The world history is literally strewn with evidence to prove that the early humans worshipped women. Archaeology has time and again excavated figurines of female goddesses. Literature has sung praises of the female deities. Anthropologists poking their scientific noses into the lives of primitive tribes have always reported deification of the female omnipotent. Evidences are thus aplenty, but the explanation remains elusive.
Why would humans worship women? Surely, the shy, coy, dumb and weak women were hardly worthy of respect, leave alone worship… or, so thought the great thinkers of circa 1700. It took another thee hundred years of cerebral effort to understand something that early humans had been doing for thousands of years.
Admittedly, understanding the early human mind can be a tough job. It would need one to travel back in time, shorn of all the conditioning of modern thinking and see the prehistoric world through the eyes of the humans while they were still in the making. Just for the fun of it, let’s all pretend to be prehistoric people.
To a prehistoric child, who would be the most important person in it life? Who else but its mother! The mother who laboured hard to bring it alive, who cuddled and cooed while feeding it, who showered it with unconditional love and unlimited care, who was always there – to understand, counsel, support and encourage; who nursed it through sickness and pain and nourished it through thick and thin; whose ‘disobey me and you’ll regret it later’ always turned out to be miraculously correct and whose blessings made even the most difficult tasks triflingly easy.
The one lady whose role nobody else could play any better… the nurturer, the caregiver, the Forever-there-for-me woman… truly in the eyes of the child, its mother is the best heroine ever. A heroine worthy of worship.
Perhaps this was the beginning of God Mother Worship - the child human’s atavistic tendency to look up to its mother. Even today, even in the most male chauvinistic societies of the world, it is the mother who is more adored, better taken care of in old age and least ill-treated by her offspring. Fathers always come second in the order of preference.
That would make a nice Explanation Number One for God Mother Worship, from the child’s point of view. Now let’s take another peek into the prehistoric world, this time into the psyche of the adolescent, for Explanation Number Two.
Life for the evolving human on the African savannah had been quite difficult. It was perpetual struggle between tender life and terrible death. Death was an every day reality - children died due to infection by the dozens. Mothers died in labour and its complications. Men died while hunting.
Thanks to this high death rate, humans remained an endangered species until some thirty thousand years ago. Their numbers were very few - a few thousand spread over several continents - quite the endangered species, don’t you think! For this handful lot to survive, they had to put in all their efforts to keep up a high birth rate to beat the mounting death rate.
Death taught them that life was precious – to the point of being sacred. Fertility thus became their most valued asset and birth was always a celebrated event. But birth had a very strange habit – it seemed to need a woman’s body to happen.
For the pre-literate man, this was the most perplexing riddle in all of nature. His seeds that fell on to earth yielded no children. His seeds that fell on other men also remained futile. But these same seeds when put into the woman grew into babies! This to him was truly magical!
Nature with all its ‘saving the best from the worst’ strategy kept all the woman’s reproductive organs deeply hidden inside her body. She had no outward clues about the inner workings of her secret parts. So well hidden were her precious cargo that, forget the preliterate man, even the so-called literate modern man could not understand the woman’s body until a few decades ago. They were absolutely clueless about the details of her baby-making abilities.
This anatomical ignorance made them awe the woman’s seemingly supernatural powers of creativity; the Power that no man could ever have. This single most important distinction made men respect the powers of the female. Without her there could be no life. She was the life giver. She was holy. She was venerable. She had to be God.
The human mind was, at that time in evolution, quite simplistic. He had a childlike penchant to attribute humanlike tendencies to everything around him. A phenomenon that in today’s psychological parlance is called Animistic Thinking.
Early man applied this same animistic thinking to the world around him and decided all those things that were capable of giving birth must be female… the earth that gave birth to plants, the rivers that gave birth to fish, the stones that gave birth to fire… in his eyes all these inanimate things became female. By virtue of being female, they were held to be specially endowed with supernatural creative power.
And even the so-called simple minded early man knew: power must always be heeded to. Please it and life would become easy, but provoke it and life would become miserable. No one in their right senses would choose the road to misery - so the humans chose the road to ease.
From their long ape-ancestry, humans had followed a hierarchical societal structure. The strongest of them got to be the boss – the Alpha – and the dumbest of them was relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy – the Omega. The Alpha’s role was tough. It had to lead the troops, make sure they were all well fed and well behaved; it also had to settle in-group disputes and defend against outsiders’ attacks. For holding all these responsibilities, the Alpha got extra privileges, better food, better choice of sex partners and better life style. But its life was always at risk.
In contrast, the Omega was a non-entity. Its life depended on whether the Alpha liked it or not. For if Alpha did not favour Omega, then Omega could very easily be driven out by the rest of Alphadom. So Omegas always made it their business to behave in an Alpha-pleasing manner. How could an Omega please an Alpha in the ape society?
Well, there were some proven techniques to win the favour of the Alpha: by grooming it, by feeding it, by displaying loyalty, by lowering oneself to make Alpha seem larger, by going out of one’s way to make life more comfortable for Alpha… whatever the means, the goal was only this: to win the approval of the Alpha. Then life would become easy - one could quickly ascend the hierarchy, become a delta or a gamma and get closer to the all-powerful Alpha.
This Omega-pleasing-the-Alpha trait was so deeply ingrained in the ape-humans that they automatically fell into the same pattern in their new big-brained Alphadom.
But there was a difference… in their old world the Alpha was a single female. However in the new world, with their better intelligence, and freshly evolved ability to express ideas in the form of symbols, the early humans could over-generalise this abstraction and conceive a larger-than-life-aggregate-image of the Worshipful Female. They personified this Super Alpha Female and created a stone-hewn sacred idol. She of the idol became their Fertility God, Bringer of Luck, Bestower of All That is Good.
To this idol, they offered their traditional Omega-pleasing-Alpha rituals… by garlanding it, by placing their best food before it, by singing praises to it, by prostrating before it, by making pilgrimages to it, by putting themselves to distress to show their loyalty to it, by thanking it for good co-incidences and appeasing it for bad co-incidences. They did their best to be in the good books of the God Woman.
According to the Tholkappiam, in the pre-sangam era - that is, some two and a half thousand years back from now - right here in Tamil Nadu lived the people, who before any hunt worshiped a forest dwelling goddess called Kotravai. This Kotravai was an all powerful lady god, who rode an awesome lion, wielded mighty weapons and bestowed great strength and luck to her devotees. Some scholars are of the opinion that it is this Kotravai who later became idolised as Kali, Shakthi and Amman. Literature has proven that Kotravai predates all the other male and female gods that we now know of…. Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Skanda... the entire pantheon post-dates Kotravai.
Not only the Tamils, all the ancient people had an equivalent of Kotravai to worship. The Sumatrans had Ishtar. The Egyptians had Isis. The Indo-Aryans had Genetrix.
And this God Woman, they believed, favoured their fervour with such high fertility that from an endangered species the humans soon became the endangering species. They outgrew all other animals at such a furious pace that soon resources became so scarce and they were reduced to fighting among themselves for those precious little resources. Land, food, water, women… yes, the women also became a resource to be fought over. And when fighting became the way of life, godliness took a sudden turn.
Gone were the days when humans were a precious few and fertility was a prized trait. With so many humans fighting with each other, bravery and warmanship became the new ideals worthy of worship. And since men were the ones involved in fighting the enemies and protecting their clan, Godliness was slowly shifted onto the men. Suddenly, within the last two thousand years male gods began cropping up. Muruga, Thor, Mars and all other male gods all over the world represent this sudden deification of the warrior man. All the major religions that flourished during this era - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Jainism purported the existence of The One and Only Male God.
Yet the Father God worship was only a newfangled thing that would not take a deep root in the human psyche…for the human mind had been so used to looking up to its God Mother for too long. They simply couldn’t let go of the all-empowering God Mother. And so we find the God Mother lingering on quietly but powerfully. She is still worshipped all over the world, in her ancient form and aspect, but as some male god’s consort or mother. Only, now she has earned new names. Some call her Amman, some call her Mary, some call her the Kabba (The Kabba Stone that the Moslems make a pilgrim to was originally a God Mother Idol, you’d be surprised to know).
The name, the lineage, the paradigm…all these might have changed. But like they say, ‘the more that the things change, the more they are the same’. And so do the humans continue to believe in God Mother Worship. Jai Matha Ki, you see!