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The history of ancient India may be said to commence from the period during which the Rg-Veda was composed. In Rg-Veda we find a great literary monument of hoary antiquity, containing a code of ethical life reflecting the thoughts and aspirations of the people. Vedic literature which is the prime source of all cultural manifestations in India depicts a vivid picture of ancient Indian womanhood. The Vedic society was a patriarchal one, and hence father was the head of the family. During the period prayers were uttered for the birth of a son, though there was no reference to the deprecating of the birth of a daughter. Marriage was a union of the two individuals. No reference regarding age or its limitation can be traced in the Rg-Veda. Neither can it be stated that the notion of child-marriage existed then, as a reference to it finds a place only during the Sutra period. During this period, some girls even remained unmarried in their hther's houses up to an advanced age. A well-known example of this was Ghosha. The form of marriage that was widely prevalent during this period was monogamy, though there were some references to polygamy. Rituals formed a part in the Vedic marriage. With regard to of education of women during this period, it may be noted briefly that the position of women was generally not unequal to that of the men. The proof of this is the fact that the Rg-Veda contains hymns (sukts) by as many as twenty-seven women, called Brahmavadinis or women seers. During this age, we note that domestic life was not in any way inconsistent with spiritual life. This testifies to the fad that men and women were regarded as having equally important status in the social life of the early Vedic period. In the time of the Vedas, all writers are agreed that, she enjoyed much freedom and was clearly in most cases an equal of man. Nevertheless, there were conflicting views are set forth regarding women's character. One view was that with women there can be no lasting friendship; hearts of hyenas are the hearts of women. Indra himself hath said, the mind of woman brooks no discipline. Her intellect hath little weight. The other view was
and she was described as one of the major evils in human society. although giving respectful treatment to her in her various capacities is enjoined upon men. Towards the close of Rg-Vedic period. we find that Brahmanas reflect a transitional development in the status of woman limiting her role except in the performance of . Taittiriya Samhita and Shatapatha Brahmna rank her as inferior even to a bead and evil man. Gradually we find that woman's position became markedly inferior to her partner in many respects. several restrictions were gradually imposed on the freedom and privileges which women enjoyed earlier. She was at the helm of affairs. Polygamy was quite common during this period. Over thy husband's father and thy husband's mother bear fully sway. over his brothers rule supreme. gradually deteriorated during the end of the period. Such an idea too was almost abominable. Several evils crept in and this ultimately led to the degradation of women in society. The society during this period set up a high order of morality.that she was the presiding deity of the house. Over the sister of thy lord. Hence. Women were placed on par with dice and drink. and partook in the sacrifices performed by her husband and was ultimately a helper in the path of virtue. The Brahmanas We find passages in Aitereya Brahamana and Maitrayani Samhita to show that women were forbidden to go to the assemblies. There is nothing to show that women during this period did not move freely in society. The early Rg-Vedic age which saw the dawn of power influence which the Indo-Aryan woman wielded in her household. Atharva Veda Period The practice of sati was in vogue during this period. Marriage was considered sacred and divorce was against all occult and spiritual law. there were hardly any instances of adultery. The Rg-Veda contains no clear evidence of divorce obtaining in actual practice. Generally.
The duties of husband and wife come under the purview of civil and criminal laws. Ultimately. . The doctrine of the indisolubility of marriage is found in the Dhrmasutraa. The Upanisad Period It is only in the Chhandogaya and Brhadaranya Upanisads that we get some glimpse of the status of women during this period. Inter& marriages came to be accepted. Women were punished if they failed in their duties to their husbands. It is quite evident that women played an important role. The necessity of equality of birth is stated in Grhyasutras. The women always remained dependent. There was decline in education which was responsible for the gradual deterioration of the social status of women during the Vedic period.society. they came to be considered unfaithful by nature. They should be guarded in all respects in order to preserve the purity of the offspring. Thus a study of the rituals as prescribed by the Grhyasutra shows that many indigenous rites had already been absorbed. A man could not become a spiritual whole unless he was accompanied by his wife. In the Dharma Sutra period. There was a definite sanction for the domination of the husband over the wife. Adultery was severely punished under the law. The later Dharamsutras prescribe ascetic practices for widows only for a specific limited period. though her position was much lower in. nevertheless he was protected by law. Vienu and Brhaspati approved of the practice of sati and even considered it as an ideal for women.of the ownership of the bride. The notion of spiritual union of husband and wife by magic mantras gave to the idea of the transferen.religious sacrifices. Due to the introduction of lower forms of marriage. Thus. the wife lost her position and dignity of grhapatni and was precluded from participating in the religious ceremonies and rituals of the husband. only in religious life. with the introduction of different forms of marriage. with the lowering of the position of women. the status of women deteriorated. Ceremonials for begetting a son were described as a religious duty.
A maid was not only an object of tender affection and care at home but her education also was taken care of and she had important duties as well to perform. protector. Widowed mothers were protected by their sons. Women were considered pivots not only of domestic life but of the entire society. particularly the mother. She was also allowed to select her life partner. The sacramental nature of marriage also strengthened the position of a wife even in a polygamous society.be carefully guarded. Kausalya. She was considered the creator. to whom they are naturally disloyal. Drupadi. Step-mothers also enjoyed equal privileges. Even weak husbands sho~lda lways be careful in guarding the wives. the reason to protect them were as follows:"In view of their inherent wicked character they must." .The two-great epics-the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Children respected their parents. specially ny their husbands. The main reason for the guarding of the wife is to preserve the purity of the offspring. The passages of Manu. Manu starts with the fundamental principle that 'day and night women must be kept in dependence by the males of their family. present a galaxy of great women of Bharatadesa-Sita. 'Kanyadan' does not necessarily mean her lower social status. Savitri and Kunti-some of the noblest figures who are perfect embodiments of Indian womanhood. subjugation of woman came to stay and we find derogatory references to her. A woman was never sacrificed at alter of marriage. But later. Manu-samhita is the compilation of the works of different authors in different times. and educator of her children. But women gradually lost this honourable position in society as well as in family. The nucleus of family life was centered round her and on women dependent the prosperity and future progeny of the family. Kaikeyi. Hence the contradictory statements that we find can be explained. full of all sorts of faults and blemishes. A few passages both in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata picture woman as degraded. Sons repaired the affection and care of the mother. sati was not in vogue then. which speak highly of woman are in conformity with the Vedic ideology which gives woman a noble position in society.
and faithful to his memory after his death. . "There is no difference between the housewife and the goddess of Fortune". impotency and his expulsion from caste. without delay. like Narada took a more generous view and recognized the right of a widow to marry a second husband. Owing to the growing ascendancy of the ascetic ideal life for widows. homes cursed by them come to grief. his renunciation of the world. beside the husband may leave the wife on anyother groung. should not think about any other man. even though the husband is of bad character seeking pleasure elsewhere he must be constantly worshipped as god by faithful wife. in the eleventh. but she who is quarrelsome. the practice of re-marriage fell into disrepute and at the time of Alberunis visit India the re-marriage of widows was prohibited by custom." Manu has laid down certain injunctions for regulating the relation between husband and wife. The important principle is that the wife should ever remain obedient to her husband." The re-marriage of a widow was strongly reprobated by Manu But some of the later Smriti writers. She who bears only daughter.In contrast to these observations. "that home perishes in which the daughter-in-law suffers. The four other cases in which he holds that a wife is entitled to re-marry are the disappearance of the husband. However a bad wife may at anytime be superseded by another wife. she whose all children die in the tenth. must never do anything that might displease him. Arthasastra of Kautilya also declares the right of a woman to marry another husband under certain circumstances. women are highly honoured and praised in other passages by Manu. The of Parasara'which permits the re-marriage of woman clearly contemplates the dissolution of marriage otherwise than by death. " A barren wife may be superseded in the eigth year.