Hinduism, when put through today’s lens of “liberalism” shines brightly in all respects, even in its very raw form thousands of years ago. Ancient India, especially the early Vedic age had an abundance of moral and liberal values prevailing in the society, something that is unimaginable in today’s world. Gender Equality was one among many such values that was inculcated into the society and practiced as a norm.
Almost all scholars today agree without a doubt that women in ancient India held an elevated position. Women were provided with the same level of education as men and could be a part of religious or philosophical debates. They were encouraged to wear the sacred thread(janaeu) before they started their study of the Vedas and other holy scriptures.
Women could freely choose to learn the scriptures and contribute towards literature or get coached in martial arts and become a Kshatriya. Hinduism has innumerable examples of women warriors, philosophers, administrators, gurus(teachers) and saints.
Nirmal Laungani, a Hongkong businessman and researcher writes:
“Many of the Vedic rishis were women. Married and single women alike were acknowledged authorities on the Vedic wisdom. The prophetess Gargi composed several Vedic hymns questioning the origin of all existence. Other Vedic hymns are attributed to Vishwawara, Sikta and others. The Rig Veda identifies many women rishis; indeed, it contains dozens of verses accredited to the woman philosopher Ghosha and to the great Maitreyi, who rejected half her husband Yajnavalkya’s wealth in favor of spiritual knowledge. It also contains long philosophical conversations between the sage Agasthya and his highly educated wife Lopamudra.”
Rig Veda glorifies women like no other. There are many verses that praise women. One example –
Rigveda 7.78.3: We can see brilliant women enlightening society with their noble qualities right in front of us. They have given birth to the sun of knowledge and fire of noble actions. Due to their glory, the darkness of ignorance, sins and negativity is destroyed.
Another example is the 10th chapter of the Rigveda which asserts the feminine to be the supreme principle behind all of the cosmos, in a hymn called as Devi Sukta.
Yajur Veda (20.84) says “The scholarly woman purifies our lives with her intellect. Through her actions, she purifies our actions. Through her knowledge and action, she promotes virtue and efficient management of society.”
Hindu god Lord Shiva is considered to be the “Ardhanaareshwar” meaning he is half ‘man’ and half ‘woman’. It can be envisioned as an amalgamation of Shiva -‘Matter’ and Shakti -‘Energy’, giving equal importance to both! Vedas provide an idea that we individual souls are neither male nor female. Hinduism teaches that each of us passes through many lives, both male and female. The law of karma, which informs us that what we do to others will in turn be done to us—and that ahimsa, non-hurtfulness, must be the guiding precept of our lives. Hence, it is crystal clear in our Vedas; Hinduism gives no justification for the mistreatment of others, whether on the basis of gender or for any other reason.
Girls are revered as forms of Goddess Lakshmi, but boys on the other hand are not very correspondingly revered as forms of Rama or Krishna. In the Punjabi, Sindhi, and many other Indian communities, girls are not supposed to touch the feet of their parents; instead, on occasions like Navaratri, everyone including parents and entire family touch the feet of the girls.
Hinduism has allotted a sacred status for women and worship her as a supreme being. No other major religions of the world attribute the same status to women or Goddesses. They are all male god centric while Hindus have built innumerous shrines and temples across the length and breadth of India.
It is very evident that ancient Indians practiced the so-called today’s liberal value of gender equality since ages. However, society has undergone a change with many many years of foreign attacks, loot, conversion and violence. It’s in our hands to rebuild the society and follow the enlightened path of our glorious fore-fathers and mothers.