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||

which means

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
aditi 4.18
aditirdākshāyaņi 10.72
apālā ātreyī 8.91
indrāņī 10.86
ūrvashī 10.85
godhā 10.134
goshā kākshīvatī 10.39, 10.40
juhūrbramhajāyā 10.109
tvaşhţa garbhakartā 10.184
dakshiņā prājāpatyā 10.107
yamī 10.154
yamī vaivasvatī 10.10
rātrīrbhāradvājī 10.127
lopāmudrā 1.171
vasukrapatnī 10.28
vagāmbhŗņī 10.125
vishvavārā ātreyi 5.28
sashvatyāņgīrasī 8.1
shradhdā kāmāyāni 10.151
shachī paulomi 10.159
sarparājnī 10.189
sikatā nivāvari 9.86
sūrya savitrī 10.85
romashā 1.126
saramā devashunī 10.108
shikhandinyava psarasau kāshyapan 9.104
jaritā sharņgah 10.142
sudītīrangirasah 8.71
indra mataro 10.153

References:

  • Women Sages or Rishika-s
  • Education in Ancient India
  • Women and Gayatri Upadesha
  • Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist by Radhakumud Mookerji