Vedic Hindu women, Greek women and Parsi women (Post No.7559)

Compiled by London Swaminathan

Post No.7559

Date uploaded in London – 10 February 2020

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Ramesh Chandra Majumdhar, Former Vice Chancellor of Dacca University compares the status of women in different countries in his article in the ‘Great Women of India’ volume , published in 1953 by the Advaita Ashrama . It is very interesting that Vedic Hindu women enjoyed more freedom whereas other women were under strict control. But we must remember Rig Vedic society existed before 1500 BCE, where as  Homer’s Greek , Avesta of Parsis belong to 8th century  BCE. But he shows how the status of women in Vedic society also deteriorated after the Upanishadic age.

Here is what he says,

“The high ideal of a married life— involving life long faith, devotion and love between the husband and wife — is nobly expressed in the marriage hymn 10-85 of the Rig Veda.  Casual references thorough out the Samhita, indicate that the society was really inspired by such an ideal, and we already see before us a picture of insoluble partnership, in life and death, which has ever characterised the relation between husband and wife in Hindu society, and has almost become proverbial.

Nevertheless, without distracting from this high ideal in the least, it must be confessed that, the weakness of human nature must have occasionally led to moral lapses even in those days, as also in later days. Indeed, there are ample references to such a state of things not only in the Rig Veda Samhita but also in later Vedic literature. It would be a miracle if it were not so. There are certain hymns which seem to look upon the existence of a paramour as nothing abnormal than a common occurrence or an ordinary event. But the hymns of the Rig Veda make it clear that moral lapses on the part of women were not treated so severely as in later days and more or less the same standard was applied in this respect to both men and women.

As all this might be quite shocking to our moral sensibilities and ideas of female virtues, it is necessary to point out the prevalence of a similar state of things in the Hellenistic world of Homeric days. The compulsory infidelity of a wife as a prisoner of war was openly recognised, and in no way reprehended. The noblest and fairest women, whether married or not, of a captured town normally became the concubines of the victors, but such a fate was in no sense a dishonour to the Greek lady of which she need afterwards be ashamed. This callous attitude might have been reflected its influence upon cases of voluntary sin, and so they came to be regarded with much indulgence. So also the open concubines allowed to married men often allowed a plea for retaliation and a justification in the case of crime.

The same reasons might also have operated in ancient India. In any case, ideas in ancient India, as in ancient Greece, were very different from those of modern times, when we rate personal purity of a woman so highly that the loss of it by misfortune is hardly less excused by society than its abandonment through passion.

A widow marrying husband‘s brother is also in the Vedas. The remarriage of a widow to husband’s brother was a very common practice among the Jews and other ancient nations .

The Vedic word ‘Dampati’ used to denote jointly the husband and wife, etymologically means the joint owners of the house. The same idea is also contained in the Avesta (Of Parsis), but whereas the Avesta enjoins upon the wife strict obedience to her husband, the marriage ritual in the Rig Veda , and also in its fully developed form in the Grihya sutras, does not enjoin obedience upon the wife. This position of dignity was upheld by her participation in religious practices and sacrifices, which was regarded as the highest right and privilege in the society of those days.

The Samhita of the Rig Veda has fortunately preserved one particular hymn 10-85 which proves that not only the institution of  marriage but also the ideals which characterised it in India in later days were deeply rooted in the minds of men. Its interest, however, transcends the narrow bounds of India, as it is perhaps the oldest written document in the world which gives an ideal picture of the marriage system with all that it involves in a civilized society.