Of the Women, by the Women, for the Women: Role of Female Writers in Sanskrit Literature as a Source of Female Agency

Author: MD Abu Shahid Abdullah (University of Asia Pacific, Bangladesh)
Speaker: MD Abu Shahid Abdullah
Topic: Language, Gender, Sexuality
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Although female writers in Sanskrit literature have shown their genius in terms of imagination, treatment of both private and public issues and compositional skills, in comparison with male writers they have relatively been neglected: so far, little attempt has been made to assess or critically analyse the female contribution in Sanskrit literature. It is also noticeable that whereas male writers have written on various literary forms such as epic, drama and fiction, most of the female writers have written individual poems and small verses. The origin of the discrimination lies in the societal attitudes of the time which did not actually encourage women to compose drama or long poem.

The aim of the presentation is to show how in spite of all the drawbacks, female writers were able to touch upon various societal issues which were neglected by the male writers. It also aims to show the way female writers countered the notion of male chauvinism as well as provided women with some sorts of agency to defy patriarchal constraints and to assert their own voice. The presentation also sheds light on the way female writers were able to understand readers’ demand for a freer depiction of love and passion, addressed the passion of the human body, and thus went against the dominant orthodox literary theory and trends.

The presentation analyses poems by different female poets of Sanskrit literature, and attempts to show how these poets give agency to their female characters. Silabhattarika, for example, graphically discusses sexual intercourse and the female figure’s desire to be reunited with her husband, thus giving her a voice; Marula depicts the psychological conflict of an alienated woman; Morika includes intense psychological understanding into feminine psychology with issue of love and emotional attachment, and evokes sorrows of the female voice; and Vikatanitamba depicts female splendor and the passion between couple. By using romantic love as a prominent theme in their work and making the desire of the body as a crucial point of celebration, all these female writers attempt to give a platform, and thus a voice to the neglected women.

Keywords: agency, desire, love and passion, psychology, patriarchal constraint