SU professor discusses women and goddesses in Hindu culture

On Feb. 1, Syracuse University professor Dr. Anne Grodzins Gold gave a lecture titled "Gender and Religion in a North Indian Village," about Hindu beliefs and the intimate relationship between goddesses and Hindu women. Gold has spent the last 25 years living off and on in an Indian village in Rajasthan.

Gold is a professor of cultural anthropology at SU. She made her first trip to India in 1979, intending to study the pilgrimages of Hindu people. Upon her arrival to Rajasthan, she met an American studying folklore who asked her to come to a small village. The women in the village took Gold in, and her experience with them turned her attention to women's studies. As she began recording the stories and lives of the women, she noted that "it was completely accidental. I had no intention of going there."

Freshman Caitlin Klein said, "What struck me the most was that she didn't go over there looking to study women's rights. It's commendable that she went with that and became one of them." Over the past 25 years Gold has done extensive studies on pilgrimages, gender relations, epics of world renunciation, and cultural constructions of the environment. When she first arrived in 1979 the people were both critical and curious. In the past, only men from America had come to their village, and the female villagers weren't allowed to ask questions. Now they were allowed to talk to an American and have their questions answered.

"They were very curious," Gold said. "They thought that streets in America were paved with glass, and that we put all of our elderly into jails."

The lecture focused on the strong bonds between goddesses and Hindu women. Men do not bond as strongly with the goddesses, but still have a relationship with them, praying and even becoming possessed, Gold said.

Gold focused primarily on the strength women gain from their relationship with the goddesses. The women go on pilgrimages to visit their shrines, at which they place offerings and spend the night singing, dancing and worshipping with other women. According to Hindu beliefs, each goddess has different powers. The goddess Durga gives women the ability to stand up for themselves. She's known for defeating the buffalo demon, an event symbolic of female strength.

The lecture seemed to be rushed, and it would have benefitted from more detail. Facing a diverse audience, with some knowing more about India and the topic than others, Gold stuck to the basics of her experience.

"It was interesting," freshman John Whelehan said, "but I wish there was more time for her to explain the differences between how men and women worship. All in all, it was a neat educational opportunity and it was exciting to learn about the different cultures and people." The overall response to the lecture was a positive one.

Sophomore Seth Palmer stated, "I was really interested to hear her talk about the use of Indian goddesses in the Indian feminist movement." The audience as a whole was equally receptive to a lecturer who clearly knew and understood her topic very well.