Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Vagina and the Womb :Female Procreative Spaces as Metaphysical Symbols: Classical Forms and their Contemporary Adaptations:Indian and Hindu Thought

In the human effort to make meaning of existence,people have developed symbols to represent those ideas they value most.Some of the most powerful symbols,in their capacity to affect people and draw together a broad range of human experience,as demonstrated  in their pervasiveness across cultures,are symbols drawn from  human biology.Biological processes are the most immediate experience of human beings and so resonate deeply with the mind.One of these clusters of biological images are those drawn from human female biology.Female biology is congruent with procreative capacity  and its expression in terms of monthly flows of blood from the womb through the vagina, a process related to the life sustaining power of blood and its profound associations.Female biology is also intimately related to ideas about beauty and the opposite of beauty,ugliness.It is intimately related to sexuality and its possibilities,both positive and negative.It is also suggestive of the associations that emerge from conjunctions between the onset of monthly blood flows at puberty,to the relationship between lunar time and these monthly flows,to the cessation of menstruation  at menopause and the relationship between these blood  flows ,the creation and dissolution of eggs in the womb that leads to them,and the progression of age,its relationship to the appearance and powers of the body and the constitution of the mind through experience

These female biological processes and associations are conjoined in a number of cultures and practices  as expressions of  the  powers and experiential possibilities unique to women.These powers and experiential zones are correlated with larger terrestrial and cosmic processes of which female biology is understood as both symbolic and demonstrative  at the level of the microcosm represented by the human body,of which the earth is macrocosmic,as the earth is itself a microcosm of the cosmos.At various scales of being,human,terrestrial and cosmic,in the focus on the capacity to generate life,nature is feminised.

Perhaps the most systematic and wide ranging of these symbolic complexes emerges in Classical Indian thought,in which,as one of the myriad  expressions of  the broad range of cognitive approaches represented by  Indian philosophy and religion,the universe is understood as brought into being by a female creative power, Devi,that power itself expressed in terms of a range of female figures.This feminine force is at times paired with a masculine force,as demonstrated by the conjunction between Shiva,the male potency,and Shakti,the female.These masculine/feminine conjunctions are represented by images of Shakti sitting astride Shiva ,an image which suggests the description of the masculine power of Shiva as a passive potency that needs to be actualised by the active power of Shakti.

A classic expression of female procreative power in terms of cosmic force  is the geometric symbol the yantra,from Indian iconography,in which the frontal appearance of  the  female genitalia

is represented in terms of a downward facing triangle. The downward facing triangle is  symbolic of the yoni,Sanskrit for the vagina, as indicative of cosmic becoming, expressed in terms of human procreative capacity.  This symbolism is depicted in terms of  sculpture and painting,as in this example of the  Kali yantra,an embodiment of Kali,described as a goddess who is both maternal and destructive,dramatising  both the nurturant qualities necessary for giving birth and the destructive creativity represented by the dissolution and tranformation effected through time and change.

The symbolism of the yoni triangle is also represented by the  yoni mudra,one of the symbolic hand gestures named mudras,the yoni mudra being described by one source as  an " attitude by which the primal energy inherent in the womb, or source of creation, is invoked."

The first three images below are examples of the formal construction  of the yoni mudra,with the third  image showing the mudra being used in a ritual context.The fourth image is an example is of an unwitting formation of the mudra by a woman holding her hands in front of her trousers.



At the centre of the yantra is a point, the bindu.The  bindu is a Sanskrit term for the point that symbolises the potentiality from which the cosmos emerges. The other geometric forms that constitute the  yantra are organised around the bindu, evoking the emergence of the cosmos  from the primal potentiality represented by the bindu. The understanding of the bindu as the zone at which  creation begins and [therefore] "the point at which the unity becomes the many...the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state" ( Madhu Khanna (1979). Yantra: The Tantric Symbol Of Cosmic Unity. Thames and Hudson. Wikipedia)  is suggsted by Paul de Celle's depiction of the bindu in terms of fractal geometry,thereby evoking  the replication of the fundamental structure of the universe in terms of its expressions at various levels of manifestation.This fractal symbolism is reinforced by its similarity to Indra's net,an image from Asian  verbal art,which depicts the cosmos in terms of a net of infinite extension,with a jewel hanging at each point of the net,each jewel reflecting every other jewel in the infinite structure,thereby evoking the idea of mutuality of reflection,of perception and being,at various points in an infinite universe.

The relationship between the symbolism of the yoni,the symbolism of the downward facing triangle, and that of the bindu, is depicted in a contemporary  piece of jewelry which conjoins the yoni/triangle and the bindu in terms of a gold yoni with a diamond bindu pendant,the precious metals of which suggests the superlative signficance of the concepts symbolised by the desgn of the jewelry.

The conjunction of the yoni image and the bindu reinforces the matrixial symbolism of both images,correlating the ground of cosmic becoming and its expression in terms of a source of  of human biological becoming, in one image.

 In the yantra known as the Sri Yantra,the universe is depicted as emanating from the bindu in terms of interrelated masculine and feminine forces,symbolised by intersecting upward and downward facing triangles. The masculine polarity is represented by four upward facing triangles,the feminine by five downward facing triangles,symbolic of the interrleationship of  feminine and masculine powers in the creation and constitution of the universe.

The upward facing triangles can be described as evocative of the Shivalingam,the Sanskrit term for the erect penis of Shiva,with the phallus understood as a conduit for the power of life expressed in terms of the capacity for procreation.Such an interpretation would imply an understanding of the Sri Yantra as an abstract,geometric expression of the union of Shiva and Shakti depicted in naturalistic terms with Shakti  on top  of Shiva.The relative positioning of both figures suggested by the upward facing Shiva triangles and the downward facing Shakti triangles is depicted in another image of the union of the divine figures expressed in terms of images of  the conjunction of female and male genitalia in terms of the lingam standing in a semi-circular form representative of the yoni, expressed in  sculpture and in an example of a  mudra.

 The visual minimalism of the bindu,its circularity of structure,its symbolising of cosmic potentiality,a potentialilty that first emerges into being in terms of conjoined masculine and feminine polarities that constitute the cosmos,resonates in classical Yoruba thought and its contemporary expressions,and in  Western esoteric thought.

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