Famous Women within Hinduism


Queen Kunti, heroine of the Mahabharata, is famous for her heartfelt prayers to Lord Krishna. She wears the white sari of a widow.


Today, Hindu women are prominent in all walks of life. Worldwide popularity has favoured a number of female gurus, such as Mother Meera, "Nirmila Devi, and Amritanandamayi Devi. Indira Betti is particularly well-known in Britain. Mother Gayathri, a popular guru in Britain, is shown here.

Hindu scripture, particularly of the earlier period, places great value on contributions of women. The much-reported abuses of women in India demonstrate a falling away from traditional practice. Many famous women serve as lasting role models, though with the influence of feminism such values are less popular with the younger generation or need reinterpretation to suit the current social context.

Such famous figures are extremely diverse and include deities (such as Sita and Parvati), historical or mythological figures (such as Draupadi from the Mahabharata), political activists (for example, the Queen of Jhansi), and saints and spiritual leaders (e.g. Mirabai and Anandamayi). A more complete list is given below.

Sita

The daughter of King Janaka. She is the heroine of the Ramayana. As Rama's only wife, she resolved to undergo the hardships of forest life rather than leave her husband. Out of infatuation for her, the tyrant Ravana met his ignoble end. After he kidnapped her, she refused to submit to his adulterous advances. Sita is considered to embody all the virtues of a traditional Hindu woman and has been held up as a role model for Hindu girls to follow. Some modern feminists have objected to this notion as being sexist.

Draupadi

A central figure in the Mahabharata. Born of the sacrificial fire in King Drupada's court, she became the common wife of all five Pandava brothers. King Jayadratha tried to kidnap her, and she fought like a true warrior queen. She demonstrated how a traditionally devoted wife can also be powerfully assertive.

Once, Yudhisthira lost her in a rigged gambling match and the Kauravas tried to disrobe her before the entire royal assembly. In the attempt to strip her, the kings present failed to intervene, and thus sowed the seeds of their destruction on the plains of Kurukshetra. The Mahabharata thus illustrates the ancient ideal of valuing and protecting women, and the terrible consequence of neglecting or exploiting them.

Mirabai

Although many Hindu heroines exemplify the traditional role of women, others have opposed or transcended tradition when it declined into abuse. Mira was one such example. Born in 1547 in a Rajput (warrior) family in Rajastan, she became an ardent devotee of Krishna. At a young age, she resolved that only he could be her future bridegroom. She was, however, duly married into a Shakti-worshipping household. She refused to abandon the worship of Krishna for the Goddess, and was victimised by her husband. She left for Vrindavana, but returned when her husband reformed. Upon his death, she refused to perform sati and was persecuted by her husband's family. The new king tried to kill her but by Krishna's grace she survived. She finally abandoned her husbans's palace to lead the life of a wandering saint. She sang and danced in public, unconcerned for social decorum and finally it is said that she mystically entered a murti of Krisna. Her poems and songs express her intense feelings for Krishna and are still sung and recited by devotees today.

Personal Reflection

How well do we understand traditional Hindu attitudes towards women?

Common Misunderstandings

Traditional Hindu attitudes towards women must be wrong (since they are dated). Identifying differences between men and women is sexist.

Not necessarily – there may be assumptions that need re-examining here.

Quote

"Worldly comfort is an illusion, No sooner you get it, it goes. I have chosen the Indestructible for my refuge."

Mirabai