Rig Veda and the Indian woman -
Contributed to this site by Ambassador O P Gupta
August/Sept. 2002, one case of committing suttee or sati and two failed attempts
to commit suttee in Madhya Pradesh were reported in the media.
also appeared that the Hon’ble Rajasthan High Court allowed prayers within
premises of Rani Sati Mandir of Jhunjhunu district, but prohibited organising
fairs, distribution of pamphlets and performing chunri ceremony at the temple
till final orders.
people assert that Rigveda vide richa (X.18.7) (seventh richa of 18th Sukta of
tenth chapter) commands a Hindu widow to mount pyre of her deceased husband.
website quotes PV Kane’s translation of this richa as: “Let these women,
whose husbands are worthy and living enter the house with ghee applied as
corrylium (to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless
without any affliction and well adorned.”
may note that even this English translation does not categorically state that
let these widows first step into the pyre. This translation simply says “let
these wives first step into pyre.” As per common sense, from the moment of
death of her husband, a woman is no more called “a wife” but a widow (vidhawa).
So phrase “these wives” in above translation of Kane cannot be interpreted
to refer to “widows.”
fact, Sukta 18 commands a Hindu widow to return to world of living beings; to
return to her house to live with her children and grand children and Rigveda
confers on her all the properties of her deceased husband. One should go through
all the fourteen richas of this 18th Sukta (revealed to Rishi Sunkusuk Yamayan)
so as to understand the true and correct meaning of (X.18.7).
third richa (X.18.3) commands “May those who are living remain separate from
dead ………..…” (Rigveda Samhita by HH Wilson & Bhashya of Sayana
edited by Ravi Prakash Arya and K.K. Joshi ISBN 81-7110-138-7). Dr. Wendy D.
O’Flaherty, Ph.D. in her book the Rigveda (Penguin Classics) (page 52)
translates: “Those who are alive have now parted from those who are
dead….” Ralph T.R. Griffith translates “Divided from the dead are these,
the living:….” Shri Ram Sharma Acharya of Bareilly in his Rigveda (in Hindi)
translates: “mritak ke pass se jeevit manushya laut aavey…………..”
Ganga Sahay Sharma, Ph.D., in his Rigveda (Delhi Pocket Books) translates: “ye
jite huve log marey huve vyaktiyo ke pass se laut aavey…………...” This
command of Rigveda to leave behind the dead; to remain separate from dead is
equally applicable to Hindu widows too as the widows are also living/jeevit
translation of the seventh richa (X.18.7) as given by HH Wilson is “Let these
women who are not widows, who have good husbands, enter (anointed) with unguent
and butter. Let women without tears, without sorrow, and decorated with jewels,
first proceed to the house.” Dr. Wendy O’Flaherty, Ph.D. translates this
seventh richa: “These women who are not widows, who have good husbands – let
them take their places using butter to anoint their eyes. Without tears, without
sickness, well dressed let them first climb into the marriage bed.”
Ram Sharma Acharya translates “yeh sunder patiwaali sadhawa naariya ghrit
yukta kaajal lagaati hui apne grih ko prapta ho. Yeh naariya aasuuon ko tyag kar
manoovikaaroo ko duur karati hui sundar aishwarya waali ho kar sabase aage
chalati hui apne gharo ko prapt ho.”
Ganga Sahay Sharma, Ph.D., translates: “Ye sadhawa ewam shobhan patniya
naariya ghrit aur anna ke sath apne ghar mey pravesh kare. Ye streeya aasuuon ke
bina roga rahit aur shobhan dhan waali ban kar apne ghar mey sabse pehle pahuche.”
Radhakrishna Shrimali & Smt. Ashalata Upadhyaya of Jodhpur in their book
Rigveda (Diamond Pocket books) (page 156) give similar interpretations of
(X.18.7) and (X.18.8). Thus, six different authors, from different places vouch
that richa (X.18.7) does not refer to widows at all. What this richa says in a
nutshell is that married women should be first (among others) to return to their
homes. Readers may see that as per these authors this richa does not say that
first these women step into pyres. This seventh richa appears in Atharvaveda at
(XVIII.3.57) and (XII.2.31) also.
eighth richa (X.18.8) especifically and expressly commands a Hindu widow to
return alive to her home. HH Wilson translates: “Rise, woman, (and go) to the
world of living beings; come, this man near whom you sleep is lifeless; you have
enjoyed this state of being the wife of your husband, the suitor who took you by
the hand.” This verse is to be recited by dead husband’s brother etc to
widow and he has to make widow leave her husband’s body as per Asvalayana Grih
Wendy D. O’Flaherty, Ph.D., translates: “Rise up, woman, into the world of
living. Come here; you are lying beside a man whose life’s breath has gone.
You were wife of this man who took your hand and desired to have you.”
Shri Ram Sharma Acharya translates this richa: “Hey mritak ki patni! Tumhara
yeh pati mrityu ko prapta ho chuka hai – ab tum iske pass vyartha baidhi ho.
Apne putradi aur ghar ka vichar karti hui uutho. Tum ish pati ke sath garbh
dharan aadi stree kartavya ko pura kar chuki ho aur tum uske pran ke chale jaane
ki baat bhi jaanati ho attah ghar ko lauto.”
Ganga Sahai Sharma, Ph.D., translates: “Hey mritak ki patni! Tum apne putro
ewam ghar ka dhyana karke yeha se uutho. Aap marey huey vyakti ke pass kyo soyee
ho? Ish purush ke panigrahan wa garbhadhan ke anuroop aap vyavahaar kar chuki
ho. Aap ishke sath marane ka vichar chhodo.” Arthur A. Macdonell, in his book
“A History of Sanskrit Literature”(page106) also says that (X.18.8) is
addressed to the widow, who is called upon to rise and take the hand of her new
husband, doubtless a brother of the deceased, in accordance with an ancient
quotes following translation of (X.18.8) as given by Ralph T.R. Griffith: Rise
up; come to the world of life, O woman; Thou liest here by one whose soul has
left him. Come: thou hast now entered upon the wifehood Of this thy lord who
takes thy hand and woos thee. Thus, eight different authors from different
places confirm that (X.18.8) actually commands a Hindu widow to return to the
world of living beings, return alive to her home and return alive to her
this very richa confers upon her full right on house of her deceased husband (apne
putradi aur ghar). In 1995 Supreme Court interpreted Section 14(1) of the Hindu
Succession Act to the effect that a Hindu widow has full ownership rights over
properties she inherits from her deceased husband. Supreme Court said that
object was to wipe out disabilities imposed by Hindu Shastras.
Court, thus, restored rights conferred on widows under richa (X.18.8).This richa
appears in the Atharvaveda at (XVIII.3.2) also.
RV(X.18.9) the new husband takes bow (or any symbol or any item) from the hand
of dead husband, and while taking the widow as his wife says to her: let us
launch a new life of valour and strength begetting male children overcoming all
enemies who may assail us. HHWilson translates:Taking his bow from hand of dead
man,(new husband says) for the sake of our vigour, energy and strength, I say
you(dead) are there(in grave);may we (who are) here (on ground), blessed with
male offspring, overcome all enemies who assail us.
to Achraya Sayana, it is the first six richas of 16th Sukta of Xth chapter of
Rigveda (X.16.1 to 6) which are to be recited at funeral pyres; and, none of
these six richas either call for burning of widows or make any reference to
would like to draw attention of readers to richa (X.40.8) of Rigveda which
praises Ashwin gods for protecting a widow. It shows gods were praised for
protecting widows. How could gods have gone to protect widows, and, thus,
behaved against Rigveda if Rigveda had actually commanded burning of widows?
richa (X.40.2), may come as a complete surprise to many Hindus who wrongly
presume that widow remarriages are not allowed in Hinduism. HH Wilson translates
it: “Where are you, Ashwins, by night? Where are you by day? Where do you
sojourn? Where do you dwell? Who brings you into his presence in the same place
(of sacrifice) as on her couch a widow (brings) her husband’s brother, as a
woman (brings) her husband (to her).
Wendy D. O’Flaherty translates: “Where are the Ashwins in the evening, where
in the morning, where do they stop and where have they spent the night? Who
invites you as a widow takes her husband’s brother to her bed, as a young
woman takes a young man to a room.”
T.R. Griffith translates (X.40.2): “Where are ye, Asvins, in the evening,
where at morn? Where is your halting place, where rest ye for the night? Who
brings you homeward, as the widow bedward draws her husbands’s brother, as the
bride attracts groom?” Dr. Ganga Sahay Sharma translates in Hindi: “Hey
Ashwin kumaroo! Tum raat aur din mey kaha rahate ho? Tumhara samaya kaha bitataa
hai? tum kaha nivas karate ho? Jisprakar vidhawa apne devar ko aur sadhawa apne
pati ko charpayee par bulaati hai ushiprakar merey atirikta kaun yajaman tumhe
yajnavedi par apne anukul banaataa hai?” Thus, Rigveda not only sanctions
survival of a widow but also her marriage and her living with her devar with
full dignity and honour in the family. So, it expressly sanctions
Atharvaveda there are many richas which sanction/ instruct remarriage of widows,
such as ,AV(IX.5.27-28) and AV(XVIII.3.1-4).WD Whitney translates
AVX.5.27);:Whoever(a female)having gained a former husband,then gains another
later one ,if they(both) shall give a goat with five rice dishes, they shall not
be separated. AV(IX.5.28) reads :Her later husband comes to have the same world
with his remarried spouse who gives a goat with five rice dishes with light of
blesses a widow with progeny (children) and property in this life time.
AV(XVIII.3.2) is repeat of RV(X.18.8). WD Whitney &Joshi translate ::Go up
,O woman, to the world of living; you stand by this one who is deceased ; come!
To him who grasps your hand, your second spouse (didhisu) ,you have now entered
into the relation of wife to husband. AV(XVIII.3.3) is interpreted as the
command to turn back a maiden( young calf or young woman)away from dead to home.
WD Whitney translates ::I saw the maiden being led, being led about, alive ,for
the dead; as she was enclosed with blind darkness(agyanataa) ,then ,I led her
off-ward from in front .AV(XVIII.3.4) is translated by another author as ::O ye
inviolable one!(the widow) tread the path of wise in front of thee and choose
this man (another suitor) as thy husband. Joyfully receive him and may the two
of you mount the world of happiness .In this richa word aghnya has been used for
widow which means a widow can not be killed .As a cow cannot be killed so a
widow cannot be killed. Contradicting his translation of RV(X.18.7),PV Kane in
his History of Dharmashastra has himself quoted verses to inform that:: another
man is ordained for a woman in five calamities viz,(i)when husband is missing
and is unheard of (ii)husband dies (iii)is impotent (iv)becomes
ascetic;(v)husband is declared depraved. Agnipurana(154.5-5),
ParasarSmriti(IV.30) and Narad Smriti(V.97).(Further details at http://baharna.com)
third chapter of Rigveda is considered the oldest part of Rigveda. Richa
(III.31.1) commands that a son-less father accepts son of his daughter as his
own son i.e. all properties of a son-less father shall be inherited by son of
his daughter. Richa (III.31.2) commands that if parents have both son and
daughter, son performs holy acts of pindadaan (after death of father) and
daughter has to be enriched with gifts (rindhan i.e. to be made wealthy). Richa
(II.17.7) also attests share of a daughter in property of her father. Custom of
daughter being given freedom to select her husband is attested in RV(X.27.12)
who misinterpret Rigveda to say that it sanctions suttee do this mischief by mis-spelling
the last word of richa (X.18.7) as “yomiagne” and neglecting commands of
other richas. The last word of this richa is actually “yomiagre” as shown in
Sanskrit in above quoted Rigveda by HH Wilson and Pt. Shri Ram Sharma Acharya.
fact, body of dead person is not burnt at all on a pyre in this 18th Sukta!! The
dead body is being buried under ground ( in a grave) vide tenth, eleventh,
twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth richas of this 18th Sukta. So, whose funeral
pyre a widow is being asked by pro-sati lobby to mount if corpse of her husband
is being buried in the ground under this very sukta of Rigveda!!! Thus, there is
no richa in Rigveda calling for widow burning. In fact, Rigveda commands a widow
to return alive to her home with a new husband.
the medieval period, thousands of women were burnt alive on stakes in Europe
after Churches declared them to be witches. In his book “In Search of Loving
God,” Mark Mason (Chapter IX) has written that towards the end of the Dark
Ages in Europe, Emperor Charlemagne had forbidden burning of supposed witches.
the ninth century, the Church also repudiated the belief that witches had
supernatural powers. Papal Bull (ad extirpanda) issued by Pope Innocent III in
1252 authorised seizure of possessions of persons accused of not following the
faith as laid down by the Church, their imprisonment and executions.
Innocent VIII issued the bull (1484) against witchcraft and appointed
Inquisitors. It is estimated that a few million people were tortured and
executed in Europe for witchcraft over three centuries and 85 percent of them
were women who were burnt alive on fire stakes.
claim figure of burnt alive during 1450 to 1700 should be much less: only about
two lakhs!!! No one knows the correct number of women who were burnt alive on
stakes in medieval Europe .In Holy Quran, at many places it is said that Kafirs
are inmates of fire such as surah(II.39), (III.10) (III.116) etc. In modern
era,without recalling the past bitter memories, we may look forward , follow the
policy of live and let live, policy of peaceful co-existence.
Ramayan and Gita are the three and the only three supreme scriptures of Hindus.
All others (like Brahmanas, Upnishads, Purana, Dharma Shastras, Sutras, etc.)
are just commentaries, explanatory notes written by individuals. As commentaries
written on the Constitution of India cannot over-ride the Articles of the
Constitution of India and as laws passed by the Parliament or State Assemblies
cannot supersede the Articles of the Constitution of India, similarly,
commentaries/explanations on Vedas by individuals cannot supersede richas of
Vedas or Ramayan or Bhagwat Gita.
Vedvyas has himself written in Mahabharat that in cases of conflicting
views,Vedas shall supersede all other writings:
there is conflict between what is declared in the Vedas and provisions in any of
the Smritis, Puranas, etc., what is declared in the Vedas shall prevail.”
Ramayana, everyone knows that after death of King Dasharath, his wives were
never asked to step into pyre of Dasharath. Rather, they lived in family with
full honour and Bhagwan Shri Ram always bowed his head before his widowed
mothers with full respect. In Mahabharat, Kunti, mother of Pandavas did not
commit suttee and she was active in all family matters and accorded full
respects by all including Lord Krishna .Dharmaraj Yudhishthir ,being gyata of
Dharma would certainly have asked his widowed mother Kunti to commit sati if it
was a requirement of dharma.
never did so means committing sati was not a requirement of Dharma. Thus, there
is no command either in Ramayana or in Gita to commit suttee.
centuries relatives have been murdering or getting assassinated relatives for
property, and, it will continue in coming centuries also. Greed is human nature.
If greedy people incite a widow to commit suicide on pyre of her husband so as
to deprive her of her gold, silver and land, let us not say or believe that
widow burning is sanctified by Rigveda or by Hinduism.
(X.18.3) commands a Hindu widow to separate from dead and richa (X.10.8)
commands her to return alive to her children/her home. RV(X.18.9) commands her
to be remarried immediately to a brother/relative of deceased husband. For their
own empowerment, Hindu women will be well advised to remember the seven richas
viz. (II.17.7) (III.31.1) (III.31.2) (X.18.3) (X.18.8) (X.40.2) and (X.40.8) to
assert and claim their status and Vedic rights.
writer is the Ambassador of India to Finland. The
article are personal views of the author; and, not that of the Govt. of India.