According to the Vedic teachings and ancient scriptures, women have been placed at a higher status than man. She has been given preference to man in every field, so much so that when giving a boy a joint name of a god and goddess, the name of the goddess is always placed before the god.
For example: In the name “Sita Rama”, Sita is wife of Rama. In “Radhe Shyama” Radha is the beloved of Krishna. Again, in “Gowri Shankar”, Gowri is Shankar’s or lord Shiva’s wife.
We call our country motherland, mother is superior to father. We are taught to be more indebted to mother than father — “Maat devobhava” before “Pita devobhava”.
A man without a wife cannot even perform any ritual or ceremony without his wife, according to the Vedas.
Manu forcefully states, Wherever women (naaryah) are adored and regarded (Poojyante), believe i, there reside godly people (ramante tatra devataah). And where they are not regarded or are neglected, there, all efforts (kriyaa) of men (aphalaa) will bear no fruit.
In the field of education, women were given equal opportunities. They had their own Gurukulas — covents — where they studied and acquired knowledge of science and arts.
There were highly educated and wise women. There have been great women like Shila Bhattaarikaa, Maarutee, Morikaa and Subhadra etc. Vijayaanganaa is counted next to Kalidasa as a dramatist.
The Gita says that a woman should have the keen desire and capability to give shelter and support to others, have a good memory (smriti) to remember her duties, deep thinking power and good intuition, the courage and boldness to face odd times, and the kindness to pardon others.
In Vedas, the bride-to-be, is called Kanya and it is she who has the birth right of choice and of obtaining a matrimonial partner. The word Kanya is a derivative of root knee deeptow which means “to shine” or be illustrious or to illuminate.”
The women at home are mahaabhaagaah or the source of great fortune. They are poojaarhaah or worthy to be worshiped, they are the lights, who by their behaviour, brighten the whole family atmosphere. It is they who are gracefully good to give us our progeny. In the family or at home, there is no difference between (shree) the wealth and fortune of the family and (striyah) the ladies at home, that is, they are the emblem of prosperity and good fortune.
It is also said that if a husband, in his family, protects and provides well his wife, actually he protects his family prestige, traditions, his progeny and the social laws; much depends on the wife.
Marriage is another important social institution in the Vedas. It is a patriarchal society where bigamy, polygamy, polyandry are not advised for the individuals belonging to divine four varnas. Atharva Veda 14-1-20 enjoins the wife to go to husband’s place and become the mistress of the house. However, for those who do not have faith in the permanent truths and commandments of the Vedas and prefer to follow nondivine vocations by resorting to bribery, magic, miracles, adulteration of food, the Vedic metaphysics is silent about the marriage institution for them. Being the lawless aggressors of Dharma, Rta and Satya, it is very likely that bigamy, polygamy and even polyandry might have been prevalent amongst those persons. A few hymns mention about the preference of sons to daughters. As Aryans were mostly dependent on agriculture and they had to fight a number of wars with local inhabitants before finally settling in India, this might have led to bigamy or even polygamy for getting a son or sons. However, this is only a presumption. Vedas certainly advise only monogamy in any ideal society.
Rig-Veda 6-64-6 says, at the time of marriage the woman should pref-erably choose a man who likes her most and is delighted to see her. Parents should give freedom to the young girl to choose her life partner through the institution of Svayamvara, which literally means self choosing of a husband (R.V 5-47-6 and 171-8). The path- finders found highly ethical and divine principles in regard to the institution of marriage. God is present when sex is resorted to for the purposes of procreation only in socially recognised marriages. A number of socially recognised marriages have been mentioned. Love marriage is considered superior to arranged marriage. Parents should encourage those young men and women who love each other and want to get married. There is no mention anywhere that marriages should be within the same Varna. More emphasis is on the same level of intelligence, ability and the proficiency in Vedic education. Both degree holders should preferably marry each other but their children could be assigned different Varna based on merit, aptitude and capacity.
Marriages arranged by parents are also contemplated. However, the institution of svayamvara where the bridegroom has to fulfill certain conditions of expertise, strength, power, knowledge etc., are to be fulfilled as pre-scribed by the parents of the bride, before finally getting married. This clearly shows the great importance Vedic rsis and munnies gave to women. No dowry system is mentioned anywhere as is now widely preva-lent in Hindu society. Vedas leave no doubt that male female relationships are more on the principle of co-equal relationship of the cosmos i.e. between Purusha and Prakrti and thus provide divinity and sanctity to the institution of marriage.
Many Hindus are well aware of the institution of Swyamvara not as much through Vedas but through two mythological epics, Ramayana and Mahabharta. Lord Rama’s marriage with goddess Sita was based on Swyamvara. Lord Rama proved his physical power and strength as far superior to those other kings, princes and young Kashtriya in the presence of many kings and princes including Sita’s father and mother. The gallant warrior Arjuna’s marriage with Draupadi was celebrated after the conditions relating to strength and expertise were fulfilled. Both the noble and divine ladies happily and proudly accepted them as their respective life partners. .
Vedic metaphysics and some of the other scriptures prescribe various forms of marriages. A few of these forms are Brahma Vivah, Prajapatya, Arsha, Davia and these forms do not require self efforts and are mostly arranged by parents. Gandharva, Asura, Paischta, Rakshasa marriages require efforts to attract the girl desired. If both young man and woman of marriage-able age and equal merit get attracted to each other and finally get married with the concurrence and blessings of their parents, it is Gandharva marriage duly blessed by Brahma and is also akin to Brahma Vivah. In those cases where Vedic rites are not even partially followed and parents of both bride and bride-groom have not given consent, such marriages are Asura, Rakshasa and Paischa form of marriages. These three forms are based on money strength, coercion and even use of force and are usually followed amongst the fifth non-divine vritras, avarna etc.
Whether the marriages are arranged or based on mutual love, if performed on the Vedic rites and guidelines, the family thus created should be patriarchal. After the marriage of the girl, the parents should not interfere in the family affairs of their daughters for peace, harmony of the patriarchal family of their sons-in-law. Children are to be known after their father. The girl should live after marriage only with her husband where also his parents, grand parents, brothers and sisters live as a part of joint family. Rig- Veda says, “wife is verily a home” (1-665, 1-77-3 and 3-54-4). After marriage the girl can attend and address Vidhata and Sabha and should conduct as per Rta and Dharma (Rig Veda 10-85-26 to 42 and 47. AV. 14-1-20, 22. 14-2-64,71). She is the mistress and ruler of the house. Virtuous, noble, educated wife of an unimpeachable character and conducts devoted to her husband with body mind and soul enjoy the highest bliss (R.V 1-73-3).
Guru Nanak had a firm belief in the supremacy of Vedas had said, “asankh grantha, mukhi Ved path”- there are a large number of scriptures but the Vedas are the supreme. Based on this Vedic knowl-edge he had described the married woman as “ardha shariri” i.e. half the complete personality of a man. He even reconfirmed the Vedic injunction that women can also study these “Shruti” by preaching, “Ved lok gur gyan vic,ardha sharari mokh duari”. According to knowledge contained in the Vedas wife is half of the complete personality of a man and she is fully entitled to spiritual and divine knowledge of the Vedas and also Moksha- the stage of eternal bliss. No hymn could be found which debars widow re-marriage which later scriptures put this restriction and made the life of many widows extremely miserable and pitiable. In addition, there is no concept of Sati pratha in the Vedas. This social evil in which a young wife is virtually forced to sit on the pile of wood, fully decorated, as bride along side the dead body of her husband for burning as the last funeral rites, seems to have started in the medieval periods in Rajasthan and certain parts of central India. During the British rule in India this inhuman institution of Sati was banned and even now the ban con-tinues but to a very limited extent the practice continues owing to lukewarm implementation of this legal ban both by the federal and state governments.
The patriarchal families do not mean that women have a lower role to perform in society or in any way inferior to men. Society has a great responsibility to protect women from evil- minded people and debauches (R.V 1-1-17 and 18). Women’s great importance in society can be visualized that out 33 Prakrti devas, the ancient seers named a large number of them as female formless devis like, Prithvi (earth), Usha(dawn) Saraswati (education, harmony and coopera-tion), Aditi, Devaki, Daivi for divine Nature Prakrti and others. Bhagavad Gita also says that female devis/deities preside over education, music, harmony, love etc. The scriptures that were mostly based on Vedic metaphysics gave equal importance to men and women, as the divinity in the form of jivatma- manifested soul is the same in both sexes. The divine instruments provided by supreme Mother Prakrti like, buddhi, manas, ahamkar- cause for all noble desires and actions and the jivaspirit are also the same. Only gross and phenomenal body of male and female has dif-ferences owing to their different roles in society, universe and Nature. Therefore, any scripture that tends to give a lower or less important role to women is anti Vedic.
To avoid the vehement effect of Maya-the cosmic illusion, R.V 1-71-5 makes it binding on all learned people of four noble Varna to impart education to their daughters and make them happy. The women should study Vedas (Y.V 26-2. AV. 11-24-3,4 and 18) and even become metaphysicists and rsikas like Gargi and Lop Mudra. Kashtriya queen is allotted the duty of protecting the kingdom, polity and its citizens/subjects during the war if the king or ruler is killed or seriously injured. Prima-facie, the gallant queen Lakshmi Bai of the 19th century AD was imparted Vedic education by her preceptor who was also the Prime Minister of the princely state of Jhansi. If we leave the mythological queens, in the entire Indian history Lakshmi Bai stands alone as the gallant queen who fought bravely the British army during the first war of Indian independence.
While there are a number of hymns to give full respect and honour to women, still being patriarchal and agriculturist society during the ancient Aryans period, some hymns do indicate preference of sons over daughters. Hymns in Rig Veda V 2-33-1 and 5-4-10 say, “may we transplant ourselves in our sons.” These hymns also say “in the son self is born from the self.” Atharva Veda XIV-2-64 and 71, XIV-1-31 tell us that young couples should live full length of life, together with their sons, grand sons. While one can give intellectual arguments like Aryans being an agriculturists society or had to regularly fight wars with local inhabitants, but the same may not be satisfying “why this preference for male children? “Some more study is required to find metaphysical justification for the same. However, a large number of children (sons and daughters) have not been advised in Athar-va Veda (1-164-32) as they are cause of sufferings for their parents. This Vedic injunction was included in the epic Mahabharta where the blind king Dhritrashtra had 100 sons and one daughter and suffered gloom through out his life.
In the Vedic society a virtuous, learned and mighty persons of all Varna should expand to grandfather, father, children and descendants and should be able to say that I am the 15th of it. (A.V.11-1-19). However, normal age of human beings is mentioned about 100 years divided into four ashrams (stages) of life provided he/she follows Dharma (righteousness) and Rta-the laws of God conveyed through divine Nature.Since the old people would be normally between the third and fourth stages of life i.e. Vanprastha and Sanayas ash-rams, Vedas prescribe simpler ceremonies, rituals in the form of Arayankas (forest treatises) for such persons. Some old people may like to go to lonely places near the sacred towns like Haridwar, Rishikesh etc., and others may stay as part of the joint families, while spending a lot of their time in social work, study of metaphysics Vedic and Upanishad philosophy, meditation and contemplation. They are advised to progressively renounce material desire but not activity. They should move towards self-realization and live like “lotus in water”, inculcate pure thoughts for the benefit of all members of the society, without getting affected by the material world around. They should spread Vedic knowledge in society as part of their service to God. Vedas enjoin that all old persons should maintain peculiar beauty of this godly old age and let wrinkles be not written upon the heart and the spirit should not grow old. As earlier brought out that children do not belong to parents and they have their own thoughts, ideas, past and present karma’s (good and bad actions) and kind of life to live. The relationship between the parents and children is based on the divine concept of love with its latent energy. The love should flow from strong to the weak. In old age while the parents need not depend on their children but according to the laws of God the love should flow from young and middle age children towards their old parents. (with Excerpts from “Glimpses of Vedic Metaphysics” by Prem Sabhlok)