Women & Education: #VedicTruths > #FakeLiberalisms

B S Nihaar

अ॒हं रु॒द्रेभि॒र्वसु॑भिश्चराम्य॒हमा॑दि॒त्यैरु॒त वि॒श्वदे॑वैः ।
अ॒हं मि॒त्रावरु॑णो॒भा बि॑भर्म्य॒हमिं॑द्रा॒ग्नी अ॒हम॒श्विनो॒भा ॥

ahám rudrébhirvásubhiścarāmyahámādityáirutá viśvádevaiḥ ǀ
ahám mitrā́váruṇobhā́ bibharmyahámindrāgnī́ ahámaśvínobhā́ ǁ

अ॒हं सोम॑माह॒नसं॑ बिभर्म्य॒हं त्वष्टा॑रमु॒त पू॒षणं॒ भगं॑ ।
अ॒हं द॑धामि॒ द्रवि॑णं ह॒विष्म॑ते सुप्रा॒व्ये॒३॒॑ यज॑मानाय सुन्व॒ते ॥

ahám sómamāhanásam bibharmyahám tváṣṭāramutá pūṣáṇam bhágam ǀ
ahám dadhāmi dráviṇam havíṣmate suprāvyé yájamānāya sunvaté ǁ

Mandala 10 | Sukta. 125

“ I proceed with the Rudras,with the Vasus,with the Adityas and the Vishvadevas ; I support both Mitra and Varuna, Agni and Indra and the two Asvins. I support the foe destroying Tvastr ,Pusan and Bhaga ; I bestow wealth upon the institutor of the rite offering the oblation(havis) who is pouring forth the libation and deserving of careful protection” – says Risika Vak( the Brahmavadini who envisioned this Sukta) from the deep chasms of her heart when in communion with the Brahman.

Vak identifies herself with the latent forces of the nature and asserts that it is she who governs the laws of the universe and sends the guardians of the cosmic order to their respective duties of creation and preservation and thus she attains the Parabrahma Swarupa. This is one of the most vigorous hymns of the Rigveda in which the authorship is due to Rishika Vak, the daughter of Ambhrana Maharshi. It embodies in a language of tremendous force and vigour the concept of the unity of the universe and is one of the earliest precursors of the non-dual doctrine(Advaitha) of the later Vedanta philosophy.

But in the present times the study of the Para Brahman(ultimate reality) and the Vedas by women is highly contested and is a matter of great debate. Today, it’s a popular opinion that a “Stree” who is often regarded as the pillar of Gruhastha ashrama cannot undergo Vedadhyayana and Shasthradhyayana and thus cannot tread in the path of Vedanta. But in the Vedic society,where the woman was a divine singer and a gifted seer and where she had made a considerable headway in the art of music and dancing and in warfare, her education must have been ensured. The daughters of the freedom loving dwellers of the valley of Sindhu and Saraswathi, Ganga and Yamuna, swung in the plains of the Indo-Gangetic plain and on the heights of the Hindukush.  It is not without reason then that a Naari is identified with shakti in Vedic civilization. If a naari is kept suppressed, this shakti will be denied to the family and the society, thus weakening all of them.

 In fact, in early Vedic civilisation women were always encouraged to pursue spiritual advancement without hindrance: “O bride! May the knowledge of the Vedas be in front of you and behind you, in your centre and in your ends. May you conduct your life after attaining the knowledge of the Vedas. May you be benevolent, the harbinger of good fortune and health, and live in great dignity and indeed be illumined in your husband’s home.” (Atharva Veda, 14.1.64)

Throughout the history of India and the traditions of Vedic society, women were also examples for maintaining the basic principles in Sanatana-dharma. This honour towards women should be maintained today by the preservation of genuine Vedic culture, either in the country or in the institutions, which have always been a part of India. 

Unfortunately, these standards have declined primarily due to the outside influences that have crept in because of foreign invaders, either militarily or culturally. These foreign invaders who dominated India mostly looked at women as objects of sexual enjoyment and exploitation, and as the spoils of war to be taken like a prize. The oppression of women increased in India because of Mughal rule. As such foreigners gained influence and converts, decay of the spiritual standards also crept into Indian and Vedic culture. The educational criteria of Vedic culture also changed and the teaching of the divinity of motherhood was almost lost. The teaching changed from emphasis on the development of individual self-reliance to dependence on and service to others. Thus, competition replaced the pursuit for truth, and selfishness and possessiveness replaced the spirit of renunciation and detachment. And gradually women were viewed as less divine and more as objects of gratification or property to be possessed and controlled, or even exploited.

In the Vedic times, women, it would appear were educated both in the spiritual as well as temporal subjects. The spiritual side comprised of a training in the religious lore and perhaps also in the historical traditions and mythology which made them at times Rishis (Rishikas) of hymns; and the temporal side comprised of training in the fine arts like poetry, drama, music, dancing as well as in the military science as observed in the Puranas, Itihasas, Shastras, Epics and Temple architecture.

The society which aimed more at the spiritual attainments of life, gave its women an opportunity and imperative function in the daily rituals and occasional sacrifices. In the Grihyasutras are found several mantras to be recited by women and the commentary on Gobhilagrihyasutras, states that women folk should be taught for without such studies they cannot perform Agnihotra sacrifice. 

A particular mantra was prescribed to beget a learned daughter in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.  The Upanayana (initiation ceremony) were organised for both the girls and boys. Hareetha Dharmashastra states:” Dvividha Streeyo-Brahmavadinyaha Sadyovadhuscha”( there are two kinds of Stree, one being a Brahmavadini and the other a Sadyovadhu). Brahmavadini would undergo Upanayana samskara as per the shastras and education was imparted to the girl in her maidenhood under the eye of the father, perhaps, in company with her brothers and such other kinsmen. For a long time family was the only educational institution and even boys used to receive education only from their fathers and elders. The same naturally was the case with the girls. But in later times a class of women teachers came into being called Upadhyayi and lady students called Chhatri. A Sadyovadhu would undergo her Upanayana ceremony during her marriage and then she would continue her education under the guidance of her in-laws and her husband. This fact could be further strengthened by the following verses in the ancient text of Samskara Prakasha by one Viramitrodaya:

       “Purakalpethunarinaam Mounjeebandhana Meeshyathe |         Adhyapanam tu Vedanaam Savithri Vachanam thathaa |         Pitha Pithruvyobrathava Nainam Adhyapayeparaha |         Swagruhejaiva Kanyayaa Bhikshacharya Vidheeyathe ||”

The same verses also find mention in Madhava’s Parashara Sati vyakhyana, Yama Smruthi and Hareetha Smruti. Mahakavi Bhana Bhatta describes Mahashwethe as adorned with Upaveetha and Bhasma Tripundra in one of his Kadambari. Even today, goddesses are presented Upaveetha (or a flower as a replacement to Upaveetha) after saying “Upaveetham Samarpayami”. A dharmapathni could also teach her husband as the Atharva Veda 14.1.20 says, Oh bhaaryaa! Give us discourse of knowledge”. In ancient India, the Sanskrit words used by the husband to refer to his ardhangi were Pathni (the one who leads the husband through life), Dharmapathni (the one who guides the husband in dharma) and Sahadharmacharini (one who moves with the husband on the path of dharma–righteousness and duty). The English word “wife” cannot be used exactly to refer to a Pathni or Dharmapathni or a Sahadharmacharini.

As a qualification for marriage, the education of the maiden was considered as important as that of the man. The Rigveda stipulates:

आ धे॒नवो॑ धुनयन्ता॒मशि॑श्वीः सब॒र्दुघाः॑ शश॒या अप्र॑दुग्धाः। नव्या॑नव्या युव॒तयो॒ भव॑न्तीर्म॒हद्दे॒वाना॑मसुर॒त्वमेक॑म्॥

ā dhenavo dhunayantām aśiśvīḥ sabardughāḥ śaśayā apradugdhāḥ | navyā-navyā yuvatayo bhavantīr mahad devānām asuratvam ekam ||

“An unmarried young learned daughter should be married to a bridegroom who like her is learned. Never think of giving in marriage a daughter of very young age.”

The Yajurveda, which depicts as almost the same conditions and times as the Rigveda also accords similar view. It says: 

उ॒प॒या॒मगृ॑हीतोऽस्यादि॒त्येभ्य॑स्त्वा। विष्ण॑ऽउरुगायै॒ष ते॒ सोम॒स्तꣳ र॑क्षस्व॒ मा त्वा॑ दभन् 

“ A young daughter who has observed Brahmacharya (I.e, finished her studies) should be married to a bridegroom who like her is learned.”

The Atharva Veda is equally emphatic in its support of female education as follows: 

Atharva Veda 11.5.18

The mantra of Brahmcharya Sukta, it is emphasised that girls too should train themselves as students and only then enter into married life. The Sukta specifically emphasizes that girls should receive the same level of training as boys. ( No discrimination on the basis of gender)

Atharva 14.1.6

“Parents should gift their daughter intellectuality and power of knowledge when she leaves for husband’s home. They should give her a dowry of knowledge.”

“The skill of a teacher imparted to a worthy student attains greater excellence as the water of a cloud is turned into a pearl in a sea-shell”, exclaims teacher Ganadasa in praise of his pupil Malavika, a creation of Kalidasa in Malavikagnimitram. Both Panini and Patanjali refer to women admitted to Vedic study. Thus a women student of the Katha school was called a Kathi and the Rigvedic Bahvricha school,Bahvrichi. Female students were also admitted to the study of Mimamsa. Co-education was also prevalent as sometimes boys and girls were educated together while receiving their higher education. From the Malatimadhava of Bhavabhuti,written in the 8th century C.E, we learn that the nun Kamandaki was educated along with Bhurivasu and Devratha at a famous centre of education. In the Uttara-Ramacharith (of the same author) we find Atreyi receiving her education along with Lava and Kusa.

The anukramani of Rigveda ascribes a number of hymns to women. The compositions of these ladies are no less gifted with reference to music, literature,and poetry than those of the men. We get references of such learned ladies as Ghosa, the wife of the great seer Kaksivan. She has been mentioned in the Rigveda while two long hymns, 39 and 40 of the tenth mandala are credited to her. This daughter of a king is equally mighty in her conception of divinity and her prayers to the gods for the good of the humanity. Several others like Lopamudra (wife of Agastya, has preached 179 hymns in Rigveda along  with her husband), Apala (addresses hymn 91,X), Visvavara, Romasa, Surya (daughter of Savita the sun, married to Soma the moon), Vasukara‘s wife (hymn 28,X),Gaupayana’s mother (X,60), Indrani (consort of Indra, verses 2,4-7,9,10,15,18,22 and 23 of the hymn 86, X), Indra’s mother, Juhu, Sraddha (X,10), Sarparajni (X,189) and Mamatha (VI,10),Yami (X,10),Urvasi (an apsara,verses 2,5,7,9,11,13,15,16 and 18 of hymn 95,X Mandala), Godha, Upanishat, Anasuya devi (wife of sage Atri and the mother of the great seer Dattatreya), Sarama, Savithri, Sita Savithri, Ila , Gargi and Maitreya also composed Hymns. ( Note:X,VI – denotes the number of the Mandalas.)

Vak, marks the beginning of the line of the Brahmavadinis followed by other great intellectuals like Ubhaya Bharathi, the daughter of Vishnu Mishra and wife of the great pandit scholar Mandana Mishra. Ubhaya Bharathi, respected as an incarnation of Sharada by the followers of the Advaitha school of thought, took upon to debate with Bhagavadpada Adi Shankaracharya after the defeat of her husband. Gargi also participated in debates with Yagnavalkya on philosophical issues. Maitreya, the celebrated wife of Yagnavalkya used to hold discussions on abstruse philosophical questions with her husband and the 4th Brahmana of the 2nd Adhyaya in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad hails her as a Brahmajnani. Sulabha, a brahmacharini and daughter of king Pradhana was famous for indulging in discussions on Brahmavidya in the court of the King Dvaja Janaka as mentioned in the Shanti Parva (2-25) of Mahabharata. Lilavathi was a great mathematician of ancient India. 

Madalasa was the daughter of Vishvasu, the Gandharva king. She was also a great inspiration to her sons and this is evident from Madalasa Upadesha in the Markandeya Purana. Ritdhvaj, the son of the powerful king Shatrujit, was her husband. When Shatrujit died, Ritdhvaj took the position of king and engaged in the royal duties. In due course, Madalasa gave birth to a son, Vikrant. When Vikrant would cry, Madalasa would sing words of wisdom to keep him quiet. She would sing that he was a pure soul, that he has no real name and his body is merely a vehicle made of the five elements. He is not really of the body, so why does he cry? Thus, Madalasa would enlighten her son with spiritual knowledge in the songs she would sing to him. Because of this knowledge, little Vikrant grew up to be an ascetic, free from worldly attachments or kingly activities, and he eventually went to the forest to engage in austerities. The same thing happened to her second son, Subahu, and her third son, Shatrumardan. Her husband told her that she should not teach the same knowledge to their fourth son, Alark, so that at least one of them would be interested in worldly activities and take up the role of looking after the kingdom. So to Alark she sang a song of being a great king who would rule the world, and make it prosperous and free from villains for many years. By so doing he would enjoy the bounty of life and eventually join the Immortals. In this way, she trained her son Alark from the beginning of his life in the direction he would take. This is how a mother can influence her child in whatever potential may be possible, whether materially or spiritually, by imparting noble thoughts to open the avenues of activities for her children

Vispala, the wife of King Khela is such an Amazon. She, like Kaikeyi of the Ramayana accompanied her husband to the battlefield where she loses her leg which, however was replaced with an iron one by the Asvins. Mudgalini is another case where a woman is equipped with military training. She was the wife of King Mudgala and is credited with having driven the chariot of her husband in the battle like Subhadra of the Mahabharata. She is mentioned to have conquered her husband’s enemy, who, thus defeated, took to his heels chased by her. The following is the text alluding to it:

“Loose in the wind the woman’s robe was streaming what she won a car load with a thousand. The charioteer in fight was Mudgalini: she, Indra’s dart, heaped up the prize of battle.” “In hope of victory that bull was harnessed: Kashi,the driver urged him on with shouting. As he ran swiftly with the car behind him is lifted heels pressed close on Mudgalini.”

Women connoisseurs of art and literature were quite common. There used to be learned (vidagdha), skillful in the use of words (vakya-chature), witty and humorous (parihasavinodi), who could appreciate the import of, and sentiment of literature (b), and expert raconteurs (kathana-kovida) women in the palace according to Manasollasa. 

Acharya Vatsyayana in his Kama Shasthra (Kama Sutra) enumerates the duties of a housewife and also lists the sixty-four arts which were to be mastered by women like writing, all kinds of fine arts, practice with sword, quarter staff, bow and arrow, architecture or the art of building, knowledge about gold and silver, jewels and gems, chemistry and mineralogy, knowledge of mines and quarries, knowledge of languages and of vernacular dialects, skill in youthful sports, knowledge of the art of war, of arms and armies, knowledge of gymnastics, arithmetical recreations, mental exercises, manual skill, reading including chanting and intoning, gardening among other interesting arts. He says that a women endowed with a good disposition, beauty and other winning qualities and also versed in the sixty-four arts obtains the name of a Ganika who receives a seat of honour in an assemblage of men and is always respected by the king and learned men, she becomes an object of universal regard.

Women in the Vedic Indian society were educated in almost all the branches of physical and spiritual instruction obtained at the time. Education of Women in traditional Hindu society was the norm. Many of them attained great proficiencies in learning. In Vedic society, they were equals of men , if not greater.


Nihaar B S
Nihaar B S

10 thoughts on “Women & Education: #VedicTruths > #FakeLiberalisms”

  1. Vandana V Mishra

    Nihaar, at such a tender age you have given us so much insight into Nari-Shakti . Very nice. Keep it up Nihaar.

  2. I am literally crying. such a wonderful article on our great sages. We have been deprived to know the great legacy of our ancestors.
    Keep up the god work Nihaar 🙂

  3. Vinodh Kumar Nekhiladi

    Loved it. I never thought the women position in the Indic culture even though I had believed myself of honour with so many goddess and so many great womens. So called secular made these against culture and only quoted sati, gungat etc. You made it wrong with such wonderful write up Nihaar. Great work in this tender age. God bless and many more such write ups to read.

  4. Excellent writing, which obviously stems from your in-depth knowledge! Keep it up 🙂 Looking forward to more such articles from you.

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