For this international women’s day, we wanted to highlight the importance of the female energy in the Dharmic world.
Shakti represents creativity, sustenance, destruction, and energy altogether. Shakti is what created the world and what keeps the world moving.
Shakti is female energy. However, female energy does not limit this attribute to just goddesses, but to men and women everywhere. Shakti is in us all.
Shakti is presented in many different forms such as Parvati, Durga and Kali.
Parvati is the goddess of family and familial love.
The major story involving Parvati is the birth of her son Ganesha. Parvati’s husband, Shiva, the God of destruction, is away for some time and Parvati wanted to get ready for his return. Before doing so, she made a little boy from clay and breathed life into him. She told Ganesha that he must not let anyone enter while she bathed.
When Shiva returns, he gets furious at the boy who will not let him through to see his wife. Angry, he cuts off the boy’s head. Parvati rushes out horrified and informs Shiva that this boy was their son. Shiva, so upset, rushes around to find a replacement head and finds an elephant head to place on the boy’s body.
The energy that Parvati shared with the clay and the love that Parvati displayed showcases her family, caring attitude.
Another form of Shakti is represented as Durga.
Durga is often seen riding a lion with a trident in her hand. She is the protective mother of the universe and is the perfect example of a fearless leader.
Durga’s fiery determination is represented by her Abhay Mudra which means “freedom from fear.”
It is believed that Goddess Durga was created as a joint effort by all the Gods to defeat Mahishasur, an otherwise undefeatable demon.
Durga represents the protectiveness and perseverance women embody to fight away negativity and evil.
The last form of Shakti we will mention is Kali.
Kali represents death and time.
It is said that Kali existed before time was created and will exist long after. She is ever-pervading and omniscient.
Many view Kali as the personification of female empowerment, confident in who she is and stronger than most.
That being said, Shakti combines each and every one of those forms representing women as loving, nurturing, fearless, confident, and brave all at the same time.
Shakti is me. Shakti is you. Shakti is all of us equally.
We at The American Hindu thank all of you powerful women for all that you do.
Shakti ka Naam, Naari Hai. (The name of strength, is woman)
A very obvious criticism of modern Indian society is that women do not enjoy the equal and respected status that they should. Indeed, it’s often pointed out, for a culture that worships God in it’s feminine form as well, Hindu society has many abhorrent practices that discriminate towards women. Practices such as sati, dowry, and female infanticide continue to haunt us. In future articles The American Hindu will expand on these blights, and highlight some efforts to alleviate these evils.
For now, let us celebrate women and their contributions to the world. One may ask, why do women need an International Women’s Day? Or perhaps, why do women need a Women’s History Month? Once a year, we celebrate a person’s birthday, that one day is there as a special way to mark it. Similarly, we have many festivals meant to focus our attention on various aspects of life and God. For example, in the Hindu tradition, Sharada Navratri celebrates the divine feminine aspect of God, Devi.
We should celebrate International Women’s Day because it’s a reminder that women have been oppressed and exploited, not just in Indian society but worldwide. It is a reminder that women can and do contribute to society, so we need to continuously work toward their integration and fair treatment.
One shining example of a human embodiment of shakti is the Hindu Rajmata (literally King Mother, or mother to the king), who not only groomed her children to sit on royal thrones but also instilled the virtues needed in a courageous and kind ruler. The Rajmata governed alongside, and in the absence of, the king and even fought on the battlefield.
In the Bhavani Ashtakam, Adi Shankaracharya expounds the qualities of Bhavani the fierce and motherly form of Parvati. In the sixth verse, Adi Shankaracharya says:
Little do I know about Brahma, Rama, Vishnu, Mahesh, Indra, Surya or Chandra. I do not know about other Gods, but [instead I am] always seeking your refuge. You are my refuge, you alone are my refuge, O Mother Bhavani.
As the posts will show, these women embody various aspects of Shakti as discussed above. For the remainder of the month, these posts will be on our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages. In addition, we will post simultaneous updates to this article as well.
In the meantime, please take some time to watch this short film, Devi, featuring Kajol.
Rajmata Jijabai Bhosale, born Jan 12, 1598
Jijabai, affectionately called Jijau, was the stiff backbone of the Hindavi Swaraj. She ruled over kingdoms, built mandirs as well as forts, and rallied her people in times of war. She was well versed in horse riding, sword wielding, statecraft, as well as religious scripture.
She embedded devotion to Dharma and the nation in young Shivaji. In periods when her husband, Shahjiraje, was away from the capital, Jijau administered the kingdom by herself. She encouraged Shivaji to begin the war for independence from Mughal rule, and was often the push that drove him to action.
Jijau passed away shortly after Shivaji Maharaj was coronated as Chhatrapati of the Hindavi Swaraj.
Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, born Nov 19, 1828
Manikarnika was called Manu by her friends and family, she was raised by her father in the Peshwa’s palace surrounded by warriors and politicians. She married the king of Jhansi, and took Lakshmi as her name. Lakshmibai brought a compassionate touch to Jhansi’s administration. Among the changes, she added an all female cavalry contingent to Jhansi’s military.
Their only child died as an infant, so they adoped Damodar Rao. After the king died, the British would not recognize Lakshmibai as a rightful ruler nor Damodar as heir. Mustering not only her troops, but the entire principality of Jhansi, Lakshmibai prepared for war.
In the final battle, she tied Damodar to her back and fought alongside her troops, wielding sword and shield against British oppression. Jhansi is inextricably tied with it’s valorous queen, with ruler and city going hand in hand: Jhansi ki Rani, literally “Queen of Jhansi.”
M.S. Subbulakshmi, born Sep 16, 1916
Born into a musical family, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu (M.S.) was steeped in Carnatic music from birth, and also learned Hindustani at an early age. By the age of 17, M.S. was a recognized vocalist and was performing throughout Tamil Nadu, including a performance at the Madras Music Academy.
Refusing to get married, she ran away from home to Chennai and subsequently began her acting career, which she also sang in. With performances in prestigious halls in India and abroad, M.S. Subbulakshmi has served as a cultural ambassador for traditional music.
Her many awards include the Bharat Ratna, highest recognition of merit awarded to Indian civilians. She has performed over 200 charity concerts, and donated large sums of prize money from her awards.
Shakuntala Devi, born Nov 4, 1929
Shakuntala had the innate ability to memorize large numbers at a young age, and was effectively card counting by the age of five. Moving to London with her father, she did shows demonstrating her marvelous feats of math. Shakuntala did many such shows, specializing in roots and multiplication of large numbers.
Returning to India, she married in the mid 1960s. Her husband eventually disclosed his sexual orientation to her. Instead of lashing out, she began researching homosexuality in India. Among her written works, most of which focus on numbers and math, she is famous for writing The World of Homosexuals. Leading a movement of decriminalization of homosexuality in India, she wanted “full and complete acceptance, not just tolerance and sympathy.”
Sushma Swaraj, born Feb 14, 1952
Sushma was born to parents who settled in Haryana after leaving Lahore, Pakistan. In college she majored in political science and Sanskrit. She entered politics through her university’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP, a national students organization) chapter.
Sushma was a proponent of gender equality in all walks of life, including the home, arguing that men should learn to cook and clean, and women should learn politics and martial arts. Among the long list of accomplishments, Sushma was the BJP national spokesperson, the youngest cabinet minister in Haryana, and the first female Delhi Chief Minister.
As the Indian External Affairs Minister she advocated for India on the world stage, and was the second woman to hold this position. She also took keen interest in helping individuals, earning her the fond title of “People’s Minister.”
She passed away after witnessing the abrogation of Article 370, which gave her hope for peace in the Kashmir Valley. A powerful orator and diplomat, she was instrumental in helping India establish strong relationships with many governments in her final years.