Uma, Wife of Mahesvara/Siva, to Ganga Devi on Stri-dharma.
Uma: As regards woman, O lord of all beings, she follows persons of her sex…. The illustrious god has asked a question relating to the duties of women. I desire to answer Sankara after having consulted with you (Ganga). I do not see any branch of knowledge on Earth or Heaven that is capable of being mastered by any unaided individual. Ye rivers that run towards the ocean, it is for this that I seek your opinions! It was in this way that those foremost of Rivers, all of whom were auspicious and highly sacred, were questioned by Siva’s spouse.
Then the celestial River Ganga, who worshipped the daughter of the prince of mountains in return, was selected for answering the question. Verily, she of sweet smiles is held as swelling with diverse kinds of understanding and well-conversant with the duties of women. The sacred goddess, capable of dispelling all fear of sin, possessed of humility in consequence of her intelligence, well acquainted with all duties, and enriched with an intelligence exceedingly comprehensive, sweetly smiling, uttered these, words:
Ganga: ‘O goddess, thou art always devoted to the due performance of all duties. Thou hast favoured me highly by thus questioning me!…Thou, O goddess, art fully competent to discourse on the duties of women!
In this way, the goddess Uma was worshipped by Ganga and honoured with the ascription of many high merits. The beautiful, goddess, thus praised, then began to discourse upon all the duties of women in full.’
Uma: ‘I shall, according to the ordinance, discourse on the subject of women’s duties as far as they are known to me. Do ye all listen with concentrated attention! The duties of women arise as created at the outset by kinsmen in the rites of wedding. Indeed, a woman becomes, in the presence of the nuptial fire, the associate of her lord in the performance of all righteous deeds.
Possessed of a good disposition, endued with sweet speech, sweet conduct, and sweet features, and always looking at the face of her husband and deriving as much joy from it as she does from looking at the face of her child, that chaste woman who regulates her acts by observing the prescribed restraints, comes to be regarded as truly righteous in her conduct.
Listening (with reverence) to the duties of wedded life (as expounded in the scriptures), and accomplishing all those auspicious, duties, that woman who regards righteousness as the foremost of all objects of pursuit, who observes the same vows as those that are observed by her husband, who adorned with chastity, looks upon her spouse as a god, who waits upon and serves him as if he is a god, who surrenders her own will completely to that of her lord, who is cheerful, who observes excellent vows, who is endued with good features, and whose heart is completely devoted to her husband so much that she never thinks even of any other man, is regarded as truly righteous in conduct.
That wife who, even when addressed harshly and looked upon with angry eyes by her lord, presents a cheerful aspect to him, is said to be truly devoted to her husband. She who does not cast her eyes upon the Moon or the Sun or a tree that has a masculine name, who is adored by her husband and who is possessed of beautiful features, is regarded as truly righteous. That woman who treats her husband with the affection which she shows towards her child, even when he (the husband) happens to be poor or diseased or weak or worn out with the toil of traveling, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct.
That woman who is endued with self-control, who has given birth to children, who serves her husband with devotion, and whose whole heart is devoted to him, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. That woman who waits upon and serves her lord with a cheerful heart, who is always cheerful of heart, and who is possessed of humility, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. That woman who always supports her kinsmen and relatives by giving them food, and whose relish in gratifying her desires or for articles of enjoyment, or for the affluence of which she is possessed, or for the happiness with which she is surrounded, falls short of her relish for her husband, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct.
That woman who always takes a pleasure in rising at early dawn, who is devoted to the discharge of all household duties, who always keeps her house clean, who rubs her house daily with cow dung, who always attends to the domestic fire (for pouring libations upon it), who never neglects to make offerings of flowers and other articles to the deities, who with her husband gratifies the deities and guests and all servants and dependents of the family with that share of food which is theirs by the ordinances, and who always takes, according to the ordinance, for herself, what food remains in the house after the needs have been met of gods and guests and servants, and who gratifies all people who come in contact with her family and feed them to their fill, succeeds in acquiring great merit.
That woman who is endued with accomplishments, who gratifies the feet of her father-in-law and mother-in-law, and who is always devoted to her father and mother, is regarded as possessed of ascetic wealth. That woman who supports with food Brahmanas that are weak and helpless, that are distressed or blind or destitute, comes to be regarded as entitled to share the merit of her husband. That woman who always observes, with a light heart vows that are difficult of observance, whose heart is devoted to her lord, and who always seeks good of her lord, is regarded as entitled to share the merits of her husband.
Devotion to her lord is woman’s merit; it is her penance; it is her eternal Heaven. Merit, penances, and Heaven become hers who looks upon her husband as her all in all, and who, endued with chastity, seeks to devote herself to her lord in all things. The husband is the god which women have. The husband is their friend, The husband is their high refuge. Women have no refuge that can compare with their husbands, and no god that can compare with him. The husband’s grace and Heaven, are equal in the estimation of a woman; or, if unequal, the inequality is very trivial.
O Maheswara, I do not desire Heaven itself if thou are not satisfied with me. If the husband that is poor, or diseased or distressed or fallen among foes, or afflicted by a Brahmana’s curse, were to command the wife to accomplish anything that is improper or unrighteous or that may lead to destruction of life itself, the wife should, without any hesitation, accomplish it, guided by the code whose propriety is sanctioned by the law of Distress. I have thus, O god, expounded, at thy command, what the duties of women are, Verily, that woman who conducts herself in this way becomes entitled to a share of the merits won by her husband,’ Excerpts from Mahabharata Volume IV CXLVI, Ganguli