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Some answers to *What do Hindu scriptures say about women headscarf (hijab)*? on Quora.com cite these verses from the Rigveda that seem to suggest Hindu women should wear a head veil:

God made you women, so that you shall lower your gaze, do not look at men, keep your feet close, cover your head and do not disclose the garment, which should be concealed with the veil

(Rig Veda Book 8 Hymn 33 Mantra 19-20)

It's not good that a man covers his thigh with the female garment

(Rig Veda Book 10 Hymn 85 Mantra 30)

The guy in this YouTube video (Hindi) also quotes one of these verses.

What is the context of these mantras/verses? Do they really suggest women during Rigvedic times wore a veil to cover their heads and faces?

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    If that was the case would you see any goddess without a veil?
    – Just_Do_It
    May 15, 2019 at 20:17
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    One vedic scholar told me that the word कषप्लकौ in Rig Veda Book 8 Hymn 33 Mantra 19-20 has no known meaning - hapax legomenon. The sage used it mystically.@sv Jun 22, 2019 at 5:50
  • How can words that too from Vedas not have any meaning? Check this post. I don't think there's anything mystical about it. @srimannarayana Jun 23, 2019 at 2:23
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    @sv.: I am not a Sanskrit scholar. It was the opinion of a scholar. That is I posted it as a comment Jun 23, 2019 at 3:35
  • No, the Vedas do not suggest so. These are mistranslations as the answers below have explained. In fact, some temples in South India explicitly prohibit women from wearing veils as it is usually done by those in aśaucam. An incident happened a few years ago wherein a North Indian MP was expelled from Guruvayur Temple for wearing her shawl over her head inside. I do not recall who exactly. Aug 10, 2021 at 3:51

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This is what the Rig Veda hymns say:

enter image description here reference Mandal 10 Sutak 85 Mantra 30

The hindi version clearly states that in certain condition if the husband engages with his wife then his body too will be affected.

Rig Veda Book 8 Hymn 33 Mantra 19-20:

19 Cast down thine eyes and look not up. More closely set thy feet. Let none See what thy garment veils, for thou, a Brahman, hast become a dame.

It doesn't say cover your head etc. it says no one should see what the garment is concealing.

Rig Veda Book 10 Hymn 85 Mantra 30

30 Unlovely is his body when it glistens with this wicked fiend, What time the husband wraps about his limbs the garment of his wife.

In this as well it inquiring about the time a husband wraps the garment of his wife around his limbs ... nothing about women using a veil. Perhaps the difference is in the translations.

Adding couple of more references:

Rig Veda Book 8 Hymn 33 Mantra 19-20:

19.Cast your eyes (son of Playoga) downwards, not upwards: keep your feet close together; let not (men) behold your ankles, for from having been a Brahma you have become a female.

You have Become, Female- Indra is supposed to say this to Asanga as a female.

Rig Veda Book 10 Hymn 85 Mantra 30

  1. The (bridegroom's) body is lacking in beauty; shining with this wicked (Krtya), when he wishes to crothe his own limbs with his wife's garments.

Fiend in general means evil/wicked and here it appears to refer to evil act/intentions.

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    What is the context of these mantras/verses? May 15, 2019 at 21:17
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    Who is this wicked fiend mentioned? What are the mantras talking about? What is the incident? This hymn is about husband and wife. What is the explanation for "husband wraps about his limbs the garment of his wife". There is not much difference between what is posted in the question and griffith translation. Saying translation difference will not answer the question. There should be some explanation. Please explain the mantras and their context. May 16, 2019 at 4:07
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Rig Veda (8.33.17) :

अ॒धः प॑श्यस्व॒ मोपरि॑ संत॒रां पा॑द॒कौ ह॑र ।
मा ते॑ कशप्ल॒कौ दृ॑श॒न्त्स्त्री हि ब्र॒ह्मा ब॒भूवि॑थ ॥

adhaḥ paśyasva mopari saṁtarām pādakau hara |
mā te kaśaplakau dṛśan strī hi brahm

“O men and women, keep your eyes down on earth and not sky let your lower legs be covered and not exosoed ; walk on both feet together(as two wheels and two horse draw chariots together, let women be high priest of Home Yajna”…

Here RV refers of performing Yajna, And they are referring to performing Yajna on ground where Agni flames.. They said to both men and women cover their lower legs.. It may have some poetic meaning but There isn't any veil.. "It is the acutal translation "

Now,

RV 10.85.30:

अ॒श्री॒रा त॒नूर्भ॑वति॒ रुश॑ती पा॒पया॑मु॒या ।
पति॒र्यद्व॒ध्वो॒३॒॑ वास॑सा॒ स्वमङ्ग॑मभि॒धित्स॑ते ॥

aśrīrā tanūr bhavati ruśatī pāpayāmuyā |
patir yad vadhvo vāsasā svam aṅgam abhidhitsate ||

In this mantra it is advised to not to do any type of Sexual intercourse with wifeom her periods.. Clothes of bleeding shouldn't be touch by anyone.. Also it can be injurious to women's body!!!

I don't know where people get these false translation.. There are many sites which claim false truth!!

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A Partial answer.

Rig Veda 8.33.19 doesn't seem to be saying that women should wear a veil. This hymn 8.33 is about Asanga who became a female due to curse.

अधः पश्यस्व मोपरि सन्तरां पादकौ हर |

मा ते कषप्लकौ दर्शन सत्री हि बरह्मा बभूविथ ||

Cast your eyes downwards, and don't look up. Keep your feet closer; let not anyone observe your back side, for from having been a Brahma you have become a female.

Indra is advising Asanga not to look upwards but look downwards. He also advises him to keep both of his feet very closer without leaving much gap. He also advises him let not anyone see your back side (कषप्लक - back side, translated by Griffith as garment) since Asanga has become a female.

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Rig veda refers to veil only because as per vAlmiki rAmayaNa, women veiled themselves in vedic society and this was known as avaguNThana in sanskrit. This can be seen in yuddha khanda of rAmayaNa where rAma describes the veiling system of women as to when they should veil or unveil themselves. Verses below talk of 6 situations when a women is exempted from veiling herself implying that in other situations they should veil themselves:

व्यसनेषु न कृच्छ्रेषु न युद्धे न स्वयं वरे | न क्रतौ नो विवाहे च दर्शनं दुष्यते स्त्रियः || ६-११४-२८ "A woman becoming visible to public :

  1. in times of a calamity is not condemned in difficult situations,
  2. nor in battles,
  3. nor in self-choosing of a husband by a princess at a public assembly of suitors,
  4. nor in sacrificial ceremonies
  5. nor in marriage-functions."

सैषा युद्धगता चैव कृच्छ्रे महति च स्थिता | दर्शनेऽस्या न दोषः स्यान्मत्समीपे विशेषतः || ६-११४-२९ "The younder Seetha is in distress and beset with a great difficulty. There is no fault in her appearance in public, (6) particularly in my presence."

Above verses are for veiling the gross body (sthula sharira) of women and are not to be confused with verse ६-११४-२७ where rAma mentions "character" as a shield for subtle body (sukshma sharira) of women.

After rAvaNa’s detah, manDoDarI laments in front of his dead body making reference to absence of veil (avaguNThana):

दृष्ट्वा न खल्वभिक्रुद्धो मामिहानवगुण्ठिताम् || ६-१११-६३ निर्गतां नगरद्वारात्पद्भ्यामेवागतां प्रभो | "O Lord! Are you not indeed enraged, in seeing me on foot in this way out through the city-gate, unveiled and come on foot in the way?

पश्येष्टदार दारांस्ते भ्रष्टलज्जावगुण्ठनान् || ६-१११-६४ बहिर्निष्पतितान् सर्वान् कथं दृष्ट्वा न कुप्यसि | "O lover of your consorts! Look at all your spouses, who came out, with their veils dropped off. Why are you not getting enraged in seeing this?"

harivamsa-viShNuparva-chapter66 describes avaguNThana as a cloth used for covering face (vaktra) by satyabhAmA :

avaguNThya yadA vaktramupadhAne nyaveshayat | idamantaramityevaM tadA gatvA janArdanaH ||2-66-12 As she covered her face with a cloth and rested her head on a pillow, thinking that to be the best opportunity, janArdana (kR^iShNa) went near her.

Note that sculpture/idol follow a different set of rules with regards to depiction and hence they don't reflect above practice. “Manasara” a shilpa text followed in ancient times for idol making mentions the below points in context of sculpture in chapter 51:

8-12. The chitranga, the ardhacitrāṅga and the ābhāsāṅga: these are said to be the three kinds (of images): that of which all the limbs are (made) visible is called the chitra** (high relief); that of which half the limbs are visible is called the ardhachitra (middle relief); and that of which one-quarter limbs are visible is called the ābhāsa (low relief or bas-relief); but the ābhāsa may be otherwise made (painted) on a tablet or a wall with five colours. 13-14. What is (called) the citra (high relief) is stated to be the best, the ardhacitra (middle relief) is fair, and the ābhāsa (bas-relief) inferior: thus should be always made (the images). 16-16. It has been said by God himself that the high relief is meant for all successes (i.e., spiritual benefit, worldly gain, enjoyment, and salvation), the middle relief for enjoyment and salvation, and the low relief for success in enjoyment (only).

From above points it is clear that idols which display all/many limbs are considered superior idols hence we find many idols without veils or even dresses but this was a rule specific to idol and not a generic social rule. Idols and images require dressing only at the time of worship. This procedure is known as shodasha upachAra which comprises of 16 steps and one of the steps is ‘vastra’ wherein worshipper should symbolically dress the idol/image.

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  • Deleted my earlier two comments cause they were slightly factually inaccurate, but to clarify re sartorial details, does “veiled” here mean only partially covered head/face ? Like modern day sari pallu or chunney/dupatta pulled over and only partly covering the woman from shoulders up ? Except with the ancient olden times lady’s garment of course. Just wondering, I adore Hindu-mytho art and depictions/portrayals; usually there’s no veil or only a slightly partial translucent (often almost transparent) head covering. More decorative/ornamental than anything else.
    – user28094
    Sep 15 at 5:59
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    “veiled” here mean only partially covered head/face - from satyabhama verses which I mentioned looks like even face (vaktra) was covered else they would have mentioned forehead (shiro) or something. But this may have been a transparent veil only like pallu/ghoohghat.
    – Arvind C
    Sep 15 at 6:52
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    I adore Hindu-mytho art and depictions/portrayals - refer to last part of my answer. Idol making follow idol guidelines which specifies idol/image to be be made with minimal dress. Dressing is part of pooja and not mandatory part of idol making
    – Arvind C
    Sep 15 at 6:57
  • Thx ! :) I understand now @ArvindC
    – user28094
    Sep 15 at 7:21
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Yes obviously. Indra is stating the rules of women which EVERY SINGLE WOMAN MUST OBEY, including in this part of Rig Veda where even a woman form which has emerged due to a curse definitely HAS TO FOLLOW THESE RULES. I am giving old translations from previous centuries or from village areas several years ago:

तू सदा नीचे देखा कर, ऊपर मत देख, पैरोंको पास रखते हुए चल, तेरे शरीर के दोनों भाग मुख और पिढलियाँ न दिखाई दें, क्यों कि तू ब्रह्मा कि स्त्री थी।। (Translation from -- Govind Bhavan Karyalaya, Gita Press, Gorakhpur)

It means you will ALWAYS LOOK DOWN, keep your feat together & walk, BODY & FACE WILL BE BOTH HIDDEN, because you were Brahma's woman/female.

(इन्द्र ने कहा) प्रयोगि, तुम नीचे देखा करो, ऊपर नहीं। (स्त्रियों का यही धर्म है।) पैरों को संकुचित रखो (मिलाये रखो) । (इस प्रकार कपड़ा पहनो कि) तुम्हारे केश (ओष्ठ-प्रान्त) और प्लक (नारी - कटि का निम्न भाग) को कोई देखने नहीं पावे । यह सब इसलिए फरो कि तुम स्तोता होके भी स्त्री हुए हो (Translation by Pandir Ramgovind Trivedi, Vedantshastri, Varanasi)

It means that it is a WOMAN'S DHARMA to look down instead of up... keep their feet together, cover their bodies etc. Here is another desi translation by Arya Samaj from 19th century:

enter image description here

Again it says WOMEN SHOULD COVER THEMSELVES. Now here is an old English translation from 19th century:

Cast down thine eyes and look not up. More closely set thy feet. Let none see what thy garment veils, for thou, a Brahman, hast become a dame [woman] (Translation by Ralph T Griffith)

Here is Sayana's medieval commentary in Sanskrit -

https://archive.org/details/RgVedaWithSayanasCommentaryPart3/page/n805/mode/2up

He also says THIS IS WOMENS DHARMA. So every single woman must be covered except in rare circumstances. Here is a medieval Indian painting:

enter image description here

Here is ancient folk representation of Bengal and other part:

enter image description here

enter image description here

Valmiki Ramayana is dated to at least 4th century BCE it also has mention of headcovering in Yuddha Khanda 6, Sarga 111, verses 63-64. And this part is found in 6TH CENTURY COPY (oldest) of the Ramayana:

“O Lord! Are you not indeed enraged, in seeing me on foot in this way out through the city-gate, unveiled and come on foot in the way? O lover of your consorts! Look at all your spouses, who came out, with their veils dropped off. Why are you not getting enraged in seeing this?” Tr. K.M.K. Murthy

And Hindu marriage also has Ghoonghat as compulsory for women. So anyone saying that headcovering is not in Vedas or Indian culture is wrong.

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    Yeah, there is no need to be apologetic about these customs. Parda Pratha has scriptural back from epics, purana, Vedas, etc. Aug 10, 2021 at 4:54
  • Please add English translations too and flag mods to remove banner
    – The Destroyer
    Oct 14, 2021 at 11:51
  • I don't think old images/sculptures can be taken for validation because many times they are symbolic and hence may not necessarily represent facts. One must go by scholarly analysis of what is written in canonical scriptures and in this case valmiki ramayana confirms avaguNThita (veil) as a valid practice. I am guessing that south indians in last few centuries have missed this practice.
    – Arvind C
    Aug 6 at 18:04
  • @ArvindC Even Vedas say that women must be veiled. South India is not Aryavart and they also bury their dead. But interestingly when mata Sita used to talk to Ravan she would veil her face.
    – R. Kaushik
    Aug 7 at 16:45
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    @ArvindC Yes South India has great importance in the Agamas, and you are right they must have been following Vedic way of life. Now we are seeing spread of feminism and transgenders everywhere so Hinduism is being destroyed even more all over India
    – R. Kaushik
    Aug 7 at 17:39

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