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A Woman’s Dharma: Some Significant Aspects

Article of the Month - September 2013
Viewed 12937 times since 15th Sep, 2013

Even for the most committed, the Dharma for women, as outlined in the scriptures, presents an ambiguous picture at best. However, this need not be the case. A thorough review of the scriptures reveals very simple and useful answers to all our queries on how a woman should live according to Dharma.

Query: I am a housewife. What is my Dharma?

Reply: The Dharma of a woman is very different from that of the man. This is due to the differences in physiology and the psychology between them. The difference in the physiology is obvious. But, that which in psychology – well known since immemorial times in our society – is gradually getting known to modern science through the researches on the left and right parts of the brain. Generally, the woman is more emotional than man, though there may be some exceptions. She can sacrifice anything for being loved. During pregnancy, she checks the temptation for anything if she is told that it affects the foetus. The amount of hardship she undergoes to bring up the child, that too with pleasure, is astounding. It is because of this inherent nature of sacrifice that nursing profession has been women’s’ monopoly. That is why, at least in the Indian society, people remember their mothers whenever they are in great pain. Even an old person on deathbed calls for the mother who might have died several decades earlier.

There are families that have thrived even after the death of the young father; but it happens rarely if the young mother is dead. This shows the extraordinary role played by the mother in our society. Keeping up this traditionally high position of yours in the family is your Dharma. Tread the path of Kunti (mother of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata) while bringing up your children. Educate them; Inspire them to achieve their maximum befitting our Vedic tradition. Do not keep frivolous goals before them. Love and respect your husband. Do not be too free with his friends. Never hold conversations with them in private. Feed the guests properly. Make their stay pleasant while they are in your house. When the husband returns home in the evening after doing hard work, enliven him by every convenience. Feed him well. Give him suggestions in his various activities but do not compel him to accept. Remember, you are the face of the household; therefore, no one in the family should see you with a slovenly face or clad dirtily. While walking in the roads walk gently, do not stare at anyone and do not show off your body parts. You will rise to very high spiritual levels – says the Veda.

Query: What about specific religious activities? Doesn’t a woman need to perform them for spiritual progress?

Reply: You should do Japa, Stotra and Puja of your chosen deity (Ishta Devata). But remember that the story of Satyavan and Savitri in the Mahabharata teaches us that we need the elder’s consent for keeping a fast (Upavasa).Whenever a fast is kept, it should not be so severe as to affect our normal duties. You should never keep a fast if you are sick or pregnant. You can carry on with your Japa and Stotra even while you are attending to your daily chores. Indeed, taking care of all the members of the family is the prime spiritual activity for you. That is your Tapas. Remember that you are at the root of the future of the family.

Question: Can a woman learn the Veda and chant it?

Answer: Vedic Karma is of three types: Kamya, which is done for the fulfilment of certain desires. This is done at any convenient time; Naimitiika, which should be done for specific reasons – during an eclipse, Shraddha (offerings to ancestors at a particular time of a year) etc , as specified in the scriptures. Obviously, these are mandatory at the specific times. Finally, activities like chanting the Veda fall under the category of Nitya Karma (essential acts which must be performed daily). Obviously, a woman cannot do it because she has her monthly periods and also pre-natal and post-natal compulsions. Indeed, she will be very busy looking after the children till they attain an age of 5 or 6 years. So, the scriptures prescribes to her only postponable rituals and not the mandatory Karma.

Doubt: Then what was the role of women like Gargi, Maitreyi, Gayatri etc, whose names appear in the Veda?

Resolution: These women and many more – about 20 – mentioned in the Veda, are all concerned with Jnana and not Karma; and women are certainly entitled for Jnana. Your previous query was regarding the chanting of Vedas, which is a part of Karma. Gayatri is the presiding Devata of the chandas (meter) known by that name and not a human being. In fact, in the whole of our literature there are many Jnanis, but we do not find any woman who performed Karma. That is why great sages like Veda Vyasa, Yajnavalkya, etc, have all specifically advised women not to bother about Vedic karma. Of course, men have to Kamya Karma only along with their wives; that is why widowers are prohibited from doing it.

Query: In our tradition why are there restrictions on women during their monthly periods?

Reply: You should know that these restrictions are prevalent even today in all civilized societies in the world. Jews, Arabs and many others follow them. The reason is quite obvious; to keep away from diseases. Medical science tells us that diseases like hepatitis etc are communicated not only through physical union, but even through injection needles. Therefore, they are using disposable needles nowadays. How much more risky should it be if a woman during her periods comes in direct contact with a person afflicted with the disease! There has been a steady increase in the number of hepatitis cases in India, the majority of whom are women. What could be the reason for this rapid spread? Remember that a woman’s monthly periods are most fertile for all communicable diseases to effect her. In the United States it has been noticed that in offices often many women get their periods simultaneously. This means that even normally it is contagious.

Although the situation is very grave, there is a widespread propaganda that it is a trifle. Unfortunately, common people are easy victims of propaganda. About sixty years ago baby food manufactures derided breast-feeding and gave colourful publicity to their products. Women stopped breast-feeding their babies believing the propaganda. The consequences were awful and now they have reverted to ‘breast milk is the best milk’. It does not behove an intelligent person to discover something which even a monkey knows. So, the choice is ours – will we believe the publicity generated by a selfish media, or listen to our ancient selfless Rishis?

Question: Can women have education like men?

Reply: Certainly. But generally their inclination is more towards arts. All through in our tradition women have been pursuing education. It is only during the British occupation that this tradition has been hindered. The extreme poverty created artificially by them ruined the grand educational system in India. It was indeed very superior to that in Britain even till the 18th century. Fortunately, the situation has substantially improved now.

Concluding Story: This is an anecdote from the life of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great Indian leader. Once, all the women folk in his house were busy doing the Gauri Puja (worship of mother goddess Parvati), and Tilak Ji was sitting outside in the verandah. His daughter in law came to him dragging her four year old son. Handing him over she said to Tilak: ‘Father, he is disturbing everybody very much and not allowing to perform the Puja. Please hold him till the Puja is over’ and left. Tilak kept the struggling chap fixed firmly between his thighs and the following conversation took place between the two:

Tilak: Gauri Puja is only for women and you are a boy. Why do you want to go there?

Child: Why do women perform this Puja?

Tilak: They pray to receive a good husband in each of their births.

Child: Then I too will pray for a good wife in each birth.

Tilak: Son, a man need not pray for a good wife in our culture. In this society, the chances of your receiving a good wife are already very high. But getting a good husband, that definitely requires divine intervention.

Indeed, Dharma is protected at the grass roots by women only. Glory be to the Indian woman!


This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.


References & Further Reading:

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  • This article is most illuminating about the Dharma of women in society especially the norms that were followed in India.
    Each person irrespective of being male/ female has his/her स्वधर्म at every point & stage of Life.
    In the धार्मिक शास्त्र each one was required to do his/her Dharma and the Rights followed.
    Women are indeed different from men and they have a special biological role to play as mother,wife,sister,daughter.Man is physically stronger and has a complementary role to play beside the woman.
    No one is being sexist here when we talk of different roles in family life.Like each creature animal,plant,bird, and insect in Nature from the minuscule to the gigantic has an exclusive place in the ecological kingdom.
    So if a woman is considered as home-maker and the man bread-earner no one is classifying anyone higher or lower.Of course she could choose and be whatever she wishes but then for every action there is a reaction.As we say कुछ पाया कुछ खोया ।
    With Westernization Indian women have opted to copying their western counterparts but there is a price to pay.Family which used to be the central nucleus of society is undergoing very ugly changes.Role models are not there any more because it is the new fashion to have 'modern' working mothers aggressively competing on equal ground with their better-halves.
    Competition in family leading to rivalry is unhealthy.It creates rifts and chasms.
    Men and women have to think as to what they want out of Life which is indeed so short.Civilization is about traditions being transmitted and carried on by progeny from the present into the future.All this talk of equality leads us into blind alleys and dead ends.
    So what is that which really matters?
    Women as well as men all over the world suffer many injustices.Rapes and other types of torture is rampant all over the West.The causes of suffering are many and complex but this is not because women in India till now have played traditional roles.Highly educated women working for multinational companies are also victim to wife-beating,various other types of mental abuse and physical violence.
    Happy and unhappy marriages are not only privy to India.
    Come to Europe, see and talk to both men and women and the truth will be revealed.

    by Aroopa on 12th Oct 2013
  • I was born and live in the United States. Because of the challenged economy, my husband works full-time and often over-time, even though he is past retirement age. I previously had a career in publishing and worked full-time, then lost my job and was not able to find another. With a practical sense of the situation and great love for my dear husband, I decided that the most important thing right now is to make sure that he has good meals, a pleasant home and is able to keep up his health and happiness. That, in turn, is my happiness. I still take editing and writing jobs occasionally and work in my office at home. Our cultures are very different. I live in the "land of freedom" - where a woman can have a career and then retreat into home-based role; or a husband may at times stay at home and care for the children while his wife has a career. When we can transmute with violet flame agni our previous hurts and grudges, we can transcend to the next level of experience. Then, we are free to be whoever we wish to be, knowing that each man and woman has a masculine and feminine side within. I enjoyed this article, which challenged me to see if I had any resentment about our current circumstances - I had never wanted to be a "housewife"! Yet I also realize that the role described in this article is limited to only the feminine aspect of woman. I am just as likely to love an article about a warrior, because I have a tremendous warrior within. The challenge is to have inner balance. I think that the cause of violence against women anywhere is not because of traditions or articles like this but because of individuals who have a very low character and use traditions to abuse. Some say the root of all evil is gold. I say gold is pure, and human consciousness, male and female is often not. It is a blessing that we are able to have conversations across the world to explore higher states of being even if we sometimes disagree. That is the nature of freedom.
    by S. Irby on 20th Sep 2013
  • Highly appreciated the mailing of the information.

    In Upanishads the Sanskrit language mentions two names for truth, and the Dharma concept is based on the Truth.

    It is said no other language (Indian or European) has two words for the Truth.

    One word in Sanskrit is Rut (unfortunately i do not have Devnagari script on my computer and i am uunable to put the word in Roman script, but hope the word is understood) and the other is Satya. Ruta stands for the truth which is bonded by time and space, i.e. what is true today might not have been true 500 yrs ago or may not be true 500 yrs in future.
    Further what is true in India may not be true in US. Satya is the truth which is perennial and unchanging and best example is Brahma, which embodies the principles which created the universe,maintain it bring about the changes in it and perhaps its dissolution.

    In the spanof a human life we meet only Rut and unfortunately consider it as Satya,compare it with what was in Vedic period ( may be 4 to 5 or even higher years ago).

    Do you firmly believe that the Dharma Views expressed are Satya and not Rut?
    by Garud on 17th Sep 2013
  • Sadly this article is sincere in intent, yet fundamentally sexist in character. A woman in the 21st Century is much more than a reproductive channel or a social inferior, a kind of maid with benefits.The rapes and abuse of women in India, particularly violence against wives in unhappy arranged marriages, stem almost entirely from these archaic attitudes, that have more to do with convenience and outdated ritualism than genuine intellectual or spiritual inquiry.
    by Metta Bhavana on 16th Sep 2013
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