Kali and her cosmic egg
Body without armour is an armour itself.
I have been thinking about it from a long time. Across time and space, in different languages of various literatures, folklore and legends—when a female sheds her armour, the society takes a bow. You might assume, I’ve been writing it all inspired by the Game of thrones episode. You’re right. Emilia Clarke did a great job in being a naked burning, Khaleesi. But Kannagi from Tamil Literature and Kali from Hindu folklore are already her predecessors.
It is also interesting to note that this naked woman, when she is accepted by the society, instantly transforms into a mother figure. The male gaze ceases. It cannot objectify its own mother. It cannot sexualize it. And yet, it is her sexuality that rages when she stands naked as if ‘She eats up men like thin air’ (Plath). Her body naked, hair open, her eyes wide open, and her legs strong. But why must she become so powerful?
I have had the privilege to study a lot of feminist literature this last semester. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t come back to me now. I can make several connections and perhaps draw conclusions from these examples as to understand why female nudity, a taboo and perversion of patriarchal society, can suddenly become a power symbol. I will dissect the very heterosexual intercourse, if I have to, for understanding this.
When a women sheds, she is horrible to some, goddess for others. She is usually angry when she steps out like that and are later tried to be contained by narratives within the patriarchal discourse, in order to make sense of the event. In Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi, Dopdi—a negated word for ‘Draupadi’, the wife of Pandavas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata—belongs to a lower caste and becomes associated with insurgency in North eastern India. However, she is caught by the Indian military and is in the process, repetitively raped by several men. In the morning, she is told to dress up and show up at the Chief’s tent. In a brave decision, she chooses to walk naked, ‘her blood matted upon her pubic hair’, becoming an unspeakable terror for the men around her. Laughing and slapping her thighs, she asks, ‘are you a man?’ for they could only unclothe her but not the other way around. Kali was Sati before she was Kali. For her husband, she mutilates her father’s party—if you like your mythology in simple happy terms—and literally danced the dance of death (Tandav) until her husband stopped her from destroying the whole wide earth because in Tandav, with each step, you bring forth apocalypse in the world. If you ignore bringing back the Kali into the patriarchal narrative, you’ll see, that her power is the most terrible of all the naked ladies. Her armour (if not clothes) is the collective set of mutilated body parts. Severed hands become her skirt and chopped off heads as her necklace. Yet we exclaim in awe, she is terribly beautiful. Her dance, her tongue, her hair black as the ravenous cloudy night, are also markers of sexuality that does not design itself upon the platform of male desire.
Kannagi comes from ancient Tamil literature and folklore. Like Kali, she is a goddess too, although she was born a human. As a human, Kannagi had a good share of injustice being done to her. Her husband cheats on her and has a kid with another women. Yet she has to leave with him, hoping for his loyalty when he finally decides to switch back to her. But most importantly when things finally start looking up, her husband gets executed on a false conspiracy. Bam—women have limits you know? So she rips off her breast and fire burns the city. Kings die, the empire collapses.
Danny from Game of Thrones, had two naked-power-lady scenes. The first is birth of dragons and the second is burning of several Dothraki men when they threatened to rape her or simply, decide upon her life. Immune to fire, she burns them down and emerges naked, the figure of awe. Her narrative as well is confirmed to the figure of mother.
To move away from mythology, Mario Vargos llosa’s Who killed Palomino Molero, the restaurant keeper’s wife challenges a harassing police officer into ‘raping’ her by undressing and making lewd gestures at him at the end of the novel, in an epic break from submissive-timid persona.
All these women place themselves outside normal structure when they do so. You might as well call them Unconscious personified. I’m not referring to Freud’s sharp division of rational and non-rational, rather, I would like you to read it as categorical (Super-ego) and non-categorical (Unconscious). When she steps out of society’s categories, she can manifest her sexuality beyond male gaze. Now as to why must men be afraid of it? The answer lies in heterosexual intercourse.
Heterosexual intercourse in a patriarchal society is phallocentric. ‘Penetration’, ‘Key’ ‘Digging’, such is the imagery implied in this line under which women are bound to be the object. However, this is inversed when she steps out of this structure. She is a horror show, a freak. Yet people bow to her in fear. This is because of her capability to invert society’s patriarchal taboos (Luce Irigaray actually argues that women do not have a properly developed Superegos in comparison to men who go through castration complexes) and instead of ‘penetrating space’, she becomes the ‘devourer’. Not to put it too poetically, but she is able to suck back men right from the space from where she put them out. Should it then, not turn men into infants, reminded by the astounding power of womb?