The history of marriage is viewed as social history related to customs and laws, but it is also a reflection of an inner life—one that comprises tales of joy, suffering, and the mundane—most of it hidden from the historian's eye. Analysing the institution of marriage in medieval Rajasthan, Singh reconstructs the regional social structures and cultures of the time.
The history of Rajasthan has always been romanticized, especially the legends of Sati and Jauhar, both of which, along with the rituals related to widowhood, are seen as institutional forms of women's oppression. Singh offers a fresh perspective on these customs, often challenging the conventional narrative and unearthing the complex motives behind them. Referring to extensive archival and literary sources, the author delves deep into practices such as polygamy, dowry, and concubinage which are situated in the changing socio-political structures.
As the author takes cognizance of the regional variations with respect to cultural norms, what becomes unequivocally clear is the multicultural ethos of India and the fact that history cannot be interpreted in monolithic universal terms.
Sabita Singh teaches history at Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India.
This work has been created against the backdrop of constructs of monolithic cultural unity, political equilibrium, and the traditionalization of Indian culture. It is also in the context of certain political hues that project an essentialist view of Indian culture and try to valorize `indigenous' society in a variety of ways without looking closely at the relation between caste, gender, and the state.
The Politics of Marriage in Medieval India: Gender and Alliance in Rajasthan: the title of this book requires an explanation of mainly two aspects—the significance of studying the institution of marriage and the time frame of 'medieval India' as I understand and use this category.
The study of marriage as an institution helps us understand some basic aspects of society. It is an institution that defines much about a person's present and future. In fact, marriage practices are revealing of various aspects of the society and its attitudes, as marriage is a social act, involving more than two individuals hedged in by laws and customs. These laws and customs are never static and undergo subtle transformations all the time. Both marriage and family are near universal social arrangements that vary from group to group and change over time. Since marriage carries many social and legal consequences, it simply must be a public act and cannot be a private pact between husband and wife.
It may seem that there is nothing more natural than the family as a social unit. But if that were indeed the case, it would have stayed in an immutable form throughout history. Instead, we have seen the structure of the family change from clan to joint to single parent. Some societies like the Spartans dispensed with the family altogether, with the children and the elderly becoming a collective responsibility.
The history of marriage must be viewed at two levels. It is a piece of social history related to the whole pattern of customs, laws, relations, and aspirations that lie at the centre of the history of family life. But it is at every point deeply affected by the inner life full of variety—tragic and comic, romantic and very unromantic, and a tale of joy, suffering, and humdrum—most of it hidden from the historian's eye. Therefore, for the study of the institution of marriage, there are varied aspects that need to be looked into, which will help reconstruct regional social structures and cultures. The specificity of regional social reality persists, adapts, and innovates, despite textual scriptural normative ordering and historical upheavals. Two dimensions clearly emerge in this process. First, we need to focus on the regional construction as distinct, but as a part of wider holistic constructs of Indian society. Second, we need to look at the significance of constructing a history based on actual folk reality and actual documents, revealing the ongoing process of different social groups of intra- and inter-relational levels.
Also, the time frame for defining 'medieval' needs an explanation. For defining the period as medieval, there are no specific dates that can be used for earmarking the beginning and end of the period, as social and cultural histories cannot be defined by specific dates. But by medieval India, I largely mean the India contemporaneous to the pre-Sultanate and Sultanate, Mughal and post-Mughal period. Therefore, it would approximately date from the eighth to the eighteenth centuries.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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