Status of Women (was Re: Jivanmuktiviveka of Swami Vidyaranya)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Feb 2 09:58:51 CST 2000

On Tue, 1 Feb 2000, Ashish Chandra wrote:

> I do have a question. I came across the following post which quoted the
> Atharva Veda as saying that widow remarriage was "favoured" in the Atharva
> Veda. Maybe someone who has the AV Samhita can look this up.
> "O widow ! Move away from the mortal remains of thy husband. You need not
> remain a widow. Your brother-in-law is ready to take you as his
> wife." (Atharva : 9 : 5 : 27 & 18 : 3 : 2)
> Can someone verify whether remarriage is being talked.

I don't have the Atharva Samhita either but I would like to point out that
a mention by itself isn't sufficient.  Dharma consists of injunctions to
either do or not do something.  These would more likely be found in the
Brahmana part of a Shakha not the Samhita.  The quotes from Manusmrti you
gave are more authoritative in this regard.

The custom of marrying the brother-in-law is called levirate in English I
think.  Other religions have it too.  In Judaism I think it is the rule
that a levirate marriage must occur unless the brother-in-law specifically
releases the woman (which of course he usually does.)  In our culture at
least as far as I can tell, levirate marriages are no longer practiced.

It is the family who should take care of widows and orphans but
unfortunately it didn't always work out that way.  In a rural society
where one bad harvest cold make even a relatively well-off family face
the threat of famine, extra mouths to feed were sometimes resented
instead of supported.  One story I heard about the early 1900's concerns
my great-grandmother on my mothers side.  When my great-grandfather died,
instead of looking after them, his relatives seized his land and forced my
great-grandmother along with my grandfather (then about 10-11 years
old) and his younger brother and sister out.  In what could be the plot of
a Hindi film, she and a few followers took up muskets and fought them to
regain the property!  It was those kind of experiences that led my
grandfather to become a Gandhian and try and correct some of these

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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