Can a woman get moksha?


First of all, Mokṣa is for the jīvātmā, not the gross body. And, the jīvātmā cannot be described/identified by any notion of sex, gender, caste, creed, appearance, et al (except, perhaps, as per theology of the Dvaitavada propounder - Madhawacharyaφ).

Even so then, Unfortunately, the answer cannot be an unequivocal straight 'Yes or No' to this question, from a pan-Hinduism perspective.

First, understand what is Moksha?

Well, there are as many answers to this, as the number of 'School of Thought; and the sects (sampradaya).

Now, coming to the question

The best way to answer this question, I think, would be to understand the verse 9.32 of the Śrimada Bhagavad-Gītā in the light of commentaries by ācāryas:

The verse is:

मां हि पार्थ व्यपाश्रित्य येऽपि स्यु: पापयोनय: ।
स्त्रियो वैश्यास्तथा श‍ूद्रास्तेऽपि यान्ति परां गतिम् ॥ ३२ ॥

English Translation By Swami Sivananda:

9.32. For, taking refuge in Me, they also, who, O Arjuna, may be of sinful birth–Women, vaiśyas as well as śudras–attain the Supreme Goal!

So, literally, this means that anyone (human or otherwise) can attain Moksha via devotion to the Supreme. Let's see if some major ācāryas concur with this view:

Scholar/ĀcharyaSchoolSampradayaWomen/Everyone can attain Moksha?
ShankaraAdvaita (Nirviśeṣādvaita)Smarta/DasanamiYes
RamanujacharyaVisistadvaitaSri VaishnavaYes
Sri AbhinavaguptaNon-Dualist TantraTrika-Kashmiri ShaivismYesΨ
MadhavachryaDvaitaBramha (Madhva)/ Sadh SampradayaYesφ
Sri Sridhara SwamiShuddhadvaitaRudra SampradayaYes
Sri Keshava KashmiriSvabhavika Bhedabheda (Dvaitadvaita)Kumara SampradayaYes
Śrīla PrabhupadaAcintyabhedābhedaGaudiya VaisnavaYes

Most Commentaries taken from this site

So, from the above table, at the very least, we can say that: through Bhakti-Yoga any being is eligible for Moksha.

This proposition can be further supported by Nārada Bhakti Sūtras and Śāṇḍilya Bhakti Sūtras alike:

॥ शाण्डिल्य भक्ति सूत्रम् ॥
आनिन्द्ययोन्यधिक्रियते पारम्पर्यात् सामान्यवत् ॥ ७८॥

  1. Translation: Every being, even down to the lowest born, has equal right to follow the path of devotion as it is taught by successive authorities, like other objects which are common to all.

॥ नारदभक्तिसूत्राणि ॥
नास्ति तेषु जातिविद्यारूपकुलधनक्रियादि भेदः । ७२

72. [Translation]: "Birth, scholarship, external appearance, wealth and occupation, etc. make no difference in devotees.'

What's more?
Ultimately, even Sri Rama concurs with the above stance, as he proclaims in Adhyatma Ramayana 3.10.20-29:

श्रीराम उवाच
पुंस्त्वे स्त्रीत्वे विशेषो वा जातिनामाश्रमादयः ।
न कारणं मद्भजने भक्तिरेव हि कारणम् ॥ २०॥
यज्ञदानतपोभिर्वा वेदाध्ययनकर्मभिः ।
नैव द्रष्टुमहं शक्यो मद्भक्तिविमुखैः सदा ॥ २१॥
भक्तौ सञ्जातमात्रायां मत्तत्त्वानुभवस्तदा ।
ममानुभवसिद्धस्य मुक्तिस्तत्रैव जन्मनि ॥ २९॥

(Sri Ram replied to Śabri—) 'Distinction between a male and female body or distinction made on the basis of caste, creed, clan, name and section of society are not conducive for my worship (i.e., they are not the essential elements or a necessity for my worship or devotion). The only factor is my sincere and dedicated devotion and faith (20). Those who are devoid of dedication and sincerity in my devotion and worship can never see me by any other means such as Yagya (religious sacrifices), charity, Tapa (austerities and penances) and/or by studying of the Vedas or by any other method or deed (21).

.... As soon as Bhakti emerges (takes shape in one's heart), one can experience my true form , and those who for once experience me (i.e., realise my existence on the screen of their heart-mind complex), do attain emancipation and salvation in this birth itself without any doubt (29).

Sanksrit Verses with their Hindi Translation of above can be accessed from here.

φ: However, for Madhwacharya, even the jivatman has male and female characteristics. Thus, male and female salvation are different "experiences" as per him. In his Gita tatparya nirnaya, Madhawachrya says:

"A male is born again as a female because of desires or some demerit. A female is never born as a male because of attributes but they reside within the male body alongside the male form in a spiritual female form. These spiritual female forms are unlimitedly superior to those who have taken female forms due to the demerit of desires. All Jivas attain the body of skin and flesh according to their attributes. In liberation, even after experiencing the effects of prior karmas, each one lives according to their true attribute, even the statement merits even for those born in evil-wombs can be accepted, because of the declaration in Bhavishya Purana."

Ψ: Acharya Abhinavagupta in his Gita commentary - 'Gitartha Samgraha' interprets: by striyaḥ (women), it is meant - those who are ignorant.

Further, Ācārcya Abhinavagupta comes in full support of 'Moksha for all', as he says:-

When the (marvelous) deeds of the supremely compassionate God, such as the freeing of the elephant (from the jaws of the crocodile) are heard by the thousand, then what doubt can there be (of the salvation) of those of perverse conduct? Some say that this statement is meant to glorify the brāhmanas and the kshatriyas and it is not intended to indicate the accessibility of salvation on the part of women etc. They (who say so), denying the all-embracing power of God with their narrow intellects; being unable to bear the supreme kindheartedness of the supreme lord, going against sentences which clearly state the intended meaning such as "I hate none and love none"BG 9.29, “even if one be terribly depraved"BG 9.30 and others; not accepting, on the strength of dualism the non-duality of the essence of God established through a host of irrefutable arguments: not noticing other scriptural contradictions (of theirs); joining issue repeatedly 'how can you say this, 'how can you say this'; with their hearts penetrated and possessed by the supreme prejudice of birth etc., which has been completely accepted; turning askance their lowered face and eyes because of enmity, dissimulation, and embarrassment, prating nonsense before all, make themselves the butt of ridicule among the people which serves to explain everything in advance!

Now, as I mentioned in the starting, there's rarely an unequivocal Yes or No in Hinduism. Therefore:

Do Any scriptures [categorically] deny Moksha to a jiva in a woman's body?

Yes, most definitely.

As per Śiva Purāṇa, a woman first must "overcome" her "womanhood" via reciting the 'Śiva Pañcākṣarī mantra i.e., Namaḥ Śivāya (नमः शिवाय)'., then once they attain manhood, then only liberation is possible, for woman.

Quoting from Chapter 17, Section 1 - Vidyeśvara-saṃhitā

गुरूपदेशाज्जाप्यं वै ब्राह्मणानां नमोऽतकम् । पंचाक्षरं पंचलक्षमायुष्यं प्रजपेद्विधिः ॥ १२२ ॥
स्त्रीत्वापनयनार्थं तु पंचलक्षं जपेत्पुनः । मंत्रेण पुरुषो भूत्वा क्रमान्मुक्तो भवेद्बुधः ॥ १२३ ॥

122-123. Brahmin women must take instruction from a preceptor and perform the Japa with Namaḥ at the end. They shall repeat the five-syllabled mantra five hundred thousand times for their longevity. That is the rule. Again they must repeat it five hundred thousand times to wipe off womanhood. Becoming a man first, the liberation will be acquired gradually.

Tranlsation by Prof. J.L. Shastri

The above kind of theme viz. 'woman needing to acquire a male body ' is also found in Agni Purāṇa:

Agni Purāṇa: Part 2, Chapter 199 (Vows Relating to Different Seasons), Verse No. 9.b to 10

मूलव्रतकारी स्त्री च उमेशव्रतकारिणी ॥ १०.ख
सूर्यभक्ता तु या नारी ध्रुवं सा पुरूषो भवेत् ॥ ११

The main performer of the vow in Umeśavrata is woman. A woman who is devoted to the sun, would certainly become a male.

Translation by Prof. J.L. Shastri

To Conclude:

  • Most ācāryas are in unequivocal support of not only women, but any being acquiring Moksha, through surrendering unto the Supreme. A nice summary of all such views might be read in the commentary by Swami Sivananda on BG 9.32

  • Some verses in certain scriptures say, that woman must first acquire manhood, then only Moksha prevails for women.

Related / For more reading on Moksha:

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