Speech delivered on 9 August 2019 at Saptah Mandir, Reservoir Hills, Durban
Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je
Peed paraayi jaane re
Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye
Man abhimaan na aane re
Sakal lok maan sahune vande
Nindaa na kare keni re
Vaach kaachh man nishchal raakhe
Dhan-dhan janani teni re
Sam-drishti ne trishna tyaagi
Par-stree jene maat re
Jai Shri Krishna, Prem Namaste and my humble greetings to you all.
I started off with this poem which is world famous and special because it was Gandhi-jis favourite. It was penned by 15th century poet Narsinh Mehta and is regarded as a blueprint for life..
Translated, it means…
One who is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu)
Knows the pain of others
Does good to others
without letting pride enter the mind.
A Vaishnav tolerates and praises the entire world
Does not speak ill of others
Keeps promises, actions and thoughts pure
his or her mother is blessed indeed.
A Vaishnav sees everything equally, rejects greed
And respects women as he respects his own mother
This poem resonates deeply with me as I’m sure it does for many of you too. These values touched on by the poem are the same values that we learn at home. Keeping these values alive however lies at the doors of temples. It is only when such poems are song out aloud, when there is divine vibrations of people singing together – that these values become a way of life. And as far as temples go, Saptah Mandir for me is home.
Saptah Mandir has been a major part of my life… for more than the 14 years it turns today. Previously the temple operated from a small but ever-so-vibrant premises in Durban’s Prince Edward Street. It is here where I began connecting with divine vibrations through song and scripture. It became the centre of my understanding of religious and ritual practices. And so, I am very much a product of this temple – first as a daughter and a young girl visiting the temple in the Durban CBD, and now as a wife and mother, who finds great joy and peace visiting the temple in Reservoir Hills.
That the temple celebrates its anniversary today on Women’s Day is no mere co-incidence. It’s a divine blessing. Reverence and respect of the female form is at the heart of every celebration at Saptah Mandir. For me, Navarathri in particular is incomplete if I have not bowed down to the Divine Mother here or danced for garba.
As I reflect on all this, I feel deeply humbled to be speaking to you.
*Going back to the Vedic age, we understand that women were given an important place in society – and were equal in standing with men. It is here where ‘shakti’, the feminine form of energy, was born.
And so worshipping this shakti in the form of Goddesses was a natural consequence. These Goddesses stand for different feminine qualities – Goddess Kali represents the destructive energy, Durga the protective, Lakshmi the nourishing, and Saraswati the creative.
Hinduism is incomplete without worshipping these feminine aspects. And let’s think about how we worship.. Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Uma-Mahesh, and Lakshmi-Narayan… it is the female form that is addressed first.*
Also we say – Matha Pitha Gurudeva – mother, father, teacher… Mother comes first, and should always come first.
Yet ironically, in society today, despite many gains, despite the many sucesses of the modern women, some women are still expected to put themselves last and some do have to sacrifice their dreams.
A few years ago, on a rainy night, I was in a conversation with a friend. We spoke about the weather. She says to me – my husband will not allow me to drive in the rain. I was shocked that this was coming from a young modern woman, and more so, that she was okay with it.
Recently I attempted to have discussion with people about patriarchy. It didn’t go very well because again, some women themselves are still willing to allow stereotypes to be perpetuated.
Some examples of patriarchy
– Are some women still forbidden from working by their families and in-laws?
– Are some women still not allowed to drive?
– Is there still the perception that a man has to earn more than his female partner – and if that isn’t the case – there is a problem, that he should feel threatened by his partner?
– Is it acceptable for men to travel out of town, out of country for work but not for a working woman to do the same?
– When it comes to family events – is there that line – the men must eat first because that is tradition?
– And within the workplace – is it always the female in the team that takes minutes and makes tea or coffee – simply because she is a lady and well, that’s what ladies do. It doesn’t matter what qualification she has – even if it’s higher than the men she works with…
Ask yourself – are you guilty of any of these? It really is time to change this – slowly but surely. Men in particular need to consider how they treat and respond to women – because they are role models for little boys – boys who will grow up to be men in future, husbands too and later fathers.
Sadly – as we speak, there are so many cases of women being abused, raped and murdered. As a journalist – it has reached a point where I cannot even read some of there horrific stories. We need to speak out against violence – no matter who the culprit is – whether it is family, friends or colleagues. Too many lives are being lost, and too many children are being robbed of the joys of having a mother.
Women are game changers – they are flying high literally as pilots, they are business owners, CEOs and at the same, women can also choose to give up work to be stay-at-home mums. Whatever a woman decides must be of her own free will. It’s something I feel very passionate about as a journalist. I have been fortunate to have been inspired by and also work with progressive men and women who have fed my desire to do more and work harder. And I’m still working on developing my career… it never ends.
We need to encourage more girls to be proud of who they are and remind them that no dream is too big – that with perseverance and deterimation, it can be achieved.
To all of you – men and women – I challenge you you to become champions for women’s rights – in the home, in the workplace and within society, to truly enable women to flourish. To all our mothers and sisters here today – I salute you and thank you for all that you have done but yes, we are not done yet.
I want to leave you with these inspiring and motivating lines which was shared with me this morning…
Every woman who awakens Courage within herself is Durga…
Every woman who awakens Transformation within herself is Kali…
Every woman who awakens Devotion within herself is Parvati…
Every woman who awakens Nurturing within herself is Annapurna…
Every woman who awakens Shiva within herself is Shakti…
Today and everyday, let us celebrate the Goddess within…