It is on the basis of the 56th verse of the third chapter of Manusmrithi that such a claim has been made. The verse is as follows:
'Where women are worshipped, goddesses abide in joy. Where they are not worshipped, all deeds performed therein become of no consequence.'
Before the discussion on the meaning of woman-worship mentioned in Manusmrithi, it is the Hindu idea of the woman that must first be examined. For, it is from that viewpoint that all laws concerning her are formulated.
The status of the woman that prevailed during the age of the Rig Veda was indeed a pathetic one. In the thinking of those times, she was one who could never be trusted and was the one who had the heart of a jackass. Urvashi, who was an Apsaras (goddess), tells her lover Pururavas thus: 'O Pururavas! die not, flee not; may not the frenzied wolves tear thee apart. Verily, there must never be the companionship of women. For their hearts are as the heart of the Hyena. There can never be the company of women. Go back to thine home.' (Rigvedia Shathapath brahmanam 11:5, 1:10 as quoted by D.D. Kosambi, Myth and Reality, p. 105)
This has been mentioned in the Rig Veda compilation as well.
As for the Upanishads, they entertain a wholly negative vision with regard to woman. Woman is the cause of all misery in the world. The woman, the embodiment of all sins, is the fuel of Hell fire. Look at some of the verses in the Yagnavalkopanishad:
'The woman, who burns from afar, and who apparently seems to be pleasing but is in reality displeasing, although beautiful, terrible as the fuel of Hell fire.'
Naryo naravikam ganamanga bandanavagura
'Women are the nets thrown in by Kirathan, the god of sex, to trap men who are, as it were, the birds'
Sarvesham dosharathnanam susemudgikayanaya
Dhuka shyamkalaya nithyamalamasthu ma masthriya
'May God save thee from woman, who is a mine of all sins and is the very chain of all misery'
The Bhagavad Gita, too, has considered women to be a lowly state
Mamhi partha vyapashrithya yepisyu papayonay
Sthreeyo vaishyasthathe shudrasthe piyanthi bram gathim
'O Arjuna! Even those born in sin like the women, Vaishyas, and Shudras can attain to salvation if they seek refuge in me'
Even the advice of Manusmrithi, which taught that the woman was to be worshipped, was that she was never to be allowed any freedom whatsoever.
Pitharakshathi Kawmare bhartharakshathi yawane
Rakshanthi sthavise puthra nah sthree swathanthrya marhathi
'Woman who is protected in her adolescence by the father, in her youth by her husband, and in her old-age by her son, deserves no freedom at any time'
It has been claimed on the authority of this verse that Manusmrithi teaches that the woman is to be protected under all circumstances. Any doubt, however, may be dispelled by the shlokam that immediately precedes this verse.
Aswathanthraha sthreeyaha karyaha purushyr swirthi Vanisham
Vishyeshda cha sajjanthya samsthapya athmam vashe
'Woman must not, by night or by day, be granted any freedom, whatsoever, by her husband and other relatives. Even if they be immoral, she must still remain within their power'
The laws of Manusmrithi are such that woman is depicted merely as an instrument of man's sexual gratification. This will become clear to any who reads the laws described in the fifth chapter and the ninth chapter.
What then is the point in saying that Manu had said that woman is to be worshipped? We have already seen that this was mentioned in the third chapter, 56th verse, of Manusmrithi
To understand what has been intended here, it would be sufficient to carefully read from the 55th to the 62nd stanzas. The summary of these statements are as follows: ' Fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law who wish for great good fortune should revere these women and adorn them. The deities delight in places where women are revered, but where women are not revered all rites are fruitless. Where the women of the family are miserable, the family is soon destroyed, but it always thrives where the women are not miserable. Homes that are cursed by women of the family who have not been treated with due reverence are compleatly destroyed, as if struck down by witchcraft. Therefore men who wish to prosper should always revere those women with ornaments, clothes, and food at celebrations and festivals. There is unwavering good fortune in a family where the husband is always satisfied by the wife, and the wife by the husband. If the wife is not radiant she does not stimulate man; and because the man is unstimulated the making of children does not happen. If the woman is radiant, the whole family is radiant, but if she is not radiant the whole family is not radiant. Through bad marriages, the neglect of rites, failure to study the Veda, the transgressing against priests, families cease to be families.'
It becomes clear from these statements as to how woman is to be worshipped. Woman is to be worshipped by providing her with clothes, ornaments and food. Why are these to be given? woman must be healthy;and beautiful so that her man's passion is aroused. Woman is to make her body beautiful by adorning it with clothes and ornaments; that the man may be attracted by her. Woman is to be so worshipped that she be made a fitting decoration for the man's bedroom. This is the law of Manu. Manu has nothing to say of the rights of woman.
The laws of Manusmrithi consider woman to be an individual forever bound by the chains of family relationships, with no rights of her own. The verses of the fifth chapter starting from 147 to 169 are all about the woman. Even if she were to become a widow in her youth, she is not to marry again. Even if her husband induclges in adultery, she is still to consider him on equal footing with God. However, the woman who commits in adultery was to be thrown to the dogs in public.Woman is not entitled to any share in the wealth of the family. The wages for her labour will be half that of the man. So goes the laws of Manusmrithi concerning woman.
The Devadasi system was a cruel and perverted institution which prevailed in India. There is evidence to show that the Devadasi system began in the Saptasindhu (india) right from the time of the Atharva Veda. The Devadasis were shudra women who had been consecrated to the temple as the maid servants of the gods. The function of the Devadasis was to fulfill the sexual needs of the upper castes who were the representatives of the gods on earth. This, in effect, clearly meant that they were the prostitutes of the temples.
It may be understood from a single reading of the Mahabarath and the Ramayan that the Devadasis were an essential part of ancient Indian society. Dasharat had, in the army that he had prepared for Shri Ram, included women who made a living out of trading their physical charms. While proceeding to the Battle of Kurukshetra, chariots carrying Devadasis accompanied the legions of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Devadasis were in the forefront to receive Shri Ram when he returned from his exile in the jungle. It was again the Devadasi community which had come to receive King Kaushika when he returned to the capital city after enduring severe trials. The Mahabharath relates that it was fifty young girls, at the very sight of whom one's blood would boil with excitement, who welcomed Shuka who had come to visit the wise seer, Janakadika. It was again a Devadasi whom the King Anuga employed to get what he wanted by using her to entice Rishyaganga who had never set his eyes upon a woman in his life time.
The tradition of carrying away and then marrying women also existed in ancient India. These marriages are named Raakshasam. It is the decree of Manusmrithi that the Raakshasam marriage is a matter of right for the Kshatriya (3:23,24). It can be seen from the Puranas that there were many who married in this fashion. Look at the very first marriage of Shri Krishna himself. It was Rukmani, the daughter of Bhishmak, the King of Vidarbha, who was the first wife of Shri Krishna. It was during the preparations for her marriage to the cousin of Shri Krishna that Shri Krishna carried her off and married her on the day before the wedding.
Sati was yet another cruel tradition which prevailed in India. The law of Sati was that the wives were to immolate themselves in the funeral pyre of their dead husbands. The woman who performed Sati was then honoured as the Satidevi.
The British government never sought to control Sati. They never liked to displease the Hindu priests. The British would thus maintain that the practice of the widows immolating themselves at the funeral pyre of their husbands was one that was based on Hindu beliefs and that it was made quite clear within the accepted canons of law and that, as such, to abolish it would be an act of intervention into the preserves of the Hindu religion itself. The man who brought forth a powerful opposition against their practice was Raja Ram Mohan Roy. It was after all his efforts to prevent the wife of his brother from immolating herself at the funeral prayer of her husband had failed and as he was thus forced to witness with his own eyes the horrible scene of her burning away to her end that he turned into a crusader against Sati. It was, however, only after a prolonged and sustained campaign of opposition against Sati that, in 1929, Sati was declared illegal during the reign of Lord William Benedict.
Concerted efforts are, however, being made today to revive Sati and such other malpractices. It has not been too long since we read of Roopkanwar from Devata village of Rajasthan who was thrown into the flames of the funeral pyre of her husband.
Another law that prevailed in ancient India was that the widows who did not perform Sati were to shave their heads and live in complete isolation within the society. Even those small children, who were all of six or seven years, who became widows after their child marriage, were to shave their heads and remain as widows for the rest of their lives. These widows who would then forced to live like beggars were to have but one meal a day. On the days of the new moon they were to confine themselves day and night and were never to partake of even a drop of water. Indeed, it is greatly possible that the Satidevis, so highly praised as the women who chose Sati of their own accord, were, in reality, women who chose ghasty end in the flames of self immolation as a better option than a life that would be so turned into a prolonged torture.
On one side we see that even while the encroachment upon women's rights prevailed in ancient India, the worship of women, too, existed alongside. It is also claimed, making reference to the worship of goddesses, that women are given a very high position in the great vision of Hinduism which teaches that women are to be worshipped. This claim is, however, without substance. There is no evidence to show that the position of woman has in any way evolved from the vedic stand that the woman had the heart of a Hyena. To imagine that women enjoyed a privileged position simply because they were worshipped as goddesses would be but an exercise in stupidity. Sati is, after all, the most cruel and extreme form of the encroachment upon the rights of woman. This is made clear by the fact that the woman who undergoes Sati would thenceforth be known as Satidevi.
The origins of goddess worship is to be found in the blind and perverted notions of sexuality. The names Subagor, Bagaradya, Bagamalini and the like have been used to describe goddesses. Bagath has the meaning vagina. The meaning of the aforementioned descriptions are respectively 'She who has good vagina', 'She who is worshipped in the ...........', and 'She who bears the ..........'. Amongst the more shorter and concise names, Pragathba means 'she who has attained to maturity, she who impassions her husband and she who is skilled in the act of sexual intercourse'. Vidagda means 'she who is the least ashamed of the sexual act and who is adept at the different variations thereof' (V.V. Shrijan: Ya devi sarvaboodeshu, p.19)
Where, indeed, is the Qur'anic vision which declared that the woman possessed an independent existence of her own and that she, too, had her own legal rights as well and which saw her as the light of the house and as the mother of society? And where stands the vision of the Manusmrithi which states that the woman is to be worshipped that she may be made a decoration of the bed chamber of her man? In reality, both these views exhibit such a wide range of disparity as to never call forth even the most remote comparison.