Children, women have played an instrumental role in the ancient Bharat. Be it literature, mythology or spiritualism, their influence cannot be overlooked. In spite of the prevailing patriarchal system, many women broke the stereotypes and made phenomenal contributions even in the fields considered as the exclusive preserve of men. Their courage, conviction, wisdom and sacrifice still stand unmatched.
Evidence suggest that women have completely changed the path of history as they havewon wars.Yet,only a few of them find a passing mention in the pages of history while most of them remaining unsung. Amongst them are female scholars like Gargi and Maitreyi who challenged the prevailing culture that kept women at a disadvantage. Then there are women like Tara, Mandodari, Urmila and Satyawati, who were instrumental in deciding the course of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Despite facing hardships and opposition,these women were not afraid to stand for themselves and also for what they felt was right.
Today, at the time of this heightened worldwide sense of awareness to the challenges, struggles and achievements of women , Organiser pays a tribute to some of these great women characters who had significant roles to play in ancient history. As we dust the ancient memoirs and attempt to bring out personality nuances of 12 of these women who took the road less travelled by. We also hope to bring to light all that which makes them special even today.
( To be concluded )
URMILA wanted to accompany Lakshman during the exile but he advised her to stay back as he wanted to remain awake and alert to protect Sri Ram and Sita. He requested Goddess of Sleep to approach Urmila, who accepted the burden of Lakshman’s share of sleep. Being a devoted wife , she slept throughout the fourteen years, waking up only when Lakshman returned to Ayodhya. In fact, Lakshman could defeat Meghnadh, the son of Ravan as he had a boon that only a man of such penance could defeat him. Thus Urmila extreme sacrifice aided Sri Ram’s triumph against Ravan.
GARGI hailed from a lineage of great sages like Ganga and Vachaknu. She displayed her intellectual prowess from a very young age. Her knowledge and expertise in Vedas and Upanishads was such that she surpassed distinguished male philosophers with her evocative and eloquent debates and reasoning. She was invited to the world’s first conference on philosophy hoisted by King Janaka, which took place 3,000 years ago.Amidst several learned scholars she was the only lady who had who had the confidence to challenge Yajnavalkya, the wisest in the gathering. Her barrage of pointed questions even managed to ruffle the feathers of the well-composed Yajnavalkya.
MAITREYI was raised by her aunt Gargi, a Vedic scholar and imbibed philosophy very early in life. Maitreyi became the second wife of the renowned sage and philosopher, Yajnavalkya. She didn’t want to marry Yajnavalkya so much as she wanted to become his disciple and a spiritual consort. When Yajnavalkya decide to become a sanyasi and was dividing his property between the two wives, Maitreyi decided to forego her share and preferred his spiritual knowledge instead. Later, she took sanyas and spent the rest of her life spreading her spiritual knowledge.
AVVAIYAR was the court poet of the Chola monarch . In the medieval times when widows were kept outside from the purview of society ,Avvaiyar travelled from one village to another , influencing and helping to build fortitude for people with her talent. She was nick named as ‘ the poetess who sang for the gruel’ because she shared the gruel of the poor farmers and composed songs for their enjoyment and learning. Her fondness for children and the songs she composed for them speak volumes on her repertoire. Her work has been incorporated in children’s textbook Aathichoodi which consists of one liners that encourage children to walk the path of truth , humility and righteousness.
AMBA Mahabharata depicts Amba as a fierce and independent woman savagely seeking revenge on Bhishma. Innumer-able rejections including that of her lover, left her heart broken but strong- willed in channelising them to reach her goal . Her austere penance pleased Lord Shiva who granted her wish to be born as a man in her next birth and avenge Bhishma. Without any hesitation she jumped into the fire in order to be reborn as Shikhandi. Bhishma was fated to meet his end at the hands of Shikhandi at the battle of Kurukshetra.
UBHAYA BHARATI preached that only after removing the soot of ego covering the mind, one could behold the light of atma. When she was chosen as an adjudicator in a debate between her husband and Adi Shankara, it was decided that her husband would take sanyas if he were to be defeated. She objectively listened to the debate and impartially declared Shankara as the winner. Thereafter, she challenged him that only after defeating her in the debate can he claim complete triumph over her husband and went on to engage the great Adi Shankara in the philosophical debate for 17 days.