Parama Saṃhitā – Exemplary brahminical equality of gender and class
Much ink has been wasted about the so-called, alleged “brahminical patriarchy”. However, there are plenty of examples in Sanskrit literature where women and ṡūdras are given equal opporunity as everybody else. And these works are written by so-called “upper-class” “Brahmin” “men”. One such body of works is the Pancharatra, especially of importance to the Vaishnavas. The Parama Saṃhitā is one of the top five Pan̄carātra books (the others being Sāttvata Saṃhitā, Jayākhya Saṃhitā, Pauṣkara Saṃhitā and Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā). They are well-known for egalitarian, liberal and progressive outlook, even being millenia old.
Here’s an example from the Parama Saṃhitā, chapter 3, verses 29-32:
Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiṡya, Ṡūdra and even women should offer worship to God according to their natural disposition, and with devotion. The wealthy, the poor, the young and the old, the learned and even the saintly, all alike should offer worship to God. There is nothing that will bring higher good than worship at the feet of Hari (the evil-destroying Viṣṇu). Therefore a man must, by every effort, be a devotee of Viṣṇu. Leaving aside Puruṣottama, there is no one in all the Universe to give salvation.
It specifically says that all classes of deserving people are eligible for Vaishnava initiation (dīkṣa) in chapter 7:
The three groups, Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya and Vaiṡya are considered worthy of initiation (dīkṣa); such Ṡūdras and women are also eligible who are of good birth, of good character and possesed of good qualities.
Note the emphasis and special mention of women and Ṡūdras (gender and social equality). It may be argued that the above verse implies automatic qualification of “all men” of the first three varṇas, but only “good” women and ṡūdras. The next verse dispels this doubt:
Do not confer initiation on those who are merely curious to know, who are unbelieving, who are cruel in habit, who are of unrighteous conduct, who are ignorantly perverse, who do not follow betters, who are uneducated and who are guilty of ingratitude.
This supreme Vaiṣṇava dīkṣā should not be conferred upon the evil-minded who seek it for mere parade, or for mere investigation.
Meaning, even among the first three varṇas, only those who are of good character and good qualities are eligible, just like those among women and ṡūdras.
Just as there are “patriarchal”/”matriarchal” works, so also “egalitarian” works frequent in Sanskrit. Hence it doesn’t do justice to paint all literature as “brahminical patriarchy”. We need to adopt and practise such practices as in the Pan̄carātra, which are open for everyone of us.