History

Information about families in ancient India show variations. While historians get information about elite families fairly easily, it is rare to find information about familial relationships of ordinary people. Mahabharata portrayed patrilineal idea as valuable. While sons were important for the continuity of patrilineage, daughters didn’t have claims to paternal resources. Questioning religious belief posed challenge to Brahmanas, who responded by laying down codes of social behaviour. Social norms were compiled in Sanskrit texts Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras from 500 BCE. Although Brahmanas forced everybody to obey, their influence was not all-pervasive. Brahmanas classified people from 1000 BCE onwards in terms of gotras. An ideal order was laid down in the Dharmasutras & Dharmashastras. Brahmanas adopted 2 or 3 strategies to enforce Varna norms. While number of varnas were fixed at four, there were no restrictions on number of jatis. Occupational categories given new names by Brahmanas, were classified as jati. Brahmanical ideas did not influence all societies of the sub-continent. Brahmanas classified certain social categories as ‘untouchable’.

Critical edition of the Mahabharata began in 1919. The project took 47 years to complete. Central story was the conflicting claims of cousins to the throne by cousin brothers- Kauravas and Pandavas. Such stories reflect issues of ownership. Buddhists viewed social differences as neither natural nor inflexible. In ancient Tamilakam, people who accumulated wealth for themselves were disliked. Mahabharata was originally written in Sanskrit. Charioteer-bards known as ‘sutas’, accompanied Kshatriya warriors to the battlefield. They probably composed poems celebrating their victories and other achievements. Brahmanas took over the story from 5th century BCE and began to commit it to writing. After additions, the text comprised about 100,000 verses.

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