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Women and Vedas

Professor Vasudha Narayanan


Respected Guardians of our Ancient Faith:

It is with great respect and with utmost humility that I write to you. You have devoted your lives to taking care of the spiritual lives of the people and to help those in need, in the tradition of the great souls who lit the path for us in the past.

Our great tradition has had the distinction of having many great women vidushis and brahmavadinis. The names of Ghosha, Apala, and Lopamudra illumine our Vedas; Gargi and Maitreyi have been renowned in the Upanishads. In the Sri Vaishnava tradition of Sriman Ramanujacharya, Tirukkoneri Dasyai was a most eloquent commentator of the Tamil Veda, the Tiruvaymozhi, elucidating it with choice quotations from the samhitas and upanishads. Through the centuries, women have been sustainers of our tradition, transmitting it to generations. Now, our tradition is threatened, both from outside and inside. There are outside dangers. A steady, pervasive culture of materialism makes the charavaka philosophy seem like it is the most relevant one for millions of people. Second, people of other faith think that those whom we neglect or do not treat equally are those they can turn away from Hinduism. Within the religion there are those who do not give our dharma the attention and respect thinking it is irrelevant for our times. Young men want to pursue anything but a traditional education; children of our learned scholars want to get an education that will give them well paying jobs in large companies.

Please permit our women to safeguard our tradition in the ways that they think they are best suited to do. Our women are well aware of western culture and even western religion--can we not open the doors of our own scripture and our own tradition to our women? Sometimes, we even praise western scholars who study our Vedas; yet we do not want to share it with our women. Those women who are inclined to bhakti can follow that path; those who want to surrender to the Lord can do that. But can you, with your wisdom and compassion, also encourage those women who have a propensity for learning our eternal Vedas to do so? Our literature speaks of women who have been learned in the Vedas in the past. Can we not make our women of today the inheritors of the treasures of our tradition and become well versed in sacred texts if they so choose to do so? Other religions are only now struggling with issues of women's equality; our religion had these learned women many millennia ago. Can we not revive our own traditions of wisdom?

Our dharma shastras wisely give four sources of dharma. I respectfully appeal to our conscience and to the sadachara of the distant past to see if we can reinstitute a tradition of learning that makes me proud everytime I think or talk of it. This acknowledgment of our women's eligibility to study our scripture will be one important step in the safeguarding of our tradition.

Thanking you,

Respectfully,

Vasudha Narayanan


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