7.1.2 Hindu Teaching About Widows

Many passages in the Hindu Scriptures teach that a widow must never remarry, on pain of the most awful punishments:

“A virtuous wife should never do anything displeasing to the husband who took her hand in marriage, when he is alive or dead, if she longs for her husband's world (after death) . . . She should be long-suffering until death, self-restrained, and chaste, striving (to fulfil) the unsurpassed duty of women who have one husband . . . But a woman who violates her (vow to her dead) husband because she is greedy for progeny is the object of reproach here on earth and loses the world beyond”.

The Laws of Manu, 5:156,158,161

So unfortunate was the fate of widows considered to be that we find the following cited as a benefit of chanting the Guru Gita:

“It averts women's widowhood... If a widow repeats it without desire, she attains salvation. (If she repeats it) with desire, she will not become a widow in her next lifetime”.

(Guru Gita, v. 145-147).

In passing, note the Hindu attitude to Scripture. It is to be chanted, not deeply thought about as a source of truth. In essence the same mistake is made by many rank and file Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, who treat the book called the Bible as some kind of icon or talisman- instead of opening it and reading for themselves daily the words of the living, loving God who so desperately seeks a two way, direct relationship with them.

And yet there are other Hindu Scriptures which more than imply that a widow can remarry.

The following verse is cited by P. V. Kane, in his History of Dharmashastra:

“Another man is ordained for women in five calamities: a) When the husband is missing and is unheard of; b) The husband dies; c) When the husband is impotent; d) When the husband has become an ascetic; e) The husband has become depraved”.

—Agnipurana 154.5-5; Parashara Smriti IV.30; and Narada Smriti V.97.

Atharva Veda IX.5.27-29 includes a verse that translates as

“Whatever woman, having first married one husband, marries another, she and the other new husband will not be separated if they offer a goat and five rice dishes illumined with religious fees”. J

Further, the remarriage of widows is advocated in the Vashista Dharmasutra of the Rigvedins.

These issues impact the most personal and intimate aspects of human life. And yet the Hindu Scriptures are totally contradictory in these areas. Is it really right that human life experience is played around with in this way, all for the sake of baseless traditions?

The Poorva Meemamsa rules for the interpretation of scripture clearly state that if two smritis clash, the two conflicting viewpoints indicate alternative practices, both being equally valid. Even according to this rule, widow remarriage is offered as an alternative to the lifelong celibacy of widows in the Smritis. This acknowledgment that the Hindu Scriptures can contradict each other indicates that there really is no basis of authority in Hinduism. It all depends on the teaching of those who interpret those Scriptures. The individual has no direct access to the teaching of God Almighty. Yet the Christian can read their Bible and find for themselves the way to God.

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