Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the largest, loudest and most colourful festivals India has to offer. Lord Ganesh comes to town in the form of beautiful lovingly crafted clay idols and placed in homes and temporary temples (pandals) on almost every street … Continue reading
Today is the first day of the Hindu lunar calendar, an excuse for a fresh start, something I’ve needed for a long time. Fresh starts are not solely born from the calendar though, we need to cultivate them ourselves. My physical health has been awful during the past three weeks, keeping me in bed and in pain.
Those who know me personally will know that I’ve had a really stressful couple of months, stressful but necessary. What have I done for the past three weeks? I’ve slept, complained about my physical pain, cried in pain, wrote about the past, cried about the past, thought about the pain of the past and tried to understand it all.
Shakti means power in Sanskrit, interestingly, Shakti also means divine feminine energy. Growing in a society where God is generally thought of as a masculine energy, the divinity of feminine energy is a liberating concept. I’m now living in a society where the divine feminine is recognised and worshiped in temples but sometimes ignored and oppressed in homes and on the street. I ignored and oppressed it within myself for many years, believing I was “worthless”, because a man told me I was.
No one is worthless.
I’ve realised the importance of my strength and personal power and how in the past I had the devastating ability to give my power away to abusive people so easily. Allowing people to stamp on my self-esteem and self-respect. My body has been so weak during the past three weeks, but it’s given me time to reflect, gain strength mentally and think about who I want to be. When I see images of the warrior and mother Goddess, Durga, I can feel her power and strength and want to embody it! I don’t want to feel like a victim of my past anymore, I want to learn from it and feel victorious.
I am extremely lucky to have a husband who loves me and nurtures me, but there is only so much other people can do to heal you. I have learnt that we have to recognize the strength, love and compassion for ourselves, within ourselves.
I wish I could articulate this better (working on it), but it seems to me that I have searched for the Goddess within for many years.
I’m forgetful, and sometimes I’m a mess. I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror before I leave the house, most days I don’t wear make up. Often my chunni doesn’t match what I’m wearing. I am no fashionista. I am however an ‘Indian’ wife now, and it’s become clear that this shouldn’t be the case. Some things which are regarded as “fashion accessories” in the West, are in fact important marriage symbols in India.
A traditional Hindu wife should be embellished and adorned from head to toe, showing off her marital status, she should look like Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) around the clock. I already committed the greatest faux pas by wearing hardly any jewellery on my wedding day, there was lot’s of gossip and I was called “plain” (which wasn’t too pleasant, but, I’m over it). The traditional Indian wife can be found daily wearing a saree, her mangalsutra (a necklace which acts as a wedding ring), sindoor, earrings, a nose ring, silver toe rings, bangles, silver anklets with bells on (so people can keep track of her around the house) and a red bindi.
Without fail, you’ll find me wearing my mangalsutra (because I never take it off), my silver anklets with bells on (another item I never take off, because I can’t, they are practically welded to me) and my sindoor (because it’s my favourite tradition and I wouldn’t be found without it). The other marital symbols can be forgotten and if someone from the older generation sees me without a bindi or bangles, they will ask why and try and rectify the situation.
Several aunties have come at me with a bindi from their purse, their emergency bindi stash which every Hindu woman seems to have. Several months ago I popped downstairs to the nearby restaurant to buy some samosa, as I waited for them to be packaged, a priest appeared with a small pot of scarlet vermillion and a stick, without saying a word, he poked me with the stick, right between the eyes. Apparently horrified that a married woman wasn’t wearing a bindi.
My grandmother-in-law gets upset if she sees me inauspiciously bangless, and always asks why I’m not wearing earrings. When she found found out that my husband was going to marry a ‘foreigner’, the first thing she said was, “but what if she won’t wear a bindi?”. I love wearing jewellery and I think that the symbolism of the bindi is beautiful, but I’m forgetful. It’s interesting how uncomfortable people can get if I am forgetful, it shows how important these things, which would be considered ‘just fashion accessories’ in the West, are in Hindu culture.
I think about the women who cannot afford bangles and silver anklets and how they may be perceived by the community because of that, should such importance be given to appearance and things that sparkle?
Poets and artists have found inspiration in the beauty of nature for thousands of years. When I was a depressed sixteen years old, I found inspiration and strength in a lotus flower (not literally inside one, I wouldn’t have fit, even back then). You might think I am being a sentimental fantasist, but it’s true. Something about the lotus flower shook me to my core.
The Ancient Egyptians saw the lotus flower as a symbol of rebirth, they saw the lotus flower slip back into the water at night then reemerge with the sun the following morning, its petals unsoiled. Buddhists associate the lotus flower with faith and spiritual awakening. Meanwhile, in Hinduism, the lotus flower symbolises beauty, eternity, purity and spirituality. Many Hindu Gods and Goddesses, including Goddess Lakshmi, can be seen sitting within a lotus flower (she can fit inside) or holding one.
Being a teenager is tough, becoming an adult is rarely an easy ride. In those days I felt disgusted in my own skin, a blanket of dark mist felt over my life. I was convinced that I would be this way forever. I thought that I was destined to be permanently stained by that dark time, I felt broken and lost, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I bled black. I thought that those who had wronged me had forever tainted my soul and I would never be free of the darkness they had inflicted upon me.
Then I read something in a book about Eastern philosophy which sparked the light of hope, I read about lotus flowers.
“As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world”
The lotus flower grows in the mud, travels through murky depths but blooms above the water towards the infinite sky, it’s petals pristine and untouched. If you’ve had a muddy past, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay in the darkness, with love and compassion for yourself, you can blossom. Yes, sometimes the lotus flower may slip back into the water but you can rise again, re-emerging with a pure heart. The dark earthy water nourishes the lotus flower, just as our suffering make us stronger and wiser.
Lotus flowers made me see myself in a different light. I knew one day I would be able to shed the pain and emerge from it like a butterfly from its chrysalis (or a lotus flower from dirty water). I haven’t forgotten what happened, I never will, but I feel free and clean.