OF WOMEN IN ANCIENT KASHMIR
Excerpts from: Nilmata
most relieving feature of the family-life of Kasmira as seen in the Nilmata, is
the position of women. Nowhere is she considered 'the living torch illuminating
the way to hell' or 'the devourer of the intellect of men'. There is no
reference to any veil worn by her and she moves quite freely in the society,
emulating as it were the free-going sparkling waters of the springs of her
country. The Nilmata allows her to
participate in almost all the festivals and religious ceremonies. In the moonlit
night of Kaumudi Mahotsava, we find her sitting beside the sacred fire in the
company of her husband, children, servants and husband's friends. It is not
clear, however, as whether she is merely a silent spectator or takes active part
in the musical and dramatic performances performed during this night. She is
present in the common feast which takes place on the next day.
Not only on the festivals celebrated at home but also
in the outdoor festivals, she is seen freely enjoying herself. Thus, on the
ceremonial day for ploughing the fields and sowing the seed, characterized by
music, dancing and feasting, the peasant's wife is not behind the walls of her
home. She is lucky enough to participate in the joyous festival celebrated in
the refreshing open fields of Nature.
On the day of Iramanjari-pujana - a festival of flowers
- the ladies are honoured with presents of flowers and garlands. In another
verse we find reference to the women going to fruit-gardens to worship the
In the happy valley of lakes, rivers and fountains,
water-sports could bring the highest pleasures to the society and the Nilamata
does not deny this means of merriment to the ladies of Kasmira. "The young
maidens" it says, "should specially play in the waters" during
the celebrations of Sravani festival.
Playing with men is allowed to women. We find the
joyful ladies dressed in their best attire, perfumed with scents and decorated
with ornaments, sporting in the company of men on the last day of Mahimana
The ladies of the house are honoured on various
occasions. The householder is enjoined upon to honorer them on the New Snow-fall
day. The sisters etc. and the ladies whose husbands are alive are honoured on
the 4th of the bright half of Magha. Similar honour is given to them on the 4th
days of Asvayuj and Jyestha. On the full moon day of Margasirsa, the gift of a
pair of red clothes is prescribed for a Brahmana lady whose husband and son are
living. Sister, paternal aunt and friend's wife are also invited and given
clothes. The mention of the presentation of gifts to friend's wife is quite
significant as it could have been possible only in a free atmosphere where women
were allowed to move freely with no restrictions on their receipt of gifts from
their husband's friends.
On Madana Trayodasi - a festival in honour of the god
of love - the wife receives bath with the sacred water from the hands of her
husband as an indication of his love for her.
Wife is the charm of the decorated bedroom in the night
of Dipamala (Sukha-suptika) festival.
Charming beauty and the life-long happiness of married
life are the things highly prized by the ladies of Kasmira. They are often asked
to be well-dressed and decorated, the special term for such act being 'pratikarma'.
As regards their place in the religious life, they are not only allowed to
accompany their husbands in the performance of various rites and ceremonies but
are also enjoined upon to perform singly some rites specially prescribed for
them. Thus, the god Chandah is to be worshipped and rajasvala Kasmira is to be
bathed by the women only. The triad of the 4th days (Caturthi-tritaya) is to be
observed specially by ladies.
Another factor which points to the high position of
women is the prominence of the goddesses in the religion depicted in the
Nilamata. The gods are mentioned often with their consorts. Shakra plays with
Shaci; Visnu's feet rest in the lap of Laksmi; Parvati accompanies Shiva; Sita
is worshipped during the celebrations of Rama's birth-day and Krsna's wife
receives worship on the birth-day of her lord. The mothers of the gods are also
referred to. Besides these we come across various other female deities. The
goddesses Asokika, Syama, Durga, Sri, Karisini, Bhadrakali, I3heda, Kapinjali,
Suresvari, Bhadresvari, Gautamesi, Kalasila, Udyogasri, Gavaksi, Candika, Gauri,
Sakuni, Brahmacarini, Chakresvari and Grhadevi form the
shining galaxy of female deities worshipped by the people of Kasmira. The rivers
of Kasmira are also personified as goddesses. Urna transforms herself into the
Vitasta, Aditi becomes the Trikoti, Shaci assumes the form of the Harspatha,
Diti becomes the Candravati and Laksmi turns into the river Visoka. The very
land of Kasmira is the mother goddess Kasmira - a form of Uma.
On the whole the Nilamata offers a pleasant picture of
the woman of Kasmira. As a daughter she was trained in fine arts etc. and was
allowed to move freely in the society. By giving her in marriage, the father
obtained religious merit. As a wife she was loved and honoured by her husband
and as a mother she shone with her sons who prized her highly. A would-be mother
could even be installed on the throne on the demise of her sonless husband-king.
This account of the women of Kasmira - respected in the
home and esteemed highly outside - is quite different from the account available
in other Puranas and so gives distinctive character to the Nilmata. The other
Puranas generally despise and deprecate the ladies as seducers of men. To quote
R.C. Hazra "As a matter of fact, in the Puranas, women have not been
allowed full freedom in the social and religious life under any circumstances
and conjugal fidelity and devoted service to their husbands have been stressed
as the highest duties for them. The statement, evidently, does not apply to the
Nilamata which gives a somewhat different and unconventional picture of the
female-life. The genuineness of the account given by the Nilmata is
proved by the corroboration it receives from the works
of many Kasmiri writers. Bilhana gives a testimony to the literary efficiency of
the women of Kasmira who could fluently speak Sanskrta and Prakrta. Damodara
Gupta in his Kuttanimata gives a list of the subjects which they learnt and
Kalhana's Rajatarangini is full of instances showing the high status of women in
the fields of religion and politics.
WOMEN OUTSIDE MARRIAGE
A few words may be now added about prostitutes and
dancing girls attached to temples. The numerous references to courtesans in
connection with the description of festivals indicated that prostitution was
freely allowed in the society of the days of the Nilamata. The Nilmata does not
decry the courtesans. The prominent ones of them, on the other hand, are
enjoined upon to visit the king on his coronation day and take due part in the
ceremonies - a fact proving evidently their high political status.
The use of a simile comparing Kasmira with a temple due
to the presence of tender ladies, indicates the popularity of the institution of
'devadasis' or temple dancers, as then alone the hearers or readers of the
Nilamata could have recognized the idea underlying the simile.
A significant and rather unusual point is that the
Nilmata attaches importance to the singing and dancing of courtesans and not to
the sexual intercourse with them, indicating thus less moral laxity among the
people than what is shown in the works of Kalhana, Ksemendra and Somadava.