Classical iconic representation makes no effort to grasp the first of a story. Indeed the stories are not starting places. They are pluralized presentations of the dvaita episteme at odds with the theological impulse  The mode of existence of the icon as meaningful, from the point of view not of the scholar but of the culturally competent observer (a vast and many-tiered sprawling space of agency always “after” culture but also its condition of possibility) is something like an unrealized genre painting. The culturally competent (in this sense) may provide some generic narrative dynamic to move the devi and her companions along the steam of “history”.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Moving Devi”

On the same note, Spivak discursively moves the Hindu goddess figure of Devi from the static positions offered in the canonic Sanskrit readings, highlighting that the “culturally competent” or lay observers can paint over or give their renditions to the herstory of devi. It is in these reinscriptions that I find complex interweavings between the putatively passive Sita and the fiery Draupadi resulting in a hybrid figure, an entity of Sati—Sita—Durga—Draupadi. This all-in-one form allows the more folkish renditions, especially as appropriated in the cinematic realm, to suture mythology into the real and reinscribe a feminine aesthetic. In film the nexus of Sita—Draupadi—Devi is integral to imagining the feminine aesthetic. The fluid transactions of narrative have allowed for multiple telllings of Sita on the South Asian subcontinent, sometimes emboldening its feminine aesthetic. Often times cinematic characters that have been carved out of the moral mettle of Sita bristle with righteous anger and articulate themselves like Druapadi or self-conflagrate literally and/or metaphorically like Sati, so that the feminine aesthetic cannot be neatly traced to one goddess only. It is the conglomeration of many aspects of the devi that all bear upon Draupadi’s litigious epic question: “Whom did you lose first?” Female characters, from the earliest days of Indian cinema, navigate through the nebulous brilliance of this question looming at us from antiquity, a question that hints at the multiple losses women bear as part and parcel of their cultural ontology. 

Shreerekha Subramanian, “Whom Did You Lose First, Yourself or Me?”: The Feminine and the Mythic in Indian Cinema (Myth and Violence in the Contemporary Female Text: New Cassandras)

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