An excerpt taken from 'The Handbook of Sri-Vaishnavism',
by Sri Rama Ramanuja Acharya - http://www.srimatham.com
10. Women - A book on a Hindu sect would not be complete without some reference to the status of women. Westerners in general have a very negative impression about the treatment of women in India. And even expatriate Indians themselves (as well as those born within the Sampradaya) are very poorly informed about what the Scriptures have to say about women. Anyone who has spent time in South India will always remark how much more liberal and free the women of the South are compared to their sisters in the North. The simple reason is that in the North the Muslims ruled for 600 years and so their reprehensible attitude to women made quite an impact upon Hindu society as well. In the South the Hindus remained unaffected by their pernicious attitudes.
In Srivaishnava Society the women enjoy a large degree of freedom. They are responsible for the running of the household (and by extension- of society!) They are not obligated to perform any rituals other than helping the husband with his daily religious duties.
Women undergo the Pancha-samskara Initiation - usually with the husband or soon after marriage, but there are provisions for having it done alone. They are encouraged to read study and chant the Divya Prabandhas and to do japa of the three holy mantras.
The following are a selection of verses from the Lakshmi Tantra (Chapter 43. 61- 72) on the subject of women and their status in the Pancharatra Tradition, how far it conforms to the prevailing attitude in society is a matter of serious concern:
- A man of piety free from sin, consistently adhering to the precepts of the sacred Scriptures, performs those deeds that are not condemned by women and that please them.
- A yogi should never abuse a woman, either in deed, speech or thought. Wherever I (Lakshmi) am, the realities are, wherever I am the gods too are.
- Wherever I (Lakshmi) exist, merits too exist, wherever I dwell Krishna too dwells. I am the womanhood pervading the entire universe and inherent in all women.
- He who abuses women, abuses Lakshmi herself, He who abuses Lakshmi abuses the entire three worlds.
- He, who bears ill-will against any woman, is ill-disposed towards Lakshmi herself. He who is ill-disposed towards Lakshmi is ill-disposed towards the entire universe.
- He whose heart is gladdened by the sight of women - like moonlight, and who never entertains evil thoughts about them; he is most dear to me (Lakshmi)
- Just as there is no sin whatsoever in Narayana or myself O Indra, neither in a cow, a Brahmin nor a scholar of Vedanta. In the same manner no inauspiciousness whatsoever exists in women O Indra.
- Just as the Ganga and Sarasvati (rivers) are free of impurity & evil. As also the Aruna River, so too are all women revered as being sinless. The fact that I, the Mother of the three Worlds, am the basis of womanhood, makes my power manifest in women. Thus a woman is the mother of the three worlds, a goddess full of abundance.
- Knowing women as my direct manifestation, how can a yogi refrain from revering them? One should never hurt women, and should never even think of wronging women.
- A yogi who wishes to attain the fulfilment of yoga should always act to please women. He should regard all women as mothers, as goddesses as my very self.
Ref: Lakshmi Tantra Chapter 43.
Menstruation is a rather vexed subject among western educated women in particular. Often questions are raised as to why there are restrictions on a woman’s activities during her period when it is a perfectly natural biological process and an integral part of womanhood etc.
Well, the simple answer lies in the matter of Ritual Purity, which does not conform to concepts of microbiology and infection and is not the subject of negotiation based on the latest social politics!
The presence of any exudate on the body is a disqualification for any ritual act, both in males and in females. In the presence of spittle, pus, urine, faeces, blood etc. no-one is permitted to cook food for others or to enter a temple, or perform any ritual act whatsoever. So in the presence of the active flow of menstrual blood, women are relieved of the burden of cooking, cleaning or exerting themselves in any way.
In Indian society the entire burden of caring for the family and guests falls on the women. Mothers in general, and in the West in particular, do not get days off! So one of the aspects of this system of restriction is to give women three to four days of rest per month. In the extended family system there would always be someone else (like grandma) to maintain the household, but in the modern single family units it would be great to see the men doing the cooking, cleaning, caring for the children and serving their wives hand and foot during the three days of their period!
The activities which are restricted to menstruating women by tradition are:
1. Undertaking long journeys - for the obvious reason of discomfiture, inconvenience in changing sanitary products etc.
2. Spinning, knitting or doing needle work - due to the belief that a negative mental state imparted to one’s handiwork can negatively affect others that use it.
3. Handling food or cooking utensils for the same reason - transmitting negative energies.
4. Sleeping on a bed or using furniture, cushions etc. - the reason being that there is the possibility of these objects becoming stained with blood and thus making them unfit for use by others.
In the past and even in rural India today the women are often sent to a separate room outside the compound during their periods but this is no longer practised in modern society.
Women are permitted during this period to concentrate upon their personal spiritual practice and to meditate and do japa (without the use of a japa-mala). Actually there is a rather remarkable verse in the Varaha Purana spoken by Lord Krishna Himself which says:
"Those men and women who rightly perform all the activities pertaining to my worship every day, intent on Me (Krishna) are dear to Me and certainly attain Me, even if they (the women) happen to be defiled by menstruation"! (Varaha Purana 142.48)
Prayer for Menstruating Women - recited 2 - 3 times daily at the sandhyas.
anadi madhyantam ajam puranam
rajasvala devam-varam namami |
"Though in my menses I offer my obeisance to the preeminent Lord, the Unborn Eternal One
without origin, middle or end"!
Ref: Srimatham Prayer Book, page 63 - See: http://yajurvedaustralasia-resources.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Srimatham-Prayer-Book-2.pdf
The Community (page 77) - The widows of the Tenkalai persuasion do not shave their heads or wear white garments or remove the tokens of marriage (Tali), while those of the Vadakalais like the Smarta women shave their heads and wear only white clothes after the death of their husbands. Some of the Tenkalai women wear the sari over their right shoulders; the Vadakalai women wear it over the left shoulder only.
Women and veils -
In South India the Muslim influence was considerably less and there we see that women have never been either secluded from daily social life or in any way covered. On the contrary — since all women are considered the embodiments of Lakshmi it is considered highly offensive that any woman would cover her head — especially at the time of marriage where the bride is honoured as Lakshmi herself and the groom as Vishnu!
In traditional families, women are the central administrations of the household affairs, organising everything from the daily food offering to weddings, domestic festivals and observances. At the time of the woman’s' Vedic marriage, the priest announces that out of the 4 goals of life, women are in charge of three, which are:
1. Dharma — the pursuit of right living, virtue and duty to ourselves and society;
2. Artha — profession, material prosperity, power, security and wellbeing, all of which
must be based upon the codes of ethics taught in Dharma; &
3. Kama — recreation, pleasure, aesthetics, sense gratification the highest form of which
is sexual enjoyment and love.
It is only the 4th goal men are actually responsible for, which is: 4. Moksha — liberation from the cycle of births and deaths (transmigration).
As mentioned by Krishna Himself in the 11th canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, the husband is like a guest in the household, performing his duties according to the Vedic cannon, yet being separate from the day-to-day management. Traditionally, women would buy the groceries and food stuffs required for the household and therefore, it is also stipulated that the women are in charge of the household finances, as they are the ones in constant contact with door-to-door sales people, contractors and matters relating to children, clothing and anything else relating to the upkeep of the home.
The Manu-samhita states:
11. Let the (husband) employ his (wife) in the collection and expenditure of his wealth, in keeping (everything) clean, in (the fulfilment of) religious duties, in the preparation of his food, and in looking after the household utensils.
26. Between wives (striyah) who (are destined) to bear children, who secure many blessings, who are worthy of worship and irradiate (their) dwellings, and between the goddesses of fortune (sriyah, who reside) in the houses (of men), there is no difference whatsoever.
28. Offspring, (the due performance on religious rites, faithful service, highest conjugal happiness and heavenly bliss for the ancestors and oneself, depend on one's wife alone.
Other injunctions are that the wife owns all the goods and chattels in the home and when the daughter marries, they become her wedding gift. Other distinctive traits are women in South India are always well dressed, decorated with gold ornaments and flowers in the hair. It is stated again in the Manu-samhita that it is the husbands’ duty to supply the clothes and ornaments for his wife.
Ref: The Laws of Manu, Chapter 9.
Women and Sri Vaishnavism , the Vaidhika Matham: Part 1
"The modern women may not be familiar with the high status given to women in our religious world and its scriptures. Contrary to the popular belief that VedAs deny freedom to women , it stresses the underlying duty and THE RIGHTS of WOMEN , while focusing on the stability of the family as a unit , which then strengthens the society"!
Satapatha BrahmaNA passage states unblushingly that only a woman fulfills the purposes of human life. It extolls the divine aspect of women and declares that women are the embodiment of Sri Devi (SriyA vA yEthath rUpam yathA patnaya:).
Read more here: http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/dec98/0206.html
The Vedic view of Women in the Vaidhika Matham : Part 2
Rg Veda manthram : X.85.45 - Blessings given at the Vedic wedding ceremony by the Priest!
"O Generous Lord ! May the bride be blessed with children ! May she be blessed with fortune ! Give her ten sons ; and may her husband becomes the eleventh (son ) (dasAsyAm puthrAn dEhi pathimEkAdasam krudhi ).
Read more here: http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/dec98/0205.html
A poet and a philosopher: Two women in the Sri Vaishnava tradition.
The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies - A RECOGNISED INDEPENDENT CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.
Prof. Vasudha Naryanan, Thursday 21 October (All day)
Professor Vasudha Narayanan (University of Florida, USA and Tamal Krishna Visiting Fellow, President of the American Academy of Religion [2001‚Äì2])
Listen to this discussion here:
The most important rite of the Vedic wedding ceremony is Sapatpadi. Here the bride and bridegroom take seven steps together around the nuptial fire (Agni) and make the following seven wedding vows to each other:
“With God as guide, let us take, the first step to nourish each other, the second step to grow together in strength, the third step to preserve our wealth, the fourth step to share our joys and sorrows, the fifth step to care for our children, the sixth step to be together forever, and the seventh step to remain lifelong friends, perfect halves to make a perfect whole.”
The words “perfect halves to make perfect hole” is the final word of Hinduism on the relationship between husband and wife. Thus Hinduism provides same religious rights and privileges to women as it does to men. Neither is woman superior to man, nor is man superior to woman. Both are “perfect halves to make perfect hole.”
The following are quotes from other scriptures that further confirm the equality between men and women in all religious and spiritual aspects:
“Unite, O Lord, this couple like a pair of lovebirds. May they be surrounded by children living both long and happy ” Atharva Veda Samhita 14.2.64
“Let there be faithfulness to each other until death. This may be considered as the summary of the highest law for husband and wife.” Manu Smriti 9.101
“May our prayers and worship be alike, and may our devotional offerings be one and the same.” Rig Veda Samhita 10.191.3
More to follow....
Andal is one of the most extraordinary personalities in religious history. She is known in her native tongue of Tamil as an Alvar, one who is "immersed" in the depths of enjoyment of God, the omnipresent mysterious One. Tradition reckons 12 Alvars, of which Andal is the only female. Between the fifth and ninth centuries, in the Tamil-speaking region of South India, these saints revitalized the Indian religious milieu, sparking a renewal of devotional worship throughout the subcontinent. Traveling from place to place, from temple to temple, from holy site to holy site, they composed exceedingly beautiful poetry to their Divine Beloved, Vishnu, as an expression of their love for Him. Anyone can see why their poetry was so attractive; at once both impassioned and philosophical, their words cut across all barriers of caste and class, attracting all to their faith. In doing so, they sculpted a new religious heritage of intensely emotional bhakti, or love of the Divine, whose impact is still felt today in the Indian religious life. Andal, whose life and poetry are celebrated every December-January, is the most visible contributor to this heritage. Ref: http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/alvars/andal/