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BASAVA AND WOMANHOOD Danashree Suresh Aurora, Illinois

One, among Basava and his valuable manifold contributions towards the rejuvenation of the contemporary tradition-ridden society, was his recognition of woman’s individuality and her rights. There is no denying the fact that the position of woman in any society is a significant pointer to the level of culture of that society. In a progressive society as woman’s position improves, her subjection diminishes. The ideal society envisaged by Basava and the Shiva Sharanas in the 12th century was a significant step towards the emancipation of women. And we shall be in better position to estimate their epoch-making contribution if we take a review of the status of women in the earlier period. There is good evidence to believe that in the early Vedic age’s women enjoyed equal rights with men. The wife and husband were regarded equal in respect and both took equal part in all duties- religious and social. Women also took part in the intellectual and spiritual life of the community. Some of the hymns of the Rgveda were composed be women. Visvavara, Apala, Lopamudra, Ghosa, Indrani and Saci are mentioned among others as composers of hymns. That women continued to enjoy freedom and respect even in ages following the Vedic period can be inferred from references in Dharma Sastras. But the period is very brief. The dark period of subjugation of women seems to have begun soon thereafter. Manu has something good to say about women. Where women are honored, he ordains, there the Gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields are rewards. But the deprecatory remarks which he heaps on them almost outweigh the good ones. He regards them morally low creatures. “It is the nature of the woman to seduce man in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.” Such verses abound; and it is needless to multiply them. Manu lies down that a woman is never fit for independence. Her father protects her in childhood, her husband in youth, and her sons in her old age. They are not entitled to offer prayers, to practice penances, to undertake pilgrimages, to recite Vedic Mantras and to worship Gods! As shall be noting later, among the many old and evil practices of Hinduism against which Basava revolted was this criminal treatment of woman-the refusal to grant her the status of a human being. Such a religion could not last long. Buddhism and Jainism marked a revolt against the class distinctions preached by the followers of decadent Brahmanism. Her salvation appeared to be near at hand, yet not complete. There are some vachanas where Basava makes reference to how woman is to be looked upon. In all these vachanas the main point which Basava drives to his followers is that to desire another man’s wife is a sin; and to look upon a woman not otherwise as sister or mother is a deadlier sin. Thus, he lays down a code of conduct for his followers. He thought that practice was better than either pleading or preaching. We get evidence of his broad view of woman in his treatment of his wives, Nilambike and Gangambike, his sister Nagalambike, and a good number of women-saints who participated in the religious discussions at Anubhava Mantapa. The one who excelled all is Mahadeviyakka. She received highest words of praise from Basava, Allamaprabhu, Channabasava, Siddharamayya and Madivalayya. On account of her conflict with her “husband” king Kausika, she leaves home for her spiritual salvation. Then all roads led to Kalyana. So she paves her way in that direction. On the way, she had to face a number of difficulties. The idea of a woman asserting her own, moving out without protection was strange and unthinkable. Had not Sastras laid down that woman at no stage was fit to enjoy freedom? She was beautifully narrated the difficulties, she had to face on her way. She had to go to wells and ponds when she felt thirsty, she had to resort to old temples when she 11

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