Depending on which part of India you are from, today, is the first day of Navarathiri or Dussera. The Hindu festival which celebrates the many facets of the Divine Goddess and her glory is a 9 day celebration throughout India. The days are broken into sets of 3 days. The first 3 days celebrate the warrior form of the Goddess Durga who is known for her courage and ability to destroy all vices and whose power is feared by the Gods themselves. The next 3 days celebrate Goddess Laskshmi who bestows wealth and prosperity upon her benefactors while the last 3 days are dedicated to Goddess Saraswathi – the goddess of education and knowledge. The lucky individuals that possesses the qualities of all 3 forms of the Divine Goddess are truly blessed
This morning I woke up wondering how I could start celebrating Navarathiri this year. It is one of my favorite festivals – I love the display of dolls, the prasads, the Durga pandals, the bright bindis, twinkling bangles and the excuses that woman don’t need to look like Goddesses themselves. The celebrations bring out the best sarees, the latest fashion and an infectious camaraderie as friends, neighbors and families catch up with each other over the course of 9 days.
Few minutes later, I came across a Facebook post about a young 25 year old woman who had been murdered by her husband and in-laws as they were not happy with the dowry she had brought into her new home! Here are some facts of the case:
- The woman had brought with her as dowry 15 Lakhs for a car, 30 Lakhs in cash, 5 kgs of silver and 100 sovereigns of gold at the time of her wedding and more cash and gold over 4 year marriage. It seemed to me that the slain woman was a form of Goddess Lakshmi who had brought with her tons of wealth to her new home.
- Now, the girl was also a qualified chartered accountant. If you are someone from India or have any idea how hard it is for someone to become a chartered accountant in India, you will know that this is no mean feat. In most cases only the brightest minds that can process numbers and the information on how these numbers can be used can actually make it the tough exams. So, it seemed to me that the girl was a form of Goddess Saraswathi as well.
- Considering that she was brave enough to walk out several times out of her abusive situation proves that she did possess some qualities of Goddess Durga but just not enough to keep her alive.
Her every attempt at an escape had been thwarted by her parents and siblings who advised her to go back to her husband and in-laws; to adjust and be respectful to the villains that would one day snuff the life out of their daughter, their Goddess. The motive behind the brutal killing was greed as her in-laws wanted their son to get married again so that they could get a better dowry befitting their supposed status.
As the whistle from the pressure cooker pierced the silence of dawn in my kitchen, something broke inside me. The excitement of Navarathiri had vanished from my mind only to be replaced by a turmoil which taunted me about celebrating a favorite festival. In a country that celebrates the Goddess in her various forms and builds great monuments to the Supreme Divine, wives, sisters, daughters, mothers and grand-mothers are burnt, choked, raped, murdered, side-lined and put in their places every day.
Women are expected to be the embodiments of Saraswathi and Lakshmi but are feared when they display the qualities of Durga. To put it simply the woman who asserts her mind, intellect and free-will in most mildest of manners is immediately hated, ridiculed and antagonized in more ways than one and no effort is spared in making sure she runs to take cover. This is how we treat our Goddesses. Only some rise above the din to make a mark – to be respected and in some cases even feared.
Maybe, this is why Durga is more elusive than her sisters or she just prefers helping those that have a will strong enough to let her in their hearts and minds despite the odds. If only women can put aside their fear of rejection and acceptance by society, the rules of patriarchy might actually flip in favor of a new world. Imagine a world where:
- Women opt to pursue their education or careers over settling down
- Women stop men from interrupting them during corporate meetings
- Film makers and lyricists make movies that show women in a positive light
- Women sign up for Karate or kick boxing classes like it is a very normal thing to do
- Parents raise boys to be feminists and raise girls to take responsibility for themselves
- Women eat when they are hungry and not wait to eat left overs left by the men of the household at the end of meals
- Men put their foot down when their parents demand a dowry from the prospective bride’s family
The list could go on but if we can even work some of these changes in our lives for a start, I am sure that Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi would welcome the brave new order.
Hoping that there were more folks out there who want to make a change, I said a small prayer for the young woman who I was sure was in heaven. As I closed the Facebook app on my phone I noticed several posts about foods for Navarathiri, wishes for a happy celebration and the significance of Duserra appear right above the post of the young woman’s death. Soon there was a perfectly photo shopped picture of kichidi was present where her picture had been.
All in a day’s work for the citizens of India!
I made my way to wake up the little one’s room to wake him up for school. “Raise him to be a part of the change”, I told myself.