Great Spirit Blog

The Plight of the World’s Widows

Of the 245 million widows worldwide, the Loomba Foundation says over 115 million widows and their more than 500 million children are subjected to severe poverty and human rights violations simply due to the widow status.

As we go about our daily lives here in America, most of us are unaware that right now 81 million widows have been shunned and abandoned by their own family, community and within their own culture.  Millions of widows worldwide are psychologically and physically abused: targeted for rape, torture, and murder.  Many widows are forced into prostitution, re-marriage, and are victims of property theft or evicted from their own homes.

Working in conjunction with the United Nations, the Loomba Foundation helps promote the welfare and economic empowerment of widows and their children.  The organization helps widows become self-sufficient economically by providing the means for starting up businesses.

India, Africa, Nepal, and Afghanistan permit some of the most grievous humanitarian violations against widows and their children.

The Loomba Foundation was founded in 1997 by Raj Loomba after he and his six siblings watched their mother Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba, widowed at age 37; suffer undue hardships in their native India.    India is home to more than 45 million widows bearing adversities due to the stringent cultural and religious customs regarding widowhood.

Women’s Media Center.com writes in their column Women under Siege that widows are accused of being responsible for their husband’s death, therefore, are expected to live a spiritual life and are “de-sexed” or “uglified,” meaning, only white clothing is worn, and their head is shaved.  The bindi is removed from their foreheads, and no jewelry is allowed.  She is now referred to as “it” instead of “she.”  Often in India, a marriage arrangement will be made for the widow to her deceased husband’s brother to keep her from being raped or forced into prostitution.

At one time in India, widows were forced to burn themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.

But the plight of the widow is not India’s alone, many other Asian countries, as well as, Africa adhere to cruel superstitions and sadistic dogmas regarding widowhood like India’s, which, provokes widows and their children to undergo serious hardships and humanitarian violations.

Shannon Donnelly of the Daily Beast wrote: “In Ghana after you’ve lost not only your husband, but also your home, your ability to provide for your children, and your dignity a “cleansing ritual” that includes having unprotected sex with strange men must take place.  Donnelly goes on to say “You might be hunted down and beaten, or accused of witchcraft. In Ghana, a widow must have sex with a stranger to “purify” herself after her husband’s death.”

In Nepal, widows are hunted as witches.  Once she becomes a widow, a Nepalese woman may be subject to the superstition that she has become a bokshi, or witch, and is now impregnated with evil powers which she will undergo brutal beatings.

In Afghanistan, many of the 2 million widows, since the U.S. invasion, are turned out onto the street where they will beg to provide for themselves and their children.

In Kenya, similar to Ghana, widows lose their home when they lose their husband, and forced to have “cleansing” sex.   Human Rights Watch found that widows in Kenya are barred from inheriting from their husbands. When men die, widows’ in-laws evict them from their lands and homes and take all the property, such as livestock and household goods.  She may be allowed to remain in her home if she agrees to be “inherited” by one of her dead husband’s family members.  The ritual cleaning involves sex with a social outcast which has helped spread HIV and AIDS.

So you can see, we need advocacy organizations like Loomba, working with the United Nations and top leaders around the world, to help empower widows which only further benefit their children who are the future of these countries.  Whether in India, Africa, Nepal or Afghanistan, widows and their children need our assistance as they are preyed upon and subjected to outdated and barbaric philosophies.

We can start by remembering June 23 of each year, the day Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba became a widow, the day the United Nations declared International Widows Day and began a campaign to end the atrocities widows face in our world for losing, the father of their children and sometimes the loves of their lives.

Title: Nataraja/Shiva as Lord of Dance Author’s Name: Unknown Medium: Bronze Sculpture Date: 1000 CE Chola period (900-13th Century) Origin: South India, Tamil Nadu Location: The Cleveland Museum of Art

Nirvana Shatakam

I am not the mind, the intellect, the ego or the memory,
I am not the ears, the skin, the nose or the eyes,
I am not space, not earth, not fire, water or wind,
I am the form of consciousness and bliss,
I am the eternal Shiva…

I am not the breath, nor the five elements,
I am not matter, nor the 5 sheaths of consciousness
Nor am I the speech, the hands, or the feet,
I am the form of consciousness and bliss,
I am the eternal Shiva…

There is no like or dislike in me, no greed or delusion,
I know not pride or jealousy,
I have no duty, no desire for wealth, lust or liberation,
I am the form of consciousness and bliss,
I am the eternal Shiva…

No virtue or vice, no pleasure or pain,
I need no mantras, no pilgrimage, no scriptures or rituals,
I am not the experienced, nor the experience itself,
I am the form of consciousness and bliss,
I am the eternal Shiva…

I have no fear of death, no caste or creed,
I have no father, no mother, for I was never born,
I am not a relative, nor a friend, nor a teacher nor a student,
I am the form of consciousness and bliss,
I am the eternal Shiva…

I am devoid of duality, my form is formlessness,
I exist everywhere, pervading all senses,
I am neither attached, neither free nor captive,
I am the form of consciousness and bliss,
I am the eternal Shiva…

Untitled

       From enlightened craftsmen to simple and solitary truth-seekers disclosing their insights, the quest to depict the revelations about the true nature of the universe is woven throughout various art forms and eras. Such lofty concepts concerning the nature of the universe can be seen in simple artistic representations as well as in modern science, providing inspiration to those whose search for truth is more secular. This sublime understanding is especially obvious in the works of the ancient Indian artisans and sages who, in depicting their beliefs, have created iconic metaphors that not only artistically represent the beauty of their philosophy, but also describe the workings of the universe.

     Two great works exemplifying this idea are the strota Nirvana Shatakam, first recited near the North Indian Himalayas by the child Advaita Vedanta philosopher Adi Shankara (788-820 CE) and the bronze sculpture Nataraja/Shiva as Lord of the Dance, created in Tamil Nadu, South India during the Chola Period (estimated 1000 CE ) by an unknown artisan. Both works strive to convey their creators’ beliefs about the true nature of the universe through their respective depictions of Lord Shiva and while containing many coinciding tenets, also include several contradictory philosophical beliefs.

     Nataraja/Shiva as Lord of Dance was a bronze, temple and processional sculpture of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva, created during the Chola dynasty 1000 CE.  Nataraja was depicted as Lord Shiva’s physical form that descended to the earth granting “darshan” for grace and supplication to his devotees (Art).  Darshan was the opportunity to see the deity, and to be seen by the deity, as well.    This was particularly important for people not allowed in the temples or those who lived outside of the cities and did not have a regular chance to see their God (Art).  According to sacred texts known as the Shilpa Shastras, Lord Shiva’s eyes were carved at a special temple ceremony by artists in a very specific almond shape as direct eye to eye contact with the deity was central to ancient Hindu belief of darshan (Art).  In his physical form, Lord Shiva was also depicted as the cyclical force of creation and destruction running throughout the entire universe.  Dancing in cosmic bliss, Nataraja is surrounded by a ring of fire holding in his left hand the “agni” or flame of fire suggesting his destructive aspect (Prakash).  In his right hand sits a small hourglass-shaped drum or “damaru” referring to the female Goddess Shakti or the life force of creation.  This life force is only in time and space. Thus, the drum beats away with every dance step Nataraja takes reminding us time is continuously slipping away (C. M. Art).  Nataraja’s lower right hand is posed in “Abhaya” mudra telling his devotees to be fearless, and all blessings will be attained.  His lower left arm and hand is pointing downward like an elephant trunk, representing his son Ganesha – the remover of obstacles, towards the raised left foot symbolic of release or attainment (Prakash).  This obstacle Nataraja can help his devotees to overcome is ignorance or ego as represented by his right foot stepping on the back of the demon, Apasmara which breaks the cycle of rebirth (Prakash).

    Nirvana Shatakam, a strota written by Adi Shankara was first recited in the 8th century when Shankara was only eight years old.  The young Shankara was frustrated by the varying sectarianism developing in India which broke away from the original Hindu teachings known as the Upanishads, as well as, the advent of Buddhism.   Shankara went out to the forest in search of a guru and came across an elderly sage named Gaudapada who asked Shankara, “Who are you?”  Shankara recited the six-stanza poem which depicted Lord Shiva’s formless state of existence and signifying Shankara was already Lord Shiva and had attained liberation of the ego (Alam).

    The stanzas are also in order of the self-realization process itself, meaning, the first stanza is the starting point in grasping and attainment of what one is not: the mind, intellect, ego or memory and transcends through to the final stage of understanding, which is formlessness, the void or emptiness (Tejomayanandji).

     With his mother’s permission, the monastic sage Gaudapada took the 8-year-old Shankara as a disciple instructing him on the ancient teachings (Hunter).  These ideas ultimately formed the core tenants of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and many other Asian religions and philosophies which Shankara would re-establish as well as the monastic life and guru-devotee style of instruction which is still part of many Asian belief systems today.

     In comparing Nataraja/Shiva as Lord of Dance and the Nirvana Shatakam, both works are about the Hindu deity Shiva, as the bronze statue’s name implies, as well as the final line of each stanza “I am the eternal Shiva” indicates.  As Nataraja’sright footsteps on the back of the demon to destroy all ignorance and his left foot raises symbolically suggesting release, this, in essence, is the goal of Nirvana Shatakam:  release from the bondage of the ego.  However, there is some difference of creative interpretation due to the diversity among Shaivite sects.  The Cholas were henotheistic, and Adi Shankara was a monist, meaning Shankara saw everything as one, with no difference between himself and the deity.  Lastly, as previously stated, Nataraja/Shiva is in the image of his descended form for devotees to receive darshan.  In Nirvana Shatakam, Lord Shiva is conveyed as formless with the goal for the reader to recognize his or her true formlessness.

     From creation and destruction to the order and chaos which makes up our lives; our planet earth; and our celestial dome; many on the astrophysical frontier regard Nataraja/Shiva as Lord of Dance as the perfect metaphor for the dance of sub-atomic particles. The representations found in both works can be seen to describe the motions of the cosmos and the invisible particles whose vibrations are believed to be integral to the formation of all matter and anti-matter. Therefore, outside of CERN Laboratories in Switzerland, sits a Nataraja statue symbolizing the workings of this vast universe and beyond.  The piece was presented to the laboratory as a gift from the Indian government in 2004 in recognition of collaboration dating back to the 1960s (Unveiled).  CERN holds the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth and has proven theories such as the Higg’s Boson or God particle, which, is believed to have been the fuse in the Big Bang and more recently the detection of gravitational waves.  Now, it is hypothesized that gravitational waves are made up of gravitons, which are immensely difficult to detect as they are constantly slipping into other dimensions.  Understanding these dimensions is of considerable importance to physicists as they seek to understand the “formlessness” before the Big Bang or birth of our universe.  This void is found in the final stanza:  “I am devoid of duality, my form is formlessness, I exist everywhere, pervading all senses” and rings true as scientists continually discover all that we are not.

     Adi Shankara and the Chola artisans located a passage into what seems to be an obscure realm within and without the human being. They gifted us with the Nirvana Shatakam and Nataraja sculpture as treasure maps to discover the ubiquitous womb and the void in one of our reincarnations, therefore, furthering our individual soul’s evolution.  For many, this realm is the same domain modern scientists investigate through mathematics, laboratory experiments, and space exploration.  At some point, hopefully, we will converge into a solitary unit of truth seekers understanding we are all exploring the very same place.

Works Cited

Alam, Sadi. Atma Shatakam of Adi Shankara | The Song of Self-Realization. 17 July 2016. article. 17 July 2016.

Art, Cleveland Museum of. Nataraja, Shiva as the Lord of Dance 11th Century CE. 17 July 2016. Bronze Sculpture. 17 July 2016.

Art, Freer, and Sackler: The Smithsonian Museum of. History & Geography. 10 July 2016. article. 10 July 2016.

Hunter, Poem. “Adi Shankaracharya 7 Poems.” 2012. http://www.thepoemhunter.com. article. 17 July 2016.

Prakash, Sasha. Sasha Prakash’s Blog. 10 January 2010. article. 17 July 2016.

Tejomayanandji, Swami. Sree Sankaracharya’s Nirvana Shatakam. Bombay: Central Chimaya Mission Trust, 2001. book.

Unveiled, Lord Shiva Statue to be. Lord Shiva Statue to be Unveiled. 5 July 2004. article. 17 July 2016.

 

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