Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review - 7 Secrets of the Goddess

Book Review – 7 Secrets of the Goddess

7 Secrets of the Goddess is the fourth book in the 7 Secrets series by medical doctor-turned-mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. In this book he tells seven tales, of Hindu goddesses, discussing narratives of feminism, gender relationship, symbolism, influences and others. As in his previous work Dr Pattanaik brings mythology to the common reader in his lucid language. He delves into discussions of traditional interpretations and questions them too. From Kali to Durga to Saraswati their origin, various stories of divergent versions, transitions in imagery and contemporary views are described. Apart than the text, the book scores a major vantage point for the relevant pictures with description which constitutes half of the book, literally.

The first chapter is on Gaia, the point of origin, the source of life and the author by virtue of his meticulous research gives us different versions of the origin. Gaia in greek, Sedna in Arctic, Adya in Tantrik traditions, Atum in Egypt are all the source of life who belonged to a female dominated culture. The chapter on Kali is exhaustive perhaps because of her finding mention in the beginning of the four thousand year old Hindu culture and the transitions that image of Kali has undertaken beginning from Tantrik traditions to neo-colonial era, from being linked to death to worshipped as Radha or affectionate mother to being associated with feminist movement.

Gauri, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Vitthai are the other chapters in the book. One does find a flow in the chapters as mentioned above and which is a welcome change in style when one compares few of the authors other books which have more number of short stories loosely bound together. In these chapters apart than describing the stories associated with the goddess in focus, Dr Pattanaik raises more relevant issues like advent of Sati tradition, bhakti phase of Hinduism, symbolic readings of mythology, Indian philosophy, relationship with wealth and numerous other narratives.

A lot of space is allotted to description of Goddess vis-à-vis Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Numerous stories of how Brahma’s control-seeking and incestuous behavior makes him outcast and has no temples dedicated to him, Vishnu who is intimately associated with Goddesses and Shiva who both withdraws from her and is domesticated by her are present throughout the seven chapters. Though the repeated mentions across chapters may confuse a reader, on careful reading it could be seen as an underlying theme common to all origins of deities. Also a recurring theme has been that of grama-devis, an important institution when it comes to the large swathes of villages, and which perhaps not many mythologists have given due importance.

7 Secrets of the Goddess becomes an important reading in contemporary gender debates. The shift from Vedic to Puranic culture, the role of emergence of Buddhism and its effect on Hinduism, the invasion of Islam and then the influence of another monotheistic religion Christianity had a bearing on how Goddess was perceived in those times. It could safely be said that domestication of Goddess and thereby females increased over the time. Could it then be termed unwarranted or evil or only a natural progression; 7 Secrets of the Goddess will help you raise these questions and seek their answers.

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