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Report No. 66

IV. The Post-Vedic Period

3.9. Second period (1500 B.C. to 500 B.C.).-

The second period shows no radical deterioration in the position of women. Down to about 500 B.C., the custom of Sati and Child Marriage did not exist to embitter the lot of the woman. She was properly educated, and given the same religious privileges as man. She could have a voice in the settlement of her marriage, and occupy an honoured position in the household. She could move freely in family and society, and take an intelligent part in public affairs. It was possible for her to take to a career, if urged by an inclination or a necessity.1 In fact, there is contemporary evidence of the careers pursued by women, to which we shall refer later.2

Women of higher castes were indispensable partners of their husbands in the yajna.3 Women could hold property, and widows could remarry. The age of the Upanishads produced philosophers like Gargi who challenged the invincible Yajnavalkya in debate, and Maitreyi who spurned wealth because it would not give her immortal light (amrta).3

1. Altekar Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, (1956), p. 343.

2. See para. 3.11, infra.

3. Gazetteer of India (1973), Vol. 2, p. 147.

3.10. The Upanishads, it may be noted, present the highest point reached in Indian metaphysics. Although differently worded, the principal strands of thought, in their essence, remain the same in all these works. They voice the inner visualisation of the ever-existent unity between the universal principle and the phenomena, even though the embarrassing multitude of all individual experience may dim the vision of that unity. One of the noblest prayers in the literature of the world occurs in one of the Upanishads-the prayer which implores the universal spirit to take one from darkness to light,1 from untruth to truth,..and from mortality to immortality. Great questions are raised in these debates, and the answers given are simple Yet, the dialogue never loses its sublime quality. We are referring to this aspect to show that a married woman not possessing an extraordinary intellectual capacity-or, for that matter, any person of ordinary intellectual status-could not have participated in the discussions.

1. Brihad 1, 328.

Married Womens Property Act, 1874 Back

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