https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80gama_(Hinduism)[dropcap]I[/dropcap] In April 2015, the Dravidar Kazhagam had organized a thaali (called mangalsutra in some parts of the nation) removal festival in Tamil Nadu. Dravida Kazhagam, started by Periyar (EV Ramaswamy), the patriarch of the Dravidian movement, considers the thaali a symbol of slavery. The members of this ‘rationalist’ organization opined that thaali symbolized a woman’s bondage to husbands through the medium of caste and religious belief and they were doing away with the thread. A group of women took off their thaalis in a gesture they termed as “emancipation of womanhood from the shackles of existing social system”.

A groom tying the thaali around his bride's neck
A groom tying the thaali around his bride’s neck

The Hindu Makkal Katchi amused the believers by countering the protest through distribution of thaalis, vermillion and turmeric to women in temples. The thaali holds a powerful sentiment among Tamil people. Until recently, thaali was a powerful tool in the hands of film makers to whip up audience emotion.

As the contentious topic was raised in social media, human rights activists and scribes left no stone unturned to conclude that the thaali is just another chain/thread. To wear or remove the mangalsutra is an individual choice!

The propaganda is nothing but an orchestrated attempt that betrays a condescending attitude of half-baked intellectuals towards things that are Hindu. Misinterpreting a ritual out of ignorance of its history or, even, twisting the facts to suit a certain brand of politics is a standard operating procedure in this trend.

Mantras play a significant role in traditional Hindu wedding.The sacred hymns for wedding ceremony are mostly from Rg Veda.The priest chants the mantra mentioned  in Rg veda  10th mandala. Vak daan,kanya daan, vara prekshan,mangala snanam,mangalya dharan, pani grahan and saptapadi  are the steps followed in Vedic wedding. Prior to mangalyadharan, the thread is prepared by chanting  Surya Vivaha Sukta (Rg Veda 10-85-47) summarizing the values of marriage. According to the Hindu belief, the mangalsutra is neither a thread of control nor just another chain.Before chanting the  mangalyadharan  hymn, blessings of Soma, Agni and Gandharva are invoked to bestow strength, beauty and youth upon the bride. During the mangalyadhaarana ceremony, the groom chants the shloka:

maangalyam tantunaanena mama jeevana hetunaa/ kanthe badhanami subhage sajjeeva (or tvam jeeva) Saradaa Satam

[This is a sacred thread; this is essential for my long life. I tie this around your neck, O maiden with many auspicious attributes! May we be happily married for a hundred years!]

Alas, what doesn’t fit into a predetermined script is opportunistically ignored. Over the past few years, there has been an orchestrated attempt to portray Hinduism as anti-women; the gratuitous attack has gathered momentum recently. Ironically, the poor depiction is backed by activists who have no knowledge of the subject. Manusmriti comes in handy to corroborate their half-baked knowledge. It is a tragedy of the discourse on the religious aspect of Hinduism that people (and not least the media) hear only what they want to hear; the folks who complain about Manusmriti have successfully positioned themselves as pro-emancipation, pro-liberalism, their perfidious behaviour notwithstanding.

The scriptures of this land comprising the Ramayana, Mahabharata, 18 Puranas, 4 Vedas, numerous Upapuranaas, 251 Upanishads, Dharmashastras and Agamas are kept obscured in debates on religion that are fuelled by the champions of liberal causes. Both pop spiritualists and revolutionaries need to understand the context, history and gist while commenting authoritatively on the subject.

A play depicting the part of history where Ubhaya Bharathi declares Adi Shankara the winner of shaastraartha (theological debate) between him and her husband Mandana Mishra at the end of the second round of the exchange between them
A play depicting the part of history where Ubhaya Bharathi declares Adi Shankara the winner of shaastraartha (theological debate) between him and her husband Mandana Mishra at the end of the second round of the exchange between them

If Hinduism had been anti-women, how did the Vedic period witness women intellectuals in numerous spheres — particularly in the spiritual field? The position of women in ancient Hindu society was unarguably an enviable one. In a debate between Shankaracharya and Mandana Mishra, the latter’s wife Ubhaya Bharathi was appointed to be the judge purely based on her scholarship, superior knowledge and spiritual attainments.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad contains verses which describe Maitreyi opting for Brahmavidya rather than wealth and worldly pleasures. During a philosophic debate, Gargi challenged Yajnavalkya with a volley of questions on aatman that baffled the learned scholar. The eminent women in the field of learning and scholarship who opted for Vedic studies were known as “Brahmavadinis”.

In the contemporary era, women scholars are conspicuous by their absence in theological discussions. No wonder, the systematic attack on religious Hinduism to illustrate the faith, any sect thereof, its followers and traditions as anti-women has escalated in the recent past. The reason to invoke the glorious chapters of Hindu scriptures has, therefore, arisen henceforth.

There are innumerable women in Hindu community with intense enthusiasm to learn and understand the scriptures. Women interested in the subject (irrespective of castes) should be groomed as experts in shashtrs, puranas, agamas so on and so forth. Make women participate fully in the mainstream of Hindu theological conferences. It would puncture the lies and the hit-and-run job carried out by the Breaking India forces can be dealt efficaciously. For example, the exiling of Sita in the Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana should be defended not by the pontiffs of Kanchi or Sringeri mutts, but by women scholars. This would set a new precedence in debates and will bring a new dimension to the discourse on rituals and traditions. Also, the deliberate attempt to portray Hinduism as anti-women will fall into disuse.

It is time we did away with pop spiritualists and politicians who act as mediators on issues related to shastras and agamas. Saint Thyagaraja has put it beautifully in his Pancharatnakeertana, Endaro mahaanubhaavulu:

“bhaagavataraamaayana geetaadi shruti haastrapuraanamu marmamulanu shivaadi sanmatamula gudhamulan muppadimukkoti suraantarangamula bhaavamula nerigi bhava raaga layaadi saukhyamuce cirAyuvula galiginiravadhi sukhaatmulai tyaagaraaptulainavaar”

[Those who know the secret of Bhagavata, Ramayana, Gita, shruti, shaastra, epics, various religious thoughts, the thoughts of the 33 crore of devas, bhava, raga, tala and they have a long life and enjoy all good things].

Indeed, the Gita, shrutis, shaastras, sutras, puraanas, agamas describe the essence of Hinduism. The need of the hour is a counter-narrative lead by Apalas, Gargis, Ghoshas, Lopamudras, Indranis, Maitreyis and Ubhayabharatis of the modern times. The moment has come. Let the women take the mantle of leadership of Hinduism for its resurgence with the glory that once was associated with the culture of the land to the east of River Sindhu.

Featured image: A painting by BK Mitra depicting Anusuya meeting the challenge thrown at her by Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva