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APALA (VEDIC PERIOD)


Apala, regarded as a brahmavadini, is a character mentioned in the Rig Veda. The hymn 8.91, which is a strange mix of reality and fantasy, has been ascribed to her. It is said that her husband discarded her, as she was afflicted with a skin disease that prevented her hair from growing. In the hymn she narrates how she met and worshipped Indra and how his boon freed her of her disease. Knowing soma juice to be Indra’s favourite drink, Apala gathered the soma plant and crushed it between her teeth to extract the juice. Attracted by the sound, Indra appeared to her and drank the juice from Apala’s lips. In return he blessed Apala with three boons: that her father’s head, his fields and her skin would be ‘fruitful’. The verse also declares that he passed her ‘through the eye of the car, the cart and the yoke’ so that she became beautiful and her skin radiantly fair. It is not clear what this means, except to indicate some sort of purification ritual. A few words from the hymn:

The fully kindled Fire, bright against the firmament,
Facing the dawn, shines far and wide;
Vishwavara proceeds towards the east with obeisance,
Praising the gods, with oblation and ladle full of butter…


From this we may gather that women in Vedic times may have been allowed to make independent offerings to the gods, a right they no longer enjoyed in later times.
 
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