The Humiliation of Droupadi - Raja Ravi Varma

The Prelude

Last night, in a moving bus, a girl was gang raped by some beasts, beaten to pulp by an iron rod and then thrown down to die in Delhi, India.  Her friend, a boy who was with her was lucky not be subjected to rape, but was beaten equally bad and thrown with her from the speeding bus. When I write this the girl is struggling for life in a Delhi Hospital and the world around me completely engrossed in pointing finger towards everyone for the dilapidated situation of Indian women.
Every time such a discussion takes root in my surroundings it inadvertently assumes a direction where all the blame is shifted to the foreign attacks and their impact on India. It has been axiomatically implanted in our head that the original Indian scriptures, culture and religion held women in one and only position, that of the mother goddess who herself was the chalice of love, the epicenter of destruction and hence to be loved and feared at the same time. Was it always true? Was ancient India totally devoid of these cruelties against women?
Out of the six schools of Indian Philosophy, I admire the “Nyāya” most, and one of the guiding principles of “Nyāya” is doubt. I doubted and below is what I find.

Védas and women

(The following translations of Védas are primarily based on works of Sayanacharya, Max Mueller and Ralph T. H. Griffith. There are alternate translations of Védas as well)
Védas are the first beacon of ancient Hindu religion. Without a doubt they are the first known anthology of hymns, chants and other dispositions about life and beyond. Their literary and metaphysical contribution is unparalleled.  But apart from this they also are a mirror, somewhat anecdotal in nature, of the contemporary society. I, like many others, grew up believing that ancient women in India were no less than Goddesses and were eternally respected and worshipped. The first bubble burst happened when I stumbled upon a hymn, dedicating to praise of Indrā while studying RigVéda:
O Ritwiz! The Indrā who with King Rjishva slayed pregnant wives of the dark demon; to that reverend Indrā offer your prayers and cereals. (RigVéda 1:101:1)
The idea first will jolt a person’s sense of morality. How can you justify offering your hymns and prayers to a deity who murdered pregnant wives of his enemy. Indrā (who seems to have inspired the Zeus of Greks) and his activities continued to be an embodiment of moral dilemmas and philandering libido. But what was to be noted was the sheer lack of a celebrated behavioral tenet “chivalry” or even respect of women folk on the part of worshiped deity. Arguments can be made about the same treatment meted out both sexes, but one thing is established that chivalry and piety towards women, even pregnant, was not a societal norm. There are also interpretations that the Dark Demon and his pregnant wives are allegorical to dark clouds and their water pockets. But the idea of slaying pregnant women, just because of enmity!!

A further passage in RigVéda gives the first reference to objectification of women.
Swanay offered me ten chariots with white horses wherein young women were seated. (RigVéda 1:126:3)
The same women who were Goddesses and worshiped were also sent in form of offerings to Brahman presumably without their consent. In another verse that defines the property rights of the women in family, the text lays down that the women are not a shareholder in property (However there are other texts who give property rights to women).
The son does not share his property with his sister, He just offers her in marriage so that she can carry the child of her husband. If parents bear both daughter and son, then out of them the son performs the sacred ceremony of Pind-dān (the offerings of rice balls during mortem ceremonies) and the daughter begets the dresses and ornaments. ( RigVéda 3:31:2)
The disturbing part is their exclusion from the procedure of Pind-dān, wherein the departed soul unifies with his forefathers, a must happen ritual for attainment of moksha. This small conjecture tilted the scale in favour of male child and has since then contributed (unofficially) in the thousands of female infanticides over the ages.

Ultimately and most irritatingly one of the verses observes
Indrā had said, “The woman mind cannot be disciplined; she has very little intelligence.” ( RigVéda 8:33:17)
What is the basis of such a rancid generalization is yet beyond my comprehension.

Védas are very ancient texts and it is very much possible that the original insinuations of Védic verses may have been polluted by the deficiencies in sruti (passing the word by listening) or metamorphosis in the language. One Védanga, called Nirukta (meaning the derived explanation) gives guidance on how to study Védas. Some translations of RigVéda based on alternate Nirukta interpretation derive different meanings of the verses above. Nonetheless, the obvious meanings under which these Nirukta innuendos were hidden do concrete the claim that the idea of violence and injustice against woman was not totally unknown.

The Women in Purās

The Purās are post-Vedic texts, which contain ancient interpretations of universe, life, synthesis and other metaphysical quests in form of narratives. They also have annals of ancient dynasties, guiding anecdotes and stories which can form a directive for life. It must be noted that most of them place women at a very high pedestal, but there are some mentions of atrocities and injustice meted out to women and there are some much unwarranted conjectures about the womenfolk.
The most quoted parable of Ahalyā and deceit of Indra appears in Padma Purāa (And famously in Ramayana). Ahalyā, which means the eternal virgin, was the most beautiful lady on earth. She was wedded to sage Gautam. Her beauty was a cause of great lust to Devas, in particular Indra. One night Indra conspired to announce the onset of dawn before the actual time. Sage Gautam assuming that it was morning went out of the home for his daily ablutions, when the lustful Indra took form of Sage Gautam and tricked Ahalyā into sexual intercourse. When Gautam found this, he cursed Indra with impotency and Ahalyā with perpetual petrification.
This was an incidence of rape. Apart from being just a historical data point it also asks some subtle questions. Why was Ahalyā punished in the first place? How was Gautam entitled to punish Ahalyā, if at all? References note that Gautam realized his mistake and prescribed the appartition of Rama to be her ultimate liberator. The texts nowhere mention any punishment given to the bane-happy sage for petrifying a woman who is considered to be one of the five most venerable ladies of Hindu religion.

Brahmanda Purāa mentions one incidence of marital sexual violence, wherein the father of King Vaikhaanasa of Champak Nagar was suffering in hell as he had violated his wife during her menstrual cycle.
Then Parvata Muni, the best of all sages, closed his eyes and meditated on the king's past, present and future. After a few moments he opened his eyes and said, 'Your father is suffering the results of committing a great sin, and I have discovered what it is. In his previous life he quarreled with his wife and forcibly enjoyed her sexually during her menstrual period. She tried to protest and resist his advances and even yelled out, "Someone please save me! Please, O husband, do not interrupt my monthly period in this way!" Still he did not stop or leave her alone. It is on account of this grievous sin that your father now has fallen into such a hellish condition of suffering. (Brahmanda Purāa)
Thus not only treachery and trickery into rape as happened in case of Ahalyā, but domestic violence even in ruling classes was present in the earliest days. There are instances in other Purās which either pronounce servitude of women towards their husbands or family, denounce their embellishments or seize their right to denial. A particularly denigrating attitude is towards a menstruating woman as she is deemed impious and untouchable. Some such examples are:

Those women, who prepare food during the last quarter of the night, suffer from infertility in future births. Those women, who do not sweep their home in the evening, remain unmarried and are bereft of wealth in future births. Such women also lose their wealth, lifespan and reputation. (Markandeya Purāṇ)

Women wear hairpins in their hair. As if this alone were not enough, they refuse to obey their husbands (Kurma Purāṇ)

Those women who do not serve their husbands should be expelled from the home for a period of twelve years and should not be helped in any way during the exile. Impurity resulted because of touching a woman in menses takes fast for three nights to get purified. (Narada Purāṇ)

Garuda Purā, the Hindu predecessor of Dante’s Divine Comedy which lays down the rules of a successful karmic life and rituals for attainment of moksha and also describes the treatment of the departed soul based on his deeds fails the feminine by describing her birth itself a result of bad deeds in former lives.
'I did not emaciate myself by monthly fasts by the course of the moon, nor by detailed observances. Owing to my bad deeds in former lives I got a woman's body, which is a source of great misery.'  (Garuda Purā -2.41)

Upanishads and Smritis

Upanishads are philosophical texts outlining some key tenets of Hindu texts. They literally mean sitting near, referred to the way they were recited to the young disciples by their guides. Another interpretation says that they “sit near” the Védas. Unlike Védas and Upanishads which are Shruti (meaning-as heard), smritis are memorized traditions or historical data. Purās are also sometimes counted as smritis.
The most controversial of the Upanishads is the repeatedly quoted Brhadārankyaka Upanishad, which appears to promote rape.
Without a doubt, a woman who has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period is the most auspicious of women. When she has changed, then, one should approach that splendid woman and invite her to have sex. Should she refuse to consent, he should bribe her. If she still refuses, he should beat her with a stick or with his fists and overpower her, saying: “I take away the splendor from you with my virility and splendor” (Brhadārankyaka Upanishad 6.4.9, 21).
This verse has been voraciously defended and contested by theologians each giving their own interpretations, some blaming loss in translation and other citing metaphorical interpretations. But this is how it stands.
The idea of blaming women for inciting the lust in men is also not unknown. In continuous passages (18-22) of Yajnvalakya Upanishad, it goes on to establish women as caskets of all evils and the epicenter of lust.
18. Having (attractive) tresses and putting on collyrium, women, difficult to touch but pleasing to the eyes are (verily) the flames of the fire of sin and they burn men as though they were straw.

19. Women pleasing and cruel, are the fuel for the hell-fires, that inflame even at a distance and though juicy (loveable) are devoid of moisture (flavour).

20. Silly women are the nets spread by the hunter called Cupid to entangle the bodies of men in the form of birds.

21. Woman is the bait stuck in the fish-hook at the string of evil propensity to catch men in the form of fish that are in the pond of worldly life and that are active in the mud of the mind.

22. Enough of women to me, forever, who are the strong caskets (to preserve) all gems of evil and are the chains of misery.
ManuSmriti, another much criticized canon of Hindu way of life also alludes some discriminatory edicts on the place and status of women in society. It is just sad to see that our sacred tradition and culture was built on some guiding principle which arrest the independence of woman and leave her as a subject of male member of the family irrespective of her age.

5.147. By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.

5.148. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.

5.149. She must not seek to separate herself from her father, husband, or sons; by leaving them she would make both (her own and her husband's) families contemptible.

5.151. Him to whom her father may give her, or her brother with the father's permission, she shall obey as long as he lives, and when he is dead, she must not insult (his memory).

ManuSmriti (Chapter -5)

Sadly the ManuSmriti goes on to even declare that women are not fit for independence and they have irresistible inclinations towards evil. Needless to say like the evils of Varna system, the evils of dependence of womenfolk seeped deep in to society, much due to such dystopian allusions
 Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.

Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling (they may appear); for, if they are not guarded, they will bring sorrow on two families.

ManuSmriti (Chapter -9)

The two famous epics of ancient India, Ramayana and Mahabharata also portray a mixed image of women. The feminism was worshiped but was still at mercy of society. In Ramayana, Rama crosses sea to save his wife Sita, whom he subjects to agni-pariksha (a purity check by fire) which she passes but later banishes her due to doubts of some of his subjects. The case of sexual equality takes a jolt, as Rama is never subjected to any such test. Capturing someone else’s wife also doesn’t seem uncommon, with Ravan stealing Sita and Bali capturing his brother’s wife Ruma. Mahabharata portrays gloomier situation of women, as Draupadi is first put into an irony of a marriage, then subjected to be a bet on the silly game of dice by her alleged ‘protectors’ and finally subjected to being stripped in front of a spineless court full of her elders.

Rituals and Traditions

There are protocols and there are best practices. Society seldom differentiates between the two. The gap between “must” and “should” is even thinner when it comes to religious rituals and traditions. Most of the traditions were singular instances of chastity or ethereal compassion, but were adopted and showcased by the champions of society as ways of reaching the peaks of dharma. One of such examples is Sati. Sati gets it first mention in Padma Purā, in the story of Vrinda, the wife of Jalandhar, who was tricked away from her fidelity towards her husband by Vishnu, whence her husband was killed. Vrinda cursed Vishnu that he will also weep in search of his wife (which he does as Rama) and takes the funeral pyre with her husband. (She subsequently reincarnates as Tulsi plant). Other instances of Sati in scriptures are the story of Vasudeva’s wives Rohini, Devaki, Bhadraa and Madira taking the funeral pyre with him. Madri, the other wife of Pandu, the father of Pandavas also became sati with her husband. Apart from one convoluted passage in Rig-Veda Indian scriptures nowhere seem to suggest Sati, but the women who performed it are exalted in glory.
Another stifling tradition is the abstinence and persecution of widows. Some texts, specify that Brahman born to a remarried woman is not charitable.  Others prescribe abstinent lives for widows. Garuda Purā celebrates the death of a woman who deceases before her husband or sons. All these contribute to inauspiciousness of the widows in our culture. Devadasis and dowry are other such traditions that seeped into fibres of the society.

The Epilogue

In light of the citations and commentary above, this essay can be accused of being extremely biased against Hindu texts. One can argue that, only the negative aspects have been mentioned and multitudes of the verses in veneration of women have been ignored. Also it can be accused to be critical only of Hindu texts, while other religions might also be similarly or even more flawed in their treatment of women in modern light. I yield to both these allegations. The article is and was meant to be biased. Let me reassert that in whatever religious texts I have come across from different religions, the status of women is most sanctimonious and elevated in ancient Hindu society and literature. Out of millions of verses about women only a few come out grey in current perspective. Also most of these controversial verses are stories of crime which was duly punished and act as deterrent against the repeat. I must acknowledge that I am secretly proud of the fact that I believe in a religion which allows me to question even its foundations.
The argument of this essay is simple- though ancient India was an epitome of civilization amongst its peers and in general women were treated with respect, but it will be far-fetched to say we were a perfect society devoid of any blemishes when it came to our treatment of women. The intent is not to blame the scriptures for situation of women. The scriptures in totality do give ample respect to women. But when they are treated as historical annals, they leave an account which proves that crime and injustice towards woman was not foreign. There were incidences of rapes, molestation, domestic violence, misappropriation and injustice towards women even in ancient India. The matter of fact is that, as a society or rather as a race of people we Humans were always maligned in this regard and most of the scriptures , be it from any religion, did little to remove this malignancy from the society. There were some flaws in our sacred texts as well or may be some of them lost their relevance with time. It is absolutely unnecessary and imaginative to blame foreign elements for these dark extents of our society. In fact, the root of the evil lies in the fact that the society, Indian or foreign has been male-dominated and its canons, whether religious or social have been set by a group of men. The males in our society are born with a genetic libido and the masculine fabric of the society amplifies it. We see our mothers in customary servitude to our families, our sisters seeking protection with their brothers, our wives becoming our object of carnal satisfaction and everything is justified by the society. We, the men who do this and the women who endure this; are and will remain to be blamed.
Till then I am sorry, sister.
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{ 45 comments ... read them below or Comment }

  1. Most of the quotes here have been taken from translations of different canonical texts. I am enlisting a few of the sources i remember:
    * Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda : Dr Ganga Sahaya Sharma
    * Rigveda : Vedmurti shri ram Sharma Acarya
    * Rigveda: Ralph T H Griffith
    * Max Mueller: Translations of Upanishads
    * Purans from sacred Hindu Test
    * Other online sources on Upanishads and Purans

    It is totally possible that some of these contain wrong or incorrect translations. I tried to cross check everything that I quote here with my limited expertise in Sanskrit, particularly vedic one. So I will be very grateful if you can point out any mistake as that will be literally and philosophically enhancing

    1. Added reference to Nirukta translations based on discussion with Bipin. You can follow him on twitter

    2. No judgement here, but why don't you learn Sanskrit instead, if you are so interested. We all will definitely benefit from that.

  2. 1. Manusmriti is bullshit.

    2. Not everything thats written in these books are sane. No surprises there. People who argue 'these are the ways of life' and 'veda teaches us' etc. are idiots.

    3. Hindu 'sacred' texts favor the men. (As I have read a few books)

    4. Nothing of these matters at this point of time of course, as most of the people wouldn't have read the texts and hence the rapes and all, I don't think, can be attributed to teachings from vedas and puraanas.

    1. @gagan Agree with all four. I am not attributing anything to scriptures. I said and i quote again "The argument of this essay is simple- though ancient India was an epitome of civilization amongst its peers and at most of times women were treated with respect, but it will be far-fetched to say we were a perfect society devoid of any blemishes when it came to our treatment to women"
      This article is just an answer to every next guy who comes and argues that we were the women worshippers and this dirt has entered our society with the foreigners. The truth is that we were maligned and our scriptures did little to remove that malignant part

    2. Seems are a biggest bullshit yourself. If you have to understand Vedas then learn Sanskrit first. By reading Sanskrit in English and that too without context you think that you are understanding everything? Grow up and learn the language first rather than reading some bullshit translations.

  3. Most of the things in Vedas are very very symbolic. You need a lot of Chitta Shuddhi' (Clarity of mind)to understand the meaning of the vedic texts.

    For Example:

    Parvathi giving birth to Ganesh from the dirt of her body. And Shiv not recognizing his own son and slaying Ganesh. Later to put a elephant head.*

    If you go with the literal meaning, it sounds so gross and stupid to worship Shiv. But its meaning when decoded is so beautiful that you will fall in love with the story. That's the reason why Vedas were not open to the public and a handful of learned men, because we need to go through this whole process of purification (of the mind) before we can come to terms with the magnanimity of Vedic knowledge.

    You may argue why they were given to a handful of men and not others. Then there is a very simple answer: Leading a spiritual path comes from within and the choice is left to the individual. It was not forced down the throat of people who preferred to do something else with their lives.

    * Do let me know if you want to know the significance. I don't want to force it down your throat ;). After checking your profile, I see you have done no study of ancient Indian Texts or have had any experience of Indian Cultural techniques such as Yoga or Meditation. No offense, I too like western literature. :)

    1. @Anusha From what I remember there is no mention of Ganesha (the Shiv's son) in Vedas. There are occurrences of a deity called Ganapaty but experts doubt its the same Ganesh.

      I concede, I am very naive when it comes to "purity of mind". I (mis)adventure to counterbalance that openness.

      Next, I have very clearly mentioned that the idea is not to attribute all the pitfalls to the scriptures. They have upheld the sanctity of women in most of the places. The point is that "we cannot blame foreign impact for the current situation of women" Even in vedic times the violence and misappropriation by ruling class against women was known and documented. DO YOU DISAGREE WITH EVEN THAT. I do not claim full knowledge of texts directly, but will really appreciate if you can translate the verses for me (I have given all the references).

      About the spiritual path, I have my own definition of sprituality; but will be a fool to close myself to any methods which I have not known. Do post some links.

    2. Well you are right about Ganapati in Rig Veda (there it means the Supreme Being). But Ganesh (Elephant faced) is largely regarded as a Vedic Deity (mention in Yajur ved). The example I gave is not from Vedas but is related to it (Its in the Puranas) as everything in our culture has come from there.

      I do not completely disagree with your statement that women were not mistreated in Vedic times. Where ever there is animalistic behavior there is mistreatment of women. Nonetheless I would like to point out that it was not in the social construct of that time to have an animalistic behavior. What I do not concede with is your out of context reference to certain scriptural texts which might mean something else altogether.

      For example: RigVéda 8:33:17: It clearly points out that if a learned man is not compatible with his wife and wants her co-operation then he should take the responsibility of the relationship. I don’t see how this degrades the women in anyway. If you go a little further: Rig Ved: 8:33:19 it states ‘Stree hi Bramha Babhoovith’ meaning, the women in the house of her husband, is placed at the status of Brahma.

      Also, Vedic texts are like more than 10,000 years old and have been passed over by generations. Why suddenly these obvious contradictions about the status of women are being pointed out. Many of the authors of Vedic texts were Rishikas and Swaminis. Do you think none of the generations of these people were sensitive enough to notice these contradictory statements? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why these statements are so out of league to the general Vedic preaching? Because we have not understood it in the light of the Vedic knowledge.

    3. You may have whatever definition of spirituality you like but in context of Vedas, the spiritual path means the one that leads you to ‘moksha’ or liberation. And in that context I asked you if you have ever experienced meditation or Yoga (I mean the real one not the popular sport version). If you ever experience deep meditation you will get a glimpse of the psyche of the general population of the Vedic period. These were men of stupendous caliber. India was the pinnacle of Science and technology. Only those undermine India’s contribution to the world who have no knowledge of it. Yoga, Ayurveda, Cosmology, Genealogy, Mathematics, Economics, Psychology, Philosophy, Music, Dance… the list is sooo long one does not know where to begin and where to end. And why is it so unbelievable, do we not see Sweden, an educated prosperous society behave decently?

      I mean if its not evident when you look around the world, most of the world was ruled by India without using a single weapon. Isn’t it obvious that men would invest in ruthless conspiracy to bring her down by convincing her own populace of how ridiculous her amazing, scientific cultural is. Of course it was foreign influence. Will Durant’s History of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage; this is also recorded history, that India was so busy producing great men/women that she forgot to produce warriors and mere bandits could easily become rulers. The Indian population has suffered such gory violence and for so long that it has become numb to it. The Indian intellectual youth w/o taking a single step towards understanding it, rants about its shortcomings. And its no more about India and Hindus, the Humanity, the whole world is waking up to these philosophies that has been laid out in the Veda, considering it to be one of the most appropriate for the present degraded societies. I know more American, Germans, French, Mexican people than Indians who know more about the biology of yoga and meditation. And they hate (at least) this about Indians among many other things.

      Its like Friedrich Nietzsche said ‘The last Christian died with the Christ’. You have to BE a Rama, a Krishna, a Buddha, A Mahavira to know what they did and why. I know its very popular and fashionable to criticize your own culture (especially among Indian youth, w/o having an ounce of understanding about it), but the society which I am talking about took the time to BE these great men. Skepticism and doubt is good, it’s the sign of a true seeker. Only a questioning mind can find the right answers. But when you start getting head rush from skepticism then there is no scope for seeking. I would not pretend to be an expert in Vedas and would not want to make conclusions and opinions based on such little evidence.

    4. Thanks for spending so much time on this. Although I can disagree with lot of things here but that will digress the conversation. My simple point is and it remains this
      "The argument of this essay is simple- though ancient India was an epitome of civilization amongst its peers and in general women were treated with respect, but it will be far-fetched to say we were a perfect society devoid of any blemishes when it came to our treatment of women. The intent is not to blame the scriptures for situation of women. The scriptures in totality do give ample respect to women. But when they are treated as historical annals, they leave an account which proves that crime and injustice towards woman was not foreign. There were incidences of rapes, molestation, domestic violence, misappropriation and injustice towards women even in ancient India. The matter of fact is that, as a society or rather as a race of people we Humans were always maligned in this regard and most of the scriptures , be it from any religion, did little to remove this malignancy from the society. There were some flaws in our sacred texts as well or may be some of them lost their relevance with time. It is absolutely unnecessary and imaginative to blame foreign elements for these dark extents of our society. In fact, the root of the evil lies in the fact that the society, Indian or foreign has been male-dominated and its canons, whether religious or social have been set by a group of men. "

    5. The problem is you are treating the scriptures as historical annals. I am not 100% sure if the story of ravan abducting seeta was some real event in history as its described in ramayana. Its my opinion that each scripture veda, purana, upnishad need to be interpreted in the right way. The reason you may treat them as history books or science books is because the current education system is quite different than the ancient education system. Similarly the text books we follow in our schools and more familiar with the writing system used in those text books are quite different than the vedic texts. Since the ancient education was mostly chanting shlokas memorizing them. And only through guru the knowledge was transferred not through text books. So the written form of vedas is difficult to first of all read and then more difficult to interpret those scriptures correctly. The bottomline is whats "myth" and whats "fact" you may never know just by reading them. It may be some kind of encryption that we cannot decipher.

    6. Ofcourse Asutosh, being a mother of a 11 month old. I get like oodles of time to reply to blog posts. Thank you for your sarcasm.

      Haan haan padhe hum tum kya likhe ho. Theek hai kuch hazaar saal pehle ka baat kar ke kya fayada. Time travel hin bata sakta hai ki kya hota tha kya nahin. Tumlog bhai bahut intelligent, modern, progressive log sab ho. Kahe nahin kuch karte ho. Itna kharaab lag raha hai violence toh I am sure tum vegetarian hoge. Unlog ka bhi utna hin jaan hota hai, utna hin feelings hota hai. Bhai Vedas mein toh Janwar mein bhi bhagwan dekhne bolta hai.

    7. I am sorry If I come up as sarcastic. But I really was not. I really do appreciate You reading and replying. I dont know how I can add emphasize on that part.
      By the way, I did not realize who you are. Now I think I do.

    8. Yes, the evil lies within and no foreign power should be blamed for it.

      If I want to do a root cause analysis, from where shall I start! Shall I start by going back to 10000 years and find shortcoming in our vedic literature by reading some feeble english interpretations? (I am sure you too are not translating directly from sanskrit) Or, shall I start by being current and observe the current society; because if the evil lies within then something very obvious is out there waiting to be noticed which can lead us to find the reason behind the sorry state of the current society.

      Because you have shaken the hornet's nest here, I would ask you that instead of doing research on our vedic literature why can't you question our education system. I believe it's all in the mind. An healthy and moral mind will not commit the gory crime that happened in Delhi.

      Why don't you raise the question that why are we not effectively teaching our school going younger generation to respect the opposite sex, to not to litter on roads, to follow traffic rules, to have patience, to give way to others when you are driving on roads? Why doesn't current India has role models like Swami Vivekanand, who people can look up to and follow? Why is there so much of cowardice that people are scared of being the change themselves?

      I am talking about very simple values which if learnt and practiced generation by generation our society will regain it's lost glory.

      I would definitely agree with “anusha” that understanding the essence in our vedic literature might take a full life time. It is definitely not everyone's cup of tea and requires lot of devotion, patience, perseverance and penance.

      Someone referred Mahabartha and Ramayana as well, I would say the authors of these epics where the world's best writers. These epics are greatest observations on the society and a way of teaching moral values to common man through stories carrying complex characters. For example the character of Yudhisthira. Though he was known for his honesty but his folly was gambling and he lost everything in the game of dice. This could also be seen as the way of teaching people that even great people will lose everything because of gambling; hence gambling is bad for them.

  4. I have always believed that Ramayana and Mahabharat are the two worst examples one can quote as religious texts. I don't think they were not supposed to be one when these epics were written, but down ages, people have started looking at characters from these epics as role models.

    Characters like Krishna, Rama and Yudhisthira have been given the status of deities and Dharamaraja, the mortal embodiment of divinity and virtue. What else do you expect from a society where men have been taught to behave like these gods? Krishna was a polygamist and the scriptures have shamelessly glorified his deeds with the gopikas - Stealing their clothes when they take a bath or the raslila passages are the earliest I can get to eve-teasing unfortunately being considered as a playful pastime for the revered. Mahabharata is not a religious text- it’s a pure political journal. Rama and Krishna – despite being gods had to restore to means like spies ( rama couldn’t have killed ravan unless Vibhishna had given him the secret to Ravan’s death), cheating in duels ( Krishna cheated by giving Bhima the cue to Jarasangh’s Achilles heel that too during a duel), Bhima, Yudhistira and the other brothers don’t raise their voices when Draupadi is asked to be equally distributed among all brother ( who cares about her will when they don’t have the Nyaya enf to realize that it was only Arjuna who had a right to her) ... Rama, the wise and learned king is more bothered about what common people speak of his own wife. The protector husband who takes an oath during the scared marriage ritual to protect his wife’s honor before the world was so weak that he succumbed to some rumors and gossip in his kingdom.

    However there are passages to prove that rishi-patni’s like Gargi and others, and women generally might have enjoyed respect during the vedic age. For one thing I know that women’s education was not considered taboo and had the rights to choose their husbands, amidst other things. But just like history gets distorted down the ages, the best of vedic provisions for women and their position in the society got overruled by the one vile men have been blessed with- the never-ending thirst to prove their dominance and power over others. They have done so in the early ages when they were mostly cave dwellers and hunters ( the adrenaline rush of proving their power by killing innocent animals) . The move to civilization did little to curb that thirst, when they were no longer able to torture meek animals, they turned to the closest thing at home ( women physically will remain weaker than men) .

    I couldn’t have agreed more with you...thanks for putting down everything I have been wanting to write down for so long.. so beautifully. Kudos :)

    1. @Rhea Thanks for the read and comments. But my intent is not to undermine scriptures (though I feel the same abt Mahabharata and Ramayan ) I get particularly troubled by people who dwell in an incorrect past of pure and unblemished India.

    2. Lolz..I love that scene from Swadesh where Mohan stands up and says that I don't believe we are a great nation. Since ages we have tried to hide our corruption, our unwillingness to do anything about our country, our general indifference towards anything at all and out insensitive attitude to other under the mask of the great glory called India .The proble is till date we would try to mask everything by saying we are a country with a great culture. I wonder after these incidents we don't even have that mask to hide behind. I totally understand and support where this blog came from.

    3. I also have *NOT* intended to criticize Vedas (except) for one verse that questions the intelligence of women in general. They might have had deeper meaning. The translations are what naive minds like mine have interpreted, and you will agree that those interpretations are possible and unfortunately predominant (I cross checked). If no one can interpret the book, there is no point in having it worshiped. But again, the point should not be lost. Even if they had some ulterior puzzles and spiritual insinuation through the controversial passages, the *ideas* and *instances* that there were indeed misappropriations to women during our *glorious* past cant be overlooked. I just fail to comprehend how for everything we quote our scriptures and culture and their purity and blame foreign impact for all the problems in our society.

    4. @Rhea : I'm 110% sure you have never read Ramayan or Mahabharat (Forger Vedas). Half leaned people like you are only good for nothing.

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  6. I have little knowledge of the scriptures so to speak of. I am sure both the author and Anusha have done a considerable research on what they have quoted before hey quoted and I admire that . I would like to make one and only one point here . Two people who took the trouble of delving into the symbolic and apparent meanings of the Vedas and the puranas are having a tough time coming to a common platform.just imagine the same thing being told to an illiterate or a little educated person by a priest or some other"holy guy " .Do you think he would take the troubke of explaining the symbolic menaing of the whoel thing or that even he fuly understands the same( assuming that he does, would the listener be on the same level so as to be fully able to comprehend the actual menaing ?) . My point is that in a country where people get little basic eductaion but are taught everything about religion right from childhood, these thing will sooner or later come across them and chances are pretty bright that they will be interpreted in a way they were absolutely not meant to be interpreted... I do not say that these wrong interpretations are entirely to blame for what is happening, but their role cannot be denied .
    This is the scenario where I am being optimistic although another part of me asks a question -"How can we be so certain that the authors of these hymns or chants meant these hymns to be interpreted in the symbolic way and not at face value ? Who is sure of that ? atleast I am not.

    1. The vedas are meant to be read with the help of vedangas. One of them is Nirukta, very similar to the english etymology. On basis of Nirukta the hymns are read. Now the ancient people were really literary genius. They wrote thousands of verses with such skill that they were able to have a lieteral meaning, and innuendo and an allegory with every verse. Out of all historians doubt that RigVeda only might be more literal, as it was more of an anthology rather than a Veda (it was called samhita like mahabharat).
      But that is not my point. My point is to write something you need ideas, and to have ideas you need inspirations and for inspirations you need instances. I throughout this article, have agreed that women enjoyed such privilege in Indian culture which was not known in any part of world, except a few totally matriarchal tribes. But even then the violence and injustice against women was not unknown. We can not be semi blind in reading our scriptures. They in 99% cases do exalt women, I dont write about that because that was not my challenge here. My challenge was to answer the so called Great Hindus, who felt that our culture was unblemished and impartial. There are people who fee that we were only polluted when Greeks,Romans, Moslems and Christians and other abrahamic tribes merged with us. Whatever I have written or quoted is not my direct interpretation. I am too unskilled to Read vedas directly and dont have access to other scriptures in sanskrit, which again will be a tough challenge. What I have quoted are from the references i mentioned above. But I can guarantee one thing, i dint rely on internet. I went back to very either in print or ebook whatever was available.

    2. Sachit Kaushal, your question is very valid and honest. I would like to point out that Vedas are not historical annals, not authored by some person. Vedas are treated as revelations, the author being the Supreme, Sat Chit Anand Shiva (The purest form of creation). You cannot understand the Vedas or author Vedas without reaching that state. Its kind of a download from the space, where they heard these mantras in their meditation. Sanskrit too was developed in the same manner. Thats the reason why there is no scope for contradiction in the meaning of Vedas among the seers (Patanjali Yoga sutra is a manual to attain that state, which is possible by anyone, at least you have the raw material). Vedas are very difficult to understand by intellectual inquiry. The mantras work more through the heart than the brain. That is another lengthy science.

      The stand that I have about this discussion is, no doubt we had a glorious past. But our present is just plain disgusting. I would refrain from using labels such as Indian, Male, Female etc. Our country has many problems to work upon some of being illiteracy and poverty. To give religion to these people is a crime (Swami Vivekananda had said this in a speech in US, pointing out to the Cristian missionaries, who do exactly this.)

      I know we are left with little regard for Spiritual leaders. But there are many organizations in India that are doing more work than the government of India is. We get a bad taste to see them making so much money. But having worked as a volunteer in one of these NGOs, that too as a journalist and in project finance. I know that each and every penny they earn go back to the homeless and needy.

      When I first worked there I could not believe it. Is it the same India? How come these corrupt Indians be so honest that not a single penny is misappropriated. As disaster managers, they were working with extreme incidents of violence, yet they retained their sense of humor. Because there are no born criminals, they become that because of lack of values. Our society has forgotten those values, its not about education(At least not the ones we get in schools). I have interviewed Maoists who have become messengers of peace by simply getting their value system in place.

      Glory can happen even now, I don't care if it was in the Vedic times or not, the question is are we capable of it? We need to work, a lot!

  7. If Darwin was alive, I would have argued with him regarding his theory of evolution and won just by giving the counterexample of we Indians. Given the fact/assumption that vedas were pinnacle of knowledge (still unexplored by us), and people evolve in terms of knowledge, science, technology etc., we should be travelling across the stars and planets by this time. But see what we have done! Your article is beautifully written. Your expression of ideas and literary power is just amazing. Your article presents a point by point rebuttal for people who might argue that ancient India was a great civilization. But!, lets think about who are these people? And, what difference does it make by arguing with these stupid people who are still basking in the glory of our ancient past. More importantly, why should we do that? Shouldn't we be looking at more important problems?

    Agreed, that Indra killed a pregnant woman (in story or reality or myth or whatever), but have we discussed about the weapon (vajra) used by Indra? How was it possible at that time to harness the thunder and use it as required? It might sound ridiculous but it at the very least points to a possibility that it might be possible to harness such a powerful source of energy which could be used to benefit mankind in several different ways. At least it gives us an idea, and... an idea can change our lives. The story written by Jules Verne, "Twenty thousand league under the sea" is... also a story. I would like to point out one more example, if I may. We are bothered about how Indra sneaked into Maharshi Gautam's ashram and had sex with Ahalya. But why are we not discussing how come that guy (or God) was able to alter the usual course of day and night. Again, many would say these things were just fillers in the ancient texts but so might the event of sexual intercourse. To me, assuming that these worldly affairs (killing of lady, having sex with someone else's wife, taking vanvaas in the forest, and killing of great saint -Ravana) etc., as story fillers in the ancient scriptures, and assuming that these scriptures described the advances in technology (the vajra of indra, the pushpak vimana, the power to alter the after-life by giving shaap etc.) appear more intuitive than the other way round. At every point of time in history, there are good people and bad people and we, the good people :P, should be working towards improving the life of all of the mankind and not whining upon why someone is bad.
    Long story short, we are looking at the wrong problem.

    1. I am not at all surprised at the alacrity with which all you guys have replied. And more than replying all of you have given the things more than a thought. @Aditya/Varun sir, yes this article is biased. I have already conceded that. The research and intention all were with a prejudice here. It shows only one facade of the thing, but as all of you have already said that facade exists. Yes, Aditya we might have been the best, but we were not perfect and it was heartening to see everyone at least agrees that the problem lies not somewhere within us. As for Am I looking at the wrong problem? No I am not looking at the wrong problem. In fact I am not looking at any problem. There are facts, there is history and there are (mis)interpretations, and I am just a fool who is looking at a dark stain on very bright shirt. will it be right to ignore the stain? I don think so. I would rather take it , accept it and try to clean it rather than living in constant denial that the stain was cast by someone else and I always had a bright shirt. Or try to hide it or just belligerently ask others that why do you look at only the blemish, why not the brightness. I would prefer to try to clean it. And for me it begins with accepting that its mine.

      And yes I agree with almost everything you say

  8. Some people have expressed doubts about the authenticity of these data. I have taken them from the references mentioned above. I am not an expert to read vedas directly,I read from whatever books were available. But yes before quoting I did try to verify them with the resources at my disposal. please do correct me if i wrong in sense the anecdote or allegory does not at all exist or there is no hymn with possible translation or if you have not heard of the incidence at all.
    Also some friends have doubt that evangelists from other religion can use this as a tool to criticize and weaken Hinduism. let me call this loud here, that no culture in the world gave even this much respect to women as ancient Indian did. Islamic traditions with Purdah and Christianity with its witch hunt do not even come close. And Hinduism derives its strength from its ability to be questioned and assimilating good from everywhere, a small article pointing a few reflections on a very primordal society can not do any damage to something which has stood up to the test of time, and strong.

  9. Good effort, thanks!

  10. It gives me happiness and hope to read the comments , if all the comments written above are by genuine people then I must say that whether they are for or against the article , 1 thing is for sure that we do have people who have values who have appetite for knowledge who want to bring change and who are curious for the truth. good work everyone. I agree that we had a "glorious" past. Though we were not "Perfect" but way better than many others however things have changed now and I don't want to be like a potato whose best part is under the ground (buried under the ground )instead I want my India to be proud of its present.
    I am not a saint but I would take a pledge that when ever possible I would help with my capacity and I will never encourage or indulge in Violence of any kind. Be a change ....

    1. Well, I can only thank you for your kind words, "Gods Grace" :-)

  11. Considering the sensitivity of topic and the (current) time, the article was written so carefully. I appreciate that. However I didn't get the complete message (or there was any?). I found this was more of sharing some information. This may be good to enhance knowledge or discussing over coffee. Context & misinterpretations from our ancients books were wisely mentioned. But, is this the root cause analysis of what happens to woman of India today? What is way forward as we can't change the books written (interpreted) in past. We made the legislation in 1949 and those are unbiased and uninfluenced when it comes to sex discrimination. If we can't change the perception of some illiterate beast who commit this kind of crime then make the law stricter, some practical & realizable decisions. Use the rods, we have tried enough with words.

    1. Thanks Parixit, No I am not providing any solutions. Nor am I blaming scriptures. most of these controversial verses are stories of crime which was duly punished and act as deterrent against the repeat. I am just saying that the problem is deep rooted in our psyche from long before there was any so-called-foreign-impact on the society. Rules and Regulations can cage the beast, but it will not kill or change the beast within us. The problem can only be addressed at where it exists and it exists in us.
      And this article may have lacked a little subtler purpose and solutions.

  12. Today Mr. Bhagwat said exactly what I was pointing out. According to him, rapes are part of India and not Bharat. This article was written because these people instead of letting us look into our problems, keep us in a false glory, which will never allow us solve our issues.

  13. Before submitting actual meanings of the mantras I wud like to make it clear that Vedas do not contain any historical stories. All along my journey I have found that Vedas remain the most unpopular and wrongly interpreted text. I wud like to recommend "Vedas-the myth and reality" by Pt Dharma Deva Vidya Martand for beginners. The main problem with hindus is they dnt read their texts. Needless to say social barriers like caste system,again anti-vedic system and the greatest slur on humanity, are also responsible.
    Vedas consists of MANTRAS and NOT Shlokas. Mantras are to be contemplated upon. Mantranaa as we say in hindi. While interpreting Vedic mantras only root meanings of words r considered.
    Now let me provide the actual meanings of references given above
    "A person shud honour the teacher with thoughts,voice,actions and money.The teacher shud teach the deserving to the max of student's capacity.A person shud maintain peace by being friends with all noble people"RV-1:101:1
    Sukta 126 is about kingdom and management "The king shud provide proper wealth and award to the soldiers for increasing motivation"-RV-1:126:3
    "Just like a mother gives birth and cares a child, the sacred fire shud be ignited the same way."RV-3:31:2
    RV8:33:17 is abut rath design and ashva "Brave soldiers shud keep fast,agile(like air) and bright(like sun) horses"
    Further I sud like to clear 1 more thing abt the Ahalya story. That story is made up after a verse of Sathpath Brahman,again a vedic era granth, hence its meaning shud be in accordance with nirukt. As per nirukt, ahalya=night, indra=sun and goutam=moon(that travels in dark). Sun destroys the meeting of moon and night.
    Then comes the agnipareeksha, again its very stupid(LOLingly stupid actually :D) to think that a person can come out of fire alive. The agni of havan warms up the stagnant air around and allows the cooler air to enter the house. This purification is purpose of yagya/yajna and hence agni is termed Paavak.

    1. Thank you @TheLayman for these comments. I have mentioned your reference above as well for the alternate translations and details. And I agree with you that these translations might have been the actual intended ones as well. Also it will be wrong to say that Vedas are not historical books. They might not be actual history books putting things in chronological orders, but all the Vedas which were written in a large span of time one after another are in one way or the other a reflection of the society.
      yes, we did not read texts. But For a culture which banished 70% of its population from even listening to Vedas (remember I am blaming the culture not the texts here) that blame cannot be put on people. After my discussions with you I did some more research. And now a general understanding on intent of Vedas can be established. They were mantras, but as per some sources they were wisely intended to be the carrier of the wisdom of the moving tribe. So the vedic chants have three layers : One is the obvious meaning, one the metaphorical meaning which you refer and one more hidden layer where pure knowledge like some methods or formula are kept innocuously.
      And then again my point remains intact. Even when there are alternate meanings and may be pure ones; but there is a way in which these texts can be interpreted and have been interpreted (by Indians and foreigners alike) and become a part of the custom and culture. You may say that way is wrong but that way exists. May be the story of Sita was added later by Tulsidas or some other writer in Uttar Kand; but that story exists and is a part of our entity. That addition was not done by any Islamic invader or christian mercenary. That was done by Hindu scholars of that time.
      I repeat, that ideas need instances. Without instances it is very difficult to conceive ideas. Yes an Agni pariksha seems implausible, but people in different tribes do walk over burning fire. We can not be selective in our beliefs. We cannot start with the assumption that all canons are words of God and cannot be questioned. My God asks me to question and I believe that whether it is Vedas or Quran or Bible or Tanakh or whatever was written by really great people who were the pinnacles of spiritual creativity and thus closest to God. And like any other human beings they are also fallible and sometimes do fail the test of time.
      I will read the book you suggest; thanks for that. But I will question even that. As a Human that is my right and as a Hindu that is my duty!:-)

    2. Partially agree and again here it is important to clarify some popular misconceptions. Vedas are definitely not songs of shepherds or tribals. Obviously foreign theory. They were not written on a large span of time. Also they remain unaltered for atleast 7000 years(some say they r that old). There is no evidence of their origin and dates of compilation. The words used for rishis r MANTRADRASTA and not MANTRA-KARTA. People may argue but question comes why does it require 100mantradrastas to create a Gayatri Mantra of 13 words " bhu, buvah, swah, tat, savit, varenyam,bhargah,devah,dhimahi,dhiyo,yo,nah,prachodayat"?
      Vedas ae called apaurushey(not manly) and shabdbrahma(divine words).
      So,immaterial you believe or not,fact remains, Vedas r not written by some authors/shepherds/tribals. They remain unchanged from foreign intrusion because of certain practices/recitations.
      Now, coming to ur point, how come vedic people be responsible for misinterpretations during medieval period? They r not. As u have rightly said neither r foreign invaders but our own people.Now its our responsibility to reject what is proven to be false.
      Unbiased truth-seeking by eliminating everything that r established to be false and accept the truth.
      Coming to the last part, I never objected ur questioning. Neither do I believe in this "Your God-My God: theory. "ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti".
      Ending again with Vedic verses of Sangathan suktam that asks humans to stay united and eliminate ideological differences through discussions.

  14. Thanks a lot sir.. yes the article was good(though i agree all can be discarded on chitta shuddhi point suggested by anusha.) But reading the comments made my day.. After such a long time i came across a healthy debate where everybody is actually open to listening. Yes I'm proud that we are allowed to question and even customise our own god too..

    1. I do not know much about Chitta Shuddhi, but the name suggests something very deep. Tough to achieve for a simpleton like me. But I agree I am proud of the fact I can question and still live, one tenet which is restrained by other agencies of God.
      Discussions are necessary. I spoke therefor I shall be

  15. the comments above show that we Indians totally fancy the idea that our past was perfect and future is doomed. That is why people are offended with this good piece of research. the article just presents the fact that there have been flaws in us so there is need of soul searching instead of blaming foreign culture. As a minister said .. "such things(rape) happen in India not in Bharat" ,, time to think, rethink and change our attitude towards women..!!

    1. Exactly! thanks.
      And the man who said the Bharat thing, was the RSS chief. Although to an extent he was quoted out of context.


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