Hindu Woman through the Ages - from Warrior to Flag-bearer of Tradition

March 8, 2008
International Women's Day

She is Language, he is Thought
She is Prudence, he is Law
He is Reason; she is Sense
She is Duty; he is Right
He is Will; she is Wish
He is Pity; she is Gift
He is Song; she is Note
She is Fuel; he is Fire
She is Glory; he is Sun
She is Motion; he is Wind
He is Owner; she is Wealth
He is Battle ; she is Might
He is Lamp; she is Light
He is Day; she is Night
He is Justice; she is Pity
He is Channel; she is River
She is Beauty; he is Strength
She is Body; he is Soul

-Vishnu Purana

Although the Hindu family has been a patriarchal one, equal or more importance has been given to the woman in the family. In order of preference, mothers should be worshipped first. The only words for strength and power are feminine. “Shakti” means power and “strength” and comes from Goddess Durga.

Tracing the history of women way back to the Vedic ages, women occupied very high position in the society then. Women were considered equal to men in all matters. Women received education, mastered the Vedas and the Holy Scriptures, and also had the thread ceremony. There were notable women scholars .They were also trained in the art of warfare, and there are mentions of queens accompanying their husbands to battlefields and women warriors being employed as guards. The system of swayamvara was prevalent where the girl had the right to choose her husband. The girls had a share in the property from the family, and when the daughter got married, her share of the ancestral property was given to her in the form of dowry. This was called the stridhana (meaning property of the woman), where the property essentially remained the property of the girl even after her marriage. The property was a reserve or a back up for the woman in case things went wrong. A widow in the Vedic age was allowed to remarry. Sati was practically non existent during the Vedic age. 

The position of the women was threatened with the constant invasion and attacks by foreigners. The women were abducted and heinous crimes were meted out to them. The life and chastity of women were of little value to the invaders. To protect the women from the atrocities, the communities enforced social norms such as child marriages, shaving the heads of the widows to make them look unattractive, sati system and johar. 'Sati’ is an ancient Sanskrit term, meaning a chaste woman who thinks of no other man than her own husband. The women of the olden times willingly jumped into the fire from falling into the hands of the enemies. Rani Padmini of Chittor, among other queens is one who chose to end their lives committing Johar lest falling into the hands of the enemy. Female infanticide, looking down upon child birth started at a time when India was threatened by constant attacks, and the targets were mainly women, who were carried away for mere pleasure of the attackers. The people dreaded birth of girl children, and got done with the responsibility of a girl child by marrying them off at a very young age.

But as time passed, the notions of some of the practices were changed. Post-independence, child marriage continues to be practiced till date in some rural areas even though it is considered illegal by the government. But this practice continues to take place in the rural areas, where the girl does not receive education and has no say in any decisions. This practice is prevalent in such places where the birth of a girl child is still welcomed with contempt and evils such as female infanticide still haunts these areas.

The entire essence of the dowry system has come to be abused. From being a ‘stridhana’ (wealth of the woman), it has turned into a practice in which huge amount of wealth is paid to the groom’s party. Inability to pay dowry in many cases results in harassment and killing of the bride. This evil practice has spread among the Muslim and Christian community in India as well. The most common news related to dowry cases is that of bride burning. The government has made dowry illegal. But surrogate forms of dowry still continue to be practiced. The government has made rules and regulations and given rights to the bride in relation to dowry harassment. The bride these days is much more empowered than her contemporary a few years back.

The very notion of Sati has changed tremendously from what it was before. Previously a widow had a choice either to jump into the pyre of her husband, or to re-marry. Many a time she decided to jump into the fire so that her body was not touched by the enemy. But a few years down the line, it was considered a murder where women were forcefully thrown into the pyre, most of the times against their will. Social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Dayanand Saraswati put an end to this practice.

It is very truly said that ‘A woman can either be a house breaker or house maker’. Today they carry a huge responsibility with them on being par with the men. A woman stands as an epitome of sacrifice. In the Indian culture, a woman balances tactfully the multiple tasks of home-making, looking after the children and also earning. They are proving themselves equal to men in all the fields. Though the position of the woman in the Indian society has been improving over the last few years, much more needs to be done. The women in the rural areas need to be educated. I came across a beautiful saying once:

‘Education to a boy makes him a man,

Education to a woman makes the nation’

They should be encouraged to come out of their homes and prove themselves. Only if every man starts respecting every woman, can the safety of the woman in society be ensured.

Take sometime off and think of all the women in your life. Imagine how life would have been without them. Thank and say a silent prayer for them. After all, yeh fevicol ka mazboot jod hai. Tootega nahi [notice men as a part of wo(men). They are inseparable]

Wishing all the women around the world a Happy Women’s Day. 

Also see:

Anupama Prabhu - Archives:

by Anupama Prabhu - Manipal
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Comment on this article

  • Asha S Vadya, putter/dubai

    Tue, Mar 11 2008

    An excellent article.The poem is well written Anupama.

  • Ashok, Bangalore

    Mon, Mar 10 2008

    Well written Anupama. There is a misconception about the treatment of women in hindu Family due to wrong portrayal of issues such as Sati. When we see the facts with proper background doubts get cleared.

  • delia, Abu Dhabi

    Mon, Mar 10 2008

    Beautifully written.

  • Philip, Canada

    Sun, Mar 09 2008

    Very nicely written with full information

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