UNESCO-NIE Centre for Arts Research in Education (CARE)

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Name of Author: 
Priamalar Vijayan
Thesis (M.A.) National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Reaney, Colin
Year of completion: 
Country of Research Data: 

This study results from a fascination with an ancient myth from the Puranas. Puranas are ancient myths and legends. It was the Puranas in the “6th century AD” (Dallapiccola, 2004, p.14) that led to Hinduism’s most dramatic transformation. It is in the Puranas that the ‘Cosmic Dance Wager’ between a female Goddess called Kali and a male God by the name of Shiva takes place. As Kali, She personifies the supreme Mother Goddess, Shakthi while Shiva embodies the male spearhead, Father symbol. The Cosmic Dance is looked upon as a key event in shaping gender inequality up to contemporary religious and daily lives of Hindu women, as the myth is biased towards the female Goddess. Historical evidence has it that the Mother Goddess was predominantly worshipped during the Indus Valley Civilisation. However, it was the arrival of the Aryans, who were able to use a mythological tale to oppress Hindu women up to present day. As such, the Cosmic Dance’s symbol, myth and rituals of Shakthi and Shiva are analysed through an understanding of the Indus Valley Civilisation and the coming of patriarchal Aryans. The term, ‘gender inequality’, does suggest direct relations with male and female stereotyping. I, however, see myself as a Hindu female seeking answers to female exploitations that have confounded me since childhood. I base this from my own personal observations and the numerous historical evidences of females’ bondage to men in the Vedic scriptures, epics like the Ramayana and Mahabaratha and even the Laws of Manu. The Laws of Manu is a book of code of behaviour which heavily subscribes that a woman is forever enslaved by men because of their impurity. The wide writings of women’s positions by feminists like Germaine Greer, Judy Chicago, Linda Nochlin and Miriam Schapiro have also helped raise my awareness of the plight of females under the hands of men. Even the acclaimed writer , John Berger, famous for his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ admitted that “a woman must continually watch herself” (pg. 37). According to Berger, “to be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space” (Jones, 2003, p. 36). All these have helped me question my feminine identity in a male dominated world. While feminism is a western ideology equating equality of status between the genders, it also does have its negative connotations. For example, many feminists distort views and blur interpretations of issues pertaining to “race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, as well as gender” (Chadwick, 1996, p.13) because of being overtly bias. Therefore, to ensure I do not fall into this category, I have not taken a purely feminist stance but rather one that also explores the historical experiences of the patriarchal Aryans’ ability to put in place the “social inequalities of gender” (Morgan, 2006, p.56) through religious myths like ‘The Cosmic Dance Wager’. The study reveals that despite living in the 21st century, ‘The Cosmic Dance Wager’ still continues to set the tone of what constitutes right behaviour for a Hindu female. Women of today have more freedom of thought and access to education then they did before. However, the ground realities are still hostile to women. Society still subjugates women. This is not confined to only women of India, but women from all over the world, from all walks of life. The study also affirms that despite limitations, many Hindu women continue to take courage through Shakthi, the feminine psyche as an archetype, to persevere and seek their own voice in a male dominated society. This study also shows that many Hindus refuse to partake in interviews or discussions regarding Shakthi and Shiva. Those who refuse to participate are those who perceive the scriptures to be divine truths. The exposure to visual literacy through the teaching of art education to secondary students in Singapore has given me the opportunity to employ artistic research in my study of Shakthi and Shiva. Therefore, interpretations and understandings of Shakthi and Shiva along gender bias lines are also analysed through a series of paintings and sculpture. As such, my artistic expressions, compliment my dissertation, as they are a visual display of my inner most feelings of my perceptions of current Hinduism. They are not explorations of colour and forms alone. The sculptural elements are representative of Hindu women with whom I have interacted with and their experiences are very similar to mine. They are a reflection of female resilience. Also, each artwork conveys its own story as each story of the painting seems to take on a different meaning as the research progresses. My art exhibits are dedicated to all Hindu women. They were exhibited at the Plastique Kinetic Worms Art Gallery in Singapore, Little India, on the 13th of October 2006.

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