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ANCIENT IRANIAN WOMEN

The Ideal of Aryan Womanhood*


 

By: Iraj Taraporwala

 

Female Iranic Scythian Warrior.PNG (849444 bytes)

A reconstruction of a Scythian female warriors in battle (Cernenko & Gorelik, 1989, Plate F).

 

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A reconstruction of a group of Eastern Iranian female warriors (Aquarelle by Shapour Suren-Pahlav). Iranian women warriors were known for their prowess at war.

 

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A male and female Zoroastrian priests,

Achaemenid Period Dascylium

 

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A female Zoroastrian priestess, Persepolis 

  (Click to enlarge)

 

In modern days we hear a good deal about the “equality of man and woman” and about her possessing the same rights as her brothers. We take it for granted that never before in the history of the world had woman attained such a high position, but that she had always been the obedient slave of man. We have been brought up in the belief that, in the East especially woman was always regarded as the inferior of man, almost, as his chattel or his plaything. Wrong notions about the status of woman in Hinduism and in Islam have been responsible for this idea prevalent in the West about the history of our Eastern woman, of course later writers among Hindus and Moslems themselves are responsible for this degraded view. And hundreds of Indians, who might be expected to know better, have been repeating these same false ideas. We, Zoroastrians also, repeat this not merely with regard to the Hindus and Moslems, but many among us are willing to believe that even amongst us woman had always occupied the lower status until the revivifying breath of the West led us to “emancipate” our sisters. Parsi women are now looked up with envy by their less fortunate sisters of other communities.

 

It is undoubtedly true that the condition of women both in India and in Iran had been very debased and degraded during many centuries preceding the modern age. This was due to the terrible political upheavals and foreign invasions from which both these lands have suffered during their history. This, however, could by no means justify the conclusion that our ancient ideal of womanhood was equally low. We do find even in history the very high position of woman recorded, as for instance amongst the Rajputs in the glorious Annals of Mewar. There, woman was looked upon almost as a goddess. Rajput chivalry was just as ennobling and sanctified woman as reverently as at any court in the West. Islamic chivalry was no whit less ennobling. The Moghals and Afghans, as also the Marathas and the Sikhs were inspired with the ideals of chivalry. During the four or five centuries preceding the modern age the degradation of life’s ideals becomes more and more marked in both the lands. In India the downfall begins practically from the luxurious and enervating days of Jehangir and Shah Jehan.

 

We usually compare these ages of degradation with our present days, which is most unjust. The result of such comparison is of course predetermined, and what is worse it leaves behind our minds the insidious impression that things had never been better at any time. A far better way to institute comparison is to have these with other contemporary countries, and then we see that neither India nor Iran has any reason to be ashamed of the particular culture of any age.

 

As we travel backwards in history into the days of Aryan domination in India we find that life and life’s ideals were than very different from what many of us have been taught to have existed. The same holds true of Iran. In fact both these peoples had received their ideals from a common source –the Aryan. If we are to appraise the culture of both these lands at their true worth we must always remember these ancient Aryan ideals. For not even once in the centuries of darkness and degradation that preceded the modern age were these ideal wholly forgotten. They have always existed and have influenced, however, dimly, the lives of the people. Our strongest hope for the future lies in a revival or rather in a reinterpretation suitable to modern conditions of these ideals. We must never forget that these Aryan ideals were born of long experience and have stood the test of time during fifty centuries.

 

Of all these ideals that have made the Aryans so truly noble is their grand conception of woman. Here they remained true to God’s own Plan, for they stressed the prime (God-ordained) function of woman—MOTHERHOOD. The woman was the MOTHER and everything relating to her turned upon that central vital fact. This it was that determined her position at every stage and in every walk of life. She was created by God to be a Mother and hence she was sacred. She was the Creatrix and as such her work came nearest that of God Himself. She it was who carried forward the race and kept alive the race-ideals age after age and hence she was to be loved, honored and cherished. The cult of the mother was the center, and pivot around which the whole family life, indeed the whole social organization, revolved. There is a beautiful little tale told about the wise Ganesha. Once Shiva wanted to know which of his two sons, Kartikeya and Ganesha, could go the quickest round the world. The elder Kartikeya, as soon as he heard this, started off in great hurry to go round the globe. Some time after his brother had left, Ganesha quietly got up and slowly went round his mother, Parvati, saying, “The Mother is the whole world to her son.”

 

Amongst Iranians, too the mother was deeply venerated. In the Zoroastrian Angel Hierarchy we have a fair number of feminine Spirits. Nay, even among the six highest the “Holy Immortals” - Who stand next to the Throne of the Almighty Himself, we have three of the feminine gender. Of these Spenta-Armaiti is the Mother of all humanity. A Zoroastrian, when initiated into his faith, invokes her protection and after death he gives up his body to her tender care.

 

Every girl is a potential mother, she is to be looked upon as “somebody’s mother,” and as such she is sacred and she is to be surrounded with loving care. A verse in Manu’s Code has always been quoted to prove that the Aryans held women in low esteem. The usual rendering is this: “The father takes care of her during her childhood, the husband during her youth, and the son during her old age: a woman does not deserve independence.” Even Hindus themselves, especially in the later ages of degradation, have given the same rendering and have perverted Manu into upholding the subjugation of women. The final clause: né stree savatrayamhit –has not, I feel been rightly translated; I would render it: “a woman ought not to be thrown upon her own resources.” We see the dire results of woman left to the tender mercies of man’s world. We see where the competitive “independence” has led woman in the West. She misses the very purpose of her own creation. In the West she has been granted a position of perfect equality with man and in modern days this equality shows itself even in her outward appearance and her dress. She has become a serious competitor of man, with all that this competition implies. It was to prevent this that Manu laid down his wise rule of never “throwing her upon her own resources” to sift for herself. We, Aryans, had the far higher ideal of her as Mother. She was not the equal, but the superior of man. She was the nourisher of his body, the gentle guide of his mind in his childhood, and the inspirer of his soul when mature. She was the guardian of our Aryan ideals, and under her fostering care the Arya-Dharma was kept bright and untarnished, a living flame to inspire the race. Therefore it has been said that, “wherever women are honored and are cherished there the very Heavens rejoice.” We know both from tradition as well as from recorded history how faithfully Aryan woman has guarded this sacred trust and how nobly has man responded to her call both in India and in Iran.

The woman as comrade and friend was not unknown to us Aryans, but she never was the competitor. The sweetest relations of mature age are between husband and wife. The Aryan woman was not the salve of her lord and master but she was his equal in every way. The ideal for a wife was the “half” (ardhaginee) of the husband. Another name for her as wife in Sanskrit is bama, literally, “the left (half)” for our Aryans were well aware of the fact that the human heart is on the left side. No man was regarded as complete in the world who lacked this “left half” of his being. To fulfill his life’s task he must take unto himself his helpmate. Hence both in India and in Iran the life of a householder had been looked upon as the highest fulfillment of human effort. Indeed certain important ceremonies were forbidden to the unmarried. In the Vendidad Ahura Mazda is represented as saying that He values a married man higher than an unmarried one.

The ideal purpose of marriage is not sex-indulgence, but the fulfillment of the Divine purpose of continuation of the race. Sex cannot enter where the man looks upon his wife as the Mother of his children. In becoming father and mother the highest duty human beings owe to their Creator is fulfilled, and this correct attitude towards this duty did not give any occasion for the use of artificial birth control. In the Vendidad again Ahura Mazda says that He prefers a home with children to one where children are wanting,

It has often been urged that the Aryans preferred getting sons to getting daughters. Here, too, later political and economic disabilities attaching to girl children seem to have clouded the issue. Where the name of the family was carried forward by sons it is but natural that sons are desired. Among Aryans a son was desired indeed, but the birth of daughters was by no means regarded as a calamity. Indeed it is laid down at one place in Sanskrit work that a mother becomes truly sanctified only after she has given birth to a daughter.

However, tender and true the ideal of woman, as comrade and wife may have been the one supreme ideal of Aryan womanhood was MOTHER. Every other function of woman, every other duty she has to perform in this world, pales into insignificance before this supreme fulfillment. The very word “Mother” shuts out all sex-concept in thinking of woman. Hence in every language of India men are taught to look upon every woman as mother (har stree mat baraber). The sacredness surrounding all mothers has kept our ideal of womanhood pure even through the darkest and deepest degradation.

I have already admitted freely at the very beginning that during the centuries of turmoil, which preceded the modern age both in India and in Iran the status of woman had touched a very low level indeed. But it was not very much better in contemporary West either. The present age has certainly raised woman to a higher level all the world over. The West seems to think that this is the pinnacle, the highest level attainable. Their comradeship and political and economic equality has been the goal, and they have almost attained it. Yet even there we have great seers who saw clearly beyond this level. The incomparable Goethe, perhaps the greatest writer Europe has produced, at the very end of his great work Foust has the very significant lines pregnant with deep meaning:

“The ever-womanly
“Draws us above.”

But when woman is not thought of as mother primarily, the great danger is the unconscious stressing of sex. Though we rightly rejoice over the improved status of woman we must not shut our eyes to this sex-complex. Especially we Parsis, who have been of late aping the West more or less blindly, are in real danger from this. We have not had the steadying traditions of the West and we have all but lost sight of our true Aryan ideals. We are beginning to see the tangle, which has arisen in our small community as more or less the direct result of the “freedom” and “emancipation” of women.

I am certainly not one of the old-fashioned, orthodox people who want to go back to “the good old days” when woman obeyed without question her lord and master. I maintain that we have progressed and that today our women are in a higher position than they were, say a century ago. And what is more, I maintain that our progress has been in the right direction. All I wish to emphasize here that there are dangers, very grave dangers, ahead arising from sex-complex we have released as a result of this very progress. Let us not shut our eyes to this. To my mind there is one remedy for this, and one only, and that is reaffirming with all our strength the ancient Aryan ideal of regarding woman as Mother. That is her God-appointed destiny, yet today how many hundreds of our women have been prevented by social, economic and other reasons from fulfilling this. Let us emphasize this motherhood of woman in all our teaching both to boys and girls. Let us give saner sex teaching to our children and emphasize the glories of wise marriage and of the fulfillment of God’s purpose without the help of artificial birth control. In short let our young ones be prepared to enter upon the duties of their mature lives with purer and saner ideals than most of the present generation have had. 

We have absorbed a great deal of the spirit of “revolt” of the modern age (another step, I maintain, in the right direction), we have learnt a great deal of modern science and its achievements, and we are the rightful heirs of the oldest and the grandest ideals on earth. It is not a mere “accident of history” that the oldest culture surviving in our world that of India, has been brought into such close contact with the most advanced of the nations, today the British. We are also rejoicing to witness the renaissance of the other great Aryan people, our brothers of Iran. We Parsis have thus a double cause for hope and a twofold reason for doing our utmost to revivify the great Aryan ideal. Our very smallness of numbers is in our favor, for if once we begin on right lines our progress will be all the faster, and the sooner shall we realize these ideals. We pride ourselves on having been pioneers of Western mode and Western learning in this glorious land.

God grant that in the near future we may be pioneers again in the reawakening of our Aryan ideals, when every woman would be looked upon and loved as MOTHER.

[Source: Silver Jubilee Memorial Volume: Y.M.Z.A. Karachi 1935] 

 

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Extracted From/Source: USHAO (email edition), Vol. V, No. 8, Oct.-Nov. 2004 issue. Mr. Virasp Mehta of Wichita, Kansas is the editor of USHAO - This article was featured on October 19, 2004. 

 

 

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