Both Yajnavalkya and Vishnu ordain self-choice for a girl, in case her
natural guardians fall to give her in marriage at the proper time. Yajnavalkya designates
her a Kanya. According, to Yajnavalkya and Vishnu, 43 the, word Kanya is used
for a girl who has attained the marriageable age. In the same sense does Manu use
the word Kumari. 44
But front the verses of Samvarta and Yama the age of a Kanya is
evidently fixed at ten, and a girl above that age is called a Vrshali. This change in the
meaning evidently took place between the composition of Vishnu and the Samvarta-Samhita.
Vishnu has been ascribed to the 4th century A.D., and it can be concluded on reasonable
grounds that this change in the social outlook came into force soon after his time, so as
to induce Marichi mention it in his work, and child-marriage was encouraged by the
sanction of law; in fact, celestial felicity of the highest type was held out as a reward
It was besides considered to be a meritorious act. The lower the age
at which the girl was married, the higher is the merit reaped by the father. We do not
know what political events necessitated this drastic change. The country was certainly
passing through a turbulent time.
The periodical foreign invasions might partly have accelerated the
change in the outlook towards womanhood. The position of woman in the literature that
preceded Vishnu is not however the same. In the dialogue of Uma Mahesvara
we have Kanya defined as one who is purified of her temporary uncleanness.
In the Mahabharata 46 the term Kanya is used for
girls who have attained their marriageable age. Harita describes and ordains the
initiation of woman. 47 He continues:
'Women are of two kinds: Brahmavadinis or women versed in the:
knowledge of Brahman and married brides. The Brahmavadinis light the [sacrificial] fire,
read the Vedas, and begs in their own house. The marriage of the new brides should be
performed after a formal initiation on their arrival at the place of marriage'.