A paper presented at the national conference on Women Empowerment in Sanskrit, Telugu and Hindi Literatures, 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

jsraprasad@gmail.com 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 all streams. Even centuries ago, mother India had witnessed all material and philosophical prosperity in a continuous flux. The status of womanhood reached its pinnacle in Vedic times for which extant Sanskrit literature is the evidence. In Sanskrit treatises, two prominent aspects of respect to women as mother and wife are glorified. This entire world is the union of prakrti and purusha according to Samkhya School that stood on the edifice of Vedic scriptures. Prakrti is the feminine energy and the Purusha is the masculine form of a single absolute entity. 'The salvation and progress of any country depends on its women'. All individuals inherently possesses male and female attributes, otherwise there is no balance in the society. 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, female contributes 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 human evolution. "In Hindu cosmology all beings emerge from Brahman, the universal substratum which is 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 19771]." As against the propaganda over Manu's statement on the liberation of women, it is crystal clear that women 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 a time, critics from the west, allege that women in India were treated like slaves. In this paper, an effort is done to show that women were attributed highest position in Hindu scriptures and their role as a mother and wife is very crucial in nurturing the inherited values passed on to us since time immemorial. A woman plays different role as a wife, mother, sister, mother in law, daughter in law and grandmother and so on. In the Hindu society, the position of women is so essential that without her, in fact, among the four ashrams no ashram is complete. For instance, for a renounced, he should seek alms from a house dweller only for livelihood. Devoid of a wife, a house dweller cannot offer alms 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 ं गृहिितयाहः गृिहणी गृहिुचयते । ु Manusmrti (M.S.) mandates that the highest respect and regard must be extended and full protection 1 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 िितृििभातृििशैताः िितििदेवरैसतथा । िूजया िूषियतवयाश बहकलयाणिीपसुििः ।। ु The meaning is “women must be honoured and adorned by fathers, brothers, husbands and brotherin-laws who seek their own welfare2." The same attitude has been reflected in another beautiful verse यत नाययसतु िूजयनते रिनते तत देवताः । यतैतासतु न िूजयनते सवासताऽफलाः िियाः ।। (M.S. 3.56) The universal truth is that in a house, all the deities are pleased where women are honoured and no meritorious deed will not yield any result where they are abused. In fact, great sage Manu has alerted 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's need 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 such as रोिशा, लोिािुदा, िवशावरा, गागी, िैतेयी, अिला, घोषा, अिदित etc., had revealed the highest truth of absolute reality to Indra who is considered the king of celestial beings. Technically they are called brahmavadinis or women Rishis. There is an interesting story in Santiparvan of Mahabharata regarding a philosophical debate between king Janaka and Sulabha, a women sage. Janaka a learned scholar realized the supreme self while being a king. Sulabha, a yogini by practice, wants to check and validate the knowledge of absolute 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 actual form and starts to enter with her in a philosophical debate. Sulabha answers all his questions and ultimately 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 and so on. Janaka is convinced that there is no gender to the self (atman) and the bodies are just the substratum 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. There are several other stories in which one can find the same sort of phenomenon. So, it is clear that women are no less than that of men who succeeded spiritually even in Vedic times. It is believed that a lost saulabha sakha of Rgveda is attributed to the brahmavadini Sulabha. In similar lines the debate between Gargi and Yajnyavalkya, a learned sage should be observed here. Some of the names of women seers are apparent in Rgveda. On the other hand, women were not liberally allowed of learning Vedic scriptures due to the fact that they undergo lot of gynaeic developments, hence, considered not suitable for continuous study of Vedic treatises. In contrast, women seers such as Sulabha etc., are not house wives and pure celibates. However, Indian scriptures instructed not only to respect women as equal to men but also see the same divinity in all creatures, since, the indwelling eternal self is one and the same in all living beings. The same spirit has been spread in the Asian continent that has been influenced by Indian civilization.
2 Eternal Values in Manusmriti, pp 10-11

3. Woman as Wife Also, chaste and virtuous women like सीता, अनसूया, अरनधती, दौिदी, कुनती , िदालसा, अहलया and others are the puranic characters whose life stories are an inspiration to entire feminist theory. They are not only pativratas (vowed to husbands), but also guided or reminded their spouses in performing good deeds at demanded times. Swami Vivekananda, being very sympathetic to the character of Sita in Ramayana, states - “Any attempt to modernise our women if it tries to take our women apart from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failure. The women of India must grow and develop after the footprints of Sita, and that is the only way. ”It is believed in tradition that by contemplating 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 दौिदी सीता तारा िणडोदरी तथा । िञचकनया ससिरेिितय ं िहािातकनाशनि् ।। According to Puranas, Satyabhama helped Sri Krishna who was distressed in killing the demon Naraka. Anasuya brought back life of a person due to her chastity. That means, these women have transferred 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 is the 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 ं सा यतक े रािः चतुिियः ििरतपयते त ृ े ेन कारणयेनानृशंसयेन शोक िदनन च । सती पणषेित कारणयादािितेतयानृशंसयतः े ेन िती नषेित शोक िपयेित िदनन च ।। “This is She for whose sake Rama tormented in four ways from compassion from pity from grief from love; (thinking that) a woman has disappeared from compassion, depending on him from pity, wife has been lost from grief, a dear one from love3” Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is one of the greatest ever saints born in the recent history of spirituality. Sri Ramakrishna worshipped his wife Sarada as the incarnation of goddess Kali, the presiding deity of Dakshineswar temple, Kolkata. He never called her even with her name. They are the perfect example of one soul residing in two bodies. How many of us respect our wives with due respect? 4. Woman as Mother Being a mother and leading a family is the highest virtue to any woman as evident from the tradition. Mother can only design the strongest willed citizens as opined by swami Vivekananda. It is contextual to remember of a wise saying – 'Do what we may, the superman will have to be born of 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 representative of 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 and absolute; the absolute is male, the personal, female. And thus it comes that we now say: `The first
3 http://www.valmikiramayan.net/sundara/sarga15/sundara_15_frame.htm

manifestation of God is the hand that rocks the cradle”. A married woman is as revered as one's own mother, since mother is the incarnated form of the supreme self. The Vedic sentence in support to this is ' मातृदेवो भव' । The mighty warrior scholar Ravana had been killed and all of his kingdom had been erased totally because he craved for someone else's wife. A verse in the mitralabha of Hitopadesa emphasizes this fact of adorning women. िातृवतिरदारेषु िरदवयेषु लोषवत् । आतिवतसवयिूतेषु यः िशयित स िशयित ॥ Hence, it is said that 'behave like Rama but unlike Ravana'(रािािदवत् वितयतवयि्, न तु रावणािदवत्)', where there is virtue, there is the victory (यतो धियः ततो जयः) and so on and so forth. Similarly, had the Kaurava brothers digested this fact, there would not have been any war between the cousins, and further, the very existence of the epic Mahabharata itself. Unfortunately, present society while completely ignoring this fact, forgotten all eternal values, going astray like a visually impaired leads other visually impaired. The status of motherhood with regard to women in Sanskrit scriptures is unparallel. There are many glorified stories of woman as mother whose narrations should be taught to the younger generations. Jijabai, mother of the great Sivaji, is the spirit in moulding her son's character and the prime source behind his victories. Sri Sankaracharya, the towering personality of Hindu tradition, praises mother Durga in Devi Aparadhakshamapana Stotra such a way that a psycho-statistical analysis should be done according to the modern medical terminology taking the insight from the following line in a verse - 'कपुतो जायेत कवििदिप कुमाता न भवित ' that means “No mother in India ever abandoned her ु offspring, he said, and defied any one to prove the contrary.” In one of the verses in Manusmrti, the position of women for mother reached its highest altitude. The verse goes like this उिाधयायानदशाचाययः आचायाणा शत ं ििता । शतं च िितृृनिाता गौरवेणाितिरचयते ।। 'The acharya is ten time more venerable than a teacher, the father ten times more venerable than an acharya and the mother, hundred times more venerable than the father'. The mother outranks the wife in status, she is considered holy. In the eighth patala of Kamakhya stotra, that has been written in praise of mother bala tripura sundari, the reverence towards womanhood is underlined thus सिापय िहती िूजा, तततवािन सििवेद च । आदौ सतीभयः सिपयैव, पसादालि ं िजेत् ततः ॥8.10॥ In the story of Parasurama, there is a myth that the poor wife of sage Jamadagni, Renuka, had been killed by male ego due to her illusion on some one. But the fact is that after slaying his mother by the order his father Jamadagni, Parasurama were given two boons by the pleased father. Immediately, Parasurama begs his father to bring back the life of his mother and also pleads him to see to that after becoming alive, mother Renuka should be conscious of what happened to her. This is the cherished value of reverence and affection towards a mother in Indian philosophy. Also, the affection of mighty Garutman towards his mother Diti and the reverence and dedication of Sravana

Kumara towards his aged parents is certainly an eye opener to the recent generations who abandon their parents mercilessly in old age homes. 5. Contribution of Women to Literature There might be a belief that 'male dominated society did not encourage the woman writers in Indian context.' In the medieval period, Buddhism duly encouraged women to write the Vinaya Pithakas and Sutta Pithakas in Pali language. But this itself is not the cause of emergence of women writers in India. The women of Vedic times, Sulabha, Gargi, Maitreyi, Vachaknavi etc., have demonstrated their scholarship making precedence to the future generations. Our present historical and statistical approach of deciding an author's time, authored books depends on the contemporary literary evidences. Unfortunately, we have lost so many manuscripts which are the evidence of chronological history of the cradle of Indian civilization. Some of these lost manuscript treasure could give us precious information of even women authors not only in Sanskrit but in various other languages. Nearly forty women have contributed to Sanskrit literature as is believed. For instance, Sheelabhattarika, Vijja, Marula, Morika, Lakshmi are some of the popular names. Some of the subhashitas written by woman authors had been oft-quoted by male authors in their texts. This facilitates to state that there was no gender bias in a male dominated society. On the Viddhasalabhanjika of Rajasekhara, poet Ghanasyama has written a commentary called Pranatoshini. He was the court minister of a Marathi king Tukkoji. He has written this commentary just in three hours. He had two wives namely, Sundari and Kamala. Both of them were equal as their husband in scholarship. They authored a commentary on their husband's work called Sundari Kamaleeyam. Sri Sankaracharya (8th AD) when visited the city of Mahishmati to debate with a great scholar Mandana Mishra, he enquires about his house address with some women carrying water. They guide him by replying in a poetic way in Sanskrit. Also, Ubhaya Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra is a great scholar in Sanskrit and philosophy, who could not be defeated in debate by Sankaracharya. He asks her to give some time to learn the unexplored things to come back to debate again. All such instances are the strong evidences of women scholarship in Sanskrit literature. 6. Women in Present Times Henry Steele Commager, an American historian wrote of the late nineteenth century American woman. "In all matters of church and school, women took the lead... Women not only controlled education and religion but largely dictated the standards of literature and art and clothed culture so ostentatiously in feminine garb that the term itself came to have connotations. The present status of women is no different than that of the Vedic ideals transferred over times. There are warriors, politicians, writers, scientists, astronauts, administrators, teachers who perfectly render their job while outdoing a male compatriot. At the same time masculinity devoid of union with feminity is incomplete in society. It is not out of context to consider Ms. Suzanne Brogger's opinion. It is in her words - “If a woman can only succeeded by emulating men, I think it is a great loss and not a success. The aim is not only for a woman to succeed, but to keep her womanhood and let her womanhood influence society” This instance reminds us of the most famous invocative verse of Raghuvamasa. One of the powerful politicians in recent politics, Ms. Indira Gandhi said 'You cannot shake hands with a clinched fist'. The intricate meaning of such sayings should be thoroughly probed.

The apparent vacuum of treating women with respect and giving them due status had been due to several cultural exploitations and invasions by foreigners in India. Mr. Stephen Knapp, a journalist turned Hindu admirer says - "These foreign invaders who dominated India mostly looked at women as objects of sexual enjoyment and exploitation, and spoils of war to be taken like a prize. The oppression of women increased in India because of Moghul rule. As such foreigners gained influence and converts, decay of the spiritual standards also crept in to Indian and Vedic culture. The educational criteria of Vedic culture has also changed and the teaching of the divinity of motherhood was almost lost. The teaching changed from emphasis on the development of individual self-reliance to dependence on and service to others. Thus, competition replaced the pursuit for truth, and selfishness and possessiveness replaced the spirit of renunciation and detachment. And gradually women are viewed as less divine and more as objects of gratification or property to be possessed or controlled4" Conclusion Women have done a remarkable service to literature and culture. Vedic scriptures asserted that women and men both are two sides of the same coin. No one is superior to the other in the materialistic world. Woman is the manifested divine form of the same absolute energy, say, masculine energy as is stated by Samkhyas. Seeing divinity even in a small insect is the core teaching of Hindu scriptures. This idea is reflected in Bhagavadgita at 16.28. “Looking upon all things as uniformly pervaded by the lord, he does not try to injure self by self and this attains to the highest goal”. Hope, this national seminar will not only focus on the contribution of women to literature but the need to a discussion in fulfilling the void of their place in Sanskrit and other vernaculars. References 1. 2. 3. 4. Samskrita Vijnana Vaibhavam, R.S. Vidyapeetha, Tirupati 2004 Manusmriti, Motilal Banarasi Das, New Delhi 1998 Hindu Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai 1995 The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata 1988

4 http://stephenknapp.wordpress.com/

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