The Status of Women in India

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750 to 1000 AD

Marriage: The Smriti authorities of this period treated earlier marriage rules with some modifications. Medhatithi made inter-caste marriages exceptional. Marriage with the daughter of a maternal uncle was condemned. Marriage by mutual love was condemned by Medhatithi and he said that “one should marry a girl who is much younger than himself, she must get married between the age of eight and achieving puberty.”

If a girl’s guardian could not find her a match before she becomes of marriageable age, then she could choose her partner after staying in her father’s house for three years after attaining puberty. While love marriages were known, they were solemnized after approval of the girl’s guardians. Sometimes, girls with the approval of their parents opted for a Svayamvara ceremony.

Education: Due to a reduction in the marriage age, the education levels among women dropped drastically, although some women of all classes had an opportunity for liberal education and fine arts. According to Medhatithi, “the women did not know Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas.” Rajasekhara refers to princesses and daughters of high officials who were poetesses as well as adept in sciences. In Avantisundari, there is a striking example of a women learned in Sanksrit lore. In the plays of Rajasekhara, it is found that court-ladies and even the maids-in-waiting were capable of composing Sanskrit and Prakit verses.

Remarriage: While Agni Purana, Visvarupa permits a woman to take a second husband under five circumstances - lost, dead, impotent, and outcaste or adopted the life of a recluse, otherwise it is forbidden by Medhatithi, Brahma Purana.

Widow: As in the previous period, the life of strict celibacy and self-restraint enjoined upon her was sought to be enforced during the period. The tonsure of widow came into vogue in about the 8th century A.D. and was to help her lead an ascetic life.

Sati: The rite of sati was enjoined by some authorities but condemned by others. The custom was mainly confined to royal families. According to Arab writer Sulaiman “The wives of kings sometimes burnt themselves on the funeral fires of their husbands, but it was for them to exercise their option in this matter.” The first Muslim invasion in Sind, 712 A.D., was during this period.

Purdah: The system was not prevalent during this period. According to Abu Zaid, most Indian Princesses while holding court, allowed their women to be seen unveiled by the men present, whether native or foreigners.

General Status of Women: As in the previous period, the Smritis emphasize the duty of absolute devotion and obedience of wives to their husbands. Medhatithi says that a wife must wash her husband’s feet, provided the husband follows a righteous path and is free from the emotions of hatred or jealousy towards his wife. Equal right of the husband and wife to seek legal remedy was advocated by Medhatithi. He takes Manu to enjoin not the actual beating of the recalcitrant wife, but only a method of putting her on the right path.

The general condition was the same as in the preceding period. Medhatithi observed that a woman needs to be guarded by male relations at all times (which was an impact of foreign invasion and that a woman should have no freedom of action regarding virtue, wealth and pleasure. On the other hand, he takes a human view. A wife must not be forsaken, unless she becomes an outcaste and forsaking means she cannot do household work but gets food and clothing. A mother must never be abandoned, even if she becomes an outcaste.

The custom of dedicating maidens for service in temples continued during this period.

K. M. Munshi quoted, Varnasrama-dharma of Medhatithi is a dynamic world force and not a static social order. Inter caste marriages is permitted. A Kshatriya and a Vaisya have the right to recite the Gayatri-mantra. Brahmanhood is not acquired by birth alone.

He accords to women a position in refreshing contrast to some of the later authorities. Women can perform all the samskaras, only thee should not recite the Vedic mantras. At a partition an unmarried sister should be given one fourth share of the dividing brothers.

A wife is obtained from God, not secured like cattle or gold from the market, a husband has no ownership over his wife. Before the wife must be compelled to serve her husband he must have the necessary qualifications, among others, a loving attitude towards her. The practice of Sati, is nothing but suicide and it is not permissible.

The general level of their culture is high. Silamahadevi, wife of the Rashtrakuta emperor, Dhruva, probably ruled jointly with her husband. Several Queens of the Kara dynasty ruled in Ores. Sugandha and Didda of Kashmir administered extensive kingdoms. There were learned women as well as administrators. Sarasvati, wife of Mandanamisra, who acted as an arbitrator in her husband’s disputations with Sankaracharya, was a learned scholar herself”.

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