MARRIAGE AND MORALS
Hindus: According to the Hindu Dharmashastra, it is obligatory on every person to marry since vivaha (marriage) is one of the sharira-samskaras, i.e., sacraments sanctifying the body, through each of which every man and woman must pass at the proper age and time. The institution as such has, however, been hedged in with several rules and restrictions which fall under two main heads, viz., endogamy and exogamy. Thus, a Hindu may not, and usually does not, marry outside his own caste or sub-caste which according to social custom or usage is considered endogamous. The caste or sub-caste forms the outer circle within which a man must marry. Outside it are a further set of restrictions which prohibit the marriage of persons related through males. These are called exogamous groups or class and their name among the higher castes is gotra. The theory is that all persons belonging to the same gotra are descended from the same male
ancestor and so they are related. The system of exogamous gotra based as it is on descent from males suffices to prevent the union of persons nearly related on the father's side but not those on the mother's side which are, therefore, regulated by another set of rules. In the twice-born castes, marriage is usually avoided between persons related on the woman's side, within three or some times five degrees. The marriage of the children of two sisters is prohibited. The marriage of the children of a brother and sister is, however, common among most castes, whether high or low; only the Chitpavan Brahmans frown upon it. Hinduism permits taking more than one wife but few people do so. Now this practice was made illegal in Maharashtra State long ago and the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 has completely reformed the law relating to Hindu marriages all over India and has made monogamy compulsory among all classes of Hindus.
Widow-marriage and divorce: Widow-marriage was once strictly prohibited among Brahmans and other similar high castes, the reasoning behind the prohibition being that marriage is the only sacrament for a woman and she could go through it only once. Even now, though widow-marriage is legally permissible, it is not resorted to among higher castes but in a very few cases. But it has been current among most lower caste Hindus and also the hill-tribes.
Dowry: Hindu Dharmashastra has traditionally recognised eight forms of marriages, i.e., methods of consecrating a marriage union. Of these, in modern times only two are in vogue, viz., Brahma and Asura. Conforming with the Brahma form of marriage, generally among higher castes, a hunda (dowry-property which a woman brings to her husband) is paid by the bride's parents to the bride-groom. Among lower castes, the bride's parents usually take what is called dej (bride-price) thereby conforming to the Asura form. The monetary aspect in the settlement of a marriage may take various forms such as salankrit kanyadan in which the bride's father not only gives hunda and ornaments to the bride, but also bears the expenses of the ceremony for both sides. The kanyadan form does not impose much expense on the bride's father. In the vara-paksha vadhu-paksha form the parties bear their own expenses, stand each other's manpan and feasts.
It may be pointed out here that what the Dharmashastra prescribes for a Brahma form is varadakshina, present to the bride-groom in the form of some valuables, besides the bride. Dakshina implies that something over and above dan, i.e., gift has to be given to fulfil the purpose. But in practice it has assumed the form of hunda which is recovered in a number of ways.
Enactments: Social usage in relation to Hindu marriage has been considerably affected by various legal enactments passed, perhaps right
from 1833, when the regulation prohibiting sati was declared. A common form of civil marriage for all communities in India was provided by the Civil Marriage Act III of 1872 which made it possible for an Indian of whatever caste or creed to enter into a valid marriage with a person belonging to any caste or creed, provided the parties registered the contract of marriage, declaring, inter alia, that they did not belong to any religion. This Act was amended by Act XXX of 1923, making it possible for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains (but not Christians, Jews, Muhammedans and Parsees) to declare their religion and yet get their marriage registered. The Child Marriage Restraint Act XIX of 1929, as amended by Act 19 of 1946, prohibited marriages of boys of 18 years of age and girls under 14 years of age. The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act XXVIII of 1946 validated marriages between parties belonging to the same gotra or to different sub-divisions of the same caste. Above all, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, has abrogated and modified all past laws. In effect, it has made Hindu marriage strictly adult and monogamous; it has done away with the caste and gotra restrictions which limited the field of marriage. It has also laid down definite conditions under which a decree of nullity and further of dissolution of marriage could be obtained.
As marriage from the Hindu point of view created an in-dissoluble tie between husband and wife, divorce was not known to the general Hindu law. Neither party to a marriage could, therefore, divorce the other unless divorce was allowed by custom. The Indian Divorce Act, 1869, provided, inter alia, for dissolution of marriage but it applied only to cases where the petitioner or respondent professed the Christian religion (section 2 of the Act). However, according to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, reliefs by way of judicial separation, declaration of nullity of marriage and divorce are recognised (sections 10 to 13).
Marriage ceremonies: When a marriage among Hindus, particularly among high caste Hindus, is about to take place, the priests from both the sides fix the day and hour of the auspicious event in common consultation and generally it is the priest belonging to the bride's side who generally officiates with his assistants.
The essential marriage rituals are: Vangnishchaya, Simantapujana, Madhuparka, Antarpat, Sutraveshtana, Panigrahana, Lajahoma, Saptapadi etc. and occasionally Airanipradana. In interpretation of these shastric injunctions from grihyasutras, the following ceremonies are gone through in a popular way: —
Akshad: When the wedding day is fixed, invitations by way of printed letters are sent round beginning with the house-gods. On an auspicious day, the relatives of the bride and bride-groom go together in a procession to the temples of Ganapati and Devi to invite the god
and goddess and offer them coconuts, betel-leaves, kumkum etc. The priest accompanying the procession invokes the god to be present at the wedding and ward off all evil. Next a married pair from each party go round inviting friends and relations.
Simantapujan: In the evening previous to the marriage-day, the ceremony of Simantapujan or worship of the village-boundary takes place. Parents of the girl with relatives go to the bride-groom's house with gifts. They first worship Ganapati there (represented by a betel-nut), Varuna (represented by a water-pot), a lamp and the earth. Then they wash the feet of the bride-groom and offer him a new dress. Next, the bride's mother washes the feet of the bride-groom's mother and fills her and her female relations' laps with wheat and pieces of dry coconut kernel. The assembled guests are presented with betel-leaves and betel-nuts and Brahmans with money gifts.
Vangnishchaya: The ceremony of oral agreement takes place at night. The bride-groom's parents and their relations go to the bride's house with a dress and ornaments for the bride. The fathers of the bride and bride-groom exchange a coconut and embrace each other. The bride-groom's father presents the bride with ornaments and dress brought for her. After the distribution of betel-leaves and betel-nuts, they disperse.
Halad: In the morning of the wedding-day, the bride is rubbed with turmeric paste at her house by some married ladies of both sides. The remaining portion of the paste is taken to the groom's house where he is rubbed with it too.
Devakapratishtha: In the morning of the wedding-day, before the ceremony begins, the bride and her parents take a warm water-bath. After changing clothes and bowing to the house-gods and elderly persons of the family, the bride's parents begin the ceremony of installation of deities which consists of the worship of the planets (represented by betel-nuts), Ganapati, Varuna and Avighnakalasha. The avighnakalasha is an earthen jar daubed with white and red lines. It contains turmeric roots, betel-nuts, a copper coin and sweet-meats and its mouth is covered with an earthen lid tied to it with a piece of cotton thread, passed round several times. It is prayed to keep off all evil. This ceremony takes place at the house of the bride-groom also.
Gauripujan: Gauripujan is performed only by the bride. She worships in the house Goddess Parvati or Gauri and sits there till the wedding time praying the Goddess with such words "Gauri, Gauri, grant me a happy wifehood and long life to him who is coming at my door-steps."
When the time for the wedding draws near, a party from the bride's side takes several dishes of sweetmeats to the bride-groom's house
and serves them to the bride-groom and his relations. The bride-groom is worshipped and presented with articles of dress by the bride's father. The priest then asks the bride-groom to bow to the house-gods and the elders. The bride-groom, garlanded and dressed in new clothes with a finger-mark of lamp-black on his either cheek, rides a horse or is seated in a car. He is taken in a procession to the bride's house, the females walking just behind him and the males behind the females.
When the procession reaches the bride's house, cooked rice mixed with curds is waved in the bride-groom's face. Next the bride's mother washes the feet of the bride-groom's mother who returns to her place as she is supposed to hear the marriage verses. The bride-groom is then led to the marriage-booth where the priests set two low stools and make the bride and the bride-groom stand on them facing each other. A curtain or antarpat marked with swastik is stretched between the pair so that they may not see each other. They are given garlands of flowers to hold and are told to look at the swastik on the curtain and to pray to their family-gods. Red rice Mangalakshatas is distributed to the guests. The priests standing on either side of the curtain start chanting mangalashtakas (auspicious verses) and then, the assembled guests and relatives throw the reddened rice at the pair at the conclusion of each verse. When the chanting comes to an end, the curtain is removed to the north side amidst the noise of clapping and drums and pipes. The eyes of the boy and the girl meet. The bride first puts the garland in her hands round the neck of the bride-groom and then he does likewise. They then throw the mixture of rice-grains etc., over each other's head. Guests, relations and friends are entertained. Each is given a flower bouquet, a sprinkling of rose-water, a smearing of attar and pan-supari. They are regaled with spiced milk or sweet drinks. Money is distributed among Brahman priests.
An elaborate rite known as kanyadana by which the parents of the girl hand her over to the bride-groom's care and request him to treat her kindly and well during her life-time is held. The pair is then led to the altar where a rite called lajahoma sacrifice is held. A fire is kindled. The priest asks the pair to worship it and throw parched rice and ghee into it. Next they are asked to take oaths that they will be each other's partners for weal or woe during their life-time. These oaths are taken with the fire, the earth, the priests and the gods as witnesses. Seven small heaps of rice are then made on the altar, and a betel-nut is placed on each of them. The priests recite mantras and the bride-groom lifts the bride's right foot and places it on the heaps in succession. When the seventh heap is crossed the rite of marriage is complete. This is called saptapadi.
This done, the priest passes cotton thread round the pair twelve
times which is then taken off and divided into two parts. The pair are asked to fasten these on each other's wrists. These rites are called Sutraveshtana and kankanabandhana. The bride is presented with a sari and choli and her lap filled with wheat, a coconut and some fruits by the priest and some suvasinis. This is followed by what is known as sunmukh. The bride-groom's mother puts on the bride all the ornaments made for her and looks at her face. She presents the daughter-in-law with new clothes and puts sugar in her mouth. The next ceremony is called sal or Airanipradan. A zal or airani is a wickerwork basket containing several gifts such as coconuts, betel-nuts, fruits, cooked food etc., which is presented by the bride's father to the bride-groom's mother and other relatives. The basket is held on the head of the person to be honoured and while some water is poured on it, the priest on behalf of the bride's father says: "We have given you this good-natured daughter, well-nourished and healthy, and request you to treat her as your own."
The bride and the bride-groom then set out to the house of the bride-groom in a procession in a carriage with musical bands playing and accompanied by males and females from both sides. This is called Varat. On reaching home the goddess of wealth is worshipped by the pair. This is called Lakshmipujan. At this time, the name of the bride is changed. She is given a new name by which she is known afterwards in her husband's family. Pansupari and sweets are distributed among all present and Brahmans are given dakshina. A ritualistic closure to the marriage ceremony is put with the rites whereby the deities that had been invited before the ceremony began are given a formal farewell and the marriage-booth is dismantled. Social exchange of feasts ends the ceremony. This is the standard way of marriage celebration among most of the Hindus.
Christians: The prescribed form of marriage for the Christian community is monogamy, i.e., one husband and one wife and they may have marital relation only with each other. It will be unthinkable for Christians to think in terms of polygamy or polyandry as they are strictly prohibited by the Christian Churches. The marital age allowed by them to boys and girls is 18 and 16 years respectively except in the Catholic Church where the canonical age for marriage for boy and girl is 16 and 14 respectively. But the consent of the parents is required since the parties to the marriage would be minors in such a case.
Close blood relationship constitutes an impediment to marriage among Christians. Brother and sister, uncle and niece or aunt and nephew cannot marry. As regard consanguinity of a lesser degree marriages between first cousins and even second cousins are generally discouraged. They may be allowed only with a special dispensation of the Church.
Christianity does not recognise man-made caste distinctions and therefore there can be inter-caste marriages among Christians. However, it is quite usual among Indian Christians to pay attention to caste considerations when marriages are arranged by parents.
According to Christian theory, marriage is a permanent irrevocable contract between man and woman to live together on terms of the deepest human friendship and found a family. This bond of union is further deepened by the fact that the same contract becomes a sacrament by a ceremony. Since marriage is a contract, its essence lies in the free consent of each party to the contract at the time the contract is entered into and for that reason free consent of the parties is all important and is given the central place in the liturgical celebration of marriage.
The Catholic Church, therefore, enjoins permanency of the marriage-bond which is dissolved only with the death of one of the parties. Divorce is not granted under any circumstances. However, the Church uses its good offices to help husband and wife to patch up their differences and if continued ill-treatment or neglect by one of the parties or infidelity is proved, a separation without the right to marry any other person is granted. In the case of the other Christian Churches, divorce is permitted with the right to re-marry any one else. The Anglian Church, however, does not allow divorce as a principle, but tolerates it in practice. As the bond of matrimony is held to have dissolved with the death of one of the parties, the living party is then free to re-marry.
Since Christian marriage is recognised by the Government of India as per the Christian Marriage Act, the necessity of civil marriage does not arise. The priest officiating at the marriage has to record the details in the Marriage Register which is signed by the bridal couple and a copy of the record is sent to the Government. However, in cases, especially when there is an impediment in the marriage, the bridal couple goes directly to the Magistrate to be legally married.