The Indian Ideal of the Relation Between Man and Woman

To attempt an understanding of the symbolic stage of human society, it may be helpful to look at some concrete examples.  Sri Aurobindo has chosen several, the first being the manner and mode of relationship envisioned for man and woman.  The modern age has a very confused outlook, as in some cases, woman is put up on a pedestal, while at the same time, woman is frequently suppressed, controlled, demeaned, abused, harassed, and virtually enslaved.  Yet in the ancient symbolic age, the relationship of man and woman was supposed to embody an ideal relation found in the divine relation of Purusha and Prakriti.  The two principles represented and symbolized the consciousness and force of creation and were equally important in the manifestation of the universal existence.  They could not exist without one another and neither one, nor the other, was therefore supreme and totally dominant.  Over time, the relation of Purusha and Prakriti underwent changes which impacted the way the relationship of male and female was understood in the social order.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “…the Indian ideal of the relation between man and woman has always been governed by the symbolism of the relation between the Purusha and Prakriti …, the male and female divine Principles in the universe.  Even, there is to some degree a practical correlation between the position of the female sex and this idea.  In the earlier Vedic times when the female principle stood on a sort of equality with the male in the symbolic cult, though with a certain predominance for the latter, woman was as much the mate as the adjunct of man; in later times when the Prakriti has become subject in idea to the Purusha, the woman also depends entirely on the man, exists only for him and has hardly even a separate spiritual existence.  In the Tantrik Shakta religion which puts the female principle highest, there is an attempt which could not get itself translated into social practice, — even as this Tantrik cult could never entirely shake off the subjugation of the Vedantic idea, — to elevate woman and make her an object of profound respect and even of worship.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 1, The Cycle of Society, pg. 8