By Swami Harshananda
Vivāha literally means ‘taking the girl away in a special way;’ ‘marriage’.
Vivāha or marriage is one of the sixteen sanskāras or sacraments, but considered the most important of all. Even the Ṛgveda contains a description of the marriage of Suryā with Soma. Most of the ṛks used till date in the traditional rites of marriage can safely be presumed that it had become a well-established institution even by that time.
Objective of Vivāha
The main purpose of marriage was to enable a man to become a householder and perform Vedic sacrifices and continue the lineage by procreating worthy children.
Forms of Marriage
- Brāhma - In the brāhma form, the father of the girl gives her respectfully to a man of character and learning after decking her with the ornaments which he could afford and without taking anything in return.
- Daiva - In the daiva, the decorated girl is given away by her father to a priest who is officiated at a sacrifice commenced by him.
- Ārṣa - After receiving from the bridegroom a pair of kine, exclusively meant to be used in a sacrifice, if the father gives his daughter to him, it was ārṣa form of marriage.
- Āsura - If the suitor pays money to the relatives of the girl and the girl herself and accepts her as his bride out of free will, it is āsura form of marriage.
- Gāndharva - If the bride and the groom choose each other out of love and passion, resulting in their union, it is the gāndharva form.
- Rākṣasa - In the rākṣasa form of marriage the girl is abducted or captured by force, by killing or injuring her relatives.
- Paiśāca - In the paiśāca form, the girl is ravished when she is sleeping or is unconscious.
The last two forms, being of a criminal nature, are condemned. However for kṣattriya heroes, the rākṣasa mode was permitted. At present, only the brāhma form of marriage is prevalent. The system of fixing dowry and making it the main consideration in settling the marriage did not exist even in the ancient times.
Prohibited Relationships in Marriage
The dharmaśāstras have prohibited marriage, if the boy and the girl belong to the same piṇḍa or gotra. The prohibitions are on the two basis:
- The first prohibition means that the ancestor up to the fifth generation of forefathers should not be common to them on the mother’s side and the seventh generation on the father’s side.
- The second prohibition prescribes that they should not be from the same gotra or lineage.
Though inter-caste marriages were allowed in the ancient period, they were frowned upon during the later years. Similarly, remarriage of widows was prohibited.
Prerequisites for Marriage
Since marriage was considered as sacred and lifelong spiritual bond, several points had to be taken into account before finalizing it. These conditions were:
- First was the age. Adult marriages were common during the Vedic and the epic periods. Gradually the age was reduced to such an extent that child-marriages became the rule. However, the trend was reversed during the modern period.
- The second consideration was the qualifications expected to be present in the bride and the groom. The bride had to be a virgin, fairly beautiful, must have a sweet name and without any physical defects. A brotherless girl was not desired on religious considerations. The dharmaśāstra works do not mention anything about her educational qualification.
- In regards for the groom, he must have completed his brahmacarya in the gurukula and must be learned in the Vedas. He must be a snātaka. He must be physically strong and virile. Though virginity was insisted upon the bride, a similar condition was not laid on the groom since he could marry again if the first wife was dead or barren.
The smrti works were very particular about one point, viz., that both the bride and the groom must be from a good vanśa or a pure family, blameless from the highest ethical standards.
The dharmaśāstras, especially the gṛhyasutras, have given long lists of the various rites connected with the sacrament of marriage. They are described very briefly as follows:
This is settling the marriage through the oral promise by the father of the bride which once made, becomes binding.
It is also called Ābhyudayikaśrāddha, it is an auspicious rite done in the morning to please the pitṛs or forefathers.
This is offered to the bridegroom at the bride’s house as a mark of honor.
This ritual consists in tying an amulet on the bride’s hand for protection.
First of all, a cloth screen is held between the bride and the groom. At the auspicious astrological moment, it is lowered and the couple see each other. The latter recites certain ṛks of the Ṛgveda.
This is an important rite wherein the father of the bride gifts her to the groom. He asks him not to transgress her in:
He has to respond saying ‘I shall not do so’ which means ‘nāticarāmi’.
The main fire is established for offering oblations with appropriate mantras.
The bridegroom holds the right hand of the bride with his own right hand uttering some Vedic mantras. This signifies him taking full responsibility of her's.
This ritual consists of the bride offering lāja or parched paddy grains into the homa fire while the bridegroom repeats the concerned mantras. It is a symbol of fecundity and prosperity.
The couple go around the sacred homa fire and the ceremonially established water jar.
Here, the bride is made to tread upon a mill-stone, to the north of the fire, with her right foot. It symbolizes firmness of her relation with her husband.
This is the most important part of the marriage ceremonies, legally completing the marriage and making it irrevocable. The couple take seven steps or saptapada together to the north of the fire. There are seven small heaps of rice. The bridegroom makes the bride step on each of the seven heaps with her right foot, beginning from the west.
For each step she takes, the bridegroom recites some Vedic mantras praying for wealth, comforts, cattle, strength, and auspiciousness.
The bridegroom touches the heart of the bride with a mantra that signifies the union of their minds and hearts.
The couple enters the house of the bridegroom and then performs a homa.
On the night of the marriage, the bride is shown and she is expected to see the pole-star and the star Arundhatī in the group of the Seven Stars. This is suggestive of being firm in conjugal life.
The couple is expected to observe celibacy for three nights.
After the saptapadī, the bridegroom ties the maṅgalasutra around the neck of the bride. She should wear it always as long as her husband is alive.
When the bride is about to leave her father’s place for her husband’s, a bamboo-basket, full of presents and a lighted lamp is given to the mother of the bridegroom by the parents of the bride with a request to treat her with love and consideration.
It is interesting to note that the main framework of rituals of marriage and the Vedic mantras employed have practically remained unchanged over the last five thousand years. The impact of modern education and contacts with other, especially the Western cultures, is bringing about vast changes in the society. Several amendments to the laws wrought by the Acts of the Parliament are also having their effects. Late marriages, divorces, remarriage of widows and inter-caste marriages are not uncommon though still not very popular. However, time and experience uphold that the basic values behind the marriage system are sound and good which cannot be ignored.
- Ṛgveda 10.85.6-47
- Suryā is the daughter of the Sun-god.
- Ṛks means mantras.
- Manusmrti 3.21
- Yājñavalkya Smrti 1.58-61
- Vaṣisṭha Smrti 15
- A. D. 1929 onwards after the promulgation of The Child-marriage Restraint Act
- Ṛgveda 10.85
- Sāñkhāyanagrhyasutras 1.13.2
- Sāñkhāyana Gṛhyasutras 1.14.6
- Ṛgvedic mantra 7.66.16
- Pāraskara Gṛhyasutras 1.8.5
- Pole star is the Dhruvanakṣatra.
- These seven stars are Saptarṣimaṇḍala or Ursa Major
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore