Vedic tradition described specific status of women in family and society.
In all four Vedas, women are regarded in a way that allows them to live in honor for their importance in society with respect and protection, and given the opportunity to reach their real potential in life.
There is a Vedic saying, “Where women are worshiped, there the gods dwell. Or where the women are happy, there will be prosperity.”
“Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers‑in‑law, who desire their own welfare. Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers. The houses on which female relations, not being duly honored, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic. Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honor women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes and (dainty) food.” (Manu Smriti III.55-59)
In Mahabharata, Grandfather Bhishma explains to Yuddhistira before his death : “O ruler of the earth, the lineage in which daughters and the daughters-in-law are saddened by ill treatment, that lineage is destroyed. When out of their grief these women curse these households, such households lose their charm, prosperity and happiness.” (Mahabharata, Anushashanparva, 12.14)
“When a woman is invited into the family through marriage, she enters ‘as a river enters the sea’ and to rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members of the family.” (Atharva-Veda 14.1.43-44)
There were also women rishis who revealed the Vedic knowledge to others.
For example, the 126th hymn of the first book of the Rig-Veda was revealed by a Vedic woman whose name was Romasha; the 179 hymn of the same book was by Lopamudra, another inspired Vedic woman who was also wife of sage Agastya.
There are more women revealers of the Vedic wisdom, such as Visvavara, Shashvati, Gargi, Maitreyi, Apala, Ghosha, and Aditi who revealed the higher knowledge of Brahman (supreme god).
In early Vedic civilization women were always encouraged to pursue spiritual advancement without hindrance:
“O bride! May the knowledge of the Vedas be in front of you and behind you, in your centre and in your ends. May you conduct your life after attaining the knowledge of the Vedas. May you be benevolent, the harbinger of good fortune and health, and live in great dignity and indeed be illumined in your husband’s home.” (Atharva Veda, 14.1.64)
Why are Women Denigrated in India’s recent past
Unfortunately, all those vedic teachings have declined primarily due to the outside influences that have crept in because of foreign invaders, either militarily or culturally over past 1000 years.
These foreign invaders (Mlecchas) who dominated India mostly looked at women as objects of sexual enjoyment and exploitation, and as the spoils of war to be taken like a prize.
Oppression of women increased in India during Moghul rule and that was when the concept of ‘Ghoonghat or Ghunghat‘ (Saree’s part worn as veil or headscarf worn by women, more in North India) and child marriages have started.
These were to prevent women from evil eye of the foreign rulers.
Even the Sati (funeral practice in which young widow immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre) practice started to prevent kidnappings of young widoes by foreign rulers.
Also vedic hymns and smritis were misinterpreted to suppress women and make them work like slaves or sexual objects during those days.
Women are identified with Sakti in Vedic civilization. If women are kept suppressed, this shakti will be denied to the family and the society, thus weakening all of them.
After all these years of torture that women beared, India weakened spiritually and backward socially.
In Mahabharata, Bheeshma also said : “The teacher who teaches true knowledge is more important than ten instructors. The father is more important than ten such teachers of true knowledge and the mother is more important than ten such fathers. There is no greater guru than mother.” (Mahabharata, Shantiparva, 30.9)
Sanskrit terms used by the husband for the wife were Pathni (the one who leads the husband through life), Dharmapathni (the one who guides the husband in dharma) and Sahadharmacharini (one who moves with the husband on the path of dharma; righteousness and duty).
This is how ancient Vedic culture viewed the partnership of husband and wife.
In Rig Veda(10.85), the marriage hymn, states that the daughter-in-law should be treated as a queen, sāmrajni, by all the family members especially the mother-in-law, husband, father-in-law.
Woman is designated as:
Aditi, because she is not dependent (Nirukta, 4/22)
Aghnyā, for she is not to be hurt (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Bŗhatī, for she is large hearted (Yajur Veda 11/64)
Chandrā, because she is happy (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Devakāmā, since she is pious. (Atharvar Veda 14/1/47)
Devī, since she is divine (Atharvar Veda 14/1/45, Yajur Veda 4/23)
Dhruvā, for she is firm (Yajur Veda 11/64) ā
Havyā, because she is worthy of invocation (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Idā, for she is worshippable (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Jyotā, because she is illuminating, bright (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Kāmyā, because she is lovable (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Kshamā, for she is tolerant/indulgent /patient (Atharvar Veda 12/1/29)
Mahī, since she is great (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Menā, because she deserves respect (Nirukta 3/21/2)
Nārī, for she is not inimical to anyone (Atharvar Veda 14/1/59)
Purandhih, for she is munificent, liberal (Yajur Veda 22/22)
Rantā, because she is lovely (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Rtāvarī, Rtachit, for she is the preserver / forester of truth (Rig Veda 2/41/18)
Sanjayā, since she is victorious (Rig Veda 10/159/3)
Sarasvatī, since she is scholarly (Yajur Veda 20/84)
Simhī, since she is courageous (Yajur Veda 5/12)
Sivā, for she is benevolent (Atharvar Veda 14/1/64)
Sivatamā, since she is the noblest (Rig Veda 10/85/37)
Strī, since she is modest (Rig Veda 8/33/9, Nirukta 3/21/2)
Subhagā, because she is fortunate (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Subhdhā, for she is knowledgeable (Atharvar Veda 14/2.75)
Sumangalī, since she is auspicious (Atharvar Veda 14/2/26)
Sushevā, for she is pleasant (Atharvar Veda 14/2/26)
Suvarchā, since she is splendid (Atharvar Veda 14/4/47)
Suyamā, since she is self – disciplined. (Atharvar Veda 14/2/18)
Syonā, for she is noble (Atharvar Veda 14/2/27)
Vīriņī, since she is mother of brave sons (Rig Veda 10/86/9, 10)
Vishrutā, since she is learned (Yajur Veda 8/43)
Yashasvatī, for she is glorious (Rig Veda 1.79.1)
Yoşhā, because she is intermingled with man, she is not separate (Nirukta 3/15/1)