Status Of Women in Hindu Society
The position of women in society is always an index of the greatness of its religion and culture. A woman has always been given a much higher status and position in Hinduism than in any other religion.
Women so inclined could avail themselves of the highest learning and there were many female seers and philosophers. In the ancient times Gargi, wife of Mandanamishra, was appointed as judge because of her superior erudition and spiritual attainments. Warrior queens like Kaikeye helped their husbands on the battlefields.
Women were not married till they were in their late teens, sometimes even later. They could choose their own husbands and intermarriages were common. Polygamy existed in some societies but mostly amongst princes who contracted several marriages with daughters of neighbouring rulers for political reasons.
A woman was supposed to be the manifestation of Goddess/Shakti and the male (Shaktiman) was supposed to be incomplete without the female (Shakti) with him, whether he was a god or a human being. Each male deity of the Divine Trinity has his female counterpart; Saraswati (learning), Lakshmi (wealth) and Parvati (power). The rituals, especially auspicious ones, are incomplete when performed by a man without his wife co-participating. Dishonour to women was tantamount to dishonour of the Almighty. Wife or mother commanded more honour and reverence than husband or father.
With the onslaught of the foreign invasions and the subsequent rigidity of the caste system, Hindu women lost their independence and became objects requiring male protection. In the process they lost the opportunities they earlier had of acquiring knowledge and learning.
Starting from the early nineteenth century there arose a new upsurge of intellectual searching and re-evaluation of our ancient past with several reformers spreading the message of the need for purifying Hinduism of its excessive rites, rituals and orthodoxy and the heaping of inequalities on women. Some of the reformers of the time were Ram-mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.
Women in modern Indian society have full freedom and equality including the right of inheritance.