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Women Authors And Seers In Rig Veda

At least 27 women authors and seers, called brahmavadinis (scholars of high excellence), may be identified in Rig Veda. Of these, some (like Aditi, Juhu, Indrani, Sarama, Urvashi, Ratri and Surya) are referred to as divine or semi-divine beings. Some (like Sri, Medha, Dakshina and Shraddha) appear as personifications of abstract ideas. There are about 9 to ten brahmavadini who are women, who composes verses assigned to them. Among them are Visvavara, Apala, Ghosha, Godha (wife of Vasukra), Lopamudra, Saswati and Romasa. The name of Vak is also included in the list. The hymns praise the various deities worshipped by the Aryans and speak of their own joys and sorrows of life. The hymns thus convey devotion and can be taken to be prayers.

Sarvaukramanika assigns the following hymns of Rig Veda I.179, V.28, VII 91, IX 81, 11-20 and X.39 and 40 to Lopamudra, Visvavara, Sikata Nivavari and Ghosha, respectively. Indrani and Sachi contributed X.145 and 159 respectively.

A remarkable hymn found in the tenth mandala of Rig Veda (10 – 125) is assigned to Vak. It is an inspired verse and is given a high place in the history of Indian thought. The women seer in the hymn conceives her unity with the universe as the source and regulating spirit of all things as she chants:

I walk with the Rudras and the Vasus
I with the Adityas and all gods
I am the queen, the bestower of riches
I make him a Brahma, a sage and a seer
Thence I spread through all the worlds

This hymn seeks unity in diversity and is an emotional realization of what is transcendental. This has become a part of Devi Suktam (hymns on Devi). It is employed in the autumnal worship by the Shakta worshipers of the Goddess. In later times, the seer Vak came to be identified with Vak Saraswati, the Goddess of speech, or with the abstract Sabda Brahman (logos), or even with Shakti (the principle of primeval energy).

The verses assignable to other women seers display unrestrained expression of their intimate joys and sorrows of life. They also show the high position occupied by women in Rig Vedic times. The hymn of six verses is assigned to Visvavara of the Atri family. She approaches the blazing sacrificial fire at dawn with her face towards the east. She offers oblations to the gods and prays for love and happiness in wedded life in these words : ‘O Fire…the lord of immortality…ensure our great good fortune…make the wedded life fully restrained…”

These hymns testify to the fact that Visvavara not only composed the hymn but herself performed the sacrifice in her own right.

Hymn 891, assigned to Apala, gives us the story of Apala of Atri family. A married woman, she was afflicted with a skin disease that prevented growth of hair; she was discarded by her husband. She worshiped Indra with soma juice, fried grains, cakes and chants of praise. He gave her three boons which, besides making her fair skinned and disease free, made even her father’s bald head grow hair and his barren field grow corn.

The longest contribution was made by Ghosha to Rig Veda X 39 – 40, each containing 14 verses. Her grandfather was Dirghatamas and her father Kaksivat. They composed hymns in praise of the Ashwins. She had white leprosy and hence could not get married. She prayed to the Ashwins, who cured her of her disease, and she enjoyed her wedded life. The first group of verses refers to the curative powers of the Ashwins and the second expresses her personal feelings and desires. The Rig Vedic hymn 10.41 is said to have been composed by her son, Suhastya.

The other women seers, like Mandhari and Godha, wrote few stanzas. They are eulogies on Indra and the Visvadevas. While the wife of Vasukra sings a hymn in honor of Indra, the sister of Agastya (name unknown) gives a heroic call to King Asamati of the Ikshvaku family to come to the aid of her son.

We have interesting references in these hymns to war-like and sport-loving women. Vispala, the wife of khela, had a leg severed in a battle, but it was replaced by another limb by the Ashwins (1.116.15). Mudgala is said to have won a fight (or a chariot race) with the aid of his wife, Mudgatani, as the charioteer.

Lopamudra, wife of Agastya, contributes two stanzas “dedicated to love”, where she makes an impassioned appeal to her husband for his love and company (1.179.1-2). Sasvati, who is called Nari, expresses joy at her husband’s recovery of lost manhood (1.179.6), Romasa, the wife of Bhavayavya, expresses her gladness on attaining puberty and challenges her husband (1.126.6).

Expressions of womanly passion also find a place in the sacred text.

Continuing this rich scholarly tradition, we find among the authors and scholars, to whose memory a daily tribute of respect enjoined at the time of Brahma Yajna, the names of women like Sulabha, Maitreyi, Vadava, Prathiteyi and Gargi Vachaknavi (Asvalayana Grihya Sutra III 4.4) are mentioned.