Those who complain that women have no right to perform sacrifices on their own must remember that men too have no right to the same without a wife. If they know this truth they would not make the allegation that Hindu sastras look down upon women. A man can perform sacrifices only with his wife. He does them for the well-being of all mankind and for his own inner purity. It is for this purpose that, after the samavartana following the completion of his student-bachelorhood, he goes through the samskara called marriage.
Marriage or vivaha is known as "saha-dharma-carini-samprayoga". It means (roughly) union with a wife together with whom a man practises dharma. The clear implication is that carnal pleasure is not its chief purpose, but the pursuit of dharma. The sastras do not ask a man to pursue dharma all by himself but require him to take a helpmate for it. The wife is called "dharma-patni", "saha-dharma-carini", thus underlining her connection with dharma, and not with kama or sensual pleasure. Here is proof of the high esteem in which the sastras hold women.
The celibate-student and the ascetic alike follow the dharma of their respective asramas (stages of life) not in association with anyone else. The householder has to conduct the karma as well as the dharma of domestic life with his wife as a companion, such being the rule laid down in the sastras. The dharma of domestic life is their common property. Only a householder with a wife may perform sacrifices, not student-bachelors and ascetics. If the wife were meant only for sensual gratification, would the dharmasastras have insisted that a man cannot perform sacrifices after her death? Women's libbers, who note that a woman cannot perform a sacrifice on her own, must also recognise that fact that the husband loses the right for the same without the wife and this is according to the Vedas themselves. ("Patnivatasya agnihotram bhavati". ) A great man lamented thus at the time of his wife's death: "You have taken away all my sacrifices as well as other rituals. "
Our sastras have thus given a high place to women in the matter of duties and works.
(See also Part Eighteen)
For a general background, please see here