Lindsey Harlan

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

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Scholarly reflection on Hindu marriage includes work on prescriptive treatments in early Sanskrit sources. Among these are Vedic discourses on household ritual and later discussions of dharma, a term with a wide semantic range that includes duty, law, custom, and religion. These dharma texts differentiated duties of people according to indices of social location, including class (varna) and gender. Colonial authorities often utilized these sources to promote their political agendas. Many early scholars of Hinduism were interested in asceticism, which dharma literature represented as a key stage of life for upper-class men. With the entry of women into academia in the 1970s, the study of women, including their roles as wives, helped focus attention on household life as they experienced it. Attention focused not only on prescriptive sources for the ideal of the good wife (patrivrata), but also on the subjectivity of wives, whose marital experiences included negotiation of, and resistance to, this ideal. Some scholars have investigated female paradigms from Sanskrit literature, particularly epics, to discern both conformity to and deviation from patrivrata code. In addition, they have used case studies from fieldwork and contemporary expressive traditions, such as women’s songs, to access this subjectivity. Interest has also focused on the interaction of husbands and wives as conveyed in other sources of myth, which have revealed not only ideals, but also tensions and conflicts. Considering diverse sources and perspectives, scholars have noted representations that split ideations of women into both benign and threatening roles, such as wife and sister. Some scholars have focused on the wedding sanskara, a rite of passage designed to perfect a couple’s union and ensure a good marriage. Among the most controversial aspects of many, though not all, weddings is dowry payment, which, although illegal, continues to be widely practiced. Also of long-standing interest to scholars is the topic of women’s, and especially wives’, performance of vratas, ritual vows intended to promote household auspiciousness. Along with analysis of women’s rituals has come consideration of the gendered division of household space, including parda, the seclusion of women within the home. Other controversial issues that have served as the focus of concentrated study are same-sex unions, changing modes of engagement, the treatment of widows, divorce, the murder of brides due to insufficient dowry, and sati (suttee) immolation, which, although now uncommon, has generated extensive debate.

Article.  13523 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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