What are the Roles of the Female Deities in Hinduism

Rationale and Preliminary Research

The Hindu faith is one of many, such as Buddhism, that acknowledge and worship female deities. The Hindu deities have distinct and complex personalities, yet they are often viewed as aspects of the same Ultimate Reality called Brahman. It has been said that there are more than 330 million deities in Hinduism, therefore in some ways Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. However, calling Hinduism a polytheistic religion with an unknown and unnamed number of gods would be incorrect. Many Hindus view the religion as monotheistic with only one supreme being who is formless and impersonal. All other gods and goddesses are simply manifestations of Brahman. These different deities provide guidance and help with many different aspects of everyday life. The Trimurti, similar to Christianity, is seeing the gods as three different divine figures. They are Shiva (the destroyer), Vishnu (the preserver), and Brahma (the creator of all reality). Male deities are more commonly worshiped due to the patriarchal society in India. Female deities are said to be the other half of the male deities but are not as heavily worshiped. It is the object of this paper to address the question, what are the roles of the female deities in Hinduism?.

Worship of male deities more than female deities is partially due to the patriarchal society of India as well as the portrayal of the female deities’ powers. Hinduism is heavily influenced by the society as a whole, reflecting the views of the culture. Therefore, the roles that the female deities hold are a reflection on how the society views women as a whole.

For my research, I consulted papers, lectures, and interviews regarding the role of female deities and women in Hinduism. Sources consulted include the lectures from the Great Courses Lecture Series by Professor Mark W. Muesse, Rhodes College, which provide information on the roles of the Goddesses and her Devotees. It gives a view of how the female deities are perceived in the Indian culture, as well as the roles they take. To understand how female deities, impact the everyday life of a Hindu, I interviewed Mutherjee Subir. I also referenced a paper by Susan Wadley on “Women and the Hindu Tradition” that explores the degeneration of women’s treatment in Hindu history. I will also be using the Hindu law books, such as the Dharma-Sastras and the Laws of Manu to further my knowledge and understanding of the patriarchal society of India. I will see how the Indian society dictates the roles of the female deities. This will help me understand why the roles of the female deities are so different compared to the roles of male deities.

Plan for Study

What are the roles of the female deities in Hinduism?

In order to address this question, roles of women in the patriarchal society of India will be addressed in order to explain the role that female deities play in the Hindu culture. Historical background of female deities will be explored through the lectures from Professor Mark W. Muesse. They explain the basic role that female deities take in the everyday life and who the first followers were. He explains why they are given certain attributes and what they mean. Prevalent explanations for the roles that female deities have include society clashing with religion, traditional Hindu cultural values, and traditional female roles in the house and workplace. Using the works from authors, followers of Hindu, and scholars with knowledge about the female deities, an analysis of the significance of these sources’ information in relation to my research question will be explored. In the critical reflection and evaluation section, the most credible explanation or combination of explanations will be sought. If this can not be determined, this will be stated. The interview, book, and lecture will all be used to acquire information, additionally an interview will be conducted with Suchir Mukherjee for insight into the role of the female deities in the everyday life of a Hindu and the role they play in religious life, specifically worship.

Summary of Findings

The function of deities in Hinduism is to give a basis for information for everyday actions and occurrences. They also provide reasoning for creation, destruction, and protection of the world. The male deities are of greater importance due to the roles that they have. Professor Mark. W Muesse write, Female deities are referred to as the goddess because all goddesses are a manifestation of the Devi or Mahadevi (Lecturer Eleven). Female deities are given more strict and negative descriptions, due to the nature of Indian society. The earliest recorded instances of treatment of women is in the Rig Veda .Vedic society was patriarchal and emphasized the birth of a boy over that of a girl (Klostermaier 311). Nonetheless, women were educated alongside men, so they could participate in religious activities (Klostermaier 311). Women were not only granted the same religious rights as men but were also imperative for proper completion of rites and rituals (Klostermaier 312). Interestingly, men were not considered spiritually whole without a wife (Klostermaier 312). Similarities between the female deities and women can be seen through the relationship that they have with the male deities and husbands. The men are not seen as spiritually whole without a wife, that is why the deities can be seen with female counterparts, in order to inspire normal men to have a wife. This may lead men to become married in order to become like the male deities and be spiritually whole.

Although Vedic society gives women some rights, Smriti texts such as Laws of Manu show a degradation of women’s status in society . With Manu qualities Manu gave women, the correlation between women and the female deities is very clear. Susan Wadley writes about the goddess Laksmi and her ability to build and destroy homes. Many of the female deities are given destructive qualities. The worship of goddesses were and are still associated with the outbreak of epidemics in India. This gives reasoning for the cruel and destructive nature that the female deities have. Worship to the female deities become more prevalent in time of extreme epidemics because many believe that they have more power to protect.

In everyday life, female deities do not play a huge role. They are not as heavily worshiped. Suchir Mukherjee says, Male deities are more commonly worshiped due to the roles they are given and hold.

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