Class 12 History Kinship, Caste and Class Question and Answers

CBSE Class 12 History Theme 3 “Kinship, Caste and Class”: This educational post contains solutions to questions given in Class 12 NCERT History Book. For more such materials click here.

Q.1. Explain why patriliny may have been particularly important among elite families.

Ans. Patriliny was crucial among elite families as it ensured the continuity of power, resources, and status within the male lineage. This system allowed sons to inherit their fathers’ assets, including thrones, thus maintaining dynastic stability and preserving elite status across generations. This practice reinforced social hierarchies and secured political alliances through strategic marriages​

Q.2. Discuss whether kings in early states were invariably Kshatriyas.

Ans. Kings in early states were not invariably Kshatriyas. While the idealized varna system in Dharmashastras placed Kshatriyas as the warrior and ruling class, historical evidence shows that rulers could come from various backgrounds. For instance, the Nanda and Maurya dynasties had rulers of different varnas, reflecting a more complex social and political reality than the rigid varna system suggests

Q.3. Compare and contrast the dharma or norms mentioned in the stories of Drona, Hidimba and Matanga.

Ans. The dharma in the stories of Drona, Hidimba, and Matanga highlights different societal norms. Drona’s story emphasizes the duty of a teacher and warrior, aligning with Kshatriya dharma. Hidimba’s tale reflects tribal and familial loyalty, contrasting with orthodox Brahmanical norms. Matanga, a sage born into a lower caste, challenges the rigidity of social hierarchies, promoting the idea that virtue and wisdom transcend birth​​.

Q.4. In what ways was the Buddhist theory of a social contract different from the Brahmanical view of society derived from the Purusha sukta?

Ans. The Buddhist theory of a social contract differed from the Brahmanical view by rejecting the divine origin of social order. Buddhism proposed that society and governance arose from mutual agreements for collective well-being, focusing on ethical conduct and compassion. In contrast, the Brahmanical view, as derived from the Purusha sukta, emphasized a divinely ordained social hierarchy with fixed roles for each varna​​.

Q.5. The following is an excerpt from the Mahabharata, in which Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava, speaks to Sanjaya, a messenger:

Sanjaya, convey my respectful greetings to all the Brahmanas and the chief priest of the house of Dhritarashtra. I bow respectfully to teacher Drona … I hold the feet of our preceptor Kripa … (and) the chief of the Kurus, the great Bhishma. I bow respectfully to the old king (Dhritarashtra). I greet and ask after the health of his son Duryodhana and his younger brother … Also greet all the young Kuru warriors who are our brothers, sons and grandsons … Greet above all him, who is to us like father and mother, the wise Vidura (born of a slave woman) … I bow to the elderly ladies who are known as our mothers. To those who are our wives you say this, “I hope they are well-protected” … Our daughters-in-law born of good families and mothers of children greet on my behalf. Embrace for me those who are our daughters … The beautiful, fragrant, well-dressed courtesans of ours you should also greet. Greet the slave women and their children, greet the aged, the maimed (and) the helpless …

Try and identify the criteria used to make this list – in terms of age, gender, kinship ties. Are there any other criteria? For each category, explain why they are placed in a particular position in the list.

Ans. Yudhisthira’s speech reflects criteria based on age, gender, kinship, and social status. He prioritizes Brahmanas, elders, and key family members, acknowledging their wisdom and authority. Women are categorized by marital and familial roles, emphasizing their protection and respect. Lower-ranking individuals, like courtesans and slaves, are mentioned last, reflecting their social status. This order underscores respect for hierarchical social structures while recognizing the importance of kinship and duty​​.

Q.6. This is what a famous historian of Indian literature, Maurice Winternitz, wrote about the Mahabharata: “just because the Mahabharata represents more of an entire literature … and contains so much and so many kinds of things, … (it) gives(s) us an insight into the most profound depths of the soul of the Indian folk.” Discuss.

Ans. The Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, is not just a story of a dynastic struggle but a colossal literary work that encapsulates the essence of Indian civilization. Maurice Winternitz, a renowned historian of Indian literature, aptly noted that the Mahabharata represents “more of an entire literature” and offers a profound insight into the soul of the Indian people. This observation highlights the epic’s comprehensive nature, rich diversity, and its profound impact on Indian culture and thought.

  • Comprehensive Nature:
    • The Mahabharata spans over 100,000 verses, making it one of the longest epic poems in the world.
    • It includes various genres: mythology, philosophy, theology, political theory, and ethics.
    • This diversity makes it a complete literary universe.
  • Dharma and Morality:
    • Central theme is dharma (duty/righteousness) and its complexities.
    • Characters embody different aspects of dharma, reflecting human morality and ethical dilemmas.
    • Encourages readers to contemplate and interpret principles of dharma.
  • Philosophical Insights:
    • The Bhagavad Gita, a key section, is a philosophical dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna.
    • Addresses profound questions about duty, life, and the nature of reality.
    • Introduces the concept of karma (action) and performing duty without attachment to results.
  • Social and Cultural Fabric:
    • Reflects various aspects of ancient Indian life, from royal courts to hermitages.
    • Discusses roles and status of women, the caste system, and ruler-subject relationships.
    • Provides a panorama of societal norms and values of its time.
  • Narrative Style:
    • Uses stories within stories, creating a rich tapestry of folklore, moral tales, and parables.
    • Blends historical events with mythological elements, giving it a timeless quality.
    • Relevant to diverse audiences and an integral part of Indian oral and literary traditions.
  • Enduring Significance:
    • Continues to influence contemporary Indian society and thought.
    • Reflects values, struggles, and aspirations of the Indian people.
    • Offers timeless wisdom and profound lessons on life and morality.

In conclusion, the Mahabharata’s comprehensive nature and its exploration of fundamental human concerns make it a vital text for understanding the Indian soul. Maurice Winternitz’s assertion that the Mahabharata gives us insight into the deepest aspects of Indian culture and thought is a testament to the epic’s enduring significance. It remains a mirror reflecting the values, struggles, and aspirations of the Indian people, offering timeless wisdom and profound lessons on life and morality.

Q.7. Discuss whether the Mahabharata could have been the work of a single author.

Ans. Traditionally the sage Ved Vyas is attributed the authorship of Mahabharata, but it can easily be contradicted as explained below:

  • Complexity of the Mahabharata:
    • The Mahabharata is a highly complex text, encompassing a wide range of stories, characters, and themes. Its narrative intricacy suggests the involvement of multiple authors over time rather than a single individual.
  • Oral Tradition:
    • Initially, the Mahabharata was part of an oral tradition. Charioteer-bards known as sutas likely composed and recited these stories, celebrating the achievements of Kshatriya warriors. Oral traditions typically evolve through contributions from numerous storytellers, each adding their own nuances and interpretations.
  • Brahmanical Influence:
    • From around the fifth century BCE, Brahmanas began to write down these stories. This transition from oral to written form likely involved many scribes and scholars, each contributing to the text’s development and expansion.
  • Variability in Explanations:
    • The Mahabharata contains multiple explanations for single episodes, such as Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas, indicating that different authors contributed their interpretations. The presence of varying explanations suggests a collaborative effort to reconcile different viewpoints and traditions.
  • Historical and Cultural Context:
    • The text reflects a broad spectrum of historical and cultural contexts, incorporating elements from different time periods and regions. This diversity implies that the Mahabharata evolved over centuries, absorbing various cultural influences and ideas from numerous contributors.
  • Dynamic Text:
    • The Mahabharata continued to grow and change even after the Sanskrit version was established. New stories and interpretations were added as the epic was translated into different languages and adapted by various communities. This ongoing process of dialogue and adaptation points to the collective effort of many authors rather than a single writer.
  • Sage Vyasa:
    • Tradition attributes the composition of the Mahabharata to the sage Vyasa, who is said to have dictated the text to the deity Ganesha. However, this attribution is likely symbolic, representing Vyasa as a key figure in the epic’s creation but not its sole author.
  • Multiple Genres and Styles:
    • The Mahabharata encompasses a wide range of literary genres, including poetry, philosophy, mythology, and didactic literature. The diversity in literary styles further supports the idea of multiple authors contributing to the text over time.
  • Comparison with Other Epics:
    • Similar to other ancient epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Mahabharata likely developed through the contributions of many poets and storytellers. These texts, while attributed to single figures like Homer, are understood to be the product of collaborative and cumulative efforts.

In conclusion, the Mahabharata’s complexity, its evolution from oral traditions, the involvement of Brahmanas, multiple explanations for key episodes, cultural diversity, and ongoing adaptations all indicate that the epic is the result of a collective effort by many authors over an extended period rather than the work of a single individual.

Q.8. How important were gender differences in early societies? Give reasons for your answer.

Ans. Reasons are given below:

Patriliny and Property Rights: Early societies, particularly in the Brahmanical tradition, emphasized patriliny, where property and lineage were traced through the male line. This patrilineal system underscored the importance of male heirs for the continuity of family lineage and inheritance rights .

Women’s Access to Wealth: According to texts like the Manusmriti, men and women had different means of acquiring wealth. Men could inherit, purchase, conquer, invest, work, and accept gifts. In contrast, women’s wealth came primarily from gifts received at marriage, from family members, or from an affectionate husband.

Metronymics and Matrilineal Influence: Although primarily patrilineal, some societies like the Satavahanas used metronymics, where rulers were identified by their mother’s name. This indicates that mothers held a significant position, though it did not necessarily translate to a matrilineal inheritance system.

Gender and Social Stratification: Gender differences were intertwined with varna (caste) and social stratification. Women’s roles and rights were often limited by both gender and caste, with upper-caste women enjoying relatively more privileges compared to lower-caste women, who faced greater restrictions and labour demands.

Cultural and Religious Narratives: Texts like the Mahabharata depict significant female characters such as Draupadi, whose question about her autonomy highlights the contested nature of women’s rights and status. These narratives reflect broader societal attitudes towards women, showcasing both their influential roles and their subjugation.

Legal and Social Frameworks: Brahmanical laws codified in the Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras provided frameworks that often restricted women’s autonomy, emphasizing their roles within the household and under male guardianship. However, Buddhist texts offered critiques and alternative views on social equality, including gender roles, challenging the rigid Brahmanical norms.

Economic Roles and Autonomy: Women’s economic roles were often confined to domestic spheres, though they could own and manage property received as gifts. The extent of a woman’s autonomy in managing her wealth varied significantly across regions and periods, influenced by local customs and family structures.

Impact on Social Relationships: Gender differences shaped family and kinship structures, influencing marriage practices, inheritance laws, and the overall dynamics of household management. The emphasis on patriliny and male authority often meant that women’s contributions were undervalued in formal historical records, although they played crucial roles in maintaining social and economic stability within families.

Conclusion: Gender differences were crucial in shaping early societies, affecting everything from inheritance laws to social stratification and cultural narratives. While men were typically afforded more rights and opportunities, women’s roles, though often constrained, were significant in the economic and social realms. The complexity of these differences underscores the need to consider gender as a vital factor in understanding historical social dynamics.

Q.9. Discuss the evidence that suggests that Brahmanical prescriptions about kinship and marriage were not universally followed.

Ans. Evidence That Brahmanical Prescriptions on Kinship and Marriage Were Not Universally Followed

  1. Regional Diversity and Communication Barriers: The subcontinent’s vast regional diversity and communication difficulties likely limited the all-pervasive influence of Brahmanas. The Brahmanical prescriptions, therefore, might not have been uniformly followed across different regions.
  2. Variety in Marriage Forms: The Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras, Brahmanical texts, recognized eight forms of marriage. Four were deemed “good” and the remaining were condemned, suggesting these practices existed among those who did not adhere strictly to Brahmanical norms.
  3. Gotra System Deviations: According to Brahmanical practice, women were expected to give up their father’s gotra and adopt their husband’s on marriage, and members of the same gotra could not marry. However, inscriptions from powerful ruling lineages like the Satavahanas show that some women retained their father’s gotra after marriage, indicating a deviation from Brahmanical rules. Additionally, marriages within the same gotra, contrary to the exogamous ideal, were practiced.
  4. Endogamy Among Satavahanas: The Satavahana rulers, who ruled parts of western India and the Deccan from the second century BCE to the second century CE, practiced endogamy or marriage within the kin group. This practice, prevalent among several communities in South India, ensured a close-knit community and deviated from the Brahmanical recommendation of exogamy.
  5. Integration and Social Mobility: Despite claiming to uphold the fourfold varna order, the Satavahanas entered into marriage alliances with groups outside the Brahmanical system, showing a complex integration within the caste framework. This reflects the possibility of social mobility and a flexible adherence to Brahmanical norms.
  6. Buddhist Critique: Early Buddhism critiqued the varna order, rejecting the idea of status based on birth and promoting the concept that social differences were not natural or inflexible. This critique indicates the presence of alternative social values and practices that did not conform to Brahmanical prescriptions.
  7. Polygyny and Gotra Naming Practices: Some Satavahana rulers were polygynous, and the names of their wives, derived from their fathers’ gotras, were retained instead of adopting their husbands’ gotra names. This practice indicates a divergence from Brahmanical norms and highlights the varied adherence to kinship rules across different regions and communities.

In summary, the evidence suggests that while Brahmanical prescriptions on kinship and marriage were influential, they were not universally followed. The practices varied significantly across regions and communities, reflecting a complex and diverse social reality in early Indian societies.


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