What makes a woman a woman? [ 2001 ]


" a phrase like "this lady (not that she is worth being called one) has no shame" -- which would seem to directly contradict a very basic tenet of Shakta Dharma, that: "Every woman or maiden is Shakti ...One should never speak harshly to or about maidens and women." (from the Kaulajnananiryaya of Matsyendranath).

Actually, there is a wonderful lesson in this passage for all of us: Women who realize that they truly *are* Shakti may be inspired to rise above actions that are unworthy of their precious birthright. And men who truly realize this may be inspired to reflect that it is always easiest to be a saint when there exists no temptation."


How true ! but you must remember a woman is respected when she behaves like a woman, not like Asura. Rama did not take pity on Shurpanakha and cut her nose, Krishna did not speak politely with Putana but killed her.

To get respect a woman must behave like a woman otherwise she will not only be insulted but destroyed.

Leaving aside personal egos we can discuss good things to please shakthi.

"What makes a woman, a woman?" What behaviour a woman should show to prove herself a manifestation of Shakthi ? How will I determine if I am dealing with durga or shurpanakhaa?

Good topic ? isn't it?


In my opinion, we're sailing into very dangerous waters when we begin presuming to ask or answer this sort of question in this sort of a forum. If members wish to comment, it may make for a "good topic," as you say, but I doubt it will further our sadhna.

So rather than offer an answer, I will act like a lawyer, and state my concerns about the viewpoint you bring to the question, which is quite clear from your assertion that, "to get respect a woman must behave like a woman"

What on earth does this mean, shyam? The position of Tantric Shaktism is very clear: a woman merits respect and reverence precisely because she is a woman and is therefore a manifestation of Shakti.

Your statement, however, adds an additional "condition" for respect and reverence -- you say it is not enough for her to merely BE a woman; she must also "behave like" one. And here we run into aproblem that leaves the realm of the spiritual and enters the realm of the social.

Every society and culture prescribes certain expected roles and behavior for the sexes; so do religions -- Vedic Hinduism, Islam and Christianity all tell us something about how a woman should "behave."But these scriptural guidelines are always interpreted very much in accordance with a culture's prevailing societal values.

For example, the traditional Hindu wife models herself on Sita or Parvati. But these are but benign avatars of the One Shakti; they are the role models recommended by patriarchal Vedic Hinduism. Tantric Hinduism, on the other hand, is more likely to look to Kali or Tripura-Sundari -- uncontrolled Shakti, upon whom Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma depend for their very existence. A similar dynamic exists in Islam; perhaps PenKatali wil share his wisdom on that topic.

Briefly, as patriarchal, urban societies began to form -- in India and elsewhere -- man began to "turn away from the Mother Goddess. He sought refuge in a wise, almighty Father God, a divine warrior who would restrain the wildness of Nature and domesticate it for the benefit of mankind.

"And so the Mother Goddess, until then free, was given a lord, a master, a husband. Marriage and maternity became tools to tame her. ... Myths emerged of how powerful warrior gods forced wild goddesses into submission. ..."

Shyam, you offer two good examples of these patriarchal myths whenyou state: "Rama did not take pity on Shurpanakha and cut off her nose, Krishna did not speak politely with Putana but killed her."

Pattnaik explains: "As the consort of a male god, the Mother Goddess's ... powers were checked and put to good use. But unattached, she was feared. Her powers were considered untamable, hence dangerous. ...

"The wild goddess ... was associated with disease, death and misfortune. She was warded away as a demoness or transformed into an ogress, to be despised by all. This psychological shift was reflected in human society. Woman, worshipped for her ability to create new life, became a wife. Her freedom was curtailed. Her faithfulness was touted as the hallmark of all feminine virtue. She because subservient to her husband's will. Like the Earth, she became man's property. "

Shyam, you ask: "How will I determine if I am dealing with durga or shurpanakhaa?"

The answer is simple: You are always dealing with Shakti. There is no such thing as good shakti and bad shakti, there is only Shakti. Peace.


So you mean to say woman should be allowed to torment in the name of shaktism ?

I dont agree sorry.

There has to be a spiritual discipline which makes a woman --a shakti and lack of which makes a woman,--a demoness.


In various traditions, there is an exoteric side founded on an orderly social structure (including placid, domesticated womanhood). Then there is the esoteric side where the unrestrained Feminine power holds sway. In China, for example, compare Confucianism with Taoism.

In Islam if you look from the outside, all you will see is the exoteric side. To find the feminine Shakti of Islam, you have to look from within. Here too She is usually experienced in Her benign form ... but then there is Rabi`ah.

Rabi`ah of Basrah was one of the earliest women Sufis, a freed slave whose whole life was an expression of extremely pure spiritual love. She refused to get married because no men existed who could live up to her standards. There are many stories of the holiest, most revered male Sufis who came to Rabi`ah, and she rebuked them with some remark of cutting sarcasm. Her intent was not to injure anyone, but to shatter the illusion of the false self.

One man asked her about the remission of sins. She answered: "Thy very existence is a sin with which no other sin may be compared." She meant the illusion of separative existence apart from God's existence. Any man who dared to propose marriage to her was sure to have his ego shattered immediately.

In Shaktism the theme of unrestrained Feminine Power is more full expanded and elaborated, which is one reason I like to share in it. But I think the same universal themes can be found throughout the different traditions, presented variously according to the differing styles that characterize each one. In Islam you find hardly anything mythological; everything is expressed in the human dimension, in historical time. So instead of fierce warrior goddesses slaying horrible demons, you find a fierce Sufi lady shattering the false egos of men with some pithy cutting criticisms. A much more modest style. But the inner meaning of the themes is similar.


Female asuras have been plenty. Mahishi's story is popular with those who are aware of Ayappa and how He killed Mahishi. Putana was killed by Krishna, and while Laskshmana cut off Surpanakha's nose and ears, Rama killed Tataka.

There have female asuras like Hidimba again, who though were born female asuras repented, left their ways and are known not good deeds. Hidimba married Bhima and was the mother of Ghatotkocha.

In Noth India, people talk about Holika who tried to burn Prahlad, but burnt herself to death.

Who is an asura? Tataka was supposed to be an apsara who was cursed because she displayed asuric tendencies.

Now who is shakti? The Sanskrit word Shakti can be translated as meaning "power" or "energy." This power is witnessed in all the various phenomena of life. It is the force responsible for the growth of vegetation, animals and human beings. It is what is responsible for the movement of all things. The planets revolve around the sun as a result of Shakti. It is Shakti that makes the winds blow and the oceans churn. Shakti is manifest as the very affective ability of all the forces of nature. She is the heat of fire, the brilliance of the sun, the very life force of all living beings. Now, when we refer to Shakti do we not mean the pure Shakti and not the asuras?


So Devi bhakta here one woman herself is agreeing to what I said.

I do not want to offend anyone but wanted a serious discussion on this and Rajnimaus has put my point right.

I agree all is shakti, but we have to put somewhere a line for worshipping and avoiding. Atomic power can be used to make Bomb and also to generate electricity, but we do not wish Bombs and avoid them.

So your assertion that all is shakti no good or bad shakti, stands nullified ?


Devi Bhakta is right. There has been too much patriarchal demonization of women for too long. The Vaishnava culture along with other religions has been contributing to that by showing 1) male gods vanquishing female demonesses, and 2) all goddesses like Sita as subservient to their male consorts instead of being powerful in their own right like Durga Ma.

In the case of Christianity and Islam, something went wrong. Jesus and Muhammad were very kind to women and tried hard to remove patriarchal oppression of them. But after them, their followers reinstated patriarchal misogyny full force. However, spiritual feminists like me can still retrieve the original feminist spirit from the source of the religion and bring it back to the forefront. In the case of Judaism and Buddhism, I'm afraid the misogyny was there from the beginning.

Lilith must have been originally an ancient Middle Eastern goddess who was demonized by Judaism. The usual pattern when a new religion takes over is to turn the previous religion's deities into demons as that side of their psyche becomes repressed. Psychologically, Lilith's archetype of the Dark Feminine (so lovingly celebrated by Shaktas as Kali Ma) became a sewer where the patriarchal religion dumped all their repressed negativity against the Feminine.

The good news is that Sufism has recovered and reintegrated the Dark Feminine side in the person of Layla, whose name comes from the same Semitic root as Lilith meaning 'night'. Layla is the name for God as a beloved Woman in Sufi poetry, and Her name shows the embrace of the positive side of the night as the Dark Mother, the love that overwhelms and heals the fear of the darkness. Kali means 'black' and Lilith/Layla refers to the blackness of night, the power of the ultimate Divine Feminine to dissolve all forms.

I completely agree with Devi Bhakta that we must adore the Goddess in all women and must never give into the temptation to demonize women. We have to recognize very clearly how stories of demonesses have been used to oppress the status of women instead of exalting their Shakti. We have to look very deeply within ourselves to make sure we are not repressing the Dark Feminine to where it turns into attacks on women. The resurgence of the Feminine is coming back these days, people! Patriarchy is rapidly crumbling. Religions will no longer be able to keep women down. There is no force on earth more powerful than awakened women.

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