Ghunghat Or Hijab in Hinduism and Islam

In this article, we will talk about modesty, shyness and Hijab (purdah) for woman in Hinduism and Islam.  It is noteworthy that Hinduism has some religious instructions on the modesty in general?

Valuable things are always covered for their value and preservation and the same is hijab for women.

Some historians think that purdah has been introduced to the Indian society since the Muslim’s advent in Indian peninsula, before that there was no trace of purdah for the Indian woman. While some Hindu brothers support the idea that purdah in its border sense was a symbol of modesty in India since the Vedic period. Ghunghat is nothing but another name of purdah in Hindi. Also, the Sanskrit and Hindi literature is rich of vocabulary denoting the purdah which is a sign of originality of idea in Hindu culture.

During this study, I came to read an article in Hindi on the concept of ghunghat in the Hindu culture in the light of Hindu scriptures proving existence of veil in ancient India. However, the article has attracted a lot of comments by Hindu visitors refuting the idea of the writer and falsifying the veil in Hinduism. However, my conclusion on the subject is that the references are not enough to prove the obligation of purdah in Hinduism in general. Those references are just signs and indications not clear and general rule for the subject.

But the references are presented here for our readers:

Ghunghat in Ramayana

The Valmiki Ramayana is considered by the followers of Sanatan Dharma as one of their theology sources. It has been said in this scripture that after the Lanka victory, when Sitaji was brought from Ashok Vatika to Rama by Vibhishan, Rama became angry at the efforts to remove the crowd of Sita’s devotees, and said:

व्यसनेषु न कृच्छ्रेषु न युद्धेषु स्वयंवरे।

न क्रतौ नो विवाहे वा दर्शनं दूष्यते स्त्रिया: ।। (1)

(In times of adversity, on the occasions of physical or mental suffering, in war, in self-interest, in marriage, the presence of women in Yajna appearing to others is not a matter of blame.)

So, in normal condition, appearing woman to strangers is blameworthy according to the text.

The veil was also present at that time, after the death of Ravan, the Queen Mandodari and other queens reached on foot to the battlefield mourning. Maharani Mandodari says:

दृष्टा न खल्वभिक्रुद्धो मामिहानवगुण्ठिताम्।

निर्गतां नगरद्वारात् पद्भ्यामेवागतां प्रभो।। (2)

(O Lord, today I do not have a veil on my face, I have come here on foot from the city gate. Why do not you get angry by seeing me in this condition?)

Ravana and Ram’s Cultural Affiliation

In fact, Ravana and Ram belonged to the same religion and the same culture, the only difference was that the first one was demon, evil and cruel while the other was just and compassionate. Ram was a Kshatriya and Ravan was a Brahmin, grandson of Rishi Pulastya and son of Rishi Vaishhava and the practice of ghunghat (veil) was common in both communities. It is evident from the examples of Sita and Mandodari that at the time of Rishi Valmiki when he had composed his Ramayana in India, especially amongst the upper-class women, the ghunghat (veil) system was prevalent. This period may be the third or fourth century BC.

Hijab or Veil in Vedas

In addition, it is mentioned in the Rig Veda: “When Brahma has made you a woman, you should lower your gaze and should not look up. You should put your feet together and you should not reveal what the garment and the veil conceal.” (3)

We find in the above-mentioned text some beautiful instructions for a woman: (a)a woman should lower her gaze. (b) she should put short steps while she walks to avoid exposure of adornments in her feet.

It is further mentioned in Rig Veda “Unlovely is the person or the husband who covers his thighs with the garment of his wife.” (4)

Here, the Rig Veda says that wearing the clothes of the opposite sex is prohibited.

in addition, Rama Commands Sita: “When Purshuram comes, Rama tells his wife Sita that “He is our elder, please lower your gaze, and put on the veil. “(5)

These are the proofs referred by the supporters of ghunghat in Hinduism.

Hijab in the Glorious Qur’an

The Glorious Qur’an has instructions on hijab for woman in detailed and clear manner as you can see in the following text of Qur’an.

The Glorious Qur’an says:

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” (Surah An-Noor:30-31)

After reading both texts on ghunghat in Ramayana and Veda and hijab in Islam, we see clear similarities between the commandments of both religions. At the same time, we find very important details in the commands of Qur’an that is very brief in Vedas.

  1. The Glorious Qur’an commands both; men and women to lower their gaze, not only for men.
  2. The Glorious Qur’an commands to guard their private parts from prohibited acts.
  3. The Glorious Qur’an has commanded woman to cover their whole body and not to expose their adornment to strangers.
  4. The Glorious Qur’an has mentioned that the adornment of a woman can appear to some close relatives and attendees who are children.

However, the Islamic purdah and the Hindu ghunghat differ from each other in many aspects:

(1) The Islamic purdah is from outsiders and strangers, not from blood relatives and not from father in law. On the contrary, Hindu ghunghat is also from the relatives and strangers.

(2) The Islamic purdah is for female, only if she is adult, whether she is a daughter-in-law or a daughter. While Hindu ghunghat is only for a woman in her husband’s house, not for the daughters in her father’s house, whether she is married or unmarried.

(3) The Islamic purdah is based on the commands and teachings in the Glorious Qur’an and Sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) while Hindu ghunghat is based on social practice and custom, not on religious scripture.

(4) Hindu ghunghat is also from some women. In Rajasthan, Bengal and Mithila daughter in law veils from her mother in law out of respect.

(5) According to Hindu practice, the daughter-in-law will veil from her father in law, she will do the same with her husband’s elder brother, but she will not veil from her husband’s younger brother. And every male in the whole village who is older than her husband will be treated like her own elder brother in law and everyone who is younger than her husband would be treated like her own younger brother in law.  However, according to Islamic law, she must veil from brother in law, younger or older if he is adult.

(6) According to some Hindu brothers, ghunghat is only a symbol of respect and honor for the elder and head of the family. Therefore, a daughter in law will do veil from her mother in law.

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  1. वाल्मीकीय रामायण, भाग- 2, सर्ग 114.
  2. वाल्मीकीय रामायण, भाग-2 , सर्ग 111.
  3. Rig Veda Book no. 10 Hymn no. 85 V. no.30
  4. Rig Veda Book no. 8 Hymn no. 33V. no. 19
  5. Maha veera Chritra Act 2 page on 71.
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