Status and Position of Women in Ancient India

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Status and Position of Women in Ancient India

The status and position of women was good in the Rig Vedic times.  Though the overall position of women was lower than men, yet on the whole the position of women was good.

In the post Vedic period, women started being discriminated against education and other rights. Even Buddha did little to uplift their position.

Child marriage, extreme emphasis on physical chastity of women and unquestioned obedience to husband led to progressive deterioration of her position.

Widow remarriage was permissible up to the times of Kautilya. Megasthenes has stated that Brahmanas did not communicate knowledge of philosophy to their wives. The spirit of the time was to relegate women to inferior status.

In the Smriti Sastras as well, as in Manu and Yajnavalkya, it has been mentioned in strongest terms that women should be honored. But then again Manu has given absolute rights to men to inflict corporal punishment on her and discard her if she said anything disagreeable to him. Thus, a contradiction in the rules of treatment to women was there.

Manu’s system continued for long after the Mauryan period in the Indian society.

Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra depicted the daily life of the rich and aristocrats. Women participated in poetic recitations and compositions were heard in gatherings. The courtesan was a very normal feature of urban life.

Kalidasa has mentioned the presence of many devdasis in Ujjain and Hiuen Tsang also spoke about their presence. They were common in the Chola temples. Devdasis were dedicated to-the-temple at birth or when quite young, some of them attained training in dance and music and some retained the status of ordinary slaves for the service of the gods. Later on, the system degenerated.

However, the courtesan and upper class women enjoyed freedom and were respected in society. Besides these women, a vast majority toiled in the fields and homes. Their condition worsened in the tenth century.

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