Q: It often feels and appears that yoga and Hinduism exclude women, and this makes me think that we are not yet ready for a spiritual revolution. What can you tell us about this, and the role women play? Why are mostly men around you, while women cook and clean?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Listen, there is no such thing. In Yoga, Hinduism, and Vedic wisdom, they don’t exclude women at all. Men and women are given equal status.
In India, the tradition is, mother comes first and then comes father. They say, ‘Matri Devo Bhava’ (Mother is God).
Also, if you see in writing, they don’t write Mr. and Mrs. in India, it is Shreemati (Mrs.) and then Shree (Mr.).
The Hindu religion says Radhey Shyam, not Shyam and then Radhey.
The name is Sita Ram, first Sita and then Ram. Similarly, Lakshmi and then Narayan. So always women are first.
Have you seen Ardhnarishwar? Do you know the story?
There was this one sage who was averse to women. Usually many people who become recluse, run away from women. Some woman must have ditched him, or something must have happened. I don’t know. But he was so averse to women. He would not look towards women. Even toward deities. He would say, ‘Shiva, Shiva, Shiva’, only and not worship Shakti. So then Shiva appeared in front of him as half woman and half man. And that is called Ardhnarishwar.
This is to indicate, inside everyone, half of you is man and half of you is woman.
Whatever you are physically, man or woman, inside you are both, because you are made up of both, the egg and sperm. You are made up of both, mother’s and father’s DNA. Both are inside you and both are equal.
So, when Shiva appeared as half man, half woman, his prejudice against women dropped, and he attained liberation. That is the story. It is a long story but to make it short, he finally attained liberation when he dropped his prejudice against women. Now, this is the case.
Sometimes, in the Middle Ages, when India was under the influence of Islam, that is when it changed. Women priest were abolished.
If you go to Bali, in Indonesia, today there are women priests there. That is original Hinduism. But in India, after some time, in the middle ages, Islam had women in the parda (covering), and this influence had come on to India. The women were asked to stay indoors, at that time.
In the Vedic times, the women would have all rights. You would see them being priests and all that. So these are changes that have happened, and once a change happens it stays for quite long time. But do not think women are underestimated.
See, there are these nine days only for the worship of Mother Divine. And women do a lot of work for me here. We have many women teachers and male teachers. They are all in our trust. So there is nothing like that.
In fact, our president of the Canadian Ashram is a woman (Debra). For the longest time, we had women ruling in the Canadian Ashram. It is a queen’s territory, maybe.