Chapter 3 Kinship, Caste and Class Early Societies
Explain why patriliny may have been particularly important among elite families.
Patriliny means tracing descent from father to son, grandson and so on. While ; patriliny had existed prior to the composition of the Mahabharata, its central story reinforced the idea that it was valuable. It was important among elite and ruling families to avoid conflicts over land, power and resources including the throne in the case of kings of their fathers when the latter died as had happened between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, who belonged to a single ruling family.
There were, however, variations in practice. Sometimes if there were no sons, brothers succeeded one another. Sometimes other kinsmen claimed the throne, and in very exceptional ; circumstances, women such as Prabhavati Gupta exercised power.
Discuss whether kings in early states invariably were Kshatriyas.
As per the Dharmashastra, only Kshatriyas were supposed to be the kings. But it was also to be noted that many important ruling lineages perhaps had different origins. Mauryas were considered Kshatriyas by many people. Some Brahmanical texts described Mauryas as of low origin. The Shungas and Kanvas who were immediate successors of the Mauryas were Brahmanas. In fact those sections of the society controlled the political power which enjoyed support and resources. It did not depend on the question of being bom as Kshatriya.
There were other rulers like Shakas who came from Central Asia. But the Brahmanas considered them as mlechchhas, barbarians and outsiders. Similarly, Gotami-putra Satkami, the best known ruler of the Satavahana dynasty, became a destroyer of the pride of kshatriyas. This we see that the Satavahanas claimed to be Brahmanas whereas the Brahmanas were of the opinion that the king should be Kshatriyas.
Compare and contrast the dharma or norms mentioned in the stories of Drona, Hidimba and Matanga.
(a) The following principles of dharma or norms have been mentioned in the stories of Drona, Hidimba and Matanga:
- Story of Drona : To teach Kshatriyas only, to take fee or guru dakshina from the pupils, and to keep his words.
- Story of Hidimba : Marriage of Bhima with Hidimba against the principles of marriage.
- Story of Matanga : To treat chandalas at the very bottom of the hierarchy of vamas due to handling of corpses and dead animals and treating them as “polluting” by those who claimed to be at the top of the social order.
(b) In all the three stories the dharma or norms as mentioned in the Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras have been violated in one way or the other. In case of Drona, he refused to have Ekalavya as his pupil because he was a forest dwelling nishada who did not fit into the fourfold varna system. It was considered a jati. Ekalavya acquired great skill in archery that was perhaps better than Arjuna before the image of Drona. He acknowledged Drona as his teacher. So, when Drona approached him and asked for his right thumb as his fee, he did not hesitate and offered it to his teacher. This shows that Drona followed a double standard towards Ekalavya. He refused to treat him as his pupil but in order to keep his words that no one would be better than Aijuna, he demanded the right thumb from Ekalavya as his fee. It was against the principles of morality.
In case of Hidimba, Yudhisthira agreed to the marriage conditionally. After giving birth to a rakshasa son, the mother and son left the Pandavas. This was in violation of the norms for marriages because rakshasa were the people whose practices differed from those laid down in Brahmanical texts.
In case of Matanga, on his first encounter with Dittha Mangalika, he was beaten as she had seen something inauspicious. Later on Matanga attained spiritual powers and married her. They had a son named Mandavya Kumara who treated Matanga unworthy of alms and treated him badly. When Mangalika learnt about the incident, she sought his forgiveness. This story shows that chandalas were regarded as “polluting”. At the same time this proves that they did not accept the life of degradation prescribed in the Shastra. Matanga attained spiritual powers. He gave a bit of the leftover from his bowl to Dittha Mangalika and asked her to give it to Mandavya and Brahmans which hint that occasionally the social realities were different from the Brahmanical texts. The above stories reflect the realities of social condition of that period.
In what ways was the Buddhist theory of a social contract different from the Brahmanical view of a society derived from the Purusha Sukta?(VBQ)
The Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda says that the four Vamas emerged because of the sacrifice of Purusha, the primeval man. The four vamas were Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. These Vamas had different jobs. The Brahmanas had supreme position in the society. They were also considered as teachers. Kshatriyas were considered warriors. They also ran the administration. The Vaishyas were the masters of trade. The Shudras were at the lowest strata. Their duty was to serve the above three vamas. Under this Brahmanical system, birth was the only criteria to judge the status and prestige in the society.
But the Buddhisftheory of a social contract was different. As per the Buddhist concept, there was inequality in society. But they also opined that this inequality was neither natural nor permanent. They did not favour the idea of birth being the criteria of social status.
The following is an excerpt from the Mahabharata, in which Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava, speaks to Sanjaya, a messenger :
Sanjaya, convey my respectful greetings to all the Brahmanas and the chief priest of the house of Dhritarashtra. I bow respectfully to teacher Drona… I hold the feet of our preceptor Kripa … (and) the chief of the Kurus, the great Bhishma. I bow respectfully to the old king (Dhritarashtra). I greet and ask after the health of his son Duryodhana and his younger brother .. Also greet all the young Kuru warriors who are our brothers, sons and grandsons … Greet above all him, who is to us like father and mother, the wise Vidura (bom of a slave woman)… bow to the elderly ladies who are known as our mothers. To those who are our wives you say this, “I hope they are well-protected” … Our daughters-in-law bom of good families and mothers of children greet on my behalf. Embrace for me those who are our daughters … The beautiful, fragrant, well-dressed courtesans of ours you should also greet. Greet the slave women and their children, greet the aged, the maimed (and) the helpless …
Try and identify the criteria used to make this list – in terms of age, gender, kinship ties. Are there any other criteria ? For each category, explain why they are placed in a particular position in the list.
(a) The list has been prepared on the following basis and order. The criteria used for each category has been mentioned against them :
(b) From the above list it is clear that each category has been placed keeping in view the age, gender and kinship ties as well as their varnas. Slave women and aged, the maimed and the helpless have been placed in the last two categories.
This is what a famous historian of Indian literature, Maurice Wintemitz, wrote about the Mahabharata : “just because the Mahabharata represents more of an entire literature … and contains so much and so many kinds of things. … (it) gives(s) us an insight into the most profound depths of the soul of the Indian folk.” Discuss.
The above statement of Maurice Wintemitz about the Mahabharata seems to be correct because it is one of the richest texts of the subcontinent. It is a colossal epic running in
its present form into over 100,000 verses with depictions of a wide range of social categories and situations. It was composed over a period of about 1000 years and some of the stories it contains may have been in circulation even earlier. The text also contains sections laying down norms of behaviour for various social groups. Occasionally, the principal characters seem to follow these norms. Over the centuries, versions of the epic were written in a variety of languages. Several stories that originated in specific regions or circulated among certain people found their way into the epic. The central story of the epic was often retold in different ways. Its episodes have been depicted in sculpture and painting. They also provided themes for a wide range of performing arts – plays, dance, and other kinds of narrations. Its central story describes a feud over land and power between two groups of cousins. It reinforces the principle of patriliny. It mentions rules of marriage too. Thus, it is correct that it contains so many things and gives us an insight into the most profound depths of the soul of the Indian folk.
Discuss whether the Mahabharata could have been the work of a single author.
- The Mahabharata could not have been the work of a single author because a text which initially perhaps had less than 10,000 verses grew to comprise about 100,000 verses. This enormous composition is traditionally attributed to a sage named Vyasa. There is also a tradition that Vyasa dictated the text to the deity Ganesha.
- The original story was probably composed by charioteer-bards known as sutas who generally accompanied Kshatriya warriors to the battlefields. They used to compose poems celebrating their victories and other achievements. These compositions circulated orally.
- Then from the fifth century BCE, Brahmanas began to commit it to writing.
- This was the time when the Kurus and Panchalas became kingdoms and perhaps the new kings wanted their itihas to be recorded and preserved systematically. Social values were often replaced by new norms and these have been mentioned in the Mahabharata.
- The next stage was between 200 BCE and 200 CE when worship of Vishnu grew in importance and Krishna was identified with Vishnu.
- Between 200 and 400 CE, large didactic sections resembling Manusmriti were added. Thus, the epic was neither written by one author nor was it written during one period.
How important were gender differences in early societies? Give reasons for your answer.
It is seen that in early societies families were generally patriliny. Patriliny means tracing descent from father to son and to grandson and so on. Matriliny family was k generally not in use. But exception was also available. As exception, Satavahanas of Andhra can be mentioned. Historical sources mention the name of some rulers from inscriptions associated with the names of the mothers of the king. As Gotami-putra means’ son of Gotami’. Gotami and Vasistha are the feminines of Gotama and Vasistha. Sons were considered important for the continuity of the family. Attitudes towards daughter were different. They had no claims towards the resources of the household. But marrying them into the families outside the kin was considered desirable. This system of marriage was called exogamy. According to this system, the lives of the young ‘girls and women belonged to those families which claimed that high status were often carefully regulated to ensure that they were married at the right time and to the right person. This gave rise to the tradition that in marriage Kanyadana was an important religious duty of the father.
After marriage women were supposed to give up their father’s gotra and adopt their husband’s.As per Manusmriti, the paternal state was to be divided equally amongst sons after the death of parents, with a special share for the eldest. Women were not given any share
in this state.
But women were allowed to keep the gifts with themselves which they received at the [ time of their marriage. This was called stridhana. This could be inherited by. their children and the husband had no claim over it. But at the same time Manusmriti also told women not to hoard family property or even their own valuables without the permission of their husband.
In fact, social differences were sharpened because ofthe differences in access of resources.Many texts suggest that while upper class women may have access to resources but l and, cattle, money were generally controlled by the men. Vakataka queen Prabhavati Gupta was a rich woman.
Discuss the evidence that suggests that Brahmanical prescriptions about kinship and marriage were not universally followed.
The following evidence suggests that Brahmanical prescriptions about kinship and marriage were not universally followed :
- Change in kinship relations : There was change in kinship relations. For example, the Mahabharata is a story of a feud over land and power between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Ultimately, the conflict ended in a battle, in which the Pandavas emerged victorious.
- Patriliny : Patriliny means tracing descent from father to son, grandson and so on. But there were variations in practice. Sometimes, if there were no sons, brothers succeeded one another. Sometimes other kinsmen claimed the throne. In very exceptional circumstances, women such as Prabhavati Gupta exercised power.
- Marriages : The Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras recognised as many as eight forms of marriage. Of these, the first four were considered as “good” while the remaining were condemned. These were perhaps practised by those who did not accept Brahmanical norms.
- Gotra of women : According to Brahmanical practice, women were expected to give up their father’s gotra and adopt that of their husband on marriage and members of the same gotra could not marry. This was not followed universally. For example, names of many women who married Satavahana rulers had been derived from gotras such as Gotama and Vasistha, their father’s gotras. They did not adopt their husband’s gotra. Not only this, some of them belonged to the same gotra that was against exogamy. The system of endogamy or marriage within the kin group was too prevalent among several communities in south India.