The book The Girl and the Goddess will check every single box you can think of when it comes to teaching World Literature or a Mythology class. Part coming of age, part survival, and part religious study of some amazing Hindu goddesses. In today’s post, I want to share with you the Hindu mythology that is covered in this unique book. If you are wanting to dive right into to teaching it, I have created some helpful resources to get you started! Find them here.
First, the summary…
It is difficult to nail down a genre for this book. It’s kind of like if Magical Realism and free form poetry had a baby and that baby also decided to have a few of its own personality quirks. It takes you on a journey with the protagonist, Paro.
Paro is a young, Hindu girl from Kashmir when we first meet her and Partition quickly changes everything in her life. We follow her family to Deli. On top of the normal hardships they were facing, Paro is sexually assualted in a bizarre and never shares this with anyone.
Paro suffers in silence with what has happened and struggles to make friends in her new school. Fast forward a few years and she develops feelings for another Hindu girl. They have a brief moment of happiness together and then their world blows up. Due to the laws in India, this is an extremely serious issue and Paro is sent away to Kashmir to stay with her grandparents. In this space she discovers that she and all the women in her family have a divine connection and deep intuition that they can use with Taro cards. It is also in this time that she is able to think about what she wants/needs in life.
Paro decides to move to England to attend a university for the arts and where she can be openly bi-sexual without fear of the law of social pressures. However, she does confront some racism. Despite this, she makes some deeply special friendships and healing.
Here’s where the Magical Realism aspects come in. In times of great need, a different Hindu goddess comes to visit Paro and teach her a lesson through a story. Some teach her about her own strength. Some teach her about hypocrisy in the Hindu culture surrounding sexuality. Some teach her what she needs to follow her path.
9 Goddesses Featured
The book beautifully incorporates several Hindu Goddesses, their stories of tragedy and resilience, grief and heartache, and survival.
All important lessons for Parro to learn at different stages to becoming into her full feminine power.
The first goddess is:
“a revolution of a woman / who swallowed a golden forest.”Nikita Gill
The great goddess Devi is the first goddess we are introduced to in this story. Paro’s mother makes a pilgrimage to the temple of Devi and asks for a daughter instead of a son and asks that the daughter be:
“Let her be stronger, so much stronger than me.
Let this baby have your fearlessness, Mother goddess,
the same mettle, the same ease that you had
when you brought your enemies to their knees.
Let her be a little less human, a little more divine.
Give her heart some armour so it doesn’t break as easily as mine.
Give this to her, and she will no longer
be mu child for I promise her to you.”Nikita Gill
Devi’s greatest strength is that she embodies all aspects of womanhood (Smithsonian Magazine). She is a top tier goddess and is known as the mother of India. Like any other mother, she provides guidance, protection, and comfort to Parro throughout her life.
The first time Devi visits Parro it is a beautiful and condensed version of the Hindu creation story coupled with Devi’s story of vanquishing Mahisha who foolishly thought that no woman could defeat him. As she says, “Because when even the gods could save the universe from evil, it was the Devi that they called” (13).
Parro’s young idealic childhood is soon ripped in two by Partition. She witnesses neighbors turning on each other and the deep sadness of her home (Kashmir) being taken from her and journeys to Dehli with her family. It is then that she encounters something even more traumatic- the fruit vendor.
While shopping in the market with her mother, she is grabbed before anyone knows it and he violates her. It takes all of about 15 minutes total to completely turn her world upside down…..and she never tells anyone.
The next goddess to visit is Draupadi. She is often overshadowed by the goddess Sita, but she is a force to be reckoned with. She shares her own story of sexual assault as her husbands looked on and did nothing to save her and how it consumed her. This portion, of course, leads to the parallel plot of Paro becoming consumed with her rage. However, no one knows why and therefore she is labeled and consistently in trouble at school and at home. Paro wishes that she too could use her rage to avenge what has happened to her.
After several years of this, the goddess Shashthi comes to visit Paro and shares her story, “I too have hated my destiny and wished to be anyone else. I too have carried wounds inside me and let them change who I am into someone angry” (102).
Shashthi says that she is a lesser known goddess who is often prayed to during childbirth as she is the goddess of nature, children, and soon-to-be mother. However, there was a time in which (in her anger towards the gods for abandoning her) that she would often take her anger out on newborns and devour them on the 6th day of their life. It was not until a mirror was held up to her that she saw what she has become.
After fostering 6 human sons, her softness returned and she became Shashthi Mata.
Now, she is who she was always meant to be.
“It is only through accepting the parts that you are ashamed of that you can truly know yourself”Nakita Gill
Paro now knows that in order to stop living a life of self-loathing, she must accept all the parts of herself. In this sense, she is now acting as the mirror that Paro needs to see. Her all-consuming rage for things she cannot control have now controlled who she is. From this mirror, Paro gains skills she needs to start to rebuild who she truly is.
Paro: But what if the world hates you for what you are?
Shashthi: Then you give them a kinder story to tell.Nakita Gill
Now, as a teenager who has dealt with immense trauma in her life, she also deals with all the “normal” identity issues that a young girl has- largely her looks. Lakshima is the goddess of wealth, fortune, power, luxury, beauty, fertility, and auspiciousness. She holds the promise of material fulfilment and contentment. Lakshmi is often represented in sculpture seated on a lotus, full-breasted, broad-hipped, beneficently smiling, and sometimes being illustrated by a pair of elephants pouring water over her. She also reincarnates as Sita in another life.
She teaches Paro to love her body no matter what shape or color. To nourish and cherish her body.
She also teaches Paro about a key tenant in the Hindu faith- Dharma. And gives Paro another piece of wisdom to help her on the path of self-healing and discovery-
Paro: How do you cope with the pain of what once was?
Lakshima: By thinking of the beauty of what will be.
Paro then learns the story of the Ramayana (an epic story featuring the Hindu god Vishnu and the goddess Sita) from her grandmother while she is visiting. This would be a fantastic tie in with your classroom as well- even if you don’t read the entire epic. At this point, her grandmother acts as a sage woman also helping her with her to come out of her intense shell and make friends.
This advice ends up being a double-edged sword. Parro makes two friends- a boy and a girl.
After being “discovered” kissing another girl, Paro is sent to stay wit her mother. This section of the book is perfect for researching Indian laws on homosexuality to fully understand why this happens. While at her grandmother’s Paro is terrified one night to wake up and see a man in her room. However, this ends up being the goddess/god Shikhandi– born as a woman to the the eldest child of king Drupad (the father of Draupadi) and elder sibling to Dhrishtadhyumna and Draupadi – the twins – Shikhandi struggled all his or her life with the sex assigned at birth.
The really interesting thing about this visit is that Shikhandi goes in detail about how hypocritical the Hindu customs are on male/female roles according to their own god/goddess stories. In particular when Ratnavali and Brahmani (both goddesses) fall in love and run away to live together in peace.
“If two women of legend and lore can find eternal love and happiness with each other, who are mortals to deny it to other mortals”(201).Nakita Gill
This visit continue to give Paro the strength she needs to love and accept all of who she is.
During this visit to her grandmother’s she also discovers that the women in her family possess some magic- especially with Tarot readings.
Parro is later visited by the goddess of the night, Ratri. The Hindu mythology affirms that Ratri, the nocturnal goddess and is the sister to Ushas, the Vedic goddess of Dawn. She shares with Paro the heartbreaking story of she and her sister’s strong love for each other in which it causes them to make the ultimate sacrifice of never being able to see each other ever again.
Through Ratri’s guidance, Paro learns to open herself up to other women in friendship while at university. This visit (as an adult) also leads to a question and interchange about faith that I am sure many can relate to. Are the gods/goddesses real?
It may seem odd to have focused on so many goddesses at this point, but Ganesh’s story is tied so deeply to another famous Hindu goddess, so his visit doesn’t feel out of place at all. Ganesh shares the story of how he lost his head protecting the modesty of his mother Parvati .
At this point, Paro and her mother’s relationship is still strained due to Paro never revealing her trauma, the source of her rage, the conflicted feelings of her sexuality, and the feeling that she has disappointed her mother. With Ganesh’s guidance, Paro finds the strength to reach out to her mother and finally share all of who she is with her.
Parro encounters another time in which a man wishes her harm. This time, she stands her ground and instead of becoming prey, she beats and kicks the man until he is no longer a threat. After this, she is ready for the 8th goddess to visit her- Kali the goddess of death.
There is only one Goddess who is named carnage. One Goddess who is distilled anger in woman form and who causes such fear that they have misplaced her story of origin” (314).Nakita Gill
Kali teaches Paro that tragedies do not define you and that sometimes furry is righteous. She teaches Parro to have balance and use her anger only against those that would harm you.
The book ends with a look at the Goddess Sati also known as Dakshayani who is the Hindu Goddess of power and longevity. I don’t want to spoil why, because it’s a pretty big spoiler. But, it is important, to note she got the name Sati because she was the granddaughter of Brahma and Daksha being Brahma’s son he named her daughter after the feminine form of “Truth” which is called “Sati”.
As you can see there is a wealth of Hindu mythology to cover in this book while also looking at important historical events, literary elements, as well as all the great discussions that come with teaching a coming of age story. This would be a fantastic book to pair when students are learning about Hinduism or Partition in their World History class for more of an integrated study.
I would highly recommend using this in your World Literature or Mythology classrooms for a much deeper look into Hindu culture and how even those outside the culture can see similarities in ourselves. If you are wanting to dive right into to teaching it, I have created some helpful resources to get you started! Find them here.