THE GODDESS AND THE SLAVE: The Fakir, the Mother and Maldevelopment

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Item Code: IDF732
Author: Rudrani Fakir
Publisher: Indica Books, Varanasi
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 818656957X
Pages: 533
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
Weight 660 gm
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Book Description

About the Book:

The reality of modernization and globalization has production rapid and major changes on the physical and mental landscapes of everyone-often, those most affected see the most deleterious effects. The goddess and the Slave stands amidst such a people informed by their age-old wisdoms and examines the reality of these changes from this grass-roots perspective.

Drawing upon the rich inter connected levels of meaning within the Fakir Culture especially with respect to the living, breathing paradigmatic Mother- as Nature, as the Goddess to be worshipped and as the mother whose service is her identity- The goddess and the slave demonstrates the crisis faced by the unique Baul- Fakir sadhana by the non-urban Bengali and by Indian society itself. Standing within the Fakir knowledge paradigm, it examines the effects of development and modernization of changing identities and realities of the distortion caused by new needs and attitudes infused into traditional lifestyles and social structures, Rudrani Fakir as an anthropologist and as a practitioner uses the Fakir shadhona as a critical tool of understanding and thereby gives an informed voice to a rich culture within a society in the throes of transition presenting this objective study through her highly engaged subjective perspective. The result is a cohesive insight into the paradoxical roles of the Mother and thereby into our societies and environments.

The first part of this book outlines the fakir society and esoteric shadhona and describes the reception of diverse modern influences into the lives and practices of Fakir men and women. The second part delves into the decline and decay of the reality of Goddess the changing status of women and of he true nature of wealth and draws together the threads of the old knowledge paradigms-esoteric and modern, spoken and wordless, powerless and empowered. Finally it offers heuristic paradigms in the form of the Goddess herself for a different type of thought wherein the lethal results of fragmented discourse make way for a fruitful engagement- a utopia of realism of humanity both of and within nature.

About the Author:

She born in Ottawa, Canada in 1955 studied Medical Anthropology at the Bobigny School of Medicine and received her Ph D in Social and Cultural Anthropology on intersecting economic-religious problems of gender in rural Bengal . Before engaging herself in a decade of fieldwork in rural Bengal and Bangladesh she worked as a UN interpreter as well as a consultant for local development missions with the OECD. She has also been professionally active as a musician as well as with the promotion of early musical traditions in Europe. Her previous publications include Fakir, la quete dun Baul musulman.


This exploration belongs broadly to anthropology, especially as its inspiration is the Indian anthropos called manush, 'human being', by the Fakir. But it is a multi-faceted and dialectic journey, grappling with the complex mix of 'tradition' and 'modernity' in contemporary indianiry, It is especially informed by the esoteric-philosophical materialism of a grassroots oral culture that juggles the lofty and the down-to-earth in its meanings of humanity, Nature, life and salvation. From a grassroots perspective, it addresses some concerns of a globalised world, by giving voice to the Feminine, the feminine and grassroots culture; the exclusion of these from recognised knowledge, power and agency, goes hand in hand with their poverty, real and representational, and this book claims that they, including the Goddess, have plenty to say that is of urgent relevance today. All of this is broadly about 'gender' - for both genders. The starting point is a Bengali salvation path, its principles, its practices, and crucially its gender dimensions - all of this connected with its broader context. The Fakir belong to a sizeable movement now generically called Bau!. The Baul, strictly speaking, are a rather 'Hindu' salvation-oriented group, more particularly 'vaishnava' (worshipping Vishnu, and specifically the Radha-Krishna divine couple), and have. been researched by Bengali and non-Bengali academics, largely through the subject-matter of their songs. I The West has not been attracted to the Fakir,' or 'Muslim' Baul, as it has to the vaishnava Baul, who have been popular in world-music and for 'new-age tantra'. The deepest work on the Fakir (of West Bengal) is in Bengali, by S.Jha, to whom I am much indebted. My contribution, in trying to fill something of the gap in knowledge about the Fakir in non-Bengali research, is based on my work on both sides of the border, and I do this without focusing on 'oral/religious literature' where Bengali salvation heterodoxy is best represented in the West. Baul and Fakir texts are largely impenetrable without complex study of the path and the life of these people. In addition, these groups have a deep connection with Bengali history, and have been, through Rabindranath Tagore in particular, a major element in the formation of Bengali national identity. In sum, my concern has been with people in their space and time, with the intertwining material and spiritual culture, and perforce with its disintegration under present- day conditions.

In dealing with gender at multiple levels, and in the grassroots, this book illustrates what is claimed by some gender studies, but is insuffi- ciently recognised in the very universe of indianity that proves it to be so true: gender is everywhere in human activities, in intertwined 'nature' and 'culture', and it has much to do with South Asian 'modernity' as very problematic. Here, the esoteric wisdom of the Fakir can give this claim even deeper complexity than that found in modern gender con- cerns. The female side of Bengali salvation movements is blatantly under- represented in both Fakir/Baul and scholarly discourse - strikingly so, considering the vigorous and unanimous assertion of the central place of women for the path, and considering more generally the growing importance of gender issues. The under-representation has to do with the fact that most researchers have been men, mostly informed by men, and with the fact that the 'field' itself is difficult for women. It also has to do with the fact of 'the Goddess' herself, so great as to be self-obscuring. The resulting cognitive gap is damaging," for the Baul/Fakir community itself, and for the research dealing with it - and the same cognitive gap is also, more broadly, found in the self-knowledge of Bengal and indianity in relation to the deeply gendered nature of their own culture and spirituality. The gap equally coincides with the fact that by now 'folk' culture and 'high' culture are mutual strangers in indianiry, It might even be argued that something of that gap is found, mutatis mutandis, in all cultures where the Mother-figure and Nature are not doing well, where meanings of 'humanity' are in crisis ...

My anthropology has an inevitably heuristic flavour. Indeed, it has to combine a variety of 'ways of knowing' in order to 'hear' the consi- derable messages of female 'silence' in contemporary grassroots culture, to compensate for the absence of explicit women's lineages and for women's invisibility in the literature (including that on other paths, tantric Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim). This would not have been possible if I had not become an initiate.

Relative to the existing body of scholarship on Bengali heterodoxy, suffice it to say that my positioning differs from that of previous authors, as it combines, in a nutshell, perspectives from within gender on the salvation path, from within initiation, and from within the academically- trained mind. This rather demanding combination, for which I found no precedent in the specialised, or other, literature, has caused me to labour very much on my own, and to take risks possibly unsavoury for a scholarly readership, risks imposed by a subject exceeding the cognitive boundaries of academic modernity. Such positioning has some affinity with the works of R. Svoboda (on ayurveda, astrology and tantric real- isation), whose intimate cognitive blending of 'East and West', in combined initiate knowledge and intellectual discipline, affords autho- ritativeness overtly affiliated more with wisdom than with academic preoccupations. In this respect, I attempt more of a dialogue between wisdom-knowledge and scholarship, and as regards 'authoritativeness' my positioning is perforce humbler since, unlike Svoboda, my wisdom sources belong in the more 'silent' realm of grassrootrs culture and of gender.

On Bengali heterodoxy, this book does require situating relative to one other author, with clarifications that are useful introductory points. There are considerable similarities between that author and myself (inter alia as female Western intellectuals involved in long-term deep relations with their Baul/Fakir fields) and no less considerable differences (in respective locations, times of involvement, cognitive challenges, methods and strategies). Interestingly, these two authors did not interact in their respective 'seeking' - indeed I add this reference at the last minute, for J. Openshaw's Seeking Bauls of Bengal (2004) came into my hands after I had handed over my manuscript for publication. The fact that we have not influenced each other is not insignificant, in view of fundamental points of convergence. Openshaw's work stands out from the male- dominated literature on the Baul by its exquisite sensitivity, served by meticulous scholarship, that afford glimpses into the realm of Baullove and women totally missed by other authors, and rigorously de-essential- ises the figure of 'the Baul'. Yet hers is not a 'gender' approach, that might have worked from within the contradictions of female humanity of which she is not unaware, neither is it from within initiate status, although she is clear about her ability to 'trade' with initiates in esoteric discourse. Unlike this approach that preserves a combination of insider empathy and of scholarliness, my sort of engagement has not allowed me to remain primarily a scholar. I share the feature of Openshaw's de- essentialising pursuit, that makes her less concerned with exegesis of Baul oral literature than with the broader discourse, including discourse on initiate praxis, informing that literature, but my central gender concern pushed me yet further beneath the discursive level. Whilst Openshaw's impeccable blend of sensitivity and scholarship may remain somewhat impenetrable to a reader not already conversant with Baul, tantric, and grass roots issues, I may be blamed for departing from academic caution. Readers of both books may be baffled by apparently contradictory information and statements (due to the sheer diversity of people and paths within the Baul mentality, allowing similar diversity in its resear- chers), beneath which I, for one, am deeply moved by far more essential points of convergence. These points are explored by me more 'aggressively', from a variety of angles.

The convergence is that notions of 'individualism', 'humanism', 'feminism', 'radicalism' do not originate solely in Western modernity, are not universally applicable in their Western form, and that their possibly richer and more empowering contents are particularly exemplified in poor Bengali people's heterodoxy; concomitantly, that such heterodoxy is not merely reactive 'resistance' or 'opposition' of 'subaltern' categories to dominant power-structures, but rather that its very humanity is, on its own terms, more pro-actively universal and encompassing. These crucial realisations compelled me into explorations well beyond monographic treatment of Bengali heterodoxy per se - into dimensions of 'development' and 'poverty' that have everything to do with the dangerously imbalanced dialectics of , modern' versus 'other' meanings of , being human'. This, and my positioning, produce the major difference between Openshaw's and my treatment of our shared fin- dings: I explore a nature-culture of the Feminine, the Goddess, the Mother, Nature - figures not salient in Openshaw's vision of women of the Baul world as 'ordinary', 'unidealised' and far removed from the traditional goddess. Her field-work, in the 1980s, allowed her to encounter women who had real agency, possibly obscuring the existence of the many others who were, or would become, powerless in the 1990s, the time of my field-work that coincided with the full unleashing of 'development' -related 'poverty' under globalisation. Roughly summarised, Openshaw found women who were human, I found a majority who were reduced to less-than-humanity. Openshaw does say, without much further elaboration, that the Baul universe is far less clear about female than about male humanity - this gap has been my core challenge. It compelled me to accept the reality of the Goddess in women, and to see in her the full complexity denied her by modern mind-sets. In this sense, I have had to overcome the secularist modern mind's reticence about 'religion' and 'divinity', to know these to be, in grassroots indianiry, part and parcel of humanity - precisely the stuff of Bengali heterodoxy's indissociable spirituality-and-materiality that is truly embodied, humbly and loftily, very far from the agendas of official 'religions' that are, in a Baul sense, less than fully religious.

  Acknowledgements 7
  Preamble: Wanting blood 9
  Introduction 13
Chapter 1 Porous humanity- divine, human , sub-human, gendered variations 25-64
Chapter 2 Women, villages, Bengal 68-112
Chapter 3 Historic and religious dimensions of a path of anhistoric orality 117-143
Chapter 4 Chadhona, the path to realize Manush 149-222
Chapter 5 Words and silences- Ma and Manush 228
Chapter 6 The gender of human perfectibility 284-304
Chapter 7 Maldevelopment, against the Mother-Goddess 310-345
Chapter 8 Poverty 349-407
Chapter 9 The Mother's knowledge and wisdom 409-426
Chapter 10 The Goddess- old total Fact and heuristics for a renewed paradigm 433-501
  Epilogue 505
  Annexe: Pesticides, profile and death 509
  Glossary 513
  Bibliography 519

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