Women In Chanakya Neeti
A great economist and revolutionary, Chanakya somewhere failed to understand woman and underestimated her power in shaping the society. If he had any idea about the importance of woman in sustaining life and values, maybe he would have a different opinion. One is simply at a loss to understand with what yardstick Chanakya had measured these abstract ’qualities’ of a woman
Chanakya, one of the greatest figures of wisdom and knowledge in the Indian history who had great vision and theories of administration have no parallel anywhere in the world. But what made him think so little about women is a mystery to us. The insightful scholar believes that women could not be trusted or they have inherent tendencies of “low moral character and untruth”. A man of diplomacy, who made great contributions and changed the course of Indian history forever, has given numerous offensive references to the fairer sex in his book Chanakya Neeti. So, did this spiritualist who had all the qualities of head and heart also have a misogynist thought of woman as a mere object? Now have looks at one verse of Chanakya Neeti: “Agnirapa Striyo Murkha Sarpa Rajkulani Ch Nityam Yatyen Seryani Sadhya Pranharaani Shat” (Fire, water, women, fool, snake and the royal family – beware of all these. They can prove fatal.) Analysing this, one is compelled to believe that gender unfairness is deeply rooted in our ancient times. That is why it looked to Chanakya that ‘only women could speak falsehood’ and is a symbol of greed, impurity, cruelty.
A great economist and revolutionary, Chanakya somewhere failed to understand woman and underestimated her power in shaping the society. If he had any idea about the importance of woman in sustaining life and values, maybe he would have a different opinion. One is simply at a loss to understand that with what yardstick Chanakya had measured these abstract ’qualities’ of a woman?
He claims that poets can imagine anything and women can do anything like a drunkard or a crow that can say anything or eat anything. For Kautaliya, a good woman is one who is pious, expert in household tasks and true and faithful to her husband. Chanakya’s male-dominated attitude comes to forefront in one of his
shlokas: “A woman, who keeps fast without the permission of her husband, shortens the life of the husband. She goes to hell and is punished with great horrors of hell.”
And here is a classic example of woman as a commodity in the eyes of Chanakya. It goes like this: “For the bad days one should save money. Woman should be protected even if it takes the money saved. But for self-preservation, the money and the woman should be sacrificed”. There are a lot of strange things mentioned in Chanakya Neeti for people to “understand” women. Certain verses written by Chanakya are reproduced in the following to show what sort of opinion Chanakya had for women: “Knowledge is lost without putting it into practice; a man is lost due to ignorance; an army is lost without a commander; and a woman is lost without a husband.” “A woman does not become holy by offering charity, by observing hundreds of fasts, or by sipping sacred water, as by sipping the water used to wash her husband’s feet.”
“Courtesy should be learned from princes, the art of conversation from Pandit, lying should be learned from gamblers and untrustworthy ways should be learned from women.”
“It is harmful to be familiar with the king, fire, and a woman. To be altogether indifferent of them is to be deprived of the opportunity to benefit ourselves. Hence our association with them must be from a safe distance.”
“Duplicity, abrupt displays courage, coquetry, trickery, greed, recklessness and quarrelsomeness are the natural characteristics of a woman. One must not feel confused, seeing her behave this way. The world’s biggest power is the youth and beauty of a woman.”—Chanakya Neeti
“Only a pure, judicious, virtuous and melodious woman, who remains faithful to her husband, truly deserves his patronage. Such a wife is a blessing to any man. Blessed is the man, who has found such a woman to be his wife.” “An exceptionally bewitching woman with perfect, chiselled features is a bag of flesh, blood and bones after all. Yet man, maddened and intoxicated by his youth and love, drowns himself in a maelstrom of endless pain and suffering.”—Chanakya Neeti
As per Chanakya, to abstain from a woman’s charming ways is the greatest virtue. “One single object (a woman) appears in three different ways: to the man who practices austerity it appears as a body, to the sensual it appears as a woman and to the dogs as a lump of flesh. A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother does, loves him in the day like a sister does and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.”—Chanakya Neeti.
When a man has no strength left in him he becomes a sadhu, one without wealth acts like a brahmacari, a sick man behaves like a devotee of the Lord, and when a woman grows old she becomes devoted to her husband. A king, a prostitute, Lord Yamaraja, fire, a thief, a young boy, and a beggar cannot understand the suffering of others. The eighth of this category is the tax collector.
O lady, why are you gazing downward? Has something of yours fallen on the ground? (She replies) O fool, can you not understand the pearl of my youth has lost my balance?
“The king, the brahmana, and the ascetic yogi who go abroad are respected; but the woman who roams is utterly ruined. He who is occupied in family life will never acquire knowledge; there can be no mercy in the eater of flesh; the greedy man will not be truthful; and purity will not be found in a woman or a hunter.”—Chanakya Neeti.
Why had Chanakya hooked so low in representing a woman in a shabby way in his book? Or could there be any ‘strategic diplomacy’ to ridicule or underestimate women? The times will only tell, since Chanakya, who is also called the ‘Machiavelli of India’, is considered the greatest visionary this nation has ever produced. Were the above quotations conceived to fulfill a certain political agenda and considering the position of women in Indian society and the male dominance, this should not come as a surprise?
Perhaps Chanakaya based his understanding only on the basis of what constituted royal plotting and scheming. Or maybe he wrote these things on purpose to avoid disturbance of his male students but some views he expressed about women are totally shameful and insulting to them, for example have a look at the following line: – Women have hunger two fold, shyness four fold, daring six fold and lust eight fold compared to men. One wonders by what means Chanakya measures these abstract qualities of women. Chanakya’s views about women are totally biased and maybe based on his limited interaction with women in his life and profession. It’s also possible that Chanakya may not have spoken or written all these humiliating things about women attributed to him. And these texts are very old and many people must have contributed to preserve them or recover them. However, these views are present in his books which are available today. Maybe it is time to challenge them openly.
By Anil Kumar Sarma