Tapestry of Women in Indian Mythology: Book Launch in DC South Asian Literary Festival 2023

Lopa Banerjee

Lopamudra Banerjee

“Indian mythology has fascinated me for such a long time, and when I started doing my research on the subject, I questioned myself, how come there are so many men characters represented in Indian mythology and not many women characters?”

Thus spoke Dr. Meenakshi Mohan, author, poet, educator and editor of the anthology ‘Tapestry of Women in Indian Mythology’ (Hawakal Publishers, 2022), while recounting her journey with the book in the august company of fellow writers and poets, as she addressed the audience at an in-person launch of the stellar anthology at the 3rd Annual DC South Asian Literary Festival on May 6, 2023.

Tapestry of Women in Indian Mythology
With her quest to fill in the gaps regarding the place and role of women in myths, epics and scriptures of the Indian subcontinent, mostly defined and shaped by the culture of patriarchal predominance, Dr. Mohan embarked on an inspiring journey and mission to curate and edit this momentous anthology of poetry. In a heart-to-heart session moderated by renowned author and poet Gopal Lahiri from Kolkata, India, she described and elaborated on how in this collection, seventy poets across the globe came together to write verses celebrating the voices of such phenomenal women characters who are integral to the various facets of Indian mythology, and the two main epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. With renowned poet and author Gopal Lahiri presiding the event as the moderator of the session, and with her co-panelists Ms. Manju Gupta and Ms. Lopamudra Banerjee, both contributing poets in the anthology, Dr. Mohan presented in a very lucid, eloquent style her ethos and vision surrounding the empowering role of women in the epics and scriptures, especially her vision regarding women characters who have been marginalized and under-represented in the periphery of Indian mythology. 
“There is no denying that the woman enables the flow of life and the never-ending streams of creation in every civilization.” She writes in her preface to the collection, and also with her own cultural understanding of the subject, she emphasizes on the fact that feminism is not a new phenomenon, but “as old as the prehistoric, ancient times.”

In the Q & A session with poet Gopal Lahiri before the formal launch of the anthology in DC South Asian Literary Festival, Dr. Mohan reiterated this fascinating ancient concept of feminism in Indian mythology and how her reading of powerful authors like Devdutt Pattanaik and M.L. Ahuja had shaped her consciousness regarding the mythological characters and their representation in Indian literature. Devdutt Pattanaik, whose contribution she specially acknowledged as the foreword writer of the book, encompassed the journeys of quite a few women in Indian mythology whose sagas were either marginalized or narrated to suit the general construct of the Indian patriarchal society. In sync with his thoughts, Dr. Mohan spoke about the relevance of the emotional truths, the spiritual journeys, and the quests that such powerful women characters undertook, which had been sidelined from the mainstream Vedic scriptures and marginalized in epics written by men, all of which came together in the poems constituting this anthology.

“How many of you know about Shanta Devi, Raja Dashrath’s only daughter in the epic Ramayana? Did you know that if she weren’t there, Ramayana won’t exist at all?” She asked the audience members during the book launch event, which was quite a revelation in itself. Dr. Mohan obviously refers to her poem titled ‘Shanta Devi’ in which she illustrates the exceptionally powerful character of Shanta Devi: 
    “It was because of her sacrificial devotion and offerings to Gods
     you were blessed with four sons.”

She addressed the sociological questions that accompany the marginalization of such women characters integral to the idea of the epic through her voice in the poem and also in the unique way in which she defined the theme of the book. The contributing authors and poets in the collection, including Neelam Saxena Chandra, Dr. Sunil Sharma, Dr. Seema Jain, Ipsita Ganguly whose poetry readings were featured in a video presentation before the panel discussion, corroborated the thoughts and the vision upheld by Dr. Mohan. Their poems represented their collective consciousness in the diverse ways in which they all addressed the quintessential role that women like Draupadi, Sita, Urmila, Gandhari et al play in decoding the prevalent themes of women’s subjugation in Indian mythological texts.

Anurag Sharma at the dinner party
of DC South Asian Lit Fest
In the panel discussion that followed after the Q & A session, there was also a relevant discourse on the representation of women in the Hindu culture in India, where the Woman is represented as the Goddess on one hand, while on the other hand, the social construct of woman in our patriarchal society determines how she has evolved over the ages in our scriptures, myths and popular culture.

Co-panelist Lopamudra Banerjee in her talk, emphasized on the role of poets/writers in seeing womanhood as a power of elemental nature. ‘How do we see women as creative, fluid entities who are capable of breaking the shackles of patriarchy, to reclaim their own universe? The answers lie in this very depiction of women in Indian mythology. The poem ‘Chitrangada’ in the collection revolves around the age-old construct of femininity and how the character of Chitrangada challenges that very construct and carves a niche for herself through her feminine consciousness, her self-exploration, regaining her self-identity.’ She said.

Co-panelist Manju Gupta emphasized on the unusual roles and perspectives of minor women characters like Gandhari in the epic Mahabharata, and her talk on the subject was also a beautiful eye-opener. In her poem titled ‘Gandhari: The Ideal Wife,’ she unfolded the narrative around princess Gandhari’s marriage to the blind Dhritrashtra, and the consequences that followed after years of her willful decision to blindfold herself to be the ideal wife of her husband. Her reading of the poem added to the collective consciousness of the poets regarding the voices of women in the mythological texts and adds a unique dimension to the discourse.

With Geeta Singh and Manoj Singh
The launch of the anthology in the DC South Asian Literary Festival in the Writer’s Center, Bethesda, MD was conducted in an innovative, interactive way for the audience by Dr. Mohan, the fellow panelists and Gopal Lahiri, the moderator of the program. As a significant forum for propagating South Asian literature in the American continent, South Asian Literary Festival has made its mark with its congregation of important, meaningful voices in the Indian literary firmament, and the launch of this book in such a forum will surely be remembered as a memorable milestone.

The book launch was followed by a dinner party and a ‘mehfil’ (soiree) of poetry recitations in English, Hindi and Urdu at Dr. Mohan’s residence on May 6th evening, attended by many stalwart poets and artists who were part of the literary festival. In the august company of such talented souls, the truth of these lines by Aristotle shone in their eternal splendor: “Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.” Long live the fine nuances of poetry and its true connoisseurs!

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