As women were epitomes of spiritual attainments in the Vedic period when Rishikas were as revered as Rishis, it’s evident that there was gender equality then, says ATMAPRAJNANANDA SARASWATI
Throughout the ages, Rishis have been highly revered. Persons in the Rigveda who had intuitive and special experiences are called Rishis. The Vedic mantras are the records of the spiritual realisations and experiences of the Rishis, who had revelations or hearings.
They are called Seers (mantra-drashtärah), because they literally see the actions of the cosmic powers. A Rishi is a person (man or woman) of contemplation. He/she was perhaps not necessarily a scholar or an intellectual, but had access to intuition, inspiration and other superior modes of knowledge.
Women of the Vedic period (around 4500-2500 BCE) were epitomes of spiritual attainments. The Vedas have volumes to say about these women. The gender discrimination is a later phenomenon. Gradually a general opinion was formed that women are not adhikäris for the study of the Vedas.
Such an injunction is not available in the Vedas. Many non-Vedic as well as Vedic scholars may not know that there are at least twenty-seven women mantra-drashtärah in the Rigveda. Being able to see a mantra has nothing to with somebody’s gender. In this article, a list of women Rishikäs, and the mantras seen by them are being provided for the benefit of the readers.
Of the 400 Rshis in Rigveda Samhitä who were seers of 10,552 mantras, at least 27 are women. This includes Rishikäs, such as Vägämbhrni (seer of RV X.125) Süryä Sävitri (RV X.85), Ghoshä Kakshivati (RV X.39 and RV X.40), Aditi Däkshäyani (RV X.72), Apälä Ätreyi (RV VIII.91), Dakshinä Präjäpatyä (RV X.107), among others.
A Rishikä is identified by two names, her own name, and that of her father or lineage (gotra). Thus, the daughter of Rishi Kakshivän is Ghoshä Käkshivati, who is the Rshikä of RV X.39 and X.40. Rishikä Apälä Ätreyi is the daughter of Rishi Ätreya. Rishikä Yami Vaivasvati is the daughter of Vivasvän. Rishikä Sasvati Ängirasi is the daughter of Rishi Angiras. Rishikä Dakshinä Präjäpatyä is the daughter of Prajäpati. Rishikä/s Sikhandini Kasyapi are the two daughters of Rishi Kasyapa. Rishikä Saci Paulomi is the daughter of the demon king Puloma. The name of the Rishi indicates the gender clearly.
Who is a Rishi?
As per definition, yasya väkyam sa rshi. (yä tenocyate sä devatä). Thus in Yami-Yami-Samväda, and Purüravä-Urvasi-Samväda, they are mutually Rishi and Devatä.
Saunaka has divided the Rshikäs in three groups in his text Brhaddevatä.
First Group, who praised the Deities
Ghoshä Kakshivati, a princess, daughter of Kakshivän – X.39 (14 mantras), X.40 (14 mantras), Godhä – X.134.7 (1 mantra) + Sämaveda (1½ mantra), Visvavära Ätreyi – V.28 (6 mantras), Apälä Ätreyi (daughter of Atri) – VIII.91 (7 mantras), Juhü-Brahmajäyä (wife of Brhaspati) – X.109 (7 mantras), Agastya-svasä (sister of Agastya) – X.60.6 (1 mantra), Aditi or Aditi-Däkshyäyani – IV.18.2nd half of 4 & 7 (2 ½ mantras) and X.72 (9 mantras).
Second Group, who conversed with the Seers and Deities
Indräni (consort of Indra) – X.86 (12 mantras), X.145 (6 mantras) (sapatni-bädhana), Indramätarah (mothers of Indra) – X.153 (5 mantras), Saramä Devasuné – X.108 (6 mantras), (Saramä-Pani-Saàväda), Romasä (daughter of Brhaspati and wife of King Svanaya Bhävayava) – I.126.7 (1 mantra), Urvasé (a celestial nymph) – X.95 (8 mantras) (Purüravä-Urvasé-Samväda), Lopämudrä (wife of Agastya) – I.179.1 & 2 (2 mantras), Nadyah (the Rivers) – III.33, Yami Vaivasvati (sister of Yama) – X.10 (8 mantras – Yama-Yami Samväda), X.154 (5 mantras), Sasvati Ängirasi (daughter of Angiras, wife of Äsanga) – VIII.1.34 (1 mantra).
Third Group, who praised the Self (Ätmastuti)
Särparäjni – X.189 (3 mantras), Vägämbhrni – X.125 (8 mantras) (Devi Süktam – chanted in Durgäsapatasati Candi), Sraddhä Kämäyani – X.151 (5 mantras) (Sraddhä Süktam), Dakshinä Präjäpatyä – X.107 (11 mantras), Rätri-Bhäradväji – X.127 (8 mantras) (Rätri Süktam – also chanted in Durgäsapatasati Candi), Süryä Sävitri (daughter of Sürya) – X.85 (47 mantras) (used in Vedic wedding even now).
Some of the Rishikäs not listed in Brhaddevatä are: Saci Paulomi – X.159 (6 mantras), Shikhandini Kasyapi IX.104 (6 mantras), Vasukrapatni Indrasnushä (wife of Vasukra, daughter-in-law of Indra) X.28.1 (1 mantra), Sikatä-Nivävari IX.86.11-20, Prsniyojäh IX.86.31-40.
Few of these Rishikäs are there in the Yajurveda and Sämaveda also, but it is mostly repetition of their mantras in the Rigveda.
Indräni’s Sapatibädhana-Upanishat and Saci Paulomi’s Ätmastuti are in the same spirit, to subdue the rival co-wives and obtain the affection of her consort Indra. Ghoshä desires a married life, and prays to the Asvins, Apälä is married, but deserted and seeks to be reunited with her husband. Sasvati Ängirasi is happy to get back her husband. Lopämudrä seeks conjugal bliss.
Sraddhä and Dakshinä complement each other. Sraddhä Kämäyani extols the attitude of sraddhä, and Dakshinä Präjäpatyä praises charitable donors. Vägämbhrni’s Devi-Süktam is the free expression of her enlightenment, which can be compared to Vämadeva’s aham manur-abhavam, süryascäham in RV IV.26.1, or Trisanku’s aham vrkshasya rerivä in Taittiriya Upanishad I.10.
The details of Süryä-Sävitri-Süktam or the Wedding Hymn are vividly descriptive, very beautiful, and touching. The additional mantras in the Atharvaveda are an admirable supplement. It shows that the Vedic society desired and lived a complete life with celebration in this planet, and did not want to blow it up in search of afterlife, which became the theme of the Upanishads.
It is admirable that the mantras have not been deleted by anyone until now. It is a wonder that some of the self-appointed custodians of our culture claim that women are not adhikäris to learn the Vedas, when we have had Rishikäs. What other proof do we need to establish that the knowledge of the Vedas or Upanishads (containing brahmavidyä) is available to all, irrespective of gender?
(Featured Image Courtesy: myindiamyglory.com)
A Ph.D. in Sanskrit, Atmaprajnananda Saraswati is the author of nine books ― Dasasanti, Rupasiddhi, Nomenclature of the Vedas, Rsikas of the Rgveda, Om: The Sound Symbol, Vision of Advaita Vedanta in Taittiriya Upanishad, SubhashitaPrajnavali, Bhagavadgita – a study, and Suktas and Stotras.