Dowry
Overview
A dowry is the money
Money
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past,...

, goods, or estate
Estate
Estate may refer to:* Estate , a term in common law for a person's property, entitlements and obligations.* Estates of the realm, a broad social category in the histories of certain countries....

 that a woman brings forth to the marriage
Marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

. It contrasts with bride price
Bride price
Bride price, also known as bride wealth, is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom...

, which is paid to the bride's parents, and dower
Dower
Dower or morning gift was a provision accorded by law to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband...

, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage. The same culture may simultaneously practice both dowry and bride price. Dowry is an ancient custom, and its existence may well predate records of it.
One function dowry may be to provide the husband with "seed money" or property for the establishment of a new household and to help feed and protect the family.
Encyclopedia
A dowry is the money
Money
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past,...

, goods, or estate
Estate
Estate may refer to:* Estate , a term in common law for a person's property, entitlements and obligations.* Estates of the realm, a broad social category in the histories of certain countries....

 that a woman brings forth to the marriage
Marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

. It contrasts with bride price
Bride price
Bride price, also known as bride wealth, is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom...

, which is paid to the bride's parents, and dower
Dower
Dower or morning gift was a provision accorded by law to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband...

, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage. The same culture may simultaneously practice both dowry and bride price. Dowry is an ancient custom, and its existence may well predate records of it.

Functions

One function dowry may be to provide the husband with "seed money" or property for the establishment of a new household and to help feed and protect the family. Another to provide the wife and children some support if he were to die. Still another function may be as compensation for bride price.

A dowry may also have served as a form of protection for the wife against the possibility of ill treatment by her husband and his family. In other words, the dowry provides an incentive to the husband not to harm his wife.

An evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional...

 explanation for dowry and bride price is that bride price is common in polygynous societies which have a relative scarcity of available women. In monogamous societies where women have little personal wealth dowry is instead common since there is a relative scarcity of wealthy men who can choose from many potential women when marrying.

Code of Hammurabi

Even in the oldest available records, such as the Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi
The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating to ca. 1780 BC . It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted the code, and partial copies exist on a human-sized stone stele and various clay...

, the dowry is described as an already-existing custom. Regulations surrounding the custom include: the wife being entitled to her dowry at her husband's death as part of her dower
Dower
Dower or morning gift was a provision accorded by law to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband...

, her dowry being inheritable only by her own children, not by her husband's children by other women, and a woman not being entitled to a (subsequent) inheritance if her father had provided her dowry in marriage. If a woman died without sons, her husband had to refund the dowry but could deduct the value of the bride price; the dowry would normally have been the larger of the sums.

In Europe

Dowry was widely practiced in Europe. In Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

ic times, the usual Greek
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

 practice was to give a brideprice. Dowries were exchanged in the later classical time (5th century BC). Ancient Romans also practiced dowry, though Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 notes that the Germanic tribes practiced the reverse custom of the dower
Dower
Dower or morning gift was a provision accorded by law to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband...

.

A husband had certain property rights in his wife's dowry. In addition, the wife might bring to the marriage property of her own, which was not included in the dowry and which was, as a result, hers alone. This property was "beyond the dowry" (Greek: parapherna, the root of paraphernalia
Paraphernalia
In modern usage, the word paraphernalia most commonly refers to apparatus, equipment, or furnishing used in or necessary for a particular activity as in, "Beth is such an avid sports fan that her walls are covered with baseball paraphernalia"....

) and was known as paraphernal property or extra-dotal property
Extra-dotal property
In Louisiana law, extra-dotal property is that property which forms no part of the dowry of a woman , but is hers alone...

.

Failure to provide a customary, or agreed-upon, dowry could cause a marriage to be called off. William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 made use of such an event in King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

: one of Cordelia's suitors gives up his suit upon hearing that King Lear will give her no dowry. In Measure for Measure
Measure for Measure
Measure for Measure is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603 or 1604. It was classified as comedy, but its mood defies those expectations. As a result and for a variety of reasons, some critics have labelled it as one of Shakespeare's problem plays...

, Claudio and Juliet's premarital sex was brought about by their families' wrangling over dowry after the betrothal. Angelo's motive for forswearing his betrothal with Mariana was the loss of her dowry at sea.

Folklorists often interpret the fairy tale Cinderella
Cinderella
"Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper" is a folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward. Thousands of variants are known throughout the world. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune...

as the competition between the stepmother and the stepdaughter for resources, which may include the need to provide a dowry. Gioachino Rossini's opera La Cenerentola
La Cenerentola
La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo is an operatic dramma giocoso in two acts by Gioachino Rossini. The libretto was written by Jacopo Ferretti, based on the fairy tale Cinderella...

makes this economic basis explicit: Don Magnifico wishes to make his own daughters' dowry larger, to attract a grander match, which is impossible if he must provide a third dowry.

One common penalty for the kidnapping and rape of an unmarried woman was that the abductor or rapist had to provide the woman's dowry. Until the late 20th century this was sometimes called wreath money
Wreath money
Wreath money is not a legal term, but the literal translation of German "Kranzgeld". Kranzgeld is money paid by a man to a woman as a fine on having sexual intercourse with her under the pretense of an offer of marriage which is then withdrawn....

, or the breach of promise
Breach of promise
Breach of promise is a former common law tort.From at least medieval times until the early 20th century, a man's promise of engagement to marry a woman was considered, in many jurisdictions, a legally binding contract...

. (See raptio
Raptio
Raptio is a Latin term referring to the abduction of women, either for marriage or enslavement . In Roman Catholic canon law, raptio refers to the legal prohibition of matrimony if the bride was abducted forcibly...

and bride kidnapping
Bride kidnapping
Bride kidnapping, also known as marriage by abduction or marriage by capture, is a practice throughout history and around the world in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry...

.)

Providing dowries for poor women was regarded as a form of charity by wealthier parishioners. The custom of Christmas stockings springs from a legend of St. Nicholas, in which he threw gold in the stockings of three poor sisters, thus providing for their dowries. St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Martin de Porres
Martin de Porres
Martin de Porres was a lay brother of the Dominican Order who was beatified in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI and canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXIII. He is the patron saint of mixed-race people and all those seeking interracial harmony.He was noted for work on behalf of the poor, establishing an...

 were particularly noted for providing such dowries, and the Archconfraternity of the Annunciation, a Roman charity dedicated to providing dowries, received the entire estate of Pope Urban VII
Pope Urban VII
Pope Urban VII , born Giovanni Battista Castagna, was Pope for thirteen days in September 1590. He was of Genoese origin, although born in Rome. He was created Cardinal-Priest of S. Marcello in 1584...

. As the French crown provided dowries for many of the women persuaded to travel to New France
New France
New France was the area colonized by France in North America during a period beginning with the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Spain and Great Britain in 1763...

 for marriages and settlement there, they were known as filles du roi (daughters of the king).

In some parts of Europe, especially Eastern Europe, land dowries were common. In the County of Bentheim, for instance, parents who had no sons might give a land dowry to their new son-in-law. It was commonly given with the condition that he take the surname of his bride, in order to continue the family name.

The Domostroy
Domostroy
Domostroy or Domostroi is a 16th century Russian set of household rules, instructions and advices pertaining to various religious, social, domestic, and family matters of the Russian society. Core Domostroi values tended to reinforce obedience and submission to God, Tsar and Church...

, a Russian advice book of the sixteenth century for upper classes, includes advice to set aside property for purposes of a dowry, and use it accumulate linens, clothings, and other things for it, rather than have to suddenly buy it all for the wedding; if the daughter should happen to die, the dowry should be used to give alms and for prayers for her soul, although some might be set aside for other daughters. In late Tsarist Russia the dowry originally consisted of clothing for the bride, linen, and bedding. Linen became less common, a fact blamed on poor flax harvest and girls being poor spinners, but emphasis was added to the finest of the clothing, and a money dowry was sometimes added, particularly if the bride was regarded as having some fault. Prospective in-laws, usually concerned mostly with her working ability, grew more concerned about a money dowry.

The Portuguese crown gave two cities as dowry to the British Crown in 1661 when King Charles II of England
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

, Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 married Catherine of Braganza
Catherine of Braganza
Catherine of Braganza was a Portuguese infanta and queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland as the wife of King Charles II.She married the king in 1662...

, a princess of Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

. They were Mumbai
Mumbai
Mumbai , formerly known as Bombay in English, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million...

 (Bombay) in India and Tangier
Tangier
Tangier, also Tangiers is a city in northern Morocco with a population of about 700,000 . It lies on the North African coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Spartel...

 in Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

.

In Victorian England, dowries were seen among the upper class as an early payment of the daughter's inheritance
Inheritance
Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, rights and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies...

. Only daughters who had not received their dowries were entitled to part of the estate when their parents died. If a couple died without children, the woman's dowry was returned to her family.

In some cases, nun
Nun
A nun is a woman who has taken vows committing her to live a spiritual life. She may be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent...

s were required to bring a dowry when joining a convent
Convent
A convent is either a community of priests, religious brothers, religious sisters, or nuns, or the building used by the community, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion...

. At some times, such as ancien regime France, convents were also used by some parents to put less attractive daughters, so that the more marriagable daughters could have larger dowries. Ancien regime families that could not provide proper dowries also used the convents as places to put their daughters.

In Asia

Dowry is a common practice in many Asian countries, including Bangladesh
Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

.

Dowry system in India

As Child marriages (both bride and groom are young) were prevalent in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the brides parents offer dowry to the grooms family in the form of money and materials. This is in order to help support the livelihood of the bride until groom grows up to support her himself. The opposite of this is called Kanyashulkam.

In India dowry (known as Dahej in Hindi) is the payment in cash or some kind of gifts given to bridegroom's family along with the bride. Generally they include cash, jewellery, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils and other household items that help the newly-wed set up her home.

In India the dowry system has been putting great financial burden on the daughters family. It has been one of the reasons for families and women in India
Women in India
The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. From equal status with men in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful...

 resorting to sex selection
Sex selection
Sex selection is the attempt to control the sex of the offspring to achieve a desired sex. It can be accomplished in several ways, both pre- and post-implantation of an embryo, as well as at birth...

  favoring to have a son. This has distorted the sex ratio
Sex ratio
Sex ratio is the ratio of males to females in a population. The primary sex ratio is the ratio at the time of conception, secondary sex ratio is the ratio at time of birth, and tertiary sex ratio is the ratio of mature organisms....

 in India (933 females per thousand males ) and has given rise to female foeticide.

The payment of a dowry has been prohibited under The 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act in Indian civil law and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498a of the Indian Penal Code
Indian Penal Code
Indian Penal Code is the main criminal code of India. It is a comprehensive code, intended to cover all substantive aspects of criminal law. It was drafted in 1860 and came into force in colonial India during the British Raj in 1862...

(IPC). Despite the anti-dowry law in India, it is still widely and illegally practiced across the country.

Further reading

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