After quite a bit of research aimed at pinning down the origin of dowries in Indian cultures, I have not been able to discover one unanimous answer. There are many different speculations as to where the dowry system might have begun as a practice — some of which I will mention in the post.
One speculation that I came across was that it started in 300 B.C., when Alexander the Great and his armies ventured into the Indian subcontinent during their conquests. It is believed that the practice might have been a result of Alexander’s “mass marriages”. (see first citation)
Another hypothesis is that the practice of dowry is hinted at in ancient Hindu scriptures such as the Manu Smriti. In the Manu Smriti, there are a number of different methods of marriage, and one of which seems very similar to the practice of modern day dowry. As the family of the bride looks for a husband, they are forced to try and win over the hearts of the husband through gifts and other forms of wealth. (see second citation)
Lastly, and the origin theory that I personal credit for the modern-day practice of dowry, is that everything began to start going down-hill when British colonialists took control of India in the late 18th century. Traditionally, women had been allowed to own their own property and maintain the gifts and land that had been given to them by their family at the time of their marriage. But because the British were so against women being able to own property, they made it so all gifts and property given to wives during marriage went immediately to the husband and his family. Thus the modern-day dowry system was born. This eventually spun out of control when husbands and in-laws demanded greater dowries because it basically functioned as a source of income. (see third citation)
When it is all said and done, there is still no one root cause of the dowry system that has necessarily been discovered, so its origin is more up to interpretation. But one thing that is for certain is that we must all come together to bring justice for women that have been treated unjustly for many years.
“Dowry.” New World Encyclopedia. August 24, 2013. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Dowry.
“8 Types of Hindu Marriages According to Manusmriti.” Indian Weddings. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://mymarriagewebsite.com/8-types-of-hindu-marriages-according-to-manusmriti/.
Sanskriti. “The Origin of Dowry System.” Sanskriti Indian Culture. February 03, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.sanskritimagazine.com/india/the-origin-of-dowry-system/.