About The Book
The book attempts to make use of nearly all the major and minor Puranas to understand a single, though a significant limb of Indian family and society, the woman. Beginning enquiry with the female infant yet to be born, the authoress takes it through her childhood, marriage, motherhood; examines her role as a wife, her share in religious duties, and her woes of widowhood: makes an effort to understand her in the role of a prostitute and makes more specific questions relating to her public and private appearance.
The inferences summed up at the end of the work, throw interseting light on the changing notions on the age and modes of marriage of women, perception of the princible of pativrata, notions attached to the birth of a daughter in the family: reasons for tonsuring the heads of the widows, circumstances that precluded purda practice, emergence of the institution of prostitutes, etc.
As noted by Prof. S. Settar in his forewerd of the work "A full-scale study of women based on a single source material such as the one taken by Ms. Roy should be welcomed at a time when gender studies are receiving wide attention this work would be certainly welcomed by those who adore the classical scholarship of A.S. Altekar, the most notable among the pioneers of gender studies of the twentieth century."
About The Author
Dr. (Mrs.) Aparna Roy has a long and abiding interest In Puranic literature, as a significant source of Socio-Cultural History of ancient India. Her present work, much appreciated by specialists in the field, is a reflection of this enduring interest and her expertise in the area. She has followed this work by an ICHR sponsored project titled "Brihannaradiya Purana: An Appraisal of Socio-Religious Data". Already completed, the project has been received favourably by the Council and has undoubtedly added to her profile as a keen observer of the claim of the Pauranikas that "What IS not found in the Vedas is found in the Smritis, and what is not found in both is available in the Puranas". Her conclusions in the work are competent responses to questions raised by some western scholars who are skeptical of the historical value of the Puranas for understanding the Socio-Cultural development in ancient, early medieval and medieval India.
Dr. Roy belongs to the family of eminent indologists, scientists and academicians, and has uniformaly brilliant academic record. A gold medalist form Allahabad University, her present work is in continuity with her past profile of excellence.
This is yet another attempt at understanding the Puranic society, with a thrust on the position of women; it is based on the majority of Maha-Puranas and Upa-Puranas. Though the Puranic studies go back to the first quarter of the 19th century, it is in the first quarter of the 20th century, and specifically with F.E. Pargiter, that proper significance of this literature as well as its relevance to the ancient and early medieval society, were realized. A more scientific and serious attempt at understanding the import of the Puranic data, which followed Pargiter's work, is yet to be concluded.
Three broad categories of scholarship can be recognized in this field: one, discovery and publication of unknown and less known Purana texts; two, study of specific issues of life- political, religious, social, etc.,- making one, or more than one, of the texts as the base; three, exploration of the major body of Puranic literature for the reconstruction of historical society and polity. Perhaps, a number of sub-categories which cut across these could also be noticed. All these efforts helped widen the base of historical enquiry and bring in better awareness of our past.
The importance of the Puranas as a source of history was increasingly felt, as they were realized to be as rich and varied as the Smritis, Dharmasastras, Mahakavyas, etc., on the one hand, and nearly as much reliable as inscriptions, monuments, memoirs, travelogues, local chronicles, etc., on the other. During the course of further investigation which followed this awareness, the Puranas certainly scored over several other bodies of ancient textual material, (for example, Agamas), because the character and the canvass of the former were certainly far wider than those of the latter. The respectability which they earned for themselves can be made out from the fact that their orientation is different from that of law books, that they are far more nearer to the time than canonical texts, that they form an independent genre of literature though they share the fluidity and resilience of the Epics, that they are less dictatorial than the Manuals of Manu, Sukra, Gautama, Kautilya etc., that they are more nearer to the historical reality- in terms of specifics like names, places, events etc.,- than the Court Chronicles, Kavya Literature and Epics. The uniqueness of the Puranic literature is its resilience, for, allowing themselves to be altered, extended, abridged, without anyone being accused of being either a meddler of texts or a peddler of thoughts, they smoothly accommodated fresh dictates of changing times not losing their intrinsic sanctity. This community scholarship cut across chronological and geographical barriers; grew with the passage of time, sucking in novel experiments and new ideologies, and emerged as an unparalleled source of history. It is in this backdrop that we have to understand the assertion that 'what is not found in the Vedic tradition is found in that of the Smrtis, and that is not present in the Smrtis is present in the Puranas.' The contemporary character of the Puranas could be made out from a remarkable observation made by the authors of these very texts. 'A time might come', we are warned, 'when the present rules may become obsolete and if any rules thus framed are to go against the spirit of the age, they should be liberally modified or abrogated.'. All these virtues also brought in their train a row of worries for critical and interpretative scholars, for historical compulsions which forced modification of prevailing codes could not be understood without first understanding both the chronological and the contextual sequences in which the new mores gate-crashed. In other words, the Puranic chronology projected the most formidable of the challenges to scholars and made him wary of the ground on which he stood.
It is obvious that Dr. Aparna Roy is not only aware of the potentialities, but also the hazards posed by this body of literature. Unlike several others who have built up their theses either on a single or a select number of texts, she has attempted to make use of nearly all the major and minor Puranas to understand a single, though a significant, limb of Indian family and society, the woman. Beginning enquiry with the female infant yet to be born, she takes it through her childhood, marriage, motherhood; examines her role as a wife, her share in religious duties, and her woes of widowhood, (but in a sequence of order chosen by her); she also makes an effort to understand her in the role of a prostitute and asks more specific questions relating to her public and private appearances. Ms. Roy's inferences, summed up at the end, throw interesting light on the changing notions on the age and modes of marriage of woman, perception of the principle of pativrata, notions attached to the birth of daughters in the family, reasions for tonsuring the heads of widows, circumstances that precluded purda practice, emergence of the institution of prostitution, etc. A full-scale study of women, based on a single category of source material, such as the one taken up by Ms. Roy should be welcome at a time when gender studies are receiving wide attention, and I am sure that this work would certainly be welcomed by those who adore the classical scholarship of A.S. Altekar, the most notable among the pioneers of gender studies of the twentie