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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Status Of Women in Vedic Era

Veneration of Women in Vedic India

Will Durant (1885-1981) American historian says: 

"Women enjoyed far greater freedom in the Vedic period than in later India. She had more to say in the choice of her mate than the forms of marriage might suggest. She appeared freely at feasts and dances, and joined with men in religious sacrifice. She could study, and like Gargi, engage in philosophical disputation. If she was left a widow there were no restrictions upon her remarriage."

Louis Jaccoliot (1837-1890) who worked in French India as a government official and was at one time President of the Court in Chandranagar, translated numerous Vedic hymns and the celebrated author of the Bible in India: Hindoo Origin of Hebrew and Christian Revelation said: 

"India of the Vedas entertained a respect for women amounting to worship; a fact which we seem little to suspect in Europe when we accuse the extreme East of having denied the dignity of woman, and of having only made her an instrument of pleasure and of passive obedience." He also said: "What! here is a civilization, which you cannot deny to be older than your own, which places the woman on a level with the man and gives her an equal place in the family and in society."

In religious matters, Hindus have elevated women to the level of divinity. One of the things most misconstrued about India and Hinduism is that it's a male-dominated society and religion. It is not. 

It is a culture whose only words for strength and power are feminine -- "shakti'' means "power'' and "strength.'' All male power comes from the feminine. The Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) are all powerless without their female counterparts. 

Devi, in the words of Romain Rolland, French Nobel laureate, professor of the history of music at the Sorbonne and thinker, is the Great Goddess, the invisible, the immanent, who gathers to her golden arms the multiform, multicolored - Unity. This echoes the sixth century Devi-Mahatraya prayer to her: By you this universe is borne, by you this world is created. By you it is protected, O Devi: By you it is consumed at the end. You are the Supreme Knowledge, as well as ignorance, intellect and contemplation...

Indian Historian Romesh C Dutt writes: 

"Women were held in higher respect in India than in other ancient countries, and the Epics and old literature of India assign a higher position to them than the epics and literature of ancient Greece. Hindu women enjoyed some rights of property from the Vedic Age, took a share in social and religious rites, and were sometimes distinguished by their learning. The absolute seclusion of women in India was unknown in ancient times."

Status Of Women Rig Ved : 

Rig Ved is the only scripture among those of all religions in which the divine truths of revealed
 to women sages also and some of the hymns describing the revelations find a prominent place in the Rig Ved Samhita like the hymn of Devi sukta (10.125) attributed to woman sage Vaak Ambhrni. There are more than thirty women sages in RV with specific hymns associated with them. In all the semitic religions like Christianity, Islam etc. there is no mention of any revelation to women.

In vedic literature several aspects of feminine form are suggested by various names and epithets are used to denote a woman. For instance woman as a wife is described by three words : Jaya, Jani and Patni. Of these Jaya is one who gives birth to one's progeny, Jani is the mother of children and Patni is the co-partner in religious duties.

Similarly women is designated as :

Aditi- because she is not dependent (Nirukta 4/22)
Aghnya- for she is not to be hurt (Y.V 8/43)
Brihati- for she is large hearted (Y.V 11/64)
Chandra- for she is happy (Y.V 8/43)
Devakama- since she is pious (A.V. 14/147)
Devi- since she is divine (A.V. 14/145 , Y.V. 4/23)
Dhruva- for she is firm (Y.V. 11/64)
Havya- because she is worthy of invocation (Y.V. 8/43)
Ida- for she is worshippable (Y.V. 8/43)
Jyota- because she is illuminating (Y.V. 8/43)
Kamya- because she is desirable (Y.V. 8/43)
Kshama- for she is tolerant/indulgent/patient (A.V. 12/1/29)
Mahi- since she is great (Y.V. 8/43)
Mena- because she deserves respect (Nirukta 3/21/2)
Nari- for she is not inimical to anyone (A.V. 14/1/59)
Purandhih- for she is munificent/liberal (Y.V. 22/22)
Ranta- because she is lovely (Y.V. 8/3)
Rtavatai, Rtachit- for she is the preserver/forester of truth (R.V. 2/41/18)
Sanjaya- since she is victorious (R.V. 10/159/3)
Sarasvati- since she is scholarly ( Y.V. 20/84)
Simhi- since she is courageous (Y.V. 5/12)
Shiva- for she is benevolent (A.V. 14/164)
Shivatama- since she is the noblest (R.V. 10/85/37)
Stri- since she is modest (R.V. 8/33/9 , Nirukta 3/21/12)
Subhaga- because she is fortunate (Y.V. 8/43)
Subhdha- for she is knowledgebale (A.V. 14/2/75)
Sumangali- since she is auspicious ( A.V. 14/2/26)
Susheva- for she is pleasant ( A.V. 14/2/26)
Suvarcha- since she is splendid (A.V. 14/4/47)
Suyama- since she is self-disciplined ( A.V. 14/2/18)
Syona- for she is noble (A.V. 14/2/27)
Virini- since she is mother of brave sons (R.V. 10/86/9, 10)
Vishruta- since she is learned (Y.V. 8/43)
Yashasvati- for she is glorious (R.V. 1/89/1)
Yosha- because she is intermingled with man, she is not separate (Nirukta 3/15/1)

List of women rishis (rishikas) in the Rig Ved Samhita :-

(One or two mantra was revealed to each rishika)

Aditi- 4.18
Aditirdakshayani- 10.72
Apala atreyi- 8.91
Dakshina prajapatya- 10.107
Godha- 10.134
Ghosha kakshivati- 10.39, 10.40
Indrani- 10.86
Indra mataro- 10.153
Jarita sharngah- 10.142
Juhurbrahmajaya- 10.109
Lopamudra- 1.171
Ratrirbharadvaji- 10.127
Romasha- 1.126
Sarama devashuni- 10.108
Sarparajni- 10.189
Sashvatyangirasi- 8.1
Shraddha kamayani- 10.151
Shachi poulami- 10.159
Shikhandinyavah psarasau kashyapan- 9.104
Sikata nivavari- 9.86
Sudhitirangirasah- 8.71
Surya savitri- 10.85
Tvashta garbhakarta-10.184
Vagambhrni- 10.125
Vasukapatni- 10.28
Vishvavara atreyi- 8.91
Yami- 10.154
Yami vaivasvati- 10.10

Women and Rig Ved :

Rig ved 1.164.41

गौरीर्मिमाय सलिलानि तक्षत्येकपदी दविपदी सा चतुष्पदी |
अष्टापदी नवपदी बभूवुषी सहस्राक्षरा परमे वयोमन ||

" One ved, two ved, or four ved along with ayurved, dhanurved, gandharved, aarthved etc in addition with education, kalp, grammar, nirukt, astrology, meters i.e the six vedaang should be attained by the clear-minded woman, which is equivalent to the crystal-clear water and spread this diversified knowledge among the people. "

Rig Ved (2.17.7) states that an educated daughter who is a householder should increase the wealth through Purushartha by honoring those who should be honored and by rejecting those who are otherwise :

अमाजूरिव पित्रोः सचा सती समानादा सदसस्त्वामिये भगम |
कर्धि परकेतमुप मास्या भर दद्धि भागं तन्वो येन मामहः ||

Rig Ved says that an educated girl should be married to an equally educated man :

आ धेनवो धुनयन्तामशिश्वीः सबर्दुघाः शशया अप्रदुग्धाः |
नव्या-नव्या युवतयो भवन्तीर्म... ||
.......Rig Ved 3.55.16

“ As an unmarried young learned daughter feels happy to get married to a bridegroom who like her is learned, likewise learned men feel happy to know the words of knowledge”.

उत तवा सत्री शशीयसी पुंसो भवति वस्यसी |
अदेवत्राद अराधसः ||
......Rig ed 5.61.6

"That woman deserves to be adored by her husband who makes her husband happy by rejecting those who practice injustice and those who are not to be respected. She deserves to be adored by her husband forever."

Sayanacharya, the 14th Century Vedic scholar from India, comments on Rig Veda (5.61.8-9) that the wife and husband are equal halves of one substance. Therefore both should join and take equal parts in all religious and day-to-day work. Pious couples are recommended to pray to Goddess Gayatri to beget courageous children.

Rig Ved(10.18.8) is recited by the dead man’s brothers and others, requesting the widow to release her husband’s body for cremation. The Rig also commands the widow to return to the world of living beings :

उदीर्ष्व नार्यभि जीवलोकं गतासुमेतमुप शेष एहि |
हस्तग्राभस्य दिधिषोस्तवेदं पत्युर्जनित्वमभि सम्बभूथ ||

.......(Rig Ved 10.18.8)

“Rise, O woman, (and go) to the world of living beings; come, this man near whom you sleep is lifeless; you have enjoyed this state of being the wife of your husband, the suitor who took you by the hand"

A woman had the right to choose her own husband :

कियती योषा मर्यतो वधूयोः परिप्रीता पन्यसावार्येण |
भद्रा वधूर्भवति यत सुपेशाः सवयं सामित्रं वनुते जने चित ||

…….. Rig Ved 10.27.12

“ Many women get satisfied hearing the flattering admiration and the wealth of men. She is a good wife who is gracious and beautiful and chooses herself the man of her choice.”

Rig-Ved prays to Ashwins for assisting the widows. (Rig Ved 10.40.8)

Marriage was an established institution in the Vedic Age. It was regarded as a social and religious duty; and not a contract. The husband-wife stood on equal footing and prayed for long lasting love and friendship. At the wedding, the bride addressed the assembly in which the sages too were present. [Rig Veda (10.85.26-27)]

The Rig Veda hymn (10, 85.27) ,the wedding prayer , indicates the rights of a woman as wife. It is addressed to the bride sitting next to bridegroom. It touches upon few other issues as well.

इह परियं परजया ते सं रध्यतामस्मिन गर्हे गार्हपत्यायजाग्र्हि |
एना पत्या तन्वं सं सर्जस्वाधा जिव्री विदथमा वदाथः ||
......Rig Ved 10.85.27

"Happy be you (as wife) in future and prosper with your children here (in the house): be vigilant to rule your household in this home (i.e. exercise your authority as the main figure in your home). Closely unite (be an active participant) in marriage with this man, your husband. So shall you, full of years (for a very long life), address your company (i.e. others in the house listen to you, and obey and care about what you have to say)."

A woman, if she chose, could marry even after the child bearing age. For instance Gosha a well known female sage married at a late stage in her life (her husband being another well known scholar of that time Kakasivan) as she earlier suffered from some skin ailment.Monogamy normally prevailed but polygamy was also in vogue. But Vedas do not encourage polygamy.

The famous marriage hymn (10.85) calls upon members of the husband’s family to treat the daughter in law (invited into the family 'as a river enters the sea') as the queen samrajni. She is welcomed in many ways:

अघोरचक्षुरपतिघ्न्येधि शिवा पशुभ्यः सुमनाःसुवर्चाः |
वीरसूर्देवकामा सयोना शं नो भव दविपदेशं चतुष्पदे ||
………….Rig Ved 10.85.44

" O Bride ! May you have the charming look, protective to your husband, kind towards animals, with a good mind, with strength and knowledge, destined to bring forth heroes. May you bring prosperity to humans and happiness to quadrapeds."

Rig ved 10.85.46 :
सम्राज्ञी शवशुरे भव सम्राज्ञी शवश्र्वां भव |
ननान्दरि सम्राज्ञी भव सम्राज्ञी अधि देव्र्षु ||

“ O Bride! May your father-in-law treat you as a queen. May your mother-in-law treat you as a Samrajni(queen). May the sisters and brothers of your husband treat you as a queen. “

Rig Ved 10.159 :
A women speaks after waking up in morning, “My destiny is as glorious as the rising sun. I am the flag of my home and society. I am also their head. I can give impressive discourses. My sons conquer enemies. My daughter illuminates the whole world. I myself am winner of enemies. My husband has infinite glory. I have made those sacrifices which make a king successful. I have also been successful. I have destroyed my enemies.”

Rig Ved does not encourage polygamy :

उभे धुरौ वह्निरापिब्दमानो.अन्तर्योनेव चरति दविजानिः |

……. Rig Ved 10.101.11

"A man with two wives is pressed from both sides and weeps like a horse that neighs when pressed from both sides by spokes while driving a chariot. "

Three mantras of Rig Veda, 1.124.7, 4.3.2 and 10.71.4 contain “Jaayeva Patya Ushatee Suvaasaah”. This means that knowledge comes to the scholar in same manner as a dedicated joyous wife comes only to her husband. “Jaaya” means wife and “Pati” means husband. Both appearing in singular implies that only one husband-one wife relation is considered ideal.

Unfortunately even today some orthodox people deny the right of women to chant the Vedas. However they can not show any authorative scripture to support their views. Vedas are the supreme authority of Sanatan Dharma. 


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