The revival of ancient Hindu values towards female sexuality

Seminar Paper, 2008

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3


The revival of ancient Hindu values towards female sexuality

In Hinduism the role of females is strictly defined and tied closely to the almost live lasting goal of childbearing. Religiously, through the unity of man and woman the circle of life (samsara) in Hinduism stays in motion.[1] But in the Brahmans class the contact with women is understood to be controversy since females are seen as polluted because of menstruation and the blood shed by of child birth, which is counterproductive to the aim of spiritual purity of the priests. On the other hand, women have a spiritual importance because of their fertility but are recognized as mothers in this concept only. In the ancient texts the Ramayana, the Puranas, and the Mahabharata, female characters function as role models of feminine behavior and their expectations towards motherhood are displayed in the Indian society again today. In the modern Indian state a strong emphasis in law, governmental programs, and politics is put on the female as a mother, and traditional values seem to be re-vitalized. The ancient traditional understanding is separated from the former religious purpose and spread through out the society as a cultural role for women. This essay will discuss how the ancient values made their way back in today’s Indian society and reveal the controversy that development accumulates.

In the early Vedic period in Hinduism women were worshiped for their ability to be mothers (Gatwood, 1985, p. 31). A deep emphasis was put on women’s sexuality, which meant that the first and particular duty of a woman was to give birth to children.[2] “In samsara women are adored as mothers who bring forth life. In samaja they are respected only if they are wives.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 97, 2) Therefore on the one hand, sexuality has always been associated with keeping the circle of life in motion as a chance for an ancestor to re-enter life. On the other hand, giving birth in a marriage provided social protection for mother and child, since other sexual activity outside the marriage was not tolerated or supported.[3] “The nature of marital bond, in turn, ensures women’s sexual, religious, political, and economic freedom or dependency.” (Gatwood, 1985, p. 32) In the early Vedic period, marriage was based on the equality of shared responsibilities between husband and wife ensured by their dependence towards their fidelity (Gatwood, 1985, p. 32). By the later Vedic period, the institution of the patriarchate, which put men clearly above women in status, was widely spread. “Women bear children for husbands, not Nature.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 97, 2) The woman’s status only rose by the number of children she delivered and especially with the number of male children. Through birth, next to the religious belief of rebirth of ancestors, a male inheritor was expected to secure the families continuity. Therefore, women were bound to their husbands in marriage and found their lives in the domestic space only. “Only when a man is convinced that a woman is sexually faithful to him can he believe that the child borne by her is the fruit of his seed.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 97, 1) Also, by being obligated to only one man, it was believed that “Matrimony harnesses female fertility.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 97, 2)

In India, the expectations towards women were displayed in the sacred stories of Hinduism, kept in oral tradition by the priests. In the Ramayana, the Puranas, and the Mahabharata, female characters such as Rama’s wife Sita or Savitri function as role models of feminine behavior. The religious examples in the sacred texts, known and followed mostly by Brahmans, provide a clear setting that binds women to their duties as future mothers.[4] Therefore, wives were expected to show devotion towards their men in the way that they were chaste, selfless, and self-sacrificing in caring for the offspring, while experiencing, because of the goal of constant childbearing, a limited live expectancy.[5]

Sexuality had to be socially regulated especially in the Brahman cast to ensure their purity in order to administrate properly. Therefore, girls were often married before reaching puberty to make sure, they would be with the priest husband only when they started to be fertile and not having been in an unsacred relationship to other men already. Sexuality was religiously in the cast of Brahmans not seen as a lustful procedure but as a sacred necessarily. Since in that cast women were seen as extremely polluting, because of menstruation and birth blood, the purity seeking priests tried to make as less contact with them as possible. The only reason for husband and wife to come together in this cast was for the sacred sake of children, while even this process was ritualized and the husband had to say an incantation to ask the gods for the success insemination.[6]

In the lower casts certain pollution already was hanging on to the people in general so that the ‘natural’ pollution of the women was less dramatic in contact with men, which caused a different sexual understanding. Sexual asceticism as expected in the highest class was not seen as increasing spiritual strength, which liberated sexual relationships to a certain extend and brought a notion of eroticism (Gatwood, 1985, p. 88). In the broader ancient patriarchal women were inferior and seen as an instrument as well.[7]


[1] “This union is sacred because it creates a portal between the land of the dead and the land of the living, enabling ancestors to reenter samsara.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 44, 1)

[2] “In samsara childbearing was essential to rotate the wheel of life.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 97, 1)

[3] “In society witnessed are required who can testify to the union of man and wife. This makes marriage mandatory.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 97, 2) With those sexual expectations the only accepted institution in which men and women can live together is marriage, in order to regulate sexuality and provide a strong setting for the offspring. “For the sake of social order, a woman’s sexuality had to be fettered to her husband […].” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 109, 1)

[4] While captured by Ravana Sita refuses to be rescued by her husband Rama’s ally the monkey god Hanuman because she would have to touch another man and bring her chastity into question. (Kinsley, 1986, p. 73, e.g. Ramayana)

[5] Sita brought her and Rama’s children up in the forest even by herself, when he had abandoned her, without confronting him with responsibilities in raising them. (Kinsley, 1986, p. 73, e.g. Ramayana)

[6] The fertility spell: “Let Vishnu prepare the womb; let Tvastr adorn your form, let Prajapati pour on; let Dhatar place the embryo. Hold the embryo, O Sarasvati, let both the Ashwini garlanded with blue lotuses set it in place.” Pattanaik, 2000, p. 44, 1)

[7] But since “Sex helps the wheel of life go around.” (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 44, 1) it could be demanded by the wife as well and could even give her the right to lie down with another male family member, if her husband wasn’t able to impregnate her. (Pattanaik, 2000, p. 101, 2, e.g. Skanda Purana, Somanatha Sthala Purana from the state of Gujarat).

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The revival of ancient Hindu values towards female sexuality
Muhlenberg College
The Feminine in South Asia
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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451 KB
Hinduism, India, Mother, Fertility, women, wife, husband, British, child, female, values, sexuality
Quote paper
Kati Neubauer (Author), 2008, The revival of ancient Hindu values towards female sexuality, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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