--- In FairfieldLife@yahoogroups.com, Jason Spock <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
> Creations Columns by Nanditha Krishna
> The equals of men
> I was recently researching the women of ancient India when I came
across a startling piece of information. Seventeen of the Seers to
whom the hymns of the Rig Veda were revealed were women Rishikas
and Brahmavadinis. They were Romasa, Lopamudra, Apata, Kadru,
Vishvavara, Ghosha, Juhu, Vagambhrini, Paulomi, Jarita, Shraddha-
Kamayani, Urvashi, Sharnga, Yami, Indrani, Savitri and Devayani. The
Sama Veda mentions another four: Nodha (or Purvarchchika),
Akrishtabhasha, Shikatanivavari (or Utararchchika) and Ganpayana.
This intrigued me so much that I had to learn more about them, but I
drew a blank. Who were these wonderful women who were on par with
their men and produced the greatest and longest living literature of
> In the Vedic period, female brahmavadinis (students) went through
the same rigorous discipline as their male counterparts, the
brahmacharis. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes a ritual to
ensure the birth of a daughter who would become a pandita (scholar).
The Vedas say that an educated girl should be married to an equally
educated man. Girls underwent the upanayana or thread ceremony,
Vedic study and savitri vachana (higher studies). Panini says that
women studied the Vedas equally with men. According to the Shrauta
and Grihya Sutras, the wife repeated the Vedic mantras equally with
their husbands at religious ceremonies. The Purva Mimamsa gave women
equal rights with men to perform religious ceremonies. Vedic society
was generally monogamous, and women had an equal place.
> There are several instances of individual women who sought to
educate themselves. Pathyasvasti went North to study and obtain
titles. The well-known lady philosopher, brahmavadini Gargi
Vachaknavi, was an invitee to the world's first conference on
philosophy, convened by King Janaka of Videha, and challenged
Yajnavalkya to a public debate. Her acknowledgement of defeat and
praise of Yajnavalkya induced the king to gift him 1,000 cows and
10,000 gold pieces, which Yajnavalkya rejected and retired to the
forest, followed by his wife Maitreyi, an equally educated and
> There were shaktikis or female spear bearers according to
Patanjali's Mahabhashya, and women soldiers armed with bows and
arrows in the Mauryan army, according to Kautilya's Arthashastra.
The Greek Ambassador Megasthenes mentions Chandragupta Maurya's
armed female bodyguard. Thus education was not the only vocation for
> The heroines of the epic period are better known. Sita and
Draupadi were highly educated, powerful and determined women. But
the debasement of the status of women had begun. Sita had to undergo
an Agni pariksha an ordeal through fire to prove her purity. In
the Uttara Ramayana, a later interpolation that is illustrative of
changing mores, she was cast off by her husband to assuage palace
gossip. She finally "entered the earth", a euphemism for suicide. In
spite of her five husbands, Draupadi was staked and lost in a game
of dice, disrobed and publicly humiliated. The men of the Ramayana
and Mahabharata had several wives, an indication of the lowering
status of women.
> Rules of morality were stringent for women, and even the fact that
she was deceived could not save Ahalya from her husband's curse.
Kannagi, in the Tamil epic Silappadigaram, is married to Kovalan,
who abandons her for a dancing girl Madhavi. On losing all his
money, he is kicked out by Madhavi. His faithful wife takes him back
and they go to Madurai, where he visits the public parks filled with
dancing girls and later pawns Kannagi's anklet. When he is falsely
accused of theft and executed, Kannagi should have heaved a sigh of
relief. Instead, she curses the city to be destroyed by fire. Thus a
wonderful city and its inhabitants were destroyed for a useless man.
Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, did well to remove
Kannagi's statue from Marina Beach in Chennai. She was no role
model. Manimekhalai, daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi, was far
better. Refusing to become a courtesan, the profession of her birth,
she became a nun and Buddhist philosopher. Kannagi is used
> as a role model to justify polygamy and a patriarchal society,
teaching women that suffering and patience is synonymous with
> To escape the growing harshness of society, many women joined the
Buddhist and Jaina orders of nuns, which gave them opportunities for
social service and public life. Vishakha, Amrapali and Supriya gave
the Buddha hospitality and financial support. Uppalavanna became a
teacher of younger bhikkunis. There were thirteen theiris among the
Buddha's chief disciples, the most famous being Dhammadinna, a
teacher of religion, Soma of Rajagriha, the beautiful heiresses
Anupama and Sundari, queen Khema, wealthy Sujata, Chapa the
chastened wife, Patachara the bereaved mother, Sukka the preacher,
and Kisagautami, superintendent of the Jetavana convent. Ajja
Chandana was Mahavira's first female disciple, the others being
Mallinatha the Mithila princess, Jayanti and Mrigavati of Kaushambi,
Sthulabhadra's seven sisters and Yakkini Mahattara. The new faiths
gave them a freedom and dignity they missed as wives, mothers,
daughters and concubines.
> The most interesting women are the panchakanya, five women
immortalized for their chastity and purity: Ahalya (wife of sage
Gautama), Draupadi, Tara (wife of both Vali and Sugriva), Kunti and
Mandodari. Four of these women were forced to marry, or be
associated with, more than one man by forces beyond their control.
The idea developed that a pure heart was stronger than physical
chastity. But the freedom of choice given to the Vedic women had
gone. Women had to follow the dictates of their family and society,
while men had the freedom to have several wives and concubines.
> Creativity came to the rescue for many women, as religion and
temple building were their only refuge. Shaiva and Vaishnava saint-
poetesses of the early bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu include great
women like the Shaivites Avvai, Tilakavati, Mangaiyarkarasi and
Karaikkal Ammaiyar, and the Vaishnava mystic Andal. Rajasimha
Pallava and his wife Rangapataka jointly built the Kailasanatha
temple at Kanchipuram. Sembiyan Mahadevi, widow of Gangaraditya
Chola, renovated and built several temples. Kundavai, sister of
Rajaraja Chola I, built temples at Rajarajapuram. Lokamahadevi, wife
of Vikramaditya II Chalukya of Badami, built the Lokeshwara temple
at Pattadakkal. But these were fortunate women who had education,
wealth and status. The vast majority were wives and chattels.
> Islamic rule in North India saw a sharp decline in the status of
women, now relegated to the veil, both as an influence of the new
dispensation as well as for their personal protection. Jauhar
protected Rajput women from captivity. If women came out of the
confines of the home, the new court culture made them either
entertainers or chattels, both highly degrading positions. Thousand
years of the purdah was to have a highly detrimental effect on
women, something from which the northern states have yet to recover.
> Religion and creativity, once again, came to the rescue of a few.
Lalla, a Kashmiri Shaivite ascetic, preached absolute dependence on
divine will and devotion to one's duty. The Rajput princess Meera is
the best known, composing beautiful and eternal poetry. All the
states of India had great women saint-poetesses, such as Mahadaisa,
Muktibai, Janabai, Bahinabai, Venabai and Akkabai of Maharashtra who
composed abhangs and kirtans. There were few women rulers: Razia
Sultana, Chand Bibi, Rani Chinnammal, Rani Lakshmibai, and perhaps a
couple more. But they were left out of civil society and
development. We had to wait for the 20th century to achieve that.
> So next time we look for role models, let us look carefully and
make sure the message they convey is correct. We have to go back
5000 years to find women who fit 21st century hopes and aspirations.
> How low will we go? Check out Yahoo! Messenger's low PC-to-Phone
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