Hindu women look to ancient goddesses for guidance on modern feminism

Many point to Shakti, the divine feminine energy, as an antidote to toxic masculinity.

(RNS) — Preity Upala has lived more than a few lives. After a career as an investment banker in Australia, Upala moved to the U.S. to pursue her dream of attending film school, eventually landing roles in major Bollywood films like “Bahubali” and in the Hollywood production “Sex and the City 2.” Now, in Los Angeles, Upala is a film producer and podcast host. And if her resume is not varied enough, Upala is also considered a global strategist, called upon by news organizations worldwide for her expertise in international diplomacy and foreign policy.

But Upala, who is Hindu, sees these multiple pursuits as compatible, inspired by the many facets of the divine feminine in her tradition.

“The goddess worship is so prevalent in our culture,” said the Dubai-born Upala, “but the goddess has many faces. There are many goddesses. It’s not just the devout wife or devotee, it is the fierce Kali or the Saraswati, who is all about knowledge.”

In common, she says, all goddesses and women hold a part of Shakti, the “primordial cosmic energy” who is the personification of the divine feminine. Shakti is also the female counterpart to Lord Shiva, both of whom together represent the balanced feminine and masculine energy in each being.

Preity Upala. (Courtesy photo)
Preity Upala. (Courtesy photo)

“That Shakti, the life force, moves through us and it shows itself in different forms,” said Upala. “In my own life, I’ve seen different facets of the Shakti energy work through me.”

Many Hindu women, like Upala, look to the ancient scriptures for guidance on modern feminism.

“The beauty with Shakti is, she doesn’t need to give herself up in order to fight for space,” said Upala. “She holds her own, she knows her place, and no one’s gonna take that away from her. Her job is just to shine and be glorious.”

The power of femininity has been prevalent in Hindu philosophy since the emergence of what is said to be the very first scripture, the Rig Veda. Many Hindus see Shakti as the force from which the universe came, like a mother who births her children.

Lithograph of Hindu goddess Kali, draped with a necklace of skulls, standing on Shiva, circa 1895. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia/Creative Commons)
Lithograph of Hindu goddess Kali, draped with a necklace of skulls, standing on Shiva, circa 1895. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

Divine feminine energy as Shakti flows through all of the female goddesses, explains Hindu theologian Rita Sherma. From Kali, the force destroying evil, or Durga, the warrior who maintains balance, to Annapurna, the divinity of food and nourishment, the goddesses in Hinduism are just as dynamic and multifaceted as women themselves, says Sherma.

“The fact is, the feminine divine in Hinduism explodes every single gender binary trope people can think of,” said Sherma, who teaches women’s studies and religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. “It is the aggressive, assertive, explosive principle of becoming. All manifestation, all actualization of divine potential explodes through the feminine divine.

“So she’s, you know, not your Stepford wife,” adds Sherma.

And what’s more, Sherma says, most commonly known gods, such as Lord Ram and Lord Krishna, are worshipped alongside their respective female consorts, Sita and Radha. Without the feminine, she says, masculine energies would be in “chaos.”

“The masculine and the feminine are both within us,” she said. “The two are complementary binaries.

“The feminine divine is certainly dynamic and creative, even in gentle-appearing feminine divine like Radha,” added Sherma. “It’s her that the world emanates from, it’s through her the world is redeemed. Through her, Krishna experiences joy and bliss.”

Like Upala, Sherma felt unsatisfied in her previous career in business and made a shift later in her life, with two children, crediting Shakti as the guiding force who led her through her new path.

“It was feminine power all the way,” she said.

Rita Sherma. (Courtesy photo)
Rita Sherma. (Courtesy photo)

Sherma became fascinated with Mahadevi: the all-encompassing female deity who is the counterpart to the god Deva and is the subject of the “submerged” and “forgotten” scripture, the Devi Mahatmya. The scripture, which tells various myths centered on the goddess and other goddesses, is often buried under the rest of the vast library of Hindu texts, she says, and should be reclaimed as a resource for women today, especially after the “400,000 years” that women have spent “apologizing for their empowerment.”

“Many women in villages, especially elderly women, who may not even be literate, became respected reciters of the text,” said Sherma. “They had a great deal of power, and both women and men would come to them for their blessing. And sometimes they would experience the presence of the divine feminine within them. And they would then be worshipped as Shakti.”

Shakti Redding, a yogi and mystic psychologist at the Soul Artist Academy in Vail, Colorado, said she found her true calling after being introduced to the Devi Mahatmya and Tantra, the esoteric Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Born as Rachel to a Christian family, Redding felt a shift when she moved to the nature-abundant Colorado. “I felt just a charge of energy, almost like, ‘Where have you been all my life?,’” she said, attributing that charge to Shakti.

“I really had been drawn this detailed picture of a masculine father God, and so archetypically when I felt God or thought about God, it was as this father spirit,” she said. “But when I was in nature, there was something more, something more feminine, something more kindred in that sense of femininity, and the wildness of it.”

After a childhood of practicing yoga in church basements with her mother, Redding never expected she would found her own yoga academy, or change her name to Shakti, the one first given to her by yogis at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

But her understanding of the dharmic feminine divine, the mother-goddess of nature, has helped her through the most difficult moments in her life, including a terminated pregnancy at a young age. Worshipping Shakti helped her come out of her grief, and her shame, she said.

“As women, we carry a lot of wounding and a lot of scars and a lot of tender suffering,” she said. “And we also hold the potential for immense forgiveness and reconciliation.”

“How important it is to remember we are all part of the whole,” she added. “We are the daughters, the sisters, the mothers, the lovers. May our stories equip us with the courage, compassion to lead the world awake to a love beyond all opposites.”

The traditional dance of Shiva and Shakti together, called Tandava, said Redding, represents the delicate balance of feminine and masculine in life itself. The root of many of the world’s issues, she said, is a lack of understanding between different or opposing energies. “In the end,” she said, “Shiva and Shakti, the infinite potential and the creative power, are aspects of the same reality.

Women dance in front of an idol of Hindu goddess Durga before it is immersed in the Hooghly River in Kolkata, India, Oct. 24, 2023. The immersion of idols marks the end of the festival that commemorates the slaying of a demon king by lion-riding, 10-armed goddess Durga, marking the triumph of good over evil. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Women dance in front of an idol of Hindu goddess Durga before it is immersed in the Hooghly River in Kolkata, India, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

“Once you understand this in depth, this balance becomes applicable to the healing of cultures,” she said. “Healing the wounds, the political divide, the gender divide.”

Upala agrees and insists it is time for everyone, including men, to fall back to their roots, rather than “toxic” versions of masculinity and femininity she says are common in Western frameworks. And respect for Hindu goddesses, she said, doesn’t always translate to respect for all women.

“Although we have this beautiful, completely comprehensive tradition and principle of Shiva/Shakti, this amazing dance of real femininity and real masculine power, for some reason, I don’t always see Indian men or Hindu men really kind of holding space for that.”

Upala believes the world’s Hindu women are on the precipice of an awakening. “I think we’re only just beginning to find our dharmic voice,” she said. “It is coming at a time when the world needs it the most.”

“We have to really hold our own in a time and a space where the world is throwing back at you what they think feminism, beauty and power should be,” she said. “We don’t have to learn or relearn anything. The knowledge is actually in us. And it is for us to enjoy, celebrate and actually share that to the world.”

New Study Reveals Women Need Half as Much Exercise as Men for Longevity Benefits, Says Cardiology Expert

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that women may need to exercise less than men to achieve similar longevity benefits. Dr. Martha Gulati, co-author of the study and director of preventive cardiology at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, emphasizes the positive implications of this finding for women who may struggle to maintain regular exercise routines. She notes, “For me, the news to women is: a little goes a long way.”

The study revealed that while men who engaged in approximately 300 minutes of aerobic exercise per week experienced an 18% lower risk of mortality compared to inactive men, women needed only about 140 minutes of weekly exercise to achieve a comparable benefit. Interestingly, women who engaged in around 300 minutes of exercise per week had a 24% lower risk of death. However, the longevity benefits seemed to plateau beyond this threshold for both sexes.

Similarly, the analysis of muscle-strengthening exercise demonstrated a gender difference. A single weekly strength-training session was associated with equivalent longevity benefits for women as three weekly sessions for men. Gulati explains that women typically have less muscle mass than men, suggesting that they may derive greater benefits from smaller doses of strength training due to their initial lower muscle mass. Other physiological differences between the sexes, such as those related to the lungs and cardiopulmonary system, may also contribute to this divergence.

The study relied on data from over 400,000 U.S. adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2017, correlating self-reported exercise habits with death records. While over 40,000 participants died during the study period, the observational nature of the study cannot establish causation. Nevertheless, the researchers attempted to mitigate confounding variables by excluding individuals with serious preexisting conditions or mobility limitations and those who died within the first two years of follow-up.

Limitations of the study include the reliance on self-reported exercise data, which may not always be accurate, and the exclusion of physical activity performed during work or household chores. Despite these constraints, Gulati emphasizes the need for further research to validate the findings. She stresses the importance of recognizing sex-based differences in both research and public health policy, challenging the longstanding practice of using men as the standard.

Current federal guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio per week, along with two muscle-strengthening sessions for all U.S. adults. However, data from 2020 indicate that a larger percentage of men meet these benchmarks compared to women. Gulati’s research suggests that women may still derive significant longevity benefits from exercise, even if they fall short of meeting these targets.

Nevertheless, Gulati maintains that the study’s findings should not discourage men, as emerging research indicates that both sexes benefit from even brief periods of physical activity. Encouraging individuals to reduce sedentary behavior and incorporate more movement into their daily routines remains paramount. She concludes, “Our pitch should be the same to men and women: something is better than nothing. Sit less and move more.”


Women with Fatty Liver Disease from Alcohol Consumption Face Higher Mortality Risk Than Men, Study Find

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai and their colleagues has revealed that women diagnosed with fatty liver disease due to alcohol consumption are at nearly double the risk of mortality within a specific timeframe compared to men with the same condition.

The study, published in the esteemed Journal of Hepatology, underscores the imperative for women at risk of liver disease to abstain from excessive alcohol consumption.

Also termed steatotic liver disease, fatty liver disease develops when an excess of fat accumulates in the liver, potentially leading to enduring liver damage. This condition is also associated with an elevated risk of heart disease.

Dr. Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, the director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute and the lead author of the study, emphasized, “Steatotic liver disease is a significant and increasingly prevalent ailment, likely serving as an underlying precursor to numerous conditions, including those affecting the heart. We are increasingly concerned about steatotic liver disease as we observe its close correlation with established cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.”

Recent medical discourse has introduced new terminology to classify distinct types of steatotic liver disease, including metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD), alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), and metabolic dysfunction-associated and alcohol-related liver disease (MetALD).

The investigators from Cedars-Sinai endeavored to investigate how these variants of steatotic liver disease might manifest differently in men and women.

Data spanning from 1988 to 1994, sourced from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, were scrutinized by the investigators. The study participants underwent comprehensive medical assessments, including questionnaires, physical examinations, and liver imaging scans, providing insights into alcohol consumption patterns, cardiometabolic risk factors, and liver health.

The analysis encompassed over 10,000 individuals aged 21 and above residing in the United States, with accessible data from liver scans and other medical evaluations. Approximately one-fifth of the cohort, totaling 1,971 individuals, exhibited steatotic liver disease, with MetALD accounting for over 75% of cases. While all forms of steatotic liver disease were approximately twice as prevalent in men compared to women, the data unveiled a significantly elevated risk of mortality among women over a median duration of 26.7 years. For instance, women diagnosed with MetALD faced an 83% higher risk of mortality compared to men without liver disease. Moreover, women afflicted with ALD confronted a mortality risk 160% greater than their male counterparts with ALD.

Dr. Alan Kwan, MD, a research instructor in the Department of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai and a collaborator on the study, remarked, “These findings are particularly alarming against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which alcohol consumption and associated mortality, particularly among women, have surged.”

Indicators of underlying metabolic liver disease include being overweight or obese, prediabetes or diabetes, high blood pressure, or abnormal blood cholesterol levels. The investigators caution that women exhibiting these risk factors should be particularly vigilant regarding excessive alcohol consumption.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate alcohol consumption for women as one drink per day or less.

The researchers intend to further explore why alcohol exerts a more pronounced impact on the female liver than the male liver and identify lifestyle modifications, beyond curtailing alcohol intake, that may mitigate a woman’s susceptibility to fatty liver disease.

They underscore that since the study relied on data collected between 1988 and 1994, additional research is imperative to ascertain how the prevalence of liver disease and alcohol consumption patterns may have evolved over time.

Dr. Yee Hui Yeo, MD, and Dr. Hirsh Trivedi, MD, both affiliated with Cedars-Sinai, also contributed to the study.

“Women Who Win” Awarded ‘Leadership in Women Empowerment Award By Indian Medical Association of New England

Dr. Manju Sheth, Dr. Deepa Jhaveri, and Shaleen Sheth, the pioneers in creating a new movement to empower women with the recent launch of their movement, “Women who win# Dreamcatchers” were awarded the prestigious Leadership in Women Empowerment Award by Indian Medical Association of New England (IMANE) at the annual gala organized virtually on Saturday, December 12th, 2020.

The platform was honored for “Leadership in Women Empowerment” as the “President’s Award.” Founded in 1978, IMANE is one of the oldest Indian Medical Associations in the United States. It is an organization for medical professionals of Indian origin in the New England area.

“Women who win# Dreamcatchers” is a Global Media Platform sharing dreams, Passions & Life lessons of a Woman’s Journey, Emphasizing women empowerment across all ages, industries, and backgrounds, & bringing women from around the world together daily with inspiring, relatable, and relevant original stories.

The platform has featured as exclusive interviews, skill shares, webinars, podcasts, and more including Business, Policy, Technology, Social Activism, Arts & Lifestyle, Global Recipes, Women’s Health and more with trailblazing contributors across all fields.

This year with the pandemic and other challenges being faced in the world right now, women who win brings positivity and inspiration, reminding women to continue chasing their dreams and make it a reality,” said Dr. Maju Sheth the visionary women’s leader. 

Women Who Win has done outstanding work for global women’s health and wellness through weekly articles and webinars, bringing together providers and patients around the world, and IMANE is excited to have collaborated with them on webinars including an international podiatry panel, and an open-minded conversation on gynecology.

This year, they have brought expertise from renowned specialists in topics such as allergies, nutrition and wellness, pulmonary, dental care during Covid-19 and more. Further, they highlighted the discussion in healthcare policy, including gender gap in healthcare, affordable healthcare, and creating change with leading health reform pioneer Rosemarie Day. They have also brought in the patient’s perspective, sharing women in our community’s powerful journeys with breast and colon cancer.

In her address, Dr. Dhrumil Shah, President of IMANE, said, “The work of a small group of thoughtful and passionate individuals can change the world. I never doubted this sentiment but, there is a difference in believing it and experiencing it first-hand. This year the work of three women in our community, two of them being IMANE (Indian Medical Association leaders] Dr. Manju Sheth, Dr. Deepa Jhaveri, and Shaleen Sheth, have done extraordinary work to empower women globally in these tough times.”

According to Dr. Shah, ‘Women Who Win’ #Dreamcatchers has become a platform full of inspirational stories, life lessons of women’s journeys and insights from topics such as humanitarian, social & entrepreneurial causes.. I am amazed each time their stories come out on how powerful an impact it is making in our global sentiment as they fuel positivity, inclusion, diversity and collaboration. We at IMANE are proud to partner with Women Who Win on the Women’s Health Series webinars, where we bring global experts and speakers on key healthcare related topics. I feel truly proud and honored to see the work of our team reaching the stage beyond my imagination. I would like to thank and congratulate the Women Who Win team for their ongoing success in changing the world one story at a time.”

From the stories of social activists fighting to end gender-based violence and the life of a female pilot flying planes for humanity, to a woman building 2200 schools for girls in remote areas, trailblazing millennials, and women overcoming adversities and challenges of daily life, the platform has something for everyone.

Dr. Manju Sheth is a physician by profession, having a passion for media and commitment to serve the larger humanity, with special focus on women’s empowerment. She is a Board Certified Internist, currently serving patients at Beth Israel Lahey Hospital.in the Boston Region in Massachusetts.

Dr. Sheth wears many hats to her credit. A multi-tasker and with full of energy, Dr. Sheth says, “If you want to do something in life then you will find a way.” It has not been easy to be “a physician, mother, media personality, and be involved in our vibrant New England community and the media world, but each of my involvements is truly important to me, and I give my full heart and energy to each of them. I always remind myself, that anything worth having has to be worked for.”

Dr. Sheth has been a big advocate for empowerment of women and she has invested her time, energy and efforts all her life more than any other cause. “I’ve always had a passion for women empowerment, and I bring that to all the projects and opportunities I pursue,” she says. She has served on the board of ATASK (Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence) and as the Chairperson of Saheli, a prestigious Boston based organization, whose mission is to empower South Asian women to lead safe and healthy lives.

Having served on spreading awareness on women’s rights, Dr. Sheth says, “My biggest focus right now is the new Women who win # Dreamcatchers platform where we showcase dreams, passions & life lessons of a women’s journey on our website, womenwhowin100.com and on multiple social media platforms. And this initiative keeps me stay motivated each and every day.”

To join a global group of women around the world to share stories and discuss prominent and relevant women’s topics, join their vibrant community on  Facebook ,Instagram,Linkedin & website wwwwomenwhowin100.

Neera Tanden To Be Nominated to Head Powerful Office of Management and Budget

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the powerful White House budget office generated early controversy Monday, with Neera Tanden emerging as an immediate target for conservatives and Republican lawmakers.

Tanden, 50, has regularly clashed with the GOP in a manner that Republicans say will complicate her Senate confirmation process. Several GOP senators said Monday that she could run into trouble during confirmation hearings, warning that her “partisan” background could make it hard for her to win Republican support.

The two Senate Republicans poised to lead committees that would hold Tanden‘s confirmation hearings declined to commit to doing so. One of them – Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is in line to chair the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – also said he hopes that Biden will decide not to formally nominate Tanden.

“The concern I have is both judgment, based on the tweets that I’ve been shown, just in the last 24 hours . . . and it’s the partisan nature,” said Portman, a former Office of Management and Budget director himself. “Of all the jobs, that’s one where I think you would need to be careful not to have someone who’s overtly partisan.”

The other potential committee chairman who would oversee Tanden‘s hearings, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chuckled when asked about Tanden on Monday, noting that she in the past has had a lot to say about him. He also declined to commit to hearings for her, saying only that senators will “cross that bridge when we get there.”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. told reporters, “I’m not disqualifying anybody, but I do think it gets a lot harder obviously if they send someone from their progressive left that [is] kind of out of the mainstream.” Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s first budget director, told Fox News that Tanden had very little chance of being confirmed.

Tanden would not be the first recent OMB nominee to face a contested Senate confirmation. Mulvaney was narrowly approved; 51 senators voted to confirm him for the post. Democrats broadly opposed Mulvaney because of his past efforts to slash the budget and his role in a previous government shutdown. Mulvaney even received a “no” vote from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But Republicans controlled the Senate during Mulvaney’s confirmation, making his passage a bit easier.

A loyal Democrat with decades of senior policy-making experience, Tanden has been tapped by Biden to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which plays a crucial role in setting the president’s economic agenda and approving agency policies. She would be the first woman of color to lead the budget office.

She was a close ally of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and served as a senior adviser to President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, where she helped draft the Affordable Care Act. She most recently served as president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank with deep ties to Democratic policy-makers. The OMB plays a pivotal role in the White House because of its role in setting the federal budget and clearing new regulations.

“She’ll be well situated to play hard,” said Dean Baker, a liberal economist. “Tanden is obviously an inside player, but she has been around Washington and will be smart on pushing stuff in ways that get through.”

If confirmed to lead the OMB, Tanden would be one of the central economic voices in the Biden administration, along with Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chairwoman chosen to lead the Treasury Department; Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University economist chosen to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and Brian Deese, a BlackRock executive named to lead the White House National Economic Council. All but Deese would require Senate confirmation.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said he did not see any reason why he would oppose Yellen, but he called Tanden Biden’s “worst nominee so far.”

“I think, in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates certainly a problematic path,” he said Monday.

Tanden would be required to go through two Senate confirmation hearings – one through the Budget Committee and the other through the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The OMB is a rare Cabinet position in which nominees have to file their tax returns to the committees for review.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Tanden was raised by a single mother who relied on government assistance programs before attending the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale University’s law school.

“After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden tweeted Monday. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Tanden held prominent policy positions in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and her resume played a role in her selection to lead the OMB. She has denied playing a role in Clinton’s welfare policy, which many Democrats now view as a mistake. At the Center for American Progress, Tanden also helped push the party left on budget and spending issues, though she initially expressed openness to cutting Social Security and Medicare along with many other Washington liberals at the time.

And if Tanden gets the job, she will have to work with Congress to get the budget through. She was one of the vehement critics of Trump and has said his “actions and words are tearing the country apart, and it falls upon every government official of both parties and every citizen to reject his call.”

A Yale law graduate, Tanden had earlier worked for former President Bill Clinton’s campaign and went on to work at the White House as an associate director for domestic policy and as an adviser to Hillary Clinton. When Hillary Clinton ran successfully for senator, Tanden was her deputy campaign manager and became her legislative director after her election.

Meanwhile, a loyalist to President Donald Trump who was connected to efforts to spread conspiracy theories about President-elect Joe Biden has been put in charge of the Pentagon transition effort and will oversee coordination with the incoming Biden-Kamala Harris administration.

CNN reports that Kash Patel, a former aide to Republican Rep. Devin Nunes who currently serves as chief of staff to Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, will lead the transition in the Pentagon.

While it is not unusual for someone in that job to take a leading role in the transition effort, two defense officials told CNN that Patel will likely come under scrutiny from many inside the Pentagon who are watching to see how cooperative he may be with the Biden team, the report notes.