--> Skip to main content

Women in Hinduism

Hindu Scriptures see women as equal (not just women but all living beings) but in real life equality is missing and is conveniently ignored. Recently I came across an article titled ‘Original Hindu scriptures saw women as equal’ in The Huntsville Times by Dr. Narayana P. Bhat, a secretary of the board of trustees of the Hindu Cultural Center of North Alabama. In a very short article he describes how various Hindu scriptures see women and why Hindus should return to the Vedic tradition which treated women equally.

A highlight of the article is that Mr Bhat is not oblivious of reality and states that there are Hindu scriptures which have writings denigrating women and also about the present status of women in Hindu society, which is not very encouraging.

Here are some excerpts from the article

The documentary account of women in Hinduism is dependent on the specific scripture and the context.

That women and men are equal in the eyes of dharma (righteousness) is made explicit in a beautiful verse from the Rig Vveda: "O women! These mantras (holy chants) are given to you equally (as to men). May your thoughts, too, be harmonious. May your assemblies be open to all without discrimination."

Many seers were women in the Vedic period. Indeed, several of them authored many of the verses in the Vedas. The Rigveda lists the names of some of the well-known women seers: Ghoshsha, Godha, Vishwawra, Apala, Sri, Laksha and many others.

What is the gender of the Supreme Brahman? Philosophically, the Brahman is considered formless and attributeless and is transcendental to such considerations. The visible form of Brahman is widely worshipped not only as Vishnu and Siva, but also as their consorts Lakshmi and Shakti, an embodiment of power.

It is not without reason, then, that women are identified with Shakti in our civilization. If women are kept suppressed, this Shakti will be denied to the family and the society, weakening all of them.

Other ancient scriptures address women. Positive references were made to the ideal woman in texts of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Bhagavata Purana states that the Mahabharata was written specifically for women.

Manusmriti, on the other hand, is an ancient text based on the interpretation of the Vedas containing the law codes for the ancient Hindu society. It has writings denigrating women as the root cause of all evils, but the same text also extols the virtues of women: "Women are worthy of worship. They are the fate of the household, the lamp of enlightenment for all in the household. They bring solace to the family and are an integral part of dharmic life."

The primary reason for this apparent contradiction is a genuine misreading or misinterpretation of the original transcripts of the Vedas, which often contain terse aphorisms and were handwritten on palm leaves.

If in many households in traditional Hindu lands brides are badly treated, then this is the fault not of Vedic traditions, but of the decay of these traditions caused by our own neglect.

This is the testimony to the enlightenment of the Vedas and the Vedic period. Many common social issues such as remarriage of women, widow remarriage, ownership and inheritance of property by women and so on were permitted in the Vedic period.

Present-day women and men can draw strength from Vedic traditions to ensure that women get their rightful place in our society.