Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Exceptions

Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Exceptions

Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Exceptions

Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Exceptions

Synopsis

This book accounts for the origin and evolution of the nature and roles of women within the Hindu belief system. It explains how the idea of the goddess has been derived from Hindu philosophical ideas and texts of codes of conduct and how particular models of conduct for mortal women have been created. Hindu religious culture correlates philosophical speculation and social imperatives to situate femininity on a continuum from divine to mortal existence. This creates in the Hindu consciousness multiple - often contradictory - images of women, both as wielders and subjects of authority. The conception and evolution of the major Hindu goddesses, placed against the judgments passed by texts of Hindu sacred law on women's nature and duties, illuminate the Hindu discourse on gender, the complexity of which is compounded by the distinctive spirituality of female ascetic poets. Drawing on a wide range of Sanskrit texts, the author explains how the idea of the goddess has been derived from Hindu philosophical ideas and also from the social roles of women as reflected in, and prescribed by, texts of codes of conduct. She examines the idea of female divinity which gave rise to models of conduct for mortal women. Instead of a one-way order of ideological derivation, the author argues that there is constant traffic between both ways the notional and the actual feminine. This book brings together for the first time a wide range of material and offers fresh stimulating interpretations of women in the Hindu Tradition.

Excerpt

Hindu religious culture correlates philosophical speculation and
social imperatives to situate femininity on a continuum from
divine to mortal existence. This creates in the Hindu conscious
ness multiple, often contradictory images of women, at once as
wielders and subjects of authority. The conception and evolution
of the major Hindu goddesses, placed against the judgements
passed by texts of Hindu sacred law on women’s nature and
roles, illuminate the Hindu discourse on gender, the complexity
of which is further compounded by the distinctive spirituality
of female ascetic poets.

The wide variety of Hindu beliefs and practices makes it difficult to generalize on most aspects of the Hindu way of life. Given the multiplicity of doctrines and worship rituals, the inseparable interaction of religious and social philosophy, and the continuous accretion of exegetical commentary on all this through several thousand years, it is not surprising that on almost every facet of Hinduism there should be differences of opinion. As soon as one asks, what is Hinduism, one then has to specify which Hinduism and whose Hinduism one is trying to comprehend. There is no doubt that Hindus in general share certain core beliefs and values, such as a belief in the existence of a supreme being independent of time and space, or in rebirth. But whether there is one god or many, whether the supreme being is involved in human life or utterly remote from it, are questions – among innumerable others – that have been fielded with a vast array of answers, many of them subtly argued and equally cogent though contradictory.

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