I find this image – and what it represents – rather intriguing. Because what we are presented with here is an instance of a Past challenging a Present. And it is something with quite archaic Indo-European mytho-cultural resonancy. What do I mean by this? Well, first, here’s a brief description of what’s going on in the image itself:
“Training at a Durga Vahini [‘Army of Durga’] camp.
The Durga Vahini is a Hindu Nationalist women’s organization, operating as part of the Vishva Hindu Parishad [‘World Hindu Council’]. It has had its share of controversies, but principle of empowering women to make vital contribution to both political and spiritual sphere is important.
And considering general perception of religious – more especially religious fundamentalist – organizations as tending to relegate women to the background … the Durga Vahini’s approach runs directly counter to that.”
I wrote the above four years ago; and, of course, my understanding has grown in various relevant spheres since then.
Something we often hear is this insistent – and insistently outright wrong – metanarrative about how Indo-European culture and religion was always the sort of patriarchy that would not be out of place in Saudi Arabia today.
And, as we’ve covered in a few previous pieces upon the subject – that PIE religion ‘must’ therefore have been made up of warlike male Sky Gods that invaded and conquered the peaceful matriarchal Earth Mother worshipping pre-IE in various directions.
This is, to put it bluntly, untrue in just about every respect. Insofar as yes, most definitely Indo-Europeans have Warlike Sky Gods … but as it happens, some of the foremost of those in the field of war are, and always have been, Goddesses. Athena is probably the best-known expression of this in the West, and Her close Vedic correlate, Vak Saraswati helps to show just how archaic this understanding truly is. Meanwhile, the parallel expressions of Demeter Erinyes and Parvati into Kali , help to further show that an Earth Mother deific (Who is also a Sky Goddess – see my recent work on Aditi, Hera, De-Meter, etc.) is quite capable of assuming a black and furious form to rend limb from terror-struck limb.
And it is not just in the mythology that we find these features. The tales of ‘Warrior Women of the Steppe’ have likewise proven vindicated via the archaeological finds of Scythian female combatants – not merely women buried with weapons, but women who were more than capable of using them, based around bone-development etc. … and who also took wounds in battle. Perhaps there is even truth to Herodotus’ mention speaking of particular Scythian nation that “In regard to marriage, it is the custom that no maiden weds until she has killed a man of the enemy; and some of them grow old and die unmarried, because they cannot fulfill the law.”
Certainly it is not for nothing that we find the Scythian Pantheon to be ruled by a Queen – Tabiti – directly co-expressing that found in the figure of Vedic Aditi, the Radiant Queen of the Heavens, and the Sovereign of all existence and beyond.
Now, speaking of the Scythians in relation to this image – it has long been our contention that the Scythians are a direct ‘carrying forward’ of many of the important fundaments of Proto-Indo-European culture and religion. Certainly, they are in broadly the right area, Herodotus’ Scythians being directly on top of the Urheimat.
To refine this remark somewhat, it has also long been abundantly clear that the Scythians represent a strong continuance of the Andronovo (post-PIE) culture that is, effectively, that of the archaic (Proto-)Indo-Iranians. Hence, in no small part, the Zoroastrian fear and hatred of the Turanian – as the Turanian Deva worship is precisely the ancient Indo-Iranian religious orthodoxy which the Zoroastrians sought to reject and overthrow.
The Vedic Religion, too, is a direct continuance of the Andronovo one – hence the repeated and strong concordancies that we have been able to demonstrate between the Vedic and Scythian mytho-religious spheres.
And what do we find in the Vedas? Why, we have this similar occurrence of a powerful place for potent women. There is a prominent female warrior who is mentioned in a number of RigVedic hymnals, for instance; we have female Rsis as well; and observations of Brahmin women receiving the proper initiations that today would be a near exclusive domain of men.
In short – the notion of a more prominent and empowered place for at least some women within archaic Indo-European society seems like it should be utterly uncontroversial.
And yet .. sadly, it is. Why? Well, as applies the Past side of things … the past is a hugely contested space wherein the narratives and the petty perspectives of the Present seek inexorably to do battle for control of the Future. Thus it is here. And as in many a fractious and internecine combat, strange alliances have been made.
Following Gimbutas, there has been a persistent effort by certain sorts of feminist to present the position of women within Indo-European society and culture as, effectively, that of silenced chattels. This is not to say that this did not happen for some women … but, then, in a hierarchical and likely slave-keeping situation, it would also have happened for many men.
But the long and the short of it is that this notion of an incredibly patriarchal warlike society and peaceful utopian matriarchy being ground into the dust by same … it is appealing to their sensibilities.
They do not want to acknowledge that, just as we see in the animal kingdom with the Lioness (an entirely uncoincidental frequent iconographic association for the Indo-European Goddess-complex in question) and in history … a woman of temperament is also veer-y capable of carrying out acts of imperialism , committing violence – may even be quite adroit at it and enjoy it likewise. It does not fit with their idealized narrative preconception of ‘peaceful (and therefore superior) women’, nor what this would imply for their (non-existent, so literally utopian) female-dominated societies of the purported pre-IE past.
Meanwhile, much of the above also adequately describes the ‘idealized’ view of the past held by varying sorts of misogynist … who differ only from that particular frame of post-Gimbutas feminism in which elements they consider to be ‘good things’ about the aforementioned narrative.
Even though they may disagree quite strongly about whether some sort of pre-PIE ‘matriarchy’ would be an improvement on ‘Barbaric’ and ‘ultra-masculine’ PIE … they both have a hugely vested psychosocial interest in endeavouring to de-legitimate the notion of women having agency, martial agency, or powerful and respected places within the martially proficient and demonstrably expansionistically successful PIE and post-PIE sphere.
There is also, it should be noted, an understandable fatigue from quite a range of others about insistent (and often downright Wiccan) pushes to radically ‘re-interpret’ [and/or ‘re-imagine’] elements of the past in line with more contemporary proclivities as well. So every female grave featuring weaponry – whether ceremonial or otherwise – becomes insistently reconstrued as that of some battle-hardened ‘Shield-maiden’. And that has the unfortunate flow-on effect of massively increasing skepticism for entirely legitimate archaeological attestations like those encountered in the burials of Scythia above. Because we’re now pre-primed to presume that anything and everything that might so happen to lie a little at odds with how we might have thought about the past is some form of conspiratorial subversion to take dominant control of the present. Which, to be sure – sometimes it might be!
But to bring it back to what is on display here, in this picture – it has long been my trenchant observation that the patterns of the past have a habit of reasserting themselves through present developments … by which I mean, even though we may not consciously know that that is what we are doing nor why it is that we are doing it – we come to mirror more closely the ways of our ancestors; almost as if we are acting upon instinct to do so.
It is not quite Andronovo society in various ways; but this notion of giving young women some religious instruction, and the beginnings of weapons-training [because, of course, an air-rifle is … exactly that – a rudimentary training device], even amidst a cultural sphere that has become rather heavily patriarchal (in large measure due to external influences – but more upon that some other time) … well, slowly but surely, perhaps, things may be heading back in the right direction.