Women in Vedic Culture

Question: Are women less intelligent?

DeviAnswer: This is a vague question, I must say.  Intelligence is multifaceted; there are various types of intelligence. According to Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University, there are nine types of intelligence. Similarly, according to Steven Rudolph of Jiva Institute, there are eight types of intelligence.

Somebody may be highly intelligent in one area but have medium intelligences in another. The whole idea of an intelligent person having a high IQ is very misleading. IQ testing is mainly related to mathematics and calculation. One could be intelligent in business, music or interpersonal relation but not have a very high IQ. I know many examples from my friends in college who had high IQ, were very good at studies, got a good job, and made a lot of money, but their personal lives are very miserable – broken families and taking to drugs. Would they be considered highly intelligent? Maybe, maybe not.

Indian scriptures mention 64 kalas or arts, and Krishna is expert in all of them. There may be people who are good in some of these and not so good in others.

So we cannot make a blank statement that women are less intelligent and men are more intelligent unless you speak of a specific area. As a simple example, women are very good at taking care of children, family and managing the house and this is a very important part of human life. Without these three a man’s life will be quite miserable, even if he is so-called intelligent.

The general function of intelligence, which is called buddhi in Sanskrit, is to discriminate between right and wrong. This discrimination can primarily be in two fields: material and spiritual.

Usually, spiritualists attack women because they think that women are less intelligent when it comes to being a spiritualist. However, if we study the scriptures in an unbiased manner, this premise does not hold ground. Let us look at the women described in Bhagavata Purana, which is considered as the highest authority for spiritual matters.


Kunti DeviThe first woman mentioned in the Bhagavata is Sri Kunti Devi. Is she a spiritual dull head? It doesn’t appear that way from her prayers to Krishna. From the material point of view she may be considered quite foolish because in the whole history of the universe she is the only one who prays to God to give her troubles:

vipadaḥ santu tāḥ śaśvat
  tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darśanaṁ yat syād
  apunar bhava-darśanam

“Let there be calamities again and again, o Lord of the Universe, so that we can have your darshan again and again because by seeing You we will no longer see repeated birth and death.” (SB 1.8.25)

Spiritually, however, she is the most intelligent because she realizes that when calamities come to her it also brings her the darshan of Krishna. What can be a more intelligent conclusion than that?


Kunti Devi / painting by Raja Ravi VarmaThe next lady who comes into the picture is Draupadi. She was not only the most beautiful woman of her time but also the most intelligent. In the whole history of the universe she is the only one who could manage five husbands peacefully.

One can read about the great characteristics of Draupadi in Mahabharata and see how she was actually managing the whole kingdom of Yudhisthira Maharaja.

She is the one who asked a very technical question when she was dragged into the assembly of the Kauravas by Duhsasana. No one was able to answer her, including Bhisma. Her question was, “Does Yudhisthira, after losing himself in gambling, have the right to wager her?” Such a question cannot be asked by anyone of petty intelligence.

When Arjuna captured Asvathama, who had killed Draupadi’s five sons, and brought him    before Draupadi as a slave, Draupadi, although very aggrieved by the cruel murder of her five young sleeping sons, immediately told Arjuna, “Release him, release him! He is a Brahmana and son of your guru.” Such a statement can be only made by a person who is very balanced in her mind, stitha prajna, and not by a person who is full of envy, jealousy, duplicity, and craftiness.


Then there is a description of Devahuti, the service she did to her husband is exemplary. She was a princess, but she served her austere husband with utmost humility. Her character is described as being free from any material desires, hypocrisy, greed, pride, inadvertence, and hatred (SB 3.23.3). Modern women may think it was foolish for her to do this, but actually this was the most intelligent thing to do because by doing so she begot God as her son.


Then we have the example of Suniti, Druva’s mother, the one who intelligently advised him to go to the forest and worship Krishna.

The Gopis

GopisIn this way we can analyze the character of the many women found in the Bhagavatam and finally study the character of the gopis, who are considered to be the most intelligent of all beings.

So it is wrong to make a categorical statement that women are less intelligent.  Even in modern times, I find that wherever I go the majority of the audience consists of women. The same is true for churches, temples and Yoga associations. In fact, women are more reliable in performing service than men.


To be continued with: “The Place of Women in the Bhakti Movement”

15 thoughts on “Women in Vedic Culture”

  1. Good evening,
    I read the woman scriptures with very atention, i know the womans are very inteligent…full audiences conferences aroun the World…also the woman are the more inteligent for care home.
    L. Fernando Yusta.

  2. Where does this strong tendency of spiritualists to denigrate the women’s intelligence come from? Is this an underlying and obscure part of the daivī sampad?

    Why it seems that even the refined vaiṣṇava elitism has not completely escaped from this persistent inclination?

  3. By Vedic study, sacrifice, charity, austerity, and fasting, the brahmanas strive to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

    Per vedic system, fire/agni is integral part of spirituality or even material life. Fire is needed from marriage to birth to death. It is needed for upanayana. Without upanayana one can not learn vedas. Without vedas, one can not know supreme lord. This is vedic tradition.

    Without fire sacrifice there is no spirituality. The purpose of vedas, charity, austerity and mantras etc is to be used during yagna or as an auxillary to yagna. Yagna is the means , Yagna is the goal(Vishnu).Hence agni is center of spirituality.

    Only a male has the right to light agni and a male gets a right only after he is married to a female. It is the women who must bring the fire. This is the basis for aupasana,agnihotra, jyotistoma and other sacrifice. Infact only a person involved in nitya karmas along with agnihotra gets the vidya(bhakti as per Govinda bhasya) required for liberation.

    Hence agni is important. To be able to worship agni , one must be married to a woman. Hence one needs the other.
    In such a scenario, the results of the activities performed by the husband is shared along with his wife since she assisted in all the activities of the husband. A women can not and must not independently do sadhana. Similarly a male can not light fire without a wife.

    This is the general setup.

    Puranic characters like vidura , dharmavyadha possessing vidya is a carry over from previous birth. They , though in a new body , were still carrying the memories of previous birth. It is like they never died and remembered all the sadhana they did in previous life and they continued to do now without any fresh instructions.They already got the upadesha from previous life.Does not happen much in Kali yuga.

    Cases like widower, sanyasis , gArgi and even animals getting bhakti are special cases.These shows the most merciful nature of bhakti – functioning in any status of life.

    We also see cases where a person perfecting all these yagnas is yet to perfect bhakti. These show that bhakt is the rarest.

    Hence in vedic system , help of a woman was indispensable

    1. Thanks for making this valid point about the fire and the importance of male and female in this process. This is certainly true for varnashrama, but in bhakti such rules are not required. Therefore everyone can practice it and attain the highest goal, as Krishna points out in the Gita.

    2. While the descriptions of varnashrama and brahminical duties are flowery, pleasing to hear and important to know, in my experience, most of the present day brahmanas are working in Information Technology companies either by choice or by circumstances.

      Boss is the Guru.
      Turning the computer on is the agni.
      Learning new software technologies is the vedic study.
      Working overtime is the sacrifice/austerity.
      Skipping lunch/dinner for meeting project deadline has become the fasting.

      I didn’t mean to disrespect varnasrama, I am very thankful to the bhakti movement, which opens its doors to everyone with love and without any prejudice. Without bhakti movement, there is no hope these days.

  4. “According to Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University, there are nine types of intelligence. Similarly, according to Steven Rudolph of Jiva Institute, there are eight types of intelligence.”

    Please could you list 9 and 8 types of intelligence identified by Harvard and Jiva respectively?

    1. And this is Steven Rudolph’s comment:
      Although Howard Gardner proposed a ninth intelligence, existential intelligence, he never fully embraced it, as he felt it did not meet his essential criteria for an intelligence. This is well documented. He jokingly refers to his framework as the 8.5 intelligences. Because Gardner does not except existential intelligence as a fully qualified intelligence, neither do I.

  5. The causes of denigration by spiritualists may be many. One may be the misunderstanding of scriptures .
    Scriptures teach in various ways. One principle is that many a times the criticism is not for the object being criticised but for praising the subject under discussion – na hi ninda ninditum pravartate apii tu prakritam stotum This is very important principle of Vedic hermeneutics.
    The other cause may be just the male ego. One has to study each individual case of denigration. Some people are just misinformed.

  6. The axiom from nyāya-darśana seems to have relation with that what has been said by Bhṛgu-muni: yas tarkeṇānusandhatte sa dharmaṁ veda netaraḥ.

    Yes, that global spiritualists’s negative tendency have a multicausal nature. And it is difficult to grasp its psychological ramifications, its historical-social origins and even much more its possible metaphysical sources.

    Thank you.

  7. Here is a transcript from a class given by Babaji.

    “Anyone who is attached to sense enjoyment is called woman because a human being is basically his intelligence or mind. You act according to your mind so whether someone is a male or female they both follow the mind and if the mind is fixed on sense enjoyment then that is called woman. Whether somebody has a male body or a female body it does not matter this is what woman means.
    Material nature is called prakrti in sanskrit and prakrti is depicted as a female and the living entity is called purusa and purusa means male. So prakrti signifies matter and if someone is attached to matter then he is also called prakrti or woman.
    So in the scriptures whenever there is talk or description or criticism of woman they are not really talking of woman as a body but they are talking of woman as an intelligence. It is a criticism not of the physical body because physical body has nothing to do with it. The body is moving according to the mind or intelligence so if someones intelligence is fix on sense pleasure then that intelligence is compared to a woman that is the rahasya of Shastra.”

    Jai Babaji

  8. This statement sounds good and makes sense. But if this conception is part of śāstra-rahasya, does this mean that women can enjoy a safe and dignified socio-spiritual status only in esoteric vaiṣṇava circles? Is it possible to verify this suggestion according to the history of catur-sampradāyas? In addition, does this imply that women in exoteric communities are intended to be subject to people of rough “female” mentality?

    Perhaps there is still a lot to reflect on and much more to be done for this matter.

  9. “But if this conception is part of śāstra-rahasya, does this mean that women can enjoy a safe and dignified socio-spiritual status only in esoteric vaiṣṇava circles?”

    No, that is not true. A sincere seeker is supposed to know the sastra-rahasya by approaching a qualified guru. That is the suggestion given by Shri Krishna Humself – “tad viddhi pranipatena……”, and later “tasmat shastram pramanam te…..,” “yah shastra-vidhim utsrjya….”

    “Is it possible to verify this suggestion according to the history of catur-sampradāyas?”


    “In addition, does this imply that women in exoteric communities are intended to be subject to people of rough ‘female’ mentality?”

    Check it out for yourself!!

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