I'm writing a paper on the prevalence of dowry in India, and I'm wondering if any Indian literature has references to the practice or similar practices beyond King Janaka having given Sita a lot of gold and livestock etc from the Ramayana.


2 Answers 2


One definition for the Sanskrit word Yautaka (also, Yautuka) is ‘dowry’.

According to the Manubhashya:

The term ‘yautaka’ is applied to the separate property of a woman; of which she alone is the sole owner.—Others apply it to only what she receives at marriage, and not to all that belongs to her; it is only over the former that she has an absolute right; as it is said that ‘women become their own mistresses, on obtaining presents at their marriage.’

... Jīmūtavāhana (Dāyabhāga, p. 132), which says ‘yautakam’ stands for the dowry obtained at marriage,—this being indicated by the root ‘yu’ (to join) from which the word is derived,—marriage being the ‘joining’ of the husband and wife.

This word, in the proper context of ‘dowry’ occurs in various literary works, both religious and poetical in nature.

  1. In the Naishadha-charita:
  1. Varuṇa, pleased at heart, spoke to the king words accompanied by a smile, “Having bestowed Damayantī on thee, I give thee now two boons by way of giving her a dowry [yautaka].

  2. “Wherever thou wilt, let there be water anon, even in a desert. Water doth maintain the life of creatures in the world in a way in which the other elements do not.

  3. “At the mere exertion of thy will, let a desert, whose heat expands with the summer sun, turn into an ocean, and then again become the abode of camels as before.

  4. “In contact with thy limbs, let there be freshness and a divine exuberance of fragrance in flowers. Nothing have I seen like flowers that produces both religious merit and bliss.”

  1. In the Padmapurana, while discussing the conduct of women:

90b-91a. All that land, a cow, gold, wealth, garments, corn which he gives to his son-in-law and the presents [yautaka] made to his daughter at the time of her marriage becomes (i.e. leads to an) inexhaustible (fruit).

91b-92a. O child, whatever presents [yautaka] are given to the bride at her marriage by those who belong to her family or by those who belong to other families (than her own family) become inexhaustible.

92b-93a. The donor does (i.e. should) not remember the gift, nor does (i.e. should) the recipient ask for it. Both (who remember what he gives, and who asks for a present) go to hell like a pot the rope of which is cut off.

93b-94a. So a good man should give presents [yautaka] to a bride at her marriage. By not giving such a present one goes to hell and becomes (i.e. is born as) a maid-servant.

  1. In the Shivapurana:
  1. After giving his daughter in marriage, Dakṣa gave her different articles in the form of dowry [yautaka]. Many gifts were given to Śiva. Dakṣa gave monetary gifts to the brahmins with great delight.
  1. In the Skandapurana, the ‘dowry’ (yautaka) is mentioned as being given to Narayana:
  1. The Lord also distributed among Brāhmaṇas all the abundant wealth given to him as dowry [yautaka], and vanished along with Śrī.

  2. Suras were excessively delighted by Lakṣmī and Nārāyaṇa. Gods including Indra, went to heaven and others went to their respective homes.

Other terms (synonyms) used for Dowry are: Shulka, Kanyadhana, Udvahadhana, Stridhana, Saudayika, Adhyavahanika, Angamani.


In ancient India dowry had to be given to the bride. There is a condemnation of this practice in Mahabharata.

A wife should never be purchased. Nor should a father sell his daughter. Only those persons of sinful soul who are possessed, besides, by cupidity, and who sell and purchase female slaves for making serving women, regard the status of wife as capable of arising from the gift and acceptance of a dowry.

Mahabharata Anusasana Parva Section XLIV

  • 1
    This is disputed..there were families where this was custom.. "On hearing this, Bhishma answered the king of Madra, saying, 'O king, this, no doubt,' is a virtue. The self-create himself hath said it. Thy ancestors were observant of custom. There is no fault to find with it. It is also well-known, O Salya, that this custom in respect of family dignity hath the approval of the wise and the good.' Saying this Bhishma of great energy, gave unto Salya much gold..." ~ sacred-texts.com/hin/m01/m01114.htm
    – YDS
    Sep 9, 2021 at 5:08

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