Position Of Women: Under The Mauryas, The Guptas And The Vardhanas



Womens were although considered as subordinate to men but were of significance and were treated respectfully. Arthashastra explains the human relationship and the way to deal with womens, focuses on injustices done with women during Mauryans.

  • MARRIAGE : Different forms of marriages were prevalent, one of which was Asura, in which men receive a large sum of money for marrying a woman. Kautliya permitted the marriage after divorce. Men have to attain the age of sixteen while for women The age to get married is twelve. Concept of swayamvara was also prevalent where women choose their husband of choice and marry with the consent of her parents. Physical chastity of women gained importance, birth of son was considered important and husband was allowed to remarry in desire of male child.
  • WOMEN EDUCATION : During Mauryan the women of upper classes participate in political activities and were allowed to study while opposite to this women of lower caste weren't allowed to study. Many women were well versed in music, dance, poetry and fine arts. During periods women were not encouraged in mixing with males.
  • ROLE IN SOCIETY : Women acquired high status in society during Mauryans. Womens perform social and religious duties and was allowed to participate in philosophical debates.
  • PROFESSIONS OF WOMEN : Women during Mauryans enjoyed freedom in public occupation in fields like Textile production, wage labour, temple dancers or court attendants. Other than this they were appointed as personal spies of the king. Women also took part in Wars and sports , but all this was restricted for upper class womens.
  • SOCIAL EVILS AGAINST WOMENS : Purdah system restricted the women's free movement, while those womens who step out of houses without their husband's permission were punished. Royal womens were put in harem which was strongly guarded. The Sati System was prevalent in certain parts of the north western region . The Dowry System was also very popular
  • INJUSTICES AGAINST WOMEN : Certain laws were introduced by Kautilya in arthashastra for protecting thr womens from injustices and to deal.wirh offenders. Among Hindus murder of women was equivalent to a murder of Brahmins. Women were given rights to claim over dowry, property and presents.
  • PUBLIC WOMEN PROSTITUTION : Public womens or 'Ganikas' included actress, Danvers, musicians and other artists. Prostitution was attracted to royal households and were levied taxes. Liquor consumption of women was condemned and was punishable.
  • BUDDHIST ATTITUDE TOWARDS WOMEN : In the beginning women were not allowed in Buddhist sangha. Womens were however treated respectfully. Ashoka appointed a special group of Mahamatras for the welfare of womens only.
  • RIGHT TO PROPERTY : Married women hold property in the form of bride gifts and jewels. Womens had limited right of inheritance of property after the death of her husband. Widow had to give all property to her son.


  • CHILD MARRIAGE : Child marriage was prevalent and girls were married at the gae of six or seven . Early marriage guarantees that the girl is 'chaste'.
  • POLYGAMY : High classes such as kings married to more than one womens, in desire of sons or if women are barren. Remarriage of widows was not allowed.
  • WOMEN EDUCATION : Women were not allowed to get Vedic or religious education but still can't be regarded as uneducated. Women were well versed in dance, music, painting, and playing guitar. They were allowed to listen to epics and Puranas. Women like Bhairarika, Sheila were famous scholars .
  • PROSTITUTION : Prostitution was prevalent but was looked down on in society. Vasantsena Ragmanjri and Chandrasena were famous prostitutes of Gupta period.
  • SATI: Sati was vague but women were not forced to burn themselves. Satu instance is found in 510.A.D during Gupta period, when the wife of Goparaja became Sati after the death of her husband.
  • PURDAH SYSTEM: During th3 Gupta period it is clear from painting and sculptures that the Purdah system was not prevalent. Veils were used by womens of higher classes, but custom was not prevalent among commoners.
  • ROLE IN SOCIETY: During Gupta period womens held secondary positions in society, they had to obey her father before marriage and husband after marriage. Thus women's life was restricted around male members of family. Womens were considered 'Ardhangini' and took part in religious functions.
  • SYSTEM OF SWAYAMVARA: Girls were not allowed to marry of their own so she accepted the husband selected by her parents, but in the work of Kalidasa the practice of 'Swayamvara' where girls choose husbands of her choice was prevalent.
  • RIGHT TO PROPERTY: Women did not hold any right of property inheritance of her father , this power of inheritance was only confined for male members only.


  • DECLINE OF POSITION : position of women declined during Vardhana age. Practice of 'Swayamvara ' declined, no Widow remarriage was allowed. Child marriages were prevalent and the evil of the dowry system also existed. 
    • No inter-caste marriages were prevalent, nor was the Purdah system. Only a few instances of the Sati System were seen.
  • OCCUPATION OF WOMEN : singing, dancing were the main works of Womens which gradually declined when Harsha Vardhana embraced buddhism.
  • EDUCATION : womens received good education . Example, princes Rajyasri received a good amount of education, learnt Buddhist doctrines.
  • CLOTHES : Long gowns were worn by womens. Both men and womens were fond of ornaments. Makeup like lipstick by womens was common.


From the above discussion the position of women during Vedic and Gupta age can be understood. Womens in both the ages were not allowed to inherit the property of her father, but hold property such as bride gifts. Women prostitution was prevalent during both the ages. Overall condition of womens was better but not too good.


A History of India, Vol. I, Penguin Books, 1966 - Thapar, Romila

The Wonder That Was India - Basham, A.L

History and Culture of the Punjab, Vol. I, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1977 - Joshi, L.M and Fauja Singh