Marriage In Hinduism
Arranging the marriage
The use of jathakam or Janam Kundali (astrological chart at the time of birth) of the son/daughter to match with the help of a priest is common, but not universal. Parents also take advice from the brahman called ‘Jothidar’ in Tamil or ‘panthulu or siddanthi ‘ in Telugu and Kundali Milaan in northern India, who has details of many people looking to get married. Some communities, like the Brahmans in Mithila, use genealogical records (“Panjikas”) maintained by the specialists.
Jatakam or Kundali is drawn based on the placement of the stars and planets at the time of birth. The maximum points for any match can be 36 and the minimum points for matching is 18. Any match with points under 18 is not considered as an auspicious match for a harmonious relationship. If the astrological chart of the two individuals (male and female) achieve the required threshold in points then further talks are considered for prospective marriage. Also the man and woman are given a chance to talk and understand each other. Once there is an agreement then an auspicious time is chosen for the wedding to take place.
In recent years, with the onset of dating culture in India, arranged marriages have seen a marginal decrease, with prospective brides and grooms preferring to choose a spouse on their own and not necessarily only the one whom their parents find agreeable; this has been more pronounced in urban and suburban areas than rural regions.
Eight types of marriage
The eight types are:
- Brahma marriage – The Brahma marriage is the marriage of one’s daughter, after decking her with costly garments and with presents of jewels, to a man of good conduct learned in the Vedas, and invited by oneself.A Brahma marriage is where a boy is able to get married once he has completed his student hood, or Brahmacharya. Brahma marriage has the most supreme position of the eight types of Hindu matrimony. When the parents of the boy seek for a female, they would consider her family background, but the girl’s father would make sure that the boy that wishes to wed his daughter had the knowledge of Vedas. It is these things that make the basis for Brahma marriage, not a system of dowry.
- Daiva marriage – The type of marriage that is considered inferior because it is degrading to womanhood. This is where the woman’s family will wait for a specific time to get her wed. If she doesn’t get a suitable groom, then she would be married off to places where family choose by matchmaking through priest who duly officiates at a religious ceremony, during the course of its performance. This used to be the practice followed by many Royals in ancient times to forge diplomatic ties with allies and enemies alike.
- Arsha marriage – An Arsha marriage is where the girl is given in marriage to a sage. The bride used to be given in exchange for some cows. Agasthya married Lopamudra accordingly. Kings often could not refuse the sages who had such power and standing in society and hence the numerous stories in Mahabharata that portray this practice.
- Prajapatya marriage – Prajapatya is when a girl’s father gives her in marriage to the bridegroom, treating him with respect, and addresses them: ‘May both of you perform together your duties’. Unlike in Brahma marriage, Prajapatya matrimony is where the bride’s father goes in search of a groom, although this isn’t considered as good as the grooms parents searching for the perfect bride. Also, unlike Arsha marriage, monetary transactions are not a part of the Prajapatya marriage.
- Gandharva marriage – The voluntary union of a maiden and her lover on own is called Gandharva marriage. When it comes to ‘love’ marriage, it is Gandharva marriage that is the most similar. This is where a groom and his bride could wed without their parents knowledge or sanction. This is how Dushyanta married Shakuntala. Note that this is not same as Dating. Here the bride and the groom exchange vows in the presence of some person, creature, tree, plant or deity before any further action.
- Asura marriage – Asura marriage is when the bridegroom receives a maiden, after having given of his own free will as much wealth as he can afford, to the bride and her kinsmen. It is Asura marriage that sets itself apart from the other types of marriage. This is a matrimony where the groom may not often be compatible with the bride and may even possess some abnormality but either greed or compulsion on the part of the bride’s father coupled with the groom’s desire and wealth may render it. At all times this type of marriage was considered lowly. In modern times this is unacceptable because it is much like buying a product off the shelf and against common Indian law.
- Rakshasa marriage – Rakshasa marriage is the marriage of a maiden involving her forcible abduction from her home after her kinsmen have been slain or wounded much like its practice in Kazakh and Uzbek cultures where it is still practised as a ritual. The groom will force battles with the bride’s family, overcome them and carry the bride away to convince her to marry him. Because of its use of force this marriage is essentially rape in modern parlance, and it was never considered right – hence the pejorative name rakshasa attached to it. This is condemned in the Manusmriti as a base and sinful act. In modern times it is a crime. Arjuna’s marriage to Subhadra was made to look like this but in reality it was a Gandharva Marriage because both of them were in love a priori and they had the consent of Subhadra’s brother Sri Krishna who actually suggested this subterfuge to preempt Balarama from dissent.
- Paishacha marriage – When a man by stealth seduces a girl who is sleeping, intoxicated, or mentally challenged, it is called Paishacha marriage. This is condemned in the Manusmriti as a base and sinful act. In modern times this is called Date Rape and is a crime in most civilized lands.
Wedding ceremonies can be expensive, and costs are typically borne by the parents. It is not uncommon for middle-or upper-class weddings to have a guest list of over 500 people. Often, a live instrumental band plays. Vedic rituals are performed and the family and friends then bless the couple. Food is served to all the invitees with lots of delicacies. The wedding celebrations can take up to one week depending on the practice in different parts of India.
Types of Hindu marriage and rituals
Historically the vedic marriage was but one of the few different types of Hindu marriage customs. Love marriage was also seen in historical Hindu literature and has been variously described by many names, such as Gandharva vivaha. In certain poor vaishnav communities there is still a custom called kanthi-badal which is an exchange of bead-garlands as a very simplified form of ritual in solitude in front of an idol of Krishna, considered a form of acceptable love marriage.
Elopement has also been described in old Hindu literature. Lord Krishna himself eloped with Rukmini on a horse chariot. It is written that Rukmini’s father was going to marry her to Shishupal, against her wishes. Rukimini sent a letter to Krishna informing of a place and time to pick her up.
Symbolic rituals followed by married Hindu women
The married Hindu women in different parts of India follow different customs. Mostly sindoor, mangalsutra and bangles are considered as signs of a married woman. In some places, in especially Eastern India, instead of mangalsutra they put only vermilion on the hair parting, wear a pair of conch bangles (shankha), red bangles (pala) and an iron bangle on the left hand (loha) while their husband is alive. In southern India, a married woman may wear a necklace with a distinctive pendant called a thali and silver toe-rings. Both are put on her by the husband during the wedding ceremony. The pendant on the thali is custom-made and its design is different from family to family. Apart from this, the married woman also wears a red vermilion (sindhoor) dot on her forehead called kumkum and (whenever possible) flowers in her hair and bangles. In medieval times a married woman used to be encouraged to give up all of these when her husband died. This is no longer the practice in many progressive communities any more. In the Kashmiri tradition, women wear a small gold chain (with a small gold hexagonal bead hanging from the chain) through their upper ear which is a sign of being married. The married woman in Kumaon Uttarakhand wear a yellow cloth called pichoda. At the actual wedding, Hindu brides wear bright colored outfits. A red sari or lengha, is usually what the bride wears, she may even choose to wear more than one outfit. The first one is the one she comes to the ceremony wearing from her family, and the second one she gets to change into half-way through the ceremony, which is given to her by her husband and his family.
Many people believe that arranged marriage is the traditional form of marriage in India; however love marriage is a modern form, usually in urban areas. Love marriage differs from arranged marriage in that the couple, rather than the parents, choose their own partner. There are various instances from ancient scriptures of Hinduism, of romantic love marriages that were accepted in ancient times, for example Dushyanta and Shakuntala in the story of the Mahabharata. Somewhere in the course of time, arranged marriages became predominant and love marriages became unacceptable or at least frowned upon. Despite some love marriages, the vast majority of Hindus continue to have arranged marriages.
According to some estimates, there wasn’t even 1% of divorce among Hindu arranged marriages.
Same sex marriage
There are both conservative and liberal views about homosexuality and same-sex marriages in Hinduism with Hindu priests having performed marriage of same-sex couples. The Kama Sutra acknowledges third-gender marriages wherein same-sex couples with “great attachment and complete faith in one another” get married together. In 2004, Hinduism Today asked Hindu swamis (teachers) their opinion of same-sex marriage. The swamis expressed a range of opinions, positive and negative.
- Manusmriti 3.24 & 26.
- Manusmriti 3.27-34.
- Noor, Javed (June 10, 2010), What to wear? Bridal fashion: Choosing one wedding dress for the big day, The Toronto Star, p. 1
- Edakkandiyil Viswanathan. Am I a Hindu?. Rupa & Co. p. 71.
- “Information & Support for LGBTI Vaishnavas & Hindus; “Kama Sutra 2.9.36““. www.galva108.org. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
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