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There are certain scriptural verses on the nature of women that do not reflect observed, perceived reality. Verses such as:

For women there is no dealing with the sacred texts; such is the rule of law; the fact is that, being destitute of organs and devoid of sacred texts, women are ‘false’

Manu 9.18

Medhatithi's commentary for this verse:

‘Destitute of Organs’—‘Organ’ here stands for strength;—courage, patience, intelligence, energy and so forth are absent in women; that is why they are prone to become over-powered by sinful propensities. Hence it is that they have to be carefully guarded.

This verse is quoted in Vivādaratnākara (p. 412), which adds the following notes:

‘Nirindriyāḥ,’ devoid of the faculties conducive to steadiness, truthfulness and so forth;—“strīyonṛtam,” women are called ‘untruth’ in the sense of being addicted to lying

Women are unreliable witnesses according to the Manusmriti:

A single man, free from covetousness, may be a witness, but not many women, even though pure,—because the understanding of women is not steady,—nor other men who are tainted with defects.

Manu 8.77

Medhatithi's commentary:

But women are never admissible,—be they one or many,—‘even though pure’—possessed of high qualifications; and the reason for this is that ‘the understanding of women is not steady’; fickle-mindedness is the very nature of women; while other qualifications are acquired, and as such liable to lapses through carelessness, idleness and so forth; so that their inherent fickleness remains as a constant factor.

As for the declaration (in 70) that ‘in the event of no witnesses being available, women may be made witnesses,’—that refers to cases where they can be immediately questioned, and there is no possibility of their mind being tampered with by any person. When however there has been an interval of time, it is quite possible that they may be won over by the party whose case is weak and who is in fear of losing it. So that in such cases their evidence is not admissible at all.

But all of these verses contradict our perception and reality in an egalitarian, modern society where we see that women are successful and effective national leaders, judges, lawyers, police, scholars, scientists, doctors, athletes, etc. And we don't notice any significant difference between men and women in capability and competency in these things apart from physical sports, where there is accepted gender segregation.

Moreover, sociological and anthropological evidence do not show any significant biological differences between men and women apart from physical capability. And if there are biologically rooted differences in temperament, morality, etc. then these are very minute, and have been overridden through formal education and training which men and women today receive in equal measure.

I think that in ancient India, since women did not get formal and rigorous training like women today, their mental and physical capacities were underdeveloped.

My question is, what do modern acharyas say? Do they concur with this assessment?

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    Thinking about such things gives nothing as you say today none of them look true. Aug 6 at 1:46
  • rishis/puranas predicted this long ago - Kali Yug is age when women rule over men
    – mar
    Aug 7 at 15:41
  • @mar Ok, but that's a different issue, whereas I'm talking about how women are considered incompetent, immoral, liars etc. according to scriptures. That doesn't seem to reflect reality.
    – Ikshvaku
    Aug 7 at 17:41

2 Answers 2

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You have given several regressive scriptural shlokas. I am adding one more such shloka.

The women are not entitled to utter the Veda mantras and hence they are not vested with the holy threads, but their marriage ceremonies should be celebrated by repeating the sacred hymns of the Vedas.

Agni Purana 152.11

How should one deal with such passages? Read the passage below from the book Jivanmuktiviveka.

Renunciation is mentioned in the Taittiriya and other Upanishads: 'Some have attained immortality, not by acts, nor by offspring, nor by wealth, but by renunciation alone' (Kaivalya Upanishad., 3). Females also are entitled to this kind of renunciation. The Caturdharike of the Mokshadharma, by using the word bhikshuki (female mendicant) with reference to the lady in question, when dealing with the controversy between Sulabha and janaka, indicated that females may renounce before marriage, or after the death of their husband and may go about as religious mendicants, may learn and hear the sastras dealing with moksha (namely the Upanishad and cognate literature), may meditate upon the atman in seclusion and assume the emblems of tri-danda, etc. In the wake of the argument in the Devatadhikarana (the section about devata) in the fourth chapter of the third book of the Sarirakabhasya, wherein a discussion has been started relating to the rights of a widower (to such renunciation), the name of the lady Vacaknavi has also been mentioned. These references go to strengthen the right claimed by Maitreyi, the wife of Yajnavalkya, of whom she inquires in the words: 'Of what use would such (wealth) be to me, if the possession of such would not render me immortal? Tell me whatever your worship knows, as to what I should do, in order to be free from mortality' (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.4).

Jivanmuktiviveka of Vidyaranya translated by S. Subrahmanya Sastri and T.R. Srinivasa Ayangar, Chapter 1, Vividisa-samnyasa: The Renunciation of the Seeker

Sri Vidyaranya Swami, author of the celebrated 'Pancadasi', should be the role model for modern Acharyas and not the obsolete scriptural verses.

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  • What is Jivanmuktiviveka?
    – Ikshvaku
    Aug 7 at 14:08
  • The vivek of Jivan mukti @Ikshvaku Aug 7 at 14:58
  • @YOuwillnotknow I mean what is the text about and who authored it?
    – Ikshvaku
    Aug 7 at 15:38
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    @Ikshvaku Jivanmuktiviveka is a well known book and is a compilation of several scriptural works of the 14th century great scholar Sri Vidyaranya Swami. The book treats topics such as jivanmukti, videhamukti, vairagya (renunciation), eligibility of women for sannyas etc. Sri V was the guru of Bukka the first emperor of Vijaynagara empire. Aug 8 at 3:56
  • 1
    @PradipGangopadhyay Thanks
    – Ikshvaku
    Aug 8 at 13:17
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Dharmashastras seem to span across yugas. Perhaps there could many that are Kali Yuga varjya(eshewed). Thereby one should know what is truly applicable

Some excerpts that contain the view point of acharyas -

The status of men and women in present day India does not totally conform to the Vedic vision and its way of life. This condition may be due to the influence of other cultures which often do not look upon women as equals, to their counterparts.

The The stories of learned women like Gargi, the daughter of Sage Vācaknu (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3.6) and Maitreyi, the wife of Sage Yajnavalkya (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4), stand as evidence to this fact, Vedas did not bar women from Vedic learning.

The Rig Veda contains many hymns atiributed to Women seers, Brahmavādinis, such as Ghosa, Ghodhā and Apālā. Further, the rşi-tarpana, offering of water-oblations to sages, include three women seers, Gargi Vacaknavi, Vadava Prātitheyi and Sulabhā Maitreyi

There is a verse from Yama-smrti which indicates that women were also initiated into a religious life as well as allowed to study the Vedas:

purā kalpe kumārinām mauñjibandhanam isyatete adhyapanam ca vedānām savitrivacanam tathā purā in the previous; kalpe in the cycle of creation; kumārinām for girls; mauñiji-bandhanam - the tying of girdle of muñja grass; isyate - was desired; adhyāpanam teaching; ca - and; vedānām - of the Vedas; sãvitrivacanam - initiation into Gayatri;, tathā- so too

Patañjali, in his Mahābhāsya, commentary on the sütra 6.3.42 of Pänini, the ancient grammarian, defines words such as "kathi' which denotes a female student of the Katha branch of the Vedas.

The vedas say, patnivatasya agnihotram bhavaet one who has a wife alone performs the agnihotra-karma.

Just as püja materials are purified by specific mantras before use, the oblations such as ghee are said to be purified by the mere glance of of the wife, patynah aya viksasanam.

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4.3), describes how woman completes the existence of a man Just as two halves of a shell make up a whole one.

Vedic Heritage teaching programme, Part 8 , Religious Culture, Swami Dayananda Saraswati- Sri Dhira Chaitanya, Swamini Pramanananda

Social status(Importance and Protection)

Where women are honoured, there the Gods are pleased; where women are not honoured, there all worship of Gods is futile". (Manusmriti 3.56)

Where there is mutual affection and regard between husband and wife, there alone will there be happiness and welfare(Manusmriti, 3. 60)

Pita raksati kaumāre bhartā rakshati yauvane raksanti sthavire putrāh na stri svāatantryamarhati Pita- the father; raksati - protects; kaumāre - in childhood; bhartā - the husband; raksati -protects; yauvane - in youth; raksanti - protect; sthavire - in old age, putrāh - the sons; na-not stri - a woman, svatantryam - independence, arhati - qualifies(ManuSmrti 9.3)


Shankara Bhagvatpada went to Mahismati, the home town of Mandanamisra, where he happened to see women carrying water to their homes from the river. He asked one of them about Mandanamisra's house. In that city even ordinary women were learned. So their reply to the Acarya's question came in verse. Here is one of the stanzas from it:

Svatah pramanam paratah pramanam Kirangana yatra ca sangiranti Dvarastha nidantara sanniruddhah Janihi tan-Mandanapanditaukah

Svatah-pramana and paratah-pramana are part of the pramanya-vada I

From such incidents we know how wrong it is to say that in olden days only men in India were educated and that the women were condemned to remain unlettered

Hindu Dharma, The universal way of life, -Pujyasri Chandrashekara Saraswati Swami

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