Tapestry of Women in Indian Mythology: Poems

Reviewed by Anita Nahal

Tapestry of Women in Indian Mythology: Poems
Edited by Meenakshi Mohan
Foreword: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Hawakal
ISBN: 978-93-91431-70-9
Year: 2022
Price: $ 21.99 and ₹ 650.00 INR

With great interest I received my copy of Dr. Meenakshi Mohan’s edited anthology of poems on women in Indian mythology. Dr. Meenakshi Mohan is an educationist, writer, artist, and editor. She has several children’s books and edited anthologies to her credit, this latest being her solo edited one which is a lovely product from cover to cover. The soft, kind of sage green color with an eye-catching, powerful design by Bitan Chakraborty pulls the readers in, beckoning us to spend time leisurely, to read about Hindu goddesses and queen warriors, their consorts, their children, their friends, their enemies, their strengths, their wisdom, their anger, their grace, their justice, their stubbornness, and their compromise through their distinctive stories. Stories of women across centuries, “…the saga of their joy, pride, humility, struggle, tenacity, and persistence.”

Meenakshi Mohan
Readers will find a thoughtful, well research introduction by Dr. Meenakshi Mohan. Her own personal account of growing up in a family of educationists from whom she learned about Hindu epics is laudable. Mohan’s central premise is that “…feminism is not a new phenomenon.” in the Indian context (Mohan xiii). That is quite so. While theorists and historians document an organized women’s movement in India from the mid 19 century as a response to British colonialism via the social religious reform organizations that dotted the Indian social-cultural milieu, women have been an integral piece of the larger cultural puzzle since centuries, and on a celestial level as well through the enigmatic, powerful women in Indian mythology. The poems in this voluminous 315-page book surely reveal the feminist life trajectories of the poets’ favorite women from Hindu epics and history. It’s fascinating to go through creative expressions on well-known goddesses and not so well-known ones. This book should be very educative not simply for poetic outpourings but also for highlighting the feminist discourse within a marked patriarchal framework. We therefore, find on and in the pages of this enticing anthology, Durga, Kali, Parvati, Sita, Draupadi, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Radha, Ahilya, Ambika, Mandodari, Padmavati, Arundati, Maitreyi, Urmila, Gandhari and myriad other goddesses, historical figures from Hinduism and Buddhism reflecting, advising, taking stands, making independent decisions without societal or  male  support, and being highly effective in their chosen destiny, perhaps making new legends and laying the scripts of fresh myths!

Anita Nahal
As a woman from India, I have found it extremely difficult to swallow how Hinduism has so many female gods, those that are prayed to not only by women, but also by men, yet in daily lives, those very men could be committing heinous crimes against women. I hope this book will hit home the resilience, the power, the empathy, the love and care, and the rejection of the male authority, if need be, that women in Indian mythology have shown. Their lives have certainly mentored many of us, providing invaluable learning lessons, and many decisions in our own lives have come from the mettle and actions of women in mythology.

Devdutt Pattanaik, a well-recognized Indian mythologist provides a succinct, intriguing, thought-provoking foreword to the book. He questions the validations of known tales. Like Socrates, he poses challenging queries propelling us to ponder.  He also, quite like historians, stresses upon the subjective selection of historical facts/narratives, “What stories are selected, or ignored, and how they are retold, is invariably an outcome of what storytellers want to convey…” (Pattanaik 1). Famous British historian, E.H. Carr in his fabulously, intently, mysterious book, What is History  alludes precisely to the lack of objectivity in narrativizing historical events. He allocates reason for choosing certain facts, or not, in relating a story, or not, to personal choices of historians. In turn the expressed meanings and implications can become twice removed to readers. Therefore, the way I perceive Sita, Draupadi or Durga, Kali or any of the other goddesses will be defined and predisposed by my own life’s happenstances. The way I relate to a particular goddess/historical figure is intrinsically dependent on the events of my own life, of the life of others around me, and of the lives of those I don’t know, yet see on televison or in the movies, or in the news.  Imagine the layers of interpretations that are churning around in our minds and hearts. The prevalence of that diversity, as well as polarity, in the poems in this anthology is amazingly refreshing and captivating. As the wheels of the readers’ start squeaking and running, I’m sure their own thoughts and feelings and their own lives are going to be added to the mix to produce myriad elucidations.  Such a process can keep the literary relevance of a book alive.

I congratulate all the poets in this book, and I congratulate Dr. Mohan for bringing out an anthology on this valuable aspect of Indian mythology. I also congratulate Hawakal publishers, and Kirti Sengupta for investing in such a remarkable topic which can awaken minds and hearts, and perhaps set the foundations for societal and cultural change on the way women are perceived and treated.

Bio: Anita Nahal is a Pushcart Prize-nominated Indian American author and professor. She has four books of poetry, one of flash fictions, four for children and four edited anthologies to her credit. Her third book of poetry, What’s wrong with us Kali women? (Kelsay Books, 2021) was nominated by Cyril Dabydeen, celebrated Guyanese Indian Canadian, Ottawa poet laureate emeritus and novelist as the best poetry book, 2021 for, Ars Notoria. It’s also been prescribed as mandatory reading in an elective course on Multicultural Society at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Anita teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal

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