Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Shiva and YHWH

I never thought I'd have to deal with the issue that Paul spends so much time on in his first letter to the Corinthians: whether to eat food sacrificed to idols.

In my case it was not whether to eat foods but whether to give flowers to an idol (or what seemed to be an idol): the god of Varanasi, Shiva.

(Pictured above: Shiva in blue because he died of a snake bite, the goddess Parvati , their son Ganesh. His father, an impulsive guy, chopped his son's head off and then in a hurry used the head of an elephant to heal the child.)

Our group visited a Hindu temple (the New Vishwanath Temple on the BHU campus) and we were invited to buy a large leaf with a pink lotus flower and other leaves as we entered.

I was happy to buy it, but when I got inside I had real doubts about what I was doing.

Shiva was represented not by a statue but by a black stone linga (phallus).

Me, a feminist, offering a gift of flowers to a phallus? It felt really profane--definitely getting a little too involved with idols.

Oh well--we are here to study "Women, Men & Gender in India"--the men part I had not really considered until now.

Our prof. Nita Kumar says freedom men feel to urinate in the street here is partly pre-modern and partly the male freedom of Shiva--rejecting social responsibility, freely following his impulses.

The city of Varanasi is devoted to Shiva, an ancient male god of dance, meditation, yoga--a wild and crazy guy. He meditates in the Himalayas but when disturbed, he destroys creation and then renews it.

Parvati--an ancient female goddess ("daughter of the Himalayas") passionately desires Shiva, who does not want to settle down.

But she says, "Yes, you will--and with me." Note from our professor: "All goddesses are manifestations of one goddess." Same for gods.

Anyway, men here talk about Shiva, really like him. Nita Kumar is an anthropologist who has studied and written books about the working classes of this area, esp. the weavers. She takes us into homes and businesses to talk with people she knows.

I bought postcards and found one with this caption: "Routine Yogic exercise of the penis by Naga Sadha on ghats of Varanasi."

It's a naked, fierce fellow with a fat belly whose hair, heard, and sideburns hang in long Rastrafarian curls. He holds a 30" stick across his thighs, lifting the penis.

A bit intense, this course in gender in India.

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