Study of Vedas by Women in Ancient India – Stri Vedadhikara

Vedic Education for Girl Students

In the ancient vedic times women had all rights similar to men in studying the vedas. Note that, study of the vedas and shastras in ancient times in gurukuls is similar to schooling education in modern times. So denying this right to women in ancient times would have meant denying women the right to education. But as we shall see below, this was not the case. Women enjoyed equal liberty and freedom in their pursuit of knowledge in ancient India similar to men.

Classification of Women in Ancient India based on Vedic Education

Women were classified as Brahmavadini and Sadyovadhu in ancient vedic times. Brahmavadini was a woman who studied the vedas after the Yajnopavitam sanskara (sacred thread ceremony) and got married later or stayed a bachelor in further pursuit of the vedic knowledge. Sadyovadhu was a woman who got married immediately after her sacred thread ceremony.

This has been mentioned in the texts like Madhava Samhite on Parashara Smriti, in Harita Dharma Sutra, etc. Some claim that Brahmavadini is just a wife of a daughter of a male rishi. But that is not what the texts define them as, nor does the very word Brahmavadini imply anything of that sort. Instead the word actually implies a knowledge of the vedas.

Madhava Samhite on Parashara Smriti says

yopanayanam krutwa pashcad vivaham karoti sa brahmavadini |
tathaiva ya prathamata upanayanam krutwa sadya eva vivaham vidhaya tato vedamadhite sa sadyovadhuh

which means

She who studies vedas after upanayana and then gets married is brahmavadini, she who gets married immediately after upanayana and then studies vedas is sadyovadhu

This goes on to show that women were eligible to both the sacred threading ceremony as well as the vedic studies in ancient times. This also means that women are also eligible to Gayatri Upadesha and to learn the Gayatri Mantra. Because any person who has undergone the Yajnopavitam ceremony is eligible for Gayatri Upadesha.

So, denying the women rights to study vedic knowledge, to  Yajnopavitam Samskara and Gayatri Upadesha is un-vedic. In the vedas there is not a single reference which denies the women these rights.

Shri Madhvacharya in his Mahabharatha Tatparya Nirnaya, describes the scholarly nature of Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas as

Great women should study the Vedas like Krishnaa (Draupadi)

Rishika – Women Vedic Scholar

All the vedic hymns were actually revealed to different vedic scholars, which is why we find each vedic hymn attributed to a particular rishi. Now what is interesting to note is that, there are many vedic hymns attributed to rishika (female vedic scholars). In Rig Veda alone there are around 30 women vedic scholars (rishikas) to whom different hymns have been attributed to. At the end of the article you will find a non-exhaustive list of the female vedic scholars to whom the hymns of the Rigveda have been attributed to.

Now obviously, it would be naive to say that women cannot study the vedas, while there are hymns in the Vedas which were revealed to women sages!

Katyaayana in his Rigveda Sarvanukramani lists the 27 Rishikas as follows, saying these are the brahmavadinis or female vedic scholars.

godha ghosha vishwavara apalopanishannishat
brahmajaya juhUrnama agastyasya swasa aditih
indrani indramata ca sarama romashorvashi
lopamudra ca nadyashca yami nari ca shashwati
shrirlaksha sarparaj ji vak shraddha medha ca dakshina
ratri surya ca savitri brahmavadinya iritah

Panini on Female Vedic Scholars

Panini in his Ashtadhyayi refers to Kathi as female students of the Katha Shaakha of the Vedic school. He also refers to Bahvrichi as female students who are well versed in many hymns of the Rigveda.
Panini also mentions about the female students admitted to the study of Meemamsa and about chhatri (girl students) and Upadhyayi (women teachers).
Reference: V.S.Agrawala; India as known to Panini, Lucknow, 1953, page 287
This clearly shows that even during the times of Panini, Vedic education was imparted to both men and women.

Vedic Education of Women mentioned in Recent Times

Siddhanta Kaumudi by Bhattoji Deekshita, the 17th century Sanskrit grammarian from Maharashtra is a commentary on the Ashtadhyayi of Panini. In this book the author refers to the term Upadhyayi explicitly as ladies who are themselves teachers and not merely as wives of male teachers. This shows that, even in not so distant past, there were female teachers in Sanskrit education.

Isn’t it an irony that on the one hand we have the western civilization where women who were denied equal rights to that of men in the ancient times today enjoy equal rights with men in all sections of the society. And on the other hand our ancestors during the early vedic civilization started off with equal rights to men and women, and today we have advocates who want to deny the very same vedic education and samskaras to women!

A non-exhaustive list of Women Vedic Scholars to whom hymns of the Rig Veda were revealed to

Women Vedic Scholar Rig Veda hymn attributed to
aditi 4.18
aditirdākshāyaņi 10.72
apālā ātreyī 8.91
indrāņī 10.86
ūrvashī 10.85
godhā 10.134
goshā kākshīvatī 10.39, 10.40
juhūrbramhajāyā 10.109
tvaşhţa garbhakartā 10.184
dakshiņā prājāpatyā 10.107
yamī 10.154
yamī vaivasvatī 10.10
rātrīrbhāradvājī 10.127
lopāmudrā 1.171
vasukrapatnī 10.28
vagāmbhŗņī 10.125
vishvavārā ātreyi 5.28
sashvatyāņgīrasī 8.1
shradhdā kāmāyāni 10.151
shachī paulomi 10.159
sarparājnī 10.189
sikatā nivāvari 9.86
sūrya savitrī 10.85
romashā 1.126
saramā devashunī 10.108
shikhandinyava psarasau kāshyapan 9.104
jaritā sharņgah 10.142
sudītīrangirasah 8.71
indra mataro 10.153

References:

  • Anant Vasudevan

    Feel free to brand me as a male chauvinist … and please no copy paste from indology sources ! Women please chant vedic mantras and follow the code of conduct because it is only then you will realize that it is unsuitable for you. Experience is the biggest guru. vedic mantras yield 0% benefits except psychological satisfaction of achievement without following the vedic code of conduct.

  • Anant Vasudevan

    This article is simply half knowledge. The women vedic scholars being referred to never existed. The author is saying that Aditi Shachi Savitri etc were living women mentioned in the vedas. By that analogy Vishnu, Ishan, Mitra, Varuna were living men ! Lol. In all grihya sutras , upanayan is referred to for a son. The burden of the rigorous vedic ritualistic practice was always on men. After the advent of indologists, this began to be looked upon as a discrimination. There is not a single mention of a woman priest in the vedas. The vedic mantras quoted and translated are often from incorrect unauthentic indology sources and not from scholarly sages who have studied the vedas properly. The mention of brahmavadinis in harita smriti is highly doubtful and merely mentioning in one single smriti does to imply it was a rampant practice. It could also be it was a failed endeavor! The evidences to the contrary are many. There are seven brahmarshis, not a single woman. Lastly, only the fittest survives.If women think they should take up priesthood, let them ! It is a challenge. The practice will not survive the test of time. Vowed observances, devotion, chanting Gods names, and serving the (pious and spiritual) husband is the fastest mode of bliss for women.

    • Padma

      Have you read all the Vedas? Can you compose a vedic hymn? What do you think of the soul? Is it female or male? Pl answer these questions and then comment. Read brihadaranyaka upanishad.

      May goddess Shakti bless you along with Shiva

  • Lakshmi Rajagopalan

    Nice to know..i belong to a group of women who are pursuing vedic studies regularly and proud to be part of it

  • Ganesh

    Are there any reasons as to why women are not involved in the sacred thread ceremony – Upanayana

    • itzguru

      In ancient India even girls used to get sacred thread ceremony just like boys. This was a ceremony performed prior to starting the education of the kids, so was performed to all children irrespective of their gender.

  • ajay

    excellent.i just knew 2 of them urvashi and indrani,but i never knew that so many women scholars were in ancient india