On the state of womanhood, the Vedas, a collection of ancient Sanskrit hymns and chants through which the vid, or wisdom, of the ancient sages can be heard, declare that women are the embodiment of great intellect and virtue.
“O scholarly woman, the way a river breaks away mightiest of hills and rocks, the scholarly woman destroys myths and hypes through her intellect alone. May we bow to women through our polite words and noble actions.” — Rigveda 6.61.2
“A scholarly woman, the entire life of society depends upon you. You provide us the right knowledge. May you bring knowledge to all segments of society.” — Rigveda 2.41.17
The Atharva Veda, particularly advocates for female empowerment, claiming that women are an integral aspect of society.
In regards to knowledge and wisdom, it states:
“O woman! Utilize your Vedic intellect in all directions of our home!” — Atharva Veda 14.1.64
The Vedas also place a heavy emphasis on the education of female children. Believing each individual to be equal to the next, Vedic literature not only encourages women and girls to be scholarly, but expresses that it is the duty of each parent to ensure that their daughter is brought up and educated with great effort and care. After all, as the Devi Mahatmya (a religious text expounding upon the glories of the Goddess) states, “All forms of knowledge are aspects of Thee, and all women throughout the world are Thy forms.”
If they so desire, the Vedas also permit women to undergo Upanayana, a ceremony that initiates Vedic studies. As a matter of fact, the Vedas mention several female scholars and sages, such as Vac, also known as Ambhrini, Ambani, Romasa and Gargi who had their own Upanayana ceremonies and went on to become experts in Vedic studies. Called brahmavādinis, these figures demonstrate that during the Vedic period, women were not only allowed to pursue higher studies like their male counterparts, but they also received equal attention from their gurus and teachers.
In regards to this, the Rig Veda states:
“Parents should gift their daughter intellectuality and power of knowledge when she leaves for the husband’s home. They should give her a dowry of knowledge.” — Rig 10.85.7
Women & Wifehood
Moreover, the Vedas regard marriage as a union of two equals. No one individual is given more importance over the other. As with Rādha-Krishnā and Sitā-Rāma, which symbolize the teamwork aspect of marriage, the Vedas believe that both husband and wife constitute the griha, or home. In fact, after marriage, the wife is considered to be ardhāngini, meaning other half, or sahadhārmini, meaning her husband’s partner or friend in dharma. The wife also becomes the samrajni, or queen of the household and has an equal share in the performance of religious rites.
This understanding can be seen in the following passages:
“O wife! Become the queen and manager of everyone in the family of your husband.” — Atharva 14.1.20
“O bride! You shall bring bliss to all and direct our homes towards our purpose of living.” — Atharva 14.1.61
“O wife! I am knowledgeable and you are also knowledgeable. If I am Samved then you are Rigved.” — Atharva 14.2.71
The Vedas further, in regards to equal participation in religious rites, say: “O women! These mantras are given to you equally as to men. May your thoughts, too, be harmonious. May your assemblies be open to all without discrimination. Your mind and consciousness should be harmonious. I give you these mantras equally as to men and give you all and equal powers to absorb the full powers of these mantras.” (Rigveda 10-191-3).
The fact that women and men are seen as equals in the eyes of dharma reflects the egalitarian attitude of the Vedas, and how the tradition emphasizes that a spirit of cooperation and appreciation between men and women is what leads to societal progression.
The Gift of Mothers
Additionally, as per Vedic Dharma, each woman in the world must be accorded the highest respect and honor. In other words, she must be respected as one’s own mother, nothing more and nothing less.
It is important to note, however, that the status of women as mother is bestowed not only upon aged women or individuals who physically have children, but any and every female, regardless of age, religion, caste, or race. According to the Vedas, this is because women are born with the ability to civilize society by their mere presence, a belief that is highlighted specifically in the passages below:
“O pure and blessing Mothers! Cleanse us all from sins, immorality and pollution. Purge us from falsehood, hatred, jealousy, and frustrations.” — Yajurveda 6.17
“May the pure life-giving enlightening woman be respected as mother everyday so that she provides us with peace and eradicates all hatred from the society.” — Rigveda 8.18.7
“If you desire brilliance, approach the mother. With her blessing, be the scholar of all subjects. Do not aggrieve the mother. Enlighten yourself with pure blessings of the noble mother.” — Yajurveda 12.15
Ultimately, the Vedic tradition holds the highest regard for women all around the world, believing them to be the movement of several important qualities and powers. It advocates for female safety and empowerment, stating that “Where women are worshiped, there the gods dwell” (Manusmriti 3.55-59). Or where the women are happy, there will be prosperity.
It believes that women must be honored by their fathers, brothers, husband, that they must be given an education, that they must be treated as equals. They are, after all, forms of Shakti, of mothers, of Hindu goddesses themselves.