The True Essence of Womanhood in Sanatan Dharma

  • This article works as an innuendo about the explicit prominence accredited to woman in our culture

Recently women of our country created history again with the launching of Chandrayaan 2, as two women scientists of ISRO led this project and thus played a key role in its successful launch, therefore in this context it is worthwhile to discuss the place and role of women  in our culture and ethos.


Woman and her glory has always been felicitated by India since time immemorial. This land sanctifies the identity of woman as well as her very existence. This has been proved time and again by the unmatched accomplishments our women. The culture which venerates the feminine aspect of the nature as Prakriti displays the zenith of the sublimity of the divine manifestation, which no other culture can boast of. This is the basic foundation of our philosophical wisdom derived from the Vedas and the Upanishadas.


The women is considered to be the basis of all consciousness present in the cosmos in the form of PRAKRITI. The 10th chapter of Rig Veda asserts:


I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.
Thus Gods have established me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.
Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them,-each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken
They know it not, yet I reside in the essence of the Universe. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.

I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that gods and men alike shall welcome.
I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him nourished, a sage, and one who knows Brahman.
I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion.
I rouse and order battle for the people, I created Earth and Heaven and reside as their inner controller.

On the world's summit I bring forth the Father: my home is in the waters, in the ocean.
Thence I pervade all existing creatures, as their Inner Supreme Self, and manifest them with my body.
I created all worlds at my will, without any higher being, and permeate and dwell within them.
The eternal and infinite consciousness is I, it is my greatness dwelling in everything.

                                                                                                — Rigveda 10.125.3 - 10.125.8, 


Prakriti is the pure energy found in the cosmos and Purusha is the creative consciousness which enable universe to set in motion the creative processes. In this way both Purusha and Prakriti are interdependent. They are also known as Brahman and Brahmi, Isvara and Isvari, Father God and Mother Goddess, Siva and Parvathi, Narayana and Narayani. The Gita declares that seated in Prakriti, Purusha manifests the worlds and beings.


Extending this tradition we find a verse in Yajurveda, which speaks, “O woman, you are source of happiness. You are source of firmness and stability. You are source of valor. Stay glorious in our society.”


“O woman, you do not deserve to be defeated by challenges and obstacles. On contrary, you possess the power to defeat the stiffest challenge. Defeat the enemies and their armies. You have valor of thousands of men. Realize your true potential and demonstrate your valor. Please us all through your courage. The world demands that from you.”

Such notion of womanhood is rare and exceptional to our culture and this has been demonstrated by women from time to time. Our history has witnessed myriad of such instances where women have displayed remarkable spiritual wisdom and intellect.

In Indian tradition true Knowledge is the knowledge of ultimate Brahman and Sanatan Dharma aims at the achievement of this goal as the paramount aim of life. The Vedas are the treasure-trove of this divine cosmic wisdom bestowed on us not just by the Rishis but also by the Rishikas. Among these Rishikas who are known for their remarkable scholarship, it is worthwhile to quote Ghosh, Lopamudra, Gargi, Maitreyi etc. All these women seers or philosophers contributed a lot towards the enhancement of the Jnana of immortality or supreme Brahman.

Ghosha was called as mantradrika meaning well versed in mantras. Similarly the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad contains an account of a philosophic congress organized by King Janak of Videha, where Gargi, one of the eminent participants, challenged the sage Yajnavalkya with questions about the soul which confounded that learned man. Another incident in the same Upanishad relates the spiritual teachings given by Yajnavalkya to Maitreyi.


Besides all these references, one such legendary woman’s account needs to be quoted i.e. Ubhaya Bharti, the wife of the great scholar of Poorva Mimamsa school of thought, Mandan Mishra. Ubhaya Bharti as the legend speaks, was the manifestation of divine mother Sharda Devi, so was a brilliant woman having full command over the scriptures and texts.


The classic debate that took place between Mandan Mishra and Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada, popularly known as Adi Shankaracharya, was judged by none other than Ubhaya Bharti herself. The tradition of PURVA PAKSHA was typically used by Guru Adi Shankar in his daunting task of re- establishing the glory of Sanatana-Dharma during those turbulent times.


For accomplishing this task he had to conduct many such debates, among them, the aforementioned one holds a place of great significance but the reason that the role of a moderator/judge played by a Ubhaya Bharati and Shankarachrya because of being aware of her acumen and reasoning assigned her this important task. This exemplary participation of Ubhaya Bharati in this great discourse shows that women used to be held in high esteem in our Sanatana-Dharma. She very efficiently played the role of a moderator as well as the judge which proves that women in those days were not kept away from the issues pertaining to philosophy of Brahman. When to her, the defeat of  her husband seems imminent, she herself takes up the challenge of Adi Shankaracharya on the pretext of being Mandan Misra's 'Ardhangini' and debates with Shankaracharya and at lasts brings the debate to its logical conclusion. This proves her dexterity and wisdom.


Apart from this there are umpteen examples of female scholars who debated, then notable philosophers. The aforementioned references depict very well about the then social scenario where females were well read in our scriptures and no discrimination existed between male and female. This is the context which stands completely in contradiction to the scenario that exists today.


The brunt of medieval invasions that this land had to face, transformed the progressive society into regressive one, and the biggest victim became our women folks. As a result, the liberal attitude towards women got restricted which later on misappropriated by the imperial British power to typecast it as a regular phenomenon being sanctioned by our venerable culture, and they thus acted upon as the pseudo modernist for our country. But this article works as an innuendo about the explicit prominence accredited to woman in our culture.


Authors are Dr Nidhi Mishra and Dr Gunjan Mishra.


Dr Nidhi has obtained M. Phil and Ph. D. in History. She has published articles on a variety of historical, Dharmic and Samskritic aspects. Dr Gunjan is Assistant Professor of Psychology and Management at Amity University, Raipur.


To read all articles by co-author Dr Nidhi


Also read

1 Worship of God as Mother in Indian Tradition

2 Why Ahilyabai Holkar was a Great Woman

3 Indian Women – Custodian of India’s Culture

4 Kerala’s Outstanding Women

5 Women Gurus in Indian Tradition

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