Mathomathis would like to present an article on Empowered Women – The Vedic Path by Nandita Das, Received : 20.08.17; Peer Reviewed : 14.09.17; Accepted : 26.09.17. The empowerment of women is a very relevant question of our time which has its own share of multiple ramifications and controversies. Though the term empowerment is a fairly modern term, it has a number of very strong precedents in oriental traditionalism. The term itself is a descendant of the word ‘Power’ which in the Indian context is synonymous with the word ‘Shakti’. In the philosophy of Hinduism, Shakti ( in Sanskrit the word shak denotes “to be able”), is also spelled as ‘Sakthi’, which means “power” or “empowerment” is also the primordial cosmic energy and it also represents the forces of dynamism that are thought to be moving through the entire universe and its parallel corollaries. Shakti is the conceptualisation and the personification of the divine creative power that resides in femininity, and is referred to as ‘The Great Divine Mother’ in Hindu scriptures. As the mother of the universe she is known as the “AdiParashakti” or “Adishakti”. Put on the earthly and everyday plane, the concept of Shakti most actively manifests through the female embodiment of ideas and in the creativity/fertility of the everyday woman, though it also manifests its presence in males in its potential form which is paradoxically “unmanifest”, as the ancient wisdom would have it.
“The Gods reside in places where woman is worshiped” – Manu Smriti
The ancient Indian society had always placed women in a very significant position. Ancient scriptures suggest the fact that they were superior to men in a number of aspects. There are numerous literary evidences that suggest that woman had obtained powers which could have destroyed great kingdoms and mighty rulers. The sagacious Veda Vyasa (An ancient vedic seer / rishi) in Mahabharata has written how the Kaurava kingdom fell because of their humiliation of Draupadi, the beloved wife of Pandavas. Ramyana-Valmiki depicts the dejected state of Ravana for abducting Sita with brute force. The worship of Goddesses in the ancient period was initiated to inspire the public and the populace to respect women unequivocally. In the Vedic society women were active participants in numerous religious ceremonies and assemblies. There is no evidence that suggest the isolation of women in Vedic period in domestic or social spheres , but their dependence on their male relations throughout their lives was steeped with affection and mutual respect.
There were eminent women like Maitreyee, Gargi, Lopamudra, Ghosha, and Indrani who were learned and erudite souls and they have put forth their thoughts and learning in the Upanishads. Women in the Vedic era had the opportunity to choose their husband through a type of marriage called the Swayamvara. The laws of this type of marriage stated that the eligible grooms should assemble at the bride’s place and the bride will select her man through tests of merit. Many such examples abound in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This tradition continued even in the later period in a number of royal families. Swayamvara is the one of the most scientific rituals ever devised for a woman which could give her control over one of the major decisions of her life. The lower status of women in the Vedic Period is just one of the uneducated myths about ancient India. A number of statements given below show the proof of a totally different mindset and culture:
“O bride! May the knowledge of the Vedas be in front of you and behind you, inS your center 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.
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 was 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
“The wife should do Agnihotra (yagna), Sandhyavandanam 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.
In ancient vedic times,women were classified as “Brahmavadini” and “Sadyovadhu”.
- Brahmavadini was a woman who studied the Vedas after the ritual of Yajnopavitamsanskara (sacred thread ceremony) and got married later or stayed a bachelor in further pursuit of the vedic knowledge.
- Sadyovadhu was a woman who got married immediately after her sacred thread ceremony.
This has been clearly mentioned in the texts like Madhva Samhite on Parashara Smriti, and in the Harita Dharma Sutra, etc. There are some scholars who claim that Brahmavadini is just the term for the wife or a daughter of a male Rishi. But the texts define them as something totally different, and the very word Brahmavadini does not imply anything of that sort.The word actually implies a profound knowledge of the vedas and other sacred texts. Madhava Samhite on Parashara Smriti is of the opinion that :
yopanayanamkrutwapashcadvivahamkarotisabrahmavadini| tathaivayaprathamataupanayanamkrutwasadyaevavivahamvidhayatatovedamadhitesasadyovadhuh… which translates into:
“She who studies vedas after upanayana and then gets married is brahmavadini, she who gets married immediately after upanayana and then studies vedas is sadyovadhu”.
The list given below is a numerical statement of the Female vedic scholars who empowered themselves in an erudite way:
Female Vedic Scholar Rig Veda hymn attributed to
goshākākshīvatī 10.39, 10.40
Author’s Conclusion: The empowerment of women in the vedic ages was definitely a matter of reality, not of myth. As a parallel conclusion we can certainly draw the inference that the empowering ways of these ancient Female Scholars are relevant even today.