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[sv-rituals] Women and Vedas

From: Shuba (swamis_at_rpi.edu)
Date: Wed Apr 24 2002 - 17:31:51 PDT

I had posed the same question to a more learned person than I 
as to why women cannot study the vedas. Reproduced below is my 
qn and his response. Personally, I don't buy it completely. But 
then, I readily admit I lack the scholarly knowledge needed to 
refute his argument and also acknowledge that as a woman, my 
instinct is to not accept being told what I can(not)do based on 
my gender :)

Thanks,
-Shuba

> I have a request to make - could you please share with me the
> exact verses/chapter of Shruti's that you used to make your
> assertion that women are not allowed to study the jnana kanda
> of the vedas and should restrict themselves to the gita and
> upanishads? I would like to pass on this information to 
> another scholarly person who absolutely insists the vedas say 
> no such thing.
>

Shruti is not "scripture" in the sense that the Bible or Koran 
are scripture.  It has a certain method of exegisis (Mimamsa) 
which is more complex than simple quoting of chapter and 
verse.  If your friend is not aware of this, he is bound to 
come to different (and wrong!) conclusions even if the facts 
superficially seem to be the same.

First let us be sure you know exactly what assertion[sic] I'm 
actually making.  The Vedas consist of two parts based on 
subject matter, Karmakanda, which deals with Dharma which is of 
the form of action (Karma), and Jnanakanda which deals with 
Brahman which is of the form of knowledge.  Each Vedic shakha 
is comprised of four types of text, Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka 
(which mostly deal with Karmakanda) and Upanishad (which mostly 
deals with Jnanakanda)  This corpus of texts as a whole are
called vedas or Shruti.  Some of those sages who heard the 
Shruti also composed works such as Vedangas, Dharmashastras, 
Puranas, etc.  These collectively are known as Smrti and may 
also deal with Dharma (i.e. Manusmrti) or Jnana (i.e.  
Bhagavadgita) Thirdly the pupils of these sages and their 
pupils, etc.  form a chain of succession (with their own tikas,
bhashyas etc. on the above works) upto the present day.  This 
is known as Shishtachara.  All these three, Shruti, Smrti and 
Shistachara are valid source of knowledge regarding Dharma and 
Jnana.  It is only in the case of conflict that the former 
trumps the latter.  Otherwise all are equally valid and binding.

For every mantra, the appropriate initiation (diksha) must be 
done before its' study can commence.  For the study of the 
Vedas, Upanayana samskara is the method of initiation.  Who is 
entitled to Upanayana?  Well, where the rite is mentioned in 
Shruti (In my shakha Madhyandina Shuklayajuraveda it is the 5th 
Brahmana of the 9th Kanda of the Shatapatha Brahmana) the
details for Brahmanas, Kshatriyas,and Vaishyas are given.  
Instructions for Shudras are not mentioned therefore it is 
concluded that that they are not eligible.  Furthermore, the 
instructions are given in masculine gender ("the boy should do 
this etc...")  similiar instructions for girls are not given, 
therefore it is concluded that they too are not eligible.

This isn't the end of the matter.  As mentioned previously 
Smrti is also a valid source of Dharma.  In fact most of 
todays "Hinduism" is actually based on Puranas and Agamas not 
the Vedas per se.  But as long as it does not conflict with the 
Vedas, it is equally entitled to be called "Vedic." The Smrtis 
may have the missing instructions for the initiation of girls.
Except they don't.  In all our voluminous shastras, there is 
not a peep on this subject.

What about Shistachara?  If there were a tradition of female 
study of the Vedas, it would also be considered Dharma.  There 
is no such living tradition today.  Nor is there any evidence 
whatsoever, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from ancient times to 
the recent past of there ever have being such a tradition.  
Let's say for the sake of argument that such traditions were 
surpressed.  Is it possible that they could have been censored 
so thouroughly and systematically that not one scrap of
archaeological or literary evidence remains?  That is too 
fantastic to believe.

It is on these grounds that I state the fact (not assertion) 
that women are not eligible to learn the Vedas.




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