Origin of Hindu Marriage: Lessons for Hindus from Kardama and Devahuti's Marriage

Hinduism is widely accepted as the oldest religion in the world. The proto Hindu people did not identify themselves by the title 'Hindu'. They referred to themselves as the 'Arya' people –a word which can be translated into English as 'Aryan'. Their name for their religion was 'Dharma', which means 'Duty'. They used this word because the concept of religion in a generic sense did not exist at that time, since theirs was the only religion in existence.

The concept of a family is older than Hinduism, older than civilisation, and indeed older than the species itself. Hindus inherited this concept from their forefathers who had not followed any religion, and practiced it in its purest natural form, permitting polygamy, monogamy and polyandry depending upon the location and circumstances.

Social structures in mythology are invariably a reflection of the extant social structures at the time and place of myth creation. As such, we can make out that polygamy, monogamy, and polyandry were familiar phenomena around the time when the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were written, though it may perhaps not be wise to conjecture as to how common each of these systems was just on the basis of this evidence. One thing, however, which can be observed from an analysis of this body of literature is that only men and women of high social standing were able to have more than one spouse. Monogamy was the lot of the rest of society –or its good fortune, call it what you will.

Although gods and kings would usually have more than one wife, the role of one of these ladies in their lives was usually recognised as being predominant by most observers, and their historical and mythical descriptions dwelled more on this consort. Rishis were usually shown as having only the one wife, or none at all. Shiv-Parvati, Vishnu-Lakshmi, Brahma-Saraswati, Indra-Shachi, Ram-Sita, and Vashishtha-Arundhati are all married pairs recognised and respected by more than a billion Hindus.

It was considered a worthy aim –deserving prolonged efforts– to meet and marry a good member of the opposite sex. Even the Lord of Lords Himself, Shiva is but shava (corpse) without Shakti, according to oft quoted sastric sources. So don't think that you are a lesser human being because you are missing your nightly dose, or are slowly withering away for this reason. The other side of this is that women are almost totally dependent upon men for providing them security. In Hindu mythology, women usually derived their identity from their husbands or other men. Even a powerful figures like Draupadi was powerful due to Lord Krishna's affection for her. Sita ji was also King Janak's daughter. It is said about Janak that Kuber himself was envious of this king's wealth. This is not to deprecate the tremendous force that Sita ji was. She was indeed the embodiment of Adi Shakti herself. But what can be surmised from the fact that there is practically no notable adult female in this body of work who is not married, while such men are aplenty?

It is instructive to read about the life of Maharishi Kardam / Kardama to get a glimpse into the Hindu view of marriage and the good that it can bring to individual persons and/or society. It may be stated that this story shows many facets of the Hindu view on life itself, and not just marriage, if marriage can indeed be justifiably prefixed with the word 'just'.

Kardama Rishi is no small figure in the Hindu pantheon. He is recognised as a son of the Creator, Lord Brahma himself. He is the father of Sage Kapil –avatar of Lord Vishnu and as the most perfect of beings according to Lord Krishna in the Mahabharat/Gita ("Amongst perfect beings I am the Sage Kapila").

Kardama is also the father-in-law of nine great rishis, each of whom is recognised as a powerful and venerated figure by Hindus. Five of them are especially notable, namely Atri, Vashishtha, Bhrigu, Pulastya, and Angiras or Angira. The other four are no less in their penance and powers, although not mentioned as often in the scriptures as the other five. These are Marichi, Pulaja or Pulah, Kratu, and Atharva. It is interesting to note that at least eight of these men (this writer cannot be bothered to research the background of Atharva at this point in time) are sons of Brahma, just like their father-in-law Kardama. These rishis are amongst the ten sons considered to have been born from either the mind or various parts of the body of Brahma, whereas Kardama is the only one who is considered to have been born from the shadow of Brahma.

Rishi Kardama conducted penance on the banks of the Saraswati river for ten thousand years, following the advice of his father to propitiate Lord Vishnu in order to obtain an ideal woman. This shows the extent to which a Hindu man is expected to go in order to win a fair maiden. Indeed, the effort which a modern day man puts into obtaining education and reaching a satisfactory place in his career is substantially directed towards attracting a worthy woman.

The Lord appeared before him and asked him his desire. This is a concept which is engrained in the Hindu mind, and has been put into words by the poet,

"Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda bande se ye poochhe bata teri raza kya hai"

i.e. the worshipper forces God Himself to come to him and ask his desire.

Sage Kardama requested the Lord to give him a wife to "fulfill my lustful desires". The great rishi phrases his desire for noble progeny in such language! This is reflective of the man's humbleness, and shows the self-deprecation that every Hindu is expected to practice, as a part of his religious duty to be humble. Incidentally, this writer has observed that people belonging to oppressed classes in his country –or coming from such a background– are (taught (by the government, judiciary, and industrialist-owned media) to be) self-deprecating to such an extent that their behaviour and values amount to self defeating personality disorder. This leads to them being oppressed perpetually by themselves and by narcissists, individually as well as as a class. This phenomenon can commonly be seen amongst farmers in India, and has been depicted deliberately or sub-consciously in popular culture by Bimal Roy and Mehboob Khan in their movie tours de force, Do Bigha Zameen, and Mother India.

The lord told Rishi Kardama that Swayambhuv Manu and Shatrupa will come to him themselves and offer their daughter Devahuti, who was renowned for her beauty, and upon seeing whom from his aircraft, a gandharva got hypnotised and fell to the ground. Pleased to hear such words from the Lord, Kardama prostrated himself at His feet.

Swayambhuva Manu and Shatrupa were both children of Brahma, but it would perhaps not be correct to call them brother and sister since they were born out of two Brahmas (google it(I am talking to you, not to myself))(should I tell them (now (nice beer (Saturday and Tuborg, great combination(!)) I am talking to myself) that it was actually two halves of Brahma?). Well actually, they were born out of two halves of Brahma. They were created after the Lord felt that his ten sons were perhaps not upto the job of populating the universe, and he hit upon the idea of sexual propagation of species.

Narad Muni –another son of Brahma and a great devotee of Lord Vishnu who was born as Lord Hanuman in the Treta Yuga– had already done the work of a mediator by going to Swayambhuv Manu's palace and meeting Devahuti. Narad's stellar description of Kardama's coruscant personality had captured Devahuti's imagination, and the chaste princess was well and truly lovestruck.

Narad's role as a mediator here shows the importance of the mediator in traditional Indian marriages. A mediator could become a mediator even without meeting any of the parties –and this still happens in many parts of Indian society. They just need to be a person of good social standing who is directly or indirectly known to both parties. Alternatively, there can be two mediators who are known to each other, one from each side. In villages in northern India, barbers used to play the role of mediators in marriages. Many Indians of two generations ago will tell you that their marriage was fixed by a barber from their village. Even today, even law enforcement authorities try to talk to the mediator when something goes wrong in a marriage and the matter is brought to their notice.

Devahuti's status as a chaste bride who is enamoured by just the description of a prospective mate, and –as the perceptive observer will note– by the fact that the person who is being described is a prospective mate shows that the high value placed in Indian society upon virginity of a woman before marriage is not misplaced, if making wives fall in love with their husbands is one of the aims of marriage. This writer would disagree with Mario Puzo's (derisive?) comment about virginity being prized in primitive societies (Sicily episode) if he could nail the definition of primitive society. Let it be mentioned here that in the three cultures apart from India which this writer has seen from close quarters, bridal virginity is highly valued by certain sections of society.

Narada's visit to Swayambhuv Manu and Shatrupa shows the role of the parents of the prospective bride in making a decision which is one of the most important decisions in her life. His meeting with Devahuti shows the importance of getting the girl's consent. The girl herself is the final decision maker within her family, and the boy is invariably of a higher social standing. The girl's guardians visit the boy's home after getting her consent and the boy normally insists upon having the final word. This is very logical, because unless the woman falls in love with the man first, and then vice-versa, the marriage is doomed to fail. In earlier days, the boy used to give his consent after meeting the girl's guardians. Later the system changed to adapt to the need of the boy to see the girl once before consenting. Today people live-in together for a few months or years and then get married, but still the divorce rate is shooting up.

Swayambhuv Manu and Shatrupa approached Kardama Rishi and requested him to accept their daughter's hand. Kardama graciously agreed. The chaste Devahuti was married to him, and he conjured up a great aircraft which was bigger than a city, and had many palaces and pleasure gardens, and thousands of handmaidens and manservants to obey every desire of Devahuti. The handmaidens gave Devahuti the ancient equivalent of the full beauty treatment, and the newly married couple set off on their pleasure tour across the universe. They flew for ten thousand years, and then after they came back they had nine daughters.

This episode shows the importance of the honeymoon in ancient India. Newly married couples need to spend time with each other in order to well and truly fall in love with each other, and to create a strong bond between them. The appearance of children only after their return to Earth seems to be unusual, but what is not possible for the son of the Creator Himself? Perhaps he decided to not impregnate his wife until the time came to return.

Later on, Sage Kardama set off again on his penances after making Devahuti pregnant with the sage Kapila or Kapiladeva, an avtar of Lord Vishnu. Devahuti learnt the secrets of the Vedas from her son, and they all ascended to Vaikunth Lok ultimately.

This shows the importance of Sanyas Ashram in the Hindu system. Many of us have seen the various ashrams of a man's life described in a humorous fashion in the modern classic film Padosan.

It is shown in the above story that a couple can attain salvation if they fulfill all their household and religious duties.

You may wish to read an article about Hindu Marriage: Earliest Codification - Manu and Manu Smriti and/or an article about Hindu Marriage: Yajnavalkya and his Enduring Smriti and/or an article about Hindu Marriage during Muslim Rule and/or an article about Hindu Marriage: Progress under British Rule.

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Published by Manish Udar

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Last updated on 03rd December 2013
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