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Male guardians of women's virtue: a dharmasastric theme and its Jain variations.

If there is one dharmasastric passage that finds its way into even the most cursory overviews on the subject of women in ancient India, it is quite probably this one:
  pita raksati kaumare bharta raksati yauvane | raksanti
  sthavire putra na stri svatantryam arhati II MDh 9.3
  Her father guards her in childhood, her husband guards
  her in her youth, and her sons guard her in her old age;
  a woman is not qualified to act independently. (1)

This verse from the Manava-dharmathstra (MDh), like its numerous parallels elsewhere in the corpus of dharma literature, declares women to be categorically unfit for independent action, and assigns them to the care of a triad of guardian males--father, husband, and son. Even before MDh, the "doctrine" of women's lack of independence is asserted in the dharmasutras (VaDh 5.3; GauDh 18.1; BauDh 2.3.44-46). It is put in the mouth of Bhisma in the Mahabharata (13.46.13), and makes its way into other major dharmasastras, such as Yajnavalkya, Narada, and visnu. In their curtailment of women's independent agency and their assertion of men's prerogative to act as agents on their behalf, such passages have made the dharmasastras a convenient site for mining textual examples about patriarchal oppression of women in ancient South Asia. As a result, the Brahmanical communities that produced these texts have tended to be singled out as the bastion of such oppression, as more restrictive of women than any other community.

What has sharpened such a characterization is the contrasting portrayal of Indian Buddhism and Jainism as offering greater freedom for women. Pioneering scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries set the tone with their rather romanticized portrayals of Buddhism, in particular, as a haven for women who broke free from the constraints of patriarchy. (2) Even though more recent scholarship generally acknowledges the degree to which Jain and Buddhist texts and institutions, too, have been systematically shaped by androcentric assumptions and patriarchal interests, the motif of the independent Jain or Buddhist woman--contrasted with the Brahmanical woman guarded by her male relatives--still persists and slips into the prose of even the most careful scholar. We see this when, for example. Katherine Young argues that Buddhist and Jain nuns were "an example of independent women in the society" that caused Brahmanical families to guard their women even more strictly (1987: 71). Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar state that nuns, along with courtesans, "were the only women in ancient India who could move freely throughout the entire social system" (2002: xiv). Susan Murcott makes the same equation between these two groups of women who possessed an "unimaginable" degree of independence: "Neither had active male guardians; both moved relatively freely in the public sphere" (1991: 123). Patrick Olivelle, in turn, counterposes MDh's famous guarding verse to what he perceives to be a different kind of ethos in Buddhism and Jainism: "Here are Buddhist and Jain nuns exercising a daring freedom of choice, living lives in female communities outside direct male control, and taking control of their own sexuality" (1997: 442).

Yet, if we examine what is said about nuns and their way of life in the monastic texts of the Buddhist and Jain traditions themselves, a very different picture emerges. In fact, we find little evidence that supports the above characterizations of a life of radical independence. Both in the canonical monastic codes, and in the later commentaries, nuns' movement outside of their lodging is strictly regulated. Although they do live in communities of women, these communities are by no means independent of the supervision and control of male authorities. Nor is it the case that monastic authors trust nuns to be fully in charge of their own sexuality.

It is true that these monastic texts are normative, prescriptive texts composed or compiled by male authors, not transparent descriptions of how the women in the authors' communities in fact lived. Then again, the same could also be said about the dharmasatras. The complex question of how prescriptive texts can be used as historical sources is beyond the scope of this essay, particularly as I have discussed it elsewhere (Jyvasjarvi 2011). What deserves closer examination here, instead, is the way in which the asvatantrya doctrine--shorthand for women's lack of independence and the consequent imperative that they should be guarded by men--has been so easily and unproblematically aligned with some religious communities and not others.

In what follows, I seek to historicize the topos of men's guardianship of women in Indic texts by placing dharmasastric discussions on this topic alongside comparable passages in post-canonical Jain texts. My research on Svetambara Jain commentaries on monastic discipline suggests that, far from being the prerogative of Brahmanical texts alone, the asvatantrya doctrine was shared by authors across the boundaries of religious traditions in premodern South Asia. When discussing the appropriate conduct of nuns, Jain texts, too, assert that women are not fit for independent action, but must be guarded and supervised by male members of their community. They articulate this with passages paralleling--sometimes almost word for word--the above-cited MDh verse. The monastic context, however, raises complex questions about how the imperative for male guardianship of women is to be applied in practice. Upon joining the order, nuns are supposed to leave their families, including the male relatives whose task it is to guard them. Who, then, will guard the nuns? The solution that Jain texts offer is to entrust the monks with the task.

The reason why male authorities in various sectarian communities place such emphasis on men's guardianship of women. I suggest, is that they share a notion of collective honor in which women's bodies function as an index of the purity and status of their community. In many hierarchical, patriarchal societies, such as would have characterized much of premodern India, the honor of a community is dependent on the honor of its female members--understood specifically as demonstrable curtailment of sexuality on the one hand, and lack of displays of independent agency on the other. Men cannot remain indifferent about how women conduct themselves, as the perceived virtue of those women is inseparably bound up with their own esteem: the fact that the women with whom one is associated are "well-guarded" is what marks a man as authoritative, honorable, and manly. As far as the dharmagastras are concerned, such an interpretation may seem old hat. However, as I demonstrate below, we see a similar interlinking of honor-by-association even in Jain monastic communities whose male and female members are not connected to each other (at least not primarily) through kinship ties or sexual relations. Jain monastic authors are highly preoccupied with the guardedness and modesty of nuns because the nuns' conduct makes a statement about the uprightness of the monks.

Recent scholarship on Indian Buddhism has called attention to the fact that Buddhist monks were assigned at least some of the responsibilities of a lay patriarch. Liz Wilson, for example, cites the guarding verse of MDh 5.147 when discussing women's subordination to male authority in Pali Buddhist texts (Wilson 1995: 46). "The pseudofamilial structure of the sangha," she goes on to suggest, "subordinates the daughters of the Buddha to male authority figures, namely the Buddha as father and, in his postparinibbanic absence, the sons of the Buddha as the father's doubles on earth" (p. 48). As Ute Husken points out, the result is something of a conundrum for Buddhist monks:
  It was clear to [the Buddha] that women belonging to no
  household would be deprived of protection. Transferral
  of this protecting role to the monks would have meant
  that they would have had to take on within the Samgha
  the very role which they had just decided to give up by
  joining the order to concentrate on their spiritual
  development. (Husken 2000: 61)

However, to my knowledge, no attempt has yet been made to examine how this protective role is articulated in Jain monastic texts, and how exactly Jain monastic communities try to resolve the dilemma Husken describes. Namely, in order to be taken seriously as men in charge of their communities, monks have to fulfill the role of the male guardian and overseer for the female members of their order. As a result, they end up becoming involved, sometimes intensely, in the practical affairs of the nuns' community. Yet, such involvement with women is precisely the kind of worldly concern they supposedly left behind when renouncing family life. Moreover, monks cannot become too intimately involved with nuns, for that would also harm the public image of the monastic community by casting doubt on the strictness of their vows of celibacy.

It is precisely this dynamic that I hope to illuminate here through an examination of Jain variations of the guarding ideology in early medieval vetambara Jain commentaries on monastic discipline. I focus on the Brhatkalpabhasya (BKBh) and Vyavaharabhasya (VavBh) attributed to the late sixth-century C.E. Svetambara Jain exegete Sanghadasa. (3) These commentaries, written in Maharastri Prakrit verse, comment on the canonical Kalpa-sutra and Vyavahara-sutra respectively. They belong to the bhasya layer of the extensive body of Jain commentarial literature, representing an intermediate stage between the pithy, index-like niryukti texts and the expansive medieval vrttis and tikas.

While interesting comparisons can be drawn between these commentaries and contemporaneous Buddhist commentaries, the Buddhist material brings with it unique complexities to which I cannot do proper justice within the scope of this article, and which therefore deserves a separate treatment elsewhere. (4) Instead, I consider the Jain commentator's statements about guarding women in light of dharmagasastric treatments of the same theme. Of the dharmasastras I discuss below, the early major smrtis--MDh, yajnavalkya-smrti (Yar), and Narada-smrti (Nar) -- precede the period of the Jain bhasyas' composition, but were certainly known and considered authoritative during this time. (5) The later major stnrtis, Paredura-smrti and Vi you-smrti, are roughly contemporaneous with Sanghadasa's commentaries. (6) The later minor smrtis or samhitas I mention below, such as Atri-samhita and Yama-samhita, seem to have been redacted in the seventh century or later, but contain layers of earlier materia1. (7)

I begin with the dharmasastric discussions of the asvatantrya doctrine and the ways in which it functioned as a justification for women's ineligibility for world-renunciation (samnyasa). I will then demonstrate the similarities, even direct parallels, between the dharmasastras and Svetambara Jain texts when it comes to the necessity of men's guardianship of women. However, in contrast to the dharmasastras, Jain authorities maintain that it is possible for women to live a virtuous life even as renunciants, outside of the protective web of the family. The critical factor that makes this possible is the fact that Jain monks are authorized, in fact required, to take on the roles of the nuns' supervisors, teachers, and guardians. However, such arrangements--potentially involving intensive association with nuns--imply considerable problems for the monks themselves. Examining these shared anxieties will potentially shed new light on the continuities, across religious boundaries, of conceptions of gender norms, virtue, and hierarchy. It may also have a bearing on how we view the relationship of the dharmasastras to the monastic literatures of non-Brahmanical communities.


The MDh verse with which this article opened is likely the most oft-cited articulation of the asvatantrya doctrine. The dharma treatises that postdate MDh--Yaj, Nar, and Visnu--similarly assert that independent action is simply inappropriate for women, and encircle the imagined subject of the passage with the steadfast trio of guardians:
rakset kanyam pita vinnam patih putras tu vardhake |
abhave jnatayas tesam na svatantryam kvacit striyah || Yaj 1.85
The father should guard a maiden, the husband a married woman, and
the sons a woman in old age.
In their absence, the relatives [guard a woman]. A woman can
never be independent.

svatantryad viprahasyanti kule jata api striyah |
asvatantryam atas tasam prajapatir akalpayat ||
pita raksati kaumare bharta raksati yauvane |
putra raksanti vaidhavye na stri svatantryam arhati || Nar 13.30-31
Independence ruins women, even those born into a good family;
therefore Prajapati ordained that they should not be independent.
While she is a child, her father protects her; while she is a young
woman, her husband; when she is a widow, her son; a woman is not
fit to be independent. (Lariviere 1989: 176)

sarvakarmasv asvatantrata | balyayauvanavardhakesv api
pitrbhartrputriadhinata || mrte bhartari brahmacaryam adanvarohapam
Va || Visnu 25.12-14.
Not acting independently in any activities; remaining under the
authority of her father during her childhood, her husband during her
youth, and her son in her old age; and remaining chaste or ascending
the pyre after him when the husband dies.

The semantic range of the vocabulary used to articulate this imperative--the verb roots [check]gup, [check]raks, and their derivatives--covers the senses of protecting, guarding, concealing, defending, tending, and controlling. (8) Protection and control are conceptually inseparable: to guard a woman means to defend her from harm and, at the same time, to control her.

Such pronouncements reflect a certain set of assumptions about the nature of women. The first of these is that a woman's social identity is determined by her male relatives. The dharmaastric injunctions about women's duties, stridharma or "women's dharma," always situate the female subject in the domestic realm. Women are discussed in the specific roles of daughter (kanya, duhitr), wife (patni, bharya, dara), and widow (vidhava), thus always in relation to a man--father, son, or husband. The very possibility of virtue for women is imagined only within these parameters of social roles defined by male relatives, under their guardianship.

The second assumption is that women lack fortitude and self-control; they are governed by their desires, vulnerable to outside pressure and manipulation, and hence unreliable. (9) If left unguarded, they will simply surrender to their own whims or the seductions of other men, thus deceiving and humiliating their husbands and families. Consequently, a system must be put in place to keep them "confined within the house by trusted men" (grhe ruddhab purtsair aptakaribhih | MDh 9.12).

The second assumption implies a third: the need to exert procreative control over women. Controlling the sexuality of their female kin is a way for Brahmin men to preserve the purity of the caste and the family lineage. ApDh states rather straightforwardly that men have to guard their wives "because they fear the seed of others" (2.13.6; cf. BauDh 2.3.34; VaDh 17.9). MDh also makes the connection clear when stating:
suksmebhyo 'pi prasangebhyah striyo raksya visesatah |
dvayor hi kulayoh sokam avaheyur araksitah ||
imam hi sarvavarnanam pasyanto dharmam uttamam |
yatante raksitum bharyam bhartaro durbala api ||
svam prasatim caritram ca kilam atmanam eva ca |
svam ca dharmam prayatnena jayam raksan hi rakyati ||...
yadrsam bhajate hi stri sutam sute tathavidham |
tamat prajavisuddhyartham striyam rakset prayatnatah ||
MDh 9.5-7.9
Women in particular should be guarded against even the
slightest evil inclination, for when they are left
unguarded, they bring grief to both families. Seeing
that this is clearly the highest Law of all social
classes, even weak husbands strive to guard their wives;
for by carefully guarding his wife, a man guards his
offspring, his character, his family, himself, and the
Law specific to him. [...] For, a wife bears a son
resembling the man she loves; to insure the purity of his
offspring, therefore, he should carefully guard his wife.

The aim, in other words, is to circumscribe women's sexuality. Indeed, male guardianship marks a woman as "contained," not sexually available to others, and protects her from violation. As early as the dharmasutras, punishments for rape were determined based on whether the woman in question was guarded (gupta) or not (GauDh 12.2, VaDh 21.1-5; MDh 8.374-78; Yaj 2.286). Later, the dharmagastras determined the penalties for unlawful sex according to whether the woman in question is of the same caste or not, whether she is willing or unwilling, and whether she is guarded or not. Intercourse with an unwilling guarded woman of a higher class merits the highest penalty, while the repercussions are less serious if the woman is willing, unguarded, and of one's own or lower class. (10)

A crucial implication of this system is that whether a woman is seen as morally virtuous or not is not solely hers to determine. Men are the agents who can make their women protected--in other words, sexually unavailable to other men. Therefore, men bear at least some responsibility for the virtue of the women who are their wards. Not only is being "guarded" an essential mark of a virtuous woman, but fulfilling the role of the guardian is also a mark of a responsible, manly, dharmic man. As MDh tauntingly puts it above, "even weak husbands strive to guard their wives." How much more so, then, do men who do not want to be perceived of as weak?

In this way MDh makes explicit the connection between a woman's guardedness and family honor--or, conversely, female independence and family dishonor. After all, the passage above equates the careful guarding of one's wife with guarding one's offspring, character, family, oneself, and one's dharma. Conversely, "When [women] are left unguarded, they bring grief to both families" (MDh 9.5)--i.e., the woman's marital and natal families. By separating herself from her father, husband, and sons, the text notes elsewhere, "a woman brings disgrace on both families" (MDh 5.149).

A passage from a now lost smrti attributed to Harita, preserved in Devannabhatta's Smrticandrika, equates the guarding of the wife with the protection of all that is valuable:
jayanase kulanasah | kulanase tantunasah |
tantunase devapitrnase yalnanaso dharmanasah |
dharmanase atmanassah | atmanase sarvanasah |
tastnad enam dharmasilam suguptam rakset | Gharpure 1918: II.239

When the wife is ruined, the family is ruined; when the family is
ruined, the line of succession is corrupted; the corruption of the
line of succession is the ruin of gods and forefathers, the ruin of
the sacrifice, and the ruin of dharma. When dharma is ruined, one's
self comes to ruin; when the self is ruined, everything is ruined.
Therefore, one should guard her, the virtuous, well-protected wife.

If we take MDh and Harita seriously, then, a woman's virtue--or lack thereof--is not only an indicator of a man's own moral state, or that of his community, but in fact a prime cause and catalyst of its flourishing or ruin.


The insistence that women are not suited for independence is perhaps the single most important reason why Brahmanical authorities virtually unanimously (11) reject the possibility of a woman renouncing the world and either embarking on a life of solitary wandering or joining a community of recluses. The very idea that a woman could live an honorable life independent of the protective web of family and male guardians seems unimaginable for them. As we have seen, a virtuous woman is, by definition, a daughter, wife, or mother, living in the domestic realm and guarded by her male relatives. All other kinds of women are grouped together as prostitutes, other kinds of "loose" women, or women living marginal and precarious lives as slaves or beggars.

The asvatantrya doctrine manifests in two primary ways in dharmagastric objections to renunciation or asceticism by women. First, women's ineligibility for independent action in the realm of ritual and religion means that they are prohibited from engaging in any religious practice, rite, or fast on their own. Secondly, the ideal of family guardianship and containment within the home translates into prohibitions against wandering outside of the home. Both of these work against women's eligibility for world-renunciation.

Orthodox Brahmanical renunciation (samnyasa/pravrajya) is defined specifically as rejecting or discarding the ritual acts. A renunciant is homeless, does not kindle the household (grhya) or ritual (srauta) fires, wanders about without a companion, dwells outside villages, and goes around naked or only covers one's private parts (Kane 1930-62: vol. II pt. 2, 932-36). In order to be able to give up ritual action, however, one must be in a position to give it up--in other words, one must be a competent ritual actor. A woman's ritual agency is either severely limited, or denied altogether, in the Brahmanical tradition. (12) This exclusion from Vedic learning, initiation (upanayana), and independent ritual performance became one of the main justifications for women's exclusion from the institution of samnyasa (MDh 5.155, 9.18, 6.36; Yaj 3.57; Yama 73). Thus we see the early dharmagastras, MDh (6.36) and Yaj (3.57), restricting renunciation to twice-born men who have fulfilled certain duties.

Later authors on dharma, writing around the middle of the first millennium C.E., are more explicit in their denial of women's right to any independent religious activity--whether ritual, fasting, or other ascetic practices. Visnu declares:
  nasti strinam prthagyajno na vratam napy upofitam | patim
  susrusate yat tu tena svarge muhiyate || patyau jivati ya
  yosid upavasavratam  caret | ayuh sa harate bhurtur narakam
  caiva gacchati || Vigui 25.14-16.

  For women, there is no independent sacrifice, vow, or fast;
  a woman will be exalted in heaven by the mere fact that she
  has obediently served her husband. If a wife performs a vow
  of fasting while her husband is alive, she robs her husband
  of his life and also goes to hell.

Instead, the religious model that is offered to women is that of the devoted wife (pativrata, lit. "a woman who keeps her vow to her husband"). Serving one's husband and bearing him children are presented as the only legitimate way for a woman to live a moral life and attain a good destiny in the hereafter. As the Sankha-likhita declares, "Not by observing vows, not by fasting, nor by various duties does a woman reach heaven: she reaches it on account of her worship of her husband" (na vratenopavasena dharmena vividhena ca | nara svargam apnoti prapnoti patipujanat || Josi 1937: 1025). The Yama-samhita articulates the same prohibition in even stronger terms: "The ascetic life is not considered appropriate for women, neither in the Vedas nor in sastras. Procreation of progeny from a male of the same caste is her proper dharma: this is the fixed rule." (13)

The second implication of the "lack of independence" injunction is that women cannot roam freely outside of the family compound, which is precisely what defines the classical South Asian ideal of the wandering, homeless renunciant. MDh lists wandering about, being separated from one's husband, and sleeping and living in other people's houses to be among the six things that corrupt a woman (MDh 9.13). The later Atri-samhita, providing a somewhat different list, adds that ascetic practices are detrimental to a woman's own religious goals and her husband's life:
japas tapas tirthayatra pravrajya mantrasadhanam |
devataradhanas  caiva strisudrapatanani sat ||
jivadbhartari ya neri uposya vratacarini |
ayusyam harate bharttuh sa nari narakam vrajet ||
Atri 135-36 (Dutt 1907-8: 162)
Prayers, austerities, pilgrimages, wandering as an
ascetic, meditating on a mantra, and paying homage
to a goddess are the six actions that cause the ruin
of women and sudras. A woman who fasts and observes
a vow while her husband is alive robs him of life
and goes to hell.

Parasara-smrti (500-800 C.E.), after specifying that women should not shave their hair or sleep outside of the home, proscribes other activities characteristic of the renunciant life. However, it accommodates particular vows that women can observe as long as they do it in a domestic setting:
evam narikumarinam siraso mundanam smrtam |
na striyah kesavapanam na dure sayanasanam ||
na ca gosthe vased ratrau na diva ga anuvrajet |[cf. Par 8.31]
nadisu samgame caiva arahyesu visesatah ||
na strinam ajinam vaso vratam eva samacaret |
trisamdhyam snanam ity uktam suranam arcanam tatha ||
bandhumadhye vratam tasam krcchracandrayahadikam |
grhesu satatam tisthec chucir niyamam acaret ||
Par 9.55-58 (Islamapurkar 1893-1919: II. 1.292-93)

  This is what is taught in the smrtis about shaving the head of
  women and young girls: shaving of the hair is not for women, nor
  is staying far away [from home].
  Nor should she stay in the cow-pen at night nor follow cows during
  the day, especially at the confluence of rivers or in the forest.
  Fasting while wearing animal skins is not for women; it is said: "Let
  her observe vows
  and take the thrice-daily baths," and also praise the gods.
  In the midst of relatives, their vratas are the "harsh fast" or
  "candrayana fast" and so on, [but a woman] should always stay at home
  and be pure in her practice of the observances.

Yama-samhita 73 offers an alternative rendering of the first two verses against shaving a woman's hair--the very practice that marks a nun belonging to the Buddhist community (Jain nuns' hair is plucked out rather than shaved): "The heads of women should not be shaved; nor should she follow a cow or stay in the cow-pen at night, nor should she learn the Veda" (no strinam vapanam kuryat na ca sa gam anuvrajet | na ca ratrau vased gosthe na kuryad vaidikim srutim || Dutt 1907-8: 566).

In these later minor dharma treatises, the prohibitions against women's renunciation are clearly articulated more vehemently. Unlike the early dharmasastras, they explicitly state that the ascetic life is not appropriate for women. Instead of merely asserting that women should serve their husbands, these later texts insist that that is the only way for a woman to reach heaven, while independent religious practice results in her own moral corruption and the death of her husband. Finally, they name specific practices and actions that are not allowed for women, such as shaving of the head, sleeping outside of the home, fasting, and wearing animal-skins. This intensifying rhetoric suggests that the idea of female renunciation may have become either increasingly prevalent, or increasingly disturbing to Brahmanical authorities, as the first millennium C.E. progressed.

Insofar as female renouncers are mentioned in the dharmasastras at all, such references occur almost solely in the context of penalties and diseases that accrue for men in case of illicit contact with such women. (14) It is as though female renouncers are worth mentioning only as potential, albeit highly problematic, sexual or conversation partners for men. Later medieval commentators on dharma literature perpetuate this association of female renouncers with illegitimate activity. Medhatithi, the ninth-century commentator on MDh, explains the term pravrajita to refer to "women without protectors [...] just lustful women disguised in an ascetic's outfit" (pravrajitah araksakah ... | ta hi kamukaiva lingapracchannah || Haughton 1863: 1086). Visvarupa's commentary on Yaj 2.293, on the other hand, defines a female renunciant as "a woman who has been abandoned by her relatives due to her wanton ways." (15) Brahmanical texts portray a renunciant woman primarily as an unguarded woman, and therefore one whose morality can be questioned.


The attitude towards female renunciation among Svetambara Jains differs quite radically from the Brahmanical view discussed above: in this tradition, women are considered eligible to renounce household life and take ordination as nuns. In fact, the legends of the life of Mahavira, the twenty-fourth and last tirthankara, frequently stress that nuns far outnumbered monks among his followers (36,000 nuns as opposed to 14,000 monks is the standard number given in these mythical enumerations). It might be tempting to leap to the conclusion that Jain authorities must have been more willing than Brahmanical authors to loosen the protective enclosure of male relatives around women, and to grant women a greater degree of independent agency. However, as I demonstrate below, this is not the case. The asvatantrya doctrine is a fundamental underlying assumption in Jain texts as well.

Like the authors and compilers of dharmasastras, Sanghadasa, the Svetambara Jain exegete writing in the sixth century C.E., simply takes it for granted that women must be guarded by their male relatives. He makes the provision, for example, that a woman cannot be ordained as a Jain nun without the permission of her relatives. A male novice needs no permission as long as he has come of age and is not owned by anyone--in other words, is not a slave (BKBh 5098). A woman seeking ordination, however, always needs permission. For, as Sanghadasa puts it, "a woman cannot not be owned; thus she may not [ordain] if she is not allowed [to do so]" (a-pariggaha u nari na bhavai to sa na kappai a-dinna | BKBh 5099).

In the Jain monastic context, these natal or conjugal guardians are replaced by senior monastic officials. According to the canonical text, the Vyavahara-sutra, "A samani, a nun, is triply guarded: namely, by the teacher, the preceptor, and the pavattini." (16) In words that echo almost verbatim the dharmasastric injunctions cited earlier, Sanghadasa's bhasya makes explicit this parallel between the familial guardians of a laywoman and the monastic guardians of a nun:
jata pitivasa nari dinna nari pativvasa |
vihava puttavasa nari natthi nari sayamvasa ||
jatam piya rakkhanti, mata-piti-sasu-devaradinna |
piti-bhati-putta-vihavam, guru-gani-ganini ya ajjam
pi || VavBh 1589-90

A woman, when born, is under her father's control; when
"given," a woman is under her husband's control; when
widowed, she is under her son's control. A woman is not
in charge of herself. When she is born, her parents
guard her; when "given," her mother, father, in-laws,
and husband; when widowed, her father, brother, and son.
The nun is also [guarded] by the teacher, by the male
leader of the group, and the female supervisor.

Thus, in Svetambara Jain monastic communities, the dharmasastric triad of father, husband, and son is replaced by another threesome: the male teacher (ayariya), the male preceptor (uvajjhaya) or head of the monastic group (gani), and the female supervisor (pavattini, ganini). Sanghadasa continues to draw more parallels between the chaste, guarded laywoman and the chaste, "triply guarded" Jain female mendicant: just as the former does not enter a stranger's house if unaccompanied by a man, the Jain nun should also not enter places alone (VavBh 1591).

There are further continuities between the dharmasastras and the Jain commentaries. Just as MDh remarks that an independent woman brings ruin to both sides of her family, Sanghadasa articulates the same idea using the simile of a river: "A loose woman who moves independently brings ruin to both [her natal and conjugal] households, just like a river, [when flooding, ruins] a riverbank" (kulam vinasei sayam payaya, naiva lawn kulam u nari | BKBh 3251). The medieval subcommentary on the BKBh by Ksemakirti also cites a variation of the MDh sloka when explaining why women seeking ordination need the permission of their male relatives:
pita raksati kaumare, bharta raksati yauvane |
putras cea sthavire bhave, na stri svatantryam arhati ||
(Caturvijaya and Punyavijaya [1936] 2002: V1359)
Father guards her when she is a virgin, her husband
guards her in her youth, and her sons in her old age.
A woman is not suited for independence.

The dharmasastric guarding verses, I have suggested, reflect a set of interrelated assumptions: that a woman's social identity is defined by her male relatives; that women are incapable of governing themselves; and that constraining women's sexuality is a critical means to preserve the purity of the lineage and the honor of the kin group. But what is at stake for Jain monastic authors, writing in the context of celibate communities?

As it turns out, similar assumptions drive their articulations of the lack-of-independence formula. Jain texts, too, commonly assume that a woman's social identity is determined by the men with whom she is affiliated. For example, female characters in Jain stories are commonly identified simply in terms of the man to whom they are related: the lay devotees wife, the Brahmin priest's wife, the merchant's wife, daughter of a holy man, the sister of King Murunda, and so on (BKBh 172, 760, 6195, 6294, 4123).

So, too, women are incapable of governing themselves. Sanghadasa's commentaries portray nuns predominantly as weak (dubbala) and unimportant or petty (tuccha). (17) They have little sattva, physical and spiritual strength, the capacity to determine one's actions and choices and not be carried away either by external coercion or one's own whims and desires (BKBh 2818). As a result, they need greater protection and support than monks do, but are also petty and more easily distracted by vain desires for trifling things. Sanghadasa tells stories about nuns being lured away by beautiful clothes (BKBh 2054, 2826), and compares them to a frightened flock of birds that flies this way and that at the approach of a hawk (BKBh 3696-97).

Nuns, then, are consistently depicted with undertones of weakness, vulnerability, and corruptibility. They are the members of the community most vulnerable to attack or seduction, as well as to their own passions, afflictive emotions, and inclinations. As such, their bodies are the site of the monastic community's weakness. For a celibate monastic community, which is so fundamentally concerned with the control of its members' bodies, a person who is inherently not in control of her body presents a problem. Women's bodies are more vulnerable than men's and can be easily overpowered. How, then, can they be in control of their sexuality?

While maintaining the "purity of the seed" does not appear to be a concern for these communities of celibate monastics, the idea still persists that the honor, conduct, and sexual restraint of women have a direct bearing on the honor and prestige of the community at large, and the men who see themselves as its leaders. In general, Jain texts understand the negative consequences of faulty actions to implicate not only the person who commits them, but also his or her superiors. For example, teachers must sometimes perform expiation for what their students have done (BKBh 2502, 3425, 3807), indicating that they are karmically responsible for the actions of those who are under their supervision. This is even more so the case with women who, in the lay context, would be governed by the karmic and astrological influences of their fathers or husbands.

So also monks--at least the ones in positions of leadership--are invested in how the nuns conduct themselves. Criticisms of nuns who are perceived as lacking in discipline might turn into criticisms of the monks who are associated with them, the teachers who have ordained them, and, more widely, the traditions that permitted them to renounce in the first place. In other words, when the nuns' reputation and virtue are questioned, the reputation and prestige of the entire tradition and its male representatives also come under scrutiny.

The BKBh is replete with imagined scenarios in which such criticism is voiced. For example, if a nun goes out in public without a menstrual pad and her clothes are soiled with blood, not only will she herself be ridiculed, but people will say: "Damn! Who has ordained these people without examining this fault of theirs?" (dhig-aho! bata! keva'yam jano dosam inam a-samikkha dikkhiyo || BKBh 4106). It' the wind lifts up a nun's clothing, uncovering her body, people will get the false impression that the Jain monastic rules are lax about the nuns' clothing (BKBh 4113). (18) If nuns wander around naked, the entire Jain mendicant community will suffer, as such nuns "would be cursed and spat at, and it would be difficult to obtain alms" (dhik-kara-thukkiyanam [...] dulaha vitti || BKBh 5937). Similarly, if nuns are seen intoxicated, or staying at a travelers' lodging--a place frequented by prostitutes and policemen, and eschewed by respectable families--people will abuse the Jain teaching (BKBh 3496, 6052). If, on the other hand, they stay at a tavern, at a crossroads, or near the marketplace, it will again give rise to criticism:
pecchaha garahiya-vasa, vainio tavo-vanam kira siyao |
kim manne erisao, dhammo 'yam sattha-gariha ya ||
sahunam pi ya gariha, tap-pakkhinam ca dujjano hasai |
abhimuha-puna-r-avatti, vaccanti kula-ppasuyao || BKBh 2316-17
"Look, the nuns who seek refuge in the ascetics' grove
dwell in a contemptible place! What do you think of this
kind of dharma?" This is censure against the Teacher.
The monks would also be reviled, and wicked people
would ridicule those who support them. Those who were
headed towards [renunciation] would change their minds,
and daughters of good families would return [home].
(My italics)

Here we can clearly detect the concern that nuns' misconduct might result in censure and ridicule towards the entire Jain tradition, and specifically towards Jain monks.

Perhaps the most revealing example of monks' nervousness about being implicated in the nuns' misfortunes is the BKBh's decree that, if a nun is raped and becomes pregnant, she must not be expelled but, instead, should be looked after (4132). The text explains: "If expelled, she might become hostile and say: 'It was they who did this [to me]'". (nijjudh paduttha se, bhanei eehi c'eva kayam eyam | BKBh 4133). In this way, the anger of a nun who is in a compromised position might enmesh monks in a web of accusations that would call into question their own credibility as celibate renunciants.

Given the nuns' weakness discussed above, they need constant supervision and protection from monks in order to be able to uphold the ideals of the monastic life. Responding to an imagined interlocutor's question as to why nuns should be supervised by monks, Sanghadasa states:
  bahupaccavaya ajjau niyama puna sangahe aparibhuya |
sangahiya puna ajja thirathavara samjama hoi || VavBh 3246
A nun faces many kinds of calamity. If she is controlled according
to rule, however, she will not be overpowered. A nun who is
controlled is firm and constant in her restraints.

To illustrate the calamities that nuns face, the VavBh compares a nun to a piece of meat that everyone wants to grab (3247). Without the threefold guardianship of teacher, preceptor, and pavattini, an uncontrolled nun would be "like a creeper whose many branches have not grown yet is shaken by the wind, or like an untied boat [rocked] by the water" (ajjau viulakhandha latavaena kampate | jale va abandhana nava uvama esa asangahe || VavBh 3248). Similar metaphors are used when describing another male guardian that the nuns can have in addition to the monks, namely the "host," the layman who provides the nuns their temporary lodging:
  kampai vaena laya, a-nissiya nissiya u a-kkhobha |
  iya samani a-kkhobha sagari-nisseyara bhaiya ||
  dohi vi pakkhehi su-samvuyana taha vi gihi nisam icchanti |
  bahu-samgahiya ajja, hoi thira inda-latthi va ||
  patthinto vi ya sankai, patthijjanto vi sankai balino |
  sena vaha ya sobhai, bala-vai-gutta tah ajja vi ||
  sunna pasu-samghaya, dubbala-govit ya kassa na vitakka |
  iya dubbala-nissa-nissiya va ajja vitakkao || BKBh 2437-40
  A creeper is shaken by the wind when it is not supported [by a tree].
  When supported, however, it is immovable. Likewise, nuns are
  imperturbable when within the host's property: others are divided
  [into two kinds].
  Even though nuns are well protected from both sides, (19) they still
  need the refuge provided by householders. Just as Indra's banner is
  firm when combined with many [poles], so also are the nuns [when
  surrounded by many protectors].
  [When nuns are under such protection, men] are apprehensive about
  [harassing them] when they are begging for alms, and while begging,
  [nuns] are apprehensive about the powerful one [= the host]. Just
  as an army or a bride prospers when protected by strong ones
  [commander, in-laws], so do the nuns.
  Who would not desire a flock of animals without a guardian, or with
  an incapable one? Likewise, the nuns will be coveted if in the refuge
  of a weak person, or without a refuge at all.

If women are not in control of their sexuality, the men in their communities must control it. In many hierarchical societies, as Sherry Ortner notes, women's sexual purity is thought to reflect on their families' honor and status, which results in efforts to systematically control women's social and sexual behavior (1996: 43). Men see their status as "contingent upon the control they can exercise over the sexuality of their sisters and daughters" (p. 15). A girl's virginity, then, symbolizes not her own self-control, but her kinsmen's control over her (p. 76). Conversely, the rape of women has been a long-standing way of subduing or humiliating a rival tribe or army; it is often said that men wage war through women's bodies. Such attitudes are attested cross-culturally, and are by no means limited to past societies. (20)

Indic discussions of sexual aggression towards women illustrate particularly well the ways in which a woman's guardedness becomes a signifier in its own right, conveying something about the status of the man who is her guardian. Some texts even suggest that illicit sex or sexual assault violates not so much the woman herself as the men who are her guardians and therefore have property rights over her. In the famous dicing scene from the MBh, for example, Duhsasana's public humiliation of the Pandavas' wife Draupadi and his lecherous comments to her effectively emasculate her husbands: the text describes his act of grabbing Draupadi by her hair as "unmanning the sons of Pandu" (pandavanam paribhuya viryam. MBh 2.60.23). Compare this to the specification about illicit sexual intercourse in the Abhidharmakosabhasya of Vasubandhu: "Intercourse with a young girl is illicit with regard to the man to whom she is engaged, and, if she is not engaged, with regard to her guardian; if she has no guardian, then with regard to the king" (Pruden trans., in de la Vallee Poussin 1988: II, 652). A woman's moral ruin is not merely a personal matter, but implicates those associated with her--her family and relatives or, in the monastic context, her fellow monks and nuns.


The Jain monastic tradition, as we have seen, upholds both the idea that women are not fit for independence and should be guarded by men, and the notion that women are eligible to pursue the life of renunciation. Dharmasastric authorities see these two as a contradiction in terms. How, then, does the Jain tradition resolve or negotiate the tension between them?

Certainly, many practices and disciplines are prescribed for Jain nuns in order to establish them as reputable, virtuous women--to distance them from the kinds of morally ambiguous "loose women" suggested by Medhatithi and Visvarupa above, and instead align them with the chaste daughters of conservative lay families. For example, Jain nuns must not wander alone, or even in pairs (BKBh 3228, 5929-34), or go out of the nunnery alone at night (BKBh 3223). They are prohibited from spending a night at the root of a tree (BKBh 3503), or in a restless location with bustling traffic and travelers, such as a crossroads (BKBh 2300). Nuns must keep the doorway of their lodging covered (BKBh 2058, 2321, 3225) and refrain from activities such as match-making, lest they be mistaken for prostitutes or bawds (BKBh 2088, 2330). (21)

While the cumulative effects of all of these restraints and practices are important. I would submit that the monks' guardianship of the nuns is even more crucial to establishing the nuns' virtuous reputation. Rather than merely an incidental incursion of lay customs into monastic life, it is what the very possibility of women's renunciation hinges on.

The prevalent theme of nuns being seduced, kidnapped, or assaulted attests to a real anxiety that the compilers of these texts seem to have felt about the vulnerability of nuns in the face of perceived or imagined male aggression. This vulnerability is not simply a matter of concern for the nuns themselves, but also for the male members of their monastic order. For one thing, Jain stories about assaulted or kidnapped nuns often end with the monks heroically saving them (BKBh 6275, VavBh 3252). The imperative that monks should try to release nuns who have been seized is only the most obvious manifestation of an underlying logic of responsibility, or perhaps even of celibate heroism, that connects the male monastics to their female colleagues.

If a Jain nun is either seduced or assaulted, the male teachers are informed and take action. They first reprimand the perpetrator and try to shame him into stopping the harassment, but resort to harsher methods if necessary:
  tarunina abhiddavane, samvario samjao nivarei |
  taha vi ya a-thayamane, sagario tatth' nvalabhai | [...]
  taha vi ya a-thayamane, vasabha bhesinti taha vi ya a-thante |
  amugattha ghare ejjaha, tattha ya vasabha vaini-vesa || BKBh 2083,
  In case young nuns are attacked [by a hostile person], a monk in
  the disguise [of a nun] stops him. If he still does not stop, the
  host scolds him. [...]
  If he still does not stop, the bull-monks intimidate him. If he still
  refuses to listen, one bull-monk, disguised as a nun, [tells him:]
  "Come to such-and-such a house."

These so-called "bull-monks" (vasabha) are physically robust Jain monks whose task is to give the nuns physical protection when they need it and to intimidate any men who trouble them. They are described as being skilled in martial arts, "inwardly resolute, adepts, relatives [of the nuns], with robust bodies, men who have conquered sleep and their senses, skillful, from that area, and mature in age" (BKBh 2445). The bull-monks are to stand guard over the nuns' lodging if it has no door or is otherwise unsafe (BKBh 2324, 2443). If somebody attacks the nuns, they may stop the intruder disguised as laymen (BKBh 2352). If a wicked person puts a spell on a nun, the bull-monks may even grab him at night and, as the Oka explains, beat him up until he releases his hold on her. (22) In other words, these troops of stalwart monks are expected to resort to rather extreme measures, such as cross-dressing and violence--all this in order to protect the nuns from assault.

Svetambara Jams also make it the monks' task to inform the nuns about the rules they must observe. Sanghadasa's commentaries take it for granted that all the critical information passes in this direction--from monks to nuns. (23) Similarly, the nuns are expected to report back to the monks about any problems they face, and about their transgressions when confessing. Consequently, monks are in a very real sense the ones who set the standards for the nuns' discipline and the ones who judge any possible missteps. Once such institutional structures are in place, they have no choice but to take an interest in the nuns' affairs.

Monks must also acts as "buffers" between the nuns and the lay community, particularly when it comes to accepting donations. Nuns themselves can never accept clothes from lay donors. The BKBh offers multiple reasons for this: people might become suspicious seeing a nun accepting clothes from a man; the nun might become greedy; someone might put a spell on her; being weak, she might not be able to carry the clothes; or nuns might end up quarreling over them among themselves (4153-58). To avoid such problems, monks act as the go-betweens--or, as the text itself puts it, as the "tongs" that remove a hot coal until it can no longer cause burns (BKBh 4150)--and acquire the clothes on the nuns' behalf.

Sanghadasa has a great deal to say about the duties and merits of the senior monk who takes on the role of the nuns' custodian or teacher. Assuming such a role is not a minor commitment: "If one ordains [women], he must protect them as long as he lives" (jai puna pavvavei, javaj-jivae tau palei | BKBh 1063). When an interlocutor asks why the senior monk, and not the nuns themselves, inspects the area where the nuns go begging for alms, the commentator explains: "The one driving [a cart] must also bear [the weight of] the grass" (Jo carai so tanam vahai || BKBh 2052). The metaphor is revealing about how elite monks view themselves--as the ones steering the "vehicle" of the monastic order, with the nuns as their burden of responsibility. One cannot simply renounce the post of the nuns' guardian without appointing someone else to it. The BKBh assures, however, that a monk can eradicate even more karmas by protecting nuns than one would in following a mode of life characterized by seclusion and severe ascetic practice (1063)!

A senior monk is obliged to visit the nuns in a variety of circumstances. He may have to give the nuns their requisites--since they cannot receive them themselves--or confirm a female novice, reassure nuns who are contemplating leaving the order, or console a nun whose relative has died (BKBh 3722-23). Moreover,
  vasahie a-sajjhae, gorava bhaya saddha mangale c'eva |
  uddesai kaum, va deum va vi gacchejja ||
  uppanne ahigarane, viosaveum tahim pasattham tu |
  acchenti khauriyao, samjama-saram thaveum-je ||
  jai kala-gaya ganini, n'atthi u ganahara-samattha |
  eena karanenam, gana-cintae vi gacchejja ||
  ajjam jakkhaittham, (va) khitta-cittam va ditta-cittam va |
  ummayam pattam va, kaum gacchejja app'-ajjham ||
  jai aganina u vasahi, daddha dajjhai va dajjhihii va tti |
  nauna va souna va, uvaghettum-je va jaejja ||
  nai-purena va vasahi, vujjhai vudha va vujjhihii va tti |
  udaga-bhariyam va socca, uvaghettum tam tu vaccejja || BKBh 3729-34
  He may go to give instruction or a permission, when there is no
  studying at [his own] lodging, [because his presence evokes]
  respect, fear, faith, and auspiciousness [in the nuns].
  When a quarrel has arisen and [the nuns] have cast aside the treasure
  of restraint and their minds remain contaminated, it is praiseworthy
  [for him to go] there to conciliate.  When the ganini has passed away
  and there is no other nun capable of acting as the leader of the
  monastic group (gana), for this reason he may go--out of consideration
  for the gapa.
  If a nun has become possessed by a yaksa, if she has lost her mind or
  is acting arrogant or has gone mad, he may go to help her regain
  control over herself.
  If their lodging has burnt down, is burning down, or will burn down
  in a fire, if he knows it or has heard about it, he may go there for
  If, due to the river's flooding, the lodging is being washed away,
  has been or will be washed away, or is flooded with water, when he
  hears about it, he may go there for support.

Furthermore, in the event that some nun is suffering from a snake-bite or other serious illness, or the nuns are troubled by "hostile people, mlecchas, people of the Malaya country, elephants, cows, buffalos, thieves, and so on," the ganadhara may go to help them (BKBh 3755-56). In this way, the senior monk provides critical support, conciliation, and leadership whenever the nuns are in crisis. His very presence is said to have an impact on the nuns: they immediately feel great respect and awe towards him (BKBh 3748; VavBh 3039).

Taken together, such discussions problematize assessments that Jain nuns' communities did not have "active male guardians" or were "outside direct male control." The monks not only function as the instructors, disciplinarians, and ritual officiants of these commnities, but also provide physical protection to the nuns. They even accept material donations on the nuns' behalf, settle disputes, address medical and other emergencies, and deal with various other practical and administrative tasks. All these roles are in keeping with the perception that "a woman cannot be independent" (natthi nari sayamvasa | VavBh 1589). However, as we will see next, fulfilling them presents the monks with a considerable challenge.

We have seen that becoming involved in the affairs of the nuns' order is inescapable for Jain monks. The nuns cause many difficulties, yet they cannot be left alone, either; defenseless creatures that they are, they must be supervised and guarded. A monastic order is accountable for the conduct of its members. It is in the interest of the community and its leaders, who were mostly monks, that nuns receive the support and guidance they clearly need. Maintaining collective discipline and hierarchy requires that nuns seek instruction from, and even confess their transgressions to, their male colleagues. Ensuring the nuns' safety and chastity--the sign of their good moral character, which in turn is important for safeguarding the corporate public image of the monastic community--requires the visible presence and authority of monks who fulfill the role of their male guardians.

On the other hand, mutual interaction and close association among monks and nuns can lead to undesirable consequences. If they are constantly participating in each others' affairs, conducting their rituals together, living in proximity, and even caring for each other at times of illness (e.g., BKBh 3769-803), there is a very real danger that they would be perceived--and possibly even come to think of themselves--as an alternative kind of family. Laypeople would become suspicious about their observance of celibacy, which would inevitably harm the community's public image.

Sanghadasa constantly worries about such gossip. He imagines the disapproval of the lay sponsor who sees a monk and a nun engaging in conversation:
  iya samdamsana-sambhasanehi bhinna-kaha-viraha-joehim |
  sejja-tarai-pasana, voccheda dudittha-dhamma tti || BKBh 3713
  In this way, as they look at each other and talk to each other, with
  deviating conversation and private association, the host, etc.,
  seeing it, discontinues [his support]: "They have understood religion

He also warns that if a monk, afflicted by hunger, thirst, or heat, enters a temple or an empty house to rest, and a nun is seen entering the same building, people will suspect a rendezvous (BKBh 2181-91). If a senior monk summons a woman to ordain under him, again there might be suspicions that he has attracted the female novice for the purpose of either sex or having her steal things for him (VavBh 2931-32).

However, a concern perhaps even more serious than laypeople's gossip is the possibility that they might be right. An emotional infatuation or sexual attraction between a monk and a nun is by no means inconceivable for our commentator. To the contrary, his texts betray a real anxiety about nuns, particularly the young and beautiful ones, arousing the monks' desire. He acknowledges that, although nuns have given up laywomen's decorations, baths, and unguents, have covered up their bodies, and are practicing austerities, they still possess feminine beauty, evident in the shape of their bodies and smooth skin (BKBh 2101-2). Interactions with attractive nuns can pose a challenge to a monk:
  iya samdamsana-sambhasanehi samdivio mayana-vanhi |
  bambhai-guna-rayane, dahai an-icchassa vi pamaya || BKBh 2152
  The fire of passion, lit by gazing and conversation, due to
  carelessness, burns the jewels of the virtues of celibacy.

In fact, Sanghadasa suggests, nuns are even more dangerous for a monk than laywomen. After all, even among animals, a male will chase the females of its own species. An austere monk is utterly different from laywomen with their decorated bodies; if anything, such women intimidate him. In contrast, it is easy for him to relate to nuns, who share his pursuit and discipline, and this gives rise to mutual affection and trust (BKBh 2170-72).

Consequently, many rules are introduced to minimize contact between monks and nuns. Expiations are assigned for monks who approach the nuns' lodging without a good reason, and for nuns who allow them to enter (BKBh 3681-83). A monk entering the nuns' lodgings without a warning might accidentally see a nun who is not fully clothed. This may lead to the classic symptoms of infatuation--the ten kamavega, "agitations" or "outbreaks of desire":
  tasim kakkh'-antara-gujjha-desa-kuca-udara-uru-m-aie |
  nigghahiya-indiyassa vi, datthum moho samujjalai ||
  cinta ya datthum icchai, diham nisasai taha jaro daho |
  bhatta-a-royaga muccha, ummatto na yanai maranam || BKBh 2257-58
  If one sees their [the nuns'] armpits, private parts, breasts,
  belly, or thighs, delusion can blaze up even in someone whose
  senses are subdued:
  thinking about her, wanting to see her, sighing,
  fever, burning, lack of appetite, infatuation, going crazy,
  becoming non-cognizant, dying.

Elsewhere, the commentary discusses the dangers of having the nuns' and the monks' dwellings in proximity to each other. For example, curious young monks might peek at the nuns through holes in the walls. The nuns may also reciprocate the curious gazing, turning it into a flirtatious game (BKBh 2237-43). Proximate lodgings are prohibited specifically because of the negative repercussions of such emotionally or sexually charged interactions between a monk and a nun. If it is absolutely necessary for monks and nuns to reside close by, certain precautions must be observed: a bamboo screen or a curtain is set up, and the elders sit next to it; monks are advised not to evoke the erotic rasa when giving discourses on dharma; nuns are advised not to go outside for toilet, but to use a pot; and if they need to exit, they do so in a group, having first announced their departure (BKBh 2273-76). Monks are told to avoid encounters with nuns of their own age (2277).

The fear that monks and nuns might become attracted to one another also affects the regulations regarding monastic practices such as confession, study, and preaching. The VavBh explains that, as a rule, monks must hear confession from monks, and nuns from nuns. The main reason is that, if the confession is about a breach of the fourth Great Vow--that of celibacy--monastics of opposite sexes will end up discussing matters regarding sex together (VavBh 2362-63). If no one among the nuns is qualified to hear confessions and assign expiations, monks may hear their confessions, but at least one elder monk or nun should be present as a chaperon (VavBh 2371-72). The monk and the nun should not exchange glances, and should be vigilant about their decorum in every way. If the nun makes facial expressions, she is asked to leave; and if she is so beautiful that the confessor's passion arises, the other monks try to treat him so as to rid him of the passion (VavBh 2374).

Similar procedures are put in place to regulate instances of monks overseeing the nuns' study. A monk should not preach to "a young nun, a former nun, his former wife, someone with whom he used to laugh, or a wanton woman" (VavBh 3083), since such an encounter might cause suspicions. One should avoid inappropriate places, such as an empty house, a park, or any spot that is not in plain sight (3089). In this way, every precaution is taken to avoid unnecessary contact between the two sides of the monastic community, and to prevent feelings of affection and attraction from developing between an individual monk and an individual nun.

The presence of nuns, then, poses practical and moral problems for Jain monks, who struggle with what their role should be in relation to these women who are not their wives, mothers, or daughters, yet whom they are nevertheless supposed to look after and supervise. Associating with the nuns is necessary, yet should not become too frequent or intense. The end result is a complex balancing act on the part of the male elites and ideologues who articulate and interpret the monastic rules. Somehow they have to find the precarious middle point where monks fulfill their duties towards their female colleagues, yet do not give rise to criticisms about excessive intimacy. A monastic commentator such as Sanghadasa is in fact extremely self-conscious about the awkward position in which he and other monks like him find themselves: trying to organize the logistics of what is effectively a co-ed celibate community.


The ethos commonly associated with the householder realm in general, and Brahmanical householders in particular--namely, the imperative that men are accountable for the moral virtue and sexual purity of the women in their communities, and consequently must guard them--also bleeds into celibate monastic communities, such as those of the Jains. In closing, it might be fruitful to consider one last question: is this continuity between the householder ethos of guardianship and its Jain monastic version simply due to the fact that monks and nuns often were in fact blood relations, or formerly married couples? In the Indian Buddhist case, for example, Shayne Clarke has recently sought to complicate the commonplace assumption that monks and nuns severed ties with their families upon ordination. Through an analysis of an impressive range of narratives from the Buddhist monastic codes, Clarke argues that the Buddhist monastic codes "seem not to have required monks or nuns to thereby dissolve their marriages. Rather, the canonical lawyers negotiated the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour for married monastic couples" (Clarke forthcoming). Even though he does not explicitly discuss the issue of guardianship, or Jain texts, Clarke's proposition raises some interesting questions considering the foregoing discussion. Among the Jains, too, at least some married couples, or male and female members of the same family, ended up joining the same monastic communities. Might this provide an easy explanation for why the "guarding doctrine"--clearly based on the model of the familial household--found its way into monastic prescriptive texts as well?

In Jain monasticism, too, at least some monastics appear to have maintained a degree of association with their family members even after monastic ordination. The texts I have discussed here certainly operate on the assumption that such continued relations are possible. For example, the BKBh discusses situations in which Jain nuns can stay with their own relatives (BKBh 2675, 3236) or be escorted or protected by them (BKBh 2070, 2445). The VavBh, in turn, specifies that a monk may preach to his mother, sister, or daughter (VavBh 3082), or ordain his own mother (VavBh 2935-49).

Yet, at least in the Jain case, the possible recognition of kinship ties after ordination can provide only a partial explanation for the monastic variation of the male guardianship ideal. First of all, it does not account for cases in which monks who are not related to nuns through ties of blood or marriage would still be called upon, or feel obliged to, act as their guardians. I can think of only one passage that insists that only monks who are relatives of the nuns in question should protect them, namely, the above-mentioned case of "bull-monks" acting as the nuns' body-guards. Moreover, I share Phyllis Granoff's view that the specification that these monks should be elderly relatives of the nuns may have been "to avoid the unwanted consequence that they, too, might be tempted to violate the nuns" (2005: 13). In other words, it is motivated less by an intentional effort to replicate the dynamics of the lay family, and more by a desire to prevent the particular dynamic of sexual attraction.

Secondly, the sources I have cited here suggest that even when continued association with one's natal relatives--such as brothers, fathers, and uncles--may be approved, continued association with one's spouse is not. Recall the nervousness, in the previous section, about monks and nuns associating too closely--particularly if they remind one another of past household life. Sanghadasa makes very clear that wife-husband interaction within the monastic order is highly treacherous and should be avoided at all costs.

Thus, there must be something else that causes the ethic of male guardianship of women to be extended even to monastic texts among the Jains. Some ties other than blood or marriage associate monastic women and monastic men who belong to the same communities so strongly that the latter feel compelled to take on the role of the patriarchal guardian. I have suggested that this obligation is due to an underlying logic of community honor, according to which the demonstrable sexual restraint and guardedness of a woman serves as a positive marker of the manly strength, status, and prestige of the man who is her protector.

Consequently, monks are obligated to guard the nuns not because they are literally their fathers, brothers, sons, or husbands (although this may sometimes have been the case), but because not doing so would cast aspersions on their own claims to moral strength, virtue, and manliness. Just as MDh mockingly refers to "weak husbands" who nevertheless try to guard their wives, Sanghadasa fuels the monks' anxieties about being seen as incapable men: "Who would not desire a flock of animals without a guardian, or with an incapable one? Likewise, the nuns will be coveted if in the refuge of a weak person, or without a refuge at all" (sunna pasu-samghaya, dubbala-gova ya kassa na vitakka | iya dubbala-nissa-nissiya va ajja vitakkao || BKBh 2437-40). Our Jain author--just as much as Brahmanical ones--utilizes "cultural metaphors that conflate women's bodies and communal honor" (Banerjee 2005: 153) and consequently insists on the utter necessity of mens' guardianship over those bodies.

Contrary to the popular notion I discussed at the beginning of this article--that the male authorities of Brahmanical communities were particularly adamant about guarding their women--it now seems to me that, on the contrary, Jain monastic authorities may have perceived this task as even more critical. After all, unlike Brahmanical householders guarding their daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives, Jain monks stand to lose a great deal by guarding nuns: the consequent interaction and involvement prove to be highly inconvenient for them as celibate men, and threaten both their public image and self-image. Yet the texts insist on it. Could it be because the alternative--the idea of the radically independent nun that continues to animate contemporary scholarly imagination--would have been even more threatening?
Abbreviations of primary texts

ApDh    Apastamba-dharmasutra

BauDh   Baudhayana-dharmasutra

BKBh    Brhatkalpabhasya

BKT     Brhatkalpa-tika

GauDh   Gautama-dharmasutra

MBh     Mahabharata

MDh     Manava-dharmasastra

Nar     Narada-smrti

Par     Parasara-smrti

VaDh    Vasistha-dharmasutra

VavS    Vyavahara-sutra

VavBh   Vyavahara-bhasya

Visnu   Visnu-smrti

VS      Vinaya-sutra

VSS     Vinayasutravrtiy-abhidhana-svavyakhyana = 'Dui
        ba 'i mdo'i 'grel pa mngon par brjod pa rang gi
        mam par bshad pa (Derge Vol. Zhu, Zu)

Yai     Yajnavalkya-smrti

Yama    Yama-sanihita


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I want to thank Shayne Clarke, Daniel Stuart, and the anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article, and Stephanie Jamison for her editorial advice. All remaining shortcomings are my own.

(1.) Cf. MDh: 5. 147-49. All translations of MDh are by Olivelle (2005).

(2.) For example, Caroline A. Foley--the future Mrs. C. A. F. Rhys Davids--presented early Buddhist nuns as "women leaders of the Buddhist reformation." suggesting that Buddhism was less androcentric than the Brahmanical tradition (Foley 1893). In a similar vein, I. B. Horner applauded "the greater independence attained by women under Buddhism," in contrast to "Vedic days" (1989 [1930]: 29).

(3.) All references to BKBh are to Bolles edition (1998); for VavBh I have used Diparatnasagara 2000, although I follow the numbering of the verses in Kusumaprajna 1996.

(4.) I refer the reader to my dissertation, in which I draw extensive comparisons between Sanghadasa's commentaries and those attributed to the Mulasarvastivadin Buddhist scholar Gunaprabha (sixth--seventh century c.E.), the Vinayasutra and the Vinayasutravrttyabhidhanasvavyakhyanam (Jyvasjarvi 2011).

(5.) Olivelle suggests the second or third centuries C.F., as the likely period of the MIA's composition (Olivelle 2005: 21-25). The proposed dates for Narada range from 100 to 500 C.E., but Lariviere concludes that the root recension (mulasmrti) is one or two centuries later than MDh (Lariviere 1989: xxii).

(6.) Visnu's dependence on MDh and Yaj confirms its relatively late date. Patrick Olivelle has recently suggested a date of sixth to eighth century C.E.--most likely the seventh century (Olivelle 2009: 14-15).

(7.) Many of these minor smrtis or samhitas are now preserved only in fragments, or as scattered quotations collected in later works. According to Ludo Rocher, "some of these lost dharmasastras were extensive and important" (Rocher 2002: 109). A number of relatively short treatises, attributed to famous sages such as Vyasa. Yama, or Harita, have survived, and are compiled in Dutt 1907-8. They seem to have been produced through a process of compilation of verses attributed to a given ancient sage. While they seem to have been redacted in the medieval period, many individual verses are considerably older. For example, Yuma 73 cited below closely parallels a passage in the Parasara-smrti (9.55b-56a), which can be dated to 500-800 CE

(8.) As Jamison has noted (2006: 202 n. 27), [check]gup usually appears in the past participle in such discussions, while [check]raky supplies the active transitive verb, as seen in these examples.

(9.) Such attitudes are, of course, by no means limited to the dharma literature. For a representative "set of misogynist maxims from ancient Indian literature," for example, see Jamison 1996: 12-14. Examples can be found in Buddhist (for example, Jataka 1.289, 1.295) as well as Jain texts (for example, Jaini 1991: 35, 114, 151).

(10.) See, for example, MDh 8.374-78. The Mitaksara on Yaj 2.286 specifies that sex with a higher-caste woman leads to execution only if the woman in question was guarded: in case of other types of women, paying a fine suffices. Mirada also defines adultery as sexual intercourse with a woman who has a protector (nathavatya; Nar 12.60-61).

(11.) Vijnanegvara's commentary on Yaj 3.58 cites a sutra of Baudhayana stating that some teachers consider women to be eligible for renunciation (Pandey 1967). The passage is also quoted by Sarvajnanarayana, a medieval commentator on MDh (on MDh 6.97), and by Vasudeva in his Yatidharmapryana (Olivelle 1977: 33-34, 175).

(12.) For the conceptual role of the wife in Vedic ritual, see Jamison 1996. In later times, the commentaries on Jaimini's Mimamsasutra--Sabarabhasya by Sabarasvamin (fifth century C.E.), Tuptika of Kumarilabhatta (sixth or seventh century), and Brhati of Prabhakaramisra (seventh century)--all assert that women lack Vedic learning and are unable to utter certain mantras, which bars them from being independent or primary ritual actors.

(13.) yat tu yamenoktam | striyah srutau va sastre va pravrajya na vidhiyate | profit hi tasyah svo dharmah savarnad iti dhatrana || Gharpure 1918: 596. This emphasis on women's reproductive role is utterly central to stridharma as articulated in the dharmasastras. As Mir asserts, "Women were created for the sake of offspring" (12.19; cf. MDh 9.96). Procreation is, of course, crucial for the Vedic notion of sons as the guarantors of their fathers' soteriological progress. By rejecting her role in this ritual economy, a woman disrupts the normative order of her social world.

(14.) MDh, 8.362-63; Yaj 2.293; Nar 12.73-75; Visnu 36.7; Satatapa-samhita 5.26, 27, 33.

(15.) vyabhicarinitvat jnatibhis tyakta stri pravrajita || Sastri 1982 [1922], 2.296 (corresponds to 2.293 in most other editions).

(16.) ti-samgahiya samani nigganthi, tam-jaha ayarienam uvajjhaenam pavattinie ya || VavS 3.17 (Schubring and Caillat 1966). A pavattini (pravartini) is the female supervisor in charge of the nuns' discipline. The alternate term, ganini, means the head of a gana or "group" of nuns.

(17.) For examples of tuccha, see BKBh 146, 2053, 6400, VavBh 2443; for dubbala, see BKBh 146, 2344, 5237.

(18.) The Sanskrit tika spells out the words of reproach: This fault has not been prohibited for them, why else would she go out like that?" (nasty amisam amusya dasasya pratisedhah, katham anyatheyam ittham nirgaccher; Caturvijaya and Punyavijaya [1936] 2002: III, 1121).

(19.) That is, by the teacher and the pavattini/pravartini (Caturvijaya and Punyavijaya [1936] 2002: III, 698).

(20.) Sikata Banerjee, for example, discusses sexual violence against women in the context of communal conflict in contemporary South Asia (2005: 134-36). Fatima Mernissi makes the provocative statement when discussing instantiations of patriarchy in Muslim cultures: "Virginity [of women] is a matter between men [...] The concepts of honor and virginity locate the prestige of a man between the legs of a woman" (1995: 183).

(21.) Interestingly, Buddhist monastic texts make virtually identical specifications regarding the conduct of nuns. The Indian Buddhist exegete Gunaprabha. Sanghadasa's near-contemporary, proclaims that Buddhist nuns must not spend a night outside of the nunnery, or in a place without another nun (VSS Derge Zu 17a7; 33b7-34a1). Similarly, he proscribes nuns' lodging under a tree (na bhiksuny aranye | VS 17.362-63; Tibetan at Derge Zu 265a) or at a crossroads (catuspatho; VS 17.367). Nuns must not stand at the door of their lodging (VS 17.365, VSS Zu 265a), nor should they engage in activities such as match-making (VS 1.595; VSS Zu 14b6).

(22.) uvalabhante nisim vasabha || BKBh 6274. The tika elaborates on this as follows: ratrau tarn upalabhante bhesayanti pittayanti ca tavad yavad asau tam muncatiti (Caturvijaya and Punyavijaya [1936] 2002: VI, 1656).

(23.) When commenting on a number of rules. Sanghadasa adds a reminder that if the teacher does not pass information along to the ganini, he must expiate for it (BKBh 1043-44, 2084, 2222, 2327. 2363, 4152, 4162, 6048).


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Date:Jan 1, 2013
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