Rising Daughter, Silent Mother and Fading Grandmothers narrates the organic research journey of Rekha Govindan Kurup (the author) as a modem-day City-bred daughter of Kerala, India wanting to redefine, reclaim and re-infom her relationship with body and sexuality through the discovery and investigation of Matrilineal Nayar practices.
Rekha did not grow up in a traditional Nayar matrilocal joint family, but instead she lived with her father, mother, and sibling in a nuclear home like many women of her generation. Her mother too, did not grow up in a matrilineal family. However, most of her grandmother's generation was born in matrilineal Kerala and grew up in a matrilocal and matrifocal system. In conversation with her mother and grandmothers, Rekha makes a sincere effort to reconnect with the matrilineal past of Kerala, its history, the lived experience of women within that system, and most importantly, the female-centered rituals practiced within the system that empowered the fruitful blossoming of a young girl into an adult woman.
Through her narration, it becomes apparent that in the last century, Kerala made the shift from a sexually open socially safe mother-centered joint-family matrilineal life to a sexually uptight socially unsafe father-centered patrilineal nuclear family culture. In the backdrop of rising violence towards women, her research forces the reader to ask some relevant questions.
Could the matrilineal past of Kerala have some unexplored answers for the younger generation of men and women around the world?
Could the stories of mothers and grandmothers from yesteryears collectively guide us towards building a better and safe world for our daughters?
Rekha Govindan Kurup is a freelance writer, poet, artist, blogger, social media activist and sees herself as a modern-day feminist yogini.
Rekha is a native of Kannur, Kerala (India). She grew up across the different states of India. Following her marriage, she went to United States where she has been living for the last 14 years, At the peak of her decade long career in IT, she gave up her Silicon Valley job to engage in service activities. She served as the West Coast director for the Youth Development Initiative of the International Association for Human Values.
Life took an unexpected turn when her deep longing to understand and embody the feminine led her to the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP; now known as Sofia University) in Palo Alto, California, where she got M.A in Women's Spirituality. Over the last few years, Rekha has passionately engaged in reconnecting with her feminine purpose through various academic, spiritual and social engagements including visiting the ancient pre-historic goddess temples of Malta, driving alone across five states of United States to attend the 11th council of the thirteen indigenous grandmothers in Montana, hosting Attukal Pongala at ITP for 2 consecutive years, participating in Eve Ensler's VM initiatives, leading Women's Circles and workshops, etc. Recently she has returned to India to further her research work. She is also in the process of establishing a foundation to educate, empower and engage women and girls to embody the sacred feminine in their daily lives through the discovery and investigation of indigenous matrilineal feminine practices. Her upbringing in India in the eastern philosophy combined with her life in United States gives her the ability to bring a unique perspective to contain, assimilate and research cross-cultural differences and commonalities.
Currently she is resident in Bangalore, India. As the Advisory Board Director for Udne Ki Asha, a non-profit trust, Rekha leads inspirational talks, leadership and creative expression workshops for youth and women. A practitioner of yoga, meditation and breathing practices, Rekha is also an instructor of the Art of Living Foundation. She teaches courses within India and internationally for youth and adults.
During the last two decades there have been a number of US feminist scholars in the fields of religious studies, anthropology and women's spirituality who came to India to study women and their spiritual practices, particularly those centered on the Goddess. No matter how sensitive and thoughtful their work, most of these women came as outsiders to the cultures they were studying. Thankfully, this is changing and there are a growing number of India women, such as Rekha Kurup, who are examining their own spiritual culture and history using a feminist and post-colonial lens.
During similar time frame, a field of matriarchal studies developed, beginning in Europe and spreading around the globe as women researched historical and extant matrilineal and matrifocal cultures and this work which documents a fast fading history of the lived experience in Nayar Taravad three quarters of a century ago is an important contribution to this field.
In the literary tradition of articulate and passionate Malayali women who have gone before her, Rekha Kurup's work bravely and honestly illustrates the psycho-spiritual development of a contemporary Indian woman during her exploration of her family history and her subsequent reclamation of her matrilineal heritage. This work, originally her Master's Thesis in Women's Spirituality, explores three generations of Malayali women all of whom have lived in the midst of extreme social change from her grandmothers who lived in a world where the traditional female centered matrilineages were being dissolved and replaced by patriarchal nuclear families, to her mother who raised her family in the pan-Indian military culture outside Kerala, and finally to Rekha, who trained as an engineer and became a NRI living in silicon before returning to her roots. Her work is a gift to woman and men who to examine and resist the patriarchal norms which discount and devalue the female and which are the sources of violence which is rising in a globalized, sexualized, capitalistic economy.
For me, personally, Rekha has been a great gift from the Goddess and I know her work will move, educate, and inspire others.
This research study explores my journey as a modern-day city-bred daughter to redefine, reclaim and re-inform my female sexuality by reconnecting with the matrilineal lived experience of two earlier generations of indigenous women-my mother and three grandmothers from my near and extended Nayar family living in the North Malabar Kannur district of Kerala. As a daughter, this study gave me the freedom to engage in questions I would otherwise never have explored with my mother and grandmothers. As a researcher, it gave me the opportunity to intellectually explore the written works of various anthropologists, historians and philosophers on the Nayar community. Using the qualitative research methodology of organic inquiry, I engaged in conversations with my mother and three grandmothers on female sexuality and the various factors that influenced the forming of their relationship to their bodies as each of these women blossomed from a young girl into an adult woman.
This study is deeply influenced by my own perception that is daughter- centered, mother-centered, woman-centered, and Nayar-centered. I see myself as the Rising Daughter of my matrilineage called upon to stand tall- holding the unsaid Silent whispers of my Mother on one hand and the fruit- bearing wisdom of my Fading Grandmothers on the other hand. I see this study as my first step into reclaiming my indigenous Nayar roots. Personally, I hope this study inspires daughters from my immediate and extended maternal and paternal families to explore and reclaim their connections with indigenous Nayar female-centered rituals, and stand up tall in their bodies and sexuality. On a broader scale, I sincerely hope that this study inspires daughters like me everywhere to re-define, re-engage, and re-claim not just their own stories but also, those of their mothers and grandmothers. I have consciously narrated my story as I felt, saw and experienced it. I have also shared resources in the form of books, practices and rituals.
Throughout my life, my relationship with my body and sexuality has been in state of constant flux. I often found myself navigating the ups and downs of this relationship by myself. In fact, the western and so-called civilized cultural influences in my life through education, media, and literature led me to believe that my indigenous earth-based rituals are primitive, uncivilized and backward and this further alienated me from my indigenous culture that celebrated menstrual blood, feminine body, and her erotic sexuality (de Tourreil, 1995, 2009; Gough, 1952, 1955, 1961, 1965; Grahn, 1999; Jayakar, 1990; Jenett, 1999; Moore, 1988; Neff, 1995). This journey made me question everything-gender perceptions, cultural and social conditioning around gender, the "do"s and "don't"s of a feminine identity, the age-old dogmas defining womanhood, the shame, disgust and silence surrounding body and sexuality, and most importantly the direct and indirect influences of mother-centered and father-centered civilizations in defining a woman's relationship with her body and sexuality. I transformed my attitude from having complete disregard for my body and sexuality to revering and honoring them. This research study is my conscious effort to share with women and men around the world the journey of reclaiming my matrilineal indigenous knowledge around female body and sexuality.
It is important that I define female sexuality in my own words. To me female sexuality represents the very essence of being a woman in body-wild, open, sensual, innocent, shy, erotic, intuitive, earthy, mysterious, magical, naked, creative, raw, simple, grounded, free and complicated-all at the same time. I have chosen not to use the word erotic in place of female sexuality because erotic has many negative connotations attached to it especially in India such as vulgar, cheap, indecent, and also pornographic. Moreover, I felt that I did not need a separate word to define my essence. Just like when I say rose, everyone understands the essence of a rose in spite of the different categories of roses available, I feel that female sexuality needs to reflect the infinite essence and vocabulary of the feminine without negative or positive associations, erotic being only a part of that vocabulary.
From my own experience, I feel that female sexuality is deeply connected to a woman's menstrual blood, her breasts, genitals, and her ability to create and sustain life. It is ingrained in her body and invoked by the sensation of touch. Female sexuality gives a woman the innate ability to connect, feel, and emotionally relate to other life effortlessly in her various relationships as daughter, sister, lover, friend, mother, grandmother, and wife. It defines her. Scholar and healer, Vicki Noble (1991) describes, in Shakti Woman, "how a woman relates sexually in her life is deeply connected to her sense of self-esteem and her ability to receive and transmit powers and energies of transformation" (p. 179). I grew up hearing that to engage sexually would result in the loss of vitality or life force energy. In recent years, through the work of women scholars (Eisler, 1995; Lorde, 1985; Noble, 1991) and talking to other women, I have realized that in the feminine body sexuality and spirituality are not separate but deeply intertwined, and that a woman is capable of multiple orgasms without the loss of any vitality:
On reading this it struck me that by keeping woman disconnected from our sexual and spiritual knowing, male-dominated societies have exercised power over us for thousands of years. Contrary to this, ancient indigenous earth-based traditions have celebrated the auspiciousness of the feminine sexual energy through rituals, practices and ceremonies for millennia. This study is my step toward reclaiming that knowing through my own indigenous tradition.
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