Yatra naari pujyate; tatra ramate devata—is a famous mantra, which means, ‘god is pleased where woman is worshiped’. In spite of being a male dominated society and in many ways woman is thrashed and exploited, yet our society is more ‘woman’ centric than male. Though western concept and values are influencing Indian society in every way, yet a normal Indian can never think of living without having some kind of relationship with a woman—as a mother, sister, wife etc. In a sense, I can say this with some confidence that without a woman an Indian male will feel incomplete. That is why even a sannyasi is entitled to bow before his mother, take care of her and even allowed to do final rites to her.
A woman is the center of life to a man and particularly to a home. That’s why Mahabharata says, ‘na grham grham ity aahu grhiiç grham ucyate.’1—a house is not a home but only a woman (wife) makes a house as a home. A married man living alone in a rented house is not called as a family. Whereas a woman living away from her husband is considered as a home. For example, if the husband works at Delhi leaving his wife at Chennai, he will say, ‘my family is at Chennai’. Whereas his wife will never say ‘my family is at Delhi’ but ‘my husband works at Delhi’. So without a wife a man cannot have a home.
The importance of woman in Indian life can be understood even through certain terms like ‘dharmapatni; pati bhakti’ etc. Of course language is based on convention and acceptance to understand a concept or thing. However, in India this very convention and common acceptance shows the importance of a woman in life for all and particularly for a man. We never heard or have a term like ‘dharmapati’ or ‘patni bhakti’. Graha-dharma (home/family dharma) is entrusted mostly with a woman. Without a wife a man cannot do most (or) any of his grahastyadharma (householder duty), the convention rightly attributed this word to woman as ‘dharmapatni’.2 Even Rama has to perform ashvameda yajna (horse sacrifice) by keeping a golden statue of Sita next to him, when she was exiled to the forest by him. In India, so far any male living without marriage is not accepted or welcomed in a community or society. Living as ‘single’ (like that is in the West) never considered as normal part life and such life is considered as an aberration. Though this trend is slowly creeping in Indi in some urban society, yet it is not considered as normal part of our life. After bachelorhood (brahmachari) one should marry or become a sannyasi.
So the word of ‘Patibhakti’ (bhakti towards husband), will help us to understand the main point that woman is the center and link for all relationship in a home. As a human being, though woman and man are one and the same, yet the way woman still remain as the pivot of all relationship in a home remains universal. And the word ‘Patidharma’ only highlights this importance. However talented, gifted and have all kinds of facilities a man cannot run a home without a woman. Because running a home is not merely handling physical/material objects. It is to link and give respective role in relationship to each person in a home. A husband can have real love for his wife but he can never replace his wife in her multi-centered role in a home. Her ‘bhakti’ (viz. relationship) to her pati (husband), extends to all other relationship. That is why, immediately after the marriage, when she moves away from her parents, she could naturally relate with her husband’s relatives (and friend’s family) even without having any pre-acquaintance with them. Though there could be few exceptions, yet however try a man (husband) cannot have the same kind of ‘bhakti’ (relationship viz, ‘Patini bhakti) like his wife. Though these terms (dharmapatni; patibhakti) were not consciously created keeping this principle in mind, it evolved naturally understanding the role of a woman in life.
Long before I read in a book that man (husband) seeks pleasure whereas woman (wife) seeks pleasure and security. This security she not only seeks for her but also provides to every other member in a family. That is why a Tamil writer once wrote in his novel: man knows how to put dots but only a woman knows how to link them and make a beautiful kolam (pattern or rangoli). One ancient Tamil songs says that once wife is gone all kinds of goodness gone along with her from a man’s life.3 This is true as the main link in his life with others is gone with his wife. Interestingly, at least in India, this never happens to a woman even if her husband passes away.
Though a sannyasi, I have the privilege and blessing to take care of my mother. And I know that because of her alone several of my relatives still keep their relationship with me (or I keep my relationship with them).
So however in Indian society woman didn’t receive certain rights and privileges viewed from different (western or modern or woman Liberation) perspectives, yet she is the center in Indian life. Then, naturally she alone deserves certain special terms like dharmapatni and patibhakti.
Dayanand Bharati. January 31, 2012
1. RV 10.85.36. Again at 3.53.4 the RV states: “Wife is the true home”—jaayed astam. The MBh (12.144.66) echoes the same thought: “The home is not the house, they say, but the housewife”— na grham grham ity aahu grhii grham ucyate.— Patrick Olivelle, The Asrama system The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993, Fn. 32, p.41
2. And in urging men to respect women, he [Manu] eulogizes them (9.26-8):
On account of offspring, a wife is the bearer of many blessings, worthy of honor, and the light within a home; indeed, in a home no distinction at all exists between a wife (stri) and Sri, the Goddess of Fortune. She begets children; and when they are born, she brings them up—day in, day out, the wife, evidently, is the linchpin of domestic affairs. Offspring, rites prescribed by law, obedient service, the highest sensuous delights, and procuring heaven for oneself and one’s forefathers—all this depends on the wife. Patrick Olivelle, Manu’s Cod of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmasastra, New Delhi, Oxford, 2006, p.36.
The following from Purvavea (Old Testament) in Muktiveda (Bible) endorses this in a different way:
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Proverbs 31: 10-31, NIV)
3 Without relatives rich life is denied; without brothers support is gone, when wife is gone all kinds of goodness is gone from life.—Thanippadal, Chennai, Nalarappadippagam, vol. 1. Song, 64, pp. 38-39
தாயோ டறுசுவைபோம் தந்தையொடு கல்விபோம்
சேயோடு தான்பெற்ற செல்வம்போம்-ஆயவாழ்
வுற்றா ருடன்போ முடற்பிறப்பாற் றோள்வலிபோம்
பொற்றாலி யோடெவையும் போம்.- 64.
உரை: ….சிறப்பாக வாழும் வாழ்க்கை சுற்றத்தார் ஒழிந்தபோது இல்லாதாகும், சகோதரரில்லாதபோது பக்கத் துணையால் வரும் புய வலிமை ஒழிந்து போகும், பொன்னினாலாகிய மங்கல நாணணிந்த மனையாளிறந்தபோது எவ்வகையான நலன்களும் இல்லனவாம்- தனிப்பாடல் திரட்டு, நல்லறப் பதிப்பகம், முதல் தொகுதி, 64, ப.38-39,
In continuation on this topic (of idealism versus reality) I have to say more. For example, Brahmins are eulogized as if they are the visible gods on earth and sanctioned several privileges over others in many scriptures, particularly dharmasastras. But the reality is neither they enjoyed those privileges in real life nor managed to get them from others all the time. Above all, such special privileges allotted or demand is claimed only in the brahminical literatures and scriptures and not by others. I know this will open another controversy on caste and Brahmins, (which I am looking forward to share my views).
So let me take another example of suppression of woman. You have rightly quoted from Tulsidas that woman, along with Sudras, drum, animal are deserve beating. In fact this is a reality even today as man often uses physical violence on woman. But this is not the only picture in life. Similarly the way woman giving mental torture to a man and even driving him made or run away from life (to become a sannyasi) is also part of life. In fact, as I have observed (from the life of others), the poor man out of anger use physical violence one time or few times, but the price that he pays for that is several fold in life. Woman has more mental strength and inner power than man. This is my observation. What man try to achieve through his physical strength, woman easily achieve through her mental strength. As a joke I tell my shishyas: even before the fight begins accept your wife’s view. In the end she alone is going to win, irrespective of all your efforts to push your idea. So instead of wasting your time and energy surrender in the beginning because finally (somehow) she alone is going to win. This is a joke and don’t take it seriously. I crack lots of jokes on woman, as I need not face the consequence of it. But I have high regard for woman and always raise my voice for their right.
Let me give another example from Manu:
…”Her father guards her in her childhood; her husband guards her in her youth; and her sons guard her in her old age. A woman is not fit to act on her own.7— Patrick Olivelle, The Asrama system The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993, p.185
7. MDh 9:3: pitaaã raksati kaumaare bhartaaã raksati yauvane/raksanti sthavire putraaã na striiç svaantantryam arhati// the verse is also found in VaDh (Varaha Dharmasastra) 5.2; BDh )Badrayana dharmasastra) 2.3.45; MBh (Mahabharata)13.21.19; 13.46.13. —
This might be true in the context of his time, where present day safety cannot be provided to woman. (Even they are not that much safe even today). But my point is on ‘not fit to act on her own’! But from personal experience we can say that this is not true. In fact, most of the Indian home remain intact and carry their dharma because woman ‘act’ and acts prudently. Though in the early stage of marriage she may not have that much ‘say’ (particularly in a joint family) in the family affairs. But after children born, most of the time they have important role in all decision making in a home. Once they reach middle age, almost they alone have major role in settling the life of their children, particularly in marriage (finding the boy or girl and finalizing the dowry, arrangement of marriage etc.). The husband, several time allowed to share his opinion but major decisions are left with woman. Then the ‘guarding’ part of the husband (this too is a joke) become real to act like a body guard when they go out every time to protect her jewels.
Sorry I may use many words and lots of illustration to share my view. As this blog is my space, I would like to record my thought on this subject. Some of my views might be controversial and not true. As a single man I may not have personal experience living with a woman. However as I observe our society and also counsel few on marriage and family issues, I too know some issues however objective they might be.
Though some of my views might look cynical and anti-woman, that is not true. As I have high respect for them, when I raise my voice to support them, I have to also share some of my views which may go against them.
I strongly feel that woman is the center of every Indian home, they are more strong in the mind and spirit, they courageously face life, because of their decision making role, and most of the homes in India remain intact keeping our values. However in this process, they may go overboard some time. But we cannot entirely blame them alone for that too. Sometime they are cornered and forced to take extreme step against their nature and dharma. However like a doctor giving a painful treatment, even those extreme steps taken by woman too are keeping the welfare of the family (particularly for the children) and not personal in most cases.
My mother is a great inspiration and model (for woman) in my life. She is a blessing even at this stage in her life. I am not sure how I can manage several things in the ashram without her active help. She keeps kitchen and dining hall, apart from her room and living room very clean. She is very active to her age (now 86 running). She stood with my father in his entire struggle when he lost everything in business. Though born in a poor family, she married my father when he was very rich. But when he lost everything due to business loss, her father asked her to come and stay with him with (four children) till my father recovers. But my mother told him, ‘Where Rama lives that is Ayodhya for Sita. I enjoyed with him all the wealth. But when he lost everything, I cannot leave him. Let me live and struggle with him.’ It is a long story to tell how they both struggled a lot to bring us all. My mother lived just one sari for several years. Inside the hut, she will wear the old torn dhoti of my father. And if come one come to visit, then she will change to that one sari. She has written all her struggle in life in a diary, which I cannot read as it pains my heart very much. But I have it with me. As she was the third wife to my father (the first two died), she is 20 years younger to my father. But when he became more than 90 years old, my mother told, ‘I wish he should die before me. Otherwise he will suffer a lot, as he won’t ask even a cup of water from others. Unless I give he won’t ask coffee or food. So if I die before him, then who will look after him. A woman can manage and somehow survive (accepting all humiliation) even without her husband. But a man cannot do this without his wife. And blessed is the man who dies before his wife. I won’t mind to become a widow.’ Though every Indian woman wants to die before her husband, my mother keeping the interest and welfare of my father never mind to become a widow.
I have seen her mental strength several times in life. My elder brother passed away at the age of 28 leaving a girl child, my sister married someone outside the community and I too become a sannyasi. But in spite of all these and several other tragedies in her life, she remains very strong in her mind. I don’t have such inner strength like her. Though circumstances forced her to come and live with me (away from people and society), yet realizing my limitation and need finally, she happily adjusted herself here to stay with me till the end of her life. Now she worries how I am going to live here alone and manage if she dies before me. Then as a joke I tell her, ‘then live till I die and look after me. Then you can think of your death’. In the same way she will lament about the life and future of my brother who has no children. Like a typical mother, in spite of her difficulties she always thinks the welfare of her children alone.
I consider it a great blessing to have her as my mother and when she was forced to come and stay with me since 2000, I considered it as a privilege to look after her than as mere duty of a son. Several times when I call her ‘AMMA’ I feel immense joy in my spirit and thank God to have mother with me. Though she dominates me several ways (I cannot read or write after 11.30 pm. Then she will come and shout, “enough close your book/computer and go to bed”), yet I am happy to remain a child of her than a sannyasi. That is why Mahabharata says:
26. The mother is as the fire-stick about the bodies of all men. She is the medicine for all sorts of calamities. The existence of the mother grants protection to one; the reverse deprives one of all protection. 27. The man who, though shorn of prosperity, enters his house uttering the words—O mother!—does not suffer from grief. Nor does decrepitude ever attack him. 28. A person whose mother exists, even if he has sons and grandsons and even if he is a hundred years old, looks like a child of two. 29. Able or disabled, lean or robust, the son is always protected by the mother. None else, according to the Scripture, is the son’s protector. 30. When his mother leaves him then does the son become old, then does he become stricken with grief, then does the world look empty in his eyes. [Chirakarin to himself]— M.N.[Manmatha Nath] Dutt, Mahabharata,Delhi, Parimala Publications, 7 vols. Vol. 6. Shanti ParvaCh. CCLXVI. P. 397
The reason for me to share this much about my mother is that I am not sure whether my father could do the same what my mother has done in the past and continue to do for me (us) now. Even when my father was alive, none of us (all the five children) were close to him. For everything we will only ask our mother. This is enough to show why a woman is important in a man’s life and also for a home, which a man can never replace.
Several times I pray to God to take me along with my mother and never allow me to live in a world without her.
Db. February 3, 2012
…Already in the Rgveda women are said to have uncontrollable minds (RV 8.33.17) and to have the hears of hyenas (RV 10.95.15). Women are put on a par with SÕõãdras, dogs, and crows: all embody false hood, sin, and darkness (SB 14.1.131).— Olivelle. Op. cit. p.184
…”Her father guards her in her childhood; her husband guards her in her youth; and her sons guard her in her old age. A woman is not fit to act on her own.7—ibid., p.185
7. MDh 9:3: pitaaã raksati kaumaare bhartaaã raksati yauvane/raksanti sthavire putraaã na striiç svaaãntantryam arhati// the verse is also found in VaDh 5.2; BDh 2.3.45; MBh 13.21.19; 13.46.13.—ibid., p.185