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The perfect wife

Tryambakayajvan; Julia Leslie (tr.)

Tryambakayajvan; Julia Leslie (tr.);

The perfect wife [strIdharmapaddhati :Sanskrit]

OUP 1989 / Penguin 1995

ISBN 0140435980

topics: |  gender | india | history

The perfect wife: the orthodox Hindu women according to
strIdharmapaddhati of Tryambakayajvan.


Since childhood I have known about the innumerable restrictions on women,
they must be patibratA (husband-obeying), not look at parapuruSha (other
men), that sons are far more desirable, etc.  but had not even heard of this
late medieval text, composed by a Maratha-affiliated scholar from Tanjavur,
in which he sets out many of these terms and cooncepts that govern women's
lives across much of the Hindu world even today.

Tryambakayajvan, was a minister to the Maratha kings of Thanjavur, sAhajI
and serfojI (this is the historical character TryambakarAyamakhin [AD
1665-1750], almost certainly the same as the author of this text),
Contemporaries describe him as a learned minister, performer of Vedic
sacrifices, and a patron of scholars.

Julia Leslie was a professor of Hindu Studies at the School of Oriental and
African Studies at the University of London.

Excerpts: strIdharmapaddhati

[lit. guide to wifely dharma, or conduct]

strIdharmapaddhati is a recension summarizing and systematizing a
tradition of conformity that was by then already over a thousand years old;
the text contains references and synthesizes ideas from ancient texts,
starting with the Apastamba sutras (c. 400BCE) and Manu and more recent

	[AM: apastamba is the second of the Sulba sutras, c.500BC...  I had
	thought that these were more about some of the mathematical aspects of
	constructing ritual altars etc.  Obviously it's also about regular
	ritual. ]

For Tryambaka, women are not individuals but parts that fit into and
strengthen the whole, i.e. dharma.

Lays out the detailed duties of women, primarily the service of her husband
and his household. Charts all the rituals that must be
followed throughout the day, and special processes dealing with menstruation,
pregnancy, dying with the husband (sahagamanavidhiH), widowhood, etc.

Chapterwise outline and Quotations


			verses 1v.1-2v.5  p. 27

Verse 1:
mukhyo dharmaH smr^tiShu vihito bhartr^shushruShANam hi_ |
	the primary duty of women is enjoined to be service to one's husband.
	shushruShA (lit. desire to hear) - covers a range of meanings from
	the devotee's homage to god, to the obsequieous service of a slave.
	All these types of service are incorporated in shushruShA.

Verse 2:
Like sati, the paragon of chaste womanhood, who desired to gain a
husband's blessing (first) bedause she wanted to help the world (second)
because it was prescribed by sacred tradition, and (third) because it was her
father's command, grant me today the knowledge of the sacred way.
	[Sati, daughter of Daksha, is pArvatI in a previous birth.  When the
	world is threatened by the demon tAraka, it is prophesied that only
	the son of Shiva and pArvatI could destroy him.  So Sati sets out to
	win Shiva, first by her beauty, and then by her religious devotion.
	Eventually, Skanda is born to them and the universe is saved
	(SivapuraNa, pArvatIkhaNDa; Skandapurana, kAshikhaNDa; RAmAyaNa I;

The day's rituals

BEFORE DAWN 2v.5-7v.9  p.51:
	from waking up before her husband tp for worship and meditation
	(devatAdhyAnam), and then to prepare the grain (dhAnyasaMskArAdi),
	clean the house (gr^hasaMmArjanAdikam), smear it with cow-dung
	(gomayenAnulepanam), worship the threshold (dehalIpUja), and care of
	cows (gosevanam), to processes for urination and defecation
	(mUtrapurIShotsargaH), rituals for cleansing and sipping (Acamanam),
	cleaning the teeth (dantadhAvanam), bath, dressing and the tilaka

AT DAWN (7v.9-10v.1) p.102:
Serving at the fire sacrifice, offering of respect to the sun

DAY (10v.1-19v.4) p.156:
	Saluting one's elders, managing house, including accounts, dealing
	with other men (parapuruSha); however, she may talk to traders,
	renouncers (pravrajita), doctors, and old men. (p.171).  In addition,
	elsewhere it is noted that the good wife should associate with
	certain other women: courtesans (gaNika), women who gamble (dhUrtA),
	women who meet lovers in secret (abhisAriNI), etc.  Further rituals
	for the day include several worships, looking after guests, and
	especially the meal (bhojanam); how the wife should serve the husband
	(pariveShaNam), and then, only after she has massaged his feet
	(bhartuH pAdavandanaM kr^tva bhoktavyam), eat her own food, starting
	with what is left over (ucchiShTam) in her husband's plate.

EVENING (19v.4-21r.3) p.234:
	evening rituals, going to bed, lovemaking.  Normally, the husband may
	beat the wife for some wrongdoing, but never the woman.  However, in
	lovemaking, these prohibitions are swept aside, and their are
	detailed classifications of the types of scratching, biting and
	striking one may do - lovemaking is a erotic fight (pranayakalaha).
	p.243 Also it appears that the woman must not sleep naked, so perhaps
	after lovemaking, when she is enjoined to remove her bodice, she must
	dress again.
	Oral sex is not ordained - indeed, it is a misfit of the kali yuga
	that women may commit intercourse with the mouth (mukhebhagAH)

INHERENT NATURE OF WOMEN (trIsvabhAvaH, 21r.3-22r.8) p.246:
	A woman (and the sudra) is so born because of past sins.  Being
	sinful, she is amantravat; being amantravat, she cannot purify
	herself of sin; she therefore remains sinful all her life.  p. 246.
	At the same time, women are pure (medhyA), and menstruation (quoting
	Manu) is the mark of an all-encompassing purity unique to women." 254
	[But later, menstruation will become dirty) Unlike men, who have to
	go to great lengths to achieve heaven, women may do so merely by

DUTIES COMMON TO ALL WOMEN 22r.8-48v.6, p. 273
	During menstruation: full of impurity (rajasvalA), stained clothes
	(malavadvAsas), etc, the woman is impure for three days - her levels
	of pollution are : first day - like an untouchable, second dAY - a
	brahmin-killer, and on the third, a washerwoman.  During this period,
	she should not use kAjal, or comb her hair, or massage her body w
	oil, etc.  Disobeying results in defects in the child.  On the fourth
	day she must ritually purify herself. 286
	When a woman is pregnant her cravings must be attended to. 289.
	When she enters the birth-chamber, she must hold a fruit with a male
	name, to encourage the birth of a male child. 291
	Dying with the husband - _bhartranumaraNam - brings great rewards,
	and is strongly recommended.
	However, if by some fate, she is not able to, then she has to
	practice great mortification - one meal a day, no high bed, no bodice
	(kaNcukam), no tying of hair on top, and definitely no contact with
	other men. 299
Tryambaka's CONCLUSION:
	reinforces the point that obedient service to the husband is the
	woman's most pressing duty.

Appendix (by Leslie) : various versions of the manuscripts and arguments
for the choice of the primary sources, etc.

For a look at modern versions of these strictures in the lives of Indian
women today, see Pearson, Anne Mackenzie; Because it Gives Me Peace of
Mind: Ritual Fasts in the Religious Lives of Hindu Women SUNY Press, 1996,
315 pages, ISBN 0791430375


   Mode of Presentation and Overview of Contents of Stridharmapaddhati 4
   The Author of the Stridharmapaddhati 10
   The Political Background: the Maratha Rajas of Thanjavur 13
   The Intellectual Milieu 16
   The Women of the Period 19
   The Literary Genre: the Stridharmapaddhati in the
   Context of the Religious Law (dharmashAstra) 23

 I TRYAMBAKA'S INTRODUCTION (Sdhp. lv.1 - 2v.5) 29
   Sdhp. 2v. 5 - 21r.3) 44

 IIA BEFORE DAWN (Sdhp. 2v.5 - 7v.9) 51
   On Waking Up (prabodhanam) 51
   Before dawn 51
   Before one's husband 52
   Meditation (devatadhyanam) 52
   What may or may not be seen (darsaniyanyadarsaniyanica) 54
   Household Tasks (1) 58
   Preparing the grain (dhanyasamkaradi) 58
   Cleaning the house (grhasammarjanadikam) 59
   Smearing with cow-dung (gomayenanulepanam);
   the goddess Sri 59
   Worship of the threshold (dehalipuja) 63
   Delegating housework 64
   The care and worship of cows (gosevanam) 65
   Ablutions, etc. 69
   Urinating and defecating (mutrapurisotsargah) 69
   Cleansing rituals (saucam) 71
   The sipping ritual (acamanam) 75
   Cleaning the teeth (dantadhavanam) 78
   The ritual bath (snanam) 82
   Getting dressed (vastradharanam) 88
   Wearing the tilaka mark (tilakadharanam) 96

 IIB AT DAWN (Sdhp. 7v.9 - 10v.1) 102
   Serving the Sacred Fire (agnisusrusa) 102
   The role of the wife 107
   Where the patni may walk 115
   Which wife is the paini? 121
   At which point should the wife participate? 129
   How important is the presence of either husband or wife? 132
   Is the patni the ritual agent of the sacrifice? 141
   The Offering of Respect to the Sun (arghyadAnam) 149

 IIC DAY (Sdhp. 1Ov.1 - 19v.4) 156
   Saluting One's Elders (guruNam abhivAdanam) 156
   Paying homage (padavandanam) to one's parents-in-law 161
   Personal services 163
   Household Tasks (2) (grhakrtyam) 168
   General attitude 168
   Managing the household accounts 168
   Whether the wife may talk to other men (parapuruSha) 170
   Midday Rituals 176
   General comments 176
   Image worship (devapcild) 178
   The worship of all gods (vaisvadeva) 180
   Paying homage to guests (atithipuja) 183
   General rules 183
   The necessity for the ritual; Naciketas and Yama 185
   The penalties in store if the ritual is neglected 188
   The rewards in store if the ritual is performed 193
   Comparison with the fire ritual 196
   The role of the wife 198
   The distinction between 'guests' and casual visitors 205
   At Meals (bhojanam) 210
   The wife's duty to serve at meals (parivesanam) 210
   A man should not eat in his wife's presence 214
   How the wife should serve the meal 217
   The wife's own meal 221
   Her ritual offering (balidAnam) to the goddess Jyestha 227
   Post-prandial duties (bhojananantarakrtyam) 229

 IID EVENING (Sdhp. 19v. 4 - 21r.3) 234
   Evening Rituals and Duties 234
   Going to Bed (sayanam) 234

   (strisvabhavah; Sdhp. 21r. 3 - 22r. 8) 246

 IV DUTIES COMMON TO ALL WOMEN (strinam strinam sdharana dharmah);
  		   [ Sdhp. 22r.8 - 48v.6] 273
   General rulings on behaviour 273
   Things to be avoided (varjaniyah) 274
   Women's property (stridhanam) 276
   In praise of the pativratA 280
   General quotations 280
   Draupadi and Satyabhama 280
   Krsna and Subbadra 281
   Uma and Mahesvara 281
   Sandili and Sumana 282
   The Religious Duties of the Menstruating Woman (rajasvaladharmah) 283
   The polluting power of menstrual blood 283
   Prohibitions relating to the menstruating woman and defects accruing to
		the child 284
   Special rulings 285
   The ritual bath of purification 286
   The proper time to make love (rtukaladharma) 287
   The Religious Duties of the Pregnant Woman (garbhinidharmah) 288
   Rulings and prohibitions 288
   The pregnant woman's cravings (dohada) 289
   Entry into the lying-in chamber 290
   The Religious Duties of the Woman Whose Husband is Away
		(prositabhartrkadharmah) 291
   The injunction relating to dying with one's husband (sahagamanavidhih) 291
   Quotations in favour of the practice 292
   The objection that it is a form of suicide 292
   The rewards it brings the good wife 293
   Sahagamana as a prayascitta for the bad wife 295
   Sahagamana in relation to brahmin women 297
   The Religious Duties of the Widow (vidhavadharmah) 298
   When sahagamana does not apply 298
   The conduct of the widow 299
   The question of niyoga 300
   The impurity and inauspiciousness of widows 302
   Whether or not the widow should shave her head 303
   The three kinds of pativrata 304

 	  (patrisusrusanam mukhyo dharmah; Sdhp. 48v.6 - 88r.1) 305
   She Should Serve Him Without Regard for Her Own Life
	    (prananam avigananaya) 305
   Sita and the demon 305
   The brahmin's wife and the crane-demon 306
   The pigeons and the bird-catcher 306
   Accepting Even Her Husband's Sale of Her
	    (bhartrkrtatmavikrayangi) [kara]: Hariscandra 307
   Even if it Conflicts with Other Duties (itaradharmopamardena) 308
   The ascetic Kausika and the brahmin woman 308
   Further quotations 309
   If her husband requires it, she should even do what is wrong 309
   Pandu and Kunti 310
   Sudarsana and Oghavati 310
   'Service' versus 'Obedience'; Svaha and Arundhati 312
   Savitri 313
   Tryambaka's Summary 314
   Concluding Verses and Colophon 316

   The text: Collation of manuscripts and Stemma codicum
   1. Texts and translations
   2. Secondary literature

 INDEX 363

 Plates :
   Between pages 178 and 179
   1 Woman milking while cow with calf watching
   2 Woman anointing herself with sandalwood paste or perfume from a pot
   3 Woman holding mirror and applying collyrium to her eyes
   4 Woman arranging ornaments in another's hair
   5 Woman putting tilaka mark on her forehead while another holds a mirror
   6 Woman squatting to cook, and fanning herself with her left hand
   7 Woman standing to serve her husband while he sits and eats
   8 Woman massaging her husband's feet as he relaxes on a bed after his meal
   9 Woman dining alone, eating what is left of her husband's meal,
	    after tending to his needs
   10 Woman sitting on the ground, playing with male child
   11 Woman sitting with child on her lap, suckling him
   12 Couple making love on a low bed, naked except for their ornaments, the
	    woman on top
   13 Couple making love on a low bed, both wearing ornaments,
	    woman drinking from a bottle

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at] 17 Feb 2009