There is a misunderstanding that women were suppressed in Hinduism without independence. People quote Manusmruti in this context, which says that woman should not be independent (Na stree svatantryamarhati). But, the same Manu says that women should be worshipped to please God (Yatranaryastu pujyante ramante tatra devatah). Both these contradict each other. If you are not giving even basic independence to somebody, how can you worship him or her? Will you worship a person without independence put in prison? This means that the first statement of Manu is misinterpreted. The actual meaning of first statement is that women should not move independently without escort, because she is weak in physical constitution to fight against anyone attacking her. Moreover, women are always associated with golden ornaments and there is every probability of attack on her by thieves. Therefore, she needs protection and hence, Manu said that the women must be accompanied by her father in childhood, by her husband in youth and by her son in old age. Here, the independence means not move alone. It does not mean suppression of women leading to their slavery to men.
In Hinduism, the misinterpretations are many because Indians are always over-intelligent. In the middle age, the selfish intellectuals were many with several misinterpretations. Apart from this, the sense of a word changes in course of time. In 16th century, Shakespeare wrote “life is a tale told by idiot”. In that time the word idiot means a person with extraordinary intelligence. But, today the same word means a fool without even normal intelligence! If the word changed like this in 400 years, what would have been the change of a word after millions of years passed after Manu! Therefore, the word ‘independence’ (Nasvatantryam) meant not to go alone according to Manu and today the same word means not to have any freedom in any aspect of life. Some men in the middle age were egoistic and selfish to use such opportunity of change of sense of a word to misuse the ancient traditions of Vedic sages. The Vedic sages never misused any sense and were for the equal status of women and in fact gave higher status for women.
In Hindu scriptures, we come across a word purusha used for a human soul irrespective of the gender (male or female). The word purusha means the awareness (nervous energy) that pervades all over the body as per the root meaning of the word purusha (puri dehe shete iti purushah). Therefore, the word purusha means any human being. Since, the word purusha is in masculine gender (pumlinga), the pronouns like ‘he’ (sah) were used, which are also in masculine gender. The gender of a word (linga) has nothing to do with the gender of the actual object (Vachaka) in Sanskrit grammar. For example, the word Daraah means wife, which is in masculine gender and also in plural. If you attach this to the object, it means several men married by a man! But, this word in Sanskrit means a single lady married as wife! Hence, the sense of the word has no attachment to the sense of the object indicated by the word.
This is a peculiar characteristic in Sanskrit grammar, which is not present in any regional language. In any regional language, the gender of the word indicates the gender of the object. The tradition of regional language was superimposed on the tradition of Sanskrit grammar by some middle age selfish scholars (since Sanskrit seized to be the mother tongue and regional languages developed as mother tongues and hence, the age of sages was over), who wanted to suppress women and brought a misinterpretation to avoid women in every aspect of life related to this world (Iham) and also the upper world (Param). These middle age scholars have spoiled the original sense of Hinduism that was established by our great ancient sages to such extent that other religions are mocking at Hinduism on this aspect of suppression of women. Therefore, there is no attachment of the sense of the gender of the word (linga) to the sense of the gender of the object indicated by the word (vachaka) in Sanskrit grammar. This means that whenever a word in masculine gender like purushah, sah etc., comes, it means both man and woman. The misinterpretation of middle age – scholars has gone to such worst state by which, scholars have denied even the spiritual path to women. You can find this foolish interpretation in the first Brahma Sutra (Athaato Brahma jijnaasaa). This sutra says that a person having good qualities is eligible for spiritual path.
The word used to mean the person in masculine gender does not mean men only as per the Sanskrit grammar. It means both men and women. Shankara wrote clearly that the person here is not restricted to any caste or gender. This means, any person belonging to any caste and any gender is eligible for spiritual path, provided that person has the required good qualities like Shama, Dama etc., (Shama and dama mean the control of external and internal senses). Here, in this context, the word Brahmana means the person having interest in God (Brahma nayati iti Brahamanah). The word Brahmana here does not indicate the caste. But, the selfish scholars misinterpreted this Sutra to mean that a man born in the caste of Brahmins is only eligible for spiritual path!
Based on this unfortunate misinterpretation, the ‘Gayatri’ was also prohibited to women, especially, when Gayatri is said to be a woman! What is the meaning of the word Gayatri as per Veda? Gayatri means only the name of one of the seven meters in Veda (Gayatri chandah). Gayatri does not mean any deity as said in the ritual Sandhyavandanam. It is said that God is the deity of Gayatri (Savitaa devataa). The word savitaa again means only the creator and not the Sun as per the root meaning of the word (Shunj praniprasave). The meaning of word Gayatri is the style of the sentence, which is the form of song (Gayantam trayate). Gayatri means any song related to God. But today, Gayatri is just a verse that is repeated by the unfortunate male Brahmins! The actual Gayatri is only with women, who sing well on God! The fate of the egoistic male Brahmins is reminding Me the statement given by Swami Vivekananda “The fruits have already fallen in the drainage and you are quarrelling for the vacant basket”. The thread marriage, the initiation to Gayatri, is a function that introduces singing on God through sweet songs. The three threads (Upavitam) put in this function mean that a form made of three qualities (trigunas) of God should be sung and not the absolute God, who is beyond words and even imagination.
Thus, women not having this function of Upanayanam are not suppressed at all from Gayatri. In fact, the men were suppressed from the real Gayatri, who do not sing on God and just repeat a verse written in Veda in Gayatri meter. You can reach God more easily through song, since a song gives more inspiration than prose and poetry. The unfortunate men were confined to prose (Yajur Veda) and poetry (Rug Veda) leaving the song (Sama Veda) to women. Gita says that Samaveda is the best. Therefore, the best path is left to women only! Hence, the women were not suppressed by the foolish misinterpretation done by some men. In fact, the men were suppressed from real Gayatri. Remember, those, who suppress others are suppressed by God and those, who are suppressed by men will be uplifted by God. In fact, praising God through prose and poetry is also a path to reach God, which is allotted to men. Praising God through songs is another path to reach God, which is allotted to women. The reason is that women are more talented in singing. The Upanayanam and Gayatri mean only the initiation done to a male or female to praise God. The separation between two paths is only according to the convenience and therefore, the women and other castes need not feel suppressed, since the introduction of the three threads is not done for them. If you understand the real meaning of three threads, you will not misunderstand the tradition.
These three threads cannot take you to God! They stand only to indicate God in form. There are several non-Brahmin devotees (men and women) who reached God without these three threads. It is only a symbol indicating the form of God. Even a male Brahmin is said to reach God after Sanyasa only in which the three threads have to be removed! The sages with the three threads could not reach God and could reach God only when they were born as Non-Brahmin women (Gopikas). Therefore, the same path is not meant for all. According to convenience, any one can reach God by any path. If both husband and wife sit together doing Sandhyavandanam reciting Vedic hymns, who will cook the food? Therefore, one path is allotted to men and another path is allotted to women to reach God. For the sake of convenience only, one path allotted to one person is prohibited to other person. In this sense only, Ramanuja wrote that the male men were only eligible to a particular path of Vedic rituals, while writing commentary on the first Brahma Sutra. This does not mean that you will reach God only by the path of Vedic rituals and not by non-Vedic (ritualistic) path of devotion by singing songs on God.
In fact, Ramanuja gave the Narayana Mantra to all non-Brahmins and therefore, you can understand the sense of His commentary. In fact, the path allotted to women, who sing on God is more effective and easier to reach God. The ways of worship related to Vratams done by women are full of songs and the real Gayatri is with them only. Analysis shows that men are suppressed by God and the reason for this is only their ego. Similarly, the spiritual path of non-Brahmin devotees is more effective and easier than male Brahmins, since male Brahmins have the ego of caste and gender. In fact, the women in caste of Brahmins were allotted the path of non-Brahmins, to show that the entire caste of Brahmins did not suppress non-Brahmins. If the function of three threads is done by all men and women of Brahmins, certainly there should have been a misunderstanding that the entire caste of Brahmins has suppressed the other castes by confining this function to their caste (males and females) only. The Brahmin ladies were given this alternative path of devotion by songs to show that this path is also leading to God. Without understanding this, other castes and the women of Brahmins need not blame male Brahmins with jealousy. Without understanding this, male Brahmins also should not feel egoistic. Both jealousy and ego are enemies for spiritual path.
The women also need not feel that they were suppressed by not having the equal right in the paternal property. Veda clearly says that Manu has divided his property equally among his sons and daughters (Manuh putrebhyah…). The word Putra in Veda means both son and daughter according to the Ekasesha Sutra of Sanskrit grammar. The selfish males of middle age have misinterpreted this due to greediness for wealth. The misinterpretation was carefully built up. They linked the property to the rituals done to the parents after their death. The women were negated to do this ritual. They have taken the misinterpretation to the climax by making the ritual as a ceremony to give food to the departed soul. The parents are threatened indirectly so that if the sons do not perform this ritual, the parents will suffer without food after death! All this is political and economical misinterpretation. Actually, the departed soul never needs food. The departed soul may go to Northern Devayaana, which is the path to God. They do not need food (nahitena pathaa tanutyajah tanayavarjitapindakamkshinah). The second path is Southern Pitruyaana, which is the path of rebirths. In this second path, there are three sub divisions. The above average soul goes to heaven, the average soul goes to pitruloka and the below average soul goes to hell. In all these three sub divisions, the soul does not require food. The soul in heaven is not in need of food (Ubheteertvaa ashanaayaa pipaase…). The soul in the Pitruloka does not need food since it takes the light of moon as food (Nirvishtasaaraampitrubhih…).
The soul in the hell is punished without food and drink (Jaayasva mriyasva…). Therefore, the departed soul embedded in energetic body does not need materialistic food as the source of energy, since the supply of energy is direct from the source of energy (Ushmapaayinah…). Then what is the sense of these rituals done after death, which involve feeding priests? These rituals are done only to feed the eligible scholars of Vedas to get their blessings to the families of sons (Asmat Gotram Vardhataam). Therefore, the ritual is done by a son for his benefit only and not for the benefit of the departed soul. If the property of the departed soul is spent in such ritual, the departed soul can also be benefited. A daughter also can feed eligible devotees from the property given by her parents and this helps the departed soul as in the case of Vedic ritual performed by the son. Here, the sacrifice of food and money (dakshina) is important and not feeding the departed soul. The feeding of departed soul is only Arthavaada, which means a ritual performed with a threat meant for good purpose.
A greedy person will not do this sacrifice of food and money and in order to get the sacrifice from him also, such threat is introduced. In this ritual, the eligibility of the receiver of food and dakshina (money) is very very important. The receiver should be a Scholar of Vedas, knowing the meaning of Vedas or a good devotee of God. Without knowing the meaning, the practice cannot come. But today, the receivers are the priests, who recite Vedas without knowing the meaning. Such a priest is said to be non eligible (anarthajnah…, kevalam sabdyate anagnauviva…). Donating to non eligible person brings sin only. The departed soul will suffer more by such ritual. All these misinterpretations and curved customs in the name of traditions were done by some middle age scholars of selfishness and ego. Unfortunately, these are attributed to the ancient sages and the original Hinduism is misunderstood and is blamed.
Therefore, the women and other castes should not misunderstand that they are suppressed and feel jealous about the male Brahmins. At the same time, the male Brahmins also should not feel egoistic that they alone can reach God through the Vedic – ritualistic path, which is confined to them only just for the sake of social convenience of life.