Role of Women in Hinduism Essay.
The purpose of the research paper is to examine the role of women in Hinduism and how it impact their lives .This paper will look at how narratives from sacred texts influences women’s role in society in the past and in the present. The role of women in Hinduism is often disputed, and positions range from equal status with men to restrictive. Hinduism is based on numerous texts, some of which date back to 2000 BCE or earlier. They are varied in authority, authenticity, content and theme, with the most authoritative being the Vedas.
The position of women in Hinduism is widely dependent on the specific text and the context. Positive references are made to the ideal woman in texts such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, while some texts such as the Manu Smriti advocate a restriction of women’s rights.
In modern times, the Hindu wife has traditionally been regarded as someone who must at all costs remain chaste or pure.
This is in contrast with the very different traditions that have prevailed at earlier times in Hindu kingdoms, which included highly respected professional courtesans such as Amrapali of Vesali, sacred Devadasis, mathematicians and female magicians the Basavis, the tantric kulikas. Mahabharata and Manu Smriti asserts that gods are delighted only when women are worshiped or honoured, otherwise all spiritual actions become futile, as evidenced by the narrative from the Mahabharata “Deities of prosperity are women.
The persons that desire prosperity should honour them. By cherishing women, one cherishes the goddess of prosperity herself, and by afflicting her, one is said to afflict the goddess of prosperity” (Mahabharata,). Several women sages and seers are mentioned in the Upanishads, the philosophical part of the Vedas, notable among them being Gargi and Maitreyi. This reveals that women were also given a place as Gurus.
The Bhagavata Purana states that the Mahabharata was written specifically for women and also men who were not in the priestly Brahmin caste, for example the following passage. “Out of compassion, the great sage thought it wise that this would enable men to achieve the ultimate goal of life. Thus he compiled the great historical narration called the Mahabharata for women, laborers and friends of the twice-born.” According to Sharma &Arvind, 2002 “Women have fought for their status and role in communities, religions, and the nation for years. And women in Hinduism are no different”. Women traditionally would live the life of a mother and a wife following the footsteps of their ancestors.
Women’s roles were laid out in Hindu law books such as the Dharma-Sastras, however basic rules in the Laws of Manu (200 C.E.) lays out how a women or wife should behave in the household and towards her husband. Nevertheless, women’s roles have evolved over time and women are going against the social norm of their tradition and even their way of life. Hinduism is a complex religion and unlike many western religions, it is a way of life. Family is very important in Hinduism and as keeper of the household women play an important role in the tradition. Women are revealed in the sacred scriptures as presenting a duality of being benevolent and malevolent exposing her with great contrasting powers.
“In times of prosperity she indeed is Laksmi, [goddess of wealth] who bestows prosperity in the homes of men; and in times of misfortune, she herself becomes the goddess of misfortune, and brings about ruin” (Wadley, 1977) Because of this changing power that a women possesses it is rational that man should want to control this mysterious power. Then, perhaps it may have been interpreted that women should remain stagnate, running the household, rearing the children, and participate in religious rituals as an assistant to their husband. It is the female’s role as a wife to bear her husband’s children and educate them in their traditional practices.
To maintain their dominance over the women men have their wives maintain the home and the family that he has made and provided for. The female’s prakrti, (nature), is like the soil where the male plants his seed to grow into “conjoined images” (Wadley, 1977). And therefore “the male controls the female; that Nature is controlled by Culture” (Wadley, 1977). Culture or society controls nature as it is motivated to change and evolve just as the man tries to control the women. Prior to marriage, the female is regulated by her father and then when she is married she is controlled by her husband.
During the marriage, the wife must then be truly devoted to her husband and it is believed that she is able to transfer her natural female power to the husband for daily rituals and caring for his family. In the Mahabharata, a husband describing her truly devoted wife says: “She never eats before I eat, and never bathes before I bathe. She rejoices if I rejoice, and becomes sorry when I am sorry. When I am away, she becomes cheerless, and when I am angry, she ceases not to speak sweetly.
Ever devoted to her lord and ever relying upon her lord, she was ever employed in doing what was agreeable to and beneficial for her lord. Worthy of praise is that person on earth who owns such a spouse. That amiable wife knows that I am fatigued and hungry. Devoted to me and constant in her love, my spouse is exceedingly sweet-tempered and worships me devoutly.”(Mahabharata) Daily roles and activities of the wife involve more than just caring for the household; they also involve religious rituals. Although, only Brahman men can do the Vedic rituals women still play an important role in devotional rituals.
The wives of Brahmin priests can act as assistants to their husbands on ritual occasions because there are no scriptural sanctions against such female ritual behavior .In the Vedic world, women were required to be present for the rituals to work, even though they had no official role to play in them, for example this passage. “Day and night, women must be kept dependent to the males of their families. If they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one’s control. Her father protects her in childhood. Her husband protects her in youth. Her sons protect her in old age. A woman is never fit for independence.”
Many Hindu scriptures say women are to be honored, “religious deeds are said to be useless if women are not honored and cherished” (Sarkar& Tanika, 2003). So, in a small village in North India, “women instigate and participate in twenty-one of the thirty-three annual rites…[and] dominate nine of the twenty-one annual rites” (Wadley,1977). Although women have developed a stronger religious status, they are still considered dangerous to men; whether it is because their inner power or another reason we cannot be certain and therefore they are accepted as active participants in the Vedic rituals.
“O best of Bharatas, I wish to hear thee discourse on the disposition of women. Women are said to be the root of all evil. They are all regarded as exceedingly frail” (Mahabharata,) Hindu women’s traditional roles in the household in India have changed a great deal over the past fifty or even hundred years. Western countries have had an influence on these changes. Scholars traveling to India are wanting to learn and study the Indian Hindu culture. And, therefore they have written many articles and books on the sacred scriptures including reviews on the Vedas and other religious scriptures that were once restricted from women.
The ongoing reconstruction of the social status of women has brought about many new changes in, “Education, health measures, rural and industrial welfare schemes, and problems of early marriage, purdah, the positions of widows, women’s franchise rights, and the representation of women in governing bodies. (Sarkar& Tanika, 2003).The schools now allow young women to learn the Vedas and sacred scriptures that were formally restricted to only men of a certain class/caste.
With this new revelation, many people have spoke out saying, “No society can prosper without education for its women. By treating women as the lowest caste, you don’t raise them to a level of vidya shakti [educated power], they will end up being avidya shakti [ignorant power]” (Pechilis, 2004). Due to this modification of women roles in society, infant mortality has reduced with better health measures. Young girls will are no longer forced to marry before they hit puberty, and widows are able to re-marry. Although there is, more men than women being born in India the change in women’s status as independent women in governing bodies is expected bring a change to this as well.
To most women these changes seem radical and the feel that they are disrespecting their tradition. By accepting the changes as a new improvement to their past traditions, they can keep their traditional values as well as become revolutionalized. Many women have accepted the lifestyles of their ancestors as the social norm. Many women have stepped out of the norm and made a difference in their village, society, and their country giving other women everywhere someone the look up to and follow in their leadership.
“The life of asceticism is now not only a part of coming of age for a man but women are more commonly choosing this lifestyle as well”( Denton Lynn Teskey ,2004). An example of this growth and leadership is evident through the rise of the female guru. Female guru’s are not traditionally accepted and the social norm in Hinduism. “The most radical challenge of the female gurus is not directed toward the received guru tradition but rather the received social expectations” (Pechilis, 2004).
For instance, according to Bose& Mandarins many female gurus are or were married, then are some that have never been married which has created some conflict with their families who want them to adopt the traditional role of a women to be a wife and mother. Instead, they live an ascetic lifestyle and do not try to define the difference between female or male gurus. Both are trying to attain the same goal, and gender does not affect how they come to their attainment.
However, “all of the female gurus are associated with the Goddess through the concept of shakti, for they, like the Goddess, are paramount embodiments of shakti” (Pechilis, 2004). Female gurus are, for the most part, understood and accepted by their followers. The work they do with the people teaching and connecting with their students, illustrates the growing influence of women in Hinduism. Although change has challenged the idea of the proper wife who remains under her husband’s control, change has also brought about many beneficiary factors. Women are much more able think and act independently should they choose to.
They may better educate themselves not only in the religious texts, such as the Vedas, but in social inclement and activities as well. Women have a choice between becoming a wife who obeys her husband’s wishes and or “the Mother, the goddess who epitomizes the dual character of the Hindu female” (Wadley, 1977). Although most Hindu women will probably continue to follow their tradition and be a proper wife change has created possibilities for those women who want a different lifestyle involving religious power or as a business women, for example, should they choose it.
The opportunity for change is among us all should we choose it. “women as [a] mother in Hindu thought controls others and becomes the Hindu woman in control of herself” (Chitgopekar& Nilima, 2000). In conclusion, religion plays an important part in women’s lives, however women who are Hindus ,religion is their life, they live by the scripture whether it impact their lives in a positive or a negative way.
Hindu women despite the fact of Vedas, the Holy Scripture of Hindus, (being quite anti-feminism and thus instituting in males superiority), females of Hindu community have travelled a long way. From the old conventions of sati, pardah, illiteracy and being an asset of the males, the women have made a huge come back. They have not only earned social and economic development but also the political liberty.
Bose, Mandarins (2000) Faces of the feminine in ancient, medieval, and modern India. New York: Oxford University Press. Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking goddesses: gender politics in Indian religion. New Delhi: Shakti Books. Denton, Lynn Teskey (2004) Female ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press. Mahabharata –The Scared text of Hinduism, retrieved Jan 10,2013 from website
www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/index.htm. Pechilis, Karen (2004) The Graceful guru: Hindu female gurus in India and the United States. New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press Sarkar, Tanika (2003) Hindu wife, Hindu nation: community, religion, and cultural nationalism. New Delhi: Permanent Black Sharma, Arvind (2002) Women in Indian religions. Toronto: Oxford University Press Wadley, Susan S.(1977) “Women and Hindu Tradition.” Signs, Vol. 3, No. 1; Chicago: University