May 18, 2017


Eating Dates during Pregnancy

The date fruit is the product of the date palm, a tree native to Northern Africa and the Middle East. There is a wide variety of dates including the better-known Medjool and Deglet Noor. Each variety is unique in size, sweetness, flavor, and texture. Containing at least 15 minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, 23 types of amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates, protein, 14 types of fatty acids, dietary fiber and a lot more, these sweet little fruits are a nutritional powerhouse
[International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2003]

A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology  concludes that eating 6 dates daily during the last four weeks of pregnancy “significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labor, and produced a more favorable, but non-significant, delivery outcome”.  Some significant findings:
·       Cervical dilation was significantly greater in the date-eating mamas upon arrival at the hospital
·       83% of mothers who consumed dates had their membranes intact upon admission at the hospital 
·       96% of the women who ate dates went into labor on their own
·       Use of Pitocin (synthetic Oxytocin) was significantly lower in women who consumed dates (28%), compared with the non-date fruit mothers (47%)
·       The latent phase of the first stage of labor was almost 7 hours shorter in the date-eating mothers compared with the non-date fruit eaters (510 min vs 906 min). Not bad for eating a few dates!


May 03, 2017

Malevolent Female Spirits...or are they????

In the Varaha Puran the demonic female powers emanating from Camunda want food and are given delivering women and newborns.  In the realm of myth and ritual, “food” is not simply what people eat at mealtime: it also signifies ritual offerings made to the gods and the ancestors.  I would locate the significance of “food”—especially infants and parturient women as tasty, sweet-smelling food for the malevolent female powers in the realm of cultic tension between belief systems.  The primacy of, and ritual obligations to a masculine deity, or Vedic practice is in conflict with worship of the feminine—and this conflict would be exaggerated at the time of childbearing.  It is the mythic context, the stories relating sources of power and the gender of divinities that give meaning to ritual performances.  So it is logical that the Sanskritization of the all-powerful, multi-valent goddess involved the elaboration of a female demonic pantheon.
                  In the narrative of Kartikeya, as related in the Mahabharata, the Matrkas are the six sages’ wives who have been unjustly accused of having been Kartikeya’s real mothers and consequently divorced by their husbands for being adulterous.  The Matrkas then persuade Kartikeya to become their adopted son.  He agrees and they also make two more requests.  “The first is to be recognized and worshiped as great goddesses throughout the world.  The second request is to live off the children of men because they themselves have been divorced and therefore cheated of the possibility of having their own children.” (David Kinsley, p 152)


October 05, 2016

Dain Puja or Lakshmi Puja?

Dain Puja

I was invited by a friend to come to Bodhgaya at Diwali to witness what she called ‘dai puja.’ If anyone was doing puja to dai I wanted to see that so I came. It turned out this rite was actually ‘dain’ puja, and I wrote about it many years ago.

In Bodhgaya, Bihar, just after sunset on the Amavasya night of Diwali people of all castes perform “dain puja.” Having studied different Hindu representations of the Devi, I am curious about this rather unconventional ritual and wonder about the figure of the “dain.” How is she worshipped and understood by those who perform the puja? What relationship does she have to the more Brahmanic figure of the goddess Lakshmi commonly invoked during Diwali?

I am drawn towards this dain puja because I suspect that it provides an image questioning the orthodoxy of religion-endorsed gender roles. An exploration of the power of the dain might undermine the religious ideology which posits that woman should be long-suffering, self-sacrificing and accept her powerlessness in socio-political and economic realms.

When I arrive at the thatch-roofed mud hut of Kamleshwari, a Chamar woman who works as a midwife, the puja is beginning. The girl children are on their haunches in front of the little house—“ghar kula,” a Brahmin woman has called it. This rite, at this time, was performed by all castes in the area. Protruding from the outside wall of the house, it is like a dollhouse—the girls place little bartans full of grains and sweets into the different “floors” of the house. The littlest girls put theirs on the bottom, and the biggest on the top. Kamleshwari lights the dias in the hands of the “dain”—an obviously female image holding aloft, over her head, a series of dias painted light blue. The dain silently presides over this rite, in this realm of the parallel world enacting the blessings of the goddess. The kumaris are putting grain in the house, between giggling and socking their pesky little brothers, so that in this new year the goddess will repeat the performance in the bigger house on which the little “ritual” house is perched. After much jostling, ooing and ahing the girls apply sindur on the dain image, a bit around the ‘ghar kula’ and then on their little brothers’ foreheads. I, too, request sindur, which they are only too happy to oblige with. Five or six little hands smear my forehead and nose with the red powder. I am blessed. Then they feed us with varieties of prasad, we admire the scene, the family, the “doll” house and the enigmatic figure holding the dias. We thank them and leave.
I speak with many local people about the “dain” and the puja. Most now call it Lakshmi puja; only when pressed do they admit that the image holding the dias is that of the dain and not of Lakshmi. When asked, “who is the dain?” most respond with this story. On dark nights the dain goes to the graveyard and digs in the soil to unearth a newly buried young child. She then massages the child’s body with oil until he comes back to life. Then the dain picks up the baby—playing and dancing wildly with it. Some say she has a broom tied to her waist during this dance. When she tires of her play she puts the child down and goes away.

Kamleshwari says that the dain sings a special song that one can learn and then they, too, can devour people. Another woman says that the dain has “goon” or powers. And that the oja or male healer, or witchdoctor was watching the dain during her dance and wanted to learn her powers. Everyone says that they don’t know any dains and that these are only stories they have heard.

There exists a complex inter-relationship between (and many variations of) “folk” Hinduism and Brahmanic Hinduism. I would suggest that the figure of “dain” can be understood to be an ancient and complex religious idea: the unitary and holistic goddess. She possesses both the power to bless one bountifully or curse one, whimsically, by withholding (grain from the land; money from business; health; children). She moves easily between the world of the living and the dead; she can revive even the dead child and play (the lila of life and death) with it. She is both the birth mother (generative) and the death mother (destructive).

Orthodox iconography and text tends to separate the beneficent-auspicious feminine (Lakshmi and Alakshmi) just as gender convention separates the ‘good’ woman/pious wife from the ‘bad’ and ‘loose’ woman or whore. Perhaps the Bihar “dain puja” retains a holistic theology of the goddess; she who transcends and encompasses blessings and deprivation; life and death.

July 07, 2016

This image comes from Tanjore, in South India. I don’t know the date, but images like this one were part and parcel of daily life placed on temples, usually, or other buildings. It is important to note that a sense of ‘privacy’ as we think of it, was not common. Labouring, as this woman was doing, was matter-of-fact and part of life. Not that everyone hung around during labour and  birth—but people did know about it.

Here we see the woman/mother stooped over, probably with the pain of a contraction. The woman attending her holds something, maybe a feather or a cloth, and she looks as though she is stroking her back. Two things come to mind. One is that the downward motion on the labouring woman’s back probably facilitates the downward movement of the energy/baby towards the birth canal. Secondly, the stroking or brushing of the skin/body or anyone is an action which is seen as cleansing of the energy field of that person. But we really don’t know for sure what is going on…we can only speculate.

I thank Stella Dupuis for this image.