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Women Empowerment – Vedic and Puranic Ages

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There has been a divided opinion regarding the position of women in the Vedic and Puranic ages. According to many scholars the Vedas accord a position of importance to women. There was considerable freedom enjoyed by them in matters of marriage, education etc. William Durant sums up the position of the Vedic woman thus: “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.

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She could study, and like Gargi, engage in philosophical disputation. If she was left a widow there were no restrictions upon her remarriage. “1 Romesh C Dutt echoes the same opinion when he says:2 “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.

Even the Puranas also do not look down on women. Whereas the Devi Purana eulogises the Shakti aspect of women, the Brahmavaivarta Purana makes Radha the Conscious Magnetic Force of Krishna. But there are other scholars such as Wheeler3, Prof. Indra4 etc. , who opine that the Vedic woman was a slave, and the evils such as wife burning, child marriages, purdah system etc. had their seeds in the Vedic literature only. But when the texts are studied not partly, but in whole, one must accept that at least the early Vedic women enjoyed a position of dignity, honour and importance.

However, we must note that giving importance to women is not tantamount to empowering them. Figure head importance or passive importance is not what is required. Empowerment in its real sense refers to the decision making power. This paper aims to study in brief the Vedic and Purana sources from this perspective. ?? ? ?????????????? ?? ??????? ?????… 5 “And if a man wishes that a learned daughter should be born to him, and that she should live to her full age, then, after having prepared boiled rice with sesamum and butter, they should both eat, being fit to have offspring. This is a mantra from the Brihadaranyakopanishat advising the procedure to beget a learned daughter.

Well, in a society if a need was felt to compose a mantra for begetting a daughter, what should we think of such a society? As one which looked down on women or on the other hand as one which recognised the importance of women, and hence did not discriminate against them? The Grihya sutras ordain education for women as otherwise they can not perform fire sacrifices6. Panini distinguishes between a teacher’s wife and a lady teacher while giving the sutras for acharya and acharyani, and upadyaya and upadhyayani.

This reveals that there were women who took teaching as a profession. Similarly the words kathi etc. denote that women had no restriction in studying the Veda. Women wore the sacred thread and performed rituals. Gargi, the famous composer of Vedic hymns was considered a brahmavadini as she requested for the highest spiritual knowledge from her husband in stead of material wealth7. All these point to the freedom and independent decision making power enjoyed by the Vedic women. When we turn to the Puranas for such evidence we find in the story of Savitri, the freedom given to her by her father in choosing her husband.

And when Narada says that Satyavan will die within a year, Savitri doesn’t change her mind. And her father accepts her decision. And we know that it was Sita’s decision to follow Rama to the forests. And Rama could not do any thing to change her mind, and allowed her to follow him. Kalidasa, in Kumara Sambhava gives an expression to the regard husbands have for their wives. When the Rishis visit Himavan to fix the marriage of Siva and Parvati, Himavan looks at his wife Mena. And there Kalidasa remarks that men see through the eyes of their wives in matters concerning their daughters8.

These incidents amply prove that the Purana women made their own decisions, and were as independent as their men were. If they seemed to play second fiddle to their husbands, it was more by choice than by decree. It is myth that Women held very important position in ancient Indian society. Today I have come up with some proofs that show that in ancient India, life of women was pathetic and they had very low status in the society. We have many evidences of suppression and ill-treatment of women in Ancient Indo-Aryan society.

Most of the problems like Child Marriages, Dowry system, Bride-Burning; No rights in their paternal property, Mass Wife-Burning (Jauhar) and Widow-Burning (Sati) have their roots in ancient India. Female infanticide — The father of daughter was supposed to give huge dowries to the boy’s family and this system was also recommended by the Vedas. Hence a girl was seen as a burden. The woman who gave birth to a daughter was ashamed. Husbands were not supposed to have intercourse with a wife who bore only daughters. Hence infanticide arose as a convenient way of getting rid of the burden called daughter.

Holy Aryan texts say: “Tasmat striyam jatam parasyanti ut pumamsam haranti“ It means, Hence they reject a female child when born, and take up a male. ” Child marriage was common in ancient India due to the custom of dowry and to avoid scandals. Old Hindu mythology books including vedas prescribe that the best partnerfor a man in one-third his age. ” A man, aged thirty years, shall marry a maiden of twelve who pleases him, or a man of twenty-four a girl of eight years of age; if (the performance of) his duties would otherwise be impeded, he must marry sooner. [Manu Smriti]

Wife-Burning — An Aryan husband could at any time accuse his wife of infidelity. In case the wife protests her innocence, the council of village elders would then order an ordeal by fire. The accused wife would be required to pass through a blazing flame. Not just death, but any signs of burns would be taken as a sign of guilt and the wife would then have to undergo the penalty for infidelity. Adultery carries the death sentence in Aryan law, so either way she would have to pay with her life for her husband’s or elders’ mere suspicions.

The ideal role model for this custom was Sita, Ram’s wife. She was required by her spouse, the `ideal husband’ of the `Hindus’, to pass through the fire ordeal after her return from Sri Lanka. Jauhar – It refers to the practice of the mass burning of all the wives and daughters in an entire town/district to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemies. Often the husbands forced their unwilling spouses, sometimes the women practiced it themselves, encouraged by the elders. It is merely a variant of sati, since it occurred in anticipation of the women’s widowhood.

Sati — The Aryans, upon their invasion of India ca. 1500 B. C. introduced the horrificcustom of sati, ie. the burning of a woman after the death of her husband. When performed singly it is referred to as sati, when performed en masse by all the women and daughters of a town in anticipation of their widowhood (eg. when the men were to fight a battle against all odds), it is known as jauhar. It is sanctioned by their most sacred texts, and was practiced from the fall of the Semito-Dravidian Indus Valley civilization to the modern age. Old Texts and quotes supporting Sati :: Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as corrylium ( to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned. ” [Rig Veda] “It is proper for a woman, after her husband’s death to burn herself in the fire with his copse; every woman who thus burns herself shall remain in paradise with her husband 35,000,000 years by destiny. ”

On her husband’s death, the widow should observe celibacy or should ascend the funeral pyre after him. Vishnu Puran] ” The 8 queens of Krishna, who have been named, with Rukmini at their head, embraced the body of Hari, and entered the funeral fire. Revati also embracing the corpse of Ram, entered the blazing pile, which was cool to her, happy in contact with her lord. Hearing these events, Ugrasena and Anakadundubhi, with Devaki and Rohini, committed themselves to the flames. ” [Vishnu Puran] Methods of punishing women in Ancient India :: Cutting off the ears and nose of wives — Aryan husbands cut off the ears and nose of their wives if they left the house without their prior permission.

The Ramayana and Lord Ram practiced the cutting off of women’s noses for minor offences, thereby providing divine sanction for the custom. Shurpanakha was a Dravidian lady who fell in love with Ram. She proposed to him, but he directed her to his brother Laxman. Hecut off her ears and nose for this crime. Death Penalty — The death penalty was prescribed for Aryan women guilty of infidelity. Manu Smrti says “When a woman deceives her husband (with another man), then the king should ensure that she be torn apart by dogs in a public place and the evil man should be burnt in a bed of red-hot iron’.

Infidelity to husband was considered a grave sin and it was believed that such women went to hell. The husband had the power to curse the wife who was disloyal to him. Thus the sage Gautama cursed his wife Ahalya for sleeping with Indra though through no fault of her own. During the Maurya period, if a woman was found guilty of a carnal crime her generative organs were cut off and she was ultimately sentenced to death. Other Restrictions :: * No Property Rights — Women and Sudras in ancient India have no property rights.

* Dressing — Aryan women had to wear a face-veil when going out. They were not supposed to entertain strangers. Not allowed to Sleep alone — Ancient women were not allowed to sleep alone. During the absence of her husband, she was supposed to sleep with one of her female relatives. * No Education for women — Women and Sudras were declared to be unfit for study of the Vedas. omen held very important position in ancient Indian society. It was a position superior to men. There are literary evidences to suggest that woman power destroyed kingdoms and mighty rulers. Elango Adigal’s Sillapathigaram mentioned that Madurai the capital of Pandyas was burnt when Pandyan ruler Nedunchezhiyan killed a woman’s husband by mistake.

Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharata tells the story of fall of Kauravas because they humiliated queen Draupadi. Valmiki’s Ramyana is also about the wiping away of Ravana when he abducted and tried to marry Sita forcibly. The plethora of Goddesses in ancient period was created to instill respect for women. Ardhanareeshwar, where God is half-man and half-woman was highly worshipped. Women were allowed to have multiple husbands. Widows could remarry. They could leave their husbands. In the Vedic society women participated in religious ceremonies and tribal assemblies (sabha and vidata).

There is no evidence of seclusion of women from domestic and social affairs but they were dependent on their male relations throughout their lives. The system of Sati existed among the Aryans in the earlier period . By the time they entered India it had however gone out of vogue but it might have survived in the shape of a formal custom. Though it is not referred to in the hymns of the Rig-Veda, the Artharva Veda shows that it was still customary for the widow to lay symbolically by the side of her husband’s corpse on the funeral pyre. Monogamy was very common. Polygamy though common was not common.

Child marriages were unknown. Women could choose their husbands through a type of marriage called Swayamvara. In this type of marriage, potential grooms assembled at the bride’s house and the bride selected her spouse. Instances of Swayamvara ceremony can be found in epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This continued even in the later period in high class families. As the time passed the position of women underwent changes in all spheres of life. In the later Vedic period, women lost their political rights of attending assemblies. Child marriages also came into existence.

According to the Aitareya Brahmana a daughter has been described as a source of misery. The Atharva Veda also deplores the birth of daughters. Yet certain matrilineal elements are discernible in this period also. The importance assigned to the wives of the rajan in the rajasuya has been regarded as an indication of matrilineal influence and the Vamsavalis or genealogies of teachers attached to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in which many seers bear metronymics, would also possibly indicate a similar development. There are references to women seers like Gargi and Maitreyi .

However this period clears see the growing tendency to stratify society along gender lines. The position of women gradually deteriorated as the golden Vedic ideals of unity and equality began to fade off through the passage of time. During the period of smritis women were bracketed with the sudras and were denied the right to study the Vedas to utter Vedic mantras and to perform Vedic rites. Marriage or domestic life became compulsory for women and unquestioning devotion to husband their only duty. In Mauryan period brahamanical literature was particularly severe in the treatment of women and assigned them a very low status in the society.

Buddhist texts on the other hand were much more considerate in treating them. Megasthenes testifies to the growing practice of polygamy; employment of women as palace guards, bodyguards to the kings, spies etc; permission of widow remarriage and divorce. Thus the position of women though inferior was not as bad as it came to be in the later periods such as the Gupta period. Owing to the suppressed condition of women in the society of his time it is possible that Ashoka may have felt the need to appoint a special group of mahamattas who would be concerned mainly with the welfare of women.

Since women and property are bracketed together in several references in the epics, Smritis and Puranas, women came to be regarded as a sort of property. She could be given away or loaned as any item of property. This was like the attitude of a typical patriarchal society based on private property. Because of this the Brahmanical law did not allow any proprietary rights to women; the provision for stridhana is of a very limited character and does not extend beyond the wife’s rights to jewels, ornaments and presents made to her. This took strong roots in Gupta and Post Gupta periods.

The practice of using veils by women particularly in high caste families was in vogue. In Kadambari Patralekha is described as wearing a veil of red cloth. This was however not the general custom. In the south Indian empires also the position of women deteriorated . Remarriage of widows was generally not favoured. Their position was very bad as they had to cut off their hair, discard all their ornaments and eat only plain food. Some wives preferred to die with their husbands. The tonsure of widows like the tying of the tali at the marriage ceremony was obviously a pre-Aryan Tamil custom taken over and perpetuated into later times.

Cite this Women Empowerment – Vedic and Puranic Ages

Women Empowerment – Vedic and Puranic Ages. (2016, Oct 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/women-empowerment-2/

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