Hindu Women’s Education 2700 Years Ago! (Post No.9366)


Post No. 9366

Date uploaded in London – –10 MARCH  2021     

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Amazing information about education of women during post-Vedic period is available from Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and the commentaries on it. When Panini wrote his grammar 2700 years ago, very few literary or religious works were there in other parts of the world. I am not talking about the museum languages of Egypt, Babylonia or Mayan. Sanskrit lives in all the languages of India. No one can speak even for a few minutes without Sanskrit words. Either his/ her name or their birth places or their patents names will be in Sanskrit.

I am a regular reader of articles on tribes of India. All the tribes have something Hindu or some words in Sanskrit. Half baked foreigners could not digest it and so created a new theory it was because of later contacts. Those who follow tribal birth, death and wedding rites find that they are based on Hindu beliefs ; like the civilised city Hindus have different birth, death and marriage customs they also differ in several rites.

Women in ancient India went to school with boys and achieved good qualifications. Here is the solid proof.

Tamil poetess Avvaiyar lived 2000 years ago in Tamil Nadu. She could go to any kings’ assembly and praise him or criticise him. She saw three great kings of Chera, Choza and Pandya on the dias after the Choza king performed Rajaasuya Yaga. She blessed them whole heartedly and advised them to live without enmity. Apart from Avvaiyar we have about atlesasst 20 Tamil poetesses.

 About twenty Vedic poetesses lived 2000 years before the Tamils came on the scene. Most famous woman’s name is Gargi Vachaknavi. She took part in the All India Philosophers conference and challenged the famous scholar Yajnavalkya in front of Emperor Janaka. And this is not an isolated anecdote.

Information from Ashtadhyayi, is very interesting.

Aapisaali was a Pre Paninian scholar. Katyayana who wrote notes on Panini’s sutras refers to students studying his (Apisali) grammar. Patanjali even speaks of female Brahmana students of Aapisaali.

Both Panini and Patanjali refer to women admitted to Vedic study in the Charanas (Institutions like Oxford and Cambridge) . The term Jaati in sutra 4-1-63 includes the female members of gotras and charanas.

Thus a woman student of Katha School was called ‘Kathi’ and of the Rig Vedic Bahvrichi school, ‘Bahvrichii’. It appears that the three principles of naming the male students applied equally to the female students also.

Both panini and Patanjali called the female students of Aapisaala as ‘Aapisaalaa braahmanii’ . Katyayana here refers to the rule of a previous writer; similarly Kasika refers to Paaniniya Braahmanii.

Female students were also admired to study of Mimaamsa.

Example, Kaasakrstnii, a female student studying the Mimamsa work Kaaskrstnii

Panini himself  refers to female students as Chaatrii and their hostels Chhaatri saalaa. 6-2-86

The wife of an aacharya is Aachaaryaanii 4-1-49. Female teachers were called ‘aachaaryaa’. (Note different spellings for teacher’s wife and female teacher).

The term Kathi – vrindarikaa , the foremost female student of the Katha Saakhaa, points to the success of women as Vedic students.

Patanjali refers to a female student as Adhyetrii and a female novice as Maanavikaa 4-1-93; 2-249.

Manava and Manavi are used in Tamil until this day!

In another place Panini talks about ‘Kumaari Sramana’, a female  ascetic of young age. This was in the Pre Buddhist literature. Buddhists allowed women later .

The terms Bikshu, Nirvana and Kumari sramana are in Pre Buddhist literature, the Upanishads. Ancient Hindu literature did not mention Buddha.

Patanjali and other commentators mocked at students who were not interested in studying. They were compared to crows that bathe for a few seconds and fly. Like French Bath, Hindus have the idiom ‘Crow Bath’. In that context commentators mentioned some students are coming to school just to ‘see girls’. Probably co- education existed in Gurukula at the time of Panini and Patanjali.

Putting all these together give us a clear picture of women’s education in ancient India.

Later , Vatsyayana of Kamasutra listed 64 subjects in woman’s syllabus. That is the first syllabus for women in the world. So, we see the development of education in India.

Tamil language produced Six Avvaiyars in different periods and Saint poets like Karaikkal Ammaiyar and Andal.

(Avvai means a spiritually advanced, matured woman, probably  not married; like Kumari Sramana of Panini’s book)

Later we see scholars Lilavathi and Gangadevi. Women’s education stopped only when foreigners entered India.

Source book- India as known to Panini, V S Agrawala with my inputs.


tags-  women’s education, ancient India, Panini, Patanjali