December 23, 2011

Parvati's Menstrual fluid and the Birth of Ganesh

This is a fabulous image depicting another story of the birth of Ganesh. Many of us know the myth of Parvati bathing and asking her son to guard the door and Shiva approaching only to find his way blocked by this child. In his anger he takes out his sword and beheads the boy. Upon finding that this was indeed his son he (with his magic powers) restores his life and replaces the head with that of a nearby elephant. Ouch!

This image, however, tells a far more peaceable tale. I think it’s to be found in the Ling Puran. Anyway, Parvati wants a baby and Shiva doesn’t. She begs for a child, he says “No, no, we’re perfectly content just the two of us. She persists and begs him “Please, I want a baby.” (Sound familiar?) Parvati keeps bugging him. Finally Shiva relents and tosses her red dress-cloth (read menstrual cloth) into her lap. She is irritated. “Don’t tease me, this is just my red dress.”

Shiva says “Listen to me, just put that red cloth to your breast.” Parvati, disbelieving but obeying, puts it to her breast. Lo and behold, there appears Ganesh, her desired baby.

Now what’s going on here? What I like is that encoded in this story is a very woman-centered version of female biology and the creation of a child. There is no mention of male seed or the family line.

Ganesh is born first from female desire, not patriarchal dictates. Secondly he is born from her bodily power, menstrual fluid, and not male seed. Thirdly it is the womanly act of breastfeeding which quickens the infant, nurtures and brings Ganesh fully alive!

This is just one example of the woman-centered, female body centered truths encoded in some Indian myth, story and image.

August 04, 2011

Childbirth and Ancient Imagery

This is a most fascinating comment on the female power of birth….and it is almost 3000 years old. It is a ‘Harappan Seal’ from the Indus Valley Civilization (now in Pakistan). The proto writing has not yet been deciphered. I will tell you my interpretation of what these images are telling us.

First, in the upper right hand corner we see an upside down woman with an emanation coming out of her vagina/yoni. I call this an emanation because it is not a baby, nor a plant—it is energy—that of the life force which brings both babies and vegetation into being, into this world. You will notice that her arms are on her knees in an almost meditative position.

Other images that evoke birth are the pregnant letters—see the big bellies on the right hand sides of both seal faces.

If you look to the left side of the upper seal you see two theriomorphic images, that is beings which have human bodies, but animal heads—they seem to be conversing. Animal heads on human bodies are not uncommon in later Indian imagery—for example Ganesh, the Yogini temples, many, many gods and goddesses are sometimes rendered with animal heads. I understand this to indicate shamanism, particularly the ability of the shaman/possessed to channel the spirit/perceptions/abilities of that animal.

Okay, so we have a woman with the life force coming from her vagina, and two animal/people exchanging something…what we know not….until we go down to the bottom seal.

About the bottom seal—it’s from Pupul Jayakar’s book The Earthen Drum. In that book she writes that the bottom image is human sacrifice. I always doubted that….you don’t picture a woman with life coming out of her body on one side of a seal and then chop off her head on the other. It doesn’t make sense. When I approached her and questioned her interpretation, she said that yes—that was probably wrong. But in the book it also said that the man approaching the woman was holding the mithuna symbols, the cup and the knife, the chalice and the blade—male and female imagery.

Now look at the woman he is approaching. She is sitting, her hair is askance, all over the place, sticking out. This signifies with two meanings. One is that women still, when they get possessed (and they still do in some areas get possessed either by demons, or more often the devi, the goddess) let their hair fly, loose, open, uninhibited. The other meaning is that she is holding a sheaf of grain on her head during harvesting. Until recently, before mechanization, this was a common sight in agricultural areas.

In my interpretation, rather than killing (human sacrifice—chopping off her head) this image shows the communication from woman to man about LIFE—both the life the harvest provides for people, and the role of woman as the bearer of life when she gives birth. She is channeling her knowledge (gnosis, gyan) of life. The man is approaching her and will receiver her knowledge/experience, gather it, harvest it and return enriched.

These seals tell us things about ancient peoples’ lives. But we need to be aware that this birth power—and its symbology—has been codified and used extensively in pursuit of barkat—growth of riches, knowledge, power. More about that later.

Janet Chawla

2 August 2011