majority in Hindu law

Allen W Thrasher athr at LOC.GOV
Thu Apr 9 14:31:22 UTC 2009

George Cardona's citation of Patanjali on addressing a son who is independent of his father raises a question I was already meaning to raise here.

"Patanjali remarks that someone whose father is still alive but is independent is addressed using a gotra term; such an offspring bears the technical name 'gotra' out of scorn, as when one addresses one who should be called (using a yuvan term) is addressed as gargya."

I was meaning to get Kane from the stacks and check him first, but chance has brought it up.  Is there such a thing as an age of majority in Hindu law, an age at which a son may make decisions independent of his father?  I can't think of any such thing in law or narratives.  In the stories the sons who form romantic marriages usually have fathers already dead, unless they're sent off to a svayamvara like Rama.  May a son with a living father decide his own residence or occupation, or contract an otherwise suitable marriage if he is a long distance from his father?

Of course, some modern regional property regimes allow a son to request (or demand?) his share of the family property from a living father.

Gunther-Dietz Sontheimer's observation in "The joint Hindu family" that Hindu law has two principles in tension - the subordination of the son to the father and the identity of the son to the father - may be pertinent here.  The subjection of adult sons doesn't seem to have worked out to be as drastic as in Roman law.  I read an article on Punjab land law once that said that when a decision about land is to be made, all potential male shareholders are consulted, not only adults and youths but boys of seven and up, although the latter's opinion won't be considered a quasi-vote like that of the older males.


Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
Senior Reference Librarian
Team Coordinator
South Asia Team, Asian Division
Library of Congress, Jefferson Building 150
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, DC 20540-4810
tel. 202-707-3732; fax 202-707-1724; athr at
The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Library of Congress.

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