Devi: The Great Goddess

Devi (in Sanskrit and in English)
HomepageInterpreting Devi
Devi and Women
Devi and Women
It might seem natural to assume that the presence of so powerful a figure as the Great Goddess must result in the general empowerment of women. However, the secondary status of women in the Indian subcontinent suggests that in practice the adoration of the Great Goddess has had little influence on the position assigned to women (a condition not unique to the subcontinent).
Click for full image and description.
Full image and description.
Yoginis in a Landscape. Lent by a private collection.
The situation is paradoxical. It is intriguing to note that while Devi is associated with fertility and addressed as "mother," the focus is on Devi as a nurturer, rather than a child-bearer. For example, Lakshmi is addressed as mother of all but she bore no children, neither did Sarasvati. Parvati, consort of Shiva, is mother of the elephant-headed god Ganesha and the warrior god Skanda, but carried neither in her womb. Thus, Indian goddesses, while worshiped for their powers to grant fertility are not actual role models for Hindu women, whose role in life as a married woman is considered complete only after she has borne children.
While myths surrounding the Great Goddess have not, thus far, been interpreted to serve as empowerment for women, today's generation of women may indeed reinterpret the messages of Devi. As women increasingly adopt leadership roles, they could well appropriate goddess imagery differently from the past and employ the goddess myth to redefine their place in society. Click for full image and description.
Full image and description.
Milk pot festival. Photo by Dick Waghorne.
Previous SectionNext Section

| Devi Homepage | Text Only |
| Who is Devi | Aspects of Devi | Interpreting Devi | Tantric Devi | Sackler Homepage | Acknowledgements |

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.
All presented material is copyright © Smithsonian Institution, 1999 except where otherwise noted.