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Gender and Religion: Gender and Hinduism


There are many ways to approach women's and gender studies in Hinduism. A more-descriptive, less-analytical approach usually deals with the traditional scriptural injunctions relating to women, the concept of strīdharma, feminine archetypes, symbolic structures, divine manifestations, and the ways these matters impact both male and female religious practices and identities. For example, the image of Hindu women (a supposedly homogeneous group essentially different from both Hindu men and non-Hindu women) is often derived from two categories of sacred texts: the Vedas, the oldest and most authoritative Indian texts (c. 1500600 bce) and Manusmŗti, the best-known prescriptive text and the most commonly cited source of Hindu dharma (c. second century bcesecond century ce).

Women in the Ancient Texts

The first group of texts confirms that there were women seers in the Vedic age (approximately 1 percent of the hymns of the gveda are attributed to women) and women philosophers capable of debating with men (Gārgī and Maitreyī in the Upaniads), that the sacrificer's wife played an instrumental (if far from equal) role in public rituals, and that a woman's primary function was to be the mother of sons. According to the much later text, Manusmŗti, women were denied access to learning altogether. Marriage for a woman was equated with religious initiation (upanayana ) for a man, the service she offered her husband was equated with his religious studentship, and her performance of household duties was equated with his worship of the sacrificial fire (Manusmŗti 2.67); that is, her domestic duties constituted her religious life. The importance of procreation gave rise to the image of her womb as a field. The passivity of the field was assumed: The husband sowed the seed, which determined the crop, and because he was (ideally) the owner of both field and produce, it was essential to guard both from other men. The subordination of the wife was ensured by the criteria for choosing a bride. Men were advised to marry girls considerably younger than themselves (the ideal gap was sixteen to eighteen years) from families of the same or lower status and from families with which there were no existing kinship ties to soften her experience of isolation.

Whereas the religious life (dharma ) of a man was usually described in terms of his class (vara ; i.e., according to his membership of the priestly, ruling, mercantile, or servant class) and stage in life (āśrama ; i.e., according to whether he was a religious student, a married householder, a hermit, or a renunciate), that of a woman focused solely on the cultural expectations of the good wife (strīdharma ). Thus the narrative and prescriptive literature is full of glorifications of the ideal wife often startlingly juxtaposed with dire pronouncements regarding the inherently wicked nature of women (strīsvabhāva ). That this was a strategy for the control of women is evidenced by the total lack of a parallel opposition between the ideal husband and the essential wickedness of all men. Cultural archetypes reinforce these patterns. In the Rāmāyaa, for example, male figures include Rāma (exemplar of the ruling class) and Hanumān (exemplar of the devoted servant). Conversely, for women, Sītā represents the perfect wife, and Kaikeyī stands for the inherent wickedness of women.

There are, however, other representations of the malefemale relationship. According to Sakhya philosophy, for example, all existence is derived from two principles: purua (the irreducible selfmale, aloof, and perfect) and prakti (the manifest world, defined as female, needing attention, longing to serve, and the cause of the male self's entrapment in existence). The purua-prakti dichotomy is clearly intended to apply to all existence and all individuals, including women. However, the cultural stereotypes underlying the philosophical message are undeniable, as is the implication that the truly religious man must abandon both women and the world if he is to attain his goal. In the context of devotional religion (bhakti), the male-female relationship receives a different emphasis: God is supreme, the only male in a world of devotees represented as feminine. In the worship of Ka, for example, male devotees imagine themselves as women in their devotion to their Lord, whereas female devotees have the advantage of being naturally subservient in their devotion.

Another twist is provided by the concept of the divine feminine (śakti or pakti). Although many goddesses are depicted as consorts rather than as independent deities, there is the widespread notion that divine power is feminine (śakti, meaning "power," is a feminine noun). According to this view, without śakti, the gods are powerless, and the ultimate power of the universe is that of Devī, the Great Goddess.

A more critical and reflective approach reveals that the very discussion of women and, more recently, gender in Hinduism has evolved within the context of and in specific response to complex historical developments from the early nineteenth century onward. Generally speaking, the history of women's studies and gender studies tends to follow a three-phase pattern. In the first phase, scholars look for and research sources and key individuals that can in some sense add women to a preexisting framework, the latter sometimes referred to as men's studies to emphasize the need for the missing component of women's studies. In the second phase, there is a movement away from the "men's studies plus women" approach toward finding ways to analyze and challenge the gender ideology inherent in the dominant discourses defining both women and men within the relevant patriarchal structures. In the third phase, the focus shifts once more, this time away from an exclusive focus on gender toward an articulation of more nuanced discourses that take into account issues of race, class, and ethnicity as well as gender.

This three-phase pattern may also be applied to the study of Indian religions and, more specifically, to the study of gender and Hinduism. In the Indian case, however, it is essential to realize that an acute interest in the role and position of women, at this point referred to as the woman question, predated the women's studies phase by more than one hundred years. The primary context of the woman question was political of course, but the relevance of these discussions to the study of religions is unambiguous. Indeed it is always important to view the debates on Indian and Hindu women against the background of the political paradigms dominant in India at the time: the discourses accompanying the British colonial enterprise, the narratives embedded in the Indian nationalist project, or the impassioned rhetoric of fundamentalism. A coherent history of the study of women and gender in relation to the study of Hinduism emerges only when these two models (i.e., the woman question and women's and gender studies) and these two disciplines (i.e., religion and politics) are made to work together.

The Woman Question

The woman question arose directly from India's encounter with colonialism. As Ashis Nandy noted in his groundbreaking work The Intimate Enemy (1983), colonial powers consistently viewed colonized peoples as weak and effeminate. Accordingly, to justify their particular colonial enterprise, the British portrayed the entire indigenous population of India as feminine, that is, as requiring protection. The need for vigorous intervention was further supported by what, in colonial discourse, was widely agreed to be the lamentable position of Indian (primarily Hindu) women. Whereas Hindu women were perceived to be in urgent need of social reform or uplift, Hindu men were believed to be innately incapable of providing ithence the need for British intervention to achieve the necessary reforms. Examples of this type of discourse may be found in numerous publications ranging from James Peggs's India's Cries to British Humanity (rev. ed., 1830) to Katherine Mayo's polemical Mother India, a best seller in England and the United States from its publication in 1927.

The list of women-related social reforms advocated by the British is long: the eradication of child marriage, especially the marriage of child brides because of the high probability that they would become child widows; the remarriage of widows; the abolition of female infanticide, sati (the death of a woman on her husband's funeral pyre), and kulīn polygamy in Bengal (where the need for high-caste brahman girls to marry before they reached puberty and to marry only high-caste men had led to the practice of kulīn men of all ages being paid to marry large numbers of prepubertal kulīn girls without further economic obligation); and the education of women. Some of the reforms were counterproductive. For example, the regulations introduced in the Bengal presidency in 1812 distinguished between two categories of sati: voluntary sati (considered legal, perhaps even praiseworthy) and coerced sati (deemed illegal and to be condemned). Widely interpreted as a sign of government approval, this intended reform in fact led to a temporary increase in the incidence of sati in Bengal. What was less clear was how relevant these reforms were to most Hindu women, especially in the rural areas and among the urban lower classes. Most of the reforms involved only the urban middle classes, often substituting a restrictive British model of womanhood for traditional Hindu norms. The formation of the bhadramahila (gentlewoman), the concept of the ideal feminine as constructed by the Westernized male sections of the Bengali middle classes and largely internalized by their female counterparts, is paradigmatic in this respect.

It is significant that this early focus on women in India partly coincides with first-wave feminism in the West (c. 18501950) and shares many of the latter's attributes. In particular many Victorian feminists (e.g., Harriet Martineau [18021876], Annie Besant [18471933], and Josephine Butler [18281906]) constructed their own images both of British imperialism and of Indian Hindu womanhood, reserving a special place for what they believed was (British) women's essentially caring role in the imperial project. For most of these early feminists, the plight of Indian women was merely an extension of their own political campaigns for women's rights in the West. By stressing the Otherness and what they saw as the essential dependence of Indian women, Victorian feminists used the example of Indian women to bolster their own aspirations. At the other end of the spectrum of first-wave Western feminism stood the feminism of articulate, often Western-educated, Hindu women. Examples include Pandita Ramabai (18581922), author of The High-Caste Hindu Woman (1887) and herself a high-caste child widow; Cornelia Sorabji (18661954), who read law at Oxford before returning to Calcutta to work on behalf of women living in purdah (the confinement of women to the inner rooms of the home and to the invisibility of a palanquin when outside it); twenty-four-year-old Rukhmabai, whose determination not to live with a husband to whom she had been married at the age of eleven (case filed in 1884) sparked off a major political debate in both England and India; and the formidable Tarabai Shinde, who wrote a tract in Marathi in 1882 in response to the celebrated case of Vijaylakshmi, a young brahman widow condemned to death for the murder of her illegitimate baby. These remarkable individuals provided both a link between Western feminism and indigenous women's organizations and living models that resisted Victorian constructions of Indian women.

There was also the widespread idea, in Britain and among the emerging elites in India, that the position of women in a given culture was a mark of its degree of civilization, hence the significance attributed by both British colonizers and colonized Indians to social reforms relating to women. This idea has recurred throughout the history of the study of women and gender in India. As many scholars have argued, women figure in these public debates as symbols (or indeed as one monolithic symbol, "Woman") of the moral health of the Hindu tradition as discussed by men rather than as owners of views and voices in their own right. The battle between tradition and modernity continues to be fought over the bodies, minds, and images of women.

Unsurprisingly the Indian response was to produce positive historical accounts of the position of women. This was in part a defense of Indian masculinities (by distinguishing between the sexes) and in part a defense of Indian culture (by expounding the past or potential glories of Indian womanhood). The recovery of Indian culture, or tradition, from colonial slurs came to mean the construction of the "traditional woman" as adapted from a fixed eternal past encapsulated in religious texts. In the early stages of the nationalist movement, especially in early- and mid-nineteenth-century Bengal, the woman question sat center stage. For its reformist wing, accused by its opponents of being overly influenced by Western liberalism, the low status of women was seen as one of the two great evils of Hindu society (the other was caste).

Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against sati. Vidyasagar fought to promote widow remarriage (1855) andas a kulīn brahman himselfthe abolition of kulīn polygamy (1871, 1873). In the 1870s the Brahmo Samaj, a society dedicated to the reform of Hinduism, was twice divided on the marriage laws and the age of consent. In the ensuing debates on a range of issues relating to women, both sides sought their evidence within the textual sources of Hinduism, that is, in ancient Sanskrit religious texts composed and disseminated by the male brahman elite. Most of the works written during this period belong to the nationalist school. The prime example is A. S. Altekar's still influential and often reprinted overview, The Position of Women in Hindu Civilisation (1978/1938). A common starting point for such accounts was the conviction that Indian Hindu women had once enjoyed high status and that therefore contemporary problems must be the result of centuries of oppression by a series of invaders, notably the Muslims. These studies tended to glamorize the position of women in the supposedly glorious Vedic age, to focus on high-caste Hindu women within the family setting at the expense of other castes and other settings, and to exhibit a particular interest in sensational practices (now deemed essentially non-Hindu) such as female infanticide, child marriage, polygamy, seclusion, the deprivations of enforced widowhood, and sati. Particularly disturbing are the frequent overtones of both casteism (i.e., the denigration of low-caste women in favor of the higher castes) and communalism (i.e., anti-Muslim rhetoric). Although the simplistic explanatory framework of these early publications is flawed, the work that went into this phase constituted a useful foundation for the study of gender in Hinduism. Indeed scholars working in this area in the twenty-first century continue to respond to and critique discourses relating to the woman question.

Women's Studies

After Indian independence was achieved in 1947, the number of studies on women's roles within the family and on educated middle-class urban working women increased. Until the late 1960s, however, when the women's movement in the West gained momentum (known as second-wave feminism), there was little interest in rural or lower-caste women or in asking questions about the varieties of women's experiences and perspectives. Early examples of scholarly work in this phase include Bengali Women (1972), Manisha Roy's account of the lives of upper- and middle-class Hindu women in Calcutta, and Women in India (1977), the now-classic study by Doranne Jacobson and Susan S. Wadley of themes relating to Hindu women both in ancient tradition and in the lives of real women in contemporary India.

The term women's studies, borrowed from the West in the early 1970s, was used increasingly after the United Nations declaration of 1975 as International Women's Year and of the period 1975 to 1985 as International Women's Decade. The Committee on the Status of Women in India was appointed in 1972. The report on its findings revealed that "large masses of women in this country have remained unaffected by the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and laws enacted since Independence" (Committee on the Status of Women, 1974, preface). In 1979 the feminist journal Manushi began publishing articles on women in Indian society and culture, including items relating to religion. By the 1980s the link between women's studies and the women's movement, and thus its feminist agenda, was firmly established. Although the primary focus of women's studies was the rights of Indian women, there was a general consensus among scholars working in the field that religious ideology played a powerful role in maintaining the status quo. Madhu Kishwar, a prominent Indian activist and (with Ruth Vanita) one of the founders of Manushi, explained:

The pervasive popular cultural ideal of womanhood has become a death trap for too many of us. It is woman as selfless giver, someone who gives and gives endlessly, gracefully, smilingly, whatever the demand, however unreasonable and however harmful to herself. She gives not just love, affection and ungrudging service but also, if need be, her health and ultimately her life at the altar of duty to her husband, children and the rest of her family. (Kishwar and Vanita, 1984, p. 6.)

The key to understanding the roles and images of both historical and contemporary Indian Hindu women was seen to lie in the precepts, rituals, myths, and narratives of a patriarchal religious tradition or complex of traditions: Hinduism in its broadest sense. This gave rise to a range of woman-centered studies of Hindu beliefs and practices in the 1980s. Examples include Susan Wadley's volume on the "powers" of Tamil women (1980); Lina Fruzzetti's study of the "gift of a virgin" in Bengali Hindu marriage rituals (1982); Lynn Bennett's work on the religious lives of high-caste Hindu women in Nepal (1983); Meredith Borthwick's exploration of the bhadramahila model of femininity in late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century Bengal (1984); and Julia Leslie's analysis of the religious behavior of women (strīdharma ) as prescribed in an eighteenth-century Sanskrit text (1989). The main aim of this phase was to make women more visible within Hinduism, both the experiences and perspectives of Hindu women themselves and what the various Hindu traditions said about them. Like the woman question before it, the women's studies approach remained an integral part of the study of gender and Hinduism (e.g., Leslie, 1991; Bose, 2000).

Postcolonial Criticism

The publication of Edward Said's celebrated Orientalism in 1978 is usually regarded as the start of postcolonial theory. Although Said himself was criticized for his lack of attention to women, postcolonial criticism in general may be seen to act as a bridge in the transition from Indian women's studies to the study of gender in Hinduism. A prime example of this phase is the work of Lata Mani on the colonial discourse on sati. Mani argued:

Tradition is reconstituted under colonial rule and, in different ways, women and brahmanic scripture become interlocking grounds for this rearticulation. Women become emblematic of tradition, and the reworking of tradition is largely conducted through debating the rights and status of women in society. Despite this intimate connection between women and tradition, or perhaps because of it, these debates are in some sense not primarily about women but about what constitutes authentic cultural tradition. (Mani, 1989, p. 90)

This article was included in the groundbreaking volume Recasting Women, edited by Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (1989). In seeking to reveal the relationship between colonial and indigenous patriarchies and between both patriarchies and feminism, these essays on Indian women in the context of the colonial history of India set the pattern for this phase.

The 1980s also saw the emergence of a school of history referred to as subaltern studies. Often regarded as the most significant achievement of South Asian cultural studies, the focus of this collective enterprise was to contest dominant modes of knowledge and knowledge production. What was previously regarded as a history of Indian elites was now construed as a history of subaltern groups. The inclusion of women among these subaltern groups gave rise to an unclear and uncomfortable relationship between subaltern studies and feminism. Kamala Visweswaran (1996), for example, distinguished between the figure of Woman (universalized and essentialized) as subaltern and "subaltern women," locating her own argument in the nonessentialized subject.

Alongside the feminist challenge to subaltern studies, feminist historiography focused on questions of voice, agency, and resistance with a particular interest in the oral histories of women. Examples include Malavika Karlekar's (1993) use of biographies, memoirs, and letters to present the "voices" of some remarkable women in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Bengal and Rosalind O'Hanlon's (1994) translation and analysis of Tarabai Shinde's 1882 diatribe on the ways men have silenced and disempowered Indian women.

This transitional phase was one of critique and revelation. Patriarchal constructions of Hindu womenwhether those of the colonial British, those of Indian nationalists, or those of what may be termed Hindu "traditionalists"were closely analyzed, whereas the perceptions of real Hindu women were brought into the foreground. This approach too became an integral part of the study of gender and Hinduism.

Gender Studies

Overlapping with the initiatives already described, the study of gender rather than women dates from the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century. In line with this shift in focus, Samya Shakti, the journal of women's studies edited by Malavika Karlekar and first published by the Centre for Women's Development Studies in Delhi in 1983, was in 1994 renamed the Indian Journal of Gender Studies. This phase was marked by a continuing concern with the explosive mix of religion and politics and an increasing interest in the gendered aspects of nationalist and communalist rhetoric (e.g., Sarkar and Butalia, 1995). In addition greater attention was paid to the diversities of women's religious and cultural experiences and to racial, ethnic, caste-related, regional, economic, and life-cycle differences (e.g., Malhotra, 2002). New research interests emerged too: women as subjects rather than as objects of study (e.g., Kumar, 1994); Hindu notions of masculinity (e.g., Sax, 1997); the androgyne, eunuch, or third sex (e.g., Zwilling and Sweet, 2000); Third World and Indian feminisms, usually defined in opposition to Western feminism (e.g., Gedalof, 1999); the vexed question of who speaks for whom (whether texts or informants for the subjects of study, researchers for texts and informants, men for women, higher castes for lower castes, Western women for Hindu women, or educated middle-class urban feminists for rural and low-caste Hindu women); and gender theory, especially in relation to the Other.

An interesting development in this phase was the publication of a particularly large number of edited volumes with gender as their focus. This type of publication made it possible to arrange a comprehensive collection of essays on a broad topic, taking advantage of the work of scholars in a wide range of disciplines and fields and giving rise to new levels of sophisticated thought. As some of these volumes demonstrated, there was also an increased contribution from male scholars researching aspects of gender and Hinduism.

The Impact of Women's and Gender Studies

The impact of women's and gender studies on the scholarly understanding of the Hindu tradition has been dramatic. Part of this change may be traced to the numbers of women scholars joining the ranks of the predominantly male disciplines of Indology, anthropology, and Indian studies generally. Textual and text-historical studies showed an increasing awareness of the implications of the (usually butas became clearnot exclusively) high-caste male brahman authorship of the texts under discussion and allowed the subaltern perspectives of both women and lower castes to emerge. Strikingly different examples include Wendy Doniger's extensive work on gender and myth in ancient India (e.g., Doniger, 1973, 1980, 1999); a wealth of writing by women in thirteen Indian languages brought to the attention of the English-reading public for the first time by Susie Tharu and K. Lalita (Tharu and Lalita, 1991, 1993); and the application of the tools of feminist theory and those of the Hindu tradition to the study of women in the textual traditions of Hindu India (Patton, 2002). As a result of these and other works on women, men, and gender, scholarly interpretations of religious texts and ideas expanded to include more nuanced sociocultural and gendered understandings of prescriptive utterances, ritual implications, and soteriological paths.

In the fields of the anthropology and sociology of Indian religions, a new awareness of the significance of the sex of both scholar and informant, together with an increasing number of studies by women of women, radically altered understandings of the Hindu tradition. An earlier tendency to attribute a coherent group identity to Hindu women (and, to a lesser degree, Hindu men) was replaced by a greater awareness of individual, caste, class, and regional differences in the communities studied. North India was particularly well served. For example, Listen to the Heron's Words, an ethnographic study of some North Indian villages published in 1994 by Ann G. Gold and Gloria G. Raheja, challenged local ideologies of gender and kinship that routinely subordinate women to men. In Rajasthan, Lindsey Harlan (2003) examined narratives relating to Rajput masculinity, the hero as protector, sacrificial victim, and devoted "goddesses' henchman." In Maharasthra, Anne Feldhaus (1995) considered the feminine imagery associated with rivers and the special relationship between water and female divinity in the gendered religious meanings of Hinduism. Studies of South India include Anthony Good's (1991) focus on female puberty rituals in Tirunelveli, linking them with notions of female sexuality, myth, and religious tradition in southern India and Sri Lanka, and Karin Kapadia's (1995) analysis of the impact of caste and class on concepts of gender among so-called "untouchables" in a village in Tamil Nadu.

This new awareness of the implications of gender was also felt in specific subject areas. In relation to Hindu goddesses, for example, there was an outpouring of academic works. The earlier publications focused on descriptive material, locating sources, distinguishing the names and attributes of different goddesses, explaining the associated myths and symbols against a largely Pan-Indian background (e.g., Kinsley, 1986). Foundational text-historical studies focused on, for example, the Devīmāhātmaya (Coburn, 1984); the tension between the independent goddess Devī and what Lynn Gatwood (1985) calls the "spouse goddess"; the feminine principle and its relation to the rise of goddess worship (Pintchman, 1994); the South Indian folk goddess Draupadī as presented in oral and classical epics (Hiltebeitel, 1999); and Tantric goddesses (Kinsley, 1997). There were also several wide-ranging edited volumes on Hindu goddesses and female divinities (e.g., Hawley and Wulff, 1996; Pintchman, 2001). Although some of these authors did not focus on the implications of their work for Hindu women, some did. For example, William S. Sax's 1991 research on Nandādevī, a goddess worshipped in high-altitude Hindu villages in the central Himalayas of North India, revealed that her widespread popularity derived from the fact that her mythology paralleledand therefore provided emotional, cultural, and religious support forthe daily lives of local women. Some studies were more gender-critical, even overtly feminist, than others. For example, Ellen Goldberg's (2002) analysis of the ardhanārīśvara form of the god Śiva, carefully defined as "the Lord who is half woman," combines both traditional Indian and contemporary feminist approaches. Finally, there was a new interest in the appropriation of Indian goddess mythology by the West. For example, a volume of essays exploring the ways in which the goddess Kālī is worshipped and understood in South Asian and Western settings and discourses (McDermott and Kripal, 2003) and another examining how far Hindu goddesses may be seen either to empower women ("Is the Goddess a Feminist?") or to serve the interests of patriarchal Hindu culture (Hiltebeitel and Erndl, 2000).

Early studies of ritual tended to favor the public or formal arena involving male priests and actors. As interest in women and gender issues increased, greater attention was paid both to the apparently marginal roles of women in ancient public rituals (e.g., Jamison, 1996) and to the changing religious roles of women in modern forms of Hinduism (e.g., Heller, 1999). Of particular interest were women's domestic rituals: their seasonal performance of vows (vrat, vrata ) to maintain the health and well-being of their husbands and families, their periods of fasting, their special pūjā s (e.g., Pearson, 1996). Accounts of sexuality in the context of Hinduism began with general explorations of Hindu culture (e.g., Kakar, 1989) and led in time to more in-depth studies such as the analysis of menstruation and female sexuality in early Indian texts (Leslie, 1996), an exploration of sexuality and mysticism in the life and work of the male saint, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (18361886) (Kripal, 1998), and a collection of essays on same-sex sexuality and cultural identity in South Asia (Vanita, 2002). The implications of gender theory and postcolonial criticism for the study of dowry and dowry deaths allowed research in this area to move on from text-historical analysis and data collection to more sophisticated critical approaches (e.g., Oldenburg, 2002). Studies of sati continued apace, each generation of scholars adding a new angle or approach to the ongoing discussion. Similarly widowhood was studied by historians, text specialists, and anthropologists, resulting in both empirical data and conceptual insights. Whereas male saints, ī s (seers), ascetics, and gurus were already visible in scholarly research, their female counterparts now emerged in a range of accounts of women saints and female ascetics (e.g., Khandelwal, 2004) as well as in studies of key individuals, such as Lopāmudrā (Patton, 1996) and Ānandamayī Mā (Hallstrom, 1999). There was also a growing interest in the gender implications of male asceticism (e.g., Chowdhury-Sengupta, 1996). The changing, often conflicting, approaches of the emerging discipline of gender studies in relation to Hinduism was especially highlighted by the scholarly treatment of the temple woman or devadāsī. Blanket denunciations of what in colonial times was seen as a form of sexual slavery were replaced by explorations of ritual power, eternal auspiciousness, individual agency, and postcolonial presentations of devadāsī reform in colonial India (e.g., Marglin, 1985; Orr, 2000; Kannabiran and Kannabiran, 2003).

The increasing significance in the twenty-first century of nationalist politics in India, and of diaspora Hinduism generally, suggests that the study of gender in relation to both these topics will continue to develop. Other areas that will no doubt attract further research include the dominance of Western (especially American) metanarratives and the Othering of non-Western women in the scholarly writing of Western feminists; the impact on both Sanskrit studies and the study of Hinduism of the greater numbers of Hindu women entering these disciplines; the gendering of philosophical ideas; the representation of ambiguous sexualities; relationships between myth, text, or ritual on the one hand and historical or contemporary social realities on the other; and the integration of critical and gender theory into existing approaches to the study of Hinduism.

The study of gender in Hinduism has progressed through a series of overlapping yet transformative phases: the woman question, women's studies, postcolonial criticism, and a more full-fledged gender studies proper. Each phase emerged from and grafted itself onto what preceded it with the result that, although everything has changed, there is little that has been entirely lost. With such radical shifts in perspective accomplished, it is hard to anticipate where the next hundred years will lead in this particularly challenging aspect of Hindu studies.

See Also

Bhakti; Dharma, article on Hindu Dharma; Goddess Worship, article on The Hindu Goddess; Hinduism; Ramabai, Pandita; Roy, Ram Mohan; Sati; Vedas; Women's Studies in Religion.


Altekar, Anant Sadashiv. The Position of Women in Hindu Civilisation: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day (1938). 3d ed. Delhi, 1978.

Bennett, Lynn. Dangerous Wives and Sacred Sisters: Social and Symbolic Roles of High-Caste Women in Nepal. New York, 1983.

Borthwick, Meredith. The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 18491905. Princeton, N.J., 1984. This study of the lives of Bengali Hindu middle-class women (the bhadramahila ) is drawn from personal accounts and Bengali written sources, such as women's journals, newspapers, biographies, autobiographies, and private papers. The author demonstrates that their models of femininity form a curious amalgam of brahmanic ideals and middle-class Victorian values.

Bose, Mandakranta, ed. Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India. New York, 2000. Bose offers twenty-five essays by Indian and Western women scholars specializing in the study of Indian culture. The essays are grouped into three sections: the lives and definitions of women in ancient India; issues relating to women and goddess worship in the medieval period, including an essay on Tantra; and colonial perceptions of women in the nineteenth century together with women's self-perceptions in the modern period.

Chowdhury-Sengupta, Indira. "Reconstructing Spiritual Heroism: The Evolution of the Swadeshi Sannyasi in Bengal." In Myth and Mythmaking: Continuous Evolution in Indian Tradition, edited by Julia Leslie, pp. 124143. Richmond, Va., 1996.

Coburn, B. Thomas. Devī Māhātmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition. Delhi, 1984.

Committee on the Status of Women. Towards Equality: Report of the Committee on the Status of Women. Delhi, 1974.

Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy. Śiva: The Erotic Ascetic. Oxford, 1973.

Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. Chicago, 1980.

Doniger, Wendy. Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India. Chicago, 1999.

Falk, Nancy Auer, ed. Women and Religion in India: An Annotated Bibliography of Sources in English, 19751992. Kalamazoo, Mich., 1994.

Feldhaus, Anne. Water and Womanhood: The Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra. New York, 1995.

Fruzzetti, Lina M. The Gift of a Virgin: Women, Marriage, and Ritual in a Bengali Society. New Brunswick, N.J., 1982; reprint, with a new introduction, Delhi, 1990.

Gatwood, Lynn E. Devī and the Spouse Goddess: Women, Sexuality, and Marriages in India. Riverdale, Md., 1985.

Gedalof, Irene. Against Purity: Rethinking Identity with Indian and Western Feminisms. London, 1999. The author introduces the work of a selected group of Indian feminists, arguing that their insights should be taken on board by white Western feminisms to develop more sophisticated models of identity.

Gold, Ann Grodzins, and Gloria Goodwin Deheja, eds. Listen to the Heron's Word: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India. Berkeley, Calif., 1994.

Goldberg, Ellen. The Lord Who Is Half Woman: Ardhanārīśvara; In Indian and Feminist Perspective. Albany, N.Y., 2002.

Good, Anthony. The Female Bridegroom: A Comparative Study of Life-Crisis Rituals in South India and Sri Lanka. Oxford, 1991.

Hallstrom, Lisa Lassell. Mother of Bliss: Ānandamayī Mā (18961982). New York, 1999.

Harlan, Lindsey. The Goddesses' Henchmen: Gender in Indian Hero Worship. New York, 2003.

Hawley, John Stratton, and Donna Marie Wulff, eds. Devī, Goddesses of India. Berkeley, Calif., 1996.

Heller, Birgit. Heilige Mutter und Gottesbraut: Frauenemanzipation im modernen Hinduismus. Vienna, 1999.

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Julia Leslie (2005)

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