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A melting pot of culture

art-and-culture Updated: Oct 12, 2010 19:06 IST
Devdutt Pattanaik
Devdutt Pattanaik
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Earrings play an important role in Hindu mythology, and more with Gods than with Goddesses. In his famous Tandav pose, Shiva sports a ‘male’ earring in the right ear and a ‘female’ earring in the left, indicating that divinity transcends over gender divides. Vishnu, on the other hand, has earrings shaped like a fish or dolphin. It’s a reminder that life is about movement, like the flow of water.

To adorn the ear is part of the Solah Shringar, the sixteen love-charms of marriage, perhaps because the ear is seen as a metaphor for the womb. In the Indonesian Mahabharat, the sun-god, Surya, caused Kunti to deliver a son through her ear, which is why she remained a virgin. The son was called Karna, the ear-child.

Mythology connect
In folk Ramayana, Vayu, the wind-god, caused Anjani to deliver a son through her ear too. He was called Hanuman. In many parts of India, there are sacred places known as Mani-karnika. It is a metaphor for sites visited by the Goddess and her consort who provided the jewel or mani in the earrings that she misplaced.

That’s the reason earrings are an important part of a woman’s adorement during the nine-day Navratri festival. While the popular image associated with this festival is that of Durga riding a lion and impaling the buffalo-demon, a more traditional image is the pot. On the first day, the pot is worshipped during the ritual of ghata-sthapana. The pot is a metaphor for culture, a human creation indicating the rise of civilisation and personal wealth. It is also a symbol of the womb that nurtured the next generation of the family.

Fertility dance
This pot reminds us of the pot of nectar that the Devas possess that granted them immortality. Humans are mortal and so reply on the ‘pot’ of the womenfolk to ensure survival over generations.

During the nine nights, women dance around a pot filled with sprouts and bedecked with flowers. The women sing Garba songs, dance in a circle, bend forward and clap their hands as they invoke the fertility of the earth that has provided them with the autumn harvest. And as they do, the gold earrings they wear jingle reminding them that they too are diminutive doubles of Durga in the household.

Devdutt Pattanaik is a cultural consultant with the World Gold Council.