In India the treatises of law founded upon the sacred books of the Hindus had a far-reaching and defining influence on social life. As foundational documents of the Hindu way of life which codified social relations as well as personal belief as religious imperatives, these texts have exerted the deepest influence on the lives and conduct of women through history and their teachings have not yet entirely lost their force. In this lecture I shall consider some of the provisions in Hindu sacred law that moulded the lives of women, as derived from the writings of Manu and other ancient Hindu lawgivers, as well as some later writers on this basis we shall attempt to understand the intimate connection between the religious framework and the social, which has laid the basis of women’s status, roles, rights and duties in Hindu society.
Nivrtti denotes disengagement with worldly conventions. Of course it is used more in the context of samnysins/samnyasinis in connection with the pursuit of moksa (liberation). But this paper intends to release the word nivrtti from this narrow application and look at it in a wider context. The paper will examine the instances in the texts which have representations of women who go against the conventional, mother/warrior image. For instance is the brahmavadini/scholar woman like Gargi for instance, discarding by choice the role of a married woman and opting for a life of scholarly/spiritual search? Again is Savitri exerting her independence and opting to marry Satyavan in spite of her father’s advice? Sulabha again could be someone who did not want to marry anyone because she was far superior to all those who wooed her. She makes the deliberate choice to become a bhiksuni. There are any number of these examples in Sanskrit texts which will form the basis of the talk.
Ursula King (Professor Emerita, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Member of the Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Bristol. Professorial Research Associate, Centre for Gender and Religions Research, SOAS, University of London)
Professor Vasudha Narayanan (University of Florida, USA and Tamal Krishna Visiting Fellow, President of the American Academy of Religion )