Why Did Vedic India Want to Restrict Women’s Sexual Freedom?

Geeta

Vedic India didn’t want women to have equal rights as men and wanted to regulate women’s sexual freedom, but why? The Hindu Shashtra Shreemadbhagabat Geeta explains this in chapter 1. Even though we have an example in the Hindu Shashtra Mahabharata itself where we see an example of Draupadi marrying five brothers in an order of Mata Kunti*, mother of Pandavas (five brothers) and Shreemadbhagabat Geeta is also a part of Mahabharata.

[*The real reason of Draupadi marrying five brothers is also mentioned in Mahabharata as that society rarely permitted women to marry multiple men. It was her own wish in her previous birth, when through a tough sadhana (asceticism) she could please Lord Shiva. She wanted to marry a man endowed with all accomplishments. Lord Shankara had given her the blessing that in her subsequent birth she could marry five men, who combined would have all accomplishments. So, it was Draupadi’s own wish getting fulfilled.]

When in the war of Kurukshetra between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, Arjuna who was fighting for the Pandavas wanted Lord Krishna to take his chariot in the middle of the war-field, he saw he was going to fight against his own people, his own blood relations, his Gurus (teachers), people who he respected and obeyed against him. This created a huge dilemma in his mind whether he should fight against his own people merely for power and some piece of land. He felt he was about to commit a great sin which will completely destroy his lineage. Arjuna felt that he will commit a great Adharma (sacrilege) by killing his own family members and that will lead to a disaster for his family.

Arjuna further said to Krishna –

अधर्माभिभबात कृष्ण प्रदुष्यन्ति कुलस्त्रियः l

स्त्रीषु दुष्टासु बार्ष्णेय जायते बर्णसंकरः ll

[अध्याय १, श्लोका – ४०]

Or this sacrilege will lead to the women of the lineage engaging in illicit relationships. When women engage in illicit relationships, they produce unwanted children.

Clearly, Hindus were against women engaging in illicit relationships and engaging in unnecessary pregnancies. Hindus thus revered the chastity and honesty of women the most. Hindus believed that a society is formed by generations reproduced by women. The children born from chaste and honest women will also be honest and dharmic.

Hindu Shashtras say, like children, women also have tendency to go astray and if they become unchaste and dishonest – they give birth to mixed breed children who will not be honest and hence can’t form great societies.

This is the reason the Hindu society has created a safety net for children and women and wanted to control them for a better society. Women were kept engaged in various religious rituals at home to keep them away from going astray and engaging in illicit relationships. When women are engaged in dharmic (religious) rituals, their mind remains pure and they produce and nurture honest and dharmic children. These children form the basis of great societies.

Hindus also believed that irresponsible and unwanted pregnancies lead to unwanted generations who only create war and other problems and lead the society to destruction.

It is also said in Shree Madbhagavat Geeta, that when women give birth to unwanted, illicit children then the whole lineage falls down to hell.

संकरो नरकाऐब् कुलघ्नानां कुलस्य च l

पतन्ति पितरो ह्येष्यां लुप्तपिण्डोदकक्रियाः ll

[अध्याय १, श्लोका – ४१]

Hindus need to offer Pind (Pinddaan – an offering to god Vishnu, which can release the dead from their sins) to their ancestors. The shloka above says, as a result the lineage itself falls to the hell. These generations do not offer Pind to their actual forefathers and hence all the ancestors falls down to hell.

But this has further implications to the society as well, as Shree Madbhagavat Geeta says –

दोषैरेतैः कुलघ्नानां बर्नसंकरकारकैः l

उत्साद्यन्ते जातिधर्माः कुलधर्माश्च शाश्वताः ll

[अध्याय १, श्लोका – ४२] 

…Or the increase in wanted progeny destroys a family’s heritage. Their sins prohibit the progress of the jaati (nation) and kul (family).

So, unwanted pregnancy and illicit children had a long-standing implication in the Hindu lives. Hindu saints understood the importance of having honest and dharmic children to have a better society. Indiscriminate sex and sex for self-pleasure was prohibited.

Since only women possesses the power to procreate, Hindus have given them the power to control and uplift the entire society and thus regulating their sex life was not oppressive at all. In fact, Hindus recognized the contribution of women in building a good society.   

However, in modern society women are very often told about ‘my body, my choice’ and they are encouraged by the feminists to engage in any kind of sexual intercourses at their free will. Even the shame that used to be associated with pre-marital pregnancies is also removed. Women and men have more sex to enjoy their sexual lives than to procreate for a divine cause of sustaining the human life on earth. It has thus become a pleasure- seeking tool rather than a mechanism strictly used for divine purpose.

Today’s women also talk about free abortion and demand right to have pregnancies outside a wedlock. They often claim that the restriction of women to ‘enjoy’ sex under Vedic India was oppression of women. Whereas men were free to have many wives. But the main reason behind this was the high importance given to purity and sacred nature of childbirth as that was considered as a divine responsibility and NOT a pleasure-seeking activity. Since women bear children in their womb and also nurture their children to adulthood, the purity of women and sacredness of sexual intercourse was of immense importance to create only honest and dharmic population. And women’s role in creating such a society was extremely honoured by regulating their sex life, rather than oppressing them.

***

[I am on a journey to understand the rich heritage and cultural diversity of India. In this new series, titled Vedic India, I will explore Male Dominated Vedic India and will try to understand from Vedic Gurus, and Vedic literature about the existence of certain social customs (like Child Marriage, Polygyny, Sati and other customs) that existed in India in Vedic times but are considered as sinful or as an offence today.

This series is motivated by a very controversial book “Women: Mothers or Masters” written by Bhakti Vikasa Swami of Krishna Consciousness Movement.

The primary aim of this series is to understand if the male domination in Vedic India was real discrimination against women as feminists’ often portray.

All articles under Vedic India can be viewed – here

Also find articles on Modern Feminism – here]

***

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