Critical Podium Dewanand Hinduism
Women in Vedic Culture By Stephen Knapp
Sacrificer Stephen Knapp
Sacrifice code wfor0432
Sacrifice date 25 march 2009
Women in Vedic Culture
By Stephen Knapp
There are many civilizations in the world where respect for women and
their role in society are prominent, and others where regard for them
and their status should be improved. Yet the level of civility along with
moral and spiritual standards in a society can often be perceived by the
respect and regard it gives for its women. Not that it glorifies them
for their sexuality and then gives them all the freedom men want so they
can be exploited and taken advantage of, but that they are regarded in
a way that allows them to live in honor for their importance in society
with respect and protection, and given the opportunity to reach their
real potential in life.
Among the many societies that can be found in the world, we have seen
that some of the most venerating regard for women has been found in Vedic
culture. The Vedic tradition has held a high regard for the qualities
of women, and has retained the greatest respect within its tradition as
seen in the honor it gives for the Goddess, who is portrayed as the feminine
embodiment of important qualities and powers. These forms include those
of Lakshmi (the goddess of fortune and queen of Lord Vishnu), Sarasvati
(the goddess of learning), Subhadra (Krishna=s sister and auspiciousness
personified), Durga (the goddess of strength and power), Kali (the power
of time), and other Vedic goddesses that exemplify inner strength and
divine attributes. Even divine power in the form of shakti is considered
Throughout the many years of Vedic culture, women have always been given
the highest level of respect and freedom, but also protection and safety.
There is a Vedic saying, AWhere women are worshiped, there the gods dwell.@
Or where the women are happy, there will be prosperity. In fact the direct
quotes from the Manu-samhita explains as follows:
AWomen must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands,
and brothers?in?law, who desire their own welfare. Where women are honored,
there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred
rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live in grief, the family
soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever
prospers. The houses on which female relations, not being duly honored,
pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic. Hence
men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honor women on holidays
and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes and (dainty) food.@ (Manu
Furthermore, in the Vedas, when a woman is invited into the family through
marriage, she enters "as a river enters the sea" and "to
rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members
of the family". (Atharva-Veda 14.1.43-44) This kind of equality is
rarely found in any other religious scripture. Plus, a woman who is devoted
to God is more highly regarded than a man who has no such devotion, as
found in the Rig-Veda: "Yea, many a woman is more firm and better
than the man who turns away from Gods, and offers not." (Rig-Veda,
Additional quotes can be found in other portions of the Vedic literature.
This is the proper Vedic standard. If this standard is not being followed,
then it represents a diversion of the genuine Vedic tradition. Due to
this tradition, India=s history includes many women who have risen to
great heights in spirituality, government, writing, education, science,
or even as warriors on the battlefield.
In the matter of dharma, in the days of Vedic culture, women stood as
a decisive force in spirituality and the foundation of moral development.
There were also women rishis who revealed the Vedic knowledge to others.
For example, the 126th hymn of the first book of the Rig-Veda was revealed
by a Hindu woman whose name was Romasha; the 179 hymn of the same book
was by Lopamudra, another inspired Hindu woman. There are a dozen names
of woman revealers of the Vedic wisdom, such as Visvavara, Shashvati,
Gargi, Maitreyi, Apala, Ghosha, and Aditi who instructed Indra, one of
the Devas, in the higher knowledge of Brahman. Every one of them lived
the ideal life of spirituality, being untouched by the things of the world.
They are called in Sanskrit Brahmavadinis, the speakers and revealers
Throughout the history of India and the traditions of Vedic society,
women were also examples for maintaining the basic principles in Sanatana-dharma.
This honor toward women should be maintained by the preservation of genuine
Vedic culture, which has always been a part of India.
Unfortunately, these standards have declined primarily due to the outside
influences that have crept in because of foreign invaders, either militarily
or culturally. These foreign invaders who dominated India mostly looked
at women as objects of sexual enjoyment and exploitation, and as the spoils
of war to be taken like a prize. The oppression of women increased in
India because of Moghul rule. As such foreigners gained influence and
converts, decay of the spiritual standards also crept into Indian and
Vedic culture. The educational criteria of Vedic culture also changed
and the teaching of the divinity of motherhood was almost lost. The teaching
changed from emphasis on the development of individual self-reliance to
dependence on and service to others. Thus, competition replaced the pursuit
for truth, and selfishness and possessiveness replaced the spirit of renunciation
and detachment. And gradually women were viewed as less divine and more
as objects of gratification or property to be possessed and controlled.
This is the result of a rakshasic or demoniac cultural influence, which
still continues to grow as materialism expands in society. Money and sensual
gratification have become major goals in life, though they alone cannot
give us peace or contentment. Instead they cause us to develop more desires
in the hopes of finding fulfillment while leaving us feeling hollow and
ever-more restless without knowing why.
In Vedic culture it is taught that every man should view and respect
every woman, except his own wife, as his mother, and every girl with the
same concern and care as his own daughter. It is only because of the lack
of such training and the social distancing from the high morals as this
that this teaching is being forgotten, and the respect that society should
have for women has been reduced.
In this way, the change in the attitude toward women in India was due
to a loss of culture and of the true Vedic standards. Thus, it should
be easy to see the need for organizations that will keep and teach the
proper views, which were once a basic part of the genuine Vedic traditions.
When the position of women declines, then that society loses its equilibrium
and harmony. In the spiritual domain, men and women have an equal position.
Men and women are equal as sons and daughters of the same Supreme Father.
However, you cannot bring the spiritual domain to this Earth or enter
the spiritual strata if your consciousness is focused on the differences
of the sexes, and thus treat women poorly. One is not superior to the
other, but each has particular ways or talents to contribute to society
and to the service of God. So men should not try to control women by force,
but neither should women forcefully try to seize the role of men or try
to adopt the masculine nature of men. Otherwise, imbalance results in
society, just as a car will not move properly when the tires on one side
are too low or out of balance. Of course there are exceptions in which
some men are naturally good at feminine roles and some women are talented
in masculine occupations. But the point is that women and men must work
cooperatively like the twin wings of a bird, together which will raise
the whole society. If there is a lack of respect and cooperation, how
can society be progressive? After all, how can there be a spirit of cooperation
and appreciation between men and women when instead there is a mood of
competition? It is this mood in materialistic society that is increasing
in both family and corporate life which contributes to social imbalance
and not to a smooth and peaceful society.
Motherhood and Family
The nature of motherhood of women was always stressed in Vedic India.
After all, we often find them to be the foundation of family life and
of raising the children properly. They usually provide the love and understanding
and nurturing for the development of our children in a way that is unlikely
from most men.
Our own life is a gift from our mother's life. We were nourished by her,
we spent nine months in her womb, and her love sustained us. Even now
we are loved by our mother. This includes Mother Nature and Mother Earth,
which is called Bhumi in the Vedic tradition. The Earth planet is also
like a mother because everything we need to live, all our resources, come
from her. As we would protect our own mother, we must also protect Mother
Women in motherhood, after giving birth to a child that they have carried
for nine months, is the first guru and guide of the child and, thus, of
humanity. Through this means, before any child learns hatred or aggression,
they first know the love of a mother who can instill the ways of forgiveness
and kindness in the child. In this way, we can recognize that there is
often a strong women, either as a mother or as a wife, behind most successful
In exhibiting the qualities of motherhood, women must be warm and tender,
strong and protective, yet also lay the foundation of discipline and the
discrimination of right from wrong. Furthermore, in the home it is usually
the woman who lends to providing beauty in decorating the house and facility
for an inspirational atmosphere. Also, she must usually provide the nutritious
and tasty dishes that give pleasure and strength for the fitness and health
of the body.
By their innate sense of motherhood and compassion, women also make
natural healers, care givers, and nurturers. Those women who have this
intrinsic disposition for caring will also be natural upholders of moral
standards and spiritual principles. By their own emotional tendencies
and expressions, they are also natural devotees of God.
In ancient India the Sanskrit words used by the husband for the wife
were Pathni (the one who leads the husband through life), Dharmapathni
(the one who guides the husband in dharma) and Sahadharmacharini (one
who moves with the husband on the path of dharma--righteousness and duty).
This is how ancient Vedic culture viewed the partnership of husband and
When a husband and wife are willing to be flexible to each other's needs
and move forward in love and mutual understanding, the relationship can
go beyond equality to one of spiritual union. This means that each one
appreciates the talents of the other, and views the other as complimenting
what each one already has. This also makes up for the weaknesses or deficiencies
of the other. In this way, each can provide support, encouragement and
inspiration to the other. This ideal can only be achieved when they properly
understand the principles of spirituality. It is also said that where
the husband and wife get along well, Lakshmi Devi (the goddess of fortune)
Herself dwells in that house.
It is also considered that a wife who serves a spiritually strong and
qualified husband automatically shares in whatever spiritual merit he
achieves because she assists him by her service.
The Feminine Divinities
In the Vedic tradition it is common to see the pairing of the Vedic
male Gods with a female counterpart, thus combining both sets of powers
and qualities that each would have. We can easily see this in Radha-Krishna,
Sita-Rama, Lakshmi-Vishnu, Durga-Shiva, Sarasvati-Brahma, Indrani-Indra,
etc. Thus, we have the combination of male and female Divinities that
make the complete balance in the divine spiritual powers.
Through the medium of pure affection, the feminine Divinities have been
able to break down the most powerful citadels known to creation, especially
those of evil. The divine mystery of life is that the most powerful forces
of the universe are subjugated by love, and that love is most completely
channeled through the feminine energy and personality.
For example, "Durga" means the one who is difficult to know.
Yet, being considered the mother of the universe, or the personification
of the material energy, we as her children can approach her through love.
And she will respond with love.
Also, out of love the goddess took the form of Mahishasuramardini, or
the one who destroyed the dark demon known as Mahishasura. She was generated
out of the anger and potency of Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, and others, and
was the combination of their powers. They could not defeat the demon,
but the goddess could. Symbolically, Durga can destroy the demonic darkness
of the mode of ignorance and the quality of laziness within each of us.
Another example is when Durga expressed her love and care to the Gods
and humanity by manifesting herself from her side as Kaushika Durga, also
called Ambika. By her beauty she attracted the demons Shumba and Nishumba
to her. Thus, they would not disturb the rest of creation. Then from her
forehead she manifested herself as the dark goddess Kali who killed all
the disturbing demons in that episode. In this way, through love the Divine
feminine potency takes on forms to alleviate powerful disturbances in
the universe and within us.
Out of love also the Divine feminine potency manifests as Srimati Radharani,
the consort of Lord Sri Krishna. One of her many names is Janagati, which
means the goddess of all goddesses. She is the origin of the divine feminine
love and beauty, and the epitome of devotion to the Supreme Being. Thus,
from the ideal spiritual world, we can see Her divine reflection mirrored
here in this relative world in all that is feminine, beautiful and pure.
By being conscious and aware of such qualities, we can perceive the spiritual
dimension pervading and flowing throughout this temporary material universe.
Thus, we recognize the very qualities of the Divine Persons from whom
they originate in the spiritual world. We humans are but limited reflected
forms of the Divine Couples who reside in original existence. This is
why the Vedic tradition placed much value in honoring and worshiping the
Divine feminine nature along with the masculine-one without the other
is incomplete. This is one of the unique traits that distinguishes Vedic
culture from others.
Examples in Vedic history have shown that all women should be respected
and honored for the potential and talent they can provide to keep the
family together, as well as bare and raise children, but also for the
many women who have taken up the cause to preserve, protect and carry
on the spiritual standards found in Vedic culture.
This shows that we should not diminish the potential that women have
to be strong advocates of the Vedic principles. We should not discriminate
and think that women have less to offer. It is not one's sex that will
determine one's strength and character to help champion the Vedic cause.
In this world we need people to help in all areas and all levels of
life to protect the Vedic knowledge and traditions, and women have a very
important part to play. As we said, they are usually the first inspiration
and first teachers of our children. So many of the great men who had become
powerful proponents of Sanatana-dharma also had strong and inspiring mothers
So, you never know who among the women in society, or among our daughters
we are raising that may become the next Savitri, Draupadi or Anasuya.
Also, you never know who among the boys that the women may raise that
may become a great Vedic saint or scholar or stalwart protector of our
culture. We must look on everyone as if they have that potential, because
somewhere and sometime it will happen. Another great person may appear,
be it man or woman, who will emerge from among us. We need to arrange
for that possibility to happen by giving all women and children the necessary
facility and training.
Every girl should have the opportunity to learn spirituality along with
modern education to help her reach her full potential. Of course, this
can also be said of boys. No one is born hating another, but this is learned
in materialistic societies from wrong association. Only later in life
does a person learn the ways of liking their own kind and disliking anyone
who seems different. Genuine spiritual knowledge is the alternative to
bring a change in such a society and stop the hating and quarrel that
go on because of perceiving bodily and external differences between us.
It is the primitive customs as well as the sexist inventions in modern
but materialistic society that force social trends to limit, subjugate
or even exploit women in today's world. Such a society does not allow
the strength or ingenuity of women to arise or be recognized, at least
not without a struggle both inside the mind of women and outside in the
field of activity and occupation. Women need to muster the strength to
overcome such limitations. It is not that the world does not need nurturing
and healing right now, which is a common and normal trait in women. After
all, how many times do we hear of women being accused of rape, or child
abuse and molestation, or kidnapping and murder? These are mostly the
crimes of men, imbalanced men but men nonetheless. There is also a connection
between the way men destroy the environment (Mother Nature) and their
exploitative attitude toward women. This must be corrected.
A faulty beginning or childhood, as well as exposure to thoughts and
ideas and indoctrinations of one's limitations rather than of one's superior
potential is one of the reasons why women lose their ability, means or
motivation for higher accomplishments in life. This often causes their
spirit of achievement and contribution to be squelched. This only adds
to the struggle of women which is often passed along from one generation
to the next. Thus, all of society loses the capabilities that women could
otherwise attain and provide. In this way, women often have a built in
fear of stepping forward to help meet the needs that the world is crying
Harmony needs to be restored between the masculine and feminine natures,
which are especially exhibited in the relations between men and women.
This can be done most effectively through genuine spiritual development,
when both masculine and feminine natures become balanced and complimentary
rather than competitive. This can harmonize not only the external relations
between people, but also the feminine and masculine tendencies within
each individual, both men and women. By genuine spiritual progress we
can rise above our bodily material identities and work with and compliment
the talents and abilities of others, regardless of whether they are men
or women. We must know that within each body is a spirit soul that is
no different than our own. By that I mean that we must recognize that
on the platform of spiritual reality there is no difference between one
soul and the next, no matter whether the external body is male or female.
But while we are in this world and in different types of bodies, we can
work cooperatively for our survival and for harmony among us, and use
our naturally varied talents together. Women can do what they do best
and men can do what they do best. This certainly makes it easier for all
to live peacefully than in a mood of competition and aggression, or envy
and prejudice. In such a mood of cooperation we can see that we all have
something to offer or contribute, and we all have something for which
we can be appreciated. We only need the right opportunity to bring that
out of each and every one of us. The proper leaders of society or of organizations
who promote such situations are those who can arrange for such a harmonious
environment to exist.
One difference that we often see between men and women is that there
is often nothing harder to penetrate than the typical male ego, which
often causes men to hesitate to show any weakness and to make a show of
a tough exterior, while women often respond easily to love with love.
However, love and compassion are not meant to be exhibited only by women
or mothers. It is a state of being, a level of consciousness. It is an
exhibition of one's spiritual development to have care and concern, compassion
and love for each and every being. It should be a common interest that
everyone should be able to live a life of opportunity, development and
progress for their own material and spiritual well being. And this concern
is natural for both men and women who have reached this level of spiritual
awareness, recognizing in many ways the similarities between us all, regardless
of our sex. This is what is needed to help bring more peace and cooperation
in the world, and another reason for protecting and emphasizing the traditional
standards of spiritual understanding as found in the teachings of Santana-dharma.
Examples of Great Women in Vedic Culture
Some of the women that have helped make great strides in establishing
the foundation of Sanatana-dharma and Vedic culture can be listed and
described. They serve as fine examples of historical importance that have
been the basis for inspiration to both men and women for centuries. From
the early Vedic times these include such women as Sati, Sita, Anasuya,
Arundhatee, Draupadi, Queen Kunti, Shakuntala, Maitreyi, Gargi, Madalasa,
Savitri, Ahalya, and others. It is said simply reciting their names removes
sins. There are additional women from the last few hundred years whose
lives we can recollect as well. Such great women have contributed to the
glories and splendor of Vedic culture. So let us briefly review the lives
of some of these great women.
Madalasa was the daughter of Vishvasu, the Gandharva king. She was also
a great inspiration to her sons. Ritdhvaj, the son of the powerful king
Shatrujit, was her husband. When Shatrujit died, Ritdhvaj took the position
of king and engaged in the royal duties. In due course, Madalasa gave
birth to a son, Vikrant. When Vikrant would cry, Madalasa would sing words
of wisdom to keep him quiet. She would sing that he was a pure soul, that
he has no real name and his body is merely a vehicle made of the five
elements. He is not really of the body, so why does he cry?
Thus, Madalasa would enlighten her son with spiritual knowledge in the
songs she would sing to him. Because of this knowledge, little Vikrant
grew up to be an ascetic, free from worldly attachments or kingly activities,
and he eventually went to the forest to engage in austerities. The same
thing happened to her second son, Subahu, and her third son, Shatrumardan.
Her husband told her that she should not teach the same knowledge to their
fourth son, Alark, so that at least one of them would be interested in
worldly activities and take up the role of looking after the kingdom.
So to Alark she sang a song of being a great king who would rule the world,
and make it prosperous and free from villains for many years. By so doing
he would enjoy the bounty of life and eventually join the Immortals. In
this way, she trained her son Alark from the beginning of his life in
the direction he would take. This is how a mother can influence her child
in whatever potential may be possible, whether materially or spiritually,
by imparting noble thoughts to open the avenues of activities for her
Sati. From the Puranas we learn how Sati would not tolerate the dishonor
of her husband Lord Shiva. Sati was the daughter of Prajapati Daksha,
who was one of the sons of Brahma. Once Daksha arranged to hold a major
religious ritual (yajna) in his capital, near present day Haridwar. Many
kings, emperors and demigods were invited. However, Daksha did not respect
Shiva, so Shiva was not invited. Nonetheless, Sati wanted to go to see
her father and many sisters. Shiva tried to dissuade her from going, saying
it was not good to go uninvited. But Sati went anyway to participate in
the yajna. Unfortunately, she found that her father was greatly insulting
her husband, Shiva. Not bearing the dishonor of her husband, she self-immolated
in fire and left this world altogether, leaving her body in ashes.
When Lord Shiva heard about this, he was terribly angry and taking a
hair from his head, he threw it to the ground and it turned into the demon
Veerabhadra who was the anger of Lord Shiva and who disrupted the yajna.
In disappointment, Lord Shiva then bore the body of Sati to different
places in the world. Sati's various limbs dropped as Shiva carried her
body, and wherever a limb dropped became a Siddhapeetha, which remain
major places of Shakti worship. According to the Devi Bhagavata there
are 108 such Siddhapeethas, while other texts say there are 51. Among
these, 42 are in India, 2 in Nepal, 1 in Tibet, 1 in Sri Lanka, 1 in Pakistan,
and 4 in Bangladesh.
Sati then reincarnated as the daughter of the Himalaya Parvata, and
thus she became known as Parvati. She underwent great austerities and
won Lord Shiva as her husband once again.
Anasuya 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. Anasuya was the wife of the sage Atri.
Her mother was daughter of the sage Svayambhuva and her father was Kardama
Muni. Her fame had spread throughout both the Earth and the planets of
According to the Markandeya Purana, there was once a sage named Mandasya
who cursed a brahmana named Kaushika to die the next morning at sunrise.
When Kaushiki, Kaushika's wife, heard the news, she vowed that by the
power of her chastity the sun would never rise. When the sun did not rise
for many days, everyone started to become alarmed. Brahma then told the
other demigods to go to Anasuya and she could assist them to continue
the sunrise by the force of her moral power. Anasuya then entreated Kaushiki
to allow the sunrise to resume.
Kaushiki then allowed the sunrise to take place, but her husband immediately
expired because of the curse. Yet, Anasuya brought the husband back to
life by the power of her own austerity and devotion to her husband. Being
pleased by this, the demigods gave Anasuya the blessing to have her wish
for three sons who would be reincarnations of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Thus, Brahma appeared as Soma, Vishnu as Dattatreya, and Shiva as Durvasa.
Of course she was also greatly honored by her husband who said to Sri
Rama when Rama once visited Atri's ashrama during His exile, that Anasuya
was a great lady, following the path of austerity and deserves the salutations
of all beings. Anasuya was a bright example among women.
Sita is fully described in the Ramayana. She was the daughter of King
Janaka, ruler of Mithila. The king was engaged in ritually plowing the
land to help produce food to counter a famine at the time, and while using
a golden plow, it revealed a pitcher that had been buried from which Sita
appeared. The plow tip is called a sita, thus Sita was the name given
to her. At the time, the demon Ravana had collected tax from the local
sages who had placed their blood in this pitcher. Thus, when the plow
later uncovered and churned the pitcher, the life-force from the sages
produced Sita, and Sita thus became the cause of Ravana's destruction.
As related in the Ramayana, Lord Rama won Sita's hand in marriage. But
due to political intrigue, Rama's father, Dasharatha, had to keep a promise
he had made to his second wife Kaikeyi, who wanted her own son to ascend
the throne and not Lord Rama. So she had Rama and Sita thrown into exile
and made to wander the forests. During that time, Ravana abducted Sita
and kept Her in the Ashoka-Vatika, the garden of Ashoka trees. He tried
to force her to marry him but she would not. During that time Rama and
Lakshmana wandered the forests in search of Her. In time they found out
she had been taken by Ravana, and having learned where he was, Lord Rama
finally put the end to him and rescued Sita.
Even though some citizens doubted Sita's purity, she had undergone the
Agni-Pariksha, or witness by fire to attest to her purity as a devoted
wife. Even then it was over-heard that a washerman had doubts of Sita's
character, having spent so much time in Ravana's house. So to help ward
off any criticism, Rama exiled Sita to the forest ashrama of Valmiki.
While there she gave birth to, Lava and Kush, the twin sons of Lord Rama.
Valimiki once brought Sita and her sons to Ayodhya, the capital of Lord
Rama, where the sons sang the Ramayana in front of Lord Rama. Valmiki
also proclaimed that Sita was as good as purity and chastity incarnate.
Though Sita's life was full of struggle and hardship, she was innocent
and pure. She gave up all comforts to serve her beloved husband and uphold
sanctity, faithfulness, virtue and moral standards. Thus she holds one
of the highest places among women in Vedic culture and of woman's character.
Draupadi was the daughter of Drupada who was the king of Panchala. She
was born from the fire ritual and for this reason was also called Yajnaseni.
Her dark complexion also gave her the name of Krishnaa. Queen Kunti was
the mother of the five Pandava brothers, Arjuna, Bhisma, Yudhisthira,
Sahadeva and Nakula. When the Pandavas brought Draupadi back to their
home, they wanted to show her to their mother, but Kunti, without having
seen Draupadi, told them that whatever they have they must all share equally.
So Draupadi became the wife of all five Pandavas. It is said that Draupadi
in a previous life had been the wife of Indra, the King of heaven, and
she took five separate forms in serving her Pandava husbands. Thus, she
was most devoted to her five husbands and was also a great devotee of
the Supreme Lord, and regarded Lord Krishna as her ultimate protector.
One episode that shows this was when in the court of the Kauravas, wicked
Dushashana tried to disrobe her in front of everyone. Draupadi became
hopeless and fervently prayed to Krishna for protection. Krishna heard
her prayers and though He was in Dwaraka, He protected her by providing
an endless supply of cloth to her sari so that it never ended, and she
was always covered and not dishonored in such a way.
Another time was when Durvasa Muni, who was known for his quick anger,
suddenly decided to drop in on the Pandava camp, along with his many thousands
of disciples. He would also want something to eat for himself and his
followers. But the Pandavas had just ate and there was nothing more to
prepare. Lord Krishna asked for whatever remnant grains were left in the
pot. Being the Supreme Lord, if He was satisfied, then everyone would
be satisfied. So He took what few grains were there and when Durvasa Muni
arrived, they were all so full that they no longer wanted anything to
eat, and thus left peacefully.
In Draupadi's service to her husbands, she had said that she rises before
anyone else, tolerates hunger and thirst, and goes to bed after the others.
She also gave birth to five sons, all of whom were killed by the wicked
Ashwatthama. But since he was the son of the family guru, and she had
such respect for their gurus, he forgave him.
When the Pandavas had reached the end of their lives and were setting
out to ascend to heaven by climbing up into the mountains, she was the
last in line. But she was the first to fall and thus rise to heaven after
her death. Her dedication and devotion make her one of the great personalities
of Vedic culture.
Maitreyi was the wife of the great sage Yajnavalkya. His second wife
was Katyayani. Both were devoted to their husband and of lofty character.
However, Maitreyi had a higher regard for spiritual knowledge and devotion
to God than did Katyayani. The Brihadaranayaka Upanishad relates that
finally, the sage Yajnavalkya wanted to renounce householder life and
accept the sannyasa order of life, and divide his possessions between
his two wives. Maitreyi then questioned to herself what greater thing
her husband must have found if he is willing to give up his present status
in householder life. Surely no one will give up his position unless he
finds something better. So she asked her husband if she had all the riches
in the world, could she still attain immortality. Her husband said certainly
not, it is not possible. All the happiness and conveniences from wealth
will not lead you to God. So Maitreyi then asked why she should acquire
wealth if it is not going to deliver her from future rounds of birth and
death. She requested that he tell her about the Supreme Being, for which
he was happily giving up household life.
Therefore, Yajnavalkya explained to Maitreyi all about the divine knowledge
of the Self. He informed her that no being in this world has any capability
of being dear to another without the presence of the soul within. Even
to enjoy the beauty of this world has no meaning without the soul within
our own body, for the soul is all that we are. Understanding the depths
of spiritual knowledge is the way to attain moksha, liberation from the
continued rounds of birth and death. Thus, Yajnavalkya took sannyasa and
Maitreyi attained supreme bliss by hearing her husband's discourse and
by diving deep into this spiritual understanding. In this way, Maitreyi
showed how all women can achieve the heights of spiritual understanding
simply by careful listening and practicing the Vedic path.
Gargi was the daughter of Vashaknu, and was also called Vachakni. But
because she was born in the line of the Garga Gotra or family line, she
was also called Gargi, a name by which she became well known. The Brihadaranayaka
Upanishad explains that she asked the sage many questions on spiritual
science and became highly educated in this way. Once in the court of King
Janaka there was arranged to be a debate on the spiritual sciences. He
wanted to find out who was the person who knew best the science of the
Absolute, and that person would receive 1000 decorated cows with horns
plated with gold. None of the local brahmanas complied because they were
afraid they would have to prove their knowledge, and may not be up to
the task. However, the sage Yajnavalkya told his disciple to take all
the cows to his place, which started the debate.
Yajnavalkya answered the questions from many scholars who approached
him, setting aside all of their concerns and doubts. However, then came
Gargi's turn to ask the sage whatever she wanted. But she asked many different
and complex questions on the immortality of the soul, the arrangement
of the universe, and many other topics. Finally Gargi herself bowed to
the sage and proclaimed that there was no one else who was more greatly
learned in the Vedic Shastras than Yajnavalkya. In this way, Gargi showed
that in Vedic culture it was not unexpected for women to become greatly
learned in the Vedic sciences, nor that they could not discuss such topics
with wise and kindly sages who also shared their knowledge with them.
Thus she is a luminous example of women in the Vedic tradition.
Savitri was the only child of a king named Ashwapati, the king of Madra-Desha,
as explained in the Mahabharata and Matsya Purana. He had performed austerities
to please Lord Brahma and his consort, Savitri Devi, to have progeny by
chanting the Savitri prayer. When a daughter arrived, he named her Savitri,
and she grew to be a girl of great beauty and character, and wonderful
personality and qualities. Unfortunately, her father could find no suitable
husband for her when she became of age. So he sent her to different parts
of the country so she could find a husband she deemed acceptable. After
some time Savitri decided to marry Satyavana, but he was the son of Dyumatsena
who was the blind and exiled king of Shalya-Desha. Because of this, they
lived in the forest. Satyavana was simple but bore a countenance of royalty,
which attracted Savitri.
Savitri returned to her father to relate the news, however the sage
Narada Muni happened to be there and heard it and revealed that Satyavana
was highly qualified but was to live for only one year longer. But Savitri
had made her decision and would not marry another. So to fulfill Savitri's
intention, the king arranged for a wedding.
One day, after living in the forest for a year, Satyavana went off to
chop some wood as usual. Savitri had been observing penance for many months
and followed him into the woods. On this day Satyavana fell down with
a headache. At that same time, Savitri saw a ferocious person approaching
and could recognize that it was Yama, the lord of death, who was coming
to take Satyavana since his life was ending. After Yama had taken Satyavana,
Savitri started to follow Yama. He asked her not to follow him and even
promised her many boons, all but the life of her husband. Nonetheless,
Savitri continued to follow him until he granted her wishes.
Savitri asked Yama for her father-in-law's eyesight to return, along
with his lost kingdom. Then she asked for one hundred sons for her father.
All these were granted as Yama became increasingly impatient. Then she
asked for one hundred sons for herself as well, all of them as handsome
and wise as Satyavana, to which Yama also agreed without much thought.
But then he realized his mistake and had to allow Satyavana to continue
with his life. Thus by the power of Savitri's austerity, wisdom and devotion,
she conquered death for her husband and blessed her own father and father-in-law
GREAT WOMEN IN MORE RECENT TIMES
Sri Gangamata Goswamini was born as Sachi, the princess daughter of King
Naresh Narayana in the present state of Bengal. She was a great devotee
of God from her early childhood. As she grew and entered into her education,
she studied grammar and poetry but soon spent all her time studying the
Vedic scriptures. All the boys were attracted to her and her father began
to think of arranging for her marriage. But she was not the least bit
attracted to any young men. She was always filled with thoughts of Madana
Gradually the king and queen grew old and left this world, leaving the
responsibilities of governing the kingdom to Sachi. She accepted these,
but later arranged to allow other relatives to govern in her place as
she went to see the holy places on the plea of traveling throughout the
kingdom. After so much travel, she still was not satisfied and wanted
to find a spiritual master. Then she went to Jagannatha Puri and while
having darshan of the Deities she was inspired with an inner message to
go to Vrindavana.
After arriving in Vrindavana she met Haridas Pandit, who was solely
devoted to Lord Gauranga and Nityananda. Sachi was filled with ecstasy
and after meditating for several days Haridas Pandit gave her shelter,
upon which she prayed to him with tearful eyes begging for his mercy for
spiritual advancement. Haridas discouraged her from staying in Vrindavana,
telling her that it is not possible for a princess to remain absorbed
in bhajan with little to eat and no comforts. But she stayed and gradually
gave up her nice clothes and opulent ornaments. Noticing this determination,
Haridas instructed with his blessings that she could wander throughout
Vrajamandala and beg from place to place as a renounced devotee. Having
accepted Haridas as her guru, she was filled with joy. Thereafter, freed
from her false ego and dressed in rags, she went begging alms and exhibited
her intense renunciation which astonished all the devotees.
Her body grew thin and physically exhausted. She would sleep on the
banks of the Yamuna and rise to sweep the Lord's temple, have darshan
and listen to the Bhagavatam classes. Haridasa became very happy seeing
the intent of Sachi and promised to give her initiation into the mantra.
Haridasa Pandit had another disciple named Lakshmipriya who at that time
arrived in Vrindavana. She used to chant 300,000 names of Krishna everyday.
Haridasa sent her to live near Sachi on the banks of the Radhakunda. Everyday
Lakshmipriya and Sachi would circumambulate Govardhana Hill. Thus they
continued in their devotional service to the Lord with great determination.
Then one day Haridasa Pandit instructed Sachi to return to Jagannatha
Puri to continue her bhajan there and preach what she learned of Sri Chaitanya's
teachings. However, most of Sri Chaitanya's associates had already left
Sri Sachidevi returned to Jagannatha Puri and stayed in Sarvabhauma's
house where she engaged in bhajan and gave classes on the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
She also established first class worship of the Damodara Salagram in that
house, which was crumbling and where few people ever visited. However,
her classes became famous and many people started to attend to listen
to her discourses. One day even the king of Puri, Mukunda Dev, came to
hear her Bhagavatam class, and he was astounded. He wanted to make a nice
offering to her in appreciation for her worship to Lord Krishna, and that
night he had a wonderful dream in which Lord Jagannatha appeared to him
and said to offer her a place on the banks of the Sveta (White) Ganges.
The next day the king went to make the offering to Sachidevi, but she
was not inclined to accept any wealth or comforts and wanted to refuse.
The king persisted and not wishing to violate Lord Jagannatha's order,
he issued a decree dedicating a holy ghat by the side of the White Ganges
after Sri Sachidevi. The decree stated that she was a princess that gave
up everything to come to Puri and preach the teachings of Lord Chaitanya.
One day Sri Sachidevi wanted to go to the Ganges to bathe, but remembered
the order of her spiritual master never to leave Jagannatha Puri. That
night she had a dream wherein Lord Jagannatha appeared to her and told
her not to worry, that the day when Varuni will take bath is approaching
when you must go to bathe in the White Ganges. Gangadevi had been praying
for Sachidevi's association, so she should go.
Sachidevi was extremely happy, having had this divine vision. The day
of the Varuni-snana came and in the middle of the night Sachideva went
to the White Ganges to bathe, but the current of Gangadevi overflooded
the pond and carried her away to the Jagannatha Mandira. Seeing this,
thousands of devotees became ecstatic and also took their holy bath in
In the midst of the commotion, the guards of the Jagannatha temple awoke
and were speechless to see all that had happened. Hearing the noise, they
went inside the temple. The king had also awoken and ordered the gates
of the temple to be opened. When the doors were open, Sachidevi was standing
there alone inside the temple. The servants and priests concluded that
she must be a thief to steal Jagannatha's valuable ornaments. Then Sachidevi
was taken to the dungeon where she was imprisoned to stand trial for theft.
Sachidevi was indifferent and remained absorbed in chanting the Lord's
Later that night, Lord Jagannatha appeared to Mukunda Dev in a dream
and demanded that he release Sachidevi. The Lord explained that it was
because of His personal arrangement to wash Sachidevi's holy feet that
He had the Ganga bring Sachidevi to His temple. If the king wanted his
life to be auspicious, then he better have all of the pandas and priests
bow at her feet and beg for forgiveness, and the king must take initiation
from her. The next day the king did as he was told, making sure that everyone
paid full obeisances to her while asking for forgiveness for the offenses
made at the feet of a devotee. He also begged that she accept him as a
disciple and give him initiation.
Sachidevi become very joyful, understanding that this was all due to
the arrangement of the Lord. Placing her hand on the king's head, she
blessed him, and soon thereafter she gave him initiation into the eighteen
syllable Radha-Krishna mantra. Many of the priests also took shelter of
her on that day. It was from that day that Sachidevi became known as Gangamata
One day a strict smarta-brahmana, Mahidhara Swami, came to the banks
of the Sveta-Ganga and wanted to have darshan of her holy feet. He had
come to offer worship for his ancestors and while in discussion with Sri
Gangamata Goswamini, she instructed the Srimad-Bhagavatam to him. The
brahmana was astonished by her explanations and asked to take shelter
of her. On an auspicious day she initiated him into the Radha-Krishna
mantra of ten syllables. On the order of Sri Gangamata Goswamini, he preached
the message of nama-prema, ecstasy of the holy name, and the teachings
of Lord Chaitanya throughout Bengal.
Sri Sita Thakurani is the eternal wife of Sri Advaita Acharya, who is
considered an avatara of Maha-Vishnu. Sita Thakurani is to be worshiped
as much as Mother Sachideva, the mother of Sri Chaitanya. She married
Advaita Acharya in Phuliya Nagara and they moved to Shantipura. Sita Thakurani
was always absorbed in motherly devotion to Sri Chaitanya and would instruct
Jagannatha Misra, Sri Chaitanya's father, on how to care for the boy.
Advaita Acharya was the one who did special worship near the Ganges
in Shantipur to call the Lord to appear in this world, having felt that
the conditions were so bad that only the Lord Himself could help. Thus,
both Advaita Acharya and Sita Thakurani were in great bliss when Sri Chaitanya
appeared in this world, and she brought Him many presents. From then on,
Sri Sita Thakurani would often come to Mayapur from Shantipur to see the
child and to give instructions to Sachimata about how to care for the
The Gaura-Ganodesha Dipika explains that Sri Sita Thakurani is an incarnation
of Yogamaya. The Gaura-Parshada-Chiritvali says that in the Krishna pastimes
she was Purnamasi, the mother of Sandipani Muni, grandmother of Madhumangal
and Nandimukhi, and a disciple of Narada Muni. The Gaura-Ganodesha Dipika
however says that Purnamasi in the Krishna pastimes went on to become
Sri Govinda Acharya in the Chaitanya pastimes.
When Sri Chaitanya was grown, he went to Gaya and became initiated by
Iswara Puri. Afterwards he returned to Mayapur and started His sankirtana
pastimes. Sri Advaita Acharya and Sita Thakurani were the first to worship
Sri Chaitanya at the beginning of His real purpose in this world.
After Sri Chaitanya took sannyasa and went to Jagannatha Puri to live,
Sri Advaita Acharya and Sita Thakurani would go and visit Him, bringing
their own son, Achyutananda. On one such occasion Sita Thakurani made
many of the Lord's favorite preparations and invited Him to their place
to take lunch. Simply to increase their ecstasy, the Lord honored their
invitation. Always being absorbed in motherly affection, she treated Him
like her own son and He returned the sentiment. Sri Sita Thakurani bore
three sons, Achyutananda, Krishna Mishra and Gopala Mishra. Thus, she
was an inspiration for spreading the mission of the sankirtana movement.
Sri Jahnava Mata was born of Sri Suryadasa, along with her sister Sri
Vasudha. The Gaura-Ganodesha-dipika explains that They are both expansions
of Varuni (Sri Vasudha) and Revati (Jahnava Mata), and that they are both
incarnations of Ananga-manjari. In time the daughters became of marriageable
age and Suryadasa gave it much thought. The one night he had a dream in
which he gave both of his daughters to Sri Nityananda. Surya dasa then
told a brahmana friend about this and it was arranged to deliver the message
to Sri Nityananda Himself. Upon hearing of it He agreed, after which the
ecstasy of Suryadasa knew no bounds.
Arrangements were made for the wedding at Borogacchi Gram, and many
devotees from all around attended (the full details of which are recorded
in the Bhakti-Ratnakara). Thus, Suryadasa was most fortunate to have given
both of his daughters to Sri Nityananda Prabhu. Lord Nityananda stayed
in Shaligrama Pura for a while but then went to Nabadvipa to show His
mother Sachideva His two wives. Sachimata was delighted to see them. On
the order of Sachimata, Nityananda went to the house of Advaita Acharya
in Shantipura. When his wife Sita Thakurani saw Vasudha and Sri Jahnava,
she floated in waves of ecstasy. Sri Nityananda wandered from place to
place performing many sankirtana pastimes (congregational singing of the
Lord's holy names). In due course, Sri Vasudhadevi gave birth to a daughter
named Ganga and a son named Virachandra. However, Sri Jahnavadevi had
As time passed, Sri Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acharya, Shrivasa Pandita,
and many other members of Lord Chaitanya's personal entourage left this
world to return to the spiritual domain. Sri Jahnava Mata still wanted
to inundate the world with a flood of sankirtana nectar. In Kheturi Gram
at that time was a great festival to be held on the celebration day of
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's advent. Many devotees attended, like Narottama,
Shyamananda and Shrinivas. The festival had been arranged by King Santosh
Dutta. Sri Jahnava herself attended the festival and cooked the food for
offering to the Gaura-Nitai Deities there. After the festival for one
night, they went on to Nabadvipa. However, Sri Jahnava did not get to
see Sachimata, Lord Chaitanya's mother, and felt very unhappy. She went
on to the home of Sripati and Srinidhi, but again was heartbroken because
of not seeing Srivasa Pandit and Malinidevi there. After spending the
night they went on to Shantipura and again discovered that Sri Advaita
Acharya and his wife Sita Thakurani had also both passed away. Though
greeted by their sons, Achyutananda and Gopala, Sri Jahnava was filled
Sri Jahnava Mata continued to travel with her associates and devotees,
always gathering to perform sankirtana, the congregational chanting and
singing of the Lord's holy names. In this way, many devotees were able
to drown themselves in the nectar of kirtana, and even many atheists and
sinners were greatly purified. On one special occasion at Kheturi Gram,
even Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda, who had already left this world,
made Their divine appearance again in the midst of the kirtana.
Sri Jahnava Mata was a wonderful cook and would prepare herself such
dishes as rice, vegetable preps, and other foods to be offered to the
Deities at such festivals. Thereafter, she would distribute the prasada
(offered food) herself with her own hand to the great souls who were gathered
When Sri Jahnava went to visit Vrindavana, she was greeted by many great
devotees, and her ecstasy was unlimited. The Gosvamis offered their pranams
and she also offered her obeisances in return. She was very happy seeing
the efforts of the Gosvamis in renovating the holy land. She toured the
holy places of Vrindavana and saw the different Deities. After visiting
the many pilgrimage places, she returned to Gaudadesha, Bengal. While
there she also visited the town of Sri Nityananda's birth, Ekachakra,
and was filled with ecstasy to see where He partook of childhood pastimes.
She continued her travels, returning to Nabadvipa and seeing the birthplace
of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu where she fainted in ecstasy. She then went
to the nearby courtyard of Srivasa, where she spent the night and the
devotees engaged in a great sankirtana, for this is where Sri Chaitanya
Mahaprabhu began His sankirtan movement. That night she had a dream of
Lord Chaitanya in which He performed different pastimes.
In this way, Jahnava Mata continued in her pastimes of traveling to
visit various devotees and engaging in sankirtana festivals, cooking food
to be offered to the Deities, and even witnessing the appearance of Lord
Chaitanya and Nityananda in the midst of some of those ecstatic kirtans.
She continued to deliver the love of bhakti (devotion) to numerous people,
even atheists and materialists by her mercy. Thus, being considered the
divine shakti of Lord Nityananda Himself, she continued the mission of
Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda by her activities, which centered around
sankirtana and cooking and distributing prasada to everyone.
Vishnupriya devi is the wife of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and appeared
to assist with His mission of spreading the holy name of Krishna. She
is said to be the internal potency of the Lord known as Bhu-shakti. Thus,
Sri Chaitanya and Vishnupriya are as Vishnu and Lakshmi combined again.
Vishnupriya was the daughter of Sanatana Mishra. He was a highly developed
Vishnu bhakta. He was pious and generous and would feed, clothe and shelter
many people. He was famous as the king of pandits. It is said that he
was a king named Satrijit in the age of Dvapara-yuga. It was a result
of his great devotion that he was blessed with such a qualified daughter.
Vishnupriya was devoted to her parents and would bathe in the Ganga
three times a day and observed many different vows of spiritual austerity,
and was devoted to the shastric principles. Everyday when she would bathe
in the Ganga, she would also bow at the feet of Mother Sachi, the mother
of Sri Chaitanya, and Mother Sachi would bless her that Krishna may provide
her with a qualified husband. Upon further enquiry Mother Sachi learned
that she was the daughter of Sanatana Mishra, a qualified pandita of Nabadvipa,
and she began to think that Vishnupriya may make a good wife for her own
son Nimai, Sri Chaitanya.
At this time, Sri Chaitanya's first wife, Lakshmipriya, had passed away
and entered the spiritual domain. So Mother Sachi was in great pain at
first, but started to think how to arrange for her son's happiness. When
she learned that He did not mind the idea of marrying again, Sachi began
to make plans in earnest to have her son remarried, and proposed that
a match be made with Vishnupriya. She made consultation with Sanatana
Mishra and he agreed and was pleased. It was arranged by the people and
devotees to be a grand event. (This is fully explained in the Chaitanya
Sri Vishnupriya spent her life as a devoted wife. Even when Sri Chaitanya
took sannyasa to engage completely in His purpose of preaching and spreading
the glories of Krishna's holy names, Vishnupriya stayed with Mother Sachi,
engaging in service to the Lord together. Later, Vishnupriya had her own
Deity of Sri Chaitanya and worshiped that Deity until she left this world
at the age of 92. This Deity is still worshiped in Nabadvipa in a temple
where you can visit and have darshan of this same Deity. In this way,
she also assisted in the continuation of Sri Chaitanya's sankirtana movement
and in the principles of Vedic culture.
Rani Chennamma of Kittur (in North Karnataka) was the first woman freedom
fighter of India against the British. Rani Chennamma was known for her
chivalry. She was born in 1778 and from childhood she trained herself
in warfare. Her husband, Raja Mallasarja of Kittur, died in 1816 and her
only son died in 1824. Chennamma adopted Shivalingappa as her son, but
the British did not accept this. The Rani fought tirelessly with the British
and with the help of her bodyguard, Balappa, she killed the British Southern
provincial officer, Thackray. The British, however, regrouped and attacked
Kittur. They followed non-Kshatriya methods and defeated and imprisoned
her in Bailhongal. She was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. She died on
Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi was one of the most brave and legendary of
warrior women of India. The city of Jhansi was an important center in
the 18th century, but in 1803 the British East India Company took over
control of the state. The last raja at the time died without a son in
1853. The British had passed a law that allowed them to assume control
of any state under their patronage if the ruler died without a male heir.
The Rani of Jhansi, however, did not like this enforced retirement and
preferred to rule on her own. So she was ready for the rebellion at Jhansi
when the Indian Mutiny began. The British in Jhansi were killed, but the
next year the British took Jhansi because of the disunity among the rebel
forces. The rani fled to Gwalior and while there made a defiant last stand.
Disguised as a man, she rode out to battle against the British, but was
unfortunately killed. Her qualities of boldness, patriotism, and generalship
were highly appreciated, even by her foreign rivals. Since then she has
been a heroine of the independence movement of India.
The hilltop fortress of Chittorgarh was another but more general example
of the chivalry of the Rajputs and the warrior spirit of the women. The
fort has a long history. In 1303 was when the Pathan King of Delhi, Ala-ud-din
Khilji, attacked the fort in an attempt to capture the queen Padmini,
wife of Bhim Singh, the Rana's uncle. When it was obvious that defeat
was inevitable, the Rajput noblewomen, which included Padmini, committed
Sati while Bhim Singh, knowing of his certain defeat, nonetheless took
his men and put on the saffron robes of martyrdom and rode to battle and
to their deaths. Honor was more important than death to them, and the
women also would rather die than submit to the enemy and certain humiliation.
Another such event at Chittorgarh took place in 1535 when the Sultan
of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, besieged the fort, and once again the Rajputs
did what they could. It is said that13,000 Rajput women and 32,000 Rajput
warriors died in the battle. The last of such scenes took place in 1568
when the Moghul Emperor, Akbar, took the town. The women again performed
Sati and 8000 saffron clad warriors rode out to their deaths. Again death
was better than submitting to the Muslim invaders.
Devi Ahalya Bai Holkar, the queen of Indore (Madhya Pradesh) has set
an excellent example of efficient administration. Her contribution to
encourage free trade and the concept of the welfare state is very admirable.
Her practices for maintaining integral nationality, her quick impartial
justice were very effective. She led a very simple and selfless life,
not utilizing anything from the royal treasury for her personal use.
Jijabai was not exactly a warrior herself but was the mother of Shivaji,
one of the great protectors of the country and its religion. She was the
guide who shaped his mind from his early years. She was the embodiment
of self-respect. She nurtured her child to fight and bring back Hindu
Rastra and became a constant source of inspiration to her heroic son.
Mira Bai is another name that many people will recognize for her saintly
loving attachment to Lord Krishna. Her history is not so clear, but it
is generally accepted that she was born in 1498 in a village near Merta
about 40 to 50 miles northwest of Ajmer. She was the daughter of Ratna
Singh, a Rajput noble and warrior who was much involved in fighting. Mira's
mother died when she was still very young. For these reasons she was sent
to live with her grandfather, Rau Dudaj, who had taken the town from the
Muslims to repopulate it with Hindus.
Mira was a devotee of Krishna from very young. One story is that even
before her mother died, Mira begged for an image of Krishna from a holy
man who had visited her home, which she received. She became so attached
to the Deity that her mother would joke that Krishna would become her
bridegroom. Mira's family were all Vaishnavas and regular worship was
a common event in their home. Later, Mira's grandfather died and her uncle
Viramji took responsibility of her.
In 1508 Rana Sangh, the great Rajput warrior, tried to arrange for the
defense of the oncoming Muslims by marrying Dhan Bai of the Jodhpur branch
of the House of Rathor, and thus establish alliances with other local
rulers. He also arranged with Viram Dev for the marriage of Mira to his
own heir, Prince Bhoja Raj, in 1516. This was supposed to secure an alliance
of power to the north.
So in 1516 Mira was married to Bhoja Raj, but the marriage was childless.
Mira was never interested in the marriage and was completely preoccupied
with her devotion to Lord Krishna, who in her poems she refers to as her
husband, and to herself as a virgin. It is said that Bhoja Raj was frustrated
with her for a while but gradually understood the devotional nature of
Mira and did not expect her to play the typical role as a wife. There
is a temple that is said to have been built for Mira Bai at the Chittorgarh
Fort where she would worship her Deity of Lord Krishna. You can still
visit this temple if you ever go to this fort.
War was common place at the time and in one such battle Mira's father,
Ratna Singh, was killed. Even Mira's uncle was attacked by an opposing
family, and Mira was increasingly left alone to her own devices. This
was most often based on her devotion to Krishna.
The marriage of Mira to help military alliances did not work out well
for Mira because 15 years later, in 1531, when Rana Sangh had been dead
for 3 years, Vikramajita (Vikramaditya), who was a mere boy of 14, acceded
the Kingdom of Mewar and was most temperamental. [Rana Raymal reigned
at Chittor 1473-1508. Rana Sangh was his son.] This put Mira in the spite
of members of a rival family. Vikramajita did not like Mira and it is
said at one point he locked her in a room with a guard. This did not have
the desired effect, so he tried to poison her, but that also failed. She
refers to this in her poems as the intervention of her Lord Krishna.
It is thought that Mira took refuge of her uncle Viram Dev in Merta
until Viram was expelled from his own capital by the King of Jodhpur in
1538. From this point, the rest of Mira's story is unclear. However, there
are a few bits and pieces that seem to stand correctly. In the first half
of the 17th century Mira is said to have visited Vrindavan. She may have
been a wandering ascetic after Viram was forced from Merta. The poet of
Priyadas who was at Vrindavan at the time says that Mira went to see Jiva
Gosvami of Sri Chaitanya's association, but Jiva refused to see her because
she was a woman. She replied that she thought Lord Krishna was the only
male in Vrindavana and all others were female gopis (cowherd maidservants).
This led to Jiva Gosvami admitting her into see him. There is also an
old temple in Vrindavana that is still dedicated to her presence there,
and there is an altar with nice Krishna Deities you can see there.
Other histories say that she went to Dwaraka and lived there for a considerable
time, worshiping at the temple there.
The death of Mira Bai in 1614 is also unclear, but it is said that in
course of time, evil fell on the fort of Chittor where Mira's family members
lived, and where they began to think that the decline of the fortress
was because of their persecution of a great devotee, namely Mira. The
king sent a message begging for her to return, but she took shelter at
the temple of Ranchor (Krishna) to pray, and it is said that her body
melted into the Deity.
In any case, Mira's poems remain an inspiration to many, and stir the
heart toward devotion to Krishna in many ways. They also emphasize the
means of developing attraction to Krishna's form, pastimes and the chanting
of His names, and exemplifies a love relationship with the Lord.
Vandaniya Lakshmibai Kelkar (Kamal as she was known as a little girl)
is another woman who did a tremendous amount of work of India and its
culture. She was born on July 6, 1905 to Bhaskar Rao Datey and her mother
Yasodabai. Kamal grew up in a congenial environment which molded her into
a sensitive and intelligent girl. She learned the qualities of serving
others to assist in their needs from her aunt who continually worked to
ease the plight of people affected by the plague. Kamal was also imbued
with devotion to India and its culture, and developed an acute sense to
organize and execute plans for its preservation. This was due to her mother
who would read to the local ladies the national newspapers to enlighten
them about the oppressions committed by the British. Though this was viewed
by the British rulers as an act of treason, she asserted that as a free
person and not a Government servant she had the right to read such papers.
In the meantime, Kamal was admitted to the only available convent school
in town, but shortly left because of the Christian domination in it. She
grew to be a lovely teenager but was determined not to marry anyone that
demanded dowry. So she later married a widower, Purushottam Kelkar. He
had two daughters from his first marriage. In the wedding, Kamal was given
the name Lakshmi, meaning prosperity. In her marriage she took care of
her two daughters, managed the household and in time became the mother
of six sons.
Laxmi was not satisfied with mere household duties. She also had the
spirit of patriotism, sacrifice and social reform. She was waiting for
the chance to participate in the freedom movement. She attended meetings
and listened to the top leaders of the movement and observed the effects
of the Law Defiance Movement, along with the gradual change in the social
psyche. She felt that obtaining political freedom was necessary, but that
every citizen of free Bharat must come forward with a firm common will
and total identification with the national interests, ancient glories,
the Vedic culture and traditions of Bharat. But how to put this all together
was the issue.
During this time some eminent personalities were striving for the education
of women. Due to Western impact, Indian women were struggling for equal
rights and economic freedom. Yet this led to progress of the individual
but not for the society as a whole, and to self-centerdness. This presented
the risk of women losing their commitment to love, sacrifice, service
and other inborn qualities that glorify Hindu women. She felt that this
attraction to the easy and showy way of western life that lead to this
unnatural change in the attitude of women could also lead to the disintegration
of family, which has been a primary and important factor in Vedic society
for imparting the proper Vedic culture. So Lakshmibai was worried by this.
After attending discourses by Gandhi and hearing him advising the ladies
to follow the life of Sita and Savitri, she studied the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
She was attracted to the literature of Swami Vivekananda who professed
that men and women are equally important constituents of the nation just
like two wings of a bird. Lakshmibai came to the conclusion that women
should boldly come forward and share the responsibility in solving the
various problems of the society.
Lakshmibai lost her husband in 1923 and was left to look after eight
children and a vast property. She faced the situation and still pursued
her national commitments. Later, through her sons, she learned of an organization
based on individual contact, mutual love and voluntary discipline called
the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh. She thought that this type of organization
would also work well for meeting the challenge among women. After meeting
with Dr. Hedgewar about her ideas, she formed an organization for women
called Rashtra Sevika Samiti on Vijaya Dashami Day, October 25, 1936.
She sketched the working plan for the organization and shouldered all
the responsibility herself.
As the organization grew, among its members Lakshmibai was called by
her family nickname of "Mousiji", but they prefixed it with
"Vandaniya" to show their respect. Vandaniya Mousiji's talent
of nursing became especially useful, since she had to nurse a number of
ailing minds from all kinds of weaknesses. It was difficult in those days
for a socially and economically well placed young widow to get involved
in work wherein prestige, honor and fame were never to be aspired for.
In the beginning she was also too shy to deliver speeches and often
would ask a friend to do it for her. But through perseverance, firm will
and relentless practice she slowly acquired most of the qualities to lead
The basic premise of the organization was the practice and promotion of
Vedic culture in its relevance to modern times. She convinced many women
to do the same by protecting it through the natural process of imparting
the proper impressions at home, especially to her children. It is through
this process that a mother's power can build a strong character-based
To set the proper example, she introduced Devi Ashtabhuja, a symbol
of the ideal Hindu woman with eight (ashta) specific qualities, such as
chastity, boldness, affection, alertness, etc., that every woman should
have. To organize and inspire the women, there were regular meetings.
And to spread it, Mousiji started touring with what little transportation
that could be arranged, traveling alone and with her small son, depending
on God to avoid the risks. Gradually, the Samiti grew to a national organization,
holding special gatherings in places like Mumbai.
Taking a special interest in education, the "Bharatiya Shri Vidya
Niketan" was registered in 1983 to reorganize the system of girls'
Having studied the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana, she gave
discourses on them and inspired many women to inculcate the firm will,
sanctity of thought and deed, and the self-protecting spiritual power
like that of Sita and Draupadi. Her discourses became popular and large
numbers of people would throng to hear her sweet voice and logical interpretation.
She could convince many younger generations to look on Vedic culture as
their national heritage and the divine personalities such as Sri Krishna,
Sri Rama and Sita, and Savitri as national heroes and heroines.
Vandaniya Mousiji was very affectionate and loving as a mother but equally
strict as a general in organizational matters. The individual attention
that she showed on each sevika volunteer made them feel that Mousiji loved
her the most.
Vandaniya Mousiji passed away on November 27, 1978 at the age of 73.
The news spread quickly and many members came to pay their last homage
to one of the recent architects of "Modern Vedic Women". Through
her foresightedness she had already made arrangements and had appointed
leaders to continue the work without any confusion after her passing.
The Samiti was then lead by Vandaniya Saraswatibai (Taiji Apte) until
her passing on March 9, 1994. During her tenure the organization even
spread outside India. The Samiti has since been lead under the loving
and careful guidance of Vandaniya Ushatai Chati, who had been appointed
by Taiji Apte herself. Thus, from the efforts of Mousiji, the women volunteers
of the Samiti are continuing in the protection and promotion of Vedic
* * *
There are many other women I could have included in this article, especially
those who have been recognized as saints and guardians of Vedic culture,
such as Anandamayi Ma who lived in Vrindavana. And presently there are
such women as Mother Karunamayi and Mother Amritanandamayi Ma whose life
stories are also inspirational, and who are traveling throughout the world
and actively preserving and expanding the understanding of various aspects
of the Vedic tradition. Because they offer the unconditional love of a
spiritual mother for their spiritual children, their popularity is one
of the reasons why thousands of people, especially women, have been attracted
to such lady pioneers in spirituality.
The world is like a desert craving for the rejuvenation and reciprocation
of such love. Why would it not be attractive? Even now there are a host
of other women that I have met, whether they are in the Rashtra Seviki
Samiti, Iskcon, Vivekanandra Kendra, Arun Jyoti, Swadyaya, Kalyan Ashrama,
or other organizations, all working in various ways in their humble service
to God, as well as for the protection and advancement of Vedic culture.
So these are just a few stories of the examples of strong and influential
women in Vedic culture, from the early Vedic times up to modern date,
and how women can further their development in spirituality and reach
a higher potential and contribution to society.
[This article is from ]
Critical Podium Dewanand Hinduism
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