In the light of “NariShakti Vandan Adhiniyam” passed in both the houses of parliament and what has become a law with the signature by the Honourable President, it is significant to excavate and dwell in the history of empowerment of women.
Bharat’s Sanatan civilization has been one of the oldest civilizations of mankind. The Rig Vedic and later Vedic periods were the crucial period in the development of our civilization.
There are mainly four Vedas that throw light on the society, its social, religious and political structures, their knowledge, pursuits and evolution as a sharp and well groomed person.
It is believed that the Vedic period was a fairly advanced period where women and men were equal in the society with different but equally important roles to play and duties to perform.
As a result, husband and wife’s political rights were shared in a pair and the larger and prominent bodies such as sabha and samiti followed this policy.
During the early Vedic period, the status of women was highly regarded and considered powerful.
God’s according to Aryans, existed where women were worshipped and valued.
यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः ।
यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफलाः क्रियाः ।।
Women were an integral part of the religious ceremonies, and in performing most of the religious rites, women’s presence and participation was essential.
Child marriages were unheard of and Sati pratha was rare. In fact the custom of Sati became more prominent after the foreign invasion in the mediaeval era.
Education was the prerogative of both – male and female. Unmarried women who had acquired education were only allowed to perform Vedic ceremonies. This displays the immense importance given to educating women in the early Vedic era.
The women were allowed to enter in the conjugal relationship, post the age of Sixteen. She had the right to choose her life partner, in most of the cases. Although, the marriages in the royal families did take place for political reasons, in general, the princesses were married through the practice of Swayamvar.
Even though it was a Patriarchal culture, there were provisions in the early Vedic period for adult marriage, marriages of will and Widow re- marriage.
The girls too, were sent to Gurukuls like their male counterparts. It was essential to observe Brahmacharya during this student’s life. In order to be eligible for Upanayanam sanskaar, women were encouraged to be proficient in Philosophy, Logic and Vedic knowledge. She also learnt to sing Rig Veda slokas and Atharva Veda.
For the daughters who belonged to lower classes and could not afford to travel as well as had the responsibility of lending helping hand in the home affairs, would take homeschooling. Being at home, also supported the male members of the family in agriculture and other skill related occupations. They learnt to milk the cows, cut yarn, knit and sew along with learning various forms of Arts like Singing, Dancing, Painting and Drawing.
The texts like Taittiriya Sanhita and the Satapatha Brahmana emphasised women’s practical education.
The mother Earth of Bharatvarsh has always been enriched by the numerous empowered women from various faculties, spreading their pious yet cogent and eloquent persona. Around thirty Rishikas or the female Rishi, as they were known, have been mentioned in the Rigveda.
In Hindu philosophy, Brahmavadini, are women who strive for the highest philosophical knowledge of Brahman, that is, those who strive for greater universal consciousness.
Sadyovadhu, is normally a sage’s wife, and dedicated to domesticity and the welfare of her family along with looking after the Gurukul.
Lopamudra was a combination of both. She was a Brahmavadini – a philosopher as per the ancient Vedic literature. She was known as Kaushitaki and Varaprada and had immense command over Tamil and Sanskrit languages along with being Sadyovadhu – (Rishi patni) wife of Sage Agastya.
Lopamudra is considered one of the earliest female poets. She also imparted knowledge pertaining to love and duties, which till date inspires people.
Gargi Vachaknavi was a daughter of Sage Vachaknu. She composed several hymns that questioned the origin of human existence. Gargi was one of the distinguished participants when King Janak of Videh organised a Brahma yagna. She was well renowned for her debates with sage Yajnavalkya on the nature of reality and the soul.
Her contribution to Bharatiya philosophy has been notable, as she was one of the earliest proponents of Advaita Vedanta.
Maitreyi was a philosopher and a scholar daughter of Rishi Daksha. She was a student of the Yajnavalkya and best known for her profound understanding of the Upanishads. She was married to Dharma. Her teaching on the nature of the self and the universe remain relevant till date.Maitreyi is credited with the authorship of several hymns in the Rigveda.
Apala is well known for her noteworthy contribution to the Rigveda, where she has penned down several hymns. The new method of extracting Som, a plant used in Vedic rituals is to her credit. It revolutionised the way in which these rituals were performed.
Yami was a philosopher during the Vedic era and she imparted knowledge about morality and ethics. She was one of the exponents of the concept of Dharma or (duty), which continues to hold the key position in the Bharatiya society and culture.
When the world debates on the importance of Human rights, Bharat for centuries, has found the solution through the expression of Human duties.
Sulbha Muni was a philosopher, intellectual and learned person known for her contribution in Spiritual tradition and Yog. She has authored Yoga Sutra, a text that holds esteemed position in the history of Bharatiya Philosophy and Spirituality.
The account of Sulbha, appears in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata. She was a learned scholar, single woman, Rishika and a renunciate. She was a fiery advocate for gender equality, who practised Yoga and wandered around the earth.While wandering from place to place, she heard that King Janak of Mithila was extremely devoted to the path of emancipation. In order to pursue her desire to test King Janak whether he had truthfully turned emancipate, she decided to personally interview him. Through her Yogic power, she transformed herself into a beautiful young renunciate and reached out to King Janak.When King Janak used anti – women arguments to critique Sulbha’s unconventional behaviour, she successfully established that there is no essential difference between a man and a woman; using the basis of Hindu philosophical principles.
Similarly, the lives and works of numerous Brahmavadinis such as Romasha, Ghosha, Vishwvara, Urvashi have been exemplary. They too, contributed hugely in carving out the philosophy that enriched the journey of the entire society.
The Sanatan philosophy has been empowerment of self through enrichment of the society and thus, the doctrine illustrating human duties, hold exceptional significance. The ultimate goal of attaining Moksha, was not restricted to the ones who had renounced the worldly affairs.
The duties performed by every person in whatever role, enlightened their path and engraved dutiful journey.
Bhamati was an illustrious wife of the famous literate Vachaspati Mishra in 10 CE. It is believed that Vachaspati Mishra was none other than Sri Sureshwarcharya, the disciple of Adi Shankaracharya, who took rebirth with the sole purpose of writing commentary on Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Adi Shankaracharya. Infact, he had no other worldly desire except writing this commentary and had taken a vow quite early in life that he would renounce the world after finishing his commentary.
Vachaspati’s mother had brought him up single handedly and in her old age, her only desire was to see his son married. When the mother brought the proposal of a girl from neighbouring village, Vachaspati, conveyed in amply clear terms to the girl and her father about his goal in life was service to humanity. Though the bride’s father was apprehensive of the marriage proposal, the girl (Bhamati) insisted that if she were to marry someone, it would be him.
It is believed the marriage took place on Guru Purnima and Vachaspati began his work of writing commentary on the same day. As days turned into months and months into years, Vachaspati continued penning down his Magnum Opus. He hardly rested and single mindedly occupied himself in his writing. Bhamati took care of his needs, single handedly, silently and dedicatedly. After a few years, Vachaspati Mishra completed his mega work. As he got up, he saw a woman sitting beside him but he failed in recognising her.
Noticing the questioning glare in his eyes, Bhamati informed him that he had married her a few years ago but immersed in the writing, he had forgotten her. Vachaspati was stunned and he asked Bhamati to show her hands. As Bhamati stretched out her hands, Vachaspati immediately recognised the hands that had served him meals each day and had oiled his lamp at night.
Vachaspati was filled with emotions thinking about the sacrifice done by Bhamati and expressed gratitude as well as regret that he was not able to fulfil his duties towards her for all these years. Now that he had completed his work, it was time for him to fulfil his vow of taking Sanyas. Bhamati assured him that she had entered into this marriage knowing that her husband was committed to fulfilling something that would become immortal and gave him the permission to enter the Sanyas.
Vachaspati was spellbound by the large hearted love and devotion of Bhamati towards him. Thus, he named his Magnum Opus ‘Bhamati’ and dedicated his entire work to his wife, without whose support, he could not have accomplished the purpose of his existence.Bhamati epitomises Stri-Dharma, the role of Sahadharmacharini. Hinduism perceived marriage as a divine commitment by the couple to pursue Dharma, Artha and Kama; righteous duties, prosperity and desires together.
It is the wife who facilitates the husband to attain the self actualization and vice versa.
The mediaeval era was marked with foreign invasions. It resulted in implementation of customs and rituals of the invaders. The condition of women deteriorated and her freedom was curtailed. Several systems that were prohibited, were adopted. (Sati pratha or Jauhar, Purdah system, child marriages etc) The girls restrained from learning and education and were married off in childhood.
Yet, as Silver lining, few women glittered with their strength and courage. From Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai to Queen Naika Devi to Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar to Kittur ki Rani Chennamma to Velu Nachiar and many more.They took the reins of their kingdom in their hands and dutifully ruled and protected it.
The women have always been part of Bharat’s success stories.
Currently, around 54 women scientists were involved in the Chandrayaan-3 mission. Similarly, the Bharat’s first Vaccine that saved millions of lives had around 70% of women scientists, who worked as Soldiers on mission, battling the most disparate circumstances to manufacture Bharat’s own Vaccine that not only granted a new life to Bharatiyas but also saved millions of people across the globe during the pandemic of COVID 19.
Hence, the tradition of Women Empowerment has forever prevailed in Bharat and is an integral element of Bharatiya cultural identity.
Unfortunately, the historians in Bharat, in pre-independence and for Sixty five plus years post independence, hardly cared about presenting the inspiring facts to the next generation. Thus, we remained largely unaware.
Now, as we embark on the path of Naya Bharat, the saga of Bharat’s visionary women would create a motivating ambience and more and more women would pledge to contribute in Nation Building.
The path carved by the NDA Government of Women Empowerment would ensure “Women Led Development” in time to come.