I was surprised to hear the Shankaracharya of Dwarka’s comment on women.
The title Shankaracharya derives from Adi Shankar – the most famous proponent of Advaita Philosophy – who had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism at a time when superstition was rampant. Adi Shankar cleansed Hinduism of the excesses of ritualism which, he felt, brought spiritual life to a low ebb and robbed people of true spiritual insight and what he believed to be the core teachings of the Vedas.
Adi Shankar debated with Madan Misra, the disciple of Kumarila one of the stuanchest supporters of the ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas. This debate is said to have continued for many months and was eventually won by Adi Shankar.
It is irrelevant for the purposes of this blog to deal with the debate which in erudition and scholarship would surpass most contests of the mind that the history of civilisation has ever witnessed.
The more important aspect of this debate was the person chosen to judge it.
The judge was Ubhaya Bharati, Madan Misra’s wife.
The choice of Ubhaya Bharati as judge of the contest was a recognition not only of the impartiality of a woman but also of her intellect and scholarship. In fact Bharati challenged Adi Shankar to a debate after her husband had lost as according to her a wife forms one half of her husband’s body and victory of Madan Misra could not be complete unless Adi Shanker defeated the former’s wife. She was defeated too which she accepted gracefully and with humility.
The Shankaracharya could have referred to this example to re-enforce the personhood of a woman which is recognised in Hinduism (which I have also dealt with in my blog of January, 30. 2016 Of Temples and Women) rather than present them as mere objects of desire. Nothing can be more obnoxious than trivialising rape through victim blaming and that too for entering a temple!
A patrilineal culture with enforced isolation of women and an accompanying set of taboos accompanied by stigmatisation of independence is precisely what is negated by the example of Ubhaya Bharti.
It was precisely to this kind of chaos, superstition and bigotry which tormented Hinduism in the 8th century AD that Adi Shankaracharya fought and redeemed Hinduism’s glory. It is indeed unfortunate those who carry his name do not actually carry his legacy.