We are currently witnessing a shift in society where our perceptions of gender slowly seem to be evolving. The narrow view of limiting people to binaries seems archaic and too simplistic for a world that exists on a wide spectrum of multifaceted identities. The newer narratives call for diversity and inclusion, where individuals take control of their own stories breaking away from the stereotypes that plague our society.
In these shifting times, it is vital to screen the existing forms of prejudice or biases around us. On inquiry, one would notice that our culture often chooses to degrade the concept of femininity, in the quest to achieve a more equal society.
Femininity Beyond Gender
Collaborative, creative, intuitive, free-flowing…
These are some of the traits that define the feminine essence or energy. In the past few decades, people of all genders have concealed their femininity completely in order to be accepted within our society. The appreciation of beauty, art, music or life-giving attributes are looked down upon. Our work culture takes pride in itself by being rooted in ‘hustle’ & ‘grind’ culture which has led our lives to be completely consumed by work.
The feminine identity is designated to women by birth. In a patriarchal society, it tends to define roles, behaviours and attributes of womanhood. Although if we look back at our history some of the greatest civilisations have flourished under a strong influence and understanding of femininity within both men and women. It is because they accepted femininity and masculinity as energies that a person regardless of their gender must imbibe.
This stands to be especially true when it comes to Indian Mythology. Across the spectrum that it represents, the concepts of feminine and masculine go beyond our limited understanding in the world today.
The Concept of Shakti In Indian Mythology
The Earth Mother in ancient civilisations and indigineous cultures embodies the sacred feminine. A source of vitality, she is the feminine earth to the masculine sky. Prakriti (nature) to Purusha (conscious energy).
In Indian mythology femininity has deep associations with nature and becomes aware of the similarities that exist within our current attitudes towards both.
Within the concept of Shakti, fluidity exists. Life and death, creation and destruction, sex and violence coexist in nature. Shakti, embodied by Goddess Parvati, has a dual personality; she is both mother and killer i.e. Goddess Gauri and Goddess Kali.
The image of Gauri draws our mind to nature’s life-giving and love arousing capability. Adorning bright clothes, bedecked with flowers and jewels, a lotus, and a mirror in her hands. The lotus represents the female generative organ. The mirror reflects beauty. Kali is shown naked, covered with severed limbs and human entrails, holding a sword, a human head, and a bowl filled with blood. This refers to nature’s life-taking and fear generating capacity.
Depending on the circumstance, nature or Shakti often moulds itself into the form required in the world at that point. Hence femininity is not timid or passive as perceived by most today. It takes on a rather powerful role within mythology, pivoting between ideals that are opposite yet complimentary.
Ardhanareshwara: The Symbolic Unity Between Masculine & Feminine
The Ardhanarishwara (the half-female Lord) imagery captures the union between the forms of Lord Shiva and Goddess Paravati. The dualistic forces of the universe, known as masculine and feminine energies, are fluid and join in a vivid holistic unity. Through the iconography, all oppositions and dichotomies meld into each other as they demonstrate interchangeability and flow. Both equal and complementary forces are required to embrace each other in order to sustain the universe.
Ardhanarishwar is beyond our concept of gender. This symbol has a lot of significance and is fundamental to reworking our culture today.
These concepts are forgotten by most as our society now operates on views that are largely influenced by colonial ideas of gender. The British Era introduced a sharp divide between genders and had little reverence for ancient concepts that inspired the vivacious culture of India. South Asian cultures are built on a strong relationship with nature and worshipping mother earth defined by feminine tenets. This loss of a deep connection that the communities once shared with the soil speaks volumes of the current disconnect with femininity.
Concepts from mythology inspired fluidity. Masculine and Feminine were not separate entities but rather moulded into each other while femininity was an energy that each individual could partake in irrespective of gender.
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