Women’s day is celebrated with much gusto on March 8th every year in different parts of the world. The trend has caught on in India too since the last decade or two.
Why and how did March 8th come to be celebrated as International Women’s Day?
It was on this date March 8th 1885, that Susan Anthony of USA, addressed the House of Representatives in USA for equal rights for women, to vote in the US elections. Until then, the women in USA did not have the right to vote in elections. This day, thus represents a fight for equality from a position of inequality.
While this is a red letter day for the march of women in USA, there have been many brave women in other parts of the world too who have fought the prevailing social conditions to bring about equality for women.
Susan B Anthony
Such a secondary position for women in society comes from the fundamental thought and premise that, “behind every successful man there is a woman”. This phrase by its implication means that the woman is always behind a man, supporting him, pushing him forward and allowing him to set the pace.
In contrast to this phrase, which denotes a secondary role for women, the Indian thought, expressed the relationship between man and woman through the word Ardhangini. Ardha means half or equal and angini comes from anga meaning part. Thus women were considered literally as one who has an equal part or role in an effort and life.
Sama vs Saha
This equality was not limited by the word “equal” but went beyond that into the realms of bringing out the best of the innate capability of each gender.
In a couple, the woman is even today known as Sahadharmini, meaning one who is not just equal but complementary in carrying out their role of Dharma. There is a subtle essence conveyed in the usage of the words here.
The word used for equal is Sama, whereas in the relationship between husband and wife it has been referred to as Saha, implying, together, complement. This is because, the ancients, both the women and the men realised that by nature and by biological capacity, each gender has an innate strength and hence role to play in the sustenance of Nature and mankind, called Dharma.
In this role play, one gender is not superior or inferior to another, causing the other gender to fight or claim for equality. Each gender is complementary to the other, based on their natural capability, capacity and role.
The Indian thought went one step further and also depicted the divine couple Shiva and Parvati, in a human form of a man and woman complementing each other in the form of Ardhanari, ie. half woman. This would reemphasize and reiterate to common man on a daily basis the essence of the role of the man and woman as they hold the society together.
This knowledge of this land through the ages, kept reinforcing the focus on saha, to be complementary and not just sama, equal.
The Fertility Chain
The description of feminity tends to focus on the sexuality of women today. Womanhood, the qualities of women, the capabilities of women, the role of a women is a lot more that sexuality.
Women are regarded as the epitome of fertility.
This is not just for the purpose of child bearing, but has more practical applications. In a predominantly agrarian civilization, the four aspects that control the fertility chain were in the control of women. These four were the lands, the water resources, the seeds and the cattle.
The Fertility Chain
Not only in India, but in many parts of the world too, women’s complementary, key role in agriculture and farming, the key activities associated with the fertility of a land, kingdom, nation, was well recognized and accorded the place of honour.
During the colonial rule in India and many other places, the control of these four were plucked from the women and given to men. This created not just inequality but disturbed the complementary balance from the Indian society.
The concept of Saha was soon forgotten and equality became the need and the cry of the women, rightly so, in the 20th century.
March 8th, soon became a day of rallying around, for some women organisations, as Women’s Day, in the 20th Century, to espouse the cry and need for equality by women.
This concept of equality as espoused in Woman’s Day celebrations, is actually alien to the nature of Nature itself and to those who are more in tune with this Nature.
For them, celebrating womanhood is synonymous with understanding the fertility chain right from the elements of nature to the well being of mankind, as well as the nurturing role that could only be played by women. Such celebrations took various forms such as Varalakshmi Puja in South India.
Vara stands for boon and Lakshmi for all the wealth, not just material but also Lakshya, a single minded goal. It is a bonding of women with Nature and their reaffirmation to provide for their family, society and civilisation, which is celebrated through the land as Varalakshmi Puja. It is a celebration of all things positive in womanhood.
Such festivals of the soil, bring back focus on Nature and the complementary nature of everything in Nature, including that between men and women.
In this 21st century, as India moves forward in the comity of nations, we need to recognise the importance of International Women’s Day in reminding us of the balance needed between genders. At the same time, we also have to bring about the awareness world over, of the concept of Saha or complementing nature of genders, that is at the root of Indian tradition.
It is only this commitment to complement one another, that can usher in an era of togetherness and cooperation between the two genders, to make this world a truly happy place.
A place, where everything in Nature is in its right place, eventually doing the right thing for Nature, which they are a part of. An act of maintaining Dharma with one’s Sahadharmini.
We need a Women’s Day today to celebrate and compliment this complementing nature in Nature.