Marriages and the status of women in the Vedic period
Efforts of Intellectuals and holy men
The brahmanas emphasized the extreme importance of their role as priests for the performance of the numerous rituals and ceremonies connected with events like birth, marriage and death, which each individual of the upper castes was required to perform. They also maintained that they alone had the right to guide people in religious and spiritual matters. Further, they claimed that they were the highest, most honorable caste in the society. Many of the new religions emphasized the equality of all men and so became popular among some of the lower castes.
The vaishyas had a social status far inferior to that of the brahmin and Kshatriyas during the later Vedic period. By the sixth century BC., many of them had become rich and influential through trade, commerce, money – lending, etc., but the brahmanical tradition did not encourage their desire for social recognition. The new religion, on the other hand, gave them much greater recognition and honor. It was natural for them, therefore, to become followers of the new religions and support them with huge charities.
Efforts of Intellectuals and holy men
In this age of religious ferment holy men who led a life of purity, simplicity and self – denial attracted a large number of people. The doctrine of Karma and the denial of the authority of the Vedas as well as of the superiority of the brahmanas appealed to the new influential classes and also to the common massages. The most famous among these holy men were Vardhaman Mahavira, the last prophet of Jainism and Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
Agricultural fields must have been very large in size because ploughs drawn by as many as twenty – four bullocks are mentioned in the literature of the period. It is possible that iron – ploughshares were being already used during this period. A large numbers of specialized occupations are mentioned in the later Vedic literature. Carpenters, metal workers, blacksmiths, chariot – makers, weavers, potters, goldsmiths, jewelers, cart – drivers, hunters, butchers, fishermen, boatmen, bow – makers and leather – workers were some of those who produced goods of offered their specialized services to the society. Weapons and implements of iron were coming into increasing use during this period.
The society of the period continued to be divided into the four varnas of Brahman, rajneesh, vaish and the Shudras. The duties of the four varnas were clearly laid down during this period. The special duties of the brahmanas were to perform sacrifices for others, to teach and accept charities of gifts, those of the Kshatriyas to protect and look after the people, those of the vaishyas to practice agriculture and trade. All the three upper casts were required to study the Vedas to perform sacrifices and to give charities. The only duty prescribed for the shudras was to serve the three upper castes.
Marriages in those days
Marriages by the choice of the couples continued to the practiced but child – marriages were also taking place. Widow remarriage, divorce and remarriage of women separated from their husbands were not permitted to the women of the three upper castes.
Status of women
Legally, women were under the control of men even during the early Vedic period. The system became even more restrictive during the later Vedic Period age. Still, there was no purdah system as yet and women enjoyed considerable freedom of movement. Some of them like Gargi and Maitreyi were counted among great scholars and philosophers of the period. Gargi is famous for her debate with sage Yajnavalkya in the court of king Janaka. Towards the end of the later Vedic period rules were made that prohibited the study of the Vedas to women and the Shudras.