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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26298

Title: "Unchaste" Goddesses, Turbulent Waters: Postcolonial Constructions of the Divine Feminine in South Asian Fiction
Authors: Mehta, Bijalpita
Advisor: Kanaganayakam, Chelva
Department: English
Keywords: Postcolonial, Gender Studies, Modern South Asia, Feminism, Resistance, Hegemony, Goddesses, Water, Rivers, Patriarchy, English Literature, World Literature, Nationalism
Issue Date: 18-Feb-2011
Abstract: This dissertation explores the presence of the divine feminine in Indic river myths of the Ganga, the Narmada, and the Meenachil as represented in the three novels: Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, Gita Mehta’s A River Sutra, and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It challenges masculinist nationalistic narratives, and identifies itself as a feminist revisionist work by strategically combining Indian debates on religious interpretations with Western phenomenological and psychoanalytical perspectives to open up productive lines of critical enquiry. I argue that the three postcolonial novelists under survey resurrect the power of the feminine by relocating this power in its manifestation as the turbulent and indomitable force of three river goddesses. In their myths of origin, the goddesses are “unchaste,” uncontainable, and ambiguous. Yet, Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian patriarchy manipulated and coerced women for their political purposes. They denied female agency in order to promote a brand of nationalism bordering on religious zeal and subjugation through imposed paradigms of chastity. The patriarchy conflated the imaginary chastity of the mother goddess in her multiple manifestations--including but not limited to the River Ganga--with the exalted position forced upon the young Indian widow. Popular art of the colonial period in India dismantled the irrepressible sexual ambiguity of the divine feminine for the Indian population, and reinvented her as a chaste, mother figure (Bharat Mata, or Mother India), desexualized her, and held her up as an iconic, pervasive figurehead of the Motherland. Ironically though, the makeover of the uncontrollable, “chaotic” feminine into this shackled entity during and after the Indian freedom struggle is just the kind of ambiguity that appears in discourses of nation building. By reaffirming the archaic myths of the feminine, Ghosh, Mehta, and Roy dislodge the colonial project and the patriarchal Indian independence movement that sought to “chastise” the divine feminine. I suggest that in these three novels pre-colonial images of the river goddesses--presented in all their ambiguous, multiple, and fluid dimensions--are a challenge to the Indian nationalist project that represents the goddesses one dimensionally as an iconic figure, unifying the geo-body of India and symbolically projecting her as the pure, homogenous Bharat Mata.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26298
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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