A super-gift or a conduit: The place of a daughter in the Indian marriage exchange

Speaker: Pulane Lizzie Motswapong
Date: April 30, 2007
Time: 18:00

Graduate Seminar

The seminar will examine Hindu ideas of love and the idea of divine love (‘love beyond’). The seminar will pay particular attention to the Narada Bhakti Sutras.Ancient Hindu lawgivers have always viewed spiritual merit as arising from the spirit of dana. Marriage dana especially kanyadana has been considered as such. A father, by giving away his kanya was assured of spiritual merit. In ancient India the kanya was designated as the super-gift and all the other gifts which accompanied her were secondary. Marriage gifts continue to form an integral part of modern marriage system, (in the form of dowry); the kanya continues to be given away but her role is subsumed by the property she carries with her to the marital family and as a result she is reduced to a conduit.

The shift in status of the daughter from super-gift to a vehicle that facilitates the dowry custom has closely and significantly affected the status of women in contemporary Indian society. The practice has spread all over India and its wider ramifications are visible in the spate of cases of bride-burning, suicides, and harassment. This paper will compare and contrast the role of the daughter in the exchange while taking into account factors that may have contributed to this shift in the status of a kanyadana.