MARRIAGE AND MORALS
Marriage is perhaps the most significant and most respected of. sacraments not only among Hindus but all civilised people. The so-called upper classes or dvijas perform it with Vedic mantras and the lower classes with puranik mantras and some accepted rituals. But in essential features they do not differ much.
According to orthodox practice, marriages are arranged within the same caste and sub-caste. Insistence on the latter is disappearing to a great extent and even inter-caste marriages are not as rare as they used to be. Such marriages are legally valid and they no longer evoke any particular hostility. Even in exogamous marriages as in endogamous, only sagotra, sapinda and sapravara alliances were prohibited until recently even by law and even among Brahmans who laid much stress on these prohibitions. Now sagotra marriages
are by no means rare and valid in law. Family or Kula considerations are of course generally present in fixing marriages. Although the marriageable age has now risen high enough, it is still the practice for parents to be on the lookout for a suitable match for their sons and daughters. The parties concerned have however, an opportunity of late to see each other before the final decision is taken. The prohibited degrees of blood relatives for marriage beyond the agnates vary according to the custom of the community concerned. So for as cross-cousin marital alliances are concerned, a brother's daughter to a sister's son is not only not
prohibited but also preferred among most Hindu communities including Brahmans except among the
Citpavan or Konkanastha Brahmans. Marriage with a wife's sister is allowed and a brother may marry his brother's wife's sister i.e., sisters can be sisters-in-law. Polygamy was not prohibited by the law and it was not difficult to come across a number of polygamy cases in a village or a town a few years ago especially among the peasantry but now even bigamy is unlawful. Polyandry is nowhere prevalent in this
Child marriages are prohibited by law. First, the Sharada Act disallowed marriages of girls below 14 and later legislation prohibited marriages of boys below 18. The age in the case of girls was later
raised to 16 and in that of boys to 20 and social reformers and sociologists are not wanting who press for both ages being still more raised. Apart from the religious observances in connection with the solemnising of marriages, registration has now been made compulsory in urban areas like registration of births and deaths. Marriages by mutual choice of the bride and the bridegroom are on the increase and there considerations of caste, family, money and honour may not enter. Arranged marriages of course involve agreements and settlements. In such marriages, the form known as Brahma is usually conformed to in most respects. Kanyadana is an important aspect of it. It can be plain or salankrta i.e., the one in which the bride is decorated with
jewellery and given over. In most settlements, each party bears its own expenses or they are
shared and gifts are exchanged as previously drawn up. Dowry or hunda is given by a girl's father than a boy's father in most communities and when this is reasonable present to the son-in-law it is not found irksome; but when reasonable limits are sought to be violated, hunda becomes a social evil. It has now been made illegal, but several devices are currently employed to circumvent law. The evils of hunda have been decried by reformers and novelists and dramatists, but the practice dies hard. It has become an abuse among the Patidars. In certain communities, it is the bridegroom's father who has to pay a price for a bride and probably this is determined by the paucity or otherwise of eligible brides and grooms, even though the male and female population in this district is well balanced. Such is the general frame work of marriage agreements which precede a number of ceremonies which constitute a necessary formality.
The wedding formalities begin with a magni or proposal from
the bridegroom's side or an offer from the bride's side. Usually
horoscopes of both are then compared and if they agree and other
terms are agreed upon after consulting an astrologer who is generally
a Brahman, an auspicious day and precise liming are fixed. Then
follows what is called sakharpuda when present of a sadi and some
ornaments is made to the bride. A similar ceremony to make
a present to the bridegroom follows- It is called the tilak ceremony.
The horoscopes are duly worshipped by priests on either side.
Ceremonial invitations are given formally to gods and goddesses in
temples. Ghana is held in the early hours of the marriage day.
Musicians and pipers start playing on their instruments and one
of the officiating priests sets up the ghatika (water clock) to keep
exact time. This has really become unnecessary when accurate
watches are available but the practice continues because special
sanctity is attached to the ghatika patra. In the ghana ritual, two mussals (pestles) are tied together with a new khan (bodice cloth)
and a basket filled with rice or wheat is set before the parents of the
boy or girl to be married. Five suvasinis (married women with
their husbands living and preferably blessed with a son or sons) take
the pestles in their hands, set them upright in the basket and move
them up and down as it to pound the grains. They sing sonic
auspicious songs as they do so. One of the women takes a handful
or grains and grinds the same in a pair of crushers (jate) which
is decorated with kumkum and to its handle a new khan is tied.
This is religiously non-essential but studiously observed part of the whole wedding programme. The religious programme begins alter this with mandapa-pratistha and devaka-pratishtha at the camps of the bride and the bridegroom. Ganes puja. punyahavacan, nandisraddha and grahamakha form part of this programme, A central spot in the marriage pandal is cleansed with cowdung wash and rangoli is traced on it. Three pats (low wooden stools) are plated close to one another and covered with woollen cloth. The bride and the bridegroom as the case may be and parents dressed in rich sacred clothes seat themselves on the pats with their laces eastwards. They go through a prayascitta for whatever sins of commission or omission might have been committed
by them and are thus purified for the great event. The father of the boy or girl solemnly announces. " I am going to marry my son or daughter named so and so to continue the performance of righteous deeds and to propagate my line to him or her fit to perform similar deeds." The worship of Ganes etc-- then follows. Priests say prayers for the safe and secure performance of the ceremony to various deities by recitation of Vedic mantras. The whole of this programme is preceded by marriage feasts called kelvan or gadagner on either side a few days before the wedding day. Friends and relatives also arrange these congratulatory feasts.
Vagdana or a formal declaration of the marital alliance is made at the bride's house in the presence of relatives and friends. The groom's father, accompanied by intimate friends and close relatives, goes to the bride's house to the accompaniment of drum beating and music. After a proper welcome, they are seated. The fathers of the boy and the girl sit facing each other, the girl is dressed in new rich clothes and decorated with ornaments, brought to the pandal and seated next to her father. The boy's father gives in her hands betel leaves and a coconut and thrice tells her father that he would accept her as wife to his son and the girl's father thrice repeats the words, " Please do. " Those present at this ceremony are given betel leaves, areca-nuts, attar-gulab and the ceremony is over.
Simantapujana was originally the reception given to the bridegroom's- party when they arrive at the outskirts of the village or town of the bride. Now it is symbolically performed in the marriage booth at the brides' house. It is nothing more than a formal welcome. Nowadays, it is dropped, being superfluous. Before the auspicious hour fixed for the wedlock, the bridegroom has to arrive at the bride's place. This he does in a procession, usually on horse; back, about an hour before the fixed time and goes through what is known as madhuparka. The groom is seated on a wooden stool called cauranga. The bride's father and mother sit before him. The mother pours water on his feet and the father washes them and dries them with a napkin. The girl's father takes a ladleful of milk, curds, honey, butter and sugar and empties the mixture on the right palm of the groom. He swallows it. He is then presented a new pair of dhotis, ornaments and some coins of gold or silver. While this goes on, the bride is clad in a yellow sadi known as astaputri or
vadhuvastra kancoli (bride's special dress) and seated before what is called Gourihara i.e., a representation of Siva and Parvati. A small basket of bamboo chicks filled with rice is given in her hand and she is asked to cast the grains, one by one, on the Gaurihara. praying all the time that her would be husband be healthy and long-lived and she be good wife unto him.
When only a few minutes are left for the auspicious moment, the groom is made to stand on a pat in the marriage hall with his face to the east. A piece of cloth, usually a Kasmiri shawl is held between him and the bride who stands on a sandal paste stone in front of the groom. It is customary for her maternal uncle to lead her there to the spot. The bridegroom's sister stands behind him and the bride's sister stands behind her. If there are no sisters cousins play the role, each with a lighted lamp and coconut. The bride is given a garland of flowers which she holds in her hand and the groom also given a similar garland or the mangalasutra with gold and black glass beads. The Brahman priests and others begin to chant mangalastakas i.e., auspicious compositions and at the close of every one of them, auspicious red rice grains are thrown at the bride and the groom. When the auspicious moment comes, the
priests raise their voices and at the exact second stop chanting. The curtain is withdraw and the bride and the groom garland each other. If it is the mangalasutra, the bridegroom fastens it round the bride's neck. Pansupari, attar-gulab, coconuts and sweets are distributed to the guests. Brahmans are given daksina and thus the main event is over.
The ceremony of kanyadana then follows. This is considered a meritorious act on the part of a Hindu householder as it makes for the perpetuation of the race. Giving over the bride and her being accepted, dana and pratigraha are actions accompanied by solemn assurances of mutual loyalty. This done, the family priests on either side perform what is called suvarnabhiseka, a benedictory sprinkling of gold-washed water on the heads of the newly married couple. This is followed by a vivahahoma to be performed by the couple and then comes the saptapadi rite. In front of the sacrificial fire, the couple sits and the groom makes three oblations of rice into the fire. He then leads the bride to the row of rice heaps at the north of the sacrificial fire. As he walks, the bride pulls her right toe on the rice heaps one by one and at each step the priest chants a mantra. The bride and the bridegroom go round the fire and take their seats again on the pats in front of it. The fire is still more fed with oblations of rice and ghee. The couple is taken out to take darsana of the pole star or dhruvatara. This done, the ceremony is over from the religious point of view in the case of dwijas. For, with the rites of panigrahana, the rounds by the sacrificial fire and the saptapadi, the Hindu marriage is considered to be final and Irrevocable. The varat and vadhupravesa i.e., a bridal procession and her ceremonial entering in her new home and her getting a new name are part of the festivity in connection with the ceremony. Devakothapana and Mandapodvasana are the concluding religious rites.
In marriages not performed according to Vedic rites, most of the elements of the Brahma form are nevertheless followed. In both cases, the former, elaborately drawn out four day programme is now dropped and even entirely old fashioned marriages are over in a day with all items abbreviated. A modified form of the traditional marriage ceremony and the accompanying essential rituals has been recommended for general adoption by the Dharmanirnaya Mandal and is widely followed all over Maharashtra. Mahamahopadhyaya Pandurang Vaman Kane, Rao Saheb Chapekar, Raghunath Shastri Kokaje Tarkatirtha Lakshmanshastri Joshi and others are the sponsors of this move. The following 21 items compose that form: -
(1) Upkrama.―Procedure preparatory to making the sankalpa on the part of the bridegroom.
(2) Sankalpa.―The solemn declaration that he intends to enter the householder's state.
(3) Punyahavacanam.―This literally means, saying three times May this be an auspicious day on the part of the assembled when
requested by the bridegroom that they do declare that to be an auspicious day.
(4) Kanya dutuh Sankalpadikam.―A solemn declaration on the part of the gentleman who gives away the bride that he intends performing the marriage ceremony of the bride with a view to her acquisition of dharma (religious merit), artha (worldly prosperity) and kama (love) after obtaining the position of a householder's wife.
(5) Vadhuvarastkarah.―Honouring the bride and the bridegroom, in the ease of the bride by the bridegroom's party and in the other case by the bride's party.
(6) Kanyadana.―The giving away of the bride or offering the hand of the bride; in marriage to the bridegroom (At this stage a variant is introduced to suit modern times, where occasionally the boy and the girl themselves choose each other as partners in life and wish to marry each other. Instead of the parent saying to bridegroom " I offer etc.," as in the orthodox form of marriage, the bride offers herself to the bridegroom reciting the appropriate formula). The bridegroom then accepts.
(7) Niyamahandha.―The binding down of the bridegroom to certain vows in respect of the bride.
(8) Aksataropanam.―The placing of unbroken grains of rice on each others head by the bride and the bridegroom.
(9) Mangalasutrabandhanam.― Tying the sacred thread of beads
round the neck of the bride by the bridegroom and also garlanding
(10) Panigrahanam.―The taking of the bride's hand by the bridegroom.
(11) Hanapurvangam ―The introductory offering of oblations to several gods such as the god of fire, god of creation, the god Skanda, etc.
(12) Pradhanahoma.―The principal offering of oblations.
(13) Lajahoma, Parinayanam, Asmaroha.―The offering of oblations consisting of rice flakes; going round the consecrated fire, and making the bride stand on a slab of stone.
(14) Saptapadi.-The taking of the seven steps together. The technique of this ritual is somewhat elaborate. At each step, the bridegroom recites a formula which is really a mild command and request to the bride.
(15) Homottarangam,―The conclusion of the marriage sacrifice.
(16) Sansthajapa.―The offering of prayer to god Agni by husband and wife. At the end of the prayer, both ask for a blessing from the same god.
(17) Abhiseka.―The sprinkling of consecrated water over the heads of the bride and the bridegroom by the priests, accompanied by the giving of blessings.
(18) Karmasamapti.―The conclusion of the ceremony. Here
the father of the bride declares that the ceremony has ended. and
prays that god be pleased by this act of performing the Sacrament
of the daughter's marriage.
(19) Saptasidhruvopasthanam.―Praying to the seven sages with
Arundhati and Dhruva, the Pole Star.
(20) Asirvadh.―Here the father of the girl gives her advice
as to how to lead married life and the assembled guests Mess
(21) Grahapravesa.―Entering the husband's home. This is
accompanied by mantras- of request from the bridegroom
bride and of joint resolve to lead a happy married life.
A common form of civil marriage for all communities in India was provided by the Special Marriage Act III of 1872. Under this Act, parties wishing to get their marriages registered had to declare that they did not profess any of the following religions, viz., Christian. Jewish, Hindu, Muhammedan, Parsi, Buddhist. Sikh or Jain. This Act was amended by the Act of 1923 making it possible for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains only to declare their religion and yet get their marriages registered. Marriages, registered under this Act are legal though may be against the religious customs of the caste or community of any one of the couple. Under the procedure prescribed at present, the parties wishing to get married give a notice to the Registrar of Marriages about their intention to marry within three months from the date of notice and specify each ones condition, rank or profession, age, dwelling place and length of residence therein. After the expiry of 15 days, if no valid objection is forthcoming, the Registrar grants a marriage certificate after the couple have signed a declaration form in which each has to affirm that he or she is at the time either unmarried, or widow or widower; does not profess any religion or does profess a particular religion; has completed 21 years of age (if not, the guardian has to attest his consent to the marriage); is not related to the other in any prohibitive degree of consanguinity or affinity; and in the case of a minor, the consent of father or guardian has been given to the marriage and not been revoked. Two witnesses have to attest their signatures to the declaration.