Educational Insight: Seven Indian Women Luminaries
Hindu scriptures hold women in high esteem because of their ability to engage in bhakti more effectively than everyone else,” states Sri Krishnapremi Swamigal of Paranur. “Why? Because their heart, mind and body are gentle and innately devotional, a necessary quality for a devotee’s heart to melt in surrender and devotion unto the Lord.”
Our utmost gratitude to Sri Krishnapremi Swamigal of Paranur, an illustrious 20th-century saint and scholar whose works have been the cornerstone of this Insight. The idea to write about these awe-inspiring women came from Smt. Vishakha Hari’s Iconic Indian Women, an adapted English translation of Sri Krishnapremi Swamigal’s Tamil treatise Sati Vijayam. The book details biographies of 103 powerful Hindu women of India—Goddesses, celestial women, seers, queens from the Puranas and Itihasas, warriors and bhaktas—who excelled in devotion, education, art, bravery and politics.
Hindu devotees have worshiped Goddesses since time immemorial. But that isn’t all. “India doesn’t just worship women Goddesses, but women as Goddesses,” emphasizes author Vishakha Hari. Indian culture has nurtured and revered wise, progressive, spiritually advanced women throughout history.
In this Insight, we delve into the lives of seven such luminaries: Arundhati, Devahuti, Gargi, Ghosha, Vakdevi, Auvaiyar and Vasuki. Some were princesses who married great Hindu sages. Others were born to rishi parents who nurtured their interest in spirituality from childhood. A few, like Vakdevi and Ghosha, were expounders of Vedic hymns; others, brilliant philosophers like Gargi, are spoken of in the Upanishads; and still others, like Vasuki, are renowned for virtues such as chastity, loyalty, humility, compassion, and deep inner contentment. Their intense spiritual penances along with familial duties characterized their resolve to attain the ultimate Truth. Each was a shining gem in her own right.
Traditional accounts record that many women in ancient days enjoyed a high level of autonomy to undertake spiritual pursuits. Girls often had the freedom to choose their husband, based on their own temperament and life goals. We see this in the life of Devahuti, who sought marriage to a serious seeker, as she wished for a spiritually fulfilling life. These saints did not care about being “equal to men;” their goal was simply to be the best possible version of themselves, which naturally placed them intellectually and spiritually on par with any great sage or devotee. Gargi debated with distinguished male rishis, while Arundhati held a prominent place alongside the Saptarishis (seven sages). Sacred literature recounts many great women who composed Vedic hymns and attained the rank of rishika and mantra drashta.
Countless less-known women seers have been pillars of strength for their husbands and the reason for their noble children’s success. Like Auvaiyar, other spiritual giants have eschewed marriage and dedicated themselves to the service of God and people. Women are an integral part of society, and India is proud to have nurtured such empowered saints and seers who have proved their excellence in virtue, devotion to God and myriad other ways.
By Lakshmi Chandrashekar Subramanian