Women’s Day traces its roots to New York where the first celebrations took place on February 28, 1909, followed by Soviet Russia on March 8, 1917, until it was finally adopted by the United Nations in 1975. Since then plenty of events are held to mark the day and debate idea of women empowerment and gender equality across the world.
On a day like this, let’s look at the stories of that have come to define a civilisation for its worship of the feminine power as divine.
Stories of courage, valour and sacrifice transcend geographies and time, but heroes and heroines are relatable. It becomes easier to look up to them when they look familiar and speak the same language. An interesting way to map these stories of courage and sacrifice in Jammu region is through the monuments and heritage sites, both religious and non-religious.
These brick-and-mortar edifices not just tell stories of ordinary women, who were extraordinary in their acts, but also present a picture of the worshippers who bowed to the feminine power and sought their blessings.
Jammu region, the abode of Mata Vaishno, is an area thriving under the shadow of the Trikuta Mountains which find mention in the oldest of Vedas — Rig Veda. Considered one of the most powerful of shaktipeeths, it is one of the many in the region where the divine feminine is worshipped.
Vaishno Devi temple
Sukrala, Sheetla, Cheechi, Bhoomeshwari, Kalka, Sarthal and many more are worshipped as divine mothers. Bawe Wali Mata temple dedicated to Goddess Mahakali is the presiding deity of the city of Jammu. Jammuites believe that it is she who protects the city from foreign invaders. The same role of the protector is attributed to the deity in the Mahamaya Temple.
Kashmir has a similar tradition of worshipping feminine power as the divine. Ragnya, Sharika, Jwala and Bala Tripurasundari are revered in Jammu region. The worship of "Shakti" is considered a must for peace and prosperity and the practice of Kanya Pujan is the recognition of the same within the girl child. The feminine divine has also been acknowledged as a fierce warrior and her blessings are sought during battles. The war cry of Jammu Kashmir Rifles, which earlier was the State Force of the Dogra kingdom of Jammu Kashmir, is "Durge Mata ki Jai".
Peculiar to the Jammu region are quaint shrines devoted to village deities of whom many are women, worshipped as Daatis or Kuldevis. Their stories are sometimes tragic like that of "Bua Amro" and "Bua Bhukhi" who became victims of mistreatment at the hands of their in-laws. The precious loss of lives has been acknowledged through eulogies to these women and the status of "Devi" given to them. The shrines dedicated to them, their regular worship and at times even annual fairs organised in their name stand as reminders of the wrongs done to them.
Many of these are also stories of ordinary women rising to extraordinary stature against injustice. The Daati of Dhabbuj in Samba tehsil died during her fight against the atrocities committed by Lalpal, a rich businessman from Samba. Bua Bhaga’s samaadhi is in Billawar tehsil and a testimony to her rebellion against autocracy.
She protested against the unfair taxes imposed on the farmers by the jagirdar of sumarta on the orders of the raja of Bhaddu. Bua Bhaga opposed this taxation vehemently. She went door-to-door, carrying her newborn who was being breast-fed at that time, urging people not to pay the taxes. There was no room for opposition and after being cornered by the king's soldiers who had come to arrest her, Bua Bhaga died along with her infant daughter in order to protect her honour. Bua Bhaga teaches us lessons in bravery, activism and standing for the rights of the people. She gave up her life for the larger good, a Duggar Veerangana no doubt.
Poignant reminders of the traits of valour, service and supreme sacrifice of the people of Jammu region, are the numerous gates, roadside shrines and statues of martyrs who gave up their lives in the service of their motherland. Though the names etched on the stone are of heroes, they stand testimony to the heroines, the women who bore and raised such men, and then sent them off to the service of the nation.
Dogras are a warrior race, the only one who fought and won battles at unbelievable heights and beyond India, stretching the boundaries up to the northern frontiers. Behind every General Zorawar Singh and General Baj Singh was a mother, who nurtured the quality of fearlessness and a high sense of duty. When a soldier leaves home to serve his country, the women of his house bravely hold fort. With every soldier martyred, there remains a mother, sister and a wife picking up the pieces with an incredible strength to go on. They were self-reliant before and they are asked to become even stronger later.
Brigadier Rajinder Singh of the Jammu Kashmir State Forces, the saviour of Kashmir and the first one to be awarded the Maha Vir Chakra in independent India, was a Durga devotee, fighting till the last bullet. He was matched in a partner, his wife, Ram Dei, the quintessential Dogra soldier’s wife, who sent her husband to battlefield knowing very well that he may never return. Ram Dei was left alone to raise five daughters. It takes an emotionally strong woman to be able to bid goodbye to her husband who leaves for distant unfriendly lands, where the enemy awaits him.
Sukrala Mata temple
Almost every town and village in Jammu region has men in the armed forces. The land dotted with dedications to martyrs, reminiscent of not just the bravery of the man alone, but the courage of the lionesses, who bore and raised such sons and the wives, the bravehearts who supported them. The graam and kul Devis, referred to as Daatis are seen as symbols of power, those who made the supreme sacrifice for the society and became worthy of worship.
Jammu-Kashmir being a frontier state has been a silent sentinel, witness to many wars, foreign invasions and bloody turmoil. The region has been in conflict for the last 70 years, women and children facing the worst brunt of it. There are many unsung heroines like Ananti Devi, wife of Col Shiv Ram Singh, the Raja of Kaleeth, in Akhnoor in Jammu region. She became a young widow and not only went on to raise six of her own children but was also a mother to all her erstwhile subjects. Her title of Karnalini, a colloquial term that denoted of her status of a wife and of a Colonel, was well-earned. She would ride her horse, dressed in the traditional Dogra attire of Suthan-kurta and during the wars of 1965, 1971 tour her region with a gun, watching out for her people. She was known for her sense of justice and people came to her to resolve disputes. Displaying qualities of a caring and able administrator, she was also known for her marksmanship.
In a conflict-ridden state, there are plenty of stories of women, both a mother and a fighter, brilliant in her courage, kindness and fortitude. Protecting, healing and holding their communities together with qualities innate to them, these women have remained empowered, empowering others even under duress.
The Vedic literature demonstrates women as able rulers, scholars and activists “...Grihe Grihe Gop Vadhu Kadamba...” (When Gopis became activists and canvassed door-to-door in Mathura, taking the social revolutionary Lord Shri Krishna’s message to the people.) The texts also warn of the absence of divinity in places where women are not revered and respected and have said that the son may be wrong but a mother never is, Maatri Devobhav always coming before Pitra devobhav. Kuputro Jaayeta Kvacid-Api Kumaataa Na Bhavati (There can be disobedient sons but no mother is bad).
Jammu region, in its traditions, reflects the same principles of reverence for women. Dogra literature shows woman in all her vulnerability and power, human in her emotions and mistakes, God-like in her strength and forever sacrificing.
The ethos and culture of the Dogras as reflected in their folklore urges them to practise the timeless concepts of equality and respect for their women folk. These stories of real women who rose to exalted positions because of their deeds, if truly understood, can inspire generations of women to imbibe what is truly empowering and celebrate their innate qualities of womanhood which tie communities together and nurture. Their lives are examples of the fact that a woman can be both a queen and a king-maker.
Most importantly, it reiterates that we don’t have to look too far for role models. Women empowerment and its celebrations begin from our own homes. All we need to do is look around and within.