David J. Brick

Jan 25, 2024

Widows Under Hindu Law

Oxford University Press 2023

During British colonial rule in India, the treatment of high-caste Hindu widows became the subject of great controversy. Such women were not permitted to remarry and were offered two options: a life of seclusion and rigorous asceticism or death on the funeral pyre of a deceased husband. Was this a modern development, or did it date from the classical period? In Widows Under Hindu Law (Oxford UP, 2023), David Brick offers an exhaustive history of the treatment and status of widows under classical Hindu law, or Dharmasastra as it is called in Sanskrit, which spanned approximately the third century BCE to the eighteenth-century CE.

Under Dharmasastra, Hindu jurists treated at length and at times hotly debated four widow-related issues: widow remarriage and levirate, a widow's right to inherit her husband's estate, widow-asceticism, and sati. Each of the book's chapters examine these issues in depth, concluding with an appendix that addresses a widow's right to adopt a son-a fifth widow-related issue that became the topic of discussion in late Dharmasastra works and was a significant point of legal contentions during the colonial period. When read critically and historically, works of Dharmasastra provide a long and detailed record of the prevailing legal and social norms of high-caste Hindu society. Widows Under Hindu Law uses lengthy English translations of important passages from Hindu legal texts to present a largescale narrative of the treatment of widows under the Hindu legal tradition.

This book is available open access here

During British colonial rule in India, the treatment of high-caste Hindu widows became the subject of great controversy. Such women were not permitted to remarry and were offered two options: a life of seclusion and rigorous asceticism or death on the funeral pyre of a deceased husband. Was this a modern development, or did it date from the classical period?

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Raj Balkaran

Raj Balkaran is a scholar of Sanskrit narrative texts. He teaches at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and at his own virtual School of Indian Wisdom. For information see rajbalkaran.com.

Learn More

Also Hosted By Raj Balkaran