By Arise India Forum Staff
Adapted from www.hinduwisdom.info with permission
In ancient India, women occupied a very important position, in fact a superior position to, men. It is a culture whose only words for strength and power are feminine -”Shakti” means “power” and “strength.” All male power comes from the feminine. Literary evidence suggests that kings and towns were destroyed because a single woman was wronged by the state. For example, Valmiki’s Ramayana teaches us that Ravana and his entire clan was wiped out because he abducted Sita. Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha teaches us that all the Kauravas were killed because they humiliated Draupadi in public. Elango Adigal’s Sillapathigaram teaches us Madurai, the capital of the Pandyas was burnt because Pandyan Nedunchezhiyan mistakenly killed her husband on theft charges. 

In Vedic times, women participated in the public sacrifices alongside men. One text mentions a female rishi Visvara. Some Vedic hymns, are attributed to women such as Apala, the daughter of Atri, Ghosa, the daughter of Kaksivant or Indrani, the wife of Indra. The Haritasmrti mentions a class of women called brahmavadinis who remained unmarried and spent their lives in study and ritual. Panini’s distinction between arcarya (a lady teacher) and acaryani (a teacher’s wife), and upadhyaya (a woman preceptor) and upadhyayani ( a preceptor’s wife) indicates that women at that time could not only be students but also teachers of sacred lore. He mentions the names of several noteworthy women scholars of the past such as Kathi, Kalapi, and Bahvici. The Upanishads refer to several women philosophers, who disputed with their male colleagues such as Vacaknavi, who challenged Yajnavalkya. The Rig Veda also refers to women engaged in warfare. One queen Bispala is mentioned, and even as late a witness as Megasthenes (fifth century B.C. E.) mentions heavily armed women guards protecting Chandragupta’s palace. 

Louis Jaccoliot, the celebrated French author of the Bible in India: Hindoo Origin of Hebrew and Christian Revelation said: “India of the Vedas entertained a respect for women amounting to worship; a fact which we seem little to suspect in Europe when we accuse the extreme East of having denied the dignity of woman, and of having only made her an instrument of pleasure and of passive obedience.” He also said: “What! here is a civilization, which you cannot deny to be older than your own, which places the woman on a level with the man and gives her an equal place in the family and in society.”

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