India is an agrarian society. Farming has been a vocation of Rural Women. Woman is a natural home maker. Rural women not only maintain their homes, but also take part in agriculture related activities, for in Rural areas and in agrarian societies, agriculture is the main vocation, and everyone in the family pitches in their bit. Rural women by nature being able bodied and hardworking, take on hard and back breaking work that agriculture demands.
The world celebrates October 15th every year as International Day for Rural Women, to celebrate the key role that women play in sustaining our lives.
Resources held by Rural Women
The key resources and wealth in an agrarian society are
- Good Seeds
- Cattle for farming
Rural women were the custodian of these resources in ancient India.
Fertility chain of women, their Stree Dhana
In ancient India, it was also the birthright of women to own land. Property that was held by the women was transferred to other women in the family like daughter, daughter-in-law or granddaughter.
For agriculture to succeed, copious water is required. India has bountiful rainfall every year during the monsoons. This water needs to be harnessed for use through the rest of the year. All across India, through the ages, it is the rural women, who have stood in the forefront of ensuring the proper harnessing and use of water,
- In their own houses and in their farmlands
- In the society
They have been part of and instrumental in the construction and maintenance of the over 10 lakh community based, water harnessing systems, spread out across the face of this land. These were repaired and maintained every year as a process for sustaining the fertility of the land through the ages.
This process of giving sustained fertility to the land, through water harnessing is called Pushkaram, which is why the water tanks in every village, near temples, is called Pushkarni, meaning that which gives fertility.
How did women help in bringing this fertility to the land?
Women by nature like to adorn themselves with jewellery and hold it as their family heirloom. Women generally do not part with their jewellery or gold.
But we see that all the way from ancient to medieval India, women have happily parted with their jewellery and donated it voluntarily as a monetary contribution for the construction of water harnessing projects and also to maintain them through the centuries and millennia.
This voluntary contribution of wealth, demonstrates that women were not only physically involved by offering their labour but were also emotionally involved in ensuring the fertility of their land.
The women understood the role of water as the root cause of prosperity and being the people who handled it maximum, they assumed the responsibility to ensure its availability for their families and their land.
It has been a common tradition amongst Indian farmers through the ages until even today, to have the seeds to be sown, handed out by the woman of the house, at the time of sowing.
While today it may have got reduced to a mere ritual, the practice in ancient days was a natural role for the women, post the harvest, to identify and isolate the best grains from the harvest and preserve it for sowing during the next season.
Women selecting the best seeds
She took on and played with an inborn flair the role of storing the grains for consumption of the family as well as the seeds for sowing.
The seeds or Bheeja were stored and safeguarded from rodents in a separate silo within the house itself. These were called Orai in Tamil. The women were well versed with native techniques of preserving these seeds from rodents, germs and decay.
This was her share of responsibility for the quality of the next crop.
Cattle which has been another key input to farming was revered not only for its physical role in ploughing. The ancient knowledge base of India was very evolved scientifically and had scientifically found the dairy and waste output from the cattle to be of immense value in farming, medicine and dietary practices.
Hence cattle had a special place in the eyes of the Indians and has therefore been one of the forms of wealth of the land for a very long time.
Cattle were symbols of prosperity and fertility. While cattle were referred to as Gomatha – i.e. as a Matha or Mother in the form of a Cow, the task of looking after this mother, was also an inborn natural activity for the women.
It was the woman of the house, who looked after the family cattle.
Her close bonding and involvement with the cattle, as also the respect she accorded to the cattle is evident in the innate Indian practice from age old times of women dressing up the cattle with flowers and other special anointments and praying to them for prosperity before embarking on important activities.
Even to this day, this practice continues in some of the traditional homes in India.
Thus we see that rural women have held, looked after and nurtured the assets of the family and land, especially those that were associated with fertility which led to prosperity.
When the women held land, cows, seeds and water in the society, it is but natural that they also held the respect in the family from the male members and the society at large. She was the Griha Lakshmi of the house.