Family and Village Life Shape Indian Society

Most Indians were probably not aware of the dazzling courts of the Mauryas or Guptas. The vast majority were peasants who lived in the villages that dotted the Indian landscape. In Indian society, everyday life revolved around the rules and duties associated with caste, family, and village.

Joint Family Structure

Within the village, the basic unit was the joint family, in which several generations of parents and children shared a common dwelling. The joint family was usually achieved only by the wealthy, since people in poor families often died young. Still, even when they did not share the same house, close ties linked brothers, uncles, cousins, and nephews. Adult sons lived with their parents even after they married and had children.

The Indian family was patriarchal—the father or oldest male headed the household. Because he was thought to have wisdom and experience, the head of the family enjoyed great authority.

Still, his power was limited by sacred laws and tradition. Usually, he made decisions after consulting his wife and other family members. Property belonged to the whole family.

Family Duties

The family performed the essential function of training children in the traditions and duties of their castes. Thus family interests came before individual wishes. Children worked with older relatives in the fields or at a family trade.

While still young, a daughter learned that as a wife she would be expected to serve and obey her husband and his family. A son learned the rituals to honor the family's ancestors. Such rites linked the living and the dead, deepening family bonds across the generations.

For parents, an important duty was arranging good marriages for their children based on caste and family interests. Marriage customs varied.

In northern India, for example, a bride's family commonly provided a dowry, or payment to the bridegroom, and financed the costly wedding festivities. After marriage, the daughter left her home and became part of her husband's family. A daughter's duty was to serve her husband and produce children.

Role of Women Changes Over Time

Attitudes and customs affecting women changed over time and varied greatly across India. In early Aryan society, women seem to have enjoyed a higher status than in later times. Women even composed a few Vedic hymns.

Illustration of anIndian family home, with several family members of different ages engaged in activities such as cooking, eating, resting, and playing. A long haired blue skinned deity head watches from above.

The ancient Indian ideal of a joint family—several generations of family members living under one roof—emphasizes the cultural importance of obligations within families.

Women were thought to have shakti, a creative energy that men lacked. In marriage, a woman's shakti helped to make the husband complete. Still, shakti might also be a destructive force. A husband's duty was to channel his wife's energy in the proper direction.

By late Gupta times, upper-class women were increasingly restricted to the home. In some communities, women were expected to cover themselves when outside the home. Other women, particularly in the lower classes, labored in the fields or worked at spinning and weaving.

Village Life

The size of villages varied, from a handful of people to hundreds of families. A typical village included a cluster of homes made of earth or stone. Beyond these dwellings stretched the fields, where farmers grew wheat, rice, cotton, sugar cane, or other crops according to region.

In most of India, farming depended on the rains brought by the summer monsoons. Too much or too little rain meant famine. Most farmers worked the land of wealthy landowners. They had to give the landowner part of each harvest.

Like other farming-based societies, India had a traditional economy, an economic system in which custom and tradition shape the goods and products a society makes.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments