“ ... it confounds experience to say that a woman would not feel unbearable grief and distress on the loss of her husband. Bear in mind that a man may remarry as many times as he loses his wife-and nearly all such men do remarry. And yet, even so, a man feels stricken at the loss of his wife; he is distraught with grief and nearly loses his mind. If men are so overcome with grief at the loss of their wives when remarriage is not only possible for them but nearly certain, can we really imagine that women do not also experience great distress? Since women far outstrip men in their feelings of love and grief, would they not feel devastated at the loss of their husbands-even if remarriage were an option? The relationship between a man and a woman is the cause of all happiness in married life. If either the man or the woman dies, the other surely experiences unbearable distress. Now it may be true that a brief moment of suffering is nothing compared to the lifelong suffering of widowhood. But nevertheless, no one doubts that even a moment of unbearable suffering is still a great misfortune. Suppose a man marries a second time after the loss of his first wife; suppose new bonds of love form with his new wife. Even so, he will never forget the love and affection he felt for his first wife. Whenever he recalls those past times, the long-extinguished flames of grief will flare up in an instant. Should women ever be fortunate enough to see the custom of widow marriage promoted, the mere knowledge that remarriage is possible will not be enough to diminish the pain they feel at the loss of their husbands.
Long after becoming another man’s wife, a woman will remember the love and affection she had for her first husband; her heart will burn with grief whenever she recalls past times.”
About the Book
Before the passage of the Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act of 1856, Hindu tradition required a woman to live as a virtual outcast after her husband’s death. Widows had to shave their heads, discard their jewellery, live in seclusion, and undergo acts of penance. Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar was the first Indian intellectual to successfully argue against these strictures. Renowned Sanskrit scholar and passionate social reformer, Vidyasagar was the leading proponent of widow marriage in colonial India, urging his contemporaries to reject practices that caused countless women to suffer.
Vidyasagar’s strategy involved a rereading of Hindu scripture alongside an emotional plea on behalf of the widow, resulting in the reimagining of Hindu law and custom. He made his case through a two-part publication, Hindu Widow Marriage, a tour de force of logic, erudition, and humanitarian rhetoric. In this new translation, Brian A. Hatcher makes available in English, for the first time, the entire text of one of the most important nineteenth-century treatises on Indian social reform.
An expert on Vidyasagar, Hinduism, and colonial Bengal, Hatcher enhances the original treatise with a substantial introduction describing Vidyasagar’s multifaceted career, as well as the history of colonial debates on widow marriage. He also provides an overview of basic Hindu categories for first-time readers, a glossary of technical vocabulary, and an extensive bibliography.
About the Author
Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891), the renowned Sanskrit scholar and reformer, was a leading figure in the Bengal Renaissance. He was responsible for transformations in everything from Bengali prose style and printing techniques to Sanskrit curriculum and Hindu social practice.
It gives me great pleasure to present for the first time a complete, annotated translation of Ishvarchandra vidyasagar’s epochal two-part work promoting the cause of widow marriage While I have been researching and writing about Vidyasagar for some time now, it is really only with this book that I tackle what is by all accounts his most notable achievement as both a Sanskrit scholar and a social reformer. If that seems odd, I would be the first to admit it. Indeed, in the preface to my Idioms of Improvement (1996), I acknowledged that readers might be surprised to find a book on Vidyasagar that did not given special attention to the widow marriage campaign. In my defense, I felt then, and continue to feel, that in order to understand Vidyasagar’s goals and methods in promoting widow marriage, we do well to begin with some preliminary investigation of his world and worldview. I attempted that task in Idioms of Improvement, and now the time has come to make good on my implicit promise to build on that preliminary work and address Vidyasagar’s approach to the question of widow marriage. Since my overriding concerns in this volume are to make the complete text of the original Bengali work accessible to English-language readers and to venture some thoughts on what makes the work so significant, I have necessarily been able to provide only a brief overview of Vidyasagar’s life and career. I hope readers will look to Idioms of Improvement for more extensive treatment of the multiple factors of biography, intellectual formation, and historical context that played so crucial a role in shaping a work like hindu widow marriage
In a nice bit of symmetry, my earliest research on Vidyasagar was funded by a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship during 1989/1990, while work toward this volume was greatly facilitated by a Senior Fulbright-Hays Fellowship during 2006/2007. Both fellowship allowed me to conduct the kind of extensive research in India and the United Kingdom that was so essential for producing this annotated translation. I wish to express my sincere thanks to the U.S. Department of Education for the generous support and lasting impact of both fellowships.
While this book was in the final stages of production, I accepted a position at Tufts University. I would like to thank my new colleagues and the administration at Tufts for helping make the transition as smooth as possible. J would also like to register a special thanks to my former faculty colleagues, the administration, and staff at Illinois Wesleyan University for making my years there both productive and happy. During my tenure at IWU, I was the beneficiary of several grants and leave opportunities that assisted my ongoing research into Vidyasagar and colonial Bengal, none more important than a yearlong sabbatical during 2006/2007 that allowed me to complete this translation. Funds from the Provost’s Office at IWU and the McFee Professorship in Religion also helped support various aspects of this project. I would also like to thank one IWU student in particular, Dan DeWeert, who read the entire manuscript of Hindu Widow Marriage over the summer of 2009 and helped me think about the best way to present the text to readers with little or no background in Hinduism or colonial Bengal. I hope I have been able to achieve that goal to some degree.
Several of my colleagues elsewhere lent their help and guidance at various stages of the project. I especially want to thank Rosane Rocher and Ludo Rocher, both of whom offered not only crucial scholarly assistance but also personal friendship and encouragement over the years. I hope they both know how much this work has benefited from their active interest. Rachel McDermott, Paul Courtright, Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, and Timothy Dobe read portions of the book in draft form and offered valuable comments and suggestions. Several others helped me identify and locate hard-to-find Sanskrit passages, among them Patrick Olivelle, Tim Lubin, and Jim Benson (who also gave me a wonderful refresher course on Paninean grammar one afternoon in the stacks of the India Institute Library). My thanks as well to Deven Patel, Michael Dodson, Indira Peterson, John Cort, Jack Hawley, and Shankar Dutta, all of whom have taken a real interest in the project. In Kolkata, Hena Basu has remained an invaluable and unflappable research assistant. And the librarians and staff’ at the following institutions deserve my sincerest thanks for assisting with countless requests over the years: the Asiatic Society, the National Library of India, the Sanskrit Sahitya Parishat, the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, the Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, the Bodleian Library, the British Library, and the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Needless to say, none of these individuals or institutions should be held accountable for any errors that might appear in this work.
I would be remiss if I did not thank Wendy Lochner at Columbia University Press for so heartily embracing this project and helping guide it toward its present form. Irene Pavitt expertly (and patiently) oversaw production of the text, while Jan McInroy provided thoughtful and sharp-eyed copyediting. A Grant-in-Aid from the Faculty Research Council at Tufts University provided support for the index, which was prepared by Katherine Ulrich. I thank her for her careful and timely work. I would also like to thank Rukun Advani of Permanent Black for making it possible to bring out a South Asia edition of Hindu Widow Marriage. To Benjamin Gardner, I am indebted for the cover art. But most especially, to Alison and Gerrit, I extend my endless thanks for your love, your support, and your patience, especially during the transitions and separations of 2010/2011. Normal was good, wasn’t it?
It is my hope that this translation will do justice not merely to Vidyasagar’s accomplishments as a social reformer but also to his attempt as a Sanskrit pandit to apply his indigenous intellectual tradition to the emerging challenges of the colonial era. That said, criticism of Vidyasagar, his reform agenda, and the legacy of his most cherished reform will necessarily continue. I would be the last to say he doesn’t merit continued critical scrutiny. He certainly was no stranger to criticism in his own lifetime and-as Hindu Widow Marriage reveals-he had his own sometimes playful, sometimes caustic ways of dealing with his opponents. His were times of momentous change, not least in things religious, and what I most admire about him is that he was always forthright about the precariousness, if not impossibility, of speaking about ultimate things. As he liked to say, quoting a passage from the Mahabharata: dharmasya tattvam nihitam guhayam, “the nature of righteousness is shrouded in mystery.” One suspects that he voiced this view with equal parts irony and sincere conviction, since if he valued righteousness he also mistrusted those who claimed too firm a hold over it. Certainly his reluctance to tell people what to believe has always struck a sympathetic chord in me. I therefore dedicate the book to him, using a playful double entendre first employed by one of his contemporaries when making a similar dedication to the inimitable Ishvarchandra.
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