Born to sage Vachanku of Garg lingrege in around 9th-7th century BCE, Gargi Vachaknavi’s name was kept on her father’s name. At a very young age, Gargi Vachaknavi found her love in the philosophy and spirituality, and decided to remain unmarried. She was the first woman of those times who took this decision. It was compulsory for a woman to get married during those times despite of which ever caste (Kshatriya, Brahmin, Rakshasa, Gandharva, Vaishya, etc) she belongs to. But it was Gargi who first stood up against this. At an early age, it is also stated that she awakened her kundli and had gained the title of Brahmavaidini (someone with the knowledge of Brahma Vidya). The term ‘I am a soul’ is given by her and is also mentioned in the vedas. Gradually with her deep interest in philosophy and spirituality, she became a well known philosopher during the Satya Yug and the Treta Yug. She was the first woman who wrote hymns with the vedas (mainly Rig Veda- the most popular veda amongst the four vedas) and the upanishas. With the lapse of time, she became a well known female debater after her debate with Maharishi Yajnavalkya at Maharaj Janak’s court and was awarded as of of the Navratna’s in Maharaj Janak’s court. One of her most famous debates is mentioned in the sixth and the eighth Brhmana of the Brihadranyaka Upanishad.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad verses about Gargi Vachaknavi

Debate With Maharishi Yajnavalka

A philosophic congress was organized by Maharaj Janaka of Mithila. Maharaj himself was a great philosopher .  Towards the end of the congress, he said – “I have a special prize of a thousand cows in a pen and fastened on the horns of each ten measures of gold – for – the most erudite Vedic scholar, the person who knows the Brahman” But none among the learned Brahmins had the courage to declare himself the best, they all sat in silence. Then Yajnavalkya stood up, and called upon his band of disciples to take the herd to his home. This created a sensation among the Brahmin crowd. What was this Yajnavalkya doing ? How very insolent of him ! One of them came up -he was a priest of Maharaj Janaka’s, Asvala by name. He called out to Yajnavalkya, “Yajnavalkya, do you then happen to be the best among us Brahmins?” Yajnavalkya replied with folded hands, “Salutations to the best of Brahmins! We have taken the cows because I need them. I am a seeker of the animals, not that I have the most Knowledge.” But Asvala was insistent. He said, “You have taken the cows, now you have to prove that you are the best. I am putting you some questions, let us see what answers you can give” The dialogue that followed was highly philosophical – many of the Brahmins asked questions and so did Gargi. And Gargi almost defeated Yajnavalkya. How ? Gargi began with the question, “Yajnavalkya, all this here is permeated by the waters. What then permeates the waters?” “The waters are permeated by air,” said Yajnavalkya. “And what contains the air ?” “The heavens.” “And where are the heavens contained ?” “In the world of the Gandharvas.” “And the world of the Gandharvas?” “In the regions of the Sun.” “And the solar regions?” “In the worlds of the Moon.” “And the lunar worlds?” “In the regions of the stars.” Gargi went on thus with her seemingly endless questions . . . but she had a plan . . . “In what then, are the worlds of stars woven?” “In the worlds of gods, O Gargi,” “In what then, are the worlds of gods woven?” “In the worlds of Indra” “In what then, are the worlds of Indra woven?” “In the worlds of Prajapati” “In what then, are the worlds of Prajapati woven?” “In the worlds of Brahma” “In what then, are the worlds of Brahma woven?” Yajnavalkya became very angry and said “O Gargi, do not ask too much and if you ask more, your head will fall off. You are asking about the Deity about which we are not to ask too much. Do not ask too much, O Gargi.” After that Gargi, chastised so publicly and afraid became silent. But she did not give up completely.  She took time to regain her composure and thoughts and asked two more questions. Gargi said “I shall ask thee two questions. Will you answer me, O venerable sage?” Yajnavalkya said: “Ask, O Gargi.” “O Yajnavalkya, that of which they say that is above the heavens, beneath the earth, embracing heaven and earth, past, present and future, tell me in what is it woven, like the warp and the woof.” “That, O Gargi, which is above heaven and below the earth, which is heaven and earth as well as what is between them and which they say was, is and will be, is pervaded by the unmanifested sky “I bow to thee, O Yajnavalkya. Be prepared for the second question,” “Ask, O Gargi.” “In what is the ether woven and rewoven?” Yajnavalkya replied “O Gargi, in Brahman is the ether woven and rewoven like the warp and the woof. Sages call this the Akshara (the imperishable). It is neither coarse, nor subtle, neither short nor long, neither red nor white. It is neither shadow nor darkness. It is without ears, eyes, or mind, or breath, without speech, without smell, without mouth. It has no within and no without.” “By the command of this Indestructible Being, O Gargi, sun and moon, heaven and earth, stand upheld in their places. By the command of this Akshara, O Gargi, minutes, hours, days, nights, weeks, months, seasons and years stand apart.” “Whosoever, O Gargi, without knowing the Akshara, departs from this world, becomes a miser. But he, O Gargi, who departs from this world, knowing this Indestructible Being, is a true Brahman or liberated sage.” “That Brahman, O Gargi, although unseen, but He sees; although unheard, but He hears; although unthought, but He thinks; although unknown, but He knows. There is none that sees but He, there is none that hears but He, there is none that thinks but He, there is none that knows but He. In that Akshara, then, O Gargi, the ether is woven and rewoven like the warp and the woof.” On hearing these words of wisdom from the mouth of YajnavalkyaGargi became silent. Then she turned to the learned men and addressed them thus, “You had better bow down to Yajnavalkya and take your leave. No one among you has the power to get the better of him in the matter of learning or wisdom.” I personally do not agree with Yajnavalkya I would have risked my head and asked – who created the Brahman?  said Gargi and accepted her defeat.

Gargi Vachaknavi In Ramayan

Gargi Vachaknavi was also very famous during the Treta Yug. She is said to be the mentor of the four Mithila sisters. Had previously awakened her kundli, the great Gargi Vachaknavi knew the future life of the four Mithila sisters and was also aware that who was the incarnation of whom hence, she took the responsibility of their education and up-bringing and molded them according to their future life. Though every student was special to her but it was Urmila whom she shared a special connection with. She never considered Urmila as her student but always her daughter and Urmila also always addressed her as her mother. She loved her Mata Gargi more than her own mother Maharani Sunaina. She made Urmila just like herself for she knew that Urmila had to live an independent life despite of being married… According to the Kamban Ramayan, it is also stated that despite of Lord Ram winning the swayamwar and knowing that Lord Ram was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Gargi Vachaknavi still took his test and asked him and Lord Lakshman various types of questions. Few people may consider it as her foolishness that despite of being aware of everything, still she was ready to take the test of the Lord of Universe, Narayan and his companion Lord Shesha. But it was her duty to do so, as she wanted to check that weather Lord Ram and Lakshman was compatible for her two gems Sita and Urmila or not.! Her debate with Maharishi Yajnavalkya is a proof of her feminism. How bold and strong she was!
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4 thoughts on “Gargi Vachaknavi- The Oldest Icon Of Feminism

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