Status of Women in Vedic Age
The status of Women in early Rig Vedic society was very high. In Later Vedic period, the position that the women folk enjoyed in the early Vedic society, was not retained.
In Vedic society participation of wives was required in many rituals. It was thought that a widow had to perform a ‘symbolic’ self-immolution at the death of her husband. That the ritual was symbolic in the early period seems evident from the re-marriage of widow, generally to the husband’s brother. Women could select their husband in an assembly called `sayambhar’. But in most cases the women had to lead an unhappy married life. This was simply because their husbands were allowed to have more than one wives and this was especially quite common among the upper classes of the ancient Indian society. Characteristics of the status of upper-caste women in later centuries were that early marriages were advocated, often even pre-puberty marriages. A widow was expected to live in austerity, but if of the Kshatriya caste should preferably immolate herself on the funeral pyre of her husband especially if he had died a hero’s death. This would make her ‘Sati’. The earliest historical evidence for this practice dates from A.D. 510, when it was commemorated in an inscription at Fran.
Manu assigns to the Women of Vedic age, a position of dependence, if not of subordination. The Arthasastra attests to considerable restraints placed on their movements. In the Deccan their movements were comparatively free and their rights more clearly defined. Several instances are known of royal ladies in South India excelling themselves in music and fine arts.
In the Gupta period instances are not rare of women participating in administrative job. Prabhabati, the daughter of Chandra Gupta II performed administrative duties in her kingdom. Instances of women of the upper classes extending their phase of activities beyond the domestic circle are provided by the queen and queens regent in Kashmir, Rajasthan, Orissa and Andhra. Institutions were established for co-education. In the work called Amarkosh written in the Gupta era names of the teachers and professors are there and they belonged to female sex. They were the authors of Vedic scripts and ‘mantras ‘.
A small number of women with some measure of freedom chose to opt out of the normal house holding activities required of a woman and became nuns, or trained to be courtesans or joined troops of performers.