Navaratri as the Celebration of the Female Shakti Culture of India

Dr. Bal Ram Singh, a Professor and Director of Botulinum Research Center, Executive Mentor of School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, a former Professor of Biophysical Chemistry and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, and Founding Director of the Center for Indic Studies at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, writes on value of ancient Indian traditions for the modern times.

 “Feminine force is that inner strength, that power, that will to face down any negative circumstances in life and defeat them.” -Georgette Mosbacher

India as a culture faces most negative attention, especially from the Western media and intellectuals, including political leaders who unceremoniously lecture India on things they need to learn from this ancient civilization.

There is always a hue and cry over women in India for one reason or the other, be it political leaders like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee, Jaya Lalitha, etc., object of atrocities like Nirbhaya, Phoolan Devi, and many other rape victims throughout the country, activists like Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar, Teesta Setalavad, etc., the spiritual leaders like Ma Amritanandamayi in Kerala, Anandamurti Guruma in Haryana, the Brahmakumaris in Rajasthan, Mother Teresa in Kolkata, Dr. Niruben Amin in Gujarat, and Didi Ma Ritambhara, who have millions of followers throughout the world.

As this is Navaratri and Dussehra time, we could use this festival to highlight some of the traditional ways in which India’s deep philosophies are practiced in regards to women. If we talk about the Navaratri goddess Durga, a word that comes from durg or fort. Durga is a symbol of fortitude, which comes to women naturally but men need to seek. Fortitude is a mental power, not necessarily the physical one.

durga-maa2

In a recent study, scientists found women’s brain is more resilient – “Women are able to carry higher levels of genetic defects without getting brain development disorders such as autism, supporting the possibility of a ‘female protective effect’, according to the study as per a news in Australian Broadcasting News (February 28, 2014).The study published in The American Journal of Human Geneticsgives clues as to why fifty per cent more males typically have an intellectual disability than females, and why boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.

Traditionally, women in India under ideal conditions have high place in the society – Durga, Saraswati, and Laxmi, the goddesses of strength, knowledge, and wealth, respectively. Even 30-40 years ago, at least in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the place where Nirbhaya’s parents come from, girls names had Devi added as a suffix. It reflects what society perceived and professed for women’s high place. Kanya puja is still common throughout the country. The points reflect that women in general reflect the sattvic thoughts and action. And, society prospers when that sanctity is maintained.

Manusmriti (3.56), an ancient book of memoir, states that –

yatra nāryastu pūjyante ramante tatra devtā 

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता:

This is wrongly translated as  – where women are worshipped that becomes god’s abode. The real translation would be that where women raise themselves to the level of being worshipped, gods make that place as their abode. The onus here is on the women to raise their level with their knowledge, practice, management, and caring of the society. Worshipping Monica Lewinskys of this world will not make this world abode of gods.

Women in Sanskrit are known as stree, which means they can possess satva, rajas, and tamasic gunas at the same time in their role of mother, sister/daughter, and marriage partners. They are capable of performing these functions concurrently, as in multi-tasking today. Multitasking is women’s second nature, and neuro-scientific studies will be enriched by such analysis.

According a recent report published in CBC News (March 03, 2016) quoting Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, the director of the Brain Science Centre at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center “What we have found is that women, in many different tasks, process information about five times faster than men, and use much less of their brain to do identical cognitive performance.”

Man, on the other hand, is known as purusha (someone who pursues), because what women can accomplish/understand innately with their intuitive and perceptive power, men need to toil through learning, experiencing, and serving.

How is this difference possible? Women are right brain dominating individuals, whereas men are generally left brain dominated persons. Right brain performs intuitive functions such as art, literature, music, etc. whereas left brain is more analytical and performs math, language, technology type of operations. Right brain believed to operatefaster due to its parallel processing, and provides women with intuitive power much better than men. In India queens always sat along with kings to provide management to the kingdom, and in fact ruled their kingdoms in the absence of kings, and did well, including in battlefields.

In today’s intellectual world India as the rest of the world with few exceptions are considered as patriarchical as opposed to matriarchical society. This is not correct historically or practically, although men may have been assigned to manage the society more due to the foreign attacks the society faced in the past thousand years or so. Over five years ago, Tulsῑ Rāmayan stated that mother’s place is higher than that of the father. In Ayodhyākand Kaushalyā says –

‘jaun keval pitu ayesu tata। tau jani jahu jani badi mata’ 

जौं केवल पितु आयसु ताता। तौ जनि जाहु जानि बड़ि माता ,

which means if only father had given orders to Rām, then he did not need to go to the forest, since as a mother she holds higher position.

In Indian tradition a child is considered the most fortunate whose father is dharmatmā (righteous) and whose mother is pativratā (devoted to the husband). So, it is not easy to be an ideal mother and father. One has to work hard to reach that level, and ideal traits come from the sanskārs (values) of the family and society.

India’s daughters make majority of female graduate students in most US engineering graduate schools. That shows the true treatment of the daughters by a society, Nearly half of the Indian banks are headed by women, and have not defaulted unlike western banks. India’s housewives contribute most to the Indian economy, and Indian space programs, including its mission to Mars, is full of Indian women engineers. These are the true cultural reflections of India’s daughters, something Western world could easily learn.

In summary, women are naturally empowered, and have been accepted in Indian society as such, but it requires hard work to maintain the empowered state. They need to realize both their empowered state and the cost to maintain it. It will not come from government or modern feminist movements, which are based on ego, control, and division of the society.

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How to Integrate the Ancient Educational System with the Modern Educational System

– Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

The most important aspect of the ancient educational system was the “teacher” or “Guru”. The role and definition of Guru in ancient days was different from modern day spiritual Guru. The Guru was one who not only imparted his experimental and theoretical knowledge to his students; he was also responsible for spiritual and astral development of his students. Place of “Guru” is higher than God in ancient texts. According to Advyatarka Upaniśad (16th Verse) the definition of guru is as follows:

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारःस्यात्‌  रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः।
अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात्‌गुरुरित्यभिधीयते॥

Guśabdastvandhakāraḥ syāt ruśabdastannirodhakaḥ

Andhakāranirodhitvāt gururityabhidhῑyate।।

 Meaning: ‘Guru’ word is a mixture of two syllables – “Gu” means ignorance (andhakar or dark) and “Ru” (nirodh, or to remove) means to dispel or to restrict or to obstruct. The guru is seen as the one who “dispels the darkness of ignorance”. One must have faith in his Guru. No one can get happiness or achievements without having faith in his Guru. Ramcharitmānas also put “Guru” as a person who holds high esteem.

Guru ke vacana pratῑti na jehῑ  Sapanehu sugama na sukha sidhi tehῑ

māta pitā guru prabhu ke vāṇῑ  vinahi vichār kariha subh jāṇῑ।।

(Bālakānda)

Ancient Indian education is also to be understood as being ultimately the outcome of the Indian theory of knowledge as part of the corresponding scheme of life and values. Moral education was a perennial aim of Vedic education. The principles of Vedic education have been a source of inspiration to all the educational system of the world.

The modern education system in India is established by British, primarily introduced by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830s, and later by Wood’s Magna Carta of Indian education in 1854. Teaching was confined to the class rooms and connection with the nature was broken, and also the close relationship between student and teacher was lost. Modern education is based on western system of text books and examination. There are primarily two motives of introducing textbooks culture in India; a) to stop producing new knowledge and make students think that they are mere consumers of the knowledge which the textbook writer wants to convey, b) reducing teacher’s authority on knowledge. Teachers lost the right of deciding what to teach and how to teach. They also follow the matter given in a text books. Examination was introduced to our education system so that students are limited to learn only those things which are supposed to be covered in the exam, not the complete things. This practice eventually narrows the area of knowledge. To pass exam students just memorize the content, without understanding, just to clear the exam.

National leaders, social reformers, and educated people alarmed by the erosion of educational system which also leads to the erosion of Indian culture. Organizations like Brahma Samaj (Raja Ram Mohan Roy), Prarthana Samaj (Atmaram Panduranga), Arya Samaj (Swami Dayanand), and Ram Krishna Mission (Swami Vivekanand), interpreted rationally and advised people to remain firmly rooted to the Indian culture and not get swayed away by the glamour and materialism of alien culture. Swami Vivekanand said, “Each nation like each individual has a theme in this life, which is its centre, the principle note, around which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, the direction, which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, nation dies.

At present, we have lost the root of morality in modern education. There is no sense of discipline, behavior is irresponsible, less decision making ability and too much influence of materialistic mode of life among the students and teachers of our time. Alienation of modern generations from their roots and culture alarmed Gandhiji and he said, “My real education began after I had forgotten all that I had learned at school”. There is no doubt that modern education has given to India the key to the treasures of scientific and modern democratic thought. It is the west that has led the world in advancement in technology and science. It also opened the doors for liberal and rational thinking. It widened the mental horizons of the Indian intelligentsia during last two centuries. But somehow it got derailed and makes mind just a store-house of knowledge and discourage creative thinking. For building an ideal education system for today, we need an amalgamation of eastern culture and western methods which promotes liberal thinking and advancement in science and technology for the future.

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Although there is wide gap of education between ancient Indian education and modern education system, there is enough room where both can be integrated in theory and practice. Some prime elements are as follows: a) more preference should be given to character, truth, non-violence, spiritualism rather than wealth and materialism. b) The sense of discipline and cordial relation between teacher and students. For this, the teacher should enforce fair practices, presenting themselves as a respectful, create a culture of integrity in their classrooms, and show genuine interests in their students. Students should impart discipline, preservance, honesty, and good social values. c) Manan (meditation) and Nididhyananna (realization) techinques should be imparted in education to helps student in self motivation and concentration. d) “Simple living and High Thinking” should be the motive of student life. e) Education should be given to make student self sufficient. Education should include project based natural learning, individual and group accountability, challenging environment, collaborative learning, critical thinking, communication and research skills. After education students should be able to lead a sustainable life and encourage their neighbourhood and friends to have the same. f) Education system should be such that it not only preserves but spreads the culture, which should be amalgamation of social practices, traditional beliefs, and daily activities (should not include karamkānda or superstitious beliefs and traditions). g) It should infuse a sense of responsibility and social values. And h) the teacher should encourage self motivation in their students to inculcate responsibility and focus towards getting true knowledge, not to just become literate.

The ultimate aim of education should not be to fulfill the desires of life in the world, but for complete realization of self to achieve complete liberation, and Vedic education trained students to be truthful. It is important to remember that those who pursue the path of truth are never defeated.

सत्यमेवजयतेनानृतं सत्येनपन्थाविततोदेवयानः।
येनाक्रमन्त्यृषयोह्याप्तकामा यत्रतत्सत्यस्यपरमंनिधानम्॥

Satyameva jayate nānṛtaṁ Satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ

yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā yatra tat satyasya paramaṁ nidhānam।।  

(Mundaka Upaniśad 3-1-6 )