Who is a Hindu? Shunning the feminine

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However, these monastic orders always faced a strong push. The sky-ward masculine gaze was always tempered by the earthbound feminine gaze, which is why maithuna images of couples are part of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu art. Krishna could not be worshipped without Radha, nor Shiva without Shakti. This value placed on the feminine ended with the Islamic — and later Christian — emphasis on monotheism.

When there is only one God, there is place for only one gender, and no room for androgyny. As more and more kingdoms of medieval India were ruled by Muslim kings, we find more and more poet-saints referring to God as formless (nirguna), while referring to the divine using masculine pronouns (He, Him). As in Sufism, a male Hindu bhakti poet visualised himself as female. God when visualised as female was always mother, never the lover, the wife, the daughter or the sister. By infantilising oneself before her, sexuality is stamped out.

Academicians, scholars and holy men who reframe Hindu philosophy using Western templates for the satisfaction of Western audiences, have privileged the male over the female, spirit over substance, mind over matter, spiritual over material. And so today, shrines are being built to Yogi Shiva where Yogini Shakti is nowhere to be seen. Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna talks to Arjuna, has been given more importance than Gita Govinda, where the dalliances of Krishna and Radha are described. Even political organisations who allegedly speak for Hindus, want to build statues of Ram without Sita by his side — a totally unacceptable, inauspicious thought in the traditional world. These politicians prefer the still yogi to the dancing yogini. They believe women are best contained through marriage and maternity. No wonder respect for women is at an all-time low in Indian society.

Twentieth century holy men continue this patriarchal view when they speak of yoga in terms of purity and power. Purity comes by shunning the feminine. Power comes by shunning pleasure and materialism. Wisdom demands submitting to the whims of the male guru who has given up the world, yet enjoys having his whole ashram revolve around him. Women are gently nudged to contain their damsel nature, even strip themselves of it by renouncing adornment, or shaving their heads, lest they turn into yoginis with unbound hair and challenge the liberated yogi’s position of privilege.

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