From Prehisory to Future Goddess: Kali and Beyond

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A disparate chronology of development on the Indian sub-continent is said to have led to the emergence of traditions such as Śākta Tantra, which were largely an amalgamation of beliefs from unassimilated tribal people, outcastes, lower castes, and women, with more formalized patriarchal forms of worship. Thus, the Śākta tradition itself is a product of both Āryan and other (tribal or Dravidian) influences, because it brought together multiple sources over time in a cultural landscape that did not lose the ‘prehistory’ of the goddess-worshipping peoples even as newer civilizations developed.

In Her, the Goddess, both the brahmanic (usually called Āryan) and autochthonous or indigenous (usually called Dravadian) viewpoints were integrated. As David Kinsley notes regarding Kālī’s appearance in the Hindu pantheon:

“It is well known that the brahmanic tradition for various reasons accepted into its fold (either willingly or unwillingly) many indigenous deities and customs. In just this way the Aryan tradition was able to accommodate very diverse peoples among the indigenous population.”

And as he continues noting Her development beyond Her origins :

“But at some point Kālī ceases to be an indigenous, tribal goddess, associated with the periphery of society, and begins to gain an amazing prominence in the pantheon. At this point, I think, one has to recognize the fact that Kālī has become a Hindu goddess, expressing the Hindu vision of things in her own way. The point is that Kālī’s origins do not and cannot adequately explain her subsequent history. She eventually transcends her origins.”

More generally, however, the assimilation process is further reflected mythically. As Vina Mazumdar and Kumud Sharma note:

“The process of assimilation made room for cultural myths and their ideological implications to continue side by side, often expressing contradictory ideological superstructures. The influence of earlier matriarchal traditions continued virtually unbroken through various cultural symbols that identified female deities with important aspects of social life such as knowledge, wealth, energy, change, or humanity’s quest for survival against destructive forces emanating from the underworld. At the same time, alternative male principles emanating from patriarchal traditions emerged and were assimilated through the process of divine marriages and adoption of familial relations between different deities. As a result, Indian mythology encompasses a bisexual concept of reality (Ardhanarishwar).”

The Sacred Androgyne image of the Divine has ramifications outside of pathological dualisms for the lives of men and women. Serena Nanda, for example, has opened the doors to the world of hijras in India, and her scholarship would be a good basis for further exploration of how deities such as Ardhanarishwar may be related to the bisexual, transgendered, or differently gendered manifestations of humanity with all that might imply.

How then does it feel to be honoring Hindu deities in the West? Are we simply part of the expected course of history? And how, if so, do we create a mythology that indeed affirms healing potentials from outside the normative western constructions of gender regarding the immanent as well as the transcendent aspects of divinity?

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