स्त्री वेद अधिकार-Study of Vedas by Women in Ancient India
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Vedic Education for Girl Students
In the ancient vedic times women had all rights similar to men in studying the vedas. Note that, study of the vedas and shastras in ancient times in gurukuls is similar to schooling education in modern times. So denying this right to women in ancient times would have meant denying women the right to education. But as we shall see below, this was not the case. Women enjoyed equal liberty and freedom in their pursuit of knowledge in ancient India similar to men.
Classification of Women in Ancient India based on Vedic Education
Women were classified as Brahmavadini and Sadyovadhu in ancient vedic times. Brahmavadini was a woman who studied the vedas after the Yajnopavitam sanskara (sacred thread ceremony) and got married later or stayed a bachelor in further pursuit of the vedic knowledge. Sadyovadhu was a woman who got married immediately after her sacred thread ceremony.
This has been mentioned in the texts like Madhava Samhite on Parashara Smriti, in Harita Dharma Sutra, etc. To show India as a backward country, oppressive to women, some sources especially western Indologists claim that Brahmavadini is just a wife of a daughter of a male rishi. But that is not what the texts define them as, nor does the very word Brahmavadini imply anything of that sort. Instead the word actually implies a knowledge of the vedas.
Madhava Samhite on Parashara Smriti says
||yopanayanam krutwa pashcad vivaham karoti sa brahmavadini |
tathaiva ya prathamata upanayanam krutwa sadya eva vivaham vidhaya tato vedamadhite sa sadyovadhuh||
She who studies the Vedas after upanayana and then gets married is brahmavadini, she who gets married immediately after upanayana and then studies vedas is sadyovadhu
This goes on to show that women were eligible to both the sacred thread (Upanayanam)ceremony as well as the vedic studies in ancient times. This also means that women are also eligible for the Gayatri Upadesha and learning the Gayatri Mantra. Because any person who has undergone the Yajnopavitam ceremony is eligible for Gayatri Upadesha.
So, denying the women rights to study vedic knowledge, to Yajnopavitam Samskara and Gayatri Upadesha is un-vedic. In the vedas there is not a single reference which denies the women these rights.
Shri Madhvacharya in his Mahabharatha Tatparya Nirnaya, describes the scholarly nature of Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas as
Great women should study the Vedas like Krishnaa (Draupadi)
Rishika – Women Vedic Scholar
All the vedic hymns were actually revealed to different vedic scholars, which is why we find each vedic hymn attributed to a particular rishi. Now what is interesting to note is that, there are many vedic hymns attributed to Rishikas (female vedic scholars). In Rig Veda alone there are around 30 women vedic scholars (rishikas) to whom different hymns have been attributed to. At the end of the article you will find a non-exhaustive list of the female vedic scholars to whom the hymns of the Rigveda have been attributed to.
Now obviously, it would be naive to say that women cannot study the vedas, while there are hymns in the Vedas which were revealed to women sages!
Katyaayana in his Rigveda Sarvanukramani lists the 27 Rishikas as follows, saying these are the brahmavadinis or female vedic scholars.
Panini on Female Vedic Scholars
Panini in his Ashtadhyayi refers to Kathi as female students of the Katha Shaakha of the Vedic school. He also refers to Bahvrichi as female students who are well versed in many hymns of the Rigveda. Panini also mentions about the female students admitted to the study of Meemamsa and about chhatri (girl students) and Upadhyayi (women teachers).
Reference: V.S.Agrawala; India as known to Panini, Lucknow, 1953, page 287
This clearly shows that even during the times of Panini, Vedic education was imparted to both men and women.
Vedic Education of Women mentioned in Recent Times
Siddhanta Kaumudi by Bhattoji Deekshita, the 17th century Sanskrit grammarian from Maharashtra is a commentary on the Ashtadhyayi of Panini. In this book the author refers to the term Upadhyayi explicitly as ladies who are themselves teachers and not merely as wives of male teachers. This shows that, even in not so distant past, there were female teachers in Sanskrit education.
Isn’t it ironical that a civilisation that treated all its citizens as equal, even women and the so-called "lower castes" is accused of discrimination and oppression & the West that considers itself civilised and superior to 'pagans' denied women similar rights to that of men in ancient times. Even in modern times, there is enough evidence to show that women are not treated on par with men. Within the Indian context, the oppression that has seeped in post foreign invasion and colonisation through expert distortion of its history by Western self-styled Indologists has been attributed to the Vedic period which is a entirely an unfounded premise. It is because of the colonised history and introduction of the notion of women being inferior to men and of Adam's rib both in Christianity & Islam that women in India have lost the status and position according to them in the golden age of India- "the Vedic period", subsequently denying them education and samskaras as also a right in decision-making. Thus the fight for Indian women is not of rights but that of reclaiming their civilisational rights accorded to them as well as every other citizen!
A non-exhaustive list of Women Vedic Scholars to whom hymns of the Rig Veda were revealed to
|Women Vedic Scholar||Rig Veda hymn attributed to|
|goshā kākshīvatī||10.39, 10.40|
|shikhandinyava psarasau kāshyapan||9.104|
- Women Sages or Rishika-s
- Education in Ancient India
- Women and Gayatri Upadesha
- Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist by Radhakumud Mookerji