Tree of Knowledge
On this Women’s Day, let’s know our reflection and gear up to rule and roar
By Niranjana KarthigaiRajan
With the International Women’s Day 2019 just around the corner, many events have been organized in India to showcase talents and celebrate womanhood. The day is celebrated in high spirits with exchange of wishes, commercialization of products with special offers, and coverage of special stories on women’s achievement in dailies. The day also marks to debate on women’s rights viz. proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament, provisions in law, property rights and many others.
Will the International Women’s Day ever be successful in overcoming gender biases and prejudices against women until we realize the highest social status that women had enjoyed in ancient times?
Have we ever heard of the story of a lion which was raised amidst a flock of sheep? Not knowing that it was a lion, it bleated and ate grass like a sheep until it saw its reflection in water. Similarly, this article is a reflection on our situation as women in ancient India so that, instead of still pondering about our rights, we realize that we are lions with high status and responsibility bestowed upon us.
In Vedic times women had enjoyed great privileges. Women are superior to men, says Veda Vyasar. In Brihadaranyaka upanishad, the philosophical debate of Gargi and Maitreyi with the King Yajnavalkya is an indisputable example of how ancient society was open-minded about educating women. In Ramayana, Sita exemplified her knowledge in Raaja-Dharma when she advised Ravana to join hands with Rama as a friend (Mithra maupayikam karthum Raamaha) rather than telling him to fall at Rama’s feet. Even when a king had committed the most horrible sin in his life, one should never humiliate him vis-a-vis another king through such an act. This is Raaja-Dharma. Also, Sita’s greatness is that she had remained committed to dharma at all costs in spite of her plight in Ashoka Vanam.
The word “Sagadharmacharini” refers to women. This means that she is the one who leads the family in dharma marga (righteous way). In Ramayana, when Janaka handed over his beloved daughter in marriage to Rama, he said “Iyam sita mama sutha saha dharma chari tava” – which means that ‘Hey Rama, my daughter Sita will ever walk with you on the path of dharma.’ Here, it also implies that his daughter would support Rama only in His lawful conduct, not otherwise.
Sita expressed her false wrath when none of her pleas brought any change in Rama’s stance to leave her in Ayodhya. ‘Oh, Rama! my father, the king of Mithila would think that he has got a woman in a man’s garb as his son-in-law’ (sthreeyam purusha vigraham) she chided. What a disagreeable word to be said to Purushottama! By doing so, she upheld her supreme dharma of service to her husband in the forest.
Women like Tara (wife of monkey King Vali) and Mandodari (wife of Ravana) manifest intelligence, courage, beauty, and chastity. Both had offered timely advice to their husbands who recklessly rejected it and therefore suffered the consequences. This counters the stereotyping of women as being blind devoted to their husbands.
Fearless and Strong
In the epic period, women had exhibited their bravery and martial arts in warfare. Queen Kaikeyi had accompanied King Dasaratha to the battlefield. During the battle when Dasaratha’s chariot wheel became loose, Kaikeyi put her little finger in the axle and drove the chariot to a safer place. She swiftly repaired the broken wheel and nursed the wounded king, thus helping him to win the battle.
Queen Sumitra (King Dasaratha’s third wife) displays Paraupakara chinthanam (selflessness) when Lakshmana proceeds with Rama to the forest. She said: “Srashtathvam vana vaasaaya” (Oh Lakshmana, I’ve been waiting for this day for the past 25 years!), and added, “My dear son! consider Rama to be Dasaratha, daughter of Janaka as myself, consider the forest as Ayodhya and depart happily.”
In Pursuit of Justice
King Parikshit mentions that in places where a woman is humiliated, where she has been hammered with harsh words and where misdeeds happen to her, there resides Kali (dark age). Literary evidences also suggest that kings and towns were destroyed because a woman was not treated right. For instance, Valmiki’s Ramayana teaches us that Ravana and his entire clan were wiped out because he abducted Sita. The humiliation of Draupadi led to Kurukshetra war and the destruction of the Kaurava clan.
As Sonya Friedman put it, ‘The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.’ So let thoughts, behaviours and decisions reflect one’s true self. And let’s not confine the jubilation to just a day or a week; rather celebrate women’s day daily – with the affection, respect and love which they truly deserve.
* Published in print edition on 8 March 2019