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|The Role of Women in Hinduism|
There is a great Hindu saying 'where women are worshipped there the gods dwell'. Indeed, in a home where peace, prosperity and harmony prevail there the woman is considered to be Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and wealth. When she imparts knowledge and wisdom, especially to her young children, she is considered to be the goddess of learning, Saraswati. In the way she runs the household she is considered the goddess of power, Parvati. These three are also consorts to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The mother God, Shakti, comes before this Trinity, so in mythological literature women are held in very high esteem. She is half of man, Ardhangini, as described in Hindu scriptures. Man's moral and psychological personality is imperfect without her. She is his constant companion and consort, sharing with him his joys and sorrows and assisting him in his life's mission of attaining the final bliss of emancipation.
Whilst this was the traditionally held view in the Vedic times, there has been a downgrading of women's status in the modern 'post-Vedic' era. This has been due to a misinterpretation of religious texts, especially the Law Books of Manu (Manu Smriti) which quite clearly state that men and women are equal as sons and daughters' (Manu Smriti 9-13 I). Friedrich Nietzsche, a Western philosopher and spiritualist, says: 'I know of no book in which so many tender and kind remarks are addressed to woman as in the Law Book of Manu; these old grey-bearded saints have a way of being polite to women which has perhaps never been surpassed.'
We know that in Vedic times scholarly women existed and were respected by society, were equal in their rights, privileges and duties. Maitreyi, Gargi, Ansuya and Arundhati are household names from this period. The relegation of women to a lower order has been a universal phenomenon; in India the oppression of women increased during the Moghul rule. Women were put on a pedestal in Hinduism but at the same time their 'freedom' was curtailed for the sake of protection.