Maitreyi – 7th Century BCE – Mithila, India

Ancient India

The Rigveda is the oldest religious text still in use, containing works by the world’s first recorded philosophers – among them Maitreyi.

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Maitreyi benefitted from living in a culture which believed that ‘a girl also should be brought up and educated with great effort and care’ (Mahanirvana Tantra). Educated and intelligent, she was called a brahmavadini (expounder of the Veda) and is one of the known female Vedic philosophers of ancient India.

This philosopher was the wife of famous sage Yajnavalkya. He was already married to a woman named Katyaayanee (who was not a brahmavadini) when Maitreyi came to her and asked if she too might be a companion to Yajnavalkya, so that she may learn from and assist him as his spiritual disciple. Katyaayanee agreed.

“Rigveda MS2097” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The story goes that later in life Yajnavalkya planned to renounce material things and would instead divide up his worldly possessions among his two wives. He asked them both what they would like from him. Maitreyi asked her husband whether all of his wealth would make her immortal. He replied that no, it would only make her rich. The learned woman then asked for the wealth of immortality, rather than earthly goods. Yajnavalkya then imparted Maitreyi the doctrine of the soul and his knowledge of attaining immortality.

There are one thousand hymns and teachings in the Rig Veda, and at least ten of these are attributed to Maitreyi.


Notes:

  • Veda means knowledge and Rig means praises. The Rigveda is one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism, known as the Vedas.

References

Women-philosophers.com – Maitreyi

Four Famous Female Figures of Vedic Literature

On Wikipedia:

Maitreyi

Rigveda

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