Just one glance: Medusa & Meenakshi

 

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Caravaggio’s Medusa, Uffizi, Florence

Poor Medusa.

Always felt a little bad for her. Originally a beautiful maiden, Athena gets pissed because Medusa is raped by Poseidon in her temple so in anger she turns Medusa – yup, that’s right Medusa, NOT Poseidon – into a monster. Her face became so hideous that one unsuspecting glance was all it took to turn you to stone.

Victim-blaming was surely alive and well from the time of the Greek mythologies! Not just the fact that she was punished but the type of punishment as well. If you turned her into a monster, at least give her full monsterial powers – let her turn people into stone. Now that’s a proper power.  That is something I always wanted. Actually, that’s not true. What I have always wanted was the power to cause spontaneous combustion.

Piss me off and fry 🙂

Instead poor Medusa here is still very much the victim. People get turned into stone IF they look at her. She is castrated, accursed, shunned.

I find this painting by Caravaggio particularly heart-wrenching. He has captured her expression after being freshly-beheaded by Perseus. I’m sure he meant to convey monstrousness and shock. But all I notice is poor Medusa’s hurt and disbelief. In today’s parlance this is the point where she would have exclaimed, “Yo, is this shit for real, ya’ll?

My expression is sort of similar when shitty things happen in my life, especially the unpredictable ones. And the times when you feel like that, you occupy a different world. A world where you feel invisible, as if life and everyone else is passing you by. Or the times when you do everything you can but you know the outcome is dependent on something out of your hands, when all you need is a just a break, a reprieve. And that’s a yearning for a different type of glance.

Something that devotees of the Hindu Goddess, Meenakshi, from her famed temple in theSouth Indian city of Madurai are familiar with.

Meenakshi – the one who has eyes like that of a fish (meen meaning fish, akshi meaning eyes; )

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There are several reasons why she is named such. Firstly, she was the daughter of a Pandya king and the Kingdom’s emblem was the fish. Secondly, in Indian culture, eyes the shape of a fish’s body (basically almond-shaped) are regarded as a mark of beauty and she was supposed to be exquisitely beautiful. Thirdly, there is an old Tamil folklore that fish actually hatch their eggs by a mere look. *From a South Indian journey; the Smile of Murugan by Michael Wood. 

And so when devotees pray to the Goddess, they beseech her to cast her magical, fish-like eyes on them … like a yearning lover, desperate for the eye of their beloved to glance their way.

“I wait with silent passion, for one gesture, one glance, from you” – Rumi

So they can ‘hatch’, flourish, prosper. So they can be redeemed. So that her one glance will banish all their miseries away.

I can understand where this metaphor comes from. The times in my life, when everything has been transformed by a glance. The times I have looked upon someone and suddenly feel the ground below me give way.  Or to look up and catch a glance of someone, to take in the full force of the exchange.

These are moments when life stands still or when the tectonic plates of your life undergoes a gigantic shift.

And to think, it was just a glance.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. I love the Medusa shield by Caravaggio! And you have a great perspective on her as a person! Great post, thank you!

    Like

    1. shobaharidas says:

      Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it and I love the Medusa shield as well. When younger, just saw her as a monster but the perspective has changed as I grew older 🙂

      Like

      1. Ooh, now that’s interesting Shoba! Fascinating how our views alter with the passing of time! Very thought-provoking, thanks!

        Like

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