Document Type


Publication Title

NWSA Journal


Johns Hopkins University Press

Publication Date

Summer 2003


This essay highlights the debate on women and gender in ancient Indian texts. Neither the popular nor the scholarly debate in modern India has paid sufficient attention to unmarried learned women in ancient Hindu texts. I examine the recurrent figure of Sulabha, a single woman and an intellectual-renunciant; I focus on her debate with philosopher-king Janaka in the epic Mahabharata. When Janaka uses anti-women arguments to critique Sulabha’s unconventional behavior, Sulabha successfully establishes, on the basis of Hindu philosophical principles, that there is no essential difference between a man and a woman; she also demonstrates by her own example that a woman may achieve liberation by the same means as a man. In the same epic, a married woman wins her debate with a male sage, proving that even a woman following the conventional path of wifely devotion may equal or outdo a sage in wisdom and virtue.


© 2003 NWSA Journal