The Future of the Goddess:

Democratization or Secularization?

                                               Many believe that the willingness of Hindu Goddess tradition to incorporate what would be seen as "secular" aspects like modern technology and politics has strengthened the scope and power of the religion. Goddess tradition has not adhered to a strict separation between the sacred and the secular. Because it has not placed itself in opposition to modern things, many believe it has not been gravely threatened by modernization.

As Kathleen Erndl explains in her book, Victory to the Mother, secular objects have been made into religious ones by their inclusion. For example, film tunes, a product of our modern, commercial culture have been turned from profane to the realm of the sacred by their dedication to the goddess. Mass-produced art, frequently sold in bazaars, has also helped to increase (or at least maintain) devotion to the goddess. Posters of the goddess done in popular style are displayed in homes and even in many temples. (Kathleen Erndl, Victory to the Mother, 104)

Plastic, mass-produced figures are even placed on the dashboards of cars, rickshaws and buses in order to express one's devotion to the goddess and to ask for her protection. This is an interesting example of how modernization - in this case the element of risk created by new methods of transportation - can strongly reinforce the need for the Goddess within a culture. In addition, the jagrata which has become a product of popular culture is a further example of the fact that modernization and commercialization do not necessarily lead to a decline in religious devotion and commitment. (Kathleen Erndl, Victory to the Mother, 104)

Milton Singer believes that urbanization, modern technology and the use of the mass media have all led to democratization of the goddess as opposed to secularization. Singer points out that bhakti (devotion), a way of expressing one's religiosity which is prevalent in goddess worship, is democratic in its assertion that anyone with enough devotion can be equal in their religious power and relationship to the goddess, regardless of age, caste, gender or education. (Kathleen Erndl, Victory to the Mother, 137) Bhakti is easily expressed through popular medias and technologies like movies or film tunes.

In addition, technology has helped to facilitate more widespread knowledge and communication about the goddess and has given many greater access to her. As their iconography, message and manifestations are made increasingly available by globalization and modern technology, many Hindu goddesses are even gaining a following in the West. Of course, as the Goddess adapts or is adapted to foreign cultures and absorped into Western, often non-Hindu, religious practices, she is undergoing many changes.
The increased accessibility of the Goddess - even outside of her homeland - and the fact that many devotees are deciding without the use of priests or even Hindu scriptures what the Goddess means and how to worship her seems to be very democratic. However, some are understandably concerned that her true essence and religious meaning is being lost in the process. (Rachel Fell McDermott, "The Western Kali" in Devi: Goddesses of India)

Still, the Hindu Goddess has been around for centuries and will likely be for many more, but we will just have to wait and see what form she will take. Individuals ultimately have to decide for themselves if an action is a skillful use of modern technology to further devotion to the goddess or a worrisome departure from her religious roots.

Return to Main Index

Go to the Vassar College Goddess Homepage