CHANGES IN SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF ANCIENT INDIA


THE LATER VEDIC AGE

During the later Vedic period, the varna system was transformed into a caste system.

Marriage between the persons of the same gotra was prohibited.

In the later vedic texts we also hear of the four-fold division of life into brahmacharya (studentship), grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (partial retirement) and sanyasa (complete retirement from the world).

The concept of the ashramas (stages of life) was firmly established during the age of the dharmasutras.

The whole life of an individual was divided into a series of samskaras of sacraments.

The grihya-sutras, by prescribing in the minutest detail the duty of a man from the birth to burial and laying down the ceremonies for each occasion, codified the discipline of the household.


II. THE DHARMASUTRAS AND THE BUDDHIST PHASE

Marriage within the same gotra and “within six degrees on the mother’s side” was prohibited.

The rise of Buddhism was the expression of resentment against the social orthodoxy, on the one hand, and the increasing conflict between the Brahmins and the kshatriyas, on the other, which is evidenced by kshatriya origin of mahavira and gautama Buddha.

There were woman students designated as brahmavadinis or lifelong students of the sacred texts, and the sadyodvaha who prosecuted their studies till marriage.

III. SOCIAL LIFE FROM THE MAURYAN TO THE PRE-GUPTA PERIOD

In general, a Brahmin is to follow those occupations that cause the least pain to others; he may live by gleaning corn, taking what is given unasked, by begging, agriculture or trade, but never by service, “a dog’s occupation”.

The list of duties and occupations laid down for the kshatriyas in the smritis is reflected in the Mahabharata.

The same three-fold list of duties is laid down for the vaishya in the Mahabharata which, however, declares his special occupation to be cattle rearing.

The grihapatis formed the rich capitalist class consisting of big land-owners, money-lenders and ranchers.

According to manu and yajnavalka the shudra, because of his low origin, has only one duty and one occupation, namely to serve the upper classes and especially the Brahmins who in their turn are bound to feed, clothe and maintain him.

From an important extract in patanjali’s mahabhashya we learn that the shudras, instead of forming, a single caste, really consisted, even so early, of various professional and ethnic groups occupying different social grades.

Among the shudras, the lowest place belongs to the chandalas and mritapa.

Higher in the scale are the carpenters, washermen, blacksmiths and weavers.

At the time of sangam age, the classes in order of descending impotance were the sages (arivar), landowners (vellalar), herdsmen, hunters, artisans and soldiers and, lastly fishermen and scanvengers.

They comprised a series of subcastes among which that of the chandalas is the one most frequently mentioned.

Foreigners were placed in the same category as the outcastes. They were called mleccha, a term which means literally ‘jabberer’ and was used to disintegrate ‘barbarians’.

The mixed class:

Proper (anuloma i.e. between the male of a higher caste and female of a lower caste) or improper (pratiloma i.e between the male of a lower caste and female of a higher caste).

As for the social status of these castes, manu says that anuloma castes are slightly inferior to their fathers, but are entitled to all the rights belonging to the three upper classes.

According to all accounts, the pratiloma castes have the status of shudras.

The slaves:

Megasthenes asserted that slavery was unknown in the India of the maurayas.

Different types of slaves: born in the house, female militia, hunchbacks and dwarfs.

Assimilation of foreigners in Indian society

The havoc wrought by these barbarian invasions and settlements in Indian society is brought home, in the first place, by the pointed testimony of the yugapurana section of the gargisamhita, a work which has been plausibly held to belong to the first century BC.

For the greeks the process of indianisation started as early as the second quarter of the second century BC when Demetrius, contrary to the practice of all other Hellenistic kings, introduced a bilingual coinage (in greek and and in Indian prakrit speech with the kharoshthi script).

The object of the ins is frequently to record dedications of Buddhist relics and the like by pious greek donors.

In one instance we find that the donor, heliodorus, who was the greek ambassador at the court of vidisha, recorded the erection of a garuda column in honour of vasudeva, “the gods of gods”, and devoutly styled himself a bhagavata.

The greeks had been content to adopt the Indian forms of their names.

The shakas, abhiras, and others, almost from the first, took purely Indian names.

On their coins, the shaks, the pahlava, the system of bilingual legends from the first, the system of bilingual (in greek and in Indian prakrit) brought into vogue by their greek forerunners.
Going a step further, the shaka kshatrapas of Gujarat and malwa, after the time of chashtana, converted the greek ins’s on their coins into an ornamental border, while substituting a sanskritised prakrit in brahmi script for the old pure prakrit in kharoshthi letters.

In the Mahabharata, shakas, yavanas, tusharas and pahlavas, along with various aboriginal tribes, are declared to be eligible for the performance of vedic religious acts and certain minor sacrifices (pakayajnas).

Position of women

The ancient doctrine of perpetual dependence of a woman (her father, husband, and son protecting her in childhood, youth, and old age respectively) is repeated and amplified by manu and is paraphrased by yajnavalka.

They declare the food of a women without male relatives to be unfit for eating.

According to an old dictum quoted by manu, the wife, like the slave and the son, has no right to property.

Brothers are bound to give a share of their inheritance to their unmarried sister.

Above all, the mother, according to manu and yajnavalka, and for the first time the widow in the latter’s opinion, have the right to inherit a man’s property in the absence of his sons.

Women again are entitled to own and bequeath their special property or stridhana.

Women’s sacraments are to be performed without recitation of sacred texts, yajnavalka making an exception in favour of the marriage ceremony.

Hyperbolical descriptions of the spiritual powers of the faithful wife (pativrata) occur not only in the
Mahabharata, but also in tamil works like the kural and the silappadikaram.

The stories of sita in the Ramayana, of gandhari, draupadi, savitri, and damayanti in the Mahabharata, of kannagi in the silappadikaram enshrine imperishable examples of a wife’s deathless devotion to her husband.

Yajnavalka, introduces us, for the first time, to a very important right of the widow, namely that of inheriting the husband’s property in the absence of the sons.

The class of female temple-attendants (devadasi).

Courtesan – ganika

Marriage rules and practices

Manu and yajnavalka permit the marriage of a brahmin, a kshatriya, and a vaishya with four, three and two wives respectively in the proper (anuloma) order; but marriage of the three upper classes, and especially of the Brahmins, with shudra girls is condemned in the strongest terms.

The eight forms of marriage known to the older smritis are repeated by manu and yajnavalka.

The list consists of brahma, arsha, prajapatya and daiva (each involving the gift of a maiden by her father or other guardian), gandharva (marriage by mutual choice), asura (marriage by purchase), rakshasa (marriage by capture) and paisacha (marriage by stealth).

Manu and yajnavalka agree in praising the first four forms and condemning the last four.

In the same context, however, manu mentions other views declaring prajapatya, gandharva and rakshasa to be lawful, and paisacha and asura alone to be unlawful, and he also recommends different forms for different castes.

As to the age of marriage, a young man of the first three classes could marry, under the smriti law, only after the completion of his studies (i.e. at least after twelve years from his investiture with the sacred thread).

Prohibited food and drinks

Once the sage sukra is said to have established a rule that a brahmin drinking wine should thenceforth be held to be guilty of Brahmin murder.

The milindapanho includes the gift of liquor in a list of ten condemned gifts.

But in vatsyayana’s kamasutra we read that the nagaraka, which being entertained by his mistress, is to regale her with liquor as well as varieties of roasted and dried meat and other delicacies.

IV. THE GUPTA AGE

Varahamihira in his brihat samhita assigns the different quarters of a city to the Brahmins, kshatiryas, vaishyas and shudras, as does kautilya.

In the gupta period authentic examples of inter marriages between varnas, not only in the anuloma but also in the pratiloma order.

Katyayana says that a free woman marrying a slave herself becomes a slave, but a female slave bearing a child to her master is immediately released from servitude.

Vatsyayana gives us a long list of sixty-four subsidiary branches of knowledge (angavidya) which should be learnt by women.

Among the most striking changes during this period may be mentioned the increased recognition in katyayana of the women’s right to her property, and the remarkable rule in atri and devala allowing women molested by
robbers and others to regain their social status.

That women in the guptan age were not disqualified from the exercise of public rights is proved by the example of queen prabhavati-gupta, daughter of chandragupta II, who ruled the vakataka kingdom as regent on behalf of her minor son in the fourth century AD, and that of princess vijayabhattarika who acted as provincial governor under vikramaditya I of the chalukyas.

Kali-varjya means prohibited during the kali age.

The manu smriti rather reluctantly admits the validity of marriage between a man of the higher varna and a women of the lower, technically known as anuloma, while the yajnavalka smriti does not regard even pratiloma marriages (those between women of a higher varna and man of a lower) as entirely invalid.

Yajnavalka allows the son of a shudra wife to inherit the property of his Brahmin father, although brihaspati recognizes the right only in the case of movable property but not in regard to land.

The smritis permit the wife of a lower varna to participate in religious ceremonies only if the husband had no wife of his own varna.

As regards intercaste marriages of both the pratiloma and anuloma types in marriage of a daughter of kakusthavarman of the brahmanical kadamba family with a bridegroom of the non-brahmanical gupta family, and to that of the gupta princes prabhavati-gupta with vakataka rudrasena-II who was a Brahmin of the vishnuvriddha gotra.

Prabhavati became the chief queen of her husband; but she still retained her father’s family name and gotra (her name prabhavati-gupta and her epithet dharana-segotra).

This shows that there was no sampradana and the consequent gotrantara (change of the wife’s gotra to that of her husband) in her marriage with the vakataka king.

Prabhavati’s mother kubera-naga also retained her father’s family name even after her marriage into the gupta family.

The system of niyoga (marriage of a childless widow with the brother or blood relation of her deceased husband for the sake of progeny) approved by the early writers like manu became gradually extinct.
Yajnavalka and narada were not opposed to niyoga; but brihaspati and others were not in its favour.

Narada and parasara permit remarriage of widow under certain conditions.

Both niyoga and remarriage of widow or of married girl ultimately came to be regarded as kali-varjya.

According to the story of the devi-chandragupta, dhruvadevi or dhruvasvamini, chief queen of chandragupta II vikramaditya, was the widow of his deceased elder brother ramagupta.

The social position of the married widow called punarbhu seems to be clear from vatsyayana’s kamasutra which in its present form, probably belongs to the gupta age.

Huen-tsang who says that in India “a woman never contracts a second marriage”.

The custom of sati was quite well known (vide the kamasutra reference to anumarana and the evidence of the eran ins of AD 510), but was not popular.

Evidence of queens reigning by their own rights in orissa and kahsmir.

Prabhavati-gupta ruled the vakataka kingdom at least for thirteen years as “the mother of the yuvaraja”.
Rajyasri is known from Chinese sources to have administered the govt in conjunction with her brother, king harshavardana.

Yajnavalkya says, women were ineligible for upanayana and vedic studies.

The manu-smriti denounces post-puberty marriage of girls, although it permits a person to keep his daughter unmarried up to any age in case a suitable bridegroom was not available.

Manu favoured partition of the property among the brothers after the death of the parents.
Dayabhaga system of inheritence was apparently not unknown in certain areas of the country.

The earlier works like the manu-smriti recognized twelve categories of sons including those who were begotten on one’s wife by someone else and were technically classified as kshetraja, kanina, kunda, gola etc.; but with the exception of aurasa (begotten on one’s own self) and dattaka (adopted), the ten other categories of sons gradually lost recognition and came to be regarded as kali-varja.

The widow of a husband belonging to a joint family was entitled only to maintenance. In case the husband was separately enjoying his property at the time of death, his widow could enjoy her husband’s share as a life estate according to some writers like yajnavalkya and brihaspati, although others like narada were opposed to it.

Kalidasa’s sakuntala speaks of the property of a childless widow of a merchant being confiscated by the crown.

Urban life

Huen-tsang recorded his opinion of the character of the people in each region.

He writes that while the people of the ganga and brahmaputra basins were generally remarkable for their qualities of honesty, courage, love of learning etc., those of north-west India and of the deccan plateau as well as the people of the extreme north, east, west and south were generally of a contrary disposition.

The amarakosa has a whole set of synonyms for bodily embellishments.

The brihat samhita refers to toothpicks, hair dyes and different kinds of incense, scented hair oils and hair lotions, and other perfumes.

The lankavatara sutra gives in a list of approved foods the names of sati rice, wheat and barley, pulses of three kinds, clarified butter, oils.

Heun-tsang says that while cakes and parched grain, milk and sugar along with their preparations, and mustard oil formed the common articles of food, fish along with the flesh of goat and sheep was occasionally taken.

Eating onions and garlic was visited with loss of caste.

The use of magical incarnation and spells of various kinds may be traced back in Indian literature to the artharvaveda-samhita.

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