Tag Archives: Durga

Women, Power and the Rule of Three

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My personal relationship with power is fraught with anxiety, self-doubt and fear of conflict. As a woman, I doubt I am alone in this, yet as I struggle with this confounding reality, I wonder what my ideal relationship to power should be?

As an artist with ancient mythology embedded in my DNA, I have examined this issue before. I have photographed prominent feminist leaders such as Gloria Feldt, (who portrayed the strong-willed Lilith, Adam’s first wife), and Starhawk (who portrayedMaeve, the Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty). Both women advocate re-envisioning women’s connection to power.

Other ancient myths reflect our contemporary relationships to power as well. Durga is a fearless Hindu Goddess who symbolizes power in all its forms. Durga — whose name means “invincible” — is a ferocious protectress against injustice and all human suffering. Traditionally she is depicted astride a tiger or lion: symbols of her unlimited power. Often illustrated with eight arms, her capacity for action speaks for itself. Durga also has three eyes: her left eye represents the desire to act, her central eye the capacity to follow through with one’s desires, and her right eye, action itself.

 

DURGA’S LEFT EYE REPRESENTS A STRONG FEELING OF WANTING, OR THE DESIRE TO ACT.

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I was introduced to Francesca Kelly this past summer on Martha’s Vineyard, and returned to photograph her several weeks later. Francesca is a pioneer rescuer of the Marwari, a rare and indigenous Indian horse breed. After a twenty year battle with the Indian Government to lift the export ban of the Marwari, Francesca and her partner Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod have helped resurrect this threatened breed.

 

DURGA’S CENTER EYE REPRESENTS THE CAPACITY TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH ONE’S DESIRES.

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Francesca quickly identified with Sherawali, the warrior incarnation of Durga, and chose to portray her for the Goddess on Earth series. Surrounded by marshes on Chappaquidick Island, we created a commanding image of Sherawali. To accompany her portrait, Francesca wrote:

“It has been my privilege to be a key protagonist in the renaissance of the Marwari. The confidence to actualize ideals, to remain unimpeachable, to incorporate if you will, at the best of times, the qualities of Sherawali, is a battle and sacrifice all must experience.”

 

DURGA’S THIRD EYE IS ACTION ITSELF.

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Francesca’s embodiment of Sherawali in the photographs we created portray the symbolic trinity of Durga’s spiritual stages of power.

Far from being archaic, ancient symbolism continues to influence the necessary re-envisioning of feminine power. Durga demonstrates how modern women can use power in its multiple, generous forms as the manifestation of reflection, intent, and capability. Sherawali and Francesca are role models for contemporary women warriors (my conflicted self included) who are looking to add layers of empowerment to their lives. With mythical and ancient symbolism to guide me, I will continue to nurture my passions, practice and embrace tools for empowerment, and take action to achieve my desires.

(Francesca Kelly is seen with Sushil Kumar, a horse trainer and tent-pegger from Dundlod, India.)

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Goddess Bless America – My WIld and Crazy Fantasy

According to the New York Times, the word God was used a total of 57 times during the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Just for fun, let’s imagine if the word Goddess were used instead. Would the switch of one word in a very public arena change contemporary women’s views of themselves and their relationship to power?

I believe it would. As the author Carol Christ wrote in her widely reprinted 1979 essay Why Women Need the Goddess: “Religious symbol systems focused around exclusively male images of divinity create the impression that female power can never be fully legitimate.” Without imagery and words that reflects our female experience of the Divine, how can contemporary women see themselves in all their diversity, complexity and most powerful selves?

Let’s explore a society that does have abundant representations of the Divine Feminine and how these symbols can and do inspire contemporary women. In the Hindu religion, the Goddess Shakti is considered the energizing force of the cosmos and the fundamental creative instinct for life. In Goddess on Earth, Karen Siff Exkorn, the author of the bestselling book The Autism Sourcebook, portrayed Shakti and described her connection to the Goddess:

“Shakti represents fierce, creative energy, the energy that I had to call upon… when I had to fight the system to get my son the services he needed after he was diagnosed with autism.”

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The Goddess Durga, also from Hindu mythology, is celebrated as the destroyer of human sufferings. She is an avenging warrior — think super hero — and protectress against human suffering and the cruelty of war. India’s first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was often compared to this Goddess, even being hailed by the prominent Indian politician Bal Thackeray as “an avatar of Durga” in the Indian Express. InGoddess on Earth, the renowned food writer and actress Madhur Jaffrey chose to embody the Goddess Durga, writing:

“I have never accepted any constraints put upon me as a woman. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to the Goddess… Adjoined to her husband Shiva, in their half-man, half woman form, she is fully capable of co-ruling the world”.

Speaking of co-ruling the world, Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of the Paley Center for Media, pointed out in her blog “Where are all the Leaders for Women, Not Just Women Leaders?” that the U.S. ranks 69thamongst countries with the highest percentage of women in government. 69th! Behind such countries as Andorra, Rwanda, and Cuba?! Watching the current presidential campaign, and the unbroken lineage of male presidents who have dominated our politics since America’s inception, I’m feeling a serious need for more Durga, more Shakti. Perhaps it is possible, as Carol Christ also wrote, that “as women struggle to create a new culture in which women’s power, bodies, will, and bonds are celebrated, it is natural that the Goddess would reemerge as symbol of the newfound beauty, strength, and power of women.”

So indulge me, please, in my fantasy: at a not so distant future presidential convention, amongst the usual hullabaloo — bright lights, throngs of waving posters and eager faces — a new speaker takes the stage. During the soaring oration detailing the state of the economy, the plight of the middle class and the role of government, I hear the speaker say it: very simply, the word “Goddess”. In the moment that follows, as the profundity of that word sinks in, women — and men! — will be electrified with a transformed vision of women’s powerful capabilities, innate strengths and formidable empowerment. Now I’m really excited about our political future! Goddess bless America!

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