Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXXII

Vivaha - The Marriage

Continued from Part LXXI 

Some time back, one supposedly knowledgeable gentleman opined on social media that in the Vedic Sanatana culture the institution of marriage did not exist and it is in some Hindu Puranas that Shiva and Sati have been quoted as husband and wife. He added that in Vedic literature several instances are available where women had expressed their desire to cohabit or make love with accomplished rishis, rulers or mighty warriors with a view to have worthy offspring(s). On the contrary, the author is aware that the institution of Vivah and conjugal living among the Hindus was very much in vogue since the Vedic age. His averments readily reminded me a specific hymn in Rig Veda, the oldest Hindu scripture, and detailed provision in Atharva Veda dealing with the marital issues like acquiring husband or wife and living together with the marital bliss. In fact, several hymns and mantras in the aforesaid Vedas and other Dharmashastras mention about the institution of marriage, conjugal relationship and blissful living. There is an old adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, which by implication means that the small amount of knowledge can have a multiplier adverse bearing because it can mislead people into wrong beliefs while the ignorant person himself remain under wrong blissful notion that he is a scholar and expert on the subject.

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,
Nanandari ibhava samrajni adhi devrsu.
Sam anjantu visve devah sam apo hrdayani nau,
Sam matarisva sam dhata sam u destri dadhatu nau.

(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,
Yamasma – avaksustam rasenabhi vardhatam.
Abhi vardhatam payasabhi rastrena vardhatam,
Rayya sahasravarcasemau stamanupaksitau.
Tvasta jayamajanayat tvastasyai tvam patim,
Tvasta sahasramayumsi dirdhamayu krnotu vam.

(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,
Sa prasasta dvijatinam darakarmani maithune.

(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,
Gandharvo raksasascaiva paisacascastamo'dhamah.

(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.

Brahma Marriage:

It was religious and most popular form of marriage among the Hindus in the ancient as and accepted as such in the modern age. Two families, usually the fathers of eligible bridegroom and groom, identify suitable matches with mutual consent and understanding, and propose the marriage of their daughter and son. The families, groom and bride concur with the proposal followed by the ceremonies like betrothal and marriage ceremony, the Kanyadaan and Saptapadi with Agni (the holy fire) as witness being the most important rituals along with the associated feast and celebration. The father gives away his daughter to the groom, and the bride goes to her in-laws house. The majority of Indian traditional marriages fall under this category in the modern age.

Daiva Marriage:

This type of marriage was prevalent in ancient times when yajna sacrifices were in vogue. Normally, the father would give away his daughter along with nominal ornaments to a priest or sage as a sacrificial fee and the occasion was not marked with any mass gathering, feast or celebration. In many cases, such marriages involved poor families including those where the girl’s parents could not locate suitable groom in a reasonable time, and the wedding often organized by the wealthy class such as king, landlords or rich merchants as a charity measure. Although Dharmashastras considered such marriages avoidable but still considered it respectable because a virtuous poor was treated as not culpable.

Arsha Marriage:

In ancient age, it was customary for the groom to give away one or more cow and bull as Kanya-shulkam (bride-price) to the father of the bride in exchange of the latter’s daughter in marriage. The groom was expected to takes vow to fulfill his commitments to the bride as a Grihastha (householder) with a home and family life. This custom was generally considered unsuitable for society and prevalent in only some communities in the ancient age but there are some instances in Puranas from the mainstream communities also such as Kuru King Pandu and Madra Kingdom Princess Madri. The marriage of famous Vedic Rishi Agastya and Lopamudra is also believed to fall under the same category.

Prajapatya Marriage:

This form of marriage was somewhat like Brahma Vivah in practice and celebrations but the chief difference with the latter was that the girl’s father would give her away to the groom’s father as a gift, who would be responsible for her protection and well-being. Ordinarily, such marriage was resorted to in cases where the groom and bride were still young and needed protection. In such cases, although the wedding was performed but it was not consummated for years, until the bride and groom had attained puberty and grown up enough.

Gandharva Marriage:

In such cases, the grown up prospective bride and groom simply chose to marry through mutual consent but with or without the consent of their families. Such marriage was often marked without prescribed religious ceremonies including vows before Agni. In Hindu Puranas and Epic Mahabharata, we find many instances of Gandharva Vivah such as Dushyanta-Shakuntala, Krishna-Rukmini, Arjuna-Subhadra, and so on. In Mahabharata, the foster-father of Shakuntala, Rishi Kanva has favoured this form of matrimonial alliance as the ideal marriage due to love between the couple. In medieval times, Prithviraj-Sanyukta wedding could be regarded as Gandharva marriage but by this time, this marriage form was treated as sinful act in some Hindu texts. The love marriages in the current age could be equated with this form of marriage.

Asura Marriage:

In this case, the groom offered a handsome money / gifts (or dowry) to the father of the bride and the bride consented to accept it willingly, and in exchange the groom would receive the bride. Such a marriage was considered inappropriate in Hinduism because this matrimonial alliance was based on the greed for money/wealth; consequently, so often such marriage occurred between incompatible pairs. Although without similar nomenclature, instances of such inappropriate marriage also occur in the modern times.

Rakshasa Marriage:

In such cases, the groom would forcibly abduct the bride and marry her against her own and family’s consent. Such incidences of abduction and forced marriages often led to vengeful conflicts and wars between the groom and bride sides with catastrophic consequences. The Hindu scriptures and Dharmashastras do not approve of this form of matrimonial alliance, rather strictly prohibit it.

Paishacha Marriage:

This was an ugly and abhorable form of alliance where the man forced himself on the woman when she was insentient i.e. insensitive and ignorant of what was happening to her. Such a condition would usually arise when the woman is unconscious, drugged or drunken or in unsound mind. In Manusmriti and other Dharmashastras, such form of marriage is considered totally unacceptable and outlawed.

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 term itself implies the giving away of the daughter by the father; needless to mention, the mother too remains an integral part of all such rituals and ceremonies. The ritual is essentially performed by the father of the bride, and in his absence for any reasons including death, the next guardian of the girl performs this role. Under the holy chants of Kama-sukta (love-hymn) and associated rituals by the priest, the father takes the bride’s hand and puts it in the groom’s hand, marking the initiation of the giving away ceremony. The implied meaning of this ritual is that the father asks the groom not to betray or fail his daughter in pursuit of Dharma (righteous duty and action), Artha (wealth and prosperity) and Kama (love and marital bliss). The groom is expected to accept the prospective bride’s hand and repeat this vow three times. With the repetition of the aforesaid promise, the Kanyadaan ceremony is deemed completed.


Panigrahana is the holding the hand ritual which symbolizes the prospective couple’s impending permanent marital union. The ritual is often preceded by the Vivaha-homa rite wherein a symbolic Agni (fire) is lit by the groom as a prelude to the beginning of the householder phase of life. During the Panigrahana ceremony, the groom willfully acknowledges his responsibility to four impending duties. This includes Bhaga akin to earning wealth for the couple and household, Aryama signifying endeavours for joint spiritual upliftment, Savita represents a bright beginning, and Purandhi a commitment for wisdom. During this ritual, while the relevant Rigvedic mantras (verses) are recited by the priest for the couple, the groom faces west holding bride’s hand while the bride’s face is to the east (groom is expected to follow/repeat mantras). In different regions and different communities, some variations too are observed in this ceremony.


The verbatim meaning of the Sanskrit term is ‘seven steps’ or “Saat Phere” but actually each step relates to a pair of vows by groom to bride followed by bride to groom. Originally these vows are in Sanskrit but are often pronounced in the local language too of the couple. As in the case of Panigrahana, the performance of Saptapadi is carried out in the presence of the holy fire. Besides, in the majority of Hindu weddings, the bride and groom also perform the ritual of Agnipradakshinam (walk around the fire) with their garments tied in a knot while taking each of the seven pairs of vows. Agni (the holy fire) is considered as the divine witness to the wedding and after the completion of Saptapadi and associated rituals, the couple is declared as the husband and wife. In most of the marriages, the Sindoor Daanam is also carried out immediately after Saptapadi whereunder the sindoor (vermilion) is applied for the first time by the groom to the hair (mang or simandarekha) of the bride. Thereafter, the married woman traditionally applies vermilion along the parting line (mang) of her hair or as a dot on the forehead for life. However, widows do not apply this mark signifying their husband is not alive.

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.

  • In ancient times, after the Upanayan Sanskar around the age of eight years, the boys were expected to spend about twelve or more years in Guru’s hermitage (Gurukuls) for education and learning commensurate with their class and leaning. As Brahmachari, he was expected to develop skills to earn livelihood before taking the responsibilities of a Grihastha. Similarly, after passing their childhood, the girls too were taught and groomed to shoulder worldly responsibilities for at least 5-6 years. Thus the ideal and minimum advisable age for marriage of the boy and girl was 25 and 16 years, respectively, which has been fine-tuned to 21 and 18 years under the Hindu Marriage Act now.
  • Hindu Dharmashastras prescribed matching of the horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom. For this purpose, every householder used to get the Janm Kundali or Jathakam of their children prepared from a scholarly priest based on the position of the planets and stars at the time of birth. With some variations, this practice is still in vogue and ordinarily 36 points of match (virtues) are prescribed. To qualify as prospective bride and groom, a matching of at least 18 points is considered necessary for a harmonious relationship after wedding although such a decision is ultimately left to wisdom of concerned families and couple themselves.
  • The main ceremonial event is usually preceded with the Milne (meeting) and Swagatam (welcome) of Baraat (groom’s marriage procession) by the bride’s family and friends at a pre-decided venue. The key people of both sides are introduced with each other with exchange of gifts and flowers followed by some religious ritual and jai mala ceremony (exchange of garland between bride and groom) while food and drinks are simultaneously served to all guests/participants.
  • Several associated rites and rituals are observed which vary from region to region and from community to community. Some of these allied or associated ceremonies are Madhuparka, Vivah-homa, Agni-parinayana, Asmarohana, Laja-homa, Abhishek, Annaprashashan, Aashirvada, and so on. Most of these ceremonies are expected to be carried out at or near the home of bride’s father, or some common venue mutually decided.
  • After marriage, the Hindu woman are expected to wear certain symbols of good fortune such as Sindoor (vermilion), Mangalsutra and bangles, which are also considered sign of a married woman. Sindoor has already been explained, the Mangalsutra is a necklace which the groom ties around the neck of the bride. It symbolizes the good health and longevity of the husband besides protecting the woman from the evil eyes. Bangles of various hues and composition too are considered auspicious sign of happiness and prosperity.
  • Following the independence from the colonial rulers, the Hindu Marriage Act was notified in 1955. According to the Act, if a Hindu marries a non-Hindu the latter must convert to Hinduism and a specific Shuddhikaran (purification) procedure is necessary before the marriage as prescribed in the ancient Hindu texts or else the matrimonial alliance would not be legally valid.
  • Arranged marriage with Vedic rituals continues to be traditional marriage form in the modern India, particularly in rural areas and orthodox families in urban areas. However, in urban areas now the love marriages too are common among the eligible couples. The main difference between the two forms is that the parents have option to choose the partner in the arranged marriage while girl and boy decide for self in a love marriage. Similarly, a wide range of variations also exists in the associated ceremonies in different regions and Hindu communities.
  • According to the Vedic concept, the wife is treated as the Ardhangani (half-body) of the husband in Hindu traditions. It is so because the Hindu Vivah has been considered as a life-long association of two souls with social and spiritual responsibility, and association of wife and husband with the sustained love, unity and intimacy at physical, mental and spiritual levels.

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.

Continued to Part LXXIII

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More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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