Rural Women’s Power in South Asia: Understanding Shakti

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Introduction 2. History and Identity 3. Policies and Interventions 4. Caste -- South Asia. Dominance Psychology -- South Asia. Power Social sciences -- South Asia. Rural women -- Government policy -- South Asia. Rural women -- South Asia -- Social conditions. No gift dower or dowry is settled between them.

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The man gives only a present to the wife, as he thinks fit, and a marriage gift in advance, which he has no right to claim back, but the proposed wife may give it back to him of her own will if she does not want to marry. Widows were traditionally expected to pursue a spiritual, ascetic life, particularly the higher castes such as Brahmins , though this seems more prevalent in texts and culture in the common era than the Vedic era.

During the debate before the passage of the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, , some communities asserted that it was their ancient custom that prohibited widow remarriage. Hindu scholars and colonial British authorities rejected this argument, states Lucy Carroll, because the alleged custom prohibiting widow remarriage was "far from ancient", and was already in practice among the Hindu communities such as the Rajbansi whose members had petitioned for the prohibition of widow remarriage.

Thus, it failed the " customary law " protections under the British colonial era laws. While Hindu community did not object to widow remarriage, it contested the property rights and transfer of property from her earlier husband's family to the later husband's family, particularly after the death of the remarried widow, in the 20th-century.

Sati is an obsolete Indian funeral custom where a widow immolated herself on her husband's pyre , or committed suicide in another fashion shortly after her husband's death.

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David Brick, in his review of ancient Indian literature, states "There is no mention of Sahagamana Sati whatsoever in either Vedic literature or any of the early Dharmasutras or Dharmasastras. The extent to which sati was practised in history is not known with clarity; however, during the early modern Mughal period, it was notably associated with elite Hindu Rajput clans in western India, marking one of the points of divergence between Rajput culture and Islamic Mughal culture, which allowed widow remarriage.

The earliest scholarly discussion of Sati, whether it is right or wrong, is found in the Sanskrit literature dated to 10th- to 12th-century. Committing sati was then made a crime, with consequences worse than murder. Another historical practice observed among women in Hinduism, was the Rajput practice of Jauhar , particularly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh , where they collectively committed suicide during war.

They preferred death rather than being captured alive and dishonored by victorious Muslim soldiers in a war. Daniel Grey states that the understanding of origins and spread of sati were distorted in the colonial era because of a concerted effort to push "problem Hindu" theories in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Vedas and Upanishads mention girls could be a Brahmacharini , that is getting an education. The Harita Dharmasutra , a later era Hindu text states there are two kind of women: sadhyavadhu who marry without going to school, and the brahmavadini who go to school first to study the Vedas and speak of Brahman.

The Hindu Sastras and Smritis describe varying number of Sanskara rite of passage. Upanayana rite of passage symbolized the start of education process. Like the Vedas, the ancient Sutras and Shastra Sanskrit texts extended education right to women, and the girls who underwent this rite of passage then pursued studies were called Brahmavadini.

Instead of sacred thread, girls would wear their robe now called sari or saree in the manner of the sacred thread, that is over her left shoulder during this rite of passage. The Smriti texts of Hinduism provide a conflicting view on sex outside marriage. Most texts leave sexual matters to the judgment of the woman and man, but discuss what rights the children have who result from such sexual union.

If a man has intercourse with an unmarried woman, who consents to it, it is no offense, but he shall deck her with ornaments, worship her, and thus bring her to his house as his bride. If a man has intercourse with an attached woman somewhere other than his own house, it is known as adultery by the experts, but not if she came to his house on her own. It is not a punishable crime when someone has intercourse with the wife of a man who has abandoned her because she is wicked, or with the wife of a eunuch or of a man who does not care, provided the wife has initiated it, of her own volition.

The Dharmsastras provide penances as a punishment for adultery. The Narada Smriti, in verse 91 of Stripumsa states that a woman involved in adultery should be punished by having her head shaved, living in poverty and should regularly clean her house. If she is not forgiven, the women's nose and ears should be cut off, and her paramour should be put to death.

The term "attached woman" in the above verse, states Richard Lariviere, includes a woman who is either married and protected by her husband, or a woman is not married and protected by her father. Information on ancient and medieval era dressing traditions of women in Hinduism is unclear. Textiles are commonly mentioned in ancient Indian texts. Regardless of economic status, the costume of ancient Hindu women was formed of two separate sheets of cloth, one wrapping the lower part of the body, below the waist, and another larger wrap around piece called Dhoti modern-day Saree in texts.


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However, where the pleats were tucked, front or side or back varied regionally. Usually, the sari consists of a piece of cloth around 6 yards long, wrapped distinctly based on the prior mentioned factors. Women across economic groups in colonial era, for example, wore a single piece of cloth in hot and humid Bengal. Sindoor or Kumkum has been a marker for women in Hinduism, since early times.

Cultural customs such as Sindoor are similar to wedding ring in other cultures. Regionally, Hindu women may wear seasonal fresh flowers in their hair, during festivals, temple visits or other formal occasions. White color saree is common with aging widows, while red or other festive colors with embroidery is more common on festivals or social ceremonies such as weddings. The choice is left to the individual discretion. Other ornaments worn by Hindu women are sometimes known as solah singar sixteen decorations : "bindi, necklaces, earrings, flowers in the hair, rings, bangles, armlets for the upper arm , waistbands, ankle-bells, kohl or kajal — mascara , toe rings, henna, perfume, sandalwood paste, the upper garment, and the lower garment".

Bernard Cohn states that clothing in India, during the colonial British era, was a form of authority exercised to highlight hierarchical patterns, subordination, and authoritative relations. Hindus in India were subject to rule under a range of other religious reigns, therefore influencing clothing choices. This was exemplified by a change in attire as a result of Mughal influence and later European influence resulting from British rule.

Hindu religious art encompasses performance arts as well as visual art, and women have been expressed in Hindu arts as prominently as men. The deity for arts, music, poetry, speech, culture, and learning is goddess Saraswati in the Hindu tradition. Music and dance, states Tracy Pintchman, are "intertwined in Hindu traditions", and women in Hinduism have had an active creative and performance role in this tradition. The Devadasi tradition women practiced their arts in a religious context.

In south India, some of these women were courtesans, while others chaste. In poetry, 9th-century Andal became a well known Bhakti movement poetess, states Pintchman, and historical records suggest that by 12th-century she was a major inspiration to Hindu women in south India and elsewhere. The role of women in Hinduism dates back to years of history, states Pechelis, incorporating ideas of Hindu philosophy , that is Prakrti matter, femaleness and Purusha consciousness, maleness , coming together to interact and produce the current state of the universe.

Although these ancient texts are the foundation upon which the position of women in Hinduism is founded, Hindu women participated in and were affected by cultural traditions and celebrations such as festivals, dance, arts, music and other aspects of daily life. Despite these liberating undercurrents emerging in its historical context, Sugirtharajah states that there is some reluctance to use the term "feminism" to describe historical developments in Hinduism.


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In the colonial era s, Hindu women were described by European scholars as being "naturally chaste" and "more virtuous" than other women. In 20th-century history context, the position of women in Hinduism and more generally India, has many contradictions. The women's rights movement in India, states Sharma, have been driven by two foundational Hindu concepts — lokasangraha and satyagraha. These ideals were used to justify and spur movements among women for women's rights and social change through a political and legal process. There has been a pervasive and deeply held belief in modern era Western scholarship, states Kathleen Erndl, that "in Hinduism, women are universally subjugated and that feminism, however, it might be defined, is an artifact of the West".

Western feminism, states Vasudha Narayanan, has focussed on negotiating "issues of submission and power as it seeks to level the terrains of opportunity" and uses a language of "rights". Many [Western] scholars point out quite correctly that women are accorded a fairly low status in the Hindu texts that deal with law and ethics Dharma Shastra , what is not usually mentioned is that these texts were not well known and utilized in many parts of Hindu India. Custom and practice were far more important than the dictates of these legal texts.

There were many legal texts and they were not in competition with each other; they were written at different times in different parts of the country, but all of them were superseded by local custom. There is a sense of dissonance between scripture and practice in certain areas of dharma , and the role of women and Sudras sometimes falls in this category.

Manu may have denied independence to women, but there were women of some castes and some economic classes who endowed money to temples. It is important to note that there is no direct correlation that one can generalize on between these texts and women's status, rights or behavior. Ancient and medieval era Hindu texts, and epics, discuss a woman's position and role in society over a spectrum, such as one who is a self-sufficient, marriage-eschewing powerful Goddess, to one who is subordinate and whose identity is defined by men rather than her, and to one who sees herself as a human being and spiritual person while being neither feminine nor masculine.

Rural Women's Power in South Asia:: Understanding Shakti

Postmodern empirical scholarship about Hindu society, states Rita Gross, makes one question whether and to what extent there is pervasiveness of patriarchy in Hinduism. Kathleen Erndl states that texts such as Manusmriti do not necessarily portray what women in Hinduism were or are, but it represents an ideology, and that "the task of Hindu feminists is to rescue Shakti from its patriarchal prison".

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the position of women in the religious texts of Hinduism. For the position of women in India, see Women in India. Science Technology. Arts Humanities. Popular culture. By country. Main traditions.

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Vaishnavism Shaivism Shaktism Smartism. Rites of passage. Philosophical schools. Gurus, saints, philosophers. Other texts. Text classification. Other topics. Main articles: Devi , God and gender in Hinduism , and Hindu deities. Goddesses in Hinduism are very common. Main article: Hindu wedding. A wedding is one of the most significant personal ritual a Hindu woman undertakes in her life. The details and dress vary regionally among Hindu women, but share common ritual grammar.

Main article: Sati practice. Earrings from India, 1st-century BCE right. Many classical Indian dances such as Bharathanatyam and Kathak were developed by women in Hinduism. Journal of the American Oriental Society. Widow-Burning in early Nineteenth Century India". Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton University Press.

Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Where women are worshipped, there the Gods are delighted. But where they are not worshipped, all religious ceremonies become futile. Hindu goddesses: beliefs and practices. Sussex Academic Press. Women's Studies International Forum. Unlike Jewish, Christian and Islamic monotheism, predicated on the otherness of God and either his total separation from man and his singular incarnation, Hinduism postulates no absolute distinction between deities and human beings. The idea that all deities are truly one is, moreover, easily extended to proclaim that all human beings are in reality also forms of one supreme deity - Brahman, the Absolute of philosophical Hinduism.

In practice, this abstract monist doctrine rarely belongs to an ordinary Hindu's statements, but examples of permeability between the divine and human can be easily found in popular Hinduism in many unremarkable contexts". Retrieved 16 March Kumar, M. Kumar Deep and Deep Publications. Volume 1 The Vedic age p Bridewealth and Dowry. London, H and Holm J. Indian Economic and Social History Review.

London: Routledge. Sati, the Blessing and the Curse. Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ. New York: Routledge. Graham and Kathryn Hall, Routledge; Quote - "In this Hinduism Smritis doctrine, sexual matters are not to be legislated but are left to the judgment of those involved.

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Oxford University Press. Cite error: The named reference "olivelle" was defined multiple times with different content see the help page. They live very virtuous lives according to their own usage. They have no sexual intercourse except with their own wives. They take nothing that belongs to another. They would never kill a living creature. On the other hand you should know that they do not regard any form of sexual indulgence as a sin". Fashion Theory. Archived from the original on 1 September Retrieved 5 November Cloth, Clothes, and Colonialism,Consumption: The history and regional development of consumption 2 ed.

Hinduism and the Religious Arts. Sanskrit Drama in Performance. Motilal Banarsidass Publication. Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women.

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Motilal Banarsidass Publications. Economic and Political Weekly : — Women in Hinduism. Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Beauchamp H. Hindu manners, customs, and ceremonies. Asian Folklore Studies : 51— Asian Folklore Studies : 57— Asian Folklore Studies : 74— State Univ of New York Press. Asian Folklore Studies : 60—73, 83— These works however still condition the questions that scholars raise of Hinduism, and the categories by which women's experience is analyzed and assessed.