A Brief History of Hindu Marriages
Marriage is considered as a sacred communion between the bride and groom along with their respective families. Hinduism gives a lot of importance on sacred institute of matrimony. It is not only a personal event but also a social event, as it is witnessed by the whole society. It marks the beginning of Grihasth Ashram for the couple. The Hindu matrimonial is very symbolic one; each tradition has its own meaning and importance for successful matrimony.
Hindus consider matrimony to be an alliance not only for the present life but also the upcoming seven lives. Hindu matrimony believes marriage to be a heavenly union witnessed by all the gods and devas themselves. The roots for these customs and traditions in Hindu matrimony are very ancient. Few of the traditions have survived the invasions of time and are still prevalent like the prime witness for wedding is the god of fire or the Agni Dev or the tradition of sath phere or seven circuits around the agni kund each step signifying a vow between the couple.
Types of Hindu Marriages – in Ancient India
The Manusmriti, the book written by the sage Manu describes eight types of marriages in Hinduism namely Brahma Vivaha, Daiva Vivaha,Arsha Vivaha,Prajapatya Vivaha,Gandharva Vivaha, Asura Vivaha,Rakshasha Vivaha and Paishacha Vivaha. Amongst these last four types are consider illicit or of poor ranking, as they are immoral.
Let me try to describe the nature of all these types of Matrimonial alliances. Brahma Vivaha is of the highest ranking as the boy is married only after completion of Brahmacharya Ashram, the stage of learning and studenthood. Daiva Vivaha is of the second rank , where in the bride’s parent find her a suitable groom or married of to a sage.Similar is the case with Arsha Vivaha where the bride is married to a sage in return of gifts. Gandharva Vivaha is similar to Love Marriages. Remaining marriages are of very low rank where the woman is forced to marry the groom because of abduction, in exchange of gifts or illegally seducing the girl.
Matrimony – Recent times
With modern times all these kinds of marriages have undergone transformation for the good of society. The description of all these kind of marriage in Manusmriti doesn’t give them authentication or acceptance by the society. We broadly have only two types of marriages. I.e. love Marriages or Arranged marriages.
Arranged marriages are still the most common types of marriages in India. In arranged marriages the parent and elders decide who to get their respective ward married keeping in mind the caste and social status of the families involved. This is considered to be the most stable form matrimony but with changing times parent is giving their children’s preference the utmost importance. Love marriages are also becoming very common because of their growing acceptance in modern India due to changing mind sets and technology boom.
The growing number of matrimonial site is the direct example of changing time. The matrimonial site gives a platform for the youngster to choose their partner for lifetime.
Traditions and Customs of Hindu Matrimonial
The customs and traditions of Hindu Matrimony differ from one region to another, according to the social status and according to castes and sub communities. From the onset mogul era Indian Marriages have become very pompous because of growing economic status of Indians. It usually includes Pre Marriage rites like betrothal or engagement, the actual marriage ceremony like jaymala and post marriage ceremonies like Griha Pravesh etc.
Few of the distinct features which differ in Hindu Matrimonial are the sequence of various rites, the symbols of a married women and their degree of importance. In northern India the sindhur (red turmeric) adorning the partition of hair is the symbol of being married where as south Indian women give more importance to mangalsutra, which is necklace tied around the neck during the wedding. Where as both the regions give equal importance to toe rings for married women. Some regions of south and western India give importance to the nose ring as well.
It is not true that only women have all the symbols of matrimony adorned on them in ancient India even men had toe rings to symbolize that they are married, though this tradition did not survive the predominantly male oriented Indian society.
Marriage History Medieval times
Since fourth century medieval times to the present day modernized culture, there is one thing that the Industrial revolution, Western revolution, or any other kind of revolution failed to change. Something that till today, most of the Hindu community follows. And that is the blessed “arranged marriage” system, the holy matrimony system of our country. The history of Hindu matrimony a.k.a. the divine arrange marriage system is so old, that probably this system has been followed ever since marriage system first came into India.
Throughout the history of Hindu matrimony, marriages have been looked at by a very interesting, straightforward and simple perspective. The simplicity is very evident as to why marriage ever took place. Every boy needed to carry on the name of his family. At the same time someone was needed to pass on the property rights to. To all these problems, there was a simple and sole solution, divine arranged marriage. After all, marriage gave every family a girl to fulfill their needs as well as the son’s.
A very noticeable point in the history of Hindu matrimony was that at that time, there was no government to officially set down the age of marriage or adulthood. So marriages took place as and when desired by the parents, which was mostly when the kids were at their preadolescent phase. Get the kids married when they do not know the meaning of marriage, so that after growing up, they have no choice but to accept their parents’ choice. It was a clever way to make sure that kids compulsorily obeyed their parents.
Another feature of the history of Hindu matrimony was that the divine union of marriage could only be in the same caste. After all, how can the divinity be maintained if the son of a priest married the daughter of a sweeper? That would be a holy crime. When the profession was passed on from father to son, then how could one disturb the symmetry in the family caste by introducing a member of a different caste in the family?
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