Thursday, 24 January 2013

Women seers of Ancient India- Rishika

The women in ancient times used to have an active part in every thing including agriculture, education and household tasks. Primarily, we don't find any reference which talks of not educating women or constraining them to their homes. In fact,we have plenty of evidence which tells us the respectful place that women enjoyed. For eg-

 यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यते रमन्ते तत्र देवता - Manusmriti
Woman respected where, Gods roam there."

or when Kanva rishi talks in the 8th Mandala of the Rigveda saying-

"Lord, You are greater than my father but just equal to my mother!"

Often, the most famous figures of ancient times were always men, whether rishis or kings. But our history also reserves special praises for women seers who excelled equally and became famous and filled with knowledge. Some of the names are heard and some unheard.
These women were benefited by the company of a knowledgeable seer who taught them the basic principles of Indian philosophy.

Let me start one by one.

  • Gargi Vachaknavi - Perhaps the most famous woman seer of ancient India. She represents spiritual knowledge which was of a tough competition to Yajnavalkya, her contemporary. Her father was Vachaknu rishi. Her dialogue with Yajnavalkya in the Madhu Kanda of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.6) is quite interesting. She asks Yajnavalkya in what is the whole world woven? To which finally the debate reaches to the absolute Brahman. Gargi and Yajnavalkya dialogue is also found in the Yogayajnavalkya Samhita. 
Gargi asking questions to Yajnavalkya. ( From the series Upanishad Ganga)

  • Maitreyee Yajnavalkya- This is another name heard mostly in our history texts. Maitreyee was the wife of Yajnavalkya along with Katyayani. The story is that when Yajnavalkya decided to renounce the world and go the forest, he asked his wives what they wanted. Maitreyee demanded anything that would make her eternal. Thus Yajnavalkya gave her the Doctrine of Immortality. Their dialogue is present in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4). 

These two were the main non-Rigvedic Rishikas. The Sarvanukramani of the Rigveda has names of almost 10-15 women composers of Rigveda. They include- 
  • Lopamudra Vaidarbhi- This name is very much popular. She was the daughter of the king of Vidarbha and a Kshatrani. But she married Agastya rishi. The legend of how Agastya rishi procured Lopamudra is found in many Puranas. Agastya's penance and austerity was upsetting Lopamudra. Thus she demanded love and attention from him. Agastya too realized his duties as a husband. Their conversation is preserved in Rigveda ( 1.179 ). This hymn gives a lot of information on how the relations between a husband and wife should be. 
  • Ghosha Kakshivati - She was the daughter of Kakshivan Dairghatamas. She was affected by leprosy since birth and hence was not getting married. The Ashvini Kumars cured her and taught her Madhu Vidya. She is the composer of Rigveda (10.39-41)
  • Apala Atreyi- She was the daughter of Atri rishi. She was affected by a skin disease. But still she was a knowledgeable woman. Her hymns occur in Rigveda ( 8.91)
  • Yami Vaivasvati- She was the sister of Yama. She accidentally fell in love with Yama. Her hymns are a dialogue between her and Yama where he explains Yami of how wrong her intentions are. Her hymns are present in Rigveda (10.10)
  • Shashvati Angiras- She was the wife of Yadava king Asanga Playogi. Her hymns are present in Rigveda ( 8.2)
  • Ratri Bharadvaji- She is the daughter of Bharadvaja. She has composed Rigveda ( 10.127 ) jointly with Kushika Saubhari. Incidentally, there is one more female composer in the Vajasaneyi Samhita of the Shukla Yajurveda (4.2) with the name Kashipa Bharadvaji. The deity of this hymn is Ratri or night. So possibly, the original name could have been Kashipa Bharadvaji. 
  • Vishvavara Atreyi-  She is the composer of Rigveda ( 5.28)


  1. Thanks Ashutosh for your tireless effort in bringing well researched articles/information to us from the ancient scriptures. Always informative. Always instructive. Never shrill.