Indian woman were clearly subservient to the males. Women were not permitted to become priests, nor were they allowed to study the Vedas. Males alone could inherit property, unless there were no sons. Child marriage for girls was common. Women were encouraged to engage in the ritual of suttee, which called for the cremation of a living widow on her dead husband's funeral pyre.


  1. Vedic Period (1500 BCE – 500 BCE)

    • Status: During the early Vedic period, women held a relatively high status in society. They participated in religious and social rituals alongside men.
    • Education: Women had access to education. Some, like Gargi and Maitreyi, were renowned scholars and participated in philosophical debates.
    • Marriage: Marriages were solemnized based on mutual consent, and the practice of 'Swayamvara' (where a woman chose her husband from a gathering) was prevalent.
  2. Post-Vedic Period (500 BCE onwards)

    • Decline in Status: As society became more complex, the status of women began to decline. With the compilation of the Dharma Shastras, which laid down rules for society, women's freedoms were curtailed.
    • Child Marriage: The practice of child marriages began during this period.
    • Education: Women's access to formal education reduced, and their participation in public life became limited.
  3. Mauryan and Gupta Period (322 BCE – 550 CE)

    • Status: The position of women further declined during these periods. While they were revered as mothers and wives, their freedom and rights were limited.
    • Purdah System: The custom of 'Purdah' or veiling and secluding women from public view began to emerge.
    • Sati: Though it was not widespread, the practice of 'Sati' (where a widow was expected to self-immolate on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre) began in this era.
  4. Medieval Period (600 CE – 1500 CE)

    • Further Decline: The position of women reached its lowest point during the medieval period. Invasions and the influence of foreign cultures further restricted women's rights and mobility.
    • Notable Exceptions: There were exceptions, however. Some women, especially in the southern regions of India, still held administrative and military roles. The famous queen Razia Sultan ruled Delhi in the 13th century.
  5. Religious Practices

    • Hinduism: The Shakti cult, which worships the Goddess as the prime deity, acknowledges the feminine power. Rituals and festivals like Navaratri and Durga Puja are dedicated to the Goddess.
    • Buddhism and Jainism: These religions offered opportunities for women to join monastic orders, which was a deviation from orthodox Vedic practices.
  6. Literature and Art

    • Women feature prominently in ancient Indian literature, like the epics 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata'. The love stories and heroines of Kalidasa's plays and the Tamil Sangam literature depict various aspects of women's lives.
    • Women also contributed to literature; the devotional poetry of women saints like Andal, Mirabai, and Akka Mahadevi is well-known.
    • Ancient art and sculptures, particularly those of the Gupta period and in temples like Khajuraho and Konark, often depict women in various roles.