Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Spirit of Shakti

One of my favorite photos. Both of these women, weighted down with nearly 100 pounds
of agricultural goodness that they harvested. Note that the wide strip of cloth around their
heads is not a headband, but is the way they carry their loads. All of this is beyond
impressive to me, but their beautiful smiles in the midst of it all, were stunning.

Today’s post  is a dedication to some pretty amazing women in Nepal. I’ve been fortunate enough to live with families throughout  my stay, so I’ve been privy to some extraordinary inside knowledge about family life. Before I continue, though, understand that because of the dramatic geography of Nepal, many groups of ethnicities exist within Nepal, as many as 70+ by some accounts. There are also Hindu-driven beliefs, Buddhist beliefs, and syntheses of the two regarding the women’s role(s). In short, it’s near impossible to make blanket statements or generalizations; my observations, then, are not intended to capture the nuanced traditions of all groups. They are simply that—observations I couldn’t help but make during my stay here in Nepal of some very deserving women.

And what about Shakti?

Shiva may be the most dominant of Gods in the Himalayan kingdom, but the female in Hinduism is a manifestation of both motherhood and Shiva's female companion, Shakti. Shakti is primarily benevolent, but when she is wild, she is referred to as "Feminine Cosmic Energy of Lord Shiva" (ok, so, "benevolent with attitude"--sounds about right to me!).

Shakti is considered the creator, preserver and destroyer, a Universal Mother/ Mother Goddess with power to restore balance and destroy evil forces. Every Hindu God has its Shakti--without it, their power would not exist. She goes by other names (Devi, Durga, Kali, to name a few), and is revered as divine for her influences and powers.

See if you agree with me that these Nepali women personify the Spirit of Shakti...

Evening time, and the sisterhood of Nepali women is still evident. Red
clothing is typical for married women.

Some beautiful smiles. This mom enjoys the Holi festival with her kids,
wisely out of the fray.

Many of the older women are still hard-working, but they still know
how to enjoy themselves--this woman is also enjoying events of the
Holi festival from a safe vantage point. 

Beautiful colors abound in their dress, even when they are working.
Traditional craftswomen still work their magic
with painstaking care.
One of my hosts, known as Didi or Hem-ji. She typically
starts in mid-afternoon to prepare the evening meal.

Uphill, barefoot, and laden with goods. As this picture was taken
about 10am, she was probably on her 3rd trip from the terraced fields.

When I see these women early in the morning,
it makes my running feel so very frivolous.

Again, these women can be seen in the evening. Can you tell I was beyond
impressed? I would love to show you pictures of their weather-worn
 faces close up, their smiles when I greeted them--still so polite despite
  their loads, but I didn't want to be intrusive.

Dedicated and hardworking teachers; 3 of them travel from the village
at 4:45am to teacher college, return on the 10 o'clock bus to teach
at 11:00 am. Teachers share the duties of of teaching all students,
regardless of age. 
My incredible host "sister", who allowed me to stay in her home, shared
her lifestyle, and provided real insight into the ways of Nepalese women.
"Didi" is in charge of getting the day started. A mainstay
around the school grounds and my host family, this is
one amazing woman. Salty yet caring, with a heck of a
sense of humor. Kids and adults alike absolutely adore her.

As traditional as she is, Didi was still curious to learn
a wee bit about technology.
Oh how I would have loved to speak fluent Nepali
with Didi!

The women are meticulous about their homes, even
sweeping the packed dirt area outside the entryway.
They use brooms made of twigs, sticks, and
sometimes straw. And yes, sweeping the dirt actually
DOES make quite a difference.

Washing clothes is a typical morning chore, especially on Saturdays.
Nepalese normally work 6 days/ week, with Saturday being their

Women in the fields, taking a well-deserved break. I've been told
more than once that the agricultural workers date back generations,
and that they are content with what they do.
I'm certain that answers would vary according to whom I asked.
The familial bonds are strong here, outside of the big cities. Here you
can see 3 generations together while mom works.
Local women gathering water from the town well. 
Didi, posing for me--in all her glory. Bejeweled daily with
a beaded necklace, a wristful of bangles, red dress, and
dual red tikkas on the forehead and the hairline, like other
married Hindu women, she is a lovely force to be reckoned with,
Her photo embodies the strong spirit of
so many women I have met. And most definitely, the
indomitable spirit of Shakti. 

Wondering if my fellow femmes have a touch of Shakti within, too? ;)

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