Male Guardians of Women’s Virtue A Dharmaśāstric Theme and Its Jain Variations

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Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart



In studies on pre-modern South Asian religions, the Brāhmaṇical tradition is often singled out as being particularly restrictive of women’s independent agency, as evidenced in epic and dharmaśāstric passages prescribing men’s guardianship over women. Buddhism and Jainism are assumed to have offered women a greater degree of independence since they allowed women the option of pursuing monastic life. However, this article demonstrates that Jain texts, at least, share the ethos and sometimes even the language of the Brāhmaṇical guarding verses. Examining discussions of male guardianship of women in post-canonical Śvetāmbara Jain monastic commentaries in light of dharmaśāstric treatments of the same theme demonstrates that Jain authors were no less concerned with guarding and protecting women in their communities. In the context of monastic life, monks must fulfill the role of the male guardian and overseer for the female members of their order, even though the resulting close involvement with the nuns presents problems for a community of professedly celibate men. The concern with community honor, and the conviction that women’s (sexual) honor is intimately interlinked with it, overrides all other concerns even for Jain monastic communities.

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