The book attempts to make use of nearly all the major and minor Puranas to understand a single, though a significant limb of Indian family and society, the woman. Beginning enquiry with the female infant yet to be born, the authoress takes it through her childhood, marriage, motherhood; examines her role as a wife, her share in religious duties, and her woes of widowhood: makes an effort to understand her in the role of a prostitute and makes more specific questions relating to her public and private appearance.
The inferences summed up at the end of the work, throw interseting light on the changing notions on the age and modes of marriage of women, perception of the princible of pativrata, notions attached to the birth of a daughter in the family: reasons for tonsuring the heads of the widows, circumstances that precluded purda practice, emergence of the institution of prostitutes, etc.
As noted by Prof. S. Settar in his forewerd of the work "A full-scale study of women based on a single source material such as the one taken by Ms. Roy should be welcomed at a time when gender studies are receiving wide attention this work would be certainly welcomed by those who adore the classical scholarship of A.S. Altekar, the most notable among the pioneers of gender studies of the twentieth century."
Dr. (Mrs.) Aparna Roy has a long and abiding interest In Puranic literature, as a significant source of Socio-Cultural History of ancient India. Her present work, much appreciated by specialists in the field, is a reflection of this enduring interest and her expertise in the area. She has followed this work by an ICHR sponsored project titled "Brihannaradiya Purana: An Appraisal of Socio-Religious Data". Already completed, the project has been received favourably by the Council and has undoubtedly added to her profile as a keen observer of the claim of the Pauranikas that "What IS not found in the Vedas is found in the Smritis, and what is not found in both is available in the Puranas". Her conclusions in the work are competent responses to questions raised by some western scholars who are skeptical of the historical value of the Puranas for understanding the Socio-Cultural development in ancient, early medieval and medieval India.
Dr. Roy belongs to the family of eminent indologists, scientists and academicians, and has uniformaly brilliant academic record. A gold medalist form Allahabad University, her present work is in continuity with her past profile of excellence.
This is yet another attempt at understanding the Puranic society, with a thrust on the position of women; it is based on the majority of Maha-Puranas and Upa-Puranas. Though the Puranic studies go back to the first quarter of the 19th century, it is in the first quarter of the 20th century, and specifically with F.E. Pargiter, that proper significance of this literature as well as its relevance to the ancient and early medieval society, were realized. A more scientific and serious attempt at understanding the import of the Puranic data, which followed Pargiter's work, is yet to be concluded.
Three broad categories of scholarship can be recognized in this field: one, discovery and publication of unknown and less known Purana texts; two, study of specific issues of life- political, religious, social, etc.,- making one, or more than one, of the texts as the base; three, exploration of the major body of Puranic literature for the reconstruction of historical society and polity. Perhaps, a number of sub-categories which cut across these could also be noticed. All these efforts helped widen the base of historical enquiry and bring in better awareness of our past.
The importance of the Puranas as a source of history was increasingly felt, as they were realized to be as rich and varied as the Smritis, Dharmasastras, Mahakavyas, etc., on the one hand, and nearly as much reliable as inscriptions, monuments, memoirs, travelogues, local chronicles, etc., on the other. During the course of further investigation which followed this awareness, the Puranas certainly scored over several other bodies of ancient textual material, (for example, Agamas), because the character and the canvass of the former were certainly far wider than those of the latter. The respectability which they earned for themselves can be made out from the fact that their orientation is different from that of law books, that they are far more nearer to the time than canonical texts, that they form an independent genre of literature though they share the fluidity and resilience of the Epics, that they are less dictatorial than the Manuals of Manu, Sukra, Gautama, Kautilya etc., that they are more nearer to the historical reality- in terms of specifics like names, places, events etc.,- than the Court Chronicles, Kavya Literature and Epics. The uniqueness of the Puranic literature is its resilience, for, allowing themselves to be altered, extended, abridged, without anyone being accused of being either a meddler of texts or a peddler of thoughts, they smoothly accommodated fresh dictates of changing times not losing their intrinsic sanctity. This community scholarship cut across chronological and geographical barriers; grew with the passage of time, sucking in novel experiments and new ideologies, and emerged as an unparalleled source of history. It is in this backdrop that we have to understand the assertion that 'what is not found in the Vedic tradition is found in that of the Smrtis, and that is not present in the Smrtis is present in the Puranas.' The contemporary character of the Puranas could be made out from a remarkable observation made by the authors of these very texts. 'A time might come', we are warned, 'when the present rules may become obsolete and if any rules thus framed are to go against the spirit of the age, they should be liberally modified or abrogated.'. All these virtues also brought in their train a row of worries for critical and interpretative scholars, for historical compulsions which forced modification of prevailing codes could not be understood without first understanding both the chronological and the contextual sequences in which the new mores gate-crashed. In other words, the Puranic chronology projected the most formidable of the challenges to scholars and made him wary of the ground on which he stood.
It is obvious that Dr. Aparna Roy is not only aware of the potentialities, but also the hazards posed by this body of literature. Unlike several others who have built up their theses either on a single or a select number of texts, she has attempted to make use of nearly all the major and minor Puranas to understand a single, though a significant, limb of Indian family and society, the woman. Beginning enquiry with the female infant yet to be born, she takes it through her childhood, marriage, motherhood; examines her role as a wife, her share in religious duties, and her woes of widowhood, (but in a sequence of order chosen by her); she also makes an effort to understand her in the role of a prostitute and asks more specific questions relating to her public and private appearances. Ms. Roy's inferences, summed up at the end, throw interesting light on the changing notions on the age and modes of marriage of woman, perception of the principle of pativrata, notions attached to the birth of daughters in the family, reasions for tonsuring the heads of widows, circumstances that precluded purda practice, emergence of the institution of prostitution, etc. A full-scale study of women, based on a single category of source material, such as the one taken up by Ms. Roy should be welcome at a time when gender studies are receiving wide attention, and I am sure that this work would certainly be welcomed by those who adore the classical scholarship of A.S. Altekar, the most notable among the pioneers of gender studies of the twentieth century.
The value of Purana tradition is largely due to its multiplex character. Under the process of Upabrimhana or augmentation it went ahead by retaining antiquated elements and incorporating postmarks to a lesser or larger degree. The evidence of Purana tradition has its worth in the totality of its account. One single text of the Mahapurana group or of the Upapurana group may not be of much use for portraying comprehensive picture of the socio-cultural development of the past. In fact historical elements accumulated in Purana tradition is of the nature of Omnium-gatherum the trustworthiness of which can scarcely be held in doubt, though sometime and in a few cases it has to be checked and cross-checked by the external evidences. In fact, the transmission of archaic tradition and incorporation of current changes in the customs and practices was a sacred legacy of Purana-authorship, ''It was a reconciled presentation of older tradition with the new institutional developments in the society". However, the fact can hardly be denied that the pressure of sectarian bias had such a dominant role in subsequent periods that the Purana authorship could not carry on its age-old integrity in a number of cases. Consequently, one finds it hard to justify the claim that "what is not seen in the Vedic tradition is all noticed in the Smriti tradition and what is not seen in both is available in the Purana tradition".
The word "Tradition" actually means any thing handed down from the past and so strongly rooted as to be as inviolable as laws; it implies the handing down of knowledge, beliefs and customs from one generation to another. The Purana tradition may be defined as something which depicts a composite picture of the past and present. It seeks to adjust and readjust the ancient norms with the current developments.
The topic "Women in Purana tradition" aims to project the condition of women from early times to the early medieval and medieval periods of Indian History. So far, early and modem scholars including Altekar, Kane, Dange and many others have made only passing reference to the Puranic evidence on position of women in ancient India. It is desirable to evaluate the totality of Puranic evidence throwing light on the uplift or downcast of position of women in Hindu civilization through ages.
The methodology of research and approach to the problems which I have adopted in my study is both vertical as well as horizontal. Vertical approach of one single Purana text may not present before us what we may call "Puranic view". It may not enable us to present a synthetic picture of the actual state of affairs. Consequently, I have followed the horizontal method as well. It is only by combining the two methods, that the position of women in historical perspective can be obtained. Besides, attempt has also been made for checking and cross-checking the Purana passages by external evidences as and when necessary.
It may be reiterated that the tradition demanded that the Puranic corpus should be re-edited with the changes in society so that its importance as work of authority should not decrease. "The task of re-editing was done by adding fresh chapters to the already existing ones and by writing new works bearing old titles. In this process some Purana texts retained their early materials, some lost many of the earlier chapters which are replaced by others of later dates and some become totally new works." Despite this unique feature of their make-up, the Purana texts can be regarded as reliable source books of socio-cultural study of India's past and can well be utilized after taking due precaution in surveying their passages for the purpose of history.
Keeping 111 view the aforementioned distinguishing features of Purana-composition and its utility for the reconstruction of socio-cultural history, our study of the subject covers the following heads:
Purana-tradition as Source of History:
Main issues of this chapter are as under; emergence or "Purana" and its subsequential formation as a composite class of literature, analysis of the logic in the hypothesis that there was any parent or original "Purana-samhita", traditional number of Puranas- eighteen or nineteen, can Siva Purana be included in the list. original ingredients of Purana, role of Suta-institution in the development of Purana tradition, motive and meaning of "Pancalakshana", transformation of "Pancalakshana" into "Dasalakshana" probably under sectarian pressure of a late period, impact of Purana-tradition on dharrnasastric tradition- on the two Great Epics- on the Smriti commentaries of the early medieval period; analysis of the question as to whether smriti-matters in the Purana were borrowed from Smriti-texts or ham a common source, analysis of the question as to whether in respect of similar issues preference was given to Purana-version or to Smriti-version, recognition of authoritative character of Puranas in Philosophical tradition, Purana-tradition in Katha-works: multiplex character of the Puranas and their usefulness 111 understanding and reconstructing the socio-culture and political history, historical elements accumulated in Purana-tradition being of the nature of omnium-gatherum- often reliable, but sometimes distorted and hence making chekcing and cross- checking often necessary.
Position of Girls: Projection of the view that in the patriarchal society birth of girl was considered as an unwelcome event, Puranic evidence on this issue, rituals ensuring the birth of a talented daughter, daughter endowed with S 11a or virtue considered to be equal to ten sons: evaluation of Puranic reference to puri explaining It on the lines of definition of putra- one who saves his or her parents from hell; Puranic evidence on the fallacy of the view that female infanticide was practised in ancient India; references to the types and categories of girls like Nagnika , Vrishali, Visha- kanya, etc; categories of slave girls and offering them as gifts to illustrious personages and temples; evaluation of Puranic evidence on daughter's right to paternal property; implication of Puranic references to the honouring of virgin girls on festive occasions; evaluation of Puranic evidence on education of girls - references to the brahmavadini (life-long student of theology) and sadyodvaha (student till performance of marriage); assessment of Puranic data on proficiency of girls in fine art.
Evaluation of the hypothesis that there are traces of promiscuity in some passages of Mahabharata in the light of Puranic references to promiscuity or indiscriminate mingling and free sexual relations affecting adversely the well established order of the society during the Kali age; marriage- a social and religious obligation according to Puranic view; purpose of marriage- multiplication of progeny; rules for the selection of brides, possible reason of early marriage of girls; instances showing that some girls remained spinsters all their life; general agreement of the Purana tradition with Smriti tradition that there are eight forms of marriage; number, however, increased to ten and reduced to four in some Puranas, does it refer to some obsolete practice? conditions under which remarriage of women was permitted in the Puranas, assessment of Puranic view of anuloma, pratiloma, savarna, asagotra, asapravara and asapinda marriages; assessment of Puranic view of the practice of monogamy, polygamy and polyandry.
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