The book profiles twelve such legendary women including Ambika, Devahuti, Draupadi, Parvati, Saraswati, Sad, Shakuntala and Sita. All these women belong to the early Vedic times and are still revered for their extraordinary powers and roles. They symbolize the virtues that 1-.hnduism ordains its followers to pursue, establishing the fact that essence of the joy of life lies in pure, sacred and ever widening conjugal love.
Women in Indian Mythology should be of interest to the students of philosophy, indology, Indian history, women studies, and all others who wish to know more about the role of women in general and during the Vedic period in particular.
ML Ahuja, MA, DLL DCS, has over thirty books to his credit, He is the recipient of Janseva Sadbhavana Award (2006), Bharat Gaurav Award (2007) and Rajiv Gandhi Rashtriya Ekta Samman (2009). He was the Area Representative of International Association of Orientals Librarians for three years and is now Executive Secretary of Afro-Asian Book Council. He is associated with book publishing as well as marketing of books and journals in India since 1959. He has traveled extensively both within and outside India and has presented a number of papers at several national and international seminars. He has also contributed a number of articles to journals and books.
Right from the days of Vedas, women have not lagged behind men. During the Vedic period, many of them were epitomes of intellectual and spiritual attainment. They complemented and supplemented their male partners. Vedic wisdom is encapsulated in myriad hymns—twenty-seven women-seers emerged from them. Some of them have been the basis for inspiration to both men and women for centuries.
Of all the organized religions of the world, women have perhaps the most prominent presence in Hinduism, both visible as well as invisible. As sages, women have borne the revealed word. As spiritual and religious teachers, Hindu women have sustained our dharma in various ways down the ages. As noble queens and as warriors, Hindu women have protected our faith from disintegrating into extinction. As musicians, dancers, and artists, they have been the embodiment of all that is beautiful. As mothers, they have been our first teachers. As wives, they have provided the locus around which family and social life revolves. As daughters, they have taught us compassion and as our guides, they have made many men into great human beings.
While it is true that in Vedas, the word man is used in a generic manner to denote ‘human beings’, authoritative grammar and ritual texts emphasize that this is merely a figure of speech, and that man and woman together constitute two halves of the same person while performing Vedic sacred rites between man and woman. The language in which the revealed Hindu texts are composed, namely, Sanskrit, has a neuter gender in addition to the masculine and feminine. In fact, the ultimate reality, the Supreme God of Hindus, is often described as neutral gender. A verse of Rzgveda says that all the various deities are but descriptions of One Truth (eleam sai, and it is in neuter gender as if to emphasize that God is not male. Gqyatri Mantra, the holiest prayer of Hindus, in classical Hinduism in Vedas, is often represented symbolically as a devi. She is thus a female deity; who is also often termed as the Mother of all Vedas, and giver of boons.
In scriptures, God is described like the husband of all human beings. In Vedas, however, we even read that God is like a dear wife whom the worshipper loves like a doting husband. The divine word itself is likened to a beautiful maiden who manifests her beauty to the husband.
As goddesses (devis), women are worshipped as mothers of even the most powerful male deities (devtas’). Devi Aditi is thus the mother of all prominent devatas, such as Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Rudras, Indra, of kings. and Many other excellent sons. She is invoked as the mistress of the Cosmic Order, omnipotent, protector, mother of the devout worshipper, and a wise guide of all humans. In Vedas, devatas are hardly mentioned without corresponding dens. Almost, as a rule, the sage, the worshipper, and the ritualistic invoke devats to manifest along with devis, and Partake in the sacred oblations poured into the sacred fire alter.
The Ramayana illustrated the inseparability of Lord Narayana and Lakshmi. It shows that when we surrender to God, it must be to the divya dampati (divine couple), and it is not possible to think of the Lord without His consort or vice versa. When King Janaka offers Sita’s hand in marriage to Rama, he says, 1yam Sita Mame Sutaa Sahadharma Chaaree Tava. Here he says that Sita will help Rama carry out his dharma. When Rama prepares to leave for the forest, Lakshmana addresses both Rama and Sita, saying that while he (Rama) spends time in the company of Vaidehi, he (Lakshmana) will serve them in their waking hours, and when they are asleep. Thus, Lakshmana shows that one must adopt equal attitude to the Lord and the Goddess Mahalakshmi. The observance of Akampana and Soorpanaka in the epic also shows the inseparability of Rama and Sita. Akampana says if Ravana wants to defeat Rama, he must take Sita away from him. Soorpanaka goes a step further. Though she is a demoness she reveals through her words her grasp of the concept of godhead. Though Ravana, a learned person, might have conquered many worlds, there may be many who pay him obeisance, but he lacks the most essential requisite of the Parabrahmam, the presence of Lakshmi. Again, when Anjaneya goes to Lanka (no Sri Lanka), and sees Sita, he conjures up a mental image of Rama and Sita as a couple and remarks that they match each other in all respects. Anjaneya says that Rama and Sita are able to bear the pangs of separation only because Situ remains enthroned in Rama’s heart and he in hers. When he returns to Rama after meeting Sita, Anjaneya first turns in the direction of Lanka and worships Situ, before he turns towards Rama and prostrates before him.
Again, the Divine Mother is termed as Shakti or the ‘Supreme Power’, as ‘Uma’ or the sacred wisdom, as Maheshvari or the supreme goddess, etc. In numerous iconic representations, God is shown as ardhanarishvara or ‘God who is half woman’, to emphasise that either God has no gender or he is both man and woman. Even male deities, such as Lord Vishnu, sometimes incarnate as a women to serve the cause of dharma. The devi herself is often said to combine the powers of all male deities including Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
In the Vaishnava tradition, which is the most prevalent Hindu tradition today, God, as explained above, is worshipped as Vishnu together with ‘Shri’, who is also addressed variously as ‘Lakshmi’. They incarnate together and their incarnations, namely, that of Rama and Sita, respectively, and so on, are also worshipped as a couple. Their equal reverence can be assessed from the words of sage Parashar, ‘0 Maitreyi! Always a companion of Vishnu and the Mother of this Universe, Devi Lakshmi is eternal. Vishnu is omnipresent, so is She. If she is speech, Vishnu is the object of description. Vishnu is the law, and she is the policy. Lord Vishnu is knowledge, she is intelligence; he is dharma, she is good karma; if Vishnu is the creator, she is the creation that abides eternally with him. He is the mountain, she is earth. He is the virtue of contentment, she is the all-satisfying. If Lord Vishnu is desire, she is the object of desire. He is the sacred Vedic ritual, she is the priestly fee
Lord Rama is worshipped with his wife Sita. Lord Krishna is worshipped with Radha or with Devi Rukmini. Again, when God is worshipped as a divine couple by Hindus, the name of the feminine typically precedes that of masculine. For instance, we worship ‘Sita—Ram’, ‘Radhe—Shyam’, ‘Uma—Mahesh’ or ‘Shri—Vishnu’, and so on. In the sacred stories of Hindu texts, Ganesha is considered more as his mother Parvati’s son than that of his father, Shiva. According to some versions, Parvati created Ganesh out of her own power because she wanted a son whom only she could call her own. Ganesh is typically worshipped as a child, and is often depicted along with his brother, Skanda, together with their all-powerful mother.
In numerous Hindu communities of Bangladesh, Nepal, and India, Durga Puja, the most prominent festival in the year is dedicated to the Divine Mother. During Diwali, the most important festival in northern India and amongst Hindu communities in the Caribbean, the man worship is offered to Devi Lakshmi. Diwali itself is often called ‘Lakshmi Puja’. A period of nine nights every year is devoted to the worship of numerous manifestations of the Mother. It is celebrated as Durga Puja festival in eastern India and as Navaratri in Gujarat as the major festival.
For Hindus, God is not essentially a fatherly figure. He is mother and father combined. In Hindu mythology, nature and earth are uniformly referred to as Mother Nature (Prakritz) and kindly mother earth (PrithviMata). God and nature are sometimes depicted as husband and wife who create the inanimate and animate universe together just as mother and father give birth to children. The words of sage Parashar in a hymn should make it further clear, ‘0 Earth, my Mother, establish me securely in spiritual and material happiness, and in full account with Heaven. 0 Wise One! Uphold me in grace and splendour.’
It has been held traditionally that Devi Annapurna is the presiding deity of food grains. It is in sharp contrast to the prevalent view in most of the cases that man is bread-earner in the family. Similarly, forests that provide us many resources are said to be presided over by devis who are known as Vanadevis (vana = forest). There are numerous Findus rituals involving the veneration of trees, plants, and forests in their feminine form.
It is Mother Ganga, Mother Yamuna, Mother Kaveri, and so on, who have manifested as rivers to feed mankind. Rivers, their confluences, and their origins form prominent Hindu pilgrim centers. The evening worship of Mother Ganges in the pilgrim centre of Haridwar with hundreds of lamps set afloat on the river at night is a mesmerizing spectacle.
India is termed as motherland and not fatherland. It is in recognition of the fact that the land we live in sustains us in the same way as our own mother. We, in India, worship our country as Bharat,, zaia. According to a verse attributed to Lord Rama, one’s mothers as well as motherland are more exalted than Heaven. When a family enters their new home, they invoke God with a request to dwell therein in a benevolent feminine form to make it come alive. Household women play a leading role in this ceremony, and the wife is the first one to enter the new home, as the wife is regarded as grthjiala/eshmi or the embodiment of Devi Lakshmi.
The close connection of womenwithVedas, the textregarded as divine revelation in Hindu dharma, may be judged from the fact that out of the 407 sages associated with the revelation of Rigveda, twenty-one are women. Many of these marn’ras (hymns) are quite significant. An invocatory mantra of the Atharvaveda addresses divinity as a devi, the Goddess who, while present in waters, fulfills all our desires and hopes. In the Atharvaveda, the entire fourteenth book dealing with marriages, domestic issues, etc. is attributed to a woman sage. Portions of other nineteen books are also attributed to women sages.
Both male and female deities are extolled in the hymns of all revealed texts of Hindus and in the family prayers of all the ten lineages of Vedic sages. Numerous schools of Vedic tradition customarily offer homage to women sages during their daily prayers. The superlative epithets used uniformly to denote female deities like Ushas, Saraswati, etc., in Vedas describe them as sweetly smiling, the first or foremost of deities to whom worship is offered, the shining ones, splendid and beautiful, possessors of wisdom, teachers of mankind, and as powers capable of fulfilling the desires of human beings.
The foremost of Vedic women seers had been Ghosha, the granddaughter of Dirghatamas and daughter of Kakshivat. Her implorations with Ashwins and the devotion of her forefathers towards them made them cure her disease and allow her to experience wedded bliss. The long conversations of sage Agasthya and his wife Lopamudra narrated in the Rzgveda testify to the great intelligence of Lopamudra. Maitreyi contributed towards the enhancement of her sage husband Yajnavalkya’s personality. Gargi, the Vedic prophetess and daughter of sage Vachaknu, composed several hymns that questioned the origin of all existence.
Madalasa, the daughter of Vishvasu, the Gandharva king, was a great inspiration to her son, Ritdhvaj. When Shatrujit died, Ritdhvaj took the position of king and engaged in the royal duties. She enlightened her son with spiritual knowledge in songs she sang to him. Sati, the daughter of Prajapati Daksha, from the Puranas, did not tolerate the dishonour of her husband.
Lord Shiva. Anusuya was a woman who could bring back the life of a dead sage due to the power of her own austerity and devotion to her husband. She showed that devotion to a qualified husband gives the wife fame, power, and is the fulfillment of her dharma. Sita in the Ramqyana is the perfect example of womanly and wifely virtues and holds one of the highest places among women in Vedic culture and of women’s character. Draupadi in the Mahabharatais the epitome of righteousness. The devotion of Savitri to her husband, Satyavan, saved her husband from Yama, the god of death. In the Kena Upanishatra knowledge appears as Uma, a woman, to dispel the ignorance of Indra. Parvati, through her intense austerities, was able to match Shiva’s awesome powers by creating incredible energy in her yoga meditations and gain enough energy to attract the attention of the supreme deity, Brahma. After marriage with Shiva, Parvati inspired her consort to accept pleasure into his life and become the patron of arts. Shiva now became the Lord of Dance ensuring that the energy created by his asceticism was channelled for the entertainment of all mankind.
No better example of male—female love in this world can be cited than that of Gopi-Krishna love. Gopi-Krishna love has been likened to passionate and self-less love of a devotee towards the Supreme Being. Love is God because the best thing of true happiness we know on earth is love. Ego simply does not exist with love. Love fulfills the heart so deeply that it ceases to yearn for anything else. Our soul desires to grow in love, but if our subconscious mind hides so many ambitions, they impede its growth. An innocent Gopi-like housewife leaves the care of all the major problems to her husband. She relaxes, realising that her Master is a greater power to take care of her. The foremost concern of Gopis is to love Krishna like Gopisouls with all their heart, soul, and mind. Mahamati Prannath, who brought new dimension to Hinduism during Aurangzeb’s time, said that womanhood of a Gopi is an acceptable form of mental framework to reach the supreme lover Krishna of Paramdham. The tradition of Gopi-Krishna worship by saints like Surdas, Meera, and Mahamati Prannath and the description of Raas-Li/a indirectly reminds us that we do not know of any other phenomenon where we lose ourselves so completely and through which we could describe in human language of what happens to the soul when she loses herself completely into the supreme bliss of love plays of Krishna and Gopis. To this, the Vedantis say that the river has merged into the ocean, and the Buddhists say that the river has just disappeared. Marriage among Hindus, therefore, is analogous to merging of two noble souls where each one has to be oblivious of one’s individuality In the Hindu tradition, among women from the Mahabharata and the Ramajana, who are especially revered, are the following:
Draupadi, Tara, Ahalya, Mandodari, Sita, Savitri, Sati, and Damayanti. They are worshipped by Hindus as divine women of dharma, noted for unwavering devotion to their husbands, and for standing by them through all ups and downs in their lives. These together with Maitreyi and Gargi, described above, should be an inspiration to the succeeding generations. Keeping this in view, the following pages of this book, Women in Hindu Mjitholggy, bring to focus values that some of the feminine characters in Vedas, the Ramajyana, and the Mahabbara cherished with the hope that the succeeding generations shall follow their footsteps.
In my efforts to present before you the lives and contributions of all such women, I have consulted a number of books from various libraries, particularly that of Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi. I am grateful to the University Librarian, Dr Gyas-ud-din Makdooni and his staff members for giving me an access to books in the library. I would like to thank Mr Kapish Mehra, Managing Director of Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd. for undertaking publication of this book. My wife, Mrs Asha Ahuja, also deserves- my thanks for cooperating with me in my efforts to concentrate on this project. I also received continued encouragement from H. E. Dr Bhishama Narain Singh, former Cabinet Minister and Governor of Tamil Nadu, Dr GVG Krishnamurty, former Election Commissioner of India, and Mr Saurabh Bhagat, Dr Rahul Maihotra, Mrs Lovelina Bhagat and Dr Chetna Maihotra among my family members. The frustrations in this book have been prepared by Deepak. My thanks are due to all such persons. My thanks are also due to various other people who helped me in one way or the other.
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