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ALPANA GHOSE

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 2/10/2015 |




GREAT WOMEN PHILOSOPHERS OF ANCIENT INDIA.

In Hinduism, the wordShakti means power, which is feminine. All  power comes from the feminine.  Therefore, we find Hindu scriptures referred to as Mother Shruti , and Knowledge itself comes to life as feminine goddess Saraswati meaning the one who gives the Spirit (Sara) of our own Self (Swa).  She sits on a lotus which represents that the teacher understands the personal knowledge of the Truth.  She holds the sacred scriptures in one hand which indicates that she upholds that scriptural knowledge alone can take us to the Truth. Patanjali & Katyayana suggest that women were educated Vedic knowledge (education at that time).  The esteem which women enjoyed in ancient times, were Seers, Sages and philosophers . Devi-sukta section of Rigveda is a courtesy of Vac (daughter of sage Ambhrna).

The greatest contribution of India to the world is her material and spiritual science. No civilization, however old it is, has ever attained the level of sophistication, reached by the great ancient Siddhas, Yogis Rishis and knowledgeable women of India in material and spiritual science.  The idea of equality was most forcibly expressed in the Rig Veda (Book 5, hymn 61. verse 8). From birth till death, Hindus perform hundreds of ceremonies and not a single of them can be performed without the presence of the wife/mother/women (Rigveda-5.102) The commentator explains this passage thus: "The wife and husband, being the equal halves of one substance, are equal in every respect; therefore both should join and take equal parts in all work, religious and secular." No other Scripture of the world have ever given to the woman such equality with the man as the Vedas of the Hindus. Swami Vivekananda had also   said “that country and that nation which did not respect women have never become great nor will ever in future”. Swamiji’s words bring us to a conclusion that the status assigned to women in any society reflects the nature of its cultural richness and the level of its civilization standards. A study of the history of status of women has therefore great importance to understand the cultural richness and the civilization standards of a particular society. 

Women of the Vedic period (around 5000-1200 BCE(before common era)) were epitomes of intellectual and spiritual attainment. The Vedas have lots to say about these women, who both complemented and supplemented their male partners. When it comes to talking about significant female figures of the Vedic period, four names – Gargi, Lopamudra, Maitreyi and Ghosha, come to mind. The ideals of Indian womanhood are also embodied in the tales of the ancient Puranas such as the Srimad Bhagavatam.


GARGI

Women of the Vedic period were prominent with their exemplary intellectuality and supreme spiritual attainment. Gargi is one of those exceptional women and one of the well known scholars and prophetess. Gargi is often cited and referred to in discussions about the place of women in Hindu and Indian tradition as the Vedic prophetess.

Gargi was named after the sage Garga, in whose lineage she was born; her last name comes from her father Vachaknu. She composed several hymns and is an author of “Gargi Samhita”.in which she questioned the origin of all existence.   When King Janak of Videha/Mithila  organized a 'brahmayajna', a philosophic congress centered on the fire sacrament, Gargi was one of the eminent participants in the world's first conference on philosophy,  as she was one of the Navaratnas in the court of King Janaka .  She challenged the sage Yajnavalkya-( A.Brahmarshi blessed by the Sun God - the master mind that introduced 'Shukla Yajurveda',)    with a volley of perturbing questions to a public debate on the soul or 'atman' that confounded the learned man who had till then silenced many eminent scholars. Her question - "The layer that is above the sky and below the earth, which is described as being situated between the earth and the sky and which is indicated as the symbol of the past, present and future, where is that situated?" - bamboozled even the great Vedic men of letters. She came there merely to know from Yajnavalkya about the Supreme Reality and not to vanquish him or to examine his knowledge.



LOPAMUDRA

Agastya the Muni, was born of both Gods and Varuna, from Urvashi and is believed to be the first sage to cross the Vindhya Range. Agastya needed to marry and wanted a son, in order to fulfill his duties to the Manus. Once he resolved upon doing this, Agastya pursued an unusual course of action: by his yogic powers, he created a female infant who possessed all the special qualities of character and personality that would be appropriate in the wife of a renunciate sage. At this time, the noble and virtuous king of Vidarbha (an area in south-central India, just south of the Vindhya mountains), was childless and was undertaking penances and offering prayers to the divinities for the gift of a child. Having come to know the plight of the king, Agastya arranged for the transformation of the child he had created form the most graceful parts of different animals He gave her  name Lopamudra which  is explained as signifying that the animals suffered loss (lopa) and  by her engrossing their distinctive beauties (mudra), as the eyes of the deer, etc. She was also called Kaushitaki and Varaprada After creating her, Agastya secretly introduced Lopamudra into the palace of the King of Vidarbha to be born as the daughter of that noble king of Vidarbha. The child thus born was named "Lopamudra".

Upon her attaining marriageable age, Agastya approached the king and sought the hand of his daughter. The king was initially chagrined to hear such a suggestion from a renunciate sage, but found that his daughter, who had already exhibited extraordinary standards of mind and character, was insistent that he should accept the proposal. She was utterly intent upon renouncing the royal palace of her father and set out to live in forest at the hermitage of Agastya.  Lopamudra and Agastya were duly married and lived a life of extraordinary happiness and bliss. It is believed that they had two sons - Bringi & Achutha. In Mahabharata (Vana Parva: Tirtha-yatra Parva), there is mention of their penance at Gangadwara (Haridwar),in Uttara Khand State in India, with the help of his wife, Lopamudra (the princess ofVidharba)  Lopamudra attained the rank of one of Mahapativrathas(Noble exalted wife), in the world by her dedication to worship her husband Agastya, and remained with other Pathivrathas like Mandodari (Ravana's wife),etc.

The Rig Veda ('Royal Knowledge') has long conversations between the sage Agastya and his wife Lopamudra that testifies to the great intelligence and goodness of her. A hymn is attributed in her name. After serving her husband faithfully for a long period, Lopa grew tired of his austere practices. She wrote a hymn of two stanzas making an impassioned plea for his attention and love. Soon afterwards, the sage realized his duties towards his wife and performed both his domestic and ascetic life with equal zeal, reaching a wholeness of spiritual and physical powers. A son was born to them. He was named Dridhasyu, who later became a great poet. Agastya   and Lopamudra together were renowned for spreading the eminence of Lalita Shahasranama or thousands name of the Divine Mother.
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MAITREYI

The Rig Veda contains about one thousand hymns, of which about 10 are accredited to Maitreyi, the woman seer and philosopher. She contributed towards the enhancement of her sage-husband Yajnavalkya's personality and the flowering of his spiritual thoughts. Yajnavalkya had two wives Maitreyi and Katyayani. While Maitreyi was well versed in the Hindu scriptures and was a 'brahmavadini', (an expounder of veda) while Katyayani was an ordinary woman. One day the sage decided to make a settlement of his worldly possessions between his two wives and renounce the world by taking up ascetic vows. He asked his wives their wishes. The learned Maitreyi asked her husband if all the wealth in the world would make her immortal. The sage replied that wealth could only make one rich, nothing else. She then asked for the wealth of immortality. Yajnavalkya was happy to hear this, and imparted Maitreyi the doctrine of the soul and his knowledge of attaining immortality.Yajnavalkya taught Maitreyi   the system of logical induction. There is a proposition; there is an argument and there is a conclusion. The proposition was the great teaching of Yājñavalkya to Maitreyī, and it was substantiated by arguments of various kinds. The arguments were studied in the form of conversations and lastly they came to the conclusion that the proposition is correct. Teaching of Yājñavalkya to Maitreyī, where he explained that all love was love of God. All love is love of the Absolute, and there is no love other than that.Yājñavalkya sums up his teaching to Maitreyī, saying that in the state of liberation there is no external consciousness; there is no desire of any kind; there is nothing to be seen or sensed or understood or thought, because of the fact that all beings are consumed in its own Existence.


GHOSHA

Vedic wisdom is encapsulated in myriad hymns and 27 women-seers emerge from them. One of them is Ghosha . Granddaughter of Dirghatamas and daughter of Kakshivat, both composers of hymns in praise of Ashwins. Rig Veda describes them as God of hundred powers who strives for others to do good. They are Vedic gods symbolizing the shining of sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot, bringing treasures to men and averting misfortune and sickness. They are the doctors of gods and are devas of Ayurvedic medicine.  Ghosha has two entire hymns of the tenthmandala (book) of Rig Veda, 39&40 each containing 14 verses, assigned to her name. The first hymn was in praise formally and eloquently of the Ashwins, the heavenly twins who are also physicians; the second hymn is a personal wish expressing her intimate feelings and desires for married life. But Ghosha was suffering from an incurable disfiguring disease, probably leprosy, and remained a spinster at her father's house. Her implorations with the Ashwins, and the devotion of her forefathers towards them made them cure her disease and allow her to experience wedded bliss.

Other than these four great women of ancient India there some other names also Surya,  Yami, Indrani, Apala, lilavati  etc. highlight the esteem which women enjoyed in ancient times. Deterioration of position of woman in the society: When we read the lives of above philosophers we see that Women enjoyed an equal status with men in ancient India. Women were educated, had a say in family matters, took important decisions of life and were free to choose their own husbands. The ancient system of "Swayamvara" is mentioned in holy scripts and also in many epics. A woman in ancient India was respected and was given due importance in the society. Child marriage was unheard of. With time, women started to lose their importance and their status began to wane. The freedom given to women was curtailed slowly and was not allowed to voice their opinions in public matters in a society. Though it is difficult to specify the exact chronological time as to when the deterioration in women’s status started,  gradual changes started detoriating around 1500 B.C. and by the age  A.D.500 to A.D. 1800 the status had deteriorated considerably.


The status of women further   declined with the advent of Islamic invasion and then Christian   era, curtailing the women’s freedom & rights. Since life, property & chastity of women barely had values to invaders, each community put walls of social norms to protect their women-resulting into child marriages (before a girl could be of an age attractive enough to be abducted),the shaving of widows heads (to make them look unattractive), Purdah pratha, Dudhpiti, the practice of Sati, Jawhar vrata  etc. Since then, women have not been able to enjoy the same liberty as they used to have. But Indian women were not deterred they started to gain their lost glory from pre-independence period.Rani Laxmi bai  of Jhansi did not remain under veil, she went to battle ground and fought till her last breath.  Kadambini Ganguly (Gangopadhay, nee Basu) (1861- 1923 , the daughter of Brajakishore Basu, an enthusiastic Bhrama leader and a pioneer of the women’s liberation movement, became the first Indian lady doctor of India. Capt Laxmi Saigal born in 1914, doctor by profession fought for Indian independence shown the path of freedom to Indian women who were in the dark veil of customs and ignorance.              

Since independence, successful endeavors have been made to gain back the same liberty and status of women. The constitution of India guarantees equal status to women with that of men. And as history repeats itself, woman metamorphosed & saw herself, again, marching shoulder to shoulder with males in every sphere of the life. Though much has been done, we still have a long way to go before we shed our blind beliefs, taboos or social stigmas and start recognizing & respecting her individuality.

Swami Vivekananda words can never fail. He said that Holy Mother Sri Sarda devi is the highest manifestation of power (Shakti), from her power many more Gargis, Maitreyis will be born and now we   can   see how women of our country  have progressed to become Rocket woman -Tessy Thomas propelling rocket, Sunita Williams the space traveler. Kalpana Chawla who dedicated her life for space research, and   so many women have   taken  part in the research of finding God particle. Ending a note with a quote by PB Shelley  – “Can man be free if woman be a slave?”


Ref.

Vedic literature is divided by tradition into two categories: Shruti – that which is heard (traditionally understood as revelation) and Smriti – that which is remembered (stemming from human authors, not revelation). The Vedas constituting the former category are considered sacred texts or scripture by many followers of Hindu religion. The post-Vedic scriptures form the latter category: the various shastras and the itihaasas, or histories in epic Sanskrit verse. Holding an ambiguous position between the Upanishads of the Vedas and the epics, the Bhagavad Gita is considered to be revered scripture by most Hindus today.                                                                                

 "Vedic Women: Loving, Learned, Lucky!". Retrieved 2006-12-24.
 Mahendra Kulasrestha (2006). The Golden Book of Rigveda. Lotus Press. p. 221. ISBN 978-81-8382-010-3.
 Vettam Mani (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 291. ISBN 978-0-8426-0822-0.
Kadambini Ganguly (Gangopadhay, nee Basu) was the daughter of Brajakishore Basu, an enthusiastic Bhrama leader and a pioneer of the women’s liberation movement.

ALPANA GHOSE


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