The best available evidence suggests that marriages are about 4,350 years old. Over the next several hundred years, marriage evolved into widespread institutions. Although throughout the globe, marriage’s primary purpose was to bind women to men, and later on, religion got introduced to the concept. On the other hand, Marriage goes much deeper than just a man-woman relationship, in India.
The Indian subcontinent has historically been home to a wide variety of wedding systems. The Hindu scriptures admit the following eight forms of marriage: Brahma, Prajapatya, Aarsh, Daiva, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshas, and Paisach. And going through all the scripts of the History of Marriage, I am stumped. It seems our ancestors were much more open-minded and modern than we are in this so-called ‘Age of modernization’.
From practicing Matrilocal Marriages to having Inter-caste marriages, from performing polygamy to Swayamvara, from supporting Gandharva marriages to celebrating homosexuality we proudly had it all!
- Swayamvara (which was rooted in the historical Vedic religion and had a stronghold in popular culture because it was the procedure used by Rama and Sita). In a Swayamvara, the girl’s parents broadcast the intent of the girl to marry and invited all interested men to be present in a wedding hall on a specific date and time.
- While another variant the Gandharva marriage, which involved simple mutual consent between a man and a woman based on mutual attraction and passion. This form of marriage did not require the consent of parents or anyone else. The marriage of Dushyanta and Shakuntala was an example of this marriage. According to Vedic texts, this is one of the earliest and common forms of marriage in Rig Vedic times.
- There were Matrilocal Marriages, a concept that is far away from the prevalent practices of marriage in India. As its known, women in the Indus-Valley Civilization were highly respected and given the stature of God, thereby establishing a matriarchal society. ‘Matrilocality’ as the word suggests, or uxorilocality is a societal practice where a married couple resides with or near the wife’s parents.
- In 2011, another eye-opening discovery was made by the archaeologists that ‘The Harappans’ had the cross-cultural and inter-caste marriages. After they dug out 65 skeleton remains at the largest Harappan burial site Farmana, a village located in the Rohtak District of Haryana. They found remains describing females from various other states of India, like Rajasthan and many more.
- Polygamy and polyandry were prevalent during ancient times. One can also find traces of polygamy and polyandry in the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic. In the Mahabharata, Draupadi was married to five Pandav brothers under special circumstances to abide by the wish of their mother Kunti whom they adored very much. Even then, this marriage was bitterly opposed by the family of Draupadi herself. Yudhishtra, the eldest Pandav had to use all his persuasive skills to convince them by citing a precedent to support his arguments.
- Gay marriage is rare in Indian history but not unknown. There are Ancient Indian texts which are relevant to modern LGBT causes. Rigveda, one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism says Vikriti Evam Prakriti (meaning what seems unnatural is also natural), which some scholars believe recognizes homosexual/transsexual dimensions of human life, like all forms of universal diversities. The ancient Indian text Kamasutra written by Vātsyāyana dedicates a complete chapter on erotic homosexual behavior and homosexual marriages. Historical literary evidence indicates that homosexuality has been prevalent across the Indian subcontinent throughout history and that homosexuals were not considered inferior in any way until about the 18th century during British colonial rule.
I know, what you are thinking. Then what happened? What made us change all these?
Well, first the Vedic period happened and later the British rule.
- As the Vedic religion evolved into classical orthodox Hinduism (ca. 500BC), the social ideas advanced by Manu gained prominence, and large sections of Indian society moved towards patriarchy and caste-based rules. Manu and others attacked the Gandharva and other similar systems, decrying them as holdouts “from the time of promiscuity” which, at best, were only suitable for small sections of society. Under the system, they advocated (sometimes called Manuvad), women were stripped of their traditional independence and placed permanently in male custodianship.
- It is also speculated that parental control of marriage may have emerged during this period as a mechanism to prevent the intermixing of ethnic groups and castes.
- With the passage of time, polygamy and polyandry were gradually replaced by monogamy as a social norm but bigamy in one or other forms is still seen in society. With the evolution of civilization, marriage came to be recognized as a religious, holy, sacramental bond and the wife became just a respectable member in the home. Vedic literature generally endorsed monogamy and was considered the best practice of the highest virtue.
- After all these changes whatever was left of us were strategically turned backward by the Britishers. Just because they were unfamiliar or too dumb to understand our culture and origin. Hence knowingly or unknowingly we dropped all our values one by one.
Nevertheless, the silver lining here is – as society has advanced, the Hindu marriage has gone through various changes. Even values attached to it have changed tremendously. Individuals now are selecting their mates according to their own requirements. Many are not getting into matrimonial alliances until they are ready. In addition to this, we are demolishing the concept of child marriage and encouraging widow remarriages.
I would really suggest parents let their children or any individual take the final call. Irrespective of the biological clock, age, gender, caste, or class. Marriage is considered to be a sacred institution in India and not a duty that has to be compulsorily performed. The bond is supposed to last for seven lifetimes. And when it is considered to be a turning point in an individual’s life as he/she enters the second important phase or ashram of his life – the ‘Grahasthyaashram’ it should not be rushed. Right?