Women in ancient India enjoyed high status in society. Their condition was good. The women were provided an opportunity to attain high intellectual and spiritual standard. Though monogamy was most common, some section of the society indulged in polygamy. There was no system of early marriage.
But from enjoying free and esteemed positions in the society, women started being discriminated against—in education and other rights and facilities. Child marriage, widow burning, and polygamy further worsened the women’s position. Apart from child marriage, prostitution and Devadasi system became widespread.
There are some bright exceptions in this dismal picture. The role of women in Ancient Indian literature is immense. Ancient India had many learned ladies. There were two types of scholarly women—who never married and cultured the Vedas throughout their lives; and who studied the Vedas till they married. Ancient Indian grammarian—Panini—mentioned of female students’ studying Vedas. King Ashoka got his daughter inducted into preaching Buddhism. From the Jain texts, we learn about the one princess who remained a spinster to study religion and philosophy. Often, Buddhist nuns composed hymns. Women did write Sanskrit plays and verses, excelled in music, painting and other fine arts.
Women often enjoyed prominent roles in politics. Women from the aristocratic classes enjoyed education and other privileges but the common woman still suffered ignominy, deprivation and hurdles.
Women could shine as debaters in public assemblies. They usually occupied a prominent place in social gatherings but they were denied entry, into the meetings because these places besides being used for taking political decisions were also used for gambling, drinking, and such others purposes. Women’s participation in public meetings and debates, however, became less and less common gradually.
It may thus be concluded that in ancient India, women did not enjoy an inferior status rather they occupied an honorable place. They had ample rights in the social and the religious fields and limited rights in the economic and the political fields. They were not treated as inferior or subordinate but equal to men.