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Women and Sri Vaishanvism , the Vaidhika Matham: Part 1

From: Sadagopan (
Date: Thu Dec 24 1998 - 12:43:59 PST

Dear VedAbhimAnis :

I sent the following input for the Dallas NaamA sessions
on "Sri Vaishnavism and Women " few days back..I am releasing
it now for the other BhakthAs , who like myself could
not particpate in the Dallas NaamA sessions stating from
today .    

What little I know on this subject has been largely influenced
by my readings of the works of the great Vedic Scholar ,
Sri AgnihOthram RaamAnuja TatachAr .This great AchArya is 
starting two special projects for 1999. One is the preparation 
of a monograph on Vedic VivAhams and their comparison with 
marriags elsewhere in the world (An Encyclopedia On Marriage ).
Second is the Puthra KaamEshti Yaagama t Oppiliappan Koil 
during the occasion of Sri Rama Navami the coming April . 
If you wish to take part in anyone of them or wish to support 
them , Please write directly to the Acharyan 
at the folowing address :

Veda Vaachaspathi Agnihothram Sri RaamAnuja TatachAr Swamy
e-3 Sankaranarayana Apartment 
57 Kuppayaa Street
West Mambalam , Chennai 33
India 600033

Coming back to the subject of the posting ,
" Women in Sri VaishNavam " , this is the first
of the two parts .

The VedAs are our paramANam 
The VedAs are " the edicices of eternal knowledge ".
They have timeless relevance to the practioners of 
Sri VisishtAdhvaitham and other darsanams based on
Vedic Doctrines. There is a lot there that is absolutely 
relevant to our contemproary life .As such , the VedAs
have "everlasting appeal and "applicability for all times
and nations "for men , women and children as the fundamental
units of the family . 

VedAs take a humanistic approach to life . An individual's
relation to his or her own family is dwelt at length in the 
VedAs . The relationship between man and woman , the parents
and the children are taken very seriously by VedAs , since
it ties in very closely wiht the health and well being of 
Society and the preservation of DharmA . The need to develop
social consciousness with the family as an elemental unit
of society is very important one taught by the Vedaas . 
Material civilization generates a lot of wealth , but is 
found wanting in social consciousness and a dharmic way 
of life strssing one's obligation to the different members
of society .DharmA encompasses " the entire gamut of life ".
Pursuit of a dhArmic way of life elaborated by Sruthis
and SaasthrAs creates a sound infrastructure to build 
a sound and stable society that enjoys all the benefits
of a higher order of civilization .

The MAN-TO-WOMAN relationship is one of the most important
subject dealt with by the VedAs instructing us on how to 
build a sound and stable society , where righteousness 
prevails .VedAs show a keen interest in the unity of 
man and woman and spells out their duties , responsibuilities
and rights .GeethAchAryan elaborates them further .
They point out the important role of women in 
building a fair , stable and just scoiety .Satapatha BrahmaNA 
passage states unblushingly that only woman fulfills 
the purposes of human life . It extolls the divine aspect of 
women and declares that women are the embodiment of Sri Devi
(SriyA vA yEthath rUpam yathA patnaya:).

The modern women may not be familiar with the high status
given to women in our religious world and its scriptures.
Contrary to the popular belief that VedAs deny freedom 
to women , it stresses the underlying duty and THE RIGHTS
of WOMEN  , while focusing on the stability of the family 
as a unit , which then strengthens the society .

It is in this context , Vedic thought gave ample room
for a personal God to be conceived as divinty in male
or female form .Vedic Gods like Ushas (dawn ) are 
adoringly saluted by the manthrams of Ushas sUktham 
in Rg Vedam .There are many Rishi pathnis and wives, 
who have been equally revered in PurANAs ( AnusUyA , Kausalya ,
Damayanthi , Saavithri et al).

Vedam describes the wife to be the best friend of
the husband AT ALL TIMES.  The Vedic obligations 
are recognized as SamAna (equally moving ) , since
married men and women move freely in society in pursuit
of their complimentary duties , VedAs and Manu Smruthi
vividly describe the responsibilities of women in
the house as yajamAnis . The importance of women in
the economic aspect of the family is fully emphasized 
and asks men to give the women the responsibility of
looking after the family budget .Similarly , maintianing 
family tradition and strengthening the spiritual 
affairs of the family is entrusted with the women .

I will quote now verbatim from AgnihOthram Sri RaamAnuja
TatachAr's monograph on the Eternal relevance of VedAs
dealing with the role of women in Hindu Society :

" In the early years of marriage , love has a sexual 
importance. But with the advance of years, it mellows 
into a great attachment and affection . No one can 
disturb this mutual love. Marriage is not made for 
sexual purpose , BUT FOR  A REAL UNITED LIFE ....
The VedAs say that the wife is the only friend 
of her husband....Their comradeship is strengthened 
by day-to-day movements .She never claims superiority 
over her husband and she is never treated as inferior 
by her husband.She is the mistress of the house ....
She is a real friend and closely follows her husband 
in the good and bad of domestic life and takes keen 
interest in his welfare.She also advises him at times. 
Smruthi following the direction given by the Vedas
states clearly that it is the duty of a wife to correct 
the mistake of her husband " .SitA piraatti did 
just that in a famous pasage in Srimadh RaamAyaNam
in Her conversation with HanumAn inAsOka Vanam. 

AgnihOthram TatachAr swamy points out a special
Vedic term : Purandhi and explains its significance .
According to the VedAs , women are more intelligent 
than men (i.e) she is a purandhi.In AsvanEdhA , there is 
a prayer that women must be " purandhi". By that term ,
Women's superior intelligence is indicated. " According to
the VedAs , Woman is a karma yogi . She does duty for duty's
sake.She sacrifices her individual pleasure and pain and 
serves the family . The early life of all children depend
on the care of the mother. She brings them up as intelligent
and pious ones . The stability of her integrity is brought out 
in one MantrA , which points out that women are to be strong as 
a rock in the family so that the family can survive . Her
integrity not only keeps the family in a high order , but 
it overcomes all enemies as well ".She is the queen of her
husband's house .She maintains the customs and traditions of
the house strictly , with vigilance .The house may be built 
by bricks and wood , but it is not the real house.In fact ,
the wife is only the real house. VedAs never confine a woman to
the house.Many brilliant women have reached out with their
husbands and attained a spiritual status equal to or higher 
than that of their husbands , who are revered as Manthra dhrushtAs 
of the various Veda Manthrams .

The names of the women Rishis (RishikAs or Lady seers ) 
are etched in the annals of the Veda manthrams .None of
the Rishis or the Rishi pathnis are recognized as the 
composers of the Veda manthrAs , but as samhithAkarthAs ,
who assisted in the collection of the Veda manthrams 
thru the power to "see " them as manthra dhrushtAs .
Angirasa , Gautama , VasishtA , ViswAmithrA , Bhrugu ,
Athri , Marici , KasyapA , AgasthyA and BharadhvAjaa 
belong to the rich set of Rishis in this category .
Every Veda manthram has a Rishi or RishikA , Chandas
and DevathA . We invoke them prior to the recitaion 
of the individual mathrAs of the different VedAs .
Each of these Rishis  have a distinguished wife well versed 
in scholarship , AchAram and anushtAnam . These 
rishikAs or Lady Seers   took an important part 
in SamaadhikaraNam . YajnavalkyA's wife and
her tight questioning of her husband gave
birth to a great Upanishad . There are abundant 
reference to the RishikAs in the Tenth Canto of 
Rg Vedam besides the other Cantos .

LopamudhrA is one such RishikA as the wife of 
AgasthyA , known for his command over Sanskrit and Tamil.
The meaning of the word "LopamudhrA " is one ,
who is totaly absorbed in herself (i-e)., she is one 
of the BrahmavAdhini RshikAs.Two manthrAs of 
the Rg Vedam ( Canto I.179.1-2) are attributed to her .

RoamasA the wife of SvanyA , VisvavArA belonging to 
the Athri family , AangirasI Sarasvathi  of 
Angirasa family , ApAlA of the Athri family , 
YamI Vaivasvathi , SraddhA , Vasukra pathni , 
GhOshA , SooryA , IndrANi , Urvasi , Sarama , 
Joohu , VagAmbhruNi and PoulOmi Sachi are well 
known RshikAs , who are revered and are 
associated with individual Rg Veda ManthrAs . 

In the concluding posting , I will describe selected 
Rg Veda manthrAs linked to the individual RishikAs 
to illustrate the importance of Vedic Women , who are
models for us even today . The women in many 
Indian households along the length and breadth of
Bharatha Varsham have imbibed these rich and resonant 
values in their bone and  blood and keep their 
family strong and righteous .

Sri Vaishnavite households have had such exemplary 
Women , who quietly served as the living examples 
of these Vedic Values and cherished them as their kula dhanams .
Some of them are ANDAL ( the mother of ParAsara Bhattar and 
the wife of KuratthAzhwAn ) , Devaki Piratti ,the spiritually
advanced ( jn~Adhikai) daughter of ThirukkOshtiyUr nampi .,
She was a disciple of AchArya RaamAnujA .The incident assoicated
with the 18th Thituppaavai is linked to her . At the time of 
her father's ascent to Parama padham , her father asked 
his daughter as to what she was thinking about . She replied
with all sincerity that she was thinking about her father 
ataining Sathgathi due to his assoication with HER ACHARYA ,
Sri RaamAnujA .That is the measure of Her AchArya Bhakthi.
The joyous father blessed her with AchArya RaamAnujA's ancient
vigraham obtained by Naathamuni from NammAzhwAr before 
RaamAnujA's birth . That mUrthy was worshipped in turn 
by UyyakkonDAr, MaNaRkkAL nampi ,AlawandhAr . The grateful
father asked his daughterr to give that vigraham to his Sishyan, 
Sri RaamAnujA . This is the quality of relationship between 
the anuvrutthi prasannAcchAryar like ThirukkOshtiyUr nampi
and the KrupAmAthra PrasannAcchAr like Sri RaamAnujA . 
One of the links here is thru the Bhagavathai , Devaki Pirratti .
AthtuZhAi , the daughter of Periya Nampi was another
example of this illustrious Sri VaishNavite women .  

The five AchAryAs of Sri RaamAnujA - Periya nampi ,
ThirukkOshtiyUr nampi , ThirumAlai AanDaan , Periya
Thirumalai nampi , ThirukkOshtiyUr nampi ,Thiruvaranga
PerumAn Araiyar --recognized AchArya RaamAnuja , their 
disciple as their own UttAraka AchAryan and entrusted their 
brothers , sons and DAUGHTERS as his sishyAs .Devaki PirAtti
and ANDAL belong to this group of exemplary women .
Sri VaishNava kulam grew out of such dedicated ,
modest, spiritually rigorous women , who were like
kalankarai viLakku ( lighthouses ).

The WIVES AND DAUGHTERS of the men of the ten branches of 
KaimkaryaparALs assigned by AchAryA RaamAnujA for 
Sri RanganaathA's daily kaimkaryam were also 
shining lights in their own rights .

Parutthik Kollai AmmAl , Kongup PirAtti(AchArya RaamAnujA's
sishyai ) , Vangipuratthu Aacchi ( the disciple of AlawanadAr) , 
Ammangi ( ThirukkaNNapuram Nampi ? )are other shining examples 
of illustrious Sri Vaishnava Bhagavathais , who spread the darsanam of 
Sri RaamAnujA .Ammangi , another disciple of AlavandhAr
is the one , who instructed AchArya RaamAnuja with 
the five pointers of proper code of conduct for a 
Sri Vaishnava Achaarya as she (?)learnt it from her own
Acharya , Alavandar . These five codes of conduct
are deep in meaning and are like aphorisms for us
to reflect as well even today .The most merciful 
AchArya , Sri RaamAnujA was very receptive to 
great Bhaagavathais and their upadEsa vAkhyams 
as well . His respect for his AchArya pathnis 
is legendary .  

Our most merciful AchArya Sri RaamAnuja was visiting at
one time ThirukkOLur , the birth place of Madhura Kavi 
AzhwAr . He met a young girl there , who came to offer
her praNAmams and entered into a conversation with her.
He was so delighted with this girl's divya Prabhandha 
Jn~Anam that he blessed her and her family .
Our AchAryAs follow that way of life and care 
equally for the spiritual well being of
our men , WOMEN and theentire family .

Lit  from those lamps ,our women persevere joyously with
the steady diffusion / dissemination process by personal
code of condiuct and serve as the Sheet Anchor for our 
SampradhAyam . They tend to their other duties and 
continue today at India and the distant households 
in America through the efforts of the organizers of NaamA 
Sathsangams at Dallas , Denver , Singapore and elsewhere .
May those efforts grow  and flourish ! 
Namo NaarAyaNA ,   

(To be Continued)