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The Place of Women in Sanskrit Literature

The Place of Women in Sanskrit Literature

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Published by Dr. JSRA Prasad
The place of women and their contribution to Sanskrit literature is highlighted in this paper presented in a conference at Ramachandra Puram, A.P.
The place of women and their contribution to Sanskrit literature is highlighted in this paper presented in a conference at Ramachandra Puram, A.P.

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Published by: Dr. JSRA Prasad on Feb 15, 2011
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A paper presented at the national conference on Women Empowerment in Sanskrit, Telugu and HindiLiteratures, VSM College, Ramachandrapuram 27-28 October, 2010
THE PLACE OF WOMEN IN SANSKRIT LITERATURE
Dr. J.S.R.A. Prasad,Asst. Professor,Dept. of Sanskrit Studies,University of Hyderabad
1. Woman in India
Culture is the back bone of any civilized country. Customs, behaviour etc., ordain the very culture.Indian culture is one of the most ancient that has been accepted by all historians and scholars of allstreams. Even centuries ago, mother India had witnessed all material and philosophical prosperity ina continuous flux. The status of womanhood reached its pinnacle in Vedic times for which extantSanskrit literature is the evidence. In Sanskrit treatises, two prominent aspects of respect to womenas mother and wife are glorified.This entire world is the union of prakrti and purusha according to Samkhya School that stood on theedifice of Vedic scriptures. Prakrti is the feminine energy and the Purusha is the masculine form ofa single absolute entity. 'The salvation and progress of any country depends on its women'. Allindividuals inherently possesses male and female attributes, otherwise there is no balance in thesociety.According to Ayurveda, in the biological evolution process, female contributes to the flesh, blood,skin etc., and male contributes to the bones, marrow, nerves and structured elements. Here, femalecontributes to the soft substances, who is also soft in nature. In Vedic literature, it is said as
Sakthi
or Devi is the primal cause of this cosmos. There is an inherited link of feminity in the entire humanevolution. "In Hindu cosmology all beings emerge from Brahman, the universal substratum whichis
invincible, indescribable
, through the creative tension of cohesion (Vishnu) and disintegration(Siva) that defines
Sakthi
.
Sakthi
underlies both creation and divinity and is female [Susan S.Wadley 1977
1
]."As against the propaganda over Manu's statement on the liberation of women, it is crystal clear thatwomen were given a highest position not only in Manusmriti but also in Sanskrit literature.Moreover, 'It is unfair to judge the status of women in the east by the standard of the west'. Many atime, critics from the west, allege that women in India were treated like slaves. In this paper, aneffort is done to show that women were attributed highest position in Hindu scriptures and their roleas a mother and wife is very crucial in nurturing the inherited values passed on to us since timeimmemorial.A woman plays different role as a wife, mother, sister, mother in law, daughter in law andgrandmother and so on. In the Hindu society, the position of women is so essential that without her,in fact, among the four
ashram
s no
ashram
is complete. For instance, for a renounced, he shouldseek alms from a house dweller only for livelihood. Devoid of a wife, a house dweller cannot offeralms to the needy. According to Hindu religion, a man cannot perform a religions rit without a wife.So, the home without a wife is an utter be wilderness -
न गृह ंगृहितयाहः ु गृिहणी गृहुचय े 
 
Manusmrti (M.S.) mandates that the highest respect and regard must be extended and full protection1
Signs, Vol. 3, No. 1, Women in the Hindu Tradition, pp 113-125
 
should be given to women throughout their life. The fifty fifth verse in the third chapter states -
 िृिभृिशैाः ििद वर ैसथा ।ूजया ू षिययाश बहक ु लयाणीपुिः ।।
The meaning is “women must be honoured and adorned by fathers, brothers, husbands and brother-in-laws who seek their own welfare
2
." The same attitude has been reflected in another beautifulverse -
य नायसु ू जय ेर े द ेवाः ।यैासु न ू जय ेवसाऽफाः ियाः ।।
(M.S. 3.56)
The universal truth is that in a house, all the deities are pleased where women are honoured and nomeritorious deed will not yield any result where they are abused. In fact, great sage Manu hasalerted us from all the aspects of sanatana dharma that women should be protected and revered.Swami Vivekananda opines- “
Circumstances have forced upon us, for many centuries, the women'sneed of protection. This, and not her inferiority, is the true reading of our customs
”.
2. Women of Vedic Times
In Vedic culture, the status of womanhood had been so glorified so much so that some women suchas
रोा, ोाुा, िवावरा, गाग, ैेयी, अा, घोषा, अिदि
 
etc., had revealed the highest truth ofabsolute reality to Indra who is considered the king of celestial beings. Technically they are called
brahmavadini
s or women Rishis.There is an interesting story in Santiparvan of Mahabharata regarding a philosophical debatebetween king Janaka and Sulabha, a women sage. Janaka a learned scholar realized the supreme selfwhile being a king. Sulabha, a yogini by practice, wants to check and validate the knowledge ofabsolute truth of king Janaka. She appears as a beautiful lady and proceeds to the court of the king.By merely looking at Sulabha's attire, youthfulness etc., the king could not recognize her actualform and starts to enter with her in a philosophical debate. Sulabha answers all his questions andultimately defeats the king in debate amidst the group of scholars before disclosing her real form.Meanwhile, there is a great conversation between them with regard to gender, caste, celibacy andso on. Janaka is convinced that there is no gender to the self (
atman
) and the bodies are just thesubstratum of the selves which are perishable while agreeing with her on remaining arguments.This story tells us the actual reality of status of women and
brahmavadinis
in our scriptures. Thereare several other stories in which one can find the same sort of phenomenon. So, it is clear thatwomen are no less than that of men who succeeded spiritually even in Vedic times. It is believedthat a lost
saulabha sakha
of Rgveda is attributed to the
brahmavadini
Sulabha. In similar lines thedebate between Gargi and Yajnyavalkya, a learned sage should be observed here. Some of thenames of women seers are apparent in Rgveda.On the other hand, women were not liberally allowed of learning Vedic scriptures due to the factthat they undergo lot of gynaeic developments, hence, considered not suitable for continuous studyof Vedic treatises.
 In contrast, women seers such as Sulabha etc., are not house wives and purecelibates.
However, Indian scriptures instructed not only to respect women as equal to men but alsosee the same divinity in all creatures, since, the indwelling eternal self is one and the same in allliving beings. The same spirit has been spread in the Asian continent that has been influenced byIndian civilization.
2Eternal Values in Manusmriti, pp 10-11
 
3. Woman as Wife
Also, chaste and virtuous women like
सीता 
,
अनू या, अधी, ौदी,  ु , दाा, अहलया 
 
andothers are the puranic characters whose life stories are an inspiration to entire feminist theory. Theyare not only
 pativrata
s (vowed to husbands), but also guided or reminded their spouses inperforming good deeds at demanded times. Swami Vivekananda, being very sympathetic to thecharacter of Sita in Ramayana, states - “Any attempt to modernise our women if it tries to take ourwomen apart from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failure. The women of India must grow anddevelop after the footprints of Sita, and that is the only way. ”It is believed in tradition that bycontemplating on some of names of chaste women as Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari,one would be released even from the bad effects of greatest sins. It is said thus -
अहलया ौदी ीा ारा डोदरी था ।ञकया ससर े ितय ंहााकनान् ।।
According to Puranas, Satyabhama helped Sri Krishna who was distressed in killing the demonNaraka. Anasuya brought back life of a person due to her chastity. That means, these women havetransferred their energies or to the men in need to achieve the state of equilibrium in society.The essential fact of being in marital terms and a husband's life long affection towards his wife isthe central point in the
grhastha dharma
in the Hindu culture. In the Sundarakanda of Ramayana,sage Valmiki admiringly narrates the relation between king Rama and Sita. 
इय ंा यतक ृ ेराः ुिः िरपय ेकाय ेनानृंसय ेन ोक ेन दनन  े ।सी ण े ि कायादाि ेतयानृंसयःी न े ि ोक ेन िय े ि दनन  े ।।
“This is She for whose sake Rama tormented in four ways from compassion from pity from grieffrom love; (thinking that) a woman has disappeared from compassion, depending on him from pity,wife has been lost from grief, a dear one from love
3
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is one of the greatest ever saints born in the recent history ofspirituality. Sri Ramakrishna worshipped his wife Sarada as the incarnation of goddess Kali, thepresiding deity of Dakshineswar temple, Kolkata. He never called her even with her name. They arethe perfect example of one soul residing in two bodies. How many of us respect our wives with duerespect?
4. Woman as Mother
Being a mother and leading a family is the highest virtue to any woman as evident from thetradition. Mother can only design the strongest willed citizens as opined by swami Vivekananda. Itis contextual to remember of a wise saying – '
 Do what we may, the superman will have to be bornof women all the same
', the mother, Sri Aurobindo ashram also often use to quote this fact."In India the mother is the centre of the family and our highest ideal. She is to us the representativeof God, as God is the mother of the Universe. It was a female sage who first found the unity of God,and laid down this doctrine in one of the first hymns of the Vedas. Our God is both personal andabsolute; the absolute is male, the personal, female. And thus it comes that we now say: `The first
3http://www.valmikiramayan.net/sundara/sarga15/sundara_15_frame.htm

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