Reflections on Vaisnavi-dharma

I recently took up the study of Bhakti-Sastri under the instruction of my spiritual master. Living in Azerbaijan, the best option seemed to be to do it online, as various courses are available nowadays via the internet. I signed up with Bhaktivedanta College (Radhadesh), for a module of their online Bhakti-Sastri course.

The module on the Bhagavad-gita was being taught and facilitated by a mataji. Although within me I felt some doubts about accepting tuition from a mataji, I decided to proceed with applying for the course as I assumed that it was standard in ISKCON nowadays for matajis to act in such roles and I considered that the Bhaktivedanta College had a good reputation. I have nothing against women, but put my faith in Krishna knowing what is the best way to organize society and giving appropriate roles for various members of society.

I later became aware that not just one, but all of the Bhakti-Sastri modules on the course at the Radhadesh Bhaktivedanta College were going to be taught by matajis (reference: – Why no male teacher for men? What impression does this give to devotees and people in general? Surely the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita is transcendental, but what about the practical application of the culture of the Bhagavad-gita?  

Doubts continued to disturb my mind –is it appropriate for women to teach sastra to men? Within which roles should women act as siksa-gurus within a Vaisnava society? To what extent are modern feminist notions (which Srila Prabhupada terms as demoniac in his purport to Bg. 16.7) influencing ISKCON? What are the perspectives of sastra and Vaisnava tradition on women’s role in our society? Ongoing GBC discussion regarding the issue of Vaisnavis being able to act as diksa gurus further inspired me to delve deeper into the subject and do some research, as well as to consult with a senior devotee.

I am aware that there is material which may be quoted for both sides of the argument, for women acting within traditional roles, as well as for women to preach in varieties of capacities – likewise for women acting as diksa gurus. Considering the weight of material in favour of women acting within traditional roles (according to sastra, tradition and Srila Prabhupada’s written as well as spoken material), I personally came to the conclusion that it is inappropriate for women to formally teach men sastra and for this reason decided to continue studying Bhakti-Sastri elsewhere. I do not doubt that women can be spiritually advanced, but I am convinced that the role that they play in our society should be according to sastra and Vaisnava tradition. That Srila Prabhupada considered the re-establishment of varnasrama-dharma to be very important. I put my faith in living according to varnasrama-dharma being most conducive for spiritual advancement and satisfaction in life, both on a personal level and for society as a whole.

I hope that the issue of appropriate Vaisnavi roles in general, not just diksa guruship, may become a subject to be considered in detail by senior members of our society. Below I have included material from an open forum on the Bhakti-Sastri course, within which various points of view regarding the subject were presented:


Forum Discussion – Week 3 – Chapter 15


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Women – prescribed duties and varna?          

by Haladhara das – Friday, 3 October 2014, 3:48 PM


According to sastra, what are the prescribed duties for women?


Do women have a varna?





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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Dharma Dasa – Sunday, 5 October 2014, 4:00 PM


Hare Krishna. Please accept my humble obeisances.  All glories to Srila Prabhupada.  

Women most certainly have their own varna.  We have our current bodies based on our past desires and activities and naturally, regardless of whether a person has a woman’s body or a man’s body, he or she is already born with some general tendencies.  However, from a Krishna conscious point of view, the most important understanding is that we are pure spirit soul and and servant of Lord Krishna, and regardless of our particular current material body, we must all strive to surrender to Lord Krishna and thus revive our original and eternal transcendental relationship with Lord Krishna.




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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Vamana Hari Das – Monday, 6 October 2014, 9:07 PM


Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Haladhara das – Friday, 3 October 2014, 3:48 PM

 According to sastra, what are the prescribed duties for women?

 Do women have a varna?


1. Taking care of children, household duties serving husband, ( If he is following varnasrama dharma properly) this way she progresses in her understanding of transcendental knowledge.

2. Sanyasa is not recommended for women.

3. YES Women do have VERNA. B. G. 4-13 the four varnas are according to GUNA and KARMA. Whether men or women. Women may not be much involved in Kshatria duties, though we have seen in KALIYUGA many women administraters.

4. Article of H G Caitanya Caran prabhu and qoute from B G 10-34 gives good insight of the subject.

5. We see many advanced women devotees in ISKCON with Brahminical qualities actively preaching.

  This tells that they are not just meant for raising children and household chores.


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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Haladhara das – Tuesday, 7 October 2014, 8:48 AM


Srila Prabhupada clearly describes the issue of varna in the following lecture (Bhagavad-gītā 9.29-32, New York, December 20, 1966):



māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya
ye ‘pi syuḥ pāpayonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās 
tathā śūdrās
te ‘pi yānti parāṁ gatim


Pāpayonayaḥ Of course, according to Vedic literature, there are mentions of pāpayoniYoni means species. Pāpayoni. Just like it is mentioned here,striyaḥ śūdrāḥ, striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās te ‘pi yānti parāṁgatim. Even the striyaḥ, even women, they are also classified amongst the pāpayoniPāpayoni means those who have got little facility for advancing themselves in spiritual life. So it is particularly mentioned here, striyaḥ, the woman class, śūdra—śūdra means the laborer class—and the vaiśya, mercantile class. Or less than that.

Because in India, according to the caste system, or varṇāśramadharma, the brāhmaṇa and kṣatriyas are considered to be the highest in the society, and the vaiśyas, a little less than them, and śūdras, they are not taken into account. In the similarly, woman class, they are taken as śūdraśūdra. Just like the thread ceremony is given to the brāhmaṇakṣatriyavaiśya, but there is no thread ceremony for the woman class. Although the woman is born in thebrāhmaṇa family, she has no that reformation. Because striyaḥ,woman class, are taken less intelligent, they should be given protection, but they cannot be elevated. But here in the Bhagavad-gītā, He surpasses all these formalities. Lord Kṛṣṇa surpasses all these formalities. He is giving facility to everyone. Never mind what he is. In the social structure, you may consider that woman is less intelligent or śūdra or less purified, but in spiritual consciousness there is no such bar. Here Kṛṣṇa accepts everyone. Either you become woman or you are śūdra or a vaiśya or whatever you may be, that doesn’t matter. If you simply take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the Lord is there. He will give you all protection, all protection, and gradually He will help you. You are already…

One who is in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness platform, he is already in the liberated platform. Simply kṣipram: it will take some time only,kṣipram, but very soon he will be all right. So this is the proposal of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and this is the facility of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. So we should take this advantage of being Kṛṣṇa conscious. Never mind what we are. And that will help us in attaining the perfection of life.Māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye ‘pi syuḥ pāpayonayaḥ [Bg9.32]. It is very clearly declared here. Never mind what here he is or she is. Just take to this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and your progress and advancement of spiritual life is guaranteed. Thank you very much.”


According to Vedic classification, women are taken as falling into the same category as sudras. However, by the process of Krishna consciousness they may also make self-realization and become spiritually advanced. Question remains as to whether women should act in their traditional role (as stated by Vamana Hari prabhu), making a very valuable Krishna conscious contribution to society within that role – or can they act in other capacities on the basis of being spiritually advanced?


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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Anupama dd – Tuesday, 7 October 2014, 1:55 PM


Srila Prabhupada keeps juxtaposing the message of the Bhagavad Gita with the Vedic classifications. His concern is to contextualize the Gita within the broad framework of Vedic tradition in order to underline the background and the authority of the Gita. Simultaneously his juxtapositions are aiming to depict the difference between the Vedic and the Gita in the sense that  BG transcends the Vedic classifications.


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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Kardamamuni das – Thursday, 9 October 2014, 2:47 AM


Title:  Women – prescribed duties and varna?

Hare Krishna Everyone

All Glories to Srila Prabhupada

  The varnasrana religious principles were so designed that the good population would prevail in society for the general spiritual progress of state and community.  Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood.  As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly prone to degradation.  Therefore both children and women require protection by the elder members of their family.  As a girl or daughter she is under the protection of her parents.  When she is married she is under the protection of her husband and if he passes then she is protected by her son.  That way she is always under protection.  This statement doesn’t mean that she can not do any highly professional qualified duties in her life.

  1. Being a senior devotee or most advanced in Krishna consciousness she can be a great preacher or teacher.
  2. Being a great politician she can be a president or prime minister of any country.
  3. Being a military person she can be a in a high position and serve, and protect the country as well.

  So, people in general should not consider women low in varna.

Hare Krishna

Kardamamuni das


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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Haladhara das – Sunday, 12 October 2014, 8:23 AM


Anupama Mataji,

I hope that you do not mind me saying so, but what you have written sounds like your own opinion not fact – please prove with suitable references that the Gita and Vedic tradition have different classifications for women. 

As I have read in the 16th chapter of the Gita this week, the divine and demoniac natures are defined and Srila Prabhupada elaborates upon them in detail in his purports. 

In his purport to Bg. 16.6 Srila Prabhupada refers to the importance of following scriptural regulations:

“Those who are born with divine qualities follow a regulated life; that is to say they abide by the injunctions in scriptures and by the authorities. One should perform duties in the light of authoritative scripture. This mentality is called divine. One who does not follow the regulative principles as they are laid down in the scriptures and who acts according to his whims is called demoniac or asuric. There is no other criterion but obedience to the regulative principles of scriptures. It is mentioned in Vedic literature that both the demigods and the demons are born of the Prajāpati; the only difference is that one class obeys the Vedic injunctions and the other does not.”

In his purport to Bg. 16.7 Srila Prabhupada goes on to elaborate in further detail:

“In every civilized human society there is some set of scriptural rules and regulations which is followed from the beginning. Especially among the Āryans, those who adopt the Vedic civilization and who are known as the most advanced civilized peoples, those who do not follow the scriptural injunctions are supposed to be demons. Therefore it is stated here that the demons do not know the scriptural rules, nor do they have any inclination to follow them. Most of them do not know them, and even if some of them know, they have not the tendency to follow them. They have no faith, nor are they willing to act in terms of the Vedic injunctions…

 As for behavior, there are many rules and regulations guiding human behavior, such as the Manu-saṁhitā, which is the law of the human race… Now, in the Manu-saṁhitā it is clearly stated that a woman should not be given freedom…  The demons have now neglected such injunctions, and they think that women should be given as much freedom as men. However, this has not improved the social condition of the world. Actually, a woman should be given protection at every stage of life… This is proper social behavior according to the Manu-saṁhitā. But modern education has artificially devised a puffed-up concept of womanly life, and therefore marriage is practically now an imagination in human society. The social condition of women is thus not very good now, although those who are married are in a better condition than those who are proclaiming their so-called freedom. The demons, therefore, do not accept any instruction which is good for society, and because they do not follow the experience of great sages and the rules and regulations laid down by the sages, the social condition of the demoniac people is very miserable.”

Srila Prabhupada clearly describes that not following varnasrama and the regulations of Vedic tradition is a demoniac tendency. In the 16th chapter it is defined in detail how demoniac tendencies lead to unhappiness and problems, both on a personal level as well as within society – whilst divine qualities bring happiness and transcendence (Bg. 16.5-24). Srila Prabhupada refers to the modern concept of feminism and how it has not improved the social condition of the world, but rather has made lives miserable (Bg. 16.7 purport).

Verse 23 summarizes the content of the 16th chapter, “He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.”

And verse 24 concludes, “One should therefore understand what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures. Knowing such rules and regulations, one should act so that he may gradually be elevated.”

Please can you define why it is not necessary to follow Vedic tradition and how the Gita and Vedic tradition have different classifications for women, with appropriate reference to guru, sadhu and shastra?


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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Haladhara das – Sunday, 12 October 2014, 9:23 AM


In reference to discussion concerning women’s varna, I have considered your replies, as well as done further reading upon the subject. From this I have come to conclude, at least for myself, that women do not have caste or varna like men, that they are a separate class onto themselves. That varna is defined by both guna and karma. That men of different gunas have a corresponding karma to go with that guna and this defines their varna.

For females however, no matter what their guna may be they have only one work – stri-dharma as defined by Narada Muni in SB 7.11.25. That alhough women have no varna they may be called a member of certain varna based on the varna of their male protector. Because of such a convention there is the concept of pratiloma and anuloma marriages, but in actuality women have no varna. Though a woman may be the wife or daughter of a brahmana and called a brahmani she can not perform the duties of a brahmana such as performing agnihotra, this is further proof that she is not a brahmana but a woman with her own stri-dharma.

The Manu-Samhita makes various statements regarding women, a few of which I have copied below to validate my conclusions as to why women should not perform the duties of a brahmana:

“For the purification of their persons, these rites [samskaras previously described] excepting that of initiation with the thread, shall be done unto women, in due time and in due order, without any Vaidik Mantras.

“The sacrament of marriage is to the female, what initiation with the thread is to the male. The service to the husband is to the wife, what his residence in the preceptor’s house, as a religious student, is to the husband; the household duty is to the woman, what the making of yajnas is to a man.” Manu Samhita 2.66-67

“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.

Narada Muni’s definition of stri-dharma:

“To render service to the husband, to be always favorably disposed toward the husband, to be equally well disposed toward the husband’s relatives and friends, and to follow the vows of the husband — these are the four principles to be followed by women described as chaste.’ (SB 7.11.25)

Srila Prabhupada also elaborates in his purport to SB 7.11.25: “For peace and happiness in the material world, the varṇāśrama institution must be introduced. The symptoms of one’s activities must be defined, and one must be educated accordingly. Then spiritual advancement will automatically be possible.”

I do not wish to infer that women with a brahminical nature should not preach, nor that women cannot be spiritually advanced. But my contribution is that women should do so within the field of their own stri-dharma. That that is what guru, shastra and sadhu define as most conducive for happiness and spiritual advancement, both for themselves and society as a whole.


Your servant,

Haladhara das


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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Anupama dd – Monday, 13 October 2014, 10:57 AM


I did not say that it is not necessary to follow Vedic tradition. My point was to underline the same perspective which you have mentioned in your previous post,  the excerpt form SP’s lecure on Bhagavad-gītā 9.29-32: So we should take this advantage of being Kṛṣṇa conscious. Never mind what we are. And that will help us in attaining the perfection of life.

Since this topic is not one of the main themes in our module and even more because it is still a controversial one in our ISKCON society and there is no a final agreement on how to understand SP’s and scriptural statements about women, I do not tend to get further involved in this discussion.

I congratulate you for your in depth research which make your posts to be well substantiated with sastric quotes.

ys. Anupama dd


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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Ananda Rupa – Monday, 13 October 2014, 5:21 PM


Hare Krishna, 

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. 

Women do have varna as all people are born with certain qualities and abilities per their karma. Yes, Vedas prescribe different duties to man and woman, and yes, woman should pay primary attention to the family, children and household. But we shouldn’t forget that it’s found through the scriptures that woman has also certain social responsibilities and carries certain social duties per her position in varnashrama system.

For example, Vedas say that there are seven kinds of mothers, and among them are wife of a king, wife of a brahmana, and wife of a teacher or spiritual master. Isn’t that a certain social role and responsibility of a woman which, as you see, is based on the varna she belongs to? 

Regarding religious rituals, in Vedas woman in grihastha asram is called “arhandhini” which means half the body of the husband. According to Vedic injunctions, wife is to be accepted as the better half of man’s body as she is responsible for half of the responsibilities of her husband in all religious observances, therefore, as stated in Vedas, married man is considered to be incomplete without his wife as she shares with him his religious and social duties. It’s described shortly but nicely in Grihastha manual published by ISKCON Mumbai in 2003, if you wish to read further.

Responsibilities of woman for certain social and religious duties are to be found all over through the scriptures. For example, brahmana wives should help their husbands in preaching and teaching. One of the numerous examples of this statement is Atri Muni’s wife Anasuya advises Sita Devi when she visits Atri Muni’s ashram with Lord Rama during Their exile. 

Not to mention how many social responsibilities were carried by ksatriya women. They were taught from the very childhood that they should be ready for certain personal sacrifices for the well-being of the society and all the citizens. Gandhari agrees to marry Dhritarashtra though he was blind for the best interest of Gandhar, her father’s kingdom. When Kunti abandons her first child Karna, her main concern is not just the social stigma (she got a baby from Surya Dev while being unmarried) but that if the citizens of Kuntibodja see that the unmarried princess has a baby, they will take it as an example of something permitted to do and they will engage into sinful activities, so in that situation Kunti finds her ksatriya duty to be more important than her duty as a mother. 

There are many other amazing examples regarding this matter which makes it clear that women have varna, and women do have certain duties as per their position in varnashrama. 

Of course, we should remember that a woman has her responsibilities as a wife, mother etc., as a man has certain responsibilities as husband, father, grihastha too. But as here we are discussing the question if woman has varna and if she has a right to perform social and religious duties, I didn’t go into discussion of family responsibilities but mentioned only what’s important regarding the topic of this discussion. 

It’s not forbidden for a woman to preaching or to perform religious rituals, however, she should be in the mood of helping her husband (if married). Srila Prabhupada in his letter to Vrindavana Chandra (June 24th, 1970) says that in spiritual activities woman is the best friend and philosopher, and she is completely the main counterpart for a man. Also Prabhupada explains in one of his purports that the main religious duty for a woman is to serve her husband, and Bhishma Deva says in Mahabharata that so many religious duties have been ordained to a man but they are not ordained for a woman as she simply gets all the same spiritual benefits by serving her religious husband. However, we should also consider that Bhishamdeva talks about society which functions per Vedic principles, where men where religious and dharmic, so married woman could be sure she gets purification and all great spiritual benefits through tapasya and jagyas performed by her husband. In  such a society woman was always protected and never was considered to be outside of varna system or deprived of her rights given her as per her social position. So woman was not discriminated in her religious rights, in fact her religious life was simplified though religious activities performed by her dutiful husband. 

And also, if woman doesn’t have varna, why then a man of inferior varna, as stated in Vedas, cannot marry a woman of superior varna? This is also proves that, of course, women do belong to certain varnas and they cannot lower their varna by marring a man of inferior social position. 

Yes, priest (brahmana man) is responsible for performing most of fire ceremonies. Woman is allowed to perform many kinds of sacrifices too, to do deity worship, preach, teach etc. (in fact, when we read  Mahabharata, we find many examples of  women doing offerings, deity worshiping etc – Gandhari personally worships the deity of Lord Shiva and gets the boon of 100 sons, Draupadi herself performs fire yagyas for purification after being a year with each of her husbands, etc). 

In the end I just would like to add that for this age of Kali the best jagya is to chant the holy names of the Lord, and this jagya is to be performed by both men and women. When Srila Prabhupada was once asked about the role of a woman in the society and her subordinate position, he just said, “You chant Hare Krishna, and she chants Hare Krishna, so what your question is about?”

Hope it helps


Ananda Rupa dd 



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Re: Women – prescribed duties and varna?

by Haladhara das – Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 1:00 PM


Hare Krishna, 

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. 

Ananda Rupa mataji, I agree with you that a woman has also certain social responsibilities and carries certain social duties per her position in varnashrama system. But I disagree that her social duties are based on her ‘varna’, or that she has a varna. As I had written previously according to sastric basis, both women and men have a guna (they are especially influenced by particular mode of nature). For men, the guna they are influenced by determines their karma (work they should do), and that defines the varna they are situated in (Bg, 4.13).

However, although women also have a particular guna, as per Bg. 9.32 they are defined as within a category of their own, apart from the four varnas described, and their work or karma is that of stri-dharma:

“To render service to the husband, to be always favorably disposed toward the husband, to be equally well disposed toward the husband’s relatives and friends, and to follow the vows of the husband — these are the four principles to be followed by women described as chaste.’ (SB 7.11.25)

So whatever karma their husband performs, the wife assists the husband. Social duties and responsibilities will vary according to the husband’s varna. And for that reason a woman in the mode of goodness should marry a man of similar nature who is performing brahminical duties, etc.

I have decided to continue studying Bhakti Sastri elsewhere because I do not believe that teaching about shastra to men is part of a woman’s stri-dharma – I cannot put faith in the mode of teaching at this Bhaktivedanta College.  My understanding is that it goes against the principles of varnasrama-dharma and Vedic tradition. I have not found counter-arguments to be based solidly on shastra, but rather they seem to have be predominantly based on feminist sentiments.

I have no doubt that women can be spiritually advanced, but I believe that the role that they play in our society should be according to shastra and Vedic tradition. That although in the history of Gaudiya-Vaishnavism there have been women who have acted in the capacity of guru, it has been rare and their cases have been exceptional. That Srila Prabhupada considered the re-establishment of varnasrama-dharma to be very important. That living according to varnasrama-dharma is most conducive for spiritual advancement and satisfaction in life, both on a personal level and for society as a whole.


Your servant,

Haladhara das


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  1. [Editors: Mata Ji, PAMHO AGTSP. we will be gradually closing down WordPress comments in favor of Facebook comments. If you can, please use FB comments. Your servants, the editors.]

    Western women are trained to mingle with men as sudranis withing the parameters of that varna. Sudranis have always existed. Thus Prabhupada cleverly made them transcendental servants via bhakti path. The problem, however, as presented in this article, is when women far outnumber men on the altar, in schools in the workplace and so on. First of all, having mostly women teaching in a school is horrible example for sons. As if no man values study enough to teach?

    No. It’s because society expects us to “not discriminate” against women by giving them priority over who gets a job. Of course, this has proven to be stupid. For one thing, it discriminates against men as we see practically. Take a look, people, next time you go anywhere at all, is there more women employed there or men?

    The problem is no men are able to put women in their place for a better balanced society because most people are of the sudra accommodating mentality at present, feeling sorry for women instead of actually helping them with proper training because actually, women are in the mode of passion mostly, wanting to have their fingers in every pie. They have a tendency towards “gross selfishness” says Srila Prabhupada (SB 16.18.42p) which must be curbed.

    But the good men (and women) who understand this are presently outnumbered and thus threatened if they say anything about this injustice. Still, if nothing is done it means that these women who do jobs and services where men should have prerogative is because no one cares about them.

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