Of late, one of the questions I am asked most frequently about India is, “Is it safe?” As a woman who has spent nearly eight continuous years either visiting or living in India, I am saddened by the question. As a result of my travels there, I know much more about the country’s millennium-old stone monuments, rich history, vibrant spiritual and intellectual culture, and almost impossible natural beauty. I recall many long car rides to small temples surrounded by glistening rice paddies, conversations in halting Tamil with wizened Brahmin priests, hiking up narrow steps and boulders towards hill forts and through Buddhist caves (sometimes with other women I’d met in India or befriended in grad school), and bargaining with clothing vendors for floaty cotton pants. My short answer is, yes, it is safe. Truly, I have been privileged and fortunate in all of my travels.
In the near future, I will make a journey closer to home, to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. I will be a courier for the MIA’s prized sculpture, Yogini Holding a Jar (c. 10th century), escorting her to the exhibition, Yoga and the Art of Transformation, where she will be reunited with two of her fellow goddesses for the first time in more than 50 years. She and at least 18 other deities once comprised a goddess temple in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, where devotees worshiped her as a personification of Shakti, the feminine energy that takes on an infinite variety of forms and drives all action in the cosmos. Her erect posture and supple figure emanate power and strength, offering us clarity in our daily actions and reminding us that images of the feminine traditionally have carried many positive resonances in India.
Looking to the past, our Yogini might provide inspiration for the future.