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Sunday, August 2, 2015
Women and our Religious texts
Dr Madhu Bala
"Yatra Nari Astu Pujyante, Ramante Tatra Devataa" The Gods reside in places where woman is worshiped
--- Manu Smriti
Dr Madhu Bala
Those who consider women only an object of pleasure or a thing to be kept in four walls - need to go back in the history. Our history signifies the important position of women till then and now today. They are equivalent and even more superior to anyone. In our Ancient Indian society, women had a very significant position. In fact they were superior to men. It is a myth that women were not given status in Vedic period, but when the texts are studied in whole and not partly, one must accept that at least the early Vedic women enjoyed a position of dignity, honor and importance. It can be observed that our society has just shown the darker side of a woman and has made realized her as if she is nothing.
There are several examples of women of historical importance that have been the basis for inspiration to both men
and women for centuries. From the
early Vedic times these include such women as Sati, Sita, Anasuya, Arundhatee, Draupadi, Queen Kunti, Shakuntala, Maitreyi, Gargi, Madalasa, Savitri, Ahalya, and others. Such great women have contributed to the Vedic culture. There are literary evidences to suggest that woman had power which could destroy kingdoms and mighty rulers. Veda Vyasa in Mahabharata writes how Kauravas fell because
they humiliated Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas. Valmiki's Ramyana depicts the sad state of Ravana for abducting Sita Devi forcibly. The worship of Goddesses in ancient period was to inspire public to respect women. According to many scholars the Vedas accord a position of importance to women. There was
considerable freedom enjoyed by them in matters of marriage, remarriage,
education, property, religious sacrifices, dances etc.
Marriage and Remarriage
Women had an opportunity to choose their man through a type of marriage called Swayamvara. In this type of marriage, the eligible grooms assembled at the bride's place and the bride selected her man. There are many such incidences in epics- the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This continued even in the later period in royal families. Women were given more freedom as compared to now. Even Manu has an ideal approach on the subject of marriage of women. He has conceded to her the freedom of
marrying a man of her choice who in
her opinion is the most suitable for her
(IX-90,91). He has allowed remarriage of a widow (IX-176,56-63). During Hindu marriage ceremonies the following slokas are read out by the grooms but, these days, little understood. "O bride! I accept your hand to enhance our joint good fortune. I pray to you to accept me as your husband and live with me
until our old age. …" Rigveda Samhita Part -4, sukta 85, sloka 9702.
Woman's Importance in the Performance of Religious rites.
"The participation which women get in every field of activities of men in India as sanctioned by Vedic religion is of unique nature and is not to be seen elsewhere. Here no religious rite, no social ceremony and no household venture can be accomplished without women being associated. Manu also has also entrusted the job of accomplishing religious
rites and ceremonies to women, and gives directions that such rites should
not be carried out without their
participation (IX-11,28,96). During Vedic period women enjoyed all rights such as the right to study the Vedas,
right to the wearing of YAJNOPAVITA (sacred thread), right to perform YAJNA (sacrificial ceremony), etc.
Manu not in Favour of Unlimited Freedom to Women Manu is not in favour of unlimited liberty for women which may make her unsafe and consequently be extremely harmful to her. So he has warned women against jumping the security cover provided to her by the father or by the husband or by the son because such a misadventure on her
part can bring a bad name to two families - one her parents' and the other her in-laws' (V-149,IX-56). However, by no means does it mean that Manu is anti-women's freedom. This only implies that the first social requirement of women is security which may be provided to her by the State's law and orther machinery or some man or by her own bravery. Her own bravery, more often than not, fails to protect her in a world dominated by sensual dacoits have required male protection and patronage. However, it will not be proper to assess Manu's contentions in the present day political perspective. Today there is a law-enforcing government and yet thousands of women have been criminally assaulted and thus compelled to go to dogs. Rape and subsequent killing of women is the order of the day and the rule of law is rendered ineffectual. The real import
of Manu's words can be realized vis-a-
vis a situation when there is looseness in administration consequent upon a change in the system of government following violent incidents. It is in such a situation that Manu's words prove to be perfectly true. This analysis makes it clear that the provisions made by
Manu are anti women. They are in fact, extremely fair, just, impartial and
even -handed. Manu has said nothing objectionable, nothing exceptionable."
In the Vedic society women participated in religious ceremonies and assemblies. There is no evidence of isolation
of women in Vedic period in domestic
or social affairs, but they were affectionately dependent on their male relations throughout their lives. There were women like Matreyi, Gargi, Lopamudra, Ghosha, and Indranni who were learned souls and have put forth there thought in Upanishads. Gargi, the famous composer of Vedic hymns was considered a
brahmavadini as she requested for the highest spiritual knowledge from her husband instead of material wealth.
The following statements given bellow to prove that women were given
respect in those times, as these are from Vedas and other significant scriptures: "Women are worthy of worship. They are the fate of the household, the lamp of enlightenment for all in the household. They bring solace to the family and are an integral part of Dharmic life. Even heaven is under the control of women. The Gods reside in those households where women are worshipped and in households where women are slighted
all efforts at improvement go in vain." Manusmriti 3-56
"O bride! May the knowledge of the Vedas be in front of you and behind you, in your centre and in your ends. May you conduct your life after attaining the knowledge of the Vedas. May you be benevolent, the harbinger of good fortune and health and live in great dignity and indeed be illumined in
your husband's home." Atharva Veda
14-1-64."The wife should do Agnihotra (yagna), Sandhyavandana and all other daily religious rituals. If, for some
reason, her husband is not present, the woman alone has full rights to do yagna." Rigveda Samhita, part 1, sukta 79,
sloka 872.
Equality of Woman and Man
In Vedic culture it is taught that every man should view and respect every woman, except his own wife, as his mother, and every girl with the same concern and care as his own daughter. It is only because of the lack of such training and the social distancing from the high morals as this that this teaching is being forgotten, and the respect that society should have for women has been reduced. In this way, the change in the attitude toward women in India was due to a loss of culture and of the true Vedic standards. Women and men are equal in the eyes of dharma is made explicit in a beautiful sloka from the Rigveda: "O women! These mantras are given to you equally (as to men). May your thoughts, too, be harmonious. May your assemblies be open to all without discrimination. Your mind and consciousness should be harmonious. I (the rishi) give you these mantras equally as to men and give you all and equal powers to absorb (the full powers) of these mantras." Rigveda 10-191-3. Indeed the virtues of the loyal and virtuous (pativrata) wife are comparable to only those of agnideva (the fire god). "… This agnideva is pure and worthy of worship just as pativrata women." Rigveda Samhita, Part -1, sukta 73, sloka 829. Vedic knowledge which provide for a lofty position to women both at home and in the society. Manusmriti (3-57) says that the society in which women are depressed is soon vanished. Society where women are
free from suppression always moves
forward; Shochanti jamyo yatra vinash utuashu,tatkulum, na shochanti tu
yatritaa vardhatey tadhi sarvada.
Dr Madhu Bala
Lecturer in Commerce
Govt H S S, Sarthal, Kishtwar.
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