Women in Indian culture
Women as strong ideals
By Stephen Knapp
In the Vedic tradition it is common to see the pairing of the Vedic male gods with a female counterpart, thus combining both sets of powers and qualities that each would have. We can easily see this in Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Lakshmi-Vishnu, Durga-Shiva, Sarasvati-Brahma, Indrani-Indra, etc. Thus, we have the combination of male and female divinities that make the complete balance in the divine spiritual powers.
Through the medium of pure affection, the feminine divinities have been able to break down the most powerful citadels known to creation, especially those of evil. The divine mystery of life is that the most powerful forces of the universe are subjugated by love, and that love is most completely channeled through the feminine energy and personality.
For example, ?Durga? means the one who is difficult to know. Yet, being considered the mother of the universe, or the personification of the material energy, we as her children can approach her through love. And she will respond with love.
Also, out of love the Goddess took the form of Mahishasuramardini, or the one who destroyed the dark demon known as Mahishasura. She was generated out of the anger and potency of Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, and others, and was the combination of their powers.
They could not defeat the demon, but the Goddess could. Symbolically, Durga can destroy the demonic darkness of ignorance and the quality of laziness within each of us.
Another example is when Durga expressed her love and care to the gods and humanity by manifesting herself as Kaushika Durga, also called Ambika. By her beauty she attracted the demons Shumba and Nishumba to her. Thus, they would not disturb the rest of creation. Then from her forehead she manifested herself as the dark Goddess Kali who killed all the demons. In this way, through love the divine feminine potency takes on forms to alleviate powerful disturbances in the universe and within us.
From the ideal spiritual world, we can see Her divine reflection mirrored here in this relative world in all that is feminine, beautiful and pure. By being conscious and aware of such qualities, we can perceive the spiritual dimension pervading and flowing throughout this temporary material universe.
Out of love also the divine feminine potency manifests as Srimati Radharani, the consort of Lord Sri Krishna. One of her many names is Janagati, which means the Goddess of all goddesses. She is the origin of the divine feminine love and beauty, and the epitome of devotion to the Supreme Being. Thus, from the ideal spiritual world, we can see Her divine reflection mirrored here in this relative world in all that is feminine, beautiful and pure. By being conscious and aware of such qualities, we can perceive the spiritual dimension pervading and flowing throughout this temporary material universe. Thus, we recognise the very qualities of the divine persons from whom they originate in the spiritual world. We humans are but limited reflected forms of the divine couples. This is why Vedic tradition placed much value in honoring and worshiping the divine feminine nature along with the masculine – one without the other is incomplete. This is one of the unique traits that distinguishes Vedic culture from others.
Examples in Vedic history have shown that all women should be respected and honored for the potential and talent they can provide to keep the family together, as well as bare and raise children, but also for the many women who have taken up the cause to preserve, protect and carry on the spiritual standards found in Vedic culture.
This shows that we should not diminish the potential that women have to be strong advocates of the Vedic principles. We should not discriminate and think that women have less to offer. In this world we need people to help in all areas and all levels of life to protect Vedic knowledge and traditions, and women have a very important part to play. As we said, they are usually the first inspiration and first teachers of our children. So many of the great men who have become powerful proponents of Sanatana-dharma also had strong and inspiring mothers or wives.
So, you never know who among the women in society, or among our daughters we are raising that may become the next Savitri, Draupadi or Anasuya. Also, you never know who among the boys that the women may raise may become a great Vedic saint or scholar or stalwart protector of our culture. We must look upon everyone as if they have that potential. Another great person may appear, be it man or woman, who will emerge from among us. We need to arrange for that possibility to happen by giving all women and children the necessary facility and training.
Every girl should have the opportunity to learn spirituality along with modern education to help her reach her full potential. Of course, this can also be said of boys. No one is born hating another, but this is learned in materialistic societies from wrong association. Only later in life does a person learn the ways of liking their own kind and disliking anyone who seems different. Genuine spiritual knowledge is the alternative to bring a change in such a society and stop the hate.
It is primitive customs as well as sexist inventions in modern but materialistic societies that force social trends to limit, subjugate or even exploit women. Such a society does not allow the strength or ingenuity of women to arise or be recognised, at least not without a struggle both inside the mind of women and outside in the field of activity and occupation. Women need to muster the strength to overcome such limitations. It is not that the world does not need nurturing and healing right now, which is a common and normal trait in women. After all, how many times do we hear of women being accused of rape, or child abuse and molestation, or kidnaping and murder? These are mostly the crimes of men, imbalanced men but men nonetheless. There is also a connection between the way men destroy the environment (Mother Nature) and their exploitative attitude toward women. This must be corrected.
We should not diminish the potential that women have to be strong advocates of the Vedic principles.
A faulty beginning or childhood, as well as exposure to thoughts and ideas and indoctrinations of one'slimitations rather than of one'ssuperior potential is one of the reasons why women lose their ability, means or motivation for higher accomplishments in life.
This often causes their spirit of achievement and contribution to be squelched. This only adds to the struggle of women which is often passed along from one generation to the next. Thus, all of society loses the capabilities that women could otherwise attain and provide.
Harmony needs to be restored between the masculine and feminine natures, which are especially exhibited in the relations between men and women. This can be done most effectively through genuine spiritual development, when both masculine and feminine natures become balanced and complimentary rather than competitive. This can harmonise not only the external relations between people, but also the feminine and masculine tendencies within each individual, both men and women. By genuine spiritual progress we can rise above our bodily material identities and work with and compliment the talents and abilities of others, regardless of whether they are men or women.
We must know that within each body is a spirit soul that is no different than our own. By that I mean that we must recognise that on the platform of spiritual reality there is no difference between one soul and the next, no matter whether the external body is male or female. But while we are in this world and in different types of bodies, we can work cooperatively for our survival and for harmony among us, and use our naturally varied talents together. Women can do what they do best and men can do what they do best. This certainly makes it easier for all to live peacefully rather than in competition, aggression, envy and prejudice. We all have something for which we can be appreciated. We only need the right opportunity to bring that out.
One difference that we often see between men and women is that there is often nothing harder to penetrate than the typical male ego, which often causes men to hesitate to show any weakness and to make a show of a tough exterior, while women often respond easily to love with love. However, love and compassion are not meant to be exhibited only by women or mothers. It is a state of being, a level of consciousness. It is an exhibition of one'sspiritual development to feel care and concern, compassion and love for each and every being. And this concern is natural for both men and women who have reached this level of spiritual awareness. This is what is needed to help bring more peace and cooperation in the world, and another reason for protecting and emphasising the traditional standards of spiritual understanding as found in the teachings of Santana-Dharma.