Tradition long in honoring Hindu women

Those who believe gender equality is a modern concept may be surprised to learn that the primary Hindu scriptures, Rig Veda, do not consider woman inferior in any sphere of human endeavor. As many as 20 women were among the sages to whom God revealed Rig Veda.

Hinduism conceives God in both male and female form; Hindu scriptures extol the worship of God as divine Mother, and Hindus worship many female deities, as representations of God. Luxmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity; goddess Saraswati bestows knowledge and fine arts, and goddess Durga provides protection.The most revered sages and scholars whom Hindus are expected to remember in a daily prayer include women. And no family ritual or ceremony is considered fruitful without the participation of a wife or a female member.

The relationship between human beings and God is compared with that of a child and a mother who gives birth to a child, nurtures him, gives him life skills and showers him with love and tender care. Therefore, Hinduism considers a mother’s status higher than that of the father.

According to Manu, the most famous Hindu lawmaker of ancient India, “The rank of, a principal is equal to 10 ordinary teachers. The rank of a father is equal to that of 100 principals. The rank of a mother is equal to that of 1,000 fathers.” Hindu literature is full of stories of countless female scholars, saints, warriors and rulers.

Being the teacher of man, women build the foundation of the society and shape the destiny of the nation. Since the future of a nation depends upon the quality of its children, motherhood occupies an exalted position in Hinduism. It is solely because of this reason that the role of a homemaker is strongly recommended for women, although they do have the freedom to pursue any other occupation. According to one of the Hindu codes of social laws, Harit Smriti, “There are two categories of women; those who study the Vedas and the other scriptures and opt to pursue a philosophical path and those who, when they come of age, marry and become householders.” In other words, a woman can either have a full-time career or be a full-time mother; part-time motherhood is discouraged. The responsibility of nation building is too crucial to be entrusted to babysitters and nannies.

According to traditional Hindu wisdom, the role of a woman in the household is equal to that of a man. The husband is called Pati, the protector and provider. The wife is called Patni, meaning the preserver and nourisher. Automatically, the division of labour is set out in the family. The husband-and-wife team is compared to the two wheels of a chariot working in unison. Hinduism also calls wife an Ardhanini, that is, one-half of the whole.

Although-Hinduism accorded women a place of equality, dignity and honor; their status gradually declined as Hindu society decayed. Some Hindus would rather say their society decayed because of the decline in women’s status. Over the centuries, male ego turned women into dependants whose only role was to produce children and be subservient to their husbands’ commands.A woman’s education was totally neglected after the Vedic period and, therefore, she was no longer equipped to play the important role the Vedas had assigned to her. Also, as Hindus stopped adhering to the lofty ideals of the Vedas, their society became corrupt and no longer honored women.

It is noteworthy that the great Hindu religious leaders who pioneered the movement for women’s emancipation in the 18th and 19th century were men. During the struggle for India’s independence, Mahatma Gandhi brought women to the forefront of the political arena.

Today, urban Hindu women may have even surpassed their Vedic contemporaries; they are entering the professions once considered the executive bastion of male dominance and are working as lawyers, judges, engineers, doctors, scientists and pilots. Rural women, too, need to regain their lost status.

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Article By: Ajit Adhopia