I think there is widespread ignorance about the institution of dowry. It is generally considered as money, wealth or valuables brought by a woman to her husband’s home. It always is seen as a part of ones marriage customs.
I think we are way off the mark. The origin of dowry should go back to the period when marriage itself, was yet to get instituted as a custom. All eligible women could choose the partner of her liking. If the man could not find a valid argument to the contrary, he was bound to ‘perform’ as a male partner, as and when demanded. And for obvious reasons, men would have been on the lookout for an excuse to say ‘no’. (A specific discussion about this issue, is the theme of my book, The Unsure Male)
What can we learn from the nature and constitution of dowry? An overview of the traditional composition of dowry shows that it came to be of articles, generally difficult for a woman to possess without external help. This in fact is a direct proof of my theory that dowry, is nothing but an excuse for the man to stay away from ‘performance’, rather than the desire for anything extra. Naturally, those men, who are less healthy and more scared of ‘performance’ of his male functions, would have demanded more as dowry. As generations went by, those collected more dowry evolved into the rich and super-rich. But the weak constitution remained with them and they came to be associated with ill health. Their status became permanent as time went by. Their wealth yielded more wealth and, this perhaps led to the rich-poor divide.
The vast majority of people would have found dowry inadequate in moderating the occasions of ‘performance’ and, would have been on the lookout for a more effective measure. Perhaps they found one in having only one woman to ‘perform’ for. Finding a great reduction in their load, they would have chosen this as the most acceptable form of living. Naming it monogamy, they valued it the highest. Perhaps, women agreed for permanency of man notwithstanding his incompetence, when they knew, they could enjoy the fruits of their dowry without sharing with others. This could have eased man’s burden quite a bit, who would have taken steps to formalize the association, And begun, the custom of marriage.
As all that we do in the names of religion, god, family, parenthood etc., can easily be seen as nothing else but expedients to keep the custom going, I think it is right to assume that these are institutions aimed to cement dowry to our society.