It was said in Hindu philosophy, that a man on earth meditated until he arrived at a point of so much personal power that he could ask a boon of the gods. He requested that no man be able to kill him. The gods granted him his wish, and he proceeded to wreak havoc on Earth. None of the strong male gods could prevent his evil doing, because they were all men, and he had made it so he held them all in their word- no man shall kill him. So, the gods got together, and created Durga, she is the ultimate war goddess, she received all the weapons, and powers of all the gods, and was sent to earth to kill this man. The Amar Chitra Katha book I read as a girl, shows her having triumphantly killed the man, riding atop a lion. An image of female ferocity.
I immediately fell in love. I drew pictures of her, painted her image, bought a calender that showed her sitting atop a lion, her many arms filled with all the weapons of the gods. My other favorite heroine is St Joan of Arc. I am attracted to militant women, those who are able to surpass men in their prowess and hunt for truth. Someone who men turn to for guidance, and also fear.
I met a present day, self described "Ms Militancy" at an event I attended at the United Nations last week, "Unlearning Intolerance"- Can Literature Affect Change? Meena Kandasamy, is an influential Tamil poet, activist, revolutionary. Her most recently published book of poetry is called "Ms Militancy". She focuses on three areas of revolution- (not exact quotes) 1. She writes for cast annihilation (as part of the 'untouchable caste' in India) 2. She writes about what happens to women in a culture that upholds tradition 3. She also writes on linguist nationalism- what happens when you speak a certain language. I admire her clearheaded focus on these three issues, and how her writing has challenged the very culture she arose from. It is difficult to challenge something that you are a part of. It is as though you have to split your identity apart in order to reclaim the whole of it. In her poem 'Mascara' she writes,
once. . .
She awaits their resurrection.
When she dons the mascara
The Heavens have heard her whisper,
Kali, you wear this too. . ."
It is a seductive, erotic thing to paint ones face with cosmetics. It symbolizes a loss of innocence, and it places the woman into a cultural symbolism game- the prostitute, the performer, the temptress. In her poem Meena is writing about a call girl, and in this section, Meena is reclaiming this sensual act of applying cosmetics by connecting it with Kali. I was brought up to believe, Kali was the 'evil' counterpart to Durga- my idol. According to Wikipedia, Kali is the goddess of "Time, Change, Eternal Energy". Meena made me reassess the idea of this woman 'Kali' as evil. Her 'evilness' is one version of history, perhaps a version told by frightened men. It is worth noting she is a dark skinned god; the dark skinned being a group of people repeatedly vilified in cultural imagery and histories. She is also a strong woman, an alienated, frightening figure to some, and perhaps a figure of female power to others.
I'm thankful for this instigation of my accepted notions of a culture I grew up with, but outside of. These little sparks of personal revolution, and evolution are as vital within each of us as they are outwardly to effect change.
My fascination with Durga is transitioning into finding, and surrounding myself with women warriors on earth. These warriors need not fight with weapons that draw blood, and instead redraw thoughts with powerful words.
Meena Kandasamy- Poetry- http://meenakandasamy.wordpress.com/2008/06/01/mascara/