Santoshi Ma: The Goddess Through Popular Film
|    In the early 1960s, the Goddess Santoshi Ma, previously unheard of, came onto the scene. Although no one knew where she had come from and and there was no oral tradition surrounding her, she began to command attention. (Kathleen Erndl, Victory to The Mother) Several temples were built in her honor and in 1975, she manifested in a Hindi-language film, Jai Santoshi Ma. With the spectacular success of the film, Santoshi Ma became a major religious figure practically overnight. Today, she is thoroughly integrated into the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses.||                                              |
According to devotees interviewed by Stanley Kurtz (All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis, 3) Santoshi Ma has always existed. The popular movie which brought her to stardom can be understood as just another one of her worldly manifestations. Since shakti theology asserts the divinity of matter, any material - from wooden, stone or clay icons, to rivers, mountains or even popular films - can be considered a manifestation of the divine. Kurtz explains, "[The Hindu] notion of the divine knows neither borders of time, place, substance, nor identity. . . " (Stanley Kurtz, All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis, 4)
Rather than dismissing the medium of film as profane (and therefore having nothing to offer to the sacred practice of religion), Kurtz explains that in India, during showings of Santoshi Ma, "the theater is transformed into a kind of temple, and the act of seeing the film is often taken as an act of worship." (Stanley Kurtz, All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis, 18) However, he is careful to point out that the theater, while considered an acceptable realm of worship, is still seen as lower on the hierarchy and less pure than other types of worship because of its nature as a commercial medium. (Stanley Kurtz, All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis, 18)
In the case of Santoshi Ma, modern media and technology can clearly be seen as advancing traditional religious beliefs rather than butting heads with them. For example, Kurtz points out that Santoshi Ma's worship is not at all unorthodox in spite of the unconventional reason for her now widespread worship - the modern medium of film which was able to reach masses of people very rapidly.
Most devotees do not believe in any essential difference between Santoshi Ma and other Hindu goddesses, such as Parvati, Kali, Durga or Lakshmi. They are all manifestations of the same great Goddess, the same divine female energy. Perhaps for this reason, Hindus may call images that appear to be Durga or Vaisno Devi by the name "Santoshi Ma" and she is viewed as virtually interchangeable with the goddess Serenvali. (Kathleen Erndl, Victory to the Mother, 143) Both Santoshi Ma and Serenvali are frequently called upon during jagratas - all-night devotional festivals where the goddesses frequently possess and act through human mediums. Santoshi Ma's rapid acceptance as another aspect of the Great Goddess can be seen as an example of the inclusivity and flexibility of the Hindu Goddess tradition.
Even the plot of "Jai Santoshi Ma" asserts this idea that all of the Goddesses are one or at least that there is no conflict in worshipping all at once. The screen play departed from the popular myth surrounding Santoshi Ma. It created a dispute between her and three traditional Hindu goddesses - Laksmi, Parvati and Brahmani. However, in the end, it is revealed that these "older" goddesses were just testing their devotees; since Santoshi is their granddaughter and she is one of them, the dispute and the fighting were only in jest. (Stanley Kurtz, All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis, 14)