May 22, 2008


Okay, so what are we to make of all this Siddhartha, Gautama the prince of the Sakkya clan—his birth from his mother’s side. This unnatural birth puzzles me, puzzles me as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother—and a rather questioning, rebellious and thinking person. (My husband says I ask questions which aren’t meant to be asked, and this is perhaps one of those.)

Let’s take them bit-by-bit. First being born from his mother’s side, why should this trouble me? I’ll tell you why, because in Delhi, where I live, according to reliable estimates up to 80% of births in corporately owned hospitals are by cesarean section, a major operation in which a woman’s abdomen is surgically opened and the baby is lifted out. Even the World Health Organization, which is no hotbed of radicalism, states that nowhere in the world should a c-section rate be more than 15% of all births.

It would be different if these women were emergency cases, or terribly poor and malnourished women, but no. These are well off, well fed, over-coddled not overworked women. Other research shows that a woman is 5 times more likely to have a c-section in a private hospital than in a government hospital (which caters to poor women whose health is already compromised even before they become pregnant.)

So these babies, born from their mothers’ sides are supposedly special babies, definitely by class, probably by caste, and even by gender, some say. (One doctor who is vocal in protesting sex selective abortion and practices at Apollo Hospital told me that a very large percentage of newborns in that nurseries are male babies—which would indicate the ‘special’ nature of the male child and that the aborting of a female fetus after sex-determination was responsible for that overpopulation of male infants.) So I am asking if there is any correlation between the birth of Siddhartha from his mother’s side and the c-section epidemic in Delhi, but also in the rest of the world.


Considering the above I am deeply suspicious of this imagery in which ‘spiritual’ males emerge from their mothers’ sides.

In the Rig Veda (4.18) we read

(1) (Indra’s mother): “This is the ancient proven path by which all the gods were born and moved upward. By this very path he should be born when he has grown great. He should not make his mother perish in that way.

(2) (Indra): ‘I cannot come out by that path; these are bad places to go through. I will come out cross-wise, through the side…

And interestingly all visual depictions of Buddha’s birth which I retrieved from Lumbini have Indra present at the birth! Granted we have no way of knowing whether or not these are later ‘Hinduized’ add-ons to the birth narrative…but our inherited views remain the same of these spiritual teachers and their supra-natural origins.

Indra, himself, didn’t have much good to say about women in the Rig Veda

The mind of woman brooks no discipline, Her intellect hath little weight” RV VIII 33.17. (Ironically this aphorism is put in the mouth of a heroic warrior known for neither his intellect nor his self-discipline.) “With women there can be no lasting friendship: hearts of hyenas are the hearts of women” RV X 95.15

Interestingly the demons of the Rig Veda, are known by matronymics rather than patronymics. Vritra is a Danava, son of Danu. In one passage, describing his death, the Rig Veda links the two in imagery of cow and calf: “The vital energy of Vritra’s mother ebbed away, for Indra had hurled his deadly weapon at her. Above was the mother, below was the son; Danu lay down like a cow with her calf” (RV 1.32.9, translation O’Flaherty).

1 comment:

Healthy said...

Your comment about 80% c-section rates is so very true. It is really a frightening task to even think of trying to effect change. I think we need to convince educated and empowered young women to lead the change and demand more transparency from their health care providers since these women are future opinion makers.

- Dr. Vijaya Krishnan
Healthy Mother Wellness & Care
hm (at) healthy-mother (dot) com