Embracing gender equality

Vishwanath Bhat with his books Sadgati and Stree Kartruka Uttara Kriyaa Prayoga.

Practising Hindus believe that departed souls attain eternal peace if the last rites are performed according to the scripts and Vedic jurisprudence. It is a usual practice that the son of a deceased person performs the last rites. Though ancient Hindu literature has not differentiated between a son and a daughter as the natural heir of a person, somewhere after the 10th century, more importance was bestowed upon the male progeny.

It was popularly believed that only a male progeny can pave way for eternal peace to his parents (aputrasya gatirnasti). This belief led to the desire to have at least one male child in a Hindu family and a girl child was less wanted. Not having a son was thought to be an inadequacy, hindering the fulfilment of spiritual and religious goals. Invariably, this has led to social evils like female infanticide, female foeticide, harassing the women who give birth to a female child etc.

Untrodden path

“During the Vedic era, females were given equal importance in all the social events. It was after 10th century AD that restrictions were imposed upon female members, probably to protect them from foreign invaders,” says Vishwanath Bhat, a spiritual scholar from Golikai in Siddapur of Uttara Kannada district. “It is believed that since then the authority given to daughters to conduct the last rites were withdrawn,” he opines. “We need to give back to our daughters the right to perform her parents’ last rites.”

According to Yajnavalkya Smriti published in 1918, “All those who have the right to inherit the assets of a deceased person are also entitled to perform his last rites, including his wife and daughters.”

Vishwanath Bhat has brought the lost codes of Hindu funeral rituals to light and gathered enough evidence to prove that those who are eligible to inherit the properties of a deceased person have the right to carry out the funeral rituals. He refers to several Hindu religious scriptures such as Veera Mitrodaya, Smriti Chandrike, Dharma Sindhu, Bodhayana Grahya Suthra, some of which date back to 800 AD, as evidence for his claims.

As a result, the daughters can perform the rituals of their beloved father and mother. Thus, this is another reason for people to celebrate gender equality. On the basis of religious axioms and postulates, it is proved beyond doubt that daughters are also authorised to lead their parents towards the path of deliverance. 

Research books

Vishwanath Bhat has written a book titled Sadgati which is a well-researched treatise on the righteousness, unavoidability and inherent ability of the womenfolk in paving way for the departed souls of their parents towards mukti (eternal peace). The author has researched for over five years, visited several scholars like Gangadhara Bhatta Aggere, Vidvan Narayana Adiga, Vidvan Ramesha Adiga, Prof M A Hegde Sirsi, Ramachandra Bhat Kotemene, the vice- chancellor of Sanskrit University among others.

The fact that he is a father to two daughters was his main driving force. As all the available granthas chanted at the time of performing last rites are written with sons as a reference, Vishwanath wrote a book in Sanskrit, Stree Kartruka Uttara Kriyaa Prayoga, which details out the procedures for women to perform these rites.

Though some people don’t wish to deviate from the current practices, the theme of Sadgati has been well-received by several Vedic scholars, priests and thinkers. 

Going a step ahead, Vishwanath Bhat has also been facilitating women in performing the funeral rituals of their fathers for the past couple of years. Nearly 10 women in and around Uttara Kannada district have carried out the rituals under his guidance.

“It is the most satisfying moment in my life to participate in my father’s last rituals,” says Supreeta Hegde who is one of the changemakers. A techie in Bengaluru, she has also read the book penned by him. “There was a mixed response when I decided on this. However, I am sure that with more such efforts, the thought process will change. It is just a matter of time.”

Padmavati Gouda, an adopted daughter of Sripati Gouda, also said that there was a sense of fulfilment as she performed the funeral rites of her father.

“This development is definitely a morale booster for the daughters of our society,” opines Ramachandra Bhat Sirsi, a scholar. Parameshwara Bhat, a Sanskrit scholar from Sirsi, feels that a cautious approach on the subject which has a long-term positive impact on the society is needed as the ancient axioms could be interpreted either way.

“A detailed discussion among the religious leaders is required to reintroduce these practices,” he opines.

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