Shakti: India's Ancient Past, And Future


The Female Origin Of The Universe The role of women in Indian society is a perplexing paradox. It is a patriarchal society seemingly created and dominated by men, who over the centuries have spared no effort to create texts and scriptures that enforce man's dominance in every social sphere. A woman in India must know her place, a daughter must obey her father, respect her male brothers and cousins. Just as Hindu society is rigidly organized into castes and social levels specified for each group of people, women are expected to know their place, lest they bring shame and dishonor on their family name. This is really no different from many other societies, such as we study in the Abrahamic context where the supreme deity, though unlike anything he supposedly created, is a male deity like the Zeus of ancient Greece, the man of a household a literal 'god' of his domain who administers justice and decision on his wife and offspring. Perhaps this is the old Aryan style, or it is typical of those communities who settled down after leaving the hunter-gatherer stage to create what we know of as civilization. The most respected diety of the Sumerians which is the world's historically first recorded civilization was a woman, Inaana. Far from being simple and discreet she was the goddess of war and fertility, as both defending the tribe and the procreation of the species seen as necessary priorities among ancient peoples. She would become Ishtar later on and assume more accepted 'female' aspects of the demure and obedient woman, stepping down to make way for Baal Hadad, but originally she was not like this at all. In the myths of the early Sumerians Inaana made war on her enemies and could be cruel and devastating, as in her vengeance upon the Earth and mountain goddess Ebeh who refused to acknowledge her claim as the queen of heaven. Even Gilgamesh, the bearded epitome of Sumerian male prowess sought her as a consort but she refused him, openly displaying her revulsion. Indeed, most of the ancient societies worshipped powerful aspects in the form of the feminine and only after the society was established as civilization do we see the rise of male gods with defined male attributes. The Greek god of war Ares replaced Athena, who in Hellenic art was depicted armed and carrying a spear and shield as a reminder of her past importance and dominance, but a far cry from the original female goddesses of the pre Greek Pelasgians of the Balkan peninsula. She could be the protector of Athens, the city that still bears her name but Ares stole her title when men established their civilization. The same can be said for the Romans who originally worshipped Bellum as the very personification of war, but eventually replaced her with Mars. The Iroquois made tribal decisions based on a council of grandmothers whereas the Aztecs, Maya and Incas who developed sophisticated cities with urban planning would never dream of consulting women. When societies settle in for the long haul of civilization they ultimately replace the importance of the female with the male, redefining the role of women in the realms of society and religion, leaving the tales of once powerful goddesses and heroines to the verses of bards and storytellers who draw their repertoire from the established religious scriptures the male dominated society allows. In these texts, if one searches with some effort can be found tales of the past age of myth and legend that tells us of another time and a different mind set. This heroic age informs us of many, sometimes fantastic events and beings, for which we have to wonder if there is some truth in any of this. The stories of strong women are there, more so in some traditions than in others and depending on the ability of the male patriarchs to erase the greatness of the female in the mythological past. Abrahamism in all its forms was very successful in this regard, stimulated as it was by the already male dominated Semitic notions of women as well as Greco/Roman and Persian concepts of gender, subdivided into groups of good and evil beings. However, the process of erasing the feminine at least in its essence was not as easily completed in India. This civilization is old, in fact it is the oldest continuous civilization and culture on the planet. While government has changed, and there have been modifications to lifestyle due to countless invasions and now through the use of the internet, India remains as it was centuries, even as it was many millennia ago. Hinduism, or as some prefer to call it Dharmaism, is a collection of varied religious experiences and rituals that differ not only from place to place but from household to household, each of which has their own particular god as was in ancient Greece or Rome. Dogma is a reality in this empire of the spirit in the form of implemented ritual or in the division of society as in the caste system, but not in the individual interpretation of holy texts. True, the Brahmin priests have established what ritual should be based on the writings of thousands of sages, rishis and gurus who compiled numerous texts and commentaries over the centuries, and it was they who codified what Hinduism and its aesthetics should be. It was the sages and the Brahmins who codified and established an organized Hinduism which developed simultaneously with the civilization. Religion, like government, eventually became the domain of men which cast women to the sidelines or forced them into the kitchen. But, there was a difference in India regarding their use of scriptures and texts. While these texts explaining rituals and practices could be interpreted and redefined to support the realm of men and male patriarchy, which in India was successful as anywhere, the basics regarding the how and why of creation could not. The Rig Veda, that most central scripture of Hindu basics is comprised of various suktas, or verses, composed over many centuries by knowledgeable sages who set into writing all the oral beliefs, narratives and tales of the past. What distinguishes Indian Vedic philosophy from all other established religious ideologies is its complete openness, leaving belief up to the personal opinions of the individual. The Nasadiya Sukta or Creation Hymn of the Rig Veda makes this clear, in that the verse explains how the universe was created, from darkness void of form before existence on to the reason why creation came to be, similar to what we read in the creation stories of the majority of the world's religions. Then, the final verses of the sukta leave it to the reader to decide for him or her self if all that is written in this book, written as it was by men, is true and relevant or not. The ancient sages display their complete honesty here in being nothing but human, thus prone to possible error encouraging future disciples to decide these origins for themselves: But, after all, who knows, and who can say

Whence it all came, and how creation happened?

The gods themselves are later than creation,

So who knows truly whence it has arisen? In Hinduism, the source of all that exists is the primordial feminine essence, known in the Sanskrit language as Shakti. This is a word meaning sacred force, power and energy, and it is associated with the feminine. The Rig Veda defines this feminine force 'Shakti' in the Deva Sukta. Thus, all things, all creation, our very existence is due to this primordial feminine energy:


I am the queen, gatherer of treasures In many homes I enter and abide... I cause the man or woman I love to be exceedingly mighty Nourishing that being as a sage, a knower of Brahman I bend the bow for Shiva that his arrow may strike So as to slay the hater of devotion and goodness I rouse and order battle for the righteous 'Tis I who did create Heaven and Earth

The Rig Veda explains that it was due to Shakti that light was created out of darkness and bringing forth the gods themselves, therefore none of this realm or any other would have existed if not for feminine energy. Since elements and aspects of both good and evil exist eternally and according to Hinduism continually manifest in multiple life cycles and eons, Shakti will manifest itself through the course of time again and again in many forms. Therfore it is impossible for the male patriarch to totally shut down the voice of the eternal feminine for to do so would mean to deny the essence and reality of our very existence. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths which insist on a male representation or understanding of divine power, where God is a he though understood by Jewish, Christian and Muslim mystics as unlike anything else this God (called king, father, creator) ever brought forth, Hinduism begins with the female essence, reflecting the very natural physical process of pregnancy and the bearing, nurturing and caring for the child after the labor of giving birth. To the Hindu mind both religiously and scientifically, the creator can be none other than woman.

Lost Knowledge In Ancient Art And Literature In India we can examine the subsequent overtaking of religion and its codification and the organization of ritual by patriarchs as it happened in Sumer or Egypt, and we witness this very clearly when we attempt to approach the many paradoxes of this culture. India's religion is dominated by a complex set of rituals maintained by a deeply rooted priesthood who have established ritual and tradition centuries ago, and like all organized religion must be supported at all costs lest society begins to crumble and fall apart if the status quo is not maintained; the balance and setting of all beings must perform their roles at their respective levels in this birth and rebirth cycle of all forms. In this male patriarchal mentality, women cannot and must not have too much of a say, for that might upset social order. India has had women leaders, today has women in its parliament and in local government and in the judicial system, and strong women at that. Women are activists and social justice seekers. But at the root of India's culture which was established many centuries ago is a notion that women are inferior to men, despite what the very ancient scriptures maintain. It is these ancient scriptures and the stories found in them that shed light on an older, more ancient time before what we know of as Indian civilization was being formulated. These stories have given hope and inspiration to generations of young women who have risen up to perform unbelievable feats of bravery through the centuries, often bearing the criticism, oppression and tyranny of men while doing so. Nonetheless, they have carved a name for themselves and their gender, manifesting the power of Shakti. Each one of India's temples, depending on the size of the building, is decorated with dozens, hundreds, even thousands of statues and carvings of gods, deities and lesser beings and their deeds as described in the various epics: the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishads, the Baghavad Gita and other texts. There is an endless list of mythological events, happenings, battles and encounters that have given artists inspiration to portray in stone beauty the many legends carved on the walls of these structures. Most people know the characters and the stories, just as the ancient Greeks and Romans knew who the characters were portrayed on the sides of vases, in friezes and in sculpture. While Greco/Roman artists loved to portray powerful females in battle such as the Amazons, they had no sacred scriptures that would support a woman's right to an independent life and self determination. The powerful, legendary women of Greek and Roman myth have reputable reputations and successful careers but are considered dangerous and must be defeated, and in the myths are always vanquished by the heroes they encounter, be they Hercules, Achilles or Theseus who are portrayed as the epitome of the virtuous, chauvinistic male. The talent and skill of these warrior women are indeed praised and honored but they die and die they must, for there can be no competition for the patriarchs. Society must be preserved from the female rule, which is considered foreign, inferior and a threat to civilization. Likewise, Indian literature does contain within the pages of the epics and scriptures tales of powerful, independent women but like everywhere, the priesthood defined a woman's role and even suggested that certain stories be removed from some of the texts as the female character was considered too strong and could cause trouble, thereby upsetting the balance. Such was nearly the fate of Draupadi, an independent minded, tough woman from the Mahabharata epic who was fierce and warlike. She is so independent that no man dares to approach her in combat. However, according to her story in the text she was eventually forced to marry five Pandava brothers at once and serve them all, one of whom being the famous figure Arjuna, that seeker of knowledge as described in the Baghavad Gita, the friend and confidant of Krishna. What is strange about this story is the sudden turn of fate that befalls the very self reliant and independent Draupadi, who is forced by a vengeful sense of karma to become a servant, nay more like a concubine, to the five Pandava brothers who have little else to do than to make plans so as to engage in a destructive war. Another such heroine in this, considered India's greatest and most popular epic, is the princess Chitrangada, renown for her archery and martial skills who actually defeats Arjuna in combat after which the pair fall in love and marry. She bears him a son, but soon Arjuna leaves her to seek more knowledge, enlightenment and destiny. Years pass and as karma would have it Arjuna is mortally wounded by an arrow shot by a warrior named Babhruvana after the twain meet on the battlefield. As he lay dying, Arjuna asks the young warrior where he learned to handle the bow so well and the lad reveals that his mother, the great warrior princess Chitrangada taught him. Arjuna, realizing this was his own son, repents his mistake and is then helped to health and lives, thanks to Chitrangada's sense of forgiveness and nobility of spirit. She then mysteriously vanishes from the epic, like another wife of Arjuna, the clever and agile Ulupi and so many other capable women featured in these tales. Draupadi and Chitrangada are presented to us as formidable, powerful and fully capable but then are rendered weak and helpless. It is as if a great work of art or a symphony was being crafted by a master artist and the master suddenly died, leaving his work incomplete and unfinished. We could only ponder what Schubert's 'Unfinished' 9th Symphony would have sounded like had he not died at the young age of 31. We likewise must wonder why these formidable female characters in these Indian epics are suddenly stripped of their power when their stories, recited orally for centuries before, are written down to become part of the culture of a particular civilization. Lesser female deities known as Apsaras or Dakinis, akin to the muses of Greek and Roman mythology are portrayed as being sent by the gods such as Vishnu Brahman to seduce those individuals who are in need of reprimand, tempting mortals with their sensuous dance and beauty. In some stories these beautiful nymph-like beings have been known to go forth and join in the fight for a righteous cause, assisting Durga in her struggle against the evil water buffalo god. They are valorous and skilled in martial combat, accepting their fate willingly as they sometimes die bravely on the battlefield, their deeds honored in a eulogy reminiscent of the passion of a dying Penthesilea at the hand of Achilles. Storytellers still recite their feats for audiences from the oral repertoire but the existing written stories about them are less numerous. It is the codified, written texts that form the corpus of a religious or philosophical tradition, the 'book' as interpreted by the clergy setting the foundations of the morals and virtues of any society. Mary Magdalene, considered by many theological scholars as having been the closest associate to Jesus during his lifetime, lost her importance and relevance in the Gospel story due to the rise of the accepted narratives of the early church fathers and the creation and founding of Christianity as the religion of the Roman state. In the Islamic tradition the stories of Khadija- that dynamic, independent and formidable merchant/woman and first wife/employer of Mohammed were nearly forgotten or purposely made to disappear from the Islamic narrative in favor of praising a younger Aisha, that cute, frivolous teenager who stole the prophet's heart when he was an older man and nearly started a clan war when she irresponsibly lost a necklace in the desert. Likewise were the sword wielding, justice seeking fighting Apsaras who in the great epics responded to the call of battle, choosing to willingly sacrifice their blissful existence in a state of neo nirvana for the benefit of humanity and heaven, purposely forgotten by those patriarchal Brahmins, gurus and rishis, self appointed maintainers of the Vedic and Dharmic tradition who were however clearly afraid of the power of the very same Shakti they preached about in their circles. These stories exist and clearly demonstrate that ancient India had a tradition of female warriors and strong, decisive women. That they were proficient with the bow and other personal weapons of war, that they rode horses and excelled at horsemanship (though we question whether the horse was domesticated in the early Harappa culture) or that they commanded ranks of warriors and partook in battles tells us that the female gender played a quite different role many millennia ago in India compared with later years. Those 'later years' are not the modern era but the time when Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism and the many religious scriptures and epic texts or poetry were coming about, the rise of historical Indian civilization. What is confusing, indeed disturbing somewhat, is that these strong characters, though many fabulous stories are told about them, suddenly seem to diminish all of a sudden in those composed texts from that time. The tale of the independent minded Draupadi disturbed the Brahmin priests, gurus and rishis so much that they suggested her mention be removed from the scriptures lest women draw inspiration from her and overturn society. Her character was considered dangerous. The great Indian epics were composed ages ago and, like the Iliad or the books of the Bible, compiled many centuries after the time when these myths might have actually happened, or were imagined to have happened in that mystical age of heroes and champions. The stories in the Old Testament are ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Egyptian tales that were told and retold over the centuries. The Bible was compiled by scholars and scribes who kept some stories they felt were advantageous to the formulated religious tradition and they naturally neglected the stories they felt were not beneficial or considered contradictory to the narrative that was coming together as a result of cultural or political beliefs. Thus we have stories in the Bible of faith, or events, battles and teaching stories, as well as the erotic Song of Solomon. It is surely strange how some stories were maintained and others abandoned. This is true in the study of the New Testament as well with certain Gospels accepted and dozens rejected. The same can be said for the compilation of the Indian Vedic texts, which were compiled in some instances thousands of years after the stories were being told, by sages and rishis who felt it their responsibility to produce a formalized religion for the service of the king...or the Brahmin caste who commissioned their work to reflect the spiritual status and morality and ethics of their society. The artwork of India's temples presents to us this confusion and dichotomy over and over, time and again. The sculptors and the artists who carved beauty out of stone were the heirs of a tradition of personal expression, a tradition their fellow artists among the Hellenes enjoyed. The personal stamp of the artist can be viewed in every work of art in India. Just as Greek and Roman artists portrayed powerful Amazon warriors or goddesses in their art, so did Indian artists carve powerful female figures engaged in what was thought to be the the domain of men, namely the act of war. Some of the lesser goddesses, the Apsara, guard the portals of the temples armed with tridents or swords, their bows pulled taught with an arow in place ready to slay any demon who might perchance upset the devotees within the sanctuary. Perhaps the Greco Roman artists were appealing to the fetishism of the patriarchy in creating the likeness of muscular, shapely fighting women. Or, perhaps they were intrigued by the ancient myths and tales and wanted to remind the viewers of the possibility in the very distant past when women held power and position in society before the advent of Greco/Roman patriarchal rules that confided a woman to her duties in the kitchen or her role in producing offspring for her husband's by sharing his bed chamber. This may be the case for Indian artists and society as well, but there is one difference- India has an ongoing tradition of literature that speaks of strong women and unlike the Greeks and the Romans, still to this day read the texts that claim the origins of the universe are indeed female. Just as the neo feminist verses in the many scriptures vary and are seemingly at odds with the codified rituals of Hindu practice, thus yielding many variations of tales and stories for us to study and research, so the artists with their ability and freedom to express themselves thought it important to include any vestige of the powerful feminine entity in their work, paying homage to Shakti, the primordial feminine entity that is the foundation of everything that exists in the spiritual and in the material realms. Any of the myths that were and remain popular in any society are portrayed in art, literature and music because the masses want them, because the masses love them. Thus the storytellers and the artists, the musicians and the dancers who represent India's ancient, time honored traditions maintain the ancient sagas of the past and keep them alive for the benefit of those living in the present. Truly, such traditions are timeless, as India is timeless. All of this stems from the element of desire found in the realm of imagination, the desire to recreate the ultimate, unseen hidden beauty that waits to burst forth to manifest in that which is the present dimension, ever inspired and given vent from the energy known as Shakti. Of course, Indian temple sculpture, like any representative tradition anywhere, can be said to be the work of human artistry, ingenuity and imagination and the images of women, which can be somewhat voluptuous or erotic in nature in Indian art, an expression of fetishism. Yet, we have to wonder whether the stories in the scriptures and texts are mere fetish or something more, even if they are not actual recorded events. The tales are expressions of the mind, the soul and the heart of artists who responded to the popular desires of the people of their day, the expression of the collective body of a civilization. If this be the case then we and especially the masses of Deshis living across the length and breadth of the subcontinent should more aggressively be willing to research and study the contradictory narrative that presents itself so clearly. If there were an age of heroes and champions that did indeed exist, as many mythologies and religions do maintain; including and particularly focusing here on the Hindu tradition which explains this timeline in detail, then young Indians will discover and unearth a vast treasure trove that lies before them, a possibly brilliant and unbelievable past with clues surrounding anyone who visits one of the thousands of temples standing in India today. Artists have strived to maintain the past so it never will be forgotten, and each series of sculptures reveals a new story from a new chapter from the hundreds of already documented texts and epic poems. Chitrangada of the Mahabharata was reinvented many times beyond the great book, her story retold in hundreds of versions. She was never forgotten all these centuries, for even the great poet Tagore wrote a story based on her person. each new story, even if a work of fiction, present a new possibility to realize the person of Chitrangada and in so doing her many admirers, both male and female, come to the realization of who she was and how her strength and will can be applied to their own lives in their own time. Foreign Invasion, Destruction And Catastrophe In northern India hundreds, indeed many thousands of temples were destroyed by successive raids of Muslim invaders who poured into India every year plundering and stealing the wealth, raping and capturing women, taking children as slaves. Before they left the raiders destroyed the religious structures and universities of the urban centers and the ashrams and spiritual retreats built in the forests and the mountains. When these invaders of central asian Turkic stock decided to settle and occupy cities of the north Indian plains they used their religious laws to justify their rule upon a people they considered as polytheists. There were certainly forced conversions of masses of Indians, while a number of lower caste Shudra 'untouchables' found some sense of spiritual equality offered by the new Abrahamic religion even though class distinction was maintained and the poor continued to be poor while the rich plundered the land and its wealth. Oppression is equal in its application to all, and affords anyone anywhere the opportunity to experience tyranny, regardless of class or caste distinction. These series of conquests eventually saw the deaths of some 80 million people according to sources such as the great historian Will Durant, who thought the Muslim conquest of India the bloodiest chapter in the story of mankind, rivaling and perhaps even outdoing the Roman Catholic sanctioned Spanish conquest of central and southern America. The destruction of northern Indian Hindu civilization was catastrophic and we today still cannot calculate the loss. The art, the architecture, the schools, medical centers, ashrams, libraries containing thousands of scrolls, books and texts, all the greatness of ancient India was destroyed for the purpose of plunder sanctioned by a twisted view of what was thought by it's adherents to be the one and only true religion. The Muslims eventually began to settle and ruled the northern cities. New spiritual paradigms began to emerge from the meeting of Islam and Hinduism with the advent of the Sufis who saw God everywhere and in everything, somewhat easing the tensions and the shock of the conquests. These Muslim states such as the Delhi Sultanate however were not immune to more invasions from the north. After an invasion by the terrible Tamerlane who devastated both Muslim and Hindu urban centers with equal ferocity, the latest and last of the Turco-Tatar steppe invaders known as the Moghuls began their conquests under one named Babar in the 16th century, a self proclaimed descendant of both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. These Moghuls indeed might have been somewhat more tolerant than their predecessors, eventually continuing the tradition to foster a culture where pantheistic Sufi mystics incorporated native dharmic beliefs and narratives into a unifying spirituality that would become the shining example of human tolerance and interaction in the world at the time under the rule of the emperor Akbar, but the damage to ancient India was already done. Persianate domes and Arabesque swirls replaced the thousand figured temples and palaces of India's past as the call to prayer resonated five times a day. There was little even the best intentioned world renouncing dervish mystics or even the wise, tolerant and inclusive emperor Akbar could do to replace the glory or the hurt inflicted upon the hearts of the tens of millions of Hindu Indians who witnessed their temples smashed into bits, the stone used to construct massive mosques and tall minarets, intended to insult and ridicule them while celebrating the victory of the God of Abraham over the many Gods of the Hindu pantheon, all this often being capped with a feast that might see the purposely insulting slaughter of cows, considered sacred and holy in Hindus, to be roasted for the celebratory feast held by the pompous victors. In this very sad event in human history, the conquest and subsequent destruction of ancient India so much was lost that it would take many eons indeed, or to put it in a Hindu sense many life cycles, to replace and reimagine all that was lost forever. With the temples went the books that contained the epic tales and deeds of long ago, while countless rishis, gurus and Brahmin priests lost their lives trying to save them from the clutches of the fanatical marauders. If there was ever a tale of human suffering and pathos that deserves to be told, among others of lost civilizations or ways of life now extinct, as in the saga of the Native Americans, it is this story of the conquest of India and the brave champions, heroes and indeed the heroines who resisted that conquest with dignity. Indian Adaptability, A Talent For Survival However, despite all that was lost the past is maintained in India, by Indians as Indian. Historians all tell of how the subcontinent and its civilization, this empire of the spirit, received the harsh blows of foreign conquerors but was also able to civilize and sooth their ways, which is a testimony to India's deep philosophical soul. India was not conquered due to any lack of brave souls fearful of death demonstrating an unwillingness to die for their religion and civilization. Quite the contrary. In fact, sources tell us of one such example of bravery that shocked the Muslim invaders. When a city was about to fall, the warriors of the proud Kshatryia caste would place their wives and children on piles of wood and set these heaps ablaze, burning their families alive in a cremation ceremony rather than have them fall into the hands of the invaders who would undoubtedly abuse them. Then the Kshatriya would march out with weapons in hand to meet certain death. There are many today, particularly among India's neighbors, who prefer to ridicule the well behaved, gentle and cultured Indians as being weak and spineless, unfit for battle and severely lacking in martial prowess yet I would challenge anyone to argue this point. They have been and are a brave people, which was proven even unto modern times when two and a half million Indians volunteered for military service in the British empire fighting bravely in Europe, North Africa and in the Pacific theaters during WWII. India, at the time inspired by Mahatma Gandhi to seek independence from Great Britain could have accepted the help offered from imperialist Japan and Nazi Germany to revolt against the British Raj, but Gandhi advised against it, instead urging Indians to support democracy and freedom. It was a clever decision, for it helped the argument for India's independence which was finally achieved in 1947. Relations between India and her former occupier remained cordial, as Gandhi envisioned. To this day, members of the Sikh and Gurkha communities from India serve in the British army, gaining the benefits of English citizenship for their service. Preserving India, Shakti In The South During and after the Muslim invasions, many Hindus fled the north to relocate in Karnataka, the lands of the south. Here, the migrants met the Dravidians, the many darker haired speakers of non Indo European languages such as Malayam, Kannada and Telugu. Some of their ancestors likewise fled from the Aryanic invaders who came thousands of years ago into India during the Bronze Age. The Tamils on the eastern coast had established since the tenth century an overseas empire that brought Hindu and Buddhist cultural elements to Siam, Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond. The Mahrattas and the kingdoms of the Deccan on the western coast and many kingdoms in the interior such as the Mahratta confederacy remained independent, busy fighting with each other and otherwise too distant from the Moghul/Muslim invasions of the north. Here, Indian culture and the path of Dharma was the ruler and the majestic conqueror, the kingdoms of the south glorifying their cities by raising impressive temples that seemingly reached to the sky with plentiful statuary telling stories from the ancient epics of magnificent heroes and tales of gods and deities from their religious scriptures. The greatness of India's past was preserved and maintained in the realms of Karnataka and other southern kingdoms, inspiring those kingdoms further north such as that of the Rajputs to maintain their Hindu culture and resist further invasion. As migrants began to seek refuge in the south it became aware to the rulers of these states that there was an obvious, dangerous reason for this mass influx of refugees. It would not be long before the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century would undo the temporary period of tolerance and coexistence of his grandfather Akbar and implement a 'no religion but Islam' policy in his domains in the north, eventually readying his armies to conquer all of India. However, he would learn that the champions and heroes of India's past were alive and well here in the south in the later 17th century, where warriors, both men and women, studied Kalaripayattu and other martial arts, gaining inspiration from the tales of heroes both heavenly and earthly from the epics of the distant past. Among the many champions who resisted Aurangzeb were number of fearless women, near incarnations of Durga herself who were willing to lay down their lives for their land and people. When the queen of Karnataka, Keladi Chennamma gave refuge to Rajaram, the son of the Mahratta resistance fighter Shivaji the Moghul king Aurangzeb, whose was known as Alamgir or 'world conqueror' demanded she hand over the fugitive. This confident ruler who assumed power after the death of her husband refused to submit, citing the code of honor she was bound to. Aurangzeb sent a large army led by his son who faced Keladi Chennamma on the battlefield. A brilliant strategist, she defeated this force in a rousing victory. The queen pursued the retreating Moghuls who were harassed by the monsoon rains, the southern jungle heat and constant rear attacks. She continued to resist the invasions of the Moghuls so successfully that she remained undefeated until Aurangzeb, the great Alamgir, finally offered her a truce. Her kingdom survived Moghul conquest and was one of the last to fall to the British who would eventually dominate all India. Another interesting heroine of the turmoil which southern India was experiencing after the invasions of Aurangzeb was not a queen or a warrior princess at all but her story demonstrates the will and determination that causes us to wonder where the source of such determination might come from. The city of Chitradurga was besieged by the king of Mysore, Hyder Ali, in 1779. Though he was a Muslim ruler the kingdoms of the Deccan were predominantly Shi'a and despised the Sunni Moghuls. When not at war for land grabs these kingdoms were known to ally themselves with the neighboring Hindu kingdoms so as to resist the northern invaders. Hyder's attempt to conquer Chitradurga was another local war fought between southern kingdoms which was all too common at this time in southern India. These kingdoms fought one another regardless of their religion, with armies made up of members of various religions fighting one alongside the other against a common enemy, much like the wars of the ancient Greeks or the city states of Renaissance Italy. Nonethess, Hyder Ali demanded from the ruler Madakari Nayaka that his city of Chitradurga be turned over to him. Madakari refused and had to settle down for a long siege by the forces of Mysore. The walls of the city were thickly built and strong. Each time Hyder's forces attacked they were repulsed with severe casualties inflicted on them by the defenders. Frustrated, Hyder Ali sought a means to penetrate the city. One day one of his officers noticed a woman emerging from a hole under a part the wall, from which she would emerge to get water from well that was just outside the fortress. On further investigation, it was found that crawling through this hole led under the city walls, inside the city itself. At dawn, Hyder ordered hundreds of his soldiers to crawl through the hole and gain access to the city, where they would then open the gates to let his army pour in and begin a terrible slaughter. At dawn, an exhausted guard who was on duty there at this spot all night was thirsty and hungry. His wife named Obaava brought him a flatbread and some water to drink. She told him to go eat and take a short rest, as she would remain at his station and keep watch until he returned. As she sat there awaiting her husband she heard some noise coming from the hole under the stone wall, which she thought the defenders of the city knew as a secret passage. To her amazement she saw one, then two, then three fully armed Mysore soldiers emerge. She frantically ran and fetched an onake, a long wooden club used to pound grain in a pestle which she saw nearby and with it began to attack the soldiers, hitting them on their heads and killing them one by one. So powerful was each of Obaava's blows with the heavy implement that she crushed their helmets as blood spurted like a fountain from each of those she dispatched. Her husband returned at this point to see his wife fighting off so many enemy soldiers, screaming like a wild beasts and swinging her club like a war mace, seemingly invincible as she beat them to death, their bloodied bodies lying now in a heap. She turned to her husband and yelled at him to sound the alarm, which he did, and the men of the fortress arrived and killed the all soldiers down to the last man. As an ecstatic Obavva raised her onake clasped in her two hands as a signal of victory to her comrades, one of the enemy soldiers whom she thought dead rose up and with his sword stabbed her. She managed once more to bring her club down on him, smashing his helmeted head like a gourd before she succumbed to her fatal wound. She is remembered to this day in the region and one can visit this historic fortress of Chitradurga and see, yes even crawl through the hole under the walls now known as Onake Obaava Kindi, or Onake Obaava's gateway, where dozens of soldiers attempted to gain access to the city before facing the wrath of this fearless and powerful warrior woman of Chitradurga. Her story is told to this day and portrayed in plays and reenactments as young girls compete with one another for the honor of playing her role. Despite the bravery of Onake Obaava and her people Hyder Ali, a formidable and persistant general was finally able to take the city and forced the ruler and several thousand of the inhabitants to convert to Islam- demonstrating the negative influence and intolerance the fanatical Aurangzeb of the north brought to what was formally a region where wars were fought for political, but not religious reasons and where a sense of tolerance for religion was the rule. Upon his arrest he king of Chitradurga, Madakari Nayaka told his conqueror that had Onake Obaava not been killed Hyder Ali would have no army left to fight with and thereby forced to return to Mysore alone. These are but two examples of women warriors from India, in this case the south, who defied the stereotype of the weak and supposedly dutiful Indian spouse. There are many more tales from this period of women who resisted the forces of invaders who attempted to destroy the memory of an ancient and noble past. Tarabai was the daughter in law of the famous Mahratta leader Shivaji and earned a reputation as a capable cavalry commander. Rani Abakha, known as Abhaga, the 'fearless queen' defended the port city of Vlla near Mangalore and defeated the Portuguese in 1525. In the north, the Sikhs produced great warriors, among them Mai Bhago who successfully led her people in battle against the Moghuls. In should be noted that while most of these warrior queens were Hindu or members of other native subcontinent faiths, the legacy and inspiration of Shakti lived on even among some who were Muslim. Islam did not enter southern India with raiding marauders or conquering armies spurred on by a sense of divinely ordained righteousness but arrived with merchants and immigrants who traded for spices and textiles. Thus Islam had to adapt to the more numerous and all pervading Hindu mind set and Indian culture and not the other way around. Many pre Islamic customs and older aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were incorporated into the new religion and maintained; the religion being Islam but the culture remaining Indian. Chand Bibi was the ruler of the Bijapur and Ahmadnagar sultanates, Shia kingdoms located on the Deccan coast in the current state of Marahashtra. The Moghul emperor Akbar, though destined to become a wise and tolerant ruler who would become famous in all the world for his wisdom and respect for all religions in his empire was, in his younger days an aggressive warrior and he continued to be a capable king for his entire career, renown for never losing a war or campaign. However, the story of his attempt to conquer the Deccan was certainly not one of his brighter moments as his reputation would be reversed, by a woman. Chand Bibi defended the city of Ahmadagar so successfully as to gain the praise of Akbar. Stories abound of her taking her place alongside her soldiers on the walls of the city- dressed in mail armor, wearing a helmet and wielding a curved talwar and steel shield, she slayed the enemy as they tried to scale the parapets. Akbar was forced to acknowledge defeat but continued the campaign, this time sending his son Daniyal to attack the city a second time. Chand Bibi was wise and while she could never contemplate surrender she realized that the serious lack of water and short food supplies was becoming evident as her soldiers began to starve or die of disease. Prince Daniyal offered safe conduct for her and all her troops if they would lay down their arms and surrender. Chand Bibi decided for the sake of her starving army that she would accept the Moghul terms. However, a rumor went out that she was in secret negotiations with Akbar. Her soldiers, wracked with disease and malnourishment were furious that she would desert them. Dozens of her soldiers attacked her as she returned from the negotiations. They drew their swords and daggers and stabbed at their queen mercilessly. As she lay dying from dozens of deep wounds, she spoke: "How can you do this to me, your queen who loves you? I think only for you, brave soldiers, for you are all my brothers. I die proud that I was slain by you and not some cowardly enemy. You should all die so nobly." Prince Daniyal previously promised to spare the lives of the defenders but when he heard what they did he ordered the officers and those who spread the false rumor to be put to death immediately. His father the emperor Akbar received the news of Chand Bibi's death and took a deep breath, noting her greatness: "God has given me great victories but taught me humility through my first defeat at the hands of this formidable warrior queen, Chand Bibi. May her soul be accepted into his highest heaven." Where did these women gain their inspiration from to perform their amazing acts of bravery and heroism, all the while living in a male patriarchal world that in many respects thought of them as inferiors, good for little more than raising childen and stirring the lentil pot? Maybe this notion of their supposed lower status was a stereotype promoted by native traditionalists reinforced by those foreign conquerors who wished to erase the legacy of India's powerful tradition of warrior women, they who hailed from an already established male patriarchal religion among their own kind. In the 1850's a woman named Lakhshmibai, known as Rani, the queen of Jhansi, fiercely resisted the British. She trained women as well as men to fight against the oppressors. Never displaying fear or regret for her decision to take on the British empire, she clad her body fully in armor and rode into battle upon a white horse, waving her sword about her head as she urged on her troops, leading them brilliantly. Never one to stay behind, she was embroiled in the thick of hand to hand combat at the battle of Gwalior where she would finally be defeated, though slaying every one of the British soldiers who surrounded her. She was wounded by a bullet but she continued to fight fiercely. Weakened by the shot, a group of British soldiers surrounded her and stabbed at her savagely with their bayonets. The British general ordered his men to kill the Rani and bring her body back to him. Her entourage, shocked at what they saw, came to her aid and ferociously beat back the British soldiers, but they knew the battle was lost. For this reason she ordered her officers to take her from the field and perform the cremation ceremony immediately, so as to deprive the British of their prize. Lakhshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi became a popular figure and something of a legend in Victorian England where women praised this independent princess who was in many ways far more liberated than any of the ladies at the British court. Does the eternal spirit of Shakti, as manifested in the forms of Durga and Kali or the tales of brave Apsara who willingly joined the gods in their battles against the forces of evil inspire young Indian women to this day as it did for Obaava Onake and so many others? I believe Shakti does indeed maintain its hold on the hearts of India's women, as the retelling of the stories of these brave heroines are indeed such an inspiration. The destructive invasions which were intended to set Indian civilization back, despising the people and their ancient culture, attempting to eradicate the memories of a great past so that even Indians themselves might have a hard time believing in or caring about this past, were just an interlude in India's long history. These days are long gone. India miraculously survives time and again. Perhaps India is finally entering a new era that will see the younger, upcoming generation reclaim and rediscover their glorious ancient past, return to the study of her classical music, come to know themselves and divinity through the practice of yoga or the knowledge of the breath, reflect on their contributions to the world of mathematics, seek to understand the deep inner spirit and message of the epic poems for which authors and artists will create thousands of acts of beauty that will glorify those ancient women who sacrificed all for their sense of righteousness, so that India might lead the world to enlightenment and bliss, selflessly sharing the rich wealth of the realm of the spirit. Those noble and valorous women of myth and history were bound by a sense of duty and commitment which was prompted by valor and virtue all because of the eternal spirit of Shakti, that eternal female essence which permeates our world even unto our own time, and will do so indefinitely, eternally, forever...as it is written in the Rig Veda.