Written by : Osheen Singh, 4th year, BBALLB(H), Bennett University, Viplav Tiwari, 4th year, BBALLB(H), Bennett University
According to Indian Jurisprudence, Dharma in a very basic sense means duty as it explains the duty of every individual like a duty of a King is to look after and protect its kingdom. These duties include religious, spiritual, social and legal duty which may change from person to person. Dharma was, for the first time, discussed in Rig Veda which means the foundation of the universe. These scriptures believe that life was created by God, infusing the principles of Dharma in all the living beings and that every individual must follow his Dharma and receiving salvation is the eternal Dharma in Hinduism. During the Rig Vedic period, true Dharma was followed where both men and women enjoyed equal status in society. The Vedas declare the shakti as the supreme, the essence of all, the omega and alpha and the one who generates everything. The status and role of women has been described well in Rig Veda. The book of Mahabharata states that “Wife is the sacred soil in which the husband is born again, even the Rishis cannot create men without women”.
During Vedic period, they were given good education to make them independent. Women like Gosha, Apala, Lopamudra and Saci are one of the many intellectuals who became prominent figures for writing hymns. There was the culture of organizing Swamyar, where the daughter had the opportunity to choose the best groom for herself, they even used to attend public gatherings to meet and socialize with potential grooms and also there was no practice of child marriage. Hindus have always believed in worshipping the God and Goddess together, Rama with Sita, Shiva and Shakti, Vishnu and Laxmi, even the Ardhnariswara avatar depicts that Shiva and Shakti reside in the single body with Shiva on the right side and Shakti on the left and this avatar is the source of creation.
During the Vedic period, women were economically independent; they used to help their husband in agricultural activities or work as cloth spinners, weavers, etc. Arthashastra says that woman should carry all her personal property like jwellery, silver coins, etc in her possession and that husband should use it only in extreme cases.
Their role in religious activities was very dominant. They had the liberty to perform religious tasks as per their ability and choice and were also encouraged to participate in religious debates. Women like Gargi and Maitreyi were known for their deep knowledge. Visvavara acted as a priest in sacrifices, Romasha and Loopamudra are one of those several women that revealed hymns. Apala, Ghosa, Aditi, are those that shared their wisdom and they instructed even the divine beings like Indra. These women were known as Brahmavadinis and they lived their life spiritually and were called as revealers of Brahman. It was believed that rituals performed by women were the most powerful because it provides salvation to her whole family. Scriptures mention that a woman, after marriage, is meant to rule over the family with her husband like a queen. Vedas proclaim that a home where a woman is respected and loved, there is the place where divine blessings reside. Even the sacred rituals lose its significance when the family does not treat female members well.
During this Vedic era, women enjoyed excellent status concerning education. Girls used to pursue several subjects while observing celibacy. Philosophy and logic were the areas where they showed exceptional prowess. They were quiet familiar with the verses and sholakas of Rig Veda and used to sing it. Some of these pandits were Urvashi, Appala and Ghosha. There were Acharyas also like Khema and Subhadra who were famous for their teachings and lectures. In the story of Mahabharata, Kunti had a deep knowledge of the Atharvaveda. In Ramayana, we can see the mentions of women that remained unmarried and pursued the lifelong learning. Atreyi received her education in the ashram of Valmiki with Luv and Kush, Amba and Shekhawat attended the same school, this shows that there was the culture of co-ed education also.
In the Vedic civilization, women held an important place in politics. As per Atharvaveda, women were considered as crucial members of society, they received military training just like men. Vedic women actively participated in political matters, like Vispala aiding in battles and even being healed by the Asvins with an iron leg after losing one in combat. Women like Rajasuya, Vajapeya, Asvamedha, Purusamedha, and Sarvamedha were greately associated with social and political life. This evidence strongly suggests that women had actively maintained their political roles during the Vedic era.
Beside these, bearing and raising children was an important role for women. Despite some descriptions in the Smritis painting a negative picture, women’s status was not terrible. They were supposed to be well taken care of, provided with all necessities according to their husband’s wealth. It was believed that mistreating or abusing wives was unacceptable to the Gods, and offerings from such men would not be accepted. In that era, women were seen as ideal homemakers, capable of managing even the toughest situations due to their remarkable calmness of mind. They were taught and guided in the names of revered goddesses such as Saraswati, Durga, Parvati and Kali.
Over the period of time, significant changes occurred in the status of women. Initially, during the Smriti age, a decline in women’s social status was noticeable. This deterioration continued over a thousand years. Practices like child marriage and Sati emerged during this period, contributing to the worsening conditions for Hindu women. Subsequent Muslim invasions further deteriorated the social, political, economic, and cultural lives of Hindu women, introducing practices like pardah pratha, Sati, and polygamy. Today even though many legislations have been made to restore the status of women however, the crimes like rape, sexual harassment, dowry, etc still present in this patriarchal society because somewhere people have not yet accepted the fact that men and women are equal. Today, society has degraded the status of women from a divine being to a mere object of gratification. The Vedic era indeed has much to teach to this generation
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· Atharva Veda XIV-I, p. 43-44
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