Women In The Vedic Age! Something To Consider?

Posted: September 21, 2018

Gender issues have been in existence from a long time. Of late the situation is quite horrible. Sexual assault, domestic violence and unconceivable crimes against women are on the rise!

Modernization, education and civilization seem to have very little impact on gender harassment. Women are not safe on the road, office, trains, autos, buses and sadly for some even at their own homes!

Surprisingly, the condition was not so negative in our own country. During the early Vedic period that is Rig Veda(2000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.), women enjoyed dignity, love, education, freedom and protection.




  • Birth- The birth of a girl child was not frowned upon nor was she considered inauspicious. Right from her birth till her death, she was an asset, necessity and not a liability. In the absence of a son, a daughter was appointed “putrika” and hence equal to a son! Woman was an integral part of a man. Without her, life was incomplete.
  • Marriage – Marriage was not just a social contract but sacramental bond. It was a union between two young, cultured and matured adults for the joint performance of their duties-dharman! As such a woman commanded respect and love. Marriage was heaven-ordained, divine dispensation and hence no party had the right to dissolve it. The most striking feature of this age was that a woman had the liberty to choose her spouse. Evidently, child marriage was not practised. No greater tragedy could hit a householder than the untimely death of his wife. However, after the period of mourning he had to get married again. The reason cited is quite appealing and unique. After marriage, the man brought his bride along with the griha agni( domestic fire). It was with this fire that the household and religious fire was lit. However, after the death of the wife, the fire was used for lighting the funeral pyre. At such a time, he had the option to either forsake his worldly life and retire in the forest (Vana prastha) or re-marry. In the latter case, he had to marry immediately after the mourning period and bring a wife with the domestic fire.  This was essential for him to carry on with his secular and religious duties. Interestingly, while it was mandatory for a widower to re-marry, the rules were different for a widow. There is no mention of her re-marriage.
  • Family- Woman was dear to a man as a mother, sister, wife and daughter. As she was naturally weak, she needed protection.When a child she was under the care of her father, during adulthood her husband’s and in old age she was sheltered by her son. The mother was held in great esteem. ‘God is Mother’ and was worthy of worship. Hence in her advanced age, when she was placed under her son’s care, she was not a liability! Much significance was given to family life and domestic peace, love and compatibility. Children were required to be obedient and dutiful towards their parents and elders. Family ties and happiness were of great importance.
  • Rights and duties- Rig Vedic Age did not believe in equality of the sexes. Yet, this in no way meant that one was inferior to the other. Equality and rights were viewed from an entirely different context and perspective. Life was a constant journey to attain spiritual emancipation. To achieve this, every individual had to carry out his/her duty faithfully. Men and women were dissimilar and had distinct duties. The society offered both man and woman equal opportunities to attain salvation. This did not imply equal duties or interchange of role. Neglect of one’s duty was unpardonable and likely to be punished. A woman’s duty was to bear children and rear them. Such duties were natural and inherent- This was a sacred function.
  • Academic pursuit- In the pursuit of knowledge, women were given equal opportunity and access. Accordingly, there were women teachers who were known as Upadhyayi. The Rig Veda contains as many as twenty-seven hymns written by women seers called-Brahmavadinis. Ghosa, Godhra, Visvara, Apala are some of the writers. Among the brilliant orators, with intellectual acumen, the names of Gargi and Maitreyi stand out. Women with high qualifications were revered and accorded high positions in society.
  • Art, culture and sports- Apart from academic pursuits, a woman was given ample chance and facility to learn and enrich her aesthetic interests. She was free to indulge in music and dancing! Besides such elegant activities, she could participate in sports and heroic activities. Rig Veda mentions two women warriors-Vaddhrimati and Vispala, who fought battles! Women were given training in military skills! Mudgalani, wife of a warrior, is believed to have driven her husband’s chariot in a battle and also conquered the enemies.
  • Freedom of movement-in general the Vedic woman was held in great esteem both within and outside the household. She was not a mere chattel or toy. No restrictions were imposed on her movements. She was free to attend parties and social gatherings. Obviously, women were safe and secure.

Unfortunately, in the later Vedic period the position of women declined. Not all practices during this era will be acceptable to our modern women; there may be jarring notes here and there. Nonetheless, imbibing the Vedic spirit of respecting women will be more progressive than regressive.

 

 

 

I am an English teacher. Have taught in three colleges for almost twenty years. Later

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