On January 14, 2014 Mother Urmila posted the following on her Faceboook page (edited slightly for readability, download pdf with the original texts):
Urmila dd wrote: “One ISKCON leader asked me the other day about women doing fire yajnas. My reply is that we follow sadhu-sastra-guru and I sent the leader the following information:
This is part of the instructions to Diti, a woman, about worship: “Sukadeva Gosvami continued: After worshiping the Lord with all the paraphernalia mentioned above, one should chant the following mantra while offering twelve oblations of ghee on the sacred fire: om namo bhagavate maha-purusaya mahavibhuti-pataye svaha.” SB 6.19.8
Urmila dd–and this is interesting–in this verse–remember this is an instruction given to a woman–it is stated that it’s best if she do the worship herself; if she is unable, then her husband can do the worship and she will also get benefit:
“Between the husband and wife, one person is sufficient to execute this devotional service. Because of their good relationship, both of them will enjoy the result. Therefore if the wife is unable to execute this process, the husband should carefully do so, and the faithful wife will share the result.” [SB 6.19.18]
Urmila dd: This is spoken to Aditi, another woman:
“O chaste and auspicious woman, when I left home for other places, were you in so much anxiety that you did not offer oblations of ghee into the fire? By worshiping the fire and the brahmanas, a householder can achieve the desired goal of residing in the higher planets, for the sacrificial fire and the brahmanas are to be considered the mouth of Lord Visnu, who is the Supersoul of all the demigods.” SB 8.16.8-9
According to the Vedic system, a fire sacrifice is held in order to offer oblations of ghee, grains, fruits, flowers and so on, so that Lord Visnu may eat and be satisfied.”
Urmila dd’s additional comment: “Because the verses and purports only talk about worship the woman is doing herself, with no mention of engaging someone else, the most straightforward understanding is that the woman is conducting the yajna. Any other understanding would be having an interpretation that is not present in the text, or any of the other texts in that section, nor in any of the purports.”
Commentary by Agnideva Das.
Jiva Goswami states:
puurvaaparaavirodhena ko’nvartho ‘bhimato bhavet |
ityaadyam uuhana.m tarkaH shuShkatarka.m tu varjayet ||
“Understanding the meaning of a scriptural passage without contradicting the statements preceding and following it is called proper logic. However, one should abandon dry logic.” Sarva-samvadini.
We note that Urmila dd neglected to mention the verse immediately before the first verse she quotes about Mother Diti. Let me fill in the lacuna: “Accepting her husband as the representative of the Supreme Person, a wife should worship him with unalloyed devotion by offering him prasada. The husband, being very pleased with his wife, should engage himself in the affairs of his family.” SB 6.19.17
Accepting the husband as the representative of Krsna is the adhikara – qualification of the woman to do what follows in the rest of the chapter. What woman in ISKCON is doing this? If Urmila dd had studied this verse more carefully and actually applied it to her own life her marriage would not have ended as it did. Clearly she (or any unmarried woman) would not be eligible to perform a fire sacrifice when this prerequisite is taken into account.
Moving to another line of thought — for the sake of argument let us, just for now, assume that what Urmila dd says is correct that both wives of Kasyapa – Diti and Aditi performed agni hotra. The question then arises: does this apply to Urmila dd and other women in ISKCON or in the general population? The answer is no. Why? Because Prajapati dharma is not the same as Manushya dharma.
Kashyapa muni was the grandson of Lord Brahma. He was a Prajapati and his children through Aditi included all the main demigods the “Adityas.” And, even Agnideva and his wife Svaha who preside over fire sacrifices are descended from them. And, via his wife Diti he begot the danavas and asuras headed by Hiranyakasipu. So Diti and Aditi were not manushis – human women but rather highly exalted women even higher than the demigods who are their children (Diti begot the 49 Maruts a class of demigod). So it is absurd to extrapolate the actions of mahadevis – wives of prajapatis, to ordinary manushis – human females. The prajapatis follow their own codes of dharma not those of humans.
“General rules are not changed because something happens to a particular person in a special situation. General rules should be accepted by people in general. Sri Dhruva Maharaja went to Dhruva loka in his material body; seeing that, should one waste time hoping for the same?” Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura: Bhaktyaloka
We never hear that Mother Devaki or Mother Yashoda performed agnihotra. They performed their lilas with Krsna as manushis not mahadevis. Mother Kausalya, mother of Lord Rama, had brahmanas perform homas on her behalf for the benefit of Lord Rama. She didn’t perform them herself. (Kshatriyas and Vaisyas are also allowed to perform agnihotra for themselves, Kausalya was the wife of a kshatriya.)
We read in the Indraloka-gamana portion of the Mahabharata that when Arjuna went to svargaloka Urvasi approached him for intimacy. Arjuna refused her advances saying that she was his ancestress and to have intimacy with her would be incest. Urvasi brushed his objection aside saying that while it may be against manushya dharma it was not an obstacle in swargaloka because there was no such dharmik restriction in deva dharma and apsara dharma. And, that she had already enjoyed intimacy with several of her descendants after they had come to svargaloka. Thus different codes of dharma apply to different classes of beings and it not all homogenous. We can already foresee in some darker day an even more misguided soul pushing for incest based on the incident of Arjuna and Urvasi.
In his introduction to the Govinda Bhasya , Baladeva Vidya Bhusana tells us of the importance of “Sastra Sangati,” that understanding of sastric statements must be consistent with verses before and after the verse in question, consistent with the chapter it is in, the whole text, and with other sastras.
Urmila dd has assumed that Prajapati dharma is consistent with Manushya dharma and thus came to a wrong conclusion that human women can perform agni hotra yajna. To find out if human females – manushis — can perform agnihotra we must consult texts on manava dharma, the dharma of humans, not of prajapatis, devas, apsaras, or pitris, etc. The main dharma sastra for humans is Manu Samhita, “the lawbook for mankind” as Srila Prabhupada describes it in his commentary on Bhagavad-gita. Manu is literally “the father of mankind.” All humans are descended from him; from “Manu” we get manushya – man, and manushi – woman. This is what Manu has to say about human females and agnihotra:
“An unmarried girl, a youthful matron, an unread brahmana, one of small learning, one afflicted with disease, or uninitiated with the sacred thread must not perform the Agnihotra homa. For having cast such libations in the fire, these (unmarried girl, a youthful matron, etc.) shall go to hell, together with the person on whose behalf they do such fire-offerings; hence (only) a Brahmana well versed in the Vedas and in the art of performing such fire-offerings, shall act as a Hota (that is, offerer of the libation, or doer of the fire-offering.)” Manu 11.36-37
“A Brahmana must never eat (a dinner given) at a sacrifice that is offered by one who is not a Srotriya, by one who sacrifices for a multitude of men, by a woman, or by a eunuch. When those persons offer sacrificial viands in the fire, it is unlucky for holy (men) it displeases the gods; let him therefore avoid it.” Manu 4.205-206.
It appears from this quote that then as now there have always been unchaste and adharmik women who went against sastra.
As to Urmila dd’s deficient understanding of Krsna’s Vedic culture. Srila Prabhupada explains it nicely:
“Here is a difference between male and female that exists even in the higher status of life – infact, even between Lord Siva and his wife. Lord Siva could understand Citraketu very nicely, but Parvati could not. Thus even in the higher statuses of life there is a difference between the understanding of a male and that of a female. It may be clearly said that the understanding of a woman is always inferior to the understanding of a man. In the Western countries there is now agitation to the effect that man and woman should be considered equal, but from this verse it appears that woman is always less intelligent than man. It is clear that Citraketu wanted to criticize the behavior of his friend Lord Siva because Lord Siva was sitting with his wife on his lap. Then, too, Lord Siva wanted to criticize Citraketu for externally posing as a great devotee but being interested in enjoying with the Vidyadhara women. These were all friendly jokes; there was nothing serious for which Citraketu should have been cursed by Parvati. Upon hearing the instructions of Lord Siva, Parvati must have been very much ashamed for cursing Citraketu to become a demon. Mother Parvati could not appreciate Citraketu’s position, and therefore she cursed him, but when she understood the instructions of Lord Siva she was ashamed.” Srimad Bhagavatam 6.17.34-35
What happens when someone from a feminist background joins ISKCON but is unable to give up her anarthas? George Bernard Shaw gives a nice explanation:
“The great danger of conversion in all ages has been that when the religion of the high mind is offered to the lower mind, the lower mind, feeling its fascination without understanding it, and being incapable of rising to it, drags it down to its level by degrading it.”
In conclusion Urmila dd has wrongly equated Prajapati dharma and Manushya dharma and that if maha devis could perform agnihotra then so can human females. However the manava dharma sastra, which is for humans, specifically forbid human females from performing agnihotra. Her western-centric feminist worldview leads to this and many other errors. She is not qualified to be on the Sastra Advisory Committee.
Urmila dd is a senior member of the Sastra Advisory Committee (SAC), which has recently come under fire from the GBC because of it highly politicized activities, lack of neutrality and general lack of knowledge of sastra, dharma and Vedic culture.
This text by Urmila dd is a sample of the malaise that plagues the SAC. To her and her followers her arguments seem flawless, watertight and bullet proof.
To them the clear conclusion is that women should be doing fire sacrifices. The subtext is that oppressive, patriarchal men are preventing them. But, her conclusion is wrong and we have demonstrated why.