Gender conscious approach towards conservation of “Shaktipeethas”, Places of Female Divine: A case of Mahur

Author: Chandan Jain | Krvia – Post Graduate Program | 2020

In India there is contradiction between patriarchy system and the traditional veneration of goddess for her sovereignty. There are diverse and conflicting views available on the position of females in religious texts, starting from feminine leadership as the uppermost goddess, to limiting her role to an obedient daughter, housewife and mother. The shifting status of females in India raises questions at the core of theoretical debates concerning the interrelations between gender, ethnic, religious and economic hierarchies within society.

In Hinduism, female divine is largely categorized as Gramadevi, Kuldevi and Shakti. But out of these three it is Shakti who is specifically worshipped for her power, for her sovereignty. The subordination and oppression of women is sometimes driven by superstitions, sometimes encouraged under name of religion. This is somewhere inspired by our belief systems followed by the myths, stories, histories and superstitions, giving birth to rituals. “Stories myths, and rituals that people create and use becomes ‘real’ when decoded into urban space, binding people to place”(Krishnamurthy, 2015).These rituals contribute in sustaining the urban imagery (geography) through various formal(processes) and informal (place) socio-spatial processes and practices. In many respects the Indian subcontinent offers a uniquely valuable setting for such analysis.

The geography provides a way to explain certain religious, philosophical and theological ideas. Classical and mythological texts have woven religious tales praising the divinities and their place association.Connections between the place-geography and the spirit of place were formulated in ancient times (pre-Vedic period).The idea of nature and human coherence depends upon ways in which people see and experience themselves, their sense of attachment to nature, and their ways of maintaining this. It is through symbolism, the main expression of mythological understanding, that one can gain insight into the relationships of humanity to nature, where the built form becomes symbol for the meaning manifested through activities. These built forms and the activities attached to it largely forms the sacred geography, where these built forms emerged through the processes or the intangible values attached to it.        

Mythologically Shaktipeethas (places of Shakti – located on some geographical or natural peculiarity) are the seats of power of female. These sites symbolize the pre-Vedic roots of nature worship which encouraged reverence of feminine gender.  Ideally these sites should acknowledge gender equality and sensitivity towards marginalized class, but this disjunct between goddess as feminine leadership and the subordination and oppression of women is quite visible on these sites too.

This thesis intends to decode the inherited livingness of female divine places through myths, histories and rituals. Also understanding them as socio-spatial processes and practices for conservation of natural / geographical resources and formulating gender conscious approach towards conservation of Shaktipeetha.

Text & Image Credit: Chandan Jain | Krvia – Post Graduate Program | Urban Conservation

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