Female Rishis and Philosophers in the Veda?
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Deities and Mythological Figures
- 3. Ritual Entities
- 4. Real Women?
- 5. Conclusions
- Appendix: A list of “female authors” in the RV
It is a traditional and common misconception that a considerable number of Ṛgvedic hymns were composed by women. This amounts to some twenty female figures that have been regarded as Ṛgvedic Ṛṣis, ever since the “index” to the Ṛgveda, the late Vedic1 Sarvānukramaṇī, was composed, supposedly by Kātyāyana.
The tradition regarding Ṛgveda authors has been very strong. It is a custom even today to mention the author, (meters and deities) before starting to recite a Ṛgvedic hymn.2 However, we have to distinguish the traditional authors of the hymns from those actually preserved in the body of the text. The two sets frequently do not overlap. I cannot go into this matter in detail (see EJVS 7-2), suffice it to say that all statements in the Anukramaṇī must be regarded with a healthy dose of suspicion. Especially as far as RV 10 is concerned, clear invention of authors is easily visible. The method frequently used is to take up obvious names of some person or allusions to them found in the body of the hymn and make them the authors — even if it concerns such abstract concepts as śraddhā “trust, belief” (RV 10.125).
Though female authors and interlocutors are, prima facie at least, not entirely absent from the Vedas, the role of 'literate' women in the Ṛgveda will have to be re-evaluated. We have to distinguish, of course, between mere interlocutors in the hymns from actual authors, though women speaking such verses have habitually been made authors of these stanzas by the Anukramaṇī (see below for details).
In the sequel, we will take a closer look at the various types of alleged female Ṛsis, starting with obviously absurd cases, such as goddesses as authors.
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