Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India

Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India

Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India

Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India

Synopsis

This book offers a variety of scholarly studies in the idea, situation, and definition-including the self-definition-of women in India, from the earliest historical period up to the present day. Both in its range of topics and depth of research, this volume creates a sustained focus that is not presently available in the literature of women in India. Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India comprises 25 essays contributed by a diverse mix of Indian, Canadian, American, and British women scholars, most of whom have lived in South Asia either for all of their lives or for extended periods. Arranged chronologically, these groundbreaking essays set aside the myths and prejudices that often clutter discussions about women in India. Part I, which is dedicated to the ancient period, defines women's positions as depicted in the sacred law, considers subordinated women in major Hindu epics, describes women's roles in ritual and their understanding of religion, and examines the patriarchal organization of women's lives in Buddhism. Part II begins with an essay on Tantra, a major force in medieval India that influenced both Hinduism and Buddhism and placed women at the center of its sacred rites. Other essays in Part II look at the life and legends of a medieval woman saint poet, the portrayal of a Hindu goddess in medieval Bengal, and the role of women from Mughal harems in decision making. Part III describes the colonial perception of Indian women in the late nineteenth century and shows how women's self-perceptions have been expressed through their art and writing as well as through their political action in the twentieth century. Providing informed and balanced analysis of extensive primary source material, this book will be an essential resource for students of women's lives in India.

Excerpt

This study of women in India explores some of the less frequented areas in the field. In recent years, studying women's issues or reevaluating literature by and about women has been a major activity in the academic enterprise and the world, and lives of Indian women have been fertile ground for both fieldwork and theorizing. Indeed, so many of these studies are coming out of India, as well as the Western world, that one might think we have exhausted the field. Why, then, do we need another collection of essays? The reason for undertaking it is to provide a path to many untapped primary sources of information about women's lives. To examine India's three-thousand-year-old culture, including vast bodies of literature spanning every area of public and personal life, is, indeed, a daunting task. Not surprisingly, although valuable contributions have been made in some areas, a scholarly sense of the entire domain awaits development. Our incomplete knowledge of sources affects both research and pedagogy. As teachers of Indian studies, some of us constantly lack the reading material to offer our students who want to explore primary texts and documents in order to prepare themselves for historical research on women's issues. We hope that the present study, while by no means a final map, will be a critical guide to this vast field.

The purpose here is twofold: to point researchers toward primary material and to analyze specific issues critically on the basis of such material. The writers of this collection are women who have made special studies in the history, literature, and culture of India. Most of them have lived in India for a number of years or for their entire lives. What they have written comes from their own experience and understanding of the culture and is firmly grounded in their research. Not all of them share the same viewpoint or proceed along the same tracks. Some of the essays attempt feminist critical analyses, some concentrate on textual and historical evidence, and some are historical surveys. This mix, I hope, will enable readers to recognize some of the central issues of women's lives and their cultural roots, to become aware of the resources for studying them, and to find ways to approach them.

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