Friday, August 5, 2011

Should women not chant Vedas? (part-3)

Other parts of this series can be read here: Part 1  Part 2  Part 4   Part 5

We are now going to see whether
there were any stipulations in vogue
regarding recital of vedas.
If so, what are they?

Ramanuja in his Bhashya to the very first sutra of
Brahma sutras, namely 'Then, therefore, the inquiry
into the Brahman',
speaks elaborately about the need
to learn the Sruti texts (just recitation) before
taking up any analysis of the nature of Brahman. It is
like this. The learning in those days consisted of two
parts, the study of Purva Mimamsa and
Utthara mimamsa.
The former is known as Karma khandam and the latter,
Gyaana khandam. The former is about learning by heart
the various verses chanted during various sacrifices
etc, commonly known as 'works' (karma yogam). The
latter is about discussions on meditations (upasana),
which are connected with works. They are of the
nature of knowledge of Brahman.

Various commentators including Ramanuja, while
analysing the import of terms 'then' and 'therefore'
in this sutra, have given different opinions. If we
rely on Adi Shankara, the analysis that I have undertaken
would become hassle-free. Because, Shankara does not
see the recital or the chanting of Vedas as mandatory
or compulsory for one who wishes to take up Gyana
khandam. All that one has to possess to pursue the
analysis of Brahman are 4 in number. They are (1)
discrimination between things permanent and
transcient, (2) renunciation of the enjoyment of work
in this world and next, (3) the six treasures, viz.,
sama, dama, uparati, titiksA, samAdhAna and shraddha
and (4) an intense desire for liberation.

But Ramanuja thinks that any person wishing to pursue
the knowledge of Brahman
must first learn to chant the
Vedas (swadhyayam).
He thinks that learning Vedas is a
Samskaara (refinement or exaltation of excellence) and
Swadhyaaya forms the object of Samskaara.
is quoted to substantiate this.

He says memory forms the core ingredient for acquiring
. And memory is best toned when the saadhaka
is involved in constant practice of manana of the
What he gains by reciting Vedas is an
enhancement of mental reception
. "Mental reception of
a collection of syllables" and the remembrance by
listening to "the recitation by the teacher followed
by the after-recitation (by the pupil)"
help in better
memory. "
The memory becomes firm; when such memory is
obtained, there is the loosening of all knots
", says
Chandogya (VII-26-2).

"For constant remembrance, sacrifices etc are the
means. This constant remembrance, which is the same as
knowing, practiced throughout life, is the only means
to the realization of Brahman and all duties
prescribed for various stages of life (ashrama) have
to be observed only for the origination of knowledge."

"By this all previous sins (death) which obstruct the
origination of knowledge are destroyed. "By the
performance of duties, sins are destroyed."

Gitacharyan says this when He said that Janaka
attained perfection only by 'works' (karma yogam)
Ramanuja gives copious quotes to substantiate that
recital of Vedas must precede or is antecedent to
Gyana khandam or inquiry into Brahman.

He also draws quotes from Satapatha Brahmana and Manu
to say how the learning must begin. It is
invariably about the
Gurukula vaasam that is to begin
when the person is 8 years of age. Ramanuja tells in
detail the age, the season, the auspicious dates and
other related information about how a person must
begin his learning of Vedas.

This at one stroke strikes down the chances of a girl
doing the learning
. It was impossible for a girl of 8
years in those days to be left in the Gurukul for a
period of 8 to 12 years (the education had varied
between these years). Ramanuja insists that such
learning as per ashrama dharma was necessary, because
that is what scriptures say.

This is the core reason why women could not
and did not take up learning of the Vedas. Since
acquiring knowledge of the Brahman necessitated
learning / chanting Vedas, women in general were not
able to do this.

In Ramanuja's words, "Knowledge which is the means of
attaining the Brahman desiderates all the works
enjoined in connection with the various ashramas
(stages of life).
Hence as the knowledge of the true
nature of the works so desiderated and also the
knowledge of the small and impermanent character of
the results of mere works are (both) conclusively
dealt with in the Karma mimamsa – that mimamsa alone
has to be mentioned as the necessary antecedent of the
inquiry into Brahman."
(It is also meant hereby that
when a person learns to recite the manthras for
sacrifices, he eventually comes to know that the
results of these sacrifices are not permanent and
that upasana of the Brahman alone is capable of giving
permanent and highest result namely, Release / Moksha.)

Thus it is not about the gender but about how the
process must be undertaken, that women stood to lose
the chance to learn Vedas
. In fact women were (are)
never at a disadvantage when it comes to the
propensity to learn or know. That they are endowed
with special qualities has been underlined by
Gitacharyan Himself.

While speaking about His
vibhUthi, Krishna speaks in
single term with reference to the collective term He
takes up- but the exception is in the case of women.
When He tells about men, He makes a general
reference to Himself as being the king among men
(narANAm narAdhipam –BG -10-27). But He tells about 7
unique qualities when He positions Himself among
nArINAm (women) (verse 10-34)

He says, '
Among women, I am fame (kIrthi), prosperity
(srI), speech (vAk), memory (smrti), intelligence
(mEdhA), endurance (Dhrti) and forgiveness (kshamA)."
All the qualities required for learning karma khanda
and gyana khanda as well are to be found in these
qualities in women
. The way the Lord in an
extraordinary way tells about these qualities, goes to
prove that He is indeed pleased about these qualities
in women and about women in exhibiting these
qualities. It must be stressed here that He has not
elaborated like this in any other personification of
Himself while expressing His VibhUthi yogam.

Another unique feature that needs attention is the
positioning of this view in the same verse (and)
after telling about Himself vis-à-vis Death and Birth.
After saying "I am also Death which snatches all away.
I am the origin of all that shall be born", He
continues to tell who He is among women. Why did He
incorporate the former term in this verse, which looks
mis-placed? All along we find a methodical build-up of
references in this chapter. Why didn't He club the
death-birth reference along with say, the one on

If we try to read His mind, a couple of reasons
appear. First
, it seems that to overcome the cycle of
birth and death, the nArINAm qualities (mentioned as
7, symbolizing 7 worlds) are essential
. Second, it is
she from whom life originates and it is she who is
also capable of destroying anything, both good and bad
depending on how she behaves
. Added to this propensity
are the 7 qualities which are the basis of overcoming
both death and birth!

(To be continued)

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