Asian Women's Resource Centre

Programs & Events

India Round Table Series: 1.The Divine Feminine in Dalit religious Traditions …

RT 1_The Divine Feminine in Dalit religious Traditions ...
12 April 2016 - 12 April 2016, Chennai, India

RT 1_The Divine Feminine in Dalit religious Traditions: Prospects for Dalit Theo/alogy

A short update on the first round table discussion that took place on 13 April 2016:
Although we had a smallish group, the talk by Dr. Joseph Prabhakar Dayam was very thought provoking and insightful and the questions/discussion session that followed took us through much uncharted territories.
We talked about how the Divine is always imaged as male and even when there are goddesses they are either spouses of or related to male gods to qualify to be in the Pantheon or to be deities.
We were taken through the rich traditions to be found in dalit communities that worship village goddesses like Gunthe/Gunthamma (in rural AP). We were shown how, for dalit communities, it was not the relationships/identities of these goddesses as coming from traditions of epics or being related to male spouses who were gods, that made them deities. Gunthe was entreated for rain when there was drought; Gunthe was feared for her ability to cross boundaries and go even through closed doors. It was the pathos, pollution, pain and eros that charcterised these goddesses traditions among dalit communities. Dalit communities usually find affinity with two epic characters (of Mahabharata) – Kunthi and her son Karnan; Two characters characterised by pain, pollution, and being ‘unbelonged’. The polluted space of the ‘unbelonged’ was the safe space for Kunthi when she claimed Karnan- the unbelonged – to belong to her. It is this trait of knowing the pain of the unbelonged that makes Gunthe a deity for the dalit commnities.
Christian theologies have failed to draw from the parallels of these village goddess traditions in our theologising about incarnation, pathos, pain and suffering.
Fascinating discussions followed on various related questions/themes like the problems in the way dalit traditions have been documented, the sanskritisation theory, the cop-out of using inclusive god-language only as form of political correctness but not intrinsically conceptualising the Female/Feminine in our very imagining of the being of god and how we have failed to embrace the tendency of the Divine to be deviant.
We also discussed the danger of essentialization of either the dalit woman or the brahmin woman (or even the ‘feminine’/’woman’ in a sense). We realized the failure of Indian Christian theologising to perhaps tap into the idea of hybridity and pathos and eros instead of tapping into the traditions like Brahman/sat/chit/Shakti/Kali in their effort at reconceptualisin a Indian Christian theology.
The discussion also touched on how we have uncritically accepted the concept of ‘virgin birth’ (Which is a biological impossibility that by consequence renders any female aspiration to such also impossible and leads to the devaluing of sexuality of women). It was pointed out that perhaps we have missed the clue of why Mary was placed in the genealogy of Matthew’s gospel along with 5 women of seemingly questionable character in terms of their exercise of desire as well as in terms of their being “Other”; That the clue is to understand ‘virgin’ is not as vaginal purity but the idea of hybridity, crossing boundaries.
Though we were perhaps left with more questions and challenges, this was a good beginning to our journey to critique why we have so easily accepted our Divine imagination being male in character and why Christian theology has perhaps “flirted” with the religious traditions around us but not really learnt to sleep with these traditions we have engaged?!! – Tough questions and subversive thoughts making for a fine beginning to this RT discussion series …