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Year : 2014  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-3

Women in the Rig Vedic age

1 Division of Yoga and Humanities, S VYASA Yoga University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Division of Humanities, S VYASA Yoga University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication2-Jun-2015

Correspondence Address:
Kambhampati Subrahmanyam
Division of Humanities, S-VYASA Yoga University, #19, Gavipuram Circle, KG Nagar, Bengaluru - 560 019, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2347-5633.157985

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The role of women in orienting life and family were elucidated in Rig Vedic age. They enjoyed independence and self-reliance. Besides their domestic role, they had every access to education with tremendous potential to realize the highest truths. Many of them were seers who had an intellectual and spiritual depth. Women played an important role in maintaining the economic status of the family with the occupation of spinning, weaving, and needlework. Widow's remarriage was permitted in Rig Vedic society as evidenced in the funeral hymn in the Rig Veda. Caste system in the society did not seem to be strict. During this time inter-caste marriages took place in society. Women learned several disciplines that included vocal and instrumental music and dance. Women were also allowed to learn martial pursuits. Respect and value of the women in the Vedic society not merely as household mistress but also as individuals with great potential to contribute to human society were revealed.

Keywords: Rig Veda, status, women

How to cite this article:
Devi NJ, Subrahmanyam K. Women in the Rig Vedic age. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2014;2:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Devi NJ, Subrahmanyam K. Women in the Rig Vedic age. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2014 [cited 2024 Feb 21];2:1-3. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2014/2/1/1/157985

  Introduction Top

The Vedic period, as described in the Rig Veda, depicts a highly evolved society in which women played a stellar role in the orienting life and the family. They were accorded equal status and privileges along with men and were second to none. Some of the women seers described while that period were remarkable personalities of great depth and understanding.

Women were encouraged to study the scriptures and were given Upanayana Samskara (initiation into learning). They were considered to be the custodians of purity and perseverance. In the interest of the society and interest of the family, women enjoyed independence and self-reliance. The situation of the women during that period as derived from a study of the Rig Veda is described below.

  The situation of women during the rig vedic period Top

The situation of women during the Vedic period can be inferred from a study of the Rig Veda. Apart from their domestic role in begetting and bringing up progeny and thereby contributing to the continuation of society, they were considered as custodians of morality and values. Even more important is their depiction as individuals with tremendous potential to realize the highest truths.

  The family status and social status of women Top

The position of the woman and her equal status to man in every dimension of life is elucidated in the hymn 10.85. "The hymn (10.85) shows fascinating spotlight on the position of woman. She was the mistress in household, lifelong companion of the husband and real partner in all his activities and religious sacrifices. The union of husband and wife in both body and mind is repeatedly emphasized, and her entry into husband's home is regarded as an auspicious event bringing blessing to the entire household, including the domestic birds and animals." [1]
"Perfect harmony and happiness are prayed for in conjugal life, which will be long enough to bless the couple with sons and grandsons (VIII.31.5-6; X.34.11; 85.18, 19, 42). Rig Veda hymn X.85.46 described the newly married wife as the most respected person as the mistress of her new household. [2]

The idea of equality is expressed in Book 5, hymn 6, verse 8, "… the wife and the husband being the equal halves of one substance were regarded equal in every respect, and both took equal part in all duties, religious and social." [3],[4]

There is no reference to child marriage and girls were normally married after reaching maturity. In Rig Vedig age "… the practice of child marriage did not exist." [5] Women had their right to accept or reject their life partner.
"The frequent mention of unmarried girls like Ghosha, who grew up in the house of their parents (I,117.7; X.39.3, 40.5), the references to the ornaments worn by maidens at festival occasions in order to win lovers (I.123.11; VII.2.5), to the youth's courtship of the maiden he loves (I.115.2), to the lover's gifts (I.117.18), to their mutual love (I.167.3; I X.32.5, etc.) all this evidence speaks in favour of the custom of girls marrying long after they had reached puberty". [2]

As a sign of woman's social dignity widow remarriage was permitted in Rig Vedic society, as evidenced in the funeral hymn in the Rig Veda hymn (10.18.8 R): "The widow who lay on the pyre by the side of her dead husband was asked to come to the world of the living." [6]

In X.40.2 and X.18.7, 8 there is more reference to levirate (Niyoga). It was positively enjoined upon her by the social and religious custom in order to obtain progeny. The impotency of the husband is the usual ground, though other circumstances, such as imprisonment of the husband, etc. [1]

Women attended fairs and festivals and were free to move about with their husbands or loved ones. They were allowed to attend Sabhas or assemblies of the learned ones, in the company of their husbands or loved ones. "Like women at a gathering fair, the streams of oil look on with a gentle smile and recline to Agni." [3]

In fact, there is enough evidence that points out to the remarkable freedom women enjoyed, even to the extent of affairs being tolerated, similar to men. Even wives suspected of having paramours are not denied social and religious rites, far less driven away from the family. [1]

Compartmentalization of society does not seem to have been rigid. During this time, inter-caste marriages took place in society. People were given absolute freedom to select their caste. "In one case, the father was a priest, the mother grinder of corn, and the son a physician, all three lived happily together." [7]

Women played a role in maintaining the economic status of the family. The women took up spinning, weaving and needlework. Clothes were much more expensive in ancient India than at present. Among other important occupations, the first place must be given to weaving both in cotton and wool, which supplied clothes to people. "It is noteworthy as in later days, both men and women were engaged in this work as well as in the subsidiary process of dyeing and embroidery." [8]

  Women and learning Top

Women had every access education and even more importantly, several of them became seers of a very high order displaying an intellectual and spiritual depth that is second to none.

They are called in Sanskrit Brahmavadinis, the speaker and revealers of Brahman - the infinite source of spirituality. [4]

The Rig Veda contains hymns composed by as many as 27 Brahmavadinis or women seers viz., Gosha, Godha, Vishwavara, Apala, etc. (Brihad devata, 11.84). The acquisition of supreme philosophical realization on the part of women, at the very dawn of human civilization, was unparalleled in the history of the world. [9]

If they wanted to pursue knowledge without getting married, they were allowed to do so, without any constraints. The educators wisely divided women into two groups namely Brahmavadinis and Sadyodvahas. "The former were life-long students of theology and philosophy, the latter used to pursue their studies until their marriage at the age of 15 or 16." [10]

Marriage was by no means compulsory for them and the special Vedic term Amajur, meaning an unmarried woman (1.117; 2.17; 10.39.3; 8.21.15) shows that several women preferred a life of single blessedness. Women were fully entitled to Upanaya and Brahmacharya, initiation and Vedic studentship equally with men. The Vedic Brahmavadinis, who dedicated the whole of their lives to the pursuit of truth, were, in fact, not only by far the earliest, but at the same time among the best of all women ascetics of the world. [9]

Women mastered several disciplines of fine arts that included vocal and instrumental music and dance. Women sang during ceremonial occasions and demonstrated their aptitude for dancing (1.9.2, 1.9.4). [9]

Women were also allowed to explore martial pursuits. There are several references to women warriors, namely, Vadhrimati and Vishpala, in the hymn of the female seer Ghosha (10.39, 40). Both of them took part in actual fighting in the battlefield. We find another fighting woman in Shashiyasi (5.61.6, 5.61.9). Women warriors fought and died along with men, in one instance, Indra kills Danu, mother of Vritra, fighting by her son's side (Rig Veda 1.32.9). [9] Sarama, one of the most powerful woman warriors of her day was sent by her husband in search of robbers. She discovered their hiding place and killed them. [4]

Despite, the importance and respect accorded to women in the Vedic age, there are also evidences of the birth of sons being celebrated to a greater extent than daughters. The Rig Veda does not say anything directly on this point, but prayers for ten sons in the marriage hymn, without reference to any daughter, seems to indicate that latter was less welcome than the former. [1]

  Conclusion Top

Women were respected and valued in the Vedic society not merely as mothers for bringing in a new generation, but also as individuals with great potential to perceive the truth and contribute richly to human society. There is much than modern society can learn from that period.

  References Top

Majumdar RC. Ideal and position of Indian women in domestic life. In: Madhavananda S, Majumdar RC, editors. Gt. Women f India. Fifth Impr. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, Mayawati, Champawat, Himalayas; 2001. p. 4-10.  Back to cited text no. 1
Majumda R, Pusalkar A, Majumdar A, editors. The History and Culture of Indian People: The Vedic Age. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; 1996. p. 392-3.  Back to cited text no. 2
Indra. Status of Women in Ancient India. Banaras: Motilal Banarassidass; 1955. p. 2, 69.  Back to cited text no. 3
Abhedananda S. Women's Place in Hindu Religion. 10 th ed. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Society; 1982. p. 3-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
Joshi PS. Cultural History of Ancient India. New Delhi: S. Chand; 1978. p. 7.  Back to cited text no. 5
Kapadia K. Marriage and Family in India. London: Oxford Univ. Press; 1966. p. 59.  Back to cited text no. 6
Jha DN. Ancient India: An Introductory Outline. New Delhi: People's Publishing House; 1981. p. 11.  Back to cited text no. 7
Majumdar. Ancient India. New Delhi: Motilal Banarassidass; 1964. p. 47.  Back to cited text no. 8
Chaudhuri R. Women's education in ancient India. In: Madhavananda S, Majumdar RC, editors. Gt. Women f India. Fifth Empr. Kolkata: Advita Ashrama Mayawati, Champawat, Himalayas; 2001. p. 95-101.  Back to cited text no. 9
Altekar AS. Position of Women in Hindu Civilization. New Delhi: Motilal Banarassidass; 1959. p. 11.  Back to cited text no. 10

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