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Ancient History Of Women In Indo-Aryan Society

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Ancient History Of Women In Indo-Aryan Society

Post  Manahuna on 09.04.11 11:15


The Aryans, upon their invasion of India ca. 1500 B.C. introduced the
horrific custom of sati, ie. the burning of a woman after the death of her
husband. When performed singly it is referred to as sati, when performed
en masse by all the women and daughters of a town in anticipation of
their widowhood (eg. when the men were to fight a battle against all
odds), it is known as jauhar. It is sanctioned by their most sacred texts,
and was practiced from the fall of the Semito-Dravidian Indus Valley
civilization to the modern age.

" Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the
house with ghee (applied) as corrylium ( to their eyes). Let these wives
first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned."
Rig Veda X.18.7

Brahma is one of the main Aryan gods, being the creator of the world
(later he was identified as an incarnation of Vishnu). One of the
Puranas is named after him, the Brahma Purana. Like other Puranas,
it was composed after the Vedas. This scripture also sanctions sati:

"If a woman's husband dies, let her lead a life of chastity,
or else mount his pyre"
Vishnusmrti xxv.14

Once again we hear that sati is sanctioned by the Vedas:

" ..is enjoined by the Vedas ",
Br.P. 80.75

and is

" greatly reputed in all the worlds "
Br.P. 80.75

Long life is promised to the sati:

"She (the sati) lives with her husband in heaven for as many years as
there are pores in the human body, ie. for 35 million years."
Br.P. 80.76, 80.77

Vishnu Dharmasutra XXV.14 contains the statement:

On her husband's death, the widow should observe celibacy or should
ascend the funeral pyre after him.

Several other scriptures sanction widow-burning. Some of these are as
given below (Wilkins):

"It is proper for a woman, after her husband's death to burn herself in the
fire with his copse; every woman who thus burns herself shall remain in
paradise with her husband 35,000,000 years by destiny."
"The wife who commits herself to fames with her husband's copse shall
equal Arundathi and reside in Swarga (heaven)."
"Accompanying her husband, she shall reside so long in Swarga as the
35,000,000 of hairs on the human body.
"As the snake-catcher forcibly drags the serpent from his earth, so
bearing her husband [from hell] with him she enjoys heavenly bliss."
"Dying with her husband, she sanctifies her maternal and paternal
ancestors and the ancestors of him to whom she gave her virginity."
"Such a wife adorning her husband, in celestial felicity with him, greatest
and most admired, shall enjoy the delights of heaven while fourteen
Indras reign."
"Though a husband had killed a Brahman, broken the ties of gratitude, or
murdered a friend she expiates the crime."

Thus, it is evident that the custom of sati was introduced by the Aryans
since it is encouraged in their scriptures and many goddesses performed
the act.

The Arya origin of sati is evident from the fact that several Aryan ladies
and 'goddesses' performed sati :

* Several of Krishna's wives performed sati upon his death, including
Rukmini, Rohini, Devaki, Bhadraa and Madura (M.Bh. Mausalaparvan
7.18 ) (Alld.Ch. 977, 1018-1019: Rukmini)
* Madri, second wife of Pandu, considered an incarnation of the goddess
Dhriti, performed sati (M.Bh. Adiparvan 95.65)
* Rohini, a wife of Vasudev, Krishna's father, who gave birth to Balram
(Devki's child) and later became a sati. (Alld. Ch. 1018)

" The 8 queens of Krishna, who have been named, with Rukmini at their
head, embraced the body of Hari, and entered the funeral fire. Revati
also embracing the corpse of Rama, entered the blazing pile, which was
cool to her, happy in contact with her lord. Hearing these events,
Ugrasena and Anakadundubhi, with Devaki and Rohini, committed
themselves to the flames."
(Vishnu Pur. 5.38 )


This is often related to dowry, when the bride's family cannot pay up to
the amount demanded by the in-laws. Often the in-laws make demands
in excess of those made at the time of marriage. When the deadline
specified runs out, the bride is burned in often gruesome fashions. At
least 5000 women die each year for not bringing in enough dowry. At
least a dozen women die each day in `kitchen fires', which are often
passed off as accidents, because their in-laws are not satisfied with
their dowries. Only a few of the murderers are brought to justice.
(Kitchen 1997)

An Aryan husband could at any time accuse his wife of infidelity. In case
the wife protests her innocence, the council of village elders would
then order an ordeal by fire. The accused wife would be required to pass
through a blazing flame. Not just death, but any signs of burns would be
taken as a sign of guilt and the wife would then have to undergo the
penalty for infidelity (EB 8:986 `ordeal'). Adultery carries the death
sentence in Aryan law, so either way she would have to pay with her life
for her husband's or elders' mere suspicions.

The ideal role model for this custom was Sita, Ram's wife. She was
required by her spouse, the `ideal husband' of the `Hindus', to pass
through the fire ordeal after her return from Sri Lanka.

The burning of witches during the Vedic Dark Ages of Indian History
(1500 BC - 500 BC) and the later Puranic Dark Ages (100 AD-1000 AD)
makes the European Medieval ecclesiastical witch-hunts pale in


Aryan husbands cut off the ears and nose of their wives if they left the
house without their prior permission. The Pancatantra mentions one such
story (Pancatantra p.54, I.7th story `The Weaver's Wife'). The weaver cut
off his wife's nose because she did not respond and he considered her
infaithful. (actually he cut off the barber's wife's nose who was there
instead. ) The Ramayana and Lord Rama practiced the cutting off of
womens' noses for minor offences, thereby providing divine sanction for
the custom. Shurpanakha was a Dravidian lady (referred to as `Rakshis'
or demonesses by the Aryans) who fell in love with Rama. She proposed
to him, but he directed her to his brother Laxman. He cut off her ears
and nose for this crime, and Ram condoned this act. (Alld Chmbrs 1036)


The death penalty was prescribed for Aryan women guilty of infidelity.
The Manu Smrti, the most authoritative Indo-Aryan law-book, states

When a woman, proud of her relations (or abilities) deceives her
husband (with another man), then the king should (ensure that) she be
torn apart by dogs in place much frequented by people
(Manu Smrti 8:371)
'And the evil man should be burnt in a bed of red-hot iron '
(Manu Smrti 8:371-2)

VIII.371. If a wife, proud of the greatness of her relatives or (her own)
excellence, violates the duty which she owes to her lord, the king shall
cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented by many.
VIII.372. Let him cause the male offender to be burnt on a red-hot iron
bed; they shall put logs under it, (until) the sinner is burned (to


Women and Sudras can, in the Aryan-Vaishnava system, have no

A wife, a son, and a slave, these three are declared to have no property;
the wealth which they earn is (acquired) for him to whom they belong.
A Brahmana may confidently seize the goods of (his) Sudra (slave); for, as
that (slave) can have no property, his master may take his possessions.
(Manu VIII.416-417)


Aryan women had to wear a face-veil when going out. As usual, several
observers, seeing Arab women veiled, assumed it must be due to
Muslim 'contamination'. They are not aware that Arabs practice this due
to the Judeo-Christian influence (the Catholic nuns and the Medieval
tiara), and are ignorant of Indian scriptures. Sanskrit literature mentions:

The practice of using veils by women, particularly in well-to-do families,
was in vogue. Prabhakaravardhana's daughter Rajyasri put on a veil
when she met her husband, the Maukhari Grahavarman of Kanauj, for
the first time. It is known from Vacaspati Misra (9C AD) that women in
good families observed the purdah system and did not appear in public
without veils ... However, Dhoyi, the author of the 12 C poetical work the
Pavanaduta, relates that the women of Vijayapura (in Bengal) did not
observe the purdah system'
(CHI Vol II #37 p.595 # 37 'Some aspects of the position of women in
Ancient India' DCGanguly p.594 ff)


Women and Sudras were declared to be unfit for study of the Vedas:

"And as women, Sudras and the inferior members of the twice-borne
classes were unfitted for hearing the Veda, and were infatuated in
desiring the blessings, arising from the ceremonies, the muni, with a
vision to their felicity, in his kindness composed the narrative called
the Mahabharata."
(Bhag.Pur. I.4.25) (Muir III,p.42)

Also Madhava Acharya stated that " they (women and Sudras) are
debarred ... from being competent students of the Veda"
(Vedarthaprakasha of Madhava Acharyya on the Taittriya Yajur Veda,
quoted in Muir III,p.66)


Divorce was not permitted.

Even if the wife ran away from a harsh husband,
she could never get remarried.


Women in the Vedic period were harshly treated, as depicted above.
The presence of sati/burning was/is common.


Buddhism and Jainism were both protest movements against the Vedic
Vaishnava system. However, they did not lead to any major changes in
the status of women. This was due to the emphasis placed by these
religions on asceticism. Thus, although sati was opposed by these
reformers, yet women were considered as hurdles on the path to
liberation. The Buddha was very strict in his insistence on asceticism. He
left his home and wife to become attain nirvana and considered
women a hindrance to that goal -

"Buddha is said to have induced his disciples not to look at a woman or
even talk to her". (Sacred Books of the East,XI p.91)


Women are generally termed as thieves, dacoits, pirates, thirsty
tigresses and hypocrite cats in the medieval Nath literature. (Obsc 245)
Chaitanya was one of the major saints during the medieval period. He
spread Vaishnavism in Eastern India, but aroused the opprobation of the
Orthodox Aryan-Vaishnavas because he allowed 'conversion' from
lower castes. Even this 'liberal' man had highly negative opinions of

"Chaitanya thought it to be a sin to talk, think or even dream of women
and that even the sight of a wooden statue of a woman can distract
the mind and be responsible for immorality. He advised people to avoid
being alone even with their own mother , sister or daughter."
(Nand 124-127)

After all, Chaitanya was a Vaihnavite. Gandhi's insistence on strict
vegetarianism and celibacy among his disciples was in keeping with the
traditions of Vaishnava ascetic ethics (EB 20:528:2a) Gandhi ordered
many of the erotic temple sculptures of India to be destroyed.
'(A Vedic Graduate) should not look at a naked woman.' (Manu 8:453)

(In the Buddhist Age, a slave-girl who was obliged to sleep with her
master, was often deprived of her nose and ears by her mistress and
there was no lawto protect her.'
(Jain 162)


Dravidian women enjoyed much greater freedom than their Aryan


Due to the strict restrictions and regulations one feature arose that is
apparently more common in Aryan society than in any other part of the
world: incest. References to this practice abound. Often the girls were
unwilling, but were then forced by their brothers/fathers.

References abound even in the Rg Veda, showing that the perversion of
brother-sister incest was introduced by the Aryas :

* Pushan is the lover of his sister (Rg Ved VI.55.4)
* Agni is the lover of his own sister (Rg Ved X.3.3)
* Ashvins are referred to as the sons of Savitar and Ushas who are
brother and sister (Apte 11)
* The Ashvisns married Surya and Savitri who is their sister (RV I.116.19)
* Agni is the son of his father and his sister (Rg Ved.I.91.7)
* Yama wards off his sister Yami, saying marriage between brother and
sister is forbidden (R.V.X.10)

Father-daughter incest occurs in the famous story of Prajapati (later
identified with Brahma, in turn incorporated as an incarnation of Vishnu)
and his daughter (RV III.31.1-2). Moreover, this was punished. Prajapati
is thought to have done something wrong, and Prajapati was pierced by
Agni as a punishment (Sat.Br. XIII.9).

It is evident that the strict laws on male-female relations led to the
repression of normal practies and the rise of various perversions like
brother-sister incest, father-daughter incest etc. Even to this day incest
of varying degrees (cross-cousin, father-daughter, mother-son,
brother-sister, etc.) is extremely common amongst the Indo-Aryans. No
other race on earth has ever recorded such a prevalance of this
practice. Just as sodomy has its home in Persia, Lesbianism in ancient
Lesbos, so incest has its home amongst the Indo-Aryans.


There were exceptions to the rule, even during the Vedic Dark Ages
following the collapse of the Indus civilization. Eastern India
(Purvadesha), including Bengal, with its majority Mon-Khmer population,
was only slightly Aryanized. The Shakti cult (mother-goddess)
predominated (75 % of all the idolatrous population is sill Shaktis), and
women here had a much higher degree of freedom. Thus for instance
they were not required to wear the veil. Shakti (or Tantric) cults
involved the worship of women, and the acceptance of their
equality. Needless to say, the Shakti cult was only limited to Bengal
and Assam. The Dravidian women were also freeer. Malabar was a
center of the Tantric form of the Shiva-Shakti cult, and matriarchal
customs still prevail. Till recently, polyandry existed.

Besides these two islands, the rest of India confirmed to the picture
given above. This lasted until the establishment of the Islamic Califate
of Hindustan in the 12th century AD. Muslims came to form more than 50
% of the population of Hindustan proper (India north of the Narmada),
and under Islam the status of women improved considerably.

In modern times the degradation of womens' status is related to the rise
in Hindu Fundamentalism (in actual fact a thinly disguised form of Aryan
Fanaticism). The extremist organizations that comprise the Sangh
Parivar (BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Ranvir Sena, VHP etc.) are reviving the
practice of Sati, dowry, female infanticide etc. in various parts of India.
Thus, in modern times the status of women has declined sharply due to
the activities of Hindu (ie. Aryan) Fundamentalist organizations.
A wife, a son, a slave , these are declared to have no property; the
wealth which they earn is (acquired) for him to whom they belong.
(8.416 Manu 8.299)


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