Hindu Marriage: Developments during Muslim Rule in India

Muslim rule in India was marked mostly by oppression of the Hindus. There were almost no enlightened kings, and even after the rulers had lived in India for generations, they referred to themselves as descendants of some foreign emperors, e.g. Timur / Taimur Lang / Tamerlane, or Changez Khan, or some other. Hindus were taxed at a higher rate because of their religion, they were not given high positions in the court or the bureaucracy, and they were forcibly converted to Islam.

Instead of a king being responsible for the welfare of his people, the concepts of a policy of blood and iron, and Jaziya (religion based tax) were introduced. It became commonplace to refer to the king as Zil-e-Ilahi or the shadow of God. Hindu fathers vied with each other to give their daughters in marriage to Muslim nobles or high officers. Hindu kings gave their daughters to the ruler of Delhi. Muslims were therefore recognised in effect as a higher caste than the highest Hindus, because Hindu society was not yet ripe enough to let go of the tradition of marrying into a higher caste. Most of these women were no better than concubines, though.

Despite all this oppression –which lasted about one millennium– India remained a Hindu majority country. But Hindu culture was pushed down to a level where philosophical, social, cultural, and scientific progress came down to almost zero. Social stratification in castes occurred. Caste, which used to be dependent upon occupation and perceived intellectual worth became impossible to change. Till date in our country a man can change his religion but he cannot change his caste. Introduction of newer and more oppressive social norms became commonplace. Hindu matrimonial law was no exception to this phenomenon. Manu's laws were further twisted to create more sadistic versions.

One rule is worth mentioning in this context to show the way Manu's rules were contorted. Manu had said that a Brahman has to take a Brahman lady as his first wife, and a woman from any other caste as his second wife. Similar rules obtained for the two other twice-born castes. The creative interpretation that came to prevail in these times was that a Brahman could only take a lady from his own caste as his first wife, a Kshatriya girl as his second wife, a Vaishya girl as his third wife, and a girl from any caste as his fourth or subsequent wife. Kshatriyas were restricted to women one step below Brahmans in each marriage. So on and so forth for the other two castes.

A variation of this rule was that a Brahman could have upto four wives (or even more, depending upon who you were talking to), a Kshatriya could have upto three wives, a Vaishya not more than two wives, and a 'Shudra' not more than one wife. The number of permitted wives in the case of the twice-born castes was sometimes mentioned as three, two, and one respectively.

Sati, or widow-burning came to be practiced with great vigour in this era, especially amongst the Kshatriya caste, and such women came to be glorified by historians. a great example is Queen Padmini of Chittor in Rajpootana, who is deified to this day in Rajasthan and in Indian history books for her refusal to submit to the lust of Alauddin Khilji –preferring her husband's funeral pyre instead of pride of place in the emperor's seraglio. Social reformers in the nineteenth century tried to eliminate this practice but failed to achieve their goal. Even in latter day India, examples like Roop Kanwar abound. Roop Kanwar was a woman who was forcibly burned on the day of her dead husband's cremation, on the same pyre where he was cremated, late in the 20th century. A small cult grew around her, and she was deified by large numbers of people as Sati Mata. Today, this practice has finally been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Sikhism was born in this era. It came to be as a result of the oppression which emanated from Delhi. The Khalsa Panth was the original name of this religion in those days, as it still is. Sikhism banned the caste system in theory, though in practice they were only able to eliminate the Brahman caste from their caste hierarchy. Inter-caste marriage in Sikhism also was rare, and Sikhs to this day continue to refer to each other's gotras. Even community leaders are known by their gotras, such as Sidhu, Brar, Cheema, Bajwa, Arora, Malhotra, Walia, etc.

The Khalsa Panth wedding ceremony was given the title Anand Karaj, and it consisted of four circumambulations, as against the variable number of circumambulations (nominally seven) in the Paanigrahan Sanskaar ritual practiced by Hindus. The presence of the Adi Granth Guru Granth Sahib was made mandatory during the wedding, as was the recitation of four Lavans, one Lavan for each circumambulation.

Brahmans were dominant in Bengal amongst Hindus throughout the second millennium, as they have been since times immemorial, and as they are today in the Indian part of Bengal. The dominance of the Brahmins –who depended on the widespread and continues prevalence of superstition amongst Hindu masses for their prosperity– was the reason for lack of social progress and continued sway of entrenched, age-old beliefs in this part of the country.

Kulin Brahmans were at the peak of the Brahman caste. This fact, combined with continued faith in Anuloma, and forbiddance of Pratiloma caused a significant distortion in gender relations. Since it was difficult for parents of high caste girls to find grooms who were of the same or a higher caste, men of the Kulin Brahman sub-caste used to be offered women in marriage even after they were already married. This led to widespread practice of polygamy in this sub-caste. In time, these men came to be offered women from lower-castes also. It became socially acceptable for such men to have a number of wives, as also for parents of girls all over the province to offer their daughters in marriage to such men.

You may wish to read an article about Hindu Marriage: Origin and Persistent Traits and/or and 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: Progress under British Rule.

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Published by Manish Udar

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Last updated on 1st September 2013
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