amaryllis (/ˌæməˈrɪlɪs/) – bears the name of the shepherdess in virgil's pastoral eclogues. it stems from the greek ἀμαρύσσω (amarysso), meaning "to sparkle", and it is rooted in "amarella" for the bitterness of the bulb. the common name, "naked lady", comes from the plant's pattern of flowering that blooms when the foliage dies. in the victorian language of flowers, it means "radiant beauty".
spent today absorbed in the père lachaise cemetery, and one of the things i was struck most by was seeing the many sculptures of female figures towering over tombs: almost all tearful or in distress. it made me think of Strī Parva, “The Book of Women” from the Mahābhārata, which exclusively focuses on portraying women’s grief and tears, who break upon seeing their men & sons slaughtered on the battlefield in the aftermath of the war. one of the distressed female characters, queen Gāndhārī, lashes out at Kṛṣṇa and accuses him of murder, declaring that he could have stopped the war as he is both omniscient & ever-powerful.
Kṛṣṇa rejects her blame and retorts that he cannot override the cosmic laws. he himself is subjected to them; the massacre was ordained, no one is exempt from death, and the cycle of life is definitive.
my understanding of this exchange is: he is not telling her that she should not grieve or that her grief is “wrong”; he merely offers her the opportunity to place it in a larger context and to use her distress to understand deeper herself as well as the web of nature / existence / cosmology. there is no one to blame or resent or victimise; life unfolds as is. and,
even what we understand as ‘negative’ feelings therefore can be utilised as a stimulus for self-reflection. i myself have spent a lot of time simmering in grief without considering what it could teach me, so this particular scene is very profound for me.
and, how beautiful is Kṛṣṇa’s revelation that he himself is subjected to the cosmic laws once incarnated! will elaborate on this in a future article or post 😊
*my retelling of this dialogue is not based exclusively on the critical edition but also on its variations, as this is one of the instances in which i find referring to multi-versions valuable.
photos: some of my favourite sculptures seen in the cemetery!
The Mahābhārata is a love of my life, and one of my main research interests – as well as the subject matter of my upcoming PhD thesis! for awhile now, i have been reflecting on how to meaningfully share about the Mbh on my social media platforms. generally, i would say that there are two main approaches to the Mbh in contemporary discourse: one is the academic and scholarly approach, which, although i both adore and adhere to, i find to be largely inaccessible and limited to the academic niche. the second, which seeps more into contemporary discourse, i find to be a moralistic, religious outlook. although i consider both approaches to be valid and needed in society, i believe that what is missing is more intimate, personal sharing about the Mbh. i, for one, am not in love with the Mbh purely out of intellectual curiosity. for me, The Mahābhārata is alive; it exists within me and within the collective consciousness as a mirror to our own thought processes and individual universes. i would therefore like to challenge myself past my usual scholarly approach and share earnestly about what it means for me to immerse myself in this marvellous epic. for instance, what does it mean for me as a modern woman to read about Draupadī’s disrobing; how can i understand myself better through her character?
to ground these discussions more, i will create infographics about the plot, the historical context & main characters (created more out of love for the Mbh than for these discussions, to be honest!).
very excited for this and am looking forward to establishing myself further in the epic’s framework through this interactive approach!
to begin with,
WHY THE MAHĀBHĀRATA?
a question any scholar should ask themselves, i would argue, is why? why is my research relevant, why should i conduct this research in the first place, and how can it answer to questions of the present?
today, i am going to answer to this question with regards to the Mahābhārata. why should we care about an ancient epic poem? first of all, because the Mbh is not a dead, lifeless piece of literature. i would argue, and this is one of the main claims i will construct in my phd thesis, that the Mbh is ever-fluid and ever-changing. throughout centuries, there have been countless of retellings of the epic, each bearing differences, interpolations. does this mean that they are invalid? i would maintain that they are very much valid, and the continuous changes shaping and re-shaping the epic come as a result of its aliveness: it is alive, pulsing in the collective consciousness. in this full aliveness, the Mbh is moulded by society and culture as they evolve, acting as a mirror.
on the other hand, the Mahābhārata in itself proudly states that what you can find in it, you can find anywhere else, but you cannot find anywhere what does not exist in the Mbh; there is nothing that it does not address. in this, it tells us that it contains all answers and questions we can have – albeit in a very abstract and cryptic manner. for instance, it contains futuristic themes (for its time of creation), such as IVF and AI, and it addresses themes which are very relevant to the present day: religious violence, women’s rights, ethics. it answers to all questions we can have about the human condition; as although times are ever-changing, the human experience always remains the same, or so i would maintain: the questions we ask ourselves at their core remain the same, although the experience will be manifested or expressed differently at surface level. the Mbh thus contains inexhaustive areas of self-exploration and opportunities to understand ourselves and the world.
101 on the Mbh – infographics below! (parts 1, 2, 3… of many!)
very excited to share the first academic paper of mine that is published in complete form in a peer-reviewed journal! it is entitled ‘The Western Revival of Goddess Worship’ and it has been published in Feminist Theology, volume 31(2).
‘[Western] Women are resisting secularism and are connecting with the transcendental on their own terms, while seeking self-understanding and self-realisation in a gynocentric cosmology. From deifying female sexuality to revering the cosmos as the womb of an all-pervading Mother Goddess, the Goddess Movement encapsulates women’s defiant quest for wholeness.’
i wrote this article two years ago (which is the approximate duration of academic publishing, haha!) during my first MA at Lancaster University, under the supervision of the fantastic Dr. Brian Black, whom i am most grateful to. this paper encapsulates my views at that time, and although my perspectives have become more refined since – both as a scholar and as a practitioner – i remain pleased with this work and i am hopeful that it contributes to the illumination of the phenomenon of religious revival in scholarship. 🙏
♥️ happy to be graduating with a distinction in my first master’s degree!
♥️ what a transformative journey this MA has been – i would not lightly call my last year at lancaster university life-changing! my studies in Indian philosophy and literature, with an emphasis on the exquisite Mahābhāratam, combined with my wondrous immersion in oral practice traditions at Śabda Institute, have radically challenged and changed my perception of both myself and the world, and introduced me to so much beauty, wisdom and wonder.
the pressing longing to * know * that had been hounding me since my teens, it was for * this *. i often joke that it feels as if i wasn’t living before – only dreaming!
grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Brian Black, who guided me in my research and introduced me to the Mahābhārata and its complexities, and incredibly grateful to my beloved teacher, Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan, whose teachings are the foundation of all that i do; i am so fortunate that my studies at Śabda Institute enrich my academic writing with the insights, delight and fervour that are only accessible to practitioners.
lifetimes of refinement to go!
🌺 with the occasion of graduating from my master’s, taking a trip down memory lane to revisit the dearest pieces i worked on during my MA, namely “Feminine Dimensions of ‘God’: The Deification of Mahābhāratam’s Tragic Heroine”, “The Western Revival of Goddess Worship” & “The Question of Religious Violence in the Mahābhārata“. 🌺 my first paper explored the richness of the non-dual concept of ‘God’ by addressing the intricate worship of Draupadī, the Mahābhārata’s enigmatic female character – whose tragic and distinct storyline establishes her as a multifaceted heroine: a devoted wife; a caring mother; an abused and vindictive woman; a polyandrous empress; an avatāra of the Goddess; the Supreme Parāśakti, the all-pervading absolute reality herself; the celestial Śrī. i argued that, through the worship of an abused & vengeful woman, her devotees are deifying the entirety of the human experience. this piece has been my heart and soul, as my love for the fireborn Yājñasenī Draupadī knows no bounds. ♥️ 🌺 my second essay employed a discourse rooted in psychoanalysis, and was centred on the therapeutic values Goddess archetypes hold for the traumatised female psyche + commented on the ramifications of the phenomenon of religious revival in a secular age. 🌺 my third paper deconstructed the hypothesis of the existence of instigation to religious violence in the Mahābhārata – but this perhaps deserves a post of its own, so some other time. ♥️ current situation is incessant editing, and i am hopeful that in 2022 they will feel ready for publication. cannot wait to share my findings. image: “The Flaming Tresses of Draupadī” by Onkar Fondekar, for the illustration of the cover of the book of the same name written by Veerappa Moily, Rupa Publications. ♥️
finally, attaching below the praise i received for my MA dissertation, which i plan to publish one day:
“This is an excellent and impressive dissertation written with a confident analytical voice and with lucidity. It is extensively researched, clearly structured, and engagingly written. It is theoretically apt and brings into conversation analytical concepts such as iconography to tease out the sub-connective cosmological view underlying the Mahāvidyās analysed. It deftly weaves together discussions of iconography, mythology, and philosophy to make an original and compelling argument. You have identified a very interesting research area that might be worth expanding upon if you were to take your academic studies further.
Overall this is a highly scholarly thesis and deserves a strong distinction. Well done!”