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Bemata - GODDESS OR DEMONESS?


Taken from a charpoy leg, this rare image of Bemata is shown with a swastik or satiya, which represents the auspicious nature of birth.

"Bemata is an old woman, has white hair and walks with the help of a stick. She stays under the earth and makes putle (puppets) and gives them to people. She gives to some people and does not give to others. When a baby smiles, it is believed that Bemata is making her smile." (Delhi)

�There is the custom of cutting the atta or rice. When the labor pains have come and the dai has arrived, the jachcha puts both hands full of atta in the thali. The dai holds the wrist of the mother while she, with her hand, separates the atta into two parts from the middle. Bemata is worshipped by putting money and gur on top of the atta, offering it to the dai, and saying �In this way separate the mother and the child - so that the child is born without any difficulty.� It is said that when Ram and Lakshman were born Bemata herself came and acted as dai. Now it�s the dai, herself, who represents the shakti of Bemata. (Moti Dai, Delhi)

�Look, sister, at the time of birth it�s only the woman�s Shakti. She who gives birth, at that time, her one foot is in heaven and the other, in hell. The woman�s Shakti is indeed a lot when she gives birth to a child. Before doing a delivery I.get the woman to open all the trunks, doors and so on. I pray to the One Above to open the knot quickly. I take off the sari, open the hair and take off the bangles or any jewellery. I put the atta on a thaali and ask the woman to divide it into two equal parts. Also I get Rs.1.25 in the name of Sayyid kept separately. But mostly I remember Bemata. Repeatedly I pray to the Bemata �Oh mother! please open the knot quickly.� (Shakina, Delhi)


Bemata is traditionally invoked at the time of childbirth, with some variation of names, throughout North India. Bemata is not like Durga or Saraswati, Lakshmi or even Santoshi Ma in that there are no temples, pilgrimage sites, texts, icons relating to her. She is a fleeting presence who only seems to represent female reproductive physiology. Manifesting as both a creative and a destructive force, she is procreativity while growing the baby, and pathology if she does not leave when her work is done. Imaged as a playful and rather fickle old woman, Bemata is amazingly familiar and at the same time tremendously powerful. She is invoked at the time of childbirth being the special patron of dais and parturient women. Bemata lives underground, creates human beings out of earth, breathes life into them and writes their fate on their foreheads shortly after birth. Bemata is immanent in all nature, grows and protects the baby in the womb, but is also responsible for complications if she does not �exit� the mother�s body via postpartum bleeding. She is leaves the birth home at the time of the Chatti rite, six days after birth when she is thanked for growing and protecting the baby.

Bemata encodes a process orientation towards birth and postpartum while providing a framework for diagnostics and therapeutics. In obstetrical practice an examination done first one minute and then five minutes after birth, called �the Apgar score�, is used to assess the well being of the newborn. It is a scale for measuring the infant�s process of adapting to extra-uterine life. But no such formal, process-oriented assessment is geared towards the bodily functioning of the mother postpartum, the time the dais call �the closing of the body�. Bemata operates as a diagnostic system assisting dais in their roles as caretakers of mothers, especially crucial in the six day post birth period.
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