Silence or Silencing? Revisiting the Gārgī-Yājñavalkya Debate in Chapter 3 of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad

Daniel Raveh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The presence of women in the philosophical scene of classical India is sporadic. The present paper focuses on an Upaniṣadic story highlighting the contribution of such a rare woman, namely the debate between Gārgī and Yājñavalkya at King Janaka’s court in chapter 3 of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad. I offer a close reading of the debate, drawing on Śaṅkara’s commentary, with the intention of spotlighting Gārgī’s voice, a single female voice in an all-male arena. My analysis is supplemented with a quick visit to Mahasweta Devi’s gut-wrenching story Draupadi (1997). My silence-silencing argument is this: Silence holds a central place in classical Indian philosophy, as the story under discussion illustrates. It is an expression of a dramatic transformation in which the human person “recovers” his/her innermost essence, the ātman, no longer identifying with worldly aspects of her/his being. But according to Mahasweta Devi and Daya Krishna, each in her and his distinct context, this beatific silence can turn into an act of brutal silencing. This is to say that in the name of spiritual quest, the here and now, the social dimension, is often “forgotten”. The twist is that what is seen from one perspective as a benevolent silence is from another perspective, a symptom of blindness to the world one lives in. For Mahasweta and Daya Krishna one’s visit, or recurrent visits to “realms beyond” are empty unless they have ethical impact upon one’s return to the now and here.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-174
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Brahmodya
  • Gender
  • Gārgī
  • Mahasweta Devi
  • Silence-silencing
  • Yājñavalkya


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