Possession and liberation
In Hinduism religious practice is not limited to believing and praying, but can also cause the presence of a god in a human body. In order to create an intermediate connection between the divine power and human kind certain individuals can serve as mediums. Even though, in India a clearly patriarchal order can be witnessed women hold a special position in communication with the gods. Therefore, in postcolonial times girls were given to certain temples to be raised as wives of the deity by undergoing a special education to be able to perform rites. One group was known as the Devadasis who were married to Shiva and tried to set his creative and fertile power free by seducing him into their own bodies. But the female temple dancers were politically fought by the British, and their actions forbidden with the Devadasi Bill in 1947 because they were seen as temple prostitutes. Another group of spiritual women, whose practice still can be seen in some parts of India, are the Matammas. These women are married to female village goddesses and serve as intermediates between them and the village population. They also not only perform rites but claim to be possessed by the goddess from time to time, which allows direct communication with the goddess and her expression of concerns. But not only women married to deities claim to experience the presence of gods in their own bodies. In some cases regular women become mediums and therefore receive high reputation in their society and are then called Matajis. The phenomenon of being possessed by a god as a female individual will be discussed under the aspects what benefits the spiritual possession has for the women, and how this accepted religious act provides power for them as females in a patriarchal society.
The religious institution of Matammas, often females from lower casts, allows women a standing in society as females married to a village goddess, but not to a human man. Expected to perform rites, help people with spiritual problems, and serve as mediums they are actually standing outside of the society and have no traditional gender role obligations. They even can have children and move freely to wherever the goddess takes them. Serving as a medium frees them from all classical female obligations and exculpation of their actions since they only need to please the goddess they are married to and follow her word only. As a transmitter Matammas are allowed to go wherever the deity takes them and talk to who ever needs spiritual help. As wandering women, they provide a chance of communication for other women and provide spiritual strength in their advice. They are protected by the religion and function as its living profess, which ensures their liberation from human obligations as marriage or devotion to men.
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- Kati Neubauer (Author), 2008, Possession and liberation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/133375