Saturday, May 24, 2008

Summons From The Goddess

As I probed my psyche with Darshan, I felt an increasing attraction towards Durga, the Mother Goddess, which soon took the form of an obsession. My mind embarked on a voyage of its own and logic became the tool of a specific chain of thought. I reasoned that I had been brought up In Solan, a town associated with Durga, and had a devotional heart in my childhood. Till the age of fourteen, I was devoted to God .On attaining the age of 14, two decisive changes confronted my impressionable mind- I had to leave my then beloved town, Solan when my family shifted to Punjab, and I fell deeply in one-sided love with Priyanka, the newcomer in class ninth. Both had profound effect on my consequent years, and were deeply inter-related. My love for Priyanka wouldn’t have become an obsession, and wouldn’t probably have been retained for so long and with such deep passion, had it not been for the physical distance which separated me from her, and let me create a mental image of her, which was at variance with her mundane reality. The thing which struck me was that I became an agnostic and started doubting the existence of God just after I fell deeply in love with Priyanka. I reasoned that I had transported the devotion that I earlier felt for an abstract deity to a girl when sexuality awakened in me. This had been facilitated by the physical distance that separated me from her for the next seven years and the almost zero interaction which I had had with her. The other theory that exploded in me was a bit more intriguing. It had to do with striking a balance between the male and female dimensions of my psyche. I reasoned that in Solan, the feminine archetype has a strong presence. The feminine is associated with the unconscious or the natural while the masculine is the conscious and the artificial or manmade. The mountains are natural, hence feminine. Besides Himachal is dotted with shrines glorifying the Goddess. Solan ( Shoolini/Durga), Shimla ( Shyamala/Kali), Chandigarh( close to my hometown, though not in Himachal/ Chandi), Mansa devi and many others. Crowning them all is Vasihno devi, the shrine of my ritualistic birth through the mannat in which my parents had asked the Goddess to give them a son, whom they had promised to bring back to Her soon after birth. This was a promise which they had never fulfilled while I had attained the age of 22. I further reasoned that my psychological distress had started on migrating to Punjab. I theorized that Punjab has strong masculine cultural vibrations with the female aspects grossly sidelined. Considering that it is the state with one of the worst sex-ratios in India and no natural landscape (tilled fields with excessive spray of insecticides are anything but natural) and a patriarchial dominant religion ( Sikhism with ten male Gurus and monotheism with no worship of the absolute in feminine terms) and a long history of political turmoil and general violence ( masculine activities), the feminine dimension of my psyche was suppressed. I also felt that Himachal was the domain of the Goddess while Punjab was the territory of the masculine Sikh gurus. ( It must be appreciated that this chain of thoughts is relevant only to understand my state of mind and has no meaning otherwise and is inherently flawed for being divisive and reductionist, if not outright incorrect. Sikhism mentions the God as being both the father and the mother and Punjab has a very sizeable Hindu population.) I felt the feminine dimension of my psyche, personified as the Goddess was punishing me for leaving her domain of influence ( Himachal) and stopping her worship upon migrating to Punjab through the masochistic thought-pattern that so disturbed me and yet seemed insurmountable.In Himachal I had worshipped God in male idiom ( Shiva or a male saint) and had seen Solan as my mother, thus balancing my internal gender energies. This balance was broken in Punjab where I was already in the presence of a strong male cultural sphere but was unable to give the female energy any outlet. This I thought had resulted in masochistic fantasies. However, it must be noted that masochistic fantasies were present in me from early childhood when I was very much in Solan. Freud was right when he talked about childhood sexuality because I clearly remember erection at an age close to five when a group of girls from my primary class were dominating a boy in a recess game.I was capable of sexual arousal through normal fantasies but masochism was, and has remained till date, the dominant theme in my sex-related imagination. However physical pain or vulgarity of any kind always disgusted me. The thing that aroused me was the idea of a beautiful woman whom I loved so much as to be her devoted slave and who was ultimately benevolent to me as a deity though initially testing my devotion.What struck me in those days of introspection was the remarkable similarity between my thought-pattern and the rituals of Goddess worship in the Indian Shakta tradition. Before probing the train of thought further, I must clarify the difference between Shakta tradition and masochism and pinpoint my exact position. The Shakta school of Indian mysticism sees the primodial Devi or Shakti, as the supreme conscious bliss of pure being, complete in Herself and without and absolutely independent of any male consort. It can be said that in Shakta tradition, it is the devotee who provides the male element( presuming that he is male) and doesn’t delegate it to any divinity. Male consorts play a role in vaishnava/shaiva theology where the goddess appears as the active energy of her inert consort ( eg Parvati for Shiva, Lakshmi for Vishnu and so on). The views of Shakta and Vaishnava/Shaiva traditions are irreconcilable in the position given to Devi. The Devi is supreme is Shakta tradition and it is with this school that I am concerned. In the Shakta tradition, the aim of the devotee is to worship the Goddess and be a recipient of Her benevolent grace before ultimately merging into Her infinite bliss of pure being. Though usually devotees look towards the Goddess as their Cosmic or Personal Mother, the relation of a devotee and the Goddess is by no means limited to any particular idiom. Any relation with the Goddess can be conceived. She can be seen as supreme bliss or infinite consciousness in purely abstract terms or as a beloved, friend, teacher, majestic empress, sister or any other relation which suits the individual temperament of the devotee. Depending upon the psychospiritual stage of development of the devotee, the relation can also be negative in idiom, for example an enemy of the Goddess whom she conquers or a slave whom She controls utterly. Even if the devotee visualizes himself as the slave of the Goddess, she would still be benevolent and merciful to him in the end and guarantee his spiritual salvation through her benevolent grace. However, in the initial, lower stages, She can be cruel and wrathful to destroy his ego and other gross afflicitions. Its similar to a mother punishing her young child to improve his character or a female teacher chastising her male pupil to make him learn. As the lower stage is transcended, the relation takes positive idiom of love and grace until ultimately, all strands of relation are transcended and infinite bliss beyond manifestation as Goddess- devotee attained. Masochism, deriving its name from Leopold Masoch, who authored ‘ Venus In Furs’ about being enslaved and humiliated by a beautiful woman was earlier classified as a paraphilia but is now considered normal though atypical. Its relation with tantra is that of a glowworm and the sun at best and dust and effulgence at worst. vulgarized masochism has nothing to do with tantra. In its refined form, it has minor similarity with lower-end beginning tantrik rituals. Yet in essence, the two differ widely. Masochism may have more in common with ‘yoginis’ , specifically referring to evil female nymphomaniacal spirits who deter and obstruct sadhakas. It is thus highly dangerous, probably much more than normal sexual desire which has a gross evolutionary purpose to serve.
Here I am giving an example where a masochistic theme is used in a lower-end tantrik ritual.
"Another type of stri puja, or a preparatory phase for it, has been mentioned by Benjamin Walker. Here the man to be initiated has to play the part of a domestic servant in a woman's household, slowly progressing toward an intimate relationship with her.
At first he sleeps in the same room with her, but on the floor, while she sleeps on the bed. After two weeks he joins her in bed, but at her feet; then beside her, but clothed. Then he lies beside her nude, fondling and caressing her. Then he has intercourse with her, but without emission. Benjamin Walker. Tantrism. page 51
This ritual technique for building up erotic tension has been used as the plot for a beautifully written story, Moonjewel, by William Kotzwinkle. (source)."
On further probe, the other thing which struck me was my unease at being a Sikh in a Hindu majority state. I was always psychologically a Hindu, but having worn the visible external symbol of Sikhism ( unshorn hair) till the age of fourteen ( when I had my hair cut, superficially to make myself attractive to Priyanka, but primarily to free myself from the identity-badge of Sikhism and to integrate myself to the wider canvas of Hinduism) I was subjected to taunting and both overt and covert discrimination by my classmates and at times, even by teachers. The devastating effect which it had on my psyche is significant because a very deep-rooted desire in me was to become acceptable to the Hindu society, which I thought I could do, only as a Hindu. The lenghts to which I went for this were considerable ( for e.g. even supporting extremist Hindu ideology and referring to the teaching about Sikh gurus in ‘History of Punjab’ class as discrimnatory towards Hindus as they shouldn’t be forced to read about the gurus of another religion!) . It could be said that my reaction to being discriminated against for my visible Sikh identity as a child was to cling to Hinduism the moment I shed it. My feelings in this direction were so deep that at times I feel I subconsciously wanted to fall in love with and marry a Hindu girl to become more of a Hindu.
In this light , my obsession with Priyanka and burning desire to marry her inspite of her having no emotions for me can be described as an attempt to integrate psychological loose-ends from my childhood. Priyanka, to me was always the angel who manifested as the newcomer in ninth . To win her affections seemed the ultimate prize. My heart had been sealed at the age of thirteen and I never felt any emotional attachment to any other girl save Priyanka. Looking from minority/majority perspective, it is significant that she is a Brahmana, ritually, the highest caste of Hinduism. She seemed to me, then, as the prize of Solan, the town I grew up in, and even her lack of affection for me made her all the more attractive for being an unachieved trophy. This of course was subconscious and not something that I admitted to myself or overtly knew. However because of my deeply introspective nature, it was never too far from the surface. Yet, even if valid, it was true only on the mundane sphere and my passionate love for Priyanka was much more than mere caste-gymnastics.
As I became aware of this apsect of my thought-pattern, I discussed it at length with Mathew, the cultural studies faculty at MICA. I also told my father about my neurotic attachment towards Hinduism and even an antipathy for Sikhism. He told me he himself found Hinduism deeper at mystic level but had never felt any antipathy towards Sikhism. That was the point when my mother told me that she had dreamt of a temple of the Goddess from which the Goddess Herself emerged and handed her an infant a few days before my birth. This came as a revelation to me and affected me deeply. In itself it was a minor detail{ my mother had dreamt of a gurudwara( sikh temple) and Guru Nanak a few days before she gave birth to my younger brother ; a professor related her dreams with cultural psycholgy and the archetype of maternity}. However the way the pieces joined together to make the picture was remarkable. This, then were the links.

1.) My parents took a mannat from Vaishno Devi before my birth.
2.) My mother dreamt that the Goddess herself handed over an infant to her a few days before my birth.
3.) My mother has shown psychic abilities in other instances. For example she saw my father’s face before meeting him and came to know of her mother’s death and my father’s serious accident beforehand through intuition.
4.) I was born with deep devotion towards a feminine figure of awesome majesty which was corrupted into slight masochism. This I related with a punishment for not worshipping Durga and my parents’ not fulfilling the mannat by taking me to the shrine after birth.

To this, I added Priyanka. In Indian devotional religion, there is a practice known as ‘nyasa’. It refers to descension of divinity in a mundane object for a while for the purpose of worship. After the worship is complete, the divine consciousness leaves the mundane object. . I felt I had performed a nyasa on Priyanka – that she was the idol through which I was always worshipping Durga! My extreme devotion to her, but without any carnal desire, indeed an inability to think about her in carnal terms and belief in her as the source of infinite love and joy all indicate that I was looking for the great Goddess in a mere girl who had all the frailties of an ordinary human being. This was also supported by -
1.) My talking about the unfulfilled mannat to Vaishno Devi to Priyanka, she being the only person with whom I discussed it.
2.) My becoming religious again on meeting her after seven years. ( The divinity was expanding from her source-body.)
3.) My deep desire to starve myself to death in the Shoolini ( Durga) temple in Solan when I couldn’t contact Priyanka for many weeks.
4.) My dream in which Priyanka was Ganga, the personification of spiritual purity (inspite of her being just a beautiful girl with normal shortcomings).
5.)I told Priyanka that I remembered her instead of God whenever I had any trouble. I told her she was the God whom I worshipped. To this , she protested she was too human. ( To love somebody and not to see God in her is to taste but the brim of the cup. The beloved is God and love is the origin of God.) I messaged her that I would find God for her. She gave me back my mysticism, just as she had taken it from me.
If the great Goddess can be worshipped in a stone idol, she can much more be seen in a human idol through nyasa, especially when there is impenetrable physical distance between the woman and the devotee ( as was the case with me for seven years). ). As I found out while studying Indian Cultural history ,( A Cultural History Of India, edited by AL Basham) later, this concept was specifically used by and theorized upon by Bengali tantriks. Chandidas, the fourteenth century Bengali devotee, is the first great name in Bengali bhakti literature. He held that the only way to salvation is the love of God, and that this love must be based on an earthly passion for a particular person. This passion, however needs to be sublimated, and therefore the beloved should be an inaccessible woman, for instance, a married woman, or even better, a woman who doesn’t respond to the devotions of the seeker. This failure to find a response on the gross plane would soon sublimate the love to divine plane. Besides it’s the foundation of the metamorphosis of worldly love ( Ishq-i-zamini) to spiritual love (ishq-i-haqiqi) in sufism. Consider that Rumi , the doyen of mystics, considered Majnun the greatest of all mystics. He said it was divine rapture which made Majnun kiss the dog of Laila, his earthly beloved.
It shouldn't be assumed that I went through all this convoluted mental logic through some effort. It was more like bursts of insight. What had seemed hazy yesterday seemed clear like sunlight today.Now as these thoughts sunk into me, I felt an immensely powerful pull from Durga. Every cell in my body felt the great Goddess of the shrine of Vaishno Devi was calling me. It seemed She would pluck out my soul from my body. I had to go and merge into my Goddess. I tried resisting but all effort was futile.

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