Medieval India: Women’s “Dark Age”
I was reading about the women cultures across the world, and found this link which briefly explains lot of things which were happening in India in the Medieval age . Indian culture has a very rich history and the inherited wealth from various rulers who came from different parts of the World. With mix of all good history there was some dark sides also, Women status in declined … Was it Indian culture??? Was it inherited culture???…..
Medieval Indian Women Medieval India was not women’s age it is supposed to be the ‘dark age’ for them. Medieval India saw many foreign conquests, which resulted in the decline in women’s status. When foreign conquerors like Muslims invaded India they brought with them their own culture. For them women was the sole property of her father, brother or husband and she does not have any will of her own. This type of thinking also crept into the minds of Indian people and they also began to treat their own women like this. One more reason for the decline in women’s status and freedom was that original Indians wanted to shield their women folk from the barbarous Muslim invaders. As polygamy was a norm for these invaders they picked up any women they wanted and kept her in their “harems”. In order to protect them Indian women started using ‘Purdah’, (a veil), which covers body.
Due to this reason their freedom also became affected. They were not allowed to move freely and this lead to the further deterioration of their status. These problems related with women resulted in changed mindset of people. Now they began to consider a girl as misery and a burden, which has to be shielded from the eyes of intruders and needs extra care. Whereas a boy child will not need such extra care and instead will be helpful as an earning hand. Thus a vicious circle started in which women was at the receiving end. All this gave rise to some new evils such as Child Marriage, Sati, Jauhar and restriction
on girl education
- Sati: The ritual of dying at the funeral pyre of the husband is known as “Sati” or “Sahagaman”. According to some of the Hindu scriptures women dying at the funeral pyre of her husband go straight to heaven so its good to practice this ritual. Initially it was not obligatory for the women but if she practiced such a custom she was highly respected by the society. Sati was considered to be the better option then living as a widow as the plight of widows in Hindu society was even worse. Some of the scriptures like ‘Medhatiti’ had different views it say that Sati is like committing suicide so one should avoid this.
- Jauhar: It is also more or less similar to Sati but it is a mass suicide. Jauhar was prevalent in the Rajput societies. In this custom wives immolated themselves while their husband were still alive. When people of Rajput clan became sure that they were going to die at the hands of their enemy then all the women arrange a large pyre and set themselves afire, while their husband used to fight the last decisive battle known as “Shaka”, with the enemy. Thus protecting the sanctity of the women and the whole clan.
- Child Marriage: It was a norm in medieval India. Girls were married off at theage of 8-10. They were not allowed access to education and were treated as the material being. The plight of women can be imagined by one of the shloka of Tulsidas where he writes [r1] “Dhol, gawar, shudra, pashu, nari, ye sab tadan ke adhikari”. Meaning that animals, illiterates, lower castes and women should be subjected to beating. Thus women were compared with animals and were married off at an early age. The child marriage along with it brought some more problems such as increased birth rate, poor health of women due to repeated child bearing and high mortality rate of women and children.
- Restriction on Widow Remarriage: The condition of widows in medieval India was very bad. They were not treated as human beings and were subjected to a lot of restrictions. They were supposed to live pious life after their husband died and were not allowed entry in any celebration. Their presence in any good work was considered to be a bad omen. Sometimes heads of widows were also shaved down. They were not allowed to remarry. Any woman remarrying was looked down by the society. This cruelty on widows was one of the main reasons for the large number of women committing Sati. In medieval India living as a Hindu widow was a sort of a curse.
- Purdah System: The veil or the ‘Purdah’ system was widely prevalent in medieval Indian society. It was used to protect the women folk from the eyes of foreign rulers who invaded India in medieval period. But this system curtailed the freedom of women.
- Girl Education: The girls of medieval India and especially Hindu society were not given formal education. They were given education related tohousehold chores. But a famous Indian philosopher ‘Vatsyayana’ wrote that women were supposed to be perfect in sixty four arts which included cooking, spinning, grinding, knowledge of medicine, recitation and many more.Though these evils were present in medieval Indian society but they were mainly confined to Hindu society. As compared to Hindu society other societies such as Buddhism,Jainism and Christians were a bit lenient. Women in those societies enjoyed far more freedom. They had easy access to education and were more liberal in their approach. According to these religions gender was not the issue in attaining salvation. Any person whether a man or a woman is entitled to get the grace of god. During the time of king Ashoka women took part in religious preaching. According to Hiuen Tsang, the famous traveler of that time, Rajyashri, the sister of Harshavardhana was a distinguished scholar of her time. Another such example is the daughter of king Ashoka, Sanghmitra. She along with her brother Mahendra went to Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism.The status of women in Southern India was better than the North India. While in Northern India there were not many women administrators, inSouthern India we can find some names that made women of that time proud. Priyaketaladevi, queen of Chalukya Vikramaditya ruled three villages. Another women named Jakkiabbe used to rule seventy villages. In South India women had representation in each and every field. Domingo Paes, famous Portuguese traveler testifies to it. He has written in his account that in Vijaynagar kingdom women were present in eachand every field. He says that women could wrestle, blow trumpet and handle sword with equal perfection. Nuniz, another famous traveler to the South also agrees to it and says that women were employed in writing accounts of expenses, recording the affairs of kingdom, which shows that they were educated. There is no evidence of any public school in northern India but according to famous historian Ibn Batuta there were 13 schools for girls and 24 for boys in Honavar.There was one major evil present in South India of medieval time. It was the custom of Devadasis.
- Devadasis: It was a custom prevalent in Southern India. In this system girlswere dedicated to temples in the name of gods and goddesses. The girls were then onwards known as ‘Devadasis’ meaning servant of god. These Devadasis were supposed to live the life of celibacy. All the requirements of Devadasis were fulfilled by the grants given to the temples. In temple they used to spend their time in worship of god and by singing and dancing for the god. Some kings used to invite temple dancers to perform at their court for the pleasure of courtiers and thus some Devadasis converted to Rajadasis (palace dancers)prevalent in some tribes of South India like Yellamma cult.
The plight of women in medieval India and at the starting of modern India can be summed up in the words of great poet Rabindranath Tagore:
“O Lord Why have you not given woman the right to conquer her destiny?
Why does she have to wait head bowed,
By the roadside, Waiting with tired patience,
Hoping for a miracle in the morrow?”
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