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"Like a Web of Pearls on Thread:" Women and the Bhagavad Gita in Modern Times


· Erika Baldt Rowan College at Burlington County (New Jersey, United States of America)


07/26 | 17:50-18:10 UTC+2/CEST


This presentation will explore the idea that The Bhagavad Gita provided women with access to spiritual life that had previously been limited, as evidenced by Krishna’s claim to Arjuna that “Those who take refuge in Me, even women, Vaishyas, Shudras, or those born impure, they nevertheless reach the highest destination” (9.32). I will apply this idea to several female figures of the late 19th and early twentieth centuries: Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society; Annie Besant, creator of the All-India Home Rule League; and Virginia Woolf, British modernist author. Blavatsky’s interpretation of the Gita and her use of the text as a foundation for the Theosophical Society was extremely influential, as she is said to have introduced the Gita to Gandhi, as well as to Besant. Like Blavatsky, Besant became well known on both sides of the Atlantic, and in 1919 she was invited to speak at London’s 1917 club, where she came in contact with Virginia Woolf. Even though there is no evidence that she had read the Gita, I will argue that Woolf’s encounter with Besant, as well as her relationship with Gita scholar T.S. Eliot, inspired her 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, as its themes of war, death, and time bear striking similarities to the Gita. The goal of this presentation will be to show how the Gita was central to these three figures’ specific career trajectories as well as to their more abstract understanding of human kinship.