I am finally in Kerala and beginning my work here with an exploration of the power of the female deity in Hindu, Muslim, and Christian spirituality. Each of the three religions venerate powerful goddesses (for the Hindus), saints and martyrs (for the Christians) and revered holy women (for the Muslims).
Dominque-Sila Khan has done a very nice job exploring about this issue in her book Sacred Kerala: A Spiritual Journey where she points out that:
There is scarcely any religion in the world that does not revere a powerful feminine figure, be it a full-fledged goddess, a saint, a pious person or a mere symbol…the ‘mother figure’ pervades all three main religious traditions in Kerala. (page 114)
My journey in Kerala has begun with a search for this small, delicate temple to the goddess Bhadrakali in the village of Vamal, near Thalassery, Kerala. There is in fact a small Muslim community in the vicinity of the temple. There is in fact a mosque a mere 10 yards down the road, and it is not unusual to see Muslim women entering the temple to receive blessings and leave a small offering. This particular temple is also famous for its Teyyam dance performance.
Female deities and women of powerful spiritual persuasions will be a core focus of my work in Kerala. There are many instances of goddesses and christians saints being associated with each other as sisters, jewish martyrs from Karbala being venerated by Christians and Muslims, and of course powerful Sufi women saints who attract people of all faiths to their shrines.
Kerala will also be the focus of an exploration of the history of the Mapilla – the earliest community of Muslims to arrive on what is today known as the Indian shores. Before the imagined ‘invasions’, the Muslims were trading and settling on these shores as early as the 7th century AD. I will also be exploring the history of the Malabar coast and its central role in global trade in the centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. This centrality of the Malabar coast was first bought to my attention thanks to Janet Abu-Laghoud’s remarkable books called Before European Hegemony: The World System 1250 – 1350.
The journey has begun. It promises to be an exciting one.