Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (study)

by A. Yamuna Devi | 2012 | 77,297 words | ISBN-13: 9788193658048

This page relates ‘Position of Women’ of the study on the Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (in English) which represents a commentary on the Amarakosha of Amarasimha. These ancient texts belong the Kosha or “lexicography” category of Sanskrit literature which deals with the analysis and meaning of technical words from a variety of subjects, such as cosmology, anatomy, medicine, hygiene. The Amarakosa itself is one of the earliest of such text, dating from the 6th century A.D., while the Amarakoshodghatana is the earliest known commentary on that work.

Position of Women

Amarakośa gives synonyms of words denoting women and their various roles in the society. In majority these words are dealt within the Nṛ varga. Woman in her various phases of life–a young girl, the married, devoted wife, mother, the remarried, widow, sisterin- law, grand-daughter–and in various capacities such as–queen, attendant, the immodest and the disloyal–are all explained by Kṣīrasvāmin while discussing the various synonyms provided by A marasiṃha. A ll these are discussed below. Kṣīrasvāmin’s special explanations and etymology of the synonyms reflect the status of women during his time. He also adds the variant readings of the words.

Synonyms for a woman (II. 6. 2; p. 134):

Amarakośa mentions strī, yoṣit, abalā, yoṣā, nārī, sīmantinī, vadhūḥ, pratīpadarśinī, vāmā, vanati and mahilā as words to denote a woman. Some of the explanations of Kṣīrasvāmin draw the attention of the readers–

(a) Strī: Kṣīrasvāmin's derivation of this particular word is very scientifically befitting to denote a woman.

The word signifies as:

‘The seat or substratum of the union of the sperm and the egg’–

strī styāyete śukraśoṇite āsyām iti vā |

(b) Sīmantinī: Generally, the parting line in the middle of the head is termed sīmanta. A woman is called sīmantinī since she parts her hair and dresses it decoratively, says Kṣīrasvāmin–sīmantaḥ keśaveśo'styasyāḥ sīmantinī |[1]

(c) Mahilā: Kṣīrasvāmin observes that the word mahilā was in vogue also as mahelā and cites from an unknown text–

ājayad dviṣataḥ prāptanayaḥ paramahelayā |
svapne'pi manasi spṛṣṭo na yaḥ paramahelayā ||

Wife (II. 6. 5; p. 134):

(a) Patnī: Kṣīrasvāmin explains this in relation to the woman’s role in yajñas and in accordance with the then prevailing practices. The wife is called patnī as she takes part in the sacrifices performed by the husband.The sacrifices are necessarily to be performed jointly by the husband and wife. Kṣīrasvāmin quotes the Paninian sūtra (4. 1. 33): patyurno yajñasaṃyoge | to emphasise the indispensibility of a wife in a sacrifice.

(b) Sahadharmiṇī: As woman had rights in accompanying the husband in the sacrifices she is also called sahadharmiṇī

saha dharmo'styasyāḥ sahadharmiṇī yajñādau sahādhikārāt ||

The Taittīriya Brāhmaṇa (III. 7. 1) says that half of the sacrifice is destroyed when the wife is unavailable for the sacrifice (because of her monthly course):

ārdho vā etasya yajñasya mīyate yasya vratye'han patnyanālambhukā bhavati ||

(c) Pativratā: A devoted wife is called pativratā and she is held high in the Indian society.

Kṣīrasvāmin cites Manusmṛti (V. 155) which says that a woman need not practice any vow or perform any sacrifice except devotion or service to her husband:

nāsti strīṇāṃ pṛthagyajño na vratamiti |

This was considered as the highest worship or sacrifice.

The story of the pativratā who could narrate the remote incidence of a bird being burnt by the anger of a Brāhmaṇa narrated in the Mahābhārata (Vanaparva. 293-99), stands evidence to this.

(d) Jāyā: Jāyā is a wife as well as a mother.

Kṣīrasvāmin records the belief that the husband is reborn in the wife as her child and cites Manu (V. 8) in support of this view:

jāyate'syāṃ patirjāyā yanmanuḥ—jāyāyāstaddhi jāyātvaṃ yadasyāṃ jāyate punaḥ |

(e) Suvāsinī[2] (II. 6. 9; p. 135):

According to Amarakośa this word refers to respectable married woman and Kṣīrasvāmin observes that the Draviḍas read the word as svavāsinī:

suṣṭhu vasati suvāsinī | svavāsinīti draviḍāḥ ||

She is also called ciriṇṭī.


Indian society has from time immemorial cherished woman as Mother Goddess.

The Upaniṣads have placed mother as the foremost God when they say–

mātṛdevo bhava |[3]

As seen above Jāyā is also a mother. Amarakośa mentions janayitrī, prasūḥ, mātā and jananī to denote a mother. Mothers of special signicance are as follows:

(a) Vīrasūḥ (II. 6. 16; p. 137): A hero’s mother is vīrasūḥ.

Kṣīrasvāmin adds that she is also called vīraprasūḥ citing Bālarāmāyaṇa (II. 29) of Rājaśekhara:

vīraprasūrjagati bhārgavareṇukaiva |[4]

(b) Jīvasūḥ (II. 6. 16; p. 137): Kṣīrasvāmin adds a new term that a woman with her children alive is jīvasūḥ

jīvattokā tu jīvasūḥ|

Mothers referred to indirectly:

(c) Saubhāgineya, Daurbhāgineya (II. 6. 24; p. 139): A son of an auspcious mother was saubhāgineya, Kṣīrasvāmin supplements that the son of an inauspicicious woman was daurbhāgineya. These suggest that the virtues or vices of a mother were attributed (or) reflected on the son.

(d) Vaimātṛja, Sāmmātṛja (II. 6. 25; p. 139):

Vaimātreya denotes the son of a step-mother and Kṣīrasvāmin adds Sammātura to denote a son having two mothers–

sāṃmāturastūbhayamātṛkaḥ |

This term Sammātura or ubhayamātṛja is very interesting for it also signifies one born of two mothers. Only two references are available in the epics and Purāṇas to such births–one is Ganeśa also called dvaimātura (I. 1. 38; p. 13) another to Jarāsandha. Evidence for Ganeśa being born of two mothers is not clearly available. As for Jarāsandha, the Mahābhārata (Sabhāparva. 17) states that he was the son of King Bṛhadratha born as two halves to two mothers, joined by Jarā a demoness and so he is called Jarāsandha. Thus this term may signify the sons of surrogate mothers also.

Remarried women:

A woman married twice is Punarbhūḥ or didhiṣūḥ (II. 6. 23; p. 138). The husband of such a woman is didhiṣūḥ according to Amarakośa:

punarbhūrdidhiṣūrūḍhā dvistasyā didhiṣuḥpatiḥ |

Explaining these terms Kṣīrasvāmin quotes the text of Yājñavalkya for punarbhū. According to this smṛti, a punarbhū is of two kinds–one whose marriage had not been consummated (akṣatā) and another whose marriage has been consummated (kṣatā).

The Yājñavalkya smṛti (I. 67) further dictates that both have the marriage ceremony performed again in full:

punarbhavati punarbhūḥ | didheṣṭi vācyā bhavati didhiṣūḥ | dvau vārau dvirūḍhā saṃskṛtā yadāhuḥ—ākṣatā ca kṣatā caiva punarbhavati punarbhūḥ saṃskṛtā punaḥ |

A long discussion is provided by Kṣīrasvāmin with reference to the term didhiṣhūḥ:

(i) Kṣīrasvāmin remarks that Manu differs from Amarakośa in defining the term.

The unidentified verse quoted by Kṣīrasvāmin in the name of Manu[5] states that a didhiṣūḥ denotes an elder sister remaining unmarried while the younger sister has been married is termed agredidhiṣūḥ:

manustvanyathā āha—
jyeṣṭhāyāṃ yadyanūḍhāyāṃ kanyāyāmuhyate'nujā |
cāgredidhiṣūrjñeyā pūrvā tu didhiṣūrmatā ||

(ii) Kṣīrasvāmin further supplements that the second husband of the twice married woman was also called didhiṣūḥ.

He specifies that the word ends with the long vowel ‘ū’ (p. 139):

tasyāḥ punarbhvāḥ patiḥ kiṃ ca punarbhūpatiruktaśca punarbhūdidhiṣūstathetyeṣo'pyūdantaḥ ||

(iii) Widow remarriage and men taking such women as their first wives seem to have been prevalent in the society.

This could be understood from Kṣīrasvāmin’s remarks that the man who wishes to take the didhiṣūḥ as his first wife was known as agredidhiṣūḥ (p. 139):

āgre'nanyabhāryātvātpradhānaṃ didhiṣūryasya so'gredidhiṣūḥ |

(iv) This agredidhiṣūḥ also denotes the younger sister who married before the elder sister.

Wanton woman (II. 6. 19; p. 137):

Amarakośa uses many words like–vārastrī, gaṇikā, veśyā, rūpājīvikā, kuṭṭanī, śambhalā and vāramukhyā. Here Kṣīrasvāmin's comments on some of them lead one to wonder whether all these are synonyms or denoting different groups of wanton women. Explaining vārastrī Kṣīrasvāmin says–vāre rajadevādi sevākrame strī vārastrī; and vāramukhyā is defined by him as–vāre sevākrame mukhyā | Some of the other forms as explained Kṣīrasvāmin are discussed here.

(a) Abhisārikā (II. 6. 10; p. 135):

Kṣīrasvāmin explains the term abhisārikā in the words of Bharata, who says that an abhisārikā is a woman who, due to love or lust is attached to her lover and gives up modesty for going out to meet him (N. Ś. XXIV.12):

hitvā lajjābhaye śliṣṭā madanena madena ca |
ābhisārayate kāntaṃ sā bhavedabhisārikā ||

(b) Gharṣaṇī/Carṣiṇī[6] (II. 6. 10; p. 135): A disloyal woman was termed gharṣaṇī. Kṣīrasvāmin derives the word as carṣaṇī quoting the Uṇādisūtra (261)–cetaścarṣaṇī kṛṣerādeśca ca |

(c) Veśyā (II. 6. 10; p. 135): A courtesan was termed veśyā and Kṣīrasvāmin adds the terms paṇyastrī and paṇastrī.

(d) Indirect reference to disloyal woman (II. 6. 24,36; pp. 139, 141)

Kānīna is the son of an unmarried girl. The terms kuṇḍa and golaka are offsprings of an adultrer and a widow.

These are better explained by Kṣīrasvāmin quoting Manu (III. 174):

paranāryāṃ prajāyete dvau sutau kuṇḍagolakau | patyau jīvati kuṇḍastu mṛte bhartari golaka || iti smṛtiḥ ||

The son procreated through another’s wife is called a kuṇḍa while the husband is alive and golaka after the husband's death. In both the cases, the Smṛtis consider these children born of clandestine affairs and not by niyoga or other sanctioned practices.

Young girl:

A pre-puberty girl was called gaurī or nagnikā (II. 6. 8; p. 135).

Kṣīrasvāmin remarks that the words denote a girl of eight and ten years respectively in the Smṛtis:

āṣṭavarṣā bhaved gaurī daśame nagnikā bhavediti smārtau viśeṣo nādritaḥ |

He states that this sort of definition given in the Smṛtis is not considered here in Amarakośa From this it is inferred that the age of puberty for girls was not strictly within ten but was known to vary upto 12 or more years. Hence it seems that Amarakośa gives both the terms as synonyms with which Kṣīrasvāmin also agrees.

Kṣatriya women:

Mahiṣī and Bhoginī (II. 6. 5; p. 134)(I. 6. 14; p. 51): The crowned queen was called Mahiṣī and addressed mahādevī, while the other uncrowned wives of the king were denoted as Bhoginīs and addressed as bhaṭṭinīs.

For these Kṣīrasvāmin cites Vāsavadattā and Padmāvatī as examples respectively:

nṛpastrītyeva | śrīmahādevītve kṛtābhiṣekā yathā vāsavadattā mahyate pūjyate mahiṣī | padmāvatyadyāḥ bhogo'styāsāṃ bhoginyāḥ |

Women Relatives:

(a) Naptrī and Pautrī (II. 6. 29; p. 140)–Son's daughter: The daughter of a son is called naptrī[7].

Interestingly, Kṣīrasvāmin explains this word as na patati ānayā kulam i.e. she is so called since she would not let the family down.

She is also known as Pautrī

putrasyāpatyaṃ pautrī sutasyātmajā |

It is interesting to note here that the later commentators like Bhānūjī[8], Liṅgayasūrī[9] and Mallinātha[10] have used the term in an extended sense to denote even the daughter of a daughter who is generally termed Dauhitrī.

From a close study of Amarakośa and Kṣīrasvāmin 's commentary one can observe that the words Dauhitraḥ or Dauhitrī are not mentioned.

(b) Bhrātṛjāyā (II. 6. 30; p. 140)–Brother’s wife: Kṣīrasvāmin cites from Meghasandeśa (10) to illustrate the word:

drakṣyasi bhrātṛjāyām |

(c) Nanāndā (II. 6. 29; p. 140)–Sister-in-law: A husband's sister is called nanāndā.

Kṣīrasvāmin reads it as nanandā and explains that she is called so as she never pleases her brother's wife

na nandati bhrātṛjāyām nanandā |

It is interesting to note that Bhānūji also reads the word as nanandā and in addition quotes from Rabhasakoṣa which remarks that the sister who pleases the brother's wife is called as nanāndā[11].

nanandā tu svasā patyurnanāndā nandinī ca sā | iti rabhasa ||

Thus the sister-in-law seems to be of two kinds–nanandā and nanāndā one who troubles or one who pleases the brother’s wife.

Women Professionals:

(a) Upādhyāyā (II. 6. 14; p. 137)–Women as teachers: Upādhyāyā was a female teacher while ācāryā was a spiritual instructress. Kṣīrasvāmin explains that an ācāryā was by herself an expert in expounding the mantrassvayaṃ mantravyākhyākṛdācāryā| | They are distinct from wives of a teacher or instructor denoted by upādhyāyā or ācāryāṇī as mentioned by Pāṇini.

(b) Sairandhrī (II. 6. 18; p. 137)–A female artisan: A female artisan in another’s house was sairandhrī.

Kṣīrasvāmin defines a sairandhrī in the words of Kātya as one who is skilled in all the sixty-four arts, endowed with character and beauty, one adept in decoration and costumes and one who is independent:

catuṣṣaṣṭi kalābhijñā śīlarūpādisevinī | prasādhanopacārajñā sairandhrī svavaśeti ceti kātyaḥ ||

It is well known that Draupadī lived in the palace of Virāṭa incognito serving the queen Sudeṣṇa as sairandhrī.

Amarakośa mentions other women professionals such as vipraśnikā–a fortune teller and ābhīra–a milk woman.

Status of women:

Jāmiḥ[12] (III. 3. 142; p. 304)–Women: Illustrating the term, Kṣīrasvāmin mentions that:

“Women were held in high respect for it was believed that a house where they were disrespected lost all its prosperities”.

Kṣīrasvāmin cites Manu (III. 58) in this regard:

jamati viruddhaṃ jāmiḥ, yathā—jāmayo yāni gehāni śapantyapratipūjitāḥ| |

Other facts related to women:

(a) Kuṭumbinī: It refers to a woman who has children and servants in the household–

kuṭumbam putrabhṛtyadyāstyasyāḥ kuṭumbini |

(b) Āpannasatvā (II. 6. 22; p. 138)–A pregnant woman: Amarakośa mentions āpannasatvā, gurviṇī, antarvatnī and garbhiṇī as synonyms for a pregnant woman. From Kṣīrasvāmin's derivations one can easily comprehend that these are terms to denote the various stages of a pregnant woman.

According to Kṣīrasvāmin, Āpannasatvā is one in early pregnancy–

āpannam gṛhītam sattvam garbho'nayāpannasattvā |

While gurviṇī was one in advance pregnancy and Kṣīrasvāmin mentions that Bhāguri denotes her as gurvī

gururgarbho'syā gurviṇī gurvīti bhāguriḥ |

(c) Sūti māsa (II. 6. 39; p. 142)–Time of delivery: Kṣīrasvāmin records that the ninth or tenth month was the last month of gestation or sūti māsa.

He furnishes the process of delivery as given in the smṛtis–that in the ninth or tenth month the foetus is delivered by the force of the vital air as swift as the discharge of an arrow

navame daśame māsi prabalaiḥ sūtimārutaiḥ |
bāṇa iva yantrachidreṇa satvaram ||

So it is suggested that women were given great care during this period.

(d) Rajasvalā (II. 6. 21; p. 138)–A woman in her course: Amarakośa mentions the terms rajasvalā, strīdharmiṇī, ātreyī, aviḥ malinī and puṣpavatī to denote a woman in her courses.

Kṣīrasvāmin explaining the term avīh records the various views–(i) according to Kātya and she is denoted as aviḥ and (ii) according to the reading of the Easterners, it is avīḥ

puṣpamatyavīriti prācyāḥ peṭhuḥ, āvyate rakṣyate ānyebhyo'vīḥ | āvirātreyītyeke |

He also quotes from the text of Kātya which approves the word in the same sense–

yatkātyaḥ—āviṃ strīdharmiṇīṃ vidyāditi |

Other kinds of women mentioned by Amarakośa are avīrā–one without a son or a husband, kātyāyinī–a middle aged widow wearing saffron robes, asiknī–a middle aged woman helping in the harem .

(e) Āḍambara (III. 3. 168; p. 311)–Vanity: Pride was adorable in women. It is interesting to note that in the Nānārtha varga which deals with homonyms, there are some refernces to a few characteristic features of women. While dealing with the words āḍambara and its different connotations, Kṣīrasvāmin adds the sense of samrambha to the list of Amarakośa

In explanation he says that vanity is appreciable in women and royalty:

āḍambharāṇi pūjyante strīṣu rājakuleṣu ca ||

(f) Pratyaya (III. 3. 147; p. 305)–Women as cause of quarrel: Women were considered as root cause of quarrel. Again when explaining the word pratyaya in its various senses, Amarakośa lists ‘hetu’ as one of the meaning. Explaining this Kṣīrasvāmin states that strīpratyayaḥ kalahaḥ |

(g) Nānā (III. 4. 3; p. 337): Commenting on the word nānā meaning, “without”, Kṣīrasvāmin quotes Bopadeva saying that living without a woman is useless:

nānā nārīṃ naṣphalā lokayātrā |

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Vārttika. 3632–sīmantaḥ keśaveśe |


It is interesting to note the remark of Liṅgāyasūrin (Amarakośa, ALRC Ed.,Vol. I, p. 367) that suavāsinī meant a woman who wished to stay amongst her kith and kin–

sveṣu vastum śīlamasyā iti svavāsinīti vā pāṭhaḥ sabhartṛkāyā nāmāni ||

Sudhā (Amarakośa, Chowkambha Edn., p. 206) too agrees with this idea in stating thus:

su ātīva vasati pitṛgehe tacchīlā | svavāsinī ityapi pāṭhaḥ | sveṣu pitrādiṣu vastum śīlamasyāḥ ||

It is evident from the above explanations that women were fond of their parent's house and some continued to stay in their parent's place even after marriage.


Taittirīya Upaniṣad–I. 11. 2


Cf. Abhijñānaśākuntala (IV. p. 136)–vīraprasavinī bhava |


This is not found in printed edition of Manusmṛti.


Other commentaries like Sudhā (p. 207), Vivṛti (p. 368) and Parijāta give carṣiṇī and add that a variant reading gharṣaṇī also to be in vogue.


The popular verse in Mahābhārata employs the term ‘naptāram’ to denote the great grandson–

vyāsaṃ vasiṣṭhanaptāraṃ śa kteḥ pautramakalmaśaṃ |
parāśarātmajaṃ vande śukatātaṃ taponidhim ||


putrasya putryāścāpatyam | p. 212


putrasya putryā vā putrī pautrī | p. 379


sutasya sutāyāścātmajā naptrī pautrī ca syāt, Mallinātha further substantiates his view quoting from Rabhasakoṣa and Vaijayanti:

naptā naptrī ca pautrikā iti rabhasakośaḥ |
naptārau pautradauhitrau iti
vaijayantī| | (v. 145) p. 379


Cf. Sāyaṇa on Ṛgveda X. 85. 46


jāmiḥ svasṛ -kulastriyaḥ |

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