Social-Economic Life in Ancient India

Social Structure in Ancient India

  • Three concepts of ‘purusharth,’ ‘ashrama,’ and samskara’ are inter linked.
  • ‘Purushartha’ means aims of life which is divided into four ‘ashramas’ or stages of life.
  • For each of the ‘ashramas’ there are prescribed ‘samskaras’ or rites that need to be performed. There are about forty such ‘samskaras.’
  • Some important ones are: ‘garbhadana’ (conception), ‘pumsavana’ (male child), ‘simantonnayana’ (safety), ‘jatakarma’ (birth ceremony) ‘nishkramana’ (showing the sun) ‘annaprashana’ (first feeding of solid food), ‘chudakarma’ (tonsure) ‘upanayana’ (investiture with sacred thread), ‘samavartana’ (end of the first stage) ‘vivaha; (marriage), ‘antyesti’ (the last rites) etc.
  • All these ‘sanskaras are prescribed for the three upper varnas and not for the shudras and untouchables.
  • In fact, even the women of the higher varnas were not entitled to many the ‘sanskaras.’

Family and Marriage in Ancient India

  • Traditionally the family in India is governed by two schools of sacred law and customs. These are based on ‘Mitakshara’ and ‘Dayabhaga.’
  • Most families of Bengal and Assam follow the rules of ‘Dayabhaga’ while rest of India follows ‘Mitakshara.’
  • Marriage of many kinds such as hypergamous (man of high caste and woman of low caste) or anuloma and hypogamous (man of low caste and woman of high caste) or pratiloma based on an alliance between different varna/ caste; monogamous, polygamous and polyandrous based on number of spouses.
  • Traditionally polygamy was not prohibited.

Condition of Women in Ancient India

  • During Vedic period even under patriarchy women participated in all the affairs of the Tribe barring wars.
  • They were composers of hymns; they could marry the men of their choice at a mature age.
  • In the post-Vedic phase with the break-up of tribal institutions their position deteriorated.
  • Early lawbooks reduced the women to the status of a ‘Shudra.’ Except some personal property (‘stridhana’) they were not entitled to any property. Even Vedic knowledge was closed to women.
  • Eran inscription of Gupta times gives for the first-time description of Sati.
  • At this time, heterodox sects gave them some place of respect. Tantric sects of early medieval period gave woman an important place in their cult and instituted orders of female ascetics.
  • Women belonging to upper castes received some education and a few of them are mentioned as poets and dramatists.
  • Barring Rig-Vedic period, women occupied low status.
  • Marriage at an early age became sanctified. ‘Sati System’ became quite common.

Untouchability in Ancient India

  • Concept of purity and pollution in Indian society is best reflected in the formation of a category known as untouchables (antyajas).
  • This notion of untouchability took roots during the last phase of the Vedic period and became a separate social category in the age of the Buddha.
  • Sometimes they were called the fifth varna (panchama). Chandala is the term used loosely for many types of untouchables. Mlechchas were also considered untouchables.
  • In Gupta period, their status fell so much that they were forced to further strike a wooden clapper on entering a town. Hunters (nishada), fishermen (kaivartas) leather workers (charmakaras), sweepers (kukkusa), basket makers (vend) all became untouchables.

Slavery in Ancient India

  • There were no slave markets in the early periods, however, in the early centuries of the Christian era, there was trade in slave-girls between India and the Roman empire in both directions, and slave markets existed in the 16th century Vijayanagar empire.
  • ‘Arthashastra’ states that a man could be a slave by birth, by voluntarily selling himself, by being captured in war, or because of a judicial punishment.
  • Sanskrit word for slave is ‘dasa’ which initially meant a member of the people captured by migrating Aryan hordes. Many such ‘dasas’ were reduced to bondage.
Online Counselling
Table of Contents
Today's Current Affairs
This is default text for notification bar