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Swami Vivekananda Views On Women

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA ON WOMEN

Introduction

Women have always been the life-force of the Indic civilization, and so are rightly regarded as the manifestation of its age-old civilizational values, culture, and traditions. Ours is an inward-looking, self-centric civilization that cherishes the values of self-restraint, patience, duty, and suffering drives the individual towards self-satisfaction and spiritual upliftment, and looks for beauty in the order of the things.

These values have been intricately woven into the Indic conception of the feminine, where womanhood is seen as a living embodiment of the same. Rejecting the rigid Western conception of masculinity being pitted against femininity, the Indic has made a conscious attempt towards producing and inculcating a fine blend of these values amongst all the people.

There has always persisted as accepted knowledge the notion that both material and spiritual well-being are possible only by following the above-stated values, which in turn means that the feminine within us forms the pathway to our well-being. This is why Shakti (and women) are perceived as the harbingers of our civilization.

In this article, through an examination of Swami Vivekananda’s views on women, we seek to discuss the need for emphasis on the above-mentioned values and attempt to drive home the point that by upholding these values we shall be able to remain culturally rooted and prosper as an eternal civilization.

We would also like to give a small cautionary note at this point. Our sole aim in this piece is to shed light on the views of Swami Vivekananda on women that are worth discussing and cherishing, so far as they contribute positively to our argument for a need for emphasis on certain Indic values and conceptions of femininity.

The writings and ideas of anyone should be seen and analyzed in the context of one’s time. For all the claims of Swami Vivekananda’s gender bias, we must acknowledge the fact that he, along with Sister Nivedita (or Bhagini Nivedita [1] as they called her), and others, did contribute immensely to the upliftment of poor Indian women.

Thus, here is an attempt by us to transcend the now much conventional and clichéd criticisms of Vivekananda, and look for ideas that need to be highlighted and further developed upon for the betterment of our society.

Vivekananda’s Societal Background

Before entering into an examination of the available primary and secondary evidence in the form of Swami Vivekananda’s writings, speeches, etc., let us have a very brief look at the familial and societal backdrop in which Vivekananda was raised and assess the psychological forces at work in shaping his perceptions about women.

Vivekananda was born in an affluent Hindu family, with his mother Bhuvaneswari Devi having a deeply religious bent.[2] She was a woman with an exalted appearance and gracious conduct, resembling someone who surely ‘belonged to the old tradition of Hindu womanhood’.[3]

Just like any other common folk who was a passionate lover of the Indic knowledge traditions, she was deep into the Dharmic texts Ramayana and Mahabharata,

having in fact memorized portions of them which she would narrate to a young Naren (as Vivekananda, or Narendranath Datta, was loving called during his childhood). [4] It has been noted that “she became the special refuge of the poor and commanded universal respect because of her calm resignation to God, her inner tranquillity, and her dignified detachment in the midst of her many arduous duties” [5].

Naren, who was very closely attached to his mother, had an opportunity at an early age to immerse himself into the world of Indian epics. He had found in his mother a follower of the basic Indic values such as calmness, detachment, seeking cultural knowledge, which has driven our people and this great civilization for time immemorial. Swami Nikhilananda has noted a beautiful anecdote in this reference as such:

“The mother, Bhuvaneswari, played her part in bringing out Narendranath’s innate virtues. When he told her, one day, of having been unjustly treated in school, she said to him, in consolation: ‘My child, what does it matter, if you are in the right? Always follow the truth without caring about the result.

Very often you may have to suffer injustice or unpleasant consequences for holding to the truth; but you must not, under any circumstances, abandon it.’ Many years later Narendranath proudly said to an audience, ‘I am indebted to my mother for whatever knowledge I have acquired.” [6]

His mother’s warm presence made Naren realize the essentiality of Shakti early on. In his eyes, he could see his mother as a carrier of ethical and cultural tropes of the Indic civilization. Motherhood then, and womanhood in general, turned out for him to be the repository of Indic culture and traditions.

It should not come as a surprise then, that it was Sister Nivedita who eventually became Vivekananda’s spiritual heir, and who may be regarded in a sense as his ‘spiritual daughter’ [7]. In a letter dated July 29, 1897, the Swami wrote to her:

“Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was wanted was not a man but a woman, a real lioness, to work for the Indians – women especially.

India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations. Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination, and above all, your Celtic blood, makes you just the woman wanted.” [8]

Arguably the greatest influence on the life of Vivekananda was his guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who had blessed him with his knowledge as his spiritual heir. Hence, it is important here to consider the trajectory of Ramakrishna’s spiritual experience as well. He was a lifelong devotee of the Devi Kali, who was regarded as the Divine Mother, and in whose devotion, he found eternal bliss and solace.

Kali’s motherhood was not just a mode or form of the Devi to be worshipped for Ramakrishna, rather it was the medium to the latter’s spiritual transcendence. So annihilating was the experience for Ramakrishna that “purity became the very breath of his nostrils, and he could not regard a woman, even in a dream, in any other way except as his own mother or the Mother of the universe” [9].

Ramakrishna also had a guru who was a woman, “under whom he practiced the disciplines of Tantras and of the Vaishnava faith and achieved the highest result in an incredibly short time. It was she who diagnosed his physical malady as the manifestation of deep spiritual emotions and described his apparent insanity as the result of an agonizing love for God; he was immediately relieved.” [10]

Most importantly, he worshipped his young wife Sarada ‘as the manifestation of the Divine Mother of the universe and surrendered at her feet the fruit of his past spiritual practices’. [11]

One can safely conclude from the above that the Indic idea of womanhood, especially its linkage with motherhood, must have had a lasting impact on Vivekananda’s psyche and he must have realized its immense potential in serving as an ideal for the people of this nation.

In the next part, we move on to critically appreciate his speeches, writings, etc. on women (mainly focusing on the Indic view on women).

On Women

Digging into the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda reveals some rich material which should be visited time and again and reflected upon. At the outset, a disclaimer should be put out in Swami Vivekananda’s own words:

“The product of the slums of any nation cannot be the criterion of our judgment of the nation. One may collect the rotten, worm-eaten apples under every apple tree in the world, and write a book about each of them, and still know nothing of the beauty and possibilities of the apple tree. Only in the highest and best can we judge a nation – the fallen are a race by themselves.

Thus it is not only proper but just and right, to judge a custom by its best, by its ideal.” [12]
Further, he had stated that:

“So I will try to place before you the ideal. In each nation, man or woman represents an ideal consciously or unconsciously being worked out. The individual is the external expression of an ideal to be embodied.

The collection of such individuals is the nation, which also represents a great ideal; towards that, it is moving. And, therefore, it is rightly assumed that to understand a nation you must first understand its ideal, for each nation refuses to be judged by any other standard than its own.” [13]

The Ideal

Swami Vivekananda regarded Sita as the ideal to be emulated by the Indic women, and by all the people in general. [14] There might have been various reasons for expounding on Sita as the ideal, but one of the factors that one can’t simply dismiss is surely the popularity of Ramayana and Ramacharitamanas among the masses. Sita would be a symbol immediately relatable to the common folks. On Sita, Vivekananda said as such:

“And what to speak of Sitâ? You may exhaust the literature of the world that is past, and I may assure you that you will have to exhaust the literature of the world of the future, before finding another Sita. Sita is unique; that character was depicted once and for all.

There may have been several Ramas, perhaps, but never more than one Sita! She is the very type of the true Indian woman, for all the Indian ideals of a perfected woman, have grown out of that one life of Sita; and here she stands these thousands of years, commanding the worship of every man, woman, and child throughout the length and breadth of the land of Âryâvarta.

There she will always be, this glorious Sita, purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering. She who suffered that life of suffering without a murmur, she the ever-chaste and ever-pure wife, she the ideal of the people, the ideal of the gods, the great Sita, our national God she must always remain. And every one of us knows her too well to require much delineation.

All our mythology may vanish, even our Vedas may depart, and our Sanskrit language may vanish forever, but so long as there will be five Hindus living here, even if only speaking the most vulgar patois, there will be the story of Sita present.

Mark my words: Sita has gone into the very vitals of our race. She is there in the blood of every Hindu man and woman; we are all children Sita. Any attempt to modernize our women, if it tries to take away our women from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failure, as we see every day.

The women of India must grow and develop in the footprints of Sita, and that is the only way.” [15]

Sita was put forward as the ideal [16] before the masses because she is the epitome of suffering and patience in Indic culture. She symbolizes all-consuming love and devotion both as the ideal wife and the ideal mother, but also as a fiercely independent woman.

There are layers upon layers of meanings hidden within the character of Sita, which is to be unraveled and emulated by society. Sita is relevant all the more for our times.

In a world neck-deep in greed and self-indulgence, where the clamor for more and more rights without any responsibility is the norm, Maa Sita reminds us of exercising appropriate restraint in our conduct and paying equal attention to our responsibilities.

We can challenge the deadly disease of capitalism only when we once again anchor ourselves in our moral ethos and follow the footsteps of Maa Sita and Prabhu Shri Ram.

On Equality and Freedom

Vivekananda in his speeches often referred to the Vedas as the foundation of Hindu society, which were supposed to govern all aspects of Hindu life. [17] He proudly told his audience that some of the greatest Rishis who were the ‘discoverers’ of the Vedas were women. [18]

Reposing his faith in ancient Vedic literature, he claimed that women’s freedom and equality were inherent within the Indic culture and that these values had been passed on through generations by the people of the Vedic era.

It was only the ‘Aryan literature’, amongst other literature available from the ancient times, which upheld ‘freedom of women’ and where women could be seen ‘taking the same share as men’. [19] During a lecture delivered at Cambridge on the women of India, he began discussing the Vedas and stated:

“In the tenth chapter comes a peculiar hymn – for the sage is a woman – and it is dedicated to the one God who is at the background of all these gods (the Vedic gods such as those of Fire, Sun, Varuna, etc.).

All the previous hymns are spoken in the third person as if someone were addressing the deities. But this hymn takes a departure: God [as the Devi] is speaking for herself.

The pronoun used is “I”. “I am the Empress of the Universe, the Fulfiller of all prayers.” (Vide “Devi Sukta”, Rig-Veda 10.125)

This is the first glimpse of women’s work in the Vedas. As we go on, we find them taking a greater share – even officiating as priests.

There is not one passage throughout the whole mass of literature of the Vedas which can be construed even indirectly as signifying that woman could never be a priest. In fact, there are many examples of women officiating as priests…

There is that beautiful story of the great sage Yâjnavalkya, the one who visited the kingdom of the great king Janaka. And therein that assembly of the learned, people came to ask him questions. One man asked him, “How am I to perform this sacrifice?”

Another asked him, “How am I to perform the other sacrifice?” And after he had answered them, there arose a woman who said, “These are childish questions. Now, have care: I take these two arrows, my two questions.

Answer them if you can, and we will call you a sage. The first is: What is the soul? The second is: What is God?” (Brihadâranyaka Upanishad 3.8.1.-12)

Thus arose in India the great questions about the soul and God, and these came from the mouth of a woman. The sage had to pass an examination before her, and he passed well.” [20]

In his view, not only did the Vedic literature itself establish women occupying the most exalted place in the society but also the ancient lore attested to a robust intellectual tradition amongst both women and men.

A society that regarded Devi or Shakti as the soul-force of the universe surely had to place women on an equal pedestal with men, if not superior. This is also the reason why Vivekananda believed that a society’s progress, well-being, and salvation lay with its women. [21]

In line with the tradition of ancient Indic scholars, he viewed the relationship between men and women as being one of perfect equality:

“The ideal of womanhood centers in the Arian (read Aryan) race of India, the most ancient in the world’s history. In that race, men and women were priests, ‘sabatimini [saha-dharmini]’, or co-religionists, as the Vedas call them.

There every family had its hearth or altar, on which, at the time of the wedding, the marriage fire was kindled, which was kept alive, until either spouse died, when the funeral pile was lighted from its spark.

Their man and wife together offered their sacrifices, and this idea was carried so far that a man could not even pray alone, because it was held that he was only half a being, for that reason no unmarried man could become a priest.” [22]

Vivekananda’s diagnosis of a man standing alone as being only half a being was an acknowledgment of the vital role that both the genders played in each other’s lives, and also the necessity of having both the gender qualities and attributes in every person’s life (the idea of Ardhanārīshvara is a testimony to the importance of this aspect).

However, from this one shouldn’t conclude that in adhering to a radical form of equality he was oblivious to the differences between men and women.

Instead of pushing for homogenous unitarian equality, he was seeking more harmonious equality that would be ready to accommodate the differences, and yet be able to absorb the qualities which were worth it. He also called out the conventional sex and gender stereotypes in his own way by pointing out the denigration of genders on the basis of these stereotypes:

“You often note, when people are discussing as to what man and woman can do, always the same mistake is made. They think they showman at his best because he can fight, for instance, and undergo tremendous physical exertion; and this is pitted against the physical weakness and the non-combating quality of woman. This is unjust. A woman is as courageous as a man.

Each is equally good in his or her way. What man can bring up a child with such patience, endurance, and love as the woman can? The one has developed the power of doing; the other, the power of suffering. If the woman cannot act, neither can man suffer. The whole universe is one of perfect balance.” [23]

Vivekananda was not oblivious to the numerous examples scattered throughout the nation’s history of women who challenged all kinds of stereotypes from time to time. He was well aware of the presence of great souls like Rani Lakshmi Bai even around his own time. He did not have to turn to the Vedic period every time to justify or show evidence for his positions. [24]

Although there was no second thought about it that women’s status in Indian society had deteriorated over time, yet the ideals of freedom and equality were so deeply well-embedded in the cultural milieu that they hadn’t eroded even after centuries of foreign domination and emasculation of the society, and the society was able to produce remarkable women even in the modern period. Talking about the Rani, he stated:

“We come to another class of women. This mild Hindu race produces fighting women from time to time. Some of you may have heard of the woman [Lakshmi Bai, Queen of Jhansi] who, during the Mutiny of 1857, fought against the English soldiers and held her own ground for two years – leading modern armies, managing batteries and always charging at the head of her army. This queen was a Brahmin girl.

A man whom I know lost three sons in that war. When he talks of them he is calm, but when he talks of this woman his voice becomes animated. He used to say that she was a goddess – she was not a human being. This old veteran thinks he never saw better generalship.” [25]

According to him, the Indian society had not yet lost the plot. He was hopeful of women being capable of equipping themselves with the required resources to be able to actively contribute to the development of society. About his contemporary times, he stated that:

“Women in statesmanship, managing territories, governing countries, even making war, have proved themselves equal to men – if not superior. In India, I have no doubt of that. Whenever they have had the opportunity, they have proved that they have as much ability as men, with this advantage – that they seldom degenerate.

They keep the moral standard, which is innate in their nature. And thus as governors and rulers of their state, they prove – at least in India – far superior to men. John Stuart Mill mentions this fact.

Even at the present day, we see women in India managing vast estates with great ability. There were two ladies where I was born who were the proprietors of large estates and patronesses of learning and art and who managed these estates with their own brains and looked to every detail of the business.” [26]

On Motherhood

As per Vivekananda’s conception, motherhood emerged as the representative ideal of Indic womanhood over time. [27] He explained the idea as follows:

“In India, the mother is the center of the family and our highest ideal, She is to us the representative of God, as God is the mother of the Universe. It was a female sage who first found the unity of God, and laid down this doctrine in one of the first hymns of the Vedas.

Our God is both personal and absolute, the absolute is male, the personal, female. And thus it comes that we now say: ‘The first manifestation of God is the hand that rocks the cradle.’ He is of the ‘arian’ (read Aryan) race, who is born through prayer, and he is a nonarian (read non-Aryan), who is born through sensuality.” [28]

Vivekananda realized the significance of discussing and propagating the need for nurturing people with qualities generally attributed to womanhood (such as patience, suffering, sacrifice, etc.). He felt that every nation and culture had a ‘certain peculiarity of character’, which made it distinct in every aspect, be it religion, physical structure, and texture, or ‘mental habitude’.[29]

Every nation could thus be said to be capable of developing a particular character, by nourishing those features which already existed as inherent tropes of its culture. [30] For the Indian civilization, the Swami observed:

“The very peculiarity of Hindu women, which they have developed and which is the idea of their life, is that of the mother… But when you find the mother, she is the very pillar of the Hindu home…

Where the Vedas teach morality, the first words are, “Let the mother be your God” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11) – and that she is. When we talk of the woman in India, our idea of a woman is a mother. The value of women consists in their being mothers of the human race. That is the idea of the Hindu.

I have seen my old master taking little girls by the hands, placing them in a chair, and actually worshipping them – placing flowers at their feet and prostrating himself before these little children – because they represented the mother God.

The mother is the God in our family. The idea is that the only real love that we see in the world, the most unselfish love, is in the mother – always suffering, always loving. And what love can represent the love of God more than the love which we see in the mother? Thus the mother is the incarnation of God on earth to the Hindu.” [31]

Vivekananda drew a sharp contrast between the approaches of the East (or more specifically, Indic) and West to womanhood. According to him, this dichotomy was reflected in their representative ideals of womanhood. While addressing an American crowd, he put it thus:

“Now, the ideal woman in India is the mother, the mother first, and the mother last. The word woman calls up to the mind of the Hindu, motherhood; and God is called Mother…

In the West, the woman is the wife. The idea of womanhood is concentrated there – as the wife. To the ordinary man in India, the whole force of womanhood is concentrated in motherhood. In the Western home, the wife rules. In an Indian home, the mother rules.

If a mother comes into a Western home, she has to be subordinate to the wife; to the wife belongs the home. A mother always lives in our (Indians’) homes: the wife must be subordinate to her. See all the differences of ideas…

… From motherhood comes tremendous responsibility.” [32]

Swami Vivekananda hit the nail in the head when he identified responsibility as the core value of motherhood, and consequentially that of the Indic civilization. He got it right spot on when he distinguished the west from the east, in as much the west focused way more on the rights of the individual, and the liberties that the individual inherently had, without any sense of responsibility (or at least responsibility did not form a core value of the society). [33]

While the obligations of motherhood demand fulfilling various responsibilities, thinking and caring about others, making sacrifices for others without being self-centric or egoistic, the western idea of womanhood (or personhood for that matter) is extremely individualistic and self-oriented.

It is the former indigenous values that Vivekananda wanted all of us to inculcate in ourselves. This is one of the key reasons why he emphasized the importance of motherhood [34] and saw it as symbolic of the values that our civilization has been carrying since time immemorial.

The path to recovery

Vivekananda proposed education as the prime remedy to the social malaise faced by women. [35]  Since it was mainly the field of education that had shut its door to women and hampered their overall growth, opening up its doors would surely help women in recovering their freedom and development.

The Indic civilization has, for most of its history, had a well-entrenched education system reaching out to the masses at large, available in equal proportion to both men and women. This was the case at least until the advent of the medieval period or the dark ages for our civilization.

The village education system was in a good shape until the eighteenth century with both boys and girls participating in it, as is very well documented by Dharampal. [36]

In this backdrop, Vivekananda’s proposal for the upliftment of Indian women by educating them seemed fit in the state of things. For him, education in itself was societal purifier and a driver towards its betterment. He stated that:

“How can there be any progress of the country without the spread of education, the dawning of knowledge? Even no real effort or exertion in the cause is visible among the few in your country who are the promise of the future, you who have received the blessings of education.

But know for certain that absolutely nothing can be done to improve the state of things unless there is a spread of education first among the women and the masses. And so I have it in my mind to train up some Brahmachârins and Brahmachârinis, the former of whom will eventually take the vow of Sannyâsa and try to carry the light of education among the masses, from village to village, throughout the country, while the latter will do same among women.

But the whole work must be done in the style of our own country. Just as centers have to be started for men, so also centers have to be started for teaching women. Brahmacharinis of education and character should take up the task of teaching at these different centers.

History and the Purânas, housekeeping, and the arts, the duties of home-life, and principles that make for the development of an ideal character have to be taught with the help of modern science, and the women students must be trained up in ethical and spiritual life.

We must see to their growing up as ideal matrons of home in time. The children of such mothers will make further progress in the virtues that distinguish the mothers. It is only in the homes of educated and pious mothers that great men are born.

And you have reduced your women to something like manufacturing machines; alas, for heaven’s sake, is this the outcome of your education? The uplift of the women, the awakening of the masses must come first, and then only can any real good come about for the country, for India.” [37]

The necessity of having educated women, and educated mothers, was in order to secure the future of the civilization, in so far as it was the mother who played the most crucial part in molding the character of the child. However, this should in no way be perceived as restricting the role of women to the domestic sphere. The Swami strongly argued for the education of women so that they could decide their own future. [38]

All that society and reformers were required to do was to make education accessible to women. [39] That was the limit of their ‘right of interference’. [40]

After that, once they were in a position where they would be capable of handling their problems on their own, they should be left on their own to chalk their way in life. [41]

For the Swami then, ‘true education’ was the solution to all the problems faced by women, as it would truly empower them.[42] He defined ‘true education’ as such:

“It may be described as a development of faculty, not an accumulation of words, or as a training of individuals to will rightly and efficiently.

So shall we bring to the need of India great fearless women – women worthy to continue the traditions of Sanghamittâ, Lilâ, AhalyâBâi, and MirâBâi – women fit to be mothers of heroes because they are pure and selfless, strong with the strength that comes of touching the feet of God.” [43]

Swami Vivekananda, while contemplating on the emphasis on European education in the modern era, remarked that it was strange that in spite of the high status in which people in India held foreign education, foreign universities such as Oxford and Cambridge were themselves shut for women while Calcutta University was producing women with an excellent education. [44]

He held foreign rule to be the main roadblock to the dissemination of proper education in Indian society. [45]

Yet, he always had hope that India had the ‘power of spirituality’ within it, with which it would conquer foreign domination, and once again this land of great women would illuminate the western world with its treasure of spiritual knowledge. [46]

Conclusion

Swami Vivekananda, as a futurist, viewed women as the harbingers of our civilization and as the shapers of our nation’s future. He had immense faith in Hinduism and our women and believed that we would be able to bounce back to our worthy position as the spiritual and ethical leaders of the world. His views on women need to be revisited most importantly because they highlight the ethics and values that we once again need to inculcate as a society.

The feminine has been perceived as a symbol of duty, patience, self-restraint, and suffering in our culture. It is only these values that can help us tackle the menace of unbridled greed, indulgence, and debased morals brought about with the hegemony of capitalism and modernity.

Mahatma Gandhi also emphasized the same values throughout his life and considered women to be the way to our salvation. We, as a society, need to meditate on the sayings of these leaders as they have shown us the path to survive and flourish as a civilization. Once when asked what would the Swami advise to the women of India, he responded:

“Why, to the women of this country. I would say exactly what I say to the men. Believe in India and in our Indian faith. Be strong and hopeful and unashamed, and remember that with something to take, Hindus have immeasurably more to give than any other people in the world.” [47]

References

  1. Reshma Khatun and Nasir Ahmed, ‘Vivekananda’s views on women empowerment’, International Journal of Advanced Research and Development, Vol. 3, Issue No. 1, Jan. 2018, p. 988.
  2. Swami Tejasananda, A Short Life of Swami Vivekananda, Kolkata, Advaita Ashrama (Publication Department), 1995, p. 8.
  3. Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: A Biography, New York, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, 1953, p. 6. (PDF available here: http://library.lol/main/ACBB0778C90E85CB1F28C5BFD2B6F0CF).
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Ibid, at p. 8. Later on, Swami Vivekananda would go on to gratefully confess that, “I know that before I was born, my mother would fast and pray and do hundreds of things which I could not even do for five minutes. She did that for two years. I believe that whatever religious culture I have, I owe to that. It was consciously that my mother brought me into the world to be what I am. Whatever good impulse I have was given to me by my mother – and consciously, not unconsciously.” Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Lecture delivered at Cambridge, December 17, 1894), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 9, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_9/lectures_and_discourses/the_women_of_india.htm.
  7. Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: A Biography, New York, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, 1953, p. 162. (PDF available here: http://library.lol/main/ACBB0778C90E85CB1F28C5BFD2B6F0CF).
  8. Quoted at Id.
  9. Ibid, at p. 16.
  10. Id.
  11. Ibid, at p. 17.
  12. Swami Vivekananda, “Ideals of Womanhood” (Brooklyn Standard Union, January 21, 1895), Reports in American Newspapers, Volume 2, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_2/reports_in_american_newspapers/ideals_of_womanhood.htm.
  13. Swami Vivekananda, “Women of India” (Delivered at the Shakespeare Club House, in Pasadena, California, on January 18, 1900), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 8, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_8/lectures_and_discourses/women_of_india.htm.
  14. Interestingly, Mahatma Gandhi also took a very similar position while interacting with the rural masses.
  15. Swami Vivekananda, “The Sages of India”, Lectures from Colombo to Almora, Volume 3, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/lectures_from_colombo_to_almora/the_sages_of_india.htm.
  16. Swami Tapasyananda, Swami Vivekananda: His Life and Legacy, Chennai, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1988, p. 155.
  17. Swami Vivekananda, “Paper on Hinduism” (Read at the Parliament on 19th September 1893), Addresses at the Parliament of Religions, Volume 1, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_1/addresses_at_the_parliament/v1_c1_paper_on_hinduism.htm.
  18. Id. A press report, while covering a speech delivered by Vivekananda on the subject of Indian women, stated that, “The speaker reverted to the women of ancient India, showing in what high regard they are held in the holy books, where women were prophetesses. Their spirituality then was admirable. It is unfair to judge women in the east by the western standard. In the west woman is the wife; in the east she is the mother. The Hindoos worship the idea of mother, and even the monks are required to touch the earth with their foreheads before their mothers. Chastity is much esteemed.” Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Detroit Free Press, March 25, 1894), Reports in American Newspapers, Volume 3, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/reports_in_american_newspapers/the_women_of_india.htm.
  19. Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Lecture delivered at Cambridge, December 17, 1894), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 9, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_9/lectures_and_discourses/the_women_of_india.htm.
  20. Id.
  21. Id. Even to the Americans, Vivekananda had suggested once that their salvation was dependent on their women. Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Tribune, April 1, 1894), Reports in American Newspapers, Volume 3, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/reports_in_american_newspapers/the_women_of_india.htm; Manjula, ‘Swami Vivekananda and Modern Women’, Samvit , Sept 2017, http://www.srisaradamath.org/publication/samvit/201709.pdf.
  22. Swami Vivekananda, “Ideals of Womanhood” (Brooklyn Standard Union, January 21, 1895), Reports in American Newspapers, Volume 2, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_2/reports_in_american_newspapers/ideals_of_womanhood.htm. The Swami believed that the earliest system of marriage and the corresponding societal structure in the Vedic era was ‘a matriarchal one’, with the mother placed at the centre of the system. However, the rise of Buddhism and strict monastic cultures led to the degradation of the societal position of women as they were chosen as the first targets to be blamed for any deviations from monasticism. Id.
    In one of his interviews, he explicitly stated the present inferior position of Indian women to be a result of the influence of Buddhism. He also cautioned, “But we should not allow the sudden influx of European criticism and our consequent sense of contrast to make us acquiesce too readily in this notion of the inequality of our women. Circumstances have forced upon us, for many centuries, the woman’s need of protection. This, and not her inferiority, is the true reading of our customs.” Swami Vivekananda, “On Indian Women – Their Past, Present and Future” (Prabuddha Bharata, December, 1898), Interviews, Volume 5, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_5/interviews/on_indian_women.htm.
  23. Swami Vivekananda, “Hints on Practical Spirituality” (Delivered at the Home of Truth, Los Angeles, California), Volume 2, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_2/hints_on_practical_spirituality.htm.
  24. However, one may note that the Swami was never apologetic about quoting from the Hindu sacred texts, although he was aware of certain parts of the texts which did not confer women equal status in society. But he had his reasons for quoting the positive parts of the texts:
    “I have often heard that there are other passages where women are condemned. I admit that in our sacred books there are many passages that condemn women as offering temptation; you can see that for yourselves. But there are also passages that glorify women as the power of God. And there are other passages which state that in that house where one drop of a woman’s tear falls, the gods are never pleased and the house goes to ruin. Drinking wine, killing a woman, and killing a Brahmin are the highest crimes in the Hindu religion. I admit there are condemnatory sentences [in some of our books]; but here I claim the superiority of these Hindu books, for in the books of other races there is only condemnation and no good word for a woman.” Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Lecture delivered at Cambridge, December 17, 1894), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 9, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_9/lectures_and_discourses/the_women_of_india.htm.
  25. Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Lecture delivered at Cambridge, December 17, 1894), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 9, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_9/lectures_and_discourses/the_women_of_india.htm.
  26. Id.
  27. Swami Vivekananda, “Ideals of Womanhood” (Brooklyn Standard Union, January 21, 1895), Reports in American Newspapers, Volume 2, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_2/reports_in_american_newspapers/ideals_of_womanhood.htm. The Indic civilizational matrix itself was also regarded as one’s motherland, as Bharat Mata. Swami Tejasananda, A Short Life of Swami Vivekananda, Kolkata, Advaita Ashrama (Publication Department), 1995, p. 45.
  28. Id. Thus, a mother was to be regarded as sacred, as a holy entity. Hindus worshipped the ‘principle of motherhood’. For the Swami, mother was to be given the highest position in reverence and so ‘the motherhood of God is more in his mind that the fatherhood’. Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Tribune, April 1, 1894), Reports in American Newspapers, Volume 3, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/reports_in_american_newspapers/the_women_of_india.htm.
  29. Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Lecture delivered at Cambridge, December 17, 1894), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 9, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_9/lectures_and_discourses/the_women_of_india.htm.
  30. Id.
  31. Id.
  32. Swami Vivekananda, “Women of India” (Delivered at the Shakespeare Club House, in Pasadena, California, on January 18, 1900), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 8, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_8/lectures_and_discourses/women_of_india.htm.
  33. Id. He went further in his critique and linked the western civilization to sensuality. He felt that the west was alienated to much extent from spirituality, due to which its conceptions of womanhood also gave a sense of only sensuality and physicality. According to a press report, “Kananda asserts with an amused twinkle in his eye that American men amuse him. They profess to worship woman, but in his opinion they simply worship youth and beauty. They never fall in love with wrinkles and gray hair. In fact he is under a strong impression that American men once had a trick – inherited, to be sure – of burning up their women. Modern history calls this the burning of witches. It was men who accused and condemned witches, and it was usually the old age of the victim that led her to the stake.” Swami Vivekananda, “The Women of India” (Tribune, April 1, 1894), Reports in American Newspapers, Volume 3, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/reports_in_american_newspapers/the_women_of_india.htm.
  34. Vivekananda stated that, “The idea we started with was that the ideal is the love for the mother – herself all-suffering, all forbearing. The worship that is accorded to the mother has its fountain-head there. She was a saint to bring me into the world; she kept her body pure, her mind pure, her food pure, her clothes pure, her imagination pure, for years, because I would be born. Because she did that, she deserves worship. And what follows? Linked with motherhood is (the Indic idea of) wifehood.” Swami Vivekananda, “Women of India” (Delivered at the Shakespeare Club House, in Pasadena, California, on January 18, 1900), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 8, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_8/lectures_and_discourses/women_of_india.htm; He also regarded Hinduism as the mother of all religions. Swami Lokeswarananda, Swami Vivekananda: The Friend of All, Kolkata, Ramakrishna Institute of Culture, 1991, p. 65.
  35. He proposed education as a medium for the upliftment of all the marginalized people. Milton Kumar Dev, ‘Vivekananda and the Renaissance of Bengal’, Philosophy and Progress, Vols. LVII-LVIII, 2015, p. 100.
  36. Dharampal, The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century, Goa, Other India Press (2016).
  37. Swami Vivekananda, “From the Diary of a Disciple”, Conversations and Dialogues, Volume 6, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_6/conversations_and_dialogues/viii_sharat_chakravarty.htm?fbclid=IwAR0c36sMhLRMmxBNKeZQXJl9lOsuZ13iG11fbp3NCNygqcTaDf6WS03Y9ds.
  38. Swami Vivekananda, “On Indian Women – Their Past, Present and Future” (Prabuddha Bharata, December, 1898), Interviews, Volume 5, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_5/interviews/on_indian_women.htm.
  39. Id.
  40. Id.
  41. Id.
  42. Id.
  43. Id.
  44. Swami Vivekananda, “Women of India” (Delivered at the Shakespeare Club House, in Pasadena, California, on January 18, 1900), Lectures and Discourses, Volume 8, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_8/lectures_and_discourses/women_of_india.htm.
  45. Id.
  46. Swami Vivekananda, “The Education that India needs”, Translations: Prose, Volume 4, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_4/translation_prose/the_education_that_india_needs.htm.
  47. Swami Vivekananda, “On Indian Women – Their Past, Present and Future” (Prabuddha Bharata, December, 1898), Interviews, Volume 5, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, https://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_5/interviews/on_indian_women.htm.

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