Over decades, we have placed Devi on pedestals and golden swings. Stepping her down from that high pier for a while, I see a woman simply interpreted and misinterpreted to suit the likings of many. Reimagining the many paradoxes of these cherished Devi’s, we have art and content today that gives us a reality check on just how malleable a philosophical portrayal of femininity is.
“Religion is the opium of the people.” – Karl Marx, circa 1843.
When I say the word “Devi “, which forms of the goddess comes to your mind?
(Don’t try so hard to say “my girlfriend/mother/every other female figure is my goddess”. Stick to the plot for this one).
Is it the standard portrayal of a fair-skinned woman clad in an illustrious silk-saree, adorned with gold, and probably having multiple hands holding utility-driven objects? The obsession with each of these attributes is ridiculously huge. Particularly with that of a fair “milk-smooth skin Devi”. Somewhere in between, people stopped taking hints from mythology and started describing dove ads for their ideals of a Devi image.
Counterparts and Consorts of the Devas
Yes, this is how the many roles of Devis are defined across the Vedas.
A bunch of wronged women is what I see instead. Placed on a pedestal or in purgatory, they are constantly deprived of the luxury of being a human capable of faults and flaws.
Speaking of which, we have many more of such beautified representations of their characteristics and even features. Draupadi was whitewashed despite her skin tone being narrated to be that of the “rainy clouds” – A complexion same as that of Lord Krishna‘s, who appears as an unblemished blue in almost all of our narrations.
And her team and co, the Panchakanya (Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara, and Mandodari). 5 women. With stories so beautiful and different from each other. All of it brought down to the way they conducted their lives around their beloved husbands. Tagged under the ideas of chastity and devotion which can dispel the worst of all sins.
Durga kali did not even make an appearance until the medieval era. But when she did, her ferocious demeanour threatened the usual portrayal of a nurturing mother. Images kept modifying and tweaking her features conveniently. The look of anger on her face was gradually replaced with a smile which looked like a passerby had asked her mid-murder,
“Come on. Let us see that smile of yours”.
Blessing the Feeds
With these archetypes reinforcing ideas of womanhood, we see contemporary content creators and artists reimagine the Devi paradox and remind us that it wasn’t a pedestal that Devi Kali had her foot upon. It was on the chest of her own husband – the Lord of destruction. Such was the power that feminine representations in the mythologies held. While I am not much of a believer, these representations and reimagined narrations have me adopting a new religion.
Two such Instagram artists I have come across in recent times are Gayathri Mohan (GayuInkb) and Aiswarya Suresh (Lachugram). Both of them are style icons in their niche and have been inspiring many over the years. Here are the images that left me spellbound, and you’re welcome in advance.
Donning the rainy cloud face that I’ve always heard of, a statement red saree styled across her torso, and the signature tongue poking out. The energy that we all looked out for in a Devi who was lost in translation.
Inspired by Kannagi, the caption under Aiswarya’s post reads “We can all be strong and feminine for others to feel the divine energy at the highest levels and be supreme healers, lovers, and mothers”.
Standing all blue radiating an unspoken power. The strikes of dark blue across her chest remind me of scars that refuse to cower. Imprinted on her forehead is the third eye, which we commonly associate with Lord Shiva. Conveying that she is capable of destruction as much as nourishment.
Celebrated to goddess status is yet another feminine figure Kannagi. Revolting against the entire power structure that was unjust to her husband, narrations surrounding her unsurprisingly got toned down to ideas of chastity, again. Understandably too, because a woman who could tear apart an entire city with her wrath-filled curses is a little too R-rated for us.
If at all today’s generation saw the Kali Devi in all her fiery glory, they would probably toss around an “It’s that time of the month yeah?”. Sigh.
Complicated Beings Just As Us
To confine them within ideas of devikam-ness of chastity, purity, and other-tys sounds a lot like an injustice to the beauty of their characters. And going back to every cliche plotline of seeing a conflicted, confused, but gradually getting there, Devi in every woman around me, these Instagram Devi’s have reinforced the idea of femininity being what we define it to be.
And Kali is the perfect metaphor to remind us of the same. The feared symbol of Kali scared the bejesus out of me as a child, and as time passed on, I started to relate to her. Like yes gurl, you do you.
Annoying men are parading at your party? Go slay them.
Do you want to wear their skeletons as accessories? Quirky accessories ftw.
Lowering your hair in its unruly nature? Flaunt that chaotic energy.
Women have come a long way from the ambits of domesticity. Domestic lives are a part of a woman’s life just as much as it is a man’s. This is why we need to hear more stories that define these women beyond this one minuscule part of their life. I crave a world where such stories are narrated to children.
Reinterpret the stories that subject women to hellfires to prove their loyalty. Know that there is much more to it than a ridiculous agnipariksha demanded by a misogynistic avatar of an all-seeing God.
There are real-life goddesses who have been slaying every single day. And through their feminist retellings on platforms, I see Devi reclaiming her authentic form. A feminine power that is familiar through narrations of the Dasha Mahavidya than a Devi photoshopped at Mahadevan studios.