Who's Got the Power?

It is usually agreed that men dominate in Indian society -- "Authority is the social force (male) needed to tame, control, and channel pure power (female) . . . . the subordination of power to authority has been seen (by Louis Dumont) as the very basis of the Indian social system"1 -- and many god/consort relationships reflect this (Visnu and Lakshmi, for example). But stories of yogis and women tell a different tale.

Brahmins and sages fear women's power to seduce. In "Urvasi Won by Valor," Kalidasa characterizes Urvasi as "the delicate weapon Indra uses when he fears the force of some saint's austerities . . . heaven's ornament,"2 who was "born from the thigh of the ascetic Narayana when he was seduced by a group of nymphs."3 The paradox for Brahmans, who must be married to sacrifice, is that their own wives "pose a danger to the sacrificer through the likelihood that they will be seduced."4 And while Cyavana utilizes his wife's beauty to gain power,6 Hence the repeated characterization of women as maya, and Kinsley's interpretation of Kali as not only prakrti and sakti, but also maya "out of control."7


free from world

If the meditator can free himself from maya, or delusion, he can also free himself from the world. "The yogi, by drawing his semen to . . . the site of the third eye, reverses the flow of normal sexuality and hence the flow of normal time."8 But because Siva's austerities, for example, take him away from daily duties and he ceases to take part in the world, the other gods must find some way to break his concentration so that the cycle of creation/destruction may resume. Just because sages have acquired power through practice does not mean it isn't dangerous -- to the renewal of the Earth as well as to the gods themselves. Thus the goddess Parvati is sent to co-opt and control Siva's power, and through her own austerities wins Siva as her husband.

In classical Hindu mythology the raison d'etre of Parvati's (and Sati's) birth is to lure Siva into marriage and thus into the wider circle of wordly life . . . . In her role as maiden, wife, and later mother (as Parvati) she extends Siva's circle of activity into the realm of the house-holder, where his stored-up energy is released in positive ways.9

And in another version,

The gods came to Siva and said, ". . . . as long as you perform yoga, free of passion and hatred, you cannot kill the demons and save the universe. Visnu and Brahma have wives and act for the benefit of the universe; now you must marry some beautiful woman for the sake of us all."10