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Report No. 66

3.17. Gupta age.-

In India, the deterioration in the position of women is perceptible in the Gupta age (320-540 A.D.). The Svayamvara (choice of the groom by the bride after a contest of valour) and the Gandharva (form of marriage, fell into comparative disuse during this period. The re-marriage of widows was coming into a disfavour, though not absolutely forbidden.1 In general, there was a decline in the social status of women. Even so, there are many instances of women acquiring exceptional proficiency in sciences and letters. The names of Lilavati and Khana, legendary masters of arithmetic and astronomy, may be noted in this context. There was as yet, no purda or seclusion,2-except for ladies of the Royal families, and that too not so strictly observed as in later times.

In Kalidas's famous drama, the heroine Sakuntala appears at the Royal court with a veil, but unveils herself when pressed to prove her identity.3 In Harshacharita4, princess Rajyasri wears a veil of red silk when seen by the bridegroom. But these were women of higher classes. The silence of Hiuen Tsang and I-tsing,5 as to the seclusion of women, indicates that there was no such general practice, because such a peculiar custom would surely have been noticed by them. Two classes of women6students are mentioned in the literature of the times: Brahmamavadini or life long students of sacred texts, and Sadyodvaha who prosecuted their studies till their marriage-also called sadyo-Vadhu.7

1. R.C. Majumdar (Ed.) History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 3 (The Classical Age), p. 567.

2. R.C. Majumdar (Ed.) History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 3 (The Classical Age), p. 569 and Vol. I, p. 575.

3. Sakuntala, Act V.

4. Harshacharita IV.

5. Majumdar (Ed.) History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 3, (The Classical Age), p. 569.

6. R.C. Majundar (Ed.) History and Culture or the Indian People (The Age of Imperial Unity), Vol. 2, p. 563.

7. R.K. Mookerjee Ancient Indian Education (Macmillan 1951), 208 and 51.

3.17A. Literary pursuits.-

The literary pursuits of women during this period could the gathered from several sources. The great grammarian, Panini,1 in his work named Ashtadhyayi,2 cites illustrations of his grammatical rules which show how women were, like men, going in for regular Vedic studies. Thus, the formation "Kathi" means a female student of the katha sakha of the Veda in that particular recension. Similarly, the term "bahurichi" means a female student who is well versed in many hymns, i.e., of the Rigveda.3

Learned ladies of those days naturally functioned as teachers. Katyayana,4 in his Varttika5 (commentary) refers to women teachers who were called Upadhyaya, or Upadhyayi, as distinguished from Upadhyayanis, i.e., wives of teachers. The necessity of coining a new term shows that the women teachers were large in number. Patanjali also refers to a special designation for the women scholars who made a special study of Mimamsa philosophy.6

1. Panini's period falls somewhere between 600 B.C. and 300 B.C., Kane History of Hindu Dharmashastras, Vol. 2, p. xi (600-300 B.C.); R.G. Bhandarkar Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 16, p. 340 (5th Century B.C.); Keith History of Sanskrit Literature, p. 425 (5th Century B.C.).

2. Panini IV, 1.63.

3. Radha Kumud Mookerji Women in Ancient India, in Baig (Ed.) Women of India (1958), pp. 1, 6.

4. Katyayana's period was roughly 200 B.C.

5. Katyayana in IV 1, 48: Radha Kumud Mookerji Women in Ancient India in Baig (Ed.) Women of India, (1958), pp. 1, 16.

6. R.C. Majumdar History and Culture of the Indian People (The Age of Imperial Unity), Vol. 2, p. 563.

3.17B. Military pursuits.-

Apart from literary pursuits, military pursuits also seem to have been open to women. For example, the great grammarian, Patanjali, in his Mahabhashya,1 uses the formation "saktiki" to indicate a female bearer of a spear.2

It may be noted that there is a sculpture at Bharhut of about the 2nd century B.C. which represents a woman carrying a standard on horse-back as belonging to the vanguard of the cavalry.3

We also hear of the Amazonian bodyguard of armed women employed by the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, in his place, as described by Megasthenes,3 the Greek Ambassador to his Court, Similarly, Kautilya,4 in his Arthasastra, refers to women soldiers armed with bows and arrows (striganath dhanvibhih).

1. Patanjali on IV. 1, 15(6),

2. Radha Kumud Mookerji Women in Ancient India in Baig (Ed.) Women of India, (1958), PP. 1, 6.

3. McCrindle Megasthenes, p. 72.

4. Kautilya, quoted in Radha Kumud Mookerji Women in Ancient India in Baig (Ed.) Women of India, (1958), pp. 1, 6.

3.17C. Lowering of age of marriage.-

It would appear that the lowering of the age of marriage during this period affected the general education and culture of women in an adverse way.1 But the final stage in this downward movement was not reached during the period under review. The period upto 320 A.D. was rather a transitional period, and we really find two entirely different pictures of women, reflected in the literary works.1

1. R.C. Majumdar (Ed.) History & Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 2, (The Age of Imperial Unity), p. 562.

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