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Hindu Feminine under Colonial Morality


Once, the ancient Rajarshi (Philosopher King) Janaka conducted a Yaga (Yajna), at the end of which, the scholars and philosophers that had assembled to attend the Yaga exchanged ideas had a discussion on the nature of Brahman. Several great Rishis and Brahmajnanis such as Aswala, Bhujyu, Usasta Pandita, Yajnavalkya, Kaholaka, Gargi, Uddalaka and Shakalya were present in the court. Rishi Yajnavalkya defeated many great philosophers. Then rose Gargi, the Brahmavadini, who challenged him. She confronted him with existential questions about the ontology of the universe. When she went on questioning disregarding the proper method of inquiry into the nature of the deity, Yajnavalkya warned her: “You are questioning about a deity that should not be reasoned about, but known only through its special means of approach, the scriptures. Therefore do not, O Gārgī, push your inquiry too far unless you wish to die.” Then Gargi Vacaknavi went silent. The third chapter of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad further describes this eventful debate in the court of King Janaka. Realising the greatness of Rishi Yajnavalkya, Gargi had asked the questions merely to know from Yajnavalkya about the Supreme Reality and not to vanquish him or to examine his knowledge. On the other hand, Shakalya, who arrogantly kept questioning the nature of Brahman, encountered a tragic death with his head falling off.


Gargi was warned by Yajnavalkya about what shall happen, and she wisely took cognizance of the warning, whereas Shakalya got no warning, and he died. Often, the subaltern academia interprets this incident as an example of Brahminical patriarchy and tries to portray the advice of Yajnavalkya to Gargi Vacaknavi as a threat. Mainstream history texts are reluctant to acknowledge that women could share deep philosophical debates along with men in great conferences. Instead, the academia portrays Gargi as a revolutionary who embarrassed Sage Yajnavalkya with daring questions. They cleverly restrain from mentioning what happened to Shakalya. Modern academia, especially subaltern studies, are deftly continuing the legacy of the colonial writings in misinterpreting the women in Hinduism, especially the system of goddess worship, by building a narrative of atrocity and conflict. Their relentless campaign of misinterpretation has culminated in the recent court verdict that banned Mrigabali for Maa Tripurasundari, the Mother goddess of Tripura, in the north-eastern region of India.


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