Friday, July 24, 2015

Women and sanAtana dharma

|| Hari OM ||

|| ShrI guru sharaNam ||

Note: This article is an extraction of longer article, 'Hindu Dharma - the most organized, integrated spiritual and practical way of life'. The below title is the 23th article. To maintain similarity, here too we are starting the article with number 23 and not 1. The links of full article are:

Not all links are updated to latest version. Editable Doc is the main article which is updated.

NOTE: This article attempts to present Traditional Overview of Status and Role of Women in sanAtana dharma

23. Women and sanAtana dharma

(Credits: Article 23.3 to 23.6 are contributed by Shri Santosh Kumar Ayalasomayajula of Mahapashupatastra Blog)

Unlike the unfortunate happenings in the recent era, women in ancient India used to enjoy equality with men and to be truthful, they used to enjoy higher reverence than men. With the invasions from other countries, under the ruler of Islamists and British; our sanātana-dharma suffered a lot of deterioration in terms of the decline of the morality, and change of social norms. In this paper (article related to women) we’ll see through the telescope of our religion and look at the other side i.e., the status of women of the ancient era.

23.1. Summary in Brief - Women and sanAtana dharma

Paper on women, published here is a lengthy 7 page article. Here we try to give the summary in brief for those who do not wish to read the entire article

  • Women are not supposed to learn authentic chanting of veda-s as learning veda-s is a full time job.
  • No restriction to learn sanskrit, grammar, yoga, tantra, civil laws (dharma smriti-s), philosophical contents of veda-s (upanishads) and any other form of art.
  • Can perform vedic ritual called AupAsanA (not upAsanA). Shri Chandrashekharendra SArasvati Svami. Aupasana is the only Vedic right that a woman is entitled to perform on her own (without her husband’s company). Of course, there are so many pauranic vratas and pujas that she can perform according to the sastras, but these belong to a different category. Even shudra-s are supposed to chant certain parts of veda-s says Kanchi Paramacharya. Source 1 and 2
  • Women are considered as ansha (part) of Adi shakti / durgA mAtA / laxmi mAtA and hence a sign of prosperity.
  • Our culture does not teach us to cast off women as useless stuff and get rid of them as fast as possible. Daughter is very close to the heart of father. But at the time of marriage, father donates his daughter to his son-in-law. kanyA dAna is the highest form of donation that a householder can ever give.
  • Mother is revered as equivalent to demi-god and hence she is worthy of being served.
  • Wife is called as dharma patni i.e. a life partner who accompanies you on the path of dharma. No yajna (vedic ritual) can be carried out without the presence of wife. Wife is not called as kAma patni i.e. a life partner just to satisfy carnal pleasure.
  • Wife and women in general play pivotal role in shaping child’s psychic and hence are indirectly responsible for moulding of society, state and country as a whole.
  • It is said that a pious women practising chastity can save her husband even from the clutches of death. She can rise her husband from hell to heaven by sheer power of chastity.
  • 50 % of pUNYa karma phala (merits) done by husband goes to wife, but wifes pUNya karma does not go to husband. Her satitva (one-pointed devotion to husband) protects her husband.
  • Wife is called as ‘gruhiNi’ i.e. queen of house, husband is just called as ‘grihastha’ i.e. householder.
  • Wife is devoted to husband, husband is devoted to his guru and guru is devoted to God. Hence technically there is no freedom for even husband. A husband is also bound by his commitments and responsibility towards his family including his wife.
  • A widow or a married women whose husband has left her permanently can remarry says parAshara smriti.
  • Women, children and cows are never to be disrespected as says parAshara smriti and manu smriti. The punishment or restrictions given in smriti-s are for those women who do not follow moral or ethical codes or are not loyal to husbands or have a criminal mindset. Such laws (punishing women) are there just to caution them and not to oppress them. Our dharma shAstra-s allow us to create new laws in place of old obsolete laws.

With this outline, lets go deeper into the article. Reference from upanishads and mahAbhArata are given.

23.2. Women and veda-s

As per tradition, women are not allowed to chant veda-s. The reason is chanting veda-s is a full time job.

To master one veda with authentic chanting requires 10 years of dedication, person mastering one veda is called as vaidya.

Knower of 1 veda = 10 years = vaidya
Knower of 2 veda-s = 20 years = dvivedi
Knower of 3 veda-s = 30 years = trivedi
Knower of 4 veda-s = 40 years = caturvedi

Hence women are relieved from protecting veda-s. Other than this there is no restriction on women. No yajna can commence without the presence of wife. Hence wife is expected to know what the yajna is all about, what is the procedure and materials required for performing yajna. Without knowing the meaning of mantra-s and it’s phala-shruti, simply sitting in a yajna makes no sense. In short, wife is well informed about vedic rituals. In order to know the contents of vedic rituals, knowledge of sanskrit is necessary. There is no restriction to learn sanskrit, sanskrit grammar, Agama shAstra-s (tantra-s). Women can learn other arts which are learned by men and that which men are not inclined to learn like handicraft, making of food materials and delicacies, healing through yoga, prANayama, Asana-s and ayurveda, music, singing & dance, etc. Certain important social functions like marriage are entirely handled by women and men are not expected to have any say in it. smriti-s say, during ApAta kAla i.e. during emergencies, when a brAhmin cannot live a normal life and carry out his duties, he can approach women and sudra in case of doubts. This indicates that even shudra-s can be knowledgeable in case of civil codes (dharma smriti-s). (There are certain portion of veda-s which even shudra-s are allowed to chant says Kanchi Paramacharya.)

Besides learning work traditionally being entrusted to them like house keeping, they can learn combat skills and martial arts too. Women can be great administrators.  Since women are entrusted to nourish and raise children not only with food but with emotional bond and mould them into good human beings by embedding good samskAra-s (good qualities), women are expected to have all round knowledge, atleast to some extend, if not every then in most fields. They also have to make kids incline towards spirituality. For this they will have to teach kids stories from purANa-s and itihAsa and give the purport of the stories thereby shaping their character. It goes without saying that women also have good sense of discrimination. Hence women were in no way being humiliated. Female foeticide is unthinkable and is a result of corrupted false understanding and such malpractices are and never were supported by veda-s or any of the shAstra-s.

The obvious image of a house wife is that she does boring repetitive work with no use of intelligence like dusting, sweeping, cleaning utensils, etc is not true. A women has to be all rounder having a good character, as only vira mAtA (brave mother) can give birth to vira putra (brave son), only pious and chaste wife can give birth to great personalities and saints who will one day guide the whole society and shine forth the name of their parents, family, caste (varNa), village, state and the country.

Spiritually speaking, ladies have a good gift of being receptive, and ability to adapt to new environment (which every wife does after marriage). Ladies are also gifted with emotions which are pivotal in nourishing young ones and in keeping loved ones bonded. Ladies, generally cook food and offer them to everyone in house and to guest before they themselves eat. This shows their big-hearted serving attitude. This is one of the reason why women get contented by eating little food. They have slim diet. We find that women are active in serving sick by becoming nurses.

If ladies are relieved from learning to chant veda-s, then why do we find references of discourses between learned female saints like gArgI and martri often called as brahmavAdini.

23.2.1. What about discourses by gArgi and maitri?

Yes, we do find references from upanishads and purANa-s in which female saints are highly revered and are engaged in spiritual discourses of the highest order. However, these discourses do not contradict our position. The answer is very simple. Women are highly respected, can be GYAnI-s and can debate on subtle topics of the upanishads. They can learn upanishads too. sanyAsa is a state of mind and not a way of living. Hence they too can live a life of a sanyAsI while still living in society by staying mentally detached from worldly activities. The point often missed is that, as per our limited knowledge, high souled women of the upanishads do not ask questions related to doing vedic karma-kANDa. In the traditional discussions on dharma, whenever the word veda is used, it generally means the samhitA part and not vedAnta or upanishads. samhitA is the hardcore part of vedic rituals like yajna-s (yaGYa-s) and havan-s. We do not find them asking a question how to perform a particular yaGYa. Again we restrict our opinion to only ‘vedic’ ‘karma-kANDa’ and not any other karma-kANDa and the fasts which they piously practice as a part of their spiritual progress and for the good of their husbands and for society as a whole. We are not even talking about Agamic karma-kANDa. We are not sure if they can do it or not, but we find there are various yogInI-s who perform havan-s from tantra-s as a part of tantra sAdhanA.

There may be a description of women even undergoing upanayana saMskAra (thread ceremony) in some Agama-s, but great saints like Adi Sankara has already mentioned that women do not have to chant veda-s. Perhaps these practises, even if they exists, were not popular, as AcArya-s of all sects following vedic way of life unanimously were of the same opinion as that of Adi Sankara. Agama-s are different than veda-s. The references of women eligible for upanayana are even found in dharma SAstra-s and grihya sutra-s, but many consider it as a later interpolation. Still this issue is not settled and there are modern groups who have considered these passages as genuine and are working hard to give women their right to chant veda-s and perform vedic yaGYa-s. If verses concerning varNa division and upanayana-not-for-women were completely absent in veda-s and other SAstra-s, then why would medieval saints like basavaNNa completely discard veda-s and completely base their teachings and beliefs on only Agama-s? Why would such a great saint not fight citing verses from veda-s and dharma SAstra-s or compose a refutational work in support of their claim? Hence this topic is highly debatable.  

Coming back to the topic, asking the very question about the nature of Atman / brahman and the way to attain it and guru considering them purified enough to be given answers strongly indicate they women can also attain a highly pure state of mind necessary for Self Realisation.  

Hence, the question is only about not chanting vedic mantra-s, the hardcore part of veda-s the samhitA-s and brAhmaNa-s which gives us how mantra-s of samhitA has to be applied.

Lastly, we must always remember that in every field, there are always exceptions. Exception is not a Rule.

After understanding the reason for women being relieved to chant veda-s, lets understand veda-s

23.3. Woman in the form of a Mother

The very Taittiriya Upanishad while teaching about the duties and meritorious acts that one ought to perform, the very first invocation it does is to – the mother- as ‘mātrudēvō bhava’, which means, ‘treat your mother as god’. Only after this mantra it reveals other mantras as – ‘pitr̥udēvō bhava’, ‘āchārya dēvō bhava’, and atithi dēvō bhava’. This is the first thing that should make us learn that the ‘reverence’ that is paid to a woman (mother in this context) is always of greater precedence that the rest all others.

Our sanātana-dharma teaches us –

“yō para dārētu mātruvat para dravyṣu lōṣṭvat sarva bhūtēṣu ātmavat paśyasi sah ēva paṇḍitaḥ |” which means, “He who looks at women other than one’s own wife as his mother, he who looks at others’ valuables as mere lump of clay (i.e., doesn’t desire to obtain them for himself), and he who looks at all other living beings as his own self – such a man is called a learned one!”

The first part which recommends us to look at other’s wives as one’s own mother is best exhibited in Valmiki Ramayana by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Sri Rama! When Ravana abducts Sita in an aerial car, she throws down her ornaments one by one. A group of monkeys collect them and later, at the behest of Sugriva, they display those jewellery to Rama and Lakshmana. Rama’s eyes get filled with tears and hence he asks Lakshmana to identify if they were the ornaments of lady Sita. Lakshmana says, “I can clearly identify the ornaments of the legs like anklets as belonging to Sita because I used to see them while touching her feet daily; but I cannot identify other ornaments”. This clearly proves that Lakshmana never casted his gaze at her other parts of Sita’s body except her feet. Our scriptures preach us to display this kind of reverence for the wives of others. However, only due to lack of knowledge of our grand sanātana-dharma, people are becoming filled with animal instincts and thereby doing heinous crimes against women which are even painful to think of.

Our religion gives such a paramount importance to a woman as a mother that – there is no ‘śāṣṭāṁga namaskāra’ allowed for ladies. All women are allowed to prostrate in front of the God by following only “panchāṁga namaskāra” alone.
‘śāṣṭāṁga namaskāra’ means prostrating in front of the God with eight limbs viz. – two hands, two eyes, forehead, chest, and two legs. This is the method a man should adopt to prostrate before a god. However, in that posture one’s chest and organ of generation touches the ground, it is not prescribed for women – as our scriptures give the highest respect to the two vital parts of women viz. the womb and the two breasts. It is the womb of a woman which acts as the ground for creation to take place and hence it does “sr̥ṣtī”. After giving birth to a child, it is the chest portion of a woman which carries two breasts which ooze with milk for the consumption of the child and thereby the breasts act as the means of sustenance; hence a woman is looked at as doing the sustenance “sthiti”. For this reason, those two parts located at the bottom and upper portions of a woman’s body are highly sacred organs and are not supposed to touch the Earth. For this reason women perform “panchāṁga namaskāra” alone, i.e., prostrating with their five limbs viz. - two hands, forehead and two eyes.

23.4. Regarding Woman as Wife

Our sanātana-dharma has placed wife at a very high pedestal with reverence. We’ll understand the various glories of women as wives one by one now.

23.4.1. Wife is the Root of the Religion   

It is said that every man carries three debts on him to be disbursed. They are –
1. Dēva-r̥ṇaṁ (debt to Gods),
2. Rsī-r̥ṇaṁ (debt to Rishis), and
3. Pitr̥-r̥ṇaṁ (debt to Pitris / departed ancestors).

Out of these a man can payback only the 2nd debt without needing a wife. That is - by studying the scriptures handed over by the great Rishis of our lineage and by teaching the same (that is, transferring the knowledge to keep it rolling), to our descendants or disciples; one can disburse the debt to Rishis. This can be completed even by being a Brahmachari or a Sanyasi. It doesn't require a wife.
However, the remaining two viz. debt to Gods and debt to departed ancestors cannot be disbursed without the company of a wife. Debt to Gods can be paid off by doing Yajnas (sacrifices) and one gets an eligibility to do yajna only if his wife sits beside him. This is the reason why Sri Rama couldn’t perform a horse sacrifice without Sita hence he had to create a golden statue of Sita and keep her beside him while performing the yajna.

With yajnas we offer havis (food) to Gods. Gods consume them and get pleased and then they pour timely rains on earth. With timely seasonal changes earth produces good crops, and people remain healthy and entire planet remains blissful. For all this to happen, only a ‘gr̥hastha’ (householder) is eligible to do Yajnas.

Similarly, the debt to Pitris (ancestors) can be paid by begetting a son and keeping the race continuing. For begetting a son one needs to get into the wedlock and beget a son upon his wedded wife righteously. So, without a wife a man cannot repay the debt to his ancestors. therefore, it becomes mandatory for a man to sail through the āshrama called "gr̥hastha".

Not only this. gr̥hasthāśrama is the greatest of all other āshramas because the other āshramas depend on gr̥hasthas for food. Food keeps all beings alive and nourishes them. Braḥmachārīs, vānaprasthās, and sanyāsīs do not cook food for themselves, they seek food from the house of a householder only. Therefore gr̥hastha is the pillar on whom all other ashramas lean and take rest! Keeping in mind the glory of Gr̥hasthāśrama every man should seek to wed a virtuous, learned, and wise wife, because she is the support of the order of gr̥hastha mode of life.

For this very reason Mahabharata in the section named ‘Sambhava Parva’ of ‘Adi Parva’ says –

They that have wives can perform religious acts”. (MBH 01: LXXIV)

23.4.2. Wife Bestows Four-Purushasrthas on a Husband

In Mahabharata Shakuntala gives a beautiful discourse about the glories of a wife to Dushyanta. She says that a wife is the root of the four puruśārthās viz. – dharma, artha, kāma, and mōkśa. The excerpt from her speech is as follows.

The wife is a man's half. The wife is the first of friends. The wife is the root of religion, profit, and desire. The wife is the root of salvation. They that have wives can perform religious acts”. (MBH 01: LXXIV)

Even in the Aranya parva of Mahabharata Yaksha poses a great question to Yudhishthira asking how could the three mutually contradicting goals viz. virtue, wealth, and desire be kept in harmony?

"The Yaksha asked,--'Virtue, profit, and desire are opposed to one another. How could things thus antagonistic to one another exist together?" (MBH 3: CCCXI)

Yudhistihra gives a very learned answer to that query. He says that all the three opposite goals remain in harmony through the help of a wife.

"Yudhishthira answered,--'When a wife and virtue agree with each other, then all the three thou hast mentioned may exist together'." (MBH 3: CCCXI)

A wise wife knows what is righteous and what is unrighteous, hence she acts as a counselor, and as a minister to the husband and helps him in decision making as well as stops him from stepping into the road of unrighteousness. She holds the reigns of the household affairs and manages the household monetary transactions and all financial and economical issues with her quick wittedness. She also brings forth children which are the assets for their lineage. Hence she builds wealth in the home from all angles. She also fulfils all the desires (including the carnal ones) of her husband and keeps him satisfied. Also it is because of the wife who is duly wed, that a man doesn’t accrue sins of carnal pleasures – seeking the same with women outside would accrue him sins thereby hindering his spiritual path here and hereafter. Thus, a wife is a savior for her husband. This way she keeps all the three goals viz. – dharma, artha, and kāma in harmony.

A wise and learned wife can also bestow the fourth goal viz. mōkśa on her husband by being a constant support to him in his path of scriptural learning. She motivates him towards this goal and thereby becomes the cause behind his spiritual upliftment and liberation.

23.4.3. Women rescues all the ancestors of her husband from hell

Ancestors who are not liberated and who have ascended to higher regions based on merit are susceptible to fall down. Mahabharata says that the father after death is prevented from falling into a hell called ‘put’ if he has a son. It is said that by a son one conquers the three worlds, and by a grandson, one enjoys eternity, and by a great grandson one enjoys everlasting happiness. Therefore, a wife who is called as ‘jāyā’, is the one who helps a man, and his deceased forefathers to gain higher regions of felicity.

The husband entering the womb of the wife cometh out himself in the form of the son. Therefore is the wife called by those cognisant of the Vedas as Jaya (she of whom one is born). And the son that is so born unto persons cognisant of the Vedic Mantras rescueth the spirits of deceased ancestors. And because the son rescueth ancestors from the hell call Put, therefore, hath he been called by the Self-create himself as Put-tra (the rescuer from Put). By a son one conquereth the three worlds. By a son's son, one enjoyeth eternity. And by a grandson's son great-grand-fathers enjoy everlasting happiness”. (MBH 01: LXXIV)

23.4.4. Wife helps a man to manifest himself

Kaushitaki Upanishad mentions “ātmā vai putranāmāsī |”, which means, “Thou art myself in the form of a son”. A son born through one’s wedded wife is verily the father himself manifested as a new being. This kind of manifesting one’s own self in one’s own life is possible only through the help of one’s wedded wife. In fact scriptures give such a high respect to a wife that it is said that – because the father himself is born through the womb of his wife, he should look at her as his mother. This indicates how much of respect one needs to have for one’s wife. This certainly is a slap on the faces of all those scoundrels who beat their wives, who burn them to death, and who torture them in various ways.

It hath been said by learned persons that one is himself born as one's son. Therefore, a man whose wife hath borne a son should look upon her as his mother. Beholding the face of the son one hath begotten upon his wife, like his own face in a mirror, one feeleth as happy as a virtuous man, on attaining to heaven. Men scorched by mental grief, or suffering under bodily pain, feel as much refreshed in the companionship of their wives as a perspiring person in a cool bath”. (MBH 01: LXXIV)

23.4.5. Wife is the most valuable possession   

For a man – the best friend who stands through thick and thin throughout the course of their common lifespan is his wife alone. If a man is in his good days, all other friends including the closest relatives would sing his glories, however when the time remains unfavourable, none of them would stick and standby a man except his loving and caring wife (parents are exceptions because if they are alive they would stand by a man but after their death one who gives her shoulder as support during the moments of distress is the wife alone).

They that have wives can lead domestic lives. They that have wives have the means to be cheerful. They that have wives can achieve good fortune. Sweet-speeched wives are friends on occasions of joy. They are as fathers on occasions of religious acts. They are mothers in sickness and woe. Even in the deep woods to a traveller a wife is his refreshment and solace. He that hath a wife is trusted by all. A wife, therefore, is one's most valuable possession”. (MBH 01: LXXIV)

23.4.6. One shouldn’t do anything that is disagreeable to his wife

Mahabharata says that a man shouldn’t do anything that is displeasing to his wife.

No man, even in anger, should ever do anything that is disagreeable to his wife, seeing that happiness, joy, and virtue,--everything dependeth on the wife”. (MBH 01: LXXIV)

23.4.7. Wife Should Be The Queen Of The House, Not A Slave

The position given to woman as a wife in our culture was indeed very exalted. Below mantra from Rig Veda clearly highlights that she is expected to be treated as the queen of house (gruhiNi) and the main spokesperson of that house. It should be noted that husband do not enjoy such status like gruharAjA (king od house). He is just called as gruhasthA (householder). It should not be thought as if a bride needs to dictate her in-laws because she is called the queen of that house. Instead, we need to understand that she is being the queen's position in their hearts. A position in heart remains for posterity and that's what is the intended message; also it means of giving prominent position in the home.

"The bride is entering the ritualistic location, her hand held by the god puushan (one form of the sun god) the twin gods of medicine the Ashwins are accompanying her in the chariot.. and she is going away from her house to that of her husband and she is blessed that she may become the ruler of the household and the main spoke-person of the assembly in her husbands place". (Rig Veda 10-75-26)

The bride is blessed to join the supreme place in the household. See how the father-in-law, mother-in-law and everyone grants her the central place in their hearts. The below verse exists in Atharva Veda too.

"May your father in law treat you with affection as if you were a queen. May your mother in law treat you with love as if you were a queen. May your sisters in law love and respect you as if you were a queen. May your brothers in law respect and adore you as if you were a queen" (Rig Veda 10-85-46 and atharva veda 14-2-44)

23.5. Regarding Widowed Women

Our religion gave equal rights to man and woman. With the invasions from foreigners due to their laws being enforced and mixed with those of the laws of our land, the widowhood related woman-unfriendly-customs would have appeared. Did Kunti shave her head in Mahabharata? Do we have any reference from scriptures where Tara (wife of deceased Vali), Mandodari (the wife of deceased Ravana), uttara (the wife of deceased Abhimanyu) shaving their heads and wearing white sarees? Certainly we don’t have such references!

In fact Rig Veda supports remarriage of ladies who lost their husbands as follows.

kuha svid doṣā kuha vastoraśvinā kuhābhipitvaṃ karataḥkuhoṣatuḥ |
ko vāṃ śayutrā vidhaveva devaraṃ maryaṃ nayoṣā kṛṇute sadhastha ā || (RV 10:40:2)

Where are ye, Aśvins, in the evening, where at morn? Where is your haltingplace, where rest ye for the night? Who brings you homeward, as the widow bedward draws her husband's brother, as the bride attracts the groom?”

23.6. Union with a Woman was done with her consent and not by Rape

In Mahabharata we have a great story of Shakuntala and Dushyanta. King Dushyanta on seeing her gets enamoured by her beauty and gains the strong desire of union with her. Unlike today’s some men with destructive animal mindset, who would think only of ‘rape’ for satisfying their desires of flesh; the ancient Hindus used to maintain discipline even while being stung by the arrows of the passion.

Dushyanta said, “...O thou of the fairest complexion, full of desire I am, thou also in a similar mood mayst become my wife according to the Gandharva form”. (MBH 01: LXXIII)

Shakuntala spoke the following words to him and asked for a promise.

Sakuntala said, “This is thy son, O king! Let him be installed as thy heir-apparent. O king, this child, like unto a celestial, hath been begotten by thee upon me. Therefore, O best of men, fulfil now the promise thou gavest me. Call to mind, O thou of great good fortune, the agreement thou hadst made on the occasion of thy union with me in the asylum of Kanwa.” (MBH 01: LXXIV)

Later on, Shakuntala reminds Dushyanta of their conversation about the agreement between the couple and they united. Thus was the desire of the King fulfilled by her.

"Sakuntala, having listened to all this, answered, 'If this be the course sanctioned by religion, if, indeed, I am my own disposer, hear, O thou foremost one of Puru's race, what my terms are. Promise truly to give me what I ask thee. The son that shall be begotten on me shall become thy heir-apparent. This, O king, is my fixed resolve. O Dushmanta, if thou grant this, then let our union take place'”. (MBH 01: LXXIII)

There are many such stories in scriptures, where even the mightiest Kings never tried to rape any women even despite becoming passionate seeing their beauty. Then how come the weakest humans of today’s era dare to molest women? – is the question we need to ponder about. The only answer is – lack of awareness of the morals what our scriptures teach and lack of control over one’s senses.

23.7. Female Foeticide

Hinduism believes that God exists in all - both living and non-living. We also believe in past lives and future re-births. We strongly believe that each soul is equally divine. Each soul gets a body and environment that is conductive to his / her spiritual progress and is capable of fulfilling his / her dis-satisfied desires. It is God who directs a soul to take birth in a particular body. If we kill female babies, it would mean that we disrespect God’s decision. Hence it is illogical and a heinous crime to kill any child. On one hand, female forms are worshipped. We revere our country as ‘mother’ (bhArata mAtA). How can such a culture even think of killing female child. The problem is with the illiterate who think that female child is a burden and will incur financial depth as they will have to give dowry (which is not at all sanctioned by shAstra-s). The irony is that the same society think that advent of female (either wife or as daughter) is a sign of prosperity and good luck.   

23.8. sati and widow

sati or sahgamana means ‘to accompany’. Wives used to ascend with husband after husband left his mortal coil. sati, by the power of her tapas would be able to detach herself and leave her body in the burning pyre of her husband. Both would leave in subtle bodies. Unlike in kaliyuga where the body dies if it does not get food, in earlier yuga-s, the body does not die if it didnt receive food.   

Kanchi SankarAcArya says,

Since the Krta-Yuga there has been a decline in the powers of man. In that age a man lived so long as his skeleton lasted. Even if his blood dried up and his flesh was destroyed he survived until his bones collapsed. People in the Krta age had much power of knowledge. They were called "asti-gata-pranas".

In the Treta age people were "mamsa-gata-pranas", that is they lived so long as their flesh lasted and did not perish even when their blood dried up. They had a special capacity for performing sacrifices.

In the Dvapara age people were "rudhira-gata-pranas" and lived until such time as their blood dried up. They were known especially for the puja they performed.

We of the Kali age are "anna-gata-pranas" and life will remain in our body so long as the food [nourishment] lasts. We have little capacity to meditate, perform rituals and puja. But we are capable of chanting the names of the Lord - Krsna, Rama, and so on. It is true that by muttering the names of the Lord we will be liberated.


From this we can know that the powers of human mind has declined with time. Hence sati might not be practical today. Some kshatriya queens used to jump in fire and self-immolate themselves to save their ‘pride’ and would not surrender to the enemies. However, at no time sati was compulsory. madri chose to practice sati, but kunti, the other wife of Pandu was not allowed to practice sati instead of her wish. She might not have qualified for it. The other reason was she was needed to raise 5 sons.

A symbolic interpretation of sati can be given which can be applied today. A wife would renounce all the memories of the world with the death of husband. Hence her old self dies (similar to sanyAsa), and a new woman is born with no worldly obligation except that she has children to raise. Life of widow is similar to sanyAsin, free from worldly and social obligation so that she can dedicate her entire life for Atmic upliftment. Widow has benefits that sanyAsins do not enjoy. She has the protection of her family members. She need not be an ascetic. She do not need to worry about the basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. However if one does not wish to live a spiritual life, then parASara smriti (P.S. 4.30) says a widow can remarry, as curbing sensual desire is not advisable as it may bounce back at any time with full force and she might not be able to control it. This might result into disturbing her mental balance or she might start looking at other men with an eye of lust.

23.9. Conclusion (women in sanAtana dharma)

With little to add, we would like to present another scenario of women being practically oppressed and deprived of their rite. Yes, in a certain period of time, they did suffer subjugation and couldn’t live as freely as men, but it is not the fault of veda-s themselves, nor the fault of great AcArya-s but our selfish and limited or rather wrong understanding of SAstra-s and declining interest in learning of veda-s and spirituality in general that is the culprit. As a backfire, the natural outcome has been revivalists who have worked hard for womens’ rights, as it is the nature (svabhAva) of the mother nature to keep the balance. Whenever any extreme way of life rises and tries to establish itself in the hearts of men, the imbalance caused to the society would create another extreme that would counter the former  extreme with later extreme until the equilibrium is attained. The pendulum keeps swinging until it rests in center. Considering the then situation, we would also not hate those who opposed veda-s for whatever reason they did so, afterall truth cannot remain hidden for ever. It will always shine forth through some high souled one and will show us the path to eternality.

With the above discussion we wish to make the world understand that the sanātana-vaidika-dharma has always been friendly to men and women equally. Assuming different role does not mean inequality. In ancient India people enjoyed equal rights whether they were men or women. There were no support for rapes; there were no support for molestations in our scriptures. Our scriptures talk against such heinous crimes.

We do not wish to cover the crimes against women or in general crime against any individual, still it is our duty to present facts so that the transformation in the hearts and minds of laymen can be achieving without abusing our veda-s and discarding them as impractical orthodox, primitive practice of medieval age. There is no need to discard them, worst hate our SAstra-s. This is our intention.  

Women – whatever relation they may come up into our lives – they are adorable in all those forms and relations. As a mother she is venerable, as a sister she is full of affection, and as a wife she is the support of a man’s life just like a backbone and as a daughter, she is our greatest wealth, our very heart.

People do not have enough learnings of scriptures and yet they dare to question our exalted religion. Those who speak against Hinduism calling it as a backward religion or good for nothing – they haven’t even read one scripture fully. Those who question the religion calling the practices like dowry system, and sati-method as a part of the compulsory religion – they in reality are not even aware of the names of the scriptures of our religion, let alone reading one of them.

Hinduism is the greatest revolution that exists on this Earth for ages. It is the one religion where women as well as men have their independence secured while they engage themselves in mutual inter-dependence.

|| Hari OM ||

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