Patriliny refers to tracing descent from the male side of the family, such as through the father to son, to grandson, and so forth. Under patriliny, sons can claim the resources of the father after his death (including the throne in the case of a king)
a. An important text that establishes the ideal of patriliny is the Mahabharata, as after the conflict between the Pandavas and the Kauravas (which was essentially based on conflict over land), patrilineal succession was proclaimed. Because this story is central to the Mahabharata, it reinforced the idea of patrilineal succession.
b. From sixth century BCE onwards, most ruling dynasties followed this system. However, there were still variations of it. For example, sometimes when there were no sons, brothers succeeded the throne, and sometimes other male kinsmen claimed the throne. A rare exception to patrilineal succession is Prabhavati Gupta (daughter of Chandragupta II) who exercised power as a woman.
c. Evidence of patriliny is found outside of ruling families also, such as the mantras in ritual texts like the Rigveda. This was possibly the attitude followed by men of wealth and high status, and the Brahmanas.
d. Within families and kinship relations in general, there was also gendered access to the property. Women (for example, daughters) had no access to the property, while sons did.
e. Further, sons were considered important in order to secure and further patrilineal succession, while daughters of high status were married into the “right” families (i.e. the same social status), and were meant to bear sons in order to continue the family line. This can be seen in the rise of the practice of kanyadana, which means the gift of a daughter in marriage as a religious duty of the father.
So, it can be said that first, the daughter did not have any access to the property, and second, she was also considered the ‘property’ of the father. It can thus be said that both the idea of patriliny and gendered access to property are connected to each other.
In 1919, the prominent Indian Sanskritist V.S. Suthankar composed a team of dozens of scholars to prepare a critical edition of the Mahabharata. This ambitious project took 47 years to complete an involved in a variety of tasks.
a. First, the team collected Sanskrit manuscripts of the texts that were written in a wide variety of scripts from various parts of the country.
b. After this, the team devised a method to compare these various manuscripts, in order to analyse similarities and variations.
c. Finally, the verses that were common to most versions were compiled into multiple volumes, which comprised over 13,000 pages.
d. While there were several common elements in the Sanskrit versions of the story, as was seen in the manuscripts found from across the subcontinent, there were also many regional variations in the way this text has been transmitted over the centuries.
e. V.S. Suthankar and his team documented these variations and added them as footnotes and appendices to the main text. Around half of the earlier mentioned 13,000 pages were devoted to these variations.
These variations were important in order to analyse the Mahabharata, as they were a reflection of the complex processes that shaped social history through time. They were a reflection of the dialogue between dominant and local traditions and ideas and their points of conflict and consensus.
Analysing these processes was derived from texts that were mostly written for and by the Bramahanas in Sanskrit.
a. When these texts were first analyzed in the 19th and 20th century, they were taken at face value.
b. However, later, scholars also began studying other traditions, such as those taken from Pali, Prakrit, and Tamil works. This indicated that while the Sanskrit texts were normatively considered authoritative, there was also recognition that they were also questioned and rejected.
Thus, analyzing social history is a complex process where multiple sources have to be taken into account in order to get a more wholesome picture.
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