One of the more controversial spiritual subjects, within a variety of religious traditions, is the place of women within sacred service. It appears that this is largely an Abrahamic religious construct that has penetrated and permeated into the global dharmic traditions, and is likely a manifestation of humanities descent into the Kali Yuga. These anti women claims have even appeared in lectures regarding the Vedas and Vedic tradition, while initially easy to accept if the yardstick for truth is the Abrahamic model, one must ask if these allegations can hold up to scrutiny.
One can often hear or read many false statements regarding the Vedas and Vedic teachings. Regrettably, falsities regarding the Vedas have been prolific. One of the most common falsities that I have they encountered, was the suggestion that the Vedas and Vedic teachings were patriarchal and had virtually no acknowledgment of the feminine. These misleading views are propagated by the fact that understanding the Vedas requires much study and a considerable investment of time. Meaning the average person may not be able to refute the claim.
In reality, women are found in all aspects of the Vedic teachings and Vedic life. One of the most important issues would be, ‘Where there female Rishis found in the Vedic system?’ The presence of female Rishis is well established and well documented. There are women Rishis known as Rishikas that are quite well known, and more importantly, who are credited with various mantras of the Vedas; and are even known to have debated male Rishis (a traditional practice). The most famous, of these Rishikas that comes to my mind, would be Gargi. She was renowned for her Brahma Vidya (having sacred knowledge) and for expounding on the Vedas.
Lopamudra is also well known and was a wife of a Vedic Rishi. Additionally, a Vedic shloka (hymn/verse) is attributed to her. Maitreyi is also important, and about ten shlokas are attributed to her. Suktam, Ghosha, and Vishvavara are other important Rishikas. There are even others such as Vak Ambhrini, Ahalya, and Arundhati. It has been somewhat easy to address and dispute the unfounded claim that women did not contribute to the Vedas. The evidence suggests that women not only contributed directly to Vedas in its present form, but they would also have performed the duties of the Rishi or contributed and engaged in advanced debates on a variety of subjects.
Another common falsity is the assertion that the feminine form or Goddess is simply not represented within the Vedas to any degree. (To clarify, the Vedas, for our purposes refers to the Rg Veda, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas.) By our western standards, we often falsely assume that the frequency of a reference within a text is equated with the importance of the reference. In other words, the more frequently a reference or word appears, would be an indicator of the importance of the reference or word (in this case the Goddess); this is a modern construct and is not applicable when dealing with ancient texts. In reality, the Goddess is found throughout the Vedas. One of the most important references, in my opinion, would be the Deva known as Usha (the dawn). Numerous shlokas (hymns) to Usha are found in the Rg Veda, and the Rg Veda itself also contains the important Usha Suktam. Aditi is the mother of the Sun Gods (Adityas) in the Vedic tradition. Vak is the Goddess of speech. Sarasvati is an important Goddess and river within the Vedas. Numerous forms of the Earth Goddess are represented such as Prithvi, Ila, and Bhumi. An important suktam to the earth known as the Bhu Suktam is found in the Vedas. The cosmic ocean is known as Apas and is assigned a feminine form. Again, one can see that the claim that the Goddess is not found in the Vedas is completely unfounded.
Even within this short article, it becomes apparent that the ancient Vedic tradition was an open tradition relative to male and female leaders. One would hope that many of the false claims would disappear in the ‘information age.’ Regrettably, it appears that the overload of information has become fertile ground for the proliferation of falsity and disinformation propagated with a nefarious agenda. Regrettably, the proliferation of disinformation is likely to increase for the foreseeable future, as some of these activities are fueled by a religious based nefarious agenda fully committed to a program of disinformation and/or to malign Vedic traditions. To combat the rising tide of disinformation will require that students find trustworthy and authoritative sources for information until their skillset is developed sufficiently to recognize the various methods and spins of disinformation. Otherwise, the forces of disinformation and ignorance will dominate the information landscape.