Deconstructing Shakti: Investigating representations of the Hindu goddess in South Africa

  • Pralini Naidoo University of KwaZulu-Natal


Several scholars have investigated and attempted to categorise the Hindu goddess. This Hindu goddess has never been a neat packaged entity, monolithic, singular or unchanging. Hinduism, itself, largely constructed from very diverse traditions is further complicated as practised in South Africa where the diaspora worship the goddess in various ways. Although this article shows an brief overview of some of the most popular of the Hindu goddesses, its main focus is on representations of Kali and Draupadi and the ways in which these representations might be interpreted as feminist, particularly within the South Indian Amman tradition in South Africa. Using a poststructural feminist theoretical framework I analyse various representations of Kali and Draupadi and juxtapose these with mainstream feminist scholarship in South Africa. Analysing, in this instance, the work of Alleyn Diesel, I interrogate how Amman goddesses, such as Kali and Draupadi (also referred to as fierce goddesses), come to be favoured by feminists, over goddesses such as Parvati, Saraswati and Laxmi (or ‘benign’ goddesses), entrenching a false binary between the categories, in order to promote a liberatory feminist agenda. I contend, first, that these categories of goddesses are not in simple opposition to each other, and that their representations are continually produced and thus dynamic and complex. Second, I argue that the valourisation of these Amman goddesses within feminist scholarship precludes the lived realities of the devotees themselves and that simply having a heroic feminist role model does not necessarily liberate women devotees from their multiple oppressions such as gender, class, caste and, in South Africa, race.