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Introducing goddesses as role models: A selective examination of some Sahadharmini ideals in goddesses

2.5 Complementary to one another as Ardhanaareeshwara

Advocates of the Hindu religion believe their Gods to possess both male and female elements that are integral to their origin. God is shown as 'ardhanarishvara' or 'God who is a half-woman. Interestingly there are subtle conceptual differences and sophistication when terms as gods and goddesses are used in the Hindu pantheon. It sometimes overcomes the usual male-female dichotomy where God is shown as 'ardhanarishvara'. The mother is considered a thousand times more venerable than the father. There was no restriction in the ancient Hindu society that sons must always be named after their father. Numerous heroes of Hindu tradition are frequently addressed as sons of their mothers. Generally speaking, mothers had a free hand in administering home and family affairs. Some women from the high class were not only highly educated but took an active part in intellectual discourses (Singh, 2009, pp 85).

Another reason for connecting dharmic role models for the prophet character of modern society is that there was scope for interpreting Dharma in a positive sense, and very often, it helped to provide better scope for women's emancipation and empowerment. A careful inspection of Hindu religious texts, social customs and laws make it abundantly clear that our

Dharma grants a very high status to women. She and her male partner form a pair together, or rather, the husband and wife form one whole. It is a convention rather than religion that has halted Hindu women's growth on many accounts. Though it cannot be denied that over the centuries, many vices have crept into the Hindu society, which has negatively impacted women's condition, these can only be altered through internal reforms. Evil customs such as dowry, female infanticide /sex-selective abortions, child marriage etc., are not only regressive but also criticise the Hindu religion and culture. It becomes the duty of the Hindu husband to treat his better half on equal footing. Indian women also desire little respect and just treatment at the hands of the society that they are very much a part of it (ibid, pp 90).

Ardhanaareeshwara, is the union of Shiva and Shakti in one body. And the form denotes, male and female principles work together as equal partners in the universe. In the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses, every God has a goddess. Other instances reiterate that already has mentioned the status of woman as Sahadharmini in ancient India; women occupied a vital position. The concept of Ardhanaareeshwara, where God is depicted as half-man and half-woman, is a concrete example to support the view that how men and woman are complementary to one another this argument. And, one can find a comparable Goddess for each God. In many philosophical versions, God is referred to as Tat, meaning 'It', which means that God is beyond gender.

The notion of Prakriti and Purusha is one of the most significant aspects of Hindu philosophy. This has been a matter of dialogue from time ancient, what with different schools of philosophical thought, understanding it in different ways if we analyse the concept on this Prakriti and Purusha phenomenon, and defining its origins and reality right from Indian mythology to how it is still very much valid in the present-day world.

Indian mythology is probably the most all-encompassing in the world. The reason being, several beliefs of Hindu philosophy are explained by means of modest, interesting and educative mythical stories. These stories sometimes even explain high philosophical and ethical principles by the approach of representation. However, a mythological story may sound modest at first glimpse, but a deeper level of those analyses reveals the true wealth of philosophical content it has to offer by those. Corresponding to everything else, Indian mythology explains this very perplexing concept of Prakriti and Purusha. And makes us understand in the humblest way, and along with that contributions are there also by way of

tales and stories of yore. We now examine one of the most oft-repeated stories of Lord Ardhanarishvara and find out how this complicated Prakriti-Purusha concept is explained by way of mythology. The Ardhanarishvara, which signifies that Prakriti and Purusha in complete harmony. The conception of Ardhanarishvara pre-eminently illuminates the aspects of Prakriti and Purusha and male-female as complementary to one another. Ardhanarishvara, the Neutral One, is an aspect of Lord Shiva, whose representation is half man and half woman. The image embodies a transgender entity. It portrays how the female principle of Goddess Shakti is inseparable from the male principle of Lord Shiva. The Shaktas (devotees of Shakti Goddess) and the Shaivas (devotees of Shiva) of the Tantra school of thought both believes in the Divine Union of Shakti with Shiva as the Ultimate Reality. The neutral form of the Ardhanarishvara represents this concept of Oneness or wholeness. It is that which goes far beyond all perceptions of duality and from whose womb all existence began. The Ardha-Nari, which literally means

‘half woman, is considered in Indian mythology to be the Soul of the World. All the creation starts from Him, life is created from Him, and death is considered as a reoccurrence back to His Kingdom, only to appear yet again arrayed in another entity.

Hence, there is no perishing of any being; it is all only a part of a much larger procedure of the cycle of life itself. The Shaktas consider the Shakti (Goddess) as the main source of all creation. So they contemplate Goddess Ardhanarishvari to be the Supreme Creator, who divided Her own body into half man and half woman. The Ultimate One should be female, as it is the female species that gives birth to all being. They also believe that this Supreme Goddess is at the centre of all creative processes in this world. The Shaktas depicts the Goddess producing Shiva from Her own form, thereby balancing her own feminine qualities with masculine ones. Philosophers agree that it is not much significance debating if God is masculine or feminine and meet up to the common point that the inner meaning of the form of the Ardhanarishvara. God is essentially energy that activates all being, and all else associated with that icon are mere symbolism and nothing more. In an article written by Saipriya Viswanathan (2008), Ardhanarishvara - the Dual Nature of the Cosmos, that it is to be understood here that the concept of Ardhanarishvara is not merely a combination of the male and female genders. Infect it, in reality, exists in order to educate the Sadhak about nonduality between male and female. And moreover teaches to break free from the malicious cycles of base human emotions, biases and other common idiocies and eccentricities.

The Rig Veda put forwarded a beautiful explanation for this concept of Ardhanarishvara.

It says that in Aadikaala, that is during the very beginning, there was only One and Unique non-manifest supremacy. This power existed without breath, without emotion and without thought, and there was nothing beyond the One. Without its proper knowledge, there only darkness and inconscience ruled. Then the Universal Supremacy created its own energy, and it leads to rise to the Supreme One, who then gave rise to the whole with a mere thought by springing from its Mind. And this One Being felt the desire to grow numerous. This is where the phrase ‘Ekoham Bahusyami', comes to be. This means, ‘That which I only am, shall manifest as many’. This was the desire of the Power to emanate forth in the form of Shakti, creating a multitude, and also to emanate as Shiva, to witness that multitude in action.

Male and female are the two completely opposite, yet complementary, forces of Shakti and Shiva as Prakriti and Purusha, respectively. Here, Shiva is the Transcendent One, the Sat- chit-ananda, who merely observes and is unmoved by events occurring in creation. Shakti, on the other hand, does not depend on him to perform her functions, but she needs his power to sustain and maintain her creation. So though Shakti is not co-existent with the Purusha, that is, Shiva, she requires his presence to keep the cosmos functioning smoothly. Shiva, though he wields unlimited power, cannot create the universe without the Eternal Life Force of Shakti to back him. Therefore, the concept of Ardhanarishvara clearly conveys the fact that Prakriti (Shakti) and Purusha (Shiva) are nought without each other, and one cannot exist and function in the absence of the other. It also shows that the male is as much female as the female is male.

This means that masculinity and femininity are merely attributes working to create the entire bigger picture of the world.