Women in Ancient India

Manusmrti says ‘na stri swatantryam arhati’ and this means that all
Indian women lack freedom to do anything. From my college days I have heard
speeches by members of the
Communist Party and affiliated historians who have used such generalization to
put down Indian culture. In an article in Indian Express, Nanditha Krishna
explains some of the achievements of women of ancient India, you know, the ones
who did not have freedom.

Seventeen of the seers to whom the hymns of the Rig Veda were revealed were
women — rishikas and brahmavadinis. They were Romasa, Lopamudra, Apata, Kadru,
Vishvavara, Ghosha, Juhu, Vagambhrini, Paulomi, Jarita, Shraddha-Kamayani,
Urvashi, Sharnga, Yami, Indrani, Savitri and Devayani. The Sama Veda mentions
another four: Nodha (or Purvarchchika), Akrishtabhasha, Shikatanivavari (or
Utararchchika) and Ganpayana. This intrigued me so much that I had to learn
more about them, but I drew a blank. Who were these wonderful women who were
on par with their men and produced the greatest and longest living literature
of the world?

In the Vedic period, female brahmavadinis (students) went through the same
rigorous discipline as their male counterparts, the brahmacharis. The
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes a ritual to ensure the birth of a daughter
who would become a pandita (scholar). The Vedas say that an educated girl
should be married to an equally educated man. Girls underwent the upanayana or
thread ceremony, Vedic study and savitri vachana (higher studies). Panini says
that women studied the Vedas equally with men. According to the Shrauta and
Grihya Sutras, the wife repeated the Vedic mantras equally with their husbands
at religious ceremonies. The Purva Mimamsa gave women equal rights with men to
perform religious ceremonies. Vedic society was generally monogamous, and
women had an equal
equals of men

Once again we converge to the era that Pratibha Patil mentioned

Islamic rule in North India saw a sharp decline in the status of
women, now relegated to the veil, both as an influence of the new dispensation
as well as for their personal protection. Jauhar protected Rajput women from
captivity. If women came out of the confines of the home, the new court culture
made them either entertainers or chattels, both highly degrading positions.
Thousand years of the purdah was to have a highly detrimental effect on women,
something from which the northern states have yet to
equals of men

Next time someone talks about Manusmriti, ask
them  about the status of women as mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad and Purva Mimamsa and chances are they would know nothing about it.

3 thoughts on “Women in Ancient India

  1. Jayakrishnan Nair, Request you to enlighten us on Savithri Vachana, It is said that, After a basic study which was common to both boys and girls the women had special higher studies for them called as Savithri Vachana.

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