Marriage in Hinduism

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Hindu Marriage joins two individuals for life, so that they can pursue dharma (duty), artha (possessions), kama (physical desires), and moksha (ultimate spiritual release) together. It is a union of two individuals as husband and wife, and is recognized by law. In Hinduism, marriage is followed by traditional rituals for consummation. In fact, marriage is not considered complete or valid until consummation. It also joins two families together. Favorable colours are normally red and gold for this occasion.

Arranging the marriage[edit]

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 North 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[edit]

Hindu symbolic marriage: eloping couple exchange garlands under a tree. Illustration from Sougandhika Parinaya

According to Hinduism there are eight different types of Hindu marriages. Not all had religious sanction. The first four were considered proper. Rakshasa and Gandharva marriage was regarded acceptable to Kshatriyas as was Asura marriage for Vaishyas and Shudras.[1] The eight types are:

  1. 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.
  2. Daiva marriage - The Daiva rite is the marriage of one's daughter, decked with ornaments to a priest who duly officiates at a religious ceremony, during the course of its performance.
  3. Arsha marriage - Arsha marriage is when the father gives away his daughter, after receiving from the bridegroom a cow and a bull or two pairs of either as bride price.
  4. 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'.
  5. Gandharva marriage - The voluntary union of a maiden and her lover which springs from sexual desire is called Gandharva marriage.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.[2]

The wedding[edit]

Main article: Hindu wedding
A Hindu Marriage Ceremony in progression

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[edit]

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 asGandharva 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 worn by married Hindu women[edit]

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 South India, a married woman is required to 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 (sindoor) dot on her forehead called kumkum and (whenever possible) flowers in her hair and coloured glass bangles. The married woman is encouraged to give up all of these when her husband dies (although some choose not to). 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.

Love resulting in Marriage[edit]

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. However arranged marriages are predominant and love marriages are generally 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.[3]

Same Sex Marriage[edit]

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.[4] In 2004, Hinduism Today asked Hindu swamis (teachers) their opinion of same-sex marriage.[5] The swamis expressed a range of opinions, positive and negative. The Hindu American Foundation welcomed the Obergefell v. Hodges landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.[6]