Report No. 66
III. The Vedic Period
3.7. First period (4000 B.C. to 1500 B.C.).-
By common consent, the first period is a glorious chapter in the social history of India. The Vedas themselves are rich in their description of natural phenomena, in their inspiring invocations of the deities belonging to the pantheon as conceived by the Aryans, and in the full-blooded images of all that gave them delight or captured their fancy. In the expression of man's sense of awe and thrill at the beautiful, the wondrous and the magnificent, they have never been surpassed, and rarely been equalled. This deep interest in nature, and this capacity for soul-stirring delineations of all that they perceived or imagined, bespeak a healthy society.
Society in that age was predominantly agricultural, but not necessarily primitive. Women enjoyed equal status with men.1 The "initiation" ceremony ("Upanayana"-literally, taking near the teacher's house), was performed for girls as well as for boys. Women studied the Vedas, and even composed Vedic hymns.2 In public life, they participated freely. Monogamy was the general rule, and the wife of a householder had an honourable place. There were certain disabilities regarding the proprietary rights of women, but this was primarily due to the fact that the Aryans were just settling down, and were not sure that women could defend their property against hostile races.3
The position of women in India in the Vedic age was far from being analogous to what it usually was in early uncivilized societies.
1. Altekar Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, (1956), p. 409 and pp. 335-339.
2. Para. 3.8, infra.
3. Altekar Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, (1956), p. 409.
The Rig Veda1 clearly shows that the Aryan bride was an adult. The ideal marriage of the Vedic period was a religious sacrament, which made the couple joint owners of the household-which is evident from the etymological meaning of the Vedic word "Dampati".2 The old tradition that the wife was the property of the husband had not yet completely died down; the famous hymn about gambling in the Rig Veda3 shows that sometimes confirmed gamblers would take away their wives to their opponents. But the advice given to the gambler in this hymn, shows that social conscience had already begun to disapprove of this practice. These are the verses4 relevant to gamblers:
"10. The deserted wife of the gamester is afflicted: the mother (grieves) for the son wandering wherever he likes; involved in debt, even in fear, anxious for wealth, (the gambler) goes forth by night to the dwellings of others (to plunder).".
"11. The gamester, having observed the happy wife and well-ordered home of others, suffers regret: yet in the forenoon he puts to the tawny steeds, and at night the sinner lies down by the fire."
The position of women, then, was satisfactory. Ordinarily, girls were, no doubt, less welccime then boys, for economic reasons. But, there were also some parents in society who would perform special religious rituals for getting learned and capable daughters. This is evident from the text of one of the Upanishads.5 Girls were educated like boys and had to pass through a period of Brahmacharya. The marriage of girls used to take place at fairly advanced age, the normal age being 16 or 17 years.6
1. Rig Veda, X. 85.42.46.
2- nEirh] Altekar Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, Chapter on married life.
3. Rig Veda, X. 38.
4. Rig Veda. X. 3.5, Verses 10-11, H.H. Wilson (Ed.), Rig Veda, (1928), Vol. 6, p. 57.
5. Brih. Up, VI, 4, 27.
6. Altekar Position of Woman in Hindu Civilization, Chapter on Childhood and Education.
3.8. We read of women being conceded the highest intellectual honours1 in the ancient past, particularly during the Vedic period. For example, three classes of hymns have been attributed to women in the Rig Veda and the Upanishads.2 Certain hymns belong entirely to female "Rishis" certain hymns are partly chanted by them, and about a few hymns, there is some uncertainty. In the first group, we can certainly3 include Vishvavara and Apala.4 To the second group belong Lopamudra and Shashiyasi5-to mention only two examples. In the third group-to take one example-falls the hymn of Ghosha, a leper maiden, who is believed to have been cured of the disease by the divine physicians and composed hymns in their houour.6-7
In another Vedic hymn, Vak (Speech personified) is described as a "Queen of Gods".8 She is said to be the daughter of the sage Ambhrina. Vak is the "word", the first creation and representative of the spirit, and the means of communication between men and Gods.9
She describes one of her qualities in these inspiring words10-
"3. I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.
Thus Gods have established me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.
4. Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them-each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken.
They know it, but yet they dwell beside me. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it."
1. Padmini Sen Gupta The Story of Women of India, (1974), p. 42.
2. Shakuntala Rao Sastri Women in the Vedic Age, pp. 25, 26.
3. Rig Veda, Book V. 28, and VII. 91.
4. Rig Veda, Book VIII. Hymn 80.
5. Rig Veda, Book I. 179, 1 and 2, and Rig Veda V, 62, 5-8.
6. Rig Veda, Book V. 39, X, Hymns 39-40.
7. For an exhaustive list see R.K. Mookarji Ancient Indian Education (Macmillan 1951), P. 51.
8. Rig Veda, Book VIII, Hymn 89, Verse 10; Ralph Griffith Hymns of the Veda (Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies Series No. XXXV) (1363), Vol. II, p. 251.
9. Ralph Griffith Hymns of the Veda (Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies Series, No. XXXV, (1963), Vol. II, p. 571, footnote.
10. Rig Veda, Book X, Hymn 125, Verses 3 and 4; Ralph Griffith Hymns of the Rig Veda (Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies Series, No. XXXV), (1963), Vol. 11, p. 571.
3.8A. From one of the inscriptions in the Bharhut sculptures (2nd century B.C.),1 it would appear that some of the pupils of an ascetic were rishis.2
1. R.K. Mukerjee Ancient Indian Education, (Macmillan 1951), plate No. 1, facing p. 68 (Hermitages in Bharbut sculptures).
2. Caunningham's view, referred to by R.K. Mukherjee.