#20: The tale of Raktabija – and my shadowban

Where I forget to celebrate my 20th weekly newsletter because I’m focused on Hindu mythology today – and being shadowbanned by Google.

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In a society centered on the male citizen, the feminization of monsters served to demonize women.

Kiki Karoglou
women and other monsters

Amongst my reading in the past couple of weeks has been Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman. It’s a ‘fresh cultural analysis of female monsters from Greek mythology, and an invitation for all women to reclaim these stories as inspiration for a more wild, more “monstrous” version of feminism’. While I hoped for more delving into mythology (much of the book is about her own personal experiences) it did drive home the point that monsters aren’t always monsters – and that the demonization is on purpose.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the story of Medusa hasn’t sat well with me for a long time. She gets raped, she gets punished for it – and she’s the monster? That’s utter bullshit. I already read between the lines of mythological tales and make an educated guess about what they were trying to say or hide.

Reading this book drove the point home – and made me reconsider a story I took for granted: the tale of the demon Raktabeeja.

A quicker primer on Hinduism

Hinduism has the first concept of a trinity,

(this is where I put on my Mr. Portokalos hat with the Indian version of You know what else came from Greece?)

with the highest deities being the holy triumvirate of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and (my favorite since I was a kid) Shiva the Destroyer. Together they are known as the Trimurti – sanskrit for three forms or (wait for it) … trinity.

Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and (my favorite since I was a kid) Shiva the Destroyer
Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer

Hinduism is primarily polytheistic (note: Hindus can be atheist too) so there are a host of other gods and goddesses. Most gods have consorts (wife, companion, partner) as masculine and feminine aspects are paired together, depending on the branch of Hinduism (note: there are also representations of genderless and androgynous).

The top female gods are the Tridevi (three goddesses) are Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati, partners to the aforementioned male gods. But in Shaktism (a denomination that focuses on the Divine Mother and is believed to be 20,000 years old), they are the Trimurti representing Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.

(I mention this because my experience with Hinduism is that the separation of masculine and feminine is more common/popular. And the country is hella mysoginistic so the male/female aspect has really been taken to heart – not surprising since the male/female aspect believes that the male aspect takes action while the female aspect inspires action.)

On top of this, many gods have different aspects – aka versions where they are known by different names. Vishnu has a bunch of avatars. Shiva’s consort Parvati has over 20 manifestations, including the two most popular in Bengal, Durga (a demon fighting mother goddess) and Kali (fierce goddess of time and change, raw power and courage, ‘the material form of the void darkness in which the universe comes to exist, and in the end, everything dissolves into her’).

Kali you probably have heard of thanks to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. And she is who we’ll be considering today.

Parvati leading the eight mother goddesses in battle against the demons. Notice what's happening the bottom right corner...
Parvati leading the eight mother goddesses in battle against the demons. Notice what’s happening the bottom right corner…

The tale of Raktabeeja

Raktabeeja (pronounced raak-tha-bee-jah; rakta = blood, beeja = seed) was a demon. Technically he was an asura (fun fact: asuras were the heroes in Zoroastrianism), which has been loosely translated as demon for years.

Anywho, after a shit-ton of meditating, fasting, and other penances, he was granted a boon from Brahma: if a drop of his blood fell on the ground, a fully formed clone would be born on the spot.

So it happens that there is a battle between good and evil – the gods vs the demons. But in this particular tale, the goddesses are the highest and supreme powers, with Durga leading the charge against Mahishasur and his minions.

Spoiler: good defeats evil, but you probably figured that out.

Raktabija’s part is near the end, before the final victory. He shows up and the tide starts to turn against the gods. Every drop of his blood results in a new clone, and their blood results in more clones, etc. We’re talking an exponential increase in the number of villains.

The solution: bloodthirsty Kali.

india calcutta kalighat painting 19th century kali 2003.116 cleveland museum of art
We own a batik painting of this exact iconography.

As an aspect of Parvati, she appears, swallows and laps up all the blood, preventing any further cloning and allowing Raktabija to be killed (I’m assuming she ate him and his clones as well). She continues fighting in the battle and in the final battle, all aspects are re-absorbed back into Durga (aka Parvati), who finishes things up by herself.

Now that was the end of that part of the story of the great battle, but that’s not the end in folklore – in the version that I learned and is commonly known.

In folklore, all of this blood drives Kali into a frenzy, and she goes on a rampage destroying everything in her path. No one can stop her (this part retains the myth’s basis of goddesses being supreme). She can’t be reasoned with, and she can’t be physically stopped.

She is literally all powerful.

But Shiva – her husband – knows what to do. He lies down in her path of destruction and waits.

She continues on her path of destruction, until she comes upon Shiva. She doesn’t notice that he’s there until she steps on his chest – when she stops.

She stops because feet are considered unclean. Pointing the soles of your feet at someone is an insult (and can be done intentionally). Pointing the soles at religious images and artifacts is also bad. If you step on someone’s belongings or even their feet with your feet it necessitates an immediate apology.

So OH NOES: she stepped on her husband with her darn unclean feet. Some versions say that touching Shiva, who represents pure consciousness, led to her consciousness returning to her. But this is bullshit because he could have just tapped her shoulder.

She realizes that she’s insulted her <sarcasm> exalted </sarcasm> husband and stops. And then sticks her tongue out.

Now the tongue sticking out thing (usually stuck out and gently bitten) is a common gesture, the physical realization of a mistake. It’s intent can range from a simple Oops to full-blown shame.

In this case, it’s taken as full blown shame. She realizes the error of her ways and stops.

End of story.

And now we read between the lines

Clearly, the extended folklore ending is a later addition, from a time when dominant sects of Hinduism were well on their way to denigrating the power and existence of women. 20,000 years ago Shaktism was all about the all powerful feminine divine. I’m not sure when this later addition came but I’m sure it coincides with the sect that believes that male gods take action and female gods inspire action (insert vomit here).

The thing is, this addition was not necessary because the original mythology covers what happens to Kali (she keeps fighting and gets reabsorbed before the final battle).

But someone made this story up because they could not have narrative existing where a goddess was all powerful. They recognize that, noting that no being could physically stop her.

So they made up some crap about her feeling shame for insulting her husband.

This is what it takes to stop the most powerful woman in existence: a made-up rule.

A goddamn technicality buttressed by societal expectations.

And remember that basically all of the goddesses were aspects of one supreme feminine divinity. So this story was putting the kibosh on the powerfulness of ALL goddesses.

They can be powerful, but they can’t be all powerful or even equal. They must be second-class to the male gods.

And to add insult to injury, the take her red tongue, that sticks our of her mouth to represent her power and bloodthirstiness, into a symbol for shame.

There are going to be some changes in Mythological Fight Club when the story reaches India.

Looks like Google shadowbanned me!

Eleven days ago I wrote a post wondering asking if SEO is bullshit.

3 days later, my site’s traffic dropped off a fucking cliff.

image 6
The circled point is the day I published my ‘SEO is bullshit’ post.

I haven’t gotten any warnings about any major issues in Google Search Console.

I post consistently, my site loads fast (when caching is enabled, it’s disabled for the last couple of days as I work on a redesign), I use an SEO plugin to make sure meta-tags etc are good.

This confirms that 1) SEO is bullshit and 2) it’s a fucking scam.

It’s already suspect since Google relies on ad revenue from searches – and it’s to their benefit to elevate pro-SEO content and bury anti-SEO content.

Looks like their ‘Don’t be evil’ ethos was always bullshit.

It’s time for a proper non-profit, open source search engine, because giant corporate entities can’t be trusted with anything.

That’s all folks.

That’s plenty for today, I was all good until I wrote about my shadowban and got pissed off. Fuck corporate hegemonies.

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Each issue is written straight from the heart. I write about life as a creative, how to make money without being a skeevy marketing bro, good reads, and bad jokes. Free exclusive comics may or may not be involved.