Tanvangi Profile picture
17 Oct, 19 tweets, 4 min read
Dowry is an English language word which according to the Cambridge dictionary means , "an amount of money or property that a woman's parents give to the man she marries". Sanatan Dharma never had this concept. We had the concept of स्त्रीधन which was the property of the woman.
So equating स्त्रीधन with dowry is conceptually wrong. While, dowry was meant for the husband, स्त्रीधन remained with the woman and was her property.

Eventually, it is this स्त्रीधन that was called dowry. While dowry looked to demean the them, स्त्रीधन meant to empower them.
It was the means for a girl to inherit a share in her father's property and have a way of supporting herself at her in-law's place. The स्त्रीधन which she received was hers to control and no one, not even the husband or her kids could touch it while she was alive.
Even after her death, the dowy which she had received, was passed on to her daughters and the sons had no right over it.

So, what is स्त्रीधन?
Manusmriti defines स्त्रीधन as,

1) That which is given before the nuptial fire
2) That which is given at the time of the Bride's departure from her father's home
3) That which is given to the bride as the token of love
4) That which her brother, mother and father gifts her.
Scope of स्त्रीधन broadened with time to include not just gifts recieved at the time of the wedding but to gifts recieved even after the wedding and then it went on to even include all the properties that the woman held, irrespective of how she acquired it.
While some were opposed to this enlarged scope, many were in support of this. And thus, स्त्रीधन came to include a wide variety of possessions.

Manusmriti recognises 8 forms of marriage and has rules governing each form. One of the forms that is recognised is the Asura form.
While this form is not preferred and is in fact discouraged, it is still one of the recognised forms. In Asura vivah, a bridegroom pays a pre-decided amount to the bride's family. This in English will be called bride price.
Although not promoted, a girl thus wedded will still get all the rights that are due to the wife.
Even in this case, the bride usually got the bride price either partially or fully as her स्त्रीधन. She had every right it and she could pass it on to her daughters after her death.
In case she died childless, this bride price was to be returned back to her family. The groom and his family had no right over it.

Now, who controlled स्त्रीधन?

स्त्रीधन, as per early definition not the expanded was controlled completely by women.
The expanded scope was still controlled by the women, but with certain conditions attached.

The husband was not allowed to touch स्त्रीधन at all. Neither the sons nor any other relatives were allowed to use स्त्रीधन.
There was a provision for husbands to use स्त्रीधन but then he was supposed to return it with interest.

In times of distress, the husband could use स्त्रीधन but some jurists insisted that he was to return it if he had promised.
No other relative, not even the kids were allowed to touch स्त्रीधन at all.

The same rules were applicable to both, original definition, the possessions of which the woman had absolute control and also to the later expanded scope.
In short, despite certain conditions being put on the disposal of the possessions that came under the expanded scope, स्त्रीधन was essentially a woman's property and no one could deny her that.

She enjoyed it during her lifetime and passed it on to her daughters after her death.
So, with this I end the thread on स्त्रीधन. As is evident, it was, by no means a way to extort money from the bride's family like we consider it now. The bride received gifts that her family deemed fit to give her. Most importantly, the bride held and controlled the gifts.
No one else had control over it. In next thread we shall see how this system went bad.
PS: Generally the mother's स्त्रीधन was passed on to her daughters. Sons had no right over it. Amongst daughters, unmarried ones were preferred followed by the one who was yet to settle in her marital home (newly married/one who didn't have a son yet).
References from Dr Altekar's book The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day page 252-278.

Here's the link to the previous thread

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