Saturday 1 February 2014

Sacred Feminism

"Lord you are greater than my father but just equal to my mother"
-Sage Kanva, Mandala 8, Rig Veda

Personally, I have always been a huge admirer of the intellect and wisdom of the ancient Vedic men, and if you have been following my posts on a regular basis, that would hardly come as a surprise to you.
The customs they set up, the beliefs they held and the ideas they formulated, particularly, of science and logistics combined with Dharma, is even hard to contemplate in these modern times, let alone implement it.

Each and every small concept of ancient India encapsulated a something bigger and huge within itself.
The Sanskrit word for Geography is Bhugol(Round Earth), and the term is in use much before the scientists were actually able to declare that the earth is spherical in shape.

However, no ideology, or society, or civilization, in history or in times modern enough not to be a part of history, could ever be completely perfect and spotless. I wont say that Vedic male folks treated women exactly equal to themselves, and that I believe has been the trend of every ancient civilization, be it Greece or Rome. If you have more physical power, you are superior. Add to that certain instances where women were compared to menial objects in texts like Manusmriti, which says that if a woman loses her virginity before marriage, her fingers shall be chopped and head shaved and she shall be made to ride a donkey.

The same text, Manusmriti, interestingly also says that a household where women are treated with respect, Gods come and reside in them. Or, that when a girl attains a marriageable age, she is free to choose her life partner. Or that women have equal rights to Vedic education and equal share in parental property

Maybe Manu wrote the derogatory lines falling prey to the semantics and ills of the society of those times, which certainly dont stand true in modern perspective. What's baffling. however, is that the same text at places uplifts the cause and salutes the status of women, but a majority of the later generations comfortably ignored those specific pieces of text, and decided to only follow the derogatory ones. Many people wouldnt even know that Manusmriti even talks of love marriages.

The point of this post, however, is not to discuss on women empowerment or women rights. There are people and organizations better suited than me to do it. With this post, I wish to bring up five names, mostly unheard and unknown, which made a mark in ancient Vedic times, and their acts, which deserve to be iterated time and again, but are mostly lost in the pages of time.

Thanks to the exposure to Vedic education, and a comparatively free and open society, women of Vedic times were epitomes of spirituality and knowledge. The Vedas primarily talk about 27 women-seers in totality. Out of these 27, five names stand out compared to others:

Lopamudra: The wife of Sage Agastya, finds mentions in parts of Rig Veda, where she interacts with her husband and displays her intelligence and caring nature.
Lopamudra was the daughter of King of Vidarbha, and after Agastya married her, she left her luxurious life to live the life of a seer with him. Agastya, however didnt pay much attention to his home and marriage life. Lopamudra created a hymn of two stanzas through which she made Agastya realize his duties.
Mahabharat mentions Agastya performing a penance at Haridwar with the help of his wife, and River Kaveri is her reincarnation.

Ghosha: Vedas often talk about Ashwin brothers, who are also known as the doctors of the Gods. The Vedas claim them to be the source of all Ayurvedic knowledge and that they had the powers to cure any disease. The daughter of creator of these hymns of Vedas, was Ghosha.
Ghosha has been mentioned to be suffering from a disfiguring disease, leprosy in the most probability, as per the descriptions. She finds her mention when she composes two separate hymns in the Vedas.
It is believed that Ghosha, in her interactions with Ashwins helped them grow spiritually and they in turn, cured her disease and allowed her wedding bliss. She is known to be a master of Madhu Vidya or secret learning as per the Vedas and the hymns she has composed.

Gargi: Probably the most enigmatic and the most effervescent of all the female seers of the Vedas, she composed certain hymns which questioned the very origin of all existences. When Kings of those times, like King Janak of Videha performed  righteous obligations or Yagna, she would be a part of the dignified participants.
She would often hold discussions and debates with various sages of her times over the existence and concepts of origin and very ideologies of how the entire living and dead world is situated within the realms of earth itself. Such smart were her talks that many a great Vedic men used to fall silence in front of her.
She would often ask that every realm is part of earth itself, but Aakash and Paatal are known to be beyond earth, then where exactly are they situated.
She was one of the Navratnas in the court of King Janaka of Mithila and composed Gargi Samhita

Maitreyi: The brother of Gargi, Mitra of Maithili had a very wise and proficient daughter by the name of Maitreyi. Being in close contact with Gargi since her childhood, she developed an acute thirst for knowledge and wisdom.of the Shastras. The hymns she has composed talks highly of concepts such as introspection and the materialistic needs of the humans.
Maitreyi was well versed in scriptures, and like her aunt, questioned the very setup of the entire society where people spent much time on luxuries and services not helping them to grow spiritually. When her husband, Yajnavalkya, learned sage himself, announced that he would give up all worldly possessions and leave for an acetic life, and that Maitreyi could have his belongings, she decided to accompany him herself.

Saraswati: Interestingly, though Ganga is today the most respected and pious of all the rivers in Hinduism, it never finds a clear and complete reference in the Rig Veda, the oldest of all the 4 Vedas. The river, which actually finds a reference is Saraswati.
It is believed that a majority of discoveries and marvels of ancient technology were devised and conceptualized on the banks of Saraswati, from where it gained a prominent place in Vedas. Saraswati, in female, but without a complete human form, does find its place in Rig Veda, and is said to be a River Goddess and a source of inspiration to the sages and seers.

Apart from these 5, there is a mention of Surya, Ushas, Vagambhrani, but more then often they are either fictional or without a complete human form, like Surya with wings of fire flying in the skies.
Women, in ancient India were even trained physically and were admitted to military and army. They were taught sword fighting and other basic fighting skills and they were never afraid to join ranks with male soldiers in the times of crisis.
Women were given equality in education, choosing their partners for life(swayamvars), even they were allowed to choose not to marry, if they wished to do so. They could become seers, saints and live their life the acsetic way. The position of women only deteriorated during the middle and modern times, and it has taken more than a Herculean effort to reach to a better position where we are today.

With hopes, that the effort would yield results bettering the prospects for future, I would like to bring this post to an end.
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Bidding Adieu for now.


  1. Amazing article..a truly insightful write up on Vedic women...loved it