Abstract: The recognition of the feminine as the animating power of existence is at the centre of Hindu religious thought and encapsulated in the concept of a female divinity, a goddess figure imagined in many forms but conceived as the unity termed śakti. It is she who is the active source of creation and its motive force. In principle, all women represent her in varying degrees, but since they do so mainly in her protective and nurturing functions, women’s social worth is measured in terms of their self-effacing service to their families. This selective application of religious thought has confined women’s roles within the home and the family, leaving them bereft of action and authority in the larger world. In recent decades women in Hindu society have attempted to reverse this power imbalance by asserting the unity of femininity and powerful goddesses, especially Kālī and Durgā. In this presentation, I will examine the idea of the divine feminine and trace how it has shaped the lives of women in Hindu society.
Prof. Mandakranta Bose: MA (Calcutta, UBC), MLitt, DPhil. (Oxon), Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, the Royal Society of Canada, and the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, is Professor Emerita at the University of British Columbia, and former Director of its Centre for India and South Asia Research. She taught there in the departments of Religious Studies, Gender and Womens’ Studies, and the Institute of Asian Research. Professor Bose holds degrees in Sanskrit and Comparative Literature from the universities of Calcutta, UBC and Oxford. She specializes in Sanskrit texts of dramaturgy, religions of India, the Rāmāyaṇa, and Gender Studies, with major publications in all these fields. Her most recent publications are: Women in Hinduism (Oxford: in press with OCHS, 2021); “Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition: Building Bridges Between Text and Performance,” (article to be published in a memorial volume for the late Kapila Vatsyayan, Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2021); The Goddess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); The Ramayana in Bengali Folk Paintings (New Delhi: Niyogi, 2016); “The Ramayana in the Hindu Tradition,” in Oxford Bibliographies in Hinduism (Oxford online 2016); “Theology, Sexuality and Gender in the Hindu Tradition,” in the Oxford Handbook of Theology, Gender and Sexuality, ed. Adrian Thatcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).