Rural Women’s Power in South Asia: Understanding Shakti by Pashington Obeng (auth.)

By Pashington Obeng (auth.)

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The economic activities of the women reflect and connect with notions of male and female roles within their culture. The women enjoy basket weaving because they know their craft had been an important source of sustenance for their families and community. There are, however, cultural restrictions on women as to which aspects of the production and sale they can perform. Though village community councils are male-controlled, and thus tend to enhance men’s status in Koravar society, some of their women are beginning to contend that the contribution they, the women, make to basket production, for example, is integral to the basket-weaving process as a whole.

Men and women perform customary dances wearing traditional attire. During the dances, the performers invoke the name of Lord Vittoba, a community deity. It is a time when large crowds make public sacrifices to their deities, said Dondobhai, a Gowli from Mainalli. Over the past 20 years, Northern Karnataka Gowlis have rotated the venue of the festival. The host community organizes the public events and meals. Such rotation, Gowli leaders in Mainalli argue, allows the larger Karnataka state to know about Gowlis (personal communication, Dondobhai, 28 June 2009).

Gowli women can also garland and feed the deities and perform the fire sacrifice (arati, a rotation of flame in front of the god or goddess). Female religious specialists thus play a critical role during Dasara. The following incident illustrates women’s participation in the festival. 1 Contested terrain: During the 2009 Dasara festival, when the deity Vittoba possessed the male pujaris, or celebrants, two women from Mainalli were possessed by Yellama (Yellama is a southern Indian goddess independent of the Brahminical Hindu deities).

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