Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Stridhana (women’s property) [Stridhan]’ of the study on the Vyavaharadhyaya of the Yajnavalkya-smriti: one of the most prominent Smritis dealing with Dharmashastra (ancient Indian science of law), dating to the 1st century B.C. The Yajnavalkyasmriti scientifically arranges its contents in three sections: Acara (proper conduct), Vyavahara (proper law) and Prayashcitta (expiation). Vyavahara deals with judicial procedure and legal system such as substantive law and procedural law.

Chapter 3.5c - Strīdhana (women’s property) [Stridhan]

Etymologically, the word strīdhana means women’s property. In the Smṛtis, the word indicates certain special kinds of property given to a woman on certain occasions, or at different stages of her life. The kind of property, which constitutes strīdhana, shows an increase in extent and value in the process of gradual development of the recognised capacity of women for property, and probably that may be corresponded in a measure to the successive generations in which the texts have been framed. In the Manusmṛti, six kinds of property are enumerated as strīdhana.

These are as follows-

  1. what has been given before the nuptial fire (adhyagni),
  2. what is given at a bridal procession (adhyavāhanika),
  3. what is given as token of love (prītikarma),
  4. what is received from a brother (bhrātṛprāpta),
  5. what is received from mother (mātṛprāpta),
  6. and finally what is received from father (pitṛprāpta).[1]

Yājñavalkya seems to have defined strīdhana liberally. He states that what is given to a woman by father, mother, husband and brother, what is received by her at the time of wedding before the nuptial fire (adhyagni), also that, which is presented to gratify her by her husband on his marriage to another wife (ādhivedanika), and the like are denominated as strīdhana, so also what is given by kindred (bandhudatta), the gratuity or fee after the receipt of which a girl is given in marriage (śulka) and what is bestowed subsequent to marriage (anvādheyaka).[2]

Commenting on the definition of strīdhana, Vijñāneśvara elaborates that the word ādya in the present context (ādhivedanikādya) indicates property, which may be acquired or obtained by succession, purchase, partition, seizure and finding.[3] Thus, it seems Yājñavalkya has opened the scope to expand the proprietary capacity of woman widening the list of properties, which comes under the strīdhana. Jīmūtavāhana advocates woman’s authority to donate, sell or enjoy independently of her husband’s control over the strīdhana.[4] That, the women could enjoy dominion over her strīdhana, can be assumed from the rule that the husband is not liable to return the strīdhana of his wife, if it is taken by him in famine, for performing religious duty, during illness, or while under restraint.[5] Vijñāneśvara makes it clear that the husband is bound to return his wife’s strīdhana, if he uses the same under any other circumstances, excluding the above-mentioned contexts and except husband, no relation has any right to use a woman’s strīdhana during her life time even in distress, disease, etc.[6] Thus, on this property, no one, including husband, enjoy any legal right or claim and it is apportioned after the woman’s death in a different way among her heirs, which is described under chapter fifth of this work.

The nature of strīdhan, laid down in the Vyavahārādhyāya, may explain the unreasonable blame, raised by most of the people even today, regarding the practice of giving gifts to bride in ancient times that constitute her strīdhana, as the root of evil practice of dowry in present day society. The common misconceptions seem to have arisen due to lack of knowledge, conception and meaning between the strīdhana and the practice of dowry. In case of strīdhana, the gifts have been given as a token of love and affection from her parents or relatives, which may help her at the time of her need. It is the gift that the woman uses for her and for her children. It is important to notice that in-laws of the woman do not enjoy any claim or right over strīdhana. It is in the form of a security, willingly offered, that exhibits a completely different nature from the social evil, called dowry of present day. Moreover, the daughters have been endowed to inherit strīdhana, as a sort of equity only, because at that time, sons were allowed to exclude daughters in the inheritance of father’s wealth. As, at present, both the sons and daughters are entitled to get equal share legally, therefore, no logic arises to offer the dowry at the time of marriage to females. Thus, the proper understanding of the notion of strīdhana, prevalent during the time of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, suggests the power of woman over property.

It may be said that the Indian Hindu wife’s economic rights traditionally revolved around Strīdhana. It is the first traditional proprietary right of the Hindu women, accepted by the Indian ancient Hindu society. Thus, it ensures a woman’s economic independence.

Gooroodas Bannerjee has rightly remarked,

“Nowhere were proprietary rights of women recognized so early as in India; and in very few ancient systems of law have these rights been so largely conceded as in our own”.[7]

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

adhyagnydhyāvāhanikaṃ dattaṃ ca prītikarmani/ bhrātṛmātṛpitṛprāptaṃ chadvidhaṃ strīdhanaṃ smṛtaṃ// Manusmṛti, 9.194

[2]:

pitṛmātṛpatibhrātṛdattam adhyagnyupāgatam/ ādhivedanikādyaṃ ca strīdhanaṃ parikīrtitam// bandhudattaṃ tathā sulkamanvādheyakameva ca/ Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.143

[3]:

ādyaśabdena rikthakrayasaṃvibhāgaparigrahādhigamaprāptaṃ etatstrīdhanaṃ manvādibhiruktam/ Mitākṣarā, Ibid.

[4]:

tadeva ca strīdhanaṃ yadbhartṛtaḥ svatantreṇa dānavikrayabhogān kartumadhikaroti/ Dāyabhāga, 4.1.18

[5]:

durbhikṣe dharmakārye ca vyādhau saṃpratirodhake/ gṛhītaṃ strīdhanaṃ bhartā na strīyei dātunmarhati// Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.147

[6]:

prakārāntareṇāpa harandadyāt/bhartṛvyatirekena jīvantyāḥ striyā dhanaṃ kenāpi dāyādena na grahītavyam// Mitākṣarā,Ibid.

[7]:

cf., Banerjee, G., Hindu Law of Marriage and Strīdhana, page370

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