Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bhairavi II: The Archetype

As in the case of other ragas named after Hindu deities (Shree, Durga, Saraswati etc.), the genesis of the association between Bhairavi, as a melodic entity and its mythological correlates, is untraceable. However, Raga-Dhyana texts (contemplation of a raga) for many ragas are available in musicological literature. When backed by the power of mythology, these visualizations have a very obvious influence on their melodic interpretations, and their role in the musical culture.

Bhairavi's mythological persona is simple; but her archetypal symbolism is highly complex.

Parvati (Bhairavi), the daughter of the mountain-king Himawat, is an ambiguous semi-divinity. Although poetic metaphors accord her divine status, she is the quintessence of the lowly mortal woman worshipping the lofty male god. She literally worships the phallus (the predominant iconographic representation of Lord Shiva). She undertakes rigorous penance in order to purify herself, and to make herself worthy of marriage to her Lord. (O'Flaherty. The Divine Consort. Ed: Hawley & Wulff.Beacon Press.1986. Pg. 129-143)

At the same time, she is also the High Priestess of the cult of Shakti (the worship of the female divinity), which emerged as a corollary to the Bhakti cult. Bhakti involved the passionate worship of a male God by the devotee imagining himself/herself to be a woman in an erotic relationship with the divine. Homosexuality being taboo, the Shakti cult invented a female divinity, and made it convenient for male worshippers to imagine such an intimacy. (O'Flaherty. The Divine Consort. Ed: Hawley & Wulff.Beacon Press.1986. Pg. 129-143).

Parvati's ambiguous mortal/immortal status is the focal point of the transition from male-dominated to female-dominated hierogamies. She functions simultaneously at three levels. Below the mythological Parvati is the mere mortal worshipping her divinity. Above her, and infusing her with power, is Devi Mahamaya (The Eternal Feminine, on par with Bramha, the Creator), of whom there are several manifestations, ranging from the most ferocious, to the most benign. (O'Flaherty. The Divine Consort. Ed: Hawley & Wulff. Beacon Press. 1986.Pg. 129-143).

The cult of Shakti regards the female principle as the active principle, and the male principle as the passive one. "Shiva, when united with Shakti, is able to create; otherwise, he is unable even to move" (Quoted from Saundaryalahari. Radhakrishnan. Indian Philosophy. Vol. II Blackie & Sons. 10th Impression, 1977 Pg. 784-785).

Arising from this, and equally important to the world of art is the notion of sexual union in the Shakti cult. In iconographic representations of sexual union, Parvati/ Uma/ Bhairavi/ Shakti is represented astride Shiva rather than the other way around. In the ritualistic aspects of Shakti worship, the man must not spill his semen. Instead, he ingests the female sexual fluid called rajas (lit: the elixir of vitality), which is not menstrual blood. The union thus qualifies for the description of inverse sexual intercourse. (Marglin. The Divine Consort. Ed: Hawley & Wulff. Beacon Press. 1986. Pg. 298-315).

In this configuration of images, we are looking at a very powerful stimulus for art as a sublimation of man's sexuality. As the fountainhead of a mulitude of female divinities, she lends herself to numerous manifestations, while retaining her Bhairavi-ness. As a mythological persona, she straddles, simultaneously, the human/ accessible as well as the divine/ inaccessible worlds. She is Shiva's literal appendage, and also his spiritual superior. In the act of sexual union, she is Shiva's dominant partner; but her mythological persona is the epitome of female servility.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York.  The finest recordings of Raga Bhairavi have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd. New York.

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