ON ISHTAR

In ancient Sumeria, “Ishtar was held in high esteem as a heavenly monarch,” writes Jeanne Achterberg in Woman as Healer. “Her temples have been found at virtually every level of excavation.” The Ishtar Gate to the inner city of Babylon was one of the ancient wonders of the world. Also called the Queen of Heaven, Ishtar was a compassionate, healing deity. Her medicine kit likely included plant allies: a clay pot likely used for distillation of plant essences into medicines was found at a Sumerian grave site circa 5500 BC. The herb called Sim.Ishara, meaning “aromatic of the Goddess Ishtar,” is equated with the Akkadian qunnabu, or “cannabis,” writes Assyriologist Erica Reiner.
As the land of Sumer became a perpetual battlefield, Ishtar became the goddess of war and destiny, and became more sexualized, even as women were restricted from education and the healing arts.
In mankind’s first written story The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2000 BC), the cruel king Gilgamesh calls Ishtar a predatory and promiscuous woman, and rebukes her advances, just before taking off with his buddy Enkidu to chop down the great cedar forest. Gilgamesh’s repudiation of Ishtar, some scholars say, signifies a rejection of goddess worship in favor of patriarchy in ancient times. In ancient Babylon, around the spring solstice, people celebrated the resurrection of their god Tammuz, who was brought back from the underworld by his mother/wife Ishtar (pronounced “Easter” in most Semitic dialects). Flowers, painted eggs, and rabbits were the symbols of the holiday then, as now. Thus the goddess Ishtar resurrects every spring at Easter time, by way of the German goddess Ostara, “the divinity of the radiant dawn,” doubtlessly a reincarnation of Ishtar, who the Babylonians called “the morning star” and “the perfect light.” The biblical heroine Esther is also a descendant of Ishtar.

From: Tokin’ Women A 4000-Year Herstory
by Nola Evangelista (2015)

Image source: The Dryad Forest Nymph Goddess by Emily Balivet

ON BHAJAN POWER

Another context where the female sādhus exercise agency and power is their devotional song, bhajan, performances. Most of the female sādhus consider bhajan singing to be a powerful vehicle for receiving sacred knowledge and experiencing the divine directly; it may even catalyse their divine visions. Further, bhajan singing is understood to effect religious power for the female sādhus. Gangagiri often says, ‘My bhajans are my power.’ This statement indicates her perception that bhajans function as a performative medium by which means sādhus express bhakti to God. Gangagiri’s comment suggests that her bhakti is the basis of her own power and authority.
Female agency is explicitly linked to devotional practice by these female sādhus. By comparison, the male sādhus rarely discussed bhajan singing as a means for meeting God and rarely considered nirguṇī bhakti to be the basis of their own power and authority.

Found in ‘My bhajans are my power’: Performing Nirguṇī Bhakti through Devotional Song, from: ‘Crossing Over the Ocean of Existence’: Performing ‘Mysticism’ and Exerting Power by Female Sādhus in Rajasthan, by Antoinette E. DeNapoli.

Source: The Journal of Hindu Studies 2010

Image source: Wikimedia Commons