Sunday, 4 March 2012


Q. What is Mahabharata? How its critical edition was prepared ?
Ans : Mahabharata is one of the most colossal epics of sub-continent. This epic, in its present form , has over one lack verses. It also depicts a wide range of social categories and situations . It was composed over a period of 1000 years. Some of its stories may be circulation over earlier
The central story of Mahabharata is about two sets of warring cousins. It also contains sections laying down norms of behaviour for different social groups. The principle character of this epic occasionally seem to follow these norms.
Critical Edition of Mahabharata : A very ambitious project was started in 1919 CE under the leadership of noted Sanskrit scholar V.S. Sukthankar. Many scholars collectively decided to prepare a critical edition of Mahabharata. Initially Sanskrit manuscripts of the epic, written in different scrips and in different parts of the country, were collected.
This team, comprising of scholars, worked out a method of comparing verses from each manuscript. They selected all those verses which were appeared common in all manuscripts. They published all these in several volumes running into 13,000 pages. Around 47 years took to complete this project. Two things became apparent in whole of the process.
(i) First one was that there, were similarities in many elements of Sanskrit version of the story. This similarity found in all the manuscripts stretched in whole of the sub continent from Kashmir and Nepal in north and Kerala, Tamil Nadu in South.
(ii) Second one was that a number of regional variations came in front in the ways in which the epic had been transmitted over the centuries. These variations were written as foot notes and appendices to the main texts. More than half of the total pages are devoted to these variations when they were taken together.
Actually these variations could be reflected in the complete process that shaped early and later social histories through dialogues between dominant traditions and resilient local ideas and practices. These dialogues are featured by moments of conflict as well as consensus.
Our information about all these processes is mainly based on those Sanskrit texts which were written by Brahmans for themselves. Historians in 19th and 20th century, first time explored these texts while concentrating on different issues of social history. They believed that whatever is written in the texts, could have been actually practised. Later on scholars also studied other trathtions with the help of Pali, Prakrit and Tamil texts. These studies indicated that the ideas contained in normative Sanskrit texts were recognised as authoritative. But they were also questioned and sometimes even rejected.
Q.  Who were called the Chandals ? What were their duties ? What do the Chinese travellers named Fa Xian
and Xuan Zang write about them?
Ans. i.The Brahmans did not consider some people as part of the Varna system. They believed in sharp social division. They classified a few social categories as untouchable. They complicated the inequalities that already existed in society. They believed that the activities connected with the performance of rituals were sacred and pure.
ii.Such sacred people did not accept food from the untouchables. In contrast to this purity aspect, the Brahmans considered some activities as polluting. These activities included the handling of corpses and dead animals. Those who performed such polluting activities were designated as Chandals. These Chandals were placed at the very bottom of the hierarchy. Those who were at the top of the social order, i.e., the Brahmans considered them as polluting and untouchables. They considered them not only untouchables but also abominable to see.
The Duties of Chandals
The list of the duties of Chandals is found in Manu Smriti. These duties were as follows -
(i) They had to live outside the village.
ii. They used discarded utensils.
 (iii) They wore clothes of the dead.
(iv) They wore ornaments of iron.
(v) They were not allowed to walk about in villages and cities at night.
(vi) They had to dispose of the bodies of those who had no relatives.
(vii) They served as executioners.
Descriptions by the Chinese Pilgrims.:Fa Xian, the Buddhist Monk of China in the 5th century CE, wrote that the Chandals had to sound a clapper in the streets so that the people might avoid to see them. Similarly Xuan Zan, another Chinese pilgrim of the 7th century, observed that executioners and scavengers were compelled to live outside the city. In other words, the Chandals lived a life of neglect and degradation.
Q.  What did the Right to Property mean in the context of women and men in the period of Mahabharata?
Ans. There was a fierce competition and rivalry for long between the Kauravas and the Pandavas So Duryodhana invited Yudhisthira to a game of dice. In the game, Yudhisthira lost all his gold, elephants, chariots, slaves, army, treasury, kingdom, the property of his subjects, his brothers and finally himself. In fact he lost everything. He was deceived by his rival. At last he staked their common wife Draupadi. He also lost her in this game of dice. It shows that during those days, wife was considered as the property of the husband. It also shows that the eldest brother enjoyed special rights on property.
Divisions of Property Among Sons. :The Dharamasutras and Dharmashastras also deal with the issues of ownership. According to the Manu Smriti, the paternal estate was to be equally divided among all the sons after the death of their parents. However the eldest son enjoyed a special share. But the women could not claim any share in this estate.
Stridhana : Literally, the stridhana means the wealth of the woman. The women were allowed to retain the gifts that they received on the occasion of their marriage. Her husband had no claim on her wealth. But her children could inherit it. The Manu Smriti warned the women not to hoard family property. They were also forbidden to hoard their valuables without the permission of their husbands.
Upper class women and resources (wealth):. However the upper class women like the Vakataka queen Prabhavati Gupta could have an access to resources. However the land, the cattle and the money were controlled by men. In fact, social differences between men and women were sharpened because of the differences in access to resources.
Q.  This is what a famous historian of Indian literature, Maurice Winternitz, wrote about the Mahabharata : “Just because the Mahabharata represents more of an entire literature..., and contains so much and so many kinds of things (it) give (s) us an insight into the most profound depths of the soul of the Indian folk.” Discuss.
Ans. There is no denying the fact that Mahabharata represents whole of literature and shows a very beautiful picture of all the aspects of public life of contemporary Indian society. It describes thoughts and every thing profound depths of the soul of the Indian folk. This epic throws following light on the life of Indians :
(i) Social Life (a) Four Varnas :Society was divided into four Varna and Verna system was not strict. There was no restriction on people to adopt their hereditary occupation. For example Parshuram was known as Kshatriya even if
he was a Brahmana. Brahmana’s place in the society was not supreme.
(b) Status of Women : Women had very good status in the society. They were ‘ respected. They had the right to select their husband through the custom of  `Svyamvar’
(c) Age of Courage : Age of Mahabharata was an age of valour and bravery. Dying a the battlefield was considered as very prestigeous. People believed that one who dies in the battlefield goes straight to heaven. Protection of weaker section was also considered an act of bravery
(d) Social Evils: Some social evils also existed in the society. Playing the game of dice, endogamy, betraying the enemy were common things prevailed in the society.
(ii) Political Life
(a) Large empires Many large empires were established in this age. Pandu, Kosal, ‘Panchal etc. were such empires.
(b) Power of King : King was the head of the state and all the powers of the state vested in his hands. There was no restriction on these powers. However there were ministers to advice king in administrative functions but the kings were not bound to accept their advice.
(c) Life of King : Kings used to live with great pomp and show. They had very splendid palaces. They used to adopt many titles. They had an ambition to become Chakravarti King. For this, they used to organize Ashvamedha yajna. There were many shortcomings in their characters as well. They had many dancers in their courts. Drinking  liquor and gambling were part of their characters.
(iii) Economic Life
(a) Agriculture :Agriculture was the main occupation of the people Even kings themselves used to plough the land. Land was very fertile.
(b) Animal Rearing : Animal rearing was another occupation of the people. Cow, Bull, horses and elephants were important rearing animals.
(c) Trade : Trade made huge progress in this age. Guilds were made by traders. They were given many facilities by the state.
(d) Other Occupations : Except the given occupations, people were also engaged. in other occupations like carpenter, jeweler, potter, iron smith etc.
(iv) Religious Life
(a) Worshipping New gods and goddesses : In Mahabharata age, people started to worship new gods and goddesses, except Vedic gods and goddesses, and some of them were Parvati, Durga, Vishnu, Brahma etc.
(b) Believe in Incarnation : People also believed that god takes birth. It was believed that god Vishnu took birth in the form of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna and people started to worship them as well.
(c) Karma theory and Recarnation : People also believed in Karma theory and recarnation. They believed that one has to face all of his good or bad deeds in his next life or birth.
(d) Stress on Yajnas : People in this epic age greatly stressed on yajnas. Many new methods of yajnas were started in this age.
Actually, like any other epic, Mahabharata is an epic which shows a live picture of wars, forests, palaces and towns. Culturally also Mahabharata is very important. This epic has given a content to sculptors, plays and dance forms.
 Q. Discuss whether the Mahabharata could have been the work of a single author.
Ans. It is not possible that a single author would have written the Mahabharata. It seems to have been composed between 500 BC to 1000 BC. As a result, many episodes have been incorporated in it from time to time. Some of the stories mentioned in it were already popular among the people. As the Mahabharata was written in a very long time, it seems as if no single author would have written it.
Different Authors
The following suggestions are given regarding the authors of Mahabharata
(i) The original story of Mahabharata was written by Bhatt-Sarthis. They v called as Sutas. They generally accompanied Kshatriya warriors to the battlefield. So they composed poems to celebrate the victories and achievements of various warriors These compositions were circulated through oral method.
(ii) From the 5th century BCE, the Brahmans took over the story and began write it in the form of an epic. The story moved around the Kurus. As the Kurus  and Panchalas had attained kingdom from chiefdom, it is possible that these new might have wanted their history to be recorded and preserved in a more systematic Besides the old social values were replaced by new norms. So it is possible that upheavals might have necessitated the re-writting of the epical story.
(iii) Another phase in the composition of the epical task of Mahabharta started between 200 BCE and 200 CE. This was the time when the worship of Vishnu was become quite important. Krishna who was one of the most important characters in. the epic, identified with Vishnu.
(iv) So between 200 and 400 CE, many didactic sections resembling the Manus were added in the main story. Originally the text of Mahabharata had 10000 verses. But after addition of didactic section, it comprised 1,00,000 verses.
(v) However the enormous composition of Mahabharata is traditionally attribute to Vyasa, a famous sage.
Q . How important were gender differences in early societies ? Give reasons   for your answer
Ans. There were three main reasons of gender differences in early societies and., these were
(i) Gender inequality patrilineal system
(ii) Gotra of woman
(iii) Right over property
(i) Gender inequality:Earlier societies were male dominated societies and were running according to patrilineal system. That’s why male child was desired in every type of family as sons were important for the continuity of the partilineage. Daughters were viewed rather differently in this system. They had no right over ancestral resources . They were expected to marry out of their gotras. This custom of marriage is known ‘exogamy’. It means that young girls and women of reputed families were regulated in a way that they could marry at right time and with right person. This gave rise to belief that Kanyadana was an important religious duty of the father.
(ii) Gotra of Women : From C 1000 BCE onwards, people were classified gotras by Brahamanas. Each gotra was named after a Vedic seer as all the members  of that gotra were assumed as the descendants of that seer. There were two important  rules of gotras
(a) Woman had to adopt gotra of her husband after her marriage.
(b) Members of same gotra could not marry with each other.
i.But some evidences have been found in which these rules were not obeyed. For example some of the Satavahana rulers had more than one wife (palygynous). A study of the names of wives of Satavahana rulers revealed that few of them had names derived from gotras such as Gotama and Vasistha which were their father’s gotras.
ii.They probably had retained these names instead of adopting names of their husbands gotras. Some women also belonged to the same gotra as of their husbands. This fact was against the rules of exogamy. This fact actually exemplified an alternative practice that of endogamy or marriage within the kin group.
iii.This type of marriage still exists in many communities of South India. These sorts of marital relations give strength to organised communities.
Satavahana rulers were identified through the names derived from that of the mother. Although this may suggest that mothers were important but we should note down the fact that succession to the throne, among Satavahanas, was generally patrilineal.
(iii) Access to Property :i. According to Manusmriti, ancestral property of parents should be distributed (after their death) equally among all the sons. But eldest son should be given special share. Women could not demand their share in these ancestral resources.
ii. But they had the right over the gifts given to her at the time of her marriage. It was known as stridhana or woman’s wealth. This wealth could be inherited by her children. Their husbands had no right over this wealth.
iii.But Manusmriti restricts women to secretly collect any valuable goods or familial property without the permission of their husbands.
Some evidences indicate that yet women of upper class had resources within their reach but still land, animals and wealth were under the control of males. In other words, social differences among men and women were increased because of the difference in access of resources or property.
Q.  Discuss the evidences that suggest that Brahmanical prescriptions about kinship and marriage were not universally followed.
Ans. i.The Brahmans considered their view-point as universally accepted. They believed that their rules were followed every where. But in reality, it was not so. In fact, there was no universal impact of the Brahmans because of regional diversities and lack of proper communication.
ii. In other words, we can say that the rules framed by the Brahmans were not adhered to every where. The following evidences have been found in this regard.
(i) Diversity in Family Life:i. We accept family life usually with ease. But all families are not the same. There is always diversity in human relations and activities. In reality, family is a part of a big group. It is a part of larger network of people defined as relatives or kinfolk.
ii.However the familial ties are natural as they are based on blood relations. For example, such relations are kept in different ways. Some societies regard cousins as blood relatives whereas others do not think so.
iii.We can know a lot about elite families. But it is very difficult to have a full view of the relationships of ordinary people. The historians have made efforts to analyse and examine attitude towards family and kinship. The Mahabharata is a story of a war between two groups of cousins i.e. the Kauravas and the Pandavas. This war was fought for land and power. It was fought for eighteen days in which the Pandavas emerged victorious.
(ii) Rules of Marriage. i.The sons were considered important to continue the patriineage. So the daughters had no claims to the resources of the house-hold. They were married into families outside the kin. This system was called exogamy which literaly meant marrying outside one’s kin or gotra. The women of high status families were married to the right persons at right time. Thus Kanayadana or the gift of a daughter in marriage was an important religious duty of the father.
ii.As the new towns emerged, the social life became more complex. The people bought and sold their products in the cities. So they shared the views with each other. Hence the Brahmans laid down codes of social behavior in great detail. They expected all the Brahmans in particular and the others in general to follow these rules.
iii.Later on these rules were enshrined in Dharamashastras. These texts recognised eight forms of marriage out of which four were considered as good and the other four were considered as condemnable. The condemnable marriages were solemnized by those who did not accept Brahmanical norms. Inscriptions of Satavahana rulers indicate that they thd not followed the method of exogamy of Brahmanas. They
 had many queens and even from their own gotra. This fact is an example of endogamy method or marital relations within kinfolk.
Q.  What do you know about origin and progress of Caste system in India? How it advantaged and disadvantaged Indian society?
Ans. The meaning of caste system is by those classes in which our ancient society was divided. Each caste had its own customs and members of each caste had to follow those customs. Earlier there were four castes namely Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras but later on their number was increased. At present, more than 3,000 castes and sub-castes exist in India.
Origin of Caste System : Following theories are given about the origin of caste system :-
(i) On the basis of Colour. Some scholars are of the view that first of all society was divided, in different castes, on the basis of colour. White colour meant the Aryan people and black colour meant for non-Aryan people. White people hardly liked to live with black people. In this way society was divided into two classes—Aryans and non-Aryans.
(ii) On the basis of Purush Sukta. Few other scholars are of the view that caste system is given by the God. According to Purush Sukta, Brahmanas were originated from the mouth of God, Kshatriyas from arms, Vaishyas from thighs and Shudras from feet of the God.
(iii) On the basis of division of Labour. Modern historians are of the view that caste system originated due to division of labour. Powerful and healthy persons were given the work of protection of the country. So a specific caste of soldiers i.e. Kshatriyas was originated. In this way yajnas could be performed by only few people. These few people became Brahmanas. People engaged in trade and agriculture came to be known as Vaishyas. People who served these three castes came to be known as Shudras.
Advantages of Caste System:
(i)                   Indians hardly kept contacts with foreigners. As a result Indian culture remained safe from external impact.
(ii)                 Only because of. caste system, people used to marry within their own caste. It led to maintenance of purity of blood.
(iii)                People used to adopt occupation of their family right from their childhood. As a result, they became efficient ,specialists in their respective fields.
(iv)               People with bad intentions were generally thrown out of their castes. That’s why people hardly try to move on a wrong path.
(v)                 Members of each caste used to help the needy and poor members of their caste. It led to encouragement to sense of social service and sense of sacrifice.
(vi)               People had to adopt their hereditary occupation in caste system. That’s why there was no problem of finding occupation for self as it was available exactly after the birth.
(vii)              (vii) According to caste system, main function of Brahmanas was to give education. He used to teach free of cost to his pupils.
(viii)            (viii) People of other castes could convert to Hinduism through the powers of ‘Shuddhi’.
That’s why many invaders like Shakas, Greeks etc. became part of Hindu society.
Disadvantages of Caste System:
(i) Caste system was a severe blow to the sense of nationalsim. People began to think about their own
caste instead of national interests.
(ii) Because of caste system, only Kshatriyas were allowed to take military training. As a result
military training was limited to limited number of persons.
(iii) It was very difficult for people to change their hereditary occupation. As a  result individual development of persons stopped to a great extent.
(iv) Brahmanas, Kshatryas and Vaishyas used to consider Shudras as inferior to them and used to hate them. As a result the sense of untouchability was encouraged.
(v) Brahmanas and Kshatriyas used to consider themselves superior than other castes. It led to increase in mutual differences.
(vi) Brahmnas started few customs for their interests so that they could be more benefited. In this way many social evils came in society.

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