Gargi Vachaknavi – the first female scholar who initiated and instilled feminism in the history of Bharat and Hindu culture, according to ancient Hindu literature and history.
The great sage and philosopher Gargi Vachaknavi was the first female scholar of the Vedic period. She is honoured as a great ‘natural philosopher’ i.e. the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe. The philosophical study of nature and the universe was then dominant before modern science was invented and used.
Gargi Vachaknavi was named after her father the sage Vachaknu in the lineage of sage Garga. Hence, she was named Gargi. She was very young when she acquired the knowledge and proficiency of the Vedas and the scriptures. She was the first female to participate in the most renowned debates of ancient times. She is also referred to or known as Brahmavadini the one who knows Brahma Vidya. From a young age, she had a keen interest in Vedic scriptures and philosophy. She has also contributed to Rig Veda by composing several hymns in it.
Many of us know the story about her debate with sage Yajnyavalkya.
Sage Yajnyavalkya was a very renowned sage and was indeed a Brahma gyani. He knew the Brahman i.e. the ultimate reality in the Universe. The story about Sage Yajnyavalkya and Gargi’s debate has a special significance in ancient Hindu philosophy. Many of our facts and philosophies come from this debate.
The story says:
Once King Janaka the father of Devi Sita arranged a Raj Suya sacrifice. He had invited many scholars, sages and other kings. Janaka was a scholar himself and was impressed by the gathering of sages who had maximum knowledge about Brahman. He thought of a plan and announced a prize of 1000 cows with horns of gold to the sage who was spiritually most knowledgeable. Sage Yajnyavalkya confident about his spiritual knowledge and his supremacy over the same asked his disciple to drive away the cows to his house.
Many of the sages even though knowledgeable did have doubts about their ability in front of Sage Yajnyavalkya. Only eight sages of which one was Gargi challenged sage Yajnyavalkya. She was the only woman in the gathering of the learned. Sage Gargi initiated the debate and exchanged repeated arguments on the ultimate warp of reality.
Her initial arguments inclined to be metaphysical, like the unending status of the soul, away from practical situations. She then changed her approach and placed pointed arguments relating to the environment existing in the world, the very origin of existence. She asked him questions related about the cosmological metaphor that expressed the unity of the world and it’s interlink.
Then she finally asked him what was Brahman (world of imperishable) to which Yajnyvalkya replied that it is better to stop the debate here itself or else he said she may lose her mental balance. After this the debate came to an end and Sage Gargi conceded to the superior knowledge of Sage Yajnyavalkya. She said no one can defeat him in any argument concerning Brahman.
Sage Gargi remained celibate all her life and was revered by Hindus. Her philosophical views find mention in the Chandogya Upanishad. Gargi was honoured as one of the Navaratnas in the court of King Janaka of Mithila.
To sum up the above stated facts from the ancient Hindu literature,
The life story of Sage Gargi is indeed spiritually revolutionising. The fact that she was the first learned, strong and opinionated woman in the history makes her very inspiring and motivating for women today. She contributed to the most important scriptures as she had attained the knowledge of the highest level. Her knowledge and her confidence played a vital role for her participation in the debate with a Brahmagyani Sage Yajnyavalkya who was already sure about his knowledge as a person who mastered the Kundalini Yoga.
Even after being stopped and asked to end the debate she acknowledged the sage which shows her integrity and her values.
We as today’s youth should acknowledge the fact that in a society of male dominance there was a Gargi – the first scholarly woman who gained knowledge, followed the path of righteousness and stayed highly dignified throughout her life. She was confident enough to depict her real self in front of great men without making it an extraordinary factor for her existence.
Our culture and our history have many such spiritual leaders and, activists who have shown the path to future problems.
We at The Bharatiyan will try to bring such knowledgeable and women-empowering topics which go back to ancient times where there were people with limited resources and highest quality of knowledge, education and attainment.