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Friday, February 17, 2017

Lakshmi / Gilgamesh

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Lakshmi

"'It reflects the idea of what a wife does for her husband. If you look at the ancient text the laws of Manu which is about the ideal roles for people in society and Hinduism. It says a wife should obey her husband, it's very old school in that sense, but it also says that if the wife is not happy, the blessing of the household that she brings will not come.'

'If she's not happy she leaves'

'Well, it doesn't go quite so far as to say...'

'She leaves if she's not being treated well enough'...

'I'm not sure if the laws of Manu says that a wife should leave her husband. It is true that Lakshmi will leave Vishnu or any king who does not deserve her. And that's important. she's said to be fickle and the idea is that if you do not deserve her blessing she will move on to a different figure who deserves it more'...

She has an agricultural side. She's even said to reside in cow dung...

'She is much less of a goddess who manifests herself in anger at your misbehavior'...

'She's sometimes been likened to the Virgin Mary in the Catholic tradition. In that she's not about telling you ethically what to do - Krishna does that. Jesus does that and so on, she's much more about giving you grace even when you don't expect it. Even in situations where you need to be lifted up from a difficult situation. In that sense she forms the grace bestowal figure that is quite similar from the character of Mary'...

I once took a Hindu group to a Christian church. And they'd heard about Jesus as the God of love and goodness and blessing. They went into this Catholic church and saw a suffering, tortured man. And then they went to the Passion of Christ and came back to me the next day and said: I'm very confused. What did Jesus represent? Is it pain, is it suffering, is it love? I said It's love, but it has many different sides and I think that's helpful. Often Hinduism is pointing towards similar, related concepts of the divine. But it's not a single thing. It's some very complex idea...

She's the power without which her consort fades away...

That idea is quite widespread even if you look at the Old Testament, the character of wisdom is a powerful figure who helps God to create the universe. If you look at Egyptian myth, Isis helps the Great God to create the universe. The notion of power as being fundamentally female is actually quite a widespread idea in many different religions.

A Hindu woman once said to me, she was about to get married the next day: we need goddesses like Laskshmi, as well as Durga the warrior goddess, who I like, I also need a goddess who represents what I can be for my husband, my children and my household. Powerful in a soft but important way. What makes it feminist is that she's autonomous. She's powerful and she can leave if she's not treated well. That's what's essential"

***

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Epic of Gilgamesh

"People have sought to interpret these two dreams in terms of linguistic puns. So the word for axe sounds vaguely like the word for a male cultic prostitute and so on and so forth and so in some sense, these two dreams prefigure the sexual relationship between the two. But it all becomes very unwieldy, doesn't it? You have these dreams about totally random objects just for the sake of introducing some sort of wordplay and the words barely exist in the first place.

Gilgamesh being... very vulnerable. He's just won this great victory over Humbaba's... and he's washing after the battle, and we often find that there will be an event when heroes are kind of relaxed, they're not expecting something to happen, and because of the display of his body, Ishtar sees him and as you say there's this strong desire. And being a goddess of love and war - one might also say sex and violence - she's extremely direct, she's very aggressive and so she proposes to him, promising him wealth and power.

But as we mentioned earlier, she does have this very, let's say disencouraging dating history, this terrible fate that's met by all her previous lovers. So Gilgamesh refuses. He doesn't want to be the latest in the list of casualties... She's not used to not getting what she wants. To actually thwart Ishtar is a very dangerous strategy, so she calls down from her father the sky god Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh and to destroy Uruk...

Discovering this flood story which nobody would've predicated and came from sources much older than any known sources of the Bible was extremely high impact. This went beyond the limited world of scholarship. This became a matter of national discussion involving Prime Ministers, heads of state. It was internationally discussed. And of course for some people it was seen as a threat. The question was was it something that would somehow undermine the Bible or indeed was it something that supported the Bible. Could it be seen as supporting the belief in the Bible as a literal text?...

It also explores... would it be good to live forever? But if you look at the circumstances in which the Flood Hero is placed after he's made immortal by the Gods, having survived the Flood. He lives in, against a landscape that is not described. It's a blank sheet. And he lives there forever, with his wife. They have no company.

The poet doesn't say but he asks this question between the lines: isn't this an extremely lonely place to be, immortality? And I think if we think about the problem of immortality, when people say: oh, I'd like to live forever. In fact, and it's been explored in other literatures, living forever is probably hell on earth...

When mankind offends against the Gods, actually mankind is offending against nature. You find that in the cedar forest, as we've discussed, but also in the flood story you have the same idea coming. That somehow the expansion of human numbers is such that the Gods are disturbed. It's a kind of way of saying that too many people, overpopulation overburdens the earth and the earth will do something about it.

There's the kind of early notion of Gaia theory here, that the earth will respond as a self-regulating mechanism and get rid of the plague. In Gilgamesh of course it's the Gods who respond to the overpopulation of mankind in the flood story and try to wipe mankind out. So embedded there is the idea of, a view of ecology or the environment in which human beings do not, as in the Bible have dominion over the earth, but they're actually part of a world which is very carefully balanced and there're opportunities for them to endanger this balance by cutting down the cedar forest, by growing too fast in numbers which I think is a sophisticated notion and anticipates modern ideas about humans on the planet too"
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