Published: August 2017
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig VedaBut largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala
Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.
Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?
Women in ancient civilizations
A cursory reading into Rig Veda, the oldest book of India reveals about female presence in all walks of life right from philosophy to combative fields. Gender parity in ancient India was a norm and respect to women was determined by the larger social or professional roles that they played. It is not uncommon to find hymns that speak of Supreme feminine in the Vedas. One can find the female Rishikas make compelling presence across the Rig Veda through their hymns and in the Upanishads too. One of the marital vows from Atharvana Veda exhorts the bride to speak without reservations in public assemblies and hence assert her social presence in her marital settlement.
In my trip to Knossos, an ancient site in Greece, I discovered something about the status of women in ancient civilizations. There was this popular Bull leaping Fresco that showed a sporting bull flanked by two women and being taken on by a man. The painting is believed to have been painted in 1450 BCE. The fact that it showed a woman taking on the bull by its horns stayed with me for long and made me pen a scene of a bull confrontation involving my female protagonist in Avishi.
According to the very observant guide, the women in those frescos are represented in pale hue, supposedly denoting their non-exposure to Sun and indulgence in less intense activities while men are depicted as copper hued, denoting a strong tan, given their tougher activities. The Fresco, however comes across as a contrast to the popular stereotype about genders in 1450 BCE. Did the artist remember a more ancient civilization where women were involved in tougher activities like bull sports? Could the women of ancient civilizations, be it Greece or India have participated in these sports what we consider hazardous today? It would be interesting to ponder and draw our own conclusions.
To me, it sounded like gender parity in ancient civilizations, especially in the Vedic ages was more of a norm and not the consequence of reactionary feminism we see today. Some of the modern writers who attempt Puranic stories can’t help expressing the reactionary thought process as they reconstruct the strong female characters of the past. But in reimagining the ancient Vedic world for Avishi going by literary evidences, I was pleasantly surprised that strong female representation came naturally. It did not feel out of place to have women Rishikas, physicians, huntresses, cowherds, night guards and even bandits! Women in those ages contributed through their social roles, asserted themselves solely on meritorious grounds and they did not have to fight patriarchal oppression.
Does the ancient Vedic society have answers to what the modern minds seek today?
About the author:
Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala.
She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.