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Social Life in Medieval Karnataka
by Jyotsna Kamat

Status of Women

The fact that the United Nations commemorated the year 1975 as an International Women's year indicates that the fair sex needs fair and just treatment for its all-round development the world over. Constitutional guarantees for Indian women, of equal rights with men, do not carry much weight in a tradition-bound society. In general, Indian women are conservative, religious and submissive to men folk, although the urban elite aspire to get as much liberty as the western women enjoy. Strangely, women of the most progressive and developed country like the United States, the only country to land man on the moon, had to launch women's liberation movements in order to get parity with men in all fields. If this is a plight of women in the twentieth century, one would expect that in medieval times women were almost like domesticated pets caged in the house. Traditional belief in law-maker Manu's oft-quoted statement that women are not worthy of freedom, strengthens this expectation. However, inscriptions, literary sources and sculptures of the period give an astonishingly different picture of the status of women in Karnataka in medieval times.

Since early times, the queens patronized art and architecture [1]. Vijayabhattarika, the daughter-in-law of Pulikesi II, was a well-known poetess [2]. The tradition continued in Rashtrakuta and Western Chalukyan periods. Besides, women held important posts in administration. According to B.P. Muzumdar, Northern India did not have any women administrators of provinces or kingdoms during this period [4]. In contrast, Karnataka had women who administered villages, towns, divisions, provinces and headed social and religious institutions.

Rural Administrators

Piriyaketaladevi, a queen of Chalukya Vikramaditya VI, ruled three villages [4]. Jogabbarasi, another queen, was administering the village of Ajjadi in 1019 A.D. [5]. Lakshmadevi, a senior queen (piriyarasi) of the same king, ruled Dronapura [6]. Mailala Mahadevi, puttamahadevi or enthroned queen, administered the town of Kannavalli in 1094 A.D. [7]. Revakabbarasi, wife of a general (dandanayaka), Vavanarasa, ruled Posavuru [8]. Mahadevi, daughter or Irivabedanga Satyasraya, ruled Maruvolal (Marol in Bijapur district) [9]. Queen Laliteya Devi ruled Mottiwada [10] (in Belgaum district).

Jakaladevi, ruler of Ingunige (Ingalgi in Bijapur district), was a fervent devotee of Jina, but her husband, Vikramaditya VI, was determined to bring her to the Hindu fold. But the emperor gave up his attempt when he was carried away by the beauty of an icon of Mahu-Manikya (Jina) brought by a trader, and asked the queen to install it in her home town, so that her subjects could derive inspiration from her religion [11]. This shows that certain women exerted considerable influence on their distinguished husbands.

Vennele Settikavve, ruler (Urodati) and security officer of Satenahalli, never bothered about the winnow, basket, ladle and mortar, etc., like ordinary women. Instead, she stopped loot and rampage by punishing the ruffians and supporting the ethos of traders (bananju-dharma). She also arranged seminars on religion (dharma-prasanga) [12]. Here is an instance of women encouraged to participate in civic affairs.

Lakkadevi was a village headman (mahaprabhuvini) according to an inscription of 1148 A.D. [13]. Revakabbarasi was a responsible officer (pasayite) in the royal household [14].

Divisional Administrators

Administration of larger units, e.g., nadu (a division comprising several villages), other than villages and towns was also assigned to women, if they were found competent. Sattarasa Nagarjuna was the chief administrator of a division (nalgavunda). He headed Nagarakhanda, consisting of seventy villages [15] and was responsible for revenue, irrigation and the general administration of this division [16]. When he died prematurely, the king found in his widow, Jakkiabbe, an able administrator and appointed her in his place. She supervised the work of several headmen (perggade) under her and put through several deals, recovered dues and distributed grants. While dedicating herself to administration, her health failed. It is interesting to note that her daughter succeeded her [17].

Provincial Administrators

Mailaladevi, a senior queen of Somesvara I, ruled the important province of Banavasi, comprising twelve thousand villages [18]. Bhagubai was the governor of three large regions including modern Bijapur district and earned admiration of her king and overlord Singhana II [19]. Akkadevi, sister of the Chalukya king Jayasimha, ruled Kisukadu Seventy for more than 44 years (1024-1068 A.D.) [20]. In the course of her rule, additional divisions comprising sixty villages of Toragale, a hundred and forty villages of Masiyavadi and seventy villages of Bagadage were added to her province. She encouraged education by giving liberal grants to brahmapuris and agraharas (both settlements of Brahmins, where education was imparted), of Perur which accommodated five hundred students. She was known as 'Joy of the student community (Akhila vidyarthi janavalinandini)'. She was besides, an excellent warrior (rana-bhairavi) and fought and won a war against a rebel chief of Gokage (Gokak in Belgaum district). She had a secular outlook and had given grants to Jaina basadis and Hindu temples. She undertook pilgrimage to Varanasi. Like Ajjarasa, who had defeated many kings, a large number of soldiers and chiefs were proud to acknowledge Akkadevi as their ruler, capable and efficient. It is probable that Mayurasarman, ruler of Banawasi twelve thousand Province and Panungal one thousand, was here husband [21]. If this is the case, Akkadevi was more popular, efficient and better known than her husband. Ballamahadevi assisted her husband, Vira Pandyadeva, in administering his province from Barahkanyapura (Barkur in South Kanara district). His sudden death forced her to work as a regent to her minor son, Nagadevarasa from 1275 A.D. to 1292 A.D. [22] and she is mentioned as mistress of the Western Sea. Chikai Tai, a queen of the Hoysala king Vira Ballala III, ruled Tulunad on her husband's behalf from 1335 A.D. and seems to have continued to rule up to 1348 A.D. even after her husband's death [23].

Women and Religion


Women while administering political units promoted religion and education on their own. Ketaladevi, was the organiser of an agrahara in 1054 A.D. and stipulated one Chankiraja to build shrines of Santinatha, Parsva and Suparsva for a Chaityalaya [24]. Agraharas were autonomous educational institutions of Brahmins and feudatory kings or queens were only responsible for revenue collection [25] and supervision (melalke).

Huliyabbajjike, a woman disciple of Sirinandi Pandita, apparently a nun, was appointed as an administrator of a temple of Jina at the agrahara of Soratavuru and General Baladevayya made a grant to it in 1071 A.D. [26]. Religious institutions were democratic. Chandavve, daughter or Kandanambi Setti, had all the training and ability to administer Kunjesvara temple to which her father had given liberal grants in 1255 A.D. But it was not her father, but the representatives of priests of 120 temples, ganas of mathas and farmers, that assigned to her the proprietorship (odeyalu) of the temple and gave her the title of ganakumari [27]. It was a prestigious post and she was responsible for collecting revenues and disbursing expenses besides managing the overall administration of the temple.


Women did not lag behind in dedicating themselves to and serving the religious cause. In order to uplift themselves and the commoners, they led a detached life and became nuns. Nuns were prevalent among Jaina, Saiva, Buddhist and other sects.

Jain Nuns

A housewife, a sister, a mother or a daughter would renounce the world, as per Jaina injunctions, when the inner call came. Till then they could lead saintly lives as devotees (sravakis). Attimabbe, the great philanthropist, was only a sravaki, like Saviyabbe [28], which fact did not diminish her greatness in the eyes of the faithful. Followers or disciples of famous gurus were in a higher hierarchical order and were known as ajjis or aryakas and kantis, comparable to abbesses of the Catholic church. An ordained Jaina nun could exercise all the spiritual functions ordain men and women. In this regard, she excelled a Christian abbess.

These nuns enjoyed the same amount of freedom as their male counterparts. This is evident from an inscription of 1187 A.D. In a big assembly of worshippers, there were sages with their female disciples like Gourasri Kanti, Somasri Kanti and others [29]. The female disciple (sishyanti) of Acharya Srinandi Panditadeva observed the severe eight fasts and was therefore known as ashtopavasiganti [30]. Manakabbe Kanti erected an epitaph in memory of her guru Srimati Kanti, who conquered all the senses (kashayas) and died due to the rite of sallekhana [31] (fasting unto death according to Jaina injunctions).

The Dharmamrita narrates an interesting instance. A playful young girl Anantamati one day accompanied her father to a basadi where the preceptor in a jocular mood pretended to ordain her as a nun. This event was taken by Anantamati seriously and later she avowed to become an ascetic and was therefore duly ordained by a nun, Kamala Srikanti [32]. Bammagavunda, a disciple (gudda) of a female ascetic, Ratnimati Kanti, had received a grant in 1108 A.D. [33]. Thus a female ascetic had the following of both men and women.

Hindu Nuns

A good number of Hindu women professing different sects, like Saiva, Virasaiva, Shakta, Mahanubhava, etc., became nuns. Chandavve was dedicated to the cause of Saivism and was a daughter of Lord Siva's host (ganakumari) [34]. Gangikabbe, a Saiva female ascetic, received an endowment in 1064 A.D. from Akkadevi for imparting education at the matha of Hotturu. She practised all the austerities compulsory for male ascetics like prayers, concentration, silence, etc. [35]. Bilavve was a nun at a pilgrim centre (kshetra sannyasi) and longed to the Mahanubhava sect [36]. A grant of paddy was made (in 1071 A.D.) to four nuns (yoginis) who lived along with other staff at the Shakti temple of Pidariyar [37]. According to the famous poetess-saint Akkamahadevi, to the male ascetic, the female ascetic was an illusion [38]. There were nuns at the Buddhist Vihara at Balligave, and Rupa Bhattayya made land grants for feeding the nuns (yoginis), orphans and ascetics [39].


Temple-priestesses (goravi-priestess) were known. In 1005 A.D., six mattars of land were granted to Revabbe goravi of Mulasthana, at the request of the eight gavundas and the sixty tenants of Sirivur [40]. Poet Ponna describes that a goravi while wandering made (the image of) Ganesa also wander. This might also mean that she was a wandering mendicant [41].

Accomplished Women

Women who possessed aesthetic and artistic sense took to writing and studied music and dancing. They received specialised training in fine arts. According to Somesvara, a beautiful and youthful lady who was also a musician and a dancer was an ideal person. A woman lacking in any of these qualities was comparatively less preferable. He further admits that it was difficult to get a woman with all these qualities put together [42].

The poetess Kanti, a contemporary of the poet Abhinavapampa, who was a court poet of the Hoysala king Ballala I, is known for her witty compositions and poetic repartees with the poet. She is the first poetess to write in Kannada [43]. Lakmadevi, a queen of Vikramaditya VI, was proficient in poetry, vocal and instrumental music and dance [44]. Bachaladevi, a drama artist, won the heart of her husband, Mahamandalesvara Ganga Permadi, by enacting a play and won the title of 'actress of the world' (Patrajagaddale) [45]. Piriya Ketaladevi was a renowned musician, besides being conversant with many languages (aneka desa bhashavinate) [46].

Lachchaladevi, wife of Udayaditya of Gangawadi, was proficient in singing and dancing. While performing, she could express astonishing emotions (rasa) and sentiments (bhava) in bright and new ways [47]. Mechaladevi was well-versed in narrating meritorious stories and puranas [48]. Padmaladevi, Chavaladevi and Boppadevi, three daughters of Mariyane Dandanayaka, were skilled in the art of singing and dancing [49]. Queen Savaladevi, wife of the Kadamba king Soma, in 1174 A.D. gave an exquisite performance of music and dance in the audience hall before an assembly of eminent musicians and dancers from her own and other kingdoms. The inscription says that she sang extempore. Her sister, Bavaladevi, was also highly skilled in singing and dancing and their brother Bhairava, who was proficient in playing brahmavina and in beating time, accompanied them. Thus the whole family was talented [50].

© K. L. Kamat
Woman Playing a Drum
Fig.236 Woman Playing Drums

In the Basava Purana, the poet Bhima describes various instruments played by women; there were women who could play maddale (tabor), blow kahale (horned trumpet), perform on flute and play tala (cymbals of bell metal) [51]. Sculptures of the time show some female instrumentalists. A woman while dancing beats time on a small drum gracefully (Fig. 236). A muscular lady confidently blows a kahale (Fig. 237). A housewife plays on khanjira (Fig.238). A young lady plays on some instrument with ridges and furrows with a stick (Fig. 239). Another plays a string instrument while singing and dancing simultaneously (Fig. 240); yet another beats on the tabor (Fig. 241). Some of the instruments are out of vogue now.

Santaladevi, the Hoysala queen, is immortalized in song, story and sculpture as a paragon of accomplishments. She was an expert in singing, dancing and instrumental music. She was called Brihaspati in discrimination and Vachaspati in ready wit [52]. She ruled the kingdom along with her illustrious husband, Vishnuvardhana. In a sculpture she has been shown in a graceful dancing pose (Fig.242) and also along with the king holding durbar. A girl-student is being taught to play on a string instrument in another sculpture (Fig. 243). In a rare carving, a woman is shown engrossed in writing (Fig. 244).


Women from all strata made gifts of lands, fields, gardens, groves, water-sheds, wells and cash; they influenced their husbands to make charities. Akkadevi's liberal donation of five hundred mattars, fifty houses and two gardens to the agrahara of Perur provided educational facilities for five hundred students [53]. Chikaladevi coaxed her husband to build a tank, set up a boarding (chhatram) for Brahmins, and performed many acts of charity herself [54]. Demiyakka, wife of merchant Chamunda sheltered the frightened, distributed medicine to the afflicted and scriptures (agamas) to those seeking spiritual knowledge [55]. Chandaladevi, senior queen of Vikramaditya VI, known as Abhinava Saraswati, was a patron of education [56]. Sovaladevi, sister of the Hoysala king Narasimha II, built the town of Somanathapura in 1237 A.D. and made it a centre of education. It was a huge establishment with suitable dwellings and was comparable to Vallabhi [57], the famous educational institution of those times.

Nagi Gavundi was an ideal wife of Adi Gavunda and gave milk to growing children, food to the hungry, who at times numbered a thousand. In times of famine, with the help of her husband, she arranged for supply of water, built tanks, planted groves and undertook relief work [58]. Siridevi, wife of Boppanna Nayaka, took the vow of planting trees (kshitiruhanompi) and planted mango, nerile (Eugenia Jambolana), orange (ile), jackfruit, tamarind, dates, coconut and areca plants in an ideal place in Bevinur town. When a beautiful orchard came up, it was converted into a charity fair (dharmasanthe) and the market was free of tolls. The trees and the market were to be maintained by the local body and the income accruing from sale of fruits was to be utilised for the worship of various deities [59].

Attimabbe and Gundamabbe, the two daughters of Mallapa, were married to Nagadeva who died prematurely. Gundamabbe persuaded her sister to allow her to commit sati, so that Attimabbe could look after her infant son. Attimabbe lived a saintly life and has become immortal for her great charities and patronage of learning and the learned. She patronised the great poet Ranna and encouraged him to write the Ajitatirthankara Purana, a Jaina classic. She popularised the work, Santipurana of Ponna, by distributing a thousand copies of it. She built thousands of basadis and richly decorated them [60]. A number of miracles like retrieving two Jaina idols lost in the flood, holding up the river Godavari, pacifying a maddened elephant, putting out a conflagration with the sprinkling of jinodaka are attributed to her. In reality, it might be that, she just used her sound common sense, grit and moral courage during such crises. A dedicated Jaina, she mortified her body by fasting and penance. Once she refused all sustenance till she travelled to the shrine of Lord Kukkuteswara and obtained darsana. The faithful would have it that the heavens rained water to revive her emaciated body [61].

Born rich, she embraced poverty; wife of a chieftain, she remained unattached like a devotee (sravaki); she encouraged poets and writers in an age which valued fighting more than learning. She is extolled in our classics and inscriptions as the never-failing jewel of charity (dana-chintamani). Like Ranna, Brahmasiva also sings her praises [62]. She was considered a paragon and the tradition set by her was carried on for more than three centuries. She is classed with the great women of the puranas and epics, like Rati, Sita, Revati and Arundhati [63].

Dandanayakiti Echikabbe is spoken of as bestowing gifts like Attimabbe [64]. The virtuous Bachavve is described as equal to Parvati, Ganga, Sita and Attimabbe [65]. One Lokapaladevi is compared to Attimabbe for her devotion to Jainadharma [66]. Such was the pervasive influence of Attimabbe's legacy in medieval Karnataka.


Description of courtesans (vesyavarnana) had become an essential part of the classics and some strike a contemporary note while referring to them as varangane or ganike, sule (harlot), panyangane (public woman) and dancing girl (patra) who broadly came under this class. They were recognized, tolerated and at times held a respectable place in society. According to the Parsvanatha Purana, courtesans formed an essential part of the royal court (asthana) [67]. King Amoghavarsha is described as having a thousand courtesans [68]. The Hoysala king Narasimha had three hundred eighty-four concubines [69]. According to the Manasollasa, the ganikas along with the women of the royal family, dancers, pandits and feudatories were to attend the king's assembly on special occasions. The public women (panya-yoshitah) were invited along with the ladies of the harem and the nobles to attend sports and amusements [70]. From the Dharmamrita and the Somesvarasataka, it is clear that ganikas formed an essential part of the royal entourage [71]. Music and dance by courtesans preceded the royal retinue on festive occasions [72]. General Mahadevayya took pride in constructing a temple at Itagi and settling courtesans, as public women of the suburb [73]. Towns of Kuppaturu [74] and Benturu [75] had seperate streets for harlots. Contract women (kuntani), old vesyas (mudi sule) and bondmaids (tottu) were sheltered by the courtesans [76].

Classics of the time are eloquent in describing the courtesans' quarters. They lived in beautifully decorated mansions; they dressed and put on ornaments in the most elegant manner and used perfumes. They had soft beds, decorated bedsteads, comfortable chairs, swings, large mirrors, unguents, fans, pan and drinks. Some of them were quiet rich and had musical instruments to entertain [77]. Talks (goshthis) were usually held on the upper levels of their houses. The Somanathacharitra of Raghavanka gives an account of the different pursuits of ganikas. In the evenings in the hall of their mansions, they played chess and games of chance or practiced on the vina; a few taught parrots to talk, some studied Kamasastra, others sang, danced or played instrumental music and listened to stories and condemned satires written against them [78]. This description reminds of the one given in the Kuttanimatam of Damodaragupta, wherein a vesya had to study books on Kamasastra by Vatsyayana, Dattaka, Vitaputra and Rajaputra, the Natyasastra of Bharata, different treatises on music, the Vrikshayurveda (plant-protection), painting, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, clay-modeling, cookery, singing and dancing [79]. This curriculum would do credit to any modern educational institution for ladies. The girls were caught young and molded into shape by the seniors and experts, so that they could do justice to their profession. A courtesan's main attraction was her youth and once it vanished, her plight became pitiable. Still they had to compete with the youngsters and some of them developed ingenious techniques; Raghavanka says, 'Draping her head with soot-black cloth to hide her grizzly hair, tying her limp breasts in a tight blouse, applying collyrium to eyes bereft of lashes, keeping light behind her so that her face could not be seen fully, the seedy old hag solicited any male passing by.'

Temple Girls

Dedicating girls to temples was an ancient practice and by the tenth century, it had become well established. According to the Agni Purana, a man acquires fortune and attains heaven by dedicating female slaves, servants, ornaments, cows, lands to an idol [80]. Marco Polo had observed that in the southern region many young girls were consecrated to gods and goddesses [81]. According to Prof. Kundangar, the devadasi (servant of God) system originated because the learned and the noble who were concerned with the duties of the temple could not attend to menial work like cleansing, sweeping, and washing which was assigned to temple girls. Vambiyakka, an admirer of Harihara's poetry, of her own free will became a devadasi at the temple of Pampapati [82], which shows that the system was acceptable for some enlightened women as well. Temple grants usually included expenses incurred on residence and maintenance of the temple girls.


In Inscriptions, some of the devadasis are referred to as patra and sule; in Sanskrit, the former means an actress and these girls had to sing and dance before the deity of the temple to which they were attached. An inscription indicated that there were dance masters (nattuva) to train these girls in dance and acting [83]. The term patra was not confined to temple girls alone but used extensively to denote excellence in dancing and acting performance. Titles like patrajagaddale (expert in dancing), patrachudamani (a jewel among actresses), rayapatra (dancer/actress for the king) indicate that patra was an honourable term and devadasis were also entitled to it [84]. Many of the patra girls were wealthy and of a charitable disposition. Siriyavve gifted her house to the god Kalideva in 1035 A.D. [85]. Nachchiyalvai, a dancing girl of the Kirtinarayana temple at Talkad, presented a large metal lamp to the god [86].


All menial tasks like sweeping and cleansing in temples and private households were undertaken by the bondmaids whose position was not high in society [87]. The saint-poet Basavesvara exclaims that it is better to be a tottu in a devotee's house than a queen in a palace, because the former would have an opportunity to serve God by doing petty service for Him [88]. Basavesvara tried to better their lot and that of their children by declaring that after initiation into Virasaivism, the latter were to be considered holy and be duly honoured [89].

Heroic Women

In inscriptions, there are numerous examples wherein women have exhibited as much heroism as men, if not more. Akkadevi led an expedition against a rebel chief of Gokave. Chagaladevi attacked (1106 A.D.) and killed Chavagavunda and Hollagavunda [90]. Suggaladevi, wife of Mahamandalesvara Barma, succeeded in catching and holding a large snake, to the admiration of the public [91]. Saviyabbe accompanied her husband to the battle-field and fell fighting by his side. The sculpture on the top panel of her memorial-stone represents her as an Amazon riding a horse, flourishing a sword (Fig. 245) [92]. A woman-warrior, Chommarambe, followed her husband to the battle and died fighting [93]. Ketala Devi, queen of Vikramaditya VI, accompanied him to the field-camp at Ponaguppa [94]. Hoysala queen Umadevi led an expedition against Sinda chief Mallideva [95].

The Parsvanatha Purana describes woman who rode elephants and accompanied the king on an expedition [96]. An inscription from Belur refers to a horse-riding school of the harem [97]. Queens and princesses who later shone as administrators received the necessary training in statecraft and it is not unlikely that they were taught the science of warfare for the princes. The Manasollasa, while describing the king's audience, tells about women who were invited to the assembly, coming on horseback, on mares and on foot [98].

Working Women

In addition to household duties, women have given a helping hand to men in their vocations. Duggale, wife of Dasimayya, a devotee of Siva, used to spin while he wove cloth [99]. Remmavve, another Saiva devotee, acquired the nickname of Kadire Remmavve because of her association with the spinning wheel (kadire) [100]. There were women who traded in oil [101]. Elderly and experienced women were appointed superintendents over maid servants in the royal household [102]. The Manasollasa recommends employing women for serving food, washing feet, massaging, dressing hair, applying unguents, singing, dancing and playing instrumental music [103]. This practice continued in Vijayanagar times [104]. The occupation of a nurse (dhatri) was quite common [105]. Women also worked in the fields. An inscription of 1191 A.D. refers to a senior janitrix (piriya padiyarati) [106].

The Virasaiva movement gave a higher status to women, by which they could assert themselves in society. The dignity of labor, popularized by Basavesvara's theory of kayaka, led many women with humble occupations to realize God. Pittave was an orphan and there was none to look after her in her old age; she prepared pancakes (dose) for her living. Similarly, Ammavve took to spinning to support herself. Annaladevi prepared cow dung cakes and sold them in order to make a living [107].

Institution of Marriage

Marriage was compulsory for all girls except for those who opted for asceticism. Mm. Kane observes that, the rule for Brahmin girls to be married between 8 and 10 years became general, from about the sixth or seventh century and continued up to the modern times [108]. In the Yasastilaka and the Nitivakyamrita, it is clearly stated that a twelve-year-old maiden and a youth of sixteen are fit for marital relations [109]. Twelve-year-old Anantamati is abducted in a story in the Dharmamrita for marriage [110]. According to Haradatta, in certain countries consummation follows the marriage ceremony, which is null and void as per Sutras [111]. Thus, he advocated pre-puberty and not adolescent marriages.

However, Somesvara writes that the princes used to have a nice time with their brides soon after the wedding and begot children which indicates that adolescent marriages were fairly common among the nobility. The Samskara Prakasika (c. 1200 A.D.) advocates post-puberty marriage for Kshatriyas and others [112]. Bilhana describes that Chandaladevi had attained the age of romance (sringara mitram vayah) when she selected Vikramaditya VII as her husband and informed her father the Silahara king accordingly [113]. The Kadamba princess, Mayanalladevi was in the fullness of youthful glow when she married king Karna of Gujarat [114].

The village of Palarur was under a royal curse, and the villagers were not allowed to offer boiled rice (budagulu) to the manes. The king Mahasamantadhipati Santivarman, while passing through the village, orders one officer, Allakunda, to bring grass for his horses and elephants, who in turn asks the village maids working in the fields to supply it. The young girls oblige him and request him to use his good offices in removing the restriction imposed by the king. As his commission, Allakunda is offered the choice of marrying as many girls amongst them as he fancies [115]. The curse was removed, and he must have married a few of the village maidens, though the inscription is silent about this. It is obvious that grown-up girls could offer themselves without the consent of their parents and could marry a man of their choice.

Polygamy was permitted to all who could afford and was popular among Kshatriyas for political reasons. The king's favorite queens took pride in having titles like 'Suppressor of co-wife's ego' (savati gandhavarane or savati madabhanjane) [116]. Sovaladevi was so beautiful and dominating that the co-wives had no hesitation in kissing her pretty lotus-like feet [117]. According to the Manasollasa, the king should marry a Kshatriya girl of noble birth for a chief queen, though he is permitted to have Vaisya and Sudra wives for pleasure [118].

Women had reasonable freedom in deciding to marry or not to marry, and whom to marry. Bontadevi remained single for life and Goggavve married at her will. Guddavve resided in Kalyana for several years as a devotee of Siva (Sivasarane) and later returned to her village, got married and settled down [119]. It is obvious that she was past the usual age of matrimony. This was due to the liberalizing influence of the Virasaiva movement.


Sati or sahagamana was prevalent among a certain class of women, who either took the vow or deemed it a great honor to die on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Ibn Batuta observed that sati was considered praiseworthy by the Hindus, without however being obligatory [120]. The Agni Purana declares that the women who commits sahagamana goes to heaven [121]. However, Medhatithi pronounced that the practice of sati was nothing but suicide and as such was not permissible according to sastras [122]. In an age of such divergent views, the women of Karnataka followed a middle path. They were not coerced to undergo such a ghastly death; some, on their own volition, immolated themselves. The majority of women did not accompany their dead husbands to the other world. Some of them erected memorials to their deceased husbands [123].

Attimabbe was dissuaded from committing sati by her sister who took up the task herself. Young Dekabbe, who was greatly attached to her husband, decided to burn herself after his death. Despite the entreaties of her father, mother and relatives, who pleaded with her not to immolate herself, she was adamant. She argued that she was the illustrious daughter of Raviga, ruler of Nugu nadu and faithful wife of the ruler of Navile nadu; therefore, she did not wish to live, while the house which gave and the house which received her, were to lose their good name. After bestowing charities, she entered the blazing flames and became a mahasati [124]. This is a rare instance wherein a Sudra woman coming from a farmer's (kudiya) family committed sati.

Mahasati stones (masti-kallu) were erected in memory of the brave women who committed sati, and are periodically worshipped. The number of such stones are few, indicating that a small percentage of women became mahasatis. There was always an option for a widow to lead an austere life like a nun. There are no instances of remarriage of widows.


Alberuni writes that Indian women preferred self-immolation by sati to remaining widows and suffering ill-treatment for life [125]. Ibn Batuta also felt that the plight of widows was miserable [126]. A widow was considered an inauspicious person and had to lead the life of an ascetic. She was forbidden to wear ornaments and colorful clothes, apply unguents, decorate hair, and chew pan (tambula), as is seen from descriptions in inscriptions and literature.

Altekar has proved that the tonsure of widows was not known during the Rashtrakuta times [127]. So was the case in the following age. The Mitakshara Samhita, a contemporary commentary on the Yajnavalkya Smriti, quotes a text of Manu (not found in the extant book) to the effect that tonsure should be restricted to those who kill the cow and violate the vow of abstinence (brahmacharya). However, learned men, the king and women should be exempted from tonsure. Besides the Mitakshara, Apararka's commentary is also silent about the tonsure of widows and Kane opines that the practice came into vogue gradually among higher castes [128].

Referring to Vikramaditya's conquest of Kerala, Bilhana mentions that along with sandalwood trees, his elephants rooted out the creeper-like hair of Kerala women as well, signifying their widowhood [129]. But this might be a metaphorical expression to denote the uncurled, uncombed hair of widows and more evidence is yet to come forth to establish the fact that tonsure was common in the South during the period under survey.

Jaina women widowed early could take to study. Nayasena tells about Narayanadatta, a friend of the queen Prabhavati, who being widowed early had read the Tarkasastra and was known as a pandita [130].


Abu Zaid observed that kings in India allowed their queens and other women to attend courts without using the veil and the public was free to see them without hindrance [131]. According to the Manasollasa several women attended the audience, but it insisted on the members of the royal family to travel in covered dolas while attending the court [132]. From the parsvanatha Purana, it is known that the queens travelled in covered palanquins [133]. This might have been a protective measure against the burning sun, strong wind, dust and public gaze. The kshatriya brides did not wear any veil and at the auspicious moment their eyes were to meet those of the bridegroom [134]. Among the fashions introduced from Karnataka into Kasmir by king Harsha was the one of not covering the head by any veil (nirnirangi) [135]. The fact that Ibn Batuta could describe the women of 'Hinavr', their appearance and ornaments vividly proves that their faces were uncovered and could be seen even by foreigners [136]. Ballamahadevi attended the audience wherein all ministers and nobles of the state were present [137]. Thus women of Karnataka were neither secluded nor veiled.

What they say about Women

Somadeva has compared women to the Ocean of Milk (Kshirasagara) which brought out nectar (amrita) and also poison (halahala) and felt that they were an admixture of both desirable and undesirable qualities. Juts like the river which becomes inseparable from the ocean after the merger, a woman loses her individuality in married life [138]. Parsva felt that women who thought only of the welfare of their husbands were indeed rare. Others were of doubtful integrity and were not worthy of happiness in heaven [139]. Brahmasiva identifies certain categories of women, who did not have faith in Jainism and who worshipped stones and trees; they did not give charities; they were responsible for bad habits of their sons and condemned their husbands when they did not allow them to attend fairs [140]. While enumerating the virtues of queen-mother Malaladevi, an inscription of the Ratta chieftain Madiraja gives glimpses of classification of women of the period. Some hoarded all riches, denying anything to their husband and children. Some did not show any hospitality towards visitors and instead hid in their homes. There were pervert (kutile), immoral (kumarge), contemptible (kutsite), wretched (kubhagye), of bad character (kushile), loquacious (jivhalampate), depraved (sathe), deceitful (dhurte) and vexatious (kashte). A few of them despising their husbands attracted other men by wanton behavior [141]. A sculpture depicts beautifully a case of woman's infidelity. A husband catches the paramour of his wife red-handed and is about to punish him by inflicting a wound with his dagger and the wife is shown as pleading for her lover (Fig. 246).

With bad intentions, some women gazed on neighbor's houses, mixed with low people under the pretext of visiting pregnant women for fulfilling a vow, or of going to shops or presenting offerings to a goddess. There were women who were wicked and shrewish who shamed their husband by their rude behaviour. Some used poisonous herbs to bring their husbands under control. These could never be good housewives (kulangane) [142]. Sculptural evidence proves that the husbands punished their wives occasionally. In one, a woman's hands are tied above her head and a male is engaged in beating her with a stick (Fig. 247). Wife-beating seems to been have a common event (Fig. 248).

According to the Dharmasastras, a woman is incompetent to bear witness [143]. However, in Karnataka, a women acted as witnesses for many deeds. Sirideviyakka was a witness for a deal of trees [144]. Kontidevi was a witness to another grant [145]. Consent of the wife along with those of sons and relatives was necessary while disposing of property [146]. Even kings used to consult their wives or mothers before making a grant [147].

There was a class of men who believed in the superiority of women. Somadeva thought that the discrimination between men and women was valid in respect of physical activity, but the latter were superior in intellectual activity [148]. Achale was a lady of rare distinction, and it is said that Chandramauli, a minister of the Hoysala king Viraballala II, was a befitting husband (arhat kanta) for her [149]. This is an expression used contrary to the normal belief of a wife being worthy of her husband. Poet-saint Moligeya Marayya wanted to bring an end to his physical existence by merging in the Supreme God and informed his wife accordingly. But Mahadevi was herself a spiritually emancipated soul and convinced her husband that already there was no difference between him and the Almighty. The saint admitted that she was the real jnani or seer [150].

The women of medieval Karnataka were complementary to men and not competitive in all the fields and they together made a complete unit. Women faced difficult situations bravely, and excelled in the field of charity, exhibiting their sense of social service. They were good housewives, pursued fine arts and, given a chance, shone as good administrators and fought battles also. In the spiritual field also, they made their contribution.


  1. Lokamahadevi and Trailokyamahadevi were the queens of Chalukya Vikramaditya I of Badami, 642-80 A.D.
  2. The queen of Chandraditya, son of Pulikesi II, is mentioned as reigning for a time in the absence of her husband (IA, VII, pp. 163-64).
  3. SEHNI, p. 139.
  4. ARSIE, 1920-24, p. 102.
  5. Ibid., 1932-33, p. 103.
  6. SII, XI (ii), 125 Doni.
  7. Ibid., XX, 61 Kannolli.
  8. Ibid., IX, (i), 65 Hosur of 1028 A.D.
  9. Ibid., 61 Marol of 1024 A.D., Jagadekamalla.
  10. ARSIE, 1942-43, no. 9.
  11. JSISJE, pp. 239-40.
  12. KI, IV, p. 7, Satenhalli of 1204 A.D.
  13. SII, IX (i), 79.
  14. EI, XXXVI, p. 221.
  15. EC, VII, Sk. 219 of 918 A.D.
  16. LSG, pp. 40-41.
  17. EC, loc. cit.
  18. ARSIE, 1933-34, p. 132.
  19. EI, XVI, p. 338, Somesvara I.
  20. SII, IX (i), 555 & 91 Sudi; EI, XV, p. 80 ff, XVI, p. 83 and XVII, p. 121 ff; IA, XVIII, p. 270 ff.
  21. EHD, I, p. 329.
  22. ARSIE, 1931-32, p. 36.
  23. HSK, pp. 140-43.
  24. IA, XIX, p 279.
  25. 'When the government appointed a feudatory..., he received the...quit-rent from the agrahara' (LSG, 103-04).
  26. SII, XI (i), Soratur of 1071 A.D.
  27. EC, V, Ak. 108 & 109 of 1255 A.D.
  28. Ibid., II, Sb. 138 of c. 950 A.D.
  29. Ibid., Sb. 268 of 1178 A.D.
  30. IA, XVIII, p. 173.
  31. EC, II, Sb. 351 of 1119 A.D.
  32. DA, III, v. 81.
  33. IA, XII, p. 102, Fleet's note on Nisidi and Gudda.
  34. EC, V, Ak. 108, fn. 1.
  35. EI, XVI, no. 11 of 1064 A.D., p. 85 ff.
  36. The Seunas, p. 252.
  37. EC, X, K1. 106 of 1071 A.D.
  38. "Yogige yogini agittu maye" (VDS, pp. 115-16).
  39. EC, VII, Sk. 170.
  40. SII, XI (i), 50 Yalisirur.
  41. KSSA, p. 150, fn. 1.
  42. MS, II, p. 145, vv. 1716-18.
  43. KK, I, p. 123.
  44. SII, IX (i), 273 Malegnur of Western Chalukya times.
  45. EC, VII, Sh. 97 of 1113 A.D.
  46. SII, IX (i), 159 Sirigupp of king Vikramaditya VI.
  47. EC, VII, Sk. 109 of 1070 A.D.
  48. Ibid., V, Mj. 18.
  49. Ibid., VI, Cm. 160 of 1103 A.D.
  50. JBBRAS, XVIII, p. 272 ff.
  51. BP, II, v. 42.
  52. EC, II, Sb. 132 of 1123 A.D. & 143.
  53. IA, XVII, p. 230 ff.
  54. EC, I, Coorg 57 of 1095 A.D.
  55. Ibid., II, Sb. 129 of 1120 A.D.
  56. SII, XI (ii), 142 Katageri.
  57. EC, V (ii), Ak. 123 of 1237 A.D.
  58. Ibid., V, B1. 137 of 1183 A.D.
  59. SII, XX, 175 Hirebevinur.
  60. Ibid., XI (i), 52 Lakkundi of 1007 A.D.
  61. SP, I, vv. 38-40.
  62. Ibid.
  63. EC, II, Sb. 327 of 1181 A.D.
  64. Ibid., Sb. 327 of 1135 A.D.
  65. Ibid., VIII, Nr. 37 of 1077 A.D.
  66. Ibid., Sb. 140 of 1198 A.D.
  67. PP, III, vv. 9-13.
  68. EI, VI, p. 106 (Rajendra Chola, 1057 A.D.)
  69. EC, V, B1. 193 of 1161 A.D.
  70. MS, II, p. 155, vv. 3-5.
  71. DA, VII, 63; SSS, v. 58.
  72. YAIC, p. 136.
  73. EI, XIII, no. 4 Ittage of 1112 A.D.
  74. EC, VIII, Sb. 275 of 1231 A.D.
  75. Ibid., XI, Dg. 13 of 1165 A.D.
  76. SC, II, vv. 39-42.
  77. BP, I (iii), vv. 13-4.
  78. SC, II, v. 45.
  79. IHCP, 1957, p. 352.
  80. AgP, CCXII, p. 578.
  81. TMP, p. 378.
  82. INKK, Intro., pp. 27-8.
  83. EI, XIII, 14, p. 275.
  84. SII, XV, 609 Gadag; EC, II, Sb. 339 of 1325 A.D.
  85. Ibid., IX (i), 89 Bagali of 1035 A.D.
  86. EC, XIV, Tn. 189 of c. 1203 A.D.
  87. SC,, II, v. 43.
  88. BBBV, no. 335, p. 140.
  89. Ibid., no. 1210, p. 500.
  90. SII, XX, 82 Nilgund of 1106 A.D.
  91. IA, XII, p. 97, Torgal.
  92. EC, II, Sb. 139 of c. 950 A.D.
  93. Ibid., VII, Sk. 146.
  94. SII, XX, 51 Kulekumatgi.
  95. EC, V, Ak. 40 & 90, Cn. 172; MAR, 1926, p. 26.
  96. PP, VIII, 89.
  97. EC, V, Ak. 58.
  98. MS, II, pp. 101-02, vv. 1178-79.
  99. SCA, p. 223.
  100. VDS, p. 223.
  101. ARSIE, 1933-34, p. 44.
  102. YAIC, p. 28.
  103. MS, II, p. 154, vv. 1817-18.
  104. FE, p. 348.
  105. VD, II, p. 34; AP, III, v. 21; VC, III, v. 7.
  106. EC, V, B1. 188 of 1991 A.D.
  107. VDS, p. 223.
  108. HDS, II (ii), p. 144.
  109. YAIC, p. 122.
  110. DA, I, vii, v. 5.
  111. HDS, II (ii), p. 441.
  112. Ibid., p. 590.
  113. VC, VIII, vv. 44-5.
  114. IA, p. 233.
  115. EI, XI, 1 of tenth century A.D., p. 1 ff. Bhutabali is offered in case of bareness, under the apprehension that the woman is under the influence of evil spirits. That is why the records represent village maidens as interested in the matter of budagul (Fleet). Gift of "budagul" (SII, IX (i), 59).
  116. SII, XI (i), 83 Bagewadi.
  117. EC, XI, p. 77.
  118. MS, II, p. 153, vv. 1808-11.
  119. SSC, II, p. 14.
  120. IB, p. 22.
  121. AgP, CXXII, p. 796.
  122. WSL, p. 122.
  123. ARSIE, 1941-42, no. 28, p. 257; SII, XI (i), Betgeri; Ibid., IX, 56 Kogali.
  124. EI, VI, 19 Belatur (Rajendra Chola, of 1057 A.D.), p. 214 ff.
  125. AI, II, p. 155.
  126. IB, p. 22.
  127. PWHC, pp. 344-45.
  128. HDS, II (i), p. 590.
  129. Keralakantanam Churnakuntala vallibhihi, etc. VC, IV, 2.
  130. DA, I (iv), v. 191.
  131. FNSI, p. 130.
  132. MS, II, p. 100, v. 1163.
  133. PP, VIII, v. 94.
  134. MS, II, p. 113, v. 1317.
  135. RT, VII, vv. 927-30.
  136. IB, p. 179.
  137. ARSIE, 1928-29, no. 491; Ibid., 1931-32, no. 241.
  138. YAIC, p. 106.
  139. PP, III, vv. 107-10.
  140. SP, vv. 103-04.
  141. JBBRAS, X, p. 278 ff.
  142. Ibid.
  143. HDS, III, pp. 334-35.
  144. EC, V, Hn. 151 of 1156 A.D.
  145. MAR, 1934, no. 58.
  146. EC, VII, Sk. 241 of 1396 A.D.
  147. JBBRAS, IX, p. 275 ff.
  148. YAIC, p. 106.
  149. EC, II, Sb. 327 of 1181 A.D.
  150. VDS, p. 195.

See Also:


Full Text of Social Life in Medieval KarnatakaSocial Life in Medieval Karnataka
Foreword | Introduction  | Abbreviations
Food & Drinks | Leisure & Pleasure | Vanity Fair | Status of Women
Bibliography | Illustrations


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