Śakti Yātrā : locating power, questioning desire : a women's pilgrimage to the temple of Kāmākhyā
Kāmākhya (Hindu deity)
women and religion
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AbstractThe temple of the Goddess Kamakhya in Assam is the pre-eminent site of Hindu Goddess worship. It is revered as the yoni pītha, the place where the generative organ of the Goddess is worshipped. This thesis, centred on Kamakhya, explores the Hindu tradition of Goddess worship, Saktism, and both the possibilities and contradictions it presents for women. The research was undertaken from a feminist standpoint and employed a framework that was collaborative, cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary. Six women co-researchers from India, the U.S. and Australia took part in a pilgrimage that simultaneously explored the Kamakhya site, its history, symbols, myths and customs, alongside our own personal understandings of Saktism and its role in women’s spiritual empowerment. Our aim, in the face of contradictory evidence about the impact of Goddess traditions on the status of Hindu women, was to try to bridge cultural differences of interpretation and develop feminist readings of what may be enabling for women. The thesis establishes the basis of our collective fascination with Sakti, which denotes both the Goddess and the cosmic power she personifies. Through a combination of narrative, exposition of Indian sources and critical cultural analysis, I present our deliberations on the rich tapestry of themes we encountered. From the outset the thesis problematises the cross-cultural encounter and continues this frame throughout. The voices of the principal co-researchers emerge as they co-constitute the research, its methods and its implementation. Their central role is confirmed as the inquiry proceeds. Following the path of my preliminary encounters with the Goddess and with the co-researchers, pilgrimage is established as a traditional means of encountering the Goddess and, in the form we constructed, as a key experiential dimension of the research. In the encounter with Kamakhya, her dual persona as Mother Goddess and Goddess of Love is elaborated. The meanings and origins of both these aspects, their integration through the concept of srsti cosmic creation, and the implications for women of their associated practices of worship are explored at length. Finally, in light of the pilgrimage, I re-consider conjunctions between Saktism, feminist perspectives on women’s empowerment and theological horizons.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)