THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN EARLY VEDIC SOURCES

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Throughout the history the women have been oppressed, marginalized, degraded and humiliated in various societies. The status of women has never had a structural stability in the communities of neither the Western and nor the Eastern. Basically, the status of women was determined by the patriarchal authority or clergymen who asked how the status of women in society could be. We can clearly say that the status of women is formalized by the hand of divine power and by the political power used by men.

 

Indian customs and culture have quite rich historical background which is called “Vedic Period”. The roots of this period backed to the foundation of Hinduism and the Sanskrit literature as well as Indian social structure. If we look at the status of women in Vedic Period, overtly and terribly it has been shaped according to the religious principles. Hindu scriptures has systematically rationalized the social structure and the caste system. Through the pandits (who are practicing the religion and has exclusive knowledge of Hinduism) the patriarchal social order was formed and law of Hinduism was consolidated in the Hindu society.

 

Pandits have protected the status quo of socio-economic system through the role of women in the society. Therefore, women were put under certain limitations and restrictions in daily life and they were completely subordinated to men. In early period lawgivers known as Gautama, Baudhayana and Apastamba promulgated strict and cruel rules for women. In that time women were seen like slave of men and they did not have any right of inheritance. If we glance at the ideas of these names, we can easily make interpretation about the woman-man relationship and the status of women in Vedic Period.

Gautama

 

Gautama was known as the first lawgiver who claimed that marriage is a social contract for Hindus. Gautama has also known as the source of Dharma Sutra and it can be translated as ”righteousness thread”. According to him, woman cannot show much respect to God without taking the permission of her husband. Strict discipline in life and fidelity to her husband are demanded from a women.[1] In Dharma Sutra, we can clearly see the status of women in Vedic society. In Chapter XVIII[2]  mentioned that

”A wife is not independent with respect to (the fulfilment of) the sacred law.” Moreover in this chapter it is mentioned that ”Let her not violate her duty towards her husband. Let her restrain her tongue, eyes, and (organs of) action.  A woman whose husband is dead and who desires offspring (may bear a son) to her brother-in-law.  Let her obtain the permission of her Gurus, and let her have intercourse during the proper season only. (A wife must) wait for six years, if her husband has disappeared. If he is heard of, she shall go to him.”

Baudhayana

Second one is Baudhayana who is very significant lawgiver for Hindus. He did not believe in independence of women in daily life. According to him, woman is never powerful and they need to depend on the man. Therefore women are considered to be destitute of strength and of a portion.[3] Polygamy is allowed in Baudhayana and he putted strict rules for widows. According to him women are powerless and have no inheritance. Daughter could only inherit the ornaments of her mother after her death.[4]

 

Apastamba

The last one is Apastamba who has different perspective from other previous lawgivers. According to him, monogamy should be encouraged whereas polygamy should be forbidden. He supported the right of inheritance for daughters. Also a man should not abandon his wife. There can be no division of property between a husband and a wife, because they are linked inextricably together and have joint custody of the property (Apastamba 2.12.16-20).[5]

 

As a result of, this paper tried to examine women’s status in Vedic Period. Traditionally as, Hinduism has different lawgivers and perspectives regarding the women. Historically speaking, Vedic Period was a tough era for women. In this time they had suppressed and oppressed by men. Because, social norms & laws were determined and practiced by the men. In terms of understanding the status of Hindu women profoundly Vedic Period is very important and particularly these names formed primary source for the further researches. Consequently the status of Indian women historically have very complicated and intertwined structure shaped by religion and customs.

Abdulkadir AKSÖZ

 

 

 FOOTNOTES                

[1] Farooqui Vimla, A Short History of Women’s Movement in India, People’s Publishing House, Third Edition, May, 2015

[2] Gautama, Dharma Sutra, Chapter XVIII, https://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/hinduism/dharma/gautama2.asp#fr_1330

[3] Baudhayana, Dharma Shastra 2.2.3.46, https://vedkabhed.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/no-inheritance-for-woman-in-vedas/

[4] Farooqui Vimla, A Short History of Women’s Movement in India, People’s Publishing House, Third Edition, May, 2015

[5] Patrick Olivelle (ed.), The Dharmasutras: The Law Codes of Ancient India, Oxford University Press, World’s Classics, p. xliii

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Abdulkadir AKSÖZ

Uluslararası İlişkiler Siyasi Tarih abdlkdraksz@gmail.com

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