Jewels of Authority: Women and Textual Tradition in Hindu India

Jewels of Authority: Women and Textual Tradition in Hindu India

Jewels of Authority: Women and Textual Tradition in Hindu India

Jewels of Authority: Women and Textual Tradition in Hindu India


Recent years have seen an explosion in the scholarship on the religious experiences of women. The contributors to this volume believe that more sophisticated studies at higher levels of theoretical analysis are now needed. Their essays involve the close reading of situations in which women are given or denied authority in ritual and interpretive situations. This approach involves not only how women are represented by Indian texts, but several other perspectives: how the particular strategies of debate about women are carried on, how women are depicted as negotiating certain kinds of authority, and how women might resist particular kings of traditional authority in certain colonial and post-colonial situations. Including new work by such scholars as Stephanie Jamison, Vasudha Narayanan, and Ann Grozdins Gold, this collection will set a new benchmark for feminist studies of Hinduism.


It is no news that, in an earlier genre of writing on women in India, women were the objects of study and, in Cartesian fashion, were viewed as the “other” by knowing subjects, who were men. The voices of the women themselves were muted, and they were present more as functions of a particular literary or religious situation than as functions of authority in their own right. Earlier books, such as Altekar's The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day or Shakuntala Rao Shastri's Aspirations from a Fresh World, are not of much help in a reconstruction of a sociohistorical account of the lives of women. As Laurie Patton mentions in the introduction to this book, these works are inventories, designed to give us a certain amount of data.

Jewels of Authority belongs to a new genre, developed painstakingly by women scholars through careful hermeneutics. The contributors to this volume are interested in retrieving truthfully and reconstructing faithfully a sociohistorical perspective in which women exercise authority in the different periods they are investigating. This work is representative of the new genre in Women's Studies and Gender Studies, where women are no longer under the gaze of men. They are also the subjects who study themselves as the objects and not as the other. Thus they are able to approach the topic in a critical and differently empathetic way. This book is a collection of essays on women, based on textual and documented material that covers a vast spectrum of topics, ranging from Vedic to contemporary times. While the material spans many historical periods, the focus captures the vicissitudes of women's interaction within a brahminical ideology.

How is this interaction between women and brahmins described in the pages of Jewels of Authority in a way that honors indigenous categories? One of the criticisms of colonial Indological research was the transference of some ideas and interpretations from a western perspective into an alien context. The authors in this book are careful not to fall into that trap. To reach their findings, they use the tools of interpretation given in the Hindu tradition itself, such as that of mīmāṃsā hermeneutics or the sociolegal approach of the Dharma Śāstras. This book is thus a unique attempt to critique prevailing modes of social behavior from the tradition's own perspective.

Moreover, there are some special problems that only a scholar working in Hindu texts faces. Because ancient Indian texts lack a definite chronology, the study of the . . .

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