Origin of Dowry


Dowry is a practice which has been incorporated within the ancient Indian tradition of marriage, and it is believed by several scholars to have been legitimized by references made to ancient texts of the Hindu religion. It is also believed that the misinterpretation of some of these historical texts has led to its continued practice. We can trace the first occurrence of dowry in South Asia dating back to approximately 2000 years to the age of MANU, asserting the concept of Stridhan, which is distinguished from modern-day ‘dowry’.

Who is Manu?
In Hindu tradition, Manu is the name accorded to the progenitor of humanity, who appears in the world at the start of a new kalpa (aeon), after universal destruction. According to the Puranas, 14 Manus appear in each kalpa. The period of each Manu is called Manvantara.


Kishwar explains that Stridhan consists of gifts that are voluntarily and exclusively given to the bride from her household.


SC in the Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar ((1985) 2 SCC 370: 1985 SCC (cri) 180), observed that all the gifts including jewelry and clothes, furniture and utensils, given to the bride constitute her Stridhan


Historians trace the tradition of dowry to the custom of ‘Kanyadaan’ associated with Hindu marriage, which means, literally, the gift of a virgin. It is recommended in the Shastras that the “woman” be duly adorned with jewellery and then be gifted away to the groom’s family. The meritorious act of ‘dana’, however, remained incomplete till the receiver was given ‘dakshina’. So when the bridegroom or ‘Vara’ was given something in cash or in kind, along with ‘Kanyadaan’, it was called ‘Varadakshna’. This act was voluntary in nature, without any coercive overtones.
The implied ideology governing it was that it was a means of pre-mortem inheritance for the girl from her parents’ wealth. Under the Mitakshara system, a woman was not entitled to a share in the parental wealth, and the system, of
bestowing the daughter with a handsome dowry seemed to have been introduced to overcome this restriction.
However, with the passage of time, and with the rapid increase in industrialization, - ‘dakshina’-originally intended to be a token - gained all the characteristics of a market transaction in the name of marriage gifts prompted by the desire to make fast money. The custom, which has its origin in sentiments for helping the couple embarking on a new journey on their own, has now become a curse for the whole society. The universal form of marriage in the 19th century was marriage by purchase and the amount varied with the position and wealth of the family concerned. Gradually, coercive elements, started creeping in to the post and pre-marriage ceremonies too.

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