(Last Updated on : 21/01/2010)
Rig Veda is basically a book dominated by men but there is presence of women here and there in the book. Some of the hymns in Rig Veda have been dedicated to women but in most cases they appear as objects and not as subjects. Aditi is the only Vedic goddess of true stature but many female nouns are personified in the hymns as female divinities like Dawn, Night, the Waters and the Forest. Destruction (Nirrti) makes a sinister appearance quite often, and the bitch Sarama assists Indra. In addition, the Rig Veda presents several women who, if not goddesses, are at least immortal or quasi-immortal: Yami, Urvasi, Surya and the wives of Indra and the monkey.
Moreover, several immortal or semi-mortal women appear in the Rig Veda in two groups of hymns that explore with surprisingly consistent detail and conceptualise the relationships between men and women, mortal and immortal. The first is a group of conversation hymns (akhyanas) and the second is a group of narratives centring on marriage: courtship, marriage, adultery, and estrangement.
The conversational hymns are a genre that is scattered throughout the Rig Veda, it is particularly associated with hymns that relate to fertility, and may have been part of a special ritual performance involving actors and dancers. The dialogues with women all represent situations in which one member of the pair attempts to persuade the other to engage in some sort of sexual activity; sometimes it is the woman who takes the role of persuader sometimes the man; the mortal woman is successful while the immortal woman is not, the immortal man succeeds, while the mortal fails. The conversations between mortal men and immortal women end in the separation of the couple; between mortal men and women, immortal men and mortal women, the result is union. The complex Vrisakapi hymn, involving two couples, seems to end in union.
The marriage hymns, like the conversation hymns, return again to the problem of sexual rejection: Yami is rejected by Lord Yama
by Urvasi. Apala fears that she will be rejected by her husband because she is not beautiful, and this is a theme which haunts the marriage hymns; the woman wishes to be subhaga: beautiful, hence loved by her husband, hence fortunate. Ghosa invokes the Asvins to help her find a husband because they are the most helpful of the gods, but also because they appreciate beauty and are known to restore impotent men; so, too, Mudgala's wife hopes that Indra will turn her husband from a steer to a bull. The woman is rejected, therefore, either because she lacks beauty or because her husband lacks virility and the two reasons are causally intertwined in the hymns. The woman is also rejected because she is dangerous; the defloration of the bride endangers the groom, and the abducted wife is a source of danger to the abductor. This danger is, like the woman's ugliness, causally related to the problem of the husband's virility. Subhaga then assumes the further connotation of 'fortunate' in having a virile husband who lives long, so that the woman does not become a widow. Despite these dangers, the marriage hymns - unlike the conversation hymns - all have happy endings.