Reviving Shakti II: Stree Dharma

MahaShakti

Continuing our series on Reviving Shakti is Part II: Stree Dharma. Part I discussed the historical path of Indic Society and how each Civilization has its own trajectory, and Dharmic Society must chart out its own.  However, it must do so while adapting to time and place and the modernity in our midst.  We cannot turn back the clock and we must understand that society has changed, and we cannot force-fit stone tablets from another Millennium or Yuga into the present one.  Dharma must adapt to the present time.

With that in mind, having reviewed Sastra, Smriti, Itihasa, and Purana,  we present a Dharmic guidebook of Principles for Young Bharatiya Ladies to ensure society empowers them, and also educates them on being ethical citizens, equal stakeholders, and responsible co-leaders in the Revival of our Civilization.

I.Introduction

The events of the recent past have made this Post a necessity. In this 21st century, the lines between the genders are fast getting blurred. This is a welcome phenomenon to skewed traditional imbalances in societies around the world. However, it does make me wonder if all such movements eventually have as their aim, the enrichment of the future world for all. From the current discourse, it seems as if wholesome unity and complementarity of the two sexes is not the goal of such fulsome movements. The clamour for individual rights (more from the side of women), is ironically leading to fissures in society while “liberating” the individual.

When these issues are playing out as per rules and paradigms defined and presided over by the West, I thought the time has come to do a stock taking of the narrative from our own civilization. After all, our civilization has followed a different path from the rest of the world and I felt that it was worthwhile to trace gender relations and especially Stree Dharma through the ages and see if our culture offers more harmonious options regarding the relationship between the sexes than is seen today.

Down the ages, the status of women has undergone a change. This can be attributed to many developments that impacted Bharatiya civilization but the end result is that by the 20th century, the Bharatiya woman had lost the exalted status she once enjoyed. From Maitreyi who was wife of Yajnavalkya and an expert of the Vedas, much water has flowed down the river Ganga. The 20th century also saw many movements working for the emancipation of the status of the women in the West, who had never enjoyed it all through history. I believe that adopting the same narrative of emancipation that the West used for its women, to help change the condition of the Bharatiya stree, was and is still an error and inflicting huge damage to the fabric of Bharatiya society.

This video shows the current discourse that is taking firm root at least within the circle of “Idea of India elites”. It is heartening that our civilizational ethos is still not yet damaged beyond repair because the above video was not very well received as this article demonstrates. The video prescribes a stree hood which is quite removed from the sanskriti that defines and marks Bharatiyas. “My Pleasure could be your Pain“?–is this ethical living? I think not. So obviously an imported ideology and framework cannot help in helping defining the Dharma of the Stree.

Today, ideas about family as a social unit itself are changing, “The spread of liberal attitudes to love and marriage empowers individuals, especially young women, but it causes its own complications. One is the increasing fragility of the nuclear family, especially in the rich world.[1] Hence I believe it is important to revisit Dharmic ideas of yore to understand if there are lessons to be learnt and adapted for today’s scenario.

Another aspect that needs to be re-defined is the concept of power in gender relations. Today’s woman is certainly quite powerful. But with power comes great responsibility and tragically, that maturity is not being exhibited as this article is testimony. Hence, we need new paradigms and definitions of stree empowerment.

It is now time to revisit Stree Dharma as it was conceived and perceived in our civilization. But before we do so, it is important to assert that rights and responsibilities are reciprocal. In fact, what creates a society (especially an ethical and dharmic one) is reciprocal duties. So before we provide principles for women, let us first issue some demands to men. And so,  I briefly hand the palm leaf manuscript over to my colleague and co-author, Nripathi.

II.Nara Dharma to Naari

sitaram

If there is a Naari Dharma, then surely, there must be a Nara Dharma to Naari. If rights come with responsibilities, then men who seek to assert their rights must remember that they too have responsibilities under the Dharma, especially to women, their other half. Therefore, here we summarise Nara Dharma to Naari.

  • Maathru Devo Bhava
  • Streeya Maryada Uttama
  • Protect thy society. Neglect not thy wife.
  • Daughters are Music of the Home

§. Maathru Devo Bhava

Man’s relationship with Woman is not 1 dimensional, as it may be in other modern societies. In fact, in our Tradition, we view women first and foremost as mother.

It is first Maathru Devo Bhava…then Pithru Devo Bhava…then and then only Acharya Devo Bhava…and in this era, depending on his character and cultural origin, maybe, Atithi Devo Bhava. But above all a mother. Because even if she is not our mother, she is a potential one, or a mother to someone else. This is the foundation of respect for women in our society. And it has been since time immemorial.Though modesty (of demeanor and dress) are advisable for both  genders, it is mentality that matters more. If you lust and lech, no amount of modesty is enough, it is mentality that needs to to change. Also, this ensures healthier relationships with the women who will be the mother of our kids. Mother is the fountain of all good things.

It is not for nothing we say…

§. Streeya Maryada Uttama

Those of you familiar with Sanskrit and Sanskrit-enriched languages (like my own honey sweet Telugu) know that a single phrase, can mean many things. So it is with this one.

Firstly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

Honouring of women is the best path. The first lesson we are taught is Mathru Devo Bhava, and for good reason. Mother is the first guru. How can we not honour her? In our tradition, there is no lower form of life than an ungrateful student. A criminal may not be able to help his criminal tendencies, but even a thief looks after his mother. But like the Rakshasa who immediately seeks to use his boon against Mahadev, so too is the son who fails to respect and look after his mother. Showing honour to women, especially the one who gave you birth, is the best path not only for men, but for women, and for civilization itself.

Secondly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

Protecting a woman’s honour is of highest importance to man. More than his, more than his family’s, more than even his religion’s, is protecting a woman’s honour. In fact, it is the essence of all true religion. A society that fails to fight for its women’s safety, a society that seeks not to safeguard its stree, is no society at all. Dharmena heenaha pashubhih saamannaha. One without Dharma is like a beast.

In the great divide between “honour societies” and honourless societies are various questions about whether honour itself should be honoured. But whether a woman is honourable or not, the Shakti within her should be honoured through man’s good behaviour.

This means first and foremost controlling himself around her and not behaving like an animal. Man’s own civilization spouts from and depends upon his relationship and treatment of women. A man who barters his own woman’s honour or preys upon the women of others, is no real man. Whether she is his woman, someone else’s woman, or she’s her own woman, a man is not his own man if he cannot seek to protect women.

Rakshabandhan exists for a reason. Every woman who is not your wife is your sister (or mother or daughter). Safeguard her, welcome her, and above all cherish her.

Thirdly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

In the presence of women, being honourable is best. Here, Maryada means not just honour, but also propriety. Man should not simply content himself with not being a criminal.

Uddaret atmane atmanau. One should elevate one’s self. This means behaving appropriately in the presence of women. This neither means being an uxorious wimp nor a rude, crude, ruffian. It means being a man who respects others because he respects himself. For a woman to lose respect for a man is the kiss of death and a quest for cuckoldry. So man must respect himself. But, a true gentleman treats women well, not because of what it says about her, but because of what it says about him.

Finally, Streeya Maryada Uttama

For women, honourable courtesy is best.

Bhagvan Ram was known as the Maryada Purushottam not just for his propriety around women, but for his courtesy. A true gentleman of gracious mien.  Whatever “Surpanakha’s Daughters” may say, Ravana’s sister was not punished for being a wanton woman or a “liberated lady”. Lakshmana punished her for attacking Sita. Rama had been courteous to her up until that point.

Sri Rama was not only only proper in the presence of women and elders, but was also courteous and pleasant to all. It is chivalry and gentlemanliness that delights young and old or  our mother and mother of your children. It is not just good manners or due courtesy, but that rare charm of friendly decency, to high and low, man or beast. It is not over-sophistication, but cultivation, of not just manners, but personality & prudent ideals.

So yes, accept the exhortations of the Smritis and be like Ram! But also be, the Ram…of the times. Yudhisthira attempted to be the Satyaharishchandra of the Dvapara, but Draupadi paid the price via dice as she was not born in the Treta. True Dharma lies in honouring women, safeguarding women’s honour, being honourable in the presence of women, and honouring through courtesy. Streeya Maryada Uttama.

DharmaMandir

§. Protect thy Society. Neglect not thy Wife.

Do your duty as a citizen, as a leader, as a protector, and as a father, but also as a husband. Do not neglect your wife.

If protecting one’s society first means protecting one’s womenfolk, then it also means not neglecting them. If Selfishness is the Real Root of all Evil, then neglect is its CO2. There is no greater poison in a relationship than neglect. There is no worse emotional feeling than feeling alone when you’re in fact with someone.

Not being a neglectful husband is more than just asking how her day was, or taking her out once in a while, or listening to her for 15 minutes then tuning her out the rest of the day. Neglect is also emotional distance, isolation, and cold-hearted selfishness: brutishness. If you can’t think of someone before you think of yourself, then you are not doing your dharma to your marriage, and your society.

This isn’t to say women are perfect. Nilambari has described at great length how ill-treatment of men and abuse of marriage laws is a precipitous path for society. But she and others like her have stood up for men. It is time we stood by such women, and not neglect our good fortune.

§. Daughters are Music of the Home

Sons may carry on lineages. Sons may carry on names. Sons may even carry us on to the afterlife (all per the Smritis). But daughters are the music of the home.

For far too long has the place of daughters been diminished in our own eyes as a dowry burden. Researched and presented by Nilambari in the first of our Shakti Series of Posts, dowry is adharmic, stridhaan is not. Stridhaan is not a profitable asset for greedy bridegrooms, but a gift to a bride from her own family, for her own security and maintenance.  Even the Dharmasutras permit a young woman to choose her own suitor if one cannot be found by her father. If there are only greedy, money hungry would-be matches, better to let her be, and make her own choice and meet her own match.

Therefore, the birth of daughters should no longer be a financial calculation, let alone a burden. Daughters are in fact the music of the home. If we encourage young men to marry a wife to add colour to his life, then we should encourage them to welcome daughters to bring music to his home. From laughter, to singing, to dancing, to innocence, to sweetness, more than his own wife, it is his own little girl that softens a man, and his own rough edges.

At a time in the dread Kali (5117), when daughters more than sons are increasingly looking after parents, the veritable dhvani for any true garhapati is his putri and dauhitri.

Thus spake Nripathi on Nara Dharma to Stree.

III.Stree DharmaSatyabhama&Krishna

Following from where Nripathi left off. I want to say this is not a set of laws written in stone for all time. Rather, it is a guidebook for women of all ages (and an education for some spoiled brat men) on what the Dharma of the Bharatiya Stree is. In the context of Reviving Shakti, Stree Dharma is naturally not passive nor long-suffering nor meek, but powerful and empowering. Unlike the pie-in-the-sky ‘my choice’ clap trap and irresponsible individualism and selfishness of adarsh liberals, it re-establishes women as ardhanginis and saha dharmacharinis and equal stakeholders of society. As opposed to other traditions who say women are worth only half of men, we of the Dharmic Tradition and Indic Civilization say, Women are the Other Half of Men! And here is our Dharma, the Dharma of the Stree.

  1. Streeya Maryada Uttama. Oh Ladies! Propriety is best.
  2. As a young girl, be immersed in living the symbols or the external adornments of dharma ie. in dress, in stories, in going to temples, in arts and so on.
  3. Precociousness of childhood should slowly give way to sabhyata, saujanya, maryada and achara through the medium of external adornments as in 1 above at younger ages and through conscious guidance of elders as they grow older.
  4. For the teenager, awareness of the physical changes in her body and how it ties in with cultivating appropriate qualities like those described in 2 is paramount.
  5. Pursuing with passion and with aim to do the best in any field or fine arts/crafts is a must.
  6. Cultivation of the habit of helping around with household duties in preparation for her eventual role as a house manager is a must.
  7. Pursuance of academic goals with intent to be useful not just to self but to society at large is a must. Studies are good. Study of Niti is better. Study of Dharma best of all.
  8. Healthy interaction with the opposite sex with ability to lay down personal boundaries in order to be able to deal with the adult world is a must.
  9. As a young woman, having clear sight of academic goals and working towards it is a must.
  10. If working, should be able to independently take decisions in professional domain so as to maximize personal growth while not affecting family and peer dynamics.
  11. Traditional dharmic principles are not in favour of either drinking or smoking. Even today it is advisable to follow these injunctions, but if one chooses otherwise, then it should be done responsibly with consideration for health, safety and reputation.
  12. Traditionally, it is not advisable to indulge in pre-marital sex. In the age of STDs, cancers and unwanted pregnancies, it is still the best advice but if a young woman disagrees, then the same advice as given for 11 above holds good for this too.
  13. Abortion has traditionally been considered a Mahapataka, and advised against, and its still so in the modern time unless there are dire circumstances. Therefore, it is better to be safe than sorry with regard to sexual relations both without and within marriage.
  14. As a wife, the woman has to balance to the best of her abilities, duties towards her marital household while not abandoning her own parents.
  15. Conjugal relations between the husband and wife have to be mutually respectful and fully consensual. Fidelity leads to Trust. Trust leads to Friendship. Friendship leads to love.
  16. Conjugal relations when being for pleasure should not lose sight of the procreation aspect. Pursuit of Kama should be in line with Dharma.
  17. A woman is fully entitled to be protected during her pregnancy and her wishes respected with regard to where she would like to deliver her baby.
  18. As a mother, it is the prime duty of the woman to give care and comfort to the child in its growing years.
  19. A mother is responsible for transmitting the cultural values, customs, and rituals to the child through whatever means.
  20. Usually, the mother is working these days and she has to balance her work commitments along with her commitments as householder.
  21. Financial decisions and planning for the future has to be joint exercise between the husband and the wife. Saving for a rainy day should be the goal in order that those in your care do not suffer hardship.
  22. Greed is Not Good.
  23. In-laws have to be respected and consulted on decisions that impact them.
  24. Silence is Golden
  25. Age gracefully and see to it that you withdraw respectfully from your children’s lives once they become independent and start their own lives.
  26. Be the grandmother your grandchildren need and nurture them without interfering unduly. Neither smother your grandchildren nor abandon them. It is your duty to transmit while you are here, what you learnt of dharma through living your life.
  27. Beware the Arishadvargas (kama, kroda, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya). [2]
  28. Be a good global citizen by being a good local, state, and national citizen.

IV. Stree Dharma Principles & Explanation

While traditional Stree Dharma focuses on the married woman and her duties and responsibilities the most, a woman has to perforce go through other stages in life. She begins life as a little girl, grows into a teenager, then a young woman, a married woman, a wife and a grandmother. There is an Achara (conduct and custom) for all these stages which Bharatiya women unconsciously imbibe through generations of transmission.

a. Svadharma 

Nripathi was being kind to us ladies when he told men there were four different meanings for Streeya Maryada Uttama! The truth is, there is a fifth: Oh Ladies! Propriety is best!

This one guidance ensures not only that a woman makes the right and ethical decision in situations, but guilts men into behaving properly around them. This is also rooted in the purusharthas as maryada is a stepping stone to dharma, which guides, artha (wealth) & kama (love & pleasure) and leads to moksha. Wealth and love have their rules not to imprison us, but to guide us and protect us from greed, selfishness, and jealousy. Therefore, if there is one principle a lady,  young or old, takes from this, it is this. But from here, we move on specifically to the young.

The most significant stages of a woman’s lifecycle are the next two stages, that of a wife and then a mother. It is so because it is the stage when the stree has to align and adapt her svadharma with those of her husband’s and her new family’s and then go on to be the role model for her children. The below is an illustration of what I was saying about aligning svadharma as your circumstance changes.

As can be seen from the picture below, Bharatiya mothers and modern ones at that are quite capable of marrying tradition and modernity with elan i.e doing their svadharma. Surely most of them are mothers and it is important for today’s mothers to also nurture their individual talents along with caring for their family and children. Indeed, such mothers are beacons for their daughters, being achievers in the normally male dominated world of the sciences and also being wholesome and rooted mothers. These women below are certainly worthy of being worshipped for they are serving themselves and their families according to their svadharma and thereby contributing to Bharatiya society.

isro-celebrates

Lady Scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation

b. Pativratha

Gurumata Anasuya, the wife of Maharishi Atri, teaches Sita the spirit of Pativratha

Sita is upheld as an epitome of pativratata and while she is not a figure very dear to many “liberated” modern women, her story has shaped the worldview of almost all Bharatiya women. Pativratata is the defining quality of a married woman whereby she reveres a man as her lord and surrenders herself to him. The Vishnu Dharma Sutra lays out the relationship between husband and wife in quite a practical manner. It says, “...now then the duties of wives (are declared); they should perform the same vratas (observances and vows) which the husband undertakes; they should honour the mother-in-law, the father-in-law, other elders, gods, guests and keep the household utensils well arranged; they should not be extravagant in giving to others; should keep the goods well guarded; they should have no liking for magical practices (to win love) and should be devoted to auspicious conduct.“[3]

An aspect of pativratata is decision making. Issues on which the wife feels differently from the husband are sorted out through dialogue and action is taken after mutual consent. The end result could be one of three possibilities with the wife winning or the husband winning or they jointly taking an alternative route. And this does not even violate our sastras! The sastras say, Husband and wife (pati and patni) made for one complete entity, with wife mentioned specifically as one-half of the whole (ardhangini).Marriage vows to date have included the groom consulting his soon-to-be spouse in all matters involving dharma (religion and duty), artha (material matters), and kama (enjoyment of sex). [4]

On the issue of conjugal relations, it is worth noting that our sastras were extremely fair minded. Both husbands and wives were entitled to expect their spouses fulfil their conjugal duties, the punishment for the husband being double that for the wife” [5]. Sexual relations were primarily for the process of procreation but procreation with sacredness for how else can one reconcile the Kamasastra, with a biological act for procreation? The Kamasutra has very detailed procedures for the act of consummating a relationship. Prior to consummation of marriage, it is then the appropriate time for an aunt or elder sister to pass on limited knowledge from Dharmic selections of it. Sexual union, maithuna, is not considered dirty per the sastras. But dharma stipulates rules for cleanliness, before, during, and after. They apply not just to women, but also to men. Menstruation rules are known to women, but they should know that men too have similar rules for 2 days after a sexual act has been committed.[6]

Staying with conjugal relations, abortion or bruna-hatya is considered as an aparadha, indeed mahapataka (terrible sin) except in some extremely rare situations. Varahamihira in his Brihat Samhita advises that couples avoid relations during certain sacred festivals, pujas, and phases of the moon. By regulating the frequency of relations, he writes that there will be no need to resort to dreadful measures (i.e. abortion, etc) for family planning. Hence moderation, as in all things, is advised for dharmic enjoyment of conjugal relations. Arthasastra asserts that “Causing abortion was a serious crime”. [7] Ashwatthama was punished because he committed bruna hatya on Abhimanya’s unborn son Pareekshit.

However, as stated before there are some exceptional cases like this tragic one where an abortion would have saved the woman’s life. It is clear that abortion is neither ‘on demand’ nor a birth control option. It is considered as paap just as in other cultures around the world. However, if the woman engages in abortion, it should be done in a responsible manner so that the women undergoing the abortion do not have to face this.

For those advocates of free love, free sex and individual rights, here is a MUST READ article which shows how a society will collapse if it works on these principles.

Savitri is an extremely intelligent woman from our puranas who outwitted Yama (the god of death) and brought back her husband Satyavan to life through her intelligence. She is revered as a pativrata stree, as one of the pancha satis and “Women worship Savitri by tying colored sacred threads to the Vata (banyan) tree as part of observance during the rainy season in many parts of India, the occasion being called Vatasavitri” [8]

Photo: kidsgen

vat_savitri_vrat_sms_wishes_3735098624

 

Saha-dharma-charini (“one with whom dharma is conducted equally”) is probably a better role for the women of today.

Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha |

Panchakanyah smarennityam Mahapataka nashinim ||

Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari

One should forever remember the panchakanya who are the destroyers of great sins [9]

The Pativratha standard as extolled in the Dharmasastra and Purana, is indeed the highest most aspirational form on the path to moksha. But those of us who live in the modern context may require a more accessible standard. These women (the panch kanyas mentioned in the sloka above) may not be Pativrathas in the traditional sense of “complete virginity before and chastity mind/body/soul within marriage, “, but they were nevertheless great women, great stakeholders of society, and great “saha-dharma-charinis”. They shared the dharma of their husbands equally, and managed despite their own complicated circumstances. So let that Pativratha standard be there for those who pray for Rama, but for women who hope for Arjuna (given his complicated love life), this second-highest standard within Dharma exists as well, that of saha-dharmachara.

Dharma is a big tent.Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.” Even the commentaries on Dharmasastra provide for separation from or reconciliation with wives who have transgressed. Whether or not a husband chooses to forgive, ladies, remember all make mistakes on the path to Dharma. But the best course is not to consort with or ogle other men. Husband should be the object of affect. Fidelity leads to Trust. Trust leads to Friendship. Friendship leads to Love. That is the basis for a strong marriage and the Hindu Family System.

Inheritance & Finance

The daughter, according to the Hindu family system, becomes a part of her husband’s family after marriage, and inherits her husband’s or son’s property according to well laid down principles. However, dharma sastra and vyavahara (formal law digests) have tried to create some security for the unmarried daughter (and a married daughter in distress). The unmarried daughter has the right to be maintained by her father and brothers, and also the right to be married off for which the father or the brother may draw from the ancestral corpus.After the death of the father, property devolves upon the brothers, and they are under the obligation to look after the unmarried sister. They also have the pious duty to arrange her wedding.”[10, 87]

On the issue of women having the right to property, our sastras have this to say: “The purpose of giving women the right to property is to afford protection in the case of calamity’ (3.2.34)”.–meaning protection not only of women, but protection by women of their family.[10]

As such both women and men have a responsibility to think not only of their individual needs, but to think of the needs of the family/society and plan for a rainy day.

With respect to non-ancestral property, “Apastamba said that husband and wife had a joint interest in the (acquisition and disposal of) wealth.” [11]

With respect to ancestral property, “Devana, Madhava, Candesvara, and Varadaraja agree with Vijananesvara that a wife who has received her stridhana gets only half the share or proportionate share” [12] The traditional rule is that if she has received her stridhana, then she is not entitled to ancestral property.

Bharatiya economy is a feminine one because it is the women who run it. Shri. Gurumurthy explains it well in this video. He writes about Indian economy as feminine, with women as leaders of the household and key decision-makers.Even per the sastras, men may be Chief Executive Officer, but women are Chief Operating Officers. Rather than being Gandhari and covering her eyes, she should give sight when her husband lacks it.

c. Mathru Dharma

YashodaKrishna

Mathru devo bhava.

This is one role revered by our civilization. Stree as a mother is the most exalted status that a woman can enjoy. Bharatavarsha is imagined as a mother and motherhood is considered as the pinnacle or crowning glory of being a woman. Manu says, “The acharya exceeds by his greatness ten upadhyayas, the father exceeds a hundred acharyas, a mother exceeds a thousand fathers“. [13]

But for mother to be a guru or herself to be an emanation of God, she must behave like one and be a good example, not just after motherhood, but even before. Also, mother herself cannot spoil her child. While her first principle is to love the child and nurture it, the second is to teach and punish where necessary. In an era where corporal punishment is frowned upon by modernists, mothers who refuse to engage in it still have other tools to correct misbehaving children (such as refusing gifts and not rewarding bad behaviour). The consequences of a mother indiscriminately indulging the child rather than disciplining it when occasion demands lead to an irresponsible adult as can be seen from the clip below.

On the other hand, Jijabai was the example of a mother, a strong Independent woman who raised a Shivaji to become a brave and fearless patriotic warrior. Her love for him was not blind but one in which discipline was a key ingredient to help him realise his potential.

jijabaiputra

d. Kutumba Dharma

whatfamilymeans

While families in Bharatvarsha are turning more and more nuclear, strangely there is a spate of regressive and outright moronic genre of soaps playing out on tv sets across the country; the saas-bahu soaps. In a cruel twist to traditional dharma, the characters who play daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law in these myriad serials are shown to be uni-dimensional characters portraying only good or bad. Nuances are lost, and these characters have no resemblance to real life people. Yet, these mindless serials hold our women in thrall, and worsen relations not only with in-laws, but even mothers and sisters. It is a bit frightening to think that households might soon start mirroring such mindless nonsense with real life resembling reel life.

We turn to our Itihasa, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to draw inspiration. In the below clip form the Ramayana, Sita’s mother is advising her daughters and nieces who have been married to the brothers Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna on how to deal with their mothers-in-law, particularly Kaikeyi who has banished Sita to vanavas with Rama.

In reality, mature relations between parents-in-law and daughters-in-law engender that there is mutual respect between them. Decisions may not always be acceptable to all concerned but if they enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, things can be sorted out through discussion and dialogue. And where there is no middle ground possible, the son (husband of daughter-in-law) should be allowed to take a final decision which may be least trouble to all concerned. The daughter-in-law has to understand that if they are in-laws to her, they are parents to her husband and that he also has his dharma to uphold. The Mahabharat has a scene (see below) which shows Kunti clearing telling Draupadi that she will step back and let the daughter-in-law take primary responsibility. If such maturity was displayed then by putting Stree Dharma principles into action maybe it is a lesson for today’s bickering saas-bahus if they are there, that there is another way to go about things.


e.Samaaja dharma

Mothers are indeed people who form the citizens of tomorrow through their sons and daughters. Hence it falls on the mother to inculcate such values in her children so that they in turn become upholders of dharma.

If that is one part of the deal, the other is that when the child strays away from the path of dharma, the mother has to correct the child for the greater common good of the society even if it means punishing the child severely. For instance, in this clip from the movie Mother India.

We can see how a mother keeping aside her matriarchal affections towards her son, does not hesitate to draw the trigger on him when he behaves badly with a girl from the village. Here, the mother has discharged her samaaja dharma by sacrificing her son who had gone astray from the path of dharma, to keep the honour of the girl who he tried to violate. “She is a daughter of this village”. Here we see here not only as a mother in a family, but a leader of a community. Dharma is not one dimensional, but must balance these different interests.

f.Rashtra/Desa dharma

rani(2)

Our tradition is filled with examples of women who were extremely well versed in political administration and many were also brave warriors & participants in society.

If we take the Satavahana dynasty of ancient Andhra desa, “Royal ladies like Naganika, Balasri played a dominant role in the affairs of the state….One of the outstanding features of the Satavahana society was the high status accorded to women. One can presume that some women occupied high positions in the administration as we come across the terms like Mahabholi, Maharathini and Mahasenapatini in the inscriptions…

The Satavahana women were fashion-conscious. In the paintings at Ajanta and sculptures of
Ellora and Amaravati we come across different hairstyles that were in vogue in those times. They were also fond of ornaments and bedecked themselves with a variety of jewels like earrings, necklaces, bangles,bracelets, and anklets. They did not have any inhibition in partaking intoxicants or participating in entertainments like Madanotsava, Ghatani
Bandhana Kaumadi Yagam where both sexes mingled freely.

In short, the Satavahana society was free and open but not permissive. The
people had developed a healthy attitude towards religion, morals, and sex” [14]

Chandra Gupta II’s reign is rightly known for the efflorescence of culture”. [15] His daughter Prabhavati Gupta ruled the Vakataka Empire of Maharashtra as regent. Yet she did not usurp the throne for her family, but did her duty on behalf of the family she married into and passed the throne on to her son.

The Portuguese traveler, Fernao Nunez, says, before: ‘[The king of Vijayanagar] has women who write all the accounts of expenses that are incurred inside the gates, and whose duty it is to write all the affairs of the kingdom and compare their books with those of the writers outside;….even the wives of the king are well-versed in music…It is said that he has judges, bailiffs and watchmen who every night guard the palace, and these are women” [16]

Then there is the story of Rudrama Devi who was the daughter of Kakatiya king Ganapati Deva. Since the king did not have sons to continue his lineage, he conducted a putrika ceremony that made his daughter the legal equivalent of a male successor. She proved herself to be an illustrious and worthy co-ruler along with her father.

Besides, there is the famous Maratha Ruling Queen of Indore, Ahilyabai Holkar, and the more modern story of Jhansi ki Rani who is held up as a symbol of valour and an icon of the First War of independence in 1857.

Hence dharma is replete with examples of brave and valorous women who took rashtra and desa dharma to be part of their stree dharma. Today’s woman also has a duty towards her state and country, and must remember this as a single woman or a married mother. There is also plenty of stree shakti in Bharatvarsha’s armed forces. Besides, there are many women in positions of power and responsibility in politics, economics, environment etc., who have the potential to be game changers in the growth story of this sacred bhoomi.

g. Bhoomi dharma

Satyabhama

Be a good global citizen by being a good local citizen. Be a custodian of the environment in your own land and own patch of land, and the world will benefit.

In the rural milieu, land has always been considered as sacred and tilling the land for sustenance and not exploitation has been a way of life for the Bharatiya farmer. This means that everything associated with that land, be it people, be it the animals, be it the crops themselves are considered as sacred. This safeguards against the tendency to exploit the land and its resources indiscriminately. The rural family believes that even its livestock is part of its sampatti and usually it is the woman who  nurtures and cares for this sampatti.

Therefore, there is a Bhoomi Dharma too, to honour the Earth and living harmony with it rather than taking more than we need for fashion or fashionability. Decisions we make as consumers affect more than just us, and therefore, must be made responsibly. Woman feeding healthy organic  food to her family especially her children, ensures healthy individuals are being nurtured to become responsible and contributing citizens of this country. This also promotes human civilization and agriculture that is in harmony with the land. By valuing nature and Mother Earth (Bhoomi Devi) at the local level, we become better global citizens in the process.

BhoomiDevi
V. Teaching Stree Dharma 

After going through all the texts and reflecting and debating, it all comes down to what is practically possible and feasible in today’s context. Our smritis are not written in stone and are meant to be adapted for the times. Thus Stree Dharma is a constantly evolving concept rooted however to its tradition. So, even if we change something today, it is an organic evolution of a principle that was previously there in our texts.

Women are the culture carriers of a civilization. Hence what Dharma a mother, an aunt, a grandmother follows will be transmitted to the child of the next generation. This transmission should be both overt and subtle; overt via visible symbols, rituals, stories etc, and subtle via how the elder women conduct themselves in various situations.

This is the only way dharma has survived thus far and how it will in future too. So, the onus is on you, the woman reader, to take the lead. Prepare well the dharmic women of tomorrow.

VI.Conclusion

rp_Dharmachakra-300x300.png

Today, Bharatavarsha stands at the crossroads. In fact there are two Bharats today. One, the rural Bharat where the woman works as hard as the man but that is just in keeping with her dharma of providing for the home and hearth. She tills the land, cooks, looks after the children and her husband and is the general manager of the family. There is the urban Bharat where the woman fills two roles. One as the general manager of the family and the second as a career woman in whatever role at her workplace. Thus her loyalties are divided between her personal and professional spheres. And it is among these women that Stree Dharma has its confusions and complexities. It is here that sometimes the woman is unable to prioritize and understand her roles and responsibilities.

While it is not possible to turn the clock back and go back to archaic ways of thinking about what constitutes Stree Dharma, it may well be that when in doubt, the modern working woman, should go over the practical dharma prescribed for a woman of today (drawn from the traditional dharma itself) and decide whether following any of those will give her the peace and harmony that she is entitled to in her life. I think most women do that unconsciously and without much reflection. This has been the reason for the reasonable stable nature of Bharatiya families.But such compromises do not come easy and without the reflection, they can be cause for dissatisfaction with personal life.

However, if the woman stops to reflect and understand her traditional roles and responsibilities and then make the compromises in a conscious fashion if she chooses to, she will be more comfortable with her decisions and in turn will transmit this harmony to her family. For, there is no doubt that it is the stree who is the glue of the family and therefore the society and finally the country. If she is at peace with her decision, peace is ensured for all the remaining.

Therefore, O Bharatiya naari, arise, awake, revisit your traditional roles, adapt them and make them practical for today, understand them and make your decisions after due reflection. It will really define Stree Dharma for you, and your coming generations. What values we imbibe is what we transmit. And what we transmit is what will be carried forward by our daughters. And our daughters will define the Bharat Varsha of tomorrow.

bharatmatacharan

References:

  1. http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21688585-love-and-marriage-have-become-more-individualised-smaller-smarter-families?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/smallersmarterfamilies
  2. see “7 should defeat the 6)http://indicportal.org/reprint-post-prema-is-not-moha/
  3. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Vol.2.P.1. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.p. 564
  4. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008
  5. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992
  6. Same as 5 above
  7. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992. p. 68
  8. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 110
  9. Apte, Vaman S. The Student’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary (2 ed.). MLBD. 1970.p. 73
  10. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992. p. 66
  11. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007 p. 70
  12. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007 p. 73
  13. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Poona. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.p. 580
  14. Rao, P.R., History And Culture Of Andhra Pradesh, Sterling. Delhi.1994.p.18 Satavahana Dynasty Of Amaravati
  15. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 79
  16. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 152
  17. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/why-my-choice-featuring-bollywood-actor-deepika-padukone-is-not-everyones-choice/articleshow/46790471.cms
  18. http://m.ibnlive.com/news/india/on-womens-day-read-the-suicide-note-of-a-man-971895.html
  19. Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Principal Upanisads. London: Unwin Brothers.1968
  20. Iyer, N.C. The Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira. Delhi: Satguru.1987