Sītā, the heroine of the Rāmāyaṇa, is a remarkably prominent figure in Hinduism. She has made an impact on women of all different types in India. From young girls to older women; from women in rural regions to those in urban centers; from women of the lower class to those of the upper class, Sītā’s presence in India has no boundaries. Sītā as a model has been interpreted variously. On one side, Sītā is held as the ideal Hindu wife and woman. She is always loyal to her husband, Rāma, and sacrifices her own needs for his; she is the pativratā (ideal wife) in this way. However, despite her label as the ideal wife, numerous feminists have viewed Sītā as a destructive model for women to look up to. Sītā is devoted to Rāma always, even when he treats her cruelly. By using Sītā as a model, women can be subjected to mistreatment from their husbands, and lose their own sense of self-identities. However, whether one accepts or rejects Sītā, the fact that she holds such a large presence today shows that Sītā has something valuable to offer contemporary women. Shown through interviews with contemporary Hindu women and folk songs, it is clear that Sītā is highly revered for her self-sacrificing nature. She undergoes repeated suffering due to Rāma, yet maintains her dignity and continues living with devotion. For contemporary Hindu women, Sītā is a powerful example. Many of these women are also defined by their husbands, and undergo suffering and mistreatment due to them. For these women who identify with the suffering and hardship that Sītā undergoes, by channeling her example of living with fidelity, devotion, and self-sacrifice, they can find meaning and self-respect in their own difficult lives.
Imagine a divorced man who still loves his wife despite her unfaithfulness. Imagine a church full of believers, praying to understand the violent actions of a fellow believer. Imagine a country torn by political turmoil, whose citizens find reconciliation with their warring neighbors in the conversation between the walls. These scenarios help to reveal the tension between the good and bad within us all and the potential for living in awareness of both. All over our world we see the struggle for humanity to defend itself, while simultaneously working towards the good of all. The awareness that such struggle represents is incredibly powerful but difficult to achieve on one’s own. It is often a witness, a separate but connected other, who is able to facilitate a resolution of conflict within our selves, our religious lives, and our political spheres. This paper is an exploration of the role of the witness in three different contexts. In psychoanalysis, the analyst’s role as a witness is pivotal in the transformation of the analysand, and I have observed similar dynamics between deity and devotee in the Hindu practice of darshan as well as between activist and nation in the work of peacemakers in places of sociopolitical conflict. For the purpose of this paper, a witness is an entity that, through simultaneously being connected to the subject at hand and maintaining a sense of otherness, is able to hold a multiplicity of truths. This psychological role of the witness plays out culturally in darshan and in witnessing sociopolitical conflicts. The witness is significant in each of these contexts because of his or her ability to see multiplicity in the subject being witnessed.
This paper looks at the ritual theory behind the “last sacrifice” funerary rites in Vārānasī, India. The purpose of this investigation is to understand what motivates people to perform the cremation ceremonies and what the implications are for society. There are a number of different elements of the ritual that I stress, including the perspectives on dharma (duty) and mokșa (liberation), the holiness of the Ganga River and Vārānasī, the significance of sacrifice in Hindu tradition, and the intentional steps of ritual that create order in the worldly “chaos.” I examine the attempt to reconcile the gap between what is known and unknown in the world and what can be controlled and what cannot be physically controlled– in this case death. I look at a number of different ritual theorists in an attempt to apply each theory and method to the funerary rites in Vārānasī and in the end offer my own ritual theory that best explains the “last sacrifice.” Through ritual, I argue that those who perform the “last sacrifice” can claim a form of control and self-empowerment. Specifically, I contend that the driving force of the ritual sacrifice is the moment of control, which stems from the attention to detail in ritual, over the looming gap between the living world and what is believed to occur through mokșa.
The classical Indian dance style of Bharatanatyam evolved out of the sadir dance of the devadāsīs. Through the colonial period, the dance style underwent major changes and continues to evolve today. This paper aims to examine the elements of eroticism and devotion within both the sadir dance style and the contemporary Bharatanatyam. The erotic is viewed as a religious path to devotion and salvation in the Hindu religion and I will analyze why this eroticism is seen as religious and what makes it so vital to understanding and connecting with the divine, especially through the embodied practices of religious dance.
The Bhagavad Gītā and Tenth Canto of the Bhāgavata Purāna as well as Śaṅkara’s commentaries on the Bhagavad Gītā and the Vedānta Sutras all attempt to reconcile the existence of the brahmanical hierarchy and the acceptance of a philosophy that posits the ultimate unity of everyone and everything. The texts all consider māyā, which refers to a supernatural power of creation and a state of delusion, to be the cause of our lived experience of difference and separateness. Despite this similarity, the texts differ in their theories regarding the soteriological role of māyā. For Śaṅkara, māyā is the primary obstacle in developing the necessary knowledge for liberation. In the soteriological path of devotion described in the narratives of the Gītā and the Bhāgavata by contrast, while māyā can be a hindrance it mostly supports the salvation of a devotee because māyā establishes the possibility for devotion to Kṛṣṇa, the supreme god of these two texts. Even with these differences, I find that the role of māyā in all of these texts promotes the submission of the individual seeking liberation. In my thesis, I will attempt to convey how the alleged pervasiveness of māyā engenders this submission as a result of the power imbalance it creates, and that this pattern, developing out of a brahmanical social order, further consolidates and extends brahmanical power.