Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Women in love - India (Part 1)

There is a phrase in Hindi which goes something like this: 'there is always a difference between doing and saying.'


India is a country where the woman is not presented as Eve, nor did she come out of the rib of a man, but she follows from shraddh (Prestige), or from the 'mother of man'. Deity worship is in India as ancient as its civilization. Long before the Indus valley civilization, we can find a worship cult of women. Unlike other major religions being but one religion, many different religious thoughts developed on this continent and gave some place to womanhood in a very specific way. There are still two major states in the country, where woman are socially powerful. These societies are called matriarchal or Kerala and are located in the North East of India. We have as well a few names for women who are considered to be geniuses like Gargi, and off course also Matrayi. Our goddesses of knowledge and of wealth are both female, namely Sarswati and Laxmi respectively. So from Heaven to earth, there stretches a long list of representation of womanhood. This became possible because Hinduism is not one religion following a single method or one preacher, and is, therefore, not like other popular religions. Rather it is an umbrella religion which covers a number of prehistoric to modern concepts of thinking, worshiping and seeks to be present in life by philosophical and spiritual means. Since it is more like a wide open social philosophy, one can think of it as contributing to a better balance in society.

And I must accept it with a heavy heart that we are not any different from any other Conservative society, where women stay not only behind the curtain but are also forced to fit themselves into a ready-made frame. And this struggle has continued from a very early age onwards till today. The biggest issue in Indian society is the caste system since the main reason for the suppression of womanhood. In the oldest documents of the Vedic text not much is said about the situation of women being suppressed, but we hardly find either in the text any representation of a woman's voice. However, in some love poems by Atharvaveda there can be discovered a natural way by which a woman can find her form of existence. It is based on an understanding of love.


I see my beloved’s cosmic form.

See, my beloved has come

With eagerness for her lover.

I too come, galloping like a horse.

Our love should become happy

our relationship, beautiful

heart should merge with heart

body with body. (Atharvaveda.2/30./1,2,3,4,5 )


And there is a poem by her about a woman praying for a wild love from her beloved:


Let him burn for me

I wish, he longs for me

Being lover he shall long for me

O deities, send forth this love

Let him burn for me

Let that yonder man long for me

May he burn for me

O Marut! Arouse him

O Space! Make him passionate

O Agni ! You please arouse him

May he burn for me

Atharvaveda. 6.130.1-4




O lover!

I am dipping you in my love

from head to bottom

O deities!

Please drive passion towards him

so he thinks of me

nothing else



However, in later periods such honest expressions disappeared, and the norms of a woman were set as having to be a pious and a dedicated wife although we get to hear an interesting discussion between two scholars, Yajnavalkya (a male Scholar ) and Gargee (a female scholar). In the fourth section of the third chapter of that Upanishad, Gargi posed some questions to Yajnavalkya regarding space and Universe during a debate held at the King's court. This incident itself shows that at that time a few women were highly educated and thinkers. In the debate, she split her questions into small parts. She wanted to know the layers of space, and also learn more about the center or atom of the Universe.

So she asked: “O Yajnavalkya, if everything is made out of otaprota?1

Yayjavalkya replies: “Out of water!

Gargi: “If otaprota is made out of water, then out of what is made water?

The reply was: “Gargi, out of air.”

Gargi again asked: „Then, out of what is made air?

Yajnvalkya said: „Out of antariksha.

Gargi asked: „Out of what is made antariksha otaprota?”

Yajnvalkya said: “Gargi, out of Gandharva loka.”

Gargi again asked: „Out of what is it made?

The answer was: “out of Aditya loka.

Yajnvalya said then: “Aditya loka out of Chandra loka, Chandra loka out of Indra loka, Indra loka out of Prajapati, Prajapati out of Brahma loka.”

Gargi asked then: “Out of what is made Brahma loka?”

Because the series of questions became longer and longer, or else it hurt a man's ego, Yajnavalkya got very angry. Consequently he threatened her: „if you ask any more questions, your head shall roll!“

The underlining question is why Yajnavalkya got so angry at Gargi? There is no doubt that Gargi’s questions were meant to go into further details, for that is the quality of science, namely to be able to explain things in detail. He might have been angered simply because he did not accept a woman scholar asking him so many questions. Or he could have realized that Gargi has the capacity to enter details and thereby risk that he might not be able to follow her or to answer her questions anymore correctly.

We don’t find a scholar like Gargi for a long time thereafter in Indian history.

But let us come now to one of the biggest issue of India, namely the caste system. Strangely enough the caste system is also linked to womanhood. At the time of Veda’s 2 we had the Varna system (a division of society ), but not as of yet the Jati system (the caste system in modern times). The division of society depended very much on what was the working culture of society and therefore a person's status was not determined by being born into a particular working community. A man could go for Yaga (sacrifice worship)3 as well as he do some other labour for a livelihood. There are a few hymns in which there is mentioned that the son is a poet, the father a carpenter and mother is grinding grains for others. The Varna system was not very cruel, as Arya and Shudra have mentioned this already many times in Veda.

But later on, once the Smriti books had been written to control society, the situation changed and life became very difficult. The Smriti books are like Rule books which were written by the Brahaman in order to control society. Even a king could not oppose these rules. There are altogether 18 Smriti books and all are still available. It is here that we find evidence of the status of women being very low. She is treated mainly as servant of her husband and her husband's family.

The creation of Jati system changes all that. It is marked by a very cruel punishment of women of a higher caste. A biggest issue for any family was the matter of Untouchability. It meant to to allow a person or a family to eat or sit with the others. It is one of the biggest punishments conceivable. So if a woman from a higher family marries a boy of the lower caste, she was treated as untouchable along with her children. These children had to work as servant, were not allowed to come into the city or were not allowed to touch the others. Some of them had to eat what was left by the people of the higher class. Again this was a kind of punishment.

One such rule book is named Oshana Smriti. It gives a very interesting account of how the low caste society was established and why those belonging to it were called the 'untouchables'. The first chapter of the book explains why a lower caste exists in society. They don’t talk about their community compared to a Brahman who is Bramhan by birth. The Indian caste system was cruel in the following sense: a Brahaman was considered as the highest caste and one could only belong to it by birth, but this was not the case for the lower castes. Whenever someone committed a crime, he could not leave his Jati (caste) and was even put most of the time into the lower or working community. This lower place as a part of the punishment was given especially to womenfolk of higher community girls once they had violated some rules. The reason for all of this is very interesting since it concerns love or rather marriages out of love.

The rule book gives an account of the caste system, specially of the lower (working) caste. At that time society was already divided into four main Varnas (community): Brahman (highest ), kshatriya (warrior), vaishya (Business) and shudra (working). But they wanted to create more castes for the working class. Thus they altered the rules so that someone put into a working class could also be the result of love marriages between different communities. For example, if a Brahman girl loves secretly a boy of the kshatriya(warrior) caste, and if they had together a son, he would be called a carpenter and be considered an 'untouchable'. In the case that she loves a boy of the Shudra caste, her son will be called a Chandal (the one who burns dead bodies), and who could only clean the latrine of the villagers, and never enter the village during day time; he would have to stay outside the village all day and hide his face so that people of the community would not see him. The list of such caste creations is very extensive and goes into quite some details.

Strangely enough, if a man of the higher Varna community loves a woman from a lower community, her children will not have to face a similar punishment expect that they cannot have a share in their father's property (see first chapter of Oshana smriti). Needless to say, very little historical research has been done in this direction about the role of women in the caste system.

Kotilya or Chankya used another way to control the love life of a woman. He started using the love drama of a woman for the purpose to develop the kingdom although he hated women. That is why he warned about fire, water, woman, fool, snake and royal family. He cautioned that one should be aware of all them because they are dangerous things. They can prove to be fatal. Compared to men, women have hunger two fold, shyness four fold, daring six fold and lust eight fold. For him a good woman is one who is pious, expert in household chores, true and faithful to husband etc.

Though our Purana books talks about a beautiful love of Radha, the beloved of Krishna, we don’t find much space being given for women in love. Sometimes I feel that Radhas is the creation of a mastermind which conceives man's society in a way so that space is given to man to have one or two lovers despite of being married and attached to his wives. Sanskrit classical literature is not any different; here bodily love was explained solely though the eye of a man, although we find a few woman like Basnat Sena and Vasvdatta expressing something else as to who can be a symbol of love. Yet both these women belong to prostitute society in which they had to learn how to make a man happy through sex.

Yes, we are famous for Kamsutra which gives a complete review of love making. But did it occur to anyone so far that the whole Kamsutra is written in favour of man, and not for a woman? No. Rather the women is used as an instrument to gain pleasure. In short, the sexology being taught aims solely to show to the woman how she can make happy her lover. There are given only a few tips by which men are told about some techniques designed to make a woman happy. In fact, Kamsutra spoiled the purity or innocence of love, something which we find much more expressed in folk or oral literature. Being purely mechanical and more pleasure oriented, it dominated for a long time views about love and love making. Sanskrit Classical literature followed very much along similar lines as what was expressed by Kamsutra. At a later time, and especially after Indian languages had developed further, love poetry became the main entertainment of political heads like kings etc.

Nevertheless innocence and bold love does exist in Indian life. It can be found especially in folk or oral literature. Women were never totally dominated by man or society. They found their own way out of dependencies of all kinds. A number of folk songs or oral songs are pure love songs. They are sung by women at different occasions like marriage etc.

If someone could do further research about these lyrics of love sung at that time, it would be a great work in the area of love songs. For all of them underline the existence of a loving heart. These songs could never find a proper place in a society dominated solely by men.

Still, there were some very strong women who sung love songs with so much ease that everyone was enchanted by them. Unfortunately all these women had to suffer a lot in their real lives. Among these women can be found Meera, Habba Khatoon, LAL DED, Akka Mahadevi, to mention but a few of the major ones.

We can give a few examples here of their love songs:


I closed

all windows and doors

I caught

the thief

and flogged him with

the word.





Away from you, I waste away!


I adore you so much

I offer you my life of dreams

shall we join in the dance

to gather the roses of life

unable to sleep or rest, my eyes

keep looking at your path, Oh,

let me see you once again!


Habba Khatoon



Intoxicated am I

With the love of god!

A delightful drizzle drenches my robes;

Lightning flashes all around,

And thunder booms in the clouds overhead.

My satguru has opened the door

And dispelled all delusion;

And revealed to me

The mystery of life.

The one I see in all, and yet apart.

I’ll light the lamp of knowledge, says Mira,

And climb to the unattainable heights

Of the roof-top of nectarous bliss.


Miran Bai (Rajasthani)

(Translated by Kesri Singh)


In modern times, there are some woman poets who do write boldly about love. There are, for example, Amrita Preetam in Punajbi and Kamala das in Malayalam. But why do so many woman poets refrain, generally speaking, from writing about love?

A main reason appears to be that love has been made into a taboo in the land of Kamshastra. We still have arranged marriages for which most of the parents spent their life long savings to marry off a daughter and hence daughter means here an extra burden. Gradually these rituals of arranged marriages are changing, and they have stopped to provoke us women. Hence in these modern times even a girl can prepare herself for marriage by saving for her own dowry. In fact, the thinking of Indian women has changed so much that they don’t seem to have any problems anymore with such rituals.

However, with technological development new problems arise. Now it is possible for people to know about the sex of a child when still in the womb, and thus started another Indian story. Million girls might have been killed in the womb itself already. The contrast between rural and urban society has become in the meantime so great that when somebody meets a girl from a big city, she may not even understand what is the underlying problem. The life of village girls is very difficult. Especially with regards to love life, no girl can marry out of love. There are the Khap Panchayatas who control the love life of village women. As indicated most recently by a statement made in a court and which became public knowledge, in a village it seems what counts is reflected in what a judge told a woman who had complained to him about wife beating: 'didn’t your father beat your mother, and are you not a woman, so you should learn to tolerate this!'

So love is still a punishment for Indian women, like in any other Muslim country. How can then some women write so freely poems about love?

Rati Saxena



1 Otaprota means warp and woof, just like weaving a clothe in the old times.

2 There is often a misconception in common man that the Jati or caste system started at the the time of Veda, that is at the time when the Vedic books were written and which could be almost 2000 to 4000 years before Christ.

3 At the time of veda, the worship were done through Yaga. It means in Hinduism, yajna (Sanskrit यज्ञ wikt:yajna; yagam (Tamil யாகம்) ;also Anglicized as Yajna, Yadna). It is a ritual of sacrifice (also "worship, prayer, praise, offering and oblation, sacrifice" according to Monier-Williams) derived from the practice in Vedic times. Yajna is a ritual of sacrificing and sublimating the havana sámagri (herbal preparations) in the fire accompanied by the chanting of the Vedic mantras. The sublime meaning of the word yajna is derived from the Sanskrit verb yaj, which has a three-fold meaning of worship of deities (devapujana), unity (saògatikaraña) and charity (dána).[1] An essential element is the sacrificial fire - the divine Agni - into which oblations are poured, as everything that is offered into the fire is believed to reach God. As the name of the service, the term yajna is linguistically (but not functionally) cognate with Zoroastrian (Ahura) Yasna. Unlike Vedic Yajna, Zoroastrian Yasna has "to do with water rather than fire".(Drower, 1944:78; Boyce, 1975:147-191)

Rituals associated with temple worship in Hinduism are called agamic, while those involving communication with divinity through Agni are considered to be Vedic. Temple rites in modern-day Hinduism are a combination of both Vedic and agamic rituals. The ritualistic portion of the Hindu scriptures is called Karma-Kanda. Parts of Vedas which describe or discuss Yajnas or sacrifices fall into this portion. The Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala are among the most famous Śrauta Brahmins who maintain these ancient rituals.

Today, only a few hundred individuals know how to perform these sacrifices and even fewer are able to maintain the sacred fires continuously and perform the Śrauta rituals.[2] Only a few thousand perform the Agnihotra or basic Aupasana fire sacrifice daily

Source: Wikipedia


Rati Saxena                                                                                                              Photo by Enrique Moya

^ Top

« A woman's body | Love Poems - Part II »