ASSOCIATES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > VINOBA BHAVE >MY DEAR PRANAV > Women's Power
23rd September, 1990
My dear Pranav,
You should not be surprised if I tell you that Vinoba was the earliest thinker in Idia who started the talk about Stree Shakti or Women's power. This was in 1954, when he started the Brahmavidya Mandir at Pavnar.
Traditionally, the search for Brahman has been activity only for men. Women were kept away from sadhana. In fact, you will find a common belief that woman was a hindrance in the way of achieving success at a high spiritual level. It was Bhagwan Mahaveera who ordained women for the spiritual quest. But it was only for one's own salvation. It was an individual effort.
Vinoba started Brahmavidya Mandir for women, who follow brahmachrya (celibacy) and try to understand brahman as a group quest. His disciples from Brahmavidya Mandir, all women have set up an ashram in Gauhati, Assam. It is called the Maitri ashram. There are three other ashrams which were started at various places. Two of his women disciples continued padayatra for 12 years in all parts of India to spread the word of Sarvodaya and Brahmavidya.
It is significant that when Vinoba died on 15th November, 1982, his funeral pyre as lit by Mahadevitai, a woman disciple. This token action itself was considered a great change from the tradition.
Womens' Lib became a fashion and cult in America and Europe in the 1960s. It came to India in the 70s, and a lot of imitation has taken place in India. Burning bras, walking naked in the street and crying hoarse about womens' rights and womens' liberation (Stree Mukti) a rage of the day.
It was Vinoba who broke the barriers of womens' spiritual liberation. He did not believe in Stree Mukti (womens' liberation). Liberation from what? From whom? In a society where the family is still a very strong base of the social fabric, this liberation is basically upper-class talk. Vinoba wanted women to realise their power (Shakti) and he called this idea, awakening of women's power (Stree Shakti Jagaran). He believed in empowering women, making them aware of their own strength. He was not satisied with small actions of defiance. He wanted them to realise their own power, and use it constructively. He wanted some woman to be the second Shankaracharya.
The great influence of Vinoba's mother on his mind is very clear in all his life-time work. He translated the Gita into Marathi in the simplest form. The book, Gitai, is the largest selling book in Marathi. Vinoba did it for his mother, as she did not know Sanskrit. In all his speeches, there are several instances of his own development, and of his mother's influence on him. he was in favour of Stree Sakti as a Matri Sakti. He wanted spiritual salvation and self-realisation as a goal for women, through nurturing Matri. Sakti.
Even in education, Vinoba said, that the mother is the best teacher next to God. As Lord Krishna wanted "Matr hasten bhoojanam" (feeding by mother's hand) as the highest boon, Vinoba advocated "Matra Mukhn-jaam" (education through the mother). People very rarely note this spiritual attainment for women as a group, as Vinoba's innovation. It has come into existence without noise or opposition, just as the blade of grass grows. It does not make any noise in the process. But it does a lot of good for all living things.
L. N. Godbole