Gargi Vacknavi - circa 800 - 500 BCE
Gargi Vacaknavi is a woman in the Vedic tradition In this ancient tradition women enjoyed a respect and equality unknown in many other parts of the ancient world.
In speaking of marriage the Rig Veda says:
"A friend thou shall be, having paced these seven steps with me. Nay, having paced the seven steps, we have become friends. May I retain thy friendship, and never part from thy friendship. Let us unite together: let us propose together. Loving each other and ever radiant in each other’s company, meaning well towards each other, sharing together all enjoyments and pleasures, let us join our thoughts."
Source: Taittiriya Ekagnikanda, I iii, 14. ; Sastri, 1918.
For those who know little of Vedic women or their position in society, the artist V. Jayaraman, from whom the above quotation was taken offers a page and acrylic image that you might find useful and interesting: Go to: V. Jayaraman's site
The ancient Hindu Vedic texts mention a number of women. Gargi, a prophetess and philosopher is among them. She was the daughter of the wise man, Vachaknu. She composed several hymns that question the origin of all things.
Dr.Nanditha Krishna in an article for the Sunday Express states that " was an invitee to the world's first conference on philosophy, convened by King Janaka of Videha, and challenged Yajnavalkya to a public debate. Her acknowledgement of defeat and praise of Yajnavalkya induced the king to gift him 1,000 cows and 10,000 gold pieces, which Yajnavalkya rejected and retired to the forest, followed by his wife Maitreyi, an equally educated and spirited woman.".
Another sources says that this sage, Yajnavalkya, was known to have answered inquiries from scholars and it is reputed that his answers silenced many well known scholars. It is reported that Gargi questioned Yajnavalkya about the soul or 'atman' and he is said to have been confounded by her challenges.
Dr. Rati Saxena has a paper about this interchange concerning the theories of the origin of the universe. The paper was published in June 2003. You can read this article at: Gargi and Yajnvalkya
She is often cited and/or referred to in discussions about the place of women in Hindu and Indian tradition. More than one scholar priest has said that women were considered apt scholars in the ancient tradition and that it was the tradition of foreigners and conquerors who reduced the position of women.
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