UH Friends of Women’s Studies
Living Archive 2003 Series
Women and Hinduism
Leela Krishnamurthy - Librarian
Nalini Mukhopayada – Temple
Lakshmy Parameswaran - Psychotherapist
Tara Narasimhan - Homemaker
[BEGIN TAPE #1 SIDE A]
Krishnamurthy: Today happens to be the one-month anniversary of the shuttle tragedy, of the Columbia Shuttle Tragedy and we are all gathered today to talk about Women and Hinduism. What greater person can we have, could we have had to representing both our countries, women, and our religion. Kupta Chala was the ultimate representative of every, of everything; and it is just coincidental that her name happens to be Kuptanavich [sounds like], which means imagination. She has taken the status of women along with our religion and both our countries to the highest status ever possible, and we should take a moment to reflect on how lucky we are to have had somebody to represent all of these things, which are so important. We wish we could have had her here, she – it would have been great to have her as one of our panelists today because she really represents everything that we, which is truly the ultimate.
Krishnamurthy: Now coming back to earth, one of the things which we are asked all the time in Hinduism is why do you have so many gods, gosh, how do you keep track of everything is, how do you, isn’t it so – Hinduism is very complex, that is something we hear all the time. Unless you are born into the religion, or you read a lot, or you are very familiar, it seems like it is just in comprehensible. In a way it is because we do have several gods, but it is not that we have several gods but one god is represented in different forms. That form can take a male form or a female form, and each form has a specific, a specific thing that you look for and you want. Like, Ganesha, a god with a face of an elephant, normally referred to as Elephant God, is the removal of obstacles so, what better thing to start anything that we want to in a new project, new business, everything starts with an invocation to Lord Ganesha.
Krishnamurthy: Then we have Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, and all the businesspeople are bound to combine both, no obstacles while doing your business and then Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth is very important, so they go hand in hand. So that way we have different gods, and Hanuman the god for strength, so a lot of the athletes would be worshipping Hanuman because strength is an important thing. So these are some of the represents and the myth or the misconception is that we have many gods, but the gods are all just representatives of one form. Once you realize that it isn’t really all that complex.
Krishnamurthy: Now following the path of Hinduism is kind of, it can be very complex but there again we have all the flexibilities, one of the most flexible religions of the world, oldest, yet the most flexible religions. We can if you wanted to go do all the research on some of our – the Vedas [sounds like] some of our scriptures to put on the Vedas. We can also, these are the ways of worshiping, we could resort to research and to put on us, then next is logas [sounds like] learning all the religious verses, which are also there again, they are religious verses which are specific to a particular god or goddess. Then there is the form of worshiping through vigents [sounds like], which are religious songs and last and final being a devotee, which is what I am. I cannot sing to save my life so I will be just very happy being just a devotee, so these are some of the ways that we follow our tradition and this is very flexible.
Krishnamurthy: In my own experience my mother was very, very liberal in the sense that even – I started in a convent which is one of the best ways to learn English and a sort of parochial school, my parents decided to send me there because I didn’t have too much of an option. I grew up in a very small place, a resort with very few schools, and at that time my mother didn’t really force me to any ritualistic form of worship, the thing she always emphasized was be good. In, in through any particular day, if you can manage without saying anything or doing anything bad, and if possible doing something good, that is all you have to worry about. At that time it seem so simple, now when I think back it would easier to recite a few verses, religious verses, or sing a religious song than to really follow what she said, now I realize how complex it is. And I think I am going to let the next person take over, I’ve hogged up some time.
Mukhopayada: I am Nalini. I am involved in the Temple, Meenakshi Temple in Pearland for a long time for over 10 years, and going along with what Leela just mentioned about many gods, why do we have so many gods, so many images of so many gods at the Temple, this is already a frequent question from people here. But without a doubt that I want to say that Hinduism is a monotheistic religion. There is just one God who is omnipresent and omnipotent. But the way in which he has taken these different forms is not because of that it is stipulated in our mythology or in our vedas or the religious scriptures; but each one wants to worship the God in a particular form that he feels comfortable with. So somebody might want it, like Genesh, like Leela mentioned or someone, the form of mother Davi [sounds like] who is the other name for __________ [word inaudible], the one in our temple. There are so many ways that one can pray to all of these gods, but ultimately it all boils down to one almighty, one all powerful God.
Mukhopayada: In one of our scriptures it says Acomset Abudab Adente [sounds like], the fruit is just one but our seers and the sages call them by various names. So even though there are so many gods and so many faces, so many different forms, they all are one and the same. So it is all up to the devotee how he or she wants to look at that almighty. There, all of you probably heard of the Trilogy, the three supreme Gods, the Vishnu, who is the preserver, Brahma, who is the creator and Sheva, who is the destroyer. These are all the three faces of that one God. At various times these, for instance, Vishnu, the preserver comes to vanquish the evil and protect the good. Now the three forms of these gods have their counterparts also along with them to work side by side with them with their own responsibilities. For instance Vishnu’s consort is Lakshmi and Brahma’s consort is Saraswati, and Sheva’s consort is Parvati [sounds like] also referred to by various names __________ [phrase inaudible], this is without too many details. For people who are interested I have in that handout some references if they, if ya’ll like to see them.
Mukhopayada: What I want to quickly say is the mother aspect of the god, the god or goddess, whichever we want to pray. The most precious and the most important person for a child is the mother. Me mother may not see all the one almighty that, the mother form that everybody likes to worship is a very special form of the goddess. What, in the Hindu religion, with the mothers being given – or the women given equal responsibilities and equal importance, we can have, we have instances from way back from the Vedic [sounds like] religion. You know sacred scriptures is called __________ [word inaudible] [sounds like] the women were given very equal importance for instance, some, the wives of some of the seers, they were given so much importance that they had, they were given the responsibilities like a man and they did everything equal to the man. But over a period of time somehow, something like 1,500 years ago or so, with the influx of people from the northern part, from the other part, from the northern part of India, brought in people and because of the wars and other havoc that happened the women were protected and kept away from the mainstream in order to protect them and their children with the result that they were not given all the freedom to do what they wanted.
Mukhopayada: So they had been kept in and not, they were not free to do what they were doing before that. So the children and women were sort of subdued and they were restricted from whatever they were otherwise allowed to do. So what happened was they, they thought that they were not given the freedom to do their responsibilities and duties and so they were curbed in their, in what they would have otherwise done. But later on, in more modern times, we have the, in current times men and women are equally educated and equally, given equal opportunity to do all the work in the community they’re given. Even then there is some oppression still exist. But more of, more recently this is kind of, it has become a better situation now. But in the, in the worship and the daily practices the women are equally, they take the responsibility to do or teach the children and raise them in this country just like they do in India. Now with this there were some time just like there are some saints and other religious and very enlightened people.
Mukhopayada: There were a lot of women saints in India as there are here to this date. Many of them migrated here also to this country, it was several mother characters even very, very great leader __________ [word inaudible] some names like Onatherama [sounds like] and then so forth, they are here, have very great powers to help people and just like the old in India what the old saints the ladies and the people did. But what they are doing today is very great in India as well as in this country, but the temple itself for us has served as a place of worship in whatever form people want to worship the almighty, the deity, like we are seeing in the __________ [word inaudible] Temple which is in Pearland. But there are other __________ [word inaudible] and other practices with the women and children, it is probably going to be elaborated more by Lakshmy.
Parameswaran: Thank you, Nalini. Good evening, my name is Lakshmy. I think my job today is to kind of catch up on Hinduism as it relates to modern and contemporary women; so I know this may not explore, at least not __________ [phrase inaudible], but a lot about the mythology and they do a lot of work with the religious institutions such as the Temple and the radio programs, so I am glad that I got this part because I can easily relate to that as a Hindu myself. So I hope I will give you some information that you will find useful and hopefully there will be some time for discussion when we are all finished with our points. When I saw the title of today’s discussion, “Women and Hinduism”, I wondered which aspect of the vast portion of Hindu faith that I am going to narrate today from the __________ [word inaudible], because, like I said I am not an authority on Hinduism, I am not well versed on Hindu mythology or __________ [word inaudible], so I was thinking of what do I have to offer to you all, so the first thing that came to my mind was, well nothing, Lakshmy. But then I thought about it a little bit more and I knew that there had to be something because Leela asked me to come and join the __________ [word inaudible] group, then I realized in spite of my short comings I have one thing going.
Parameswaran: I am a Hindu, I am a contemporary Hindu, and that I am shaped by the different aspects of Hinduism, that the fact that Hinduism is the way of life and that being a Hindu goes far beyond temporal shape and the rituals and rites that we follow in our lives. There is one point that I would like to clarify before I go any further and that is, when it comes to Hinduism, religion and culture intertwine. You cannot speak about religion, I mean Hinduism, without talking about the culture of India as a whole. The Western concept of the separation of church from other areas of life cannot be applied so easily, when one is talking about India and Hinduism. So I want you to know that because it will make sense when you hear me. This is because Hinduism is part of everyday life, like I said earlier, and that from one’s daily routine when you wake up in the morning with your __________ [word inaudible], if you do something like that, to the food you eat or the mythology you grew up with, all of that has to do who you are as a Hindu. So when I talk about women and Hinduism, I am talking about women and really India culture, and to describe this concept, I will refer in my comments to the term Hindu culture.
Parameswaran: I want to make three points to you all today because, like I said, it is quite a large topic. I have to confine myself. The first topic is that Hindu culture does not constrain women’s choices in life, I believe my adult life as a woman and a Hindu, as those of my colleagues here today, has taken shape, not in India but rather here in the United States under the influence of Western ideologies. We have all been here for over twenty, thirty years in this country; and we were very young when we came. We are among the first women immigrants from India. We raised our families here. We educated ourselves here, and of course our careers are also part of this community. Many of us excel in various fields such as science, arts, business, humanities, etc. As for myself I have chosen a career in the field of psychology and currently I head an organization called __________ [word inaudible] that helps battered and abused women in our association communities. In spite of our varied interests and talents, we remain as Hindus in the United States.
Parameswaran: The reason we choose to be Hindus, __________ [word inaudible] away from its birth continent, is because Hinduism allows women freedom to grow and find our place in society no matter where that happens to be. The sacred books that are associated with Hinduism do not necessarily dictate what a woman should or should not do. They do say however that one must do one’s Dharma, our duty towards oneself, one’s family and one’s community. Even our mythological heroines, which I think I have heard a little from Nalini but you may hear from Tara, like __________ [word inaudible] and __________ [word inaudible], have exercised their rights to follow in their own path traveling deep into the jungles to unknown territories, so it’s no wonder we are here in this country. Speaking of modern women I can draw upon the examples of the 20th century heroines like __________ [word inaudible] Gandhi, wife of Mahatma Gandhi, who alongside with her husband fought for the freedom of India. Or __________ [word inaudible], who became the first women Secretary General of the United Nations.
Parameswaran: My second point is that while Hindu culture does not constrain women’s choices, women have, as in any other culture or religion, played very traditional roles in the Hindu society. When constrained by their roles they have in their own ways tried to have a __________ [phrase inaudible]. I do not have go beyond my own household to prove this point. I am not talking about myself. At a time when the status of Hindu women was perhaps at its lowest, this is the pre-independence India that I am talking about, my grandmother, my father’s mother, has fought for her own, her rights within her household. Like the famous women I just mentioned, she did not go to jail for her country nor did she participate in __________ [phrase inaudible] along with other women. In fact she did not even leave her village, in __________ [word inaudible], a small town in the coastal state of __________ [word inaudible]. As any other southern village, this __________ [word inaudible] village was steeped in traditional Hindu thought and teachings.
Parameswaran: The focal point of this village was the Shiva Temple around which the houses were situated. The daily life of the religion was also centered around the Temple Kalandra. For example, when the Temple door opened in the morning, that is when the day would begin, and then the day would end along with the Temple when the doors were shut. I remember when I was a little girl visiting my grandmother and being jerked out of my sleep at 3 in the morning because the loudspeakers would blare __________ [word inaudible], which is an epic attribute to Lord Krishna from the temple. I very well remember waking up very early and trying to get back to sleep because the songs will continue for two hours and of course they didn’t need an alarm clock either.
Parameswaran: As the wife of the landlord and mother of five daughters and two sons, my grandmother’s life was physically and emotionally very tough; but the tougher aspect of her life was the fact that she felt unfulfilled until she bore my father, her first son and her 6th child. Till the day she died, she firmly believed it was her faith in Lord Rama that yielded her what she prayed so hard for, a son named Rama, just like the legendary lama himself, the kind __________ [word inaudible]. Her Rama would bring honor to her name and light her funeral pyre, that was her wish. However my grandmother’s struggle did not end with the birth of her son. Later on in life she found herself in a battlefield again, when my father came to a crossroad in his life, do I either go to college or to stay on in the village and take over the land from his father. Despite objections from the elders in the family, all issues of money and of course tradition, my mom, my grandmother did not get permission to fulfill her wish. Still she succeeded in sending my father away to college. Of course he became a professor in his life. The story is that she took off her wedding chain, the chain that was tied to her neck, her neck, tied around her neck on her wedding by her husband, which was heavy gold with rubies, she took it out and she gave it to her husband and said, pawn this and get the money so my husband can go, my son can go to college. I really get choked up when I think about this. This may not seem like much of a battle today but even try something like this 80 years ago by an uneducated women living in an extended family in a village, to me was a great stride.
Parameswaran: And the last point I want to make, of course deals with my own work as a counselor, my work with victims of abuse and violence in this country. Of course my work is mostly with __________ [word inaudible] women, women from the regions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. The Hindu culture is a private one, based on unity and welfare of the humanity as a whole, so there is no room, not much room for individual desires and hopes and dreams. This can become a problem when one is faced with violence and abuse in one’s own home. Hindu women, or should I rather say Indian women, are used to dealing with personal problems from within their own family, from the extended family. The Western concept of legal and police interference in personal matters is extremely humiliating to many of my clients, even who have been here, like me for many, many years. They still find it unacceptable. In fact the profession that I am in, the counseling profession itself, did not exist in India until very recently.
Parameswaran: One time I was going through the phone book and I found in the city of Madras, one name under counseling psychotherapy. Therefore it has become a personal challenge for me to help these women within their personal confines, yet encourage them to utilize the __________ [word inaudible] community resources such as women’s shelters that are available to victims of abuse and violence in this country. What helps me as a Hindu in my work is the belief, my staunch belief that Hinduism, along with other world religions, does not condone violence of any kind. Certainly not against women and children in their own homes by their loved ones. Although the stories contained in their __________ [phrase inaudible] will attest to that, how often one has to look no further than his or her mother or grandmother to prove this point. I believe it is women like my grandmother who shaped the path of Hinduism as it passed through centuries of historical and political changes in India. It is because of their courage that contemporary Hindu women like me and my friends here are able to adapt its basic teachings to suit our needs and lead a productive and fulfilling life as a Hindu, whether we choose to do that in India or the United States or anywhere in the world. I hope I have succeeded in highlighting a few points as it relates to Hindu women in the modern day and age, and I hope you will have a little bit of time to discuss with everybody when Tara is finished with her talk. Thank you all for your attention.
Women: Thank you.
Narasimhan: I’m Tara Narasimhan, and I am introduced as a disc jockey, __________ [phrase inaudible] Hinduism. So let me say, you are all tuned in AM 1560, RADIO KILE, and I’ll be a co-host for this radio program, which has been on air for almost about ten years now, and now with a view to popularize Hinduism, we bring excerpts from scriptures, enlightening talks by learned and knowledgeable people, information about current happenings to Hindus throughout the world, Hindu festivities in local temples and community, an explanation of rituals and their significance, including classical music origins, which formed the integral part of our program. We have discussions on __________ [word inaudible], the natural way of healing, different yoga practices brought about by the Priksha Meditation Center of Houston, the Hurry Krishna Home of Houston [sounds like], the __________ [phrase inaudible] Temple that Nalini talked about and we also have a jeopardy type of a question answer game and we give away prizes. We present different aspects of Hindu practices in India and work towards one goal of collectively to spread __________ [word inaudible] dharma.
Narasimhan: The word Hinduism is connote, actually a connotation of what is called __________ [word inaudible] Dharma is popularly known as Hinduism. And the greatness of Pirate [sounds like], is although we may speak different languages in every state, there is an underlying factor that unites all of us, and that faith is the Hindu culture that we all have. And about, talking about today’s topic of women and Hinduism, women’s position is highly exalted in Hinduism, we have a __________ [word inaudible] which begins every, it’s a verse that it is a prayer that you could say __________ [phrase inaudible], this is Sanskrit, and in the order of reverence we give the exalted position to a mother __________ [word inaudible], without the mother is forming the major core of the whole family unit. Then comes the father, then comes the teacher, and then everybody else. Social practices through the centuries brought women down. In fact in our epics, just like the Iliad and the Odyssey, we have the Ramayan and the Mahabatat in Hinduism and then there Janeka is the King who gives his daughter Sita in marriage to the great Rama. Rama is the hero of the story. And when he gives her in marriage, he says this daughter to whom you will be married will be __________ [phrase inaudible] that means she will adhere to the part of Dharma, alongside with you.
Narasimhan: This is __________ [phrase inaudible], this is my daughter who will be subservient to you, she will do all the cooking to you – no. He said she will follow the Dharma, and arranged marriages are still invoked and endorsed in all the Hindu families, even now. I had an arranged marriage, and I am very happily married for 23 years now, and the media and the writers talking about the writer and the media we did miss Jethra the Bakurini who writes about – who is a great writer and we have one of the best Indian women movie producers, __________ [phrase inaudible], who brings about the current social aspects of all of our practices in India. And then, there is a kind – through the years social customs have been blown out of proportion by certain media and the writers; and actually I would like to refer one more to the Mahabatat [sounds like], which is one of our epics, __________ [word inaudible] is one of the greatest women and she is said to have married five husbands. What position is Mahabatat has given to women because she had, she was one of the most powerful personalities and she is along with five other great Indian women of the __________ [phrase inaudible] is Ahalia, Sita, Tidum __________ [phrase inaudible].
Narasimhan: And, I would also like to point out a conversation that was held between one of the great sages called __________ [phrase inaudible] with his wife Gargi. He asked her what is the purpose of marriage? And Egnia Walkia Gargi asked him and he said, oh it is to have progeny, to have children, but Gargi said no, the wife is one-half of the husband, and if she is called __________ [word inaudible], that means half. And that she should person dharma, together as a dharma partny. We are all known as dharma putny in Indian term, and marriage is for the sake of pursuing dharma, to righteousness, to follow righteousness, we lead along with a man to follow the part of dharma, and not for enjoying worldly pleasures, that is what Gargi told him. And there were great women Indian leaders, like Indira Gandhi and who was one of the foremost powerful women along with other national leaders of contemporary times.
Narasimhan: And Hinduism believes that whole of creation is energy and science agrees to this with the theory. Hindus believe that manifested energy is the female, hence, Hindu incarnations have female counterparts, like Shiva, Shakti, Lakshmi, with __________ [word inaudible] and __________ [word inaudible] with __________ [word inaudible]. And now I think we can open up any questions that you would all like to ask or if you had already forwarded it to our, and Barbara…
Gregory: No, I think they have been listening, they haven’t been writing.
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible]. Could you maybe just give us a little doctrine on some, some basic questions that we might have about the structure of the religion in terms of the leaders of the religion and the roles of women in relation to the extreme __________ [phrase inaudible] or how that, that the opportunists __________ [phrase inaudible]?
Woman: I was asking for some kind of structural, basic map of how the religious structure involves women or doesn’t involve women, and how women – because you talk that women as worshippers and women has representatives of certain aspects of the god and – but in terms of structural running of the church or aspects of the temple, that would be a question and it would also maybe vary as you indicated between the manifestation in India and the way it manifests in the U.S., I don’t know if that __________ [phrase inaudible]?
Panelist: No, it does, the structure is not very different from what it is in India and what it is here. The women play a very important role in their practices of religion, both in the Temple and at home, in fact every home, Hindu home, has an altar, and they pray, as a matter of fact every morning before they go to work, get the blessings at the altar and then they do, they do other things. In the temple, of course we have several priests. They will do the daily oblations and glancing of the deities, and addressing them and decorating them, and all those and especially in festival days it is – you know, the priest, of course do all the religious various ceremonies, but there are lots of women who are devotees, they go and help them and to prepare things at the temple for very special events. But the puja or the religious segment of the, of the worship, is very important, and it is done a lot more by women. Of course men do the religious part also, but the important thing is that women do that every day at their own home and they, they are considered important, especially in some of their religious rites, the women have to be present to do the puja or do the religious rites by the men. So it is important for a man to have a wife to do the puja.
Panelist: But we don’t have the women priest.
Panelist: We don’t, now they are trying, they are coming up with women priests, they are saying that they are, more and more of the women are opting to…
Woman: Why is there when there are so many women goddesses, and we’ve always held women in such high esteem from ancient times?
Woman: Why is has there never been women priests?
Panelist: There are temples in India that have women priests, in fact I was __________ [word inaudible] there was such a temple in Karoma, all the priest are women in that temple. So the concept is there but I do not know if traditionally it has been done or __________ [word inaudible].
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible] is a very different state for women in our __________ [phrase inaudible]?
Panelist: It is dramatical state, it is a __________ [word inaudible] that they do.
Panelist: That is why I come from this.
Woman: But all of the __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: Maybe they have to go through certain rigorous routines and this you know stay away from the home and…
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible] go to school to be equal, to be man. Why not women priest too?
Woman: Or is it because of the political restriction because we are not allowed to – prayers, conduct prayers during the, during the time of the month.
Panelist: Certain time of the month.
Woman: I think __________ [phrase inaudible] the approximate, one of the biological differences as we all know between man and women is the reproductive cycle and periods, and…
Woman: But who performs pujas at home during those times?
Panelist: No, no I think that probably because of that that we are not allowed to have __________ [phrase inaudible].
Woman: Well for example a man is never at one point in time confined to __________ [word inaudible] if you want to say puja to perform a ritual at the temple and women when we are pregnant, it is hard to walk and stand and do all those things; so from a practical standpoint, I think that might be a reason that we are, that we choose not to do it, but our society or culture says that we can, but as you said Lakshmy, there are men that __________ [word inaudible].
Panelist: In the temples, in some temples the women are generally not even allowed within the sanctum sanctorum, but now when the women have reached the menopause age, they are allowed to do the cleaning behind the __________ [phrase inaudible], decorate the idol, decorate the temple, so they are allowed now, a little bit more, they are more free than before, they are getting a little better.
Woman: There are some other people, can people get a feeling, don’t be afraid to ask a question, you speak loudly though.
Woman: I was going to ask in what phase does, do, does women’s participation change over the life cycle, but you have already almost answered it, are there some other ways in which religious participation changes for both men and women over the life cycle, for men as well as women.
Man: Let me get hold of my seat.
Man: Does a man’s participation change also as they get older?
Panelist: I don’t think so.
Man: No. Only women, post-menopausal?
Panelist: Uh hmm. You know that reason for that is, it is not, it is more to do with the person being clean.
Woman: I see.
Panelist: It is not for any, it is more for hygienic reasons.
Panelist: I mean it sees the physical cleanliness as a step towards the overall spiritual cleanliness that one needs have. It is kind of preparing yourself. So it is not just taking a shower, it is just that it prepares you mentally to kind of calm your mind down and clear it all the other thoughts so you are focused on the spirituality aspect of it. So it is just a ritualistic thing; it is not that women are dirty when they are put out you know.
Man: One thing I want to mention is that, there is no question that we can give multiple reasons why physiologically or otherwise women are prohibited but traditionally all over the world from time immemorial there has been a tendency by the men to suppress the women in religious matters. It is the masculine force in India as it is elsewhere. I think that that was one of the dominant reasons why women were not allowed to be priests, even now in other religious too have the same way, so that I think these explanations you have given is valid to some extent as it is, as a reasonable explanation, but that is not the main reason why. But things are changing, changing everywhere, so you see the, the sun rising somewhere where women are getting closer and closer to equal roles in Hinduism.
Panelist: Thank you, it certainly is an issue that…
Panelist: I am glad a man brought it up. It tells a lot about why.
Gregory: There are more questions about women priests here. Here is a very large question, how did Hinduism begin, and there are three questions all together…
[END TAPE #1 SIDE A]
[BEGIN TAPE #1 SIDE B]
Woman: …childless or unmarried women in Hinduism. Those are three different questions. If anybody…
Panelist: I don’t think childless or unmarried women have anything that they will be discriminated against, they are treated just as anybody else. I don’t think there is any discrimination.
Woman: What about the concern of your grandmother about having a son?
Panelist: Exactly, I don’t know I may disagree with Nalini __________ [phrase inaudible], because there is a difference. Because I mean traditionally even today in this country, you know – I mean Diane Sawyer is so sad that she doesn’t have a child yet, so I mean that has been pretty…
Woman: No but she may be sad but she is not going to be discriminated from.
Panelist: No, and what I am saying is that you know if the woman’s status __________ [word inaudible] if you are married and within a marriage relationship, the respect towards the woman’s reference is different from if you are unmarried, you know, after a certain age, or if you are widowed, and also if you don’t have a male, like a male child they __________ [word inaudible] again like you said things are changing and women are becoming more and more independent. But traditionally, yes, that is one aspect of you know of a culture that has been disenfranchising to women. But then we cannot isolate Indian culture or Hinduism, guilty of that.
Woman: Yes, this, even this…
Man: Do I have the panelist’s permission for me to answer the question that she asked?
Panelist: Go ahead.
Panelist: In a man’s viewpoint.
Man: The first question that ask for the __________ [phrase inaudible] as to how did Hinduism begin?
Woman: Well first let me ask you how if the Panelist wants to respond?
Panelist: Well, Hindu, it first, from time immemorial, from our very early Vedic days like five or six thousand years ago, that the sages, our sages, who wrote all the scriptures about the gods and you know how to, what to do to attain salvation and gave all the details of all of those, the points and getting to the, in getting towards that goal. Exactly how it began and so forth, does anybody know? I don’t know.
Man: Well I can tell you one of the main differences between the religions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism is that Hinduism does not have one specific point of beginning, one specific person who was responsible like Jesus for Christianity or Mohammed for Islam. We don’t have one particular figure. What happens is the recent discovery is by the NASA satellites in the northwest part of India and Pakistan has discovered and filmed very extraordinary findings of the civilization that existed there six to seven thousand years ago.
Woman: And that is the same as Judaism. __________ [phrase inaudible] is a development of religion over a long time and so it is not, most religions, the religions that have been here for centuries, clearly have evolved, and the development of texts has an important role in defining what a religion is, too, so you have a whole oral history that comes up before that, too.
Man: __________ [phrase inaudible] if I can add…
Woman: I think we should go with the questions, because we have a number here that were posed for the panelists. We had questions about arranged marriages, you will raise that issue, is that part of the religion or is that a cultural dynamic and how do they work?
Panelist: Well, this is a social custom, that we get to know the families first and then we match horoscopes. Horoscopes form a very integral part of Hindu religion, and the birth star that you are born, everybody has their horoscope made and they match your stars accordingly. And the families first try to have an equal status so that you know there is not a mixture of, that was one part of – again it is a social thing but it was not based on the tenets of Hinduism. Not based too much on Hindu religion.
Voice: Not too much disparity between.
Woman: So there is an attempt to, on the families to match people who __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: Yes. Exactly.
Woman: And that works probably just as well as __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: It has been working for centuries on.
Woman: So there is a 50% divorce rate in __________ [phrase inaudible].
Woman: What about issues of class and caste? That was one of the questions. Within the religious structures, how do the, how do they __________ [phrase inaudible]?
Panelist: Well, in the olden times, you know as you probably know there are four main castes that have been described, the Brahmins, the Shudras, Vaishya, and the Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas were the warriors and Brahmins were the priestly caste who studied religion and were teaching people.
Woman: The Brahmins were considered to be the highest caste.
Panelist: The highest, the superior, because they were teachers, and then there were the Vaishya who were the merchants, they did all the…
Woman: Business people.
Panelist: Business people and the Shudras who were the caste, the last one, and they were kind of people, they were the laborer, and they had, you know they would, they were comprised of cobblers and you know sweepers and you know things like that who were not really allowed in the homes, and then they had to come from outside and just clean and just leave. From __________ [word inaudible], they were not even – but those were some time ago. We don’t have that clear-cut demarcation of the caste system in India, and most places they are trying to, you know, they are trying to get rid of that because as we all know, it is very difficult for the people from the lower caste to come up in life. They don’t get the opportunity to go to school or to go to college for two reasons, first of all they don’t have money to be backing, secondly they don’t, by caste they are shunned, they are not allowed in the homes…
Panelist: Discrimination. But most of the people now in India they feel that that is very unfair, and we have to get rid of that. So now they are showing special privileges. They get very good privileges. They get money, they get scholarships to go to colleges, good schools and if they are bright, they are given everything to, they are supported a lot. Now I don’t think we are faced through the caste system anymore. In olden days they did not, they could not even enter a temple to worship; they had to worship from the street and go, but now they are in the temple, they are everywhere and we have no problem in accepting them in our houses or anything. So it is going away, that caste system.
Woman: They have also been included in the __________ [word inaudible] is that correct?
Panelist: No. They are __________ [phrase inaudible], they get other privileges.
Woman: There is a similar gender affirmative action in the legislature as well.
Panelist: Yes. There is supposed to be, which will result – hopefully it will be in the legislature and education is __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: Which is different from, I mean there are many parallels between what you have described and the things that are happening in U.S. culture and in other cultures in terms of gradually women are – institutions change as the education of women changes and as women become more players they start defining things in the way he was suggesting earlier; if men are defining things alone, then it is going to be a different picture than if both women and men are players in defining how things work. So the sense of making a percentage to, of women in the legislature is a radical kind of move; it is something that the U.S. might consider. [inaudible] In the scriptures, I mean, it even talked about priestly structural differences and we talked a little bit about historical difference and how things are evolving. Are there things in the scriptures that talk about differences between male and female roles, or are they equal as you would...
Panelist: Supposed to be equal.
Panelist: They have been inside [sounds like]. Even in the scriptures, you know, even a god, you know, Shiva, kept his consort [sounds like] and let the top portion of the body __________ [phrase inaudible] had equal to him was all, you know – it is not only him, many instances where women were highly, you know regarded in the scripture and they were not discriminated. It was only in the later times that because of other reasons with invasion from other countries and so forth, they had been discriminated, not quite discriminated but they were not – they were afraid of exposing them to outside forces.
Woman: With a male dominated society everywhere, so I guess __________ [phrase inaudible – everyone speaking at the same time].
Panelist: With such little time I think we have represented both the male and female are equal, both sides of the coin, I mean if the male represents matter, then it, we expect them to be in the middle of the energy. I mean, that is really the concept and it has its representations in terms of the gods and goddesses.
Woman: I think we are __________ [phrase inaudible] do you think it might be true, like the consort are just as powerful or you are before, when you look at them and it __________ [phrase inaudible], I think that his presence is more directed at __________ [phrase inaudible] for the individuals who are conducting the ceremonies that were written down. I know __________ [phrase inaudible] the data, sometimes it would say that you know men have to have their wife, or a woman thinks __________ [phrase inaudible] conducting a religious ceremony; but it wasn’t because the wife was equal, she wasn’t allowed to show her face during the ceremony, but it was because he was at a certain point where he was supposed to be married. That is why he was conducting the ceremony. And so she was there, shielding her face; but yet that – I don’t know if that is equality but I don’t want to define that as having an equal role in the ceremony that we are conducting.
Panelist: No, but the man was not qualified to do the ceremony if he did not have the women next to him – for many ceremonies.
Man: Power of equality just because it was there, any women could be there, if this is the process you know I, I…
Panelist: I think that the original intent was equality but you know __________ [phrase inaudible] I mean here really is two different subjects, and isn’t it or is it social practice? I think to the interpretation of religious values three times in front of, I am not talking about as a team but __________ [phrase inaudible; several voices talking at the same time] but the intent in the religion is one of equality.
Panelist: As far as the scriptures are concerned they have emphasized that it is equality that brings ;__________ [phrase inaudible], but somewhere down the line socially they have been taken over by...
Panelist: I think it parallels the Christian tradition.
Woman: Yes. My mind said there is no male or female that can need and then no __________ [word inaudible] has been practiced.
Woman: I think that it is kind of global, I think everywhere, I don’t see any, any part really that in the society where men are, women are more dominant.
Woman: Is there, is there an interest in having women priest, is that something that is developing in religion, or is that a __________ [word inaudible] of interest?
Panelist: There is some interest but they just, but in India I think it is and in some states they might, but it is not come so much, it is not popular.
Panelist: __________ [phrase inaudible] has been taken, a lot of women priests are being kind of recruited and they are having it, especially in Maharashtra, we have a ceremony like the bar mitzvah the Jewish people have, we have what is called the Upanayanam for the boys, it is not done for girls. It started a long, long time ago, the priests __________ [phrase inaudible], but this Upanayanam is one of the factors which gives the males authority to do the worship in the temples and now women have fought for their equality and they are getting the same kind of ritual so that they can have the same powers to get into the temple to do the worship.
Panelist: I also have to mention here that there is a shortage of priests in India, that is another thing, not many of the Brahmin youngsters want to go into the profession for whatever reason. They are getting educated and they are, so there is also the moment to recruit more priests so now they are looking into quote unquote “the lower classes and women” to fill their needs, and that is a fact of life also.
Woman: Is there a variety of sects within Hinduism as there is within the Protestant church or within Judaism where you have…
Woman: ...have conservative and liberal temples…?
Panelist: Here there are several subsets within __________ [phrase inaudible]
Woman: That might be some who would be more interested in, involved in this than others.
Panelist: Like I said the state of Kerala, which is one of the more forward [sounds like] states.
Woman: Are they women or are they…?
Panelist: It is a matriarchal society, and I’ll tell you that even in part Indian, for example, I am talking about not, because the __________ [word inaudible] temples are all over the south India not just in __________ [word inaudible]. Even in those kind of temples, I was going to go to this temple but I didn’t get a chance, I understand that all of the grateful females, like when he found out why that it happened, the next time I am there I may go there.
Man: __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: Well, who knows. If that is the only way.
Woman: We have a question.
Gregory: Speak loudly please.
Man: As far as religious leaders like, Buddhism has Dalhi Lama and the Catholic Church has the Pope, what, you know who is, male or female, and you know who is it, or is there one?
Panelist: That is not just one person, there are many who are like the gurus, they have been initiated and you know several of the scriptures and they are initiated to do particular type of yoga to attain salvation and so forth, so they are allowed to teach other people. They travel and come to this country, many of them have come here.
Panelist: Spiritual leaders like __________ [phrase inaudible], and they follow different tenents of different beliefs of Hinduism, we do have sub sect that way, and those are followers of certain particular head of that group that they are followers of that and they form that sub sect.
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: Yes, I am aware of the, like I am in __________ [phrase inaudible] a lot of women, religious leaders also.
Woman: Changing the subject back but on a practical aspect, is birth control allowed, encouraged, and if so must it take a certain form?
Panelist: Not according to their religion, religion doesn’t…
Panelist: That is why India has so much population. And it is not like the Catholics, there is no belief, I mean it is, of course they believe that children are prosperity, and in the olden days, the more children you have the more fortunate you are supposed to be because they are the assets, but of course practically speaking birth control is necessary in India but I don’t think the Hindu religion played one way or the other any role in what kind of…
Woman: Does it prohibit it?
Panelist: No, it does not.
Panelist: I think one of the reasons that people have so many children was because of the infant mortality rate, it was so high that they kept having more and more…
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: That is one of the __________ [word inaudible].
Panelist: No, but children took care of the family, you know what I mean, the more children you have, you get social security, you are taken care of, between four or five children you know, you know. I mean, old age is never a problem, in fact the older you get the more revered you are. Your future is secure. So that way you know things get better as you get older. So that is something different from what we see here today.
Gregory: Another question we had is can one convert to Hinduism and if so how?
Panelist: Oh, Hindu religion is the most liberal religion, they invite anyone to come to the temple and worship with them; but there is no compulsion, our priests are not going out to recruit everybody, come to our temple, change your religion, then only you will be saved, we don’t, they don’t – they don’t tell. We accept everyone very, very open and welcome anyone, but we don’t want to convert anybody. Entirely up to the people, their choice.
Panelist: I mean the belief is that there are different paths to the same goal, so whether you follow Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or whatever, that we are all going to the same place, so as long as you have a path that is acceptable then __________ [word inaudible].
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible] you can follow your Christianity but you might lose faith, you can follow the other way also, you can have both.
Panelist: Like what Leela said in the beginning, she went to a convent. I was also in a convent with Catholics, and we all, most of us have got our education and our English __________ [word inaudible] from the convert that we attended, and myself and __________ [word inaudible] have been particularly – we are fortunate to go to the theosophical society where there was religious tolerism. Tolerism was taught to us, basically we got a kind of tolerism for all the religions of the world. We used to have worship of Buddhism, Christianity, Muslim, everything we had everyday prayer. Everyday prayer.
Woman: Oh no.
Panelist: Everyday prayer.
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible].
Woman: As a second generation Hindu woman growing up in this country, I am the daughter of one of the panelists…
Panelist: Don’t say which one.
Woman: I was brought up, born and brought up here. I went to an Episcopalian for over 12 years, I went to chapel everyday for 45 minutes and I loved it and I never thought twice about the difference in saying to the Lord Jesus Christ Amen, every, everyday, and I remember when I was in 4th grade and I came to my mom and I asked her why do we say Rama and why do they say Jesus, and is it bad if I say Jesus, what is it, is it wrong? And she said no, of course not, pray sincerely, whatever you are praying it will be heard and it is right. So from there on out I realized that I could have sang all the hymns, it was like all those beautiful hymns that I loved and I remember them all now and I loved them and I enjoyed them and I knew that I was following in my own path and that whatever I prayed sincerely that it was Hinduism was the most basic philosophy.
Panelist: __________ [phrase inaudible] just the part when they told me that I was going straight to hell because I was not a Christian.
Woman: I want to know as a function of Hindu culture more than religion specifically what sorts of challenges if any there are in raising children here in the United States, is there anything that directly challenges or that is it an easy transition?
Panelist: I mean it is never easy when you move from one country to another country, it is never easy. But one of the challenges may be, may be __________ [phrase inaudible] like for my children, such as __________ [word inaudible], it is just the ritual, the ritual aspect of Hinduism has been the most problematic. Of course they want to find their own understanding, they want to find their own way to practice our religion and of course it doesn’t dictate one way or the other. My son when he was little we did the thread ceremony which is the, he called it a bar mitzvah and he was supposed to chant Gayatri everyday. And for a few days he did it, he woke up in the morning and he did it. And then he came and told me mom, I am doing it in the bus. And that is fine too, there is no reason to say it like our parents and grandparents did, to say it at home because lifestyle has changed.
Panelist: So maybe that as long as it works within their schedule and their understanding and their comfort level I believe it would be okay, so as long as – see, one of the mistakes I think I made was trying to get them to temple every week and saying Sunday morning got to go to the temple and come on look at all of our neighbors, they are going to church, we got to go to the temple. And that didn’t work well. So maybe some of the things is what we found discomfort. I think most of the Hindu children have grown up to be free of basic follies. Hindus, they know their values, a lot of them like model, even mine went to Christian schools but I believe it only if I can be an awareness of who they are and what their religion is all about.
Panelist: But she went to her school and went to chapel everyday, but also she knew that she would have to go with me to the temple because it is not out of absolute compulsion but I wanted her to be able to go and understand our religion and follow the culture and religious practices. And she had to sing – if she sang in the Episcopal Church, in the chapel, every day, all those things, she also had to sing our own Chuokas and she knows all of them, she had to keep up with books. No, I absolutely raised my children, since we are here, we have to follow the people what they are following here, but at the same time, given our background, the practice of religion and our prayers are equally important and I insisted that on that on my children, and they did it.
Woman: One thing though, that I think will also add, that on my friends and our generation, our whole generation of kids from first generation Indians coming from India, Hindus from India, is observing how hard they have tried to maintain that. Coming so far from home, from where they had grown up where they were embedded in it, you know reading everyday, and then coming to a new place where you have not only to establish yourself financially and socially but also religiously. Because it was so important to you as you were growing up. And because of that love and fervor they had for it they also appreciated passing it on to us and __________ [phrase inaudible] in a way that we have ultimately come to appreciate it. And don’t even understand. Not really. But on the other hand, I would say is some of my cousins in India, like it is different the way we talk about stuff and we both have different perspectives because of that and our parents and the conditions and the __________ [word inaudible].
Panelist: In a way I am glad that I, even though our children are all Hindus, there was not a very structured way in which I brought them up and guess what my daughter married a Catholic young man who is a Catholic so now they are __________ [phrase inaudible], she is expecting a baby and I know that they are going to do the baptism and it makes it so much easier when they are kind of flexible and they, they pool, they do both, he comes to our temple and she, sort of __________ [word inaudible. It is flexible but I know that if I had been very rigid it could have been very hard for her to adjust and now it is much easier for her to adjust and I am glad that...
Gregory: One more question.
Woman: I was just curious as to how many of the second generation or third generation, if there is one, has stayed with their religion or do they kind of lose interest?
Panelist: I don’t think they lose interest from what we see. I think the interest is there like she said, because we see a lot of interracial marriages from the second generation of children, but still in many ways they go through the Hindu ceremony, it is always equal you know do both ceremonies and I don’t see it, even from what I see among the friends that I have that they are very respectful of their religion, they want to have their ceremonies in that way and they want their children to be exposed to their religion so I only see children bringing their kids to the temple. In fact as they get older I think they are becoming a little more like the way we were when we were in, when we wanted to you know tag them along to the temple, and that is what they are doing now, so I believe, I don’t think it has __________ [word inaudible], it is just you know it takes a certain age before you begin to question your, who you are in your religion and that you show an interest in it, I think that is just a process of growth and learning, that they are coming back to their roots.
Panelist: Now we are striving in all the temples to have our children be able to keep in touch with the religion. We have built all these humongous temples, where – millions of dollars worth of temples – unless our children are going to learn some of our religious ways and go there and pray, is there going to be like odd pieces, they are going to be museums eventually, but we do want them to be in touch with our religion. And the other thing I insist also on the children that I tell my friends, sometimes they may not like it, but I tell them that they have to also dress appropriately. You know in some of the places you can just wear shorts and go in the temple, you know in other places you have to be dressed with what is required for you to go in there.
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible].
Panelist: Yeah, I think they should do it.
Woman: I can’t offer a connection to where you are sorry and to maintain that kind of cultural connection also, that dress…
Panelist: Yes some of us, I have never worn in a __________ [word inaudible], I have always worn this, I think mostly you also occasionally, but some of the people who work they might.
Woman: But you know something my children would dress up and wear the skirt and everything on top of that, we are just going to the church, the ceremony and everything was finished, they just took it all off, they are very comfortable in a second [sounds like].
Panelist: Again it is a sign of respect, I don’t think necessarily the temple dictates that you should walk in as long as you are decently dressed, that is why, it is not like other places where you…
Panelist: You walk in.
Panelist: …yeah you cannot walk in with a jeans on, the religion is so open that you see people dressed in all kinds of ways.
Woman: If we wanted to experience the rituals of your temple, where would we come and what time would we come and what day?
Panelist: Oh, any day you are welcome, we have people, people there who will welcome you and escort you all around the temple complex, and the priest can take you around between different sanctums and there will be – we have several volunteers who do that periodically, we have interfaith group of people who come from other churches and other Buddhist temples and everything, we have periodical tours, that we have access of.
Woman: We got an impact with __________ [phrase inaudible], and…
Woman: Is there a phone number to call?
Panelist: Here is __________ [phrase inaudible] one why don’t you give them…
Panelist: You can also call to Meenakshi temple, www.meenakshi.org, and you can listen to the radio program also.
Woman: __________ [phrase inaudible] that you don’t have so that…
Panelist: We do.
Woman: Every certain days or every day…?
Panelist: We have everyday.
Woman: At what time, is there a certain time, what time does the door open?
Panelist: We start at 9:00, 9:00 and the doors open to 12:00 and Fridays to 1:00, and then we open again at 4:00 P.M. and it is open til 8:00 or 9:00 P.M.
Panelist: Weekends may be emptier because they are open most of the times.
Panelist: Yeah, weekends we are open all the time, from 9:00 til 9:00.
Woman: But how do you spell it, M-e-e-n…
Man: What is the telephone number?
Panelist: I will write it for you.
Woman: If there are no further questions we could __________ [phrase inaudible] cookies and wine if you would like to stop and talk __________ [phrase inaudible] please __________ [phrase inaudible].
[END TAPE #1 SIDE B]
UH Friends of Women’s Studies, Living Archive 2003 Series: Women and Hinduism Page 1