Women Sages or Rishikas

RV is the only scripture among those of all religions in which the Divine Truths are revealed to women sages also and some of these hymns describing the revelation find a prominent place in the Rig Veda Samhitā like the hymn (10.125) (tenth mandala, 125 sūkta or hymn) attributed to the woman sage Vāk Ambriņi. There are more than thirty women sages in RV with specific hymns associated with them. In all the Semitic religions like Christianity, Islam etc., there is no mention of any revelation to women and no woman is listed among the prominent disciples of the founders or prophets of those religions.

There are numerous hymns in the Rig Veda indicating the high status accorded to women in the vedic society. RV (10.27.12) explicitly states that the practice of a lady choosing her own husband was in vogue. The hymn (10.85), the marriage hymn, explicitly states that the daughter-in-law should be treated as a queen, sāmrajni, by all the family members especially the mother-in-law, husband, father-in-law. See the box below where the bride was exhorted to address the assembly;

10.85.26: . . . . Become the house-hold’s mistress; Ruler of the home, you will address the religious assembly.

To be asked to address the assembly was regarded as an honour by most of the sages. Thus the statement that, “women were oppressed in Hindu society even from the vedic times”, made orally and in popular writings by some moderns is nothing but patent falsehood. Some of the quotations given by these critics are from the period of the sūtra books which are dated more than two thousand years later than the Rig Veda. Naturally these critics suppress quotations which speak of the high status of women in the society of Rig Vedic period and the period of Upanishads.

Even today, some orthodox persons deny the right of chanting the Veda to women. However, they cannot cite any authoritative scripture to support their views. Any book in Sanskrit cannot be accepted as a scripture or divine revelation. When the famous poet, Sanskrit scholar and spiritual savant, Vāsishta Gaņapati Muni, the foremost disciple of Sri Ramaņa Maharshi, challenged these orthodox persons to provide evidence to support their claims, no evidence was forth coming.

Epithets for women in Veda

It is noteworthy that in the Vedic literature although a woman’s prime role is portrayed as a wife only, yet several other aspects of feminine form are also suggested by various names and epithets used to denote a woman. It is quite interesting to derive the exact meaning of these words because it may help in giving a better idea of different roles of woman in home and in society. For instance, a woman as wife is denoted by three words; jāyā, jani and patni. Of these, jāyā is the woman who gives birth to one’s progeny, jani is the mother of children and patnī is the co-partner in the religious duties.

Similarly woman is designated as:

  1. Aditi, because she is not dependent (Nirukta, 4/22)
  2. Aghnyā, for she is not to be hurt (Y.V. 8/43)
  3. Bŗhatī, for she is large hearted (Y.V. 11/64)
  4. Chandrā, because she is happy (Y.V. 8/43)
  5. Devakāmā, since she is pious. (A.V. 14/1/47)
  6. Devī, since she is divine (A.V. 14/1/45, Y.V. 4/23)
  7. Dhruvā, for she is firm (Y.V. 11/64)
  8. Havyā, because she is worthy of invocation (Y.V. 8/43)
  9. Idā, for she is worshippable (Y.V. 8/43)
  10. Jyotā, because she is illuminating, bright (Y.V. 8/43)
  11. Kāmyā, because she is lovable (Y.V. 8/43)
  12. Kshamā, for she is tolerant/indulgent /patient (A.V. 12/1/29)
  13. Mahī, since she is great (Y.V. 8/43)
  14. Menā, because she deserves respect (Nirukta 3/21/2)
  15. Nārī, for she is not inimical to anyone (A.V. 14/1/59)
  16. Purandhih, for she is munificent, liberal (Y.V. 22/22)
  17. Rantā, because she is lovely (Y.V. 8/43)
  18. ŗtāvarī, ŗtachit, for she is the preserver / forester of truth (R.V.2/41/18)
  19. Sanjayā, since she is victorious (R.V. 10/159/3)
  20. Sarasvatī, since she is scholarly (Y.V. 20/84)
  21. Simhī, since she is courageous (Y.V. 5/12)
  22. Shivā, for she is benevolent (A.V. 14/1/64)
  23. Shivatamā, since she is the noblest (R.V. 10/85/37)
  24. Strī, since she is modest (R.V. 8/33/9, Nirukta 3/21/2)
  25. Subhagā, because she is fortunate (Y.V. 8/43)
  26. Subhdhā, for she is knowledgeable (A.V. 14/2.75)
  27. Sumangalī, since she is auspicious (A.V. 14/2/26)
  28. Sushevā, for she is pleasant (A.V. 14/2/26)
  29. Suvarchā, since she is splendid (A.V. 14/4/47)
  30. Suyamā, since she is self – disciplined. (A.V. 14/2/18)
  31. Syonā, for she is noble (A.V. 14/2/27)
  32. Vīriņī, since she is mother of brave sons (R.V. 10/86/9, 10)
  33. Vishrutā, since she is learned (Y.V. 8/43)
  34. Yashasvatī, for she is glorious (R.V. 1.79.1)
  35. Yoşhā, because she is intermingled with man, she is not separate (Nirukta 3/15/1)

[Indian Feminism in Vedic perspective, by Shashi Prabha Kumar Reader, Univ. of Delhi, Delhi 110007; Journal of Indian studies, Vol. 1, 1998]

Women ŗşhis (ŗşhikā) in the Rig Veda Samhitā

(one or more mantra was revealed to each ŗşhikā)

aditi 4.18
aditirdākshāyaņi 10.72
apālā ātreyī 8.91
indrāņī 10.86
ūrvashī 10.85
godhā 10.134
goshā kākshīvatī 10.39, 10.40
juhūrbramhajāyā 10.109
tvaşhţa garbhakartā 10.184
dakshiņā prājāpatyā 10.107
yamī 10.154
yamī vaivasvatī 10.10
rātrīrbhāradvājī 10.127
lopāmudrā 1.171
vasukrapatnī 10.28
vagāmbhŗņī 10.125
vishvavārā ātreyi 5.28
sashvatyāņgīrasī 8.1
shradhdā kāmāyāni 10.151
shachī paulomi 10.159
sarparājnī 10.189
sikatā nivāvari 9.86
sūrya savitrī 10.85
romashā 1.126
saramā devashunī 10.108
Shikhandinyava psarasau kāshyapan 9.104
jaritā sharņgah 10.142
sudītīrangirasah 8.71
indra mataro 10.153

(The list is not exhaustive)