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Background to the Emergence of Civilization in India
In its size and diversity, India seems more like a continent than a single country. That diversity begins with the geographical environment. The Indian subcontinent, shaped like a spade hanging from the southern ridge of Asia, is composed of a number of core regions. In the far north are the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges. They were formed millions of years ago when the Indian tectonic plate drifted across the Indian Ocean from Africa and collided with the southern edge of the Asian continent. The ensuing collision lifted the southern edge of Asia into what is today the highest mountain range in the world.
Directly to the south of the Himalayas and the Karakoram range is the rich valley of the Ganges, India's "holy river," and one of the core regions of Indian culture. To the west is the Indus River valley. Today the latter is a relatively arid plateau that forms the backbone of the modern state of Pakistan, but in ancient times it enjoyed a more balanced climate and served as the cradle of Indian civilization. South of India's two major river valleys lies the Deccan, a region of hills and upland plateau that extends from the Ganges valley to the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent at Cape Comorin. The interior of the plateau is relatively hilly and dry, but the eastern and western coasts are occupied by lush plains, which are historically among the most densely populated regions of India. Off the southeastern coast of the Indian peninsula is the island known today as Sri Lanka. Although it is now a separate country quite distinct politically and culturally from India, the island has a history intimately linked with that of its larger neighbor. In this vast region live a rich mixture of peoples: Dravidians, probably descended from the Indus River culture that flourished at the dawn of Indian civilization over four thousand years ago; Aryans, descended from the pastoral peoples who flooded southward from Central Asia in the second millennium B.C.E., and hill peoples, who may have lived in the region prior to the rise of organized societies and thus may have been the earliest inhabitants of all.
Harappan Civilization: A Fascinating Enigma
In the 1920s, archaeologists discovered the existence of agricultural settlements dating back well over six thousand years in the lower reaches of the Indus River valley in modern-day Pakistan. Those small mudbrick villages eventually gave rise to the sophisticated human communities that historians call Harappan civilization. Although today the area is relatively arid, during the third and fourth millennia B.C.E., it evidently received much more abundant rainfall, and the valleys of the Indus River and its tributaries supported a thriving civilization that extended a distance of several hundred miles from the Himalayas to Gujarat, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. More than seventy sites have been unearthed since the area was first discovered in the 1850s, but the main sites are at the two major cities, Harappa in the Punjab and Mohenjo-Daro, nearly four hundred miles to the south near the mouth of the Indus River.
The origin of the Harappans is still debated, but some scholars have suggested on the basis of ethnographic and linguistic analysis that their language and physical characteristics were similar to those of the Dravidian peoples who live in the Deccan Plateau today. If that is so, Harappa is not simply a dead civilization, whose culture and peoples have disappeared into the sands of history, but a part of the living culture of the Indian subcontinent, as much a part of modern India as the much better known Aryan culture brought later from Central Asia.
Political and Social Structures
In several respects, Harappan civilization closely resembled the cultures of Mesopotamia and the Nile valley. Like them, it was an urban culture. The center of power was the capital city of Harappa, which was surrounded by a brick wall over forty feet thick at its base and more than three and one-half miles in circumference. Within the wall was a citadel fifty feet high; it enclosed both a residence for the royal family and its retainers and a temple for communication with supernatural forces. The city was laid out on an essentially rectangular grid, and the main streets, some as wide as thirty feet, divided the city into a number of separate residential areas, each surrounded by a wall. At its height, the city may have had as many as 35,000 inhabitants.
If, as many historians believe, the development of organized government is associated with the appearance in a given area of settled populations devoted to agricultural or commercial pursuits, then government first emerged in India with the rise of Harappan civilization in the third or early fourth millennium B.C.E. Unfortunately, historians know relatively little about the organization of the Harappan state because the script in use at that time has not yet been deciphered. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests that Harappa was a centralized monarchy based on a ruling elite similar in many respects to the cultures that emerged at approximately the same time in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Many aspects of Harappan culture exhibit both a remarkable uniformity and a static quality: the regular layout of the streets (some of which remained in almost exactly the same place for over a thousand years), the strict uniformity of weights and measures, and the unvarying size of the bricks used in house construction. Even the written language shows little sign of change in contrast to Mesopotamia, where the script evolved over time from a strictly pictographic to a more stylized pattern.
As in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the ruling monarchy apparently had a theocratic base. Certainly, religion and state power were closely linked, as evidenced by the juxtaposition of the royal residence and the holy temple in the citadel at Harappa. There are clear signs that religious belief had advanced beyond the stage of spirit worship to belief in a single god or goddess of fertility. Presumably, priests at court prayed to this deity to maintain the fertility of the soil and guarantee the annual harvest. At Mohenjo-Daro archaeologists have found an oblong bathing pool, surrounded by a cloister, that was apparently used for purification ceremonies like the tank in a modern Hindu temple. Like its contemporaries in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the Harappan economy was based primarily on agriculture. Wheat, barley, and peas were apparently the primary crops. The presence of cotton seeds at various sites in the area suggests that the Harappan peoples may have been the first to master the cultivation of this useful crop and possibly introduced it to other societies in the region. Like many other ancient civilizations, the Harappans probably began in tiny farming villages scattered throughout the river valley. These villages thrived and grew until eventually they could support a privileged ruling elite living in walled cities of considerable magnitude and affluence.
Harappa also developed an extensive trading network that extended to Sumer and other civilizations to the west. Textile goods and foodstuffs were apparently imported from Sumer in exchange for metals such as copper, lumber, precious stones, and various types of luxury goods. Much of this trade was carried by ship via the Persian Gulf, although some undoubtedly went by land. Clear evidence of who conducted this trade is not available, but certainly much of it, as in most other ancient civilizations, must have been controlled by the state. Archaeological evidence makes it clear that an advanced urban civilization flourished in the major cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro for hundreds of years. Both cities were divided into large walled neighborhoods, with narrow lanes separating the rows of houses. Houses varied in size, with some as high as three stories, but all followed the same general plan based on a square courtyard surrounded by rooms. Bathrooms featured an advanced drainage system, which carried wastewater out to drains located under the streets and thence to sewage pits beyond the city walls. But the cities also had the equivalent of the modern slum. At Harappa, tiny dwellings for workers have been found near metal furnaces and the open areas used for pounding grain.
Archaeological remains indicate that the Indus valley peoples possessed a culture as sophisticated as that of the Sumerians to the west, although the level of achievement varied considerably in different areas of creativity. Harappan architecture, for example, was purely functional and shows little artistic sensitivity. Most buildings were constructed of kiln-dried mudbricks and were square in shape, reflecting the grid pattern that formed the basis of both major cities. The aesthetic quality of the temples and the royal palace in the citadel probably received greater attention, but unfortunately little survives today.
Whatever the Harappan peoples lacked in architectural refinement, they made up for in pottery and sculpture. In its aesthetic qualities, Harappan painted pottery, wheel-turned and kiln-fired, rivals equivalent work produced elsewhere and is still being produced in the area today. Although the quality of the metalwork was somewhat lower than at Sumer, sculpture represents the Harappans' highest artistic achievement. Some artifacts possess a vitality of expression that rivals anything produced elsewhere at the time. Fired clay seals found at sites in the area show a deft touch in carving animals familiar to the Harappans such as elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, and antelope, while figures made of copper or terracotta show a lively sensitivity and a sense of grace and movement that is almost modern.
Presumably, the Indus valley peoples possessed a literature like their contemporaries to the west. Unfortunately, none has survived, and the only examples of Harappan writing are the pictographic symbols inscribed on the clay seals. The script contained more than four hundred characters, but most are too stylized to be identified by their shape, and scholars have thus far been unable to decipher them. Many of these seals appear to have been used by merchants to keep track of their commercial transactions, but some may also have been used as amulets or have had other religious significance. Several depict religious figures or ritualistic scenes of sacrifice. Until the script is deciphered, however, much about the Harappan civilization must remain, as one historian termed it, a fascinating enigma.
The Arrival of the Aryans
One of the great mysteries of Harappan civilization is how it came to an end. Archaeologists working at Mohenjo-Daro have discovered signs of first a gradual decay and then a sudden destruction of the city and its inhabitants sometime around 1500 B.C.E. Many of the surviving skeletons have been found in postures of running or hiding, reminiscent of the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E.
These tantalizing signs of flight before a sudden catastrophe have led some scholars to surmise that the city of Mohenjo-Daro (the name was applied by archaeologists and means "city of the dead"), and perhaps Harappan civilization as a whole, was destroyed by nomadic peoples from the north sometime around the middle of the second millennium B.C.E. These invaders, who called themselves Aryans, were part of an extensive group of Indo-European-speaking peoples who at that time inhabited vast areas in what is now Siberia and the steppes of Central Asia. Whereas other Indo-European-speaking peoples moved westward and eventually settled in Europe, the Aryan communities moved south across the Hindu Kush into the plains of northern India, where they replaced the Harappans and created a new society based on Aryan culture and institutions. Although the Aryans were almost certainly not as sophisticated in a cultural sense as the Harappans, like many nomadic peoples they excelled at the art of war. As in Mesopotamia and the Nile valley, the contact between pastoral and agricultural peoples proved to be unstable and ended in armed conflict.
This vision of an apocalyptic clash of cultures between the Harappan and Aryan peoples may be accurate in its broad outlines. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that the Aryan invaders were directly responsible for the final destruction of the city of Mohenjo-Daro. More likely, Harappan civilization had fallen on hard times, perhaps because of climatic changes in the Indus valley, and was already in a state of decline. Archaeologists have found clear signs of social decay, including evidence of trash in the streets, neglect of public services, and overcrowding in urban neighborhoods. The destruction of Mohenjo-Daro itself may have been the result of natural phenomena such as floods, an earthquake, or a shift in the course of the Indus River. If such is the case, the Aryans subjugated a people whose moment of greatness had already passed.
Whatever the truth of such conjectures, between 1500 and 1000 B.C.E. the Aryan peoples gradually advanced eastward from the Indus valley, across the fertile plain of the Ganges, and later southward into the Deccan Plateau, eventually extending their political mastery throughout the entire South Asian subcontinent. But although the Dravidian peoples, the probable descendants of the ancient Harappans, may have been subdued by the militarily more powerful Aryans, they were destined to survive as a prominent element in the civilization of traditional India, and their culture became a key element in the creation of modern Indian society.
The meeting of the two cultures, the Aryan and the Dravidian, provided the cultural intermingling and tension that have formed the basis for Indian society from ancient times to the present. The Aryans came to India with a strong class system based on a ruling warrior class. They apparently held the indigenous peoples in some contempt and assigned them to a lower position in society, providing the initial basis for the strong hierarchy of class status that developed into the caste system.
Historians know relatively little about the origins and early culture of the Aryans, except that they were a pastoral people who practiced some agriculture and were originally organized on a tribal basis. They had no written language, however, and left few physical remains in the form of settled cities or villages. Most of what is known is based on oral traditions passed on in the Rigveda, an ancient work that was eventually written down after the Aryans arrived in India (the Rigveda is one of several Vedas, or collections of sacred instructions and rituals).
Whatever their origins, after they settled in India, the Aryans gradually adapted to the geographical realities of their new homeland and abandoned the pastoral life for agricultural pursuits. They were assisted by the introduction of iron, which probably came from the Middle East, where it had first been introduced by the Hittites about 1500 B.C.E. The invention of the iron plow, along with the development of irrigation, allowed the Aryans and their indigenous subjects to clear the dense jungle growth along the Ganges River and transform it into one of the richest agricultural regions in all South Asia. They also developed their first writing system and were thus able to transcribe the legends that previously had been passed down from generation to generation by memory.
But traditions die hard. Although little is known about the life of the Aryans in the period immediately following their arrival in India, early writings like the Rigveda and the Mahabharata, a vast epic of early Aryan society, chronicle an era of warring kingdoms and shifting tribal alliances. This pattern had undoubtedly originated in Central Asia and apparently continued long after they settled in India.
While warring groups squabbled for precedence in India, powerful new empires were rising to the west. First came Persia, with the empire of Cyrus and Darius. Then came the Ureeks. After two centuries ot sporadic rivalry and warfare, the Greeks temporarily achieved a brief period of regional dominance in the late fourth century B.C.E. with the rise of Macedonia under Alexander the Great. Alexander had heard of the riches of India, and in 330 B.C.E., after conquering Persia, he launched an invasion of the east. Like a bright meteor in a night sky, his armies crossed Persia, and in 326 they flashed across the plains of northwestern India. They departed almost as suddenly as they had come, leaving in their wake Greek administrators and a veneer of cultural influence that would affect the area for generations to come.
The Alexandrian conquest of India was only a brief interlude in the history of the subcontinent, but it played a formative role in Indian history, for on the heels of Alexander's departure came the rise of the first dynasty to control much of the region. The founder of the new state, who took the royal title Chandragupta Maurya (324-301 B.C.E.), drove out the Greek occupation forces after the departure of Alexander and solidified his control over the North Indian plain. He established the capital of his new Mauryan Empire at Pataliputra (modern Patna) in the Ganges valley. Little is known of his origins, although some sources have identified him as a certain Sandrocottus who had originally fought on the side of the invading Greek forces but then angered Alexander with his outspoken advice. Other sources say he may have been the illegitimate son of an Indian king whom he overthrew to form his own dynasty.
***************************************** Second Lecture Topic (Caste) Begins here *************************************
Caste and Class: Social Structures in Ancient India
As the Aryan peoples spread throughout northern India, they eventually abandoned their pastoral pursuits and took up settled farming. Nevertheless, the conquest of India by the Aryans was destined to have a lasting impact on Indian society, for out of that clash of conqueror and conquered evolved a set of social institutions and class divisions that has persisted with only minor changes down to the present day.
THE CASTE SYSTEM
At the base of the social system that emerged from the clash of cultures was the concept of the superiority of the invading peoples over their conquered subjects. In a sense, it became an issue of color, because the Aryan invaders, a primarily light-skinned people, were contemptuous of their subjects, who were dark. Light skin came to imply high status, while dark skin suggested the opposite.
The concept of color, however, was only the physical manifestation of a division that took place in Indian society on the basis of economic functions. Indian classes (called varna, literally "color" and commonly known as "castes" in English) did not simply reflect an informal division of labor. Instead, they were a set of rigid social classifications that determined not only one's occupation, but also one's status in society and one's hope for ultimate salvation. The term caste is from the Portuguese word for tribe or clan. There were five major castes in Indian society in ancient times. At the top were two castes, collectively viewed as the aristocracy, which clearly represented the ruling elites in Aryan society prior to their arrival in India: the priests and the warriors.
The priestly caste, known as the brahmins, was usually considered to be at the top of the social scale. Descended from a class of seers who had advised the ruler on religious matters in Aryan tribal society (brahmin meant "one possessed of Brahman," a term for the supreme god in the Hindu religion), they were eventually transformed into an official class after their religious role declined in importance. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes described this caste as follows:
From the time of their conception in the womb they are under the care and guardianship of learned men who go to the mother, and under the pretense of using some incantations for the welfare of herself and her unborn child, in reality give her prudent hints and counsels, and the women who listen to them most willingly are thought to be the most fortunate in their offspring. After their birth the children are in the care of one person after another, and as they advance in years their masters are men of superior accomplishments. The philosophers reside in a grove in front of the city within a moderate-sized enclosure. They live in a simple style and lie on pallets of straw and [deer] skins. They abstain from animal food and sexual pleasures; and occupy their time in listening to serious discourse and in imparting knowledge to willing ears.
The second caste was the kshatriya, or the warriors. Although often listed below the brahmins in social status, many kshatriyas were probably descended from the ruling warrior class in Aryan society prior to the conquest of India and thus may have originally ranked socially above the brahmins, although they were ranked lower in religious terms. Like the brahmins, the kshatriyas were originally identified with a single occupationthat of fightingbut as the character of Aryan society changed, they often switched to other forms of employment. At the same time, new conquering families from other castes were sometimes tacitly accepted into the ranks of the warriors.
The third-ranked caste in Indian society was the vaisya (literally, "commoner"). The vaisyas were usually viewed in economic terms as the merchant caste. According to Indian tradition, their primary duties were to tend cattle or to engage in commerce. Some historians have speculated that the vaisyas were originally guardians of the tribal herds, but that after settling in India many moved into commercial pursuits. The Greek observer Megasthenes noted that members of this caste "alone are permitted to hunt and keep cattle and to sell beasts of burden or to let them out on hire. In return for clearing the land of wild beasts and birds which infest sown fields, they receive an allowance of corn from the king. They lead a wandering life and dwell in tents." Although this caste was ranked below the first two in social status, it shared with them the privilege of being considered "twice-born," a term referring to a ceremony at puberty whereby young males were initiated into adulthood and introduced into Indian society. After the ceremony, male members of the top three castes were allowed to wear the "sacred thread" for the remainder of their lives.
Below the three "twice-born" castes were the sudras, who represented the great bulk of the Indian population. The sudras were not considered fully Aryan, and the term probably originally referred to the conquered Dravidian population. Most sudras were peasants or artisans or worked at other forms of manual labor. They had only limited rights in society. One early Indian source says "The Lord has prescribed only one occupation [karma] for a sudra, namely service without malice of even these other three classes."
At the lowest level of Indian society, and in fact not even
considered a legitimate part of the caste system itself, were the untouchables (also known
as outcastes, or pariahs). The untouchables probably originated as a slave class
consisting of prisoners of war, criminals, tribal minorities, and other groups considered
outside Indian society. Even after slavery was outlawed, the untouchables were given
menial and degrading tasks that other Indians would not accept, such as collecting trash,
handling dead bodies, or serving as butchers or tanners (i.e., handling dead meat).
According to the estimate of one historian, they may have comprised somewhat more than 5
percent of the total population of India in antiquity.
itself, were the untouchables (also known as outcastes, or pariahs). The untouchables probably originated as a slave class consisting of prisoners of war, criminals, tribal minorities, and other groups considered outside Indian society. Even after slavery was outlawed, the untouchables were given menial and degrading tasks that other Indians would not accept, such as collecting trash, handling dead bodies, or serving as butchers or tanners (i.e., handling dead meat). According to the estimate of one historian, they may have comprised somewhat more than 5 percent of the total population of India in antiquity.
The life of the untouchables was extremely demeaning. They were
not considered human, and their very presence was considered polluting to members of the
other varna. No Indian would touch or eat food handled or prepared by an untouchable.
Untouchables lived in special ghettos and were required to tap two sticks together to
announce their presence when they traveled outside their quarters, so that others could
avoid them. Technically, these caste divisions were absolute. Individuals supposedly were
born, lived, and died in the same caste. In practice, some upward or downward mobility
probably took place in early times, and as time went on, there was undoubtedly some
flexibility in economic functions. But throughout most of Indian history caste taboos
remained strict. Members were generally not permitted to marry outside their caste
(although, in practice, men were occasionally allowed to marry below their caste, but not
above it). At first, attitudes toward the handling of food were relatively loose, but
eventually that taboo grew stronger, and social mores dictated that sharing meals and
marrying outside one's caste were unacceptable.
Technically, these caste divisions were absolute. Individuals supposedly were born, lived, and died in the same caste. In practice, some upward or downward mobility probably took place in early times, and as time went on, there was undoubtedly some flexibility in economic functions. But throughout most of Indian history caste taboos remained strict. Members were generally not permitted to marry outside their caste (although, in practice, men were occasionally allowed to marry below their caste, but not above it). At first, attitudes toward the handling of food were relatively loose, but eventually that taboo grew stronger, and social mores dictated that sharing meals and marrying outside one's caste were unacceptable.
The people of ancient India did not belong to a particular caste as individuals, but as part of a larger kin group commonly referred to as the jati, a system of large extended families that originated in ancient India and still exists in somewhat changed form today. The origins of the jati system are unknown. Historians once assumed that it developed much later than the concept of varna and came into existence as a means of facilitating the assimilation of large tribal groups into the larger Indian society. Recent evidence, however, suggests that an early form of the segregated joint family may have existed in Harappan society. The dig at Mohenjo-Daro indicates that the city was rigidly divided into separate blocks based on occupation, which possibly reflected fears of pollution. If that is the case, the idea of the large joint family may have originally been a Dravidian concept that survived and adapted to the Aryan conquest. Whatever the truth of the matter, the jati eventually became identified with a specific caste, living in a specific area and carrying out a specific function in society. Each caste was divided into thousands of separate jatis, each with its own separate economic function.
Caste was thus the basic social organization into which traditional Indian society was divided. Each jati was itself composed of hundreds if not thousands of individual nuclear families and was governed by its own council of elders. Membership in this ruling council was usually hereditary and was based on the wealth or social status of particular families within the community.
In theory, each jati was assigned a particular form of economic activity. Obviously, though, not all families in a given caste could take part in the same vocation, and as time went on, members of a single jati commonly engaged in several different lines of work. Sometimes an entire jati would have to move its location in order to continue a particular form of activity. In other cases, it would adopt an entirely new occupation in order to remain in a certain area. Such changes in habitat or occupation introduced the possibility of movement up or down the social scale. In this way, an entire jati could sometimes engage in upward mobility, even though it was not possible for individuals, who were tied to their caste identity for life, to do so.
The caste system may sound highly constricting, but there were persuasive social and economic reasons why it survived for so many centuries. In the first place, it provided an identity for individuals in a highly hierarchical society. Although an individual might rank lower on the social scale than members of other castes, it was always possible to find others ranked at a lower level. Caste was also a means for new groups, such as mountain tribal people, to achieve a recognizable place in the broader community. Perhaps equally important, caste was a primitive form of welfare system. Each jati was obliged to provide for any of its members who were poor or destitute. Caste also provided an element of stability in a society that, all too often, was in a state of political anarchy.
DAILY LIFE IN ANCIENT INDIA
Beyond these rigid social stratifications was the Indian family. Not only was life centered around the family, but the family, not the individual, was the most basic unit in society. The ideal was an extended family, with three generations living under the same roof. It was essentially patriarchal, except along the Malabar coast, near the southwestern tip of the subcontinent, where a matriarchal form of social organization prevailed down to modern times. In the rest of India, the oldest male traditionally possessed legal authority over the entire family unit.
The family was linked together in a religious sense by a series of commemorative rites to ancestral members. This ritual originated in the Vedic era and consisted of family ceremonies to honor the departed and to link the living and the dead. The male family head was responsible for leading the ritual. At his death, his eldest son had the duty of conducting the funeral rites.
The importance of the father and the son in family ritual underlined the importance of males in Indian society. Male superiority was expressed in a variety of ways. Women could not serve as priests (although, in practice, some were accepted as seers), nor were they normally permitted to study the Vedas. In general, males had a monopoly on education, since the primary goal of learning to read was to carry on family rituals. In high-class families, young men, after having been initiated into the sacred thread, began Vedic studies with a guru (teacher). Some then went on to higher studies in one of the major cities. The goal of such an education might be either professional or religious. Such young men were not supposed to marry until after twelve years of study.
In general, only males could inherit property, except in a few
cases where there were no sons. According to law, a woman was always considered a minor.
Divorce was prohibited, although it sometimes took place. According to the Arthasastra,
a wife who had been deserted by her husband could seek a divorce. Polygamy was fairly rare
and apparently occurred mainly among the higher classes, but husbands were permitted to
take a second wife if the first was barren. Producing children was an important aspect of
marriage, both because they provided security for their parents in old age and because
they were a physical proof of male potency. Child marriage was common for young girls,
whether because of the desire for children or because daughters represented an economic
liability to their parents. But perhaps the most graphic symbol of women's subjection to
men was the ritual of sati (often written suttee), which required the wife to throw
herself on her dead husband's funeral pyre. The Greek visitor Megasthenes reported
"that he had heard from some persons of wives burning themselves along with their
deceased husbands and doing so gladly; and that those women who refused to burn themselves
were held in disgrace." All in all, it was undoubtedly a difficult existence.
According to the Law of Manu, women were subordinated to men, first to their father, then
to their husband, and finally to their
She should do
even in her own house. In childhood subject to her father,
in youth to her husband, and when her husband is dead to her sons,
she should never enjoy independence....
She should always be cheerful,
and skillful in her domestic duties, with her household vessels well cleansed,
and her hand tight on the purse-strings. . . .
In season and out of season
her lord, who wed her with sacred rites, ever gives happiness to his wife, both here and in the other world.
Though he be uncouth and prone to pleasure,
though he have no good points at all, the virtuous wife should ever worship her lord as a god
At the root of female subordination to the male was the practical fact that, as in most agricultural societies, men did most of the work in the fields. Females were viewed as having little utility outside the home and indeed were considered an economic burden, since parents were obliged to provide a dowry to acquire a husband for a daughter. Female children also appeared to offer little advantage in maintaining the family unit, since they joined the families of their husbands after the wedding ceremony.
Despite all of these indications of female subjection to the male, there are numerous signs that in some ways, women often played an influential role in Indian society, and the Hindu code of behavior stressed that they should be treated with respect. Indians appeared to be fascinated by female sexuality, and tradition held that women often used their sexual powers to achieve domination over men. The author of the Mahabharata complained that "the fire has never too many logs, the ocean never too many rivers, death never too many living souls, and fair-eyed woman never too many men." Despite the legal and social constraints, women often played an important role within the family unit, and many were admired and honored for their talents. It is probably significant that paintings and sculpture from ancient and medieval India frequently show women in a role equal to the men, and the tradition of the henpecked husband is as prevalent in India as in many Western societies.