An Analysis of Women Ascetics as Projected in the Mahabharata

Supriya Banik Pal


Literature is the mirror of society. India is enriched with two great epics –theRamayana and the Mahabharata. The epic Mahabharata is mainly based on heroic warswith less room for women in home or religion. Yet some lady ascetics are portrayed tobe not only enriched with perfect knowledge of Vedic education and religious thoughtsbut also as established participants in debates and discussions with their malecounterparts.

It is the object of this paper to project these female seers with gender identityand equality based on the debates and discussions with male seers, putting focus on thesocio-philosophical aspects. These lady-seers may be classified as „Munivrata‟- thesolitude hermit, „Yoga-siddha‟- proficient in Yoga, „Brahmacharini‟-life-long asceticsand „Sannyasini‟- renouncers.

Arundhati, Brahmajna-Gautami and Brahmani in the Kaushika-vyadha legendare Brahmavadini. Siddha Siva and Shandilyaduhita- the daughter of sage-KunigargaareBrahmacharini. YogasiddhaSulabha has a meticulous discussion on yoga, samadhi,moksa and philosophy of emancipation with the king Janaka, wining the debate. Truthseekers, sages, deities and ancestors have come to listen and learn the secrets of religionfrom Arundhati and Siddha-Siva. The discussions, debates and interactions made bythese enlightened women seers have demonstrated that there are no fundamentaldifferences in achieving the ultimate truth through renunciations due to gender.Furthermore, women can also reach heaven by the yoga of pativratya (imagnanimous-Shandili) without performing any rigorous emancipation.

In this paper, I have discussed the socio-religious issues for analyzing thesubject matter through the epic Mahabharata, attempting to clarify these issues with theobjective of evaluating, appreciating and exploring the identity of women seers whohave participated in a variety of asceticism in the age of Mahabharata.

Key words: Women ascetics, Mahabharata, Religion, Gender issues

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