In the last three years my life has pulled me to sit near matrilineal Nair grandmothers and listen to their life stories. It began as part of my research of discovering my relationship with myself, my earth-based spirituality, my ancestry, and my Nayar roots. However, The more I sat with them, the more I realized the need to sit with them. Something deep within me resonated. The women in me was longing for this, my body acknowledged loudly and clearly the need for it.
Majority Nayar grandmothers I interviewed hardly had any formal school education. In fact, I saw a deep contrast between the grandmothers who had formal education and those that did not. The former had the same disconnect with body and sexuality that I myself, experienced within a modern education.
The wisdom the grandmothers embodied came naturally from deep within their bodies, by observing and honoring nature, watching their mothers and grandmothers, from rituals, and from their spirit. They knew what to do when?, where? and how? No matter the situation, they had the capacity to handle it. I was looking at the mythological personification of the Durgas, Lakshmis and Saraswathis. I was looking into the eyes of mature women who owned their bodies and sexuality; whose presence radiated contentment, love and lightness; who knew that the entire order of the universe was maintained by a force greater than any becoming, who wore their egos carefully in their pockets never on their shoulders, and importantly, who were mothers first and even, played the role of the wife from that knowing.
How was their time different from mine!
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when the birth of a girl child was connected to the prosperity and lineage of the entire clan. In fact, many of them were born after years of prayer and austerities in the family for a girl child.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when children had not one but many mothers – small mother, big mother, little mother, fat mother, thin mother, mothers mother, mothers mothers mother and many more mothers.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when Children be it boys or girls were raised within this circle of maternal women till the age of puberty. Then the boys moved out to join the circle of men who were uncles (not fathers) while girls continued to become women inside these maternal women circles .
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when children, be it boys or girls, bathed in the circle of many women – mothers, aunts, grandmothers, great grandmothers – in the huge family clan ponds – overhearing women’s daily chores, stories, laughter and most importantly, bearing witness to the naked bodies of these many women.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when women were seen, celebrated and acknowledged by the women and men in the near and extended clan all the way through puberty. As they became women they no longer needed any external stimuli (be it men, objects or events) to reflect their strength, beauty and power – it was already established and radiant deep inside, and they moved/acted/lived their lives from that source of power, and knowing.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when Women’s bodily mysteries and her sexuality were held Sacred and Secret. It belonged to the women (mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers) circle; never to be mentioned or discussed outside these circles.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when a woman’s menarche was the most important publicly celebrated ritual of her life; when the boundaries between her and the Goddess almost disappeared, and she became Her.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when marriage was a partnership the ‘conjugal coming together of man and woman’ – a natural next step in life to experience the next stage of motherhood. The concept of husband and wife did not exist. Men and women could continue to stay in their natal home, and meet conjugally in the women’s home afterwards.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when women saw themselves as the keepers of culture, social and natural order.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when mother were akin to God, and every woman was seen and respected as a mother as she aged irrespective of whether she gave birth or not.
These Nayar grandmothers were born in a time when girls became sexually mature women not just physically, but also naturally, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually!