In the Chandogya Upanishad one reads the story of Satyakama, the son of Jabala. Satyakama was brought up by Jabala a single-mother (yes during the vedic times, so there is nothing new about single-mothers now). No one knew who his father was. Interestingly, neither did Jabala herself.
Jabala was a very good mother and she instilled all the right values in Satyakama. She particularly taught him the importance of speaking the truth at all times and Satyakama took this to heart and imbibed it fully.
As Satyakama grew up into a young lad, he saw that all the other boys in the neighbourhood and even his friends were enrolling themselves into the Gurukula and Satyakama was also very keen to get himself admitted into a Gurukula.
As per the practice then, a boy desirous of getting into a Gurukula had to state his Kula, Gotra, father’s name, essentially his lineage. He walked up to his mother and told her about his desire to join the Gurukula and asked her to tell him his father’s name and his lineage.
His mother replied “Son, I have worked at many places, served many people, and lived at many places. You were born when I was young and I honestly don’t know who your father is. She went on “You can go to the Gurukula and when the Guru asks you, tell him this – I am Satyakama, the son of Jabala and I am interested in acquiring knowledge”
Satyakama walked to the Gurukula and stood before Rishi Haridrum Gowthama and when questioned by the Rishi, stated the exact words that his mother had taught him. The Rishi Gowthama looked at the young boy for a moment and then smiled. He said “You are truly a boy from a very high Gothra/Kula. Only someone born to great parents can speak thus. From today you shall be my son, let us first perform your upanayana and then we shall start your Vidyabyasa.”
This story illustrates the key role women play in protecting and nurturing the Dharma and also how important it is for them to instill the values of our Dharma into children.
In the concluding section of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, called the “Vamsha-Brahmana” there is a listing of the “Gurus” who have protected and taught the Upanishad over the years along with their lineage. In this list, for many Rishis only their Mother’s name is mentioned. There is no mention of a father’s name. The list of mother’s names is fairly long, showing how much importance was accorded to women in the Dharma.
Adi Sankara in his commentary on this Upanishad notes in his typical clear and pithy style “The mother it is who determines the character of a person. All these Gurus mentioned in the Upanishad are truly of impeccable character – It is perhaps because of this that only the names of their mother’s is mentioned here…”
This story also brings out two key points:
- It shows what qualities are important for a student – he/she should be truthful and he must have within him this thirst for acquiring knowledge.
- The Guru must be willing to teach any student who is desirous of learning and acquiring knowledge – that should be the most important criterion and all other factors such as caste, lineage etc. are not really that important.