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The Hindu festival of Navratri has just concluded. Navratri means the nine days of the Mother Divine and is best celebrated in the Bangalore Ashram of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. There every day, dozens of Pandits (Hindu priests) perform long pujas with Sanskrit mantras, water, fire and many other elements to worship the Mother and make her presence come down in the assembly. Sri Sri himself sits there immobile, eyes closed, often in trance. There are also meditations and satsangs, where people sing together in praise of this Divine Energy that sometimes makes them dance in ecstasy. My wife and I have been privileged to witness many of this Navratris pujas over the years and we always come out feeling energized of been part of something that is beautiful, fulfilling and mysterious.


Very few people know that India is Feminine : Mother India, the Shakti. The Sages or Rishis of ancient Vedic times, who defined the infinite spirituality that is Hinduism, had realized in themselves that Energy is She. Indeed the great yogi Sri Aurobindo, said : “ Without her I manifest not”… . I had the Grace of meeting the Mother of Pondicherry, who was Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual companion and continued his work after he passed away. Sri Aurobindo wrote at length about the power of the Shakti. He said that there are four aspects of the Mother : Maheshwari the power that is above us all, Infinite Wisdom and All Seeing; Mahalaxmi, her aspect of beauty, bounty & delight; Mahasaraswati, that which gives perfection in works; and finally Mahakali or Durga, the terrible & warring energy, that rains upon the worlds when it goes astray. According to Hindu scriptures, we are now in the Kali Yuga, or the Iron Age and it is this last aspect of the Mother which is most active and this is why we see a world in turmoil, whether it is in Ukraine or Palestine.


There is a great misunderstanding in the West about the status of women in India. The impression is often that Indian women are either oppressed or burnt or raped. Yet no other country in the world has given so much place and importance to women. Not only is energy feminine, but half of India’s deities are women - and sometimes women warriors. In France, we have one famous woman warrior, Jeanne d’Arc, but in India there are hundreds of great queens who were as fearless :  Rani Durgavati, who fought the Moghols, Rani Akhabat who fought the Portuguese, Rani Chennama the British act... A queen like Ahilyabai Holkar, who was not even of royal blood, and became an accidental rani, as her husband and son died, proved to be a remarkable ruler, forming a battalion of women, building temples everywhere, including the famous Kashi Vishwanath in Banaras, ruling fairly and being a great reformist.  


In modern times too,  the respect of Shakti manifested itself politically in India, first when Indira Gandhi in the late 60s ruled her country with an iron hand, wielding an absolute power in a man’s world. Even islamic countries such as Pakistan, have the concept of Shakti: Benazir Bhutto, whom I interviewed twice, also ruled her country as no man could. In Bangladesh, the last two Prime Minister has been women. Who knows that today the country which has most female pilots is India? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also just introduced a law that will make it mandatory for the Indian Parliament to have 33% or more of women MPs, a first in the world.


When I drove from Paris to Pondicherry at the young age of 19, we reached Delhi after four weeks of eventful travel through many countries. We spent the first night in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Delhi branch. There I had an extraordinary spiritual experience:  I felt that in this very soil that is India, there was an ancient knowledge that would answer all my questions - who am I, what is the purpose of life, what is Karma, Dharma, why are we reborn so many lives and why suffering? This knowledge came from the Shakti, from Mother India herself and over the years I sensed it again in different places. Sometimes in the Himalayas, particularly above Almora where we go every year; also in Pune after teaching a Pranayama course, where I felt that something should be done about the great Shivaji Maharaj whose genius & extraordinary courage has been forgotten outside Maharashtra and  why I should build a museum of TRUE Indian history. Even in Srinagar, Kashmir, which I was covering for the French newspaper Le Figaro, at the height of insurgency. Once, as there was curfew in Srinagar, I walked on the bund that stops the Jelhum river from overflowing. There, amidst sounds of gunfire and grenades, I felt that Kashmir should be preserved by India because there so many saints, sadhus and avatars had meditated over the millenniums on the powers of the Shakti.


Today, as India faces many obstacle and enemies whether it is the Islamic onslaught coming from Pakistan or Afghanistan, the Protestant missionaries converting dalits or tribals, or the westernization that comes to villagers through cable TV and makes them think that wearing a suit or buying of ₹60 Cream cream to whiten their skins it is a must, we again invoke the power of Shakti’s so that India or Bharat, can remain faithful to her eternal soul, while adopting the best of Western technology and knowhow. Sri Aurobindo, or Swami Vivekananda, often said that India needs to become the spiritual leader of the world. Great contemporary gurus, like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are bringing pranayama and meditation as well as ayurvéda to the West. But for this knowledge to fully spread and take root, India needs to become not only an economic but also a geopolitical superpower and for that she needs the power of Shakti


François Gautier

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