The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. With a decline in their status from the ancient to medieval times, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, their history has been eventful. In modern India, women have held high offices including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and Governors.
In Mahabharata, the story of Draupadi’s marriage to 5 men is a case in point. This pointed to the fact that polygamy was matched with polyandry during the Vedic era. Women could select their husband in an assembly called ‘swayamwar’. In this practice, the father of the woman would invite all the men and the woman would select one, and marry him while the court watched. This clearly showed how women’s rights were taken seriously during the Vedic era. This practice was prevalent till the 10th century A.D.
Also, in the Puranas, every God was shown in consort of their wives (Brahma with Saraswathi, Vishnu with Lakshmi and Shiva with Parvati). Idols of god and goddess were depicted with equal importance to both genders. Separate temples were setup for goddesses, and within each temple, goddesses were treated and worshipped with as much care and devotion as the gods were. There are also specific practices that endure to this day, in terms of preference of worship.
“According to some scholars the positive constructions of femininity found in goddess imagery and in the related imagery of the virangana or heroic woman have created a cognitive framework, for Hindus to accept and accommodate powerful female figures like “Indira Gandhi and Phoolan Devi, The same would not have been possible in Western religious traditions “