Living in the age of the millennials, it is impossible for you to not have been hit by the wave of feminism at least at some point of time in your life.
Feminism is everywhere and more importantly, skewed icons of feminism are omnipresent. An attention-seeking actress becomes the national icon of feminism and somebody’s stupid video of “my choice” becomes a feministic video.
In this mad world of bazaar mein bikta hua feminism, let me throw some light on an almost forgotten female mentioned profusely throughout Vedic literature: the venerable Rishi Gargi.
Who was Rishi Gargi?
Before I go into that, my sincere apologies for calling her ‘Rishi’ Gargi. Rishika would be the correct English for a female Rishi but then I doubt how many of us would interpret that as an address and not a name.
Here, let me point out how conveniently we have forgotten that Rishikas existed alongside Rishis in the Vedic ages and were many a time, more popular than their male counterparts.
Alas, the exemplary progress evident throughout the Old Vedic Age vanished into narrow realms of orthodox-ism in the Later Vedic Period.
But let’s come back to Rishi Gargi. Gargi Vachaknavi (born around c. 700 BCE) was named after father sage Vachaknu and was a renowned philosopher from ancient India.
She is even honoured in Vedic literature as not only an active supporter of the Vedas but someone who is naturally a great philosopher and was even granted the title of Brahmavadini which means someone with knowledge Brahma Vidya.
Yet, the above achievements are but trailers. Rishi(ka) Gargi is said to have done the impossible: she had even managed to awaken her Kundalini (indwelling spiritual energy) and realized the existence of the soul or aatma.
From a young age, she had shown a deep interest in Vedic scriptures and soon enough became an expert in fields of philosophy. Her knowledge of the Vedas and Upanishads was rivaled by few at the time.
So, what happened when there was a battle between Rishi Gargi and one of the most learned men of her time?
The epic debate with Yajnavalkya
[This part is primarily sourced from Wikipedia.]
King Janaka of Videha kingdom held a Rajasuya Yagna where he invited all learned scholars of his time. The Yagna was a magnanimous one with over-the-top arrangements. Janaka, being a learned man himself, thought of selecting a scholar from the assembled group of elite scholars who would have the most in-depth knowledge about Brahman and was thus the most accomplished.
In order to carry out the selection, he planned to offer 1,000 cows with each cow’s horns dangling with about 10 grams of solid gold as a prize.
Amongst these scholars were our very own Gargi Vachaknavi and another noted sage named Yajnavalkya. Yajnavalkya, self-assured in his supremacy, ordered his disciple to take the cow herd to his house since there was no other scholar who could beat him. This resulted in other scholars getting angry at being denied a fair chance at the prize.
Most of the scholars were unsure of their knowledge, however, there were eight distinguished sages who did challenge him to a debate, of which Gargi was one of the challengers and perhaps the only woman among the group of learned scholars.
Sages like Asvala, Artabhaga, Bhujyu, Ushasta contested with him and lost as Yajnavalkya was able to provide satisfactory answers to all of their questions.
Gargi then questioned Yajnavalkya on his claim of superiority among the scholars. Her initial dialogue with Yajnavalkya bordered on being quite metaphysical but she eventually change her course and asked him specific questions related to the environment existing in the world, the question of the very origin of all existence and more.
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the debate is narrated as:
“On air, Gargi.
On What, then, is air woven back and forth? On the intermediate regions, Gargi.
On what, then, are the worlds of the intermediate regions woven back and forth.
On the worlds of the Gandharvas, Gargi”
Yajnavalakya put an end to the debate by telling Gargi not to proceed further as otherwise she would lose her mental balance.
A lesson or two to learn
It is not clear who won the debate. Some sources say that Gargi acknowledged Yajnavalkya’s greatness but such an ending could very well be manipulated.
Gargi was honoured as one of the Navratnas in the court of King Janaka of Mithila. Her philosophical views are mentioned in the Chandoga Upanishads and she has made significant contributions to the construction of the Rig Veda.
Unfortunately, in the face of modern-day skewed icons like Kangana Ranaut and Taylor Swift (?!), most people have forgotten this woman of sheer brilliance: a woman who was unparalleled by men of her times.
The basics of feminism lie in, equality and empowerment. Rishi Gargi is a very important lesson to all of us bra strap revolutionaries who shout at every occasion without never really uplifting ourselves.
Image credits: Google
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