB 12.198–203). He then pronounces an elaborate praise of the Devi, enunciating her glory and her simultaneously immanent and transcendent status. He says that Devi pervades everything; she is the source of the eternal joy (ananda) of Shiva. She is the matrix of all forms of existence and manifests herself in the forms of Narayana and Rudra. He bows to her with utmost reverence and tells her that he is pervaded by her – she is the matrix of his very being. He takes shelter at her feet and joyously celebrates his good fortune to have Devi, the World Mother, as his daughter. He also celebrates the good fortune of Mena, who is blessed with the fortune of being  – paradoxically – the mother of the World Mother. Himavan can now boldly proclaim that he is more fortunate and blessed than all the gods and demons, as he is the father of the Great Goddess in the form of Parvati. He then



asks the Goddess to tell him what he ought to do (KuP, PB 12.204–241). In response, the Goddess begins to offer him the spiritual counsel that comprises the Gita. She asks him to surrender himself to her glorious form that she has manifested to him and asks him to proceed on the path of bhakti, in order to attain spiritual illumination. He must be devoted to her and keep in mind her transcendent glories. She assures him that she will deliver him from the ocean of samsara to reward his devotion (KuP, PB 12.243–249). However, as I have already observed, from time to time, the onto-­ theological centre of the Kurma Devi Gita oscillates between Devi and Shiva – we become confused as to whether we are being offered a theology or a thealogy here. Before beginning the spiritual discourse of the Gita, she remembers her husband, Shiva (KuP, PB 12.242), as if, it is Shiva and not Devi who is the source of the divine wisdom she is going to convey. Unlike the Vidya Gita where the reverse situation is presented, with Shiva meditating on the Goddess and acknowledging her as the most authentic source of the divine wisdom that can disperse the doubts of the sages, the Kurma Devi Gita presents the Goddess, apparently, as dependent on Shiva for the wisdom she is going to convey. However, it would be wrong to believe that this purana unproblematically foregrounds the theological centrality of Shiva. The confusion is persistent – Devi tells Himavan that he should always be devoted to her (KuP, PB 12.276), but then adds that he should always worship Shiva (KuP, PB 12.286). She emphatically states that those whose minds are centred on her become blessed with spiritual enlightenment (KuP, PB 12.280–284). She first relates her own glory and then describes the glory of Shiva (KuP, PB 12.276–297). It is unclear whether she is secondary to Shiva or rather equal to  – nay, inseparable from – him (Brown 1990, 183). Nevertheless, from a close reading of the text, we come to understand that here Devi is most probably speaking of her quintessential oneness with Shiva (a theory that informs various streams of the tantric culture) rather than her ontological dependence on him. In other words, the worship of Devi and that of Shiva are interchangeable: at a basic theological level, there is no difference between these two modes of worship. Still, from the rhetorical force of this Gita, it becomes apparent that Devi’s focus is more on worshipping her than on worshipping Shiva, even though they are inseparable. She repeatedly tells Himavan that no one can achieve moksha, spiritual liberation, without taking refuge in her (KuP, PB 12.245–250; 12.271–284).



Finally, Devi tells Himalaya that she had left her earlier father, Daksha, in order to punish the latter for his sin of denouncing Shiva. In order to maintain the order of Dharma and to give Himalaya the fruits of his Devi-­ worship, she has been born to him and Mena and has accepted him as her father. She then tells him that, as she is always, in every way, inseparable from Shiva, he should offer her to Shiva as his bride and that will earn Himalaya the blessing of Shiva and the respect of the gods (KuP, PB 12.299–302). Devi then gives him instructions in yoga so that he can achieve supreme self-realization. However, these instructions are apparently framed within the rhetoric of a Shiva-centric theology (KuP, PB 12.306–307). In the concluding section of the Gita, the narrator of this purana emphasizes the necessity to worship Devi along with Shiva (KuP, PB 12.318–319). Even though this entire episode is framed within the rhetorical structure of singing the glory of the Goddess, it creates an ostensible confusion regarding the onto-theological status of Devi: is she the fiction grounded in the truth called Shiva, or rather the truth and the fiction simultaneously? Though, apparently, Shiva is seen here as the transcendent reality, the reiterative equation of Devi with Brahman, the non-dual transcendent reality, as well as maya, the fiction-generating energy, makes it evident that Devi is no less the “truth” than Shiva is. Interestingly, the entire frame of the Kurma Devi Gita reverses the patriarchal imaginary. The bad father, Daksha, is punished and left by the human avatar of the Divine Mother, and she it is who chooses the next father, the devoted father, who would be adequately respectful to her (as well as to Shiva). The Rule of the Father collapses, as it is the Divine Mother as daughter who is endlessly superior to her father, Himalaya. The father does not instruct the daughter; rather, it is the daughter who instructs him. This peculiar reversal of the hierarchy of the father-daughter relationship is more clearly ramified in the Devi Gita or the Parvati Gita of the Mahabhagavata Upapurana which presents a Shakta-tantric paradigm of the absolute power of the Divine Mother, the indubitable theological centrality of the Goddess. In the Mahabhagavata, Sati is born to Daksha, but leaves the world to punish him for his sin of denouncing Shiva and disrespecting Sati. Then, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva pray to her, and she promises the aggrieved Shiva that she will re-incarnate herself as his wife. She is, finally, born to King Himalaya and Mena, being pleased with their spiritual penances and desirous to bless the penances of Shiva who has been engaged in intense meditation on the Goddess since the demise of Sati, in order to



get her again as his wife (MBUP15.1–7; Mukhopadhyay 2018, 31, 36, 123–125; Brown 1990, 185). On an auspicious day, she is born to Himalaya and Mena, in the form of a daughter with eight hands, three eyes and the crescent moon on her head. When, requested by Mena, Himalaya takes a close look at the daughter, he is surprised by her glorious form and asks her to reveal her true identity (MBUP15.8–15). However, this text states that, from the very beginning, Himalaya has the intuition that she is none other than the World Mother (MBUP15.10, 15.13; Brown 1990, 184–185). While revealing herself to Himalaya, Devi tells him that she is the Para Shakti, the Supreme Energy, whose shelter is Maheshvara or Shiva (Maheshvarakritashraya) [MBUP15.16]. However, interestingly, immediately after making this statement, she enunciates that she is the Mother of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshvara, thereby ostensibly undercutting her previous statement (MBUP15.17). Could we, then, interpret the compound, Maheshvarakritashraya, a bit differently  – as implying that she is the supreme Shakti and is the refuge made for Maheshvara? Himalaya expresses his desire to witness her divine forms, and she gives him the divine sight, so that he can get rid of all doubts. She then manifests her various divine forms before him, and Himalaya, on seeing these divine forms, sings a hymn to her, extolling her supreme glory and her omnipresent, immanent as well as transcendent, self (MBUP15.20–36). In this hymn, she is presented as the shelter of everything in the world (MBUP15.37), thereby forcing us, once again, to wonder whether we should indeed underpin the alternative implication of the epithet, Maheshvarakritashraya that has been delineated above. As in the Kurma Purana, here too, Himalaya expresses his joy over the fact that the transcendent Goddess has been born as his and Mena’s daughter (MBUP15.45–47). He then asks her to reveal to him the secrets of the spiritual sciences (MBUP15.56–57). She, with utmost authority, tells him that the best way to achieve spiritual enlightenment is to worship her and to become submerged in intense devotion to her. She enunciates that she is the ultimate reality – Sat, Chit and Ananda (Bliss) – and that all the gods are but portions of her divine manifestation. Then she goes on to sing the glory of the Atman, the Self. She says that self-realization, grounded in the understanding of the Self to be the transcendent Being, detached from bodily experiences and all forms of psychic turbulence, is synonymous with the ultimate enlightenment (MBUP15.58–72). Interestingly, here, the



onto-theology articulated through the focus on the Atman (Self) echoes the feminization of the Advaita Vedantic doctrine of the Self as the nondual reality that we have come across in the Vidya Gita. Whereas in the Kurma Devi Gita the way of self-realization is associated with Shiva’s divine grandeur, thereby apparently bringing the Self nearer to its figuration as Shiva than that as Devi, in the Mahabhagavata, we witness the overlapping of the Self as the transcendent reality and Devi as the ultimate “truth” (a la Spivak). The Goddess also tells Himalaya about the evil play of maya, without identifying herself with maya (MBUP16.22–25, 18.10–12). It appears from her various statements that she ontologically equates herself, the human self, and Brahman, the ultimate reality (MBUP15.60, 15.65–67, 16.5–7, 18.3–5, 18.11). Whereas, in Advaita Vedanta, the focus would be on the oneness of Brahman and Atman, in the Shakta philosophy with which we are concerned here, Devi emerges as the third term in this dynamics of self-­ realization, in the spiritual process of the emergence of the non-dual awareness. The basic point made by the Shakta philosophy here is that Devi is none other than what is designated as Brahman in the Upanishadic language, and hence, the oneness of the human self and Brahman can be easily translated into the oneness of Devi and the human self. In the Mahabhagavata Parvati Gita, Devi tells Himalaya in unequivocal terms that she is the transcendent non-dual reality and immanent in the cosmic scheme of things. She says that maya is only an instrument used by her; hence maya is subordinate to her (MBUP18.3–12). This clearly implies that she cannot be equated with the “fiction” of maya; rather, she is the “truth” that, just like the disembodied Goddess of the Vidya Gita, wields maya as an instrument of creating fiction. She assures Himalaya that her worshipper is capable of getting rid of maya (MBUP18.12). She says that she has divided herself into male and female forms – Shiva and Shakti – and this dual form is, according to her, the nature of Brahman (MBUP 18.13–15). Here, we have a unique idea of Brahman as the united form of Shiva and Shakti, oneness-in-dvaita, such as is evident in the Vidya Gita too. Devi tells Himalaya that she assumes the forms of the Trinity and also those of the avatars of Vishnu (MBUP18.16–18). She states that she pervades the entire universe and her sthula rupas (gross forms) manifested in the figures of the Mahavidyas should be worshipped first, so that the spiritual aspirant can gradually move from the sthula figurations of the Mahavidyas to her sukshma (subtle) form (MBUP18.19–31). Devi tells



Himalaya emphatically that he can attain moksha through intense devotion to her, serving her and pleasing her in every possible way (MBUP18.37–43). It is stated in this puranic text that, after receiving the wisdom from the Goddess’s mouth, King Himalaya became jivanmukta (liberated while living) (MBUP19.1). In other words, the speeches of Parvati here are performative utterances which do not merely teach him how to proceed on the path of yoga and spiritual wisdom, but rather directly bestow liberation on him through the “speech event” (Lieb 125), the act of enunciation, itself. It is said that those who study this Gita become easily released from the snares of the phenomenal world (MBUP19.8). Does it indicate the inexhaustible repeatability of the performative “speech act” (Austin 2011, 148) of the Devi, who is the locus of the ultimate (female) authority in Shaktism? After giving the spiritual instructions to Himalaya, the Goddess assumes the playful nature of a child and begins to suck the breast of her mother (MBUP19.2). Does Devi become an ordinary daughter now? Is it the case that the Goddess spoke with spiritual authority, but that authority is not available to the female child sucking the breast of her mother? As we have already seen in the previous chapter, here, it is not easy to isolate the child from the Goddess. As Madhu Khanna (2018, 173) observes, it is necessary to “uncover the absent legacy of the deified child goddesses  – the virginal maidens … designated as kanyas, balas, and kumaris – and their empowered myths that may serve as a rich cultural resource to formulate an indigenous paradigm to raise the lost and forgotten dignity of the girl child”. Can we say that the empowered speech of Parvati in the Kurma and Mahabhagavata Devi Gitas might provide us with “an indigenous paradigm to raise the lost and forgotten dignity of the girl child”? While in any patriarchal culture, the girl child is generally the greatest victim of the imperious authority of the father’s “mansplaining”, it is exciting to find an alternative model where the girl child subjects the father to her authoritative “womansplaining”. We need to appreciate the fact that the daughter, in the Kurma and Mahabhagavata Devi Gitas, becomes the teacher of her father, thereby undermining the androcentric authoritarianism that lurks at the junctures of gerontocracy and male domination and privileges male seniority as the supreme locus of authority. In the Devibhagavata Devi Gita, which is the most celebrated specimen of the Devi Gita genre, Devi does not speak in the form of her human avatar, but rather in her celestial form. As Brown (1990, 185) notices, this Gita is not spoken by Parvati at all, but by “the Goddess herself” in “one



of her “higher” states”. However, I would argue that, though she is not Parvati, she is not totally different from the Parvati-to-be-born, either. Here, she speaks to her future father. She speaks, therefore, as the daughter-­to-be, not as the daughter who is already born. When, after the demise of Sati, Shiva becomes grief-stricken, there emerges, as it were, a cosmic emergency. All types of evil flourish, and the demon Taraka becomes powerful, subduing all the gods. The gods know that, according to the boon given by Brahma to Taraka, only Shiva’s son can subdue Taraka. However, Shiva has no wife, and hence, the gods see no chance of an immediate release from their tribulations. However, advised by Vishnu, all the gods, led by him, come to the Himalayas and perform spiritual penances to please the World Mother. Pleased by their penances, the Goddess appears before them, in the form of a great “lustrous power” which does not have any anthropomorphic form (DG1.4–29). However, it is too brilliant to be borne by the gods, and hence, the shining power appears in the form of a female deity (DG1.30–40). This Devi Gita focuses on the compassionate nature of this goddess, her soothing, maternal visage (DG1.40–41). After the gods sing a hymn to her (DG1.44–53), she tells them that, in order to rescue the world, her “potency who is Gauri will be born to Himalaya” (DG1.63). It is interesting to note that, apparently, there is a synecdochic relation between the Great Goddess and the daughter of Himalaya who is the “potency” of the former. However, immediately after this statement, the Goddess makes another statement underlining the oneness of Himalaya’s would-be daughter and herself. She says: Himalaya, moved by intense devotion, truly worships me in his heart. Thus I consider it a pleasure to take birth in his house. (DG1.65)

On hearing this, Himalaya, the Mountain King, is gladdened deeply and tells the Mother that she has showered her grace on him by deciding to become his daughter, because he is not really worthy to be her father, being “dull and motionless” (as a mountain), compared to the Goddess who “embod[ies] infinite being and consciousness” (DG1.67–69). Interestingly, even though the daughter is not born yet, we can anticipate the respectful attitude that this father will have towards the daughter after her birth. However, Himalaya requests the Goddess to describe to him her true nature that is explained in the Upanishads. He also asks her



to instruct him in the yogic and other mystic sciences (DG1.72–73). It is interesting to notice that, here, what is being said is evidently less important than who is saying it. The Upanishadic “truth” is already there, but the scripture alone cannot make one enlightened. It is the enlightening speech of the goddess which alone can make Himalaya one with the Absolute which is, in this case, none other than the Goddess herself (DG1.73). The Upanishads, Himalaya implies, can only indirectly delineate the spiritual glory of the Goddess (like the other Shakta texts, this text too sees Brahman, the Absolute, and the Goddess as inseparable), while the Goddess can immediately enlighten her listener through her self-­ revelation. Her speech is, unlike the Upanishadic texts, immediately revelatory. Here one may be tempted to relate the Goddess of the Devibhagavata Devi Gita with Vac whom Padoux (1990, xiii) describes as a goddess, as “One who is said and is saying”. Himalaya wants to become one with her, and for that purpose he wants to be enlightened by her. Even before her birth, his daughter becomes his guru. The Goddess asks all the gods to pay attention to her enlightening speech and declares: “By merely hearing these words of mine, one attains my essential nature” (DG2.1). She adds that she is herself the supreme Brahman (DG2.2). She proclaims that Maya is her power (DG3.1), thereby underlining her own status as the “truth”, the truth that is the matrix of “fiction” (to harp on the Spivakian tropes). However, the Goddess also adds that Maya is inseparable from her (DG3.1), and therefore she is both truth and fiction at once and hence totally inscrutable. She comes to declare her omnipresence, her cosmic glory as the essence of everything in the universe, interestingly stating that, “I am certainly female and male, and asexual as well” (DG3.13–17). This reveals her simultaneously gendered and gender-transcending identity. Himalaya insists that, as she has described her cosmic glory, she should bless him and the gods with a vision of her cosmic form. The Goddess, then, reveals her cosmic form, pervading all the sides with her terrible, all-touching visage. The gods become terrified, and to soothe them, she assumes her gentle form once again (DG3.20–55). We need to notice that, even though the Goddess’s speech itself is self-revelatory, Himalaya and the gods still have the desire to see her cosmic form. This, significantly, foregrounds the oneness of what she is, what she says and what form she can assume. What can be heard, in this case, is also what can be seen and felt. The Goddess’s speech, thus, stands for a totality of experiences: both concrete and abstract, sensory and spiritual.



The Goddess goes on to explain the virtues of practising the spiritual practices prescribed by the Upanishads. She applauds the Upanishads (DG4.18–19). There is an inherent contradiction here: if her own words are self-revelatory, why should the gods, or Himalaya, need the Upanishads to realize her essence? I think, the prescription of listening to the Upanishads is meant not for Himalaya or the gods present before her, but for those who are not present, who are not fortunate enough to be directly enlightened by the Goddess. In this way, she presents the Upanishads as the means to become one with her. This is a classic instance of the Shakta appropriation of the Upanishads that I have discussed in the previous chapter. The Goddess goes on to instruct her listeners in the secrets of yoga and mantras, and speaks of the unsurpassable virtue acquired by one who has realized the Brahman (DG5.2–52; 6.15–20). The knower of the Brahman, she declares, is inseparable from her and indeed embodies her very self (DG6.16–18). She also extols the virtues of bhakti and tells Himalaya that those who are whole-heartedly devoted to her will also, in the long run, achieve the supreme spiritual wisdom that will liberate them from the snares of samsara (DG7.26–31). Then Himalaya wants to hear about the sacred sites where her presence is most intensely felt, and the Goddess gives a list of such sacred sites. She also details the procedures of worshipping her and performing her sadhana. She describes various festivals related to her and specifically dwells on the virtue of feeding and honouring young girls and boys on such festive occasions (DG8.3–49). Here we might be reminded of the empowerment of the girl child through the goddess traditions that Madhu Khanna (2018, 173) speaks of. Even though the Goddess speaks of both young boys and young girls, in practice, it is the worship of maidens which has come to be associated with the great festivals of the Goddess. However, when we remember that the Goddess is the ontological essence of everything and every being, we can excitingly reformulate the spiritual implications of ritualistically feeding young boys: when a boy is fed, worship is being offered, symbolically, to the divine feminine essence embodied in him. In this case, the physical maleness, one might insist, gets overwritten by the metaphysical femininity of the all-pervasive Goddess. In the Shakta traditions, the Vedas are not seen as self-revelatory and self-contained; rather, they are seen as produced from the Devi’s infinite wisdom. In the Devibhagavata Devi Gita too Devi explicitly states that the Vedas have arisen from her, and their authority is derived from hers



(DG9.16). Undoubtedly, the Devibhagavata Devi Gita champions Vedic orthodoxy, and it is quite possible that it is as much a re-affirmation of the Vedic traditions as a Shakta appropriation thereof. However, what is interesting to note is that the Vedas are no more seen as self-contained reservoirs of sacrality – their authority is dependent on their source, the Devi (Brown 1990, 3–5, 9–12). Even though the tone of this text is more oriented towards Vedic orthodoxy and Brahminical hegemony than towards the tantric culture, elements of tantric practices are also present in Devi’s teaching, including the Kundalini yoga (DG5.29–52). However, she appears to continuously focus on the necessity to maintain the Vedic orthodoxy and relegate the alternative modes of religiosity (including various forms of tantric discourses) which defy that orthodoxy (DG9.16–33). Of course, here, the voice of Devi emerges as the voice of Brahminocracy rather than that of the all-inclusive World Mother. Her proclamation of her omnipresence, exhorting her devotee to see everybody as an embodiment of herself and to “honor and respect even the lowest outcaste”, “loving other selves as one’s own Self” and “discarding any sense of difference and thus wishing harm to no one” (DG7.15–18), does not square with the casteist exhortations to maintain a rigid structure of Brahminical hegemony (DG9.17–26). It can be argued that, within the rhetorical and structural framework of this text, there is an internal tension between an egalitarian approach of Shakta devotionalism and the rigid Brahminical orthodoxy adopted by Shaktism and, thus, between different Shakta views of social order. However, while speaking of the procedures of worshipping her, the Goddess once again underlines the egalitarian strain in her instructions, by focusing on tantric worship rituals and by ordering her devotees to feed the young boys, girls and the poor – as well as the Brahmins – with the belief that they are but her living embodiments (DG10.26–27). In this text, Devi explicitly states: In the whole of the Vedas and in all the Puranas I am truly proclaimed; thus by reciting these one will please me. (DG10.25)

It is clear that this text appropriates the entire Vedic and puranic scriptural tradition into the fold of Shaktism through this assertion of Devi. The text of the Devi Gita from the Devibhagavata strongly suggests that the instructions revealed here must be kept secret and should not be



conveyed to inappropriate listeners (DG10.34–36). This focus on secrecy brings it close to both the tantric texts and the Upanishads, which are seen as the reservoirs of secret or mystic knowledge. The paradigm of the authority of Devi’s speech that is manifested in the Devi Gitas gets reflected, in the twentieth century, in Aurobindo’s epic, Savitri, where Ashwapaty’s sadhana, his deep yogic meditation on the Divine Mother, gets fructified when the Mother gives him the boon that Savitri would be born to him (Aurobindo 1984, 346). The Divine Mother’s ethereal voice tells him, “She [Savitri] shall bear wisdom in her voiceless bosom” (Aurobindo 1984, 346). Towards the end of the epic, when the God of Death comes to claim the soul of Satyavan, her husband, Savitri engages in an intricate debate with Death on the spiritual secrets of Being. She boldly tells Death, “I incarnate Wisdom in an earthly breast” (Aurobindo 1984, 634). Savitri, though apparently a mortal woman, continues her debate with Death, figured masculine in the text, until Death comes to recognize her unusual intellectual power. He says: Or if the Mighty Mother is with thee, Show me her face that I may worship her; Let deathless eyes look into the eyes of Death. (Aurobindo 1984, 664)

Then, the Divine Mother manifests her transcendental majesty through Savitri (Aurobindo 1984, 664–667). Death, eventually, fails to stand before “Her mastering Word” and, as it were, melts away (Aurobindo 1984, 667). Interestingly, here the Word is not the Word of “God” embodied as a “goddess”; rather, it is the Goddess’s Word and belongs to her. Savitri is presented by Aurobindo as an avatar of the Goddess, and her wisdom is one with that of the Divine Mother. Within a larger framework of goddess spirituality, Aurobindo’s epic celebrates the authority of the female voice in the enlightenment of humankind. Thus, in this chapter, we have seen how the Devi Gitas present multiple contexts for Devi’s enlightening speeches. While in the Vidya Gita, she is a disembodied voice, in the Kurma and Mahabhagavata Devi Gitas, she is an enfleshed daughter. On the other hand, in the Devibhagavata Devi Gita, she is the daughter-to-be, a goddess in her transcendental glory, poised between form and formlessness, pure spirit and future enfleshment. I would insist that the generic features of the Devi Gitas, constellating around the authority of Devi’s voice, are exploited and expanded by Aurobindo in Savitri.



As we have seen in the theoretical discussions at the beginning of this chapter, in the Indian traditions of transmission of spiritual knowledge, the moment of spiritual enlightenment is dependent on the moment of a revelatory speech act. While the mimamsakas would celebrate the auto-­ legitimizing authority of the Vedic words, independent of any speech act, the puranic and tantric traditions reverse this logic and locate the validity of the sacred word in the elevated ontological status of its utterer. The Devi Gitas follow this logic, and it is Devi’s divine authority which makes these texts the sacred sources of wisdom. It is not easy to directly adapt the authority of Devi in these texts to the feminist celebration of womansplaining because, as we have already seen, her voice is not just a female voice but also, in certain cases, an imperious Brahminical (and probably masculinist) voice. Drawing on the observations of David Kinsley, Brown (1990, 200) focuses on “the split between the sociological and the theological/mythological in relation to the evaluation of women and the feminine” in the text of the Devibhagavata. It is also to be noted that Devi, in the Kurma, Mahabhagavata and Devibhagavata Devi Gitas, instructs Himalaya, but his wife, Mena, appears to be deprived of this spiritual enlightenment. However, even while her speeches almost always have multiple layers, one can locate the authority of the Devi Gitas in the female voice of the Devi which instructs male persons: gods, sages and Himalaya  – at least within the female-centred theology of Shaktism. No goddess, especially in the textual space, is quintessentially feminist, but as far as the authority of and in speech is concerned, our present gender scenario can be dialogically connected with the peculiar gender dynamics of the Devi Gitas where the daughter instructs her father and thus turns the core symbology of patriarchy (the ultimate imaginary of mansplaining involved in the father instructing the daughter in the art of good daughterhood) upside down. In a similar vein, we may find significant the male intellect’s acknowledgement of its own inadequacy in the Vidya Gita and its consequent self-­ opening to the female voice conveying the most effective mode of wisdom. If one sets out to open up the possibilities of a “constructive Hindu thealogy”, such as Rita Sherma (2011, 1) engages with, one can find, in the Devi Gitas, the “conceptual resources for theological reflection and reinterpretation” that Sherma (2011, 1) looks for. However, this will require a deep listening – a profound engagement with the multiple layers of the voice of Devi, eliminating the evidently oppressive assertions assigned to her voice and relating her to the horizons of egalitarianism which appear



fleetingly in the Shakta texts but are, however, not totally absent. But this is possible only when, as Sherma (2011, 15) points out, “conventional parameters are viewed not as boundaries but as starting points”. This is precisely what I would suggest: the speeches of the Goddess in the Devi Gitas can open up new horizons for joyous womansplaining; they can be used as starting points rather than traditional closures.

References Aurobindo, Sri. 1984. Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Austin, J. L. 2011. How to Do Things with Words: The William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisa. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Balkaran, Raj. 2015. Mother of Power, Mother of Kings: Reading Royal Ideology in the Devi Mahatmya. PhD Diss, University of Calgary.;js essionid=466C6B0E2CA2A5AFBE693BE1142BCB89?sequence=4. Accessed 1 Feb 2020. Bhattacharyya, Sibajiban. 1994. Epistemology of Testimony and Authority: Some Indian Themes and Theories. In Knowing from Words: Western and Indian Philosophical Analysis of Understanding and Testimony, ed. Bimal Krishna Matilal and Arindam Chakrabarti, 69–97. Dordrecht: Springer Science +Business Media. Brown, C. Mackenzie. 1990. The Triumph of the Goddess: The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana. Albany: State University of New York Press. ____. 2002. Introduction. In The Song of the Goddess: The Devi Gita: Spiritual Counsel of the Great Goddess, trans. C. Mackenzie Brown, 1-33. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. Canters, Hanneke, and Grace M. Jantzen. 2005. Forever Fluid: A Reading of Luce Irigaray’s Elemental Passions. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Chakrabarti, Arindam. 1994a. Preface. In Knowing from Words: Western and Indian Philosophical Analysis of Understanding and Testimony, ed. Bimal Krishna Matilal and Arindam Chakrabarti, vii–ix. Dordrecht: Springer Science +Business Media. ———. 1994b. Telling as Letting Know. In Knowing from Words: Western and Indian Philosophical Analysis of Understanding and Testimony, ed. Bimal Krishna Matilal and Arindam Chakrabarti, 99–124. Dordrecht: Springer Science +Business Media.



Das, Mukti Chaitanya. 2018. Shri Shri Chandi: Rahasyalila. Vol. 1. Kolkata: Patabahar. Khanna, Madhu. 2018. Here Are the Daughters: Reclaiming the Girl Child (Kanya, Bala, Kumari) in the Empowering Tales and Rituals of Sakta Tantra. In The Goddess, ed. Mandakranta Bose, 173–199. New  York: Oxford University Press. Kurma Puranam. 1988. By Krishna Dvaipayana Vedavyasa. Ed. and trans. into Bengali by Panchanan Tarkaratna and revised by Sri Jiba Nyayatirtha. Kolkata: Nababharat. Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1980. Syntactic Meanings. In Speech Act Theory and Pragmatics, ed. John R.  Searle, Ferenc Kiefer, and Manfred Bierwisch, 121–153. Dordrecht: D. Reidel. Mohanty, J.N. 1994. Is there an Irreducible Mode of Word-Generated Knowledge? In Knowing from Words: Western and Indian Philosophical Analysis of Understanding and Testimony, ed. Bimal Krishna Matilal and Arindam Chakrabarti, 29–49. Dordrecht: Springer Science +Business Media. Moi, Toril. 2003. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. 2nd ed. London/New York: Routledge. Mukhopadhyay, Anway. 2018. The Goddess in Hindu-Tantric Traditions: Devi as Corpse. London/New York: Routledge. Padoux, Andre. 1990. Vac: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras. Trans. Jacques Gontier. Albany: State University of New York Press. Satyadeva, Brahmarshi Sri Sri. 2010. Sadhana Samara ba Devi Mahatmya. Gorakhpur: Gita Press. Sherma, Rita D. 2011. Introduction: A Hermeneutics of Intersubjectivity. In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings, ed. Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, 1–16. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Shri Mahabhagavata Upapurana. 2010. By Vedavyasa. Trans. Prema Khullar (in Hindi) and ed. Acharya Mrityunjaya Tripathi. Varanasi: Navashakti Prakashan. Shri Shri Chandi. 2012. Trans. and ed. Swami Jagadishvarananda. Kolkata: Udbodhan. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2001. Moving Devi. Cultural Critique 47 (Winter): 120–163. The Devi Gita: Spiritual Counsel of the Great Goddess [Devi Gita (from the Devibhagavata)]. 2002. In The Song of the Goddess: The Devi Gita: Spiritual Counsel of the Great Goddess, 41–126. Trans. C. Mackenzie Brown. Albany: State University of New York Press. Tripura Rahasya: Or the Mystery Beyond the Trinity. 2006. Trans. Munagala S.  Venkataramaiah [Swami Ramanananda Saraswathi]. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam.


Authority of Female Speech, Efficacy of Female Guidance: The Goddess and Women in Tantric Contexts

As far as the status of women in tantric culture is concerned, scholarly opinions vary – drastically – from each other. While some scholars would point out the feminist or at least quasi-feminist discourses in tantric culture and would like to exploit these in order to usher in gender justice, others would underline the gap between the elevated figurations of female entities in tantra and the real women left disempowered by male tantric spiritual aspirants. We, here, need to look, very briefly, at these debates surrounding the gender politics in and augured by tantric cultures. Miranda Shaw (1995, 4–7) vociferously argues against that stream of tantra scholarship which finds no trace of women’s empowerment in tantric cultures. She (1995, 3) sets out, rather, to engage in a difficult but enriching project of the “search for the women who inspired and helped to create [the] evocative female images” which are found in the texts and iconography of Buddhist tantra. She (1995, 6) points out that there is ample historical and ethnographic evidence to suggest that tantra did empower women to varying extents. She (1995, 13) argues that a study of women’s role in the religious life of India must include an investigation of oral traditions, rituals, non-written discourses, in short, the performative dimension of religion  – especially in the tantric contexts. Shaw (1995, 12–13) convincingly insists that when one finds references to women in texts betraying masculinist ideologies, one should nevertheless try to find out the gender context wherefrom such texts emerge and also the position of women in that context. Besides, as she (1995, 12) rightly points out, © The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




agency in history should not be attributed, exclusively, to men and women should not be seen as eternally passive victims of history. Rather, they should be seen as co-shapers of history with their male counterparts. She (1995, 12–13) also points out that women’s history cannot be mapped out positivistically – we have to ponder on what is lost as much as what can be found. Similarly, Patricia Dold (2013, 153) urges scholars to “re-­ imagine Kamakhya religious history as one that involved tantric adepts, priest, and kings, and their wives, mothers, and daughters”. As she (2013, 153) rightly argues, the religious historian has to ponder and wonder what the women in the past had/might have said or sung. Indeed, we cannot gloss over the necessity to be receptive to the female voices that trickle through the pores of textualized history. For that, we need to revise our vision of history as a man-made mansion and need to reconfigure history as a giant piece of cloth that has been woven by female as well as male hands, even though we have always tended to ignore the threads supplied by the female hands. However, given my concern with women’s authoritative speech in the context of the nigama texts, I need to look at a more specific and localized paradigm of the study of Hindu tantras such as is provided by Loriliai Biernacki. Biernacki (2007, 5–6) warns us against any easy equation of the powerful female in the tantric text with the women operating within the realm of social reality. She (2007, 5–6) says that, even within the space of tantric rituals, women are not necessarily empowered. Gayatri Spivak (2001b, 148) raises the same concern and argues that tantras can never be seen as a panacea for gender inequality in the Indian context. However, Biernacki (2007, 6–7, 30) underlines the heterogeneity of the tantric texts and focuses on the “alternative” view of women offered by certain tantric texts associated with Kamakhya. In these texts, she (2007, 8–9, 40) observes, women are presented as subjects, not objects, and they are shown respect. She (2007, 8) also notes that, in this alternative tradition, women undergo a “rescripting” as “pure spirit”. However, the methodology adopted by me would make clear that such a rescripting has occurred in the other tantric traditions in Hinduism as well. For instance, in the Tripura Rahasya, we have already witnessed the feminization of the Ultimate Spirit and the presentation of women as capable of understanding their true identity as pure spirit. As I have already argued, when we take a holistic approach to the instances of authoritative female speech in the Indic goddess traditions, we come to find connections between cultural discourses which have so far been deemed unlinkable.



However, as Biernacki (2007, 45–46) notes with reference to the “Kali Practice”, that is, the alternative tradition she charts out in Renowned Goddess of Desire, women in this tradition are often seen as capable of mastering a mantra and becoming empowered through its exercise. In other words, the mantra of the Great Goddess, the energized speech unit which is said to be one with the Goddess, is not uttered only by men within this tradition but by women too. In this case, women are seen as specially capable of mastering the mantras and hence activating their energies. As Biernacki (2007, 46) rightly points out, this is what makes women empowered, not because of their sexuality but because of their mastery over the mantras, the mystic utterances. In this context, I would like to point out that the women of Assam, and particularly Kamakhya, are feared by the men of mainstream Hinduism, as they think that those women can subjugate and enchant any man through occult powers and thus can turn them into “sheep”. In Bengali, the expression Kamakhyar bhera (the sheep of Kamakhya) has a peculiarly complex connotation which indicates the overlapping of the Goddess and woman that Biernacki’s observations appear to underline. It implies, on the one hand, that the Goddess Kamakhya, the Deity of Cosmic Magic, can turn any man into a sheep, if she wishes. The Goddess Kamakhya is an object of fear for many Hindu men, as she is supposed to embody some inscrutable female power which is completely unknown and inaccessible to men. On the other hand, the motif of men’s transformation into sheep also implies the mystic power of the women of the Kamakhya region who are supposed to wield some unfathomable mantric power. In short, a special form of speech  – mystic, immensely powerful mantric speech – is supposed to be available to the women of the Kamakhya region, due to which they become a source of male fear. In this context, one can think about the Sarvavijayi Tantra too, which, as Biernacki (2007, 11) points out, “clearly addresses a woman practitioner, telling her how to perform a ritual,…. in order to get control over her husband and make him her slave”. Biernacki (2007, 43) points out that the alternative tradition she seeks to map out presents women not just as being temporarily possessed by the Goddess but rather as intrinsically embodying the divinity of the goddess, thereby “allow[ing] for a recognition of her as a subject, as a person to whom one should listen”. She (2007, 39–41, 57–58) underlines how the textualized tradition of this alternative tantric ideology equates women with “Gods”. This tradition suggests that women should not be hurt by any means, either physically or mentally, by men, as that would make all



the spiritual endeavours of a man fruitless (Biernacki 2007, 44, 57). Like Shaw (1995, 39–42) and June McDaniel (2004, 107–108), Biernacki (2007, 39–45, 57–58) too notes the passages containing praise of women in the tantric texts. However, when we re-interrogate these passages containing women’s praise from the perspective of their speech contexts, we are faced with some complex issues. The exemplary statements about women’s greatness underlined by Biernacki (2007, 39, 45) are often spoken by Shiva, not by Devi. On the other hand, Shaw (1995, 41) focuses on the Chandamaharoshana-tantra, where a female deity, the female Buddha Vajrayogini, “reminds her devotees that her gender is a trait she shares with all women”. She (1995, 41) says: “Significantly, this vehement defense of women is placed in the mouth of a female deity”. We have already seen that, in the Brihaddharma Purana, the Goddess instructs Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva that they should always respect women, saying that those who hurt women even in a minor way incur the displeasure of gods, as she, the World Mother, is present in the hearts of all women (BDP, MK 11.98–102). As I have persistently insisted, it is necessary to focus on the authoritative female speeches in the Hindu traditions both within and outside the tantric culture and also in those operating at the interstices of tantras and puranas, because the “mainstream” and the “alternative” traditions within Hinduism often converge in unexpected ways in projecting the goddess as an authoritative female speaker. Interestingly, Biernacki (2007), like Padoux (1990, x), focuses on the feminine nature of speech – more specifically – sacred utterance, the mantras. However, she (2007, 115) says that, while in the tantric cultures the mantra is seen as feminine, the Brihannila Tantra, one of the texts she lists in her “alternative” tantric tradition, presents the feminine mantra not just as having, like a woman, the power to create new life but also as in need of the feminine power that enlivens it. Drawing on the narrative of the birth of the vidyas in the Brihannila Tantra, she (2007, 115–124) speaks of the mantras/vidyas as speech that is both feminine and embodied. She sees the vidyas as essentially performative speech. However, we need to understand that, when these mantras are wielded by women and not by men, their performativity assumes a new dimension. At the same time, we must not forget that the tantric tradition also provides instances of female speaking which have a denotative rather than performative function. It is in this context that I would like to focus on the Kulachudamani Tantra where Devi speaks to Shiva, revealing to him her divine glory and relating to him the ritualistic details of her worship.



The Kulachudamani Tantra is immensely significant in the corpus of tantric texts on Devi’s worship. Here, it is conspicuously Devi who reveals the secret knowledge to Shiva, even though Akshay Kumar Maitra (1915, 2) argues that since, according to tantric theology, Shiva and Shakti are one, even in this nigama text Shiva is the guru. Even though Devi as Bhairavi teaches Shiva in the form of Bhairava in this text, she tells Shiva that he is the guru of all tantras (KCT7.79). I think Maitra’s interpretation is precisely a gross mystification of the actual speech context in this text where Devi is the speaker/teacher and Shiva is the listener/learner. Even though Shiva is called by Devi the guru of all tantras, that does not falsify the ultimate guru-hood of Devi who is, apparently, the guru of the guru of the tantras, the primordial guru (Svami 2011, 253), the ultimate source of all knowledge. As the tradition with which we are concerned here is primarily oral (Maitra 1915, 2), it is quite possible to figure Devi as the ultimate guru whose spoken words initiate the chain of transmission of the secret knowledge and Shiva becomes the transmitter and not originator or even the original revealer of this knowledge. It is, I believe, evidently true at least in the context of the present text. Even Maitra (1915, 3) himself notes that the sadhaka operating within kulachara has to have a firm belief in the status of the Divine Mother as the Supreme Being, the source of everything. Shiva/Bhairava tells Devi/Bhairavi that, in spite of obtaining expertise in diverse streams of tantric knowledge, he has not been able to achieve the ultimate bliss (ananda) (KCT1. 1–14). Here, one may be reminded of the necessity to surrender the male ego to a divine feminine source of mystic enlightenment, which is underlined in the Vidya Gita (discussed in the previous chapter). On seeing Shiva’s puzzlement, Devi addresses Shiva as tantrajnanakularnava (the very sea of tantrika kula knowledge) (KCT1.15; Maitra 1915, 6) and goes on to reveal to him her supreme spiritual secrets. She says that in the initial stage of the cosmic evolution, she remains stationed in her transcendent state, free from any kind of relativity (KCT1.16–17). Then, enveloping herself with her own maya, she activates her will-to-create, due to which, gradually, the entire Creation, including the great gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, comes into being (KCT1.17–24; Maitra 1915, 6). Devi also underlines the erotic dimension of this creative act—how she becomes parakularasonmadamodini, that is, intoxicated with the bliss of her union with Akula, the male principle (KCT1. 19). She states that all the gods are but her parts (KCT1.21). She says that, if she is known, all the spiritual and ritualistic practices become



superfluous, as she is the ultimate goal of all spiritual exercises (KCT1.24; Maitra 1915, 6). She explains to him that she assumes the form of a woman (narirupam samasthaya) and this woman-form is the quintessence of her Self and also of the Creation (KCT1.25). However, she finally states that even all these explications can’t comprehensively articulate her tattva – that is to say, her essence is totally inscrutable (KCT1.26). After this, Devi addresses Shiva as “son” (putra) and begins to convey to him the means of attaining spiritual wisdom (KCT1.27). We need to ponder over this trope of the husband being addressed as “son”. As June McDaniel (1989, 87) notes, in the Bengali popular Shaktism, “[t]his mixture of Siva as offspring and husband of the goddess is a common theme…. If the Great Mother is the creatress, everyone is her child – including her husband.” McDaniel (1989, 87) focuses on how one of her informants underlined this theme while talking about Shiva and Kali. She (1989, 86–87) aptly identifies this theme as “nursing the baby-husband” which would become an appropriate trope for the instruction given by Devi to Shiva, addressed as “son”, in the context of a nigama text like the Kulachudamani. In this text, Devi instructs Shiva in the sacred and secret spiritual sciences, and tells him that the knowledge she conveys can be known only from a good and proper instructor (sadacharyaparijnatam) (KCT1.30; Maitra 1915, 7). It becomes clear here that Devi explicitly positions herself in the place of the instructor for Shiva, the “baby-­ husband”. Devi suggests that the male sadhaka should worship his own wife (KCT2.30). In the third chapter, Devi details the nocturnal rituals and prescribes that all the eight women (shaktis) present in this ritual should be worshipped as the eight great forms of the Divine Mother herself. In this worship ritual, Devi suggests, all the hierarchies in terms of caste, age and so on should be dissolved (KCT3.13–15, 3. 22–45; Maitra 1915, 9–11). In the fourth chapter, Devi tells Shiva which living beings or things should be bowed to, as he is required to perceive Devi’s special manifestations in these. She then enunciates to him the dhyana mantra of Dakshinakali (KCT4.1–48; Maitra 1915, 11–12). In the fifth chapter, Shiva says that, as her son, he would implore the Goddess to instruct him in the occult sciences of akarshana, that is, attracting others to him (KCT5.43). Devi then reveals to him the secret means of attracting others (KCT5.44–55). Already, in the fourth chapter, Devi has told him how the (male) kula sadhaka would arouse intense, maddening sexual desires in women (KCT4.22, 27, 31). In the sixth chapter too, the instruction in the occult sciences (bordering on black magic) continues (KCT6.16–45;



Maitra 1915, 12). This instance of a female source of occult knowledge may remind us of the Hindu men’s fear of as well as fascination with certain tantric traditions where women are said to be the reservoirs of occult knowledge that is not available to men, something I have discussed earlier in this chapter. In the last chapter, Bhairava requests Devi to reveal the secrets of Devi Mahishamardini. She discloses to him the secrets of Mahishamardini and the procedure of worshipping her (KCT7.2–21), and then Bhairava sings a hymn to Mahishamardini (Mahishamardini Stotra) (KCT7.22–35). Devi, pleased with this hymn, says: “Stotra-shravana-santushta pritasmi tava Bhairava” – “I am pleased with you on hearing the hymn that has delighted me” – and then tells him to see her form which is not easily visible to her devotees (KCT7.36). By this time, it is clear that the Devi who speaks and the Devi about whom the instruction is being given are one and the same. The ishtadevi (the personal deity of the devotee) and the guru/instructress are one and the same, and the speech context here is generically akin to that in the Devi Gitas. There is an immediate instruction by the Goddess on the procedure of worshipping her. She directly reveals her glory; it is not mediated by any transmitter. The Guru does not sing the glory of the Goddess; the Goddess herself becomes the Guru. At the end of the last chapter, however, Devi surprisingly seems to disclaim her status as the guru. She says that Shiva is the actual guru and she is ready to be his shishya (disciple) [KCT7.88]. However, she also underscores the eternal union of Shiva and Shakti (KCT7.85–86). She repeatedly celebrates Shiva’s agency as the ultimate tantric guru, but adds that she enters Shiva’s self and thus, united with Shakti (shaktya yuktah), he becomes the Prabhu (Lord) [KCT7.81; Maitra 1915, 21–22]. Hence, it is at least clear that she implicitly acknowledges her role in making Shiva the guru and the Lord. Is it possible that, here, in the “textual unconscious” (Mellard 2006, 13–15) of the Kulachudamani Tantra, there is a tussle between the authority of female speech and a masculine desire to appropriate all forms of female authority? If I take the cynical path, I may be tempted to raise the question: does this text epitomize the archetypal process of the male appropriation of female knowledge and the subsequent subjugation of the authority of the female speaker (the original conveyer of the knowledge)? Biernacki (2007, 53–54) juxtaposes the Kulachudamani against the Brihannila Tantra and strongly suggests that the latter is more egalitarian than the former in terms of gender ideologies. Still, we need to note certain things: like the



texts Biernacki (2007, 57–58) upholds, the Kulachudamani too prescribes the worship of the male practitioner’s own wife; it too sees femaleness as the essence of the universe. As June McDaniel (2004, 109) observes, the Goddess in the Kulachudamani is quite inclusive in terms of the list of the possible women to be worshipped, which includes the male practitioner’s daughter, sisters, mother, aunt and so on, and he is not supposed to be bothered by their positions in the social hierarchy. Still, the fact does remain that the Goddess seems to have no prescription for a female practitioner. Women are not seen as actors but at best as assistants of male actors in esoteric rituals. Can we say that behind the Devi in this text there are silhouettes of real women whose (occult?) knowledge was appropriated by Sanskrit-speaking upper caste men, just as Diotima’s own feminine wisdom was appropriated by Socrates and recast in androcentric terms, as Andrea Nye (1992, 77–93) argues? Otherwise, why should there be such an anxiety on the part of the author(s) of this text to subjugate the voice of Devi to that of the authority of Shiva at the end? One does not really need to so desperately subject a womansplaining Devi to the authority of a mansplaining Shiva – especially when his intellectual authority has already proved to be fragile and surrendering to that of Devi (at the beginning of the text) – unless one knows that this Devi is not just a figment of masculine imagination but a trace of real women/womansplainers. However, McDaniel (2004, 123) questions whether there is any point in imagining the presence of flesh-and-blood women who were the tantric teachers of men: As to whether women were ever tantric teachers of men, there seems to be limited evidence for this claim in the Bengali Shakta tradition. We do have conversations between Shiva and Devi in the tantric agama and nigama texts, (in the agamas, Shiva speaks, and in the nigamas, Devi speaks). We could make the claim that this primordial couple represents the founders of the tantric tradition, and that Devi is a human woman teaching the tradition. There is no evidence, however, that Devi is anything other than a goddess on Mount Kailash, though she does occasionally incarnate in semihuman forms, such as Sati and Uma. In the puranic texts, where Sati and Uma also appear, they do not teach; they are subservient women, dedicated to Shiva.

Nevertheless, the tantric texts upheld by Biernacki do point to the possibility of women’s presence as “tantric teachers” of men. They speak of women’s role as gurus, and Biernacki (2007, 46–51) supplies instances of



female gurus within the tantric tradition. In fact, McDaniel (2004, 107–115) herself acknowledges the possibility of female gurus within tantric culture, and she evidently has access to ample textual data from the tantras on female gurus. Hence, it seems strange indeed that she is so dismissive in the passage quoted above. There is a dhyana mantra (Bhattacharya 2015, 13) for the female guru which is included in popular religious anthologies of dhyana mantras and hymns, widely in circulation in Bengal. We have already seen that Lopamudra initiated an entire tradition of Shri Vidya sadhana, though that is not apparently central to Bengali Shaktism. There are many other instances to question McDaniel’s sweeping generalization, the force of which is congealed in the term “ever”. However, what I find most problematic in the passage quoted here is the statement that Sati and Uma always appear to be subservient to Shiva in the puranic traditions and that they do not teach. I will now go on to show how they are not always subservient and how they do teach Shiva even in the puranic traditions. As I have argued elsewhere, in a cluster of Sanskrit and vernacular texts produced in the eastern part of India in the late medieval period, both Sati and Uma are presented as asserting their coruscating, occasionally imperious, divine subjectivity. From time to time, they remind Shiva that they are the Ultimate Feminine Energy which is the producer of everything and everybody, including Shiva himself. In the Brihaddharma Purana and the Mahabhagavata Upapurana, when Shiva does not agree to permit Sati to attend her father Daksha’s yajna (fire sacrifice), she becomes angry and assumes her ten terrifying Mahavidya forms. When Shiva is terrified on seeing these terrible forms, she soothes Shiva and instructs him in the spiritual secrets of these Mahavidya forms and their concomitant mantras and tantras. She blesses and empowers Shiva to be the sole instructor in the spiritual sciences related to these Mahavidyas (MBUP8.43–87; BDP, MK 6.57–138; Mukhopadhyay 2018, 30–31, 117–135; Dold 2005, 47–48). She instructs him in the details of tantric sadhana and, most interestingly, tells Shiva that the Vedas and Tantra form her two hands (BDP, MK 6.138–148; MBUP 8.77–84). This statement, I think, vindicates my project of foregrounding the continuum of the Vedic, puranic and tantric streams of the Indic goddess traditions – a continuum which has been discursively systematized, propagated and disseminated by the ideologues and practitioners of Shaktism throughout the medieval period. The goddess, as it were, becomes a bridge between the mainstream and the alternative traditions within Hinduism, an agent of a difficult reconciliation. This can also be seen as an



attempt of the Brahminical culture to domesticate Devi’s transgressive potential within an orthodox frame of reference. Nevertheless, her inscrutable power, her unchallengeable superiority over Shiva or any other male god and her agency as an instructress remain visible and dazzle forth. As the Mahabhagavata and the Brihaddharma are extremely important for understanding Bengali Shaktism (both philosophical and popular), we need to look at the receptive role of Shiva, who, overawed by Devi’s glory, apologizes to her for daring to challenge her authority by asserting his husbandly authority and forbidding her to attend Daksha’s yajna and openly acknowledges her superiority over him (MBUP8.88–92; BDP, MK 6.150–152; Mukhopadhyay 2018, 121, 131; Dold 2005, 48). In the Brihaddharma Purana, Devi, requested by Shiva, relates to him the history of the genesis of the universe: how it was she who created Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and ordered them to engage in sadhana to please her. It was Shiva who succeeded in this sadhana and hence she chose him as her consort (BDP, MK, 6. 91–113; Mukhopadhyay 2018, 85–86, 127, 130). Moreover, in the Mahabhagavata, when Shiva, in front of Parvati, burns Kama to ashes, she reveals to Shiva that she is none other than Sati, to get back whom as his wife, he is engaged in intense penances. Shiva implores Parvati to assume the Kali-form which Sati had manifested while going to attend Daksha’s fire sacrifice. She assumes that form, and Shiva sings a hymn to Kali (MBUP23.5–180; Mukhopadhyay 2018, 31; Dold 2005, 48–51). From these instances, we come to see the close generic links between the speech acts of Devi in this alternative puranic tradition and those in a nigama text like the Kulachudamani. Both of these contexts necessitate Shiva’s humility before the Goddess, his role as the recipient of Devi’s wisdom. The nigamas are extremely important in tantric sadhana in that, without adequate exposure to the spiritual wisdom conveyed by them, one can never become eligible for the highest enlightenment on the tantric path (Chattopadhyay, Surajit Kumar 2014, 3). In the Nigama Tattvasara Tantram, Shiva as Ananda Bhairava tells Devi, in the form of Ananda Bhairavi, that he has received the essence of various tantric shastras from her and then asks her to reveal to him the sara (essence) of the nigama tattva (NTT 1.1–4). Devi tells him that knowing the essence of this tattva, which makes its knower the purest and greatest person in the world, is absolutely important, as, without knowing this, one cannot succeed on the tantric and yogic path of comprehending Brahman, the ultimate reality (NTT1.5–23). She tells him that the mantras and tantras revealed by



Bhairava (Shiva) will not be efficacious without the knowledge of the tattva that she is about to reveal to him (NTT 1.22–23). In this text, Devi offers a very interesting kind of instruction to Bhairava, as far as the procedure of gaining the knowledge of Brahman is concerned. She tells Shiva that Brahman and Kali are one, and states that one who comes to understand and firmly believe that the entire world is indistinguishable from Brahman, the Absolute, becomes one with Brahman (NTT 2.3–5). Such a wise person, Devi avers, should understand that even the trivial activities of human beings involving sensory or other kinds of light pleasure are but plays (lila) of Brahman (NTT 2.8–12). She insists that all ostensibly unacceptable deeds as well as the ostensibly commendable ones are but the plays of Brahman and hence they should not be subjected to value judgements (NTT 2.11). In every negative as well as positive experience in the world, nothing but the Self of Brahman is reflected (NTT 2.15–35). Devi’s teaching promulgates the oneness of Brahman with its Shakti and thereby proclaims that all women as well as men are but manifestations of Brahman (NTT 2. 5–8, 2.36, 2.42–44). The sadhaka, she insists, can be firmly stationed in Brahman-hood by understanding that there is no difference between Shiva and Devi (NTT 2.36). Like the figure of Uma in the Kena Upanishad and like the multiple figurations of Devi as spiritual instructress in the Devi Gitas, Ananda Bhairavi too transmits the highest spiritual wisdom conveying the knowledge of Brahman. Evidently, she is the teacher of Shiva, teaching him the highest vidya, that is, Brahmavidya (knowledge of Brahman). However, in the Shakta culture which is still dominated by men, this role of Devi as Shiva’s guru is often overlooked. From my own experience, I can say that the Bengali male worshippers of Devi and particularly the Brahmin priests engaged in Shakta rituals would often claim that Devi is ontologically dependent on Shiva, as she is Shiva’s Shakti. However, when we think about a “teleopoetic” possibility of “affect[ing] the distant in a poiesis or imaginative remaking, without guarantees” (Spivak 2001a, 12), we can see Devi’s speech in these apparently obscure texts as inviting a planetary future of womansplainers who would be lovingly listened to by a future community of men less narcissistic and more receptive to alterity. As Derrida would say, in the sphere of “teleopoiesis”, “We are not yet among these philosophers of the future, we who are calling them and calling them the philosophers of the future, but we are in advance their friends” (cited in Spivak 2001a, 12). Can we see Devi-as-Speaker as a womansplainer who was in advance a friend of the womansplainers of today and tomorrow – as



a participant in, and not just an inspirer of, the ethics and aesthetics of womansplaining that can be built up within the thealogical discourse that is, for Lata Mani, Madhu Khanna, or Rita Sherma, an ongoing labour of love? Let me now present some other configurations of Devi who can be seen as the friend in advance of the present or future womansplainers. In a text that operates as one of the most authoritative sources for locating the Sati pithas of South Asia, titled Pithanirnaya, Devi is addressed by Ishvara/Shiva as “mother” and sarvajnanamayishvari, the Goddess who is the epitome of all knowledge. She too addresses him as vatsa (child) and then, to answer his query, goes on to describe the pithas which have been sanctified by the falling of Sati’s limbs there (PN1–3). The female speaker in this text identifies herself with Sati and with the goddesses who reside in all these pithas (Mukhopadhyay 2018, 65–67). Interestingly, here, the Devi whose dismembered corpse is supposed to give rise to different pitha-goddesses is herself the describer of those pithas and goddesses. She is not just the passive corpse that the male gods would act on; rather, she is the describer and explainer of the geographical points of sacrality generated by that corpse. In short, she is not passive, but active (Mukhopadhyay 2018, 65–67; 71–72), and makes us challenge Gayatri Spivak’s (2001b, 131–132) comment, in the context of the myth of Sati’s corpse being cut off by male god(s), that “in the Puranic texts… the female empowers, but males act”. Here, Devi’s active self is manifested through her action of imparting to Shiva the knowledge of the pitha-goddesses. As in the Pithanirnaya, in other tantric texts too, we find the recurrent appearance of Devi as the explainer of her own mystic glory, the explicator of the mysteries of her manifestations. For instance, in the Laksmi Tantra, which is not a nigama sensu stricto but a Pancharatra text attesting the presence of Shaktism in the Vaishnavite culture and foregrounds the centrality of Lakshmi rather than Kali or Durga (Gupta 2000, xv–xxxv), we find – once again –Devi as a speaker, a revealer of her own glory to Indra. This text is framed as a conversation between Atri and his virtuous wife, Anasuya. Atri tells Anasuya about the glory of Lakshmi (LT 1.7–20). In the text, we find a reworking of the widely available Indic myth of the samudramanthana/churning of the ocean. Due to Durvasas’s curse, Indra loses his celestial sovereignty and the three worlds become deprived of Lakshmi’s grace. Then the gods, as advised by Vishnu, churn the ocean and Lakshmi comes out of it. Advised by Brihaspati, Indra engages in difficult penances to please Lakshmi and finally, pleased with him, she appears



before him. After exploiting the samudramanthana narrative as a frame, this text goes on to present Lakshmi’s spiritual instruction to Indra (LT 1.27–61). Requested by Indra, Lakshmi reveals her true nature to him, declaring that she is inseparable from Brahman/Vishnu-as-the-Absolute (LT 2.1–23). She says that she is the I-hood of Vishnu’s I (self) [LT2.17–26] and goes on to describe in detail her role as the creatrix of the universe (LT2.28–60) and her several incarnations (and here the text appropriates certain elements of the Devi Mahatmya (Chandi) of the Markandeya Purana and presents the divine incarnations of Devi detailed there as the diverse manifestations of Shri/Lakshmi) [LT9.1–59; Gupta 2000, xxxiv]. In this text, Lakshmi appears to be the ultimate essence of the Pancharatra tradition. She is the energy-essence of Vishnu and it is her grace which can liberate the jivas, the living beings (Gupta 2000, xvi–xix, xxiv–xxxiii). This text, on the one hand, innovatively works on the Markandeya Purana and, on the other hand, links its celebration of Lakshmi’s status as the absolute divinity to the Vedic Shri Sukta, thereby foregrounding the multilayered continuum of Vedic, puranic, tantric and Vaishnavite cultures (LT 50.1–237; Gupta 2000, xxxiv–xxxv). As in the other Shakta texts, here too we find the male listener, the king of the gods, showing a devotional receptivity to the Devi’s self-revealing speech. Even though, unlike Devi in the Kali/Durga/Kamakhya traditions, Lakshmi does not teach Vishnu, her consort, here, she makes it clear that she is not only inseparable from Vishnu but also his equal. This version of Lakshmi is miles away from the figure of Lakshmi as the docile wife that mainstream Hinduism feels so comfortable with, figuring her as massaging Vishnu’s feet, thereby insidiously satisfying the Hindu male ego. Foregrounding this self-assertive, omnipotent Lakshmi of the Laksmi Tantra and linking her with the other goddess-speakers in the Shakta traditions may be a fruitful endeavour of the future thealogical projects in and outside India. Devi can, nevertheless, instruct the male gods in other ways too. In the Yogini Tantra, we find the following narrative. When, after creating the universe, Brahma becomes arrogant, forgetting that the ultimate creative agency belongs to Devi, and not to him, Devi Kali decides to teach him a lesson. Devi makes a demon out of the pride bubbling in Brahma’s body and this demon, called Keshi, attempts to kill Brahma. Brahma, along with Vishnu, sings a hymn to Kali and she destroys the demon. She then tells Brahma in her celestial voice that he must strive to eliminate the sin he has accumulated by showing pride. She adds that he should worship her yoni-­ mandala, the mandala embodying her feminine energy, and only then



can he fully get rid of his sins. Devi makes it clear that it is only after worshipping the yoni-mandala that he can accomplish the task of Creation (srishti) (YT, PK 15.4–67). We need to grasp the crux of the lesson which Devi teaches to Brahma in this narrative. Her instruction is grounded in the affirmation of the centrality of feminine agency to all discourses and instances of creativity. She makes Brahma understand that, without honouring the female procreative organ as the primal locus of all forms of creative agency, the male creator can never be a proper creator. If he does not acknowledge the feminine energy as the ultimate origin of creativity, he will only commit sins and get ensnared by his own masculine pride which is demonic in nature. Kali, here, forces Brahma to be humble. She accomplishes this, simultaneously, through what she speaks and what she does. As we have already observed, in mainstream Hinduism Devi is seen basically as a doer of miracles rather than a speaker/teacher. However, in the narrative from the Yogini Tantra, we have a synthesis of these two functions of Devi. She teaches the male god a lesson by creating (and then killing) a demon out of his own masculine pride. What she does is also a mode of instruction and it makes the male god acknowledge that he should always be humble before the simultaneously transcendental and immanent creativity of the Goddess. In this context, we can find certain similarities between Kali in the Yogini Tantra and Kali in the Mahabhagavata. As Patricia Dold (2005, 43, 47–51) points out, in the Mahabhagavata, “Kali the Terrific” puts her devotees to several tests, and these devotees include, among others, Shiva himself. Dold (2005, 51) argues that here one can see the influence of the tantras: “Siva’s journey has specifically Tantric undertones because it is a journey from pride to joyous and humble appreciation of the goddess Kali and because he transforms his penance into his blessing”. In this context, Dold (2005, 51) also focuses on how, “according to the Sakta Buddhist Tantras studied by Miranda Shaw, women teachers and enlightening goddesses (the two are often the same) frequently confront prospective male initiates with their unconventional – one might say “Kaliesque” – appearance and behavior”. Dold (2005, 51) deftly draws parallels between the tests to which these female figures from Buddhist tantric traditions put the prospective male initiates and the tests of Kali the Terrific in the Mahabhagavata. In both of these cases the figures of feminine authority “teach devotees to overcome false pride” (Dold 2005, 52). Here, let me present a further example, illustrating the point of male pride being humbled by the female authority of the Goddess. In



Annadamangala, a late medieval Bengali text by Bharatchandra that displays various tantric influences, Parvati teaches Shiva a lesson when he exhibits excessive male pride to her. After a quarrel with Parvati, Shiva goes out of Kailasa to fetch food as alms, as a beggar. On the advice of Jaya, her female companion, Parvati, through her mystic power, snatches all forms of food available in the universe. Getting no food in the world, Shiva goes to ask Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, for food. She tells him that Parvati is Annapurna, the Ultimate Goddess of Food, and adds that he should return to Kailasa, to his wife, as it is she who is the divine source of all kinds of food. Shiva goes back to Kailasa and Annapurna, compassionate, as it were, to her “baby-husband”, feeds him with all forms of tasty food (Acharya 2010, 30–34). Here, too, we find the goddess’s action functioning as instruction: the instruction by Devi becomes a peculiar mode of womansplaining that works through action rather than speech. In the Bengali mangalakabyas in general, we have a plot structure where the goddesses (Manasa, Mangalachandi and other such goddesses) humble the pride of the arrogant male worshippers of male gods, and they extend their helping hands to the men and women who take shelter under their divine authority. They would often humble the pride of the male gods themselves. In the Kashmir traditions of Tantra, Para Vac, the ultimate form of the Word/Speech is seen as a sort of maternal matrix of all beings and things. She is seen as the source and substratum of all modes of speech and as the energy that creates the cosmos (Padoux 1990, 178, 180). As Andre Padoux (1990, 172–188) points out, she is seen as one with the Supreme Consciousness, manifesting herself as its ever-active dimension. However, this elevated position of Para Vac as Mahadevi, so to speak, is grounded not so much in the figuration of Devi-as-Speaker as in that of Devi as speech. On the other hand, in the tantric traditions of eastern India, we not only come across a homologization of speech and the goddess(es)/vidyas (as Biernacki [2007, 113–121] would say) but also find Devi as an embodied speaker, as is evident in the cases of the Kulachudamani, the Nigama Tattvasara Tantram and the Pithanirnaya. While, ritualistically, the goddess Vagishvari (literally the goddess of speech) is invoked during tantric worship rituals in Bengal, and her body is said to consist of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet (Mukhopadhyay 1967, 190–191), she is probably not just an embodiment of letters and words but also metonymic of the divine female speakers in tantric and tantrically inflected puranic texts. In other words, in Bengal and eastern India in general, Devi is not just the



word which is transmitted from the guru to the disciple, but rather the wielder of the divine word, the guru herself. As Vimalananda Svami (2011, 253) points out in the Introduction to the Vimalanandadayini Commentary on the Karpuradi Stotra, produced in the early twentieth century, “the merciful Mahakali is the Adiguru of the world”. Vimalananda Svami (2011, 253) describes Kali as the Parameshtiguru. However, in his (2011) rhetoric, Kali’s role as the great and primordial guru is intrinsically associated with her maternal function. He (2011, 253–254) keeps referring to Kali’s “compassion” and says: We may meditate on Mahadevi as either female or male, for these terms may be attributed to any gross body. They cannot however be attributed to Her in so far as She is Saccidananda. Sadhakas of Sakti worship Brahman as Mother, for in the world the mother-aspect alone of Her who is Brahman is fully manifested. (Svami 2011, 265)

Vimalananda (2011, 266) goes on to explain and vindicate this maternal figuration of the Absolute by associating the Great Goddess with the human mothers: The first preceptor (Adiguru) of every man is his mother. She is his visible Devata. His first lessons are learnt of her. It is the mark also of the Earth to generate and nourish all Jivas, like a mother…. Hence we are not wrong in saying that the world is full of the Mother.

Here, Mahakali is unequivocally homologized with the human mothers who, as it were, repeat continuously, at the individual level, Kali’s cosmic function as the “Adiguru of the world”. Thus, Devi as doer (the World Mother as the sustainer of the universe) is the same as Devi-as-Speaker (conveyer of knowledge as the maternal Adiguru): her compassion manifests itself through her enlightening function as a divine guru. This is the function in which, according to Vimalananda, the flesh-and-blood mothers, too, participate. There are a lot of legends of Devi’s maternal concern for her children, on which the practising Shaktas would draw time and again. In these legends, the maternal concerns of Devi-as-guru become prominent. The composite figure of Devi-as-guru-as-mother invoked by Vimalananda, in whom the nourishing/caring and instructing/enlightening functions of the divine feminine overlap, seems to cast her shadow over these legends.



Let us look at some such legends now. When Balananda Brahmachari, a great religious personality born in late-nineteenth-century India, visited the Nilachala Hill where the temple of Goddess Kamakhya is situated, he fell ill, suffering from cholera. It is said that, suddenly, a goddess (probably Devi Kamakhya herself) appeared before him and assured him that he would not die, even though she exhorted him to leave that place as soon as possible. Balananda then came round miraculously (Bharati 2013, 226). Here Devi is at once a miracle worker and a nourishing mother who also guides her children on the spiritual path, indicating to them the proper course of action. As Gopinath Kaviraj (2014, 72–73) relates in Jnanaganja, Swami Vishuddhananda Paramahamsa taught him repeatedly that a yogi would never be successful in yoga without the grace of the Divine Mother. The yogi must surrender himself to the Mother and then her divine grace would guide and empower the yogi on the path of yoga. These instances point to the fact that enlightening wisdom is not distanced from but implicated in Devi’s nourishing function and her maternal concerns. Probing more closely Vishuddhananda Paramahamsa’s focus on the centrality of the Goddess’s grace in yogic sadhana, we come to realize that, in yoga, as well as various other occult practices and experiences, Devi often assumes the form of an inner guru who guides the male subject from within his psyche. In this context, it might be pertinent to refer to an interesting work in Hindi which is generically hybrid, containing mystic drawings and their esoteric explanations related to Kundalini yoga. The author (and painter) of this book, Rakesh Kumar (2015, 5–9), says that these drawings emerged as automatic drawings, a spontaneous translation of his inner spiritual perceptions into lines and diagrams, and the entire process of artistic creation was caused by the grace of the Great Goddess. He dedicates the book to Ma Kamakhya. I would like to present another such instance of inner guidance offered by Devi to a male subject. The legend goes that, in the medieval period, a famed pundit lived in a village named Shiyakhala (now in the Hooghly district) in Bengal, and his son, Rajendranath, much to the chagrin of the father, seemed to be uninterested in the study of scriptures. One day, out of frustration with Rajendranath, his father asked his wife to offer the son ash instead of rice at lunchtime. Deeply saddened by this and also by his mother’s aggrieved admonition, Rajendranath decided to commit suicide by drowning in the river Kaushiki. However, before jumping into the river he remembered the Goddess, and, a miracle happened as soon as he jumped into the river. The Goddess whispered in his ear that he would



find her image under the water of the river and that he should install that image and start worshipping her. She also said that she would manifest herself in his intellect and his voice, thereby turning him into a great scholar. Rajendranath found the image of the Goddess and came out of the river. Then, he reached the place where his father was discussing with his students a complex issue concerning the scriptures. Rajendranath, the denigrated son, suddenly gave a fine solution to the exegetical problem that his father was discussing. The father, maddened with joy, embraced his son and declared him to be a great scholar. The temple of this Shakta-­ tantric goddess, Vishalakshi, who showered her grace on Rajendranath, was set up in due course (Achyutananda 2011, 193–195). In this instance, the son, evidently, does not automatically inherit the wisdom of the father; the legend thus undermines the patriarchal logic which often tends to take for granted the son’s inheritance of the father’s intangible resources. It is only through the Goddess’s intervention that he becomes a scholar. His human mother is powerless, and she can neither accept the son’s lack of intellectual abilities nor transmit wisdom to him in a supernatural way. The Goddess, however, transmits wisdom to him in a miraculous way. She is the guru who works from within and takes seat in his intellect, thereby giving him what the father could not give him. The Goddess as guru, the Goddess as Mother and the Goddess as miracle worker become one in the figure of the female deity of Rajendranath, named Vishalakshi. We need to note that, in the instances detailed above, the Goddess performs her function as guru/inner guide by manifesting how her power and her love form an integral whole. However, it might appear that, in these instances, the Goddess is too abstract, too disembodied and not homologizable with the human female except through philosophic discourses. Her voice appears to be a disembodied voice and not a corporeal female voice. Hence, it might be useful to provide, at this point, some counter-poising instances from the Buddhist tantric traditions which, in certain contexts, delineate a more concrete and intimate relation between flesh-and-blood women and the goddess in terms of authoritative female speech. However, following Miranda Shaw (1995, 102), we might see certain points of convergence between the abstract ways of Devi guiding her male devotees (instances detailed above) and the concrete ways of women operating as gurus and “spiritual mothers” of men in the vibrant spiritual and cultural domain of tantric Buddhism. Shaw (1995, 39–42) focuses on the respect shown towards flesh-and-blood women in the



goddess traditions of Buddhist tantra and highlights instances of men receiving the grace of tantric Buddhist goddesses through their respectful realization of “the innate divinity of a human woman” (1995, 43). She (1995, 106) relates how Vajravati, a female teacher in the tantric Buddhist tradition, taught the women of Uddiyana a meditation method centring round the goddess Wrathful Red Tara, seen by Vajravati as a female Buddha who is “Anandasukhesvari, or “Glorious Queen of Bliss and Joy””. Similarly, Lakshminkara, a medieval female tantric teacher who initiated the tradition of sahajayana, defying the conventional and complex ways of ritualistic worship, insists that human beings should try to sublimate their sexual drives to a higher level of spiritual experience, as the human body can become the most useful vehicle for sadhana and as Shakti or Prajnaparamita (the Buddhist Great Goddess) is present in all embodied women who facilitate the body-oriented sadhana (Mohanty 2010, 35–38). In Advaya-siddhi, she promulgates that one should always respect the body and respect women of all castes, as the Goddess Prajna has secretly assumed the human female forms (Mohanty 2010, 35). Rajendra Kumar Mohanty (2010, 36) argues that Lakshminkara’s new yana, or path of sadhana, had revolutionary potential, ushering in an egalitarian and anti-­ conformist approach to religion. Mohanty (2010, 37–38) goes on to say that a lot of women in medieval Orissa, especially from regions like Sambalpur, Sonpur and so on followed the footsteps of Lakshminkara and engaged in tantric sadhana. Seven such women became successful in their sadhana along the path of Sahaja Yoga and became siddha. They are still worshipped in Orissa. One of them is worshipped by the Adivasis in an area in Orissa. The others too are widely respected and the mantras composed by them are still practised by tantrikas. Shaw (1995, 111) recounts how Lakshminkara “taught the practice of Vajrayogini on the basis of the way this deity appeared to her in a vision”. As she (1995, 111) observes, “In her texts, Lakshminkara instructs the practitioner to practice this in a secluded place, as she did, and to imitate the deity, with hair loosely flowing and “clothed with the sky,” that is, naked”. Thus, in these cases, the speech of the enlightened woman, her teaching, is organically connected with the goddess. As Shaw (1995, 17) tells us, her informants often agreed to share their religious secrets with her on the basis of the assumption that “being female themselves, dakinis would naturally be more favorably disposed to women than to men and apparently had chosen to entrust a transmission of the secret yogini-tantra teachings to a woman at this time”.



Nevertheless, such direct goddess-woman correspondence is not totally absent from Hindu tantric cultures, either. It is said, for instance, that, when Kavindra Karnabharam, a South Indian scholar and tantric sadhaka, came to Tarapith, along with his wife and daughters, in the seventh century, to perform the sadhana of Devi, his wife became successful in the sadhana before he could be, as, being a woman, she was able to achieve the tantric enlightenment more quickly than her husband (Gupta 2009b, 42–43). Similarly, as Suman Gupta (2009b, 114–117) tells us, Jaykali, the elder sister of the great Bengali Shakta saint Bama Khyapa, after becoming a widow, had engaged in the sadhana of Goddess Tara and became a great sadhika. Interestingly, whereas Biernacki (2007, 54) denounces those strands of tantra which celebrate the practice of using women for a man’s tantric sadhana, June McDaniel (2004, 116) tells us about the female guru Archanapuri Ma who claimed that the women in “tantric arranged marriages” “were not used and thrown away, as most people believe”. Suman Gupta (2009b, 100–102) tells us about Pramila Giri, the female companion (bhairavi) of Kalababa, a male tantrika who had given her diksha. Pramila accompanied Kalababa to a number of tirthas throughout India, and they had performed sadhana together at Tarapith. They had visited Kamakhya too. While talking to Gupta, she implies that she has gained some memorable kinds of spiritual realization. Similarly, we get to know about Maganananda Bhairavi who affectionately cared for Bama Khyapa and set up a Kali temple (Gupta 2009b, 174). Gupta (2009a, 1–8) tells us about Bhairavi Kanchanbala, who, at the Kamakhya temple, related her life story to him. Fed up with her oppressive husband, she had left his home with the name of Goddess Kamakhya on her lips and, finally, did land at the Kamakhya temple. She admitted that, at one point of time, she had to remain awake throughout the night to save herself from the lust of men, but she also told Gupta of the spiritually ennobling and energizing life that she had obtained on the tantric path, illumined by Goddess Kamakhya. Patricia Dold (2013, 129) has commented on the significant religious agency enjoyed by the women residing on the Nilachala Hills, the dwelling place of Goddess Kamakhya, who perform, musically, the Nam of the Hindu deities. As she points out: Women of Kamakhya have indeed assumed religious power and authority in that they have, for generations, preserved, adapted, and performed the often mantra-like Nam to bring divine beings into residents’ hearts, homes, and neighborhoods. If Biernacki is correct about the kinds of discourses about



females available for centuries at the Kamakhya site, it is plausible that women and men of Kamakhya would recognize women’s singing of Nam as a religiously powerful means to maintain the divine presences and therefore the sacred and powerful character of the site itself.

It might be argued that the cultural context of Kamakhya which is centred on female energy and underpins the idea of women being embodiments of the Divine Shakti has encouraged these women to assume active agency in religious performance. One may be tempted to see these women as the active, yogini-like (a la Shaw [1995, 39]) agents of the Goddess who “maintain the divine presences and therefore the sacred and powerful character of the site itself”. They, it appears, hold together the web of sacrality, the living fabric of gods and goddesses, on the Nilachala Hills, even though the average pilgrim or tourist is not conversant with the significance of their function (Dold 2013, 115–116, 129–130). While the Divine Mother at the Nilachala Hills is seen as the ontological foundation of all “the divine presences” of the universe, these women, performatively, thread these presences together through their singing of Nam and maintain the occult energy of the site. In his famous Bengali work, Tantrabhilashir Sadhusanga, Pramodkumar Chattopadhyay (2014, 4–5, 285–287) presents the exciting accounts of his exposure to the world of tantra – tantric practitioners, tantric rituals and, most importantly, tantric women – in the early twentieth century. He (2014, 217–226, 414–421) focuses on the tantric women like Maheshvari and Elokeshi who evidently womansplained to him – sometimes with visible exasperation – about the injustice meted out to women in the mainstream Hindu society. It needs to be noted that Elokeshi refers to Jagadamba (the World Mother) as the origin of the divine agency which determines the principles of social regeneration highlighted by her (Chattopadhyay, Pramodkumar 2014, 421). Even though we get the voices of these tantric women as presented by a man, Pramodkumar, we can notice the transformative impact their authoritative speeches have on his male self-consciousness. In a later chapter I will discuss this impact in greater detail. In the domain of tantric astrology that pervades the popular Bengali belief systems, we come across female astrologers and tantrikas who claim to receive their occult powers directly from the Goddess. Many of them advertise their clairvoyance and occult skills through print and electronic media. Their inescapable presence is imprinted on the Bengali TV



channels, in the Bengali newspapers, on posters and hoardings in and around the cities of Bengal. Of course, there is no reason to trust all of them, but the fact remains that the tantric culture makes possible a discourse about women gaining special powers or wisdom from Devi. I personally know a number of women who are endowed with “special powers” of clairvoyance, and they would trace the origin of this power to their successful sadhana of Devi or to their possession by Devi. Such specially empowered women would explain things to their male devotees, unveil the mysteries of future happenings, and the latter would listen to them, overawed. It is through their agency that the benign imaginaries of the occult feminine get intertwined with the Bengali everydayness. In this chapter, we have explored the linkages between the authority of female speech and the desirability of female guidance in the tantric context. We have seen the points of divergence as well as convergence between the Goddess and flesh-and-blood women. However, I am not simply interested in excavating possible links between Devi’s speech and empowered women. What I try to foreground is the discursive possibility, displayed by Devi’s authoritative speech, of inculcating a culture of accepting womansplaining as grounded in non-oppressive female authority. This is not just a matter of thealogical innovation: this is something that can create in men an attitude of attentiveness to female voices, not just in the religious realm but also in the secular domain, in the academy, in the office, in the family. Even when women are not endowed with “special powers”, their right to speak powerfully and authoritatively in the context of decision-making (in the familial as well as social contexts) needs to be celebrated by those men whom Devi-as-Speaker, probably, anticipates teleopoetically. The instances of the authority of female speech and female guidance explored in this chapter can be seen as the probable situational paradigms that can be utilized teleopoetically for addressing the gender asymmetries which are often taken for granted in the patriarchal frameworks of understanding.

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Bhattacharya, Shyamacharan, ed. 2015. Stava Kavachamala o Dhyanamala. Revised by Bamdeb Bhattacharya. Kolkata: Tara Library. Biernacki, Loriliai. 2007. Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex, and Speech in Tantra. New York: Oxford University Press. Brihaddharma Purana. 1989. By Vedavyasa. Trans. Ramanuja Vidyarnava, Jagannatha Vidyarnava, Dwarakesh Kavyatirtha and Panchanan Tarkaratna, and ed. Panchanan Tarkaratna. Kolkata: Nababharat. Chattopadhyay, Pramodkumar. 2014. Tantrabhilashir Sadhusanga: Tin Khande Ekatre Akhanda Sanskaran. Kolkata: Vishvavani. Chattopadhyay, Surajit Kumar. 2014. “Nibedan.” In Nigama Tattvasara Tantram, trans. into Bengali and ed. Bhairava Shrimat Tripuranandanatha [Surajit Kumar Chattopadhyay], 3-4. Kolkata: Nababharat. Dold, Patricia. 2005. Kali the Terrific and Her Tests: The Sakta Devotionalism of the Mahabhagavata Purana. In Encountering Kali: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West, ed. Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffrey J. Kripal, 39–59. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ———. 2013. Re-imagining Religious History Through Women’s Song Performance at the Kamkahya Temple Site. In Re-imagining South Asian Religions: Essays in Honour of Professors Harold G.  Coward and Ronald W.  Neufeldt, ed. Pashaura Singh and Michael Hawley, 115–154. Leiden/ Boston: Brill. Gupta, Sanjukta. 2000. Introduction to First Edition. In Laksmi Tantra: A Pancaratra Text, trans. Sanjukta Gupta, xv-xxxvi. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Gupta, Suman. 2009a. Debipith Kamakhya. Kolkata: Dip Prakashan. ———. 2009b. Tarapither Tara Ma. Kolkata: Dip Prakashan. Kaviraj, Gopinath. 2014. Jnanaganja: A Space for Timeless Divinity. Trans. Gautam Chatterjee. Varanasi: Indian Mind. Kulachudamani Tantra. 1915. Ed. Girisha Chandra Vedantatirtha. Tantric Texts, ed. JohnWoodroffe, vol. 4. Calcutta: Sanskrit Press. Kumar, Rakesh. 2015. Kulakula Pathagamini Ma Kundalini. Varanasi: Pilgrims. Laksmi Tantra: A Pancaratra Text. 2000. Trans. Sanjukta Gupta. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Maitra, Akshay Kumar. 1915. Introduction. In Kulachudamani Tantra, ed. Girisha Chandra Vedantatirtha (Tantric Texts, ed. John Woodroffe, vol. 4), 1–22. Calcutta: Sanskrit Press. McDaniel, June. 1989. The Madness of the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press. ———. 2004. Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press. Mellard, James M. 2006. Beyond Lacan. Albany: State University of New York Press. Mohanty, Rajendra Kumar. 2010. Tantra Shiromani Shri Jagannath. Trans. into Hindi Srinivas Udgata. Bhubaneswar: Mahavir Prakashan.



Mukhopadhyay, Debranjan. 1967. Shaktidarshan o Shakta Kabi. Kolkata: Bharati. Mukhopadhyay, Anway. 2018. The Goddess in Hindu-Tantric Traditions: Devi as Corpse. London/New York: Routledge. Nigama Tattvasara Tantram. 2014. Trans. into Bengali and ed. Bhairava Shrimat Tripuranandanatha [Surajit Kumar Chattopadhyay]. Kolkata: Nababharat. Nye, Andrea. 1992. The Hidden Host: Irigaray and Diotima at Plato’s Symposium. In Revaluing French Feminism: Critical Essays on Difference, Agency, and Culture, ed. Nancy Fraser and Sandra Lee Bartky, 77–93. Bloomington/ Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Padoux, Andre. 1990. Vac: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras. Trans. Jacques Gontier. Albany: State University of New York Press. Pithanirnayah (Mahapithanirupanam). 2004. In The Sakta Pithas, by D. C. Sircar, 42–58. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Shaw, Miranda. 1995. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Shri Mahabhagavata Upapurana. 2010. By Vedavyasa. Trans. Prema Khullar (in Hindi) and ed. Acharya Mrityunjaya Tripathi. Varanasi: Navashakti Prakashan. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2001a. A Note on the New International. Parallax 7 (3): 12–16. ———. 2001b. Moving Devi. Cultural Critique 47 (Winter): 120–163. Svami, Sri Vimalananda. 2011. Introduction to the Vimalanandadayini Commentary on the “Karpuradi Stotra”. Trans. John Woodroffe. In Hymns to the Goddess and Hymn to Kali. Trans. and ed. John Woodroffe, 251–281. Madras: Ganesh. Yogini Tantra, with Hindi Commentary. 2012. Ed. Harihar Prasad Tripathi. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy. Kishor Granthamala, 57.


Two “Devis”, Two “Gurus” Speaking with Authority: Sarada Devi and Anandamayi Ma

In this chapter, we are going to focus on two celebrated female spiritual figures from modern India, Sarada Devi and Anandamayi Ma, who were seen by their devotees as avatars of the Great Goddess as well as gurus. It would be interesting to study the way men, in the domestic as well as public domain, responded to them. While the female gurus in modern Indian society are often seen as a “new” phenomenon, we need to note that, in many cases (and prominently so in the two cases taken up for discussion in this chapter), they are not just gurus but also the Goddess incarnate and, hence, need to be seen as grounded in the history of authoritative female speech in the Indic goddess traditions which have, from time to time, witnessed overlaps as well as points of divergence between Goddess-speech and women’s voices, and have also witnessed male receptivity to female guidance in spiritual matters. From the wide array of authoritative female speech in the Indic spiritual traditions that we have already discussed, it becomes clear that the flesh-­ and-­blood female guru, celebrated in the tantric cultures of late medieval and modern times, does not emerge from a void, a cauldron of silence, but rather comes out of a long tradition of female speakers and their male listeners. Though Biernacki (2007, 51) observes that “we do not find women as gurus in earlier Tantras from before the thirteenth century, such as the KCT [Kulachudamani Tantra]”, I would rather argue that we can probably see the enlightening speech of Devi to her “baby-husband” (McDaniel 1989, 86–87) in the Kulachudamani itself, a © The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




tenth-century-CE text (Biernacki 2007, 94), as prefiguring the flesh-and-­ blood female gurus in the later tantric cultures explored by Biernacki (2007). The tantric tradition explored by Biernacki (2007, 47–51) presents women as possible gurus in tantric sadhana. In one instance, Goddess Parvati asks Shiva about the “visualization” of the female guru (Biernacki 2007, 47). Drawing on the tantric texts like the Rudrayamala and the tantric digests like the Pranatoshini and Shaktanandatarangini, Biernacki (2007, 47–51) focuses on the complex and multilayered tantric discourses on the female guru. Within this tradition of foregrounding the female guru, an initiation from a female guru is seen as auspicious and spiritually fructifying (Biernacki 2007, 47). Biernacki (2007, 48) also focuses on the Striguru Gita from the Kankalamalini Tantra which, I would argue, can be seen as related to the long tradition of the Shakta Gitas where female speech is recognized as the source of spiritual illumination. As June McDaniel (2004, 107) observes, many tantric texts foreground the eligibility of women to be gurus and the supremacy of the status of a practitioner’s mother as a guru, something which signals a remarkable divergence from the Brahminical traditions. Miranda Shaw (1995, 97) observes that, in tantric Buddhism, the woman guru is figured as either a wandering teacher or one settling down at a place. She (1995, 97) says, “Women were free to develop unique teaching styles that suited their temperament, expressed their special insights, and met the needs of their disciples”. Shaw (1995, 97–98), here, goes on to focus on Kumudara who treated her disciple with maternal affection. As Karen Pechilis (2011, 105–106) observes, even though the figuration of the woman guru as “mother” is quite common in Hinduism, the guru as mother is, however, maternal in a different and broader sense, and she would often move away from the rigid societal codes of wifehood and motherhood which generally inform the normative structure of Hindu patriarchy. It is necessary to perceive that the maternality of the female guru is not a biological trait but a social and spiritual attitude. The maternal mode of teaching the disciple is a unique mode of spiritual communication which can be seen as emerging from the female guru’s psycho-spiritual capacity for offering effective and authoritative but non-imperious guidance  – not from her female biology. Swami Ranganathananda (2013, 41–43) says that “motherhood” should not exclusively imply genetic motherhood; it must involve the idea of “spiritual motherhood” as well. Spiritual motherhood, according to him, is not just grounded in female biology. Drawing on the famous shloka from the Devi-mahatmya which



enunciates that Devi “exists in all beings as mother” (Ya devi sarva bhutesu matr rupena samsthita), Ranganathananda (2013, 42–43) insists that a father as well as a mother may have the “mother-­heart”. It might be argued that the female guru’s maternal authority proceeds from her spiritually active mother-heart rather than from her female biology, and she teaches her male as well as female disciples  – probably more effectively than the kind of male spiritual guide who suppresses his mother-heart to project an ascetic masculinity (Neal 2008, 119) can do – how to develop and nurture the mother-heart in their innermost being. We need to dwell on how the woman guru, often seen by her devotees as a manifestation of the Goddess, represents the female as universal which characterizes the nature of Devi or Shakti in Shakta philosophy (Pechilis 2011, 106–107). Pechilis (2011, 109) observes how, in the US context, Siddha Yoga, which has a woman guru at its centre, becomes the site for the overlapping of “the constituencies of feminist goddess spirituality and of the path of female gurus”. According to Pechilis (2011, 100–104), one cannot easily equate the tradition of female gurus in Hinduism with Western feminism, because there are many points of epistemic and ideological divergence between them. However, the women practitioners participating in the spiritual paths led by the female guru may, as Pechilis (2011, 109, 112; 2004, 10) notes, see the female guru’s teachings as empowering women. One can see the tantric and bhakti traditions as offering a space to the feminine that is absent from the spiritual-theological doctrines of Advaita Vedanta (Pechilis 2004, 15, 19–20). Pechilis (2004, 20) focuses on the way in which tantra and Shaktism foregrounded the oneness of Brahman and Shakti/Devi, thereby elevating the feminine to a “supreme status in tantric spirituality”. She (2004, 15, 18–19) refers to the Tripura Rahasya while exploring the history of the various configurations of female gurus in Hinduism. As we have already noticed, the Tripura Rahasya, by adapting the teachings of Advaita Vedanta to a tantric frame, posits the onto-­ theological centrality of the Goddess as one with the Absolute. In short, what is Brahman for the Advaita Vedantin becomes the Goddess Tripura in the Tripura Rahasya. Pechilis’s exploration of the history of the figurations of the female guru in Hinduism indicates the necessity to understand and appreciate the continuum I have been focusing on. She (2004, 24) points out that, in the Devibhagavata Devi Gita, Goddess Bhuvaneshvari is not just the “Supreme ruler” but also the “supreme guru”. Besides, she (2004, 24–25) focuses on the connection between the role of the mother



and that of the guru which are fused in the figure of the Goddess in the Devibhagavata Devi Gita. Pechilis (2004, 25) argues that this Devi Gita, by insisting on Devi’s omnipresence in the universe, foregrounds a feminine universality, where it becomes possible to believe that “all of humankind is essentially female”. However, Pechilis (2004, 26) notes that women gurus (such as those in the Tripura Rahasya or the Yoga Vasishtha) were confined, prior to the late medieval era of burgeoning tantric ideologies, to the domestic sphere, and “only the Goddess, who was independent of a male God, however, is uncontroversially represented as a public, universal teacher”. As Pechilis (2004, 31–32), drawing on Linda Johnsen’s work, observes, the rise of the female guru in twentieth-century Hinduism (a phenomenon which has transnationally widened its network) can be seen as the movement of the female guru out of the domestic space to the public sphere, and it is notable that many male Hindu saints and spiritual leaders of modern India have passed their spiritual authority to women who, in turn, have become spiritual leaders as female gurus. I would argue that, in the spiritual domain, the female guru forces the “malestream” (Delamont 2003, 115) Hindu society to acknowledge and respect the legitimacy of womansplaining. Following Pechilis (2004, 11), I would like to see this phenomenon as coterminous with “the rise of the Goddess as a universal teacher”, as opposed to the codification of the Great Goddess exclusively as a fierce saviouress (the trope of the demon-slayer) which often seems to be the most prominent aspect of the Hindu goddess cultures. Marie-Therese Charpentier (2010, 228–230), while discussing the links between the female gurus of Hinduism and the Goddess cultures, focuses on the concept of avatara/incarnation which may present the female guru as an avatar of the Great Goddess. Charpentier (2010, 243–246) dwells on the Hindu perception of the overlap between the female guru and the female avatar, and the Hindu celebration of the manifestation of the divinity of Devi in the human body of the guru. One may add that Parvati as a female avatar in the Shakta Gitas of the Mahabhagavata Upapurana and the Kurma Puranam could be seen as a precursor of the female gurus of the contemporary times. Parvati, in these texts, just like the female gurus of modern India, is divine as well human – simultaneously. Whereas a Hindu man conforming to the patriarchal codes of orthodox Hinduism would probably ignore the voice of the flesh-and-­ blood woman, he would probably listen more readily to the divine-human voice of the female guru, like Himalaya in the Devi Gitas that I have



discussed in detail in Chaps. 2 and 3. That “ethic of listening” (Parks 2019, xiv–xv) which a male who habitually participates in Hindu patriarchal discourses would seldom embrace becomes an imperative for him, when the speaker embodies the Goddess. Of course, it would be absurd to see this listening as automatically inspiring a feminist sensibility in the Hindu man, but, in this context, one can ponder over the possibility of the “teleopoetic” expansion of Devi’s womansplaining (discussed in the previous chapter) not just towards the female gurus of the contemporary times but also towards the authority of the female speech in general, compelling men to adopt an ethics of listening to the female voices. So long as reverence to the Goddess does not get transformed into an ethical orientation to the female Other, Devi’s womansplaining cannot make her male devotee egalitarian in terms of gender. Is there a possibility to usher in such an ethics of listening? Let us explore the issue by looking at the male responses to the voices of two most celebrated female gurus of the last century, Sarada Devi and Anandamayi Ma. Both Biernacki (2007, 47) and McDaniel (2004, 123) identify the Bhairavi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s tantric guru, as one of the most significant recorded instances of female guru-hood in the tantric context. As Karen Pechilis (2004, 32) notes, “Ramakrishna shared power with his wife, and appointed Gauri Ma as a leader of female-directed activities and services”. Ramakrishna’s wife, Sarada Devi, is considered to be an avatar of the Great Goddess by the monks of the Ramakrishna Mission. It is quite clear that Ramakrishna himself was the guru of Sarada Devi and taught her the mantras with which she would later initiate many spiritual aspirants (Gambhirananda 2012, 91). However, it would be wrong to believe that the real source of her spiritual authority is a “man”, as Ramakrishna maintained an androgynous identity, often claiming to be marked with a (spiritual) femininity (Gambhirananda 2012, 43; Chattopadhyay 2013, 152). Besides, Ramakrishna’s own tantric guru was a woman, the Bhairavi, and Ramakrishna saw his ishtadevi, Goddess Kali herself, as the ultimate source of the wisdom that he transmitted (Chattopadhyay 2013, 98–100). Both Ramakrishna and Sarada have been seen by their devotees as manifestations of Kali on earth (Atmasthananda 2017, 30–31). However, before his demise, Ramakrishna indeed “passed his spiritual authority” (Johnsen 1994, 22–23) to Sarada Devi. Ramakrishna himself had told Golap Ma, one of the female attendants of Sarada Devi, that Sarada was the embodiment of Sarasvati, the Goddess of knowledge (Gambhirananda 2012, 92). For the disciples of Ramakrishna like Premananda and Vivekananda,



Sarada was not just the Great Goddess but someone whose greatness even surpassed the spiritual glory of Ramakrishna (Gambhirananda 2012, 92–93). Ramakrishna himself had worshipped Sarada as an embodiment of the Great Goddess and saw her as a manifestation of Devi (Gambhirananda 2012, 38–42). Swami Abjajananda (1992, 17–24) insists that, by worshipping Sarada as Goddess Shodashi, Ramakrishna had installed her at the heart of the spiritual movement initiated by him, just as Shankaracharya had installed Goddess Shri Vidya in his Shringeri Math. Ramakrishna told Sarada that she would have to play a great role in the spiritual enlightenment of the people after his demise (Gambhirananda 2012, 96). Swami Gambhirananda (2012, 2–3) underlines the role, in the life of Sarada, of the avatar of Devi as the enlightener of the unenlightened rather than as the destroyer of demons. However, while Spivak’s (2001, 123, 155–156) “Moving Devi”, despite referring to Sarada Devi’s “exquisite utterances” and her “tact and wisdom”, may give the impression that Sarada was a passive recipient of the worship of her husband and the self-assertive monks of the Ramakrishna Math, somewhat like the woman forced to become a Devi and worshipped ritualistically in Satyajit Ray’s film, Devi, Sarada Devi, in fact, did assert her voice a number of times, in various contexts, and her male devotees, including the monks of the Ramakrishna Order, obeyed her without questioning her authority. She repeatedly reminded the monks that the Sangha, the Ramakrishna Order, was and should always be grounded in love and not just in rigid, lifeless disciplinarism (Gambhirananda 2012, 258–259). She was seen as the Mother of the Sangha (Gambhirananda 2012, 258). She offered decisive advice to her male devotees, leading some of them on the path of the householder, some others (with more spiritual strength and earnestness) on the path of asceticism (Gambhirananda 2012, 264–265). As Pechilis (2004, 8; 2011, 105–106) observes, many female gurus in Hindu traditions deviate from the conventional societal roles of wife and mother. Even though Sarada was married, she lived a celibate life and encouraged many girls to embrace a life of celibacy and self-sufficiency at a time when the Bengali society saw marriage as the only goal of female existence (Someshwarananda 2009, 537–538). She guided many monks and brahmacharis of the Ramakrishna Math on spiritual and practical issues (Gambhirananda 2012, 258–278), thereby setting in motion, as it were, a Devi Gita in the domain of the everyday. Once an Oriya servant, after he stole something, was driven out of the Math by Swami Vivekananda.



When he took shelter under Sarada, she told Premananda, another disciple of Ramakrishna, to take the poverty-stricken servant back to the Math. Premananda hesitated and told her that Vivekananda might be angered by the servant’s return to the Math. However, she assertively put forward her command to take the servant back – which was obeyed (Gambhirananda 2012, 287). She reassured her devotees time and again that she would take full responsibility for their spiritual upliftment (Gambhirananda 2012, 305, 309–312). Such statements were performative utterances, instilling faith and hope in their minds. Men and women, suffering from a sense of guilt for some past wrongdoings, were assured by her of their salvation (Gambhirananda 2012, 307; SSMK 65). She gave mantric initiation to many women as well as men, and these mantras, communicated by her, are supposed to have been full of mystic energy and capable of transforming the lives of her disciples (Gambhirananda 2012, 312–316, 318–323, Sengupta 2009, 232–235). As a guru, she instructed her disciples in the nitty-gritty of spiritual affairs, brushing away their confusion and doubts (Gambhirananda 2012, 304–324). Once Shibu, Ramakrishna’s nephew, implored Sarada Devi to reveal her true nature to him. She, prodded by Shibu, finally stated that she was Kali herself, and this performative utterance – establishing her Devi-hood through the very act of saying what she said – satisfied him (Gambhirananda 2012, 328–329). As we come to understand from a number of anecdotes presented by Gambhirananda (2012), her speeches were a concrete source of spiritual solace and reassurance for her devotees. More often than not, she would emphatically tell her doubt-driven, anguished disciples, relatives or devotees that she was the Goddess herself, and this self-revelation on her part would empower them, allaying their angst and fear (Gambhirananda 2012, 325–337). Here, do we not come across the shadows of the speech contexts of the Shakta Devi Gitas where Devi often reveals her status as the Absolute to her devotee? Is it the case that Sarada Devi’s utterances embody a subterraneous palimpsest of the speeches of the reassuring, enlightening Devi in the Devi Gitas and in multiple other texts that I have discussed? One can perceive that her speeches echo the speeches of Devi that the Shakta traditions have heard for centuries, thereby letting her voice as a female guru, full of compassion, overlap with that of the archetypal Devi-as-teacher whom this book seeks to foreground and celebrate. Gambhirananda (2012, 338–342) also relates a number of instances where her speech functioned  – mystically  – as a performative



utterance revealing the future. What she said would later become the reality. While Sarada would occasionally refer to herself as the Goddess, mostly, she would refer to the Goddess in the third person, nevertheless revealing her intimate relation with the Goddess when She is conceived, in her speech, as ostensibly different from her. She would, for instance, speak of Goddess Kali’s and Goddess Jagaddhatri’s mystic messages to her (Das 2017, 29; Gambhirananda 2012, 49–50). She would approve of merrymaking during the immersion of the idol of Durga at the Math, thereby refuting the efficacy of dry austerity as a means of spiritual illumination (SSMK231). While visiting the Advaita Ashram at Mayavati in the Himalayas, Vivekananda disapproved of the worship of Ramakrishna’s photograph, as he wanted that Ashram to be totally free from idolatry and focused on the formless Absolute. When Vivekananda’s disciples, dissatisfied with his decision, contacted Sarada Devi and asked for her opinion, she stated firmly that all the disciples of Ramakrishna were advaitin/non-­ dualist and hence Vivekananda’s decision was flawless (Basu 2009, 186–187). The famous Bengali writer, Ashapurna Devi (2009, 448–451), says that Sarada Devi’s teaching has a deep social significance, as she has always focused on the ability of love to shatter social hierarchies. Swami Prabhananda (2009, 459–461) opines that it is not just Ramakrishna and Vivekananda who have given shape to the neo-Vedantic movement; Sarada Devi has lent life to that movement through her teachings. Swami Lokeshwarananda (2009, 420–421) draws our attention to a particular incident. While Vivekananda wanted to include animal sacrifice in the Durga puja rituals at Belur Math, Sarada Devi prohibited that bloody ritual. Vivekananda accepted her command. Lokeshwarananda (2009, 420–421) comments that, while Vivekananda might have argued with Ramakrishna in such a case, he accepted Sarada Devi’s command without any argument. Similarly, once Vivekananda wanted to sell the property of the Math to fund relief work during the outbreak of plague in Calcutta. It was Sarada who kept him from doing so, and the Math was saved (Lokeshwarananda 2009, 421–422). She underlined the omnipresence of the Divine in concrete rather than abstract terms: the compassionate Sarada told Jnan Maharaj, a regular punisher of mischievous cats, that she was present even in the cat (Atmasthananda 2017, 38–39). Here, once again, we find an echo of Devi’s assertion of her omnipresence in the Devibhagavata Devi Gita, though in a more concretized, palpable form. Sarada would often explicitly express her disgust with the violence of the



British colonial administration, even though she would also proclaim that she was the mother of all, including the white people whom she forbade her Indian children to hate (Mukhopadhyay 2009, 503–505, 509). Her speeches often betrayed a coruscating sense of humour too: even though she did occasionally acknowledge her oneness with Kali, she, in a humorous tone, told Sister Nivedita that she would not be able to play Kali always, as that would require her to perpetually show her tongue (Chattopadhyay 2013, 173–174). Sarada’s speeches are characterized by reticence and not verbosity, depth rather than loudness. Yet, they are full of authority, an authority that was accepted by her husband and her male disciples. Not devoid of humour, her speech betrays a significant aspect of womansplaining, proving that the authoritative female speech is not informed by aggression and desire for mastery. It involves firmness but not cruelty and shows us that womansplaining is not mansplaining gendered feminine  – it involves an “ethics of care” (Held 2006, 9–13) and a departure from the “phallogocentric system” (Braidotti 2011, 96–98). On the basis of my personal communications with the monks of the Ramakrishna Mission, I can say that, beneath the surface of their ascetic masculinity, they continue to be inspired by Sarada’s matribhava – the maternal affection interwoven with her authoritative speeches – and seek to promote an ethics of love, care and tolerance. While Charpentier (2010, 225) talks about a “renaissance of goddess imagery” with reference to Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Vivekananda, and associates it with the “Hindu struggle against English colonialism”, I think that we need to focus on the more sustained influence of Sarada’s guru-hood and Devi-hood on the ethos of the Ramakrishna Mission which carves a space for “spiritual motherhood” within an apparently exclusive sphere of ascetic masculinity. One needs to underline the importance of Sarada’s status as an avatar of the divine feminine in the subtext of the spiritual and socio-cultural discourses put forward by the Ramakrishna Order. If we deeply probe into the theology promoted by the Ramakrishna Order, we will find that it is not just the Shankarite monism but rather a theology grounded in the centrality of a Shakta-tantric figuration of the all-pervasive divine feminine. Swami Vishuddhananda, the eighth President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, who was a disciple of Sarada Devi and received spiritual initiation from her (Vishuddhananda 2016, 64–65), explains that whatever speech of Sri Ramakrishna is recorded in the Ramakrishna Kathamrita (which is a kind of bible for the Ramakrishna Order) actually came from



Jagadamba (the World Mother) herself (Vishuddhananda 2018, 77). He (2018, 77) says that Ramakrishna spoke from a higher plane of spiritual realization, where the Goddess’s own speech was transmitted through this saint. If we accept this logic, then we need to understand that Ramakrishna himself, in his role as guru (or jagadguru/world teacher, as his followers would insist), was but a manifestation of the Goddess. Vishuddhananda (2018, 71) further suggests that Ramakrishna’s lila (divine play) was basically the play of remaining firmly seated in the lap of the Divine Mother. He, as Vishuddhananda (2018, 71) insists, did not even slightly differentiate himself from Goddess Kali and became totally merged in her. Hence, the jnana (spiritual wisdom) Ramakrishna conveyed to the world was the jnana coming from the Goddess herself and was, as he would insist, an endless flow of wisdom (Vishuddhananda 2018, 105). Vishuddhananda (2016, 152) also points out that Ramakrishna built up his Sangha (congregation) by having Swami Vivekananda as its bedrock. According to Vishuddhananda (2016, 151–152), it is Goddess Kali herself who was behind all the tremendous intellectual and spiritual works performed by Vivekananda. In Swami Vishuddhananda’s spiritual universe, Sarada is indistinguishable from the World Mother whom he (2016, 164–165) sees as the central force behind all the achievements of the spiritual movement initiated by Ramakrishna and concretized by Vivekananda, and he (2016, 164–165) highlights her glory by implying that Sarada was even greater than Ramakrishna as she was seen and worshipped as the Great Goddess by Ramakrishna himself. Swami Saradananda, who served Sarada Devi with utmost devotion and sincerity and whom Sarada trusted and considered to be her most dependable spiritual son, unequivocally states in his magnum opus on Ramakrishna, Shri Shri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga, that the ultimate secret of Ramakrishna’s guru-hood lies in his total dependence on Goddess Kali (2016, 101). He (2016, 101) says that, though Ramakrishna wanted to become merged in the mystic Absolute and thus totally detached from the world, it was Kali who forced him to remain in the midst of the sorrows and pains of the material universe to enlighten the spiritual seekers. Saradananda (2016, 102) insists that Ramakrishna understood that the Divine Mother Kali instrumentalized his mind and body to actualize her will to enlighten the spiritually benighted souls. In his (2016, 102–103) opinion, Ramakrishna’s guru-hood was, essentially, Kali’s play with her child. It was Kali who imposed this guru-hood on her child, and it was actually Kali’s own guru-shakti which flowed through the body and mind



of Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna, Saradananda (2016, 104–105) insists, was aware of this manifestation of the divine energy of Kali in his person. He understood that Kali would mystically choose and draw the spiritual seekers to him for their own enlightenment and the enlightenment of the world. All these disciples, Ramakrishna came to realize, would partake of the divine energy of Kali herself, and he would be the transmitter of this tremendous spiritual energy. He understood that it was the Goddess herself who was also behind his realization that all religious paths were equally valid and they converged on the same mystic goal of spiritual illumination (Saradananda 2016, 104). It was the Goddess who had mystically intimated to him which disciples would come to be enlightened by him and which among them would be the closest to his soul (Saradananda 2016, 104–105). Saradananda (2016, 101–109) says that this is the “sheshkatha” (the ultimate truth) of gurubhava (guru-hood) as far as Ramakrishna is concerned. He (2017, 62–64) reiterates that guru-hood, in general, is nothing but a special manifestation of the World Mother’s divine energy as an enlightening and spiritually liberating force. We come to understand that, in this kind of conceptualization of guru-hood, the guru (whether male or female) is viewed, essentially, as a manifestation of the enlightening power of the Great Goddess, and hence, the (putatively male) speech of Ramakrishna draws its authority from a feminine source. However, the female embodiment of this guru-shakti seems to be more awe-inspiring than its male embodiment, and the female guru appears to be a more immediate physical manifestation of the Goddess than her male counterpart. Underlining Vivekananda’s overt declaration of Sarada’s primacy over Ramakrishna, Brahmachari Akshayachaitanya (2017, 262–263), the noted biographer of Sarada Devi, insists that Ramakrishna’s spiritual oeuvre was centred on the Divine Mother, even though his sadhana embraced different religious paths with equal passion. Akshayachaitanya (2017, 262–263) argues that Sarada is the human embodiment of the transcendental Goddess worshipped by Ramakrishna, the Divine Mother as Jagaddhatri, that is, the divine energy that sustains the universe. Hence, even though the devotees of Ramakrishna do believe that he became one with Kali, that his will got merged in Kali’s will, Sarada remains a more direct avatar of the Goddess than Ramakrishna, as far as the monastic and lay devotees’ outlook is concerned. Saradananda (2017, 206–209) enunciates that Ramakrishna saw his own wife, Sarada, as a manifestation of the Divine Mother, and, when he worshipped her as Shodashi, one of the glorious Mahavidya forms of Devi, on the new moon night of the



Phalaharini Kalipuja, he surrendered himself totally to the Goddess embodied in Sarada. Saradananda identifies this moment as the point of the culmination of Ramakrishna’s sadhana, when his “deva-manavatva” (divine humanity) achieved its spiritual completion through the worship of the transcendental Goddess embodied as Vidya (wisdom) in Sarada. He suggests that even this worship of Sarada as Shodashi was inspired by the Goddess herself whose will actualized itself through Ramakrishna’s spiritual life. What we gather from all this is that, for the spiritually enlightened monks of the Ramakrishna Order, there is no fundamental ontological difference between Kali, Ramakrishna and Sarada, and the divine feminine flows through all the activities of the Ramakrishna Order as a subterraneous force that may work through male as well as female subjects as a compassionate, enlightening agency. However, the high status accorded to Ma Sarada, and even to the Sarada Math that is meant for female monastics, within the circles of the monastic as well as lay disciples of the Ramakrishna Order (Bhattacharya and Mukhopadhyay 2016, 165), makes it clear that Sarada’s identification with the Goddess is more prominent, if not more profound, than Ramakrishna’s. Swami Bhajanananda (2017), another monk of the Ramakrishna Mission, echoes the enunciations of Saradananda and Vishuddhananda. He (2017, 15) says that while Ramakrishna began his sadhana by seeing himself as the child of Goddess Kali, after the fructification of that sadhana, he became one with the Mother and assumed a maternal role to spiritually illumine his disciples. Bhajanananda (2017, 15) points out that while Ramakrishna would not like to be addressed as “Baba” (Father) or “Guru”, he would appreciate the sentiment of a disciple who saw him as a mother. Indeed, many of his young disciples such as Tarak (later Swami Shivananda, who became the President of the Ramakrishna Mission) liked to see Ramakrishna as their mother (Bhajanananda 2017, 15). However, drawing on a statement made by Sarada Devi herself, Bhajanananda (2017, 15) insists that this maternal side of Ramakrishna has been manifested in full glory in the personality of Sarada who has become the universal mother for everyone in the world. It appears that the unfinished work of Ramakrishna-as-mother was finished by Sarada-as-mother. Swami Budhananda (2015, 6–7) says that Kali it was, who forced Vivekananda to perform the enormous intellectual and spiritual tasks that Ramakrishna had wanted him to accomplish. He insists that, when we look deeply into the relation between Ramakrishna as guru and Vivekananda as disciple, we



come to find that they are ontologically indistinguishable. In other words, if Ramakrishna became one with Kali, then Vivekananda too became, as it were, possessed by Kali, instrumentalized by her (Budhananda 2015, 27–28). Thus, interestingly, in the Ramakrishna Order, in different ways, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Sarada have all been identified with Kali or her invisible and inscrutable force, and yet, Sarada-as-Mother or Sarada-­ as-­Kali appears to be the most ardently venerated, living form of the Goddess. In fact, the popular devotional emotions in Bengal that are stimulated by the spiritual frameworks supplied by the Ramakrishna movement often privilege the figure of Sarada Devi over that of Ramakrishna or Vivekananda. There are many lay devotees who would equate Sarada with Goddess Durga in such absolute terms that they would offer worship to the photograph of Sarada rather than an image of Durga during the Durga Puja. Photographs of Sarada taken in different situations would be equated with different forms of the Great Goddess, even though, in all these photographs, she appears in the form of an ordinary human female. Most importantly, her speeches are seen as the most practical kinds of advice that can enlighten the samsaris (the lay householders, both male and female) and ennoble the grihastha’s (householder’s) vocation. Akshayachaitanya (2017, Appendix, 1–38) offers a very long list of the individuals (lay as well as monastic, male as well as female) who received mantra-diksha from Sarada Devi. However, Sarada’s status as Goddess extends her function as a guru: whereas she, while in her mortal form, spiritually initiated certain individuals directly, she, as the immortal divine feminine, keeps enlightening her uncountable devotees (both inside and outside the Ramakrishna Mission circuit) who see her as a sort of Wisdom Goddess who can make human life more meaningful. Sarada Devi’s status as guru and goddess led to the clearing of an alternative space for religious women in the society of colonial Bengal. Golap Ma and Yogin Ma, Sarada Devi’s female companions, could find an alternative mode of spiritually fulfilling life outside the strictly demarcated boundaries of the domestic sphere. The sphere to which they got access can be equated with neither the public space nor the private one. This was a unique space where spiritual motivation brought women together and even allowed for an open spiritual congregation of both men and women, and the conventional ideas of gender roles became altered (Tejasananda 2016, 134–166). Yogin Ma, in fact, received tantric kaula-sannyasa from Ishwar Chandra Chakrabarty and got engaged in tantric sadhana. Finally, she also received Vedic sannyasa from Swami Saradananda. Navigating



between monastic and domestic roles, Yogin Ma ruptured the strict gender codes prevalent in the colonial Bengali society (Tejasananda 2016, 148). In the case of Gauri Ma, we find a more significant manifestation of the alternative societal function of a woman, especially within a monastic framework (Anderson 2004, 65–66). She saw Sarada Ma as the manifestation of the Great Goddess and, inspired by Ramakrishna’s and Sarada’s ideals, set up the Saradeshvari Ashram in 1895 (Tejasananda 2016, 182, 186–187; Anderson 2004, 69, 73). Quite a few women, including married and unmarried ones as well as widows, became ashramites in this ashram. Certain monks of the Ramakrishna Order regularly provided encouragement to Gauri Ma’s struggle for the spiritual welfare and intellectual betterment of women (Tejasananda 2016, 186). Swami Tejasananda (2016, 187–192) informs us that Gauri Ma did not keep herself confined to the spiritual domain alone; rather, she would often provide succour to beleaguered women and fight for maintaining the dignity of ordinary women. Carol S. Anderson (2004, 73–74) notes how greatly Sarada Devi helped Gauri Ma in “ma[king] the [Saradeshvari] ashram possible”. However, we need to understand that, for Gauri Ma, Sarada Devi was both a human support and a divine inspirer: while Sarada the woman was a human friend and helper, Saradeshvari, that is, Sarada-as-ishvari (Goddess), was a constant source of inspiration, a psycho-spiritual motive force. Gauri Ma’s ashram still exists and thrives in Bengal. Interestingly, female guru-hood in this ashram is rooted in the guru-hood of Sarada Devi, in terms of its spiritual lineage. As Anderson (2004, 75) notes, here, “the authority to grant initiation comes not from Gauri Ma but from Sarada Devi.” Anderson (2004, 79) rightly observes that Gauri Ma’s “position as a guru of the Sri Sri Saradeshvari Ashram” became possible thanks to the constant support she received from Sarada Devi. It is interesting to notice that Sarada Devi, who embodied the Goddess as well as the guru-shakti, made it possible for Gauri Ma, a friend and devotee of hers, to be a guru without being a goddess. While assessing the relevance of Sarada Devi to the lives of modern Indian women, Kana Basu Mishra raises an interesting issue. She (2009, 579, 582–583) says that the agonistic model of feminism where men are seen as women’s only oppressors is flawed in that, more often than not, women also emerge as oppressors of women. She cites the example of the mother-in-law oppressing her daughter-in-law which is quite common in the modern Indian society and has its darkest manifestation in the cases where the mother-in-law tortures the young daughter-in-law (sometimes



to death) out of her greed for a larger dowry that could be extorted from the in-laws. Basu Mishra (2009, 578–581) points out that, while pondering over women’s modernity and empowerment, one needs to address some deeper social and psychological malaises in contemporary India than are addressed through the agonistic model of feminism. She (2009, 582–583) writes that Sarada’s ideals, grounded in the principle of love and fellow feeling, have the capacity for responding to the deeper existential needs of modern India, and she is still relevant for the modern Indian woman. Nachiketa Bharadwaj (2009, 590–592) notes how Sarada’s authoritative voice would often enthuse the women marginalized in mainstream Hindu society and men coming from the oppressed castes to lead a dignified human life and to jettison the psycho-social conditioning which would force them to accept their oppression and dehumanization. In this context, it would be relevant to mention the Sarada Math, an order of monastic women inspired by the ideals of Sarada Devi. In 1959, it became an independent organization and began to operate independently of the Belur Math administration, under the leadership of Sarala Devi, Sarada Devi’s “disciple and intimate attendant”, who, after receiving sannyasa (the vow for asceticism), was given the name Pravrajika Bharatiprana (Jnanadaprana 2017, 11–15). Pravrajika Jnanadaprana (2017, 16) notes the enormous significance of the establishment of such a monastic order of women in India: Sri Shankaracharya did not sanction sannyasa for women. But by the grace of Swami Vivekananda these sannyasinis were incorporated in the Puri sampradaya, one of the ten Orders of the dashanami sampradaya started by Shankaracharya. Not only this, they obtained the right to confer sannyasa upon others. This honour was an epoch-making incident in the history of the world.

It is important to notice that the Sarada Math extended Sarada’s function as a female guru to a systematic order of monastic women emerging as spiritual guides and instructors. In this extension, the domain of the guruhood of the avatar of the Goddess was dynamically expanded to include her human daughters who would be gurus even without being designated as goddesses. As Jnanadaprana (2017, 16–17) notes: After Sri Sarada Math had completely independent status, in October 1959 Bharatiprana Mataji gave sannyasa to eight brahmacharinis and ­brahmacharya



to two trainees of the Math. Bharatiprana Mataji began to give spiritual initiation to men and women alike . . .

Jnanadaprana (2017, 17) informs us that “several girls from various places in India” joined the Sarada Math, and they came to see Bharatiprana Mataji, the President of the Sarada Math, as the “mirror” of Sarada Devi and her female companions, Yogin Ma and Golap Ma. Jnanadaprana (2017, 20) tells us that, initially, even “many sadhus of the Ramakrishna Math doubted whether women could live together in a Math or not, and like men, bear the administrative responsibility of managing an institution”. The monastic women of the Sarada Math – it goes without saying – proved their organizational skills beyond doubt and expanded the scope of the spiritual and philanthropic functions of the Sarada Math across various places in India within a very short span of time (Jnanadaprana 2017, 21–45). Whoever has visited the Sarada Math and met the sannyasinis there would appreciate the way in which they prove that a joyful, as well as dignified, collective monastic life is not incompatible with profound individual spiritual quests. As we have already seen, the female gurus often challenge the Hindu societal expectations about a woman and deviate from the “womanly” duties of marital life and biological motherhood (Pechilis 2004, 7–8). At the same time, they may also challenge the idea that spiritual authority exclusively belongs to men, thanks to their figuration as potent embodiments of Shakti, the feminine “spiritual and moral power inherent in women and in goddesses” (Pechilis 2004, 8). Anandamayi Ma, a great saint and female guru of twentieth-century India, was seen as an incarnation of Devi, or even as the World Mother herself. As Lisa Lassell Hallstrom (1999, 128) points out, for the devotees of Anandamayi Ma, she is much more than a saint, as she is seen by them as “an incarnation of God who, unlike a saint or a guru, always possessed divine qualities”. However, as Hallstrom (1999, 137–140) rightly notes, while Ma Anandamayi’s devotees would often deny that she was a guru or gave diksha or formal spiritual initiation to people, she in fact did offer spiritual initiation to certain devotees and spiritually guided her devotees in various mystical ways. However, Ma Anandamayi’s devotees would often like to see her as a divine incarnation rather than a guru and would underline the fact that they are her bhaktas (devotees) rather than shishyas (disciples) (Hallstrom 1999, 160). From my experience of conversing with the ashramites of the Shri Shri Ma Anandamayi Kanyapith in Varanasi, I can say that most of her



devotees would indeed see Ma Anandamayi as the Goddess herself, rather than a guru or a saint. From my own experience of listening to some of the ashramites of the Kanyapith explaining the real self of Ma Anandamayi, I come to appreciate the validity of Hallstrom’s (1999, 173–174) observation that while some of Ma’s devotees would see her as an incarnation of the Goddess/Devi, others would argue that she was not an avatar, not a “part” or a “representative” of the Divine, but the Divine itself, the “Goddess.. . herself”. However, I think that Ma Anandamayi can be legitimately identified as a guru, when we foreground the figure of the Goddess-­ as-­guru that this book has persistently explored. In other words, when we see the Goddess as the ultimate guru, we need no longer see the guru as a lesser being than the Goddess. The Goddess, whether as an avatar or as the abstract, primordial divine feminine, has time and again manifested her enlightening function in the Indic goddess traditions, and hence, it is not contradictory to see Ma Anandamayi as both a guru and the Goddess, from this perspective. Ma Anandamayi defied many conventional societal norms: she was self-­ initiated, rather than being initiated by a male guru, and her marriage was not consummated, her husband becoming her disciple (Pechilis 2004, 7–8; Hallstrom 1999, 219). One might say that her husband, in a way, became her spiritual son. Drawing on Hallstrom’s observations, Pechilis (2004, 10) points out that, in the case of Anandamayi Ma, both the guru and her disciples saw Ma as the gender-transcending “Ultimate Reality”. However, from my close acquaintance with many devotees of Anandamayi Ma and my work on the Shri Shri Ma Anandamayi Kanyapith in Varanasi (the outcome of which was a documentary film, Daughters of Sarasvati, that was screened at the Banaras Hindu University and is available on YouTube), the institution inspired by Ma Anandamayi herself which gives Sanskritic education to girls in the traditional way, I can say with certainty that, despite her transcendental mystic aura, Ma was always seen by her devotees, especially the young boys and girls around her, as a warmly affectionate mother. Hallstrom (1999, 204) too has focused on the deep maternal love that many women received from Anandamayi Ma. Since the early phase of her life, Anandamayi Ma had always experienced her essential oneness with the cosmos – she perceived everything and every living being as non-different from her (MRH 52–53). In a mystic way, she initiated herself and also her husband, Bholanath (MRH 104–111, 148–149). He had troubles with her mystic ways which apparently defied the conventional societal norms (MRH 126–127). However, finally, he had to accept



the transcendental mystery embodied in his wife (MRH 114–117). Anandamayi Ma told her devotees/disciples that her spiritual glory was not achieved through sadhana; it was spontaneously manifested in her Self since her birth (MRH 131). She revealed her spiritual glory to her disciples through enlightening speeches. Most of her teachings underline the oneness of all forms of existence, an idea central to Advaita Vedanta. However, from her speeches, it becomes clear that she speaks not just about doctrines but rather about her own experiences (MRH 154–156). And that is why her teaching, emerging out of her own spiritual experiences, would assert the divinity of the phenomenal as well as transcendent realms, rather than denigrating the value of the former. As she states, “I am neither limitless nor confined to limits. I am simultaneously both” (MRH 358). Her spiritual speeches have a peculiar poetic quality about them. It is not through didactic statements but through performative utterances exuding poetic energy that she communicated the enlightening truth to her devotees (BM Bhu i-vii; BM 1–33). It is interesting to note that, even though she did not have any formal education, Sanskrit hymns and extremely wise discourses would spontaneously emanate from her (MRH 109, 114–115, 372–373). We hear her tell Durgamohan, a devotee, that there is shastra (scripture) within everybody; everybody has a book embedded within one’s consciousness (Dattagupta 2002, 143–144). Surprisingly, sometimes her speech embodies supreme wisdom, not just about God but also about the universe. At one point of time, we find her saying that imagination and truth are not locked in a dichotomous relation; they are, rather, equally illuminative of the spiritual reality (Dattagupta 2004, 88–89). Interestingly, it is not that Ma Anandamayi only delivered spiritual discourses as a guru, in a monologic way. Rather, she would also engage in debates on spiritual and theological matters. In a debate with Vaidyanath Shastri on the true nature of kala (time), she offers an illumining concept of time, which is essentially terminable, as being grounded in that which cannot be terminated. Shastri at last acknowledges the invincibility of Ma in any debate on metaphysical issues (Dattagupta 2004, 117–118). As both Charpentier (2010, 204–205) and Pechilis (2004, 8) observe, Anandamayi Ma’s guru-hood gave her wide access to the “public sphere” (Habermas 2011, 1–16), which often gave the impression of transgressing the limiting contours of stridharma. She had male disciples, including her own husband who had worshipped her in Dhaka and also during their sojourn at the Kamakhya temple (MRH 311). She engaged in a profound



and intricate spiritual discussion with Balananda Brahmachari, a famous Hindu spiritual master (MRH 271). Great scholars like Gopinath Kaviraj and a number of famed saints of modern India revered her as the Great Goddess (Kaviraj 2006, 180, 205; Mukhopadhyay 1988, 4). In apravachan (spiritual talk) delivered in 1962, Swami Vishuddhananda (2016, 164–165), the then President of the Ramakrishna Mission, spoke of the primacy of the maternal-feminine figures in the spiritual universe of modern India. He said that Ramakrishna had understood and highlighted the primacy of the maternal-feminine principle in spiritual life and inaugurated an era of venerating the feminine in spiritual life. In this context, he described how the male sadhus in the Kumbha Mela had placed Anandamayi Ma on the back of an elephant, at the forefront of their religious procession. They had ceremoniously followed Ma Anandamayi who was thus placed in the position of the ultimate spiritual leader in that procession. Through my conversations with the senior brahmacharinis of the Ma Anandamayi Kanyapith in Varanasi, I have come to know how deeply venerated she was by many widely respected sadhus of North India. Taraprasad Chattopadhyay (1989, 5–6), in Matrismriti, relates how Ma Anandamayi gave him a significant instruction regarding his spiritual sadhana. Chattopadhyay says that Ma Anandamayi’s reply to his spiritual query exuded enormous spiritual energy and cleared all his doubts at one go, generating tremendous joy in him. He (1989, 11) relates how Indira Gandhi, the first woman Prime Minister of India, and many rajahs and high-ranking government officers would visit the Ma Anandamayi Ashram in Delhi to seek solutions to the various problems emerging from the complexities of their spiritual and material lives. We come to know from Chattopadhyay’s (1989, 14) reminiscences that, true to her name, Ma Anandamayi would always generate profound ananda (joy) in her devotees by giving them spiritual counsel. In this case, the authority of her speech validates itself through its capacity for generating other-worldly joy, something that distinguishes her spiritually energizing speech from the barrenness of ordinary speech that fails to produce this divine joy. Chattopadhyay (1989, 15–16) says that, even in everyday life, whenever a devotee has not paid attention to Ma Anandamayi’s advice and followed his or her own will, he or she has come to understand later on that paying attention to Ma’s advice would have been truly beneficial. Thus, Chattopadhyay implies that she was omniscient and always knew in advance in which action of her devotee the genuine good lay.



Gopinath Kaviraj (2016, 343) recounts how he saw Ma Anandamayi, in the spiritual gatherings in Varanasi, answer intricate questions of people from different social strata, through beautiful, pithy expressions. Even when the questions were apparently very difficult, the answer would come from her immediately. It appeared that she did not have to wait for the formulation of a thought in her mind and rather answered the questions spontaneously, with a startling immediacy. During her meeting with Paramahamsa Vishuddhananda, Kaviraj’s guru and a famous yogi in Varanasi, we find Ma Anandamayi telling Vishuddhananda that the multiplicity of the universe is grounded in the One and hence there are never real differences between people (Kaviraj 2016, 346). Kaviraj (2016, 349) says that Ma Anandamayi’s real nature was inscrutable  – she seemed to transcend all phenomenal experiences and yet remain involved in all of them. He (2016, 349) saw her as the World Mother herself. Kaviraj (2016, 349) opines that one has to surrender completely to Ma Anandamayi to comprehend her real identity which is revealed only when one becomes one with her. The most important aspect of Kaviraj’s reminiscences of Ma is his account of his spiritual discussions with her (Kaviraj 2016, 350–375). Kaviraj (2016, 349) earnestly listened to her and comprehended her ostensibly baffling statements which he would later on explain, like an expert exegete. In these conversations, Ma Anandamayi often speaks in a cryptic language which emerges from her realization of the oneness of all existence. Her language playfully ruptures all the binaries on which we depend for expressing our phenomenal experiences. She says that the finished and the unfinished, the pure and the impure, become undifferentiated in the ultimate mystic experience (Kaviraj 2016, 356–357). She implies that, in the Eternal Existent, all differences get abolished; all forms of duality come to an end; the manifest and the unmanifest, transcendence and immanence, the revealed and the unrevealed, become indistinguishable; You and I become part of the same Being whose immutability is not hampered even in the course of continuous Becoming; everybody comes to realize their eternality in the supreme Indivisible (Kaviraj 2016, 353–355). She keeps referring to the Indivisible Reality which renders meaningless the difference between the divisible and the indivisible, atita (what is past) and anatita (what is not past), and which blurs the distinction between different scales and frames of time, as well as the distinction between the temporal and the timeless (Kaviraj 2016, 356–357). It appears from her apparently mystic sayings that she deliberately undermines the idea that spiritual enlightenment is a grave



affair and needs to be dissociated from the domain of playfulness. That is why she keeps referring to her own words as the elomelo katha (prattle) of a little girl (Kaviraj 2016, 356). She says that the ultimate spiritual experience may emerge through the little girl’s (she often refers to herself as a little girl) hasi khela (smile and play) as much as through the sages’ spiritual exercises or the yogis’ yogic endeavours (Kaviraj 2016, 358). She points out that what transcends the world is also manifested in the world; what seems perishable is actually ever-linked with the imperishable; what is apparently limited can reveal itself as a limitless entity (Kaviraj 2016, 360–361). She states that the limited existent is present in the unlimited reality, and the unlimited reality is present in the limited existent; the svayam (Self) exists everywhere, as a circle of ontological completion; the entity which pervades the phenomenal universe also remains firmly rooted at the originary point (Kaviraj 2016, 362–363). One may insist that her real message is that, like the whims she, who sees herself as an unschooled little girl, manifests through her words and deeds, the self-revelation of the Ultimate Reality is also unpredictable – it cannot be codified or predicted by any spiritual or philosophical discipline. As she says, at any point of time, at any place, everything can reveal its real metaphysical essence, if the divine whim works out its will (Kaviraj 2016, 363). She enunciates: sabete sab (everything is in everything else) (Kaviraj 2016, 363). The self-revealed Reality, she points out, is intensely manifest in unachieved as well as achieved Godhead; it is in the opaque and the transparent and encompasses the movement and the mover (Kaviraj 2016, 364–366). Ma says that, in the Ultimate Reality, there is eternal ananda (joy) that is the nature of the Self; it is the sphere of endless possibilities (Kaviraj 2016, 369). She highlights that attaining God is the same as realizing one’s own self. She, significantly, insists that, although, in the One, the multiplicity of and differences between phenomenal existents may be maintained, that will not hamper the ontological unification of those existents (Kaviraj 2016, 370–372). Ma’s utterances give the impression that she is not revealing the Reality before her devotees, but rather the Reality is unfolding itself through her speech, petal by petal, like an unschooled girl with her haphazard (elomelo) whims. However, it is necessary to note that, while her cryptic statements conjure up the figure of a transmitter of transcendental wisdom who is far removed from the intricacies of everyday reality, Kaviraj (2016, 375) informs us that Ma Anandamayi arranged for his treatment when he was suffering from cancer and took him to Delhi and Bombay to ensure that



he got the best treatment. Ultimately, he was completely cured. Here, the female guru becomes not just a teacher but a spiritual healer as well and extends to her devotee the help that someone grounded in the popular goddess traditions of India would expect of a goddess. Narayan Chaudhuri (2006, 148–158), another male devotee of Ma Anandamayi, collates a number of her spiritual statements in That Compassionate Touch of Ma Anandamayi. Chaudhuri (2006, 1–29) tells us about the transformative influence of Ma’s words on his own life. In Chaudhuri’s (2006, 84–85) book, we find C. H. Kuang narrating how his philosophical queries were all answered satisfactorily by Ma even though they communicated through J. C. Mukerji, an advocate of the High Court of Allahabad, as an interpreter. There are numberless instances of men attentively listening to the spiritual speeches of Ma Anandamayi, and these speeches are sometimes articulated in simple language, sometimes in complex philosophical framing, but almost always shot through with a poetic resonance. In one of her instructions, she says that one can reach the sushanta (the divine embodiment of ultimate peace) only when one is ashanta, that is, restless for God whose hands are always extended to us (Banerjee 2001, 53). The brilliant verbal chemistry and rhythmic linkage between the Bengali words sushanta and ashanta make this an almost poetic statement, but this poetry emerges from her spontaneously, without any attempt to be poetic. It appears that she does speak from the level of the loftiest, primal and ultimate mode of speech, the Para Vac. This is the reason, as Kaviraj (2006, 193) observes, for the cryptic nature of her mystic utterances. Kaviraj (2006, 197–204) says that, when she conveys the “supramental truths”, her language cannot but be apparently unintelligible. According to Kaviraj (2006, 197–204), Ma Anandamayi’s divine Self accepts all spiritual paths as respectable and valid, as she sees all those paths as descending from and merging with the One. Bithika Mukerji’s (1988) reflections on Ma Anandamayi’s teaching corroborate this view. She (1988, 15) says, “Sri Ma’s upholding of the multiple faith-orientations was not a matter of conscious effort or intellectual conviction but a spontaneous acceptance of Truth as it stood revealed to her”. Indeed, Anandamayi says that Hindus, Muslims and all other religious communities are one, as they long for the same Divine Being. On the basis of this observation, she boldly states, “Namaz ja kirtan-o ta”: Namaz and kirtan (Hindu ritual of ecstatically singing God’s name) are one and the same thing (Banerjee 2001, 58). Accordingly, she says that the entire world is her ashram and redefines



ashram as that place where there is no shram (meaning toil/exertion in Bengali) (Banerjee 2001, 68). It is, again, a wonderful poetic redefinition of the word “ashram” which replaces the idea of ashram as an enclosed space of askesis with the idea of ashram as a borderless, universal sphere of freedom. Bithika Mukerji (1988) notes how Ma Anandamayi taught a kind of philosophy that was living rather than dead, vibrant rather than monotonous. As Mukerji (1988, 15) observes, “She encouraged the weary, instilled hope in the faint-hearted and sometimes even engaged the mind of the cynic so that he would open his heart to faith”. Mukerji (1988, 15–16) dwells on the inspiring philosophy of Ma which jettisons any notion of perfection as a static, fixed goal to be reached with difficulty: Sri Ma understood perfectly the nature of human frailty and was compassionately concerned, yet she remained beyond the reach of its influence, because from the ultimate point of view the world was as it is and not otherwise. The world with its multiple facets was nothing but a colourful veil for Reality itself. The pursuit of perfection in the world for her was a non-­ issue because Perfection already is, although hidden by layers of what we call worldly concerns which forever fall short of the Ideal.

Mukerji (1988, 20) says that Ma’s teachings may bear resonances of the classical non-dualist philosophy of Shankara, as “she spoke in a language almost paralleling that of the Upanishads”. However, Mukerji (1988, 20) notes that, though “she seemed to be speaking in the language of advaitavada”, “there is… a subtle note of distinction, a change in orientation or a shift in emphasis in her utterance”. Mukerji (1988, 21) goes on to explain that the “secular mood” of the times in which Ma Anandamayi lived was not much receptive to second-hand spiritual messages. It could be shaken out of its anti-spirituality only if there were “a presence of sufficient self-­ authenticating magnitude, no less than the personification of the Upanishadic message, a manifestation of the unmanifest” (Mukerji1988, 21). As we have already seen in Chap. 3 which discusses the Devi Gitas, the Indic spiritual traditions underscore that the authenticity of an utterance on spiritual matters would depend on the dependability of the utterer. In the case of the Devi Gitas, as we have seen, the self-revelation of the Goddess as the ultimate Reality vindicates the spiritual authority of her statements that constitute the Gita. Mukerji’s (1988, 21) observations suggest that this was the case with the reception of Ma Anandamayi’s



teachings as well: “In the presence of Sri Ma Anandamayi, audiences felt for themselves the viability of the divine as if by a direct personal experience”. Ma Anandamayi’s spiritual utterances on the transcendental Truth were performatively self-revelatory: “By speaking to the religious consciousness of man, she evoked it and it became a reality” (Mukerji 1988, 21). She knew how to address the interlocutor directly, how to clear specific doubts in specific persons: “She spoke to individuals because modern man is basically on his own, unsustained by tradition. To her, the interlocutor was important as a person of his times” (Mukerji 1988, 21). Like the enlightening Goddess in the Devi Gitas, Ma Anandamayi grounded her speech in specific contexts of religious queries and doubts; her authority emerged from her devotees’ perception that she was the Goddess herself, the Reality unveiled. Here, it should be noted that Ma Anandamayi had specific concerns about women as well. As Hallstrom (1999, 204) emphatically underlines, she did “advocate for their [women’s] spiritual equality with men”. It is through her inspiration and the active initiatives of Gurupriya Devi, a female devotee of Ma who could find in Ma a spiritual shelter away from her troubled family life, that the Kanyapith flourished as a school for educating girls in the Sanskritic tradition (Shivananda 1988, 48–52; Hallstrom 1999, 206). Ma offered upavit (sacred thread) to certain girls, defying the conservative, sexist norms of Brahminocracy which exclude women from the sphere of priestly agency (Banerjee 1988, 9; Hallstrom 1999, 207). Interestingly, the Kanyapith reframes and expands the esoteric implications of Kumari Puja (worship of young girls), showing a worshipful attitude to the little girls who are being educated. Here, the taught is not positioned on the lower rung of a hierarchy; the little girl being educated is seen as an embodiment of the Goddess who is worshipped through the instruction by the teacher (Sanandan 1988, 36, 42). Swami Ranjanananda Giri (1988, 8) recalls that Ma asked him to teach English to the students of the Kanyapith. He (1988, 15) describes Ma Anandamayi as Kanyapither adhishthatri Devi, that is, “the Goddess installed at the heart of the Kanyapith”. Men who have taught the girls in the Kanyapith have been inspired by the ethos of seva (service) [Giri 1988, 8–16] grounded in a feminine theology that characterizes the vision behind this institution. Bithika Mukerji (1988, 21) finely sums up Ma Anandamayi’s unique approach to the issue of gender:



She never spoke from any other position than that of equality for men and women. She did not do men the injustice of thinking that they would at best patronize women or at worst would seek to subjugate them. She expected them to give due respect and regard to women. Never did she talk as if women had to be given preferences or handicaps or special privileges. Sri Ma Anandamayi treated them as equal and deployed women naturally to many tasks which could be considered the special territory of men alone.

Hallstrom (1999, 216–217) notes that the devotees of Anandamayi Ma would like to see her not as a woman, but as the Divinity that completely transcends gender identification. Hence, she (1999, 217) insists, the female devotees of Ma would “fail to identify with Ma as a woman”. However, while Hallstrom (1999) emphasizes that Ma’s female devotees thought that it would be impossible and meaningless for them to try to imitate her as a kind of role model (217–218), as Ma Anandamayi was “beyond compare” (219), she also notices the various ways in which Ma indeed “empowered the women close to her” and “nurtured a certain kind of independence in her celibate women devotees” (209). Hallstrom (1999, 200–202) also focuses on the way many women devotees of Ma believed that she had especially incarnated in a female form “to enable women to have greater spiritual equality and freedom”. Then, we must acknowledge that, in this case too, there is a significant connection between the “Goddess’s” authority as the ultimate guru and women’s spiritual self-assertion. In this context, it is significant to see how Hallstrom (1999, 222) focuses on certain aspects of “Anandamayi Ma as a female religious symbol” that happen to “inspire” her. Anandamayi Ma’s authority as Goddess and as guru, then, is not, in the final analysis, really dissociated from the realm of flesh-and-blood women. Charpentier (2010, 203) notes that, in the case of the female guru, family members would often become followers, thereby altering the “family’s power structure” through “an inversion of power positions”. She (2010, 204–205) cites the example of Ma Anandamayi herself. As I have already observed, a possible archetype of this “inversion” exists in the Kurma and Mahabhagavata Devi Gitas where Himalaya, the father of Parvati, becomes her disciple, a devoted listener to her divine-human voice, an obedient receiver of her womansplaining. We also need to remember how, in the Kulachudamani, Devi’s husband, Shiva, becomes her disciple. Charpentier (2010, 256) states that the female gurus, by virtue of being identified with the Goddess, get “avenues of self-expression



that allow them to expand their agency”. Nevertheless, though Charpentier (2010, 259) points out that Goddess traditions do not automatically translate into the transformation of the prevalent gender ideologies in the Indian society, she (2010, 256–257) cites the apparently exceptional case of Anandmurti Gurumaa, who, thanks to her elevated status as a female guru, weds goddess symbolism to an explicit agenda of women’s empowerment. However, in the cases of Sarada Ma and Anandamayi Ma, too, we see a conspicuous connection between their linkages with the goddess traditions and their espousal of women’s education and empowerment. Sarada Ma’s enthusiasm for Sister Nivedita’s school for girls (Basu 2009, 166–169) or Ma Anandamayi’s interest in the establishment of the Kanyapith can be underlined in this context. Both Charpentier (2010, 231) and Pechilis (2011, 107–108) dwell on the tantric concept of shaktipata, the transmission of the guru’s spiritual energy to the disciple, in the context of goddess theology and female gurus. In the case of the female gurus, who are seen as incarnations of the Goddess, that is, as “perfect embodiments of sakti” (Pechilis 2011, 106), the concept of shaktipata assumes a different dimension. Here, what is transmitted is shakti, and the one who transmits it is also Shakti incarnate. This perfectly squares with the figuration of Devi as revealing her own spiritual glory through enlightening speeches that I have discussed with reference to the Indic texts featuring the Goddess as enlightener. Abjajananda (1992, 13–15), while speaking of Sarada Devi’s role as a spiritual enlightener, does refer to Uma from the Kena Upanishad. Similarly, Swami Atmasthananda (2017, 31) says that Sarada Devi, like Ambhrini Vak, the rishika of the Devi-Sukta, revealed her real identity as the World Mother, the Universal Deity. In this respect, the female guru comes close to the figure of Goddess Mahasaraswati envisioned by Sri Aurobindo (2007). This goddess is, as Aurobindo (2007, 54) says, “the most long-­ suffering with man and his thousand imperfections”. She accompanies us, guides us despite our repeated failures on the spiritual path, in order to successfully transform our human nature (Aurobindo 2007, 54). She is, at once, a “friend”, “mother”, “counsellor” and “mentor” (Aurobindo 2007, 54). One may be tempted to add that the womansplaining of this “mentor” could be a significant instance of the authority without violence that we can perceive in Devi’s speeches. Arindam Chakrabarti (2014, v) says that the Vedic philosophers saw Vac or Sarasvati as the “most important mother goddess” because “in her wordy watery womb both thoughts and things, meanings and



meaning-bearing signs are conceived”. However, we need to focus on the way these thoughts and things, meanings and signs are transmitted by her, when she is not just speech but the speaker too. How does she convey what germinates in her womb, the wisdom that is one with love? And how is it received by men? When we cease to see Sarasvati as the abstract, ethereal feminine figuration of speech and acknowledge her as a speaker, we move from the patriarchal closet for the goddess to the wide open sea of female speech as action and begin to build the bridge between the speaking Devi and the speaking women around us whose resonant voices urge us to learn the “ethic of listening” (Parks 2019, xiv–xv).

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Modifying Masculinity: Tantric Culture, Female Speech and Reframed Masculinities

Tantric culture often encourages masculinist self-assertion on the part of the male tantrikas. As Biernacki (2007, 54) observes, in tantric texts, the tantric male is often figured as instrumentalizing women and willing to induce in women an insatiable sexual desire for him, “in a James Bond sort of way”. Tantric culture is not a homogeneously female-friendly culture endorsing the ethos of genuine respect for women (Biernacki 2007, 54). McDaniel (2004, 122–123) also looks at the subservient role of women that is insisted on by certain aspects of tantric culture: tantric culture may encourage men to use women as yantras or tools in the former’s “search for power”. I (2017) have noticed elsewhere that within Shaktism, there are two main orientations of the male sadhaka towards women and also towards Devi. While the sadhakas like Bama Khyapa or Ramakrishna would focus on surrendering their masculine ego completely to the Divine Mother (Ghosh 2013, 308; Bharati 2013, 168), there are other male aspirants (like Brahmananda Giri, the author of the Shaktanandatarangini) who would try to appropriate the shakti of Devi, to colonize Devi herself, as well as the instrumentalized women in tantric rituals (Mukhopadhyay 2017, 172–173). Hence, we can argue that the reframing of masculinities is not something that automatically emanates from tantric cultures. Yet, as we have already seen in the earlier chapters, especially with reference to the works of Shaw and Biernacki, tantric culture does often provide scope for reframing masculinities. As Tyagibaba, a tantric guru whom Julia Jean had interviewed, observed, “if one is female inside and male outside, if he can © The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




accept it inside, he gets great sakti” (cited in Dobia 2014, 79). Drawing on this, Brenda Dobia (2014, 79) insists that, in tantric sadhana, both men and women are required to identify with the Goddess. However, this identification is easier for women, already experiencing female embodiment, than for men who need to go through a “process of identification” which “must be systematically cultivated through practices that promote gender transcendence” (Dobia 2014, 79). This process would obviously challenge the “dominant assumptions about masculinity” (Dobia 2014, 79). The mode of masculinity emerging through this process would appear “radically counter-hegemonic” (Dobia 2014, 80). We need to look at the ways in which the womansplaining Devi, in different contexts, has led the male subject towards the domain of such counter-hegemonic masculinities. It might be pertinent here to dwell briefly on Britt-Marie Schiller’s figuration of the “incomplete masculine”, in the context of Irigaray’s philosophy of sexual difference. As Schiller (2011, 132) writes: The masculine needs to return from being an omnipotent subject . . . and from being a narcissistic subject. . . The incomplete masculine is able to let the other be, and he is able to let the other come to encounter him, without reducing the other’s subjectivity to his own world. The limited masculine recognizes that the other is not at his disposal.

It would be interesting to examine how, in the Indian goddess cultures, authoritative female speech has created a space for the emergence of the “incomplete masculine”, a kind of masculine subject who comes to recognize that he is not “omnipotent” and that he must come out of his narcissistic self-perception. As we have already seen, in the Devi Gitas, the male subject humbly listens to the Devi, thereby getting dissociated from the arrogance of mansplaining which subjects women to “an invitation to silence” (Solnit 2014, Chap. 1, subheading 1). Besides, in the texts like the Vidya Gita and the Kulachudamani Tantra, we have seen an open acknowledgement by men of the limitations of their spiritual insight and their inability to intuit the highest truth through their intellect alone. Devi, whether in her disembodied or embodied form, clears the doubts of the male subject regarding the highest spiritual truth. Whether it is Indra in the Kena Upanishad and the Laksmi Tantra, Himalaya in the Devi Gitas or the male recipient of Devi’s wisdom in a Shakta Upanishad, Devi-as-womansplainer always



operates as the supreme source of wisdom and spiritual certitude for the baffled male subject. Bama Khyapa and Ramakrishna, the famous Shakta saints of Bengal, would repeatedly claim that they had surrendered themselves to Devi so completely that they did not have an intellectual agency of their own  – rather, it was Devi who moved their intelligence (Lokeshwarananda 2007, 34–35; Chattopadhyay 2014, 303–312). Here, we have a peculiar situation where the divine feminine is not just a gendered abstraction, a feminine hypostatization of the logos, but rather the mover and controller of that logos. She is not just the Word that is possessed and utilized by men; rather, she is the mover of the words spoken by men. In Sri Aurobindo’s Mother, we come across a continuous insistence on the aspirant’s complete surrender to the divine feminine. Aurobindo (2007, 58–60) writes that the spiritual aspirant must be aware of the limitations of the human mind and must not allow the mind to question the Divine Mother’s modes of operation: “All your nature must be plastic to her touch…. The human mind shut in the prison of its half-lit obscurity cannot follow the many-sided freedom of the steps of the Divine Shakti”. I would like to see this prescription as an implicit invitation to men to acknowledge the limitations of their male minds. The logic of this surrender is quite clear – it is not a surrender to a fixed idea or a fixed male hero or guru; it is a complete surrender to Devi in her transcendental glory that is being insisted on. This logic of the male subject’s surrender to a female divinity, which is not identical with but nevertheless akin to the principle of the male sadhaka’s identification with Devi through tantric sadhana – something that has been underlined by Dobia – effectually contributes to a radical reframing of masculinity, whereas a tantric mode of hypermasculinity, exclusively grounded in the instrumentalization of women, will only serve to underpin androcentric imaginaries. In the context of the female gurus like Ma Sarada and Ma Anandamayi, as we have already seen, the male devotee would surrender his ego and masculine pride to the female guru, who is one, in their vision, with the Great Goddess. Whereas a Shakta man may have a human female as his guru, whom he would equate with the Goddess, it is also possible that a Shakta man, having a male guru, would nevertheless look up to the Goddess as the ultimate Guru. As Vimalananda Svami (2011, 253) says in his Introduction to the Vimalanandadayini Commentary on the Karpuradi Stotra to Dakshinakalika, Goddess Mahakali is “the Adiguru of the world”. Towards the end of this Introduction, he (2011, 277) proclaims that he has prepared the



commentary “in accordance with the teaching of [his] Paramaguru, Mahamahopadhyaya and most worshipful Ramananda Svami Siddhantapancanana, the crest-gem of Tantrikas”. However, he (2011, 278–281) then goes on to offer a prayer to Goddess Kali, before presenting the commentary. It appears that, even though he refers to his human “Paramaguru”, he nevertheless sees Kali as the Ultimate Guru and hence sings a prayer to her before finally embarking on the enterprise of explaining the significance of the celebrated Stotra that is addressed to her. In the context of Buddhist tantric culture, we find a similar kind of openness of the male intellectual to the divine female voice. As I (2017, 93), drawing on Vessantara’s work on the goddesses in Buddhism, have observed elsewhere: [Goddess]Tara may . . . be seen as the Originator of the new life of Tibetan Buddhism introduced by Atisha [Atisha Dipankara Srijnana, the famous Buddhist scholar]. Tara was the personal deity of Atisha and it’s only after receiving her permission and inspiration that Atisha, initially reluctant to go to Tibet, did finally undertake the journey to that country.

This attitude of surrender, at least rudimentarily, presents the possibility of altering the existing paradigms of masculinity, by foregrounding a male subject who is receptive to female voice, female grace, female agency (e.g. Kali’s agency in invigorating the intellect of the commentator of her hymn), even though surrender to the Goddess may not be automatically co-extensive with receptivity to the voices of non-divinized, mortal women. Miranda Shaw (1995, 153–154) shows us how, in Buddhist tantra, the male spiritual aspirant is required to show a “reverential, suppliant attitude” to his female partner, expressing his “humility and subordinate status” in an alternative gender hierarchy. For Shaw (1995, 152–155), this is related to the trope of “worship of women” in tantric erotic togetherness. Biernacki (2007, 90) underscores how Shiva, in the Brihannila Tantra, tells Devi that he is the body whereas she is the spirit which animates that body. Such an assertion, as Biernacki (2007, 88–90) rightly notes, would alter the prevalent gender codes that objectify women as “bodies” and configure the Spirit as essentially masculine. However, we need to focus on the way this alternative discourse of body and spirit can alter the dominant modes of masculinity in hetero-patriarchy. The male passivity and receptivity, which are figured in positive terms in this alternative imaginary of masculinity, may offer a significant corrective to the masculine



self-imagining based on the tropes of domination and mastery of women as bodies. As Biernacki (2007, 91) observes, this alternative imaginary of maleness grounded in goddess worship leads to the “vision of a better world, where warfare is not the norm”, thereby providing a “radical ethical counterpoint to a world of senseless violence”. When we look at some of the tantric narratives produced in Bengal  – both fictional and non-­ fictional –we come upon a curious figuration and/or anticipation of an alternative masculinity of the sort underlined by Shaw and Biernacki. In Bengali, tantric narratives constitute an exciting and multi-generic corpus of texts – ranging from fiction to memoirs, anecdotes and occult accounts of tantric experiences and spiritual quests. I will draw on a few narratives from this hybrid repertoire of texts to substantiate my point. In the first of the two stories of Taranath Tantrik, written by the famous Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Taranath Tantrik tells the narrator how he tried to become the disciple of a powerful female tantric ascetic appearing to be a madwoman, in a village in Birbhum, one of the districts of Bengal famous for tantric activities (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 63). The woman, from the very beginning, tells him that he is not spiritually elevated enough to perform tantric sadhana (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 64–65). However, he keeps insisting on becoming her disciple, and it appears that he basically wants to master some occult powers through her help, giving us the impression that he is but a manipulative tantric male trying to empower himself with occult knowledge in order to inflate his male ego (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 64–66, 73). The woman, referred to as Pagli (the Bengali for madwoman) in the narrative, understands his greed, and she makes a practical joke on him, creating phantasmagoric illusions before him to bewilder him. Frightened, he gives in, and Pagli reaffirms that tantra is not the path that is meant for him who lacks the spiritual strength indispensable for choosing the tantric path (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 68–73). In the second story of Taranath Tantrik, we find a much more interesting narrative, where, receiving the mantra of the yogini, Madhusundari, from a tantric sadhu, Taranath keeps chanting it and, one day, Madhusundari appears before him (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 81–83). Even though Madhusundari is referred to as “devi” in the narrative, it appears that she is actually a demigoddess/yogini (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 81–82, 86). However, Taranath desired to get this yogini as his beloved, in spite of the sadhu’s warning that such a powerful yogini might ruin the life of a man in love with her (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 81, 83). Over a span of three months, Taranath enjoys a romantic relationship with the



goddess, but he comes to understand, every moment, that it is he, rather than his beloved, who has to be in a subservient position (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 83–85). He comes to realize that, if he dares to displease the goddess, she will immediately ruin him. Any sign of disobedience or disloyalty on his part makes the goddess assume a terrible form. He understands the difference between a goddess as lover and a woman as lover – the former has a destructive power which differentiates her from the human female (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 84–85). Finally, the goddess tells him that they will have to be separated (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 86). She tells him that goddesses like her are not happy beings, as they have a thirst for love which remains un-satiated, because the goddesses cannot compromise with their dignity and appear before men who don’t have really intense desire for them (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 87). After his separation from Madhusundari, Taranath temporarily goes mad (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 86–87). However, finally, he gets married and leads the life of an ordinary householder (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 86). He tells the narrator that he has never faced dire poverty thanks to the blessing of Madhusundari (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 87). However, here we need to pose the question: does he learn any substantial lesson on gender egalitarianism from his arcane tantric experiences, a lesson that might be reflected in his married life? Unfortunately, even though the two narratives of Taranath’s close communications with unusual female figures project an alternative model of masculinity that these female figures force him to adopt, he, ultimately, comes back to the framework of normative masculinity (Spencer 2012, 57) valorized by hetero-patriarchy, the narrator telling us that he is obsessed with wine and women (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 59), a perfect example of the model of male tantrika Biernacki castigates. Besides, there is an indication given by the narrator that his narratives are not totally credible, that Taranath does not narrate “real” events (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 73, 87). However, we need to remember that tantric narratives in Bengali, foregrounding many ostensibly incredible happenings, necessitate a broadening of our understanding of the real, encouraging us, in effect, to adopt an epistemic paradigm akin to what Alejo Carpentier calls the “marvelous real” (Madureira 2005, 171). When we investigate the mode of masculinity articulated within the domain of the marvellous reality of Taranath’s narrative world, we find that the tantric universe forces him to come out of his manipulative, egoistic male subjectivity and to subjugate himself to the sheer power of the feminine. Pagli makes him



understand how insignificant he is in front of her profound occult powers. Madhusundari forces him to express his “humility and subordinate status” (Shaw 1995, 154) in an asymmetrical romantic relationship. In both cases, this subjugation of masculinity is something which is not predominantly painful or damaging to Taranath. He, rather, comes to gain something through the submission of his male ego to the female powers: Pagli teaches him to be introspective (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 73); Madhusundari, as he avers, changes his life forever, teaching him what real love is, making him, overawed, realize that it is much more than – nay, absolutely transcends – ordinary romance (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 83–84, 86). Both of them reveal to him the occult secrets of tantra (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 66, 72, 85–87); both are, in a way, tantric womansplainers. The basic lesson he receives from them is that aggressive masculinism limits the horizon of human experience. When the man is ready to open himself up to a radical alterity – the goddess/yogini in this case – he gets enabled to grasp the beauty of an experience in which he does not have the role of a “master”. Madhusundari is not one whom he can master, and he knows this from the very beginning of the relationship. It is this impossibility of mastery which makes the short-lived love experience so charming and enriching for him. It is a pity that he cannot sustain this alternative masculinity enforced by Pagli and Madhusundari and lapses into the common role of an obsessively promiscuous and manipulative Bengali man. However, it is interesting to note that he unequivocally asserts that the time spent with Madhusundari was the only real part of his life (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 83–84). He keeps remembering the love of Madhusundari which was demanding, sometimes terrifyingly possessive, and yet life-transforming (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 84). The female authority of Madhusundari, despite her hidden destructive potential (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 84–85), is associated with compassion (Bandyopadhyay 2004, 87). In a way, Taranath’s return to the normative masculinity of hetero-patriarchy throws him into an unreal mode of existence, and he keeps yearning for the intense reality of the unique experience of tantric love  – the love of Madhusundari – which compelled him to “worship” the female beloved with a “reverential, suppliant attitude” (a la Shaw [1995, 153]), making him receptive to female authority. In Tantrabhilashir Sadhusanga, a Bengali text by Pramodkumar Chattopadhyay (2014) narrating the author’s experiences of meeting various tantric men and women in different parts of India, we find repeated instances of the mainstream discourse of masculinity getting subverted,



modified and reconfigured in the presence of tantric women. Chattopadhyay (2014, 181–182) speaks of his unique experience of meeting Maheshvari Bhairavi, a tantric woman respected by many men. He (2014, 182) tells us that even though he, due to his usual prejudices against the tantric bhairavis as women with questionable character, could not initially respect Maheshvari enough, ultimately, he came to respect her heartily, as she embodied both sweetness (madhurya) and brilliance (tejasvita). Maheshvari, while speaking to Chattopadhyay, speaks with authority, and she brushes away the sexist misconceptions about women cherished by the man (Chattopadhyay 2014, 211–222). Maheshvari insists that it is due to the disempowerment of women that men in mainstream Hinduism have also become disempowered (Chattopadhyay 2014, 212–216). She believes that, by seeing women merely as objects of sexual enjoyment, men have not just degraded women but also diminished themselves (Chattopadhyay 2014, 216–221). Maheshvari bitterly criticizes the practice of early marriage of little girls and holds the masters of the Hindu society responsible for it. She says that the mainstream Hindu marriage is abnormal and the tantric union is the normal union of the sexes (Chattopadhyay 2014, 224–225). She strongly argues that, without mutual love and respect, no relation between the sexes can be sustainable (Chattopadhyay 2014, 223–224). Precisely, she insists that, in marriage and love, women’s subjective agency should be respected (Chattopadhyay 2014, 224–225). Similarly, Elokeshi, a tantric woman whom Chattopadhyay meets at the site of Kamakhya, sharply criticizes Hindu Bengali men and tells Chattopadhyay candidly that she dislikes the goalless young Bengali men (Chattopadhyay 2014, 414). She, especially, criticizes the casteism of the upper caste Hindu men and boldly asserts her subaltern identity, telling Chattopadhyay, a Brahmin, that she is a “low caste” chandal woman (Chattopadhyay 2014, 415–421). She keeps criticizing the Brahminocratic culture’s hypocrisy, underlining the deep hatred the Brahminical elite harbour towards the people from the lower strata. She speaks as a representative of the subaltern women, profusely angered by the cold indifference of the Bengali Brahminocracy to their plight (Chattopadhyay 2014, 416–421). Elokeshi nurses Chattopadhyay during his illness and yet, from time to time, flaunts deliberate rudeness to him (Chattopadhyay 2014, 447–451). He accepts, humbly, the merit in her criticism of the upper caste Bengali men who are really indifferent towards the plight of women (Chattopadhyay 2014, 414–415, 417, 419). Besides, despite his occasional irritation with Elokeshi, he comes to dream an elaborate dream



where Elokeshi appears as a public speaker, speaking on the future of the Hindu society (Chattopadhyay 2014, 456–471). It implies that this tantric woman’s womansplaining, which is often rude, has mesmerized him so much that he has even internalized the figure of the womansplaining Elokeshi, in his unconscious. It is interesting to notice that Chattopadhyay meets Elokeshi at the Kamakhya site where, as we have already seen, Biernacki and Dold seem to locate a long tradition of female authority. Chattopadhyay’s male self-consciousness, grounded in the upper caste bhadralok culture, is time and again interrogated by the unusual women from the tantric world. They question the hegemony of the upper caste men in the religious affairs of Hinduism; they criticize the artificial sexual mores upheld by the mainstream Hindu society; they shatter the myth of the passive sweet woman the Bengali bhadralok would be comfortable with. Chattopadhyay, however, seems to be fascinated with the subject position enjoyed by the tantric women from the peripheries of society, and yet, the source of this enchantment is not these women’s sexuality. It is their intellectual power, their authoritative speech, their womansplaining, in short, which fascinates him and modifies his male self-consciousness. He comes to humbly accept the truth about men flashing through these women’s coruscating speeches. He is receptive to these women’s ideas; he takes them seriously. Even though he is not always convinced by their position, he cannot ignore their thought patterns (Chattopadhyay 2014, 222–225, 417–421). He cannot consider their modes of argumentation to be superfluous. Men’s pretence and presumption of omniscience is something that, as Rebecca Solnit (2014, Chap. 1, subheading 1) observes, “keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare” and “crushes young women into silence”. The dazzling womansplaining of Maheshvari or Elokeshi overpowers the patriarchal culture of not listening to female voices; they make their voices heard in their communication with a man from the mainstream, upper caste society. And yet, they do not simply reverse the androcentric trajectory of silencing – they do not try to crush the young man into silence. Womansplaining, in this case, inspires, and does not end, the possibilities of dialogue. The womansplainer speaks, but does not refuse to listen to the Other. She is not a speaker-as-silencer but a speaker as dialogue-inspirer. The man who humbly accepts this womansplaining cannot evade the inevitable process of the modification of his self-ideation as a masculine subject. By listening to the womansplainer, by



valuing what she says, he internally reframes his masculinity as a receptive masculinity rather than an aggressive one. In Kali’s Odiyya, Amarananda Bhairavan (2000, xi–xviii, 301), a shaman and a devotee of Kali from South India now settled in California, presents a semi-fictionalized narrative of his own spiritual journey along the path of devotion to Kali. He (2000, xvii–xviii) says that he was initiated into his spiritual life by Aunt Preema, his mother’s cousin who was a priestess and sorceress, and humbly acknowledges “her contribution to [his] spiritual growth”. In the text, Preema teaches the young Shambu (the author/narrator) and Sandhya the mysteries of sexual rites and explains that the proper and sacred approach to sex is grounded in “utmost, worshipful humility toward each other” (Bhairavan 2000, 160). Thus, like the female figures in Chattopadhyay’s text, Preema too focuses on the necessity for mutuality in any sexual relation, a mutuality that alone can sacralize sexuality. We need to notice that the teachings of Aunt Preema sensitize the young Shambu to the “androgyny of the astral self” (Bhairavan 2000, 160), thereby inculcating a different mode of gender awareness in him than that instigated by the patriarchal acculturation of young males. Preema, it seems, does not just offer him spiritual instruction; rather, she seems to teach him to turn into a different kind of male, a man who, by respectfully listening to female voices since his childhood, would become receptive to alterity and joyously welcome the authority of female voices that is not marked by aggressivity or violence. In Annadamangala, a Bengali mangalakabya with an overtly tantric frame, we find Shiva figured as respectfully receptive to the voice of Parvati/Annapurna, his wife. The narrative upholds the decisive statements made by Parvati/Annapurna, which are accepted by Shiva (Acharya 2010, 50, 59). It appears that, while Shiva creates problems impulsively, it is Parvati who solves those problems and Shiva understands that her statements do involve the solutions (Acharya 2010, 50, 59). In the case of Anandamayi Ma, we see her husband, Bholanath, apologizing to her for “stand[ing] in [Her] way for anything” (MRH335). Like the Shiva of Annadamangala, he too comes to accept the authority of his wife’s speech and action. This reconfiguration of the husband as a kind of devotee of the divine-human wife would square with the trope of the “baby-husband” employed by McDaniel (1989, 86–88). We need to underline the fact that such reconfiguration has far-reaching consequences for the transformation of the male self-awareness of a husband within an otherwise patriarchal setup. This sort of phenomenon effectively demolishes the hubristic



androcentrism involved in the connotations of the term “husband”. The husband, rather, becomes obliged to dialogize his consciousness, by becoming a listener to the wife’s voice rather than the non-listening, imperious speaker. In order to explore the persistence of (divine) feminine authority even in the apparently masculine domains of religiosity and spirituality in Bengal and to investigate its impact on those masculine domains, I would like to return to the spiritual lineage of Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi once again. As I (2017, 21–29) have noted elsewhere, Swami Vivekananda, in spite of his adherence to Advaita Vedanta which apparently denies a central place to the feminine principle (McDaniel 2004, 193–194), was ever respectful to Sarada Devi and saw her as the embodiment of the Divine Mother. As Swami Atmasthananda (2017, 12–15) observes, all the other early monks of the Ramakrishna Math, too, saw her in the same light. The ascetic masculinity of the Ramakrishna Mission monks, which would otherwise appear to conform to the age-old ascetic traditions in India that denigrate the feminine as maya/enchantment (McDaniel 2004, 193–194; Banerjee 2005, 62–64; Ikeya 2015, 82–83), nevertheless remains receptive to the still ringing, feminine voice of Sarada Devi. Thus, asceticism becomes dissociated from gynophobia, and the feminine principle is installed at the heart of the Ramakrishna Math, where the male monk has always been encouraged to assume what Swami Ranganathananda (2013, 41–43) calls “spiritual motherhood”. In this context, it would be pertinent to examine how Sister Nivedita reveals almost an occult truth about the centrality of the divine feminine in the apparently masculine oeuvre of Vivekananda the Vedantist, while describing ““the Robing” incident which”, as Pravrajika Atmaprana (2017, 98) tells us, “had a tremendous impact on [Sister Nivedita’s] mind”. While at Ridgely Manor, Vivekananda, one day, presented Sara Bull with gerua (ochre) robes in Nivedita’s presence and declared her to be a sannyasini. Then: putting one hand on her [Sara’s] head and one on mine [Nivedita’s] he said, “I give you all that Ramakrishna P. gave to me. What came to us from a Woman I give to you two women. Do what you can with it. . . Women’s hands will be the best anyway to hold what came from a Woman  – from Mother. Who and what She is, I do not know, I have never seen Her, but Ramakrishna P. saw Her and touched Her – like this (touching my sleeve).



She may be a great disembodied spirit for all I know. Anyway I cast the load on you. I am going away to be at peace.” (quoted in Atmaprana 2017, 99)

It is quite interesting to note that here Vivekananda explicitly acknowledges the feminine source of his spiritual wisdom. There is also a direct homologization of the Goddess as “Woman” and the two white “women”. It seems that even though Vivekananda has been receptive to the wisdom of Kali the inscrutable Goddess, transmitted by Ramakrishna to him, he believes that the most effective and productive utilization of this wisdom can be made only by women, that is, human females. This is a very significant moment in the history of the interactions between Vivekananda and Nivedita, because, we need to understand that, whereas it has been universally known that Vivekananda was Nivedita’s guru, here Vivekananda attributes the ultimate guru-hood to Kali herself. He seems to imply that he is not the source of the guru-shakti, but is a mere transmitter thereof, just as Ramakrishna too was only the transmitter of the guru-shakti of Kali (Saradananda 2016, 104–105). In other words, he is not the source of the spiritual wisdom he conveys to Nivedita and Sara Bull, but rather a mere loop in a chain of transmission of spiritual light at whose originary point stands the Goddess herself. He, like Ramakrishna, is first of all a recipient of the wisdom of Kali and only then its transmitter in the form of a male guru. He makes it clear that what Ramakrishna gave to him “came to us from a Woman”, that is, Kali. He feels relieved that, ultimately, this wisdom is transmitted to women, and the female recipients of this wisdom that came from a feminine source would probably be enlightened in a deeper and larger way by it than its male recipients. Vivekananda, it becomes clear, does not mansplain to these women from the West, but rather acknowledges that the gift he seeks to offer to them is a gift from the Goddess herself who, in Shakta-tantric terms, is immanent in all women (not just Indian women). The receptivity of the male subject to the feminine voices, coming from within or without, is a central topos in the narratives of Shakta-tantric spirituality prevalent in Bengal. Annada Thakur, the founder of the celebrated Adyapeeth at Dakshineshwar, who discovered the idol of Adya Ma (a form of Kali) in a pond at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, on being instructed by Sri Ramakrishna, in a dream, to retrieve the idol (Thakur 2017, 22–26), narrates in his book Svapnajiban, an early-twentieth-­ century Bengali text, how he was given mystic and sometimes baffling instructions through dream visions by the Goddess, from time to time.



After he gets hold of the idol and takes it home, the Great Goddess appears to him in a dream vision, in a human form (that of a Bengali woman, with all the adornments typically associated with a married woman in Bengal). From her speeches recounted by Annada in Svapnajiban, she appears to be an enigmatic figure and her assertions are puzzling (Thakur 2017, 29–30). When questioned by her, Annada tells her that it was Ramakrishna himself who had instructed him to retrieve her idol from the water of the pond in the Eden Gardens. The Goddess humorously says that Ramakrishna had probably lied to him. He retorts that while the Goddess might lie to him to test him, Ramakrishna could never have lied to him. She then orders him to immerse her idol in water the next day. He is aghast, as he has already become fond of the idol and wants to keep it at his home and worship it. She warns him that it would be inauspicious to keep the idol at his home (Thakur 2017, 29–30). When she realizes that he is reluctant to obey her order, she appears in a dream again, this time in a terrific form, with a child in her lap. In order to frighten Annada, she declares that it will be ruinous for him to keep her idol in his home and dashes the child against the floor, thereby killing it (Thakur 2017, 31). Annada is still reluctant to immerse her idol, and hence, probably, in order to persuade him in a different and more effective way, she appears in the form of a distant relative of Annada who is a mother figure for him and lives in Varanasi and tells him that he should immerse her idol in the Ganges the very next day. However, she adds that he might take a photograph of the idol before immersing it and keep the photo at his home. It is in this affectionate form that she instructs him in the procedure of worshipping her. She proclaims that she would be satisfied with simple worship, offered with heartfelt devotion, and will not expect the elaborate worship rituals described in the scriptures. She adds that she will be happy if someone chants the Adya Stava before her (Thakur 2017, 31–32). This proclamation has become a celebrated divine assertion for the lay Shakta devotees of Bengal who find the direct devotional approach to the Goddess much more appealing than the elaborate, scripturally sanctioned, ritualistic approach. Finally, Annada agrees to immerse the idol, even though his elders forbid him to do so (Thakur 2017, 33–39). After he immerses the idol, the Goddess appears again in two dreams and, in the second of these dreams, instructs him to write down the Adya Stava (the Hymn to Adya) (Thakur 2017, 39–40). This particular dream experience, as Annada Thakur (2017, 40) asserts, is different from his previous ones, as, in this case, the dream and the reality crisscross bafflingly, and, when the dreamy



experience is over, he is surprised to find that he has automatically written down the hymn uttered by the Goddess in the dream. Svapnajiban details numerous instances of divine beings and holy people appearing to Annada in his dreams throughout his life. In one such instance, the Goddess appears to him and tells him that a truly religious son should first bow to his mother, and only then should he show respect to his father (Thakur 2017, 46–47). The Goddess points out that the mother is the guru who familiarizes the son with his father and, as the guru, is to be respected more than the father (Thakur 2017, 47). It is from her instructions that Annada comes to understand the tattva of the guru, and he rapturously tells her that she has effectively enlightened him on the essence of guru-hood, by making him understand that one’s mother is one’s ultimate guru (Thakur 2017, 47). Throughout the text of Svapnajiban, Annada’s rhetoric keeps instantiating the attitude of the “incomplete masculine”. He is continuously receptive to the voice of Devi, and her speeches keep enlightening him on spiritual matters. His respect for the Goddess expands itself into a respectful attitude to all women. Interestingly, Annada keeps speaking of the noble human qualities in the sex workers whom he met by chance. Though a religious man who is somewhat antipathetic to sexual liaisons, he came, by chance, in (non-sexual) contact with certain sex workers and, every time, he seems to have seen these women as full human beings rather than as machines for providing sex (Thakur 2017, 116–128). Annada Thakur (2017, 124–125, 128) also notes that these women had deep reverence for Ramakrishna and had developed a spiritual orientation even in the midst of a fleshly life. He (2017, 145–147) describes how he saved a woman from violent, lecherous men, not with masculine physical prowess (which he seemingly lacks), but through a simple trick which the woman herself taught him. Here, he does not emerge as a typical male saviour of beleaguered women, who can save women thanks to his masculine heroism, but rather appears to be a simple person with an ethical orientation who, despite lacking that kind of physical strength which characterizes the conventional notion of “masculinity”, ventures to help a human being in danger. He was associated with the cultural activism against the institution of dowry in early-twentieth-century Bengal and wrote a play to raise social awareness about the evils of the system of dowry that caused young women great distress (Thakur 2017, 54–55). In Svapnajiban, he (2017, 176–179) relates how, during his travel in Mathura, he was assisted by women: women save him from troubles just as he also saves women from troubles



occasionally, during his life as a spiritual traveller (Thakur 2017, 267–268). While travelling around Hrishikesh, he sees the women of Uttarakhand and is fascinated with their freedom and autonomy which sharply contrast with the obsession with shame and honour, upheld as the proper feminine ideal by the early-twentieth-century Bengali society (Thakur 2017, 265). He feels sad that Bengali women are not blessed with this kind of autonomy (Thakur 2017, 265). It appears that he is not just receptive to but also appreciative of feminine agency; silent women do not represent, for him, the best ideal of femininity. His mother instructs him to be aware of the rights of his wife, and he seems to be able to maintain a companionable and dignified relationship with his wife (Thakur 2017, 286–289). I would like to read Annada’s text as a significant cultural document from early-twentieth-century Bengal that is situated in a complex web of Goddess spirituality, “incomplete” masculinity and male receptivity to female voices. His receptivity to female voices operates at multiple levels: he listens to the words of the Goddess with awe; he listens to the voices of the sex workers with empathy and human warmth; he listens to beleaguered women’s voices without any sense of masculine superiority. Rather, there is a tone of atonement in his rhetoric for the evils of the patriarchal society that make women suffer (Thakur 2017, 55, 291–292). In her work, Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls, June McDaniel (2004, 198–206) discusses Annada Thakur in detail and places Ramakrishna and Annada Thakur in the Shakta-tantric continuum of Shakta bhakti (Goddess-­ centred devotionalism) (2004, 193–195, 198–199, 202–203). However, when we look at the larger implications of these male devotees’ involvement in Shakta devotionalism, we need to highlight the ways in which these men’s spiritual orientation to the Goddess indirectly insisted on an alteration of the conventional concepts and configurations of gender. We need to point out how their responsiveness to Kali’s call, so to speak, expanded itself into an ethics of male receptivity to female voices and how this culminated in an auto-critical mode of masculine subjectivity in the cases of men like Pramodkumar Chattopadhyay or Annada Thakur whose receptivity to female voices made them question the generally unquestioned male privileges that characterize any patriarchal system. The humility involved in the male receptivity to a female guru’s speech which we have explored in various contexts in Chap. 5 is still the dominant feature of the attitude of a female guru’s male disciples or devotees in contemporary Bengal. Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, one of the leading computer scientists of India and the former director of the Indian Institute



of Technology Kharagpur, reverentially recounts the spiritual teachings of Shri Sharbani Ma, his guru, whom he sees as a manifestation of the Divine Mother herself. While recollecting his inner experiences of performing sadhana under the spiritual guidance of Sharbani Ma, he acknowledges humbly that, in the spiritual realm, “intellectualism” alone cannot be helpful. He (2009, 86) says: My ego was suitably deflated. I understood that while intellectualism has its place in sadhana, it is not the only thing. Purity of the body, mind and heart are extremely important in this endeavour. “Don’t worry so much”, Maa consoled me one day, reading my mind, “Keep up your sadhana regularly as per instructions. Slowly your astral nerves will become purer allowing smooth flow of the life-force. It takes time depending on your current state. One can change their own destiny through the path of brahmavidya that has been imparted to you. It is more important to consolidate every step firmly instead of climbing up quickly only to slip down.”

Chakrabarti (2009, 86–89) promulgates that it is only through the encouragement of Sharbani Ma that he could continue his spiritual exercises, even though there were moments of frustration and despair in his spiritual life. He (2009, 89) says, “I would again become a happy-go-­ lucky child of God, maybe covered with impurity, but nonetheless a cared son of the Mother of the Universe. Sree Sree Maa is a Mother, a parent, in addition to being a Sadguru”. In his book, Sree Sree Maa: My Eternal Divine Mother, Chakrabarti (2009, 112–115) recollects her teachings on yogic experiences. These teachings are very complex, as they centre round intricate spiritual secrets, involving the interconnections between “vibrations, letters and the subtle constitution of the physical elements” (Chakrabarti 2009, 114). Ma Sharbani tells Chakrabarti about the complex interplay between consciousness and energy that constitutes the crux of tantric yoga. She emphasizes the necessity for preparing oneself spiritually to embrace the occult experiences to which yogic sadhana would lead (Chakrabarti 2009, 113–119). Chakrabarti acknowledges, without any hesitation, that it is not possible for him to gain these experiences through mere intellection. However, Ma Sharbani comes to understand that he is pondering over his limited spiritual intuition and assures him that, even by just listening to these spiritual teachings attentively and getting these wise words “etched within”, he would gradually come to obtain the much-­ sought-­for spiritual enlightenment (Chakrabarti 2009, 119). Chakrabarti



(2009, 119) comments, with a soothing sense of awe, that he has come to understand that his “mind [is] an open book to her”. Setting aside his social role as an influential, globally renowned male scientist, Chakrabarti humbly surrenders himself to Sharbani Ma, who offers him spiritual nourishment in the midst of all earthly vicissitudes. To focus on the subtle nuances of the celebration of the “incomplete masculine” in the Shakta culture of contemporary Bengal, I would like to present a somewhat detailed discussion of a Bengali text written in the mode of a contemporary Shakta-tantric mythopoesis, which projects itself as an akhyana, or short mythic narrative, and presents a very interesting reworking of a famous narrative from the mainstream mythological repertoire of the puranas. It even calls itself a purana. The text I discuss here is Prasenjit Basu’s (2017) “Parvatipurana”. Basu teaches Bengali literature in a college, and he has conducted research in the field of Shaktism (Chaudhuri 2017, 215). The “Parvatipurana” is written from an explicitly Shakta perspective, and it seeks to critically renegotiate the notions of masculinity prevalent in mainstream Hinduism, by championing the primacy of the feminine agency of Devi and celebrating the “incomplete masculine” that the male gods happily and voluntarily manifest in the Shakta-­ tantric universe depicted in this text. In order to appreciate the mythopoetic play in this text, we need to focus, briefly, on the mythic narrative that Basu’s text reworks, that is, the narrative of Bhrigu the sage testing the Trinity. Canto 10 of the Bhagavata Purana, popularly known as the Srimad Bhagavatam, narrates how Bhrigu visits the Hindu Trinity, that is, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, separately to test their patience and their ability to control anger. He deliberately misbehaves with them, in order to provoke them. However, while Brahma is angry with Bhrigu’s audacity, he manages to control his anger. Shiva, on the other hand, becomes too angry when Bhrigu insults him and is about to kill him, although, finally, through the intervention of Parvati, he comes to be pacified. Vishnu proves to be the winner in this test to which Bhrigu has put the Trinity, as he, even when Bhrigu kicks him in the chest, speaks to Bhrigu respectfully and honours him as a great Brahmin (SB10.89.1–17). This mainstream mythic narrative of Bhrigu testing the Trinity and Vishnu passing the test has often been adduced by the Hindu Brahminocracy to underline the superiority of the Brahmins. Thus, the Brahminocratic configuration of Vishnu as the greatest god has served to prop up the conservative thrust of mainstream Hinduism. It is in this context that we need to appreciate the clever reworking of this narrative in “Parvatipurana” where Bhrigu’s



arrogance is shown to be specifically masculine in nature, and Parvati, presented by Basu as the Great Goddess rather than a docile wife, is the real tester, as she tests the spiritual depth of Bhrigu himself who believes that he is wise enough to venture to test the Trinity. Here, one may be reminded of Patricia Dold’s (2005, 43, 47–51) acute observation of the difficult tests to which Kali puts her devotees in the Mahabhagavata. The text of “Parvatipurana”, unlike the Bhagavata narrative, opens in Kailasa, the abode of Shiva and Parvati. We are presented with a happy domestic scenario, where Parvati showers her maternal affection on Ganesha, her son (Basu 2017, 184). Interestingly, here, Sarasvati and Lakshmi are presented as Parvati’s daughters (Basu 2017, 184, 195), in consonance with the popular Bengali iconography of Durga as Parvati, associated with her four offspring  – Kartikeya, Ganesha, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. Sarasvati visits Kailasa to apprise Parvati of the supercilious attitude shown by Bhrigu to her and Brahma. She tells Parvati that, when he visited the abode of Brahma, Bhrigu insulted not only Brahma but also Sarasvati, and told her openly that the sages were interested in identifying the male deity who was the greatest among the Trinity, but they were the least bothered about the goddesses, as they knew that all the female deities were inferior, and they were not interested at all in identifying the goddess who occupied the lowest rung in the ladder of inferiority (Basu 2017, 185). In other words, Bhrigu believes that the relative greatness of the male deities can be tested, but the goddesses’ inferiority is always already proved. Sarasvati says that, if she had wished, she could have immediately deprived Bhrigu of his intellect, as it is she who is the goddess of wisdom (Basu 2017, 186). However, she did not do so. She warns Parvati that Bhrigu is always biased towards Vishnu and, in the “test”, he would make none but Vishnu victorious (Basu 2017, 186). Parvati, unperturbed, asks Sarasvati not to be bothered much and obliquely reminds her that Parvati, as the Great Goddess, has control over all the happenings in the universe (Basu 2017, 186–187). Finally, Sarasvati exits with a smiling face (Basu 2017, 187). In this text, we find a very interesting depiction of the divine court of Shiva in Kailasa. Here, Shiva is not the great yogi engrossed in his meditation on some spiritual abstraction, but rather appears to be a devotee of Devi (Parvati) who is extremely happy to explain the Devi Gita to the sages, yogis and siddhas, as well as the attendants of Shiva and Devi who are present in front of him (Basu 2017, 187). At this point, Parvati enters the scene, like an empress, with the trident in her left hand. Shiva, on



seeing her, feels that the Vishva-rupa (Cosmic Form) of Devi, which is presented in the text of the Devi Gita, is manifested in the apparently simple, familiar form of Parvati (Basu 2017, 187). While Durvasa and the other sages present there are willing to hear about the glory of Parvati from Shiva in her presence, she asks them to leave, as she knows that Bhrigu is going to come to Kailasa very soon, in order to “test” Shiva (Basu 2017, 187–188). The most interesting aspect of Basu’s text is that he continuously presents Shiva as, simultaneously, the lover and the devotee of Devi. His approach to Devi is erotico-spiritual, but it is completely free from the masculine erotic aggression that is naturalized within the androcentric discourses of romance. Parvati encourages Shiva to engage in erotic dallying with her, and they share moments of erotic intimacy that offer Shiva a sense of spiritual elevation (Basu 2017, 188). In what Loriliai Biernacki (2007, 57) calls the “Kali Practice”, tantric texts assign the female beloved of a man a position superior to that of his parents and guru. As Biernacki (2007, 57) points out, “The NST [Blue Goddess of Speech Tantra] urges one to rather abandon one’s mother and father and even one’s Guru than to insult one’s female partner”. Biernacki (2007, 57) juxtaposes this directive with the Hindi proverb underlined by Gloria Raheja that accords the parents of a man a much higher position than that of his wife. When we critically evaluate the attitude of Basu’s Shiva to Parvati, we come to understand that his sensibility is much closer to the Kali Practice than to Raheja’s proverb. While, in the domain of Shakta-­ tantric sadhana in modern Bengali culture, the figuration of the Goddess as mother is more common than her figuration as female beloved, Basu’s Shiva, even though a sadhaka of Devi, declares that Devi (as his wife and not just as the World Mother) is the saratsar (ultimate essence) of his sadhana (Basu 2017, 188). His relation with Devi is not de-eroticized in the text; however, what we witness here is an eros capable of sublimating itself without erasing the bodily aspect of love. While Shiva is engrossed in his task of decorating Devi’s chignon with a garland, Bhrigu arrives in Kailasa. He begins to denounce Shiva by describing him as “kamuka” (sex-obsessed) and as a bestial male who only pretends to be a yogi (Basu 2017, 188–189). Shiva, however, is totally oblivious to the obnoxious words of Bhrigu and completes his task of decking Devi’s chignon with the garland, which pleases her immensely (Basu 2017, 189). Parvati is pleased that her worshipper, that is, Shiva, has been able to pass the test set by her, by focusing his entire concentration on the task of pleasing her, without noticing Bhrigu’s arrogance at all,



thereby proving his stupendous power of concentration that characterizes a real yogi (Basu 2017, 189). However, finally, he looks at Bhrigu and welcomes him to the Devikshetra (the Land of Devi) [Basu 2017, 189]. Interestingly, here, Kailasa, the famed Land of Shiva is renamed the Land of Devi by Shiva himself. Bhrigu harshly declares that he finds Shiva’s erotic obsession with his wife offensive. Shiva, without getting exasperated, says that, if the visage of Lakshmi serving her husband, Vishnu, does not offend Bhrigu’s sensibility, then he should not be offended by a husband (Shiva) serving his wife (Parvati), either. Bhrigu, after a moment’s awkwardness, proclaims that a man who is servile to his wife is not a real man and is immensely deplorable (Basu 2017, 190). However, the “incomplete masculine” that is seen as shameful by Bhrigu is celebrated as a matter of pride by Shiva. He enunciates proudly that his wife is the creatrix and mover of the entire universe; she it is who controls everything and every being. Shiva says that he is implicated in the cosmic web woven by Devi and hence, naturally, subservient to her. For him, it is a matter of great fortune that he has been able to become the servant of his glorious wife (Basu 2017, 190). Bhrigu, however, comments that Shiva’s praise for his wife originates from sexual rather than spiritual urges and begins to trivialize Devi. Shiva becomes extremely angry and warns Bhrigu that he will not tolerate the denunciation of Devi, who is not only his Shakti but also his guru and ishta (personal deity) (Basu 2017, 190). Shiva says that tolerating the depreciation of his guru, that is, Devi, would make him a sinner (Basu 2017, 190). As Biernacki (2007, 57) highlights, within the fold of the “Kali Practice”, “[i]f one insults a woman, then all one’s spiritual endeavors are useless”. Of course, Bhrigu in “Parvatipuarana” does not understand this, but the more interesting aspect of Basu’s mythopoesis is that, for Shiva, it is not just insulting a woman which is a sin; it is an equally sinful act to tolerate the insult thrown at a woman. When Bhrigu continues to make contumelious comments on Parvati, Shiva is maddened with anger and opens his third eye to burn Bhrigu down with the fire emitted by that eye. Parvati, through a mystical process, saves Bhrigu from getting burnt down and pacifies Shiva (Basu 2017, 191–192). Once Bhrigu is banished by Devi from Kailasa through her mystical power, Shiva glumly tells her that, by hearing deprecatory words about Devi, he has become a sinner. Devi assures him that, even in those very words, her omnipresent Self is implied, as she is involved in all states of existence and all manifested forms. Shiva is gladdened by this revelation and tells her that, whereas he had been presumptuously explaining the Devi Gita to the



others, it is she herself who has perfectly revealed her true nature to him (Basu 2017, 192–193). In other words, she, the speaker of the Devi Gita, is the best possible elucidator of the secret of her divine self, the best explicator of the spiritual message of the Devi Gita. Shiva the male deity is eternally dependent for his spiritual glory on his wife who is not just his Shakti but also his guru and ishta. The narrative now takes us to Vaikuntha, the abode of Vishnu and Lakshmi. Bhrigu comes to Vishnu and, to test his patience, kicks him in the chest. Vishnu, however, remains unperturbed and greets him respectfully. Lakshmi accuses Vishnu of allowing the entire pantheon of gods to be insulted by letting Bhrigu go unpunished even after kicking him. Vishnu tells Lakshmi that what she has seen is only the apparent, and not the real, fact and invites Lakshmi to enter the interior of his heart through a yogic process and witness the lila (play) of Parvati, the primordial Prakriti (Basu 2017, 196–197). Inside Vishnu’s heart, Lakshmi reaches the Shripitha, the divine abode of Parvati where she manifests herself in the form of Goddess Tripurasundari. Tripurasundari reveals to Lakshmi a secret of which she has so far remained unaware (Basu 2017, 198–199). She tells Lakshmi that Vishnu is a great worshipper of Goddess Tripurasundari, and he remains constantly spiritually connected with the Great Goddess who is seated within his body. All the avatars of Vishnu are worshippers of Devi Tripurasundari as well, as she reveals to Lakshmi (Basu 2017, 199). Tripurasundari tells Lakshmi that Vishnu worships her within his heart, and hence, when Bhrigu came to him, it was she who saved Vishnu from the contumely of really being kicked by Bhrigu. She explains that, when Bhrigu was about to kick Vishnu in the chest, her mystic power did not allow his foot to fall on Vishnu’s chest. At the same time, she also saved Bhrigu from being hurt by her tremendous power that protected Vishnu (Basu 2017, 200). Goddess Tripurasundari declares Vishnu to be her earnest devotee and says that his whole body is Devitirthamaya, that is, filled with tirthas (holy sites) sacralized by Devi’s presence (Basu 2017, 200). We need to notice that, whereas the mainstream interpretations of Vishnu’s approach to Bhrigu have tried to justify the ideologies of Brahminocracy, Basu’s Shakta reworking of this topos shifts the focus to the centrality of the all-pervasive divine feminine who is the ultimate reality behind the Trinity and underscores her merciful approach to Bhrigu in spite of his flaws. Vishnu’s humility, thus, appears to be his humility towards the Goddess rather than to the Brahmin that Bhrigu is. For Vishnu, as for Shiva, Bhrigu’s arrogance is insignificant, so



long as they receive Devi’s grace. They are male deities open to the voice of Devi, because it is that voice which ensures their spiritual stability. While Bhrigu thinks that goddesses are insignificant in the spiritual realm, the gods themselves know very well that it is the Great Goddess who is the ultimate controller of them, as well as of the universe. Parvati, however, finally decides to put Bhrigu himself to a difficult test. She wants to teach him a lesson for his tremendous arrogance. Hence, she journeys to the earth, accompanied by Jaya and Vijaya, her female companions, and Ganesha, her son (Basu 2017, 202–203). Jaya and Vijaya appear before Bhrigu and the other sages in the form of lower caste women and keep pointing out to the rishis the fallacies of their Brahminocratic epistemology that considers such women to be untouchables (Basu 2017, 204–205). Every time a shudra (lower caste) woman criticizes the Brahminocratic ideas, Bhrigu becomes angry and certain other rishis (who are worshippers of Brahma and Shiva and, hence, have been demoralized by Bhrigu’s proclamation of Vishnu’s superiority over all other gods) remind him, with a tinge of irony in their voices, that he, as the great Vaishnava sage, is not supposed to lose his temper due to such trivial issues (Basu 2017, 204–205). Finally, Parvati herself appears on the scene, in the form of a married shudra woman, with a little boy (Ganesha in disguise) in her lap (Basu 2017, 205). Ganesha, in the form of the shudra boy, disturbs the sages: he takes the water of the river Sarasvati in his mouth and then, opening his mouth, splashes the water over the sages bathing in the river (Basu 2017, 206). Bhrigu, maddened with anger, says that he must punish these impure shudras so that they would never dare again to come near the Brahmin sages (Basu 2017, 207). He threatens the woman (Parvati) that he would curse her, but she steadily says that she is not in the least afraid of the curses of Brahmins (Basu 2017, 207). As soon as Bhrigu gets ready to curse the shudra woman, she, as if magically, freezes the water of the river and lapidifies the rishis bathing in it (Basu 2017, 207). Parvati actually uses her special mystic power to stop the speech and physical movement of Bhrigu (Basu 2017, 207), reprimands him for his limitless arrogance and then vanishes along with Jaya and Vijaya, leaving only Ganesha there (Basu 2017, 208–209). Immobilized and terrified, Bhrigu comes to repent for his sin, and Ganesha feels compassion for him (Basu 2017, 209–210). He advises Bhrigu to surrender himself to the Great Goddess, Parvati. Finally, pleased with the repentant Bhrigu’s prayer accompanied with Ganesha’s altruistic prayer for the sage’s deliverance, Goddess Parvati appears in a majestic



form and delivers the sages from their petrified state and the river from its frozenness (Basu 2017, 210–211). Her majestic form carries three bows which are the symbols of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Echoing the assertions of the Devi-Sukta, she tells the sages that it is she who energizes the three bows with the arrows that emblematize her Shakti (Basu 2017, 211). Ganesha, thanks to his divine vision, gets to see that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are held, in the form of bows, in the three hands of his mother and that the wives of those three gods (Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Parvati) are held in the fourth hand of Devi in the form of arrows (Basu 2017, 212). The sages become mesmerized by this wonderful manifestation of Devi. Devi teaches Bhrigu that the three gods are powerless without her divine energy. She adds that every being in the world is a bow made by her for some specific purpose to be served. Manifesting, as it were, her divine Self as the ultimate guru of the universe, she tells the sages that only one who can perceive her palpable presence in every being is the truly wise person who has access to the ultimate reality (Basu 2017, 211). Basu’s text expands her function as a spiritual guide to Bhrigu even more at the end of the narrative. Moved by the epiphanic vision of Devi, Bhrigu requests her to be his chosen deity (ishta). However, Devi says that she does not want him to turn from a Vaishnava into a Shakta. Rather, she suggests, he should be steadfastly loyal to Vishnu, his chosen deity, without becoming a fundamentalist or insulting the other deities (Basu 2017, 212). Eventually, Bhrigu has to jettison his masculine arrogance – an arrogance that is organically associated with the caste privileges enjoyed by him. The tremendous power of the Great Goddess forces him to dispense with his androcentric epistemology and appreciate the merciful nature of the Goddess who punishes him not really to punish, but rather to teach. The configurations of the Goddess as guru/teacher, as I have persistently argued throughout this book, can facilitate the reframing of masculine self-constructions. Even though he continuously denies the value of the “incomplete masculine”, Bhrigu has to ultimately subdue his hubris and acknowledge the fallacies and inadequacies of aggressive masculinity. Like the sages in the Vidya Gita discussed in Chap. 3, Bhrigu ultimately comes to realize that his intellect alone cannot lead him to spiritual enlightenment; for the mystic wisdom to dawn on him, he needs to be enlightened by the Goddess directly. As a Vaishnava, he has to understand that, just as there is the divine feminine seated in the heart of Vishnu, his chosen deity, his masculine self should also carve out a space within itself for the



appreciation and veneration of the indwelling feminine divinity, who, in her every whisper, conveys spiritual wisdom. The dynamics of the authority of female speech in the Devi Gitas that has been explored in Chap. 3 finds its resonance in the contemporary Bengali text of Basu. As I have continuously insisted, Devi’s voice – her spiritually energizing and nourishing speech  – has resiliently survived through centuries. In the context of the Bengali culture which has been influenced by tantric patterns and paradigms of thought and feeling in several intricate ways, Devi’s voice has inspired the celebration of the “incomplete masculine”. Basu’s text figures forth a Shiva who celebrates his subservience to his wife and enjoys a companionable relation with her despite remembering, every moment, her superiority to him. In this way, the text of “Parvatipurana” succeeds in projecting him as embodying an alternative model of masculinity that is non-aggressive and receptive to the feminine voice. Basu does not merely seek to mythopoetically reframe an existing puranic narrative from the Shakta perspective. Rather, it seems that he wants to explore the alternative forms of masculinity that can emanate from the Shakta sensibility. Moreover, caste and gender issues complexly crisscross in this narrative and the voices of Parvati, Jaya and Vijaya as the three shudra women echo that of Elokeshi in Tantrabhilashir Sadhusanga. In a way, “Parvatipurana” presents certain archetypes for rethinking masculinity and femininity. Shiva is eternally humble towards Parvati, and Ganesha, from his childhood, gets exposed to the manifestation of the power of the feminine. It is easily understandable that he will, like Shiva, develop a respectful attitude to women, and his behavioural patterns would be influenced by two different kinds of role models: Parvati as the powerful feminine inspiring a non-aggressive form of masculinity and Shiva as the voluntary exemplifier of the “incomplete masculine”. The ideal family portrayed by Basu is centred in Parvati, and it is from her that the socio-cultural and spiritual values endorsed by this text, implicitly or explicitly, emanate. She is the embodiment of the Energy that moves the universe, and yet, she is loving and merciful rather than imperious. Indirectly, she teaches Ganesha how to sympathize with people who need help in times of distress; she teaches Bhrigu how to be humble, not just before the gods but also before the humans who are less privileged. The alternative paradigm of a family presented by this text, which seems to be grounded in the metonymy of the Devikshetra (Land/Site of the Goddess), offsets the model of the patriarchal family centred on mansplaining



“fathers”. Such an alternative paradigm of family lurks in the socio-­cultural imaginaries stored up in the Bengali unconscious more often than not. That is not to say that this alternative model has been actualized in the Bengali society. Nor can we say that the Bengali masculinity consciously approximates the ideal of the “incomplete masculine”. Nevertheless, imaginative models are always necessary for giving shape to alternative realities, and “Parvatipurana” offers some useful imaginative models for rethinking gender – both pedagogically and performatively – in the contemporary Bengali society. The Bengali man is often taken – by some other communities in India – to be less masculine than the men from the other ethnicities in South Asia. It is often assumed that he has something womanish about him – not just physically but also attitudinally. This myth of the effeminacy of the Bengali men is often aligned, in the imagination of some other communities, with their obsession with Mother worship. While in Varanasi, I often heard from my non-Bengali Hindu friends that the Bengali men they knew were always devoted to their wives/fiancées – a romantic loyalty surprising to the non-Bengali Hindu men but, of course, not surprising for a figure like Shiva in “Parvatipurana”. However, this easy association of a presumably alternative masculinity (sometimes denigrated as effeminacy) with Goddess cultures is nothing but a popular form of social mythopoesis. There is no reason to think that the Bengali man is essentially feminist or even feminine; there is no reason to believe that the Bengali man does not love mansplaining. However, in Bengali literature, especially literature dealing with tantra, goddesses or female gurus, there is often the figuration of a male subject attentive to an authoritative female voice. The alternative paradigms of masculinity which emerge from this are not always aligned with social “reality”. However, as I have already argued, they do offer imaginative horizons for rethinking masculinity. Again, it would be wrong to believe that this is something special to Bengali culture; it is something one can witness in the tantrically inflected cultural formations of Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Kashmir, Kerala and many other locations in India (think of Amarananda Bhairavan’s South Indian background of Kali worship). These alternative models of masculinity are sometimes, to varying degrees, reflected in the gender dynamics of their concomitant socio-cultural transactions. At other times, they are frozen in myth and legends, or in obscure texts. To bring them into the open domain of gender debates is not just an exciting intellectual venture but also a political imperative.



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Madureira, Luis. 2005. Cannibal Modernities: Postcoloniality and the Avant-Garde in Caribbean and Brazilian Literature. Charlottesville/London: University of Virginia Press. McDaniel, June. 1989. The Madness of the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press. ———. 2004. Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press. Mother Reveals Herself (Early Period of Matri Lila: 1896–1932). 2014. Recorded by Bhaiji [Jyotish Chandra Roy]. New Delhi: Shree Shree Ma Anandamayee Archive. Mukhopadhyay, Anway. 2017. Literary and Cultural Readings of Goddess Spirituality: The Red Shadow of the Mother. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Ranganathananda, Swami. 2013. The Indian Vision of God as Mother. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama. Saradananda, Swami. 2016. Shri Shri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga. Vol. 2: Gurubhava-Uttarardhaebang Dibyabhava o Narendranath. Kolkata: Udbodhan. Schiller, Britt-Marie. 2011. The Incomplete Masculine: Engendering the Masculine of Sexual Difference. In Thinking with Irigaray, ed. Mary C. Rawlinson, Sabrina L. Hom, and Serene J. Khader, 131–152. Albany: State University of New York. Shaw, Miranda. 1995. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Solnit, Rebecca. 2014. “The Slippery Slope of Silencings”. Subheading 1  in Chap. 1  in Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays. London: Granta. N. pag. =frontcover&dq=rebecca+solnit+men+explain+things+to+me&hl=en&sa=X &ved=0ahUKEwiDqeaT_a3nAhVzxzgGHY2NC5oQ6wEIKzAA#v=onepag e&q=rebecca%20solnit%20men%20explain%20things%20to%20me&f=false. Accessed 31 Jan 2020. Spencer, Dale C. 2012. Ultimate Fighting and Embodiment: Violence, Gender, and Mixed Martial Arts. New York/London: Routledge. Srimad Bhagavatam: The Story of the Fortunate One [Bhagavata Purana]: Canto 10. 2017. By Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasadeva. Trans. Anand Aadhar, 3rd revised ed. June 12, 2017. pdf. Accessed 4 Jan 2020. Svami, Sri Vimalananda. 2011. Introduction to the Vimalanandadayini Commentary on the “Karpuradi Stotra”. Trans. John Woodroffe. In Hymns to the Goddess and Hymn to Kali. Trans. and ed. John Woodroffe, 251–281. Madras: Ganesh. Thakur, Annada. 2017. Svapnajiban. Adyapeeth: Dakshineshwar Ramakrishna Sangha.


The Beauty of Womansplaining: The Authoritative Speech of Devi in India, in the World

I, obviously, do not suggest that every woman has to become a devotee of Devi or see herself as a human embodiment of the Divine Feminine in order to speak powerfully. Nor do I insist that only those men who are devotees of Devi can represent the receptive, non-aggressive masculinity that I have delineated in the earlier chapters. However, Devi’s speech does have some relevance in today’s India – and the world at large – which one can underline, if one listens to her voice with patience and without prejudice, refusing to adopt either of the extreme positions – that the goddess traditions are essentially feminist or that they are essentially anti-feminist. “Feminism” is no monolith, and womansplaining is, undoubtedly, never monochromatic. Luisa Muraro (2018, 45–46) sees “the gift of the word” as a “gift from the mother”. While a secular reading of this gynocentric imaginary of speech might underline the difference between the goddess and the mother, a sacred epistemology of speech, grounded in Goddess spirituality, may see speech itself as a goddess who gives herself – always – as a gift to us. In tantric culture, as we have seen, both Word-as-Goddess and Goddess-as-Speaker exist as different but interrelated sacred imaginaries. However, if we can, like Lata Mani (2009), think of a “sacredsecular” epistemology that renegotiates both the sacred and the secular from the perspective of a “contemplative cultural critique” (Mani 2009, 1–4), we can probably explore how the Goddess’s authoritative speech can contribute to the global feminist agenda of foregrounding women’s speech – feminine voices – from multiple cultural contexts. As a token of the sacred, © The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




the Goddess is confined to a religious context; however, as a figuration of the sacredsecular, she, like Frankenberg and Mani’s (2013, 1–8) Devi Amma, discussed in Chap. 2, may speak to women and men in the secular domain as well. Can such a sacredsecular (re-)formulation of the Goddess-as-­ Womansplainer operate as a feminine/feminist symbolic order that is underlined by Muraro? Muraro (2018, 44) writes, “we cannot rectify social disorder without making symbolic order…. We know that whoever wants to modify what exists must be able to speak, and (I repeat) we learn to speak from the mother”. This is what the Indic thealogy of speech, so to speak, would also imply. However, if we indeed learn to speak from the goddess/mother, then it is necessary to be attentive to female speech, to acknowledge its authority. The symbolic order Muraro highlights is present in India, but its socio-cultural application is blocked. To be precise, Indian men would worship the goddess of speech, but would belittle the speech of women. The West may operate on the basis of a largely male-­ centric symbolic order and androcentric theologies, but the apparently feminine symbolic order in India’s goddess culture does not automatically translate into gender equality, either. However, as Muraro rightly observes, in order to modify the existing reality, one needs to speak. I have, in this book, tried to foreground what the goddess and the women operating within the Indic goddess cultures have spoken. My point is that the existing reality cannot be altered by speech alone; it can be altered by only that speech which is listened to – receptively and humbly. The circuit of utterance is never completed without the ethical listener, and this book has persistently argued for the listener-position that men need to take, not just in India, but globally. Can the Goddess, in India, in the world, in the global cultures of discourse-­making and discourse-sharing, offer a lesson to turn men into receptive listeners of female speeches? As someone who has remained engaged with the history of feminist thought both in the West and in India, I would strongly argue that the feminist utterances, when relegated to the domain of what the hidden sexist agenda of the patriarchal academy designates as disciplines for women, fail to have their intended effect (for somewhat similar arguments, see hooks 2000, 7–12). If we don’t believe, with bell hooks (2000, vii–x), that “feminism is for everybody”, if we can’t compel men to listen to what the feminists say, then the space cleared by women would remain a space granted by patriarchy, not a space won by them for themselves, and also for anti-sexist men. As hooks (2000, 12)



points out, “Without males as allies in struggle feminist movement will not progress”. Do the male academics pay sufficient attention to the voices of their female counterparts? Do the male politicians really consider their female colleagues to be their equals? Have we really decentred the figure of the “Man” in the domains of history, philosophy, religion? (As Cavarero [1995, 6, 38] points out, we badly need to interrogate the androcentric discourse of the universal.) These are questions which are relevant not only to the present-day Indian scenario but to the entire globe. Patriarchy operates globally, even though in different forms and different degrees in various geo-cultural zones. It is difficult to find out any socio-cultural system on the planet that is totally innocent of patriarchal sensibility. While it is true that the figure of the Goddess-as-Womansplainer has often been patriarchally instrumentalized in androcentric mythopoesis, it is also true that the Goddess’s voice has often found resonance with those of mortal women. It is necessary to reclaim the Goddess from male-centric religious discourses – not just in the West but also in India. Carol Christ (1997, xiii) insists, “The return of the Goddess inspires us to hope that we can heal the deep rifts between women and men, between “man” and nature, and between “God” and the world, that have shaped our western view of reality for too long”. However, in order to heal these rifts, we first need to stage a dialogue between the opposite poles in all these pairs. Taking the Goddess as a figure for the womansplainer may facilitate the dialogue between men and women, by foregrounding the status of women as equal partners of men. In this sense, womansplaining, unlike mansplaining, will not deepen the rifts between men and women but would rather heal them. We need not think that womansplaining is all about authority smelling of violence; it is, rather, oriented to the project of reclaiming the rights of “equiphony or equal access to public discourse (Isabel Santa Cruz)” (Amoros 2004, 344). Simultaneously transformative and nourishing, the authoritative speeches of Devi may present an alternative mode of communication where the speaker’s authority is not synonymous with aggression. As Karen Pechilis (2011, 100–107) has finely observed, Western feminist discourses need to address the differences between Western feminism and Indian goddess cultures, and hence, the negotiation between these two epistemes needs to be multilayered and complex. I would insist that staging a dialogue between Western feminism and non-Western goddess cultures is also a way to facilitate the celebration of the plurality within



planetary feminisms (Morgan 1984, 1–37). Devi’s speech may not be a feminist discourse per se, but her utterances may (at least occasionally) resonate with the feminist discourses in the West and in the Third World today. Don’t we understand that there is a difference between an echo and resonance? After the effective pluralization of “Feminism” through the critical and creative interventions of postcolonial feminisms, we have moved away from the logic of the echo to the logic of resonance. No more are the non-Western women supposed to echo the discourses of Western feminism. Rather, today we seek to find out the resonances between Western and non-Western feminist utterances. I think that the project of foregrounding Devi’s speech on the spectrum of planetary feminisms is useful in that it can offer us different models of imagining female speakers and male listeners and help us in renegotiating the ethics of listening (Parks 2019, xiv–xv) in the context of gender. No dialogue can go on without the listener. Within the larger domain of Indian culture in general, the listener has always been seen as extremely important. It has been argued, time and again, that the listener of music, the viewer of drama, the reader of poetry are no less important than the creators of these forms of art. The Rasa theory foregrounds the figure of the sahridaya who is the proper recipient of the rasa conveyed by poetry or drama (Bake 2000, 306). Sahridaya means sympathetic (Deshpande 2009, 78). However, the sahridaya has almost always been understood in gender-neutral terms. Today, deliberately gendering the sahridaya, can we propose the figure of the receptive male listener of Devi’s speech, which has been underlined in this book, to be the paradigmatic male sahridaya-in-dialogue? Can we suggest that Devi implicitly urges her male listeners not just to be receptive to women’s speech but also to be their sahridaya (sympathetic) cocitizens? The term sahridaya would literally mean “one of the same heart” (Prasad 2007, 143). If a man does not give his heart’s assent to the feminist voice, how can he genuinely get rid of his allegiance to the patriarchal order? The beauty of womansplaining lies in the fact that it does not force authority on the Other; rather, it moves the (male) Other to become a sahridaya, “one of the same heart”. hooks (2000, 69–71) suggests that feminist theory ought to offer “more liberatory visions of masculinity” – the visions of a “feminist masculinity” which are grounded in the logic of love rather than that of domination. hooks (2000, 70) insists that “patriarchal masculinity” centres round men’s “capacity to dominate others”. It would become apparent from what this book has argued persistently that mansplaining evidently



instantiates a domination-obsessed speech act, springing from patriarchal masculinity. hooks (2000, 70) says: … males must critique and challenge male domination of the planet, of less powerful men, of women and children. But they must also have a clear vision of what feminist masculinity looks like. How you can become what you cannot imagine? And that vision has yet to be made fully clear by feminist thinkers male or female.

By foregrounding the humble and receptive male listener of (divine or human) female speech, this book has attempted to propose a model of “feminist masculinity”. I shall not claim that this paradigm of receptive masculinity can make “fully clear” the “vision” of feminist masculinity, but I do believe that the figure of the receptive male listener – the sahridaya recipient of female speech  – can facilitate the shift of the male identity away from the patriarchal tropology of domination. Carol Christ (1997, xvi) says that she had asked herself repeatedly “whether it was possible to write a thea-logy that opened doors rather than closed them”. Indeed, it is necessary to open doors rather than closing them. Seeing the Goddess as either central to or totally useless in the project of “opening doors” does not help us much. Rather, we need to acknowledge that, even though “thea-logy can never provide final answers to all the questions we have” (Christ 1997, xvii), it can help us in reframing those questions. Devi’s speech does not burst as a bubble in the void; it summons the listeners of the present and the future, teleopoetically (Spivak 2001, 12). We, men and women of today, can, of course, be her sahridaya listeners.

References Amoros, Celia. 2004. Feminism and the Three Enlightenment Ideals. In Another World Is Possible: Popular Alternatives to Globalization at the World Social Forum, ed. William F. Fisher and Thomas Ponniah, 338–345. London/New York: Zed Books. Bake, A.A. 2000. The Aesthetics of Indian Music. In Theory of Value, ed. Roy W. Perrett, 303–313. New York/London: Garland. Cavarero, Adriana. 1995. In Spite of Plato: A Feminist Rewriting of Ancient Philosophy. Trans. Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio and Aine O’Healy. New York: Routledge.



Christ, Carol P. 1997. Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality. New York/London: Routledge. Deshpande, G.T. 2009. Indian Poetics. Trans. Jayant Paranjpe. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. Frankenberg, Ruth, and Lata Mani, comp. 2013. The Tantra Chronicles: Original Teachings from Devi, Shiva, Jesus, Mary, Moon. N.p.: Lata Mani. https:// 555aafb5e4b01adc78489cf7/1432006581734/The+Tantra+Chronicles.pdf. Accessed 1 Feb 2020. hooks, bell. 2000. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. London: Pluto Press. Mani, Lata. 2009. SacredSecular: Contemplative Cultural Critique. New Delhi: Routledge. Morgan, Robin. 1984. Introduction: Planetary Feminism: The Politics of the Twenty-First Century. In Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, ed. Robin Morgan, 1–37. Garden City: Anchor Press. Muraro, Luisa. 2018. The Symbolic Order of the Mother. Trans. Francesca Novello and ed. Timothy S. Murphy. Foreword Alison Stone. Albany: State University of New York Press. Parks, Elizabeth S. 2019. The Ethics of Listening: Creating Space for Sustainable Dialogue. Lanham/Boulder/New York/London: Lexington Books. Pechilis, Karen. 2011. Spreading Sakti. In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings, ed. Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, 97–120. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Prasad, Gupteshwar. 2007. I. A. Richards and Indian Theory of Rasa. New Delhi: Sarup&Sons. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2001. A Note on the New International. Parallax 7 (3): 12–16.


A Abjajananda, Swami, 98, 118 Absolute, 16, 19–21, 30, 35, 49, 51, 54, 57, 62 Absolute authority, 51 Activists, 6 Adaptations, 4 Adiguru, 84, 125 Adivasis, 87 Advaita, 21 Advaita Ashram at Mayavati, 100 Advaita Vedanta, 32, 36, 51, 54, 59, 95, 110, 133 Advaita Vedantist, 31 Advaitic, 50 Advaitin, 32 Advaitin/non-dualist, 100, 115 Advaya-siddhi, 87 Adya Ma, 134 Adyapeeth, 134 Adya Stava (the Hymn to Adya), 135 Aggressive, 129, 132, 145 Aggressivity, 9, 34 Agni, 17

Aham, 19 Akarshana, 74 Akasha, 18 Akhyana, 139 Akshayachaitanya, Brahmachari, 103, 105 Akula, 73 All-pervasive, 63 Alterity/alterities, 2, 8, 36, 79, 129, 132 Alternative imaginary of masculinity, 126 Alternative masculinity, 127, 129, 147 Alternative tradition, 2, 7, 8, 70–72, 77, 78 Amaruka, 31 Ambhrini, 15–17, 19, 35 Ambhrini Vak, 118 Ananda, 55, 58, 111, 113 Ananda Bhairava, 78 Ananda Bhairavi, 78, 79 Anandamayi Ma, 34, 93–119 Anandmurti Gurumaa, 118 Anasuya, 80

© The Author(s) 2020 A. Mukhopadhyay, The Authority of Female Speech in Indian Goddess Traditions,




Anatita [Ma Anandamayi’s speech], 112 Anderson, Carol S., 106 Androcentric, 14, 15, 23, 24 Androcentric mythopoesis, 153 Androcentrism, 2, 6, 133 Androcratic, 14, 28 Androgynous, 97 Androgyny, 132 Annadamangala, 83, 132 Annapurna, 83 Annapurna Upanishad, 20 Anthropocratic, 31 Anti-feminist, 151 Anti-sexist men, 152 Aporetic, 32 Appropriation, 13, 14, 21, 29 Archanapuri Ma, 88 Archetypal, 99 Arrogance, 124, 140, 141, 143–145 Ashanta (sayings of Ma Anandamayi), 114 Ashvalayana, 19, 20 Ashwapaty, 65 Assam, 147 Atisha Dipankara Srijnana, 126 Atita [Ma Anandamayi’s speech], 112 Atmaprana, Pravrajika, 133, 134 Atmasthananda, Swami, 97, 100, 118, 133 Atonement, 137 Atri, 80 Auditor, 46 Aunt Preema, 132 Authoritative, 41, 48, 49, 52, 53, 60 Authoritative female speech, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13–36 Authoritative speech, 70, 72, 86, 89, 90, 153 Authority, 14–16, 18–22, 25–28, 30, 31, 34–36, 41–67 Autoethnography, 8

Autonomy, 137 Avataric, 32 Avatars/avataras, 93, 96–98, 101, 103, 107, 109 Avatars of Vishnu, 143 B “Baba” (Father), 104 “Baby-husband” (McDaniel, June), 93, 132 Balananda Brahmachari, 85, 111 Balkaran, Raj, 43 Bama Khyapa, 88, 123, 125 Banaras Hindu University, 109 Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan, 127–129 Basu Mishra, Kana, 106 Bel tree, 27 Belur Math, 100, 107 Bengal, Bengali, 77, 83, 85, 90, 98, 100, 106, 114, 115, 125, 127–137, 139–141, 146, 147 Bengali literature, 139, 147 Bengali man, 129, 147 Bengali Shaktism, 74, 77, 78 Bengali society, 137, 147 Bengali women, 137 Bhadralok, 131 Bhairava, 73, 75, 79 Bhairavi (guru of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa), 73, 97 Bhairavi Kanchanbala, 88 Bhairavis, 130 Bhajanananda, Swami, 104 Bhaktas, 108 Bhakti, 56, 63 Bharadwaj, Nachiketa, 107 Bharatchandra, 83 Bhartrihari, 41, 44 Bhattacharyya, Sibajiban, 41, 42, 45


Bholanath (husband and disciple of Anandamayi Ma), 109, 132 Bhrigu, 139–146 Bhuvaneshvari, 24 Biernacki, Loriliai, 3, 28, 30, 70–72, 75, 76, 83, 88, 93, 94, 97, 123, 126–128, 131, 141, 142 Birbhum, 127 Bodhana, 27 Bose, Mandakranta, 14, 16–18, 30 Brahma, 20, 22, 26, 27, 32, 48–50, 57, 58, 61, 72, 73, 78, 81, 82, 139, 140, 144, 145 Brahmacharinis, 107 Brahmacharis, 98 Brahmacharya, 107 Brahmaloka, 32 Brahman, 17–20, 54, 57, 59, 62, 63, 78, 79, 81, 84, 95 Brahmananda Giri, 123 Brahmavidya, 18, 79, 138 Brahmin, 130, 139, 143, 144 Brahminical, 64, 66, 78, 94, 130 Brahminocracy, 64, 116, 130, 139, 143 Brahminocratic, 130, 139, 144 Brannigan, John, 29 Brihaddharma Purana, 27, 72, 77, 78 Brihannila Tantra, 72, 75, 126 Brihaspati, 80 Brown, Cheever Mackenzie, 13, 16, 18, 21, 25, 26, 34, 44, 51, 56, 58, 60, 64, 66 Buddhism, 126 Buddhist, 28 Buddhist tantra, 69, 82, 87 Bull, Sara, 133, 134 C Calcutta, 100 California, 132


Candamaharoshana-tantra, 72 Casteism, 130 Cavarero, Adriana, 4, 13, 16, 153 Chakrabarti, Arindam, 45, 47, 48, 118 Chakrabarti, Partha Pratim, 137–139 Chakrabarty, Ishwar Chandra, 105 Chandal, 130 Chandi (Goddess), 43, 44 Charpentier, Marie-Therese, 96, 101, 110, 117, 118 Chattopadhyay, Pramodkumar, 89, 125, 129–132 Chattopadhyay, Taraprasad, 111 Chaudhuri, Narayan, 114 Chit, 58 Christ, Carol, 153, 155 Colonial Bengal, 105 “Communicative speech acts” (Hornsby, Jennifer), 15 Cosmic form, 44, 55, 62 Counsellor, 118 Creaters (Frankenberg and Mani), 35 Creation, 17, 23, 26, 73, 74, 82, 85 Creatrix, 16, 35, 50, 81, 142 Cultural materialism, 29 Cultural materialist, 4, 5 D Dakinis, 87 Daksha, 57, 77, 78 Dakshinakali, 74, 125 Dakshineshwar, 134 Darsana, 44 Das, Mukti Chaitanya, 43, 44 Dattatreya, 21, 53 Daughters of Sarasvati (documentary film by Anway Mukhopadhyay), 109 Death, 52, 65 Deconstructivist, 26 Dehumanization, 107



Demigoddess, 127 Demons, 17, 24, 33, 34 Demon-slayer, 96 Destroyer, 43, 50 Devi, 14–21, 25–28, 30, 33–36, 41–67, 72–76, 78–86, 88, 90, 93, 95–100, 103, 108, 109, 117–119, 123–126, 136, 139–146 Devi (film by Satyajit Ray), 98 Devi, Ashapurna, 100 Devi Amma, 34, 35, 152 Devi-as-authoritative-speaker, 34 Devi-as-doer, 34 Devi as the female guru, 34 Devi-as-womansplainer, 124 Devi Gita, 2, 16, 18, 24–26, 34, 36, 41–67, 96, 99, 115–117, 124, 140–143, 146 Devi-mahatmya (Chandi), 42–44, 81, 94 Devi the demon-slayer, 34 Devi Upanishad, 19, 20 Devi’s speech, 151, 154, 155 Devibhagavata, 42, 44, 51, 60, 62–66 Devibhagavata Devi Gita, 95, 96, 100 Devibhagavata Purana, 13, 18, 26 Devi-hood, 99, 101 Devikshetra, 142, 146 Devi-Sukta/Vak-Sukta/Ambhrini-­ Sukta, 50, 53, 118, 145 Devitirthamaya, 143 Devotees, 25, 32, 33, 93, 95, 97–99, 103, 105, 106, 108–111, 113, 114, 116, 117, 125, 132, 135, 137, 140, 141, 143, 151 Devotion, 52, 53, 56, 58, 60, 61 Dhaka, 110 Dharma, 57 Dhyana mantra, 74, 77 Diachronicity, 5 Dialexis (Rita Sherma), 6

Dialogized, 4 Dialogue, 153, 154 Dialogue-inspirer, 131 Diksha, 108 Diotima, 76 Disciples, 94, 95, 97, 99–101, 103, 104, 107–110, 117, 118 Disembodied/disembodiedness, 42, 47–49, 59, 65 Disempowered women, 5 Divine, 41–67 Divine feminine/divine-feminine, 6, 7, 46, 101, 104, 105, 109, 151 Divine-feminine authority, 21 Divine-human voice, 96, 117 Divine Mother, 43, 57, 65, 73, 74, 85, 89, 102, 103, 123, 125, 133, 138 Divinity, 96, 110, 117 Dobia, Brenda, 124, 125 Doer (Devi as), 33 Dold, Patricia, 70, 77, 78, 82, 88, 89, 131, 140 Domination, 154, 155 Dowry, 107, 136 Dream vision, 134, 135 Duality, 54 Durga, 18, 80, 81, 100, 105, 140 Durgamohan, 110 Durga Puja, 19, 100, 105 Durvasa, 80, 141 Dvaita, 50 Dvaita-centric, 50 “Dvaita structure of feeling” (Spivak, Gayatri), 50 E Eastern India, 83 Eden Gardens, 134, 135 Egalitarianism, 66 Eight-handed, 47 Elokeshi, 89, 130, 131, 146


Elomelo katha [Ma Anandamayi’s speech], 113 Embodied, 45, 48, 55, 63, 65 Empowered women, 3, 4 Empowerment, 107, 118 Enfleshed, enfleshment, 65 Enlightener, 43, 49 Enlightenment, 42, 46, 52, 53, 56, 58, 65, 66 “Equiphony” (Santa Cruz, Isabel), 1, 153 Erasures, 3 Eros, 141 Esoteric rituals, 76 Ethics of listening (Parks, Elizabeth S.), 154 “Ethic of listening” (Parks, Elizabeth S.), 97, 119 Existing reality, 152 F Female authority, 14, 15, 69–90, 129, 131 Female biology, 94, 95 Female Buddha, 72, 87 Female-centred, 66 Female deity, 45, 61, 140 Female devotees, 116, 117 Female-friendly, 123 Female guidance, 69–90 Female guru, 21, 23, 28, 34, 93–99, 103, 107, 108, 114, 117, 118, 125, 137, 147 Female silence, 7 Female speaker, 41 Female speech, 13–36, 152, 155 Female voices, 13, 19, 22, 25, 33, 36, 126, 131, 132, 137, 147 Feminine, 125, 128, 133, 134, 137, 139, 143, 145–147 Feminine agency, 137, 139


Feminine principle, 33, 53, 133 Feminine voices, 151 Femininity, 5, 7, 18, 19, 26, 30, 31, 35, 97 Feminism, 6–9, 95, 106, 107, 151–154 Feminist, 147, 151–155 Feminist discourse, 153, 154 “Feminist masculinity” (hooks, bell), 154 Feminist politics, 29 Feminist struggles, 7 Feminist utterances, 152, 154 Feminist voice, 154 Fiction, 50, 51, 54, 57, 59, 62 Fictive, 51, 53 Figure of the “Man”, 153 Figures (of the Goddess), 4 Flesh-and-blood woman/women, 23, 29, 32, 76, 86, 90, 93, 94, 96, 117 Fluidity, 4 Frankenberg, Ruth, 34, 35, 152 G Gadamerian, 4 Gambhirananda, Swami, 97–100 Ganesha, 140, 144–146 Gauri, 61 Gauri Ma, 97, 106 Gender, 152, 154 Gender debates, 147 Gendered, 41, 62 Gender egalitarianism, 8 Gender-transcending, 62, 109 Gerua, 133 Girl child, 60, 63 Gita, 41, 44, 47, 48, 53, 56, 57, 60 Global, 2, 6 Globally, 152, 153 Goddess, 1–8, 41, 43, 44, 47, 49–67, 124–129, 134–137, 140, 141, 143–147



Goddess as guru, 86 Goddess-as-Speaker, 151 Goddess-as-Womansplainer, 152, 153 Goddess Bhuvaneshvari, 95 Goddess cultures, 2–8 Goddess Prajna, 87 Goddess Shodashi, 98 Goddess spirituality, 137, 151 Goddess traditions of India, 114 “Goddess Voice” (Wilke, Annette and Oliver Moebus), 16 Goddess-women, 34 Golap Ma, 97, 105, 108 Great God, 54 Great Goddess, 18, 27, 30, 47, 49, 50, 54, 55, 61, 71, 84, 85, 93, 96–98, 102, 103, 105, 106, 111, 125, 135, 140, 143–145 Grihastha, 105 Guidance, 45 Gupta, Suman, 88 Guru, 43, 44, 46, 62, 73, 75–77, 79, 84–86, 88, 123, 125, 134, 136–138, 141–143, 145, 147 Guru-hood, 134, 136 Guruhood/gurubhava, 103 Guru-matrika Shakti, 43 Gurupriya Devi, 116 Gurus, 93–119 Guru-shakti, 102, 103, 106, 134 Gynocentric, 2, 151 Gynophobia, 133 H Hadividya, 24 Hallstrom, Lisa Lassell, 108, 109, 116, 117 Hasi khela [Ma Anandamayi’s speech], 113 Hegemonic masculinity (R. W. Connell), 5

Hegemony, 64 Hemachuda, 22, 23 Hemalekha, 22–24 Hetero-patriarchy, 126, 128, 129 Heterotopias, 2 Hierarchy, 100, 116 High Court of Allahabad, 114 Himalaya, 20, 24–26, 96, 100, 117 Himalaya/Himavan (Mountain King), 45–48, 54–63, 66 Hindi, 141 Hindu, 94, 96–98, 101, 107, 108, 111, 114 Hindu culture, 21 Hindu marriage, 130 Hindu men, 130, 147 Hindu scriptures, 21 Hindu society, 130, 131 Hindu traditions, 72 Hindu Trinity, 139 Hinduism, 70–72, 77, 81 Historic, 29 History, 3, 4, 7, 23, 24, 28, 29, 33, 36, 70, 78 Homologization, 9, 26, 83, 134 Hooghly district, 85 hooks, bell, 152, 154, 155 Horizon, 4, 66, 67, 129, 147 Hrishikesh, 137 Human avatar, 2 Human mothers, 84, 86 Humble male listeners, 2, 9 Husband, 132, 133, 142 Hymn, 42, 55, 58, 61 Hypermasculinity, 8, 125 I Incomplete masculine (Britt-Marie Schiller), 3, 124, 136, 139, 142, 145–147 India, 129, 133, 137, 147


Indian goddess cultures, 13, 36, 153 Indian Institute of Technology-­ Kharagpur, 138 Indic goddess traditions, 2, 5, 8 Indic myth, 80 Indic religious traditions, 15 Indic thealogy of speech, 152 Indira Gandhi (first woman Prime Minister of India), 111 Indra, 17, 24, 80, 81 Initiation, 94, 99, 101, 106, 108 Intermediary, 54 Intersubjective hermeneutics (Rita Sherma), 6 Irigaray, Luce, 3 “Isness” (Frankenberg and Mani), 34 Ishta, 142, 143, 145 Ishtadevi, 75, 97 Ishvara, 80 J Jagadamba (the World Mother), 89, 102 Jagaddhatri, 18, 100, 103 Jagadguru/world teacher, 102 Jaya, 83, 144, 146 Jaykali, 88 Jesus, 34, 35 Jivanmukta, 23 Jivas, 81 Jnana, 49, 50, 52, 54, 102 Jnanadaprana, Pravrajika, 107, 108 Jnanaganja, 85 Jnan Maharaj, 100 Johnsen, Linda, 96, 97 K Kailasa, 83, 140–142 Kala (time), 110 Kalababa, 88


Kali, 74, 78–82, 84, 88, 97, 99, 101–105, 126, 132, 134, 137, 140, 147 “Kali Practice” (Biernacki, Loriliai), 71, 141, 142 Kali’s Odiyya (book by Bhairavan, Amarananda), 132 Kama, 78 Kamakhya, 28, 70, 71, 81, 85, 88, 89, 130, 131 “Kamakhyar bhera” (the sheep of Kamakhya), 71 Kamakhya temple, 110 Kamuka, 141 Kankalamalini Tantra, 94 Kartikeya, 140 Kashmir, 147 Kashmir Shaivism, 30 Kashmir traditions of Tantra, 83 Katyayani Tantra, 18 Kaula-sannyasa, 105 Kavindra Karnabharam, 88 Kaviraj, Gopinath, 85, 111–114 Kena Upanishad, 17–19, 30, 36, 53, 79, 118, 124 Kerala, 147 Keshi, 81 Khanna, Madhu, 5, 6, 60, 63, 80 Kirtan, 114 Kolkata, 134 Kuang, C. H., 114 Kula, 73, 74 Kulachara, 73 Kulachudamani Tantra (KCT), 72–76, 78, 83, 93, 124 Kula sadhaka, 74 Kumar, Rakesh, 85 Kumari Puja, 116 Kumbha Mela, 111 Kumudara, 94 Kundalini yoga, 64, 85



Kurma (avatar of Vishnu), 46, 47, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 65, 66 Kurma Puranam, 24, 25, 54, 96, 117 L Lakshmi, 80, 81, 83, 140, 142, 143, 145 Lakshminkara, 87 Laksmi Tantra, 80, 81, 124 “Language acts” (Wilke, Annette and Oliver Moebus), 16 Legends, 84–86 Liberatory, 14, 29 Lila, 79, 102, 143 Listener, 152–155 Listener-position, 152 Listening, 63, 66 Logos, 125 Lokeshwarananda, Swami, 100 Lopamudra, 24, 77 Love, 154 M Ma Anandamayi, 9, 125 Ma Kamakhya, 85 Ma Sarada/Sarada Devi, 9, 125, 133 Madhava Vidyaranya, 31 Madhurya, 130 Madhusundari, 127–129 Maganananda Bhairavi, 88 Mahabhagavata Upapurana, 24, 47, 57, 77, 78, 82, 96, 117, 140 Mahadevi, 83, 84 Mahakali, 84, 125 Mahasaraswati, 118 Mahavidya/Mahavidyas, 59, 77, 103 Maheshvara, 55, 58 Maheshvarakritashraya, 58 Maheshvari (Bhairavi/tantric woman), 89, 130, 131

Mahishamardini/Mahishamardini Stotra, 75 Mainstream, 21, 24, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34, 71, 72, 77, 81, 82, 89, 129–131, 139, 143 Mainstream Hinduism, 130, 139 Maitra, Akshay Kumar, 73, 74 Male academics, 153 Male deities, 140, 143, 144 Male disciples, 137 Male ego, 49, 127, 129 Male guru, 125, 134 Male identity, 155 Male listeners, 93 Male passivity, 126 Male privileges, 137 Male receptivity, 137 Male responses, 97 Male sahridaya-in-dialogue, 154 Male speech, 1, 4 Male subject, 85 Male subjectivity, 128 Male tantrikas, 123, 128 Male Trinity, 26, 49 Manasa, 83 Mandala, 81 Mandana Mishra, 31 Mangalachandi, 83 Mangalakabya, 83, 132 Mani, Lata, 6, 34, 35, 80, 152 Mansplainer, 7 Mansplaining, mansplain, 1–3, 6–8, 15, 34, 36, 60, 66, 101, 124, 134, 146, 147, 153, 154 Mantra-diksha, 105 Mantras, 71, 72, 74, 77, 78, 87, 97, 99 Mantric, 71, 99 Markandeya Purana, 34, 42, 81 “Marvelous real” (Alejo Carpentier), 128 Mary, 34, 35


Masculine, 49, 53, 65 Masculine pride, 82 Masculinism, 129 Masculinist, 36, 53, 66, 69 Masculinity, 3, 5, 9, 123–147 Master, 127, 129, 130 Maternal, 61 Maternality, 94 Matha, 32, 33 Mathura, 136 Matribhava, 101 Matrismriti (book by Chattopadhyay, Taraprasad ), 111 Maya, 51, 52, 54, 57, 59, 62, 73, 133 McDaniel, June, 72, 74, 76, 77, 88, 93, 94, 97, 123, 132, 133, 137 Medhas (sage), 42 Mena, 24, 25, 46, 54, 55, 57, 58, 66 Mentor, 118 Milner, Andrew, 29 Mimamsaka, 31, 66 Modern India, 96, 111 Mohanty, J. N., 46 Moksha, 2, 56, 60 Monks, 97, 98, 101, 104, 106 Moon, 34, 35 Mother, 43, 44, 48, 54, 55, 58, 60, 61, 65, 132, 133, 135–138, 141, 145, 147 Mother (book by Sri Aurobindo), 125 Mother Goddess, 35, 118 “Mother-heart”, “spiritual motherhood” (Ranganathananda, Swami), 94, 95, 101 Motherhood, 94, 108 Mother worship, 147 Mukerji, Bithika, 114–116 Mukerji, J. C., 114 Mukti, 42 Muraro, Luisa, 151, 152 Muslims, 114 Mythopoesis, 139, 142, 147


N Nam, 88, 89 Namaz, 114 Narayana, 55 Narirupam samasthaya, 74 Neo-Vedantic movement, 100 New Historicist, 3 Nidagha, 20 Nigama, 30, 70, 73, 74, 76, 78, 80 Nigama tattva, 78 Nigama Tattvasara Tantram, 78, 83 Nilachala Hill, 85, 88, 89 “Non-historicised pasts” (Ashis Nandy), 7 Non-Western, 153, 154 North India, 111 “Nursing the baby-husband” (McDaniel, June), 74 Nyaya, 45 Nye, Andrea, 76 O Observant participation, 8 Occult knowledge, 75, 76 Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls (book by June McDaniel), 137 Omnipresence, 53, 62, 64 Omniscience, 48 One, 112–114 Oneness, 50, 51, 54, 56, 59, 61, 62 Orissa, 87, 147 Orthodox, 13, 21 Orthodoxy, 64 Other, 97, 131, 154 P Padoux, Andre, 29–31, 42, 62, 72, 83 Pagli, 127–129 Pancharatra, 80, 81 Parakularasonmadamodini, 73



Paramaguru, 126 Paramahamsa Vishuddhananda, 112 Parama Vidya, 42 Parameshtiguru, 84 Parashurama, 21, 53 Para Vac, 30, 83, 114 Parmenidean goddess, 4, 13, 49 Parvati, 20, 24, 25, 47, 54, 55, 57, 59–61, 78, 83, 94, 96, 117, 132, 139–146 Parvati/Annapurna, 132 Parvatipurana, 139, 140, 146, 147 Patriarchal, 86, 90, 131, 132, 137, 146 Patriarchal academy, 152 “Patriarchal masculinity” (hooks, bell), 154 Patriarchal order, 154 Patriarchal society, 137 Patriarchy, 2, 6, 66, 94 Pattanaik, Devdutt, 33 Pechilis, Karen, 23, 34, 94–98, 153 Penances, 55, 57, 61 Performative, 46, 52, 53, 60, 69, 72 Performative utterances, 99, 100, 110 “Performative utterance” (Austin, J. L.), 52, 53, 60 Phalaharini Kalipuja, 104 “Phallic self” (Moi, Toril), 53 Phenomenal, 42, 54, 55, 60, 110, 112, 113 Pintchman, Tracy, 14, 17 Pitha-goddesses, 80 Pithanirnaya, 80, 83 Pithas, 80 Planetary feminisms (Morgan, Robin), 8, 154 Platonic utopia, 23 Pluralization, 4, 154 Popular Hinduism, 33 Postcolonial feminisms, 154 Power, 97, 103, 108, 117

Prabhananda, Swami, 100 Prabhu, 75 Prajnaparamita, 87 Prakasha, 21 Prakriti, 143 Pramila Giri, 88 Pranatoshini, 94 Pravachan, 111 Premananda, Swami, 97, 99 Presence, 3–5 “Public sphere” (Habermas), 110 Puranas, purana, 18, 26, 72, 139 Puranic, 46, 60, 64, 66 Puranic Hinduism, 26 Putra, 74 R Raheja, Gloria, 141 Rajendranath, 85, 86 Rama, 27 Ramakrishna, 123, 125, 134–137 Ramakrishna Kathamrita, 101 Ramakrishna Math, 98, 101, 108, 133 Ramakrishna Mission, 97, 101, 104, 105, 111 Ramakrishna Mission monks, 133 Ramakrishna Order, 98, 101, 104–106 Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, 34, 97 Ramananda Svami Siddhantapancanana, 126 Rasa theory, 154 Ravana, 27 Receptive, 126, 129, 131–134, 136, 137, 146 Receptive male listener, 154, 155 Receptive masculinity, 9, 132 Receptive, non-aggressive masculinity, 151 Receptivity, 5, 6 Recipient, 124, 134 Reincarnation, 2


Relativity, 55 Rethinking masculinity, 146, 147 Revelatory, 42, 44, 45, 62, 63, 66 Ribhu, 20 Ridgely Manor, 133 Rig Veda, 16 Rights, 1, 8 Rishika, 15 Rishis, 22, 144 Rudra, 55 Rule of the Father, 57 S Sabete sab [Ma Anandamayi’s speech], 113 Sacrality, 14, 44, 64, 80, 89 “Sacredsecular” (Lata Mani), 151, 152 Sadacharyaparijnatam, 74 Sadguru, 44, 138 Sadhaka, 7, 8, 73, 74, 79, 88, 123, 125, 141 Sadhana, 7, 8, 63, 65, 94, 103–105, 110, 111, 138, 141 Sadhika, 88 Sadhus, 108, 111 Sages, 42, 47–54, 56, 66 Sahajayana, 87 Sahaja Yoga, 87 Sahridaya, 153–155 Sahridaya (sympathetic) co-citizens, 154 Sahridaya listeners, 155 Salvation, 99 Samadhi, 42, 52 Samadhi (Merchant), 42, 52 Sambalpur, 87 Samsara, 55, 56, 63 Samsaris, 105 Samudramanthana, 80, 81 Sangha, 98, 102 Sankara-Dig-Vijaya, 31, 33, 36


Sannyasa, 105, 107 Sannyasini, 108, 133 Sannyasis, 32 Sanskrit, 41 Sanskrit alphabet, 83 Sanskritic education, 109 Sanskritic tradition, 2 Sara, 78 Sarada Devi, 93–119 Sarada Ma, 34 Sarada Math, 104, 107, 108 Saradananda, Swami, 102–105 Saradeshvari Ashram, 106 Sarala Devi (Pravrajika Bharatiprana), 107 Sarasvati, 20, 22, 31, 32, 36, 97, 118, 119, 140, 144, 145 Sarasvati Rahasya Upanishad, 19, 20 Saratsar, 141 Sarvajnanamayishvari, 80 Sarvavijayi Tantra, 71 Satyajit Ray, 98 Sat, 58 Sati, 57, 61, 76–78, 80 Sati pithas, 80 Satyadeva, Brahmarshi Sri Sri, 43 Saviouress, 96 Savitri, 65 Savitri (epic), 65 Saxena, Neela Bhattacharya, 6 Scriptures, 42, 62 Self, 51–55, 58, 59, 63, 64, 74, 80, 81 Self-as-Goddess, 53 Self-realization, 51, 52, 54, 57–59 Self-revelation, 47, 62 Semiotics, 13 Seva, 116 Sexual difference (ethics of, philosophy of, [Luce Irigaray]), 3, 124 Sexuality, 131, 132 Shabdapramana, 42



Shakta, 15, 17–19, 26, 27, 42, 45, 53, 57, 59, 62–64, 67, 79, 81, 84, 125, 135, 137, 139, 143, 145, 146 Shakta culture, 79 Shakta Devi Gitas, 99 Shakta devotees, 135 Shakta devotionalism, 64, 137 Shakta Gitas, 9, 34, 94, 96 Shaktanandatarangini, 94, 123 Shakta perspective, 139, 146 Shakta philosophy, 59, 95 Shakta rituals, 79 Shakta saints of Bengal, 125 Shakta-tantric, 86, 101, 134, 137, 139, 141 Shakta Upanishad, 53, 124 Shakti, 26, 50, 54, 58, 59, 73–75, 79, 87, 95, 108, 118, 142, 143, 145 Shaktipata, 118 Shaktism, 5, 8, 13, 14, 18, 21, 35, 36, 51, 60, 64, 66, 74, 77, 80, 95, 123, 139 Shaktya yuktah, 75 Shaman, 132 Shambu, 132 Shame and honour, 137 Shankara, 31–33 Shankaracharya, 31, 33, 98, 107 Shankarite monism, 101 Shastra, 110 Shaw, Miranda, 3, 8, 13, 28–30, 69, 72, 82, 86, 87, 89, 123, 126, 127, 129 Sherma, Rita, 66, 67, 80 Shibu (Ramakrishna’s nephew), 99 Shishya, 75 Shiva, 22, 26, 27, 30, 34, 35, 42, 49, 50, 54–59, 61, 72–80, 82, 83, 94, 117, 126, 132, 139–147 Shivatmika, 54 Shiyakhala, 85

Shloka, 94 Shram, 115 Shri, 81 Shri Sharbani Ma, 138, 139 Shri Shri Chandi, 42, 43 Shri Shri Ma Anandamayi Kanyapith in Varanasi, 108, 109, 111 Shri Shri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga, 102 Shri Sukta, 81 Shri Vidya, 23, 24, 77, 98 Shringeri Math, 98 Shripitha, 143 Shudra, 144, 146 Siddha Yoga, 95 Silence, 124, 131 Silent women, 137 Sister Nivedita, 101, 118, 133, 134 Siva-purana, 18, 42 Social hierarchy, 76 Socrates, 76 Solnit, Rebecca, 1, 124, 131 Sonpur, 87 South Asia, 80 South India, 132 Speaker (Devi as), 33 Speaker-as-silencer, 131 Speakerless, 45, 46 Speakerly, 46 Speaking Devi, 119 Speaking women, 119 Speech, 13–36 “Speech acts” (Austin, J. L.), 44, 60, 66 Sphota, 41 Spiritual aspirants, 35 Spiritual counsel, 33 Spiritual enlightenment, 138, 145 “Spiritual motherhood” (Ranganathananda, Swami), 133 Spivak, Gayatri, 70, 79, 80, 98


Sree Sree Maa: My Eternal Divine Mother (book by Chakrabarti, Partha Pratim), 138 Sri Aurobindo, 65, 118, 125 Srimad Bhagavatam/Bhagavata Purana, 139 Sri Ramakrishna, 133, 134 Srishti, 82 Stevens, Nell, 3, 15 Sthula rupas, 59 Stotra, 126 Stotra-shravana-santushta pritasmi tava Bhairava, 75 Stri, 17, 18 Stridharma, 110 Striguru Gita, 94 Subaltern women, 130 Subservient position, 128 Sukshma, 59 Supramental, 114 Supra-terrestrial, 55 Suratha (King), 42 Sushanta (sayings of Ma Anandamayi), 114 Svami, Vimalananda, 73, 84, 125 Svapnajiban (book by Annada Thakur), 134–136 Svayam (Self) [Ma Anandamayi’s speech], 113 Swami Ranjanananda Giri, 116 Swami Vishuddhananda Paramahamsa, 85 Symbolic order, 152 T Tantra, 5, 28, 30, 34, 69, 70, 72, 73, 77, 78, 82, 87–89, 93, 95 Tantrabhilashir Sadhusanga, 89, 129, 146 The Tantra Chronicles, 34–36 Tantrajnanakularnava, 73


Tantric Buddhist goddesses, 87 Tantric culture, 9, 69, 72, 77, 81, 88, 90, 123–147, 151 Tantric love, 129 Tantric narratives, 5, 127, 128 Tantric sadhana, 77, 87, 88, 124, 125, 127, 141 Tantric sadhu, 127 Tantric universe, 128 Tantric womansplainers, 129 Tantrikas, 87–89 Tara (Goddess), 88, 126 Tarak (Swami Shivananda), 104 Taraka, 24, 61 Taranath Tantrik, 127 Tarapith, 88 Tattva, 74, 78, 79, 136 Teacher, 73, 76, 79, 82, 87 Tejasvita, 130 Teleopoetic (Derrida, Jacques), 79, 97 Teleopoetically, 155 Teleopoiesis (Derrida, Jacques), 79 Test, 135, 139–141, 143, 144 Textualized female speeches, 3, 4 Thakur, Annada, 134–137 That Compassionate Touch of Ma Anandamayi (book by Chaudhuri, Narayan), 114 Thealogical, 80, 81, 90 Thealogical reflection (Rita Sherma), 6 Thealogy, 51, 56, 66 Theology, 13, 18, 30 Third World, 154 Tibetan Buddhism, 126 Tirthas, 88, 143 Today’s India, 6 Today’s world, 6 Traces, 3, 28, 30 Transcendental, 44, 47–50, 65 Transgressive, 78 Tripura Rahasya, 21–23, 36, 42, 53, 95, 96



Tripurasundari, 143 Truth, 44–47, 49–52, 54, 57, 59, 62 Turner, Caroline, 1–3 Twentieth century Bengal, 9 Twentieth century Hinduism, 96 Tyagibaba, 123 U Ubhaya Bharati, 31–33, 35, 36 Uddiyana, 87 Ultimate guru, 125, 126, 136, 145 Uma, 17, 18, 20, 30, 76, 77, 79 Uma Haimavati, 17 Umasamhita, 18 Universal, 153 Upadesa, 44 Upanishadic, 18, 19, 31, 35 Upanishads, 115 Upavit, 116 Upper caste, 130, 131 Uttarakhand, 137 Utterance, 41, 43, 47, 48, 52, 53, 60, 99, 100, 110, 113–116, 152, 154 V Vac, 16, 29, 30, 41, 44, 46, 62, 118 Vagishvari, 83 Vaidyanath Shastri, 110 Vaikrita-dhvani, 41 Vaikuntha, 143 Vaishnava, 144, 145 Vaishnavite, 80, 81 Vajravati, 87 Vajrayogini, 72, 87 Vak Sukta, 16 Varanasi, 108, 109, 111, 112, 135, 147 Vatsa, 80 Vayu, 17 Vedanta, 21

Vedantist, 133 Vedic, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 30, 31, 33, 35, 42, 45, 46, 48, 64, 66, 105, 118 Vedic Hinduism, 31 Vedic orthodoxy, 21 Verbal testimony, 42, 45–48 Vessantara, 126 Vidya, 42, 43, 104 Vidya Gita, 21–24, 36, 42, 47, 48, 50, 51, 53, 54, 56, 59, 65, 66, 73, 124, 145 Vidyas, 72, 79, 83 Vijaya, 144, 146 Vimalanandadayini Commentary on the Karpuradistotra, 84, 125 Vimarsha, 21 Violence, 127, 132 Vishalakshi, 86 Vishnu, 22, 25–27, 49, 50, 54, 57–59, 61, 72, 73, 78, 80, 81, 139, 140, 142–145 Vishnu-as-the-Absolute, 81 Vishuddhananda, Swami, 101, 102, 104, 111, 112 Vishva-rupa (Cosmic Form) of Devi, 141 Vivekananda, Swami, 15, 97–105, 107, 133, 134 Voice, 42, 44, 47, 49, 51, 53, 64–66 W Wangu, Madhu Bazaz, 13 Western, 153–154 Western feminism, 153, 154 Wisdom, 42, 43, 48, 50, 52, 53, 56, 60, 63, 65, 66 Wisdom Goddess, 105 Woman guru, 94, 95, 97 Womansplainer, 15, 30, 76, 79, 80, 83, 90


Womansplaining, 2–9, 15, 36, 60, 66, 67, 76, 79, 80, 83, 90, 96, 97, 101, 117, 118, 124, 131, 151–155 Women’s modernity, 107 Word, 29, 30 Word-as-Goddess, 151 World Mother, 24, 55, 58, 61, 64, 72, 84, 89, 102, 103, 108, 112, 118 Wrathful Red Tara (goddess), 87 Y Yajna, 77, 78 Yaksha, 17

Yana, 87 Yantras, 123 Yoga, 85, 138 Yoga Vasishtha, 96 Yogi, 85, 112, 113 Yogic, 138, 143 Yogic sadhana, 85 Yogini, 127, 129 Yogini-tantra, 87 Yogini Tantra, 81–82 Yogin Ma, 105, 106, 108 Yogis, 55 Yoni-mandala, 81, 82 Young males, 132