Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Contribution of Women to Sanskrit Literature

M. Vijayasree

The classical Sanskrit and Prakrit literature has distinguished itself by the contribution of women with an extraordinarily high calibre and simultaneously by their occupying a very significant position in the society of the day. The literature also distinguishes itself by immortalizing brave women. Women also were well-versed in the arts and possessed scholarship. They acquired undying fame for their excellence in other fields of knowledge. The contribution of women to Sanskrit literature has been hailed by many as equivalent to the calibre of the masters in the field of Sanskrit literature, viz., Kalidasa and Banabhatta.

From the records available, on a close examination, it is evident that the quality of their work is in no way inferior to that of their contemporaries. Among the authors of the hymns of the Rigveda, we have some women. Of the 2,000 scholars in all who are said to have popularised Rigveda, 24 are known to have been women of whom the names worth-mentioning are those of Lopamudra and Apala. The Atreya house produced the poetesses, Visvavara and Apala. In the Kakshivat house, there was a line of poetesses and of those Ghosa was the greatest. She was the daughter of Kakshiyat. She wrote in Jagati metre and her verses are easy to understand and well-balanced. Jahu, Sasvati, Mandhatri, Madhvi, Sasiprabha, Anulaxmi, Reva, Pahai and Roha are also poetic seers of the hymns. Asvalayana mentions Gargi, Vachaknavi and Badava Pratitheyi along with the ancient venerable Rishis. Lopamudra it referred to in the Anukramani. This bears adequate testimony to the contribution of women to Sanskrit literature.

However in spite of such significant work done by women the reason as to why not much is known about it appears to be because of inadequate facilities to safeguard the invaluable literature. Unfortunately, the world from which their verses are quoted are not known, and we have no other means ofdetermining the nature and value of their literary achievement. But to Judge from the extremely meagre specimens of stray verses, one cannot say that their contribution to Sanskrit poetry is either original or impressive both in quantity and quality. There is also not much variety. The verses are mostly dainty trifles concerned with light erotic topics in the conventional embroidery of romantic fancy. Almost all the women poets are occupied with the theme of love; and even where the verse is descriptive, there is not often an erotic implication. Sometimes there is a tender and touching note; here and there one may also find a glimpse into the heart of the women; but in general there is not much that is truly feminine in these verses, which might have been as well written by men. It may be that love made up the entire life of the woman; but perhaps these verses which give the impression that woman is more fully ardent and less controlled than man, would lead to a dubious generalisation and give the entire question a wrong perspective. The woman poet looks suspiciously like a replica of the passionate heroine ofthe normal Sanskrit poetry and drama. One may even go further and doubt if some of the verses are really written by women or one passed ofunder fictitious feminine names with a mildly perverse motive.

We are acquainted with the poetess in Sanskrit literature in a few stanzas of Rajasekhara’D Kavyamimamsa. He praises Silabhattarika, Vijjika, Subbodra, Prabhudevi, Vikatanitamba in his work. Silabbattarika’s expression followed her imagery. Vikatanitamba’s verse was elegant in simplicity. The style of Subhodra appealed to the poetic mind and stuck to it forever. Vijjika was Saraswati incarnate. She has been identified with the queen of Chandraditya, son of Pulakesin-II.

Dhanadeva’s verse is also quoted in “Sarangadhara-Paddhati” (Sheela Vijja Maruia Mori ... kavyam kartu santi vigna-ristrayopi). Of the above mentioned poetesses Morika and Marula are also well-versed in the literature and also they were mentioned in Subhashitavaliwritten by Vallabhadeva. He mentioned about Indulekha, another famous poetedss in literature. But he has not given any other details about her; but praised her poetic talent. Phalgunastani is another gift to the Sanskrit literature who was praised by Bhartruhari in his “Neetisataka.”

“Rajasekhara Charita” mentions poetesses Kamalila, Sunanda, Kanakavalli, Madhurangi, Lalitangi and Vimalangi (of Malava). Ballala’s “Bhoja Charita” mentions some poetesses too, but it is doubtful if these were not fictitious names.

The anthologies also quote verses of Jaghanacapala. Avilambitasaraswati, Kuntidevi, Candalavidya, Nagamma, Padmavati, Madalasa Rajaka Saraswati, Laxmi, Virasaraswati, Saraswati and Sita.

Priyamvada, wife of Raghunatha, wrote the poem “Syamarahasya” and her earliest verse was in praise of Krishna.” She flourished in 1600 A. D.
Vaijayanti married Krishnanatha son of Durgadasa. She lived in the middle of the 17th century A. D. She learnt Sanskrit under her father and was proficient in Mimamsa. She wrote fine poetry but it is all merged in “Anandalatika Champu” composed by her husband Krishnanatha.


“Dwarakapattala” is her only work that is extant and it furnishes us with a fairly good account of the personal history of the authoress. It is stated at the beginning of the manuscript that the work belongs to the Ramayana school. Again the manuscript is dated 1518. So Binabai must have flourished after Ramayana (beginning of the 12th century) and before 1518. The authoress states that her father was king of Mandalika who flourished in the Yadu race and excelled all other in Royal qualities. Further we know from the same work that Binabai was the chief queen of Harasimha, son of Varasimha who ruled in Pataliputra, situated on the banks of Ganges.

Though highly learned, Binabai displays admirable womanly modesty while speaking about herself and disclaims of any great scholarship or genius on her own part. She points out that she is an humble student of scriptures and not an erudite scholar. Of course this is disproved by the work itself which indubitably testifies to the deep erudition of the authoress and her great mystery over scriptures, Smritis and Puranas.

This work is divided into, four chapters. At the beginning of the work the authoress gives us some personal information.


She is the authoress of “Gangavakyavalli” and was the wife of Padmasimha, king of Mithila.  After her husband’s death, Visvasadevi ascended the throne. Visvasadevi and her sister-in-law, Laxmidevi, were reputed scholars in Sanskrit literature. She flourished in the 15th century.

The “Gangavakyavali” is a fairly voluminous literature on Smritis in 29 chapters. Visvasadevi is of the opinion that those who bathe in the holy places they happen topass through, cannot acquire the religious merit forsporting on pilgrimage.

An outstanding contribution of Visvasadevi to Sanskrit literature is the systematic arrangement of the materials formerly diffused over a very wide area. Her assimilating capacity is really commendable and her creative genius is of a high order. As a queen she was a powerful leader of men, as a scholar she was a champion defeating many Yagnavalkyas of her age like her sister Gargivachaknavi of the Upanashadic period.

Uppaya, Manorama and Subhadra of Malabar, Avantisundari, wife of Rajasekhara, Kamala and Sundari commentators of ‘Viddhisalabhanjika” written by Rajasekhara and wives of Ghanasyama (Tanjore poet) were poetesses of renown.

Outside the anthologies there are just a few women writers who may be briefly mentioned here as composers of Kavya. Among these we have Ramabhadramba of Tanjore who wrote the semi-historical poem “Raghunathabhyudaya” to celebrate the greatness of her lover Raghunathanayaka of Tanjore (1614 A D.) Another poetess who was hououred by Raghunathanayaka with the title of Madhuvayani translated Raghunatha’s “Andhra Ramayana” into elegant Sanskrit verse in 14 cantos under the title “Ramayana Sarvakavya.” Another cultured woman poet Tirumalamba in her “Varadambika Parinaya”, a highly artificial champu describes the romance of the love and wedding of Varadambika with her own husband or lover Achyutaraya, king of Vijayanagar, who came to the throne at about 1530 A. D.

Among poetesses Gangadevi occupies a place or prominence. She was the queen of Veerakamparaya, son of Bukka I (1343-79 A. D.), She composed Madhuravijayaor Veera- kamparaya charita, now available only as a fragment to celebrate her husband’s conquest of Madhura. It is written in a simple style, comparatively free from the pedantry of grammar and rhetoric.

We are acquainted with several others who have contributed after Gangadevi. They are Lakhina, famous poetess of Mithila, Triveni, who flourished in 19th century and authoress of so many works–“Laxmisahasra”, “Ranganathasahasra”, “Sukasandesa”, “Bhrtungasandesa.” Her poems are “Rangabhyudaya” and £I, “Sampatkumara Vijaya”, and her plays “Rangavata Samudaya” and “Tatra mudrabhadrodaya.”

Another poetess Lakshmi, princess of Kadatbanadu, in her work, “Santanagopala Kavya” in 3 cantos relates a story about a Brahmin who lost his ten children successively. Arjuna promised to save the last child but was unable to do it, and resolved to enter the fire. Krishna intervened and from Vaikuntha brought all the ten lost children. The last chapter has a pleasing Yamaka composition.

Sundaravalli lived about 1900 A. D. She wrote “Ramayana champu” in 6 cantos corresponding to the Kandas of Ramayana. Janasundari was a dancing girl of Kumbhakonam. She lived there and passed away about 1910 A. D. She was the author of many works of which only one “Halasyamachampu” in 6 Stahakas has been traced. She visited the Mysore court where she received the title “Kaviratna.”

Kamakshi was born in 1902 and is the Sanskrit tutor in the girls’ school in Cuddalore. She has mastered Kalidasa’s literature and her “Ramacharita” is a small poem composed with words and phrases used by Kalidasa, an epitome of Rama’s story.

Sister “Balambal” lived at Madras and was a well-known nationalist of South India. Her “Arya Ramayana” is like-wise a summary of the story, in easy verse, much read by beginners in Sanskrit study.

Although we had some 150 scattered verses of about 40 women poets who are chiefly but inadequately represented in anthologies, some people doubt whether women can write a Kavya.

There was an unfortunate impression prevalent in ancient times that women would not be able to compose poems or write stories as well as men could do. In keeping with this line of thought many questions were raised about the actual authorship of the present poem. i. e., “Madhuravijayam.” However, Gangadevi has transcended all such controversies ably demonstrating that women were in no way inferior to men as far as the power of the intellect and cultural ground are concerned. The culture and calibre or the mind is born of the effort of the individuals and transcends the limitations imposed by sexual differences. However, perhaps the only occasion where women have had to be careful has been in the description of the Rasas especially Sringara Rasa, Supreme self-restraint alone would enable any individual, be a male or female, to produce a work of lasting impression, especially when it involves Sringara Rasa. Gangadevi has perfectly lived up to the standard.

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