International Women’s Day Special: Empowered Women

Intelligence, strength, passion, and leadership are the qualities that can empower anyone – male or female. The qualities have nothing to do with gender, age, caste, colour or creed but the societal mental makeup is such that we view most things in terms of gender and hence the term ‘women empowerment’. Male and female are the two basic components of any human society who depend upon each other to work efficiently just as a chariot needs two wheels to run it properly. One cannot act without the other or simply put, both complement each other. In Indian context, Ardhanarishvara, meaning half male and half female, is an iconic representation of this idea illustrating that the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe is dependent on both forces.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity”.

  It’s a known fact that since ancient time males have been given more importance due to certain factors such as hunting, earning livelihood, building of civilizations, and some other explorations. A closer look at the history tells us that some of the most powerful and fascinating rulers all over the world have been women. Some ruled in their own name, some influenced their world as royal consorts.

Artemisia of Halicarnassas, Cleopatra Thea of Syria, Boudicca of the Iceni, Elen Luyddog of Wales, Lei-tzu of China, Meryt-Neith, Nefertiti and Cleopatra of Egypt, Olympias of Macedonia, Cartimandua of the Brigantes, Semiramis of Assyria, Zenobia of Palmyra, Theodora of Byzantium are some the most influential and powerful women in the history of mankind. Further, Suiko is the first empress in recorded history to rule Japan. During her reign, Buddhism was officially promoted; influence of Chinese and Korean increased, and a 17-article constitution was adopted. Spain’s Isabella ruled Castile and Aragon jointly with her husband, Ferdinand. She’s famous for supporting Columbus’ voyage. She is also credited for her part in expelling the Muslims from Spain, expelling the Jews, instituting the Inquisition in Spain, and for her patronage of arts and education.  These women rulers were few but exceptional in their prowess, intelligence and leadership.

It is said that every man needs a man when his life is a mess because like the game of chess, the queen protects the king. Some powerful women having superb qualities and abilities became famous queens in their own right. They ruled with absolute power. In major societies around the world the system of ascendance to the throne has always been a patriarchal one that supported the male child as the heir. But these powerful queens broke out of this mould and sat on the throne that was traditionally meant for men. They wielded real political power in their kingdoms and made a difference to the lives of the people they ruled.

Queen Elizabeth also known as ‘the virgin queen’ was the first and only unmarried queen to rule over England. She had a shrewd intelligence and sharp wit. Her headstrong determination helped her sail England through the tough times. Britain was economically bankrupt, religiously torn and politically endangered by the greater powers of France and Spain. Her 45 years of reign marked a glorious epoch in English history.  She not just established the Church of England securing a compromise between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, but helped England bag one of the greatest military victories against Spain by defeating the Spanish Armada. English literature flourished at its best during her reign. Literary giants such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Edmund Spenser created their best works during Elizabeth the first’s reign. Overall, she was a legendary ruler who led England towards peace and stability. Marie Antoinette was the Queen of France and Navarre who is considered a major historic figure and is said to have been the biggest force in provoking the French Revolution. Marie, who became the Dauphine of France upon her marriage was conferred the title of Queen of France and Navarre when her husband became the king. French people adored her for her beauty and charms.

Maria Theresa is known as the Empress who ruled the Holy Roman Empire and was the de facto ruler of much of Europe throughout her lifetime.  She was known for reforming the economy and educational system of her empire. Queen Elizabeth Tudor’s reign was called the Golden age for England. As the Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor served as the Queen of France and Queen of England.  Eleanor was extremely bright, intelligent and strong willed. She took part in the administrative and government reforms. In the history of powerful women of the Middle Ages, she deserves a rightful place.

In the Indian context, who can forget the bravery, valour and leadership of queens like Razia Sultana, Maratha warrior queen Ahilya Bai Holkar, and Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. Razia was the first Muslim female ruler of who ruled Delhi. She was a bold young woman, trained in military warfare and administration. However, her ascent to the throne did not come easily. Her brother had taken over the throne after the death of their father, and she could claim the crown only after her brother died. She proved to be an efficient, just, and noble ruler. Completely devoted to her empire, she was well respected and loved by her subjects.

Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi inspired many generations of freedom fighters in India. She is well known for her defiant uprising against the British Raj. She was one of the leading warriors in India’s First War of Independence. Her struggles in life started at the age of four, when her mother passed away. But she was raised by her father as an independent and courageous girl. When she was just twenty-four-years old, her husband, the Maharaja of Jhansi died but she didn’t lose her courage and took over his responsibilities. When the British company annexed the territories of Jhansi with treachery she revolted against them. She surprised the British by showing extraordinary fighting spirit and valour in battles fought at Jhansi, Kalpi and at Gwalior. She inspired many generations of freedom fighters in India thus becoming immortal in history. She became a national heroine and is seen as the epitome of female bravery in India.

An educated woman is a liberated and an empowered woman. Most women who achieved professional success and name and fame have been highly educated. “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens” said Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States. Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori is known for her educational methods used today in some public and private schools throughout the world. In the modern context, women such as Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Coco Chanel, Oprah Winfrey, Marie Curie, Madonna, Angela Merkel, Indra Nooyi, Angela Merkel have had a huge impact on the world through their chosen professions or work. They all are highly educated and accomplished women. Studies of the Epic Age in India reflect that most of the female characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata were well educated. Women were accorded an honorable status in the society. In Mahabharata there are several instances where women gave counsel and advice to men on social and religious issues. Women had an effective role in social and political life of the then society. While speaking about woman and her relation to man, in Manusmriti, Manu says “Women must always be honoured and respected by the father, brother, husband and brother-in-law; where women are honoured, there Gods reside and are pleased, but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite could yield rewards”. Manu observes that the family, in which women suffer, is bound to be ruined, while the family in which women are happy is bound to prosper. He further enjoins that every person is to maintain peace with the female members of the household. He also advises every householder to treat his daughter as the highest object of tenderness and honour mother as the most venerable person in the world.

 Maitrayi, Gargi, Ghosa and Vak were female saints during the Vedic age who composed many hymns of the Vedas. These women were highly learned. Several hymns in the Vedic canon are composed by female saints, amongst whom. Evidently, they were highly learned as otherwise it would have been impossible for them to compose complex Vedic stanzas. And needless to say they must have held much respect for their work to be included in the major sacred literature of the time. Several verses throughout the Vedas make it clear that girls with learning were regarded highly.

Goddess worship one of the longest standing religious traditions in most religions is yet another form of women empowerment. Hinduism, Buddhism, paganism and the ancient cultures of Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Americas have several goddesses who are worshipped. In fact, God himself attributed women with knowledge, purity and courage and called them ‘shivshakti’ or the energetic force. All goddesses possess divine virtues and power and are considered fierce protectors. Some of them represent nature’s five elements, as well.  Egyptian goddess Isis meaning ‘throne’ has magical abilities which are so great they could heal the sick and bring back the dead.  Athena is Greek goddess of wisdom, while Pachamama is an Andean goddess of abundance. Mazu is Buddhist goddess of sea as Inanna is Sumerian goddess of love and procreation. She is often depicted with lions to represent her courage and prowess. Eos is the Greek goddess of the dawn, a patron of new beginnings. She is frequently depicted with wings and is said to dispense the morning dew on the earth. Eos is also believed to have an insatiable lust for love and adventure. Most Indians worship Lakshmi as the goddess of wealth, Saraswati as goddess of knowledge and Kali as goddess of killer of vices. In India and in almost all countries there is a tradition of celebrating festivals to honour the village patron goddess or ‘kuldevi’ who are none but empowered women.

As mentioned above that power has no relation with the physical that is feminine or masculine because the power rests in the soul and not in the body. The soul or the non-physical being which has no gender, exercises its powers through the mind.  Willpower or disciplining the mind plays a major role in life, leading to success and victory. To meet challenges in life, we need mental endurance or mental strength. Often referred to as inner strength, the power of mind is immense. When the mind is at peace, anxieties, stress, worries, fears, nervousness and impatience disappear and you feel not only relaxed at all levels but also feel empowered to face any negative situations in life.

Successful women both in the past and in the present have used the power of mind and not of their body to achieve success or victory. They believed in themselves. Oprah Winfrey said, “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you”. A powerful mind means experiencing happiness, joy, enthusiasm, and increased efficiency. It is said that conquer the mind and you will conquer the world. But how to conquer the mind is a big question. Meditation is a great and surest way to achieve the peace and power of the mind.

Rajyog Meditation is the journey inwards, a journey of self-discovery. Today, women have to face many challenges both at workplace and at home front. But if she transcends her physicality and remains in the consciousness of being a soul, she can attain tremendous peace and power to face the negative situations and people in her life. Rajyog Meditation teaches the technique with which anyone can attain confidence, awareness, and complete independence from the trappings of the physical world. It awakens the positive qualities buried within you, enabling better performance, and teaches the importance of silence and self-realization. It makes you find a purpose in life thereby developing a broad sense of self-worth. One develops a positive attitude which enables you to respond better in tough situations. Above all, you experience the peace and power of mind like never before.