” A wife is half the man, his truest friend;
A loving wife is perpetual spring
Of virtue, pleasure,wealth; a faithful wife
Is his best aid in seeking heavenly bliss;
A sweetly speaking wife is a companion
In solitude, a father in advice,
A mother in all seasons in distress,
A rest in passing through life’s wilderness.”
Great Hindu Epic
People of the western civilization are mistaken when they say that Christianity was the religion that elevated the position of women. Or when they say that the development of social and physical sciences opened the eyes of men and made them more just and humane towards women. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
In the Hindu religion, all wisdom is supposed to have come from Maa Saraswati, a women worshipped by every Hindu. Maa meaning Mother if you hadn’t guessed yet. Please take note of the Hindu idea of Motherhood of God.
There are huge numbers of misconceptions about Hindu women and in this article I shall try to paint the real picture. In fact there are so many that it is beyond the scope of this article to tackle each one of them. For now focus is on some of the biggest, and in the coming articles I shall take a look at the others.
Major Misconceptions about Hindu women.
1. Exclusion from society
This has to be one of the biggest delusions of the western world and of the semi literate, so-called, Liberal intelligentsia of this nation. In Rigveda, one of the Vedas, it is clearly mentioned that young men and women were free to mix together and married women did not have to rot in the confines of their homes as was widely publicized during the colonial era. In fact the exclusion from society which was found in Indian subcontinent had nothing to do with Hinduism.
It was a direct result of the Muslim Invasion. They also brought in the purdah system, which was adopted up to some extent by the Hindu women for self-defence as the Muslim Invaders knew no limits when it came to destroying the civil and cultural roots of our great nation. There are many parts of our country where the Purdah system doesn’t exist at all as these areas had no contact with the Muslim invaders. But we shall deal with those causes in a later post, for now it remains that women had a social life in Hinduism.
Women had a right to own personal property and in the situation of her death the said property went to her daughter and not to her husband or son. Women in Hindu families had great influence and more often than not there was a Grandmother running the family affairs with an Iron Rod.
The famous story of Shakuntala and King Dushyant needs to be mentioned here in which she boldly snubbed him and pointed out his flaws. Hinduism allowed such pleasures to women. In fact no Pooja, Prayer, can be successful if a wife dosen’t join her Husband in it, and the husband would face the wrath of the Gods if he keeps her out. A wife didn’t adopt her husband’s name in ancient and medieval ages. Only after the advent of the Europeans this practice came in effect and that too to a very small extent. A lot else can be said on the social and cultural privileges that women receive in Hinduism but I think the essence has been delivered.
2. Not allowed to read and write
I am greatly offended when I hear people saying that Hindu women were not allowed to read and write and their only use was for giving birth to children. This is the biggest lie the civil societies in the colonial India sold to the world. Please remember that we don’t have a God of Education instead we have a Goddess and she is called Maa Saraswati. We have had a number of Women Rishis( Seers of truth). Actually four out of the seven most famous saints of Malabar are women. Who doesn’t know the famous Mathematician Lilavati. Her writings are still read in native schools. There are hymns in the Rigveda composed by women. Harvard laureates disagree to this fact and pass sexually crude statements on the Rigveda authors. I shall deal with them in a later post.
During the British rule, Women from Hindu families were not allowed to go to missionary schools. This is a fact and I don’t contradict it. But please ask yourself this what would the Vatican people,or for that matter the Britishers or the Americans, do if Hindus open their schools in their countries and start teaching that “whatever your religion teaches, is a lie, If you worship Jesus you will surely go to hell. Your God is a dead God”. Yes I think you have the answer now. This is exactly what the mission did in India. They were here for the sole purpose of converting Hindus to Christianity. Every step was taken to break the religious beliefs of Hindus and there was a systematic approach towards it.
3. Child Marriage, Forced Marriage and the Sati
In Rigveda, there are hymns which clearly state that women upon attaining a marriageable age went looking for husbands. There goes the child marriage and forced marriage for you. Yes Hindu girls were considered marriageable at the age of 13-14, most scholars agree to that. To a Britisher this age might be childhood, but there is an obvious explanation to that – Puberty, fact of the matter is that Hinduism has never supported girls to become wives before they attained complete womanhood. Even if a girl was married at 13/14 she used to live with her father for another 2-9 years depending upon her progress in training she received to become a wife. It was a grand system and nothing about it meant child-marriage.
There was a time when we had Hindu rulers, and there was an excellent system of marriage called the Swayamabar, swayam means self and bar means Groom. Girls were allowed to choose from a group of men who contested in various fields to win over the girl in question. Does this look like forced marriage to you? Then came the Muslims with all their charms and Hindus were forced to drop this system of marriage. Muslims had different beliefs and their view of a full life was different from rest of the world, as it has dawned upon us in the last decade or so. We didn’t want to mix with them and so shifted to the betrothal system to save our culture and beleifs and started marrying our boys and girls at a small age.
Marriage for the Hindus meant spiritual union of the couple. The Sanskrit word for wife is सहधर्मिनी (Sahadharmini), also meaning spiritual partner. As I mentioned earlier Gods can not be worshiped and Prayers won’t be heard if both wife and husband didn’t pray together. This was the depth of relationship they shared, knowing each others prayers! No wonder we didn’t have any divorce suits filed.
Now the all important Sati. For those of you don’t know what Sati was, it was a practice in which the women was cremated(burned with the corpse) alive with her Husband in case of his death. There is not one mention of Sati in any of the Vedas or even in Manusmriti, which the so-called feminists regard as the most anti-women Religious book. Not one mention! No, I am not denying that it was for real, but Hinduism never sanctioned it. Now let us look at the real reason for such inhuman practice coming into being. When the Muslim invaded India, they treated the widows of the soldiers so mercilessly that the women preferred being burnt alive. It often happened that at the cremation of her husband the widow in despair threw herself in the burning fire. Now you understand why Islam is called the religion of peace! Yeah, that’s right. Slowly and steadily this practice caught fire by perverted teachings of some priests and we started burning all widows alive. Its a huge lie when they say that the “Christian Government” suppressed it. It was practically suppressed by Hindus themselves and Lord Bentick only did it officially. But Thank God that it was.
In this post I looked at the three biggest misinterpretations about Hindu women. I shall endeavour to do some more in a recent post. Concluding for now, it is clear by a careful examination of religious texts and social customs that women enjoyed a very high status in our religion and they still do. In our religion another word for God is अर्धनारीश्वर ( Ardha-Nari-iswar), Ardha meaning half, Nari meaning Female and Iswar meaning God. Half-Female.
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Jai Hind, Jai Hindu.