It would be clear from the above survey that by the time of the later
lawgivers a revolution in ideas had taken place and we find many other changes creeping
into society. One of the revolutionary changes that came into force in contemporary society
was the legal sanction for the self-immolation of a widow. The earlier lawgivers have not
mentioned it anywhere.
The earliest Vedic custom for the widow was to marry her husband's
brother. The earliest among the lawgivers agreed with this old order and sanctioned it.
The lawgivers that followed him imposed a temporary asceticism for a short period, after
which the widows could marry with the permission of the elders of the family.
This liberty, allowed to women, seems to have been extinct soon after
the compilation of Vasishtha, for Manu and Yajnavalkya, 50 though referring to the old
practice of Niyoga, and admitting the sons of such union as legal heirs to the property of
the deceased, lay down life long asceticism for women after the death of their husbands,
with a reward of heavenly bliss attached to it.
Yajnavalkya says as follows 51:
'She who does not go to another man, whether her husband is living or
dead, attains, fame here, and rejoices with Uma.' Though life-long asceticism is inflicted
upon a widow, there is not the least trace of the self-immolation of a widow here, any
more than in Manu. Things, however seem to have altered considerably soon after the advent
of the Gupta power.
Thus the Vishnu Smriti, which was compiled after the fourth century A.D.,
says that one of the duties of a woman is to preserve her chastity (Brahmacharyam) after
the death of her husband or to ascend the funeral pile after him.52
Similarly the code of
Brihaspati, which has been assigned to the sixth or seventh century A.D.:
53. 'A wife is
considered half the body of her husband, equally sharing the results of his good or wicked
deeds; whether she ascends, the pile after him, or chooses to survive him leading a
virtuous life, she protects the welfare of her husband.'