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Women In Vedic Culture

The rise of the Divine Feminine

The distinction between women within the Vedic culture and the women in other places is that the Vedic approach to life was deeply thoughtful and meditative. From that inward reflection came the comprehension that life has two polarities, masculine and feminine, positive and negative, darkness and light.

There was a knowing that even before the universe was born, there was an interplay between Shiva and Shakti, between two forces that gave rise to our dualistic world. These two forces are at play throughout creation and within all matter and all manner of things.

What we define as masculine contains masculine and feminine elements and what we call feminine also contains the elements of masculine and feminine, the only difference is physical gender.

It is thought within Vedic culture that had Shakti not cast an alluring glanced toward Shiva, the universe that we know may never have happened. Shakti is seen as an inspirational force and Shiva as the procreative, yet it is Shakti, Devi, the feminine element through which new life actually emerges.

In the evolution of human nature, man plants his seed in the receptive and fertile woman through which new life emerges. Humankind takes the seeds of plants and places them carefully in the soil yielding food to eat. Man has no such creative ability and the vehicle of new life and the sustaining of life is woman, hence her divine status.

The facts that energised particles meet within a woman's womb and a new life is generated is appreciated and continues our species yet we are still far from complete understanding, it is a deep mystery for which we can only bring our palms together and express our deepest praise and gratitude.

Our ancestors were aware of this and acted accordingly yet they were also impressed by the fact that a woman in her joy could endure the most excruciating pain of childbirth and sacrifice personal ambition to ensure the well-being of her children just as the earth and the sun gave selflessly hence she must be divine.

And so with physicality defined as feminine from which all new life emerged there was a reverence for women, for the mothers who at times could be so much more. They could be artists, farmers, nurses, scientists and even warriors as needed. The Gentle Lakshmi soothed hearts and souls, Kali and Vajrayogini vanquished the wicked and those who sought to destroy life, and Durga the slayer of demons reminds us all that physical nature is feminine and that when we uphold the feminine within ourselves then this earth will be our heaven.

Over the many thousands of years, and in more recent times under the influence of patriarchy, the Hindu texts speaking on the positions roles of women have taken on different flavours and represent the different understandings of various authors. Some see women as representing feminine leadership as the highest goddess, others limit her role to an obedient daughter, housewife and mother.

The Devi Sukta hymn of Rigveda, a scripture of Hinduism, declares the feminine energy as the essence of the universe, the one who creates all matter and consciousness, the eternal and infinite, the metaphysical and empirical reality (Brahman), the soul (supreme self) of everything. The woman is celebrated as the most powerful and the empowering force in some Hindu Upanishads, Sastras and Puranas, particularly the Devi Upanishad, Devi Mahatmya and Devi-Bhagavata Purana.

Throughout the many years of Vedic culture, generally women have always been given the highest level of respect, freedom, protection and safety. There is a Vedic saying, "Where women are worshiped, there the gods dwell." Or where the women are happy, there will be prosperity.

The Manu-samhita explains:

Woman as a spiritual teacher

"Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers‑in‑law, who desire their own welfare. Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.

The houses on which female relations, not being duly honored, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic. Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honor women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes and (dainty) food." (Manu Smriti III.55-59)

In a similar way that would foretell the future if women are no longer honored, Grandfather Bhishma explained: "O ruler of the earth (Yuddhisthira) 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)

Furthermore, in the Vedas, when a woman is invited into the family through marriage, 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) This kind of equality is rarely found in any other religious scripture. Plus, a woman who is devoted to God is more highly regarded than a man who has no such devotion, as found in the Rig-Veda: "Yea, many a woman is more firm and better than the man who turns away from Gods, and offers not." (Rig-Veda, 5.61.6) ~  'Women In Vedic Culture' by Stephen Knapp - (Sri Nandanandana dasa)

Regardless of our political or religious beliefs, were it not for our mothers, we would not be here, were it not for the earth, we would not be here. We are born from our mothers and nurtured by her, the earth and sun. The material that makes up our physical bodies is borrowed from the earth and when we have done our time, our body returns to the earth.

For many this is something too fearful to think about, yet a mothers breast, her loving arms and sweet words inspire us with the confidence and strength to carry on in a way that masculine logic cannot do. Therefore if you truly want to know life, to know who you are and your very reason for being, look back to the mother of mothers and celebrate the greatest of all possibilities where you will also find the keys to joy and happiness.

"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,

Further reading:
Women of India
India’s Dowry Problem
Women in the Vedic Field
The Women of Persia

Links:
Hannah Savarskaya

 

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