Author: Khushi Puri (B.tech from Sri Sukhmani Institute of Engineering and Technology, Derabassi)
When it comes to women’s education in ancient India, we all Indians somehow wonder whether women were educated in any way those times.
There are a lot of misconceptions, many people say that women got education rights only after independence. Using scriptural references(I will use only Vamiki Ramayana since the question is related to Devi Sita-The female lead of the epic) let us see very briefly, how historically women were indeed trained.
Listening to Kaikeyi’s harsh words, Rama decides to obey father’s granted boons. Dasaratha gets disturbed.
Rama asks Kaikeyi why his father did not speak to him directly about the matter.
He then leaves to inform about this to his mother Kausalya and wife Seetha.
Kausalya is left in grief, while Lakshmana gets angry on Kaikeyi and his father.
Rama shocks Seetha by revealing about his decision to leave for forest.
Seetha expresses her wish to follow him, while Rama warns her of dangers in forest.
Seetha reveals that, before her marriage, she heard through few astrologers that she has to live in forests for some time in future. Quite shocking isn’t it !!
Rama tried to convince her that rendering service to elders by staying back at home is advisable for her, but in vain.
Finally Rama yields to her prevail and asks her to donate personal belongings before leaving Ayodhya.
Finally Rama along with Seetha and Lakshmana prepare to leave Ayodhya.
In a final attempt, minister Sumantra requests Queen Kaikeyi to take back her impositions.
Even the elderly minister and a scholar named Siddhartha tries to pacify Kaikeyi by telling the legend of Sagara, the ancestor of Dasaratha, quoting the exile of his notorious son Asamanja.
But she is adamant to all holy advices and wants Rama to leave for forests.
In past, Emperor Sagara abandonded his son Asamanja for his evil deeds such as kidnapping children on streets of Ayodhya and throwing them into Sarayu river for fun and watch them drown.
When people of Ayodhya complained about him and said, either his son or they should leave the city, Sagara decided to thrown him out of his kingdom.
Then Rama declares that he will reside in the forest for 14 years living on fruits and roots.
Lakshmana too discards his silk raiment and puts on bark clothes.
Seeing them, Seetha looks at piece of bark intended to be worne by her and felt alarming as a deer would on seeing a snare (set for entrapping).
“How ascetics residing in the forest wear this piece of bark?” Thus saying, Seetha who was not adept in wearing the bark of trees, erred again and again, in her attempt to wear it.
Keeping one piece of bark on her neck as well as holding it with her hand, Seetha stood abashed, not adept as she was in wearing it.
Rama quicky came and personally fastened that bark over the sild garment of Seetha.
Seeing this, women in fort shed tears.
They tried to convince Rama to leave back Seetha in fort and go along with Lakshmana.
Due to vast cultural illiteracy majority people don’t know that,
just before Shri Ram set out for Vanwaas, Rishi Vashishtha, after condemning Kaikeyi, declares that Mata Sita will not accompany Shri Ram to the forest. Instead, she will sit on the throne prepared for him and will rule in his stead.
In the very next verse he justifies this by saying that, his wife is the soul of every householder. Since Mata Sita is Shri Ram’s soul, she can rule this earth.
Atharva Veda 11.5.17 mentions that a King becomes capable of ruling after getting trained under a Guru and following Brahmacharya.
The very fact that Rishi Vashishtha considered Mata Sita to be a capable ruler who could rule in Shri Ram’s absence suggests that she fulfilled the required conditions to sit on the throne. Isn’t this a very lesser known fact !!
Nowadays, I have seen people saying chanting of vedic mantras was prohibited for women in ancient times.
The tradition of Sandhyavandana is a male-dominated custom today, but during the Vedic period, women used to perform Vedic oblations, too.
In Sundara Kanda of Ramayana describes Hanuman entering Lanka and searching for Seetha.
On his way, Hanuman saw river which fell down from the mountain like a beloved (young wife) who fell down after jumping from the lap of a loved one shone by trees whose ends fell down in water or like a woman in anger being detained by her near and dear. That great Hanuman again saw that river with water, turning back like a beloved woman reaching her beloved again, being reconciled to her beloved one.
He also saw one shimshupaa tree golden in colour covered with many groups of creepers and with many leaves surrounded everywhere with platforms made of gold.
After climing up that shimshupaa tree with well flowered ends, beautiful tree, mature with young shoots and leaves and covered by leaves, Hanuman thought that Seetha might come to that mountain or pond or garden for relief.
Translation : The ever youthful one with the best complexion, Seetha interested in the rites of Sandhya time will definitely come to this river with the auspicious water for Sandhya rite.
Hanuman reveals that Seetha is interested in performing Sandhya Vandanam daily. He must have got details from Lord Rama before leaving for Lanka.
Infact, women during vedic era were equal to or even more than their male counterparts.
One must note that Women were generally divided between Brahmavadinis and Sadyovadhus. Brahmavadinis were students of metaphysics and philosophy lifelong, and Sadyovadhus completed their education till 16 and were married after that.
It is interesting to note that Ramayana tells us that when the country has a stable king ladies go out in the parks to play and for recreation. Again no mention of veil being necessary in for going out. Or indeed no mention of any seclusion for these ladies.
(I have heard people saying in ancient times women used to wear Ghunghat or were forcibly kept restricted in four walls of the house or were not allowed to go outside their households.
Even Mata Sita herself has not donned a veil when she is moving about in the forests which are infested with demons and enemies.
This is a reference from A.S Altekar’s book.
I also would like to show a screenshot of another book, it clearly proves that indeed religious and educational equality was indeed present during ancient India. Devi Sita twice discloses her discharging religious duties in the morning and evening like men in Valmiki Ramayana.
Performing vedic oblations or discharging religious duties (like chanting Gayatri )requires one to be initiated, this shows that girls were indeed invested with sacred thread like boys in ancient times. Women were allowed to chant vedic mantras and were learned.
There is an interesting excerpt from the Yuddha kanda of Vakmiki Ramayana wherein Devi Sita is clearly mentioned as wearing the sacred thread.
(Also, on a side note I want to mention that Sandhya prayers are typically learnt from a preceptor at the time of Upanyana.
See screenshots below-
The above S.C has shoka clearly mentioning the word -Yajnopavita, so like men, women used to wear Yajnopavita those days.
Also, I would like to share one more important quote from Valmiki Ramayana.
This shows how much Rama respected Sita and women in general.
Note: All images are from Google Images