The Gender Politics of Viraha: On Questions of Self and the Other
Abstract: Viraha in high literature is constituted on the idea of separation, or “loss,” the pining to get back to the primordial relationship with the supreme. This sacred “emotion” is operationalized through de-transcendentalization of divinity in a novel affective economy in both Bhakti and Sufi traditions. Though this new devotional sect sets forth a direct communion with the divine, the absolute other, the mainstream Bhakti traditions introduce the symbol of Radha and the High Sufi theology envisions an ideal Beauty realized in the body of the unique Woman as the medium or intermediary to the path of attaining the divine. This female other is considered to be the source of psycho-sexual plenitude necessary for the experience of union with the divine. Alongside this proposition, the new norm gets new dimension with the feminization of worship, i.e., the male devotee taking up the role of the female. Thus, the gendered phenomena takes on a new impetus in this mode of expression characterized as the female voice. Such an inversion of gender envisages a new Female Body which obliterates the flesh-bodied woman. Through a new presence, woman becomes absent in this symbolism through denial of their sexual difference.
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Published in September 2020