GARGI VACHAKNAVI: COURT SAGE
Great Sage of the Vedic Age
On May 25, 2013, I had the honor of presenting a theatrical katha on the life of Gargi Vachaknavi, one of the greatest sages of the Vedic Age (800-500 BCE). My guru, Pandit Munelal Maharaj, officiated a Gyaan (knowledge) Yagna that weekend to celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of Vishnu & Gayatri Lal at Vishnu Mandir in Minnesota, Minnesota.
Gargi was one of the nine important persons in the court of King Janaka. He was the father of Mother Sita. Mother Sita is the consort/wife of Shri Ram, the 7th incarnation of Vishnu. When God incarnates in human form, the masculine and feminine forms appear together. Together they are the full incarnation. The consort can be the wife, mother, sister or beloved. She is the energy and Shakti principle who brings about change in some form. She is very active principle in the world.
Gargi was the court sage because of her great ability to ask very important and challenging questions. If you can ask profound and challenging questions, you will know the answers to the questions. If you can answer challenging questions, you can ask challenging questions.
King Janaka was considered to be a great philosopher, so he valued anyone who was a great philosopher. He sponsored a brahamayajna, a philosophic congress, during his reign. The prize was 1,000 cows. Gargi and Yajnavalka were two of the greatest sages of the Vedic Age and major actors in this philosophic congress.
In Vedic times many women were teachers, philosophers and sages. A female sage is called a Rishika, while a male sage is called a Rishi. The term Rishi can also be applied to both genders. The Vedic tradition was matriarchal in many respects and aspects. Women had many rights and roles. Women could aspire to and live many roles. The Vedas had many female authors. The Rig-Veda mentions 30 Rishikas who were prominent as teachers, sages and philosophers in Vedic times.
It is important to honor these great foremothers who paved the way in the Vedic Civilization. Many modern female teachers, yoginis, priests, sages and philosophers take their inspiration from these great foremothers. Unfortunately, not all Hindu temples (mandirs) present their stories or appreciate their importance. A number of years ago a large group of female priests emerged in India. These women and their sisters in other countries reflect the tradition of the Rishikas.
Having female role models is very important for our young women of today. It is good to remember that being inspired can make a difference in the lives of these young women. If we only talk about male role models, it will give them the idea that they are not as valued as men are in our tradition. There are many very inspiring women in every mandir who teach, cook, chant, sing and take the role of priest/sage/philosopher. Some people naturally have these abilities from birth. There are even females playing the harmonium, tabla, dholak, tamborine and other instruments. Not only that there are intelligent and articulate women on executive boards who are Masters of Ceremonies at various events and yajnas. I would like to see more women in these roles. Always encourage young women to be all they can be just like Gargi.
Her story is told in the Sixth and Eighth Brahmana of the Brihadarnyaka Upanishad. The dialogue between her and Yajnavalkya is found in the Yogavalkya Samhita. With that in mind, I present to you the theatrical katha on Gargi where I take on her character, story and personality. No one can truly capture the greatness of this great Rishika named Gargi.
GARGI VACHAKNAVI KATHA:
My name is Gargi Vachaknavi, daughter of Sage Vachaknu. Born in Vedic times, I was called Gargi because my family lineage was Garga. Sage Garga was the family priest of Nanda, foster father of Krishna. Garga was the sage who named "Krishna" at his chistening.
It was evident in my childhood I loved to ask questions on spiritual topics. My parents were always wondering how to answer my questions. Over time I became a spiritual teacher and a Rishika. I never married but directed my love towards my spiritual path. I am the author of the Gargi Samhita and several hymns in the Vedas.
The Rishika, Maitreyi, my niece, first learned about the Vedas from me, then from her husband, Sage Yajnavalkya. King Janaka, father of Mother Sita, summoned me for the philosophic congress, brahamayajna, during his reign.
Now, who were the Rishikas? They were female sages of Vedic times. About 30 are mentioned in the Rig-Veda. Because I did not marry and studied the Vedas I was called brahmavadinis. Some Rishikas were married, too.
The Vedas are unique because no other sacred texts have so many female authors. They are more representative of humanity because women wrote wisdom in them. The female prospective in highly honored in the Vedas. I quote from the Athvarva Veda: "When a woman enters a family, she enters like a river enters the sea, to reign with her husband over the household." Glad to see so many intelligent and articulate female sages with us today at the mandir.
The Vedas are unique because they are based on ecological wisdom and principles. No other sacred texts have so many references to ecology and Mother Earth. We must live ecologically, with global warming being one of our greatest problems. You are the original ecologists. Always do what is best for the seven generations. Eat right. Your body is a temple. Do not pollute or use toxic chemicals at home or in your mandir. Recycle, reuse, reduce! "Be the change you want to see in the world," as your sage Gandhi has told you.
I will share just one question I asked at the philosophic congress. Sage Yajnavalka thought I asked too many questions. I was born to ask questions. Remember Arjuna? He was a great disciple. He asked a lot of questions! I asked Sage Yajnavalka, "In what is the ether (sky) woven and rewoven?" The sage replied, "O Gargi, in Braham in the ether woven and rewoven like the warp and the woof. Sages call this Akshara (the imperishable). It is neither short, nor long, neither red nor white. It is neither shadow nor darkness. It is is without ears, eyes or mind or breath, without speech, without smell, without mouth. It has no within and no without."
You have a brilliant young sage here today among you, Pandit Munelal, who is a great teacher and singer. I, Gargi, say knowledge and love is the key to life. Your young sage knows both. Long live the Vedas and long live Mother Earth! Namaste!
The Great Mystery:
This shows you how vast God or Brahman is. The Native Americans have three names for God: the Creator, the Great Spirit and the Great Mystery. God is a great mystery, and we can only begin to understand part of this mystery. These two great sages had a great discourse on very profound spiritual questions. This was only one of the great questions Gargi and other sages asked during the philosophic congress. Be your own sage and start asking those profound spiritual questions. Gandhi asked those questions and brought down an empire. Question what you do. Do you need two cars, two houses or several vacations this year when there are those around who are in need of the basics: food, clothing and shelter? What is my responsibility to stop poverty, injustice and ecological destruction? When you answer those questions, you wil act. As Krishna said in the Gita, "It is better to act!" Acting ethically in every day life is the highest form of yajna!
JAI SHRI GARGI! JAI SHRI YAJNAVALKA! JAI SHRI RISHIKAS!
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