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Is it true that women were not allowed to recite Vedas in ancient times?!

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Hinduism is the oldest religion which taught the world the core values of life and death. Hinduism is a religion which was not founded by anyone nor was it written by any person keeping a central dogma of One God, One Principle. In simple terms, the religion is nothing but understanding life and evolving our self towards the right path to attain Moksha.

This is exactly why, Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is considered ‘The Way of Life’, which means it scripts everything that needs to be done in a good way without harming anyone or anything to attain moksha or end the cycle of rebirth.

There is a vast discussion about how women were treated in the ancient times in India. Since Hindus consider the Vedas and Upanishads as the path to God, there were many controversies about women being denied rights to chant Vedic hymns or take education in Vedas. From 10-19th century, India suffered hugely under foreign invasion which resulted in the loss of millions of scripts and literature work which were collected since thousands of years. This lead to a permanent disconnect between ancient India and the modern times and people started propagating their own conclusions about the Vedas which lead to massive misunderstanding. The ill intentions of foreigners to degrade Hinduism and spread Christianity and Islam became the main reason for propagating misconceptions about the ancient religion.

But fact is Hinduism which considers Women as Nature could not have denied rights to her. In ancient scripts, women are called Prakruthi which gives life to all living things. Lord Shiva himself says without Prakruthi, there is no Purusha (Men). So, the first question is how can such a religion suppress women??

Many scholars and researchers who have studied and understood the Vedas had clearly said that in no way did the ancient people discriminate women in education or societal rights. According to the HARITA DHARMASUTRA OF THE MAITRAYANIYA SCHOOL OF YAJUR VEDA, women were classified as Brahmavadinyah Sadyovadhvas ca, Brahmavadini Namupanayana Magnindhanam Svaghre Bhikshacharyeti.

Brahmavadinis here referred to those women who dedicated their life for studying Vedas. They sometimes forego their marriage and remain single their entire life, however, they were not barred from getting married if they wish to. Visvavara, Ghosha, Sikata, Nivavari, Apala and Visvavara from the family of Atri, Angirasi Sarasvati from the family of Angirasa, Yami Vaivasvati, Sraddha, Ghosha, Surya, Indrani, Urvasi, Sarama, Juhu and Paulomi Saci, who are associated to the mantras of Rig Veda (Credit: Parama Devi).

Lopamudra was a famous scholar of Sanskrit and Tamil and she married Agastya Rish. The hymns of Rig Veda (1.179.1-2) are attributed to her. There is another Mathematics literature which is named after Lilavati. Some say that it was written by Lilavati herself, while some believe that it was composed by a man, but was named after Lilavati. 

The book 14 of Atharva Veda and various sections other books are attributed to Rishikas or “female Rishis”. The Vac sukta (Rig Veda 10.125), focusing on the very revelation of the Vedas, is attributed to the Rishika Vagambhrina. The entire book of Atharva Veda concerning domestic rituals, marriage etc, is attributed to a Rishika. Many parts of the other 19 books are attributed to women, and the rituals described as specifically called strikarmani, ceremonies specifically celebrated by women (Credit: Parama Devi).

The Vedas Ashvalayana Grhyasutra (3.4.4) and Shankhayana Grhyasutra (4.10) provides a list of Women Vedic Scholars and gurus like Sulabha Maitreyi and Vadava Prathiteyi. Some of the rituals mentioned considers women as authorities to perform them. Example: Aitareya Brahmana 2.9 quotes the opinion of Kumari Gandharva-grihita on the ritual of Agnihotra (the daily celebration of the fire sacrifice).

There are certain hymns in the Vedas which must be chanted only by women. Example: Madhyandina Yajurveda (5.17, 3.44-45 etc), the Apastambha dharmasutras (2.2.29.11-15) and the Srauta sutras on the Vedic ceremonies and Yajur Veda (Sukla 5.17). As chanting Vedic hymns activated many nerve system, certain mantras were not allowed to be chanted by women, so this did not mean that women as a whole were barred from chanting mantras.

The Brahmavadini usually followed all their rituals at home and were not forced to stay in gurukuls like the boys. So, most of the girls stayed in the house and learnt Vedas and traditions. But Panini in his writings has described about women attending vedic schools called charanas (4.1.63) and that sometimes they reside in hostels or chhatri-sala (6.2.86) for the purpose of their studies. A very famous grammar school started by Apisali has been highlighted by Patanjali Mahabhasya where girls learnt about Mimamsa philosophy and also makes reference to the beginner and advanced learning like adhyetri and manavika (4.193, 2.249).

Those women who got married had equal respect as their husbands in every walk of life. It is said that Scholar Gargi attained self-realization at the stage of brahmacharya, Chudala in the grihastha ashrama, Maitreyi in the stage of vanaprastha, and Sulabha yogini as a sannyasini.

So with these facts, how can one say that women were being denied rights of vedic learning or writing? It is only in the past few centuries, the complete meaning of Vedas and Upanishads have been twisted and people have been misguided about the position of the women in Hindu society.

Mysore-based Samveda Mahamandala President K.R. Manjunatha Shrouthyalso endoreses that women were had equal rights in ancient times and were many women Vedic scholars. In an interview to The Hindu, he had said “It is a misconception that reciting mantras from Vedas would affect child-bearing. In fact, there are some mantras like those found in Tandya Brahmana which should be recited by only women,” he pointed out.

He also said Upapradhan Acharya of Acharyakulam (Haridwar) Krishna Bhatt taught the Rig Veda to his wife after their marriage. “She did her Masters and M. Phil after marriage. She mastered the Vedas as well. I can proudly say that we are the only ghanapati [expert] couple in the entire country who recite Rig Veda,” he said.

Credit and Source:Parama Devi, Founder and Director at Jagannatha Vallabha Vedic Research Center


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