Category Archives: E. Dharma and the Individual

The Artha Sastra

 

 

The Artha Sastra means sastra (science) of Artha (earth/wealth/polity) (Prakash 5).The Artha Sastra is one of few written documents that represent ancient India’s political views. The authorship of the Artha Sastra is credited to Kautilya (also known as Chanakya) and it is believed to have been written around 300 B.C. (Boesche 10). According to R. Shamasastry (3), “This Arthasastra is made as a compendium of almost all the Arthasastras, which, in view of acquisition and maintenance of the earth, have been composed by ancient teachers”. Kautilya’s Artha Sastra is comprised of 15 books (Samasastry 2).

Chandragupta Maurya (c. 317-293 B.C.E), who is known for being the first emperor of India, united India by defeating the Nanda kings and by stopping the invasion of Alexander’s successors (Boesche 10). Kautliya was the chief minister of Chandragupta’s court (Prakash 4). In order to govern efficiently and expand the vast Mauryan Empire that was even larger than the Mughal Empire or the British Empire in India, a constitution was needed (Boesche 12). In this situation, Arthasastra was written and came into play.

 Arthasastra deals with all aspects of an empire. Kautliya gave utmost importance to the four sciences. These are:

  1. Anvikshaki (philosophy)
  2. Trayi (the triple Vedas- Sama, Rig, and Yajur, deals with four classes (Varnas) and four orders (ashrams))
  3. Varta (agriculture, cattle breeding and trade)
  4. Danda-Niti (science of government). (Samasastry 9; Ghoshal 128)

Reason for this, according to Samasastry’s word,

“Righteous and unrighteous acts (Dharmadharmau) are learnt from the triple Vedas; wealth and non-wealth from Varta; the expedient and the inexpedient (Nayanayau), as well as potency and impotency (Balabale) from the science of government.” (10).

Kautliya believed that these four sciences should be taught only by specialist teachers (Samasastry 15).

Then he explained the efficiency of learning (vidhyasamarthyam) and enforced that the disciples including the prince(s) should strictly follow it (Samasastry 16).

Unlike today’s government, ancient empires were ruled by kings; but like today’s government, ministers played an important role in ancient times too. So Kautilya wrote about duties and responsibilities of a king as well as the importance of skilled and knowledgeable ministers. According to Samasastry, words that Kautilya used to warn a king are:

“If a king is energetic, his subjects will be equally energetic. If he is reckless, they will not only be reckless likewise, but also eat into his works. Besides, a reckless king will easily fall into the hands of his enemies. Hence the king shall ever be wakeful.” (51)

In his point of view, a king’s day and night should be divided into eight nalikas (1.5 hours) or according to the length of the shadow and each division should be passed fulfilling certain duties (Samasastry 51). Besides this, a king should attend the court on a regular basis and should listen to the petitioners and take appropriate action to avoid public disaffection (Samasastry 51). He also alerted the king about six enemies: kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), mana (vanity), mada (haughtiness), and harsha (over joy) (Samasastry 16).

Obviously, Kautliya wanted to represent the king as an ideal figure to the nation to win the support and loyalty. Since in ancient India, high priest and other priests were important figures, he advised they should be chosen with caution and only the most qualified one should be appointed as high priest (Samasastry 21). While talking about ministries, Kautilya wrote about a conversation between few people and advised that a king should take all of these opinions into consideration while forming the council of ministers (Samasastry 19-20) and encouraged the king to discuss each and every matter with a mantri parisad (council of ministers) that were divided in two levels. The inner cabinet were made of a chief minister, chief priest, military commander and crowned prince, while the outer cabinet were represented by prominent members of the society (Prakash 10). Even after someone is selected as a councillor or a priest, he should be kept under close observation and examined from time to time to check his loyalty to the king (Samasastry 23). According to Prakash (9), Artha Sastra also introduced the concept of saptaganga (state having seven elements) (Kautilya: Book 6, Ch. 1; Sarkar, 1922:167-9; Verma, [1954] 74:80; Rao 1958:82). These are:

  1. Swami (Monarch)
  2. Amatya (Officials)
  3. Janapada (Population and Territory)
  4. Durga (Fort)
  5. Kosa (Treasury)
  6. Bala (Military)
  7. Surhit (Ally)

Only a combination of these seven elements would help a king establish a prosperous state. Kautliya also discussed the importance of choosing a rightful heir to the throne, since the future of the empire is dependent on it. So he set up a guideline to train a prince or steps that a king might take in absence of a rightful heir (Samasastry 45-50). He also legalized the use of spies as a necessary precaution to test government figures’ loyalty to king and to avoid enemy invasion. But he enforced that only those free of any family bonds and members of sudra caste should be used as spies (Samastry 28-31).

 

Since the Mauryan Empire was a rapidly expanding empire, as a chief minister Kautliya tried his best to perfectionize the science of warfare. Expansion of the kingdom was his foremost priority. His plan was to build a skilled and superior army. In order to achieve this goal, his suggestion was that the commander and even the king should be trained in all kinds of warfare and weapons (Boesche 22). He advised that the king should not trust other people when it comes to war and military matters, and he should supervise everything himself (Boesche 22). In Kautilya`s point of view, there are three kinds of war: open war, concealed war and silent war (Boesche 22). Open war is predetermined and happens face to face, while concealed war is mostly about guerrilla warfare (Boesche 22). On the contrary, silent war is all about secrecy. According to Boesche (23), Kautilya originated the concept of secret war (Mojumdar 63). Kuatilya documented different approaches to infiltrate enemies and weaken their power in the Artha Sastra (Boesche 23-24). He favoured all necessary means including use of spies, prostitutes, and even the elders of the army when it comes to war (Boesche 22). He believed in the expansion of a kingdom (Boesche 28). That is why he suggested that any state showing sign(s) of weakness should be attacked and invaded in a favourable condition considering loss of men, wealth and profit (Boesche 28). He also gave utmost importance to defense. That`s why he described a blue print of a well protected fort in the Artha Sastra (Samasastry 66-70). With the intention of giving his army the best chance of victory, he described briefly about marching against an enemy, marching in hostile territory, unifying forces with allies, calculating the favourable time of an invasion, and other warfare techniques in several books of the Artha Sastra.

 

In order to govern the vast Mauryan Empire, Kautilya developed a complicated and organized network of bureaucracy. He divided responsibilities into thirty categories and employed thirty adhyaksas (chiefs) to look after each category (Prakash 13). Adhyaksas were provided with a house and a handsome salary. To encourage the bureaucrats, he also developed a reward system by which each bureaucrat would get a part of the taxes as an incentive (Prakash 13). Besides, Kautilya realized that the continuity of a successful state depends on an interactive system between tax payers and state government as well as on trade and commerce. So, bureaucrats in the Mauryan Empire were responsible for providing three kinds of goods – the quality control machinery, the system of currency and system of weights and measures (Prakash 13). He also promoted imports as a way of enriching the state with goods that either they did not have or the production was really expensive (Prakash 13). His taxation system was equally sophisticated. According to Prakash (11), “Kautilya visualized a ‘dharmic social contract’ between the King and the citizens”. The superintendant of tolls was responsible for taking taxes from merchants, while adyaksas were responsible for taking taxes from other tax payers (Prakash 13, Samasastry 155). He also documented specific instructions to the superintendant of tolls on how, where and when merchants should pay their taxes (Samasastry 155). Counterfeiting was a punishable crime in the Mauryan Empire. On the other hand, citizens of the Mauryan Empire also enjoyed specific tax free trade and the janapads (districts) had the right to ask for tax remission under special circumstances (Samasastry 156, Prakash 11).

 

According to Prakash (12), “Kautilya did not view law to be an expression of the free will of the people”. In Kautilya`s point of view, law should be based on dharma (scared law), vyavhara (evidence), charita (history and custom), and rajasasana (edicts of the king) (Prakash 12). He visualized a royal court having 6 members – 3 with the knowledge of dharmasastras (sacred law) and 3 ministers of the king. He also described brief penalty system in accordance with the offence committed in the Artha Sastra.

 

Female figures did not possess a high status in ancient India`s male-dominated society. The same was true for Kautilya. He was in favour of using women as spies. He also legalized prostitution and brought it under taxation system. Although, aniskasini (women from upper caste who did not leave their work) were allowed to earn their livelihood by spinning, they had to do all their transactions in dim light to avoid being seen by men (Jaiswal 51). Women who were involved in service of the king were considered a treasure of the state and enjoyed a handsome salary and protection (Jaiswal 54). Besides, intercourse with a girl against her will or intercourse with a minor girl was a punishable crime (Jaiswal 53).

The Artha Sastra deals with all aspects of a well-constructed government as well as a monarchical empire. Kautilya succeeded in constructing a constitution that shaped a vast successful empire. Some of these rules are still in play.

 

References:

Boesche, Roger (2003) “Kautilya’s “Arthaśāstra” on War and Diplomacy in Ancient India” Journal of military history, Vol. 67, No. 1.

Ghoshal, Upendra (1923) A History of Hindu Political Theories. London: Oxford University Press.

Jaiswal, Suvira (2001) “Female images in Artha Sastra of Kautilya” Social Scientists, Vol 29 No.3 /4.

Mojumdar, Bimal (1995) The military system in ancient India. Calcutta: World Press Ltd.

Prakash, Aseem (1993) “State and Statecraft in Kautilya’s Arthasastra” Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington

Shamasastry, Rudrapatnam ([1915] 1967) Kautilya’s Arthashastra ([1915] 1967), eighth ed. Mysore, Mysore Printing and Publishing House.

Related topics for further investigation:

  • Chandragupta Maurya
  • Bindusara Amitraghata
  • Chayanakya
  • Mauryan Empire
  • Nanda Empire
  • Jain tradition
  • Dharma

 

Noteworthy websites related to the topic:

 

Article written by Fazla Chowdhury (April, 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

 

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is affectionately referred to by her followers as “the hugging saint”, or simply Amma, which is the Sanskrit word for mother.  She is a modern-day “avatar-guru”. This means her followers consider her to be an incarnation of a Hindu deity- in this case Devi, or Sakti (Copley 255). The goddess, Devi, represents the female aspect of the divine, and is the core form of every Hindu goddess.

In contrast to this divine reputation she holds today, Mata comes from very humble beginnings indeed. She was born in 1953 into a low-caste fishing family in the South Indian state of Kerala (Warrier 3). Her path to divinity started very young as she would spend excessive amounts of time immersed in meditation and prayer (Warrier 3). At the tender age of twenty-one Mata self-identified with the goddess Devi, and proclaimed that she was in fact the human manifestation of the Great Divine Mother (Warrier 3). It is due in part to Mata’s more well known moniker, “The Hugging Saint”, that she has gained this motherly image. Mata’s devotees will queue for hours on end after hearing her speak, just to receive a hug from her. An embrace from Mata is believed by her followers to be a divine experience, often equated with a spiritual awakening (Copley 259).

Mata dons the traditional garb of the goddess Devi whenever she appears in public, in order to present her divine nature to her followers. These public appearances are referred to as darshans, or “viewings” (Warrier 3). Mata herself has a slightly more involved perception of darshan. She is quoted as saying: “Darshan is a divine embrace. When I hold someone, it allows him to experience true, unconditional love; it can help to awaken his spiritual energy” (Luc, 41). Mata’s followers strive for spiritual enlightenment through worship of Mata herself, and by extension, the goddess whom she represents. This branch of the Hindu faith is called bhakti (Copley 255). However, worship and devotion to Mata is not the only thing expected of her followers. The main practice that all of Mata’s faithful followers must adhere to is that of seva. Seva, at its most basic definition, is the act of selfless service (Copley 264). Universal love, as well as selflessness, lie at the core of Mata’s philosophy. Mata works to spread this message, and related activism, throughout the world via her charitable organization The Mata Amritanandamayi Mission (henceforth referred to as The Mission).

The Mission is an eclectic organization involved in everything from supporting orphanages and colleges, to establishing hospitals with the highest standard for medical care (Copley 259-260). The unique thing about these organizations founded and/or managed by The Mission is the fact that they are almost entirely funded by donations from Mata devotees from around the world (Warrier 7). This is where seva plays its most pivotal role. The most revered form of seva is selfless service to the Mission itself. So by devoting time, effort, and donations to any one of the many humanitarian projects championed by Mata and her mission, the devotee is improving his or her own personal karma, while at the same time helping to further the impact of The Mission (Copley 265). It is this somewhat circular process which is largely responsible for the dramatic, worldwide spread of The Mission. Mata is revered as the ideal example of seva. As her followers attempt to emulate her tireless dedication to selflessly serving the entire world, they are at the same time vastly increasing the global scope of The Mission itself (Copley 265).

Another important factor at play here is that the majority of Mata’s devotees, in India and abroad, are middle-class, white-collar professionals (Copley 260). This demographic could be considered Mata’s greatest resource for spreading her message of universal love. It has been said that Mata possesses an unparalleled ability to recognize the most valuable attributes in a person, as well as the most effective way to utilize those attributes in an effort to further her cause (Copley 272). Mata’s devotees offer their various forms of expertise to The Mission as an expression of seva (Copley 272). Many of these individuals are seeking a way to contextualize their Hindu lifestyle in an increasingly modern world, which may not fit with traditional values or practices. A large part of Mata’s appeal as a guru lies in her flexible approach to Hindu worship. Her followers are permitted, and in fact encouraged, to pursue their faith in whichever way suits their lifestyle (Copley 263).

Mata lives a life governed by the same ideals as Hindu renouncers even though she does not truly belong to any such group (Warrier 6). Her social status could be described as above and beyond any traditional caste system. When she is not travelling the world, or visiting the various ashrams set up by her devotees, she spends most of her time at the ashram in her home-state of Kerala (Warrier 6). Ashram simply means “spiritual hermitage” (Copley 259). It is here that she works with individuals striving for brahmacharya, life as an ascetic, by closely monitoring their behaviour and guiding them in their spiritual quest. Once Mata believes they are finally qualified for brahmacharya she carries out an initiation rite (called the brahmacharya diksha), which officially recognizes the individual as a renouncer (Warrier 6).

Bibliography

Warrier, Maya (2003) Guru Choice and Spiritual Seeking in Contemporary India. International Journal  of Hindu Studies, 7: 31-54.

Viginie, Luc (2008) In God’s Name: Wisdom From the World’s Great Spiritual Leaders. New York:  Melcher Media.

Copely, Antony (2003) Hinduism in Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender, and Sampraday. New Delhi; New York: Oxford India Paperbacks.

Warrier, Maya (2005) Hindu Selves in a Modern World: Guru Faith in the Mata Amritanandamayi    Mission. Oxfordshire: RoutledgeCurzon.

Related Websites

www.amma.org

www.amritapuri.org

www.embracingtheworld.org

http://www.odditycentral.com/news/mata-amritanandamayi-devi-indias-hugging-saint.html

Related Words

Sakti

Bhajans

Seva

Darshan

Devi

Ashram

Prarabdhas

Sannyasin

Sankalpa

Sanatana dharma

Bhakti

Brahmacharya

 

Article written by Dylan Williamson (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Prthivi, Usas, and Ratri (Vedic Goddesses)

The Vedic Goddesses: Prthivi, Usas, and Ratri

Worship of natural phenomena has dominated Hindu religious practice since its origin. Many natural phenomena are seen to have feminine properties and it is these properties which led to the centralization of goddess worship (Kinsley 10). Some feminine traits abundant in nature include fecundity, fruitfulness, and fertility present in the earth, mothers and cows (Wangu 29). Another feature common in goddess worship is their ability to uphold rta, cosmic order (Wangu 28; Kinsley 10; Chitgopekar 55).  All these common features of nature are prominent in three of the main goddesses in Vedic literature; Prthivi the earth, Usas the dawn, and Ratri the night (Kinsley 14, 178; Kumar 67).

The origin of worship for the earth is based out of the sacrality of the earth for its fecundity and stability, and due to these attributes, the earth has been worshipped as a goddess throughout the Hindu tradition (Kinsley 178). The earth as a goddess has a basis in the underlying perception that the earth and the cosmos is a living being itself. And it is this “cosmic organism” that is worshipped as the earth goddess, Prthivi (Kinsley 178). The earth as a solid mass and an anthropomorphic goddess is the two ways in which Prthivi is identified. And it is the reverence to the stability and fecundity of the earth that provides the basis of the hymns dedicated to Prthivi (Kinsley 178). Within the Samhitas, Prthivi has three aspects of her being. She is seen as the “universal mother of physical creation” as well as the earth as a physical entity that sustains life (Pintchman 30). The third aspect of Prthivi’s nature describes her as manifest matter itself, just like the waters in the creation narrative that is formed from the cosmogonic process (Pintchman 30). In some myths the creation of the world came from the released energy from Prajapati which became the substance that makes up the earth and provides life for everything on its surface (Kinsley 178). In another myth from the Visnu Purana, the earth, Prthivi was born from the foot of Visnu (Wilkins 16). In other myths Prthivi is said to have germinated from Aditi, which in later Hindu tradition is almost completely identified with Prthivi in the Brahmanas (Kinsley 178). In later texts new names were introduced for the earth goddess such as Bhu or Bhudevi (Sullivan 76). A central and dominant quality of Prthivi is her maternal nature (Pitchman 30). She often hailed as mother and is worshipped for her fertility by providing sustenance to all living things that live on her (Kinsley 9). Because of this, she is often likened to a cow, who provides milk for her calf. It is through the worship of Prthivi and other motherly goddesses that the status of the cow is heightened (Wangu 36). Prthivi is often described as a firm, supportive, benign being whose fertility and abundance helps with the growth and well being of all living things that thrive on her surface (Kinsley 8, 126). She is said to be the source of strength, vigour and she quickens life (Kinsley 11).

Hymns in many texts emphasize Prthivi’s nourishing and creative nature in which she provides seemingly inexhaustible sources of plants and herbs, and especially crops. Prthivi is often called the all-producer based on these associations (Kinsley 9, 126; Wangu 35). Another name given to the earth goddess is rtajna, she who knows rta (Chitgopekar 55). She does not distinguish between poor and wealthy, good and wicked beings, or demons and the gods, who call her broad expanse home (Kinsley 9).  In some hymns she is described as the splendid energy of women, the fragrant mother, the light and luck in men and goddess of emotional and material abundance (Wangu 35, 36; Kinsley 9). Prthivi is one of the few goddesses in the Vedic scriptures that can be considered a goddess in her own right (Kinsley 9; Wangu 35). Even with this high status as her own deity, Prthivi is almost always found in hymns linked with Dyaus, the sky god. For some scholars Prthivi is associated with the sky as well as the earth and not just exclusively the earth, though in later texts and in the Atharva Veda she is more commonly portrayed as an individual (Kinsley 8, 9).  This divine couple, sometimes called Dyavaprthivi (sky-earth), are said to be the creators of the world and the universal parents of the gods (Sullivan 76; Kinsley 8; Wangu 35). They are said to be the preservers of all their creations and are described as energetic beings who encourage virtue (Wilkins 13). Together they are said to have created full, fat, nourishing waters and represent a realm of safety and abundance where rta pervades and happiness prevails (Kinsley 8). This multivalent duality is said to have been born through Soma and they sustain life by generating fertility through their reciprocal roles (Chitgopekar 47; Wilkins 13; Kinsley 25).  It is said in myths that Dyaus fertilizes Prthivi with the rain which represents his seed (Kinsley 8). They are often petitioned to bring happiness, to expiate sin and to protect people from danger and Prthivi is said to provide material well-being and good luck to those she blesses (Kinsley 11). In some myths, Prthivi’s worshippers will perform rites in the form of sacrificial rituals, amulets and prayers in order to appease and propitiate the earth (Kinsley 178; Wangu 35). Sacrifices were believed to replenish and rebuild the energy lost by Prajapati when he created the earth. These sacrifices, with the continuous release of power by Prajapati uphold rta and the balanced cycle (Kinsley 178). Like Prthivi, most other Vedic goddesses have a strong connection with rta and natural phenomena (Wangu 28; Kinsley 10; Chitgopekar 55). One such goddess is Usas, the dawn.

The conception of the dawn dates back to the time of the primitive Aryans (Kumar 67). Both the Hellenic and the Hindu Aryans have philologically corresponding names for the dawn as a goddess; Eos in Greek, Aurora in Roman, and Usas in the Hindu pantheon (Kumar 67; Walker 536). Though even before the Aryan dichotomy, the ideal of the goddess of the dawn, or guardian of daybreak was present (Walker 536). The poetic beauty found in the hymns dedicated to Usas is only matched by that of those dedicated to Eos in the time of Homer (Kumar 67). The hymns in the Rg Veda dedicated to Usas are said to be some of the most beautiful use of poetic language and for the Vedic poets, one of the most beloved objects of celebration (Wilkins 48; Sullivan 236). With over 20 hymns dedicated just to Usas she is the most popular goddess in the Rg Veda (Kinsley 17; Wangu 32; Walker 536). In spite of her popularity in earlier times, Usas is rarely mentioned in later texts (Kinsley 18). Usas, the dawn, is associated with light and is often said to be the mother of the gods (Kinsley 7). As an auspicious deity, Usas is seen as luminous, many-tinted, and delicate (Kinsley 7; Walker 536; Kumar and Ram 66; Wangu 32). She is often seen as a young maiden (Kinsley 7), a skilled dancer decorated with gems (Wangu 32; Wilkins 48), a “gaily attired wife appearing before her husband, a beautiful girl coming from her bath” (Wilkins 48) or likened to a cow (Kinsley 7). Worshippers believe that Usas, like a cow presenting her udder to her calf, will present her bosom to the patron as well as for the benefit of humankind as a whole (Wilkins 48; Kinsley 7).

By bringing light forth for humankind to every place of dwelling Usas is a friend to all mankind (Kinsley 7; Walker 536). Her light uncovers all people and things, with no preference to status or wealth from the night’s darkness (Walker 536; Kinsley 7). She is seen as an ever young maiden being born daily with the coming of the light at each new dawn (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). At each dawn she is said, in some hymns, to come forth, bringing the light, in a hundred chariots (Kinsley 7). In other hymns she is said to have a single shining chariot drawn by either cows, ruddy horses, or by the Ashvins, her sons (Wilkins 48; Wangu 32). Usas, in one or many chariots, leads the way for and is urged on by Surya, the sun (Kinsley 7; Sullivan 236). She is praised for awakening all life forms but leaves the deceased to their rest (Kinsley 7, 8; Wangu 32). Usas is associated with the life and the breath of all being that she is the one that impels life (Kinsley 7). As the reoccurring dawn, Usas is a reminder to people of their limited time through the disappearance of generations and the wasting away of lives (Sullivan 236; Wilkins 48; Kinsley 7). It is through this immortal rebirth at the dawn twilight that Usas supports rta, the cosmic order (Kinsley 7; Chitgopekar 55).The dawn sets everything into motion, causes birds to leave their nests, and awakens the sleeping to go and perform their varied duties just like a young housewife (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). Usas provides a service to other gods by arousing the people off to perform their daily sacrifices and entices the gods to help kindle the fires for sacrifice by getting them to drink Soma (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48; Wangu 32).

In some hymns Usas is said to be the “eye of the gods”, who sees everything that people do (Kinsley 7). As the dawn, Usas is said to have been fathered by the sky, Dyaus or the sun, Surya (Chitgopekar 56; Wangu 32; Kumar and Ram 159). In another myth Usas is said to have been fathered by Prajapati. It is in this myth that all living things were said to be created by the shape-changing of Usas who was fleeing her incestuous shape-changing father (Walker 536). This myth and others helps to support her motherly nature. Usas is said to give wealth, strength, and fame and is believed to give her petitioners joy, longevity, sons, horses and cattle (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 52). People will often invoke Usas to punish or drive away one’s enemies, though she is rarely called upon to forgive the transgressions of humans (Kinsley 7). Usas is also asked to dispel the darkness and drive the chaotic forces and evil demons far away (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). She is praised for disclosing the hidden treasures by driving away the night, her sister, Ratri (Wilkins 48; Walker 536).

Ratri, the night, is mainly found in the Rg Vedas when she is linked to her sister Usas; though like Usas, Ratri is rarely found in later texts (Kinsley 14; Wangu 66). In these hymns Ratri and Usas are said to be powerful mothers who strengthen the vital powers of individuals. At times they are described as twins whose never ending cyclical appearances support rta through the alternating yet predicable flow of light and dark, and vigour and rest (Kinsley 14). Like her sister Usas, Ratri is sometimes identified as a beautiful maiden though descriptions of her physical appearance are mentioned rarely (Kinsley 14). Ratri is affiliated with darkness and is often called gloomy and barren when compared to Usas (Wangu 33; Kinsley 14).  In some hymns of the Rg Vedas, she is referred to as hostile despite her usual depiction as a benign being (Kinsley 14). Unlike Usas, whose abode is not known, Ratri is said to live in the abode of Yama the god of death in the south (Wangu 33; Kumar and Ram 66). Ratri is admired for the stars she bares as light in the darkness, letting all creatures rest and for giving dew. Though she is seen as the guardian of the night but she is also seen as the very things, both hostile and benign, that thrive in the night (Kinsley 14). People will petition Ratri for protection against the evils of the night such as thieves, wolves and any other creatures that could do them harm. In the Rg Vedas, there are hymns in which Ratri, the night and darkness, is chased away by the god of fire, Agni and Usas (Kinsley 14). Unlike Usas and Prthivi, Ratri is not as well studied.

Bibliography and Related Readings

Bunce, Fredrick (2000) An Encyclopaedia of Hindu Deities, Demigods, Godlings, Demons and Heros with Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes, Vol 1. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian Religion. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Cush, Denise, Robinson, Cathrine, York, Michael (2008) Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Friedrichs, Kurt (1989) The Encyclopaedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Kapoor, Subodh (2000) The Hindus Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: Vol 5 Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kapoor, Subodh (2002) Encyclopaedia of Vedic Philosophy: The Age, Religion, Literature, Pantheon, Philosphy, Traditions, and Teachers of the Vedas, Vol 4. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kumar, R., Ram, S (2008) Hinduism: Religion and Philosophy. New Delhi: Crescent Publishing Corporation.

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Stutley, Margaret, Stutley, James (2003) A Dictionary of Hinduism: Its Mythology, Folklore, and Development 1500 BC – AD 1500. London: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce M (1987) Historical Dictionary of Hinduism. London: The Scarecrow Press Inc.

Walker, Benjamin (1983) Hindu World: An Encyclopaedic Survey of Hinduism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings and Models. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Wilkins, W. J (1975) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: Rekha Printers Ltd.

 

Related Research Topics

Aditi

Ashvins

Bhu / Bhudevi

Dyaus

Prajapati

rta

Soma

Surya

Triloka

Yama

Related Websites

http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/omw/omw63.htm (Usas)

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/av/av07018.htm (Prthivi)

http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/sas/sas04.htm (Ratri)

http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Nature_Worship5.htm

Article written by: Nicole Stevenson (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Brahma Kumaris

THE BRAHMA KUMARIS

In traditional Hindu religion patriarchal sects are the most profuse. However, this is not so for one contemporary sect, the Brahma Kumaris (Daughters of Brahma) (Babb 399). Although the Brahma Kumaris was founded by a man, Dada Lekhraj, its female membership is three times higher than male (Wallis 72). It is not just the case that females are predominant in numbers, they are held as more spiritually significant than males and hold the power of control in the community. Dada Lekhraj’s higher regard for woman has been said to date back to his days as a successful diamond merchant in the province of Sindh. (Wallis 33). His success in the position apparently helped him to gain an above ordinary insight into women’s concerns, due to his regular contact with them (Wallis 34). In the late 1930’s when Lekhraj had reached the age of sixty, he began to have frequent startling visions of the deities Siva and Visnu, along with images of the destruction of the world (Wallis 34). These visions of demolition were followed by images of an earthly-like paradise, unlike what Lekhraj was living in. This paradise included things like sexual equality, food in abundance, and painless death (Wallis 34). Lekhraj retired from his profession as a consequence of these visions, as they became so prevalent at one point he seemed to act as a medium in order to deliver a message from Siva: “I am the Blissful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Knowledgeful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Luminous Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Form of Self, the Form of Knowledge, the Form of Light” (Wallis 376). Following this episode, Lekhraj began to preach to those around him that everyone is a soul trapped in an earthly existence. It was not long before many others, predominantly women, began to experience similar visions and came to him (Wallis 376). These women, who were permitted to very few social outings, were allowed by their husbands to attend satsangs (religious meetings) with Lekhraj (Hodgkinson 10). They called him Om Baba and these satsangs became known as the Om Mandli, the absolute circle or association (Babb 402). The Om Mandli is considered the foundation that would eventually become the Brahma Kumaris University (Wallis 35).

In 1937, Lekhraj put his entire trust and fortune into nine women who formed the administration and managing committee of the group, which had changed its name to prajipita brahmakumari ishvariya vishvavidyalaya or the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (Wallis 36). His initial goals for the university can be summed up in this quote:

Dad Lekhraj gave special encouragement to women to develop their spiritual lives and take leadership positions…some few years after his life transforming visions, he came to believe that celibacy was necessary to achieve salvation, he rejected the Hindu practice of restricting the elevated status of celibate seeker to men (Howell 454).

Lekhraj believed that the Bhagavad Gita had become distorted and filled with errors, yet he had personally experienced its authentic truth as a ‘modern-day Krsna’ (Wallis 34). Their promotion of celibacy is what initially caused the Brahma Kumaris to be so poorly received by opposing groups (Babb 411). These opposing groups, mostly consisting of men whose wives had taken a vow of chastity, rose up against the Brahma Kumaris, and pushed them into a period of persecution and isolation (Wallis 377). Lekhraj heavily interpreted this segregation as a reoccurrence of the Pandavas isolation in the major Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata (Wallis 38). The rest of the Indian population can then be inferred to represent the Kauravas.

In the 1950’s, as a consequence of the Brahma Kumaris moving from Sindh to Mt. Abu Rajasthan, the situation changed and Lekhraj began to emphasize worldly service over isolation and rejection of the rest of the world (Wallis 379).  He allowed his teachings to extend to outsiders with the desire to expand his university. The first centre to open was in Delhi in 1952, following through Asia to London in 1971, to the United Kingdom, Europe, and eventually the rest of the world (Wallis 380). Today, the Brahma Kumaris presents itself as a ‘divine university’ and offers many classes in knowledge of doctrine and meditation (Babb 404). As of 2007 there was 450 000 members of the Brahma Kumaris University, in 4000 centers, in 77 countries worldwide (Wallis 380).

The Brahma Kumaris believe that their members should live like the Goddess of Prosperity, Laksmi, and her husband, Narayan (Visnu) – and love one another with pure spiritual love, and no physical love (Babb 403). This enforces their most important norm; the practice of celibacy. Celibacy relates back to Lekhraj’s vision and of everyone being a soul. His belief is that we are atmas (souls), and how we identify ourselves becomes conflicted with the physical bodies we inhabit in the prakriti (material world) (Babb 405). The true home of our atmas is the paramdhari, the ‘supreme abode’, and our souls periodically leave the paramdhari to inhabit bodies in the material world, thus forgetting who they are (Babb 405). This idea of a lost soul is what the Brahma Kumaris recognize as our problem. Every 5000 years the world begins a new cycle of history and rejuvenates itself; currently we are at the end of the cycle and as Lekhraj foresaw, soon the world will be destroyed in order for this to happen (Babb 407). The view of the destruction of the world is referred to as millenarianism (Wallis 32). The Brahma Kumaris believe that it is at this point of destruction that all souls will return to the paramdhari and await renewal into the new cycle. Siva, the supreme soul, through Lekhraj will make knowledge of our separation from our souls available to those souls prepared to listen. These will be the souls that will be transferred into the next cycle (Babb 407). Lekhraj’s belief was that he had prepared his followers, the Brahma Kumaris, for this by fulfilling his instructions initially put forth to him through his visions. His belief included the idea that everyone (namely, the Brahma Kumaris) who ends up in the beginning of a new cycle becomes a deity who endures no hardship or pain, and at every new beginning sexual intercourse is said to be nonexistent and unknown. This is because it is ‘inconsistent’ with the purity of the deities (Babb 406).

Male and female deities are equals in the beginning and have a special power that allows them to conceive without intercourse. As the introduction of intercourse becomes prevalent, their level of purity will decline and this power will diminish causing the earth to move from svaj (heaven) to narak (hell) (Babb 407). It is sexual lust that is the cause of all other violence and evil in humanity, including the onset of inequality and suppression towards women, which will continue to happen with each cycle (Babb 408). Sexual lust is what causes the destruction of the world, and celibacy can be seen as the way of the deities, in the eyes of the Brahma Kumaris. This goes along with the fact that initiation into the sect requires you to ‘die’ in your previous life, as you are born again into the divine family of the Brahma Kumaris where you receive a divinely inspired name (Wallis 38).

The act of celibacy can be seen as a traditional aspect of religion, which ironically is one of this ‘new age movement’s’ primal norms. Along with celibacy, the Brahma Kumaris have other rules that govern day-to-day behavior. Abstaining from meat and alcohol, along with other ‘passion-inducing’ foods and drinks is enforced (Babb 411). Raja Yoga is the central element associated with communication to Siva, the supreme soul. (Wallis 52). The meditation associated with Raja Yoga is considered to be a technique that helps a person discover the soul’s consciousness and gain experience to oneself as a soul rather than a physical body (Babb 411). Raja yoga is a gateway to the access of one’s own atman, their true identity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Babb, Lawrence (1984) “Indigenous Feminism in a Modern Hindu Sect.” Signs 9, 3.  p. 399-416.

Hodgkinson, Liz (2002) Peace and Purity: The Story of the Brahma Kumaris: A Spiritual  Revolution. Florida: Health Communications Inc.

Howell, Julia Day (1998) “Gender Role Experimentation In New Religious Movements:  Clarification of the Brahma Kumaris Case.” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 37, 3. p. 453-461.

Wallis, John (1999) “From World Rejection to Ambivalence: The Development of  Millenarianism in the Brahma Kumaris.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 15, 3.  p. 375-385.

Wallis, John (2007) The Brahma Kumaris as a ‘Reflexive Tradition’: Responding to Late  Modernity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

RELATED WORDS

Dada Lekhraj

Siva

Paramdhari

Mt. Abu Rajasthan

Om Mandli

Krsna

Lakshimi

Narayan

Visnu

Millenarianism

RELATED WEBSITES

www.bkwsu.org

www.bkwsu.org/canada

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada_Lekhraj

http://www.shivbaba.ca/introduction.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma_Kumaris_World_Spiritual_University

www.brahmakumaris.info/


Article written by: Katrina Nogas (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahadevyakka

Mahadevyakka was a twelfth century female mystic/saint within the Virasaivism movement.  Mahadevyakka renounced her life and devoted herself to the worship of Siva.  From her experiences she composed poetry in which she conveyed her stories and her love for Siva, whom she believed to be her husband (Blake-Michael 363).  Mahadevyakka is also known for her rebellions against social norms of the time.

Mahadevyakka was born in Udutadi, a village in Sivamogga (Ramanujan 111).  Mahadevyakka’s religious devotion began as a young girl.  At a young age she became a Siva-worshipper and continued to grow up as a devout worshipper of the Lord.  The form of Siva that she worshipped in his ascetic form as Cennamallikarjuna, translated as “the Lord White as Jasmine” (Ramanujan 111).  It is said that Mahadevyakka’s beauty caught the attention of King Kausika who wanted to marry her.  It is debated by scholars as to whether she did marry him or if she rejected his proposals.  One story claims that she married the King against her will.  Mahadevyakka was very upset about the marriage because the King was a follower of Jainism (Blake-Michael 362).  She asked him to convert but he refused.  One evening, after rejecting his sexual advances, Mahadevyakka left the palace naked, covered only by her braids (Ramanujan 111).  This began her spiritual journey in pursuit of spiritual union with Siva.  She would wander to different towns and areas in search of union.  Mahadevyakka believed that she was already the wife of Siva and would not marry any other man.  In her journey Mahadevyakka found herself in Kalyana, which was a central city for Virasaivism at the time.  She was, at this point, accepted into the group of saints after being questioned by the other saints (Blake-Michael 363).  The dialogue between Mahadevyakka and Allama, a guru of the school, has become a famous legend.  In this legend Mahadevyakka won over Allama and joined the group as a result of her powerful and convincing words.  She was able to prove to Allama that she has complete devotion to Siva as a good wife to her husband (Blake-Michael 363).  After many years in Kalyana, Mahadevyakka decided to continue on her spiritual journey and left Kalyana.  Her journey ended in her late twenties when she reached Sri Saila, a holy mountain.  It is recounted that it was here that she found union with Siva (Ramanujan 113).  A union of this variety cannot be expressed and only experienced, although Mahadevyakka used her poetry as an attempt to express her love for Siva and her pains of separation from his union.  Her poetry and her opposition to social norms made her a revered saint of her time.

Mahadevyakka was a member of a Saiva sectarian movement called Virasaivism, which was founded in the twelfth century in South India by a man named Basava (Basavanna).  Virasaivism translates as “heroic Saivas.”  They still flourish today and are known as Lingayats, “wearers of the Linga” (Olson 409).  This group, which has been referred toas a protest movement, rejects many of the social constructs of the time period.  This group rejects the caste system and the marriage of children.  They also allow widows to remarry and the dead are buried rather than cremated.  Finally, they declare the sexes equal and that temple worship, sacrifices and pilgrimages are unnecessary.  Virasaivis devotees believe in the equal access of salvation for everyone (Blake-Michael 361).  With these protests to the social constructs of society of her time, Mahadevyakka became known as a rebellious woman but at the same timean important figure in the anti-Brahminical and anti-caste movement.  Unlike the other female saints within Virasaivism, Mahadevyakka was viewed as even more rebellious than other devotees.  This was because she chose to wander naked and was unmarried.  One half of the other female saints within Virasaivism at the time were married (Ramaswamy 43).  The marriage status of these women was important in the explanation of their spirituality.  Mahadevyakka remained independent from male domination.  Her spiritual quest was different than that of the married housewives of Virasaivism because she did not rely on guidance from any male figures; she only trusted in her devotion to Siva.  According to traditional Virasaivism, one was to work and be self reliant, and Mahadevyakka represented a paragon of self reliance (Ramaswamy 52).  Typically, both presently and in the past, Virasaivism female saints who were married, were thought to collaborate with their husbands in their spiritual quests (Ramaswamy 22).  Studies indicate that Mahadevyakka was criticized by other female saints for not wearing clothing.  Her nakedness was seen as an ultimate defiance and thus Mahadevyakka is not paid homage to in any of the other female saints’ writings (Ramaswamy 43).  As a result of the anti-Brahminical and anti-caste beliefs of Virasaivism, Mahadevyakka became symbolic of rebel and female saint.

Mahadevyakka chose to reject the traditionally prescribed roles of a Hindu woman.  Traditionally, it was believed that only high caste men were able to become renouncers.  Hindu society identified women with family and sexual pleasures, and thus were not seen to possess the ability to become ascetics.  Mahadevyakka disagreed with the power of the Brahmins.  As a rejection of the traditional roles of men and women, Mahadevyakka strove to transcend her gender through her spiritual practices.  As she described in her poetry, she is female in form, but is the male principle (Ramaswamy 14).  Through this sentiment Mahadevyakka was able to dissolve the notions of women as untrustworthy and temptresses.  Sexual transcendence was seen as a higher stage of spirituality. The gender boundaries were erased and the saint becomes asexual.  As Mahadevyakka expresses:

Transcending the company of both,

I have attained to peace.

After forgetting this cluster of words,

What if one lives

An integral life?

Once I am joined

To Lord Cennamallikarjuna,

I do not recognize myself

As anything. (Olson 498)

It is at this point that the saint becomes naked.  For male saints this does not represent any social disturbance, yet for female saints this was seen as even more freeing due to the prohibitions placed on females within society (Ramaswamy 40).  Mahadevyakka renounced her family and her clothing and freed herself from any social conventions.  She had but her braids to cover her private body parts to decrease the temptation of others (Ramaswamy 41).  For Mahadevyakka and many other saints, she viewed her body as an aide to her self realization and spirituality.

A further act of rebellion by Mahadevyakka was that she remained unmarried physically to a man.  This resulted in society viewing her as ‘deviant’ (Ramaswamy 27).  Within Hindu society, unmarried women are largely viewed as temptations to men yet Mahadevyakka believed that she was married to Siva and that he was her groom (pati) (Ramaswamy 34).  She also journeyed with no male escort.  In conventional society, this would be viewed as a very dangerous act for a woman.  Mahadevyakka believed she had transcended gender and caste and thereby believed that she could take part in living as any of the other male ascetics and saints.  Through Mahadevyakka’s poetry it is clear that her spiritual quest is for union with Siva.  Her poetry exemplifies her beliefs and quest for union with Siva, while she opposed society’s views and presented the independent strength of the female saint.

The poetry of Virasaivism was passed on orally for centuries prior to being collected into what is called Sunyasampadane.  The type of poetry that Mahadevyakka composed was medieval bhakti (devotion) poetry called vacanas or sayings of their saints.  Mahadevyakka’s poetry consists of what can be interpreted as the three forms of love: love forbidden, love during separation, and love in union (Ramanujan 113).  Her poetry expresses her quest to find love and union with Siva, while wandering:

O swarm of bees

O mango tree

O moonlight

O koilbird

I beg of you all

one

favour:

If you should see my lord anywhere

my lord white as jasmine

call out

and show him to me. (Ramanujan 122)

In her poetry Mahadevyakka refers to Siva as “…my lord white as jasmine,” or, as in the previous poem, “Lord Cennamallikarjuna”.  Through her poetry, Mahadevyakka also expresses her emotions of being torn between being female and at the same time as being human.  Her yearning is expressed by her desire to transcend the boundaries placed on her as female and human to achieve true union with Siva.  As she states with reference to gender limitations:

As long as woman is woman, then

A man defiles her;

As long as man is man,

A woman defiles him.

When the mind’s taint is gone, is there room for the body’s taint?…

(Ramaswamy 15)

Further study of Mahadevyakka’s poetry reveals her life story.  One can follow Mahadevyakka’s life through her poetry with respect to her marriage to Siva.  Her poetry begins with King Kausika, her rejection of the world and ends with her final union with Siva through whom she escapes the human world.  Her final union with Siva is described in her vacana:

Hear me, O Father Linga:

This feeling has become my life…

Mark you, Cennamallikarjuna:

Worshipping Thee with all my heart,

My wheel of births has ceased! (Olson 495)

Mahadevyakka’s metaphors of human love are expressions of her mystic journey. She is revered as the most poetic saint among the Virasaiva saints (Ramanujan 113).

References and Further Recommended Reading

Blake Michael, R. (1983) “Woman of the Śūnyasampādane: Housewives and Saints in Virasaivism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 103, No. 2.

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources.  New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Oxtoby, Willard G. (2002) World Religions: Eastern Traditions.  Oxford: Oxford

University Press.

Ramanujan, A.K. (1973) Speaking of Śiva.  Hollingsworth : Penguin Publishing.

Ramaswamy, Vijaya ( 1996) Divinity and Deviance: Women in Virasaivism.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Female mystic

Saint

Guru

Virasaivism

Lingayats

Linga

Basava (Basavanna)

Female Pollution

Bhakti

Siva

Saiva Devotionalism

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.indiayogi.com/content/indiangurus/female-saint-mahadeviyakka.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akka_Mahadevi

http://sacred-songs.blogspot.com/2007/06/mahadeviyakka.html

Article written by: Virginia Williams (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its contents.

Swami Sivananda Radha

Swami Sivananda Radha was the first western woman who became a sannyasin, a spiritual leader who placed great emphasis in the belief of one’s self and one’s surroundings to enhance one’s life. She had become a great yogi who taught for more than 25 years (Swami Sivananda, xxiii). Radha had been quoted as saying, “The main thing I try to do is have my students bring quality into their lives,]…[ to me, people are not spiritual if this quality is not there in their lives-even if they meditate six hours a day. By quality I mean that which comes from deep inside and shows up in their actions, their treatment of others and the way they do their jobs”(Himalayan Academy, 1988).

Swami Radha’s original name was Ursula Sylvia Hellman. Once she became a sannyasin her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, gave her the name Swami Sivananda Radha. She would not be called this until later in life. She was born on March 20, 1911 in Berlin, Germany ( Biography). She came from a well to do family and was very interested in the arts. In her early life she became a creative writer, photographer and a professional solo concert dancer (Biography). She made history by being the first woman admitted into the Berlin School of Advertising in 1939 but unfortunately her career was ended as World War II started (Radha, 1990: xxiii). Radha was married twice, first to Wolfgang who was killed in the Second World War by the Nazis in the Gestapo for helping Jewish people escape Germany. Her second marriage only lasted one year; she was married to Albert Hellman who was a violinist and a composer. Albert composed many pieces of music that Radha danced to. He unfortunately died suddenly in Radha’s arms (Biography). When the Second World War ended Radha immigrated to Canada and lived in Montreal (Radha, 1990: xxiii).

Radha was not brought up in a religious house and questioned the meaning of life even from an early age. According to Radha’s own account, she took up the practise of meditation and while meditating she had a vision of a sage. Taking this as an important sign Radha sought out to find where this sage was and began writing letters to him; where in a letter he eventually “told her to “come home” to his ashram in Rishihesh, in the Himalayan Foothills” (Radha,1990: xxiii). She traveled to India in search for her sage and her life’s calling. She found what she was looking for in the guru Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. Swami Sivananda took Radha under his wing and taught her the teachings of eastern living and religious practices. “He challenged her to remember who she was and to think deeply about the purpose of life. His message was that truth can be found in a balanced life and to use discipline to avoid extremes” (Biography).  The Hindu religion believes that Karma yoga and selfless actions can assist towards making one divine; this became the most important teachings of Swami Radha’s work. She lived in a spiritual community where she was constantly surrounded by many spiritual students both beginners and advanced who collectively were masters of “various spiritual disciplines” (Radha,1990: xxiii). In the beginning of Radha’s schooling she was at first apprehensive as to how she would cope with the conditions and a new way of life. She had another student from another sannyasin tell her quite a few times that her sannyasin (Swami Sivananda) was not what she should be looking for in a spiritual leader. The first few months were the hardest for Radha but she persisted and learned a great deal from Sivananda. Swami Sivananda also taught her the Prayer Dance which she fully embraced with her dancing background. She taught her students this dance “as a means of safely directing emotional; and physical; energies into devotion” (Himalayan Academy, 1988).

After completing her spiritual education in less than a year Swami Sivananda told her to go back to Canada to spread the teachings she had learned to the Western people. She was extremely hesitant and nervous at first because she was worried as to where to begin when she arrived back in Canada. Who would accept her, and how would she come about finding the funds to establish an Ashram (Radha, 1990: xxiv)? According to one of Radha’s devotees, Barbra Huston, “Swami Radha came back to Montreal, with almost no money, and with the instruction not to take employment or speech lessons to moderate her German accent.  She was to “live on faith” and “speak from the heart”.  Though they were difficult years she was always provided for.  Bags of groceries would unexpectedly be delivered, [and] clothing would be offered”.

Radha had developed many unique and creative innovative approaches for psychological spiritual development. She created the Life Seal which is a very powerful form of self exploration through the development of one’s own mandala, using drawn symbols that represent different levels of personality (Radha, 1990: xxiv). Radha also created something called the Straight Walk which was adapted from an ancient Buddhist practice designed to purify and clarify thinking and perception of one’s thoughts (Radha,1990: xxiv). Her Ideals Workshop is said to be very still very sought after by her students; this is a type of training in dream understanding.

In 1962 Radha founded (Himalayan Academy, 1988) Yasodhara Ashram which is located in Kootenay Bay, British Columbia, Canada. This Ashram is her legacy.  This site is considered by her followers as the best of the east and west because it incorporates real eastern teachings with a slight modified twist so that western people will be able to understand the teachings and apply them to one’s own everyday life (Swami Sivananda, xxiv). Yasodhara Ashram is still in the Kootenay Bay area and it is still taking new students who are interested in learning the art of eastern practices. Radha passed away on November 30, 1995(Biography) and the Ashram has been taken over by Radha’s student Swami Radhananda who has been the Ashram’s head spiritual director since 1995. Radha also created a printing company called Timeless Books (located at her Yasodhara Ashram) and through this printing company she has written quite a number of books, a lot of them deal with different teachings and spiritual practises she has learned like “Kundalini Yoga for the West,” “Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language,” “The Divine Light Invocation,” and “Mantras: Words of Power.” She has written books about her personal experiences such as “Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search,” and “In the Company of the Wise” these are just a few of the book she has written. “These books are popular and distinctive because they clarify the sometimes enigmatic Eastern teachings in a way that can be understood and applied in western daily life” (Biography). She also had contributed a few articles to new age medical journals and gave many speeches around Canada and the US about what she did and believed in.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Biography; Swami Sivananda Radha. Retrieved February 17, 2010, from Swami Sivananda Radha

Biography website: http://www.yasodhara.org/wp-content/themes/naked/swamiradha_bio.htm

Himalayan Academy. Swami Radha; Canadian-Based Teacher/Author Brings Sivananda’s Mission to Western Shores. (1988,

January). Retrieved February 17, 2010, from Hinduism Today website: http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=478

Swami Sivananda Radha (1990) Radha Diary of a Woman’s Search. Palo Alto, CA: Timeless Books

Swami Sivananda Radha (1991) In the Company of the Wise: Remembering My Teachers, Reflecting The Light. Palo Alto, CA: Timeless Books

Interviewed Barbra Huston, a student from the Yasodhara Ashram

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Ashram

Guru

Ideals Workshop

Karma Yoga

Life Seal

Mandala

Sanyasin

Straight walk

Swami Radhananda

Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh

Yasodhara Ashram

Yoga

Yogis

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http:www.yasodhara.org/wp-content/themes/naked/swamiradha_bio.html

http:www.hinduismtoday.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Sivananda_Radha

http://www.banyen.com/INFOCUS/RADHA.HTM

http://www.yasodhara.org

Article written by: Justine Morgan (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

The Kama Sutra

The purpose and the meaning of the Kama Sutra have been widely misconstrued throughout most of the Western world to be a text regarding the positions in sexual intercourse. Though the Kama Sutra does contain information about intercourse and the various ways of performing sexually, it is much more than that. It is a text about a certain way of living – “about finding a partner, maintaining power in a marriage, committing adultery, living as or with a courtesan, and using drugs” (Doniger and Kakar xi). This text describes in great detail the principles and rules (sutra) of love (kama). The Kama Sutra was originally composed in the ancient Sanskrit language of India. It is not known when the text was written and there is little information on its author, Vatsyayana Mallanaga. Clues as to the origins of this text are found within the writings but scholars have not come to a collective decision about the exact dates of authorship. Vatsyayana begins the Kama Sutra with an allusion to the four goals of life: dharma, kama, artha, and moksa. Righteousness, pleasure, wealth, and liberation respectively describe the terms used above. Vatsyayana explains that he wrote the Kama Sutra in order that others may learn about pleasure just as other texts such as the Dharma Sastras are used to learn about other goals in life.

The Kama Sutra belongs to a set of texts that are part of an erotic science known as kamashastra (the science of kama). Vatsyayana lays out particular guidelines and methods in this text that he believes to be the appropriate and standard ways of living, not just sexually, but more broadly sensual. Sensuality includes food, perfume, and music in addition to the obvious sexuality. Vatsyayana says that “because a man and a woman depend on each other for sex, it requires a method” (9). The Kama Sutra is therefore, a text explaining methods required to please both the man and the woman in sexual intercourse. The text is mainly directed at men because men are supposed to be in power when it comes to sexual prowess. They must learn the techniques and processes involved in order to be successful.

The understanding of the text is a science because Vatsyayana’s prose can be very obscure and mysterious. One must understand the connections that are being made within the text by being aware of the context and subject of the words. Because the text is written in sutras (similar to the English words ‘sew’ and ‘suture’) one can describe the Kama Sutra as having threads of meaning that are connected throughout the entire body of literature. Because of this ambiguity it is easy to understand why most people think of just sexual positions when they hear the name Kama Sutra. Most people do not understand the deeper meanings and religious significance behind sexual intercourse and the life of a woman and a man pursuing kama.

Vatsyayana produces information about sexual behaviour in the Kama Sutra which can be interpreted as merely guidelines. He is not stating in this text that one has to use a specific sexual position or that one must act in a certain way around one’s spouse, he says that one ‘should’ act in a certain way or perform in a certain sexual manner. After describing one method of oral sex Vatsyayana states that “when a man has considered the region, and the time, and the technique, and the textbook teachings, and himself, he – or may not – make use of these practices (Mallanaga 69).

The pursuit of kama is the main focus of this text because Hindus believe that kama is one of the four main goals of life. This concept is related to the idea that pleasure is the most important pursuit of humanity. This way of thinking is related to the philosophy of hedonism. The pursuit of pleasure is placed at the highest importance in hedonistic thinking. The Kama Sutra can be considered a hedonistic text because it portrays how men and women can strive to achieve the highest state of kama through desire and pleasure. He describes how to kiss, how to perform oral sex, how to win a virgin, and many other situations that would arise throughout one’s quest for pleasure.

Although the Kama Sutra contains many books describing the acquisition of pleasure, it also has many books on other aspects of sexual relationships that are not quite as positive but can still be considered hedonistic. Chapters such as “Ways to Get Money from Him” (Mallanaga 142-145) and “Ways to Get Rid of Him” (Mallanaga 145-147) are surprising to people who only believe the Kama Sutra to be about sexual positions. The text contains many of these surprisingly harsh and blunt subjects that one would not expect to see in a book about love and lust.

One of these surprising subjects is homosexuality. In book five, Vatsyayana discusses female homoeroticism in the women who are part of a harem. The women of the harem have one husband shared by many so he explains how the females satisfy themselves sexually without the aid of a man. According to Vatsyayana, a woman may satisfy her sexual needs through the use of masturbation or homosexuality. A servant girl can dress up as a man and relieve the desires of another woman through the use of “dildos or with bulbs, roots, or fruits that have that form” (Mallanaga 126). The female plays a role as a man in order to fulfill sexual needs.

The concept of homoeroticism and the ambiguity of gender can be seen through the writings of other authors who are interested in this text as well. Walter Penrose discusses female homoeroticism and the ambiguity of fixed gender roles in his article entitled “Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a “Third Nature” in the South Asian Past.” Penrose states that the Hindu religion allows “institutionalized gender variance” (4). This confirms Vatsyayana’s belief that women are allowed to act as men when their purpose is to relieve their desires. However there are a great number of stories that claim homosexuality is not something to be desired.

Ruth Vanita discusses the story of Bhagiratha’s birth to two women in her article entitled “Born of Two Vaginas”. According to this story, a child born as a result of female on female sexual intercourse results in the conception and birth of a lump of flesh or jelly. The child has no bones because a male was considered to be the one who contributes the bones to the baby. This story can be read in the Sushruta Samhita, written in the first century. Vatsyayana refers to this story in the Kama Sutra in the chapter entitled “Sexual Typology” (28-37). He agrees that sexual desire must be between a man and a woman because “the man is the active agent and the young woman is the passive locus” (Mallangaga 34). They complement each other in such a way that a woman and a woman could not.

There are numerous books in modern literature that clam to be influenced by Vatsyayana Mallangaga’s Kama Sutra but all that they entail is a detailed description of sexual positions and the pleasure that sex gives to men and women. The Kama Sutra does indeed include descriptions and pictures of sexual positions but it is not the main focus of the text. The text focuses on power in the relationship, methods in which to please your partner in ways other than sexual and just general advice on how to live a life in which kama is fully achieved.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Vatsyayana, Mallanaga. Kamasutra. Trans. Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003

Penrose, Walter. “Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticim and Women of a “Third Nature” in the South Asian Past.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.1 (2001) 3-39. 31 January 2009

Rodrigues, Hillary. Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books,  2006

Vanita, Ruth. “Born of Two Vaginas: Love and Reproduction between Co-Wives in Some Medieval Indian Texts”. A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies11.4 (2005) 547-577. 31 January 2009

Related topics for further investigation

Artha

Dharma

Moksa

Sushruta Samhita

Bhagiratha

Sanskrit

Noteworthy Wesites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kama_Sutra

http://www.spaceandmotion.com/kamasutra.htm

http://www.liveindia.com/sutras/page1.html

http://www.tantraworks.com/KamaSutraTantra.html

http://www.alternet.org/sex/86582/a_brief_history_of_the_kama_sutra/

Article written by: Sarah Sawatzky (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mirabai

During the time of the medieval period (500CE to 1500CE), many bhakti or devotional groups in Hinduism develop. Several of these bhakti movements focus on the worship of Visnu, Siva and Devi. The notion of bhakti can be described as a “loving devotion to God” (Stutley 163). The concept can also be defined as something that “signifies the self surrender of human beings to a personal god of love, who is also to be worshipped with love and adoration” (Chaudhuri 256). One of its common features is having a strong sense of emotionalism. In addition, many of the practices that are associated with bhakti are “choral singing [as] a form of worship” along with “processing with drums and cymbals” (256).

Devotion to Krsna emerges as one of the most popular devotional cults in Hinduism. According to the mystical cults that focus their worship on Krsna, Krsna is a being that represents both God and man. This belief comes from the notion of Krsna being the reincarnated human form of the god, Visnu. Devotional followers are drawn to Krsna because of “his beauty, kindness and personal magnetism, as well as his overwhelming affection for all living creatures” (Stutley 91). These are the main attributes that “encourage lesser beings to strive for perfection and liberation.” (91) In addition, “devotees can share in the blissful experience of Radha and Krishna in sexual union by playing the role of friends of the divine couple.” (Olson 232)

One of the most well known devotees of Krsna is Mirabai. From what historical sources and legends have told us, she was a female poet from the medieval period. She was born around 1498 and died around 1573CE. This time period places her around the time when bhakti cults began to arise. For instance in Carl Olson’s, Hindu Primary Sources, it

mentions that “the sixteenth-century poet Mirabai was a female poet with wide popularity, a Rajput princess who rejected her earthly husband for her genuine spouse, Krishna.”(231) She is not just known as being a famous poetess, but is also regarded as a princess, mystic and saint. It is important to note that the story of her life is known more through legend rather than through historical fact. From what legends can tell us, she received a doll or idol of Krsna as a young child. Receiving this idol may have inspired her to begin bhakti practice towards Krsna. As she began her new found devotion to Krsna, her family worshipped Visnu as their primary deity. From an early moment in life, Mirabai regarded Krisna as her true spiritual husband. In addition, “Mirabai did not execute her social duties, but rather spent her time associating with wandering holy people, who were devoted to her own secret husband Krishna.” (231) Nevertheless, she did fulfill her most important rite of passage in Hinduism, vivaha or marriage. From what we are told, she married a Rajput prince at a young age. Before the age of twenty four, she lost her husband as well as her father, father-in-law and grandfather. It was these losses that “made her turn to religion in the specific form of Vaishnavism” (Chaudhuri 291). From this point onwards, Mirabai’s life changed as she began to ignore or ‘give up’ her traditional roles as a woman. For instance, following the death of her husband, she was expected to commit the act of sati. Her husband’s family were shocked that she did not burn herself alive upon her husband’s funeral pyre. These ‘disobediences’ of Mirabai gave her husband’s family the excuse to make Mirabai’s life a world of torment. In the end, “she left home and became a wandering ascetic; at the end of her life, she is said to have merged with the icon of Krishna in a temple.” (Olson 232)

From the time of Mirabai’s husband’s death, Mirabai began full devotional worship of Krsna. What is also important to mention is that she considered herself to be the spouse of Krsna. She felt more close to her spiritual husband than her actual husband. Mirabai, as well as “a great many women, who have never found love of any kind in life, have thought of both husband and God in this way” (Chaudhuri 292). From this point she began to compose many poems and songs of worship in which “she became famous for [her songs] which [were] sung all over northern India by those who worship Krsna in a truly religious spirit” (Chaudhuri 291). Olson also points out that “her poems are often defiant in tone, and they exhibit the illicit love between the blue god and his gopis, who abandon their husbands and family due to their love of the deity.” (Olson 232) In addition she not only became famous for her enthusiastic devotion but also became famous from the amount of poems that she wrote as well as the amount of poems that have been attributed to her. For instance about 200 to 400 poems are accepted by scholars as being written by Mirabai, while 800-1000 poems have been attributed to her. In addition, her poems initiated a mode of singing.

Many women have looked at Mirabai’s love for Krsna through her poems and have developed a sense of devotion in order to feel a stronger sense of control over their own lives instead of letting their families control their lives. It is these cases “in which human love and divine love come so close to each other that they are not distinguishable, for both partake of divinity as well as humanity” (293). In addition, Mirabai’s life shows that “this kind of love in which a woman can feel either for God or husband rises to the spiritual without taking off its feet from the physical base” (291-292).

Another important element that is seen in the bhakti movements is the notion of ignoring gender, class, caste and religious boundaries. These were the expectations that Mirabai chose to ignore in order for her to pursue her devotion to Krsna. Instead of fulfilling the expected norms of a widow she began her spiritual practice by becoming a sort of samnyasin or renouncer. From what is known, she left her husband’s family as well as her own and spent the last years of her life in Vrindivan which is a holy area in India that is a center of worship of Krsna.

Works Cited

Chaudhuri, Nirad C (1979) Hinduism: A Religion to Live By. New York: Oxford University Press.

Olson, Carl, ed. (2007) Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Stutley, Margaret (1985) Hinduism: The Eternal Law. Wellingborough: The Aquarian Press.

This article was written by Cynthia Lambert, who takes full responsibility for the content.

Women and Marriage in Hinduism

Throughout Hindu history there has been a noticeable inequality of the sexes; when considering how ancient the Hindu tradition is, it is only recently that reforms have been made in order to accommodate women as more equal to their male counterparts. One major area of life that has been under reformation when taking into account inequality is the marriage ceremony and life as a married woman. It was not until the passing of the Special Marriage Act in 1954 that there were any reforms to family law in Hindu society (Agnes 91). Before these reforms to Hindu law, women were typically treated as if they were a form of “property” that were owned by their fathers up until their marriage; after marriage the responsibility for such “property” was passed from a woman’s father to her husband (Agnes 11). Manu (the quintessential giver of Hindu law) stated that women “should never be free” in their lifetime, for a woman should be dependent on her father, then her husband, and then her sons as she progresses throughout her lifetime (Agnes 11). Although there have been recent reforms to Hindu law in regards to equality, the genders are still not considered as equals.

For women in the Hindu tradition, marriage is their rite of passage and their official entry into religious life and it can be likened to the upanayana ceremony for males (Rodrigues 135). It has been viewed as a religious ceremony throughout all of Hindu history, dating back to the Vedas (Mitter 208). It was (and still is) a woman’s duty to marry and produce offspring, most notably a male heir; thus we can conclude that the majority of women who entered into marriage had experienced puberty, for it was their responsibility to produce children soon after marriage (Mitter 195-198). Although it was not uncommon for girls to be married before experiencing puberty (infant marriages), most textual sources show that the majority of ancient marriages were between a couple who were of appropriate age to bear children (Mitter 198). Infant marriages were looked upon with disfavour as the union of two immature children rarely resulted in favourable conditions for either the husband or the wife. It was customary for a girl to end her education when she entered into marriage; although this was not always the case, it had the potential to create uneducated women in Hindu society (Chandra 17). Eventually the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 and the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 were passed which both outlawed the practice of child marriage and required that the potential husband and wife both be of sufficient age (Sarkar 107).

Entering into a Hindu marriage in ancient times took place in one of eight forms as described by Manu in the Smritis; Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paisacha. Of these eight forms, only the first four are considered as appropriate for a Brahmin, whereas the last four are considered as inappropriate practices (Mitter 210). While all of these forms are still seen in Hindu life today, there are two forms that are the most prevalent today: the Brahma and the Asura marriages. All of these forms of marriage can be (and most often are) arranged by the fathers of the bride and groom. Arranged marriage holds for nearly all marriages in earlier times and is still very prevalent among Hindus today. Marriages in Hindu society are not taken lightly, for they are about more than just bringing together a man and a woman; Hindu marriages are considered links between family lineages and can even enhance a family’s jati (Rodrigues 138). The linking of family lineages is why careful consideration is taken with regards as to who is compatible and who is not. Although the “love-marriage” is becoming more popular in Hindu society, the traditional arranged marriage rarely takes into account the opinions of the woman or the man (Gupta 92). The European and Western ideal of a marriage, which is termed a “love-marriage”, is one in which there is an independent decision by two people to marry based on common feelings of romantic love (Gupta 83). Although the practice of the “love-marriage” is the norm in western countries, it is viewed as somewhat unacceptable for Hindu society; “love-marriages” may disregard all formal practice of arranged marriages and the linking of family lineages which are characteristically so important to ancient Hindu tradition.

Another custom found in Hindu history is polygamy, the practice of having more than one wife. Polygamy was prevalent in the Vedic period, even though it was looked upon with disapproval (Mitter 207). In ancient Hindu society, polygamy was customary among the upper classes of Hindus; the higher a Hindu male’s rank in society was an indication they were “allowed” more wives than a Hindu male of lower social rank (Gupta 35). On the other hand, while polygamy was widely prevalent, polyandry (the practice of more than one husband) was considered malevolence (Gupta 36). The most extreme case of polygamy in Hindu history was among the Kulin Brahmins of Bengal; it is recorded that thirty-three Kulin Brahmins were married to two thousand and fifty-one women (Basu 9). Wives in such polygamous marriages did not receive the same amount of love and devotion that a monogamous marriage had to offer and they neither held the same social status that a woman in a monogamous marriage would have. A wife in a polygamous marriage lived in their parent’s household instead of their husband’s, for their husband was always travelling from one wife to the next (Basu 10). The enactment of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955 made it illegal to practice polygamy and polyandry in Hindu society.

Since Hindu marriages undergo such careful consideration and planning between the families that are about to be joined, there were no methods for terminating such a union through divorce (Gupta 67). Hindu marriages were considered to be permanent and anyone who did divorce their significant other was viewed as being unrespectable; divorce in Hindu society was viewed as the ultimate tragedy in a married household (Gupta 68). More recent reforms in Hindu law have since accepted that some marriages are not meant to work, and divorce is now a more common occurrence among the Hindu community than it had previously been. Although divorce is now allowed among Hindus, it is somewhat difficult to obtain grounds for a divorce as it is still viewed as being moderately disgraceful (Gupta 73).

It was not until the passing of the Special Marriage act in 1954 that there was an attempt to address some of the problems associated with marriage and family law in Hindu society (Agnes 95-96). Although this act did not fully take into account the problem of gender inequality, it was the first significant step toward the future creation of a unified policy for marriage and divorce that had the ability to protect the rights of women (Agnes 96-97). Under the Special Marriage Act, divorce was only attainable by mutual consent thus making the Act a minor step forward in creating the grounds for a future comprehensive code for obtaining divorce (Agnes 96-97). Consent between concerned parties was a major stipulation of the Special Marriage Act; divorce was only possible if both parties were mutually agreeable to such an occurrence (Agnes 97). Without such consent, divorce was not possible. Since this act only addressed family laws, another act was instituted to address the problems of gender inequalities in Hindu society: the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.

The Hindu Marriage act of 1955 deemed spouses as equals in a monogamous relationship and stated they had equal rights and responsibilities to each other (Agnes 83). When the Hindu Marriage Act was first passed in 1955, it did not address divorce. It was not until major amendments were made to the Hindu Marriage Act in 1976 that divorce by mutual consent was granted (Agnes 97). Although the amendments allowed for couples to obtain grounds for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, cruelty was not seen as a viable reason for divorce, which is seen as one of the fundamental problems of the act (Sarkar 107).

The future of Hindu marriage and gender equality is unclear; while there have been major breakthroughs in law and reform for gender equality, it is difficult to predict whether Hindu society will continue moving towards equality between the genders. Marriage is still viewed as a very traditional and religious aspect of Hindu life as it was in ancient times. New reforms to Hindu laws and traditions have outlawed certain practices like polygamy and polyandry and have allowed for other practices such as divorce. While it is difficult to say where Hindu marriage is to go from here, one can definitely say that it has come a long way from its ancient roots.

Bibliography

Agnes, Flavia (1999) Law and Gender Inequality: The Politics and Women’s Rights in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Basu, Monmayee (2001) Hindu Women and Marriage Law: From Sacrament to Contract. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chandra, Sudhir (1998) Enslaved Daughters: Colonialism, Law and Women’s Rights. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Gupta, A.R. (1982) Women in Hindu Society: A Study of Tradition and Transition. New Delhi: Jyotsna Prakashan.

Mitter, Dwarka Nath (1913) The Position of Women in Hindu Law. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2005) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics; Online Books, Ltd.

Sarkar, Lotika (1999) “Reform of Hindu Marriage and Succession Laws: Still the Unequal Sex.” In From Independence Towards Freedom: Indian Women Since 1947, edited by Bharati Ray and Aparna Basu, 100-119. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Related Readings

Hindu divorce

Hindu Marriage Act

Child marriages

Polygamy and polyandry

Gender inequality

Brahma marriage

Daiva marriage

Arsha marriage

Prajapatya marriage

Asura marriage

Gandharva marriage

Rakshasa marriage

Paisacha marriage

Pativrata

Related Websites

http://www.vivaaha.org/

http://www.expressindia.com/

http://www.sudhirlaw.com/

http://www.vakilno1.com/

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/

Written by Jerri-Lynn Winters (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Women’s Roles in Hinduism

Women have fought for their status and role in communities, religions, and the nation for years. And women in Hinduism are no different. Women traditionally would live the life of a mother and a wife following the footsteps of their ancestors. Women’s roles were laid out in Hindu law books such as the Dharma-Sastras, however basic rules in the Laws of Manu (200 C.E.) lays out how a women or wife should behave in the household and towards her husband. Nevertheless women’s roles have evolved over time and women are going against the social norm of their tradition and even their way of life.

Hinduism is a complex religion and unlike many western religions it is also a way of life. Family is very important in Hinduism and as keeper of the household women play an important role in the tradition. Women are revealed in the sacred scriptures as presenting a duality of being benevolent and malevolent exposing her with great contrasting powers. “In times of prosperity she indeed is Laksmi, [goddess of wealth] who bestows prosperity in the homes of men; and in times of misfortune, she herself becomes the goddess of misfortune, and brings about ruin” (see Wadley 113) Because of this changing power that a women possesses it is rational that man should want to control this mysterious power. Then, perhaps it may have been interpreted that women should remain stagnate, running the household, rearing the children, and participate in religious rituals as an assistant to their husband.

It is the female’s role as a wife to bear her husband’s children and educate them in their traditional practices. To maintain there dominance over the women men have their wives maintain the home and the family that he has made and provided for. The female’s prakrti,(nature), is like the soil where the male plants his seed to grow into “conjoined images”.(see Wadley 115 for in depth description). And therefore “the male controls the female; that Nature is controlled by Culture”(Wadley 115-116). Culture or society controls nature as it is motivated to change and evolve just as the man tries to control the women. Prior to marriage the female is regulated by her father and then when she is married she is controlled by her husband. During the marriage the wife must then be truly devoted to her husband and it is believed that she is able to transfer her natural female power to the husband for daily rituals and caring for his family.

Daily roles and activities of the wife involve more then just caring for the household; they also involve religious rituals. Although, only Brahman men can do the Vedic rituals women still play an important role in devotional rituals. The wives of Brahmin priests can act as assistants to their husbands on ritual occasions because there are no scriptural sanctions against such female ritual behavior. Many Hindu scriptures say women are to be honored, “religious deeds are said to be useless if women are not honored and cherished” (Pinkham 190). So, in a small village in North India, “women instigate and participate in twenty-one of the thirty-three annual rites…[and] dominate nine of the twenty-one annual rites” (Wadley 123). Although women have developed a stronger religious status they are still considered dangerous to men; whether it is because their inner power or another reason we cannot be certain and therefore they are accepted as active participants in the Vedic rituals.

Hindu women’s traditional roles in the household in India have changed a great deal over the past fifty or even hundred years. Western countries have had an influence on these changes. Scholars traveling to India are wanting to learn and study the Indian Hindu culture. And, therefore they have written many articles and books on the sacred scriptures including reviews on the Vedas and other religious scriptures that were once restricted from women. Because of the these reviews a new age has come and has been recognized by the world bring scholars from all over the world. The ongoing reconstruction of the social status of women has brought about many new changes in, “Education, health measures, rural and industrial welfare schemes, problems of early marriage, purdah, the positions of widows, women’s franchise rights, and the representation of women in governing bodies” (Pinkham 191).

The schools now allow young women to learn the Vedas and sacred scriptures that were formally restricted to only men of a certain class/caste. With this new revelation many people have spoke out saying, “No society can prosper without education for its women. By treating women as the lowest caste, …. you don’t raise them to a level of vidya shakti [educated power], they will end up being avidya shakti [ignorant power]”(Pechilis 77). Due to this modification of women roles in society infant mortality has reduced with better health measures. Young girls will are no longer forced to marry before they hit puberty, and widows are able to re-marry. Although there is more men then women being born in India the change in women’s status as independent women in governing bodies is expected bring a change to this as well.

To most women these changes seem radical and the feel that they are disrespecting their tradition. By accepting the changes as a new improvement to their past traditions they can keep their traditional values as well as become revolutionalized. Many women have accepted the lifestyles of their ancestors as the social norm. Many women have stepped out of the norm and made a difference in their village, society, and their country giving other women everywhere someone the look up to and follow in their leadership. The life of asceticism is now not only a part of coming of age for a man but women are more commonly choosing this lifestyle as well. An example of this growth and leadership is evident through the rise of the female guru.

Female guru’s are not traditionally accepted and the social norm in Hinduism. “The most radical challenge of the female gurus is not directed toward the received guru tradition but rather the received social expectations” (Pechilis 6). For instance, many female gurus are or were married that are some that have not been married which has created some conflict with their families who want them to adopt the traditional role of a women to be a wife and mother. Instead they live an ascetic lifestyle and do not try to define the difference between female or male gurus. Both are trying to attain the same goal, and gender does not affect how they come to their attainment. However, “[a]ll of the female gurus are associated with the Goddess through the concept of shakti, for they, like the Goddess, are paramount embodiments of shakti”(Pechilis 8). Female gurus are, for the most part, understood and accepted by their followers. The work they do with the people teaching and connecting with their students, illustrates the growing influence of women in Hinduism.

Although change has challenged the idea of the proper wife who remains under her husband’s control, change has also brought about many beneficiary factors. Women are much more able think and act independently should they choose to. They may better educate themselves not only in the religious texts, such as the Vedas, but in social inclement and activities as well. Women have a choice between becoming a wife who obeys her husband’s wishes and or “the Mother, the goddess who epitomizes the dual character of the Hindu female”(Wadley 124). Although most Hindu women will probably continue to follow their tradition and be a proper wife change has created possibilities for those women who want a different lifestyle involving religious power or as a business women, for example, should they choose it. The opportunity for change is among us all should we choose it. “women as [a] mother in Hindu thought controls others and becomes the Hindu woman in control of herself”(Wadley 125)

Bibliography

Pechilis, Karen (2004) The Graceful guru: Hindu female gurus in India and the United States. New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press

Pinkham, Mildred Worth (1967) Women in the sacred scriptures of Hinduism. New York: AMS press

Wadley, Susan S.(1977)Women and Hindu Tradition.” Signs, Vol. 3, No. 1; Chicago: University of Chicago Press

References and Further Recommended Readings

Bose, Mandarins (2000) Faces of the feminine in ancient, medieval, and modern India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking goddesses: gender politics in Indian religion. New Delhi: Shakti Books.

Denton, Lynn Teskey (2004) Female ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Desai, Usha & Goodall, Sallyann (1995) “Hindu Women Talk Out.” Agenda: No. 25; Agenda Feminist Media.

Hiltebeitel, Alf & Erndl, Kathleen (2002) Is the goddess a feminist?: the politics of South Asian goddesses. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

King, Ursula (1987) World Religions, Women and Education. Comparative Education: Vol. 3, No. 1; Taylor & Francis. Ltd.

Sarkar, Tanika (2003) Hindu wife, Hindu nation: community, religion, and cultural nationalism. New Delhi: Permanent Black.

Sered, Susan Starr (1990) “Women, Religion, and Modernization: Tradition and Transformation among Elderly Jews in Israel.” American Anthropologist: Vol. 92, No. 2.

Sharma, Arvind (2002) Women in Indian religions. Toronto: Oxford University Press

Related Topics

Women and Indian History

Women and Religious aspects and India

Hindu women and social conditions

Women in Hinduism and India

India and religious life and customs

Monastic and Religious life in Hinduism

Women and Rituals

Women’s Roles

Goddesses

Goddess Laksmi

Prakrti

Related Websites

http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2001.00687.x

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduwomen.asp

http://hinduism.iskcon.com/practice/703.htm

http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Women_in_Hinduism.htm

http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Hinduism_and_Women/id/54155

http://www.religiousconsultation.org/liberation.htm

Article written by Jara Van Ham (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.