The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day

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Item Code: IHL041
Author: A.S. Altekar
Edition: 2021
ISBN: 9788120803251
Pages: 404 (8 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.4 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 420 gm
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Book Description

From the Book

The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization will enable the reader to understand the subject in true perspective, as it is based upon a critical and impartial survey of all the available data. The work not only surveys the position of Hindu women during the last four thousand years but also indicates the general lines on which the present day problems confronting them should be solved. The treatment is quite impartial; the limitations of the Hindu Civilization have not been passed over nor its excellences exaggerated, nor vice versa. The subject has never been treated with such realism, accuracy, impartiality and comprehensiveness. The general reader will find the book absorbingly interesting. The scholar will find it original and illuminating. The student of sociology will find it stimulating and indispensable.

“This is a well rounded text, targeted towards the relationships between Hindu women and society. This interesting and informative work spans almost four thousand years of experience. Position of Women is superbly organized according to the principal divisions of a woman’s life, taking one through discussions of issues such as ‘The Position of the Widow’, ‘Dress and Ornaments’, ‘Marriage and Divorce’ and ‘Proprietary Rights’,”

Preface to the First Edition

There are some monographs which deal with he position of Hindu women in particular periods of Indian history, but no work has as yet been written which reviews their position throughout the long history of Hindu civilization. An attempt has therefore been made in this book to describe the position of women in Hindu civilization from prehistoric times to the present day, and to indicate the general lines on which the various problems that confront Hindu women (and therefore men also) should be tackled in order to get a fairly satisfactory solution. Every effort has been made to utilize all possible sources of information,-Vedic, Epic, Jain, Buddhist, Smriti and classical Sanskrit literatures, sculptures and paintings, coins and inscription, narratives of foreign travelers, both ancient and medieval, accounts of European merchants and missionaries, Government blue books and reports, modern works on the feminists movement, both in the East and the West. Most of the above authorities have been consulted in the original.

The opening chapter deals with the problems relating to the childhood and education of women. Then follow two chapters (II and III), which deal with the numerous complex problems connected with marriage and married life. In the next two chapters (IV and V), the position of the widow in society has been considered. The place of women in public life and religion has been dealt with in chapters VI and VII. In chapters VIII and IX various questions connected with proprietary rights have been discussed. Fashions of dress, ornaments and coiffure are described in chapter X, and illustrated with eight plates. Chapter XI deals with the general attitude of society towards women, both in normal and abnormal times and situations.

Each chapter deals with the history and development of its topic from the earliest time to the present day, and then suggests at the conclusion the lines on which the present day problems connected with its should be solved. This method enables the reader to get a continuous and connected idea of the history of the particular topic or institution from age to age, and to realize the full nature and significance of the different forces that were governing its general development or vicissitudes. The method, however, has one defect; it does not enable the reader to have a complete and synthetic picture of the position of women in any particular age. The concluding chapter therefore takes a general review of the whole subject, and delineates in broad outlines the general position of women in its entirety in the different periods of Hindu civilization, and discusses at full length the various causes that were responsible for the changes that were taking place from age to age. It is confidently hoped that the reader will find the subject treated in a very comprehensive manner.

A general knowledge of the position and status of women in the main civilizations of ancient and modern times, both in the East and the West, is necessary in order to get a proper perspective for the evaluation of Hindu culture with reference to its attitude towards women and their problems in the different periods of our history. Otherwise we would be too much prone to blame or praise. An effort has therefore been made in this work to enlighten the reader about the position of women in some of the important countries and civilizations with reference to most of the topics discussed in the book. This will enable him to form a correct and comparative estimate about the achievements and limitations of our civilization regarding the women and her problems.

The subject matter of the book bristle with controversial topics, and it is quite possible that some of my readers and reviewers may not agree with me in my conclusions. Some of them may think that I have been rather partial to ancient Hindu culture; others may hold that I have been unnecessarily severe in exposing its defects. Some may feel that the remedies suggested are too drastic, others may opine that they do not go far enough. These differences of opinion are, however, inevitable. I would assure both the reader and the critic that it has been my constant endeavour to treat the subject as impartially as possible. Limitations of our culture have not been passed over, nor its excellences magnified, nor vice versa. The historian can hold no brief either for the past or for the present, either for the East or for the West.

The book is mainly a research work, which documents every important statement it makes, and seeks to throw fresh light on many important and obscure points connected with the topics of enquiry. The subject matter has, however, been presented in a manner calculated to be attractive and intelligible to the general reader as well. Every effort has been made not to mar the general flow of the narrative by the introduction and discussion of original passages, or of obscure and unimportant topics. These have been all relegated to footnotes, where the scholar and the more serious reader may study them at leisure. It is therefore hoped that the book will interest both the scholar and the general reader. For the help of the latter, dates of important events and works have also been supplied in brackets at many places.

I am grateful to Dr. S.K. Belvalkar and Principal K.V. Rangaswami Aiyangar for carefully going through the typescript and making a number of valuable suggestions. I am obliged to R.B.K.N. Dikshit, M.A., the Director General of Archaeology in Indian, for giving permission to reproduce the photographs of the sculptures utilized for the plates in this work. I am indebted to my wife Sau. Satyabhamabai for offering me valuable assistance in analyzing the data of sculptures and paintings for the purpose of determining the fashions in dress and ornaments.

Preface to the Second Edition

Though the first edition of ‘Position of Women in Hindu Civilisation’ was out of print for a few years, it did not become possible for me to bring out the second revised edition. There was a persistent demand for a second edition but various preoccupations prevented me from meeting it.

The first edition has been thoroughly revised and also considerably enlarged. New evidence that I could gather during the course of my subsequent studies has been utilized for this edition; it mostly confirms old conclusions though it also slightly modifies some of them. The position of nuns has been dealt with in greater details and the status of courtesans has also been considered. The section on the Purda system considers some further aspects. Three more plates have been added to illustrate dress and coiffure. The data supplied by the census of 1951. Have been utilized to make the treatment quite up-to-date.

During the last 18 years several changes have taken in the position of Hindu women as far as proprietary rights, marital relations and public life are concerned. These have been fully discussed in the new edition in appropriate places. Unfortunately the legislative changes are taking place slowly and piecemeal, and the book was in the press for three years. So it was difficult to keep pace with them. As a consequence there is one slight inaccuracy on p. 363, which has been corrected in the errata. Though the bill seeking to give the daughter the same right in the patrimony as the brother is before the Parliament for several years, the matter has not yet been decided.

It is hoped that the second edition of the work will enable the cultured reader, both in India and abroad to get a clear idea of the forces that were moulding the position of women in Hindu society for the last four thousand years and thereby understand the spirit of Hindu civilization.

I am indebted to my daughter Miss Padma Altekar, M.A. for helping me to read the proofs and to Miss Minakshi Bateshvarkar for permitting me to utilize the drawings used for Plates IX-XI.




Preface to the First Edition vii
Preface to the Second Edition x
Abbreviations and Transliteration xi
Chapter I
Childhood and Education PP. I-33
Importance of the subject, 1-2; girls relatively unwelcome, 3-5; protest against this tendency, 6; was there female infanticide? 7-8; education in Vedic and Upanishadic periods, 9-10; women authors, teachers, philosophers and doctors, II-3; was there co-education? 13-4 games and recreations, 15-6; setback to education at c. 300 B.C. and its causes, 16-7; education during c. 100-1200 A.D., 17-20; fine and useful arts, 20-I; military training, 21-2; education in Muslim period, 23-4; progress in the last 75 years, 25-6; some suggestions about the present-day problems of female education, 26-8.  
Chapter II
Childhood and Education 34-105
Traces of early promiscuity, 29-30; Vedic and Avestic view of marriage, 31-2; marriage becomes obligatory for girls, 32-5; history and evolution of the eight forms of marriage; why Paisacha and Rakshasa forms were recognized, 36-8; Asura marriage and the custom of bride-price, 49-48; differences between the four approved forms, 42-44; central idea in Brahma marriage, 45-9; bride’s age in marriage about 16 before 300 B.C., 49-53; about 14 upto 100 B.C. 54-5; 12 upto 500 A.D., 56-7; further lowering of the age after I,000 A.D. and its causes, 57-60; age in the medieval times, 60; recent tendency to raise it and causes: the Sarada Act, 61-4; early marriages in Medieval Europe, 64-5; bride’s part in settling the marriage in different ages, 65-8; description of courtship, 68-9, dowry system, 69-72; gotra, caste and horoscope in marriage at different periods, 72-9; significance of the marriage ritual, 79-83; conditions of divorce, 86-7; should it be now legalized? 85-6.


Chapter III
Married Life 106-134
Treatment of the bride, 90-3; wife’s status in relation to the husband, 92-4; marital ideal placed before the couple, 95-110; apotheosis of the mother, 100-3; husbands slacker in following the ideal, 103-4; polygamy, supersession and consequent misery, 104-10; free permission to remarry to man alone, 110-II polyandry, 112-4.  
Chapter IV
The Position of the Widow, Part I 135-177
Sati custom elsewhere, 115-7; Sati custom not in vogue upto c. 300 B.C., 118-20; adopted by a few Kshatriya families in the Punjab, 122-3; custom struggling into existence during 100-500 A.D., 123-4; opposition to the custom, 124-5, why ineffective, 125; Smritis recommend the custom at c. 800 A.D. 126; its growing popularity, 126-8; Brahmanas still opposed to it, 129; the custom among the Rajputs, Marathas and Sikhs, 129-32; Sati ritual, 133-4; was force exercised? 134-5; only about I per cent. Widows became Satis, 134-40; suppression of the custom, 141-2.  
Chapter V
The Position of the Widow, Part II 168-195
Levirate, a common custom in early times, 148; its prevalence in India, and its causes, 143-6; how the custom was stamped out, 146-50; widow-re-marriages prevalent in early times, 150-2; later they become unpopular and are prohibited, why 152-3; child widows permitted to marry upto 1,000 A.D., 154-6; some effects of the prohibition of remarriage, 156-8; Act of 1856 and the developments during the last 75 years, 158-9; tonsure of widows non-existent before 800 A.D., 159-60; how it became common, 160-2; a general resume of the condition of the widow, 162-5.  
Chapter VI
Women and Public Life 196-228
Purda system non-existent before the Christian era, 166-9; introduced in a very few royal families only at 200 A.D., 169-70; the custom unknown to general population before the Muslim advent: sculptural and literary evidence, 170-5; it becomes common in the Muslim period, 175-7; seclusion of women in the West, 177-9; careers for women, 179-82; dancing girls and temples, 182-85; women as regnant queens, 185-6; as queen regents, 187-8; as queens and administrative officers, 189-90; the role of ordinary women in the administration, 190-I; developments during the last 75 years, 191-3.


Chapter VII
Women and Religion 229-251
Eligibility for participation sacrifices independently and jointly with the husband upto c. 300 B.C., 194-199; eligibility for Vedic studies, pp. 200-I; When and why Upanayana and Vedic studies were prohibited, 201-2; consequences of this step, 202-5; women’s place in Pauranic religion, 205-7; women in Buddhism and Jainism, 207-II.  
Chapter VIII
Proprietary Rights During Coverture 252-278
Women as chattel in early times in India and elsewhere, 212-4; life as joint owner with husband, 214-6; limitations on her joint ownership, 216-7; limited scope of Stridhana in early times, 217-20; enlargement of its scope, 221-2; revolutionary proposals of the Mitakshara, 222-3; women’s power over Stridhana in Mitakshara and Dayabhaga, 223-266; is the Privy Council interpretation of the Mitakshara correct? 227-8; heirs to Stridhana, 228-30; a resume and some suggestions for future developments, 231-3.  
Chapter IX
Proprietary Rights: Inheritance and Partition 234-5
General prejudice against female heirs, 234-5; brotherless daughter fight succeeds in becoming an heir: history of her right, 235-9; a daughter with brothers and heir in Vedic age if unmarried, 239; only one Smriti recognizes her heirship, 240-44; others provide her with a marriage portion only, 241-2; suggestions for some changes I the present law, 245-50; the widow not an heir in early times :Why, 251-2; she was recognized as an heir in c. 200 A.D. by some jurists, 252-4; opposition of other jurists to her claim, 354-5; battle among jurists, 255-7; governments oppose widow’s right, 258-59; her right recognized all over the country after c. 1,200 A.D., 260-I; further important concession in the Dayabhaga school 261-3; widow gets a limited estate, 263-4; were religious gifts an exception? Divergent epigraphic evidence on the point, 264-7; Mitramisra half-inclined to make the widow a full owner, 267-8; modern law and the changes suggested in it, 268-70; mother, grandmother and Sapinda widows as heirs, 270-2; women’s rights at partition, 273-5; general resume, 275-8.  
Chapter X
Dress and Ornaments 334-365
Dress in the Vedic and epic periods, 279-81; evidence of the classical literature, 281-2; why busts of women in sculptures and paintings are uncovered in some places, 282-9; modes of wearing sari, sakachchha fashion in the Punjab and Central India and vikachchha fashion in the Gangetic plain and Maharashtra, 289-91; stitched clothes known in pre-Muslim period, 292-2; influence of the Scythian dress, 293-5; widow’s dress, 296; lahanga and odhni, 356-7; recent changes, 297; ornaments, their number and variety, 297-9; numerous artistic fashions of coiffure, 299-300; ointments and lipsticks, 300-I; nose-ring unknown in Hindu period, 301-3; ornaments as a corrective to the law of inheritance, 303-4.  
Chapter XI
General Attitude Towards Women 366-403
Attitude towards women taken prisoners : liberal view of Smritis allowing their readmission, 305-9; subsequent change in the attitude and its disastrous consequences, 309-13; attitude towards unfaithful wives, 313-15; treatment of women captives, 315-16; women not to be killed, 316-17; general good treatment recommended, 317-19; passages deprecating women: their analysis, 319-21; a spirited reply to them, 321-2; renunciation school generally hostile to women in India and in the West, 321-6; patronizing attitude towards women: its causes, 326-7; theory of perpe tual tutelage of woman: how far true, 327-31; the theory common in the West also, 331-3, a general resume, 333-4-327-31; the theory common in the West also, 331-3, a general resume, 333-4.  
Chapter XII
Retrospect and Prospect 404-448
Method explained, 335-6; a synthetic picture of the position of women in the Vedic age, 336-9; the general position during I,500-500 B.C., 340-I; why the position as a whole was relatively satisfactory, 341-3; general position of women during the period 500 B.C. to 500 A.D., 343-52; why proprietary rights were liberally extended, 352-3; general position during the period 500 A.D. to I, 800 A.D., 353-9; some extenuating circumstances, 359-7; suggested changes in consonance with the spirit of our culture, 367-8.  
Bibliography 769-372
Subject Index 373-378
List of Plates

(Bound at The End of The Book)
Plate I, A Royal Procession.  
Plate II, The Worship of a Bodhi Tree.  
Plate III, A, Yakshini.  
Plate III B, Ckulakoka Devata.  
Plate IV A, A Statue of a Chauri - bearer, front side.  
Plate IV B, The same, back side.  
Plate V A, Sculpture of a Nagini in human form.  
Plate V B, Goddess Goddess seated on a wicker stool.  
Plate VI Portion of a Reception scene.  
Plate VII, The Worship of a Bodhi Tree  
Plates VIII-XI, Some Fashions of Coiffure.  

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