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Original Hindu scriptures saw women as equal

Original Hindu scriptures saw women as equal

Publication: Huntsville Times
Date: May 29, 2009
URL: http://www.al.com/religion/huntsvilletimes/news.ssf?/base/living/1243588536230250.xml&coll=1

In most countries today the common economic and social indicators show that women are lagging behind men.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote that the way we treat our women is an indicator of our barbarism. Men may have greater physical energy than women, but women clearly have more internal and emotional energy.

The documentary account of women in Hinduism is dependent on the specific scripture and the context. The ultimate and the only authority on the practices of Hinduism are the four Vedas.

That women and men are equal in the eyes of dharma (righteousness) is made explicit in a beautiful verse from the Rigveda: "O women! These mantras (holy chants) are given to you equally (as to men). May your thoughts, too, be harmonious. May your assemblies be open to all without discrimination."

Many seers were women in the Vedic period. Indeed, several of them authored many of the verses in the Vedas. The Rigveda lists the names of some of the well-known women seers: Ghoshsha, Godha, Vishwawra, Apala, Sri, Laksha and many others.

What is the gender of the Supreme Brahman? Philosophically, the Brahman is considered formless and attributeless and is transcendental to such considerations. The visible form of Brahman is widely worshipped not only as Vishnu and Siva, but also as their consorts Lakshmi and Shakti, an embodiment of power.

It is not without reason, then, that women are identified with Shakti in our civilization. If women are kept suppressed, this Shakti will be denied to the family and the society, weakening all of them.

Other ancient scriptures address women. Positive references were made to the ideal woman in texts of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Bhagavata Purana states that the Mahabharata was written specifically for women.

Manusmriti, on the other hand, is an ancient text based on the interpretation of the Vedas containing the law codes for the ancient Hindu society. It has writings denigrating women as the root cause of all evils, but the same text also extols the virtues of women: "Women are worthy of worship. They are the fate of the household, the lamp of enlightenment for all in the household. They bring solace to the family and are an integral part of dharmic life."

The primary reason for this apparent contradiction is a genuine misreading or misinterpretation of the original transcripts of the Vedas, which often contain terse aphorisms and were handwritten on palm leaves.

If in many households in traditional Hindu lands brides are badly treated, then this is the fault not of Vedic traditions, but of the decay of these traditions caused by our own neglect.

This is the testimony to the enlightenment of the Vedas and the Vedic period. Many common social issues such as remarriage of women, widow remarriage, ownership and inheritance of property by women and so on were permitted in the Vedic period.

Present-day women and men can draw strength from Vedic traditions to ensure that women get their rightful place in our society.

"LifePoints" runs most Fridays to feature inspiration and instruction from local faith leaders.

Dr. Narayana P. Bhat is secretary of the board of trustees of the Hindu Cultural Center of North Alabama, near the intersection of Old Railroad Bed and Capshaw roads in Capshaw. http://www.hccna.org/. Prayers most weekday mornings and weekends.

- E-mail: babu0908@yahoo.co.in.

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