Yes, women in Vedic period enjoyed equal rights as men. There are many examples to establish this fact. Vedic scriptures do not advocate discrimination.
Vedic India made sure that women are properly taken care and they are not exploited. Their physical needs as well as emotional needs were properly addressed. Today too those who live as per the Vedic instructions does not see any difference between men and women. They understand that God has created both men and women so there should not be any gender discrimination.
However, there are feminists and left scholars who selectively pick some statements from the Vedas and say that Vedas advocate women discrimination.
Women not allowed in few temples
For example, in India, there are certain social customs and rituals where women (as well as men) are expected to follow certain norms.
For example, there are few temples like Shani Shingnapur or Sabarimala where women are not allowed as per the tradition. Without understanding the reason behind such norms, feminists and left liberal pseudo scholars start condemning the age-old custom.
Men not allowed in few temples too
But you will be surprised to know that there are temples in India where men are also not allowed. For example, in Ma Linga Bhairavi temple in Coimbatore men are not allowed. In Lord Brahma’s temple at Puskar, Rajasthan married men are not allowed. And there are other temples too where men are not allowed.
So, if women are not allowed in some temples and we say it is discrimination against women. Then we should also say that there is discrimination against men because men are also barred from entering some temples.
Why the outrage?
Is it that the feminists and leftist people have developed some love for the Vedic demigods that they want women to enter the temple? Definitely not. Their purpose and motive are quite obvious. They want to indulge in their favourite pastime – Hindu bashing and criticising the Vedas.
Let us put aside this unending cacophony for a while and try to analyse the Vedic perspective on the position and status of men and women in human society.
What Vedas say about men and women?
In Bhagavad Gita 2.13, Lord Krishna informs us that we are neither men nor women, but we are spirit souls. As a soul presently we are occupying a man’s body or may be a woman’s body. In the next life a man can become a woman and a woman can become a man. As long as we are in this material world, we will keep on occupying different bodies based on our karma. If our karma is little good, we get a human body and can be either a man or a woman. But if our karma is bad, we will get an animal body.
As long as we are in this material world we will keep on transmigrating into different species and suffer the repeated cycle of birth and death. So, Vedas ask us to free ourselves from this repeated cycle of birth and death. And this can be possible only when we return back to the spiritual world. In the spiritual world there is no death and there is no suffering.
Whether we are a man or a woman, we suffer here and we will die one day. So, we should not be obsessed with our bodily designation of being a man or a woman. But we should utilize this precious human life to attain liberation and return to kingdom of Krishna.
Both, men and women, have the opportunity to perfect their life by practicing devotion to Krishna.
Vedas recommend both men and women to practice varnashrama
How to perfect our human life is explained in Vedas. The sacred Vedas say that both men and women should follow the varnashrama system of life. Varnashrama helps one to lead a happy life in this world and also helps to attain liberation from this world. Women in Vedic period followed Varnashrama dharma.
Vedas recommend 4 ashrams – Brahmachari ashram (Student Life), Grihastha ashram (Household life), Vanaprastha ashram (Retired Life) and Sannyasa ashram (Renounced Life). Suppose that we live for hundred years.
For 25 years one should live like a brahmachari, during this period strict vows of celibacy is observed.
For 25 years to 50 years, one should live in grihasta ashram. It means that man and woman should get married, live together in a house, beget children and take care of them. There could be a possibility that some brahmachari may not want to get married. So, they can continue to live like a celibate monk in a monastery. In the household life also husband and wife are expected to sincerely practice spiritual life.
After 50 years both husband and wife are supposed to enter into vanaprasta ashram. In vanaprasta ashram both husband and wife dedicate their life completely in practicing spiritual life. They do not focus on earning money and do not have any physical relationship.
Finally, there is sannyasa ashram. Generally, men take sannyasa and women return back to her grown up children. For women to follow the strict vows of sannyasa like living alone and going door to door to beg alms is generally difficult. But when women live with her children then she completely focusses on her spiritual life and remain detached from material activities.
Varnashrama gives equal rights to women
Vedas teach that both men and women should live in such a way that they help each other to elevate their consciousness. And they should not become the cause of bondage to each other in this material world.
This material world is temporary, and all relationship of this world is temporary. Our eternal relationship is only with the Supreme Lord. So, we have to get detached from this temporary relationship and develop ever- lasting permanent relationship with the Supreme Lord. Vedas focus on this aspect of life and so ask both men and women to live by this principle.
If we study Vedic scriptures scrutinizingly, we will find that it does not discriminate between men and women at all. But it gives a process called varnashrama following which men and women can live happily in this world. And finally attain liberation from this ephemeral world by developing love for the Supreme Lord, Krishna.
Varnashrama gives equal rights and opportunities to women to practice devotion to God. So, women in Vedic period were never discriminated. There was gender equality.
Famous female saints of India
Those who cry saying that Vedas promote women discrimination should read the history of India without any prejudice. This will remove their veil of ignorance.
During Vedic period there were even women rishis such as Romasha, Gargi, Maitreyi, Apala, Aditi and others. And few hundred years back we had great women devotees of the Lord – Mira Bai, Sri Gangamata Goswamini, Sri Jahnava Mata, Sri Sita Thakurani etc. These women rishis were well versed in Vedas. The 126th hymn of the first book of Rig Veda was revealed to Romasha, a woman.
In India women are not just allowed inside a temple but are also given an opportunity for deity worship. This can be seen in ISKCON temples all over the world. In Iskcon temples, women devotees also give discourse on literatures like Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam. There are very few temples, maybe two or three, where women are not allowed. And as discussed earlier, there are temples where men are also not allowed. So there is no specific gender discrimination.
Now let us go through few of the Vedic quotes on women.
Vedic Quotes on Women
- Bhishma to Yuddhisthira: “O ruler of the earth the lineage in which daughters and the daughters-in-law are saddened by ill treatment, that lineage is destroyed. When out of their grief these women curse these households, such households lose their charm, prosperity and happiness.” (Mahabharata, Anushashanparva, 12.14).
- Vedas state that when a woman marries then she enters “as a river enters the sea” and “to rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members of the family”. (Atharva-Veda 14.1.43-44).
And there are many such statements in the sacred book about women. So where is the discrimination against women?
Those who are genuine and open minded after reading sacred Vedas conclude that Vedas do not discriminate women. During Vedic period women had equal rights as men. Today too those who sincerely follow Vedic teachings always respects women and never illtreat them.
Vedic scriptures consider men and women as equals. Krishna, the Supreme Lord, is our father and Vedas are our mother.
So how can a loving and caring father and a soft-hearted mother discriminate against their own children?