In Sanatana society, women are recognized as ‘Devi‘ used after Goddess and hold a prominent position in the society. It’s an irrefutable truth that Sanatana Dharma is the only religion that acknowledges women after their deities like Laxmi(Prosperity), Saraswati(Knowledge), and Parvati(Power). The Status of women is well described by Sanatani or Hindu texts under Manusmriti, Ramayana, Mahabharat, Vedas, Puranas, Smriti’s Shruti’s and several other sources. Several epic lores about women defines the strength and approach of women that ultimately delivers the essence of women empowerment.
In Satya, Treta and Dwapar Yug, the Status of women was pretty high; women were characterized to be very special and were honoured with several rights and freedom. With the elapse of time, the Status of women declined, and society stepped into the Men dominated version. The manipulation of the thought process and texts led to the rising of misconceptions and fallacies among the people towards women. Feeding wrong stuff about women and initiating cruel practices against women was part of that disastrous propaganda.
Manusmriti and Women
The book Manusmriti was written by Manu and aimed to affirm different sects, rights, and duties for the people serving in the society. Enlisting some of the shlokas depicting the Status of Women:-
According to Manusmriti Shloka 3.56, Where women are honoured and preached, God resides there, but where women are not honoured, no sacred rites yield reward.
यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः ।Manusmriti 3.56
यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफलाः क्रियाः ॥
According to Manusmriti Shloka 9.130, the shloka represents equality among all the children no matter he or she, daughter or son.
According to Manusmriti Shloka 4.184, the husband must consider his wife as his own body.
According to Manusmriti, it’s also depicted that women should have the right to choose their husbands freely.
To demonstrate, we all have heard about the “Swayamvar” ritual where women had the right to choose their husbands out of all the options present or could even withdraw themselves if not satisfied with the possibilities. During Ramayana, Maa Sita chooses Bhagwan Ram as her husband out of all the options.
According to Manusmriti Shloka 3.57, where any female family member lives in grief or tension, the whole family perishes, but where they are happy, fate prospers upon that family unit.
शोचन्ति जामयो यत्र विनश्यत्याशु तत् कुलम् ।Manusmriti 3.57
न शोचन्ति तु यत्रैता वर्धते तद् हि सर्वदा ॥
According to Manusmriti Shloka 5.155, no sacrifice, no vow, and no fast should be performed, keeping women apart.
According to Manusmriti Shloka 9.95, a husband should support his wife.
According to Manusmriti Shloka 8.275, a husband who defames or mistreats his wife is liable for punishment. During ancient times, mistreating a wife was taken as a crime and husbands were punished by paying a fine of one hundred Panas.
Dharmashashtras about Crime against Women:
The existence of righteousness and wickedness is a prevalent thing in every society. Every society has Good or Bad individuals, but punishing the bad ones efficiently and preserving the morally right individual is not so common in every civilization. The scriptures and texts of Santana Dharma develop and create laws to safeguard and prevail over morality at large. Here we are talking about women, thus enumerating some of the laws that safeguard women from derogatory, immoral and cruel practices:
During Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s rule, a resident found guilty of rape in Pune, Shivaji’s court ordered him to cut off his hands and legs and make him sit on the crossroad. This instance filled everyone with immense fear of even thinking of raping women. The result of this move by Shivaji Maharaj was reflected in the data that shows a nil number of cases in that region until Shivaji’s death.
According to Skanda Purana Shloka 4.40.47, a woman must not be abandoned even if she is raped or falls into the clutches of robbers. Leaving her is not justifiable under the scriptures.
बलात्कारोपभुक्ता वा चोरहस्तगतापि वा। न त्याज्या दयिता नारी नास्यास्त्यागो विधीयते॥Skanda Purana 4.40.47
According to Katyayana Smriti, 69.2, 830, when a man rapes or has forcible sexual intercourse with women, he is liable to capital punishment as it is a violation of conduct.
स्त्रीषु कृतोपभोगः स्यात् प्रसह्य पुरुषो यदा । वधे तत्र प्रवर्तेत कार्यातिक्रमणं हि तद्॥Katyayana Smrti, 69.2, 830
According to Mahabharata KE Shloka 13.59.19, the man who abandons his rape victim wife, and is incompetent to protect her, becomes equal to a killer of the foetus.
अनृतेऽपि हि सत्ये वा यो नारीं दूषितां त्यजेत्। अरक्षमाणः स्वां भार्यां नरो भवति भ्रूणहा॥Mahabharata KE 13.59.19
According to Bṛhaspati Shloka 23.10, the King has the power to confiscate the entire property of one who violates an unwilling woman; and should have an order to cut off his penis and scrotum, shall cause him to be paraded on an ass.
According to Manusmriti Shloka, 8.352, those who indulge in rape or molesting women or inciting them into adultery should be given the harshest punishment to create fear, among others, to even think of such a crime.
Lord Krishna’s, Mahabharat and Bhagwat Gita’s depiction about women:
Bhagwat Gita says that every living being is equal to Bhagwan Shree Krishna. Krishna didn’t recognize his/her devotee as men or women; Krishna saw everyone as a spiritual soul and recognized no difference between men, women, and animals. The Bhagavat-Gita, Panditah, and Sama-darsana say that only a learned can see all living beings with congruity. This shows that even Geeta believes in parity among all.
According to Adi Parva Mahabharat Shloka 1.74.50-51, no man has the power or authority to ever do anything disagreeable to his wife, for happiness, joy, virtue, everything depends on one’s wife. A wife is a sacred soil in which a husband is born again; even Rishi’s don’t have the power to procreate without women.
Mahabharat Legend Bhishma Pitahmah, while residing on his death bed, said to Yuddhistira, “O ruler of the earth a lineage in which daughters and daughters-in-law are saddened or ill-treated, that lineage is destroyed. While under grief, these women curse these households, these households lose their charm, prosperity and happiness.”
To demonstrate, it’s evident what Bhishma Pitahmah told Yuddhistira; we all have heard about Draupadi’s insult and molestation in Kuru Raj Bhawan. The result of the act is also very well known to all that how the lives of Pandavas(for putting wife at stake) and Kauravas were destroyed after this incident. Pandavas were forced to live 12 years in exile and enslaved for one year in Virat Raj, whereas Kauravas and their companions were brutally killed in the Battle of Kurukshetra. This is how a family is destroyed when a woman of the same family is mistreated and disgraced.
Status of women in Vedas:
During the Vedic age, women recognized personal liberty and rights as equal to men. Women were given all the privileges which are entitled to the son only. The Vedic Era called women “Saraswati” (Goddess of Knowledge or Education). This period witnessed considerable women’s advancement in the educational institutes as many Female Rishi’s came up like Poulomi, Urvashi, Yami, Shachi, Indrani, Gargi and Maitreyi.
According to Rigveda Shloka 3259, this Dharma is Sanatana. All the Gods and Humans have been born in this Dharma and have achieved progress in it. Please do not destroy this great mother who has represented as a foundation stone of existence.
According to Rigveda Shloka 10.191.3, o women, these Mantras are given to you equally as of man and equal power to absorb these mantras. May your thoughts too be harmonious. May your assemblies be open to all without any prejudice.
Thus, the above-mentioned shloka points out that the Vedic Era treated everyone in a single sphere and possessed equal rights. There was no discrimination on the bases of Gender, Race, caste, religion, place of birth, or any other ground for discrimination. The education was fully accessible to all, no matter male or female. The female Rishis of that Era are also credited for authoring the Shlokas, Rishikas like Shashwati, Lopamudra, Aditi, Sarma, Ghoshsha, Apala, Godha, Vishwawra, and Romsha were well known in that Era and founder behind the Devi Sukta of Vedas.
To demonstrate, Rishika Vaghambrini authored prominent shlokas, including Vak Suktam, whereas Gargi was said to be among Navaratnas (nine jewels) of Raja Janak’s court. Maitreyi was the wife of Acharya Yajnavalkya and had several epic discussions over Atman and conducted several other Shashtrartha’s (philosophical and scientific discussions).
A well known and most revered Shashtrartha between Acharya Mandan Misra and Adi Shankaracharya was judged by Ubhaybharti (Mandan Misra’s wife). That was the stature of women in that Era, which was later dismantled by Invaders and further deteriorated by Anti-equality, Anti-Liberty and so-called gender-neutral or feminists.
According to Yajurveda Shloka 20.84, a wise woman purifies our life with her intellect; she purifies our karma with her karma. Her knowledge and actions increase the virtues and organize the society.
पावका नः सरस्वती वाजेभिर्वाजिनीवती। यज्ञं वष्टु धियावसुः॥Yajurveda 20.84
According to Atharvaveda Shloka, 14.1.64, O bride, May the knowledge of Vedas be in front of you and behind you, in your center and in your ends. May you conduct your life after attaining the ability of the Vedas. May you be benevolent, the harbinger of good fortune and health and live in great dignity and indeed be brightened in your husband’s home.
Widowhood, Re-marriage and Divorce and Wifehood:
According to Rigveda Shloka, 10.18.1, leave or abandon this dead man, rise and rejoin the normal living, it asserts that a widow should now return to her normal life.
The practice of “Sati Pratha” and tonsuring the head has no authentication under the Vedas or in any other Samhita. Again the destruction of the Indian Education System and fake translation of Scriptures by Invaders lead to the emergence of these cruel practices in the name of Dharma. Committing Sati or Jauhar was a part of medieval India because the Islamic and other Invaders used to make women sex slaves or put them into their Harem. In order to save her pride, women commit Sati or Jauhar voluntarily or without any force. But, with changing times, this eventually became oppression over women. According to the principles of Sanatana Dharma, Sati means closeness to God.
The scriptures and texts of Hindus are against Divorce or Remarriage, but an exceptional condition when the situation or life of the couple worsens and brings a negative impact upon Children and society only then it should be considered.
According to Manusmriti, if a husband is impotent, a traitor, an ascetic or missing for a couple of years, then a wife is entitled to take her property back in the form of “Stridhan” and leave him or can elope or re-marry.
To demonstrate, if Sati Pratha was part of Sanatana Sanskriti, then why Kunti didn’t commit the same Pratha; why Kaushalya, Kaikayi, and Sumitra didn’t commit the same after Raja Dashrath’s demise. In Ramayana, Tara, wife of Vali and mother of Angad, re-married Sugriv (brother of Vali) after the death of her husband; why couldn’t she commit Sati? If Sati was part of Sanatana Dharma. All this happened in front of Bhagwan Shri Ramchandra.
According to Vedas Wife is:-
- Ardhangini: Better Half of her husband
- Sahadharmini: An associate to her husband in fulfilment of his divine goals.
- Sahakarmini: An essential part in her husband’s actions
- Sahayogini: part and co-operate with husband in his all actions.
The divine confluence of wife and husband constitutes a “Dampati.” Both the souls fill each other just like Ardha-Narishwar (Shiva and Parvati). We all have heard about Radhe Krishna, Sita Ram, Gauri Shankar, Siddhi Vinayak, Lakshmi Narayan, and Mata Pita; the most exciting and notable thing is that women are always put forward to men; thus, this defines the prominence of wives and women in Sanatana Dharma.
Menstruation: Pure or Impure?
We have heard of Menstruation as a social taboo for several years and blemished this upon Sanatana teachings without any conclusive proof. During the Menstruation period, women develop Prana(life, energy and force) useful to generate new life, but when she doesn’t get pregnant, her body’s build-up (Prana) gets released. So, it calls the cleansing of the body from the unwanted fluid.
The body’s nature aims to increase Prana and leads to upward movement but, on the contrary, Menstruation shows downward movement of that Prana. This clash between the downward and upward movement of Prana in the women’s body causes discomfort to her; thus, were emphasized to take rest from their hectic schedule.
Why were not allowed in Mandir’s or religious gatherings during Periods?
During Vedic and Ancient times, the temples were situated on the mountains highs that required arduous journeys, whereas, during gatherings, women possessed a higher tendency (during the mensuration period) to attract negative energies that might harm them. Additionally, the routes were navigated through forests, and the wild animals were also capable of smelling the blood. Due to the usage of cloth rather than sanitary pads, catching blood-borne pathogens was pretty much higher; thus, women were guided to stay home and were made free from all kinds of apprehensions. The female temple priests often work in temples by ensuring their comfort zone during the mensuration days.
To demonstrate, the celebration of the Menstruation cycle of Mother Earth is also a well-known festival of Odisha, popularly revered as the Raja Festival. Raja festival falls for three days (Pahili Raja, Mithuna Sankranti and Bhutan Dalarna). This festival prohibits any agricultural work or any other work which involves drilling the earth because, according to the festival, on these three days, Mother Earth undergo Menstruating period and thus, people ensure her care.
Bhagwati Mandir of Kerala and Kamakhya Devi Mandir of Assam are epitomes where devotees pay reverence to menstruating Devi.
Thus, all these circulating myths regarding the menstruation cycle have no bases and are part of disastrous propaganda by Invaders and narrow-minded people who brainwashed the ages by presenting deceitful facts.
Women in Medieval and Modern Era:
During Mauryan and Gupta Eras, the Status of women was pretty good and was filled with true equality. According to Greek Historian Megasthenes’s book Indica, he mentions that in India, all people live very peacefully, and the most arousing thing is that here women are also involved in Educational works, serving upon higher portfolios and military practices. In contrast, in other countries, women are only treated as child bearers, domestic work and good as long as they are beautiful and young.
For instance, Great Indian ruler Chandragupta Maurya only trusts women soldiers for his and royal families’ safety. Maurya’s army had several women combatants who even had a separate female battalion constituting female archers prominently.
According to Chanakya’s Arthashastra Chapter 1.21, women should have learned in military education.
With the passage of time, invasion upon the Indian land increased, resulting in the demolition of Dharma, legacy, values, educational structure, and more. The attacks on the Indian land resulted in molestation, rapes, and abduction of women at a greater level and resulted in a build-up of inferiority complex towards women. But, there is a saying, “Bad times create strong people,” and the same happened when several women warriors emerged, such as Didda Rani of Kashmir, Rudrama Devi, Rani Karnawati (Nakti Rani), Onake Obavva, Keladi Chenamma, Hadi Rani, Kiren Devi, Mai Bhago, Sada Kaur, Ahilya Bai, Belawadi Mallamma, Durgawati, Bhavashankari and the list is too long.
With Invasions from Hunas, Arabs, Caliphates, Yunani’s, Greeks, Mamluk’s, Khilji’s, Timur, Gaznavid’s, Ghor’s, Saiyidi’s, Tugalaq’s, Lodi’s, Mughal’s, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Abdali, and Britishers, the resistance against these tyrannical, despotic rulers and their army was collectively presented by men and women of this nation.
The confrontation against the British in seeking Independence witnessed several women freedom Fighters, including Epitomic Jhansi Ki Rani Lakshmi Bai, Avantibai, Azizun Bai, Uda Devi, Velu Nachiyar, Kittur Chenamma, Abbakka Chowta, Jhalkari Bai and several other. The gallantry of women in saving their honour from radical rapist invaders like Mughal and Khilji was witnessed when they collectively self-immolated themselves in the fire of Jauhar, including Rani Padmavati (Did Jauhar with 16,000 women) and Rani Karnawati (Did Jauhar with 13,000 women).
The post Independence and Modern India witnessed the participation of women in almost every field like Kalpana Chawla, Mithali Raj, PV Sindhu, a women pilot batch flown their plane over the north pole, Shushma Swaraj, Amritanandamayi, Karunamayi, Sarada Devi, Yoga Shakti, Avani Chaturvedi(Flying officer), Komal Mangtani, Indu Malhotra, and several other who made India proud all across the globe.
In 2021, the female literacy rate recorded a tremendous jump from 65% to above 70%, and the sex ratio of the country also improved that is around 1030-1060 per 1000 males. The initiatives like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Meri Beti Mera Abhiman, and Nari Shakti are continuously elevating the Status of women as was in the Vedic ages.
The problems like Dowry’s death, rapes, molestation, abduction, female infanticide, widow remarriage, child marriage, and several other types of derogatory practices still exist in society, and to eradicate these cruel practices, the flow of knowledge and the real essence of Sanatana Scriptures should have to be made accessible to every mind.
Once, Swami Vivekananda said, when Hindus start thinking with logic and put reasoning before superstitious beliefs that day, Hinduism will be the only progressive religion in this world.
While analyzing and reading all the stuff present in the Sanatana texts reflecting the Status of women, it struck my mind that if these things were taught to us at our school level, then that would be a great personality build-up for the generations. To minimize the crime and disparity against women, one should attempt to create an environment of friendliness, equality proof, and feed the stuff representing everyone in a single sphere. The development of an inferiority complex towards Vedas and scriptures by calling them mythological and superstitious has cost over the odds.
Consequently, the teachings of Manusmriti, Vedas, Gita, Upanishads, and Shruti regarding women’s prominence and Status of women guide us to move towards the notion of morality and equality among all, further dismantling all the superstitious, deteriorated and misinterpreted content in the texts.
“Preserve your Heritage; Heritage will preserve you.”