“There are millions of gods, beta, but all represent aspects of three, and all three are really one. Brahma is the Generator, Vishnu the Organizer, and Shiva the Destroyer. Together they are G.O.D. or Brahman. All the millions of Hindu gods are just forms of the one Supreme Being.” – Sarah Macdonald

Madurai is the ancient capital of South India and Tamil Nadu’s second-largest city. With four great gate towers rising over 150 ft high, at its heart is the labyrinth, “Gothic” Meenakshi Temple, where we attended a night darshan ceremony.

What is Darshan?

A key concept in worshipping Hindu deities is making eye contact with the deity. This special ceremony is called Darshan. Making direct visual contact with the God or Goddess is a two-sided event; the worshiper sees the divinity, and the deity likewise sees the devotee. This ritualistic viewing occurs between devotees and God in intimate domestic spaces and crowded temple complexes. It can take place even when an individual is in a crowd of thousands of other worshipers. By having direct eye contact with God’s image, the worshipper receives energy and blessings from the deity.

The Women’s Entrepreneur Conference, by Danna Sigal

It is easy to minimize the importance of Women’s Empowerment Conferences, having been raised within a culture and community that encouraged girls not only to dream big but expected us to pursue and achieve those dreams.

In India, it’s quite a different story – the dual standard is the norm, and only 20% of women work outside the home; we are all familiar with the recent cry of “enough is enough”  to end violence against women, and The Hindu Newspaper reported yesterday that although female infanticide rates are declining, there are 10% fewer girl babies born due to aborting after ultrasound shows a female fetus. (this is a chilling fact)

It’s true that culture trumps strategy, and yesterday we got a whiff of the future while attending the Women’s Entrepreneur Conference and International Women’s Day celebration with 400 others. It was a powerful day. Wonderful to meet new friends, including Meera, who, after a chance meeting at breakfast, invited us as her guests to the conference; Sundar, who was attending with his family to watch his wife accept an award; and a group of bubbly and ambitious college women. And the sari’s were fabulous.

The gem for me was listening to the Chapter founder and chairwoman’s speech, Dr. Rajakumari Jeevagan, who was introduced as “a great leader who teaches us constantly what it is to be human,” a quality I have not often heard at business conferences.

She spoke at a dizzying speed alternately in Tamil and English and touched on many familiar topics: open mindset, stem teaching, flexible thinking, the importance of adding value, and the speed of change (“when you start standing, you will be swallowed’). The exciting part was the ideas I have not heard discussed much in business circles, bringing meaning into one’s life and the lives of others, integrating physical, mental, and spiritual values into your work, and how one must have good intentions and do good work. She closed with a classic life lesson and an important reminder: it’s not what you have; it’s what you do with what you have. I am grateful to this group for warmly welcoming us and sharing their path with us.