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Women In The Sacred Laws
Kulapati's Preface The Author
Foreword Prologue
The Dharma Sutras Contemporary Evidence
The Manu - Samhita The Later Law-Books
Digest On Hindu Law Espirit Des Lois
Major Sections

THE LATER LAW - BOOKS

It will be seen that, though both Vishnu and Brihaspati allow a widow to lead a fife of virtue and asceticism, they prescribe an alternative course of action also, that she may ascend the pile after him. These are the earliest instances of Smriti referring to the practice of Sati. This custom of the self-immolation of a widow was in existence even in very early periods among tribesmen and races that had not imbibed Vedic culture.

No text from any except one, in the Atharva Veda, or even Smriti, before the 5th century A.D. sanctions this rite. It is only when we come to the period of the Vishnu and the Brihaspati Smriti that we find for the first time, the self-immolation of a widow being allowed by Hindu law. But even here it has been prescribed as an alternative course of action for a woman after the demise of her husband.

In this connection we have to take note of what the Parasara-Samhita says about the course of life to be led by a widow. It contains four verses on the subject, representative of three different ages. It seems that the first of these belongs to the original text of the Smriti, and the others were added each in course of time to suit the exigencies. The first of these may be thus translated:

'When the husband of a woman has disappeared, is dead, has turned a recluse, is impotent, or has been excommunicated under these five calamities another husband is permitted to women.' 54 It will be seen that Parasara takes a far more sympathetic view of the condition of a widow than Manu or even the Sutrakaras.

The earliest and most liberal of the Sutra-karas is Gautama, who allows a woman to marry soon after her husband is dead; but Parasara permits her a second marriage not only when the husband is dead, but also when he has disappeared, may even when he is known to be living, provided he has become a recluse or an outcast. This certainly points to a state of society which was far anterior to that of the Manu Smriti, though not to that of the Dharma-Sutra period. Things, however, had changed, and provision had to be made in conformity with that altered condition.

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Women In The Sacred Laws
About The Later Law Books
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