'Spirit above matter' has been the watchword of this land all through the ages. Purity, humility, devotion, self-control moral courage, selfless love-in fact, al that go to adorn spiritual life have always been valued here more than material possessions and sense-enjoyments. How to transcend human imperfections and bring out the Divine lying within the individual has been the central theme in the progressive unfoldment of Indian life.
Indeed, the pages of Indian history are illumined by the lives of saintly men and women radiating their brilliance from different spheres of action. And these pages cover millenniums. Even Buddha, the 'rebel child' of the Vedic faith, was six centuries ahead of Christ As a matter of fact, the borderline between history and myths can hardly be traced in the annals of this country. Before the searchlight of modern scientific inquiry, Indian myths, legends, and folklores are revealing nuggets of historical data pointing to a high order of civilization as early as the third millennium B.C. Thus India may be said to have been rearing, since the early dawn of human civilization, a splendid type of women as well as men with the characteristic impress of spiritual strength.
The Ideal of life, irrespective of sex, has had its roots deep in the national mind of the Hindus, since they sprang in the hoary past from the universal truths discovered and announced by the Vedic seers. The essential divinity of man and the fundamental unity beneath the infinite diversities of Nature are two such basic truths on which Indian civilization has been resting throughout the ages. Details in the superstructure have surely changed from age to age according to the varying social milieu, but the central ideas and ideals born of these universal truths have been living through scores of centuries.
Looking at Nature from one's stand on these basic truths, the varieties, related only to corporeal and ephemeral forms, are found to be on the surface of things. The substance within is always the same, namely, Brahman, the Absolute Reality. The soul of man is none other than Brahman. Thus sex, determined as it is by outward forms, is nothing but a passing appearance of the same sexless soul. Men and women are found to be distinct so far as their physical and mental patterns are concerned, but they are identical in spirit.
Now, the supreme achievement of human life, as seen from this standpoint of Hindu seers, consists in diving beneath the superficial varieties of Nature and realizing one's essential identity with the Divine soul. For then and then only one reaches perfection, the ultimate goal of all exertions, through myriads of births and deaths. This, therefore, has been placed equally before men and women as the ideal of human life.
The basic structure of this society consists of what is called dharma, or piety, which means graded courses of social duties prescribed for individuals belonging to different age groups and holding different stations of life according to their temperamental variations. These duties, requiring varying degress of self-sacrifice and love suited to different groups of individuals, have to be performed with religious devotion as one's dharma.
The highest rung of the ladder of renunciation is reached when one finds all tempting things of the sense-world as nothing but hollow and fleeting delusions, or when one says, like Maitreyi,'What shall I do with anything that cannot lead me to immortality (that is, eternal bliss)?'
Purity at its highest is, therefore, represented by such all renouncing seers filled with all-embracing, disinterested love. Many a blessed soul having such outstanding purity has burnt into the national mind the supreme worth of perfect self denial as the last step towards the 'life whose head touches the stars.'
Religious celibacy has therefore, been accepted by Hindu men and women as, 'the towering ideal of the super social life. Next to it, among women, ranks the sanctity of motherhood as the central ideal in the social life of this land. On the worldly plane, the mother's instinctive love and sacrifice quality her spiritually to stand above all other human relationship.
A yearning love that can never refuse us; a benediction that forever abides with us; a presence fro which we cannot grow away; a heart in which we are always safe; sweetness unfathomed, bond unbreakable, holiness without a shadow-all these indeed, and more, is motherhood.
This is why motherhood, representing a high order of renunciation and service, holds a glorified place in the scheme of Hindu life. It has been idealized and raised to the skies to span heaven and earth. God with His unfailing love is worshipped by many as the Divine Mother; while all women are to be looked upon by men as the earthly counterparts of the Divine Mother. Illumined in this way, the sanctity of motherhood has been before the Hindu society from time immemorial. In order to maintain their dignified position, women have; been trained to develop their motherly qualities of love and sacrifice and to chasten these by extending the scope of their operation beyond the frontiers of the home. Thus developing and expressing, through their deportment, the benign attitude of the mother towards all has constituted their special line of spiritual growth. This explains how age and experience required by such development have come to be prized by them above youth and physical charm. Instead of reckoning these latter as their supreme asset, the women of this land have to enhance the beauty and sublimity of their character in order to be worthy of their honoured position in society.
But it must be said that although the Hindu society has been hinged on such lofty ideas and ideals, it is not easy for the people to cling to these for any lengthy period of time at a stretch. Ordinary minds naturally gravitate towards the material plane. At times, the spiritual quest of life as the primary urge for substantial social progress is lost sight of. People then succumb to a spell of decadence. But this phase of the society is invariably followed by a period of resurgence ushered in by the advent of a spiritual superman. The history of this country is punctuated by such alternate ebb and flow in the stream of Hindu social life. This history is replete with instances of the appearance of towering spiritual personalities at psychological moments to wake up the social consciousness from its periodical torpor and initiate a period of dynamic progress on all fronts.
Such a phenomenon is passing before our eyes. After the darkest period of setback, when the very foundation of the Hindu social structure was about to be blown off altogether by a rush of skeptical thoughts, India witnessed, towards the close of the last century, the beginning of a mighty spiritual revival. Regarding this renaissance, Swami Vivekananda proclaimed: 'Before the effulgence of this new awakening, the glory of all past revivals will pale like stars before the rising sun, and compared with this mighty manifestation of renewed strength, all the many past epochs of such restoration will be as child's play.
Back of the Book
The position of women in any society is a true index of its cultural and spiritual level. Quite a fascinating picture unfolds itself in the pages of this book. It is a long procession, through the ages, of Indian women who attained greatness in various spheres of life and culture-political and aesthetic, moral and spiritual.
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