Queen Kunti, heroine of the Mahabharata, is famous for her heartfelt prayers to Lord Krishna. She wears the white sari of a widow.
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
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 wife of Lord Rama, considered part of the Godhead. For many
Hindus, Sita is the ideal example of womanhood and a dutiful wife.
- Kunti – The mother of the five Pandava princes. Her devotion to Lord Krishna
never faltered even in great adversity. She is one of the "five virtuous
women." The others are Draupadi (see below), Mandodari (the wife of
Ravana), Ahalya (wife of the sage Gautama), and Tara (the wife of Vali,
the monkey king killed by Rama).
- Draupadi – The wife of all five Pandavas. She was insulted in the royal
court and, as a result, millions of warriors perished on the plains of Kurukshetra.
A chaste yet powerfully assertive woman, she displayed both fiery anger
and remarkable compassion.
- Damayanti – Wife of Nala.Together they demonstrated unflinching devotion
to each other.
- Savitri – By her selfless devotion she saved her husband from the court
of Yama, the Lord of Death.
- Andal (725–755) – The only woman amongst the South Indian Alvars (poet
mystics). Andal was so overwhelmed with love for Vishnu that she refused
to marry anyone else. According to tradition she merged into the deity of
Vishnu after being formally married to him.
- Akka Mahadevi (12th century) – A medieval women saint with an unusually
modern outlook. She was devoted to Lord Shiva. The Lingayats venerate her
as a symbol of the equality of women and as an early exponent of women's
- Mirabai (1547–1614) – Great saint, born in a royal family and famous
for her songs and her devotion to Lord Krishna, whom she considered her
- The Queen of Jhansi (1835–1858) – Famous for fearlessly fighting against
- Kasturaba Gandhi (1869–1944) – Wife of Gandhi; still greatly honoured
as a devoted wife by the Hindu community.
- Helena Blavatski (1831–1875) – One of the early foreigners (from Russia)
to take up Hiduism, she co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875 along with Annie
Bessant (1847–1933), an English woman and prolific writer, who became the
society's president in 1907.
- Anandamayi (1896–1982) – A well-known female yogi from Bengal with a
large following and many centres throughout India. She is credited with
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.
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
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.
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.
How well do we understand traditional Hindu attitudes towards women?
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.
"Worldly comfort is an illusion, No sooner you get it, it goes. I have chosen the Indestructible for my refuge."