Hindu Marriage: Manu talking about Marriage in the Manu Smriti

Marriage systems and traditions were established in ancient India over an extended period of sustained imbibing and processing –and gradual codification– of social mores by scholars and thinkers. The codification may have taken hundreds of years, or it may have occurred relatively quickly. It may have been passed on orally initially –like the Vedas– or may have been rendered in written form ab initio. Commentaries made by many savants are available to this day. As is well known, the Puranas and the Upanishads are a major source of Hindu recorded wisdom. There is also a series of books known as smritis which are rich sources of Hindu tradition.

Two important lawgivers in these traditions were Manu and Yagyavalkya or Yajnavalkya. They were as important to the Aryans of Aryavart as Hammurabi was to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. Manu was the more ancient of the two, and he propagated many ideas, some of which would have led to serious criminal charges being laid against him in modern day India. These ideas relate to the position of what were called the lower castes in those times. Today there is serious opposition to Manu's ideas from the traditionally oppressed classes which are now known as dalits in India. Interestingly, many leaders of the dalits continue to refer to the former so called upper castes as upper castes. These leaders include a lady who has been and continues to be a major state level and national leader.

Yagyavalkya was the more evolved of the two (himself and Manu), but he too was not entirely sinless as far as his attitude towards the so-called lower castes was concerned. More about him later. For now we will concentrate on Manu, and his Manu Smriti.

(It is also interesting to note that though Manu has been disowned and discarded by the powers that be in our democracy, his smriti continues to provide a large portion of the bases and philosophical grounds for various provisions in marriage law for Hindus. This may be considered distressing in view of the fact that Manu has been repudiated precisely because of his smriti. Social mores have also progressed, and the homogeneity that existed in those times has been atomised and coloured in lakhs or crores of hues seen over lakhs or crores of pixellated and amorphous social formations.)

Manu Smriti is vast in its scope. It purports to explain all of the cosmos, the nature of human beings, and the path that men and women should follow, amongst a host of other things. It goes from the beginning of creation to its end. It proclaims the law on behaviour and conduct of all the four Varnas, the process of Creation, the various sacraments (sanskaars) of a Hindu from conception to birth, life, death, and beyond. It also lays down the rules to be followed by a student vis-à-vis his studies and his guru –the equivalent of a modern university's ordinances or calendar, and more.

It declares the norms for relationships between men and women and men and men; the law governing bachelors, married men, retired persons, and renunciation; the law regarding rightful livelihood; the law on marriage; the ways to obtain salvation (moksha). It describes the provenance of intermediate or mixed castes; the way of administering justice; the laws of various lands; the law about gambling; the ways to remove obstacles and villains; and many many other things.

Manu talks about sruti and smriti. Sruti is the knowledge which has been received by mankind via revelation, while smriti is the aggregate of the traditions that keep Hindu culture alive, united, and coherent in his view. Examples of the first are the Gita and the vedas. Interestingly he mentions that two srutis can state conflicting views and can both be valid simultaneously.

Manu was one of the earliest to mention clearly that the stage of life after the brahmcharya ashram is the grihastha ashram. The former is the first part of life, during which a young man goes from being born to being a student and learning about the scriptures. This ashram is entered into by all men of the twice born castes, i.e. Brahmans, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas. All of these castes are eligible –and required– to study the vedas, but they are not all eligible to teach the same. Only a Brahman can be permitted to teach this revealed knowledge to his own and other castes.

The minimum requirement for a Hindu man to get married is to find a chaste woman from his own caste, or an equal caste –virginity being as important as caste. Manu further says that only a woman with auspicious marks on her body may be married. This leads to the inevitable suspicion that Manu did not want Hindu men to marry disabled women. Manu goes on to mention several categories of women who cannot be married. These include epileptic women. Amazingly, instead of removing this oppressive condition from statute, the framers of the Hindu Marriage Act made it possible to get marriages annulled if either the man or the woman in that marriage was an epileptic. This is too good! Don't eliminate the oppression of women. Just oppress men equally and call it even. This condition was removed from the relevant law near the end of the twentieth century.

A few other categories of women who cannot be married are sapindas of the Hindu man on his mother's side, or women who are related to him on his father's side of the family; those who suffer certain specified diseases; women named after constellations (so all men who get married to women named Swati are breaking Manu's Law!); or women who have fear-inducing names (no Kalis, Kalindikas, Chamundas, Kaal Bhairavis or perhaps even Durgas). He disallows women who belong to families which do not follow vedic rituals; women who are named after rivers (no Gomatis, Narmadas or Mandakinis); women who are named after trees (no Ambikas or Kadambaris); women who are named after birds (no Sarikas); and women who have no brothers. Recently a census officer announced that the present gender ratio in Delhi is the highest in recorded history, i.e. in the last 111 years. Manu's proscription explains why the sex ratio was low before the invention of Amnioscentesis. Manu also forbids marrying a woman whose father is not known, in order to avoid the possibility of committing incest.

Manu permits second marriages. He is in fact much more liberal in terms of caste requirements in the case of second marriages than in first marriages. He says that any man can marry any woman of his own caste or a lower caste should he decide to take a second wife. This in part shows the concept of Anuloma and Pratiloma; the first being a marriage between a man of a higher caste and a woman of a lower caste. Such a marriage is permitted. The other kind ­–Pratiloma–­ is not. However, this comes with the proviso that any Brahman who takes a Shudra wife as his second wife will go to hell after death if he sleeps with her. If he happens to procreate with her, he will lose his caste and acquire her caste. Should this make us deduce that losing caste was worse than going to hell for Manu?

Anuloma and Pratiloma today can be seen all over the world. The only difference is that instead of caste, the status of the groom is determined by his financial standing vis-à-vis the bride. The first one is called hypergamy in our times, and is also called "marrying up" in common parlance. It is commonly observed that women marry men who are above them in financial status, and hypergamy is the aim of most women in life. The modern equivalent of Pratiloma is called hypogamy (or emotional foolishness when a woman does it, according to most 'well wishers').

One quasi-famous movie actress –who is the daughter of a popular actor of the 1980s and 1990s who refuses to grow fat or to start looking his age– mentioned in an interview that any prospective suitor would have to be "more successful, more famous, better looking(...?), and richer than me". A beauty queen turned actress from the 1990s was quoted as saying that she would only marry a man who could afford her. There is some justification in the view that such women are destined to live alone for the rest of their lives. When a successful movie star married her boyfriend and started demanding that she would only act in movies if the boyfriend was cast opposite her, she quickly lost currency. She is apparently still happily married to the man, and they have no financial problems.

Manu also mentions eight types of weddings. These are –in decreasing order of merit–

1) Brahma Vivaha (wedding rites followed by Lord Brahma and by Brahmans) – In this way of conducting weddings, the father of the bride gives her away to a knower of the Vedas –invited by the father himself– after decorating the bride with jewellery and fine clothes.

This type of wedding finds resonance in the modern system where the father of an eligible girl looks for a highly educated groom. Little do such parents realise that they are imitating other parents, who lived in ancient times. The modern modification to this system is that the desirable groom must also be financially successful. This renders the analogy meaningless, as knowers of the Vedas in ancient times were almost invariably poor.

2) Daiva Vivah (rites followed by the gods) – In this type of wedding the father of the bride gives her away to the officiating priest at a yagya or a yajna (a sacrifice), while the yajna is ongoing.

Such betrothals are extinct today as far as this writer knows.

3) Arsha Vivaha (the rite of the rishis) – In this type of Hindu wedding, the father of the bride gives her away to a groom who gifts to the father one cow and one bull or two cows and two bulls.

This happens in modern times. But the Asura Vivaah and the third type in this natural progression –which finds no mention in Manu's work– is more common now. (Guess what the third type is?)

4) Pragapatya Vivaah (wedding ala prajapatis)– In this type of wedding, the father of the bride gives her away to any groom after blessing the couple, and honouring the groom.

This is also fairly common today, and a combination of this and part of the first type appears to be prevalent in ritualised weddings in India.

5) Asura Vivaah (the system of the asuras)– In this type of Hindu wedding, the groom voluntarily gives as much money and gifts as he can afford to give to the bride and to her family in order to get her consent for marriage.

6) Gaandharva Vivah (wedding in the way followed by gandharvas)– In this type of wedding, a man seduces a woman and takes her as his wife by virtue of the seduction, without any rites whatsoever.

This is simply another name for the eternal dance between men and women.

7) Rakshasa Vivaah (the system of the rakshasas)– In this type of 'wedding', the killer or assaulter of a woman's family members or father takes her as his wife by kidnapping and raping her. This may have the added highlight of the man breaking into the woman's house.

This is called assault, kidnapping, dacoity, and rape today. Any man who perpetrates this stands a great chance of getting free government hospitality for the rest of his life. If killing is a part of the 'wedding' then the government is pretty much guaranteed to provide a free ride to another region of the universe these days to the lucky groom.

8) Paisaka Vivah (wedding in the manner of pishaachas, or lost souls)– In this type of 'wedding', a man rapes a sleeping or intoxicated or imbecile woman. This is the basest of all methods, and is forbidden on pain of incurring grave demerit.

This is pure sociopathy and/or lunacy, although there is a debate about the 'intoxicated woman' part of this phenomenon.

Manu also mentions the merit or demerit earned by entering marriage via each of these types of methods. He details out the number of generations of ancestors and descendants whose souls the sons born out of such marriages can save by acting virtuously. He adumbrates the various ways and times in which a man may approach his wife sexually. He talks extensively about the castes of children born from inter-caste marriages.

Manu also talks about the honour and adornments which are every woman's due, and declares that the family or society where women are not honoured will be destroyed in short order. He decries those forms of marriage in which the father of the bride accepts gifts from the groom. He makes no mention of dowry though he praises fathers who adorn their daughters with fine clothes and jewellery, as he does similarly placed husbands, brothers, and sons. People who have seen Hindu wedding rituals might remember that the father of the bride declared at the time of giving her away to the groom that he had dressed her up in fine clothes and jewellery to the best of his ability.

You may wish to read an article about Hindu Marriage: Origin and Persistent Traits 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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