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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXXII
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Vivaha - The Marriage
Continued from Part LXXI
The episode inspired the author to explore various facets of the institution of marriage in Hinduism since the Vedic age. In essence, a Hindu marriage or wedding is called Vivah (more common), Lagna or Kanyadanam which is usually a colourful and joyful occasion involving multiple ceremonies among Hindus for several days. The ritual as such signifies a sacred union of man and woman for a lifelong togetherness as wife and husband as per Vedic traditions. As per traditional Hindu beliefs, this union is looked upon as a cosmic arrangement of the holy oneness of the man and woman before Agni (the sacred fire). Although there are many associated rituals and their variants in different parts and sections of the Hindu society, three key rituals are considered mandatory in all weddings as core practices since the Vedic age. These are Kanyadaan, Panigrahana and Saptapadi; Kanyadaan represents the giving away of the daughter by her father to the prospective groom, Panigrahana tantamount to voluntary holding of hand of the bride by the groom in front of the sacred fire to signify cosmic union of the prospective couple, and Saptapadi is taking together seven steps before the fire, where. each step is treated complete by taking a complete circuit of the fire with certain vow or promise made at every step. Institution of Marriage in Vedic Literature According to Vedic texts, Vivah or Vivaha (marriage) is a sacred union between the male and female beings with a joint resolve and commitment of Purushartha in the ensuing life.
The institution of marriage in Hinduism
is nearly as old as the age of Hindu civilization, opinion on which widely differs according to two schools of thoughts. According to Western thoughts, the age of Hindu civilization is just about four thousand years while the traditional Indian historians and scholars reckon it to over sixteen thousand years starting with the Vedic age through post-Vedic, Treta-yuga (Ramayana Era), Dvapara-yuga (Mahabharata era), and Kali-yuga – the present age. Hinduism defined Purushartha with four objects or goals of the human existence as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha; which every Grihastha (husband and wife) was jointly expected to pursue during the life. In essence, Grihastha was considered the chief active phase in the Ashrama System, which was expected to implement the concept of Purushartha in creating a synergy between the temporal life and spiritual life.
Rig Veda is considered as the oldest Hindu scripture, of which hymn 10.85 is commonly referred to as the “Surya’s Bridal Hymn” giving ample hint of the custom of wedding and conjugal relationship in Vedic age. The stated Hymn is a narrative of the metaphorical story of the wedding of Surya as bride, the daughter of Pusan (the Sun-god), and Soma as bridegroom, a popular reference to moon in present age. Some of the features described in the Vedic Mantras (verses) of this Hymn are still followed in the Hindu weddings of the present age. Different verses talk about confirmation of marriage, bride going to her new home with husband on a cosmic chariot, duties of the prospective bride to the parents, other family members, and household of the husband for the prolonged marital bliss, and so on. Many modern age readers may find many Vedic texts rather convoluted but their scholarly interpretation indeed put them in intelligible and correct perspective.
Samrajni svasure bhava samrajni svasrvam bhava,
(Be a queen to your father-in-law, be a queen to your mother-in-law; be a queen to your husband's sister, be a queen to your husband's brother. May the universal gods unite both our hearts, may the waters unite them; may Matarisvan (Garuda), Brahma and the bountiful (Saraswati) unite both our hearts.) (Rig Veda: 10.85.46-47)
The Atharva Veda is the fourth in the hierarchy of the Vedic scriptures, which addresses the issues related to the day to day life of the Vedic people. It comprises of a compendium of twenty Kandas (books) containing hymns, mantras (chants), spells and prayers addressing various issues of life including marriage, funerals, health and prosperity, and various rituals associated with life. While the Veda has hymns and mantras associated with different aspects of the life of the householders, the following three mantras (verses) deal with the marital bliss and prosperity.
Tena bhutena havisayama pyayatam puna Jayam,
(Let this couple grow to prosperity by the liberal Havis they offer into the Homa Yajna. Let it grow continuously. Let the wife that the community has given to the husband, also grow by love in the family. Let the husband and wife grow with delicious food and drink and marital happiness by the inspiring state of the social order. Let the couple grow by a thousand-fold wealth and honour without any setback ever. The Deva (Tvashta), maker of beautiful humanity and institutions, created this woman for you as wife and for her he made you, the husband. Let the same Deva bless you with long life and provide all means and radiant energy for happy living.) (Atharva Veda: 6.78.1-3)
The aforesaid Mantras are derived from the Atharva Veda, Kanda 6, Hymn 78, Mantras 1 to 3 which are said to had been addressed by the Rishi Atharva to Devatas (deities) Chandra and Tvashta. The hymn is popularly referred to as Dampati Rayipraapta Suktam.
Among many other Hindu texts, Manu Smriti is yet another important treatise of the ancient Indian socio-religious code of conduct, Chapter 3 of which discusses at length the institution of the Hindu marriage, marital prosperity and bliss. The following verse represents beginning of the discourse on the subject, following which umpteen verses are dedicated to all related rituals. (This treatise was made keeping then contemporary social practices, many of which are no more acceptable in the modern age with the changing social order.)
Asapinda ca ya maturasagotra ca ya pituh,
(She who is not a Sapinda of one’s mother, not of the same Gotra as his Father, and who is not born of (unlawful) lovemaking is recommended for marriage.) (Manu Smriti: 3.5)
According to Dharmashastras, the Sapinda relationship with reference to any person extends upto the third generation (inclusive) in the line of ascent through the mother, and the fifth (inclusive) in the line of ascent through the father, by reckoning the person concerned as the first generation. Accordingly, the two people are considered Sapindas if one is a lineal ascendant of the other within the limits of Sapinda relationship, or if they have a common lineal ascendant, who is within the limits of Sapinda relationship with reference to each of them.
Different Forms of Vivaha (Marriage)
According to Hindu scriptures and texts such as Atharva Veda, Asvalayana Grhyasutra and Manu Smriti, eight types of marriages were prevalent in society since the ancient age, namely the Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Gandharva, Asura, Rakshasa and Paishacha Vivaha. However, scriptures do not approve all types and they are listed as such in order of their socio-religious appropriateness. Ordinarily, the last four are considered avoidable and the last one is widely condemned. Manu Smriti has identified them as under:
Brahmo daivastathaivarsah prajapatyastatha'surah,
(The Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paishacha, which is the eighth and the lowest form.) (Manu Smriti: 3.21)
According to scriptures, in all types of marriages the eligible groom would be one who has completed his Brahmacharya Ashram (student-hood). Similarly, the eligibility condition for the bride included her being virgin having attained puberty at some time in the past. Legal aspects of the matrimonial alliance between the eligible couples are now regulated under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 in the current age. The eight forms of marriages are briefly explained as follows.
Of the aforesaid forms of marriages, Brahma is considered the best and most appropriate, Daiva, Arsha and Prajapatya are considered acceptable with riders, Gandharva and Asura are inappropriate, Rakshasa is unacceptable, while Paishacha is just abhorable. Although such categorization may be missing but the instances of various forms of marriages as described in Hindu scriptures and texts are still observed in the modern age. Of course, the most prevalent and acceptable form of marriage continues to be Brahma employing Vedic rites and rituals with certain amends.
Significant Rituals of Hindu Marriage
In any Hindu marriage conducted under the Vedic procedure as prescribed in texts like Gruhyasutra composed by the rishis like Baudhayana and Ashvalayana, the primary and most important witness is the inanimate fire deity (Agni) in the presence of the family, relatives and friends. Traditionally, a Hindu priest conducts all or parts of associated rituals in Sanskrit reciting relevant Vedic mantras (chants) while simultaneously using any other local or vernacular language. Accordingly, the Vivah procedure including pre- and post-wedding rituals and celebrations vary in different regions, also depending upon the resources and choice of the groom, bride and their families. For example, an important pre-wedding ceremony includes engagement involving Vagdana (betrothal) and Lagna-patra (written declaration). Similarly, the post-wedding rituals and ceremonies include events like Anna-prashashan, Aashirvadah and Grihapravesha as part of welcoming the bride to her new home. According to scriptures, the wedding also marks the entry of the person in the Grihastha (householder) phase of life. During a wedding, three important rituals, with some variants, include Kanyadana, Panigrahana and Saptapadi.
The custom of Saptapadi varies from region to region in terms of the bride or groom taking the lead as also such number of circuits. In some regions, the clothing of the couple is tied in a knot, while in other regions, the groom holds the right hand of the bride. Usually, first 3-4 circuits around the fire are led by the groom and remaining ones by the bride but a lot of variation exists in this regards in various parts and communities among Hindus. The first vow is about the food and nourishment with the couple jointly resolving in the name of god Vishnu to perform their obligations for the parents, offspring, friends and visitors of the family. The second vow is about well management of the home together with requisite character, strength and energy; the third vow is about earnings for livelihood and joint management and preservation of wealth to sustain family; the fourth vow relates to mutual trust and worthiness to provide necessary things for the prosperity and happiness in life; the fifth vow is about mutual consultation and engagement for joint management of their assets such as agriculture, cattle, business, etc.; the sixth vow is about mutual love, raising of children and family together in life; and in the seventh vow the couple reiterates their resolve taken in earlier vows and promises a secured friendship and togetherness of the highest order.
Other Miscellaneous Facts about Hindu Wedding
From the foregoing analysis, it is evident that the institution of marriage was well established during the Vedic age itself and several Vedic rituals are still part of the common Hindu marriage. With the passage of time, some changes have occurred but the Vedic Brahma marriage still continues as the popular mode of ceremony in the modern age. In fact, the common terminologies of the ‘arranged marriage’ and ‘love marriage’ in the modern age broadly represent the erstwhile Brahma and Gandharva marriages. While the key rituals have already been explained in the foregoing paragraphs, some other allied rites and rituals are briefly explained as follows.
Hindu Marriage Act 1955
The Hindu Marriage Act gave legality to Hindu marriages by relevant laws evolved by the Indian Parliament in 1955, the jurisdiction of which extends to the whole of India, now also applicable to the territories of Jammu, Kashmir and Leh after repealing Article 370 of Constitution in 2019. These laws are applicable to Hindus and people of other Indian religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. However, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews have been excluded who continue to follow their own religious laws on the subject. The Act has accommodated several key features of the ancient traditional Hindu marriage and Section 7 of the same Act specifically provides that any Hindu marriage would be complete and binding on the bride and groom together only after the completion of the Saptapadi ritual in the presence of the holy fire. In some cases, however, such as in South Indian Hindu marriages, the condition does not apply as the Saptapadi is not performed.
Some of the mandatory conditions for a Hindu marriage include that such a marriage can be solemnized only if neither of the two persons have a living spouse at the time of marriage nor they are incapable of giving a valid consent that may be limited by an insanity, unsound mind or a mental disorder to render them unfit for the marriage or incapacity for the procreation of children. The prescribed marriageable age under law for the boy is twenty-one years and girl eighteen years. The Hindu marriage shall be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies including the Saptapadi which shall be deemed completed when the seventh step is taken. The registration of Hindu marriage has, however, been made compulsory under law and the state government provides a marriage certificate to that effect on rendition of the prescribed proof. The Act also provides for the contingencies like the judicial separation, divorce, prevention of bigamy, custody of children, disposal of property, enforcement of associated court decrees and orders, and so on.
It is conclusively established that the Hindu Sanatana culture has a long and well established tradition of the conjugal association of the man and woman through an elaborate Vivah ceremony conducted in the presence of the parents, other family members, relatives and friends under the prescribed Vedic rites and rituals. Although Hindu way of life is based on the Karmakanda with elaborate ceremonial rituals at various occasions, the Vivah or Hindu wedding is considered as the most important and extensive social event that every eligible adult Hindu undergoes in life. The majority of Hindu families also engages and spends their significant social and financial resources to celebrate the wedding. Unlike the similar event in the Western religions where the marriage is more like a contract , the Hindus treat it more of a socio-religious bond to prepare the prospective bride and groom for a joint happy and meaningful life by raising a family and children based on love, unity and intimacy. The two individuals thus become life-partner and soul-mate not only to jointly perform Purushartha viz. Dharma, Artha and Kama but also to move together on the path of Moksha (liberation), as mandated by the scriptures.
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