WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE IN HINDU CULTURE IN THE PAST
(Discourse by N. R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, September 2014)
Going through Ramayana and Mahabharata it is clear, Polygamy, Polygyny and Polyandry were freely practiced in Hindu society in ancient times without any taboo and had the religious approval. These are not looked upon with favor by Hindu Orthodoxy in modern days and many think these have no religious sanction. These are also regulated by governmental regulations. While divorce is recognized by government it is not approved by Hindu orthodoxy.
Contrary to the general understanding, Polygamy is a marriage in which spouse of either may have more than one mate at the same time. This practice is revealed by Pandu and Kunti in Mahabharata. Polygyny is the state or practice of having more than one wife or female mate at one time. Polyandry is the state or practice of having more than one husband or male mate at one time.
Baalakanda, chapter XIV Sloka 35 of Ramayana says, "The four arch-priests officiating at the horse sacrifice (Putrakameshti yaaga) namely the Hotaa, the Adhvaryu, the Udgaataa and the Brahmaa caused the king’s second wife (ordinarily belonging to Vaisya Class and bearing the generic name of Vaavaataa) along with the first wife (bearing the class name of Mahishee) as well as third wife (known by the class name of Parivritti) to be brought into contact with the horse".
The kings in ancient India generally had three wives. The first of them, who was required to be a Kshatriya princess and was consecrated along with her husband during the ceremony of installation on the throne, bore the generic title MAHISHI. The second one, who could be taken from the Vaisya class, was known by the name of Vavaataa. The third wife could be taken from Soodra class who was known by the name Parivritti. In the case of Dasaratha, all the three queens named Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi were Kshatriya princess. Vishnu is always identified with two wives Sridevi and Bhudevi. Murugan in Tamil Nadu is always worshiped with his two inseparable wives Valli and Devayanai. While Valli is a hunter’s daughter of low caste Devayanai is from heaven and the daughter of Indra. Thus Lord Subhramanya’s wedding is always celebrated at inter-planetary level, both Indraloka and earth and also brides from very low caste of humans and superior class of divines. This also gave license and the practice to marry the girl of one’ own caste as well as from lower castes. Sri Rama was an exception and moved away from the normal convention of the society while Vishnu had two wives Sridevi and Bhoodevi. He was praised for his Ekapatni Vrata, Vow to have one wife. His brothers followed him. Lakshmana's wife was Urmila. Bharata's wife was Mandavi and Satrughna's was Srutikeerti. It looks as though Rama was trying to redefine the codes of marriage or stricter of Maanava Dharma and married life while Krishna seems to have relaxed some rules, was practical and human in his approach. Pandava brothers not only shared Draupadi but also had their own additional wives and children. Draupadi had five husbands. All these marriages had religious approval and were solemnized, blessed by elders.
Divorce and remarriage of women were allowed under very special conditions during Vedic period and is also mentioned in Brihadarnyaka Upanishad. Shaving of the hair and wearing red sari by the widows or their committing sahagamana or Sati (dying on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands) was not a religious mandate. Madri, Pandu's wife perhaps started the tradition? Later in Aryan Society a widower could remarry, but usually not a widow; she had to practice celibacy and live like a nun. This double standard probably existed because Aryan Society was male dominated. Divorce was not permitted later. Marriage was considered a sacrament and was meant to last the entire lifetime of the partners.
Srirama suspects the character of Sita, when Hanuman brought her back after killing Ravana, repudiates her and asks her to seek shelter elsewhere. He says in Ayodhyakaanda Chapter CXV slokas 19-25; “No man of spirit and born in a noble family would take back with an eager mind a woman who has dwelt in another's house. How can I accept you who were squeezed into the arms of Ravana? Set your mind on Lakshmana or even on Bharata according to your pleasure. Nay, fix your mind on Satrughna or even on Sugriva or on the ogre Vibhishana”. Rama also approved Tara, Vali's wife, marrying Sugriva, after Vali's death. Vali enjoyed Ruma Sugriva's wife snatching her away from Sugriva who sought refuge in Rishyamuka to save his life. Later Ruma was accepted by Sugriva though enjoyed by Vali. These clearly reflect in the culture and standards in the society of those days. A wife abducted, thrown out or divorced could remarry or join back her husband. A widow could remarry brother of her husband.
It is clear from this, inter-varna marriages that are termed as inter-caste marriages in modern society were quite normal and even encouraged particularly among Kshatriyas. Krishna had several wives and there is no need for special spiritual explanation like orthodoxy is trying to do to convince modern Hindu society. His love affair with Radha wedded to another man is also quite legal as per the then practices, known to his other wives and accepted by them and needs no special explanation. Radha was married to someone legally but Krishna was her eternal love. Krishna devotees often celebrate Radha-Krishna wedding. These should also come as a satisfactory explanation bringing comfort to Hindu American priests who are forced to conduct Hindu inter-caste marriages in Hindu temples by Braahma marriage as well as Inter-racial marriages in which one spouse is Hindu. But what sort of a Maangalyam the bride should wear? Mangalya dhaaranam has become a must in Hindu Braahma marriages. This could be a Swastika in inter-racial marriages which should please Hindus, Christians and Muslims or it could be the tradition of the Hindu Partner. In the case of inter-caste marriages this could be the traditional Thalis of both the partners or tiger tooth or Lakshmi Bindu. Since Mangalya Dhaaranam is not a Vedic tradition, anything pleasing and compromising should suit the occasion. Swastika lends itself to a beautiful pendant as a jewelry permanently worn. In Vedic period whole world was one family, Vasudeka Kutumbakam. Normally such marriages are not conducted in Hindu Temples in India today and also not looked upon with favor by orthodoxy restricted by Scriptural sanctions of latter days. This should also be a great comfort to religious Hindu American Parents who have no control over the choice marriages of their children.
In Balakanda sloka 46 of Chapter XVI there is a reference to "Swastika-sootha- Maagadhiyah" Sootas and Maaghadas pronounced benedictions by raising shouts of victory. But who are these Sootas and Maaghadas? Maaghadas are mixed class (Varna) born to Vaisya through a Kshatriya wife--Maagadah Kshatriyaavisoh (Amarakosa). Word Soota evidently denotes here the son of Kshatriya through a Brahmin wife (his business being a bard or charioteer). Braahmanyaam Kshatriyaat sootah (Amarakosa). They were respected and enjoyed high status in Society as could be learnt from the life of Sumanta, the charioteer of Dasaratha. It is clear from this that inter-varna marriages were quite common which can be called modern inter-caste marriages. It is also obvious Varnas were multiplying in Ramayana days and also Varnas were based on birth. Lord Krishna says he created four Varnas. Therefore other Varnas were man made which multiplied into castes and sub-castes later. New Varnas also had their own codes and followed their Dharma as per Bhagavadgeetaa--"Swadharme Nidhanam Sreyah", Death in one's own duty is better.
Ancient Rishis also had more than one wife often. They were not averse to satisfying their sex-urge calls, obliging sex urge of devoted girls and later moving away from it as could be learnt from the lives of Viswamitra, Paraasara, Bhishma, Indra and others. Sometimes it was also felt as a duty to maintain the lineage as happened in the case of Vichitraveerya’s wives through Vedavyaasa’s help and also in Raghu dynasty where the help of a Rishi was sought.
From all this it is very clear inter-caste Marriages were common and had no religious inhibition as in modern Religious Hindu society. Divorce and remarriage were allowed under very special conditions. Marriage codes were more relaxed to start with and later got restricted.
1) Srimad Valmiki Ramayana, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, India.
2) Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
3) Swami Harshananda, An Introduction to Hindu Culture, Ramakrishna Math, Bengaluru, India.
An astrologer’s expert opinion on present day Marriage practices
To my knowledge astrological matching boy’s and girl’s horoscope for holy matrimony was very rare back around 100 years or so! Only the Purohit (Priest) who conducted the marriage used to see the star and the Gotra. If both parties had doubt they used to go to a temple and place a white flower and a red flower in betel leaves separately. After placing the same before the presiding deity an innocent boy or girl would be asked pick one of the closed leaves. If they picked white flower they agreed for the marriage. If they picked the leaf with red flower they agreed to cancel that marriage proposal. This was the system prevailing then. I also do not feel astrological matching is a must for marriage. Manu Smriti says if the parents of the girl do not find a match for the girl before three years after the girl’s attaining puberty, she has every right to choose her partner. In Hindu marriage Panigrahanam and Kanyaka Daanam are to be performed during the Muhurtam. Muhurtam time is fixed to overcome all ill effects in the horoscope. During Mangalya Dhaaranam only a Sanskrit Sloka is chanted and not a sacred Vedic Mantra and therefore this is not the most sacred step as it is made out today. (Once three knots are tied the girl is bound to husband life-time and nothing can save the situation is the blind belief). In earlier days only a Kantha sootram was tied around the neck of the bridegroom for the occasion like the holy thread tied to the hand. You may also note that this sloka is also used during Shashthi-abdi-poorti celebrations (60th birthday of husband if wife is alive when the marriage ceremony is reenacted) Srimad Bhagavatam predicts Sangara Vargam (people marrying out of caste) would increase and gradually all caste system would fail in Chapter 12 while elaborating on Kaliyuga Lakshana” says our astrology expert. [Here is a justification for love marriage as well as inter-caste marriage too in Hinduism].