A brief thought on Dravidian matriarchal spirituality

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A recent article I read on institutionalized transphobia in India sparked a little thought journey for me around gender identity and indigenous spiritualities.

Specifically it led me to realize how little we know of the inherent gender egalitarianism and fluidity in Dravidian and other indigenous spiritualities of the subcontinent (and by “we” I mean those of us utilizing neocolonial, Eurocentric, patriarchal norms of understanding sexuality and gender).

Probably this is because these matriarchal spiritualities only exist in corrupted forms in India and South Asia now (albeit having sizeable influence still) – having been brutalized by many centuries of Aryan patriarchy, caste-based Manuwadi Hinduism, and misogynistic Abrahamic religious dogma. This has resulted in a multi-generational, multi-millennia erasure and subversion of these indigenous, Dravidian, feminist spiritual practices and norms…norms rooted in Dravidian matriarchy and liberated, fiery goddesses (who would normally kick the ever loving shit out of any fair skinned male god, bearded or otherwise).

In India and South Asia as a whole (not to mention parts of East Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Mediterranean while we’re at it), I do believe if we go back far enough we will realize a time when we all were part of matriarchal societies that worshiped various versions of the divine feminine as well as the earth and non-human souls – and those times could well give us templates to engage with in order to reject current patriarchal religions (all of the major ones today across earth) and the oppressive social, political, and economic ways of thinking and living that these religions spawn.

Currently I’m particularly interested in South Asian Dravidian matriarchal spirituality because it’s personally very dear to me. And it’s not as much of a stretch as one might imagine to reach back in time to understanding these matriarchal spiritual roots. A brief exploration of Giti Thadani’s Moebius Trip reveals a stunningly beautiful glimpse into past societies in the South Asian lands, mostly Dravidian-rooted societies, even going as far back as the Indus Valley/Harappan Civilization (which many now consider to be a proto-Dravidian civilization) where the divine feminine, as well as matriarchal and/or matrifocal or at the very least gender-egalitarian and/or gender just norms prevailed.

Of course, ever since the invasion of Aryan patriarchy – the foundation for the current misogynistic, Manuwadi caste-based Hinduism – and the strong global influence of the major Abrahamic patriarchal religions, the older matriarchal forms of spirituality have been marginalized, subsumed, and heavily corrupted by the major patriarchal and misogynistic spiritual forces of today.

But the great spiritual matriarchs still live on – in the subcontinent and across the earth. Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati are still prominent goddesses across India and especially in the South and East but with major influence in the North as well. In many regional societies and cultures, again especially in the South and East as far as I can tell, goddesses like Mariamman, Yellamma, Periyachee and many others provide spiritual foundations for countless people.

No doubt, many of these practices are steeped in regressive traditions, but I’m sure that as we slowly move towards genuine matriarchal societies, the more oppressive practices will be whittled away – and these goddesses can help subvert the multi-generational patriarchal narratives from within the heart and soul.

For I do strongly believe that it’s not much of a stretch of imagination to refashion our matriarchal roots for the modern era, an era where we dismantle (occasionally with fire) the dominant patriarchal social, economic, political, cultural and – perhaps most crucially – spiritual frameworks of today.

Referenced texts (and recommended readings):

Thadani, G. (2007[2003]). Moebius Trip: Digressions from India’s Highways. Spinefex Press.

Harris, R. (2007). “Aryan Patriarchy and Dravidian Matriarchy” in Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything. Link (accessed on June 5, 2016): http://www.integralworld.net/harris32.html

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