Aphrodite is the smile personified. Depression is the lack of Aphrodite. In the TV series, The Sopranos, mob boss, Tony Soprano seeks help for his depression and panic attacks but the true key t…
Month: September 2016
The lack of Aphrodite in “The Sopranos”
The Sopranos was a series directed by David Chase about a fictional character named Tony Soprano played by James Gandolfini. In the show, Tony is the head of the New Jersey crime family. His position should make him Zeus, the boss and in control but the series shows that Tony is really a broken Zeus. In the first episode, he suddenly passes out while bar-b-quing making a dramatic explosion which leads him to go to the hospital for a series of tests (19:00-19:45). This event also coincides with the loss of the ducks that will be discussed later in the paper. When the tests conclude that nothing is physically wrong with Tony, he secretly begins therapy to attempt to end the panic attacks and regain control in his life.
For Tony, therapy is complicated. He doesn’t see himself as needing therapy and he is resistant to the idea of therapy. “They said it was a panic attack ’cause the blood work and neurological work came back negative. And they sent me here” (2:55-3:05). He is reluctant to seek therapy not only because in his line of work, therapy can be seen as a betrayal of confidence within the organization but also because he sees therapy as a crutch for weak minded people. He thinks that talking about feelings makes him unmanly. For a man that not only wants to but needs to represent Zeus, being weak and unmanly is unacceptable and leads to self-loathing. Therapy is not the cure for Tony, he needs Aphrodite to give him control and ease his sadness. Even though he is Zeus and he has a Hera, he needs Aphrodite, especially in his business where he makes his money off of thievery, the selling of sex and pleasure, and gambling. These trades need Aphrodite to balance the brutality, without beauty, a strip club is an ugly, sad place. Without something beautiful to protect, violence is also ugly and only for the gain of power. Tony is desperately seeking to have some beauty, something to protect, something to civilize his rage but as he seeks for his Aphrodite, he becomes more and more depressed with the frustration that he will not ever attain her.
Tony is diagnosed with depression; rage turned inward, and begins the combination of Prozac and therapy. Even though the show spans several years, for this paper, the focus will be primarily the first episode. The first episode is crucial to any television series because it is when the audience first “meets” the characters. Traditionally, mafia shows focus on the men, the mobsters, but “The Sopranos” also includes a strong female presence. However, as strong as the female presence is in the show, the lack of Aphrodite is just as strong.
In the series, Tony is surrounded by women: his wife, mother, daughter, sisters, strippers, girlfriends, and therapist. With all of the women that appear in the series over the years, Aphrodite does try to make an appearance but she is always just out of reach for Tony. After discussing some of the women in the show, I will use four points about the nature of Aphrodite that Dr. Paris makes in her book “Pagan Grace” to show that while Tony’s profession does not lend itself to happiness and well-being, it seems that Tony’s biggest problem is the lack of Aphrodite in his life. Dr. Paris explains in detail in writing how the loss of Aphrodite leads to depression but I liked this quote from class. “She is the smile personified” (Paris lecture). Aphrodite is connected to civilization, flowers, and of course, sex and its purpose. By showing how these four elements are represented, depression, civilized nature, flowers, and sex in the episode, I plan to show Aphrodite is not only absent but it is made a point of the show to demonstrate her absence.
Lots of women but no Aphrodites
After opening credits, the series begins with a shot of a naked female statue in the therapist’s office. She is metal, hard and cold, not in the least bit sexual and Tony appears uncomfortable. Next, the first female in the series is Dr. Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco; Tony’s therapist enters the scene. She is attractive but she is not Aphrodisiac, more Athenian. She is wearing a tan pantsuit and puts her glasses on to show she is in therapist mode. She keeps her arms and legs crossed while they speak, further distancing herself from Tony and Aphrodite (1:40-3:50). Of the important women in Tony’s life, Dr. Melfi is the closest to Aphrodite. He does experience a longing for her but she rebuffs his attentions. Even in her personal life, Dr. Melfi struggles in the realm of Aphrodite. She is not in touch with the Aphrodite inside herself; she is always in the realm of the mind. She needs Aphrodite as much as Tony.
The second and third women are Tony’s daughter and wife, respectively. In a scene at the Soprano home, Tony is excited about a family of ducks that made their home in the family pool. This is one place Tony shows real joy but it is a break from his archetype, he walks into the pool wearing his robe, the reaction from the others shows how it is out of his character (5:15-6:04). It seems to make them uncomfortable. Also, as we see by the end of the episode, the ducks, just like Aphrodite are impermanent. As they walk into the house, his daughter and wife want things from him. His daughter, Meadow Soprano, played by Jamie Spiegler, informs him that she and her friend are late for school. Next, after a brief exchange to his young son, we meet Tony’s wife, Carmela, played by Edie Falco. Together, Tony and Carmela make an excellent representation of Zeus and Hera. In the first shot we get of Carmela with Tony, her body posture is tense, almost aggressive. She talks to him about familial, social obligations and makes a cutting remark about his extramarital affairs that is so subtle, it can almost be overlooked (6:50-7:16) but later in the episode, the extramarital affairs and loss of love is shown very clearly when Tony is in the hospital for tests (20:25-21:45). In many of the scenes with Carmela in this episode her priest is also in the scene (18:30-18:40). Carmela while not unfaithful like Tony has an unnaturally close relationship with her young, attractive priest that Tony insinuates may be seen as inappropriate. She wears fine clothes and jewelry but she is fierce in her ability to protect her position as Hera. She protects her family but is not loving toward her husband. When she hears a noise outside, she does not cower or look for help from the priest who is at her house watching movies, she grabs a large gun and walks outside to confront the cause of the noise, the daughter, Meadow (25:00-25:21).
In this first episode Meadow’s character is still not clearly defined because she is still figuring out her own place in the world. She is young and she battles with her mother for independence. Later in the series, we see Meadow try to find herself by trying on a variety of archetypes. She eventually becomes a college student interested first in pediatric medicine, then finally law. Eventually, in the series she does bring Tony some glimpse of the goddess and mild joy but in the first episode, she is moody and causes tension within the family.
The last and most dynamic woman to be introduced in the episode is Livia, Tony’s elderly mother. Dr. Melfi says that Tony describes her as a helpless old lady but also as a larger than life character. While she is Tony’s mother, there is nothing of Demeter in Livia and definitely an absence of Aphrodite. Her house is old fashioned, Tony has to knock several times before we hear the half fearful, half angry response from inside and she unlocks the locks to allow Tony entrance to his childhood home. She tries to feed him and when he refuses, she gives him food anyway. The conflict between Tony and his mother arises that he wants to have her move to a retirement community and she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She is completely resistant to any kind of change and shows major signs of depression herself. Her house is dark and stuffy. All the windows and doors are closed and locked. Her hair is disheveled, her robe is misbuttoned, and she is wearing worn, old styled slippers. She seems to be a Hestia figure but she is losing her capabilities for living in her own home. She rejects change and has an extreme fear of the outside world (14:46-18:30). Now to contradict the picture of helpless, fearful old woman, we learn that Livia also embodies another archetype. She reveals herself as one of the puppet masters of the mafia family. To most, she seems like just another elderly woman but it is her cunning that makes things happen within the family. Her cunning and position are only introduced in this episode but it is already clear to the audience that while she appears to be a Hestia, she is actually Athena in disguise. While she can no longer manage to make herself a meal without a catastrophe, she is able to plot and scheme all the way to trying to have her own son murdered. She is a major player and skillful manipulator. If any person in the series would benefit from Aphrodite, it would be Livia. It would go against everything she is to have Aphrodite in her life – she is the complete opposite and absence of Aphrodite. In fact, the archetype that Livia fits is that of the anti-Aphrodite, she is angry, loveless, depressed, and cruel.
The important women in Tony’s life are lacking Aphrodite but even the setting lacks the goddess. Tony works out of two places, an Italian meat market/deli and a strip club, The Bada Bing. In this episode there is a scene where the guys are having an informal type meeting in the club. It is bright outside and not busy in the club. The men are seated at a small table drinking; they are not in the same room as the dancers. They have a view of the dancers but they are turned away from them, they don’t notice them. When the waitress does come by with drinks, she is seen as an interruption and nuisance. For Tony and his crew, these women are not beautiful or even worth looking at; they are simply another form of income. The women are topless and dancing but their movements seem somewhat mechanic and out of tune with the music, like they are bored or drugged. Also, they are not really attractive but all this doesn’t matter because no one in the room is looking at any of the dancers anyway. Even in a place where the goal is to arouse men, the focus is not on the beauty or sexual attractiveness, it is about profit. This is a place of commerce, not beauty or grace.
The Unattainable Aphrodites
Aphrodite does attempt to enter the show. In episode twelve, we get a glimpse of hope for happiness for Tony. His life seems like it is adjusting with the therapy. Tony has encounters with a beautiful, Aphrodisiac woman named Isabella. In the episode, we learn that she is visiting from Italy and staying with the neighbors. She is graceful and attractive and Tony enjoys her company. The problem with this Aphrodite is that she turns out to not be real; she only existed in Tony’s mind. Dr. Melfi and Tony conclude that Isabella is the result of the need to alter Tony’s medication. It is interesting that Aphrodite appears here as not only fictional but a result of anti-depression medication. She is beautiful and graceful and just like a flower, impermanent.
Another brush Tony has in the series is Adriana, is Tony’s nephew, Christopher’s, fiancé. She is completely unattainable to Tony because of her relationship to his nephew. In episode fifty-seven, Tony talks about his desire to be with the young, pretty Adriana to Dr. Melfi. In the end, Tony recognizes that his desires can’t be acted on as it would destroy his relationship with his nephew and wouldn’t actually be possible. In the end, it is just like Isabella, the Aphrodisiac experience only exists in the mind. For a twist, Tony and Adriana end up in a car accident under questionable circumstances. The nephew and other members of the crew believe there may have been a sexual encounter and Tony has to deal with fallout from an unrequited encounter with Aphrodite, the closest he ever comes to the elusive goddess.
Depression and the lack of Aphrodite
Tony suffers from depression; he is a broken Zeus. His world is filled with ugliness and violence. He lacks beauty, civilized nature, and love. Through the series, Tony battles depression and the fallout from being a mob boss with the perceived weakness of having a mental illness. Even though Tony is depicted in scenarios where he enjoys being extremely violent and cruel (10:50-11:00); in reality the audience is made to have sympathy for him. The lack of Aphrodite, the lack of beauty and civilization causes Tony to continue to pursue the goddess but he never seems to reach her. This frustration causes him to have more and more sadness and self-pity.
Aphrodite, the civilizer
The world in which Tony lives is untamed. It is crude and uncivilized. Men settle conflicts with force and laws are regularly broken, not only as a rule of business but just in everyday situations. When Aphrodite is present, she must be protected. In order for Aphrodite to be protected, we must have rules and we must follow those rules. Tony is quick to anger; he uses violence to resolve issues in most situations. He is fierce and dangerous; he is arguably an Ares outside of the family setting. Ares seduces Aphrodite and protects her but Tony is an Ares without an Aphrodite to protect. Instead of being civilized and living in a way to protect the beauty of the world, Tony and his crew cause violence and destruction in almost every episode.
The Garden State
It is interesting that the setting for the show is New Jersey, the Garden State. Gardens are cultivated and organized. They are the safe version of Aphrodite. This combines the beauty and impermanence of flowers with the civilizing nature of Aphrodite. This is not Tony’s New Jersey. Tony’s New Jersey is not safe, it is not civilized, and it is not beautiful; it is hard and gritty. His New Jersey is introduced in the opening credits of the series.
The show starts with the view from inside the car. The car is crossing the bridge into city. Everything is hard and industrial. The scenery is old, dirty and dilapidated. Tony is driving the car. He is smoking a cigar and we see the progression from the New Jersey turnpike to Tony’s home. “The New Jersey Turnpike, at least the northern part, is an adventure. Its abstract expressionist shapes, strange lines and angles, concentration of various transport, kinetic energy and tumult, wildlife and history, the things you see from it, its concrete and iron and rubber, its noise and smells and speed, make it a thing of gritty beauty.” (HBO) This is a good description for Tony’s New Jersey. It is also most certainly a place that lacks Aphrodite. It lacks her beauty, it lacks her grace, and it lacks her civilizing nature (0:00-1:39).
Sex in Sopranos
The last important connection with the series and Aphrodite’s absence is with the representation of sex in the series. As I have previously discussed, Tony works out of a strip club. The women are treated as objects for sexual gratification but none of them are in any way Aphrodite. The sexual acts with the strippers are for commerce, they aren’t joyful, graceful, and certainly are not portrayed as beautiful or loving. The characters do not contain Aphrodite so neither does their sex. Carmela, Hera, has sexual obligations to Tony but that is not aphrodisiac, it is more out of duty than love or passion. When we see Tony in sexual encounters outside the marriage they are usually more violent than beautiful. Every woman he dates is psychologically damaged and depressed. The women all lack Aphrodite and end up doing Tony more damage than good, leaving him more depressed and further from the goddess.
This wraps up Tony’s sad state through the series, there is no love, no beauty, no grace, no compassion, no tenderness; basically no Aphrodite for Tony. While telling the story of a New Jersey crime boss we also learn what it means to lose a goddess. Her absence is felt through the entire series. The audience, while maybe unable to verbalize it as such root for the violent, sad man to have some Aphrodite in his life; an ease to his suffering. Tony can’t attain his goal of attaining Aphrodite, if Aphrodite appeared, things would be righted and there wouldn’t be a show. The only way the story could continue would be for the goddess to keep alluding Tony. As Tony would say, there is no happy ending for a mob boss.
Paris, Ginette. “Aphrodite, Ares, and Athena.” First Session. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpentaria, Ca. 4 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
Paris, Ginette. Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia. Dallas, Tex.: Spring Publications, 1986. Print.
The Sopranos. Perf. James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Lorraine Bracco. HBO Home Video, 2001. DVD.
Page, Jeffrey. “The Sopranos.” HBO: Homepage. HBO. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.hbo.com/the-sopranos#/>.
Parvati, Kali, and Balance
Siva, god of destruction, is associated as the consort or husband of Devi, the Mother-goddess, who is represented in the form of several goddesses. Two Devi representations that stand out are Parva…
Source: Parvati, Kali, and Balance
Parvati, Kali, and Balance
Siva, god of destruction, is associated as the consort or husband of Devi, the Mother-goddess, who is represented in the form of several goddesses. Two Devi representations that stand out are Parvati and Kali because they are so very different, especially in the way they relate with Siva. Parvati is a calming force for Siva while Kali incites him to greater destruction. Parvati attempts to civilize Siva, to change him, but Kali is even more uncivilized than Siva so through their relationship another, more civilized, Siva is revealed. Studying the myths and relationships with these three deities demonstrates both duality and balance.
Western perspective and confusion
These myths and information about the deities can be very confusing, the more information that is uncovered, the more confusing it becomes. Part of the confusion, for me, was from looking at these myths through western eyes. Zimmerman warns about reading these myths through western perspective, but every person uses their background knowledge when reading so it is almost impossible not to incorporate your own cultural perspective in any reading. The other part of the confusion is the fluidity of the characters. Parvati is identified as the reincarnation of Sati, Siva’s first wife, but she is also being represented as Durga, Rudrani, Uma, and Kali, entirely different goddesses, but in truth, all of these goddesses are aspects of Devi. How can one deity be so many different goddesses; such extremely different personalities? I believe the way to reconcile this is to look at our own natures, are we as individuals easy to label? Are we calm or wild, happy or sad, or funny or serious? The truth lies that we identify somewhere in the middle, we are at times happy, at times sad – we are complex beings and so are the gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. In the western world, it is expected for religious personalities to be easy to label and understand, not fluid; they are extreme. However, to a person who understands the nature of duality and the complexity of whole characters, it is understood that no one is all this or that but a mixture of qualities, this is what is known as duality. What the myths show with these two consorts is a need for balance of these extremes. Siva must be at times destructive, as is his nature, but at times he must also be calm to allow for Brahma and Visnu to create and preserve. With Parvati, we see her as the cause of balance but with Kali, we actually see Siva as the one that calming force for the wild goddess.
Another misconception that arises with looking at the myths with the western perspective is that the Devi goddess is not as important as her consort god, Siva. Since Parvati doesn’t have any history separate from Siva, she would be seen as less than to westerners. “Her identity and nature and nearly all her mythological deeds are defined or acted out vis-à-vis her consort/husband, the great ascetic god Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 35). In fact, she was reincarnated specifically so that Siva could have a child that was necessary to save the world. In reality, she is equal to or more powerful than Siva. She is the only one powerful enough to make Siva change his mind. It is implied that “the great male gods are entirely dependent on the Devi for their strength and power and that if she withdraws her power, they are impotent and helpless” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 137). In the westerner’s mind, it is he who does the action that is important, not the one that inspires it. The mind can be much more powerful than the body. What westerners do not often recognize that both have power and importance; it is about balance.
Who is Siva?
Siva, pronounced and often written as Shiva, is one of the three gods responsible for the creation, upkeep, and destruction of the world. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Visnu is the preserver, and Siva is the destroyer. He must destroy the illusions and imperfections of the world so we can have positive change. Often, destruction is thought of in negative terms but it is necessary to have destruction in order to have creation, it is balance.
Siva contains many contradictory elements and an untamed passion; he can be seen as both good and evil. His behavior is often extreme, especially when without Parvati. “Paradox is the very heart of Saiva mythology” (O’Flaherty 300-337). He is an ascetic that abstains from all worldly pleasures while at other times; he is a hedonist that gives in to his every whim. “Although the apparently contradictory strains of Siva’s nature may well have originated from different times and places, they have resulted in a composite deity who is unquestionably whole to his devotees; this is why the Hindus accept and even glorify what might otherwise seem a meaningless patchwork, a crazy quilt of metaphysics” (O’Flaherty 300-337). It is Siva’s contradictions that make him whole and more realistic because upon reflection, it is apparent that humans also have contradictions and this makes Siva more relatable. The way Siva achieves balance is through his marriage with Sati and later her reincarnation, Parvati. “Together they are fertile, generative, and equilibrating, but apart they are potentially destructive” (Handelman 133-170). Siva also achieves balance with Kali, however with Kali; he is the calm to her destructive nature, showing that Siva contains both the wild and out of control as well as stabilizing aspects in his nature. The inclusion of the Kali myths demonstrate that Siva contains duality and balance within his own personality.
The Devi Goddesses, Parvati and Kali
Since Parvati is the reincarnation of Sati, the two are often seen as the same goddess; two lives of the same goddess. Parvati, Sati, comes back to the world for the purpose of bearing Siva’s child to the world. There are many versions of the myth of Parvati and how she becomes mother to Siva’s offspring. This is a synopsis of the history of Parvati: there was a demon named Taraka terrorizing the world and the only way this demon could be defeated and balance restored was by the offspring of Siva. Since Siva did not have any children and had no interest in having any sort of family, Sati was convinced to return to the world to persuade Siva to have an offspring. Parvati gains Siva’s admiration by performing tapas, cutting herself off from the world and mastering her physical needs. When they are finally married and make love, they are interrupted and Siva’s seed is spilled outside Parvati. It is eventually deposited into the Ganges River and becomes the child Karttikeya, also called Skanda and other names. He returns to his parents and saves the world and restores balance by defeating the demon Taraka. Parvati raises Karttikeya as her own son but she also creates a second son, Ganesa, on her own. The reason Parvati decides to have the second child is to guard for her so she can have privacy. When Siva returns, Ganesa does not allow him in and Siva cuts his head off. Parvati demands that Siva brings their son back to life so Siva grabs the head of an elephant and places it on the boy’s body. The complete family is Siva, Parvati, and their two sons, each created individually by one of the parents.
Even though Parvati is the daughter of the Himalayas and lures Siva out of his ascetic isolation by becoming an ascetic herself, she values the household and society. She “represents the beauty and attraction of worldly, sexual life, which cherishes the house society rather than the forest, the mountains, or ascetic life” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 46). The couple represents the tension between the ideals of the ascetic and the householder. Siva has no desire for family or in settling down but Parvati desires, in fact is born, to marry Siva and have children. “Contact with his properly cultured spouse seems to connect him with ordinary social reality and temporarily domesticates him” (Yocum 119). While Parvati does partially domesticate Siva, she does not fully succeed in achieving her desire for a “normal” life. For instance, Parvati desires a proper home but they never do . Also, Siva retains his wild, ascetic appearance, and continues some of his wild behavior. Since Siva is a god of many extremes, it is Parvati’s role to be the tamer of these extremes, both ascetic and sexual and create balance. Siva never fully gives in to her desires as a householder and she never goes back to asceticism so they remain in a constant state of tension or balance.
The relationship of Parvati and Siva is a case for opposites attracting, duality and balance, but Kali and Parvati are also a representation of duality and balance. While Parvati hardly has any independent history, Kali is rarely associated with her male consort, Siva. Parvati is the householder that desires children yet Kali is often depicted as virginal and violent. Kali prefers the battlefield, Parvati prefers the home. Parvati and Kali may appear to be opposites but Kali is actually represented as part of Parvati. Parvati and Kali are an example of duality and balance existing within one individual.
Kali exists with Siva as the personified wrath of Parvati or Sita. She comes into being when we need to see the otherwise calm and beautiful Parvati be fierce. While Parvati is known for her beauty and quiet grace, Kali is known for a terrible and frightening appearance. Even when compared to Siva’s most terrible forms, she surpasses his wild appearance. “She is always black or dark, usually naked, and has long, disheveled hair. She is adorned with severed arms as a girdle, freshly cut heads as a necklace, children’s corpses as earrings, and serpents as bracelets” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 117). Her nature is fearsome and she enjoys battlefields and cremation grounds. While Parvati calms the wild nature of Siva, Kali intensifies it. In fact, Siva is the one that needs to calm Kali’s wild behavior. In their relationship, they are depicted “in situations where either or both behave in disruptive ways, inciting each other, or in which Kali in her wild activity dominates an inactive or sometimes dead Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 119). When they are together, she is always extreme and uncontrollable.
While Parvati tries to tame Siva, Kali compliments his destructive habits and madness, bringing them to even higher levels, the opposite of balance. She is seen in most images as dominant over Siva, often standing on his body. She is never “subdued by him and is most popularly represented as a being who is uncontrollable and more apt to provoke Siva to dangerous activity than to be controlled by him” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 120). She is the one that needs taming, even in her role as demon slayer, which one would think would help bring balance. In battle, Kali becomes so drunk on blood that she becomes out of control and must be subdued or she may just destroy the world. Balance in these situations is attained by the intervention of Siva.
Duality and Balance
Through the relationships of Siva and Parvati, Siva and Kali, and Kali and Parvati the theme that we see over and over again is the existence of duality and the need for balance. Balance between the spiritual and social worlds with Siva and Parvati is important in Hindu culture since the stress towards living a spiritual life would almost suggest a break from the world of the household but balance is actually the message, not just renunciation. “Both renunciation of action ant the selfless performance of action lead to the supreme goal. But the path of action is better than renunciation” (Easwaran 29). Balance between out of control, destructive behavior and the need to have that destruction reigned in as seen with Siva and Kali is important since Siva’s destruction is meant so that a better world can be created not the entire world destroyed. Finally, the balance of independence and interdependence, wild destruction and calm house making, and beauty and terror are seen in one being with Kali and Parvati which demonstrates how we all have the capabilities of extremes within ourselves.
“It is sometimes said that Indian culture generally betrays a love for extremes, that moderation and balance tend to get lost in the Indian tendency to exploit everything to its ultimate limit” (Kinsley, Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali 183-207). However, it is in these dual natural extremes that we see balance. Siva, Parvati, and Kali are extreme in nature but together they have balance. Humans and the gods and goddesses of Hindu myths have dual natures that contain extremes and balance. It is by nurturing different aspects of our natures that we become more to one extreme or the other. Often, it is the people we surround ourselves with that causes us to be either more extreme or balanced, like demonstrated by the relationships of Siva with Parvati and Kali.
Even though it may appear that the Indian culture has a love for extreme, I believe it is the western culture that actually embraces extremes, or absolutes. As demonstrated, the relationships of these three Hindu deities show a desire for balance, they show complex characters that contain dualities and balance. It is the dominant, western religion, Christianity, the non-human characters are extreme; Satan is purely evil and the personification of god, Jesus, is purely good and without sin. Even the actions taken by god in Christianity are extreme; when Adam and Eve commit the first sin, they are cast out into the wilderness; when the society is too corrupt, a flood is sent to wipe out all of humanity and life save for one family and pairs of each animal. This is why it is so difficult for westerners to comprehend the wholeness, the dualities that exist in Hindu deities. It is hard to think of a supreme being as both out of control and stable. For the western mind, these deities are too human which makes them hard to understand or respect. That is why, even with Devi, it is hard for a westerner to grasp that she is both Parvati, the householder, and Kali, the bloodthirsty warrior. The duality of the gods and goddesses in Hinduism doesn’t lessen their importance, it increases their ability to be relatable and makes the lessons from their myths relatable to our lives.
There are two lessons shown through these relationships, balance and duality. First, is duality; all humans have duality, we are not extreme. This is important to remember when dealing with each other and when reflecting on ourselves. We can be less judgmental by remembering that everyone has a dual nature and is struggling towards the second lesson which is balance; balance within the individual and balance in relationships. Balance is necessary within the individual, without balance there is dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It must also exist in a relationship or there will be the same result of dissatisfaction and unhappiness and often the termination of the relationship. Sometimes qualities can shift back and forth between the individuals in a relationship, as we see with the shift of Parvati to Kali with Siva but tension and balance must exist.
Balance and embracing our own duality can lead to a happier, more enlightened life. The Bhagavad Gita tell us “they live in freedom who have gone beyond the dualities of life. Competing with no one, they are alike in success and failure and contend with whatever comes to them” (Easwaran 25). We can be happier with who we are because even when we fall short, we know we have the qualities to be better. When we feel overly proud that we have a specific “good” attribute we can become more humble by recognizing that we also contain the “negative” attribute as well. By recognizing duality in others and having less judgment or comparison to them, we can be happier with who we are and who they are.
I would like to end with one of my favorite quotes from The Bhagavad Gita. “It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity” (Easwaran 21). This relates to the messages of balance and duality. We need to recognize and embrace both our inner Parvati and Kali. Even if others may see one trait as better than another, it is within ourselves that we need to strive to succeed, not in the eyes of others. It is not competition or scrutiny of others that will make us happy. All people must strive to contend within their own dharma and understand their own duality in order to maintain balance and attain true joy and spiritual enlightenment and these are the lessons I learned from studying Siva, Parvati, and Kali.
Easwaran, Eknath. The Bhagavad Gita. 1st edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print.
Handelman, Don. “Myths of Murugan: Asymmetry and Hierarchy in a South Indian Puranic .” History of Religions. 27.2 (1987): 133-170. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062666>.
Kinsley, David. “Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali.” Numen. 22.3 (1975): 183-207. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org.pgi.idm.oclc.org/stable/3269544>.
Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1988. Print.
O’Flaherty, Wendy. “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva, Part I.” History of Religions. 8.4 (1969): 300-337. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062019>.
Yocum, Glenn. Hymns to the Dancing Siva: A Study of Manikkavacakar’s Tirubacakum. Columbia, Missouri: South Asia Books, 1982. Print.
Zimmer, Heinrich, and Joseph Campbell. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Eighth printing. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.