Sunday, 14 July 2013

class XII- Ch-3 Kinship, caste and class


Kinship, Caste and Class

Textual sources to understand social behavior of early historic period

1.      Historians often use textual traditions to understand Social history. Some texts lay down norms of social behavior. Others describe and occasionally comment on a wide range of social situations and practices.
2.      Texts like Mahabharata allow us to piece together attitudes and practices that shaped social histories.
3.      In focusing on the Mahabharata, a colossal epic running in its present form into over 100,000 verses with depictions of a wide range of social categories and situations.
4.       It is one of the richest texts of the subcontinent. It was composed over a period of about 1,000 years (c. 500 BCE onwards), and some of the stories it contains may have been in circulation even earlier.
5.       The central story is about two sets of warring cousins. The text also contains sections laying down norms of behavior for various social groups. Occasionally the principal characters seem to follow these norms.

 The Critical Edition of the Mahabharata

1.      In 1919, under the leadership of a noted Indian Sanskritist, V.S. Sukthankar, a team of scholars initiated the task of preparing a critical edition of the Mahabharata.
2.      Initially they collected Sanskrit manuscripts of the text, written in a variety of languages, from different parts of the country. The team compared verses from each manuscript.
3.      Ultimately, they selected the verses that appeared common to most versions and published these in several volumes, running into over 13,000 pages. The project took 47 years to complete.
4.      There were several common elements in the Sanskrit versions of the story, evident in manuscripts found all over the subcontinent, from Kashmir to Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south.
5.      Also evident were enormous regional variations in the ways in which the text had been transmitted over the centuries. These variations were documented in footnotes and appendices to the main text.

Rules and Varied Practices in the early society

a.      Rules about families(Kinship)

1.      Families are usually parts of larger networks of people defined as relatives, or to use a more technical term, kinfolk.
2.      We noticed that not all families are identical: they vary in terms of number of members, their relationship with one another as well as the kinds of activities they share.
3.      Often people belonging to the same family share food and other resources, and live, work and perform rituals together.
4.      While familial ties are often regarded as “natural” and based on blood, they are defined in many different ways. For instance, some societies regard cousins as being blood relations, whereas others do not.
5.      For early societies, historians can retrieve information about elite families fairly easily; it is, however, far more difficult to reconstruct the familial relationships of ordinary people.

b.      Rules about patriliny

1.      Patriliny means tracing descent from father to son, grandson and so on. Matriliny is the term used when descent is traced through the mother. At one level, the Mahabharata is a story about patriliny.
2.       It describes a feud over land and power between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, who belonged to a single ruling family, that of the Kurus, a lineage dominating one of the janapadas.
3.       Under patriliny, sons could claim the resources (including the throne in the case of kings) of their fathers when the father died.
4.      Most ruling dynasties (c. sixth century BCE onwards) claimed to follow this system, although there were variations in practice: sometimes there were no sons, brothers succeeded one another, and sometimes other kinsmen claimed the throne.
5.      In very exceptional circumstances, women such as Prabhavati Gupta exercised power. The concern with patriliny was not unique to ruling families but also in ordinary families.

c.       Rules of marriage

1.      There were two systems of marriage- Endogamy and Exogamy. Marriage within the kin is called Endogamy. Marriage outside the kin is called Exogamy.
2.       The lives of young girls and women belonging to elite families were often carefully regulated to ensure that they were married at the “right” time and to the “right” person. This gave rise to the belief that kanyadana or the gift of a daughter in marriage was an important religious duty of the father.
3.      There are three types of marriage- Monogamy (It is the practice in which a man having one wife), polygamy or Polygyny (It is the practice in which a man having several wives) and Polyandry ( It is the practice  in which a woman having several husbands)
4.      From c. 500 BCE, marriage norms were compiled in Sanskrit texts known as the Dharmasutras, Dharmashastras and Manusmriti. These texts recognised as many as eight forms of marriage.
5.      Of these, the first four were considered as “good” (Which were arranged by the parents of either the boy or girl) while the remaining four were condemned( Which were fixed by the boy or girl) It is possible that last four forms of marriage were practised by those who did not accept Brahmanical norms.

d.      The Gotra rules for women

1.      One Brahmanical practice was to classify people in terms of gotras. Each gotra was named after a Vedic seer, and all those who belonged to the same gotra were regarded as his descendants.
2.      Two rules about gotra were particularly important: a) women were expected to give up their father’s gotra and adopt that of their husband on marriage and b) members of the same gotra could not marry.
3.      One way to find out whether this was commonly followed is to consider the names of men and women, which were sometimes derived from gotra names. Some of the Satavahana rulers were polygynous. The Queens who married Satavahana rulers indicate that many of them had their father’s gotras even after the marriage.
4.       What is also apparent is that some of these Queens belonged to the same gotra. As is obvious, this was opposite to the ideal of exogamy recommended in the Brahmanical texts.
5.      In fact, it exemplified an alternative practice, that of endogamy or marriage within the kin group, which is prevalent amongst several communities in south India. Satavahanas also had marriage relations with Shakhas, Who were considered as out castes.

e.       Were mothers important in early societies?

1.      We have seen that Satavahana rulers were identified through matronymics.  It means their names derived from that of the mother.
2.       In the case of the Satavahanas we know that succession to the throne was generally patrilineal. It means sons succeeded to the throne after the death of father.
Social Differences: Within and Beyond the Framework of Caste

1. The “right” occupation

a.       The Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras also contained rules about the ideal “occupations” of the four categories or varnas.
b.      Brahmanas were supposed to study and teach the Vedas, perform sacrifices and get sacrifices performed, and give and receive gifts.
c.       Kshatriyas were to engage in warfare, protect people and administer justice, study the Vedas, get sacrifices performed, and make gifts.
d.      The Vaishyas were expected to engage in agriculture, pastoralism and trade.
e.       Shudras were assigned only one occupation – that of serving the three “higher” varnas.

The Brahmanas evolved many strategies for enforcing right occupation norms.

a.       One was to assert that the varna order was of divine origin.
b.      Second, they advised kings to ensure that these norms were followed within their kingdoms.
c.       And third, they attempted to persuade people that their status was determined by birth.
d.      They also reinforced these norms by stories told in the Mahabharata and other texts.

2. Non-Kshatriya kings

a.       According to the Shastras, only Kshatriyas could be kings. However, several important ruling lineages probably had different origins.
b.      The social background of the Mauryas, who ruled over a large empire, has been hotly debated. Brahmanical texts described that Mauryas were of “low” origin.
c.       The Shungas and Kanvas, the immediate successors of the Mauryas, were Brahmanas. In fact, political power was effectively open to anyone who could muster support and resources, and rarely depended on birth as a Kshatriya.
d.      Other rulers, such as the Shakas who came from Central Asia, were regarded as mlechchhas, (barbarians) or outsiders by the Brahmanas. They ruled north western part of India.
e.       It is also interesting that the best-known ruler of the Satavahana dynasty, Gotami-puta Siri-Satakani, claimed to be both a unique Brahmana and a destroyer of the pride of Kshatriyas.

3. Jatis and social mobility

a.       In Brahmanical theory, jati, like varna, was based on birth. However, while the number of varnas was fixed at four, there was no restriction on the number of jatis.
b.      In fact, whenever Brahmanical authorities encountered new groups like nishadas – or wanted to assign a name to occupational categories like goldsmith used jati to classify them.
c.       Jatis which shared a common occupation or profession were sometimes organised into shrenis or guilds.
d.      One interesting stone inscription found in Madhya Pradesh records the history of a guild of silk weavers who originally lived in Gujarat migrated to Madhya Pradesh were known as Dashapura.
e.       The inscription provides a fascinating glimpse of complex social processes and provides insights into the nature of guilds or shrenis. Although membership was based on a shared craft specialisation, some members adopted other occupations.

4. Beyond the four varnas (Integration of varna practices)

1.      In the subcontinent social practices of Tribal people were not influenced by Brahmanical ideas. They were often described as odd, uncivilised, or even animal-like people such as forest dwellers, pastoralists etc.
2.      Those who could not be easily accommodated within the framework of settled agriculturists and those who spoke non-Sanskritic languages were labeled as mlechchhas or out castes and looked down upon.
3.      There was a sharing of ideas and beliefs between higher varna people and forest dwellers and out castes. The nature of relations between these people is evident in some stories in the Mahabharata.
4.      For example Eklavya, a forester who never goes to battle -wanted to learn archery from Dronacharya.
5.      Bhima, one of the five brothers of Pandava family married Hidimba, a Rhakshasi by birth and they gave birth to a child.

5. Beyond the four varnas (Subordination of the lower varnas and conflict between higher and lower varnas)

1.      While the Brahmanas considered some people as being outside the system, they also developed a sharper social divide by classifying certain social categories as “untouchable”.
2.      Those who considered themselves Pure (Brahmans, Kshatriyas and vaishyas) avoided taking food and water from those they designated as “untouchable” (Shudhras).
3.      Some of the activities of untouchables were regarded as “polluting”. These included handling deadbodies and dead animals. Those who performed such tasks, designated as chandalas, were placed at the very bottom of the hierarchy.
4.      Their touch and, in some cases, even seeing them was regarded as “polluting” by those who claimed to be at the top of the social order.

5.      The Manusmriti laid down the “duties” of the chandalas. They were,

a.       They had to live outside the village.
b.      They had to use discarded utensils.
c.       They had to wear clothes of the dead
d.       They had to wear only ornaments made of iron.
e.       They could not walk about in villages and cities at night.
f.       They had to dispose of the bodies of those who had no relatives and serve as executioners.
g.      Chinese Buddhist monk Fa Xian wrote that “untouchables” had to sound a clapper in the streets so that people could avoid seeing them.
h.      Another Chinese pilgrim, Xuan Zang observed that executioners and scavengers were forced to live outside the city.

Social implications of access to Resources and Status

a. Gendered access to property

1.      According to the Manusmriti, Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras the paternal estate was to be divided equally amongst sons after the death of the parents, with a special share for the eldest.
2.      Women could not claim a share of these resources. However, women were allowed to retain the gifts they received on the occasion of their marriage as stridhana (literally, a woman’s wealth). This could be inherited by their children, without the husband having any claim on it.
3.       At the same time, the Manusmriti warned women against hoarding family property, or even their own valuables, without the husband’s permission.
4.      Wealthy women such as the Vakataka queen Prabhavati Gupta had property including land. However epigraphic and textual evidences suggest that upper-class women had access to resources, land, cattle and money.
5.       In other words, social differences between men and women were sharpened because of the differences in access to resources.

b.Varna and access to property

1.      According to the Brahmanical texts, another criterion for regulating access to wealth was varna.,
2.      While a variety of occupations were listed for men of the first three varnas, the only “occupation” prescribed for Shudras was servitude.
3.       If these provisions were actually implemented, the wealthiest men would have been the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. The poorest men would have been shudhras.
4.      The Buddhist texts recognised that there were differences in society, but did not regard these as natural or inflexible. They also rejected the idea of claims to status on the basis of birth.

c. An alternative social scenario-Sharing wealthin ancient Tamil Nadu.

1.      In ancient Tamilakam, where men who were generous were respected, while those who were miserly or simply accumulated wealth for them were despised.
2.      In Tamilakam, where, there were several chiefdoms around 2,000 years ago. The chiefs were patrons of bards and poets who sang their praise.
3.      Poems included in the Tamil Sangam anthologies often illuminate social and economic relationships, suggesting that while there were differences between rich and poor, those who controlled resources were also expected to share them.

A Social Contract (Social System) according to Buddhist theory

1.      The Buddhists also developed an alternative understanding of social inequalities, and of the institutions required to regulate social conflict. Sutta Pitaka suggested that originally human beings lived in an idyllic state of peace, taking from nature only what they needed for each meal.
2.      However, there was a gradual deterioration of this state as human beings became increasingly greedy, vindictive and deceitful. This led to selecting a leader who should be wrathful when indignation is right.
3.      The leader who is selected should ensure protection to the people and should banish the criminals who deserve to be banished?
4.      For his service we will give him a proportion of the rice. The leader who is chosen by the whole people would be known as mahasammata, the great elect.”
5.      This suggests that the institution of kingship was based on human choice, with taxes as a form of payment for services rendered by the king. At the same time, it reveals recognition of human agency in creating and institutionalizing economic and social relations.

Historians and the Mahabharata (assessments and understanding of historical significance of Mahabharata)
a. Language
1.      The version of the Mahabharata is in Sanskrit (although there are versions in other languages as well).
2.      However, the Sanskrit used in the Mahabharata is far simpler than that of the Vedas, or of the inscriptions.
b. Content
1.      Historians usually classify the contents of the present text under two broad heads – narrative and didactic.
2.      Sections that contain stories are designated as the narrative.
3.      Sections that contain prescriptions about social norms are designated as didactic.
4.      This division is by no means watertight – the didactic sections include some stories, and the narrative often contains some social message.
c.  Author (s)

1.      The original story was probably composed by charioteer-bards known as sutas who generally accompanied Kshatriya warriors to the battlefield and composed poems celebrating their victories and other achievements. These compositions circulated orally.
2.      Then, from the fifth century BCE, Brahmanas took over the story and began to commit it to writing. This was the time when chiefdoms such as those of the Kurus and Panchalas, around whom the story of the epic revolves, were gradually becoming kingdoms.
3.      Between c. 200 BCE and 200 CE when the worship of Vishnu was growing in importance, and Krishna, one of the important figures of the epic, was coming to be identified as an incarnation of Vishnu.
4.      Between c. 200 and 400 CE, large didactic sections resembling the Manusmriti were added.
5.      With these additions, a text which initially perhaps had less than 10,000 verses grew to comprise about 100,000 verses. This enormous composition is traditionally attributed to a sage named Vyasa.

d.Dated of Mahabharata:

1.      The original story was probably composed by charioteer-bards known as sutas and circulated the story orally for many decades.
2.      Then, from the fifth century BCE, Brahmanas took over the story and began to commit it to writing. This was the time when chiefdoms such as those of the Kurus and Panchalas, around whom the story of the epic revolves, were gradually becoming kingdoms.
3.      Between c. 200 BCE and 200 CE when the worship of Vishnu was growing in importance, and Krishna, one of the important figures of the epic, was coming to be identified as an incarnation of Vishnu
4.      Between c. 200 and 400 CE, large didactic sections resembling the Manusmriti were added in Mahabharata.

The search for convergence or Finding historical truth from archaeology ( B.B.Lal`s excavation and findings in Hastinapura)

1.       In 1951-52, the archaeologist B.B. Lal excavated a village named Hastinapura in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh). We are not sure that this was the Hastinapura of the epic or the names are coincidental.
2.      B.B. Lal found evidence of five occupational levels in Hastinapura, of which the second and third are important.
3.      B.B. Lal noted about the houses in the second phase (c. twelfth-seventh centuries BCE) a) There were no definite plans of houses found. b) The walls were made of mud and mud-bricks. c) The discovery of mud-plaster with prominent reed-marks suggested that some of the houses had reed walls plastered over with mud.
4.      In the third phase (c. sixth-third centuries BCE), B.B. Lal noted-a) Houses of this period were built of mud-brick as well as burnt bricks. B) Soakage jars and brick drains were used for draining out refuse water. C) Terracotta ring-wells may have been used both as wells and drainage pits.
5.      Weather the description of the city in the epic added after the main narrative had been composed or it was a flight of poetic fancy, which cannot always be verified by comparisons with other kinds of evidence.

One of the most challenging episodes in the Mahabharata is Draupadi’s marriage with the Pandavas, an instance of polyandry that is central to the narrative.

1.      Present-day historians suggest that polyandry may have been prevalent amongst ruling elites at some point of time in Indian subcontinent.
2.       Another fact suggests that polyandry gradually fell into disfavor amongst the Brahmanas, who reworked and developed the text through the centuries.
3.      Some historians note that while the practice of polyandry may have seemed unusual or even undesirable from the Brahmanical point of view, it was (and is) prevalent in the Himalayan region.
4.      Others suggest that there may have been a shortage of women during times of warfare, and this led to polyandry. In other words, it was attributed to a situation of crisis.
5.      Some early sources suggest that polyandry was not the only or even the most prevalent form of marriage. Why then did the author(s) choose to associate this practice with the central characters of the Mahabharata? We need to remember that creative literature often has its own narrative requirements and does not always literally reflect social realities but just used to create interest for readers.

Mahabharata is a Dynamic Text

1.      The growth of the Mahabharata did not stop with the Sanskrit version. Over the centuries, versions of the epic were written in a variety of languages through an ongoing process of dialogue between peoples, communities, and those who wrote the texts.
2.      Several stories that originated in specific regions or circulated amongst certain people found their way into the epic. At the same time, the central story of the epic was often retold in different ways.
3.      Episodes of Mahabharata were depicted in sculpture and painting.
4.      They also provided themes for a wide range of performing arts – plays, dance and other kinds of narrations.
1.      Explain why patriliny may have been particularly important among elite families.
2.      Discuss whether kings in early states were invariably Kshatriyas.
3.      Compare and contrast the dharma or norms mentioned in the stories of Drona, Hidimba and Matanga.
4.      In what ways was the Buddhist theory of a social contract different from the Brahmanical view of society derived from the Purusha sukta?
5.      This is what a famous historian of Indian literature, Maurice Winternitz, wrote about the Mahabharata: “just because the Mahabharata represents more of an entire literature … and contains so much and so many kinds of things (it) gives(s) us an insight into the most profound depths of the soul of the Indian folk.” Discuss.
6.      Discuss whether the Mahabharata could have been the work of a single author.
7.      How important were gender differences in early societies? Give reasons for your answer.
8.      Discuss the evidence that suggests that Brahmanical prescriptions about kinship and marriage were not universally followed.
9.      Write a short note on Mahabharata. What were the findings of the committee worked under V.S.Suktankar?
10.  What is Gotra? What were the rules to be followed by women in a Gotra?
11.  What were the ideal occupations mentioned for the four Varna? What were the strategies followed by the Brahmans to enforce the norms?
12.  Who were the untouchables (OR) Chandalas? What were the duties assigned to them according to Manusmriti?
13.  What were the social implications shaped access to economic resources?
14.  What were the several elements historians consider to analyze the text Mahabharata?
15.  Discuss the statement given by famous historian ”Mahabharata represents more than a literature and contains so much about Indian folk”


  1. Hello Sir, just wanted to say that I truly appreciate all the work you put into this blog. I'm sure everyone else who uses your notes agrees. Your notes are perfect and especially helpful for chapters with a lot of information like this one. Thanks a lot.
    Have a great day! :)

  2. Excellent notes, thankyou so much.

  3. hello sir , your notes are like gods gift but of class 12th history notes there are only till chapter 8 ,can you upload further chapters also