The Mahabharata Home
"Narada said, 'Having said these words, the puissant Mahadeva himself became desirous of hearing (instead of talking), and with that view he questioned his dear spouse who was seated by his side and she was fully inclined to act up to his desire.'
"Mahadeva said, 'Thou, O goddess, art conversant with what is Supreme and what is not. 1 Thou art acquainted with all duties, O thou that lovest to reside in the retreats of ascetics. Thou art endued with every virtue, possessed of beautiful eyebrows and hair ending in the fairest curls, O daughter of Himavat, the king of mountains! Thou art skilled in every work. Thou art endued with self-restraint and thou lookest impartially upon all creatures. Divested of the sense of meum, thou art devoted to the practice of all the duties. O thou of beautiful features, I desire to ask thee about something. I wish that, asked by me, thou wilt discourse to me on that topic. Savitri is the chaste wife of Brahma. The chaste Sachi is the wife of Indra. Dhumrorna is the spouse of Markandeya, and Riddhi of (king) Vaisravana. Varuna has Gauri for his spouse, and Surya has Suvarchala. Rohini is the chaste wife of Sasin, and Swaha of Vibhavasu. Kasyapa has Aditi. All these regard their
husbands as their gods. Thou hast, O goddess, conversed and associated with all of them every day. It is for this reason, O thou that art conversant with every duty, that I desire to question thee about the duties of women, O thou whose words are always consistent with righteousness. I desire to hear thee discourse on that subject from the beginning. Thou practisest all the duties of righteousness with me. Thy conduct is exactly like mine, and the vows thou observest are the same that are observed by me. Thy puissance and energy are equal to mine, and thou hast undergone the austerest penances. The subject, when discoursed upon by thee, will become endued with great merit. Indeed, that discourse will then become authoritative in the world. Women, in especial, are the highest refuge of women. O thou of beautiful hips, among human beings that course of conduct which thou wilt lay down will be followed from generation to generation. 1 Half of my body is made up of half thy body. Thou art always engaged in doing the work of the deities, and it is thou that art the cause of the peopling of the earth, O auspicious lady, all the eternal duties of women are well-known to thee. Do thou, therefore, tell me in detail what are the duties of thy sex.'
"Uma said, 'O holy one, O lord of all created things, O source of all that is past, present, and future, it is through thy grace that the words I am uttering are taking their rise in my mind. All these Rivers (that are of my sex), O god of gods, endued with the waters of all the Tirthas, are approaching thy presence for enabling thee to perform thy ablutions in them. 2 After consulting them I shall discourse on the topic named, in due order. That person who, though competent, is still free from egotism, is rightly called a Purusha. 3 As regards woman, O lord of all beings, she follows persons of her sex. By consulting these foremost of Rivers, they will be honoured by me. The sacred Saraswati is the foremost river of all rivers. She courses towards the ocean and is truly the first of all streams. Vipasa also here, and Vitasta, and Chandrabhaga, and Iravati, and Satadru, and the river Devika, and Kausiki, and Gomati. 4 and this celestial River who has in her all the sacred Tirthas, viz., the goddess Ganga, who having her rise in Heaven hath descended on the Earth and
is regarded as the foremost of all streams; Having said this, the spouse of that god of gods, that foremost of all righteous persons, smilingly addressed all those Rivers of her sex. Indeed, the spouse of the great god, devoted to the performance of all duties, questioned those individuals of her sex about the duties of women. Verily, those foremost of rivers having Ganga for their first are all conversant with the duties of women.'
"Uma said, 'The illustrious god has asked a question relating to the duties of women. I desire to answer Sankara after having consulted with you. I do not see any branch of knowledge on Earth or Heaven that is capable of being mastered by any unaided individual. Ye rivers that run towards the ocean, it is for this that I seek your opinions! It was in this way that those foremost of Rivers, all of whom were auspicious and highly sacred, were questioned by Siva's spouse. Then the celestial River Ganga, who worshipped the daughter of the prince of mountains in return, was selected for answering the question. Verily, she of sweet smiles is held as swelling with diverse kinds of understanding and well-conversant with the duties of women. The sacred goddess, capable of dispelling all fear of sin, possessed of humility in consequence of her intelligence, well acquainted with all duties, and enriched with an intelligence exceedingly comprehensive, sweetly smiling, uttered these, words, 'O goddess, thou art always devoted to the due performance of all duties. Thou hast favoured me highly by thus questioning me! O sinless one, thou art honoured by the entire universe, yet thou askest me that am but a river. That person who, though himself competent (to discourse on a topic) yet asks another, or who pays a graceful tribute to another, certainly deserves, I think, to be regarded as righteous-souled. Verily, such a person deserves to be called learned and wise. That person never falls into disgrace who asks such speakers as are endued with knowledge and science and as are well-conversant with premises and inferences. A proud man, even when enriched with intelligence, by speaking in the midst of an assembly otherwise (that is, by relying upon his own powers alone and without reference to or consultation with others), finds himself uttering only words of weak import. Thou art possessed of spiritual insight, Thou art the foremost of all denizens in Heaven. Thou hast taken thy rise accompanied by diverse kinds of excellent merit. Thou, O goddess, art fully competent to discourse on the duties of women! In this way, the goddess Uma was worshipped by Ganga and honoured with the ascription of many high merits. The beautiful, goddess, thus praised, then began to discourse upon all the duties of women in full.'
"Uma said, 'I shall, according to the ordinance, discourse on the subject of women's duties as far as they are known to me. Do ye all listen with concentrated attention! The duties of women arise as created at the outset by kinsmen in the rites of wedding. Indeed, a woman becomes, in the presence of the nuptial fire, the associate of
her lord in the performance of all righteous deeds. 1 Possessed of a good disposition, endued with sweet speech, sweet conduct, and sweet features, and always looking at the face of her husband and deriving as much joy from it as she does from looking at the face of her child, that chaste woman who regulates her acts by observing the prescribed restraints, comes to be regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. Listening (with reverence) to the duties of wedded life (as expounded in the scriptures), and accomplishing all those auspicious, duties, that woman who regards righteousness as the foremost of all objects of pursuit, who observes the same vows as those that are observed by her husband, who adorned with chastity, looks upon her spouse as a god, who waits upon and serves him as if he is a god, who surrenders her own will completely to that of her lord, who is cheerful, who observes excellent vows, who is endued with good features, and whose heart is completely devoted to her husband so much that she never thinks even of any other man, is regarded as truly righteous in conduct. That wife who, even when addressed harshly and looked upon with angry eyes by her lord, presents a cheerful aspect to him, is said to be truly devoted to her husband. She who does not cast her eyes upon the Moon or the Sun or a tree that has a masculine name, who is adored by her husband and who is possessed of beautiful features, is regarded as truly righteous. That woman who treats her husband with the affection which she shows towards her child, even when he (the husband) happens to be poor or diseased or weak or worn out with the toil of travelling, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. That woman who is endued with self-control, who has given birth to children, who serves her husband with devotion, and whose whole heart is devoted to him, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. That woman who waits upon and serves her lord with a cheerful heart, who is always cheerful of heart, and who is possessed of humility, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. That woman who always supports her kinsmen and relatives by giving them food, and whose relish in gratifying her desires or for articles of enjoyment, or for the affluence of which she is possessed, or for the happiness with which she is surrounded, falls short of her relish for her husband, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. That woman who always takes a pleasure in rising at early down, who is devoted to the discharge of all household duties, who always keeps her house clean, who rubs her house daily with cowdung, who always attends to the domestic fire (for pouring libations upon it), who never neglects to make offerings of flowers and other articles to the deities, who with her husband gratifies the deities and guests and all servants and dependants
of the family with that share of food which is theirs by the ordinances, and who always takes, according to the ordinance, for herself, what food remains in the house after the needs have been met of gods and guests and servants, and who gratifies all people who come in contact with her family and feed them to their fill, succeeds in acquiring great merit. That woman who is endued with accomplishments, who gratifies the feet of her father-in-law and mother-in-law, and who is always devoted to her father and mother, is regarded as possessed of ascetic wealth. That woman who supports with food Brahmanas that are weak and helpless, that are distressed or blind or destitute, comes to be regarded as entitled to share the merit of her husband. That woman who always observes, with a light heart vows that are difficult of observance, whose heart is devoted to her lord, and who always seeks good of her lord, is regarded as entitled to share the merits of her husband. Devotion to her lord is woman's merit; it is her penance; it is her eternal Heaven. Merit, penances, and Heaven become hers who looks upon her husband as her all in all, and who, endued with chastity, seeks to devote herself to her lord in all things. The husband is the god which women have. The husband is their friend, The husband is their high refuge. Women have no refuge that can compare with their husbands, and no god that can compare with him. The husband's grace and Heaven, are equal in the estimation of a woman; or, if unequal, the inequality is very trivial. O Maheswara, I do not desire Heaven itself if thou are not satisfied with me. If the husband that is poor, or diseased or distressed or fallen among foes, or afflicted by a Brahmana's curse, were to command the wife to accomplish anything that is improper or unrighteous or that may lead to destruction of life itself, the wife should, without any hesitation, accomplish it, guided by the code whose propriety is sanctioned by the law of Distress. I have thus, O god, expounded, at thy command, what the duties of women are, Verily, that woman who conducts herself in this way becomes entitled to a share of the merits won by her husband,'
"Narada continued, 'Thus addressed, the great god applauded the daughter of the prince of mountains and then dismissed all persons that had assembled there, together with all his own attendants. The diverse tribes of ghostly beings, as also all the embodied Rivers, and the Gandharvas and Apsaras, all bowed their heads unto Mahadeva and departed for returning to the places whence they had come."
314:1 i.e. Soul (including the Supreme Soul) and Not-soul.
315:1 Gauri is another name for Earth.
315:2 The Nadies or Rivers are feminine. Of course, among Rivers there are some that are masculine, notably, the Sindhu or Indus. Tirthas are places with sacred waters.
315:3 One who is free from vanity or arrogance deserves to be called Purusha. The absence of vanity is implied by soliciting the help of others even when one is competent oneself. Females follow females, such being their nature. It is a compliment that Parvati pays to Siva for Siva's questioning her when he himself is well-acquainted with the topic upon which she is asked to discourse.
315:4 The word Sindhu in this verse does not imply the river Indus, but stands for a river in general. Grammatically, it qualifies Devika before it. Devika is another name of Sarayu.
317:1 According to the Hindu scriptures, marriage is not a contract. It is the union of two individuals of opposite sexes into one person for better performance of all deeds of piety.
Next: Section CXLVII