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39.1 Texts of Speeches


Let me start with the most ancient heritage, namely, Manu Smriti. It is true that Manu smRti talks of woman having no independent status because, 'in her childhood she is dependent on the father, in her youth and middle ages she is dependent on the husband and in her old age she is dependent on the son'. But  the same Manu smRti insists very emphatically that every man should act in such a way that not a single tear rolls down the cheek of a woman. For, the smriti continues,    if that happens 'the person who caused that tear-drop will be destroyed with his whole clan'!. I wish all  the followers of Manu smRti had only taken this seriousl. Women in Hindu society would then have been put on the highest pedestal – This is clearly  indicated in the Indian habit of addressing or greeting every unrelated woman as 'Mother' or 'Sister' . But custom and tradition forced themselves away from the spirit of ancient times. They thrust humiliating and unfair norms on the woman of the household, particularly when she lost her husband..

The touchstone of Hindu dharma is  the attitude with which one acts. One has to analyze oneself constantly. Whether it is a question of interpretation of caste rules, or a question of the meaning of the partnership between husband and wife, father and son, teacher and disciple, elder and younger -- whatever it may be, the choice between what is dharma and what is adharma should be made only on the basis of absence or presence of an internal selfishness, (and of the presence or absence of a deep devotion to the Lord, as great religious masters like Ramanuja would say) irrespective of what the secondary scriptures, like Manu smRti have to say. Even if there is an iota of selfishness in what one is doing or saying, then there is the contamination of adharma in it.

There is an interesting story from the Mahabharata. Sage Agastya realised that since he was unmarried and so  he could not discharge his debt to his ancestors, who, he knew,  were actually suffering. He had earlier, wih his force of askesis created this beautiful lady, Lopamudra, who grew up as the daughter of a King of Vidarbha. When Agastya required Lopamudra to marry him, she replied with  (M.B. Vana Parva 95 – 17):

यथा पितुर्गृहे विप्र प्रासादे शयनं मम। तथाविधे त्वं शयने मामुपेतुमिहार्हसि॥

yathA piturgRRihe vipra prAsAde shayanaM mama.

tathAvidhe tvaM shayane mAmupetumihArhasi ..

which meant: “You deserve to approach me only after providing me with the same standard of life that I have at my father’s house”!. She really had guts to speak as a twenty-first century girl! That Agastya thereafter started accumulating wealth and finally married Lopamudra, is a different  story! Lopamudra is well-known in the scriptures because she has been described as the closest devotee of Goddess Lalita.

Para-dravyeshvabhidhyAnaM (Thinking of the wealthof others in an inappropriate manner) --  is one of the major ten sins of body, mind and speech. .  In Hindu tradition, since dip in Ganges is supposed to be purificatory for these ten sins, it is called ‘dasha-harA’, the one who drives away the ten sins!),  Certainly, women are not exempt from the sins. But the concept of womanhood , as such, is something different in India from the concept of womanhood in the western world. Swami Vivekananda trumpeted to the world: “ … Is woman a name coupled with the physical body only? Woman, thou shall not be coupled with anything connected with the flesh. What name is there than the one word ‘mother’ which no carnality come near?”

There are examples in our ancient scriptures of both kinds of women.  Dharmic counsel given by Mandodari to Ravana to release Sita and restore her back to Rama was unheeded by Ravana and he paid for it. Not only that. It was a woman’s adharmic advice,  namely Surpanakha’s counsel  that brought him his ruin. The adharmic counsel of Surichi the second wife of King Uttanapada  to which the king did not raise any objection made him regret his decision for quite a few months, and of course  in the end, by a six month long crucial penance  the child Dhruva,  came out of it as the perennial universal hero. Irrespective of what actually happened in such extreme cases over long periods of human history, as far as the foundations of Sanatana Dharma are concerned never has a woman turned a home into wilderness. A husband’s duties towards his wife are no less demanding than are the duties of a wife towards her husband.

There are four objectives for the human birth in Sanatana Dharma.  They are: dharma, artha, kAma and moksha.  All the four are equally applicable to man and women. When the scriptures proclaim that material  happiness is transient it does not mean you have to neglect the earning of a livelihood.  This applies equally to both the sexes of humanity. Just because the role of protection for the honour of the woman is entrusted to either the father or the husband or the son, it does not mean that the management of earning a livelihood and using  it for worldly success is denied to a woman. In the political and public field we have had women as Prime Minister, chief ministers, President of the whole Nation and so on. In fact today I saw a news item that the percentage of female pilots in India is twice as large as in most advanced countries of the west. On the other hand,  the Indian menfolk, from time immemorial, have gradually, over centuries,  subjugated women in their families to a dependent status.  ‘A house is not a home; only through the wife the house becomes a home’ says a Sanskrit saying. So why would not the wife, or the daughter for that purpose, be a participant, in all the major decisions of money management in the house? Whether it be for future saving, or for investment for profit, or for running expenses for the household, they should not only be consulted for an equal participation; in fact they should have independence in working with their own money. Of course what applies to the man also applies to the woman. Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, laments, with arms raised, at the end of the M.B.  equally on the ignorance of all the world in the management of material prosperity: ‘Nobody listens to me, says he; when both wealth and pleasure can be had from dharma  why do people not follow it? He gives a parting suggestion on material prosperity and wealth: ‘Earn that wealth which is free of the fear of the state, free of the fear of being stolen, and free of the fear that it will all end with one’s death.  In our ordinary households, just as the mother of the house teaches the daughters (and not the sons, unfortunately!) how to manage the various cooking steps for the various dishes,  so also the man (or the woman) of the house should teach the daughters how to keep accounts, how to interpret them, how to fill up tax forms, how to decide on investment and proper handling of the finances of the family.  This is an Orgaizational Management within the family – An OMRISE , with research, innovation and sensible expectation. There is no alternative to this if we want our nation as a whole to become ‘self-sufficient’. This is the only way to see that no tears flow from her eyes ever, as Manu Smriti insists.

Finally, let us go back to our marriage ceremonies by vedic rites. The man and the woman take seven steps around the fire  as a celestial witness. On taking the seventh step they turn towards each other and say the sanskrit passage starting with ‘sakhA saptapadA bhava’  This eternally wonderful  passage means: With these seven steps become my friend; I seek your friendship. May you never deviate from this friendship.  May we walk together; May we resolve together; May we love each other and enhance each other; May our vows be congruent and our desires shared.  

In this context one should recall the significancee of the word ‘saha’ in ‘saha-dharmiNI’ . Even the scriptures, bring in the ‘sahadharmini’ for no reason, almost out of the context. For instance in the aghamarshana suktam which every believer  chants particulalrly when bathing in the river (or even at home), it has the words ‘namo indrAya namo varuNAya namo vAruNyai namobhyaH”.  Bringing in  Indra and Varuna is expected because one of their concerns is Water, its availability and its cleanliness;  But where did the VarunI come from?; this sahadharmini has no obvious role for water. Why does the veda bring her in; that is the point. This and many similar examples in the scriptures show that the epthet ‘saha’ in saha-dharmini is intended to bring her in in all the acivities of the husband.  This ‘saha’ makes marriage a field of friendship not a theatre of power struggle. That is why even in teacher-student relationship we say sahanAvavatu  , etc.  OM shAntiH shAntiH shAntiH.



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