Woman and Hindu Dharma
“At the time when Brahamdev was deeply absorbed in Samadhi [meditation] his body split into two halves— one of a man, Manu; and another of a woman, Shatrupa, the wife of Manu. It is they who were the ancestors of human beings, and thereafter only from them that the entire subject came into existence.”[Bhagwatpuran-3-12]
What above verse signifies is that where the other parts of the world awakened to give equal right to woman like man as late as modern period, she was held to be as sacred as man at the very inception of the civilization in Hindu life- philosophy. And, more notably, unlike the ways of the world, this sanctity was not confined to the doctrine alone— this was emulated in the practices of real life as a matter of fact. Taitrey and Shathpath Brahmin [Upnishads] explicitly reveal that husband and wife together were given yagyadiksha [spiritual initiation] in Vedic period. So also, Manu says— “It is not only home is a home, but the real home is none other than the woman”. And, just see what Yamasmiriti likewise says —“In the preceding kalpa [period of time] women used to undergo Upnayan sanskara. They were taught Vedic knowledge and also Gayatri mantra.” It is because of this we get in our scriptures the accounts of Ghosha, Lopmudra, Gargi and Maitery, all highly learned ladies. How learned was Maitrey, we get to see it from the religious polemic went between her and her husband, Yagvalkya, in Brihidaryankopnishad. And among the great exponents of Dharma in the sabha [assembly] of raja Janak, Gargi enjoyed prominent place. So much so that when it came to testify the divine wisdom of Yagvalkya Muni, it was none other than she who was assigned to fulfill the task. Yet this is not all— women could fulfill the role of teacher, as well. There comes in Patanjali Mahabhashya the mention of two terms: Upadhayani and Upadhayaya. Where Upadhayani is referred to the wife of Acharya [teacher]; Upadhayaya, for such lady who used to impart teaching.
And, likewise, according to Rigveda after the marriage she should be regarded to be the hub of all kind of domestic affairs—“From your attitude father in-law should feel that you are the queen of the home, mother-in-law should feel that you are the owner and your sister-in-law should feel that you are the key-functionary of the home.” [Rigveda-10-85-46]. So also, “Gods make abode where women are worshipped; and where not, all the rituals come to grief.” [Manu Smiriti]
More notably, besides above rights and honors that they enjoyed, they could also take part in the battle field to demonstrate their prowess, if they possessed it. Well- versed in using the weapons, courageous and forbearing, Mudgalani and Vishpala are the two such of the women who fought valiantly with their husbands in the wars. [Rigveda 2, 7, 11-102-10 & 1-112-1] [Refer, for more, “Vedic Rashtra-Darshan”—Balshashtri Hardas]
It’s because of this outlook of our ancestors nourished in virtues of Dharma that we find a considerable number of girls to earn the education at par with the boys in the schools still in the recent history, at the time of inception of British rule. Before deciding as to which modal of education be introduced in India,obviously as to fulfill their vested interest, British had a survey conducted in the beginning of 18th century under William Adam. William Adam submitted his first report in 1835 and second and third report in 1838. According to the reports, behind every 63 students there was one school averagely in Bengal and Bihar. These schools had girl students as well, though there numbers were small, with lower-castes girls outnumbering upper-castes girls, notably. Almost the same views were then held by Sir Thomas Munroe and Dr. G.W. Litner regarding educational scenario of Madras Presidency and Punjab respectively. [Refer, “Bharat Ka Swadharm”— Dharmpal]
Thus, when in the other parts of the world woman was discriminated to be mere object of physical enjoyment, in India she was held to be as indispensable as man in the activities of life, worldly and spiritual both.
By E. Rajesh Pathak