2000 Student-Faculty Fellows: Luther College

India: Mahakali: Her Worship and Her Followers

Mentor: Brahmjyot K. Grewal, Department of History
Student: Jean Marie Hollingsworth, ’00, History and Political Science

Jean Marie Hollingsworth

Jean sees this research trip as a blessing from Goddess Kali; it has strengthened her resolve to return to graduate school in the future to pursue a Master’s degree in South Asian studies and to eventually practice a career leading from it. It has also affected her spiritually. Her sense is that she has only begun to understand the impact that the legend of Mahakali and her worship has on Indian society; there is a sense of unfinished business in her mind. It is clear she will have to return to India to continue what she started with this short trip. Additionally, she also wants to use the knowledge gained from this trip to teach her compatriots about Goddess Kali and eliminate the negative images that persist in the west of Kali; she feels ready to embark on teaching her fellow students at Luther about the reality of the worship of Kali and Her followers.

Prof. Brahmjyot K. Grewal

Jyoti’s take on the research is closely related to her teaching. She has decided to revamp several of her history courses in order to include goddess worship as an important segue into analyzing the socio-historical developments of modern India. Furthermore, she will be initiating a new course to be taught at Luther College with members of other departments where the students will be introduced to postmodern Indian feminism via the lens of Hinduism’s Goddesses as agents of change and righteousness. Finally, she is very keen to further research into the relationship of goddess worship and the rise of Indian feminism, particularly in north India.

Research Findings

The following summarize some of the findings of our research; (1) the origin myths of the various temples were rather similar, though there were some that claimed their founding to the wanderings of the Pandavas 2500 years ago as recorded in the Mahabharata. (2) barring two temples that had replaced the dark-skinned Mahakali with a more benevolent looking fair Durga, the temples retained the powerful image of Mahakali in their sanctum sanctorum. (3) the people who worshipped there perceived Kali as the mender of all that had gone awry; she was benevolent despite the image that invokes horror from those unfamiliar with her. (4) younger women saw Kali as a Mother who taught them the righteous path to rebel and resist the sexism of Indian society; they sought credence, power, and legitimacy from Her. (5) men often saw Her as a Mother who ought to be venerated. (6) some of Her worshippers were Sikhs, Dalits, and “reborn” Hindus.

Venues for Sharing

Jean will be giving two presentations in the Religion Department’s offerings on Hinduism and Women’s Studies Course on Two-Thirds World feminism. In the Fall of 2001, Jean and Jyoti will then do a larger presentation to the entire campus on their research where they will show the entire film, do a postmodern analysis of the worship, and enhance the campus’s awareness of Hinduism, Goddess Kali, and feminism.