ॐ Hindu Of Universe ॐ
“God’s light is within you, It never leaves you.”

Hindu Wedding Traditions & Ceremonies

Hindu Wedding

According to the holy texts there are eight different types of Hindu marriages. According to many of these eight types of marriages prevailed in ancient India. Among these eight types all dint have religious procedure. The last four are not religiously defined and most of the times were condemned.

Brahma Marriage:

According to the Brahma marriage if the boy completes his Brahmacharya (student hood), he is eligible to be married. This marriage is done when the father of the boy approaches the girl’s parents and asks for her hand. And then the Brahma marriage is arranged. In this there is no system of dowry. One of the most important ritual of this marriage is kanyadaan (where the father gifts his daughter to the groom.) Among the eight types the highest type of marriage is the dharmasastras.

Daiva Marriage:

In the case of Daiva marriage the girl is married to a priest. In this kind of a marriage the girl’s family look for a suitable man for their daughter and if nobody turns up they go looking for a groom in such places where a sacrifice is being conducted. According to the religious texts Daiva marriage is inferior to Brahma marriage. It is considered degrading for the woman to look for groom by herself or by her family.

Arsha Marriage:

The third type of marriage is called Arsha marriage that is marriage with the sages. In Arsha the bride is given in exchange for two cows, which is received, from the groom. Marriages of this type are said to have happened when the parents of the bride couldn’t afford the expense of their daughter’s marriage at the right time. Without choice the girl is married to an old sage. This is not considered as a noble marriage at it involves monetary or business transaction.

Prajapatya Marriage:

This kind of marriage is almost similar to the Brahma marriage. There are only two major differences, one is that there is no monetary transaction and Kanyadaan is not a part of Prajapatya marriage. In this marriage the bride’s father goes in search for a groom for his daughter.

Gandharva Marriage:

Next is Gandharva marriage, is like the modern day love marriage. Here the bride and the bridegroom marry secretly without the knowledge of their parents. It is not believed to be a right kind of marriage as it is against the will of the parents so it is inferior kind of marriage.

Asura Marriage:

In the Asura kind of marriage the groom is not considered suitable for the bride. He is in no way a match for the girl. The bridegroom gives as much wealth as he can afford to the bride’s parents. So this system of marriage is more like buisness.

Rakshasa Marriage:

The Rakshasa marriage is done, when the groom fights battles with the bride’s family, defeats them and then carries her away and then persuades her to marry him. This is not at all considered as the right kind of marriage as it includes force.

Paishacha Marriage:

Paishacha marriage is the last kind of marriage. It is considered as the most inferior type of marriage. In this the girl is married against her wishes. This kind of marriage is prohibited.

Hindu Wedding Ceremony

Hindu Wedding Ceremony has some special features that give it a distinct look from the marriage ceremonies of other religions. Actually in Vedic age, the life after marriage was considered to be an important stage of life and called the ‘Garhastha Ashrama’. This term means, setting up of a separate family unit

There are several rituals, through which the Hindu wedding ceremony occurs. Two People who are said to be compatible are brought together. Through the wedding ceremony they get into the form of a lifelong relationship at a ceremony called marriage. This is a new stage and responsibility as a householder.

The actual rituals that are performed in a Hindu wedding ceremony are different from region to region and usually take several hours to complete.

The Phases of Hindu Wedding Ceremony

  • Vara Satkaarah – this ceremony constitutes the welcome of the bridegroom and his relatives at the entrance of the wedding hall where the priest chants a few sacred mantras and the bride’s mother blesses the groom by applying Tilak made of vermilion and turmeric powder.
  • Madhuparka – this ceremony constitutes the welcome of the bridegroom at the altar. The bride then offers a mixture of yogurt and honey to the groom as a sign of purity. The bride then greets the groom by a garlanding him and the groom reciprocates it.
  • Kanya Dan – in this ceremony the father of the bride gives away his daughter to the groom. The father pours out a little of sacred water which symbolizes the giving away of his daughter to the bridegroom. This ceremony is done between the chanting of sacred mantras.
  • Vivah-Homa – this sacred fire ceremony is done to ensure that all auspicious undertakings of the marriage start in an atmosphere of purity and spirituality.
  • Pani-Grahan – in this ceremony the groom and the groom stand opposite to each other. The groom holds the right hand of the bride in his left hand. He recites some Vedic recitations praying for a long life and a long life.
  • Pratigna-Karan – in this ceremony the bride and the groom walk round the fire, with the bride leading, and make promises of loyalty, love and fidelity to each other.
  • Shila Arohan – in this ceremony the bride’s mother helps the bride to symbolically step onto a stone. This in other words is preparing her for a new life.
  • Laja-Homah – the bride in this ceremony offers rice to the Gods for their blessings. During the ceremony the palms of hers are in those of the groom.
  • The Mangala suthra Dharana- this ceremony marks the tying of the sacred thread, which is a mark of either Vishnu or Shiva in the neck of the bride by the groom.
  • Pradakshina – The bridegroom in this ceremony holds the hand of the bride and circles the nuptial fire either seven times. With this ceremony the marriage is considered complete, and they are wedded into matrimonial bliss.
  • Saptapadi – the bride and the groom are symbolically brought together through the Marriage knot. The groom’s scarf is tied to the bride’s dress. Then they take seven steps, which represent nourishment, strength, prosperity, happiness, progeny, long life, harmony and understanding.
  • Abhishek – this ceremony is done by sprinkling water and meditating on the sun and the pole star.
  • Anna Praashan – the couple first offers food to the fire and then feed each other food which expressing mutual love and affection.
  • Aashirvadah – this Hindu wedding ceremony marks the blessings received by the couple from the elders. All the people present in the ceremony express their happiness by showering flowers on the couple thus completing the marriage.

How To Plan A Wedding ?

Planning a wedding is a very tough job. The best way to proceed is through three steps called Organizing, planning and coordinating. There is lots of pre wedding preparation, budgeting and planning that should happen before the wedding day. It is usually the responsibility of the parents of the bride and the groom to decide upon the wedding size depending on the budget.

The bride and the groom should participate equally in the planning process, as it is a joyous occasion. Now a days, there is an huge increase in the amount of money being spent on weddings. This has also led to an interest of deviating from the common norms in the wedding ceremony.

People who specialize in the field of wedding planning (wedding planners) have increased in prominence. These professionals include people like, event organizers, fashion designers, beauticians, make up artist, hairstylists, and caterers.

There are lots of options available due to these specialized services from a number of professionals and service providers. The wedding ceremony size depends on the total budget of the wedding. So each stage of planning is equally important and has to be done with utmost care.

The following are the areas where planning has to be done thoroughly:

  • The most important aspect is to include the whole family in the event. If approval of the elders is available for the wedding then it becomes a happy event not just for the bride and the groom but for their respective families as well.
  • The second stage is to get the horoscopes matched with an astrologer to determine an auspicious date for the wedding. The ceremony usually takes place at the bride’s house or at a hall depending on the number of guests.
  • Try and include as many as possible among the 15 small rituals that make up a Hindu wedding ceremony. Or, the ritual’s can be chosen according to the preferences of the bride and the groom.
  • Offer alternate entertainment to occupy the guests during the wedding ceremony like food.
  • Videography and photography is essential for any wedding , to make sure that it can be seen later. It is generally needed for all the functions including pre wedding, main day and post wedding functions.
  • The Bridal Attire like saris, jewelry, dresses, Make-up, shoes, lingerie, etc. and For the groom there is groom wear, men accessories. Should be kept ready for the respective ceremonies.
  • Decoration of various kinds like, car decoration, lighting and flowers not only at the wedding place but also at home have to be taken care of.
  • Extra expenses like food, liquor, champagne, waiters, and caterers and other miscellaneous expenses have to be taken care of.
  • Weddings are very expensive affairs. A foolproof budget plan is very essential for any wedding so that one can realize well in advance what they can afford. The other advantage of a well-planned wedding is that, unnecessary expenses can be avoided. Wedding size should also be decided according to the budget of the wedding.

Hindu Marriage Ideals and Commitment

Vedic Hindu marriage is not a contract between two persons of the opposite sex. Marriage is viewed as a life long commitment of one wife and one husband, and it is the strongest bond between a man and woman.

Hindus believe marriage as a mean to continue the family and there by repay to his ancestors. Marriage is a way for learning many things in life through experience. This is a path for spiritual growth.

Cial bond

According to Hindus, the alliance is a union of two families, as well as the union between two individuals. The marriage ceremony will be taking place in the presence of parents, relatives and friends. So, the marriage becomes a social bond as well a commitment.

Break ups

The idea behind the Hindu marriage is to grow in the shades of each other, and not because of selfish motives. The concern for the family can be reflected in the institution of marriage. The love and duty, which is maintained for the existence of family, is the factor which prevents break ups.

Duties divided

In Hinduism, man and woman are the two halves of the divine body. As they are different, no question of inferiority or superiority arises there. The duties of both man and woman had been defined by Shastras (Hindu Scriptures) taking care of their physical and emotional status. Maintaining the domestic peace and taking care of social interactions are extremely important.


By nature, men have less capability of reserving feelings and behavior than women. This is the reason why, Hindu women are supposed to lead their husband by keeping the lustful tendencies under control. After marriage, the woman who is loyal to her husband is called “Pativrata” (Pati- husband; Vrata- vow). Another synonym for Pativrata is “Sati”-one who preserves her Sattva (purity): physically, mentally and spiritually.

Hindu Pre Wedding Ceremonies
Engagement Ceremony in Hindu Wedding
Engagement Ceremony
Deemed one of the most important pre wedding ceremonies not only in Hindu weddings but in other religions as well, the event of engagement is mostly an intimate one with close relatives and friends from both bride and groom’s side. This event usually takes place a few months before the wedding. During the ceremony, the fathers of both about to be married individuals vouch for the virtues of their child and make a formal wedding announcement of their children to the invited guests. The bride and the groom then exchange rings during to solidify their engagement.

Mehendi Ceremony in Hindu Wedding
Mehendi Ceremony
Mehendi Ceremony is about applying Henna to the bride’s hand and feet (in some states it is applied to the groom as well). This beautiful event takes place usually in the evening amidst a lot of dancing and music by the family members and friends. While the bride has to sit for hours to get the Mehendi art done, many of the female guests also get the Mehendi art done on at least on one hand. This joyous celebration is often sees its complement with singing of traditional songs as well as playing of traditional music instruments like dholak.

Sangeet Ceremony in Hindu Wedding
Sangeet Ceremony
Seen as a women centric event, Sangeet is probably the most fun Hindu pre wedding ceremony. Traditionally, the Sangeet Ceremonies should be a part of the formal engagement event, however in recent times, it is conducted individually. Thus the fun of wedding extends one more day with this celebration. Earlier sangeet ceremonies were only the part of North Indian Hindu wedding, now this fun event has made its presence felt even in South India. It is worth noting that not only this event is fun but also wedding planners swear by it stating it truly help the two sides forget about the wedding jitters for sometime. Therefore, one can see that special themes are chosen for this occasion and dance performances are prepared.

Tilak/Sagan Ceremony in Hindu Wedding
Tilak/Sagan Ceremony
Tilak Ceremony is reckoned as the first step to the bond between the two families. This auspicious event takes place mostly in the groom’s residence, where the male members of the bride’s family visit to put Kumkum or vermilion on his forehead. Though there are many versions of Tilak ceremony in different parts of the state, the one mentioned one is commonly witnessed. Apart from this, music and dance is also a major part of this ceremony in many states of the country.

Haldi Ceremony in Hindu Wedding
Haldi Ceremony
Amongst the most fun events during an Indian wedding is the Haldi Ceremony. One can find variants of this auspicious event in different parts of the country. In this ceremony a paste of haldi is applied on the bride and the groom’s body before or in the morning of their wedding day. In few states of India, this ceremony is held after the mehendi ritual. The mixture used in the ceremony is known by different names in different regions, like ubtan, mandha, tel baan etc. Haldi ceremony is directly connected with beautifying the bride and the groom for their big day. The colour yellow is also considered auspicious, and thus is said to ward off the evil.

Roka Ceremony in Hindu Wedding
Roka Ceremony
Roka ceremony is considered to be the first step towards the marriage. It is like an official announcement of the consent of both the bride and the groom to get married to each other. In this ceremony, the families of two sides gather for the first time and exchange sweets, gifts and dry fruits with each other. In some traditions, a puja is performed by the priest.

Hindu Post Wedding Ceremonies
viddai Ceremony in Hindu Wedding
Vidaai is an emotional event that marks of the completion of the wedding. It is an integral part of wedding, where the bride with teary eyes steps out of the doors and throws back five handfuls of rice over her head reflecting wealth and prosperity. In a way, this ritual signifies that bride has paid back whatever her parents have given her all these years. As she leaves in a car/vehicle, bride’s brothers and cousins push the car, which symbolises that the brothers are helping her start a new life with her husband. After the car starts, money is thrown on the road to discard or ward off the evil spirits. This post wedding event has different names in different parts of the state but everywhere it is an important ceremony.

This post wedding ceremony is basically a way of introducing bride to the groom’s community. This event has no mandatory rituals to be followed, in fact the ceremony comes packed with dancing, music and a grand feast.

Blessing Ceremony
Mostly referred as an Aashirvaad Ceremony, this very soulful event is celebrated to seek the blessings of the elderly members of the family and other well wishers. For this ceremony, the bride’s family along with relatives and friends visit groom’s residence and present the newly wed couple sweets or fruits along with gold/silver/diamond jewelry, the couples then touch their feet. In some parts of the country, like Bengal, the Ashirwad ceremony is held two or three prior to the wedding event. It signifies, the confirmation of the bride and groom’s new relationship. The door of bride’s residence is decorated with a string of mango leaves that are to stay for one year after the wedding event. The groom’s family present to the bride some sarees, and in return, the bride’s parents gift various groom a ring or a watch.

Dwar Rokai Ceremony
This fun ceremony can mostly be seen in North Indian weddings. Dwar Rokai ceremony is held when newly wed couple arrives at groom’s residence and his sister/s confronts the couple by not allowing them to enter the house. The brother is asked to present her with cash or a precious gift in order to get the entry inside the house. Often this is a fun ceremony to witness with very light hearted argument between the brother and sister.

Griha Pravesh Ceremony
Dwar Rokai Ceremony is followed by the Griha Pravesh Ceremony. In this significant ceremony, a traditional Indian welcome is given to the new bride. She is asked to first push a jar/kalash filled with rice with her right toe to make her entry into the house. This ceremony signifies that the family of groom has not only welcomed the bride into their house but has also accepted her as one of the integral members of their family. In some places in India, the bride is asked to tell the name of her husband at the entrance and then enters the home.

Mooh Dikhai Ceremony
Mooh Dikhai is an important Hindu post wedding ceremony. It is basically held to introduce the new bride to the groom’s family. The ladies unveil the face of bride and also shower her with gifts. The mother-in-law, in particular, offers presents to the bride as a gesture of welcome.

Pag Phera Ceremony
Pag Phera is also observed as an important Hindu post-wedding ceremony. In this ceremony, the bride is taken back to her home from the in-laws’ house by her brothers, where she stays for almost three days. When the ceremony ends, the groom comes to her house and seeks blessings from her parents and then take his bride back to his house. The family of the bride offers gifts to their daughter and son-in-law. It is believed that girls are the form of Goddess

21 Indian Hindu Wedding Culture & Traditions Indian Hindu wedding is not just a ceremony — it’s an extravagant festival as much as it is a beautiful union of two souls. The wedding is about the coming together of two families and is a celebration of an everlasting bond. Hindu weddings are so colorful that they have caught the attention of people all over the world. Mostly characterized by their grandiose characteristics, Hindu weddings have multi-page invitations, a large number of guests and a lavish feast. Every ceremony in a Hindu wedding symbolises something unique and every ritual has a meaning behind it. Even in the saatpheras, every round suggests a vow that is to be taken by the bride and groom. The rituals are so elaborate that Hindu weddings tend to go on until 3 in the morning. Be it the dancing at the sangeet or the baraat, the breathtakingly gorgeous mandap, elaborate attires, the excitement around juta chhupaai, the intimate mangal pheras, or the emotive vidaai—Hindu weddings are a power-packed, emotion-ridden spectacle. Apart from the rituals that take place on the wedding day, there are so many others that are part of the Hindu wedding and take place over a span of several days before the actual wedding. Here is a list of some of the cultures and traditions that are a part of the Hindu wedding:

1. The muhurata is fixed – First thing first In Hindu weddings, the date and the time of the wedding have a crucial role to play. For any event to take place, Hindus pre-determine a time and date, which is generally decided by an astrologer. An auspicious time, which is known as a muhurata, is fixed for the Hindi wedding, using the couple’s date of birth. The muhurata is calculated by an astrologer, according to the planetary positions. The gotra, or the ancestral lineage, is announced as a Hindu wedding is not supposed to take place within the same clan or lineage. Once the maturate is fixed then starts all the hustle bustle of the weeding. Wedding venues are fixed, guest list is made, wedding cloths & jewelry shopping begins, wedding cards designs are checkout and catering vendors are looked after. After muhurata, all the family members are on their toes as a lot of work goes in an Big fat Indian Wedding!

2. Roka ceremony is held to show acceptance to the couple This is the first official event in a Hindu wedding, and more like the first step towards the marriage. Both the families come together to bless the couple in the Roka ceremony and show their approval and consent for the union. Gifts and sweets are exchanged and the families spend time together to get to know each other better. Roka Ceremony is usually a small event which takes place at either boys or girls house with close family and friends around. Here both the party exchanges gifts as a sign that the both bride and groom’s families are happy with the marriage and welcome new member to the family. Roka ceremony could also takes place with the presence of either bride or groom alone as this ceremony is more for the families.

3. Pre-wedding photo shoot Well they say Indian wedding is full blown extravaganza for a reason as the bride and groom are no less than hero-heroine of a Bollywood movie, and pre-wedding photoshoot is an evidence of that. This trend has becoming so popular these days that the photographer and the venues are often book way in advance. Pre-wedding photo shoot could happen is a vintage palace or it could be a destination photoshoot. All the pictures and videos are a memory of the lifetime and photographer leave no stone untouched to make it special for the couple. Couples really want to make it special, so pre-wedding video like this could get you a lot of attention on the social media! It’s really a good way of having all your memories in a small video.

4. Bachelor and Bachelorette party – drink it up! Wedding is coming closer and all the shopping is done but friends won’t let you relax! Bachelor party is usually given to the groom by his friend and it could be an evening party in the home town or could be some extravagant destination party! Mostly Bachelor party is attended by groomsmen who warm his friend about all the big responsibilities coming his way! Why should boys have all the fun! Bachelorette party is no less than a bachelor party as bridesmaids go out of the way to make pot extra special for the bride. Sometimes bachelor and bachelorette parties could happen together but usually they are independent of each other as the things can get real crazy and its meant to be like that only!

5. Sangeet is all about making merry A pre-party known as the sangeet is held before the actual wedding. It is one of the most loved and fun parts of a Hindu wedding. From dance to singing folk songs, the bride’s family prepares performances and gives a grand welcome to the groom’s family. Close family members and friends come together to enjoy a joyous round of singing and dancing. It’s a fun way to kickstart the wedding ceremonies and revel in the wedding vibes. This is followed by the mehndi ceremony that kicks off the wedding. Sangeet ceremony in Hindu wedding is all about dances, usually family and friends prepare and practice dances for this event only. This event is filled with a lot of love & laughter, and of course drinks. Traditionally, this was also known as ‘ladies sangeet’ as only the ladies of the house would participate. They would sing songs with dholak but not anymore as everyone wants to be a part of this special occasion in a hindu wedding. No matter if the wedding is happening in India, US, Canada, UK or anywhere else, this ceremony is very special for everyone.

6. Mehndi is applied to the bride’s hands and feet Mehndi is a ceremony in a Hindu wedding, which is only attended by the women in the family. Typically, this takes place a day or two before the wedding. In this ceremony, the bride’s hands and feet are adorned with intricate and beautiful henna. Dancing and singing folk songs is part of this ceremony as well. Sometimes, the initials of her future husband’s name are also part of this design. It is widely believed that the darker the color of this henna, the more love her husband will shower on her. Bride and bridesmaid in Mehndi ceremony wear specially made cloths for this occasion, checkout the Mehndi wedding wear.

7. Tilak is put on the groom’s forehead Next in a Hindu wedding is the tilak ceremony, which is the first step to solidifying the bond between the families and is considered extremely auspicious. It takes place at the groom’s residence, which is also attended by the male members of the bride’s family who put vermilion on the groom’s forehead. This signifies that the groom will be a loving husband, who would look after the bride and shoulder all her responsibilities. Like many other Hindu wedding ceremonies, singing and dancing is also a part of this function. The groom’s father sends sugar, rice, coconut, clothes, henna and jewelry to the bride’s family. The groom’s relatives carry these things to the bride’s house. This ceremony also strengthens the relationship between the two families.

8. Haldi is smeared all over A haldi ceremony takes place in a Hindu wedding, where family members put a mixture of turmeric, oil and water all over the bride and groom’s skin and clothes. Relatives and family members also shower their blessings on them as they put haldi. This is believed to make their skin glow for the wedding, which is held later that day. There is also a scientific meaning of this ceremony as haldi is antiseptic and considered to have strong healing power in Hindu religion. So, applying it to the face of bride and groom not only makes the skin brighter but also gives them immunity and helps in keeping the unwanted skin allergies away. Yellow is the color for this ceremony and bride wears yellow colored suit or saree in her haldi ceremony as its considered very auspicious.

9. Vara Yatra and the celebration at the groom’s arrival In a Hindu wedding, the groom, his family and relatives reach the wedding venue with band and baaja, which is called the vara yatra. This is actually the much-talked-about baraat, which is enjoyed by the groom’s family. Dancing all through the way to the venue, they even light firecrackers, and their level of energy and celebration is spectacular. Once they arrive at the ceremony site, the bride’s family welcomes them with akshat (rice toss), tilak, aarti (a lit lamp on a plate), and sometimes, garlands. Every groom has his choice of ride, some comes on an elephant, some prefer horse (rather mare), it could be a car but one thing is for sure that you would see a lot of dancing all around.

10. Milni – Meet your counterparts Milni or popularly known as milniyaan happens once the baraat arrives at the door of the wedding venue. This is a tradition in Hindu Wedding where the Bride’s side relatives would meet and greet the Groom’s side relatives with gifts (usually the male members from both the sides).

11. Groom’s welcome & Art of the deal Once everyone’s milni is done, the hero of the ceremony “the groom” arrives at the venue but he can’t enter without giving the toll. As now it’s time for the bride’s side to get some cash out of groom’s pocket and this is where the art of the deal, the real negotiation comes into play. Bridesmaids can demand of anything as high as gold jewelly or big money for the groom’s entry and its the job of groomsmen to bring it down.

12. Bride’s Grand Entry – Here comes the Queen After the groom arrives the wedding venue, everyone is waiting for the brides grand entry! Usually the brides is accompanied by

13. Floral garlands are exchanged during the Varmala ceremony Jaimala or Varmala is a ritual in the Hindu wedding and the first ceremony that takes place at the wedding venue, in front of a large number of guests. This takes place after the groom is joined on the stage by the bride, who walks in with her sisters. The bride and groom put flower garlands around each other’s necks, which, in a contemporary marriage is followed by an elaborate photo session and exchange of gifts. The ceremony is considered to signify the union of two souls, two families, values and customers. Before the other rituals of the wedding begin, the Hindu priest invokes the nine planets, each of which blesses the couple for leading a happy life together. This ceremony is called Graha Shanti.

14. Jutta Chupai where the sisters-in-law hide the groom’s shoes Jutta Chupai or Jutti Chupai simply refers to hiding the shoes of the groom by the mischievous sister in laws right before the groom steps on to the mandap. It’s is an art as both the sides have tricks up their sleeve considering it’s not a matter of money but ultimate pride. So bride’s side would look for the right opportunity to make the move and groom’s side would make sure that this “move” doesn’t happen 😀 When this is going on, his future sisters-in-law look for the right chance to steal his shoes, so they can later demand money in exchange for the shoes. If they are successful in their mission of stealing the shoes, the groom has no option but to pay them money. The demand of money happens once the wedding rituals are completed and before the Vidaai.

15. Kanyadaan and the saatphere This is the most important stage in a Hindu wedding, and also a very emotional moment for the bride because this is when her father actually gives her away in a ceremony called the Kanyadaan. In this ceremony, the bride is first led to the mandap by her brothers or uncles, then her father places his daughter’s hand into the groom’s hand and knots the end of their clothes together as a gesture of giving her away. It is considered to be an extremely pious and solemn ritual. They also wash the bride and groom’s feet with milk and water, which signifies that they have been purified for a new life together. Then the bride’s right hand is placed on the right hand of the groom and their hands are tied together with a cotton thread multiple times as the priest recites holy verses. This indicates that their bond is unbreakable now. After this, they get ready for the Saatphere, where the bride and the groom take rounds around the sacred fire. Every round denotes something that they have to do for one another— basically represents the seven vows that have to be taken. The couple then seeks the blessings of God with a Ganesh puja, and pray to be together for the next seven births.

16. It’s Mangalsutra and Sindoor time! A Magalsutra is a necklace with black and gold beads that the groom places around the bride’s neck. This is an important step towards the completion of a Hindu wedding ceremony. Lakshmi— who is the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity— is believed to reside in the Magalsutra; she protects the union and ensures a happy married life. Just like the Mangalsutra, the sindoor is considered a signifier of a woman’s married status. Applying sindoor or a reddish-orangish powder to the bride’ hair is a way to signify that she is now married. This is, in a way, the last step in a Hindu wedding, where all the ceremonies that have to be performed to officiate the marriage have been performed. To conclude the ceremony, the Hindu priest directs the newlywed’s eyes to the pole star, so that their marriage remains steadfast, even as other things around them continue to change.

17. The Vidaai where the bride bids farewell to her family After the Hindu wedding rituals are done, the vidaai takes place and marks the completion of the ceremony. Vidaai suggests that the bride will now leave her family to move to her in-law’s house. This is an extremely emotional moment for the bride, where she has to officially say goodbye to her family, who she leaves behind to move to his husband’s house. Vidaai suggests that the bride will now leave her family to move to her in-law’s house. This is an integral part of a Hindu wedding, where the teary-eyed bride takes handfuls of rice five times to throw over her head, which is a gesture to thank her parents for all they did for her, and reflects prosperity and good luck. Her cousins and brothers give a slight push to the car from behind. This signifies that they are helping her begin her new married life. Once the engine of the car starts, money is thrown all over, which is believed to be a way of keeping vile energies at bay.

18. Welcoming bride to the house Before the Grihapravesh ceremony, a Dwar Wokai ceremony is held in a Hindu wedding when the newly-wed couples arrive at the groom’s house. All the relatives extend a hearty welcome to the couple. However, the groom’s sister doesn’t allow them to enter. She only allows them on one condition that her brother will have to give her some gifts or cash. After this, the Grihapravesh ceremony takes place to make the bride’s first entry into the house auspicious, and the couple is welcomed with an aarti and a shower of flower petals. First, she is asked to push a kalash—a utensil filled with rice—with her toes, in order to make an entry into the house. This ceremony signifies that the groom’s family has accepted her as an important part of her family.

19. Bride’s Moohdikhai & Fun Games Moohdikhai is an important Hindu post-wedding ceremony, which takes place to introduce the new bride to the groom’s family members. The ladies of the house unveil the bride’s face and shower her with gifts. They also offer her gifts as a gesture to welcome her into the family and make her feel comfortable. Indian wedding aka hindu wedding has so many fun ceremonies and activities like no other and here comes another one “find the ring in buttery water”. In this ceremony groom’s sister or mother would drop a ring in a mixture of butter milk and both bride and groom would be asked to look for the ring. It’s a common belief that who ever find the ring will have a higher say in their married life. This is usually repeated 3 times before declaring the winner. Men of the house would often joke that no matter who wins this game, wife would always rule!

20. Indian Wedding Reception Now all the wedding rituals are over and the bride and groom are offically announced as husband and wife but the Indian wedding is not over yet. Wedding reception marks the end of a long Indian wedding which could easily last for an entire week to ten days. This event is celebrated differently by Indian living abroad. Indians living USA, Canada, UK etc usually have a big hall reserved for this event with fixed sitting arrangements having closer tables reserved for immediate family members.

Once all the guests are settled down the grand entry starts from bride’s family followed by groom’s family and finally the newly wedded couple. The entry sets the mood of the whole event as every one chooses their choice of music and dances all the way to the event. After Bride’s sister/brother gives the speech and discloses some really hidden secrets about his/her sister and same courtesy is reciprocated by groom’s brother and sister. Afterwards both the parents bless the newly wedded couple and welcome the new new member in their family. This section won’t be complete without the bride and groom speech! It’s a potpourri of emotions, blessing, fun secrets coming out and thanksgiving to the family and friends.

21. Honeymoon – You need a vacation afterall! After months of planning, attending all amazing and beautiful ceremonies, the wedding is finally over! Now the couple needs to spend some quality time with each other at a destination of their choice. Ashta Vivaah

(8 Types of Marriage) in Manu Smriti Eight different types of Vivaah have been documented in the ancient Indian scripture Manu Smriti III.20-34. Only two types (Brahma Vivaah & Gandharva Vivaah) are prevailant these days. Other types of marriages existed in olden days and few were even followed until last century, but slowly they were abolished from the society. For example, Prajapatya Vivaah is where a girl is married before puberty and given as a gift to groom’s family. These child marriages are almost stopped now. Daiva Vivaah type of charities are still done in some places and temples. Arsha Vivaah, where money is paid by groom to bride’s father, was practiced until early 20th century. The eight types of marriages described in ancient days are:

1. Brahma Vivaah: Brahma vivah is considered the best marriage. In this the boy and girl belonging to good families and the same varna get married. The boy should have completed his Brahmacharya Ashram (studenthood). There is no dowry involved and the girl enters the boy’s house with two sets of clothes and some ornaments. In this marriage, the boy’s family approaches the girl’s family. “Kanyadaan”, which is the handing of the bride by her father to the groom, is an important ritual of the Brahma Vivah..

2. Prajapatya Vivaah: This type of marriage is the same as the Brahma vivaah in all respects, except that the bride’s father gives her away as a gift, not to the groom, but to the groom’s father. This type of marriage is resorted to when the groom and bride are both very young. Thus, the protection of the bride or daughter is handed over by her father to the groom’s father during the Panigrahan (hand-receiving) ceremony. The wedding ceremony involving the young bride and groom may take place immediately afterwards, but the wedding may not be consummated for several years, until the bride and groom are old enough.

3. Daiva Vivaah: In this type of wedding, there are no feasts or celebrations that are specific to the wedding, but the wedding of the daughter of a poor family is held as an act of charity by wealthy people. It was customary for kings, landlords and rich merchants to hold religious ceremonies and sacrifices where many gifts would be given and charities performed for the benefit of learned Brahmins and the poor. During these great events, a poor man would sometimes approach the wealthy host and seek the charity that his daughter’s wedding be performed at this time. This type of marriage may take place if the girl’s parents are unable to locate a suitable groom within a reasonable period (several years) after the girl has attained puberty. Often, the reason for this would be that the parents of the bride cannot afford the expense of their daughter’s marriage. It was considered improper or unsafe to keep a girl unwed past her teens, and anyway the chances of an aging girl getting a good husband were not better than the same girl getting a good husband at a younger age. So the girl would be bedecked with flowers and whatever small ornaments the parents could provide and taken to the venue of the religious ceremony or sacrifice being performed by a rich magnate. She would be offered in marriage to any willing man and generally this would be one of the priests, young or old. The wedding ceremony would be performed in short order and the feasts which were anyway being hosted as part of the festivities would suffice for this extra wedding also. According to the Dharmashastra, Daiva marriage is considered avoidable but is still respectable since poverty is not culpable; lack of virtue is reprehensible but honest poverty is acceptable.

4. Arsha Vivaah: In this type of marriage, the family of the groom pays kanya-shulkam or bride-price to the parents of the bride. According to certain texts, the prescribed bride-price is a cow with a calf and a pair of bulls. The sacred texts provide various lists of specific communities where this custom prevailed and imply that it is unfitting in general society. However, several instances are found in the puranas of marriage between a man from mainstream communities and a woman from one of the bride-price seeking communities (Pandu-Madri; Dasharatha-Kaikeyi, etc.). In nearly all cases, the man willingly pays the bride-price and brings his bride home.

5. Asura Vivaah: In the Asura type of marriage the groom is not at all suitable for the bride. In no way is he a match for the girl but he willingly gives as much wealth as he can afford to the bride’s parents and relatives. In Arsha type cows are given in exchange for the bride but there is no such limitation in the Asura type of marriage. Generally the groom is of lower social rank or caste than the bride.

6. Gandharva Vivaah: When a man and a woman marry for love and without the consent of their families, that marriage is called Gandharva Vivaah or ‘love marriage.‘

7.Rakshasa Vivaah: This is essentially marriage by abduction. In cases where the girl is willing to marry the boy but her family is against the alliance, the girl may be abducted and married. It is essential that the girl be willing, because otherwise, the puranas and shastras simply treat the incident of abduction as rape, with consequent vengeance and retribution. Instances of such marriages include Krishna-Rukmini and Arjuna-Subhadra, in all of which cases the girl was willing and the results were good.

8.Paisacha Vivaah: In the case where the bride is intoxicated, possessed or not in a conscious state of mind when being married and thus is married unwillingly, is an example Paisacha vivaah, and which has been outlawed by Manu.

8 Types of Hindu Marriages According to Manusmriti According to “Manusmriti” (“Laws of Manu”), there are 8 types of Hindu marriages. Lord Brahma, the Hindu God of Creation, is the father of “Manu” (Swyambhuvana Manu).

Manu” is considered the father of all mankind, and all humans are descendants of “Manu“. “Manu” is the equivalent of the Biblical Adam. The Sanskrit name for Humans is “Manav” which is a derivation of “Manu” “Manu” (Swyambhuvana Manu) is said to have told the Hindu social laws to Saints and Rishis. This collection of laws is called “Manusmriti” or “Manava Dharmasastra” (“Laws of Manu”), and is considered the words of Lord Brahma.

As per legend, Lord Brahma laid down 1000 chapters which made up the”Manusmriti“.

This was later presented in 12 chapters. 8 Types of Hindu Marriages as per Manusmriti

1. Brahma Vivah Brahma vivah is considered the best marriage. In this the boy and girl belonging to good families and the same varna get married. The boy should have completed his Brahmacharya Ashram (studenthood). There is no dowry involved and the girl enters the boy’s house with two sets of clothes and some ornaments. In this marriage, the boy’s family approaches the girl’s family. “Kanyadaan”, which is the handing of the bride by her father to the groom, is an important ritual of the Brahma Vivah.

2. Daiva Vivah In this type of Hindu marriage, the girl’s family looks for a groom. If a girl has not been able to get a suitable husband for a period of time, her family look to marry her to a priest who officiates over sacrifices.

3. Arsha Vivah Here the groom gives a gift (a cow and a pair of bulls) to the girl’s family. This usually takes place when the girl’s parents can not afford to meet the expense of the marriage. This is not considered an ideal marriage because there is a monetary consideration involved in this wedding.

4. Prajapatya Vivah Somewhat similar to the Brahma Vivah, except in this case the girl’s family looks for a groom and the ritual of Kanyadaan is not followed. Instead of “Kanyadaan”, the bride’s father hands over protection of his daughter to the groom during the “Panigrahan” ritual. The actual wedding takes place after “Panigrahan”.

5. Gandharva Vivah This is a love marriage, where the bride and groom marry of their own free will. Usually the consent of the parents is not taken or is not available because either or both parents are against the marriage.

6. Asura Vivah Somewhat similar to the “Arsha Vivah” where the groom gives presents to the bride’s family in order to get their approval for the marrige. Usually the groom is not of the same stature as the bride.

7. Rakshasa Vivah In this Hindu wedding, the bride is ready to marry groom, but the bride’s family is against the marriage. In such cases, if the groom’s family forcibly takes away the bride, it is a “Rakshasa Vivah”.

8. Paishacha Vivah This type of marriage is not allowed. In this marriage, a girl, who is not in her senses (she may not be of sound mind or intoxicated or drugged, etc) is forcibly married off. The girl has not consented to this marriage. Based on the bride and groom’s caste, some of the above Hindu marriages are allowed and some are disallowed. Eight forms of marriage under Hindu religion The Mahabharata mentioned eight kinds of marriage under the Hindu religion. These eight types, in order of sanctity, are Brahma Vivah, Daiva Vivah, Arsha Vivah, Prajapatya Vivah, Asura Vivah, Gandharva Vivah, Rakshasa Vivah, and Paisacha Vivah.

The genesis of these eight forms of marriage, however, is in the Manusmriti, considered by many to be the primary codification of rules and regulations governing Hindu society. Brahma Vivah, as the name suggests, is the most superior form of marriage under sanatana dharma. Under this form of marriage, once the boy has completed his education (brahmacharya), his parents approach the parents of a girl of suitable class and standing and seek their daughter’s hand in marriage to their son. This form of marriage involves the bride’s father doing a kanyadaan of his daughter. There is no demand of a dowry in such a wedding, though the bride’s family may give her whatever gifts they deem fit. In case no suitable groom has come to seek a girl’s hand till her menarche (first menstrual cycle), the girl’s family may offer their daughter in marriage to a priest. The priest does a sacrifice to solemnize the marriage. This form of marriage, called Daiva Vivah, is only relevant for Brahmanas and is considered inferior to a Brahma Vivah. The third type of Hindu wedding is an Arsha Vivah. The groom is required to gift a pair of cows in return to the bride’s family as a ‘return gift’ for their daughter, probably because the bride’s father has not been able to find a suitable groom for his daughter. This form of marriage is considered inferior due to the presence of a consideration in the form of cows, even though there is no compulsion. It also points to the pastoral nature of society in that era. In the Prajapatya form of marriage the bride and groom are considered partners in their journey to repay the debt of Prajapati by having a family and living according to the vedic norms. In this form, the groom’s side is seeking a Grihalakshmi while the girl’s family wants to get her married before her menarche. The Asura form, as the name suggests, is not a well-received form of marriage. The groom is typically richer or more powerful than the bride’s family. Even though the groom is not suitable for the girl, he marries her by giving a large sum of money or wealth to her family. Often, kings and other rich people took a second wife through the Asura form of marriage. King Dashratha’s marriage with Kaikeyi is considered an example of Asura wedding for which he paid a huge price to her father. Gandharva Vivah, is likely to be the most popular today as it involves mutual consent of the bridge and groom prior to the marriage because they are already in love. As the common saying goes – ‘miyan-biwi raazi to kya karega kaazi.’ Similarly, in this form, the families have little role to play except bless the couple. The most famous example of this form is King Dushyanta’a marriage with Shakuntala when they fell in love, got married in the absence of any witnesses and then consummated it. In the Rakshasa form of marriage, the groom forcibly abducts the bride by fighting with her kinsmen, where some of the kin may also be wounded or slain and she weeps for them. It is unclear whether this can also be with the implicit consent of the bride as Krishna’s marriage to Rukmini is often cited as an example of this format. Given its cruel nature, it has been equated with Rakshasas. This form was quite popular among Kshatriyas or the military class. The last and the worst form of marriage is the Paisacha (evil spirit) Vivah. It is akin to the current description of rape as it refers to a situation where a man has sexually violated a woman against her wishes, while she was asleep, unconscious or intoxicated, after which she is left with no choice but to marry him. As per the Manusmriti, it is a very base and evil act and hence called Paisacha. As per the Manusmriti, for Brahmanas only the first four forms of marriage are acceptable, whereas Kshatriyas could marry in any of the first six ways. For kings and the like, even Rakshasa Vivah was considered acceptable. The Asura form was only restricted to Vaishyas and Shudras, though the Asura form was generally frowned upon. And as may be inferred, the Paisacha form was never to be practiced. Is Child Marriage Allowed in Sanatan Dharma? Sanatan Dharma does not support child marriage. An unmarried learned daughter should be married to a bridegroom who like her is learned. Never think of giving in marriage a daughter of very young age. In मनुस्मृति 2/6 Maharishi Manu said: वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् । The entire Veda is the root-source of Dharma, also the Conscientious Recollection of righteous persons versed in the Veda, the Practice of Good (and learned) Men, and their self–satisfaction. Vedas are the final authority in case of “Dharma”. There is not a single mantra in the entire four Vedas that supports Child marriage. Not even give a hint of supporting Child Marriage. What Does the Medical Text say about the age of Marriage? According to Ayurveda a woman must be at least sixteen years of age and a man must be at least twenty-five years of age. पंचविशे ततो वर्षे पुमान्नारी तु षोडशे। समत्वागतवीर्यौ तौ जानीयात्कुशलो भिषक॥– सुश्रुते, सूत्रस्थाने- ३५/१० Sushruta and Vagbhat have laid down a rule that the groom should be 25 years old and the bride should be 16 years old. What does the Veda say about the age of Marriage? A girl is married at १६ or more years of age, when her physical development is complete. Vedic rituals presuppose that the married pair was grown up enough to be lovers, man and wife, parents of children. The age of marriage for a boy is २५ years or more and that of a girl is १६ years or more. But the best age to get married is after ३६ (especially for men) and to understand this you must know the power of Brahmacharya… As in Vedic Bharat people were following Brahmacharya for १२ years that was one of the reason the reason of Brahmacharya Ashram, when a child gets to age of puberty he/she should to be ब्रह्मचारी for १२ years. Puberty normally start around ११ n frm there his/her Semen starts secreting and after १२ year of his ब्रह्मचर्य his semen become very strong and give some mystic power also to the person and again after १२ years his semen become more strong after that much of hardcore ब्रह्मचर्य. चित्तिरा उपबर्हणं चक्षुरा अभ्यञ्जनम् । ध्यौर्भूमिः कोश आसीद्यदयात्सूर्या पतिम् ॥ These go to show that a girl was married after she attained puberty. Surya was married to Soma, only when she became youthful and yearned for a husband. Atharvaveda in Brahmacharya Sukta (11.5.18) ब्रह्मचर्येण कन्या युवानं विन्दते पतिम् । says: “A girl after having completed her studies and after having fulfilled her pledge of celebacy finds a youth as a suitable match for her.” In this mantra of the Brahmacharya Sukta of the Atharvaveda states that the girl attains a young husband by living a life of brahmacharya. In this mantra, there is a provision for the woman to marry a young husband, which proves the prohibition of child marriage. The Rigveda refers to young maidens completing their education as brahmacharins and then gaining husbands. The Vedas say that an educated girl should be married to an equally educated man. आ धेनवो धुनयन्तामशिश्वीः सबर्दुघाः शशया अप्रदुग्धाः। नव्यानव्या युवतयो भवन्तीर्महद्देवानामसुरत्वमेकम्॥ — Rig Veda [3.55.16] The Brahmcharinis who are youthful and have studied in childhood all the science, have married a suitable husband enjoy happiness and gladden all. Young women of the time could exercise their choice in the matter of their marriage. “The woman who is of gentle birth and of graceful form,” so runs a verse in the Rigveda, selects among many of her loved one as her husband. The term for the bridegroom was vara, the chosen one. ”The happy and beautiful bride chooses (vanute) by herself (svayam) her own husband”. The swayamvaras of the princesses are of course well documented. In the Rigveda 10/183 Sukta, the bride and groom are talking about producing children together. The bride and groom are saying that the son is a work, that is, you want a son, that the bridegroom says to the bride that you are a son, that is, you want a son, so together we can produce good children. The desire to have a son, that is, a child, can be born only in young men and young women. Small children and girls cannot have it. Similarly, in the Atharvaveda 2/30/5 also, the mutual young man and the woman are meeting each other and saying that I have met both Patikama i.e. husband’s wish and this thou Janikam i.e. wife’s wish. Husband and wife may wish to be wished only in young age, small children and girls do not have this desire. These evidences prove that Vedas do not support child marriage. || कृण्वन्तो विश्वमार्यम् || Sanatan Dharma is the Eternal Dharma. Now popularly made to be known as “Hinduism”. Sanatan Dharma is based on Logic, Reasoning & Science When your kid is asked in Class, what are the Evils in Hinduism? he will Reply with head down: Child Marriage & Sati Pratha. But whether they are part of our Dharma or Creeped in our Society, we must probe it. Today we will discuss and arrive at a conclusion thru Evidence, logic & Reasoning. Sushruta Samhita through a Medical approach as per readiness of human body and Manusmriti from the perspective of Dharma and Society, arrived at the same conculsion that Minimum Age for marriage of Male ≥25 yr and for Female atleast ≥16 yr. Please again atleast sixteen means it can be in 20s as well. It straight away rules out the concept of child marriage in Males or Females both as per ancient medical authority and dharmic scriptures. However the question remains why in border areas and especially in North India the evil of Child marriage is sometimes witnessed. Now that we are satisfied the Hindu Dharma doesn’t support it, we should understand that the areas of Rajasthan, North West India, UP, Bihar have faced most brutal onslaughts from the invaders who had two important beliefs: There is no minimum marriageable age for a girl They have full right on Maal-e-Ganeemat (The War Booty). Women as a part of War Booty had no right and could be traded, sold, used and misused for fun and money just like objects. Child Marriage Or Ghunghat Pratha Wrongly creeped in our society , when girls were considered Maal-e-Ganimat (War Booty) by the Invaders. Girls began to be seen as liability. One Strong Logic that these were not a part of Our Ancient Society before invaders is that there is not a single temple before 12th century AD with carving depicting Child Marriage or Ghunghat. These Days it has become a Fashion to Marry Late. But Lets understand the Pros and Cons. A Very Early marriage will be a compromise on Education and Career related Goals. However a Late Marriage, say after 30s will be a grave mistake. Late marriages have below issues: Miscarriages in Females Low Sperm-Count in Males Higher Chances of Abnormality in Children Less Probability of Bearing a Second Child Very Less Probability to Enjoy Grandparenthood. Let’s understand by an Example: There were two persons in a society. Mr. On-Time after completing MBA and getting job, marries at the age of 25 and Mr. Off-Time gets job but procrastinates marriage and finally gets married at the age of 35. They have found their spouses are a year younger. Mr On-Time : Marries at 25, after three years, blessed with 1st Kid at 28 and 2nd Kid at 32 years with a gap of 3–4 years. When his first child reaches 25 years he is only 53 years of age, still in Job, Fit and Fine. When the second Kid is 25 years Old, Father is 57 Years old , still in Job, Fit and Fine. He become a Grandpa twice at the Age of 56 and 60 . He is fit and fine to enjoy the blossom of the progeny. Mr Off-Time :Marries at 35, however conception is tough. after five years using IVF, blessed with 1st Kid at 40, but struggles for 2nd kid as there is a miscarriage twice. When his Only child reaches 35 years , like father he plans to marry. But the Father is now 75 years Old, frail and week. Job is over , only little savings left. He is blessed with a granddaughter at the age of around 80. Quite Old to enjoy the time with Grandchildren . So be On-time. 24–25 is the perfect age to marry for both boy and girl, without compromising academically or through a career point of view. Please Note that as per Hindu Tradition the one of the most important role of Humans is Paropkaar परोपकार — What do we contribute for the Welfare of the society. Producing Learned and Virtuous Children who contribute to the society is an important responsibility of Grihasth Ashram. Imagine if the mother of adiShankaracharya, mother of Bal Gangadar Tilak, Mother of Veer Savarkar, Mother of Chatrappati Shivaji Mahraj, Mother of Mahrana Pratap, Mother of Guru Gobind Singh ji mahraj and many other greats would have thought to not produce any kids and enjoy their own lives, how would the humanity have been. The Logic for Min 25 Years is as below pic. To Qualify for studying only 1 Veda and complete Brahmacharya Ashram & Progress to Grihasth ashram min 24–25 years were required (divinities like adiShankara are an exception ) People who studied more than 1 Veda would take more time. Immediately some will ask two Questions: Why is Shudra Varna not mentioned Here What about Women Let’s understand one by one. Varna root word signifies Choice. Example: You choose Graduation and Dont want to Pursue MBA for say reasons below: Financially it is taxing You don’t have time and patience for it You have better options like job or business You think you are not academically sound Similarly pursuing or Not Pursuing Dwij Varna is a Choice. Nowhere does authentic Manusmriti ban Vedic Studies for Shudra. However, it may not be essential and required for his kind of lifestyle. I have made a simple flowchart that will help you easily understand the concept. Now Let’s understand why Less women will read Vedas before Marriage. Please note that Vedanga Course is of min six years , followed by Each Veda around nine years. While men would go on to be dwivedi/trivedi or even chaturvedi thereby continuing their brahmacharya ashram till 40s, however if women would do so, they could loose their time of 20s and 30s with most fertile magic of bringing new life to world in 40s. However some women would do so, they were called Brahmavadinis, compared to Sadyodvahas who would continue marriage and be a part of rituals and Vedic studies side by side. Hindu Ladies will be proud to know that concept of Rishikas (Female Seers), Upadhyayinis ( Female Teachers) were mentioned often in Vedic times. Infact many revelations of hymns in our highest Revered Vedas have been to the Rishikas. Example- Rig Veda is abundant in hymns revealed to Rishikas. The pics below give an example how Vedas revered and respected the females. It also gives some hymns of Rig Veda revealed to Rishikas In Vedic times the marriage hymns from two Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda, suggest that parties to a marriage were grown up and competent to woo and be wooed, qualified to give consent and make choices. Vedic rituals presuppose that the married couple was grown up enough to be lovers, man and wife and parents of children. In Rig Vedic times, no girl was married before she had reached womanhood. She had to be fully developed physically in her father’s home before her marriage. The Grhyasutra marriage rituals also show that marriage was generally arranged after the girl had attained her puberty. During the periods of the Ramayan and the Mahabharata, girls were grown up at the time of their marriage. In subsequent times, the marriageable age of the bride went down lower. There were many factors that led to such a state of affairs. From the third or the fourth century BC, the foreign invasions of India began. Those who waged war against India treated the womenfolk very low and she was regarded as an article of enjoyment. The social life of the Hindus started to unravel, and in response to being under siege, they adopted the practice of early marriage so as to secure the honour of their daughters, marriage being an honourable institution. This practice of early marriage was also consolidated during the Moghul invasion of India between 1221 and 1327. These invaders went after Hindu virgins who were installed in harems and discarded after a number of years. Early marriage was the only source of protection for these virgins. Indian society did not remain complacent about this trend. It was addressed on the spiritual as well as the legal front. Vedic scholars consulted extensively with both Smritis and Srutis, and concluded that a reasonable position was that girls could get married three years after the onset of puberty. It is clear then, that pre-pubescent marriages were a contingency response to an unforeseen and uncontrollable historical event and that post-pubescent was again established as the norm. Legally, efforts were first made to control marriages of young children through The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, popularly known as the “Sarda Act.” This legislative attempt to redress any remnants of child marriages was subsequently repealed by The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. This 2006 Act declared such marriages to be voidable. In Trinidad, the marriageable age also underwent some changes. As a matter of fact the legal and social status of the Hindu wedding did undergo some noteworthy transformation. Starting from 1845 and lasting for a century, the Hindu wedding was not recognised as legal. Children of such unions were considered illegitimate and naturally issues of legal inheritance became problematic. Such blatant discrimination was soon to be addressed in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1945. This Act provided some reprieve, as well as some validation to the Hindu weddings in T&T. It provided for, inter alia, that girls can be married up to a minimum age of 14 and boys below 18 years with parental consent. It is important that we do not look retrospectively at this age with a modern-day prejudice. At this point in Trinidad society, it should be noted that the majority of the immigrants who arrived on the Fatel Rozack were mostly under 30, the oldest person was 40 (First in Trinidad, Michael Anthony). Anyone over ten was considered to be no longer a child, and was put to work on the fields. It is easy to see then that the child of ten, or 11 or 12, at that time, was expected to bear serious societal responsibilities. However, whist child labour might, in retrospect be something to be ashamed of, a similar parallel cannot be drawn with the Hindu marriage. As outlined above, our scriptures have allowed post-pubescent marriages. That religious law was good then; it is good now. Biologically, a post-pubescent person is one who has achieved sexual maturity and is fertile and capable of biological reproduction. This was a biological fact then and it remains a fact now. Today, in T&T, there is a misconception that early marriages are condoned and encouraged in the Hindu community. We regret the lack of substantial, updated data as pertains to Hindu girls and boys. According to the Central Statistical Office of 2000 Report, of the 1,503 Hindu marriages, out of a nationwide total of 3,673, only 15 girls were under 16 years of age, representing less than one per cent of all Hindu marriages. It is difficult to see how this can be considered a prevalent social evil that must be addressed some two decades later, when we cannot ascertain whether, of the 328 Hindu marriages over the decade (2006-2016), there was an upward or downward trend over the said period. At any rate this is anyone’s guess without substantial data. It is our estimate that the Hindu community has altogether seen fewer and fewer under-18 marriages, as more Hindu boys and girls are prioritising education and career. A Guide to Hindu Wedding Traditions & Ceremonies The journey to the big day of an Asian wedding is a long one. There are a number of engagement traditions as well as general pre-wedding traditions and this only ramps up on the day of the wedding itself. Hinduism is perhaps the oldest continuing religion in the world, with sacred texts estimated to date back to 3000 B.C. Many of its traditions have lasted for aeons, with origins lost in time. A Hindu wedding, one of the most sacred of rites, incorporates many of these timeless rituals and customs. The Hindu Wedding Ceremony unites two souls spiritually, mentally and physically. The bond of matrimony is sacred and the ceremony of marriage is conducted according to Vedic traditions. The ceremony will be conducted in the ancient Hindu language of Sanskrit and translated to English by the priest. The Baraat / The Jaan The wedding day kicks off with the Baraat, the all-singing all-dancing wedding procession of the groom and his family. The Baraat can and often does include luxury cars, booming music, and a horse. The groom leaves his home with his baraat (wedding procession) heading towards the wedding venue with his friends and relatives in tow. Once at the venue, the precession will commence will dhol players, a band or both to announce the arrival of the groom, his family and his friends. Pokwanu – The Welcoming of The Groom The brides family formally welcomes the Groom, his family & friends. The Bride’s mother applies a tilak on the Groom’s forehead and then escorts the groom, his family and friends into the venue. He is then led inside and the priest performs a brief ceremony. Following this the mother of the bride grabs the nose of the groom playfully to remind him that it is he who has come to their home to ask for the hand of her daughter and he must make every effort to keep her daughter in good humour and comfort always. The Groom will then be asked to smash a clay pot with his foot breaking it into pieces. This demonstrates that he has the power to overcome all the obstacles the couple may face in their married life. The groom is then escorted to the Mandap. The Ganesh Puja Before the ceremony begins, the Priest invokes Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant God that removes all obstacles, as a precursor to nuptials about to take place. The Ganesha Puja is performed by the Bride’s parents, the ceremony begins by offering a prayer to Lord Ganesh requesting peace and harmony to prevail during the ceremony. Lord Ganesh’s blessings are sought for an auspicious beginning for the couple. Traditional Indian weddings are incomplete without Ganesh Puja. Vaarpooja The Bride’s parents perform a ceremony where they wash the Groom’s feet, offer flowers and Madhuparka. It is stated in the Vedic scriptures that at the time of marriage the groom is a representation of Lord Vishnu. At the end of the ceremony, a veil of cloth (Antarpat) is held in front of the groom to prevent him from seeing the bride as she enters. Kanya Aagman – The Arrival of the Bride The bride is escorted by her maternal uncle(s) to the Mandap. Once the bride is in the mandap, verses (Manglashtak) are chanted as the veil is lowered and the couple exchanges flower garlands (Jai-Malas). The bride offers the first garland declaring that she has chosen the groom on her own free will. The groom will then return the compliment by offering her a garland welcoming her to a new life together and promising to look after her. Granthibandan and Varmala The Groom’s scarf is tied to the Bride’s shawl while chanting prayers to Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Lord Narayan and Goddess Laxmi Devi praying for a strong marriage like theirs. The knot symbolises the union of two souls joined together in Holy matrimony. Kanyadan This ceremony is performed by the Bride’s parents. They give away their daughter in marriage by placing her hand on the Groom’s right hand. The bride’s parents pray that their son-in-law will look after their daughter. Havan A small sacred fire is lit in the centre of the mandap inviting Agni. The Fire God, the symbol of light, power and purity while offering ghee, rice and flowers into the flame. These prayers have a special importance, for it is Agni who dispels darkness and ignorance in life and leads us to eternal light and knowledge. Mangal Fera The couple circle the Holy Fire four times as the priest chants Mantras. The Groom leads the Bride on the first three feras (Circles), while the Bride takes over for the fourth and final step-signifying balance in their marriage. The four fera’s represent the four basic goals of life: Dharma (Moral sense to lead a good life ), Artha (prosperity), kama (Energy and passion) and moksha (liberation through self- Realization). When the couple make their last round together, they rush back to their seats. Racing to sit down first, As part of the tradition, it is said that whoever takes their seat first will be the ruler of the household. Saptapadi – The Seven Steps This is the most important rite of a Hindu marriage ceremony. The word, Saptapadi means “Seven steps.” The couple take seven steps to symbolise the beginning of their journey together for life. The couple takes a vow at the beginning of each step as they receive blessings from the priest and everyone present. Sindhoor & Mangal Sutra After the seven steps, the marriage is and legally recognised in their faith. Now, as with the exchange of rings, ceremonies begin where both the groom and bride are identified as married to each other. The Groom places Sindhoor at the parting of the Bride’s hair to symbolise that she is now a married woman. With the Mangal Sutra, the groom places a golden necklace with black beads around the bride’s neck, signifying his love, integrity and respect for her. Celebrating the Marriage Now the marriage ceremony is complete and the bride and groom are together, it is time for the family and friends to celebrate this. Akhand Saubhagyavati – Blessings From Married Women The married women are invited to greet the couple and whisper in the Bride’s right ear their blessings and good wishes of a blissful married life, prosperity and happiness. Aashirwad – Blessings The newly wedded couple then seek blessings from their priest, their parents, relatives and friends for a happy married life together. End of the Ceremony After lunch & photo’s the final part of the ceremony takes place. The couple leave the mandap, the Bride is given a handful of rice which she throws over her head behind her as she leaves to symbolise a repayment to her parents for all that they have given her throughout the years. The Bride will say a tearful farewell to each family member as she says goodbye to her maternal family and starts a new life with her husband & his family. However, that’s the end of the main ceremony! On to the grand reception, which is a whole other glamorous event in itself. It will naturally be far less tradition-laden than the actual wedding itself. Get ready for some great food and an evening of dancing. Traditional Hindu Wedding Rituals and the Meaning Behind Them Inspired by bright colors and heritage, Hindu weddings are a celebration of marriage and tradition. Indian customs passed on for generations remain a guiding light for couples who are looking to integrate culture into their wedding. Modern couples might err on the side of “less is more” while others embrace every Hindu tradition. There is no right or wrong way to integrate traditional wedding customs. It comes down to the decisions made by the couple and what they think is best for their special day. Lagna Patrika and Wagdaan Following the proposal, the couple has a formal engagement ceremony known as the lagna patrika, during which they exchange vows and announce their plans of marriage. During the engagement party, they may also take part in another ritual called wagdaan, where they exchange a ring as a symbol of promise in anticipation of their coming marriage. Usually, the groom’s family welcomes the bride’s family into their home, and both families are present to witness the couple’s commitment to each other as they solidify the engagement. Haldi A popular prewedding ritual is the Haldi ceremony — intended to bring the couple happiness, prosperity and peace through a ritual cleansing and purification. This lively event invites the bride and groom’s closest friends and relatives to apply a turmeric paste to the couple’s bodies (i.e., face, arms or legs). The haldi paste represents beauty, purity and fertility and is believed to ward off evil spirits to protect the bride and groom. It’s a colorful celebration (often in hues of yellow) that makes for some of the best photo opportunities — especially during the application of the turmeric paste. Mehndi Typically hosted by the bride’s parents, the mehndi ceremony takes place a couple of days before the wedding. What once was a tradition only for the bride and her loved ones is now an event that some couples are embracing together. Mehndi focuses on the application of henna to the hands and feet of the bride and many of her female friends and family. Henna is a brown paste used to create beautiful designs on the skin that leaves a temporary stain when dry. Some say the darker the henna stain on a bride, the stronger the love she shares with the groom. It is also believed to have medicinal properties that regulate body temperature, reduce stress and relieve headaches. Sangeet The real traditional party, the sangeet , happens after the Mehndi. It’s an opportunity for close friends and families to let loose and celebrate the upcoming wedding. The tradition’s name translates to “sung together,” in English, so it’s no surprise sangeet is all about music, dancing and singing. It’s not unusual for a sangeet event to include choreographed dances and singing performances by friends, family and elders. It’s traditionally the first time the two families meet, giving them the chance to get to know each other in a fun, easy-going atmosphere. The sangeet is known to be the most exciting and celebratory event of the whole wedding. Baraat and Tilak On the day of the wedding ceremony, the groom’s arrival (otherwise known as baraat) is a big deal. Decked out in traditional Indian garb, he enters with a parade of loved ones. It’s not unusual for the groom to arrive in style, usually by horse or elephant (or even a luxury sports car), as he makes his way with family and friends singing and dancing. The bride’s family welcomes the groom to the wedding ceremony by placing a mark (tilak) on his forehead to ensure he will be a loving husband and one day father for their daughter. Kanya Aagman and Mandap After the groom has his moment, it’s the bride’s time to shine. She enters the ceremony during what’s called “the girl’s arrival,” or kanya aagman. Loved ones accompany her down the aisle carrying a traditional canopy above her as she makes her way to the mandap where the nuptials will take place. The mandap is a structural alter that symbolizes a fruitful marriage and is often decorated in flowers and bright-colored fabric. A Hindu ceremony typically begins with a prayer or chant from the priest before continuing with the rest of the nuptials. Some ceremonies may include a prayer to the Hindu god of wisdom and salvation, Lord Ganesh, appealing to him and asking him to remove any obstacles before moving forward with the rest of the ceremony. The marriage ceremony is consecrated in accordance with the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of the Hindus. Throughout the ceremony, the priest will recite Vedic verses in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language. The marriage by Hindu culture is not just a union between the bride and groom, but a union between families. Var Aagamana (Welcoming the Groom) Sunil arrives at the entrance of the wedding canopy (mandap), accompanied by family members and friends. Auspicious materials are carried along for good luck. The prospective mother-in-law Chandrika performs a welcoming ceremony and will playfully try to grab his nose. This tradition reminds the groom that he has come rubbing his nose at their door asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage. The ceremony signifies an attempt to drive away evil spirits. Sunil then approaches the marriage altar. Ganesh Puja (Prayer to Lord Ganesh) All auspicious ceremonies begin with a prayer to Lord Ganesh requesting him to remove any obstacles which may arise during the ceremony. Kalash Puja and Punyaha Vachan (Prayer to Lord Varuna) Kalash Puja is performed to Varuna, Lord of the Water, to purify the premises. The kalash is a symbol of respect to Gods witnessing the wedding ceremony. Var Puja (Paying Respect to the Groom) With the priest presiding, Gopi’s parents pay respect to Sunil by washing his feet with milk and honey. At this time, Gopi’s cousins will try to steal Sunil’s shoes. Traditionally the groom must leave the wedding with the same pair of shoes that he entered with. If his shoes are stolen, he must offer Gopi’s cousins money in order to get them back. Mangalashtak (Request of Blessings) The priest requests all the planets, Gods, and Goddesses to bless the couple with a happy and healthy married life. Kanya Aagaman (Arrival of the Bride) Gopi is led by her father to the marriage altar. At this time an antarpat, or white cloth curtain, separates the bride and the groom. Varmala (Garland) A loop of white cotton wound 24 times, symbolizing different characteristics and virtues of human life, is placed around the shoulders of the bride and groom. The threads bind the two together to fulfill their roles fully and sincerely. Hasta Melap (Joining of Hands) The priest joins the hands of both together while blessing upon them all good wishes for a happy and healthy wedded life. They are now married. The priest ties Gopi’s sari to Sunil’s scarf. This signifies that they have been tied to each other in body, mind, and soul for the rest of their lives. Kanya Daan (Giving the Bride Away) Gopi’s father requests Sunil’s father to accept his daughter into their family. The bond is tied between the two families for seven generations. Mala Arpan (Exchange of Garlands) Sunil and Gopi exchange flower garlands. This gesture symbolizes the unification of their hearts. Laja Homa (Offerings to the Fire) Gopi’s brother Rahul gives the couple rice, oats, and leaves to offer the fire. This signifies that the couple is willing to sacrifice all of their worldly possessions because there is not anything greater and more rewarding than receiving God’s blessing. Mangal Phera (Holy Steps around the Sacred Fire) Gopi and Sunil circle the sacred fire four times, signifying the four basic human goals of dharma (virtue), artha (wealth), kama (family), and moksha (enlightenment). The priest bestows blessings for a long, happy, and healthy marriage. As a fun tradition, at the end of the rounds the bride and groom will run to sit down. It is said that the one who takes a seat first will have the upper hand in the household. Sapta Padi (Seven Vows) Sunil helps Gopi touch seven betel nuts on rice with her right toe while they recite each of the seven vows: We will respect each other. We will care for each other. We will be patient with each other. We will be honest and faithful to each other. We will be together in sorrow and happiness. We will travel this journey of life with love and harmony. We will keep our family happy, healthy, and strong. Mangalsutra (Sacred Necklace) Sunil promises lifelong protection by offering a mangalsutra (sacred necklace) to Gopi and placing kumkum (red colored powder) on the crown of his wife’s head. These two offerings signify the mark of married women and serve as a symbol of the husband’s love, integrity, and devotion. Although not a Hindu custom, Sunil and Gopi exchange rings at this time. Kansar Bhojan (First Meal Together) The ceremony is culminated by the couple sharing their first meal together when each offers kansar (a sweet made from crushed wheat) to the other. Aashirvaad (Blessings from the Elders) Finally, before the newlywed couple leaves the marriage altar, the priest blesses the couple on behalf of the Gods and Goddesses with everlasting happiness. At this time the couple also receives blessings from family members and friends. 15 Famous Hindu Wedding Rituals That You Need To Know Of Hindu weddings are known for their culturally vibrant vibe. They’re intricately planned and are full of life from the very first moment till the very last. And while the very essence of a Hindu wedding ceremony is the physical, spiritual, and emotional union of two people, it is also about the coming together of two families through prayer and celebration. At its core, a Hindu wedding ceremony is essentially a Vedic yajna ritual with three key rituals that are almost universal: Kanyadan, Panigrahana, and Saptapadi—which are respectively, giving away of his daughter by the father, voluntarily holding hands near the fire to signify union, and taking seven ‘steps before fire’. While many modern couples are opting to personalise their nuptials, the big day is a beautiful spot to honour heritage, even if that means just a few of these many ideas get included in the wedding plans. Take a look at these important Hindu wedding rituals and be sure to bookmark them to reference again down the road! List of Hindu Wedding Rituals You Must Know If You’re Getting Married With many rituals and mini ceremonies leading to the main ceremony day, a Hindu wedding ceremony not only binds the couple together but also both families for eternity. Every ritual, every tradition that is a part of a Hindu wedding holds a lot of significance and has been designed very thoughtfully. And no matter where you are in the world, if you’re having a Hindu wedding, you’re bound to follow the following rituals all the same. 1. Muhurat In literal terms, Mahurat means time. Before any Hindu wedding, once both families are introduced to one another and the couple decides to get married, with the consultation of a pandit-Ji, the date and time for the wedding are set. The wedding ceremony’s timing, or mahurat, is decided. After the pandit does some calculations based on the couple’s kundalis and comes up with an auspicious time and date that would be perfect to start their new union. It is around this mahurat that couples finally get to plan their other ceremonies like haldi, mehndi, sangeet etc. 2. Roka or Tilak Ceremony Usually, once the mahurat is decided and agreed upon, the next step of the celebration is the Roka or the Tilak Ceremony. After a small pooja, the bride and groom are both given the blessings of their elders. The bride-to-be is covered in a red veil/chunni and the couple is also given gifts from both sides of the family. In some cases, the couple also exchanges rings, but many also opt for a separate ring ceremony. 3. Barni Bandhwana The Barni Bandhwana is a Hindu wedding ritual that is followed by most communities within Hindus and usually takes place 15 days before the wedding ceremony. In this ritual, the groom’s family ties a red thread around his wrist, known as ‘mauli’. This ritual aims to cast away any evil eyes and pray for his well-being. The elders of the family give their blessings to the groom. After this is done, the groom is not supposed to set foot outside of his home until the wedding, although with changing times this particular part of the ritual is bypassed. 4. Mehndi Ceremony Once the wedding celebration kicks off, the first ceremony is the Mehndi function. The Mehndi usually takes place a day before the wedding, during the day. This is where the bride’s close friends and family members gather for a party. Henna, or mehndi, is applied to the bride’s hands and feet, covering her hands till the elbows and the feet above the ankles or till the knees. Furthermore, almost all other females present also take part in the henna application and get mehndi applied to their hands. The mehndi designs consist of floral and geometric patterns with lines and various kinds of motifs adorning the bride’s hands and feet. It is said that the darker the mehndi design looks later, the stronger a bride’s bond will be with her husband. 5. Sangeet Function The Sangeet night is the most happening function of the entire wedding. It is a function where both the bride and groom’s families come under one roof to dance to their heart’s content. In literal terms, Sangeet means ‘sung together’. Earlier, both families would come together and dance and sing traditional songs on the dhol. However, sangeets have evolved a lot now and it’s all about getting together to dance to the latest Bollywood numbers. Most of the time sangeets have choreographed dance performances from both sides, with some heartwarming and fun performances. It’s the best way to release all that wedding planning stress, loosen up and have a lot of fun with your loved ones. 6. Haldi Ceremony The last function before the actual wedding, the haldi ceremony is a very important function. Before the couple is married, they go through the Haldi ceremony, which is where their families gather to spread the oil, water, and turmeric over the couple. The mixture goes everywhere, over their skin and clothes, and is believed to bless the couple. The added benefit of the ceremony is the exuberant glow the bride and groom have thanks to the haldi. It can be held on the morning of the wedding or even the day before. 7. Baraat Moving on to the actual wedding celebration, the function begins with the mounting of the Baraat. The groom mounts a horse after a little pooja and then he, along with his family and friends, and of course, a band of dhols, move towards the wedding venue. The arrival of the groom to the altar is known as the Baraat. The Baraat is like a mini festival in itself with everyone dancing to the beat of the dhol (or music). 8. Milni Milni means ‘meeting’. It’s a small ritual that takes place once the baraat arrives and the bride’s family welcomes them. With hugs, garlands and tikas, the groom’s side is welcomed into the bride’s home or the venue with gifts and sweets also being exchanged as a sign of welcome and respect for one another. 9. Bride’s Entry The bride’s entry at any wedding is an emotional and beautiful moment. In Hindu wedding tradition, a bride is equivalent to the Goddess Laxmi. Her arrival at the groom’s house is marked with a lot of respect and auspiciousness. Bridal entry is done differently in all communities. In some, the bride walks down the aisle with her father or brother, she walks under a phoolon-ki-chadar or a red chunni towards the mandap. In fact, in Bengali traditions, the bride is lifted on a palki by her brothers and taken to the altar. Every community has its way of bridal entry, but with time things have changed a lot and bride’s can now walk to the altar in their fun and unique way! 10. Jaimala Once the bride and groom are at the altar, they finally exchange garlands. A varmala or jaimala is an Indian wedding garland symbolic of the popular marriage ceremony. The garlands, or jaimalas, are made with flowers and come in a variety of designs and flowers like roses, lotus, marigolds, baby’s breath, etc. The varmala or the jaimala (wedding garland made of fresh flowers) is indispensable to a Hindu wedding ritual. Sometimes, the brothers and close relatives & friends of the bride and the groom make it even more memorable by adding some fun elements to this tradition. They carry both the bride and the groom on their shoulders and move back and forth to make the exchange of garlands a challenging task. Usually, it is the bride who puts the garland first on the groom, showcasing her acceptance of the marriage proposal. Thus, the wedding ceremony begins! 11. Kanyadaan One of the most emotional moments in a woman’s life and that of her parents is the ritual of kanyadaan in a wedding ceremony. Kanyadaan is a Sanskrit word which means ‘giving away the daughter’. And as the meaning suggests it is the tradition or ritual in which parents give away their daughter to the groom. The symbolism is deep-rooted in the belief of those of the Hindu community. During a wedding ceremony, the bride is considered to be a form of the Goddess Laxmi, while the groom is a form of Lord Vishnu. The parents of the bride are initiating the union of two Gods through this ceremony. It is also meant to be the consent of the bride’s parents on accepting the groom as their son-in-law. Every community has their way of doing it, but the essence behind it remains the same for all. The emotion and feelings of that moment are similar for every parent giving away their daughter during the kanyadaan. 12. Havan ‘Havan’, also known as ‘Homa’ is a sacrificial fire ritual that is performed in a square-shaped ‘kunda’ or a bilaterally symmetrical altar. During this ceremony, the ‘Vivaha Havan’ is performed to create an air of divinity and purity. Keeping the Agni as a witness, the bride and groom exchange their sacred vows to each other and the Gods and solemnise their matrimonial rituals. The bride and groom sit around the fire while facing East. The groom and the bride hold hands, make offerings into the sacrificial fire and chant the holy hymns all before they take the seven pheras. During ancient times, more elaborate sacrifices were made, but now we make ritualistic sacrifices/offerings such as curd, sugar, incense, herbs, milk, petals, grains, coconut, etc. 13. Pheras, Mangalsutra & Sindoor ‘Havan’, also known as ‘Homa’ is a sacrificial fire ritual that is performed in a square-shaped ‘kunda’ or a bilaterally symmetrical altar. During this ceremony, the ‘Vivaha Havan’ is performed to create an air of divinity and purity. Keeping the Agni as a witness, the bride and groom exchange their sacred vows to each other and the Gods and solemnise their matrimonial rituals. The bride and groom sit around the fire while facing East. The groom and the bride hold hands, make offerings into the sacrificial fire and chant the holy hymns all before they take the seven pheras. During ancient times, more elaborate sacrifices were made, but now we make ritualistic sacrifices/offerings such as curd, sugar, incense, herbs, milk, petals, grains, coconut, etc. Pheras are the next step of the ceremony. Once the chanting and the holy hymns are recited, the bride and groom move on to the pheras. It is also known as the Saptapadi, or the seven steps. After tying the Mangalsutra around the bride’s neck and applying sindoor on her forehead, the groom and bride take seven steps, which is called Saptapadi. After the seventh step, the couple legally becomes husband and wife. This is followed by the ritual of saat pheras. The saat phere is one of the most important features of the Hindu wedding ritual, involving seven rounds around a sacred fire lit for the purpose amidst the Vedic mantras. Vows made in the presence of the sacred fire are considered unbreakable, with Agnideva (God of Fire) held as both witnessing and blessing the couple’s union, with each phera holding a specific meaning to the union of the couple. 14. Joota Chupai The Joota Chupai Rasam is an Indian marriage custom that has been in existence for a long time. During the event, the family members of both the bride and groom are expected to play some unusual but fun roles. Joota Chupai is all about stealing the groom’s shoes as soon as he takes them off while entering the Mandap. The sisters, cousins, and bridesmaids of the bride are the culprits – they are expected to hide the shoes after stealing them. On the other hand, the family members and relatives of the groom are expected to ensure that the females do not succeed with their plans. The aim is to get some money from the groom before releasing his shoes since he will need them to leave the venue. At the end of the ceremony, the groom, after discovering that his shoes have been stolen, will have to beg the girls to release them to him. The females will then enter into negotiations with the groom, and when they both agree on a handsome amount, the Joota will be released to him! 15. Bidaai Once the bride and groom exchange their vows and take the saat pheras around the havan, they proceed to get their blessings from their elders. This is followed by the most bittersweet and emotional moment of the wedding ceremony. The Bidaai is the moment the bride bids farewell to her family and leaves with the groom and his family. A bidaai ceremony is a two-fold tradition. Where on one hand, the parents send their daughter to a new beginning, and the daughter in return, thanks them for taking care of her for all these years. The bride throws rice/wheat grains, mixed with flower petals and coins at her parents from the back (without looking back) while walking towards the exit gate. This particular custom symbolises her gratitude and her attempt to replay the ‘dues’ to her parents. The bride performs this rice-throwing ritual five times before leaving the house and the family members collect them in their hands as a token. Final Thoughts Rich, vibrant and culturally grounded, Hindu wedding ritual and traditions may differ in every community but the general rules and basic rituals are pretty much the same. Furthermore, couples nowadays are very mindful of their older traditions while also adopting or modifying certain rituals that are more suitable for the time and era. Honestly, the ultimate goal of any wedding is to celebrate the union of a couple like a complete festival! Lakshmi, and thus the bride comes back to her home to ensure prosperity of her parents.

Manu Smriti and Women

After seeing what Vedas have to say about women, let’s find the place of women in Manu Smriti. In this chapter, we shall evaluate Manu Smriti and review the allegation on Manu Smriti – that Manu Smriti is grossly anti-women and denigrates the Matri Shakti (motherly force).

Manu Smriti has been grossly interpolated. However, it is very easy to identify the fraud verses and separate them from the original Manu Smriti.

If we review this original Manu Smriti, one can proudly assert that there is perhaps no other text in the world (except Vedas of course!) that accords so much of respect and rights to women. Even the modern feminist books would have to seek further amendments to match up to Manu Smriti.

I am yet to read a text that so unambiguously proclaims that women form the foundation of a prosperous society.

Women – Foundation of prosperous society

Manu Smriti 3.56: The society that provides respect and dignity to women flourishes with nobility and prosperity. And a society that does not put women on such a high pedestal has to face miseries and failures regardless of how so much noble deeds they perform otherwise.

This verse of Manu Smriti is not merely a flattery of womenfolk. It is truth – very harsh for those who denigrate women and the sweetest nectar for those who glorify the motherly force. This law of nature applies to a family, society, cult, nation and entire humanity. We became slaves despite all our greatness because we neglected this advice of Maharshi Manu. We did not heed to this advice for centuries even after invasions, and hence, our situation turned from bad to worse. In late nineteenth century, thanks to efforts of reformers like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Swami Dayanand Saraswati, we started considering the Vedic message seriously and hence observed a gradual upturn.

Many conservative Muslim countries of today consider women as half-intelligent and unworthy of equal rights at par with men. Hence, these places are worse than hell. Europe followed the derogatory Biblical concept of women for ages and hence was among most superstitious places in the world. Then, thanks to Reformation era, things changed and Bible ceased to be taken seriously. As a result, rapid progress happened. But now the woman is typically stereotyped as a sensual object of pleasure and not as a respectful motherly force. And hence, despite all the material progress, the Western world is still inflicted with insecurity and lack of inner peace.

Let’s review some more shlokas from Manu Smriti and attempt to imbibe them in our society:
Importance of happy women

Manu Smriti 3.55: Father, brother, husband or brother-in-law should keep their daughter, sister, wife or sister-in-law happy and pleased through gentle words, respectful behavior, gifts, etc. Those who desire prosperity should ensure that women in their family are always happy and do not face miseries.

Manu Smriti 3.57: A family where women remain unhappy due to misdeeds of their men is bound to be destroyed. And a family where women are always happy is bound to prosper forever.

Manu Smriti 3.58: A family- where women feel insulted or discriminated against and curse their menfolk- is destroyed in the same manner as poison kills all those who eat it.

Manu Smriti 3.59: One desiring glory should ensure that he keeps women in the family by giving them respect and pleasing them with good ornaments, dresses, and food. Women should always be revered under all circumstances.

Manu Smriti 3.62: A person who does not keep her wife happy causes misery for the entire family. And if the wife is happy, the entire family appears as happiness incarnate.

Manu Smriti 9.26: Women give birth to next generation. They enlighten the home. They bring fortune and bliss. Hence, women are synonymous to Prosperity.

This shloka forms the basis of women being called Ghar Ki Laxmi or “Goddess of Fortune in Home” in India even till today.

Manu Smriti 9.28: The woman is the source of all kinds of happiness in all generations – be it from children, or from noble, benevolent deeds or through conjugal bliss or service of elders.

In other words, the woman is the primary source of bliss in many forms – sometimes as a mother, sometimes as a daughter, sometimes as a wife and sometimes as a partner in spiritual deeds. It also means that participation of women is necessary for the conduct of any religious or spiritual activity.

Manu Smriti 9.96: Man and Woman are incomplete without each other. Hence, the most ordinary religious duty would demand participation of both.

Thus, those who deny Vedas or Vedic rituals to women are anti-Hindu and anti-Humanity.

Manu Smriti 4.180: A wise man should not indulge in fights and arguments with his family members including mother, daughter, and wife.

Manu Smriti 9.4: A father who does not marry his daughter to a deserving groom deserves condemnation. A husband who does not fulfill just demands of her wife deserves condemnation. A son who does not take care of her widow mother deserves condemnation.

Polygamy is a sin

Manu Smriti 9.101: Husband and Wife should remain together until death. They should not approach any other partner, nor commit adultery. In summary, this is the Dharma or religion of all human beings.

Thus, those societies which justify polygamy or sex-slavery or temporary marriage are bound to suffer miseries because they neglect the core tenet of Dharma.

Autonomy of Women

Manu Smriti 9.11: Women should be provided autonomy and leadership in managing the finances, maintaining hygiene, spiritual and religious activities, nutrition and overall management of the home.

The shloka clearly puts aside false claims that women do not have right to conduct religious rituals of Vedas. On the contrary, women should lead such rituals. Thus, all those people who suggest that women do not have right to study or practice Vedas are against Manu and Vedas. Such bigoted people are the cause of the misery of the nation. We should simply not tolerate such mindsets that demean women.

Manu Smriti 9.12: A woman who is kept constrained in a home by noblemen (husband, father, and son) is still insecure. Thus, it is futile to restrict women. Security of women would come only through her own capabilities and mindset.

This shloka explains the futility to attempting to restrict a woman to home in the name of providing her security. On the contrary, to secure her, she should be given the right training so that she can defend herself and avoid getting misled by the bad company. The prevailing notion of cornering women within a small home is against Manu’s ideology.

Protection of Women

Manu Smriti 9.6: Even a weak husband should attempt to protect his wife.

Manu Smriti 9.5: Women should keep themselves away from vices. Because when women lose a character, the entire society is destroyed.

Manu Smriti 5.149: A woman should always ensure that she is protected. It is the duty of father, husband, and son to protect her.

Please note that this protection does not imply restriction as clear from verse 9.12 cited in the previous section. But a society that does not protect its womenfolk from attacks of perverts writes its own destiny of doom.

It is because of this inspiration that many brave warriors laid their lives to protect the dignity of their women when butchers from West and Central Asia invaded our nation. The sacrifices of Alha-Udal and valor of Maharana Pratap brings a gush of glory in our blood.

It’s a shame that despite such a chivalrous foundation of our culture, we have women either oppressed in the backyard of homes or commoditized as sensual-items instigating lust. When we have turned ourselves into invaders instead of protectors of the dignity of women, who can help us!

Marriage of Women

Manu Smriti 9.89: It is better to keep the daughter unmarried than force her to marry an undeserving person.

Manu Smriti 9.90-91: A woman can choose her own husband after attaining maturity. If her parents are unable to choose a deserving groom, she can herself choose her husband.

Thus, the concept of parents deciding the groom for their daughter is against Manu. A mature daughter has full rights to choose her husband. Parents act as facilitators for the marriage and not final decision makers, as wrongly practiced in many societies.

Property Rights of Women

Manu Smriti 9.130: A daughter is equivalent to a son. In her presence, how can anyone snatch away her right over the property?

Manu Smriti 9.131: A daughter alone has the right to personal property of her mother.

Thus, as per Manu, while daughter has an equal share as her brothers over the property of her father, she has exclusive rights over the property of her mother. The reason for this special treatment of women is to ensure that women are never at the mercy of anyone. After all, happy and dignified women form the foundation of a happy society!

Manu Smriti 9.212-213: If a person has no kins or wife, then his wealth is distributed equally among his brothers and sisters. If the elder brother refuses to give due share to other brothers and sisters, he is punishable by law.

To further ensure the safety of women, Manu recommended harsh punishments for those who rob away the wealth of a woman, even if they are her relatives.

Manu Smriti 8.28-29: If a woman is alone because she has no children, or no men to provide for her security in her family, or is a widow, or whose husband has gone abroad, or who is unwell, then it is the duty of the government to ensure her safety and security. If her relatives or friends rob her wealth, then the government should provide strict punishment to the culprits and have her wealth returned to her.

Prohibition of Dowry

Manu Smriti 3.52: Those relatives who rob away or thrive on wealth, property, vehicles or dresses of a woman or her family are wiliest of people.

Thus, any dowry is a strict NO NO as per Manu Smriti. No one should dare attempt to take away the property of a woman.

The next shloka takes this concept further and states that even slightest exchange of tangible items amounts to sale/purchase and hence against principles of noble marriage. In fact, Manu Smriti suggests that a marriage along with dowry is a marriage of ‘Devils’ or ‘Asuri’ Vivah.

Strict Punishment for harming Women

Manu Smriti 9.323: Those who abduct women should be given a death sentence.

Manu Smriti 9.232: Those who kill women, children or scholarly virtuous people should be given strictest punishment.

Manu Smriti 8.352: Those who rape or molest women or incite them into adultery should be given the harshest punishment that creates fear among others to even think of such a crime.

Manu Smriti 8.275: One should be punished if he puts false allegations or demeans mother, wife or daughter.

Manu Smriti 8.389: Those who abandon their mother, father, wife or children without any reasonable reason should face severe punishments.

Ladies First

The concept of Ladies First seems to originate from Manu Smriti.

Manu Smriti 2.138: A man in a vehicle should give way to the following – aged person, a diseased person, one carrying burden, groom, King, student and a woman.

Manu Smriti 3.114: One should feed the following even before feeding the guests – newly married women, girls, and pregnant women.

May we all work together to implement this true Manuvaad by showering respect and ensuring the dignity of the motherly force. How else can prosperity be restored in the society, nation, and world?

Manusmriti- 18 Eternal laws for husband and wife that must not be broken!

1 Laws of marriage as per Manusmriti

In Hinduism, it is believed that the earliest generations of mortals were brought to an end by Lord Vishnu’s Matsya Avatar, sparing only Manu and his wife. It is said that the early humans, had no knowledge of religion, humanity and Dharma & Karma, which led to massive self-destruction of humanity.

2 Matsya Avatara

This is when Lord Vishnu appeared in Matsya avatar and warned Manu (human son of Lord Brahma) of the impending flood that would destroy everything, in order to restore everything. He asked him to prepare an ark and safeguard male and female pair of every living organism, and enough food resources for their survival.

3 Manusmriti- Laws of Manu

He later instructed him to meanwhile, compile knowledge of Dharma and Karma, including rituals, laws and responsibilities for every human, set to be born thereof. This knowledge authored by Manu, was widely known as Manusmriti. However, there has been no evidence supporting this theory.

4 Translation of Vedic texts

This Sanskrit Vedic text has been of late, interpreted and translated into language, understood by masses. Of many chapters mentioned in Manusmriti, is one where he enlisted some eternal laws for husband and wife, whether they be united or separated.

5 #1. Day and night, it’s the duty of a husband to protect his woman and respect her individuality, whereas wife is responsible for security of peace and happiness of home.

6 #2. Husband and wife must respect the eternal bond of matrimony; and, must never take the internal matters outside of their home. Husband and wife, must also ensure respecting the dignity of each other’s families.

7 #3. A wife should be particularly guarded against evil leanings, no matter how trivial they appear to be. Sorrow of a woman is doomed upon the family members.

8 #4. Regardless, of religion, cast, creed and skin color, a man must protect his wife from external difficulties and a wife must ensure peaceful ongoing of their eternal bond.

9 #5. A husband who cautiously safeguards his spouse ensures the purity of his progeny, righteous demeanour of himself, his family. Husband and wife, must ensure the procreation of their progeny.

10 #6. A wife must take care of her family and her husband, and if gives birth to a son, let him be loved and taken care of his wife. She must perform her duties and guide her daughter-in-law towards the path; in no way must she disturb the pattern. Remember your husband is also a son to a woman.

11 #7. A husband under no circumstances or intention should forcefully bind his wife in matrimony nor should he protect her without her wishes; and a wife must not seek love and compassion, forcefully.

12 #8. A woman is an avatar of Goddess Laxmi, Parvati, Durga, Annapurna and Saraswati, therefore, husband shall let his wife be employed for safeguarding and disbursements of wealth, cooking nutritious food for their health and looking after utensils, no decision for the household and family members must be taken without her permission.

13 #9. A wife, who’s freedom is compromised by the narrow-mindedness or shrewdness of her husband and family members, shall be rightful in leaving her relations behind and begin the journey of finding herself

14 #10. Husband and wife, together must keep the happiness and prosperity of these people in strict order- themselves, their children, their parents, their family and neighbours.

15 #11. A husband must not ignore the intuitions or warnings of his wife about a man, other then him; even if the particular individual is his own brother and father, a friend or neighbour.

16 #12. A wife must instill her trust on her husband and shall not become a conspirator against her own family; it will lead to her own sorrows. If she finds her husband straying from the path of marriage, she must immediately safeguard her marriage; the same goes for a husband.

17 #13. A husband under no circumstances shall betray the trust, respect and honor of his wife, for another woman; for it will bring shame to himself, his family and wrath of God in afterlife.

18 #14. A wife should never bring a thought of another man other than her husband. Neither must she compromise her family’s peace and happiness.

19 #15. A husband should not be in the company of wicked people, remain constantly in inebriated state, involved in gambling, travel for longer period than usual and interfere in relations of other husband and wife. This shall bring shame and disrespect to his family and peace shall never be his friend.

20 #16. A wife must not be easily influenced against her own family, she must not consume spirituous liquor, connect with wicked people, and not separate from her husband under the influence of misunderstanding.

21 #17. A husband and wife must together keep intact the passion in their relationship and must not stray into other people. Husband must ensure in fulfilling her wife’s desire and a wife must reciprocate her husband’s love.

22 18. A husband and wife, regardless of their wealth and richness, status and age, if are destitute of knowledge and respect of Vedic texts and rituals, are held impure souls. In the absence of either (husband or wife) no puja or yagna for the sanctity of their house, is ever considered complete.

Hinduism and Widows

This article is concerned about the three paths prescribed for a widow according to Hindu scriptures and commentators.

After the death of her husband, a widow has three options.

  • She can opt for Punar Vivaha (remarriage).
  • She can go for Vidhvavrata (simple life).
  • She can ascend the pyre.

Punar Vivaha:

Smritis such as Manusmriti and Vasista Dharma Sutra allow remarriage of widows only if the marriage hasn’t been consummated.

Baudhyana Dharma Sutra 4.1.16 “If after (a damsel) has been given away, or even after (the nuptial sacrifice) have been offered, the husband dies, she who (thus) has left (her father’s house) and has returned, may be again wedded according to the rule applicable to second weddings, provided the marriage had not been consummated.”

Vasistha Dharma Shastra 17.74 “If a damsel at the death of her husband had been merely wedded by (the recitation of) sacred texts, and if the marriage had not been consummated, she may be married again.”

Manusmriti 9.176 “If she be (still) a virgin, or one who returned (to her first husband) after leaving him, she is worthy to again perform with her second (or first deserted) husband the (nuptial) ceremony.”

Though many scriptures say a woman can remarry after the death of his husband only if the marriage hasn’t been consummated, several scriptures which allow widows to remarry even after the death of her husband and silent about the consummation issue. I am providing several among such verses from scriptures.

Naradha Smriti 12.97 “When her husband is lost or dead, when he has become a religious ascetic, when he is impotent, when he has been expelled from caste, in these cases a woman may be Justified in another husband.

Parashara Smriti 4.28 “When her husband is missing or is dead or has renounced the world or is impotent or has been degraded by sin, – on the any of the said five calamities, she can remarry“.

Garuda Purana 1.107.28 “In case of disappearance or death or renunciation or impotent or lost caste status of her husband, in these five cases a woman is allowed to take another husband.”

Agni Purana 154.4-7 “Women are allowed to have another husband in the following five adversaries;- (the first husband) is lost, dead, has become an ascetic, impotent or fallen morally. If the husband is dead, she should be given to the brother of the deceased. In the absence of brother, she should be given to anyone as one wished”

Now, several Hindu phobics try to connect these four verses (Parashara Smriti 4.28, Narada Smriti 12.97, Garuda Purana 1.107.28 and Agni Purana 154.4-7) with Baudhyana Dharma Sutra 4.1.16, Vasista 17.74 and Manusmriti 9.176 and claim that remarriage in these five cases are allowed only if the marriage hasn’t been consummated. However, that is not the case. Because as we have already seen, scriptures which allow remarriage and silent about consummation, clearly mention that a wife can take another husband in case if her husband become ascetic (Sanyasi) as one among five adversaries in which remarriage is allowed. We all know that after marriage, a husband is not allowed to become a Sanyasi without producing sons. Now, a person cannot produce sons without consummating the marriage. So, these four verses clearly allows remarriage of widows even if the marriage is consummated.

Another objection here is, some quote Padma Purana III.ii.85 which says as long as a girl hasn’t attained puberty, another groom is enjoined for her and say this verse allows remarriage only if she hasn’t attained puberty. But the problem is, the phrase “another groom is enjoined for her” is unnecessarily added by the translator. The phrase “as long as a girl hasn’t attained puberty” is linked with the previous phrase “Wise men get married their unmarried daughter“.
Objection: There are many scriptures which say a woman should be given only once in marriage. So, remarriage is not allowed.
Reply: When scriptures say a woman should be given only once in marriage, it actually means polyandry shouldn’t be practiced. Because if we consider that the rule “a woman should be given only once in marriage” means she is not eligible for remarriage, even those scriptures which allow remarriage in case if the marriage hasn’t be consummated become invalid. So, this interpretation makes absolutely no sense.
Moreover, when commenting on Manusmriti 9.76, Medhatithi quoted Parasara Smriti 4.28 but he didn’t say anything like this Parasara Smriti verse actually means a widow can remarry only if the marriage hasn’t been consummated or Parasara Smriti 4.28 doesn’t allow widows to remarry. Let’s see what Manu 9.76 says and Medhatithi’s commentary on the same:
Manusmiti 9.76 “If the husband went abroad for some sacred duty, he should be awaited for eight years; if for learning, or for fame, six years; but three years, if for pleasure.”

Medhatithi’s commentary:

The text has said nothing as to what the wife should do after having waited for the eight years. And on this point, some people on the strength of Context, say that she should maintain herself by unobjectionable industries.

This however is not right Because, if the maintaining of herself by unobjectionable industries referred to the time after the eight years of waiting,—then, before the– lapse of that time, is she to die? Suicide is not considered desirable for her, just as it is not for the man; being, as it is, forbidden for all. Hence, the conclusion appears to be that before the lapse of the said time she shall maintain herself by unobjectionable industries; but after that she may have recourse to objectionable ones also.

Others hold that after the said time, the woman may deviate from chastity;—as says smother Smṛti text:- ‘When the husband is lost, or dead, or become an ascetic, or impotent, or an outcast:- in the event of these five calamities smother husband is permitted for women.’ (Parasara).

Others again hold the following view:—Even in ignorance, it is not open to the woman to renounce her chastity. In fact, it has been laid down among the duties of women (under 5.156) that ‘on the death of her husband she shall not even utter the name of another man’; so that deviation from chastity is not permissible even on the death of her husband,—what to say as to when he has only gone abroad. As regards the Smṛti-text quoted, the word ‘pati’ ‘husband,’ is used there in the sense of protector, just as in the case of such terms as ‘grāmapati’, ‘senāpati’ and so forth. So that all that the present text means is that—‘she should no longer remain dependent upon her husband, she may undertake the work of the toilet-maid or some such thing, under another man who would give her food’; and when she has entered into a contract for such service extending over six months, or a year—if the husband happen to turn up and claim her, asking the employer to give her up,—he can claim her restitution, before the lapse of the

eight years; as before that she belongs to her husband.

Other matters relating to this subject have been fully dealt with under Discourse V.

This same view has been accepted by many others also.

Other people, however, hold that the text sanctions recourse to the life of the ‘remarried widow’ (after the lapse of the time mentioned). If a woman is abandoned by her husband,—or if her husband, after having made provision for her, does not return during the said time, and she is as good as abandoned by him,—‘then, she may he married by another man, according to the practice of ‘widow remarriage’; and if the former husband happen to return after that, he can say nothing, and she shall continue to be the wife of the second husband.

This however is not right; since ‘neither by sale nor by repudiation is the wife released from her husband.’ (Manu 9.46); and the uses of this text we shall explain later on.

What Medhatithi says is that Manusmriti 9.76 doesn’t mean a wife can take another husband (i.e., remarriage) after eight years if her husband went for some sacred duty, six years if he went for fame or learning, three years if he went for pleasure as Manusmriti 9.46 goes contrary to it, but this verse simply orders a wife to subsist herself by objectionable industries after those years have elapsed, but if total number of years mentioned in Manu 9.76 hasn’t elapsed, then she should subsist herself by unobjectionable industries as mentioned in the previous verse. Also, Medhatithi clearly mentioned that some say just like Parasara 4.28, this verse too allows a wife to remarry, but this interpretation is not right, i.e., Manu verse doesn’t allow widows to remarry as Manu 9.46 prohibits the same. In other words, he didn’t say Parasara 4.28 doesn’t allow widows to remarry, but he said Manu 9.76 doesn’t allow a widow to remarry. It means he may indirectly acknowledged that Parasara Smriti does allow widows to remarry.

Practicing austerity (Vidhwaavrata)

Many scriptures mention this. I am quoting some among them. First being Manusmriti.

Manusmriti Chapter 5:

The good wife, desirous of reaching her husband’s regions, should never do anything that may be disagreeable to her husband, alive or dead. (154)

Well might she macerate her body by means of pure flowers, roots and fruits; but she should not even mention the name of another man, after her husband is dead. (155)

Till her death, she should remain patient, self-controlled and chaste,—seeking that most excellent merit that accrues to women having a single husband.(156)

Other scriptures mentioning Vidvavrata:

Vishnu Dharma Sutra 25.14 “After the death of her husband, to preserve her chastity or to enter the pile of her husband..”

Vishnu Dharma Sutra 25.17 “A good wife, who perseveres in a chaste life after the death of her lord, will go to heaven like (perpetual) students, even though she has no son.

Parasara Smriti 4.29 “If a woman has led a continent life, after her lord departed this life, she wins a region of bliss after her death, like to the well-known male observers of a celibate life.”

Baudayana Dharma Sutra “A widow shall avoid during a year (the use of) honey, meat, spirituous liquor, and salt, and sleep on the ground. Maudgalya (declares that she shall do so) during six months.”

Vashishta Dharma Sutra 17.55 “The widow of a deceased person shall sleep on the ground during six months, practising religious vows and abstaining from pungent condiments and salt. After the completion of six months she shall bathe, and offer a funeral oblation to her husband. (Then) her father or her brother shall assemble the Gurus who taught or sacrificed (for the deceased) and his relatives, and shall appoint her (to raise issue to her deceased husband)”

Agni Purana 222.20 “the lady practicing continence after the death of her husband, goes to heaven. She shouldn’t have desire to live in other’s house and shouldn’t be quarrelsome. A widow as well as a wife who has gone abroad, shouldn’t decorate her person. A woman whose husband has gone abroad shall wear some ornaments for the welfare of her husband”

Vrihaspati Smriti 24.11 “A wife is considered half the body (of her husband), equally sharing the result of his good or wicked deeds; whether she ascends the pile after him, or chooses to survive him leading a virtuous life, she promotes the welfare of her husband.”

Ascending pyre:

This can be done in two ways. One is either ascending into the same pyre in which the husband is cremated or ascending in a different pyre after her husband’s cremation.

Can any woman undergo Sati?

The answer is no.

Narada Purana I.7.52. “O blessed princes! The following ladies do not ascend the funeral pyre, viz. those with infant children depending on them, pregnant women, those whose monthly course hasn’t yet started, and women in the menses.

Apart from this, only Pativrata women are entitled to enter pyre.

What is Pativrata?

A Pativrata is a wife who accepted her husband as none other than god. Pati – husband; Vrata – vow. Just like how a boy (especially in case of upper three Varnas) go to Patashala and consider his Guru to be equal to god, in the same manner a woman considers her husband as equal to god. Pativarata wife attends her husband’s personal needs and thereby providing many free time for her husband to practice religious rituals. She also accompanies with her husband in performing various sacrifices which an husband can perform only with a Pativrata wife. So, Vedas promises a Pativarata wife for everyone who follows what is said in it. For a Pativarata wife, her husband is the way for Moksha. She serves her husband and devoted to her and ascending pyre when he is dead. A Pativrata never utters the name of her husband. She won’t leave her husband even if he is blind or deaf. She will always bangles and other ornaments from her body. A Pativrata also wears Bindi & Turmeric and keeps her hair tied.

Leave aside being equal to men, by being a Pativrata, it is possible for a wife to become more powerful than a male.

One should know that Medhatithi interpreted Parasara Smriti 4.28 that this verse allows a widow to deviate from Chasity. This means even a Pativrata wife in case if her husband is dead may marry another man.

Bhishma narrates about the qualities of Pativrata in Mahabharata 12.144:

Mahabharata 12.144 “A house-holder’s home, even if filled with sons and grandsons and daughters-in-law and servants, is regarded empty if destitute of the housewife.One’s house is not one’s home; one’s wife only is one’s home. A house without the wife is as desolate as the wilderness. If that dear wife of mine, of eyes fringed with red, of variegated plumes, and of sweet voice, does not come back today, my life itself will cease to be of any value. Of excellent vows, she never eats before I eat, and never bathes before I bathe. She never sits before I sit down, and never lies before I lie down. She rejoices if I rejoice, and becomes sorry when I am sorry. When I am away she becomes cheerless, and when I am angry she ceases not to speak sweetly. Ever devoted to her lord and ever relying upon her lord, she was ever employed in doing what was agreeable to and beneficial for her lord. Worthy of praise is that person on earth who own such a spouse.”

Agni Purana says a king should protect the Pativrata wife while describing the qualities of a Pativrata:

Agni Purana Chapter 222: ” A righteous king should always protect the Pativrata women. The women should engage happily and efficiently in the chores of household tasks. She should be decorating well the household articles and be frugal in her expenses. She should always do service to her husbandwhom her father has given her in marriage. “

Brahma Vaivarta Purana on the qualities of chaste women:

Brahma Vaivarta Purana Krishna Janma Kanda 83. 110-116 “O lord of Vraja, now you listen to me about the duties of a chaste woman. A chaste woman remains anxious about her husband and always sips his Caranodaka daily. She takes food devotedly with the permission of her husband. Discarding the vratas, tapas and adoration to the gods, she spends her time by devoting herself at the feet of her husband and offers prayers to him and satisfying him in all aspects. A chaste woman should not act without the command of her husband and should not act with the enmity. A chaste woman considers her husband more important than Narayana and remains always devoted to him. A chaste woman is never attracted towards the faces of other men and doesn’t join them in journey, festivals, dance, sports, etc. Whatever is eaten by her husband is acceptable by her. A chaste lady never separates herself from her husband even for a moment. A chaste woman never enters into controversies with her husband, even if she is scolded by her husban

d, she never gets enraged.”

Padma Purana on Pativrata wife and the home in which she resides:

Padma Purana II.59 8-19 “In the house of him, whose meritorious and very chaste wife has qualities like being devoted to good practices, being worthy, being intent upon accomplishing moral merit, being devoted to her husband, always loving knowledge gods of great powers will always stay; and his dead ancestors living in his house, desire bliss. There (in the house) are present auspicious rivers like Ganges and seas; and not at any other place. He, in whose house lives a chaste wife, entirely devoted to truth has the credit of having performed sacrifices, cows and sages live there and no at any other place.”

Kurma Purana on Pativrata:

Kurma Purana II.34.110-111 “If a woman is chaste and engaged in serving her husband, she doesn’t incur any sins either in this world or other. A chaste woman devoted to piety shall always attain welfare and happiness. No man can, by any means, create discomfort for her”

Agni Purana on pativrata:

Agni Purana 292.20 “The entire universe is supported by gods, Brahmins, Pativratas, holy men and cows. Hence they are always considered to be fittest to be worshiped.

Brahma Vaivarta Purana on the greatness of being a Pativrata:

Brahma Vaivarta Purana Krishna Janma Kanda 83. 120-126 “A chaste woman redeems thousand of her generations. The husband of a chaste woman is relieved of all sins. Because of the performance of the chaste woman, her husband’s sins are washed away. The merit a mendicant achieves by performing Tapas, performing Vratas, fasting by the ascetics and giving away of the charity by donors, the same merit is always achieved by the chaste woman. This is why even lord Narayana, Shiva, Brahma, all other gods and sages are afraid of a chaste woman. With the dust of the feet of the chaste woman, the earth gets purified and by offering salutations to a chaste woman, oen is relieved of all sins. A chaste woman is always considered to be meritorious and she is always capable of reduce the three worlds into ashes.”

Some scriptures which mention Sati:

Parasara Smriti 4.30 “A widow, who immolates herself on the same funeral pile with her deceased husband, resides in heaven for ten millions of years, which is the number of hairs on the human body.”

Agni Purana 222.23 “The woman (widow) who enters the funeral fire along with the dead husband will also reach the heaven”

Daksha Smriti 4.19 “A woman, who, after the demise of her husband, ascends the funeral pyre, becomes of good conduct and lives gloriously in the heaven.”

Kurma Purana II.34.108b-109 “A woman who enters funeral pyre along with her husband shall uplift him even if he is a Brahmana slayer, an ungrateful fellow or one defiled by great sins…”

Other than these 4, Vishnu Dharmasutra 25.14, Vrihaspathi Smriti 24.11 also mention Sati.

There are some scriptures which condemn Sati system:

Mahanirvana Tantra 10.79-80 “………. but, O Kuleshani! a wife should not be burnt with her dead husband . Every woman is Thy image–Thou residest concealed in the forms of all women in this world. That woman who in her delusion ascends the funeral pyre of her lord shall go to hell .”

Ashta Vivaah (8 Types of Marriage) in Manu Smriti

Eight different types of Vivaah have been documented in the ancient Indian scripture Manu Smriti III.20-34.

Only two types (Brahma Vivaah & Gandharva Vivaah) are prevailant these days.
Other types of marriages existed in olden days and few were even followed until last century, but slowly they were abolished from the society.
For example, Prajapatya Vivaah is where a girl is married before puberty and given as a gift to groom’s family.
These child marriages are almost stopped now.
Daiva Vivaah type of charities are still done in some places and temples.
Arsha Vivaah, where money is paid by groom to bride’s father, was practiced until early 20th century.
The eight types of marriages described in ancient days are:

1. Brahma Vivaah: Brahma vivah is considered the best marriage. In this the boy and girl belonging to good families and the same varna get married. The boy should have completed his Brahmacharya Ashram (studenthood). There is no dowry involved and the girl enters the boy’s house with two sets of clothes and some ornaments. In this marriage, the boy’s family approaches the girl’s family. “Kanyadaan”, which is the handing of the bride by her father to the groom, is an important ritual of the Brahma Vivah..


2. Prajapatya Vivaah: This type of marriage is the same as the Brahma vivaah in all respects, except that the bride’s father gives her away as a gift, not to the groom, but to the groom’s father. This type of marriage is resorted to when the groom and bride are both very young. Thus, the protection of the bride or daughter is handed over by her father to the groom’s father during the Panigrahan (hand-receiving) ceremony. The wedding ceremony involving the young bride and groom may take place immediately afterwards, but the wedding may not be consummated for several years, until the bride and groom are old enough.


3. Daiva Vivaah: In this type of wedding, there are no feasts or celebrations that are specific to the wedding, but the wedding of the daughter of a poor family is held as an act of charity by wealthy people. It was customary for kings, landlords and rich merchants to hold religious ceremonies and sacrifices where many gifts would be given and charities performed for the benefit of learned Brahmins and the poor. During these great events, a poor man would sometimes approach the wealthy host and seek the charity that his daughter’s wedding be performed at this time. This type of marriage may take place if the girl’s parents are unable to locate a suitable groom within a reasonable period (several years) after the girl has attained puberty. Often, the reason for this would be that the parents of the bride cannot afford the expense of their daughter’s marriage. It was considered improper or unsafe to keep a girl unwed past her teens, and anyway the chances of an aging girl getting a good husband were not better than the same girl getting a good husband at a younger age. So the girl would be bedecked with flowers and whatever small ornaments the parents could provide and taken to the venue of the religious ceremony or sacrifice being performed by a rich magnate. She would be offered in marriage to any willing man and generally this would be one of the priests, young or old. The wedding ceremony would be performed in short order and the feasts which were anyway being hosted as part of the festivities would suffice for this extra wedding also. According to the Dharmashastra, Daiva marriage is considered avoidable but is still respectable since poverty is not culpable; lack of virtue is reprehensible but honest poverty is acceptable.

4. Arsha Vivaah: In this type of marriage, the family of the groom pays kanya-shulkam or bride-price to the parents of the bride. According to certain texts, the prescribed bride-price is a cow with a calf and a pair of bulls. The sacred texts provide various lists of specific communities where this custom prevailed and imply that it is unfitting in general society. However, several instances are found in the puranas of marriage between a man from mainstream communities and a woman from one of the bride-price seeking communities (Pandu-Madri; Dasharatha-Kaikeyi, etc.). In nearly all cases, the man willingly pays the bride-price and brings his bride home.

5. Asura Vivaah: In the Asura type of marriage the groom is not at all suitable for the bride. In no way is he a match for the girl but he willingly gives as much wealth as he can afford to the bride’s parents and relatives. In Arsha type cows are given in exchange for the bride but there is no such limitation in the Asura type of marriage. Generally the groom is of lower social rank or caste than the bride.

6. Gandharva Vivaah: When a man and a woman marry for love and without the consent of their families, that marriage is called Gandharva Vivaah or ‘love marriage.

7.Rakshasa Vivaah: This is essentially marriage by abduction. In cases where the girl is willing to marry the boy but her family is against the alliance, the girl may be abducted and married. It is essential that the girl be willing, because otherwise, the puranas and shastras simply treat the incident of abduction as rape, with consequent vengeance and retribution. Instances of such marriages include Krishna-Rukmini and Arjuna-Subhadra, in all of which cases the girl was willing and the results were good.

8.Paisacha Vivaah: In the case where the bride is intoxicated, possessed or not in a conscious state of mind when being married and thus is married unwillingly, is an example Paisacha vivaah, and which has been outlawed by Manu.

Understanding Manu Smriti-I: Women and Freedom
The much touted verse of misogyny in Manusmriti, actually has nothing anti-women in it.

Almost everybody knows this verse from Manu Smriti for its misinterpreted meaning. This verse, which is often explained as denying women independence, has been touted as the ultimate proof of misogyny in Hinduism. Yet, a thorough reading of the verse will reveal how the true import of the verse has been twisted and misinterpreted.

Let us now try to understand the true import of the verse.

First, the context. Manu says this verse, when enumerating the righteousness or duties of men and women in the 9th chapter. He categorically says “now I will speak about the Dharmas to be followed, when they (husband and wife) are united and when they are away from each other, due to travel etc., of those men and women when following the path of Dharma” (M.S.9.1). Thus, the duty of husband and wife, in otherwords, the duty of householders forms the context of the verse.

Let us now look at the translation of the verse 9.3. It is often translated thus: “Father should protect in Kaumara-hood (before marriage), husband should protect in youth, sons should protect in old-age and thus, the women do not deserve independence”.

Here, the word रक्षति has been translated as “should protect”, though it actually should have been translated as “protect” in simple present tense. This has been done following the spirit of the verse as explained in the commentaries. Medhatithi, one of the well acclaimed commentator on Manusmriti, for example, explains रक्षतीति भवन्तिः लिङर्थे छान्दसत्वात् ततो रक्षेद् इति विधेयप्रत्ययः। This means that simple present “रक्षति” is to be treated as “potential mood’ i.e. in the form of an order. So, it is the imperative duty or obligation of the father, husband and the son that they should protect women in various periods of life. In other words, the verse is enunciating the duties of men, with respect to women.

The last sentence of this verse, which is often translated as “women do not deserve independence”, is subjected to intense criticism in present times. But, this is a wrong translation and misinterprets the true import of the verse. Let us see how the commentators explain this portion. Medhatithi explains the portion as “न स्त्री स्वतन्त्र्यम् अर्हति इति उच्यते । न अनेन सर्वक्रियाविषयम् अस्वातन्त्र्यम् विधीयते । किं तर्हि न अस्वतन्त्रा=अन्यमनस्कता स्वात्मसंरक्षणाय प्रभवति शक्तिविकलत्वात् स्वतः”, meaning “here non-independence should not be taken as in all matters related to women, but as women are not able to protect themselves due to their nature of physical structure, they are to be protected”.

In another commentary, Sarvanarayana explains it as “पिता रक्षति कन्यादूषणादेः” i.e. father should protect her from the dishonour/defacement/molestation, etc. Raghavananda, yet another commentator on Manusmriti, explains the last portion as “स्वातन्त्र्यं रक्षितृरहितत्वम्”- “स्वातन्त्र्यम् means (women should not be left) without a protector”. Thus, the correct translation would be “no women should be left unprotected”. That is, the verse is enjoining the duty of making sure that the women are unmolested and protected on the menfolk.

Hence, it is clear that the translation “women do not deserve independence” is not the true sense of the verse and it has been wrongly interpreted hitherto by those, who did not study and understood this verse rightly.

Further, Ms. Terry Brown in her book ‘Essential Teachings of Hinduism’, underscores the significance of women in Hinduism as “In Hinduism, a woman is looked after not because she is inferior or incapable, but on the contrary, because she is treasured. She is the pride and power of the society. Just as the crown jewels should not be left unguarded, neither should a woman be left unprotected. If there are costly jewels, we do not throw them here and there like brass vessels. Costly material is protected”. She explains and rightly interprets in her commentary on Manusmriti that “न स्त्री स्वातन्त्र्यमर्हति” does not mean that woman should be a slave. Instead, when she is a young girl, she requires the protection of the father. When she is married, she requires the protection of the husband. When she ages further, the husband would be still older and she will also not be in a position to take care of herself, so the sons will take care of her. In other words, the responsibility of protecting women lies with the menfolk.

Moreover, Manu says earlier in fifth chapter बाल्ये पितुर्वशे तिष्ठेत् पाणिग्राहस्य यौवने। पुत्राणां भर्तरि प्रेते न भजेत्स्त्री स्वतन्त्रताम्।॥ (M.S.5.148). Here also he talks about the protection of the women and not leaving them unprotected. This is further supported by Narada Smriti, which says “पक्षद्वयावसाने तु राजा भर्ता स्त्रियां मतः”, meaning, If nobody is there to protect women on both sides (her father and in-laws), it is the duty of the King to take care of women. In Smriti Chandrika also it is said रक्षेत्कन्यां पिता विन्नां पतिः पुत्रास्तु वार्धके। अभावे ज्ञातयस्तेषां न स्वातन्त्र्यं क्वचित्स्त्रियाः॥ Here also it is explicitly said that father should protect her, when she is a “kanya”; then the husband; and during the old age, the sons should ensure her safety, if no sons are there, then the blood relations of her husband must provide her safety.

In Mahabharata also the same concept is explained by Ashtavakra, when a woman requests him to marry her. Ashtavakra, a sage known for his penance and character, says पिता रक्षति कौमारे भर्ता रक्षति यौवने । पुत्रश्च स्थाविरे काले नास्ति स्त्रीणां स्वतन्त्रता ॥ (M.B.13-20-21 in Dana-Dharma-Parva), pointing out how he cannot marry her without permission from those who protect her, since, women are protected by father, husband, and children in their childhood, youth, and old age, respectively. Here also “non-independence” has been used in the sense of “never unprotected”. This is further clarified by the commentator Neelakantha, who while explaining the verse 14 of the same chapter- “नास्ति स्वतन्त्रता स्त्रीणाम्”- says: “नास्ति इति। अप्रदत्तां त्वां न कामये”, meaning “I will not wish you even in mind without being given (by your protectors)”.

In Katyayana Smriti it is said “सौदायिके सदा स्त्रीणां स्वातन्त्र्यं परिकीर्तितम्” (K.S.106). “Always women have independence in property”. The emphasis on “सदा स्त्रीणां स्वातन्त्र्यम्” clearly shows that women have all the independence. In another context in Mahabharata, Pandu says to Kunti: “नातिवर्तव्य इत्येवं धर्मं धर्मविदो विदुः। शेषेष्वन्येषु कालेषु स्वातन्त्र्यं स्त्री किलार्हति।। (M.B.1-122-26). Here, Pandu asks Kunti to get children by using the power of Mantra she got as “upadesha” from Durvasa. Though, the context here is entirely different, the wrords: “Women do not violate to love her husband during ‘ritukala’ and in other times they are independent”, shows that women had independence.

Therefore, it is clear that the much touted verse of misogyny, actually has nothing anti-women in it. Instead, it is enjoining upon men to make sure women are protected and not molested in any manner.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Understanding Manu Smriti-II: Nature of Women
Manu Smriti accused of being misogynist in reality, has nothing offensive or discriminatory towards women.

In the previous article, we saw how one of the most touted verse from Manu Smriti, which is used to as ultimate evidence for Manu Smriti being misogynist and curtailing free of women, is in reality, speaking about the duties of men and has nothing offensive or discriminatory towards women. In this article, let us take up another infamous verse from Manu Smriti, which has been alleged to contain a degrading reference to women.

स्वभाव एष नारीणां नराणामिह दूषणम्।

अतोऽर्थान्न प्रमाद्यन्ति प्रमदासु विपश्चितः॥ (Manu Smriti.2-213).

This verse is usually translated thus: “It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the learned are never unguarded in the company of females”. It is alleged that the verse is demeaning towards women, since, it apparently seeks to portray women as always plotting, seducing, and entrapping men.

Now, let us examine, whether the original text actually implies what has been alleged about it, or whether the essence of the text is something different.

The word order of this verse is इह नराणां दूषणम् एषः नारीणां स्वभावः। अतः अर्थात् विपश्चितः प्रमदासु न प्रमाद्यन्ति, which in simple terms can be translated as: “Here, it is the nature of women to allure the men. Hence, (for that reason) the learned do not be careless (thrown into) in women”.

Now let us take a deeper look into the verse by looking into what the commentators on Manu Smriti say.

Medhatithi, one of the most celebrated commentator on Manu Smriti has this to say about the verse: “एषा प्रकृतिः स्त्रीणां यत् नराणाम धैर्यव्यावर्तसङ्गान् हि स्त्रियः पुरुषान् व्रताच्च अवयेयुः। अतः अर्थात् अस्मात् हेतोः न प्रमाद्यन्ति = दूरतः एव स्त्रियः परिहरन्ति। प्रमादः स्पर्शादिकरणं वस्तुस्वभावः अयं यत् तरुणी स्पृष्टा कामकृतं चित्तसंक्षोभं जनयति। यत्र चित्तसंक्षोभः अपि प्रतिषिद्धः, तिष्ठतु तावत् अपरो ग्राम्यधर्मसम्भ्रमः। प्रमदाः=स्त्रियः”

The meaning of this passage is “This is the nature of women that they make shaky, even the men, who are firm in their conduct. For that reason, the learned men do not be careless in women i.e. avoid women from a distance. प्रमादः means touching, etc. It is the ground reality that if a girl is touched (that) creates mental disturbance made of desire. Where even the mental disturbance is prohibited, leave that other excited sexual actions (ग्राम्यधर्मः=sexual action/intercourse). प्रमदाः=women”.

In other words, the verse is actually instructing the men that, since, they are biologically wired to get attracted to women and since, any close interactions like touching, etc. with women would incite sexual desires in their minds, they should be very careful in their interactions with women. That is, the men should always be restrained and respectful in their interactions with women, otherwise they may end up inflicting some harm on women or at least cause them some inconvenience. The “nature of women” referred in the first part of the verse is, thus, not a degrading reference to women. Instead, it is a reference to the biological reality that both men and women become naturally attracted towards people of opposite gender.

Reinforcing this, another commentator Sarvajnanarayana writes “स्वभाव एष स्त्रीणाम् अनिच्छन्तीनामपि दर्शनेन रागेण दुष्यन्तीति नराणां दूषणं पुरुषेषु दोषापादकत्वं नारीणां स्वभावः। न प्रमाद्यन्ति तदनीक्षणादौ कार्येण अप्रमत्ता भवन्ति”, meaning: “This is the nature of women though they do not desire (unintentionally) by their sight (desire) etc., they commit fault i.e. causing fault on men is the nature of women. Never be careless = never make mistakes by the actions of their sight, etc.”

Thus, it is clear that the said verse from Manu Smriti is not laying any blame on women, nor making any degrading reference. Instead, the commentator clarifies that in men becoming attracted towards women, there is no intentional fault of women. Instead, it is the biological nature that men become attracted on seeing women. That is, if any fault must be pointed out, it is in the way men and women are biologically wired. Moreover, the verse, points out the faults of men in giving in to their desires and becoming reckless and cautions them to be always restrained and respectful towards women. Hence, it says, the learned men never make mistakes (विपश्चितः न प्रमाद्यन्ति), i.e. behave inappropriately and disrespectfully towards women.

Here, the source for misunderstanding and misinterpretation is the word “दूषणम्”. The first line of this verse स्वभाव एष नारीणां नराणामिह दूषणम् is translated as “the nature of women is to make the men corrupt (to err)”, which is entirely a wrong translation made due to not understanding the meaning of derivation of the word “दूषणम्”। The word दूषणम् is derived from the root दुष वैकृत्ये (दुष to change or to deteriorate). The form दूषणम् has a special meaning according to Sanskrit Grammar. This word is formed by the suffix, which is to be suffixed, when it conveys the meaning “creating dislike in mind” from the duties and “creating like in mind” towards actions that are “not to be done” (वा चित्तविरागे Panini Sutra 6-4-91). That is, the word “दूषणम्” refers to a mental state, wherein a person turns away from righteous duties (Dharma) and becomes inclined towards unrighteous prohibited actions (Adharma). Showing disrespect, behaving inappropriately, eve-teasing, sexual harassment, rape, etc. constitute unrighteous actions in this context.

Therefore, the statement स्वभाव एष नारीणां नराणामिह दूषणम् does not convey anything against women and should be correctly understood as “The (biological) nature of women (and men) is such that, (the minds of) men become impelled to discard righteousness and indulge in unrighteous actions (owing to strong sexual desires that are generated in the mind)”. Thus, the verse, actually finds faults with men for abandoning the “dos” and diverting their mind towards the “don’ts”. For this reason, the verse reminds in the second half “अतोऽर्थान्न प्रमाद्यन्ति प्रमदासु विपश्चितः” to remain careful in interactions with women.

Understanding Manu Smriti-III: Need for men to learn self-control
Partial explanations have always led to wrong translations and misinterpretations of the Manusmriti.

In the last article, we examined verse 213 from the second chapter of Manu Smriti, which has been interpreted as being disparaging towards women, and showed how this is a misinterpretation and in reality, it reminds men of their duties and there is nothing disparaging towards women in it. Now let us take the very next verse, which is one more verse with the tag of misogyny attached to it.

अविद्वांसमलं लोके विद्वांसमपि वा पुनः। प्रमदा ह्युत्पथं नेतुं कामक्रोधवशानुगम्॥ (2-214)

This verse is (coarsely) translated as “Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire”. Though, this translation may seem right at the outset and one may conclude that it is saying women make men slaves of desire, this is an incorrect translation, one which completely misses the essence of the verse. To understand the true import of the verse, let us examine how the commentators have dealt with this verse.

Medhatithi, the renowned commentator on Manusmriti, writes:

“न चैतन्मन्तव्यं नियमितानि येन चिरम् इन्द्रियाणि अतिगुरुपातकं गुरुदारेषु दुष्टेन भावेन प्रेक्षणमपि इति य एवं वेद तस्य न दोषः पादस्पर्शादौ इति। यतः एवंविधान् अपि दोषान्यो जानीते, यो न किञ्चिज्जानीते तौ स्त्रीविषये समानौ, यतः नात्र विद्वत्ता प्रभवति। शक्नुवन्ति स्त्रियः सर्वं मुख्यम् अमार्गं लोकशास्त्रविरुद्धं विषयं नेतुं=प्रापयितुं, कामक्रोधवशानुगं सन्तम्। कामक्रोधाभ्यां यः सम्बद्ध्यते इत्यर्थः। अवस्थाविशेषोपलक्षणार्थं च एतत्। अत्यन्तबालम् अत्यन्तवृद्धं च प्राप्तयोगप्रकर्षणं च वर्जयित्वा येन निरन्वयमुत्थिताः संसारपुरुषधर्माः तद्व्यतिरेकेण न कश्चित्पुरुषः अस्ति यः स्त्रीभिः नाकॄष्यते।अयःकान्तेन इव अवलेहः। नचात्र स्त्रीणां प्रभविष्णुता वस्तुस्वाभाव्यात्तरुणीजनदर्शने पुंसाम् उन्मथ्यते चित्तं विशेषतो ब्रह्मचारिणाम्”।

This can be translated into English without any addition and omission as-

“Seeing the wife of a teacher with wrong intention is considered as a great sin. However, touching the feet of teachers’ wife is not a fault for the men, who controlled their sensory organs since a long period. Those, who know these kinds of rights and wrongs and those, who do not know even a little about these (i.e. about what is right or wrong), both are equal with respect to women, because scholarship does not work here (i.e. there is no difference between the educated and the uneducated, when they get attracted and given in to their sensual desires). Women are capable of leading to a wrong path those men, who are controlled by their desires (longing for the association of women), anger, etc. Controlling desires, anger, etc. is the right way, as per scriptures. But, if a man is controlled by desire, anger, etc., then it is certainly considered against the nature as well as against the teachings of the scriptures. The words ‘desire and angry (कामः क्रोधः)’ are used to refer to various stages of human life. Leaving little child, very old person and a person, who is well versed in Yoga, no man is there, who is not attracted by women. Like iron is attracted by the magnet. This is not because of the dominion of women. But, by nature, on seeing a young girl, the mind of men is stirred (diverted or shaked), especially of those, who are in celibacy (Brahmacharya)”.

From the above quoted commentary, it is clear that no derogatory remarks have been made against women in this verse. The cause of misunderstanding is the part of this verse “प्रमदा ह्युत्पथं नेतुं”. If we derive the meaning of this part in isolation, it could indeed lead to a negative conclusion. But, how can we interpret these words in isolation, when they are a part of a verse and hence, must be understood in entirety? It is for this reason, it is vital to understand texts like Manu Smriti using the guidance provided by various authentic commentaries.

Medhatithi’s commentary clearly shows how the subject of the verse is not disparaging of women. Instead, its aim is to remind men importance of self-control. It is categorically stated by the commentator that the men, who are not trained in controlling their desires and anger, will act against the norms laid down in Shastras and get attracted by the bodily pleasures they can derive in association of women.

Thus, men (may) lose their self-control (if it is weak) on seeing women. Hence, they should properly train themselves in controlling their sensory organs.Therefore, there is nothing against the solemnity of women nor against the sanctity of feminineness in the verse. If anything, this verse, like the one discussed in the last article, point towards the deep recognition of ground realities about sexual harassment in Manu Smriti and a practical advice to counter it.

In this context, another commentator Raghavananda says “तत्र हेतुः कामक्रोधवशानुगमिति, क्रोधेन वशीभूतमिव जनाः कामेन वशीभूतं प्रमदाः इति वार्थः”। Meaning “just like people, who are subjected to anger, the men, who are subjected to desire are led to a wrong path by women (i.e. on seeing women)”. Further the commentator quotes from Yoga Vashishtha-

“रोगार्त्तिरङ्गना तृष्णा गम्भीरमपि मानवम्। उत्तानतां नयत्याशु सूर्यांशव इवाम्बुजम्॥

The meaning:

“Thirst for (the union of) woman is like a deeply aching disease and makes even the strong (serious) men to stretch out in horrible shape like the hot sun-rays making the lotus to fade out”.

This is said keeping in view the nature of men, who are longing for the union of women. Moreover, the intention of this verse appears to be to protect women from unfavourable attention and harassment at the hands of men by cautioning them about their own nature and the need for self-control.

Kulluka Bhatta, yet another celebrated commentator on Manusmriti writes-

“पुरुषं=देहधर्मात्कामक्रोधवशानुयायिनं स्त्रियः उत्पथं नेतुं समर्थाः” meaning “women are capable of leading in a wrong path the men who are controlled by desires and angry”.

Therefore, the commentator clearly says that men are themselves the primary and essential (instrumental or efficient) cause for being led to a wrong path and women are only the proximity cause.

This verse is a good example regarding how to and how not to interpret verses in Hindu texts. When construing a sentence, one must follow the norms of Vakyartha Shastra (i.e. Mimamsa Shastra that prescribes several ways and means to arrive at a conclusion of a sentence i.e. Vakya).

Any sentence is to be interpreted as a whole and cannot be explained in parts. Partial explanations always lead to a wrong conclusion and interpretation. Lack of knowledge of this Vakyartha Shastra often leads to wrong translations and misinterpretations of Manusmriti.

Manu Smriti: locating dharma and adharma in the light of modernity

A fair estimation of Manu is only possible when comparatively estimated from the vantage point overlooking the social position of the marginalized in ancient and medieval cultures across the world.

The Manu Smriti, the ancient treatise on dharma has been the subject of enormous traditional pre-modern veneration and immense modernist revulsion. The more than 2000-year-old text whose antiquity rivals the oldest legal systems in the world was in the 20th century interpreted as a manual of grave social oppression of women and lower castes while upholding upper caste especially Brahmanical privilege. Patrick Olivelle (2006) in the introduction to his critical rendering of the Manu Smriti observes that ‘In India itself during the 20th century Manu became a lightning rod for both the conservative elements of the Hindu tradition and the liberal movements intent on alleviating the plight of women, low caste and outcaste individuals’. In 1927 during the Mahar Satyagraha, B R Ambedkar publicly denounced the statutes of Manu, rejected the old smriti and demanded the enactment of a new one for a new India heralding a just social order (Keer, 1955). Copies of the Manu Smriti were also confined to flames by his followers. Ambedkar after two decades would go on to become the chief architect of India’s new constitution and infusing it with liberal and progressive ideals. These included the enactment of a progressive Hindu code bill which permitted divorce and greater property rights to Hindu women, and a policy of positive discrimination in order to ensure social justice and upliftment of the historically oppressed in Indian society. However, the practice of burning of copies of Manu’s text have continued unabated as a popular means of registering social and political protest to this day for supposedly combating the idea of ‘Manuvad’ or casteist tyranny. Those who indulge in desecrating and burning the book of Manu Smriti justify their actions by suggesting that not only are the roots of casteist discrimination and an unjust social order based upon the ideas of Manu but they still serve as active source of inspiration for expressly sanctioning casteist and gendered violence in Indian society. The burning of the text never received significant opposition from most Hindu traditionalists despite in their belief in dharmasastra literature as a significant Hindu text probably out of old Hindu tolerance, nonchalance or even fear. However, the unabated opposition to the the Manu Smriti in the 21st century by its detractors who persist in book burning in an age when the text has but lost all social, political, cultural and religious relevance for most Hindus, especially amongst those who traditionally had engaged with the text, either ritualistically or intellectually reveals a pernicious agenda which seeks to manipulate the modern Hindu’s aversion and antipathy for its alleged textual contents into some form of “secular” verdict against Hinduism itself.

In this article, we argue that the cessation of Hindu intellectual engagement with the Manu Smriti has meant that specific verses from the text divorced from their social and historical context have been used to promote anti-Hindu worldviews through school and undergraduate level textbooks even certain columnists have used the text to draw false equivalence with the tyranny inspired by fundamentalism of non-Indic religions. Ultimately, this invariably promotes a morbid philosophy of progressive Hindu deracination while creating caste schisms through a simplistic narrative of shudra victimhood and Brahmanical hegemony ignoring the underlying, often complex social reality which determined social stratification and hierarchy in pre-modern India.

Was the dharmasastra a legal instrument?

The presence of coercive power to punish transgression is indispensable for implementation of laws. Hindu apologists often insist that the Manu Smriti is a smriti text, which by its very nature is liable to be change with the vicissitudes of time and reorientation of society. This they claim differentiates it from Islamic law like Sharia, which is deemed immutable until the end of time by the fundamentalists, which greatly impedes the process of legalistic reform in Islamic societies. Such a defensive viewpoint not only uncritically admits to the contents of dharmasastra being entirely a source of tyranny and oppression against marginalized populations, but concedes the position of the dharmasastra as being a source of positive law in Ancient and Medieval India, which was upheld by the coercive power of the state.

Shashi S Sharma in his work ‘Imagined Manuvad: The Dharmasastras and their interpreters’ highlights the ironical lack of ‘coercive authority’ being the definitive hallmark of all dharmasastra literature. Sharma persuasively argues that the possibility of the presence of punitive authority vested in an upper caste Brahmanical social elite by the early medieval period is very unlikely since ‘The sharia ruled; Islamic rulers occupied the throne; Muslim qazis dispensed justice; the state encouraged people to quit their Hindu faith, but Manusmriti somehow continued to define caste, and the followers of the caste system refused to throw off the yoke of Hindu servitude.’ Persian ruthlessly displaced Sanskrit in the Sultanate court while certain Islamic theologians poured opprobrium on the Brahmins who were identified as a source of ‘strength for idolators’ and the principle obstacle to the rapid Islamicization of the country. The only privilege, which the Brahmins retained as per law was an exemption from payment of the jizya (protection tax levied against non-Muslim dhimmis under Islamic governments) which too was lost under the administration of the bigoted Firuz Tughlaq, who dismissed the counter protests of the fasting Brahmins whose share of the discriminatory tax was ultimately paid by the lower caste Hindus, who could not endure the suffering of their upper caste brethren! Similarly, the Bahmani ruler Muhammad I during a general massacre of non-combatant Hindus of Vijayanagara slaughtered four hundred thousand Hindus including ten thousand Brahmin priests (Sastri: 2006, p. 222).

Sharma further insists that ‘Works like the Dharmasastras, it seems have nothing to do with the creation and perpetuation of the caste system, much less with the oppressive and discriminatory nature of the system’ (2005, p. 193). Caste therefore at least by the late medieval period was a self-regulating societal institution which did not require any royal or legal coercion for its operation. Medieval Bhakti saints condemned untouchability, but they blamed the practice on contemporary social institutions and false caste pride (not unlike the ancient Buddhist criticism of caste) and did not recognize any tyrannical legal mechanisms perpetuating caste based discrimination.

Not only were the dharmasastra texts devoid of royal or legal coercive authority, Sharma explains that in case of Manu even the aspiration for gaining coercive power is lacking, which is evident from the reluctance of Manu to proscribe meat eating despite his principled belief in abstention from meat eating being a most desirable and spiritually rewarding trait (MS 5.56). Instead, Manu while banishing the association of sin with eating meat, drinking wine and sexual desire, credits their abeyance with spiritual merit.

The mistaken belief in the dharmasastra being a source of positive law with juridical power is also rooted in the 18th century happenings when the British colonialists under Warren Hastings employed the dharmasastra literature especially the Manu Smriti under the aegis of learned Brahmins in codifying and creating a common Hindu legal system. Unfortunately, this was contrary to the didactic spirit of the dharmasastra texts, which according to Sharma (2005) were ‘records of customary practices (and) merely descriptive, those injunctions that suggest adoption of a particular course of action are only advisory or pedagogic, without any legal of penal implication.’ (p. 190) This is evident, since Manu himself cites acara or establish conduct of communities to be taken into account while determining the appropriate course of dharma and the safeguarding of such customs as a mandatory obligation on the part of the king, even if they were to be in conflict with his own (MS 1.118, 8.41, 8.46). Furthermore, Manu is sympathetic to the individual sense of ‘what is agreeable to one’s soul or good conscience’ as a source of dharma (MS 4.12). Clearly, the etymology of dharma in such contexts is other than law. Hence, the view of the likes of the Indologist Wendy Doniger, who in her translation of the Manu Smriti (1988) liberally uses the word law as a synonym for dharma clearly violates the mandate of the text.

For over 1500 years, the world of dharmasastra literature has commended Manu as its foremost, even inviolable authority. The making of the Manu Smriti itself was a process which took centuries during which the text was subject to persistent editing with incorporation of views of authors shaped by their divergent socio-cultural milieu and their own biases, which explains the often, irreconcilable contradictions, which appear throughout the course of the text. To instantiate, the principle of niyoga (levirate), property rights of women and the acceptance of sudra wives by upper caste males are cited with both approval and disapproval in the body of the same text. This undermines the value of the text as some legal manual and instead corroborates the assertion of the statements capturing the established custom of different eras when societal norms underwent transformation while some older customs lost their moral sanctity.

The idea of justice in the Manu Smriti

Manu gives primacy to righteousness as the highest embodiment of dharma. Since for Manu, Dharma is alone what remains when the body perishes (MS 8.17), it acquires both an immanent and transcendental character exemplified by the utterance,

“Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah” (MS 8.15)

Justice, being violated, destroys; justice, being preserved, preserves: therefore, justice must not be violated, lest violated justice destroy us.’

Hence, Manu emphatically denies dharma as a vehicle for vengeance and retribution. Further, he lays emphasis on ahimsa or non-violence, truth and persuasive dialogue as grounds for attaining dharma (MS 4.138, 4.139, 10.63). This makes a significant departure from then contemporary dominant global worldview,s which promoted the pursuit of legally authorized retaliation (lax Talionis or an eye for an eye) as the most gratifying means of gaining justice. For Manu the miscarriage of justice is a cause for regression – both societal and individual. The need to uphold dharma with unfailing conscientiousness is then a collective duty of society and its failure associated with the persistence of injustice subverts the good society and threatens its very existence.

A secondary corollary of Manu’s principle of justice is the overarching emphasis of Manu in protecting the weaker sections of society. Anterior to Manu, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad explains Dharma as that ‘through which a very weak man can hope to prevail over a very strong man.’ Similarly, Manu expects the king to solemnly protect the rights, property and safety of widowed, diseased and barren women and suitably punish those who attempt to usurp their property (MS 7.28, 7.29).

Since, the punitive authority or danda is vested in the king, Manu ordains the king to be also subject to the dharmic principle despite paying some lip service to the divine right theory. Manu formulates the necessary attributes for the application of danda being primarily freedom from vices of desires by being rooted in truth and purity at all times (MS 7.45, 7.47, 7.50). Being wary of an unprincipled despot abusing the power of danda, Manu cautions the king that any punishment should be inflicted only after due deliberation since its improper application ‘destroys everything’ (MS 7.19). Manu strives for a balance of power by subjecting the king to the wisdom of his Brahmin ministers, and emphasizing a king’s supreme duty in protecting his tax paying subjects against war and aggression (MS 7.144) failing which he ‘sinks into hell’ (MS 7.307). These didactic attempts at limiting the sovereign power also hint at the futility of identifying the text as a legally binding instrument.

Manu’s sense of ahimsa also argues for a principled, pacifist approach towards settling disputes and war only as a last resort, since the outcome of war is often uncertain and it causes avoidable misery (MS 7.198, 7.1999). Further, Manu provides moral sanction for wars only when rulers subscribed to a code of war ethics consistent with yuddha-dharm,a which included the absence of use of poisonous arms, protection of noncombatants and non-killing of prisoners of war (MS 7.90-7.94). It is doubtful whether all such lofty ideals were actually translated into practice in the battlefield, but certainty they hint towards the existence of a society, which anticipated and cherished modern notions of human rights, peace and disarmament.

Manu also anticipated some concepts of modern jurisprudence. He urged the state to drop witnesses, who had a conflict of interest in the case (MS 7.78) or turn hostile (MS 7.83).

In an age of Buddhistic ascendancy with its glorification of monasticism, Manu exalts the householder as the dharmic citizen on whom depends all others for sacred knowledge, food and protection (MS 3.78, 6.90). Manu justifies the need for samskaras or sacraments as a basis of spiritual transformation and self-realization (MS 2.26, 2.27, 2.28). All in all, Manu’s cosmic vision encapsulates a holistic worldview where there is no place for despondency, defeat, pessimism, life negation and other-worldliness since:

‘One should not allow one’s spirit to be frustrated by earlier failures; till death one should not disregard oneself; till death one should strive for prosperity and should never consider it difficult to attain’ (MS 4.137).

Gender and justice in the Manu Smriti

The Manu Smriti is often considered to be a misogynist work. For instance, Wendy Doniger in her introduction to the translation of the Manu Smriti ridiculed Friedrich Nietzsche’s assessment of the text as being women friendly in contrast to the Bible. Doniger reproduced several verses to support her view that Manu Smriti oppressed women without explaining what exactly a brilliant mind like Nietzsche found in Manu, which gave rise to his supposedly erroneous view. This simplistic and uncritical exchange with a long dead philosopher sums up the passions, which Manu can generate even in an otherwise prolific scholar. Similarly, the late R C Majumdar, a pre-eminent historian of India known for his objective and fearless assessment of the Islamist tyranny in medieval India and a non-hagiographic portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi’s role in the freedom movement found Manu ‘giving expression to some general sentiments about women which are most dishonourable and humiliating to the class as a whole, and to which it is difficult to find a parallel in a book held in respect by a large section of humanity.’ (HCIP, Vol II, 2001, p. 563) Majumdar like Doniger also lacked the sensitivity and nuance to assess the text as a product of its time or attempt comparative readings. This is important, since highly misogynistic readings are easily possible with many non-Hindu religious texts too. Moreover, the position of women in the Greek civilization which was nearly contemporaneous with Manu was disappointing despite their civilizational claims to high philosophy, science and democracy. Aristotle compared women to slaves and explained their predicament to that of ‘deformed males’. Plato was more sympathetic to women, but believed them to be inferior to men in all tasks (Annas, 1976). He had no respect for motherhood and preferred the abolition of the nuclear family. Plato also proposed a humiliating communism of wives and state arranged cohabitation. Nevertheless, no modern writer had suggested rejecting the vast corpus of Aristotle and Plato and their definitive contribution to Western philosophy and civilization so much so that all their philosophy was explained as a ‘footnote to Plato’ merely because of their misogynistic injunctions against women.

The Manu Smriti is situated in a patriarchal world with an obvious gendered visualization of society. Under such circumstances, the presence of misogynistic and discriminatory verses against women especially adjudged from a modern viewpoint is not unexpected. Yet, the second chapter of the Manu Smriti declares that honour, respect and ensuring the lasting happiness of women were vital societal attributes, which were required not just because the women as a class were in need of protection (which was important) , but because it was essential for attaining prosperity by their male kin and the making of a just and humane society. Manu sincerely emphasizes the need for all male relatives (fathers, brothers, husbands and brother in laws) to honour the women of the household, if they ‘desire their own welfare’ (MS 3.55) since those homes where women were not honored or where women lived in grief were unable to prosper and came to ‘perish completely’ (MS 3.57, 3.58). It is again the ‘radiance of the women of the family’ which brings honour upon households (MS 3.62). Reflecting on the verse, Sharma aptly reasons that ‘Oppression of women obviously is not the sure means of making them radiant, therefore no family would have dared to do anything that would detract from the rights of their womenfolk’.

Manu further believes that ‘In that family, where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting’ (MS 3.60), which suggests that for him, mutual respect and not unquestioned obedience or submission on the part of wife were the foundation of a harmonious marital relationship.

Finally, Manu staunchly links the indispensability of honouring women to the fulfillment of all dharmic obligations by exclaiming that ‘Where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields rewards’ (MS 3.56). It is the evaluation of such verses, which probably impressed Nietzsche regarding Manu’s wisdom since such liberal views on women were lacking in most of the religious texts of the Semitic faiths.

Manu’s critics often latch upon a solitary verse (5.148) which has been translated by the German Indologist Buhler as “In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman is not fit for independence”. This is alleged to be an acute instance of Manu’s misogyny who supposedly denies all agency to a woman from her youth to old age. Such an interpretation is flawed and on the testimony of the traditional Sanskrit scholar Ramanuja Devanathan derived from a “wrong translation which misinterprets the true import of the verse…which ordains menfolk that “no women should be left unprotected”. This is corroborated from Manu’s injunctions which makes demands of the king, the protector of the realm, to ‘punish like thieves’ those Brahmins who deceive helpless widows and abandoned women (MS 4.196).

Moreover, the dependence of the mother on her son in this verse when read in conjunction with Manu’s exalted status of a mother (a mother is 1000 times more venerable than a father – MS 2.145) posits it as one placing the onus of protection and support for each woman until her death upon her closest male relationship rather than a statement expressing a generalized fear of liberated women. While, Manu is painfully conscious of men in society, who believe that women should be controlled and subject to their authority, but he dissents against the possibly dominant narrative in an old patriarchal universe by unequivocally asserting that “women are well guarded of their own accord, by themselves, not by confining them to home, or keeping a watch on them through spies and servants” (MS 9.12). All in all, that these questions on gender and freedom were being raised and actively debated in times of such antiquity actually indicates the high moral standard of Indian civilization. In contrast, a truly misogynist verse would read like the one attributed to the ancient Greek Demosthenes;

‘We have courtesans for our pleasure, concubines for the requirements of the body, and wives to bear us lawful children and look after the home faithfully’ (Adamson: 2014)

Of the other ‘evidence’ projecting Manu as a misogynist, verses addressed to young men probably in the stage of the Brahmacharya ashrama of life (incidentally, Manu comments extensively on the four Ashramas) warning them against the temptations held by women who could ‘lead astray’ both ‘fools’ and ‘learned men’ (MS 2.212, 2.213) are not exceptional, since several Puranic tales refer to the seduction of ascetics by beautiful maidens on the bidding of the demigods like Indra and the consequent loss of their spiritual energies (tapas) and power (siddhi).

Manu’s views of marriage have also been subject to criticism for encouraging child marriage among females, prohibition of widow remarriage, permitting marriage involving forced abduction and accepting polygamy. While some of Manu’s views on marriage are ostensibly regressive, the underlying socio-political reality of the period of the composition of the text around the time after the fall of the great Mauryan empire, when the country was frequently over-run by invaders like the Scythians and the Kushanas leading to lawlessness contributed to the contraction of the marriage age for girls. This conjecture receives support from Manu’s injunctions on child marriage among females being qualified as appropriate only in times of ‘apad dharma’ or social and political emergencies. Furthermore, Manu made a spirited argument against solemnizing undesirable marriages by asserting that a ‘maiden though marriageable should rather stay in her father’s house until death, rather than ever (marry) her to a man destitute of good qualities’ (MS 9.89) Similarly, Manu supports females finding their own suitors in case their fathers are unable to do so (MS 9.90).

Manu recognizes the prevalence of eight forms of marriage among the various ethnicities and communities. Although Manu is dismissive of two of those involving forcible abduction, which were the Raksasa and Paisacha forms, which were likely to have increased in times of political instability and greater lawlessness, he grants them social acceptance especially among non-Brahmins probably to protect the women and their children from further societal stigma. Meanwhile in a daring evolution of medieval Hindu attitudes towards women in the face of excesses by early medieval invaders, the resumption of postpartum menstruation was deemed to purify like ‘refined gold’ even those women who were raped, impregnated against their will and consequently gave birth to illegitimate children (Atri Samhita: 192). Unfortunately, such liberal standings could not be universalized and by the colonial period had been cast off in the darkest recesses of the Hindu mind.

Marxist historians like Thapar often obsessed with the “gifting” of women as wives in the Brahma and Daiva forms of marriage and assume no consent of the women were involved in the process. Such interpretations ignore Manu’s frank injunctions to fathers to ‘regard one’s daughter as the highest object of tenderness; hence if one is offended by her, bear it without resentment’ (MS 4.185). Manu does not unequivocally remark on the autonomy of daughters in choosing their husbands but neither does he explicitly state that the daughter’s preferences and volition should be overridden by parental choices. A historian’s nuanced vision should also consider verses stating ‘The wife being a gift from the gods, she ought to be supported to the end of her life’ (MS 9.95) in order to comprehend that the metaphor of gift or dana associated with the giving away of the bride is not a negative exhortation unless narrowly viewed from the prism of modern feminist consciousness devoid of its cultural context. Furthermore, Manu’s explicit clarifications that the ‘gift of daughters’ is most desirable only in case of Brahmins while in other castes ‘mutual consent’ should be the preferred foundation of marriage (MS 3.35) debunks the notion of Manu arbitrating marriages without consent.

Manu further declares ‘Offspring, (due performance of) religious rites, faithful service, the highest conjugal happiness and heavenly bliss for the ancestors and oneself depend on one’s wife alone’ (MS 9.28), which renders a man without a wife and offspring to be ‘incomplete’ (MS 9.45). Under such circumstances, it comes as no surprise that Manu is fundamentally against the practice of polygamy, which remained a vital feature of Indian civilization among the majority of its Hindu populace except for kings and princes and certain Brahmin communities in Bengal. This is evident from observations of foreign travelers like the 16th century traveler Pietro Della Valle, who observed in his notebooks that Hindus ‘take but one wife and never divorce her till death except in case of adultery’. Manu too provides exceptions to the rule of monogamy, which included a long barren wife or one without sons for 11 years, but qualifies these injunctions with another, which subject the husband to the wife’s consent before taking another wife (MS 9.82).

Another problematic aspect of Manu’s injunctions especially to modern sensibilities is his resolute stand against the dissolution of marriage through divorce. The idea of marital incompatibility as a ground for divorce was not a popular feature of the Hindu way of life for over two millennia although Kautilya did permit separation through mutual consent. In a subtle irony, Manu’s view on the indissolubility of marriage rests upon an injunction denying husbands powers to abandon their wives through any means (MS 9.46). Manu similarly expects wives to be faithful to their husbands and revere them even if they were devoid of virtues (MS 9.154). Manu includes a relatively liberal provision by permitting wives to leave their husbands if they are impotent, alcoholics, criminals, rendered outcastes, suffering from incurable diseases or is absent from his home for a period greater than three years (MS 9.76, 9.79). Manu is also intolerant of adultery and demands exceptional hyperbole punishment for offenders (irrespective of their gender), which is unlikely to have been translated into practice. One may tentatively conclude that Manu’s views on marital indissolubility and adultery even when conservative is largely not discriminatory against women.

Manu does urge widows to not take a second husband, lead a reclusive and self-disciplined life while assuring such selfless conduct to be a pathway to eternal bliss (MS 5.162-5.172). Even among those widows who don’t have children, Manu implores them against remarriage just for the sake of offspring by drawing attention to celibate ascetics who could attain the highest heavens. Manu’s views against widow remarriage could then be appropriately considered as ‘injunctions that suggest adoption of a particular course of action (which) are only advisory or pedagogic, without any legal or penal implication.’ (Sharma: 2005, p. 190)

The one major drawback in Manu’s attitude towards women, which may be objectively validated is the denial of Vedic education to women by considering the class of women as a whole devoid of the necessary intellectual rigour to acquire power through mantras and participate in Vedic exegesis. Historically, women like Gargi and Maitreyi adjudged philosophical debates in the age of the Upanishads while the Mahabharata has the example of Sulabha who skillfully argued against Janaka’s orthodox positions with respect to women. Even Yama upholds Vedic education for women, but exempts them from the physically demanding requisites involving wearing deerskin, growing matted hair and begging the meals (Leslie: 1989). Similarly, the thread ceremony (upanayanam), which was common for both sexes in the Vedic age was restricted only for males in the Smritis. Manu considers marriage to be an agreeable substitute for upanayanam in case of women, which hints at the effective lowering of the marital age of women due to the deteriorating law and order situation in a society being overrun by foreign invading forces (MS 2.67). Through such marriage, the husband acquired the function of the guru and the wife as the student which permitted transmission of some degree of sacred and secular knowledge between husband and wife. The medieval Mimansa philosopher Mandana Mishra’s wife Bharati was considered a highly-accomplished scholar who is legendarily said to have participated in the debate between her husband and Sankara, the Advaitic philosopher whose outcome led to the conversion of the former into an Advaitin. Despite the decline in female educational attainments through the ages, the cunning extrapolation by certain Marxist historians that the absence of Vedic learning signified the total absence of any learning among ancient Indian women is historically untenable since accomplished Hindu female scholars were produced centuries after Manu’s injunctions against Vedic entitlements for women. Manu himself promotes acquisition of wisdom from all, irrespective of their caste and gender (MS 2.244). Furthermore, compared to contemporaneous Greek and Roman women, educational standards of Hindu women were arguably of a relatively higher standard.

Sharma too after a careful scrutiny of the sources ‘wonders why these teachings of Manu on the privileges, rights and positions of women are not cited as its basic teachings. If these be the values that Manu has fixed for Hindu families, he should be feted in the seminars of gender activists, rather than being criticized for few references regarding women living under the protection of their fathers, husbands and sons.” (Sharma: 2005, p. 184)

A more pertinent criticism of the Dharmasastra literature is the clubbing of the entire class of women with shudras, who were confined to the lowest social order. Unfortunately, this sense of ritual inferiority of women and shudra pervades the Smriti literature. The Bhagawad Geeta (9: 32) itself testifies to the social dominance of this view when Krishna assures Arjuna of the efficacy of his path, which liberated (moksha) its diligent practitioners including ‘women and shudras’.

The Brahmin and the Shudra in the Manu Smriti: inventing hegemony?

Aristotle defended the institution of slavery in Ancient Greece while Plato is nonchalant regarding its existence. Both did not advance modern notions of egalitarianism and equality before law. Manu like his Greek counterparts defended slavery (MS 4.253) and inequality (MS 4.225). The Greek ambassador to India, Megasthenes observed the absence of slavery India, which in the historian R C Majumdar’s considered estimation was due to ‘probably (being) misled by the humane treatment accorded to the slaves in India, which offered such a striking contrast to their lot in Greece’.

Manu’s code is indeed steeped in an iniquitous worldview which subscribes to Brahmanical privilege and discrimination against Shudras. The Vedic Purusa sukta conceptualized all the four varnas to be part of a common sacred order without any inklings of inequality. On the other hand, Manu imposed a radical hierarchy based on the abstract notions of ritual purity by considering those originating below the navel of the Purusa to be of impure birth and of lower social standing. Manu’s social order has since been subject to colourful imaginings where the tyrannical Brahmin subjects the vast Shudra population to deplorable persecution through connivance with the upper caste rulers. The historical evidence for upholding such a simplistic vision of the past is debatable for the following reasons:

First, Manu sanctions Brahmanical privilege resting upon his belief in their moral and ethical superiority who is expected to ‘befriend all creatures’ (MS 2.87). For Manu, a Brahmin is ordained to do ‘good for the world’ (MS 1.102), but it is subject to considerable limitations. While Manu lauds the Brahmin as the ‘incarnation of dharma’ (MS 1.98) who should aspire for the collective evolution of society, he simultaneously subjects them to restrictions on the intake of food (absence of meat eating), occupation (denial of usury and trade in common items like milk), marriage and learning. Manu differentiates among Brahmins by grading them on the basis of their Vedic learning, inner wisdom and their spiritual accomplishments (MS 1.97, 2.139-2.140). In contrast, a verse attributed to Manu suggests a Brahmin devoid of the knowledge of the Veda to be as useful to society as is an impotent man to a beautiful woman. Hence, Manu denies even water to a Brahmin unlearnt of the Veda. Manu is not hesitant in being highly critical of Brahmins who indulge in fraud by deceiving Shudras and women and condemns them into hell and reception of scorn from people of all varnas (MS 4.196-4.197). He further demands of Brahmins the highest moral and ethical character with perfect equanimity – ‘A Brahmana should always fear homage as if it were poison; and constantly desire (to suffer) scorn as (he would long for) nectar’ (MS 2.162). In a similar vein, Manu (MS 4.186) ‘says that even if a brahman is in dire need and is eligible to accept gifts, he should avoid repeated discourse to it because this eminence and brilliance that he has acquired from the Vedas are quickly extinguished by the acceptance of dana’ (Sharma: 2005, p. 186)

Second, the internal evidence of the text is replete with instance, which suggests Manu despite his aversion to Shudra culture was respectable towards efforts in their integration with the mainstream and did not opt for their dehumanization. Manu unlike the xenophobic social orders which frequently dominated the ancient and medieval civilizational landscape, rejected the idea of racism. He condemned Brahmins deviating from their moral, religious and ethical code in search of livelihood to lapse to the state of the Shudra. Theories of racism are incompatible with the idea of individual regression. Therefore, for Manu, the Varnas do not represent a separate biological order, but a hierarchized psychologically conditioned state of being, albeit, with hereditary transmission potential. Manu thus absolves Shudras from mundane rituals and rites and consequently, the sense of sinfulness (MS 10.126) since he believes them to be at the lowest rung of the social order. Manu understands that if a life of a person, irrespective of his varna (including shudra) can be saved by uttering a falsehood let that be preferable to the truth in such cases (MS 1.04). Manu accepts marriage of shudra females with upper caste males (MS 3.44). Manu concedes that ‘He who possesses faith may receive pure learning even from a man of lower caste, the highest law even from the lowest, and an excellent wife even from an outcaste’ (MS 2.240, 2.238). Manu considers praiseworthy individuals to possess good qualities irrespective of their varna (MS 2.136-2.137). The eminence of Valmiki and Vyasa testifies to the overarching social belief in virtue not being limited to individuals from the higher varnas. Manu encourages Shudras who desire to gain spiritual merit to imitate the sacred practices of virtuous men of the other varnas (MS 10.127). He enjoins women and sudras to freely indulge in activities, which provides them happiness and pleasure (MS 2.223). ‘Non-violence, constant adherence to truth, non-thieving, being pure, and keeping the senses in control constitute the idea of common dharma for all the four varnas’ (MS 10.62). This verse reflects Manu’s inclusive worldview where the shudras are considered an integral and holistic part of society.

Third, the penal provisions, which are discriminatory against Shudras as mentioned in the Manu Smriti were probably never actualized in practice. Manu in a series of half a dozen verses exhorts the king to inflict blood curdling punishments upon shudras for transgressions like utterance of sacred mantras, defamation or physical assault upon Brahmins. Nevertheless, historical memory of oppression of shudras either in the form of written records, oral sources and traveler accounts until the 19th century is minimal, and certainly never in a form or image as derived from a literal textual reading of the Manu Smriti and allied texts.

Moreover, Marxist and subaltern historians despite their prejudice against Hindu civilization have struggled to locate primary sources of caste based oppression in ancient and medieval India. In contrast, Al Beruni, the 11th century Muslim traveler to India observed the peaceful and harmonious residence of different communities within the same villages. The origin of several Hindu-Buddhistic royal dynasties were among individual belonging to the lower Varnas, which rejects the view of the Shudras as a completely oppressed social order. Under such circumstances, was there a blurring of distinction between what is interpreted as ‘punishment’ as actually a hyperbolic demand for voluntary ‘penance’ is a conundrum warranting further exploration.

The Manu Smriti also records verses, which hint at physical intimidation like spitting and urination directed against the Brahmins by the Shudras (MS 8.281). Sharma suggests that the acute literary violence of the text to be an outcome of the unstable social order were ‘Many societies were uprooted, many political entities were destroyed, religious institutions were threatened and the religio-cultural stability of the Aryan society faced a most serious challenge from these alien shudras (Yavanas and Sakas)….The weight of evidence suggests that when a Dharmasastra text suggests exclusion of sudras from Vedic studies and upanayan, prescribes harsh punishment for disrespect and infringement, it refers mostly to such hostile alien groups as the Sakas, Greeks, Parthians, Iranians and Hunas’ (p. 219). The problematic aspect of this argument is that 2000 years even after such “alien shudras” had become assimilated within the Hindu fold, the Dharmasastra attitudes towards acquisition of Vedic knowledge by the Shudras did not reflect any radical departure from that of Manu except that demands for corporal punishment in case of transgressions became rarer although new grounds for socio-economic discrimination especially untouchability took root in Hindu society. The inability of the Dharmasastra writers especially those extending into the medieval period in ending their ‘literary’ oppression and hostility against the Shudras while enabling a generous reconciliation for social transformation paved the path for the decay and eventual cultural irrelevance of all dharmasastra and their interpreters with the advent of modernity.

Ultimately, a fair estimation of Manu is only possible when comparatively estimated from the vantage point overlooking the social position of the marginalized in ancient and medieval cultures across the world. The victims of the transatlantic slave trade, European feudalism and Hindu subjects in medieval India (under Islamist rulers) experienced severe modes of discrimination, which were not only theoretical, but also brutally actualized in practice. There were often no avenues for integration with dominant society, women were treated as spoils of war while slaves and serfs were usually deprived of legal marital rights. The comparison of Manu in the light of such practices is then drawing an utterly false equivalence especially when ignoring all that is humane and just within the body of the same text.

Manu Smriti’s profound understanding of Sexuality can counter sexual violence

By using Manu Smriti as a punching bag for all that we think is wrong in Indian society, we miss out on a tremendous learning and perhaps the only answer we have to tackle the increasing incidence of sexual crime at its root – taming the mind.

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” – Ayn Rand

When we look at Manu Smriti (an ancient Indian legal text on code of conduct) through the eyes of feminism and gender studies, two seemingly contradictory views burst forth. One, the loud voices of the modern day feminist, who gasp and squeal at the verses, which translated literally read

It is the nature of women to seduce men in this (world); for that reason the wise are never unguarded in (the company of) females.

For women are able to lead astray in (this) world not only a fool, but even a learned man, and (to make) him a slave of desire and anger.

One should not sit in a lonely place with one’s mother, sister, or daughter; for the senses are powerful, and master even a learned man.

– (taken from Chapter 2)

The other voice is of those, who try to defend Manu Smriti by presenting the seemingly opposite view about women, written in the same breath that wrote the above lines:

No father who knows (the law) must take even the smallest gratuity for his daughter; for a man who, through avarice, takes a gratuity, is a seller of his offspring.

Women must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire (their own) welfare.

Where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields rewards.

Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.

The houses on which female relation are not being duly honoured, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic.

Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honour women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes, and (dainty) food.

– (taken from Chapter 3)

Each view that speaks against or for the verses written in Manu Smriti conveniently ignores the other and generally do not comment about the seemingly opposite view. But this won’t do. To understand something holistically, we need to be able to explain all that seems contradictory. And a mere translation of the verses, however scholarly, might fall short.

In this write-up, we will take a peek into what might be the spirit behind Manu Smriti and how sexuality was understood in ancient times. Whether you are a man or a woman, comprehending what Manu Smriti writes about women requires more than a fair bit of honesty regarding sexuality and its impact on the human mind.

Are these contradictions?

If yes, which version is right with respect to what it conveys about women?

If not, how do we make sense of the seemingly opposite views about women?

I will admit that my own journey in making sense of this was not an easy one. Nowhere could I find interpretations that were satisfactory, perhaps because the interpreters often looked outside themselves rather than within, for answers. The rigidity in belief systems, be it ideological or feministic, keep us from getting to the bottom of the issue and we end up justifying what we don’t fully understand.

Through the frustration of not being able to understand the seemingly negative views about women, the thing that kept me going was my own positive experiences of being a woman in India. It simply didn’t make sense that a land that still worships the feminine in so many ways could instruct men to disrespect women. So, unlike most feminists who would arrive at a strong conclusion based on a few verses written in Manu Smriti, I continued searching for answers.

A big Aaha! moment arrived, when I read Sri Swami Sivananda’s book “Practice of Brahmacharya”. The book left me fuming in the first half and laughing out loud towards the end. Sample this,

The initial pages of the book where he addresses, men who wish to pursue Brahmacharya, he writes thus about cultivating Vairagya (detachment or renunciation),

“Sit down and think, calmly and honestly, what beauty there is in a woman whose body is composed of flesh, bones, nerves, fat, marrow and blood. Where is the beauty in the same woman when she becomes old? Look at the condition of the eyes and the body of a woman after an attack of fever for seven days! What is the state of her beauty? Where is the beauty if she does not take bath for a week? The stink is abominable. Look at the senile woman aged eighty five who is sitting at the corner, with rotten eyes, shrunken cheeks and skin! Analyze the parts of a woman, realize their true nature.”

But soon after this, he addresses women who might want to take up Brahmacharya. And here comes the almost child-like innocence, with which he writes to women,

“Ladies should not be offended when they read these lines…… I only want to impress upon both the sexes the force and the glory of Brahmacharya and the evil effect of lust. I have great regard and admiration for women…….. Brahmacharya should be practiced by both men and women. Women also can keep a mental picture of the component parts of the body of a male in order to create in themselves disgust for the physical body of a male and to develop Vairagya.”

For most mortal beings, the most difficult thing to go beyond, is sexual desire. Controlling the mind and going beyond sexual urges is not an easy task and requires tremendous practice. Books such as Swami Sivananda’s and compilations like Manu Smriti, equips young men with techniques that will help them tame the mind and its desires.

Raja Yoga – scientific techniques of controlling the mind

As part of my work on educating adolescents on sexuality, I understood a few things about the way in which a young boy’s mind works. Boys, aged 10 and 11 years have already watched porn. Many of them admitted to being infatuated with a classmate and even asked “Tell me how I can convince her to do what I say (sexually)”. By the way, I am referring to boys from government schools in villages and small towns. I will leave it to you to imagine what the situation will be like in urban private schools where boys have a lot more exposure.

The methods of most educators revolve around moral policing, value education, forcing boys to say that they respect women, instilling fear of God and finally inducing fear of the law and punishment. I think most educators know that none of these methods work when young men are sexually charged. But in the absence of better ideas, we continue employing methods that have no results. These methods at best result in artificial suppression of desire for a while. Such suppression can actually result in the opposite effect of uncontrolled sexual deviations once unleashed, as we have all been witnessing in recent cases of bizarre rapes and sexual abuse of young children.

Sex is in the mind. Unless the mind is calmed, no amount of repression or suppression of sexual desire will work. Rape and sexual abuse first happen in the mind, perhaps multiple times, before it is actually executed. Most criminals sincerely believe that what they did is not wrong. If they did not believe that, their mind would never permit them to commit the offense. In such people, we clearly see how the mind has run amok and made the person a slave to it. So, the biggest enemy we need to tackle is the mind.

Ancient Indian sages like Patanjali and Manu understood this better than any modern book on psychiatry or criminal psychology. Not only did they understand the finer aspects of the mind and how it works, they also provided scientific techniques to gain mastery over the mind, from the gross to the subtle. One such piece of amazing work is Raja Yoga, which prescribes 8 steps, or scientific methods, to bring the mind under one’s control, viz.,

Yama — non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-receiving of any gifts

Niyama — cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study, and self-surrender (to God)

Âsana, or posture

Prânâyâma, or control of Prâna

Pratyâhâra, or restraint of the senses from their objects

Dhâranâ, or fixing the mind on a spot

Dhyâna, or meditation, and

Samâdhi, complete absorption in the consciousness

The mind is explained beautifully by Swami Vivekananda, when he explains the technique of simply sitting still and observing the mind, in his lecture on Raja Yoga.

“….when you watch the mind, the mind’s tendency is to watch the observer. You watch the mind and the mind watches you – the mind becomes conscious of your watching. The mind is just like a child that stops its mischief when it is being watched……….therefore if you watch the mind, the mind becomes careful, slowly calms down by mere watching. That is why observe, be a witness, but don’t be a victim.”

I laud the honesty and profound understanding of human psychology in Manu Smriti, because it does not deny basic human tendencies. It takes into account the difficulties of a regular human being and provides practical methods to counter it. So, what technique did Manu suggest to tame the mind of young men, who would find it difficult to control sexual urges?

Restraint through Aversion

I will use a simple example to explain one of the techniques used in Indian texts to initiate men on the path of Brahmacharya and detachment.

If you had to give up your favourite sweet because you were diagnosed with diabetes, what would you do? In all probability, you would find a way to convince yourself that you no longer like the sweet. Your friends might help you out by attaching negative thoughts to that sweet and describing it in such a way that you no longer find it appealing.

Although it seems too simple, a very similar method is used to help aspiring Brahmacharis to go beyond their bodily desire for women. I later found that this is a technique described in Raja Yoga and is called Pratyahara – the technique of controlling thoughts with opposite thoughts to learn restraint. The method of practising restraint through aversion is for amateurs, who find it difficult to become aware of the ways of the mind. The opposite, i.e. getting rid of negative thoughts using positive thoughts is also prescribed in Pratyahara.

Once a person has learnt to restrain the mind, higher levels such as Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are introduced to help the person let go off all emotions including aversion and desire, to experience higher levels of reality. That’s why in a seasoned Brahmachari’s demeanour, we find neither aversion nor desire towards women.

Creating aversion in the mind of the attacker is one of the techniques taught in modern self-defence training for women. Women are taught that creating disgust by vomiting or by urinating during an attempt to rape, could create aversion in the mind of the rapist and give her a chance to get away.

So, we see that Manu’s verses to young men are intended to help them practice restraint and prevent harm to women. The lines written in Manu Smriti can be best understood when we understand, who is the audience being addressed in it. Chapter two, where we see the seemingly negative references to women, are meant for students and unmarried men, who are guided in the path of Brahmacharya through simple techniques that can tame the mind. Chapter three where we see the positive reference to women, are meant for householders and married men, who are capable of understanding respect. Thus, we see that the verses about women are not a contradiction. In the first case, women are safeguarded by teaching young men how to control their sexual urges. In the second case, women are protected by enforcing the idea that a family that doesn’t respect the female relatives, will suffer.

In Manu Smriti, never is there a denial of human desire and basic instinct. Instead, it shows the way to tame it in order to reach higher levels of realization.

Manu’s understanding of sexual abuse and incest

In the verse “One should not sit in a lonely place with one’s mother, sister, or daughter; for the senses are powerful, and master even a learned man” Manu Smriti, boldly and honestly talks of incest. Feminists use this verse to say how narrow minded Manu was to think that one’s own mother, sister or daughter can be thought of inciting sexual desires in a man.

As part of my work as a counsellor, I have dealt with cases of girls, who were sexually abused by their biological father, of siblings, who are sexually drawn to each other, and of girls, who felt that they caused the abuse because they enjoyed being touched by the abuser, who was a trusted relative. The most difficult part of helping the victim was making them overcome the enormous guilt associated with incest. The nature of sexual abuse is that the abuser grooms the victim to think that he/she is in fact responsible for making it happen. This guilt is a big reason why abuse is underreported. In a society where even feminists find it hard to accept that incest happens, imagine how much more difficult it is for a victim of incest to overcome it. To make them realize that their body has a mind of its own, and to get them to not punish themselves, is the hardest thing.

So, it is indeed refreshing to know that so many years ago, the great Indian Sage Manu recognized sexual attraction that breaks social norms and warned men of incest. By putting it out there, Manu brings awareness to men about the possibilities of getting trapped in sexual relationships, which are filled with guilt. It is also amazing that instead of targeting women and telling them that they brought it on (which we hear so often now-a-days), Manu addresses men.

Raja Yoga tells us that you can’t change anybody; therefore you have to change yourself. So the verses in Manu Smriti do not preach to women. Instead, it asks men to control themselves. Isn’t this what every feminist demands in those candle-light protests – “Don’t tell us how to dress, tell the men not to rape”? Well, thousands of years ago, Manu did just that.

By using Manu Smriti as a punching bag for all that we think is wrong in Indian society, we miss out on a tremendous learning and perhaps the only answer we have to tackle the increasing incidence of sexual crime at its root – taming the mind.

Hindu View of Menstruation- VI: Menstruation Restrictions and Attitudes

In this concluding part, let us briefly look into various menstruation restrictions prescribed in various Hindu texts and also examine the contrast in traditional Hindu attitudes and modern attitudes towards menstruation.

In the previous articles, we successively saw how Hinduism associates menstruation with Ashaucha, austerity, self-purification, rest, and sacred celebration. We also saw about how Yoga philosophy and Ayurveda perceives menstruation. In this concluding part, let us briefly look into various menstruation restrictions prescribed in various Hindu texts and also examine the contrast in traditional Hindu attitudes and modern attitudes towards menstruation.

Menstruation Restrictions

We have already seen various menstrual practices, along with many restrictions suggested in different Hindu scriptures. Many of these restrictions are found in the Vedas itself, which are then restated and elaborated in the various Smritis and scientifically explained in the Ayurvedic texts.

Here is a summary of important menstruation restrictions that have been suggested for the menstruating women:

1.No sexual intercourse: This is one of the most important advice given by Hindu scriptures to menstruating women. This advice is found in a large number of texts: Yajurveda Taittiriya Samhita (Verse 2.5.1), Angirasa Smrithi (Verse 37), Manu Smriti (4.40), Sushruta Samhita (Sharirasthana 2.31), and Kashyapa Samhita (Sharirasthana 5.5), to name a few.

First, Sexual intercourse during menstruation, if it leads to conception, may result in inter-uterine death, or death within few days of birth, or some form of deformity in the child. This reason is indicated in the Vedas and explicitly stated in the Ayurvedic texts. Second, even if one were to use contraceptives and hence prevent conception, there is no way to prevent the imbalance in the Doshas that results from sexual intercourse during menstruation. Hence, the avoidance of sexual intercourse has been suggested. Other minor reasons include the fact that menstruation is a process of austerity and self-purification and hence, Brahmacharya (celibacy) must be practiced, the way it is practiced in other austerity practices; menstruating women being in a heightened state of Rajas, sexual activity will not be good for either of the partners, especially the male partner [1], since sex by its very nature is an intimate process that involves union and exchange of energies at many levels; and since during menstruation any activity involving physical exertion should be avoided for preventing the imbalance of Prakriti Doshas and the resulting adverse effects on health.

  1. No running, exercises, and household activities: This advice can be found in texts like Angirasa smrithi (Verse 37), Vashishta Dharma Sutras (5.6), and Sushruta Samhita (Sharirasthana 2.24).

The principle reason behind this prescription is the fact that menstruation should be considered as a period of rest. Menstruating women being in a critical state of heightened Rajas and extremely sensitive physiological condition, avoidance of all physically tiring activities has been suggested. The Ayurvedic texts indicate, how excess physical activity may lead to imbalance in the Doshas, which may have adverse effect on the health of the woman. Further, if these Doshas persist, due to repeated physical activities during menstruation over a long period of time, then it may also negatively impact the children conceived by such women. Add to this the fact that many women face physical weakness and mood swings during menstruation. Taking all these actions, various texts have suggested menstruating women to avoid all household works, running, excessive walking, excessive talking, loud music, etc. Since, household activities include cooking food, an additional reason for the advice appears to be the fact that foods are carriers of energy and hence, menstruating women in heightened Rajasic condition, should avoid cooking as much as possible.

  1. No bathing, combing, application of collyrium, body anointment and other self-adorning activities

These advices occur in texts like Yajurveda Taittiriya Samhita (Verse 2.5.1), Vashishta Dharma Sutras (5.6), and in Ayurvedic texts like Sushruta Samhita (Sharirasthana 2.24).

The principles guiding these prescriptions are again two-fold: One, austerity by its very nature demands that all sense-engaging activities like combing, application of collyrium, body anointment and massage, make-up, etc. are given up during the period of austerity; Two, these activities, including bathing, may result in imbalance of Doshas, and repeated practice during long term will adversely affect the health of the woman as well as the children she may conceive.

  1. Segregation

Although no Hindu text explicitly speaks about any segregation of women, we find some form of segregation, including having separate huts for menstruating women in villages, being practiced. Further, certain tenets of menstruation practices prescribed in texts like Yajurveda Taittiriya Samhita (Verse 2.5.1), Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.4.13), Vashishta Dharma Sutras (5.6), and Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthana 8.4), requires a certain degree of segregation to implement.

Apart from the obvious fact that menstruating women often experience pain and mood swings and hence may prefer to be left undisturbed, another aspect to consider is the fact menstruation involves management of a lot of blood. Today, with the coming of sanitary pads, this blood management has certainly become easy (though not necessarily the best and eco-friendly option), and women can easily go out in public. This may not have been always the case. Thus, some form of segregation was implemented to allow menstruating women to peacefully spend their time without any external disturbances and without any obligation to go in public and hence may become susceptible to embarrassing situations.

Prescriptions like not cooking, not using normal utensils, not touching people, especially the husband, sleeping on ground, etc., also involve forms of segregation. Since, menstruating women will be in a heightened Rajasic condition (and the associated Ashaucha) and coming in direct physical contact, or eating food cooked by them, will result in Rajasic energy being transferred to others. Such a transfer may not have an immediate, perceptible effect on the receiver, but if such exposure continues over a long period, it may lead to imbalances in the physiological and subtle processes (for example, an imbalance in Prakriti Doshas).

Add to this, the notions of menstruation as being a period of rest, austerity and self-purification. Every person wants to be left undisturbed, while he is taking a rest or sleeping. Similarly, austerity by its very definition is a solitary effort, where the practitioner prefers to be alone and undisturbed. Thus, menstruation being both a period of rest and of austerity, menstruating women are advised some degree of segregation during her monthly periods.

  1. Restrictions related to food

The Ayurvedic texts like Susruta Samhita (Sharirasthana 2.25) suggest that menstruating women should eat ‘Havishya Anna’. Similarly, texts like Vashishta Dharma Sutras (5.6) advice menstruating women to avoid eating meat.

‘Havishya Anna’ refers to the food that is ideal for offering in the Yajna (fire ritual), which flares up the fire slowly and steadily. During menstruation, the women’s digestive fire called as Jathara-Agni is very weak, and the condition is called as ‘Agni-mandya’. Hence, Ayurveda suggests that one should consume that food, which is fit to be used in Yajna, so that the digestive fire is also flared up. Havishya Anna is basically a combination of ghee, Shali rice, and milk. Another dish that is ideal diet during menstruation is called as ‘Yawaka’- made from barley and milk. Apart from this, substances like Hing (Asafetida), Black Salt, etc., which are good for igniting the digestive fire should be consumed. More importantly, menstruating women should eat such foods, which are easy to digest, and take them in less quantity.

The purpose of these restrictions regarding food is to protect the health of menstruating women. Since, the digestive fire is very weak and Doshas are more susceptible to become vitiated during menstruation, only such food must be consumed, which do not harm the digestive fire and which do not cause an imbalance to the Doshas. A simple sattvik food consumed in less quantity is the ideal diet for menstruating women.

  1. Restrictions related to performance of religious and spiritual activities, including visiting temples

This is another important advice given to menstruating women. Though, widely prevalent even today, many women do not understand the principle behind this. Restriction on the performance of religious and spiritual activities has been explicitly mentioned in the Angirasa Smriti (Verse 37), which asks menstruating women to “not engage in holy/sacred activities.“ Similarly, Vashishta Dharma Sutras (5.6) asks menstruating women to “not touch fire”, which is a reference to not cooking food, as well as not performing fire-ritual-worship during menstruation.

The principle reason behind this injunction is the fact that menstruating women, due to their heightened state of Rajas, have entered a temporary phase of ritual Ashaucha, which makes them ineligible to perform religious rituals. For performing any ritual, an individual should be physically clean, as well as mentally pure and calm and more importantly, should have Sattvik disposition at physical, vital, and mental levels. But, since, menstruating women have heightened level of Rajas at all the three levels, they become ineligible to perform or participate in any religious activities. Menstrual blood is also considered as emitting a specific kind of subtle odor, which can potentially disturb the spiritual environment within the temple or at a religious ceremony.

Elaborating on this topic, Rajarshi Nandy writes:

“Hindu tradition as followed in various sampradayas and matas, from Smritis to Agamas and other generic localised customs, and specially those that claim to have been derived from the Vaidika traditions are unequivocal in stating that a woman, while menstruating, should not be present during the performance of religious rituals and/or enter temples where deities have been consecrated into the vigrahas. One of the reasons for this is because menstrual blood was/is considered unclean, with a specific kind of subtle odour that emanates from it, which can potentially disturb the environment inside the temple. In any worship, a most basic step is offering of the panchatattwa to the deity. The simplest of this process is the panchopachara puja, which includes making offerings flowers and dhoopas. Gandha, or smell, especially of the variety that has an uplifting effect on the human consciousness, is considered vital for most rituals. Hence, while chandan (sandal) remains one of the favourite ingredients for ritualistic worship across India, women during periods are strongly discouraged from entering into shrines.”

Yet another reason is the fact that performing or attending such religious ceremonies and rituals, or entering temples during menstruation over a long period of time may have an adverse effect on the health of the menstruating woman. As explained before, the energy present at a properly consecrated temple, or the energy generated in a properly performed religious ritual, will facilitate spiritual upliftment and calmness of the mind in those who participate, by causing the Apana vayu to move upwards. This upward movement will interfere with the downward movement of Apana vayu that is facilitating menstruation. This interference will result in imbalance of the Prakriti Doshas, which in-turn will affect the health of the menstruating woman over a long duration.

Thus, menstruating women have been advised not to take part in any religious activity, including visiting temples, so as to fulfil the dual purpose of: facilitating maintenance of the spiritual atmosphere at the temples and during the religious ceremonies, without any disturbance to its energy and spiritual environment; and protecting the menstruating woman from any adverse effects on her health due to interference with her physiological functioning of Doshas.

At this point, it is important to highlight that the practice of most of these menstrual restrictions have been given up by the current generation, though many of them still practice few of the restrictions, especially those related to religious practices. According to a study by Dr. Jasmine Gujarathi, Dr. Dilip Jani and Dr. ARV Murthy [2], which interviewed girls from urban and rural background, noted that out of 798 girls interviewed, only 14.16% followed restriction on cooking. Similarly, restriction on touching others, sleeping on same bed, and on applying turmeric and kajal were followed by 10.90%, 5.89%, and just 2.38% of girls respectively. Adherence to menstrual restrictions was highest with respect to religious practices like not participating in religious activity (41.60%) and not visiting temple (47.62%). Only 25 girls (3.13%) said that they did not follow any restriction.

The study is very insightful, because it reveals that almost half of the interviewed girls followed menstrual restrictions with respect to religious practice, but mostly ignored others, especially those given in Ayurvedic Paricharya. This is significant, because it denotes that somewhere down the line, people forgot the health principles, which are as important a guiding principle behind various tenets of menstrual Do’s and Don’ts, as the religious and spiritual principles are. This is further reinforced by the fact that out of 676 girls, who answered the question about why they followed some of the restrictions, 39.50% girls selected ‘culture’ as the reason and 44.53% selected ‘religion’ as the reason.

The study also revealed that out of 583 girls, who answered the question why they no longer follow restrictions all the time, 24.70% of them said it was due to exposure to new modern culture, whereas 38.25% said it was because these restrictions are no longer practical in today’s time. The current generation has become disconnected from Indian traditions, and as “ritual observance” is disparaged, the guiding principles behind menstrual practices–be it the religious principles of Ashaucha, austerity, self-purification, and celebration, or the health principles enunciated in the Ayurvedic texts—need to be articulated. Unfortunately, the elder generation itself is often ignorant about the Hindu notion of menstruation and the principles that guide various menstruation practices.

Are these restrictions is practical in today’s fast moving society? The present globalized society with its fast life pose serious obstacles to the traditional way of life. Women may find it very difficult to strictly follow all the restrictions all the time. But, contemporary women also struggle with menstrual difficulties. The practices need to be seen not as “oppressive restrictions” being imposed on them, but rather as therapeutic prescriptions. As the study [3] by Dr. Pallavi Pai, Dr. Sarita Bhutada, and Dr. Prasad Pandkar, shows, with little effort, women naturally increased observance of the restrictions as they practiced them and experienced the benefits. The study, which was earlier quoted in the article on “Menstruation in Ayurveda”, shows that the compliancy to various menstruation restrictions among the 30 unmarried woman, who were monitored, increased from an average of 76.10% at the beginning to 86.66% towards the end of the study period. This clearly shows that, when seen as natural, alternative therapy and part of a spiritual practice, women may choose to practice many, if not all, of the menstrual restrictions during their monthly periods. This practice of even few tenets of the menstruation Do’s and Don’ts can be highly beneficial. As Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (2.40) says “Even a little practice of Dharma saves one from great fear.”

What was followed as ritual in the past, needs to be grounded in scientific reason and experience in this age. The Western lens of “religion” and “superstition” distorts our understanding of the scientific basis for these rituals. More important than strict adherence to each and every prescription is the inner awareness that menstruation is an austerity, a self-purifying process and the recognition that menstruation practices have been designed for the overall welfare of women. Thus, developing a correct and a positive outlook towards menstruation is as important as practicing them. With the proper understanding, practice will arise more naturally in our times.

Menstruation attitudes: Tradition vs. Modern

The modern narrative on menstruation, has de-rooted menstruation from its sacred dimensions by terming non-physical aspects as ‘taboo’ and has reduced menstruation to negative notions like pain, cramps, unavoidable physical condition, and an annoyance to be overcome. In modernity, menstruation is presented as annoying, unavoidable physiological process accompanied with physical uneasiness and mood swings.

Contrary to this, Hindu tradition promotes a positive notion and asks women to perceive menstruation as a period of rest, austerity and self-purification, and as a privilege available only to women. It considers pain, depression, etc. as symptoms of abnormal menstruation and has designed a mode of life to be adopted by menstruating women, which will help them to have normal menstruation by overcoming these symptoms. It does recognize the Ashaucha that becomes associated with menstruation, but at the same time, it also recognizes the fact that this Ashaucha facilitates freeing of women from impurities of the body, mind, and actions, in a manner similar to yoga or meditation. More importantly, Hinduism celebrates menstruation as sacred festival and promotes a holistic view by aligning menstruation with various ecological and cosmic principles.

It is an irony that this positive sacred view of menstruation that honors the sacred feminine energies gets dubbed as “misogynistic” by a modernity that mocks and trivializes this sacred process as “women on the rag”, perhaps building on Christian attitudes of menstruation as dirty. Ironically, Hindus are ignorantly attacking their own sacred feminine traditions and aping misogynistic pop-culture as “progressive.” This is the ultimate triumph of patriarchy.

The Urban Dictionary gives some examples of the usage of the term “on the rag”:

“Damn, b**ch! Are you always on the rag?!?

“Gee guys… i have cramps, im on the rag. It’s been a couple days. no sex for me”

She’s really in a mood, she’s on the rag and complaining about everything.

When i am on the rag, i get cranky and bitchy and scream at assh**es.

In contrast, the Hindu traditions view menstruation as a period of ritual impurity and the associated ritual restriction is part of honoring this feminine process as a tapas, like the austerity of yogis, a sacred cleansing uniquely available to women. It also recognized their unique physical, emotional and energetic state in this process. The cultural practices are designed to free her from the obligation of routine work and chores and allow seclusion as a form of spiritual retreat. Modernity either mocks the process, or pretends it doesn’t exist, by expecting women to “show up with a work face” regardless of what is going on with their physical or emotional state. When that manifests as emotional disturbance, women are patronized as being “on the rag.”

The Hindu tradition, one of the last surviving planetary traditions that honor the sacred feminine, can help women recover the sacred aspect of the menstrual process. Menstrual practices based on Yoga and Ayurveda and an understanding of both bodily and spiritual health will allow women to best manage this process for bodily comfort, emotional support and spiritual growth.


  1. Manu Smriti (4.40-41) states: “Let him, though mad with desire, not approach his wife when her courses appear; nor let him sleep with her in the same bed. For the wisdom, the energy, the strength, the sight, and the vitality of a man who approaches a woman covered with menstrual excretions, utterly perish.” The reason for this injunction appears to be two fold. One, if sexual intercourse with menstruating woman leads to conception and subsequent death of the child, then the Karmic fruits equivalent to ‘Brunahatya’- which is among the greatest Adharmic actions, will come to the father, since it was he who initiated the sexual activity (as clear from verse 40); Two, since, menstruating woman is in a heightened condition of Rajas, the interaction and energy exchange during sexual activity may have adverse effect on the male partner, thus weakening his energy, strength, and vitality.

Understanding Hindu idea of marriage using मनुस्मृति (MANUSMRITI)

न गन्तव्यं वनं देव्या सीतया शीलवर्जिते। अनुष्ठास्यति रामस्य सीता प्रकृतमासनम्।।

You are devoid of good conduct, O कैकेयी, देवी सीता need not go to the forest. Remaining here she should occupy the royal throne of राम.

आत्मा हि दारास्सर्वेषां दारसङ्ग्रहवर्तिनाम्। आत्मेयमिति रामस्य पालयिष्यति मेदिनीम्।।

For every householder, his wife is the आत्मा. Since सीता is the soul of राम, she can rule this earth.

ऋषि Vashishtha utters these words in the अयोध्या कांड of the Srimad वाल्मीकि रामायण. This sentence comes up as ऋषि Vashistha scolds कैकेयी when she hands over forest clothing to सीता to wear in the forest. But is this expression of the ऋषि just an emotional outburst because he was unhappy watching सीता suffer? Not really – this line is in consonance with the view on धर्म expressed within various other textss. The blog below explores how ऋषि मनु envisages an ideal relationship between wife and husband that is in keeping with धर्म.

Idea of masculine and feminine in Indian texts

We always have a fundamental question – why have humans as well as many animals designed with this idea of a masculine and feminine? This appears as a fundamental truism across all species though no one can answer as to why it is so. Why should there be a seed-giving masculine and an egg-giving feminine as a fundamental idea? And this idea appears right from the beginning of living beings. Ancient Hindu worldview talks about masculine and feminine as an eternal phenomenon. मनुस्मृति begins with the process of creation of the Universe and within a few verses, the following verse comes up:

द्विधा कृत्वाऽत्मनो देहमर्धेन पुरुषोऽभवत् । अर्धेन नारी तस्यां स विराजमसृजत् प्रभुः

Having divided his body into two halves, with the one half, the Lord became पुरुष or Male, and with the other half, नारी or Female; from her, he produced Virāj.

Says Medhatithi who gives a commentary on the स्मृति – this mention of the bifurcation of Prajāpati’s body is based upon the fact that the husband and wife differ only in their bodies, and in all functions they are entirely united.

The conception of the Universe itself began with a conception of पुरुष or the male principle and प्रकृति or the female principle. This unity is one of the most critical ideas from ancient Hindu thought. In the Srimad Bhagavadgita too, श्री Krishna says the below in the 13th Chapter –

प्रकृतिं पुरुषं चैव विद्ध्यनादी उभावपि। विकारांश्च गुणांश्चैव विद्धि प्रकृतिसंभवान् ।।

Know that (विद्धि) both (उभौ अपि) प्रकृति and the पुरुष (प्रकृतिं पुरुष च) are without beginning (अनादि); know that (विद्धि) all modifications (विकारान् एव च) and the attributes (गुणान् च) are born of (संभवान्) प्रकृति.

And continuing further, He says:

कार्यकरणकर्तृत्वे हेतुः प्रकृतिरुच्यते। पुरुषः सुखदुःखानां भोक्तृत्वे हेतुरुच्यते।।13.21।।

The प्रकृति is said to be (उच्यते) the cause (हेतुः) of agency (कर्तृत्वे) to the body (कार्य) and instruments (करण). The पुरुष is said to be (उच्यते) the cause of (हेतुः) experiencing (भोक्तृत्वे) pleasure and pain (सुखदुःखानां).

Inseparabality of the masculine and feminine

शिवसूत्र provides a wonderful perspective on the masculine and feminine. As per the सूत्र, Ultimate Reality is cit or Parasamvit. It is non-relational consciousness. It is the changeless principle of all changes. In it, there is no distinction of subject and object, of I and This. It is the Supreme Self surveying Itself. In the words of Pratya- bhijna Sastra, it is prakasa-vimarsamaya. Prakasa is the Eternal Light without which nothing can appear. It is Siva. Vimarsa is Sakti, the svabhava of Siva. It is, so to speak, the mirror in which Siva realizes His own grandeur, power and beauty. Vimarsa is the Kartrtva Sakti (the power of doer-ship) of Siva. Mere Prakasa cannot be the nature of Reality. Even diamond is prakasa, but the diamond does not know itself as prakasa. Vimarsa is that aspect of prakasa by which it knows itself. That self-knowledge is an activity. Vimarsa betokens that activity. If Ultimate Reality were merely prakasa and not also vimarsa, it would be entirely powerless and inert. It is this I-consciousness of Ultimate Reality that is responsible for the manifestation, maintenance, and re- absorption of the universe. Cit is conscious of itself as Cidrupini sakti. This conscious- ness of itself as Cidrupini sakti is Vimarsa. Vimarsa has been named variously as parasakti, svatantrya, aisvarya, Kartrtva, sphuratta, sara, hrdaya, spanda.

It is the svabhava or very nature of Ultimate Reality to manifest. Creativity is of the very essence of Divinity. If Ultimate Reality did not manifest, it would not be Self or consciousness, but not-Self, something like a jar. The सूत्र therefore concludes that Ultimate Reality or ParamaSiva is prakasa-vimarsamaya

यथा न्यग्रोधबीजस्थ: शक्तिरूपो महाद्रुमः | तथा हृदयबीजस्थं विश्वमेतच्चराचरम् ||

“As the great banyan tree lies only in the form of potency in the seed, even so the entire universe with all the mobile and immobile beings lies as a potency in the heart of the Supreme.” The Sakti of the Supreme is called Citi or parasakti or paravak.

It is for this reason that most Hindu temples show the main deity which is a representation of परमात्मा as a Divine couple instead of a singular.

Example of inseparability within रामायण

Given the above background, it is no wonder that one comes across the famous analogy of the Sun and the Sun rays used within the texts with the Sun representing the masculine aspect and the Sunrays representing the feminine aspect. Both are one, both are inseparable. In the सुंदरकांड within the रामायण, when asked by सीता as to how राम was living without her, श्री हनुमान् said the following:

तवादर्शनजेनार्ये शोकेन स परिप्लुतः। न शर्म लभते रामस्सिंहार्दित इव द्विपः।।

O noble lady not being able to see you, राम is immersed in an ocean of sorrow, he has no solace like an elephant tormented by a lion.

न मांसं राघवो भुङक्ते न चाऽपि मधु सेवते। वन्यं सुविहितं नित्यं भक्तमश्नाति पञ्चमम्।।

“राम is not eating meat, nor drinking wine. He takes only the one fifth of a meal (sanctioned for an ascetic) available in the forest.

नैव दंशान्न मशकान्न कीटान्न सरीसृपान्। राघवोऽपनयेद्गात्रात्त्वद्गतेनान्तरात्मना।।

“Since you left, राम has been always thinking sincerely of you, no longer drives away flies or mosquitoes nor insects or serpents from his body (his mind entirely fixed on you).

नित्यं ध्यानपरो रामो नित्यं शोकपरायणः। नान्यच्चिन्तयते किञ्चित्स तु कामवशं गतः।।

“राम is always lost in thought. He is totally given to grief. Absorbed in love for you, he thinks of none else

अनिद्रस्सततं रामस्सुप्तोऽपि च नरोत्तमः। सीतेति मधुरां वाणीं व्याहरन्प्रतिबुध्यते।।

“राम, the best of men never goes to sleep and even if he drops off to sleep he mutters ‘सीता – सीता in a sweet voice in his sleep.

दृष्ट्वा फलं वा पुष्पं वा यद्वाऽन्यत्सुमनोहरम्। बहुशो हा प्रियेत्येवं श्वसंस्त्वामभिभाषते।।

“Sighing deeply whenever राम sees a fruit or a flower or any such delightful thing, he remembers you and calls you out again and again, saying – हा प्रिये!

स देवि नित्यं परितप्यमान स्त्वामेव सीतेत्यभिभाषमाणः। धृतव्रतो राजसुतो महात्मा तवैव लाभाय कृतप्रयत्नः।।

“O divine lady prince राम is ceaselessly suffering. He keeps talking to you in air. The determined राम is only thinking of your recovery “.

Is husband masculine and wife feminine?

No. All of us are having both components within us – all those who are males and those who are females are both a mixture of पुरुष and प्रकृति. As भगवान् says in the Gita –

कार्यकरणकर्तृत्वे हेतुः प्रकृतिरुच्यते। पुरुषः सुखदुःखानां भोक्तृत्वे हेतुरुच्यते ।।

The प्रकृति is said to be (उच्यते) the cause (हेतुः) of agency (कर्तृत्वे) to the body (कार्य) and instruments (करण). The पुरुष is said to be (उच्यते) the cause of (हेतुः) experiencing (भोक्तृत्वे) pleasure and pain (सुखदुःखानां).

कार्य means body, the effect. करण means instruments of perception which is the sense organs (eye sees, ear hears, etc). And कारण means cause. So wherever there is कार्य and कारण, viz effect and cause, the reason for these to happen is प्रकृति. Body is called as an effect since body gets formed owing to कर्म done through operation of the senses. कर्म is the कारण here. This means that wherever there is action by instrument of senses, they always deal in cause and effect relation and this is the zone of प्रकृति. You take food and digest it – you get strength and you can see प्रकृति there. Eating for strength or joy thus is an activity compelled by प्रकृति within us. जन्म & मरण are both within the zone of प्रकृति since doer-ship for actions happens at a मन/ बुद्धि level causing कर्म which in turn necessarily creates a field of experience viz the body or क्षेत्र. As we know, both मन/ बुद्धि and शरीर are evolutes of प्रकृति only.

So where is पुरुष present? Wherever there is an अनुभव of सुख or दु:ख, पुरुष is present there. प्रकृति has no सुख or दु:ख since it is dull dead matter; a table or chair does not have सुख or दु:ख. Why just a table – even a जिव्हा or उदर or चक्षु (which are प्रकृति) do not have an अनुभव of joy since they merely convey their sensation to the real experiencer viz us. Only because there is पुरुष, one experiences सुख or दु:ख. Do note that while पुरुष has अनुभव of सुख or दु:ख, He is not सुखी or दु:खी.

Wherever we see an inert object like a stone, they just exist and we call a stone as प्रकृति with the सत् (means existence) aspect of पुरुष. Similarly, a table or chair just exist and these also may be taken primarily as evolutes of प्रकृति. Nature is also called as प्रकृति since it merely exists – nature has no consciousness. But wherever there is a प्राणी, you have सत् + चित्. So in a प्राणी, प्रकृति combines with सत् + चित् aspect of पुरुष. And wherever this aspect of पुरुष comes about, there is भोक्तृत्व which means ability to have अनुभव or enjoy and thus from the living cell onwards, we have both सत् as well as भोक्तृत्व.

Then what about us? We also have भोक्तृत्व owing to अनुभव but something is missing. पुरुष is all three put together – सत् – चित् – आनन्द eternally. And while you and me today certainly possess both सत् & चित् aspect of पुरुष, आनन्द of an eternal nature eludes us. Even our temporary आनन्द depends on some aspect of प्रकृति (eating food, drinking, etc) and is thus a dependent आनन्द. Once आनन्द of an innate type comes onto us, we have achieved कैवल्य. Any life form – a plant body or animal body or human body, can have an अनुभव of कैवल्य once पूर्ण पुरुष of the सत् – चित् – आनन्द aspect gets fully expressed within itself.

Just to reiterate, we take on a body owing to our कर्म. कर्म here means all actions done with doer-ship. Doer-ship means acting with an idea that we are limited and separate from others. One who DOES an action is spurred by प्रकृति while पुरुष does not act at all – it just witnesses and enjoys. Thus, when we do धर्म, we are not doing OUR action. OUR means action arising within the मन/ बुद्धि complex. A judge who gives judgement setting his convict son free will not incur कर्म if his judgement was based on evidence. This is because his action is impersonal in the sense that any other धार्मिक judge would have acted in a same way. If there is no कर्म, no “cause” happens and thus no “effect” in the form of body comes about in the future.

Purpose of मनुस्मृति text

All of us are born as sub-optimal people. All are born with imperfections living in a world where we try to live a decent life where we attempt to attain prosperity (अर्थ) and enjoy life (काम). The स्मृति is however not meant for people who are focussed on अर्थ and काम only – its focus is धर्म with काम and अर्थ are subsidiary to धर्म. Focus of the text will be clear in the following verses:

कामात्मता न प्रशस्ता न चैवैहास्त्यकामता । काम्यो हि वेदाधिगमः कर्मयोगश्च वैदिकः ॥ २ ॥

It is not right to be absorbed in काम—“But there is in this world, no absolute absence of काम; for the study of the वेद itself is prompted by काम, as also every act prescribed in the वेद.

सङ्कल्पमूलः कामो वै यज्ञाः सङ्कल्पसम्भवाः । व्रतानि यमधर्माश्च सर्वे सङ्कल्पजाः स्मृताः ॥ ३ ॥

काम has its root in Thought; यज्ञ proceed from Thought; व्रत and यम —all these have been described as originating in Thought

अकामस्य क्रिया का चिद् दृश्यते नैह कर्हि चित् । यद् यद् हि कुरुते किं चित् तत् तत् कामस्य चेष्टितम् ॥ ४ ॥

No action is ever found in this world to be done by a man entirely without काम; whatever a man does is the outcome of काम

तेषु सम्यग् वर्तमानो गच्छत्यमरलोकताम् । यथा सङ्कल्पितांश्चैह सर्वान् कामान् समश्नुते ॥

Behaving in the right manner, in regard to these (काम), a man attains the position of Immortals (देव लोक); and even in this world he obtains all the काम that he may have thought of.

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् । आचारश्चैव साधूनामात्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च ॥

The entire वेद is the root-source of धर्म; also the conscientious recollection of righteous persons versed in the वेद (greats from इतिहास and Purana texts), the Practice of Good (and learned) Men, and their self-satisfaction.

श्रुतिस्मृत्योदितं धर्ममनुतिष्ठन् हि मानवः । इह कीर्तिमवाप्नोति प्रेत्य चानुत्तमं सुखम् ॥

For the man performing the duty laid down by the स्रुति (or the वेद) and the recollections obtains fame here, and after death, unsurpassed happiness

वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः । एतच्चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥

The वेद, the स्मृति, the Practice of cultured Men, and what is agreeable to oneself—these directly constitute the fourfold means of knowing धर्म

अर्थकामेष्वसक्तानां धर्मज्ञानं विधीयते । धर्मं जिज्ञासमानानां प्रमाणं परमं श्रुतिः ॥

The knowledge of धर्म is ordained for those who are not addicted to the pursuit of अर्थ and काम; and for those seeking for the knowledge of धर्म, the स्रुति (or the वेद) is the highest authority.

Given the above, मनुस्मृति very clearly focusses on attainment of धर्म. And acquisition of धर्म is the primal pursuit of Hindu thought. And what benefit does धर्म give? As the text says above, such a person will attain fame in this world while living as well as after leaving the body. The text therefore lists a long list of prescriptions for men and women to follow to live a life of धर्म. If someone is interested ONLY in pursuit of career, acquire a lot of money and a life filled with entertainment, this text is a waste of time. But for one who is pursuing these merely for survival or to experience रस but primarily interested in living a life of धर्म, prescriptions of this text become useful. In this context, there are prescriptions for men and women too if attainment of धर्म is their main goal. To reiterate, if pursuit of धर्म is not important or even considered relevant to modern life, kindly stop reading further.

How is the idea of प्रकृति and पुरुष relevant to a marriage?

We have said that both प्रकृति and पुरुष are inseparable. Both a female and a male have both of them put together. Male is not पुरुष alone nor female is प्रकृति alone. Both however have to come together to create life just as Universe creation came about through union of शिव and शक्ति. There is a famous line that should be known to all – शिव is शिव because of शक्ति – if there is no शक्ति, शिव becomes Shava (meaning a dead body). But both are bringing together their different characteristics to make life possible. शिव gives identity while शक्ति gives meaning. शिव represents the static aspect of the Universe while शक्ति represents the dynamic aspect of the Universe. As the identity principle, शिव makes existence possible शक्ति is the dependent principle just as Sunrays are dependent on the Sun. Universe is orderly since शक्ति creates the Universe as per the wishes of शिव and hence शक्ति is shown in our texts as a devoted wife of शिव.

In a marriage too, when male and female come together, they are continuing what was true at the start of the Universe – the merger of पुरुष and प्रकृति. To be more precise, before the creation of the Universe, both प्रकृति and पुरुष were in a state of bliss within themselves in a dormant mode and creation happened once they activated themselves externally – and so a visible universe has come about. And in all marriages, every male and female discharge the role of प्रकृति and पुरुष by means of their roles. Therefore, ऋषि मनु and others asked humans to organise themselves in the ritual of marriage on the lines of how शिव and शक्ति organised themselves and live the life of Unity rather than as two distinct individuals. In doing so, they must work to experience the bliss of शिव and शक्ति or bliss of नारायण and महालक्ष्मी or love of राम and सीता.

General attitude of men towards wives and women

So what is the attitude that men are supposed to have with respect to women in the society? Here, an interesting set of verses within मनुस्मृति are given as below –

पितृभिर्भ्रातृभिश्चैताः पतिभिर्देवरैस्तथा । पूज्या भूषयितव्याश्च बहुकल्याणं ईप्सुभिः ।।

Women must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire (their own) welfare.

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः । यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफलाः क्रियाः ।।

Where women are honoured, there the Devas are pleased; but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields rewards.

शोचन्ति जामयो यत्र विनश्यत्याशु तत्कुलम् । न शोचन्ति तु यत्रैता वर्धते तद्धि सर्वदा ।।

Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.

जामयो यानि गेहानि शपन्त्यप्रतिपूजिताः । तानि कृत्याहतानीव विनश्यन्ति समन्ततः ।।

The houses on which female relations, not being duly honoured, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic.

तस्मादेताः सदा पूज्या भूषणाच्छादनाशनैः । भूतिकामैर्नरैर्नित्यं सत्करेषूत्सवेषु च ।।

Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honour women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes, and (dainty) food.

संतुष्टो भार्यया भर्ता भर्त्रा भार्या तथैव च । यस्मिन्नेव कुले नित्यं कल्याणं तत्र वै ध्रुवम् ।।

In that family, where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting.

यदि हि स्त्री न रोचेत पुमांसं न प्रमोदयेत् । अप्रमोदात्पुनः पुंसः प्रजनं न प्रवर्तते ।।

For if the wife is not radiant with beauty, she will not attract her husband; but if she has no attractions for him, no children will be born.

स्त्रियां तु रोचमानायां सर्वं तद्रोचते कुलम् । तस्यां त्वरोचमानायां सर्वं एव न रोचते ।।

If the wife is radiant with beauty, the whole house is bright; but if she is destitute of beauty, all will appear dismal.

सुवासिनीः कुमारीश्च रोगिणो गर्भिणीः स्त्रियः । अतिथिभ्योऽग्र एवैतान् भोजयेदविचारयन् ॥ ११४ ॥

Newly married girls, maidens, sick persons and pregnant women,—these one should, without hesitation, feed immediately after the guests

प्रजनार्थं महाभागाः पूजार्हा गृहदीप्तयः । स्त्रियः श्रियश्च गेहेषु न विशेषोऽस्ति कश्चन ॥

There is no difference whatever between the goddess of fortune (महालक्ष्मी) and the women who secure many blessings for the sake of bearing children, who are worthy of worship and who form the glory of their household

Says Medhatithi in his commentary on the स्मृति: Women are like effulgence in their home. It is well-known that there is no comfort at home, in the absence of the wife. Even when there is plenty of wealth, if the wife is absent, the household is not able to attend to the feeding and other needs of friends and relatives that may happen to come in as guests. In fact, such men are as powerless as poor men. For this reason there is no difference between महालक्ष्मी and women in their homes

उत्पादनमपत्यस्य जातस्य परिपालनम् । प्रत्यहं लोकयात्रायाः प्रत्यक्षं स्त्री निबन्धनम् ॥

The begetting of the child, the nourishing of the born, and the ordinary life of the world,—of each of these things the woman is clearly the main-spring

अपत्यं धर्मकार्याणि शुश्रूषा रतिरुत्तमा । दाराऽधीनस्तथा स्वर्गः पितॄणामात्मनश्च ह ॥ २८ ॥

Off-spring, religious acts, faithful service, highest happiness,—all this is dependent on the wife; as also the attainment of heaven by oneself as well as by his forefathers

चक्रिणो दशमीस्थस्य रोगिणो भारिणः स्त्रियाः । स्नातकस्य च राज्ञश्च पन्था देयो वरस्य च ॥

Way should be made for one in a chariot, for one who is in the tenth stage of life, for one suffering from disease, for one carrying a burden, for a woman, for the person who has just passed out of studentship, for the king and for the bridegroom

उपाध्यायान् दशाचार्य आचार्याणां शतं पिता । सहस्रं तु पितॄन् माता गौरवेणातिरिच्यते ॥ १४५ ॥

In veneration, the Preceptor excels ten Sub-teachers; the Father a hundred preceptors, and the Mother a thousand Fathers

Should women live as dependents on men?

Just as शिव cannot live without शक्ति, शक्ति is not even conceivable without शिव. प्रकृति is seen in ancient Indian thought as a dependent principle while पुरुष described as independent principle. Probably owing to this idea, मनुस्मृति gives the following set of verses which do seem disturbing to read using a modern दृष्टि:

अस्वतन्त्राः स्त्रियः कार्याः पुरुषैः स्वैर्दिवानिशम् । विषयेषु च सज्जन्त्यः संस्थाप्या आत्मनो वशे ॥

During the day and the night women should not be left to themselves by their men. If they become addicted to sensual objects, they should be kept under one’s control

पिता रक्षति कौमारे भर्ता रक्षति यौवने । रक्षन्ति स्थविरे पुत्रा न स्त्री स्वातन्त्र्यमर्हति ॥

The father guards her during virginity, the husband guards her in youth, the sons guard her in old age; the woman is never fit for independence

कालेऽदाता पिता वाच्यो वाच्यश्चानुपयन् पतिः । मृते भर्तरि पुत्रस्तु वाच्यो मातुररक्षिता ॥

Censurable is the father who gives her not away at the right time; censurable the husband who approaches her not; and censurable the son who, on the death of her husband, does not take care of her

सूक्ष्मेभ्योऽपि प्रसङ्गेभ्यः स्त्रियो रक्ष्या विशेषतः । द्वयोर्हि कुलयोः शोकमावहेयुररक्षिताः ॥

Women should be specially guarded against even small attachments; for, if not guarded, they would bring grief to both families

इमं हि सर्ववर्णानां पश्यन्तो धर्ममुत्तमम् । यतन्ते रक्षितुं भार्यां भर्तारो दुर्बला अपि ॥

Looking upon this as the highest duty of all castes, even weak husbands strive to guard their wives

स्वां प्रसूतिं चरित्रं च कुलमात्मानमेव च । स्वं च धर्मं प्रयत्नेन जायां रक्षन् हि रक्षति ॥

He who carefully protects his wife preserves his offspring, his character, his family, his own self, and also his धर्म

न कश्चिद् योषितः शक्तः प्रसह्य परिरक्षितुम् । एतैरुपाययोगैस्तु शक्यास्ताः परिरक्षितुम् ॥

No man can guard women forcibly; they can however be guarded by the employment of these expedients

अर्थस्य सङ्ग्रहे चैनां व्यये चैव नियोजयेत् । शौचे धर्मेऽन्नपक्त्यां च पारिणाह्यस्य वेक्षणे ॥

He shall employ her in the accumulation and disbursement of wealth, as also in cleanliness, in religious acts, in the cooking of food and in taking care of the household furniture

अरक्षिता गृहे रुद्धाः पुरुषैराप्तकारिभिः । आत्मानमात्मना यास्तु रक्षेयुस्ताः सुरक्षिताः ॥

Women confined in the house under trusted servants are not well guarded; really well guarded are those who guard themselves by themselves.

बालया वा युवत्या वा वृद्धया वाऽपि योषिता । न स्वातन्त्र्येण कर्तव्यं किं चिद् कार्यं गृहेष्वपि ॥ १४५ ॥

Whether she be a child, or a young woman, or an aged woman, she should not do any act by herself, even in the house

बाल्ये पितुर्वशे तिष्ठेत् पाणिग्राहस्य यौवने । पुत्राणां भर्तरि प्रेते न भजेत् स्त्री स्वतन्त्रताम् ॥ १४६ ॥

In childhood she should remain under the control of her father, in youth under that of her husband, and on the husband’s death under that of her sons; the woman should never have recourse to independence.

पित्रा भर्त्रा सुतैर्वाऽपि नेच्छेद् विरहमात्मनः । एषां हि विरहेण स्त्री गर्ह्ये कुर्यादुभे कुले ॥ १४७ ॥

She should not seek separation from her father, husband or sons: by separating, the woman would render both families disreputable.

सदा प्रहृष्टया भाव्यं गृहकार्ये च दक्षया । सुसंस्कृतोपस्करया व्यये चामुक्तहस्तया ॥ १४८ ॥

She should be always cheerful and alert in household-work; she should have the utensils well-cleaned and in spending she should be close-fisted’

यस्मै दद्यात् पिता त्वेनां भ्राता वाऽनुमते पितुः । तं शुश्रूषेत जीवन्तं संस्थितं च न लङ्घयेत् ॥ १४९ ॥

Him to whom her father may give her, or her brother with the father’s permission,—she shall attend upon as long as he lives, and shall not disregard him when he is dead

Says Medhatithi, ऋषि मनु used the words ‘Or her brother with the father’s permission’ to mean that just as the brother is entitled to give away the girl only with the father’s permission, so also is the father entitled to give her away only with the consent of her mother, though the present text speaks of the father as if he were free to give her away without consulting anyone else. And the reason for this lies in the fact that in all things the husband and wife have joint title, and the daughter belongs to both the parents. In fact it is pointed out that if the father is not alive, the girl may be given away by the mother. The child is born of both parents, and on this rests their right over her; hence it is only right that both should consult each other

Comments: On a first read to us in the 21st century, these lines seem patronising. मनु does not want women to be left alone. He wants them to be supervised all the time just as till recent times, women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive or leave the house alone at any point of time. But on a deeper read, this idea is not fully out of place in today’s era too. Safety of women in postulated as a man’s responsibility. Man who does not take care is censured. While some women may not like this and we do see some women seeking freedom to live singly, even such women seek protection from the State by means of Law. This means that if not a man, a woman still needs protection from the State. As we have witnessed the history of the world, it is the women who suffer the most during wars and famines. And if and when we see women prospering and capable of showing their prowess, it is during peaceful times. मनु is thereby saying the same thing to men – take care of women. Do not use force to protect them – use common sense, allow them the freedom to move around but make sure that they are safe at all times. Such safety is conducive for them as well as the society. मनु is thus making man responsible for woman’s safety especially since it is the man who can ruin the life of a women through bad conduct. Men who do not take care of women must not be respected – that is the sentiment one can see being expressed in the above verses. In today’s era, technology has enabled women to become independent without the need of the presence of a physical man around them all the time – this needs to be encouraged further and men must be made accountable to enhance such technology that helps women. This is because if women are happy, men also can be happy and not otherwise.

Duties of a man towards wife

भुक्तवत्स्वथ विप्रेषु स्वेषु भृत्येषु चैव हि । भुञ्जीयातां ततः पश्चादवशिष्टं तु दम्पती ॥

After the ब्राह्मण, his own people and servants have dined,—the husband and wife should afterwards eat what is left.

जामयोऽप्सरसां लोके वैश्वदेवस्य बान्धवाः । सम्बन्धिनो ह्यपां लोके पृथिव्यां मातृमातुलौ ॥

आकाशेशास्तु विज्ञेया बालवृद्धकृशातुराः । भ्राता ज्येष्ठः समः पित्रा भार्या पुत्रः स्वका तनुः ॥

Female relatives (have power) over the region of the Apsaras; maternal relations, over that of the Viśvedevas; marriage-relations, over the region of the Waters; the mother and maternal uncle, over the Earth; the children, the aged, the emaciated and the sick should be regarded as the lords of Ākāśa; the elder brother is equal to the Father; the wife and the son are one’s own body

छाया स्वो दासवर्गश्च दुहिता कृपणं परम् । तस्मादेतैरधिक्षिप्तः सहेतासञ्ज्वरः सदा ॥ १८५ ॥

Slaves are one’s own shadow; the daughter is the highest object of tenderness. For these reasons, when offended by these, he shall always bear it without heat

Interesting: Men are being told here to bear silently whenever they are offended by one’s family members. Equally, they are being told that wife and son are to be seen as one’s own body – there is no distinction between them at all. Women are eulogised further in some more verses as below.

तत् प्राज्ञेन विनीतेन ज्ञानविज्ञानवेदिना । आयुष्कामेन वप्तव्यं न जातु परयोषिति ॥

For this reason he who is intelligent, well-trained, and conversant with the sciences and the arts, should never, if he desires longevity, sow in another’s wife

Message: He must remain true to his wife and not commit adultery.

अनृतावृतुकाले च मन्त्रसंस्कारकृत् पतिः । सुखस्य नित्यं दातैह परलोके च योषितः ॥

The husband who has performed the mantric sacramental rites for women is the imparter of happiness to them both in season and out of season, here as well as in the next world.

Says Medhatithi, since it is only along with her husband that the wife is entitled to the performance of religious acts, and the acquiring of their results,—the husband is called ‘the importer of happiness in the next world,’

यादृग्गुणेन भर्त्रा स्त्री संयुज्येत यथाविधि । तादृग्गुणा सा भवति समुद्रेणैव निम्नगा ॥

When a woman is united in one form with a man possessed of certain qualities, she becomes herself endowed with similar qualities,—like a river united with the ocean

Says Medhatithi, if a man wishes to guard his wife, he should guard himself also against evil habits; and it is not the woman that should preserve her chastity. Since if the man has a bad character, his wife also becomes the same; just as the wife of a man possessed of good character becomes good. For instance the river, though herself sweet-watered, becomes saline like the Ocean, when she joins this latter

Message: In taking care of their wives, men must take care of their own character rather than attempting to control a woman using authority. If they guard themselves, their wife will blend with their husbands beautifully.

Duties of wife towards the husband

पतिं या नाभिचरति मनोवाग्देहसंयता । सा भर्तृलोकानाप्नोति सद्भिः साध्वीइति चोच्यते ॥

व्यभिचारात् तु भर्तुः स्त्री लोके प्राप्नोति निन्द्यताम् । सृगालयोनिं चाप्नोति पापरोगैश्च पीड्यते ॥

She, who does not fail in her duty to her husband, having her thought, speech and body well-controlled, reaches her husband’s regions; and is called ‘good’ by all gentle-men. The woman, who, through failure in her duty to her husband, becomes an object of contempt in the world, comes to be born as a jackal and is tormented by foul diseases

विशीलः कामवृत्तो वा गुणैर्वा परिवर्जितः । उपचार्यः स्त्रिया साध्व्या सततं देववत् पतिः ॥

Be he ill-mannered or of licentious habits or destitute of good qualities,—the husband should always be attended upon like a god by the true wife.

नास्ति स्त्रीणां पृथग् यज्ञो न व्रतं नाप्युपोषणम् । पतिं शुश्रूषते येन तेन स्वर्गे महीयते ॥

There is no separate sacrificing for women, no observances, no fastings; it is by means of serving her husband that she becomes exalted in heaven

पाणिग्राहस्य साध्वी स्त्री जीवतो वा मृतस्य वा । पतिलोकमभीप्सन्ती नाचरेत् किं चिदप्रियम् ॥

The good wife, desirous of reaching her husband’s regions, should never do anything that m ay be disagreeable to her husband, alive or dead

कामं तु क्षपयेद् देहं पुष्पमूलफलैः शुभैः । न तु नामापि गृह्णीयात् पत्यौ प्रेते परस्य तु ॥

Well might she macerate her body by means of pure flowers, roots and fruits; but she should not even mention the name of another man, after her husband is dead

आसीतामरणात् क्षान्ता नियता ब्रह्मचारिणी । यो धर्म एकपत्नीनां काङ्क्षन्ती तमनुत्तमम् ॥

Till her death, she should remain patient, self-controlled and chaste,—seeking that most excellent merit that accrues to women having a single husband

अनेकानि सहस्राणि कुमारब्रह्मचारिणाम् । दिवं गतानि विप्राणामकृत्वा कुलसन्ततिम् ॥

Many thousands of unmarried Brāhmaṇa students have gone to heaven, without having perpetuated their race

मृते भर्तरि साध्वी स्त्री ब्रह्मचर्ये व्यवस्थिता । स्वर्गं गच्छत्यपुत्राऽपि यथा ते ब्रह्मचारिणः ॥

On the death of her husband, the good wife who remains firm, goes to heaven, even though childless; just like those students

पतिं या नाभिचरति मनोवाग्देहसंयुता । सा भर्तृलोकमाप्नोति सद्भिः साध्वीति चोच्यते ॥

अनेन नारी वृत्तेन मनोवाग्देहसंयता । इहाग्र्यां कीर्तिमाप्नोति पतिलोकं परत्र च ॥

She, who does not fail in her duty to her husband, having her thought, speech and body well-controlled, reaches her husband’s regions; and is called ‘good’ by all gentle-men. By such conduct, the woman, having her thought, word and body well controlled, obtains excellent fame in this world, and also her husband’s region in the other world

Comments: Key duty of the wives, just like husbands above, is marital fidelity.

Why do females change their family names post marriage?

This question is often asked with no convincing answers. मनुस्मृति provides the following verses which give a clue on this practice:

क्षेत्रभूता स्मृता नारी बीजभूतः स्मृतः पुमान् । क्षेत्रबीजसमायोगात् सम्भवः सर्वदेहिनाम् ॥

The woman has been declared to be like the क्षेत्र, and the man has been declared to be like the बीज; and the production of all corporeal beings proceeds from the union of the क्षेत्र and the बीज.

विशिष्टं कुत्र चिद् बीजं स्त्रीयोनिस्त्वेव कुत्र चित् । उभयं तु समं यत्र सा प्रसूतिः प्रशस्यते ॥

In some cases the बीज is prominent; but in others it is the female womb; when both are equal, the offspring is highly commended

बीजस्य चैव योन्याश्च बीजमुत्कृष्टमुच्यते । सर्वभूतप्रसूतिर्हि बीजलक्षणलक्षिता ॥

As between the बीज and the womb, the seed is declared to be dominant; because the production of all things is marked by the characteristics of the seed.

यादृशं तूप्यते बीजं क्षेत्रे कालोपपादिते । तादृग् रोहति तत् तस्मिन् बीजं स्वैर्व्यञ्जितं गुणैः ॥

As is the बीज which is sown in the क्षेत्र prepared in season, so does the seed spring forth, marked by its own qualities.”

इयं भूमिर्हि भूतानां शाश्वती योनिरुच्यते । न च योनिगुणान् कांश्चिद् बीजं पुष्यति पुष्टिषु ॥

This earth is called the primeval womb of things; and yet, in its development, the बीज does not develop any qualities of the womb.

अन्यदुप्तं जातमन्यदित्येतन्नोपपद्यते । उप्यते यद् हि यद् बीजं तत् तदेव प्ररोहति ॥

It is not possible that what is sown is of one kind and what is produced is of a different kind; the बीज that is produced is the same that is sown.

Given that the above, the idea that the Rishi is intending to convey is that when we plant mango trees on a piece of land, the land takes the name of a mango plantation and if we plant coffee, it takes the name of a coffee plantation. The name of the seed is what the land takes on. Therefore, in this backdrop, this idea is being applied to marriages too and we see a practice across all countries where a woman changes her family name to that of a man or kids too taking the names of their fathers (of course, there are exceptions to this and each such exception has its own unique explanation which I will avoid here for now). Therefore, the daughter of Janaka is called as Janaki or daughter of Drupada becomes Draupadi, etc.

One may argue – this is insulting to a woman. Why should we listen to the ऋषि? My idea is not to get into such a discussion but merely to explain the probable reason as to why things are they were they are… till now. If people do not like this, everyone is free to change to whatever practice appeals to them.

What I do not like in the स्मृति?

The following verse stands out as unpalatable

शय्याऽऽसनमलङ्कारं कामं क्रोधमनार्जवम् । द्रोहभावं कुचर्यां च स्त्रीभ्यो मनुरकल्पयत् ॥

Manu assigned to women शय्या, sitting, अलङ्कारं, काम, क्रोध, dishonesty, enmity-feeling (triggered by needless competitiveness) and negative conduct

The above verse is grossly unfair in my personal opinion. Why should मनु assign these words for women only? These are very much aspects that apply to men too. In reality, maybe they apply to men more than women. So why such an obnoxious line? We have three alternatives:

1 1मनु has indeed written this but we are fully empowered to reject this line. We ignore this line and move on, OR

2 मनु has not written this line. This verse may be a later day interpolation. Given the numerous verses described in other verses, this verse stands out as unusual – so we reject this line fully as this was not written by मनु, OR

3 मनु may have made this sentence in the context of making a case for a man to protect the women. In case they do not protect and engage with women and do not give them the right opportunity, some women may take to the traits given above. So better for men to seek engagement with women actively and not lead their own self-centred lives.

Depending on what argument appeals to the reader, one may choose such an alternative and move on. There is no need to spoil one’s mind over such lines and reject the wisdom conveyed in various other verses.

In conclusion

Is मनुस्मृति relevant for 21st century? We are in an era when the institution of marriage itself is being questioned. Virtues like marital fidelity are seen as bondages and an impediment to free lives. Individualism is seen as paramount and male and female sexes are being posited as competitors rather than as joint participants in a mutually beneficial endeavour. In this modern backdrop, why should anyone read such ancient texts at all? My response is as follows:

1 People whose main focus in life is अर्थ and काम alone may not read this text – this is clarified right in the beginning by the ऋषि Himself. However, if people want to live a life of धर्म with अर्थ and काम as subsidiary to धर्म, the provisions of this text can be looked into.

2 As per मनु, wife and husband are one body, one person. This aligns them with the supreme principle of ancient Hindu thought where शिव and शक्ति are represented as Ardha Nareeshwara. They seem like two but they are one only. To live as one is a high standard but such alignment has the ability to take us closer to the ultimate reality as conveyed in texts like the शिवसूत्र.

3 मनुस्मृति envisages women at home supporting their men full-time. However, women in modern society have active careers with kids looked after by care-takers. So why should the स्मृति still be seen as relevant? My take is – there is no doubt that technology had made life much simpler and thereby given women an opportunity to explore their lives in a deeper manner. Why just women – even men have a greater opportunity to deepen their talents which was not possible even a century back. मनु however does not have any objection to pursuit of अर्थ and काम as long as such a कर्म is aligned to धर्म. And even to a modern person, how to maintain धर्म while pursuing अर्थ and काम remains a relevant question. Collapse of the institution of marriage is neither good for men and women nor for the children even as per modern Clinical Psychologists.

4 A superficial reading of the स्मृति seems to indicate that men seem to be having good while women merely serve their husbands – it is not so. The स्मृति has been written keeping in mind the धर्म of ब्राह्मण men – and the life envisaged for them is extremely difficult in terms of rules during study, responsibility to perform Shraddha, नित्य agnihotri, serving of guests, rules of eating, five kinds of यज्ञ to be performed daily, etc. In fact, one can see within the text that men probably have 50X rules to adhere to as compared with women. Most of these rules are however not being followed in modern era by men – however, the idea that धर्म must be pursued jointly by both wife and husband is a noble idea indeed. Wife and husband do not just marry to pursue careers or watch movies or travel to countries. Both of them are possessed of the Divine within them. And pursuit of Divine as a joint enterprise is the most conducive approach for both of them. So while they are pursue their अर्थ and काम needs, their primary goal remains pursuit of धर्म if they too are desirous of attaining सत् – चित् – आनन्द state. For this, the best approach is to work jointly with deep respect for one another and with full support for one another. And in this cooperative endeavour, both with prosper and both will be blissful.

ॐ तत् सत्

Forms of Marriage in Hindu Religion


Various dharma texts of Hindu religion such as Manu-Smriti and the Vedas, mention 8 different forms of marriages in the Hindu religion. The different forms of Hindu marriages have not been specified in the central legislation called The Hindu Marriage Act, 1956 which governs Hindu marriages. However, these forms of marriages are still present and defined in the law as ‘customs’ which has been given a legal status under Sec. 3(a) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1956.

Marriage in Hindu religion is a sacrosanct (sacred) and holy union of 2 individuals. There are various ceremonies, according to different castes, that are essential for a marriage to become solemnized (official). Some of these ceremonies and traditions are now codified into the Indian legal system as customs.

However, for a certain ceremony, practice or a form of marriage to be a custom as per the law, it should have been uniformly and continuously observed for a very long time and it should not be unreasonable or opposed to public policy.

In this article, the author discusses the various approved and unapproved forms of marriages and their legal standing in the present times. The opinions of various Indian courts on different forms of marriages have also been discussed.

Forms of marriage and problems

The normative texts, dharma texts and some Gṛhyasūtras classify marriage into eight different forms which are Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, Paishacha. This order of forms of marriage is hierarchical.

Even the Supreme Court of India in Koppisetti Subbharao vs the State Of A.P, recognized the existence of 8 forms of marriage given by Aryan Hindus.

The eight forms are divided into 2 categories of approved and unapproved forms of marriage.

Approved forms

Brahma, Daiva, Arsha and Prajapatya come under the approved forms of marriage. These marriages involve the exchange of gifts, the “gift of a maiden” (kanyādāna). Brahmins, according to the dharma texts, have the duty to accept gifts. Therefore, the first four marriage types are generally pronounced legal for Brahmins.

In S. Authikesavulu Chetty vs S. Ramanujam Chetty And Anr., two precedents were set:

1 Firstly, in a case where there is no proof to the contrary, it must be presumed that the marriage is in one of the approved forms.

2 Secondly, another question arose, who will be the heir of the property of a childless mother? It was held that the property of a childless woman married in one of the four approved forms will go to her husband after her death.


‘Brahma’ is one of the most practised forms of marriage in India and has the most supreme position out of all the eight forms of marriage. Manu-Smriti has also laid great importance on this form of marriage.

The Brahma marriage, in dharma texts, has been explained as the gift of a daughter, after being decked with ornaments and honoured with jewels to a man selected by the father himself and who is learned in Vedas is called the “Brahma marriage”.

The “Brahma” marriages are the rituals of the Brahmans who according to Manu-Smriti have the duty to accept gifts.

The Supreme court in Reema Aggarwal vs Anupam And Ors, 2004 discussed the possibility of Brahma marriage being the origin of the dowry system in India but didn’t come to a conclusion regarding it. According to the author, “Brahma” marriages do not give rise to dowry cases because the father of the girl himself voluntarily gives gifts to the bridegroom. There is no external pressure from the bridegroom according to the Manu-Smriti. However, in practicality, the bridegroom may use the custom of “exchanging gifts” for harassing and pressurising the bride and her parents to give dowry. Also, According to Manu, the son of a wife married according to Brahma rites liberates ten ancestors and descendants.


Daiva-vivāha means ‘marriage related to the rite of the gods’. In this form of marriage, unlike Brahma, the father gives away his daughter to a priest as a Dakshina (sacrificial fee) for officiating in the sacrifice conducted by the father of the bride.

In this form of marriage, the groom doesn’t come looking for a bride, the parents of the bride go looking for the groom for her daughter.

This form of marriage is considered inferior to the Brahma marriage because, in Daiva, the father derives a benefit by using her daughter as a sacrifice and also because it is considered degrading for women to go looking for a groom.

According to Manu, the son of a wife married according to Daiva rite liberates seven of their ancestors and descendants.


The third form of approved marriage, that is Arsha Marriage, suggests marriage with Rishi or sages. This is different from Brahma and Daiva forms of marriage because, in Arsha, the father of the bride doesn’t have to give anything to the bridegroom. In the Arsha, the father of the bridegroom is the one who gives 2 cows or bulls to the father of the bride.

Marriages of this type happen because the parents of the girl couldn’t afford the expenses of their daughter’s marriage at the right time according to the Brahma rite. So it is presumed that the girl is married off to an old rishi or sage in exchange for 2 cows.

Sir Gurudas Banerjee (also known as Gooroodas Banerjee), a Bengali Indian Judge, believed that this form of marriage indicated the pastoral state of Hindu society, where the cattle was considered as the monetary consideration for the marriage.

However, this form of marriage was not considered noble as the marriage was treated as a business transaction where the bride was exchanged for cows and bulls.

According to Manu, the son of a wife married according to arsha rite liberates three ancestors and descendants.


Prajapatya form of marriage is similar to Brahma form of marriage except there is no trading or Kanyadan in Prajapatya and the father of the bride searches for the groom. Because of these differences, Prajapatya is inferior to Brahma.

In this form of marriage, the father while giving away her daughter addresses the couple with a condition that both the bride and bridegroom may perform their dharma together.

The basic condition requested by the father of the bride is that the bridegroom must treat the bride as a partner and fulfil their religious and secular duties together.

According to Manu, the son of a wife married according to prajapatya rite liberates six ancestors and descendants.

Unapproved forms

Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paisacha come under the unapproved forms of marriage. According to Rajbir Singh Dalal vs Chaudhari Devi Lal University, 2008, the property of a childless woman married in one of the unapproved forms goes to her family rather than her husband.


This is one of the most condemned forms of marriage. In this form, the father gives away her daughter after the bridegroom has provided all the wealth that he can, to the father of the bride and the bride herself. The Ramayana mentions that an extravagant amount of price was given to the guardian of Kaikeyi for her marriage with King Dasaratha. This is basically a commercial transaction where the bride is purchased.

According to Manusmriti, the father of the girl should not accept the offer even for the least amount of price.

The test for determining whether a marriage is “asura” or not was laid down in Kailasanatha Mudaliar v. Parasakthi Vadivanni, 1931. If the bridegroom gives money or anything that has money’s worth (like wheat, cows etc) to the bride’s father for his benefit or as consideration for him to give her daughter in marriage is called Asura marriage.


This is a unique form of marriage and is different from other forms of marriage. There is a mutual agreement between the girl and boy to get married. This mutual agreement arises from pure lust. The approval of parents does not play a role.

The concept of mutual consent for marriage was prevalent in the old Hindu system, however, the solemnization of marriage coming out of the mutual consent was very low. This was because:

1 The concept of mutual consent for marriage was prevalent in the old Hindu system, however, the solemnization of marriage coming out of the mutual consent was very low. This was because:

2 The concept of mutual consent for marriage was prevalent in the old Hindu system, however, the solemnization of marriage coming out of the mutual consent was very low. This was because:

3 This form of marriage was not in accordance with Hindu cultures and practices as there was no parental consent.

The Supreme Court in the case of Bhaurao Shankar Lokhande & Anr vs State Of Maharashtra & Anr, 1965 discussed essential ceremonies required for performing Gandharva marriage. In this form, there is a custom that the father of a female should touch the foreheads of the female and male to each other and the Gandharva is completed by the act. Along with this custom, another custom which required the presence of a Brahmin priest and a barber was pleaded not to be essential for Gandharva marriage. However, it was held that without these essential ceremonies, a Gandharva marriage was not solemnised u/s 17 of the Hindu Marriage Act and u/s 494 of Indian Penal Code.


Rakshasa form of marriage is performed by abducting the bride and brutally slaying her family and relatives. In some texts, another condition that needs to take place is that the bridegroom shall fight with the family of the bride while following the ceremonial steps in a tranquil wedding. However, this condition is not essential for having a “Rakshasa” marriage. According to P. V. Kane, a noble Indologist, this form of marriage is named Rakshasa because Rakshasas (demons) are known from history to have been ensuing cruelty on their captives.

This form of marriage was practised by Kshtraiyas or military classes. “Rakshasa” marriage resembles a right of a victor over the person held captive in war.

In the modern era, this form is a criminal offence u/s 366 of IPC. Section 366 prescribes punishment for abducting/kidnapping a woman to compel her to marriage is punishable with imprisonment up to 10 years and/or fine.


This is placed as the last form of marriage because this is the most atrocious form of marriage out of the 8 marriages. In this, a man seduces women and enters in a sexual act when the girl is either sleeping, intoxicated or mentally disordered mostly in the night. The girl and her parents out of shame of such activity have to agree to the marriage with the man. Paishacha means goblins who are supposed to act secretly at night.

It resembles as an act of rape, which in the modern era is the most abominable act one could ever commit and is punishable u/s 376 of the IPC. Whoever commits rape shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than 7 years and may extend to lifetime along with fine.

Marriage in modern days

In the present time, as explained in A. L. V. R. S. T. Veerappa Chettiar vs S. Michael Etc, 1962 there exist only 2 forms of marriage, that are Brahma and Asura.

The concept of gift In Brahma form of weddings has been viewed as the origin of the dowry system in India.

The Asura marriage, as held in A. L. V. R. S. T. Veerappa Chettiar vs S. Michael Etc, 1962 has also evolved from being an actual sale transaction to a form of marriage where the consciousness of the parties or the community involved in a marriage indicates that the marriage is “Asura” in nature.

The other forms have become almost obsolete in the present time as they are now a punishable offence under IPC and unacceptable as per the societal standards and morals. However, they are not fully extinct as these practices are still followed by some of the lower castes.


The eight forms of marriage, as prescribed in dharma texts like Manu-smriti, were created according to different castes of the people. The approved forms of marriages were mostly practiced by Brahmins. The unapproved forms were usually practised by Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra.

Some of these forms have been accepted as customs under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1956 whereas others have become punishable offences under various Penal laws in India.


Hindu Law, A new History of Dharmasastra by Oxford University

The Laws of Manu translated by G. Buhler

Women In Hinduism

Ancient and medieval era Hindu texts present a diverse picture of the duties and rights of women in Hinduism.

Hindu texts present diverse and conflicting views on the position of women, ranging from feminine leadership as the highest goddess, to limiting her role to an obedient daughter, housewife and mother. The Devi Sukta hymn of Rigveda, a scripture of Hinduism, declares the feminine energy as the essence of the universe, the one who creates all matter and consciousness, the eternal and infinite, the metaphysical and empirical reality (Brahman), the soul (supreme self) of everything. The woman is celebrated as the most powerful and the empowering force in some Hindu Upanishads, Shastras and Puranas, particularly the Devi Upanishad, Devi Mahatmya and Devi-Bhagavata Purana.

Ancient and medieval era Hindu texts present a diverse picture of duties and rights of women in Hinduism. The texts recognize eight kinds of marriage, ranging from father finding a marriage partner for his daughter and seeking her consent (Brahma marriage), to the bride and groom finding each other without parental participation (Gandharva marriage).Dowry or Sati did not exist in Vedic period and only became prevalent later. Sati started spreading during the later part of the first millenium CE.

Hinduism, states Bryant, has the strongest presence of the divine feminine among major world religions, from ancient times to the present. The goddess is viewed as central in Shakti and Saiva Hindu traditions.

Ancient texts

Vedic literature

Ancient texts of Hinduism expound a reverence for the feminine. The 10th chapter of the Rigveda, for example, asserts the feminine to be the supreme principle behind all of cosmos, in the following hymn called as Devi Sukta,

I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.
Thus Gods have established me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.
Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them,-each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken
They know it not, yet I reside in the essence of the Universe. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.

I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that gods and men alike shall welcome.
I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him nourished, a sage, and one who knows Brahman.
I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion.
I rouse and order battle for the people, I created Earth and Heaven and reside as their inner controller.

On the world’s summit I bring forth the Father: my home is in the waters, in the ocean.
Thence I prevade all existing creatures, as their Inner Supreme Self, and manifest them with my body.
I created all worlds at my will, without any higher being, and permeate and dwell within them.
The eternal and infinite consciousness is I, it is my greatness dwelling in everything.

— Rigveda 10.125.3 – 10.125.8,


The Devi Sukta ideas of the Rigveda are further developed in the relatively later composed Shakta Upanishads, states McDaniel, where the Devi asserts that she is Brahman, from her arise Prakṛti (matter) and Purusha (consciousness), she is bliss and non-bliss, the Vedas and what is different from it, the born and the unborn, and the feminine is thus all of the universe. She is presented as all the five elements, as well as all that is different from these elements, what is above, what is below, what is around, and thus the universe in its entirety. This philosophy is also found in the Tripuratapani Upanishad and the Bahvricha Upanishad.

The early Upanishads are, however, generally silent about women and men, and focus predominantly about gender-less Brahman and its relation to Atman (Soul, Self). There are occasional exceptions. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, composed about 800 BCE, for example, in the last chapter detailing the education of a student, include lessons for his Grihastha stage of life. There, the student is taught, that as a husband, he should cook rice for the wife, and they together eat the food in certain way depending on whether they wish for the birth of a daughter or a son, as follows,

And if a man wishes that a learned daughter should be born to him, and that she should live to her full age, then after having prepared boiled rice with sesamum and butter, they should both eat, being fit to have offspring.

And if a man wishes that a learned son should be born to him, and that he should live his full age, then after having prepared boiled rice with meat and butter, they should both eat, being fit to have offspring.

— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.17 – 6.4.18, Translated by Max Muller

Women are mentioned and are participants in the philosophical debates of the Upanishads, as well as scholars, teachers and priestesses during the Vedic and early Buddhist age. Among women acknowledged in the Upanishads are Gargi and Maitreyi. In Sanskrit, the word acharyā means a “female teacher” (versus acharya meaning “teacher”) and an acharyini is a teacher’s wife, indicating that some women were known as gurus.

Female characters appear in plays and epic poems. The 8th century poet, Bhavabhuti describes in his play, Uttararamacharita (verse 2 – 3), how the character, Atreyi, travelled to southern India where she studied the Vedas and Indian philosophy. In Madhava’s Shankaradigvijaya, Shankara debates with the female philosopher, Ubhaya Bharati and in verses 9 – 63 it is mentioned that she was well versed in the Vedas. Tirukkoneri Dasyai, a 15th-century scholar, wrote a commentary on Nammalvar’s Tiruvaayamoli, with reference to Vedic texts such as the Taittiriya Yajurveda.

The Epics

In the two Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the role of women is mixed. The main female character in the Mahabharata, Draupadi is married to all the five Pandavas, thus has five husbands. She insults Duryodhana, one of the triggers for the great war. In the Ramayana composed in the second half of 1st millennium BCE, Sita is respected, honored and seen as inseparable beloved but presented as a homemaker, the ideal wife and partner to Rama. In the Hindu tradition, a majority of women’s oral retellings of the Ramayana depict autonomy as the rule rather than the exception, but states Sugirtharajah, these versions are of recent origins.

The Epics are stories, but carry precepts of dharma embedded them, suggesting perceived notions about women in Hinduism at the time the Epics were composed. The Mahabharata, in Book 1, for example, states,

No man, even in anger, should ever do anything that is disagreeable to his wife;

for happiness, joy, virtue and everything depend on the wife. Wife is the sacred soil in which the husband is born again,

even the Rishis cannot create men without women.

— Adi Parva, Mahabharata Book, 1.74.50-51

The Anushasana Parva of the Hindu epic Mahabharata has several chapters dedicated to the discussion about duties and right of women. It gives a mixed picture. In chapter 11, the goddess of wealth and prosperity Lakshmi asserts, that she lives in those women who are truthful, sincere, modest, organized, devoted to their husband and children, health conscious, patient and kind to guests. The goddess asserts she does not reside in woman who is sinful, unclean, always disagreeing with her husband, has no patience or fortitude, is lazy, quarrelsome with her neighbors and relatives.

In chapter 47, as Yudhishthira seeks guidance on Dharma from Bhishma, the Anushasana Parva compares the value of daughter to a son, as follows,

The daughter, O king, has been ordained in the scriptures to be equal to the son.

— Bhishma, Anushasana Parva, Mahabharata 13.47.26

In Udyoga Parva of Mahabharata, states misogynists and bigots are sinners.

“Assertion of one’s own superiority, the avaricious [lolupa], those who are unable to tolerate the slightest insult, the bad tempered, the fickle, those who neglect the protecting of those who seek it. One who thinks only of his own sexual satisfaction, the bigoted, the arrogant, one who gives and then regrets it, one who’s parsimonious, one who admires power/wealth and pleasure, and the misogynist these are the 13 types of sinners. ” (M.B.Udyoga Parva 43:18,19)

The duties of women are again recited in Chapter 146, as a conversation between god Shiva and his wife goddess Uma, where Shiva asks what are the duties of women. Uma (Parvati) proceeds to meet all the rivers, who are all goddesses that nourish and create fertile valleys. Uma suggests that the duties of women include being of a good disposition, endued with sweet speech, sweet conduct, and sweet features. For a woman, claims Uma, her husband is her god, her husband is her friend, and her husband is her high refuge. A woman’s duties include physical and emotional nourishment, reverence and fulfillment of her husband and her children. Their happiness is her happiness, she observes the same vows as those that are observed by her husband, her duty is to be cheerful even when her husband or her children are angry, be there for them in adversity or sickness, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct. Beyond her husband and family, her duty is to be cheerful of heart and humble with friends and relatives, do the best she can for friends and guests. Her family life and her home is her heaven, tells goddess Parvati to Shiva.

Anushasana Parva has served as a source for modern era texts on women in Hinduism. For example, Tryambakayajvan of Thanjavur, in the 18th-century CE, published Strīdharmapaddhati (sometimes referred to as Stri Dharma Paddhati, or “Guide for a Dharmic Woman”). Tryambaka, according to Julia Leslie, selectively extracts verses from many chapters of Anushasana Parva. He selectively extracts verses from other books of the Mahabharata as well, and other ancient Indian texts, for Strīdharmapaddhati, choosing those he preferred, omitting verses from the Mahabharata that represent its characteristic style of presenting many voices and counter-arguments.

Shastras and Smritis

The characterization and treatment of women is mixed in Shastras and Smriti texts of Hinduism. Scholars have questioned the later date insertions, corruption and authenticity of the texts, as dozens of significantly different versions of the Smriti texts have been found. Patrick Olivelle for example, who is credited with a 2005 translation of Manusmriti published by the Oxford University Press, states the concerns in postmodern scholarship about the presumed authenticity and reliability of Manusmriti manuscripts. He writes (abridged),

The MDh [Manusmriti] was the first Indian legal text introduced to the western world through the translation of Sir William Jones in 1794. (…) All the editions of the MDh, except for Jolly’s, reproduce the text as found in the [Calcutta] manuscript containing the commentary of Kulluka. I have called this as the “vulgate version”. It was Kulluka’s version that has been translated repeatedly: Jones (1794), Burnell (1884), Buhler (1886) and Doniger (1991). (…) The belief in the authenticity of Kulluka’s text was openly articulated by Burnell (1884, xxix): “There is then no doubt that the textus receptus, viz., that of Kulluka Bhatta, as adopted in India and by European scholars, is very near on the whole to the original text.” This is far from the truth. Indeed, one of the great surprises of my editorial work has been to discover how few of the over fifty manuscripts that I collated actually follow the vulgate in key readings.

— Patrick Olivelle, Manu’s Code of Law (2005)

Arthashastra, in chapter 1.21 describes women who had received military education and served to protect the king; the text also mentions female artisans, mendicants, and women who were wandering ascetics.

One of the most studied about the position of women in medieval Hindu society has been a now contested Calcutta manuscript of Manusmriti. The text preaches chastity to widows such as in verses 5.158-5.160. In verses 2.67-2.69 and 5.148-5.155, Manusmriti preaches that as a girl, she should obey and seek protection of her father, as a young woman her husband, and as a widow her son; and that a woman should always worship her husband as a god.

In other verses, Manusmriti respects and safeguards women rights. Manusmriti in verses 3.55-3.56, for example, declares that “women must be honored and adorned”, and “where women are revered, there the gods rejoice; but where they are not, no sacred rite bears any fruit”. Elsewhere, in verses 5.147-5.148, states Olivelle, the text declares, “a woman must never seek to live independently”.


The text declares that a marriage cannot be dissolved by a woman or a man, in verse 8.101-8.102. Yet, the text, in other sections, allows either to dissolve the marriage. For example, verses 9.72-9.81 allow the man or the woman to get out of a fraudulent marriage or an abusive marriage, and remarry; the text also provides legal means for a woman to remarry when her husband has been missing or has abandoned her.

Arthashastra which is one of the sastras in Hinduism says;

A woman, hating her husband, can not dissolve her marriage with him against his will. Nor can a man dissolve his marriage with his wife against her will. But from mutual enmity, divorce may be obtained (parasparam dveshánmokshah). If a man, apprehending danger from his wife desires divorce (mokshamichhet), he shall return to her whatever she was given (on the occasion of her marriage). If a woman, under the apprehension of danger from her husband, desires divorce, she shall forfeit her claim to her property; marriages contracted in accordance with the customs of the first four kinds of marriages cannot be dissolved.


The text in one section opposes a woman marrying someone outside her own social class (varna) as in verses 3.13-3.14. Simultaneously, states Olivelle, the text presupposes numerous practices such a marriages outside varna, such as between a Brahmin man and a Shudra woman in verses 9.149-9.157, a widow getting pregnant with a child of a man she is not married to in verses 9.57-9.62, marriage where a woman in love elopes with her man, and then grants legal rights in these cases such as property inheritance rights in verses 9.143-9.157, and the legal rights of the children so born. The text also presumes that a married woman may get pregnant by a man other than her husband, and dedicates verses 8.31-8.56 to conclude that the child’s custody belongs to the woman and her legal husband, and not to the man she got pregnant with.

Property rights

Manusmriti provides a woman with property rights to six types of property in verses 9.192-9.200. These include those she received at her marriage, or as gift when she eloped or when she was taken away, or as token of love before marriage, or as gifts from her biological family, or as received from her husband subsequent to marriage, and also from an inheritance from deceased relatives.

Inconsistency and authenticity issues

Scholars state that less than half, or only 1,214 of the 2,685 verses in Manusmriti, maybe authentic. Further, the verses are internally inconsistent. Verses such as 3.55-3.62 of Manusmriti, for example, glorify the position of women, while verse such as 9.3 and 9.17 do the opposite. Mahatma Gandhi, when asked about his view about the Smriti, stated, that “there are so many contradictions in the printed volume that, if you accept one part, you are bound to reject those parts that are wholly inconsistent with it. (…) Nobody is in possession of the original text [of Manusmriti].

Flavia Agnes states that Manusmriti is a complex commentary from women’s rights perspective, and the British colonial era codification of women’s rights based on it for Hindus, and from Islamic texts for Muslims, picked and emphasized certain aspects while it ignored other sections. This construction of personal law during the colonial era created a legal fiction around Manusmriti’s historic role as a scripture in matters relating to women in South Asia.


The Puranas, particularly the Devi Mahatmya found in Markandeya Maha-Purana, and the Devi-Bhagavata Purana have some of the most dedicated discussion of Devi and sacred feminine in late ancient and early medieval era of Hinduism. However, the discussion is not limited to these two major Hindu Goddess religion-related texts. Women are found in philosophical discussions across numerous other Puranas and extant era texts. For example, Parvati in a discussion with her husband Shiva, remarks:

You should consider who you are, and who nature is…. how could you transcend nature? What you hear, what you eat, what you see – it is all Nature. How could you be beyond Nature? You are enveloped in Nature, even though you don’t know it.

— Skanda Purana, Translated by Nicholas Gier

Feminine symbolism as being sacred and for reverence were present in ancient Hindu texts, but these were fragmentary states Brown, and it was around the sixth century CE, possibly in northwest India, that the concept of Maha-Devi coalesced as the Great Goddess, appearing in the text of Devi Mahatmya of Markandeya Purana. This development of the divine woman was not theoretical, according to Brown, but has impacted “self understanding of Hindus to the present day” and “what it means to be human in a universe that is infinite and yet is pervaded by the very human quality of a woman’s care and anger”. Devi Mahatmya, also called Durga Saptasati (or 700 verses to Durga), has been enormously popular among Hindus through the centuries, states Coburn. Devi Mahatmya does not attempt to prove that the female is supreme, but assumes it as a given and its premise. This idea influenced the role of women in Hinduism in the Puranic texts that followed for centuries, where male-dominated and female-dominated couples appear, in various legends, in the same religious text and Hindu imagination.

The Devi Mahatmya presents the idea, states McDaniel, of a divine she who creates this universe, is the supreme knowledge, who helps herself and men reach final liberation, she is multitasking who in times of prosperity is Lakshmi brings wealth and happiness to human homes, yet in times of adversity feeds and fights the battle as the angry woman destroying demons and evil in the universe after metamorphosing into Durga, Chandika, Ambika, Bhadrakali, Ishvari, Bhagvati, Sri or Devi. However, notes Brown, the celebration of the goddess as supreme in Devi Mahatmya is not universal in Hindu texts of 1st millennium CE, and other Puranic texts celebrate the god as supreme, while acknowledging supreme goddess in various chapters and presenting the female as the “effective power behind any male” either in mythological sense or theological sense or both.

The ideas of the 6th-century Devi Mahatmya are adopted in 11th-century text of Devi-Bhagavata Purana, another goddess-classic text of Shakti tradition of Hinduism. However, this text emphasizes devotion and love as the path to her supreme nature as goddess. In the latter text, Devi appears as a warrior goddess destroying demons, a world-mother nurturing the good, as the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer as different aspects of her, the one supreme.

Gender of God

In Hinduism, the impersonal Absolute (Brahman) is genderless. Both male gods (Deva) and female gods (Devi) are found in Hinduism. Some Hindu traditions conceive God as androgynous (both female and male), or as either male or female, while cherishing gender henotheism, that is without denying the existence of other Gods in either gender.

Bhakti traditions of Hinduism have both gods and goddesses. In ancient and medieval Indian mythology, each masculine deva of the Hindu pantheon is partnered with a feminine devi. Followers of Shaktism, worship the goddess Devi as the embodiment of Shakti (feminine strength or power).

There is a popular perception that there exist millions of Hindu deities. However, most, by far, are goddesses (Shakti, Devi, or mother), state Foulston and Abbott, suggesting “how important and popular goddesses are” in Hindu culture. Though in general, they are smaller, there are far more goddess temples than those of gods. Goddesses are most of the time, if not always seen as powerful, and when unmarried, seen as dangerous. Despite the patriarchal nature of Hindu society, women are seen as powerful alongside the Gods, and at certain times, dangerous. No one has a list of the millions of goddesses and gods, but all deities, state scholars, are typically viewed in Hinduism as “emanations or manifestation of gender-less principle called Brahman, representing the many facets of Ultimate Reality”. In Hinduism, “God, the universe, all beings [male, female] and all else is essentially one thing” and everything is connected oneness, the same god is in every being as Atman, the eternal Self.

Ancient and medieval Hindu literature, state scholars, is richly endowed with gods, goddesses and androgynous representations of God. This, states Gross, is in contrast with several monotheistic religions, where God is often synonymous with “He” and theism is replete with male anthropomorphisms. In Hinduism, goddess-imagery does not mean loss of male-god, rather the ancient literature presents the two genders as balancing each other and complementary. The Goddesses in Hinduism, states Gross, are strong, beautiful and confident, symbolizing their vitality in the cycle of life. While masculine Gods are symbolically represented as those who act, the feminine Goddesses are symbolically portrayed as those who inspire action. Goddesses in Hinduism are envisioned as the patrons of arts, culture, nurture, learning, arts, joys, spirituality and liberation.


Hinduism does not regard Women as lacking dignity, therefore there are not many specific quotes about affirming women’s dignity. However, there are many references in the primary and secondary Hindu texts that affirm the dignity of women. Many stories from the Upanishads of female scholars, such as Jābālā’s tale, Maitreyi, Gārgī, Lopāmudrā, and Haimavatī Umā, demonstrate the dignity accorded to Women. According to verse 6.4.17 from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the birth of a female child who would be scholar is desired. The quote prescribes the specific rituals for obtaining a learned daughter.

Verse 6.4.17 Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

अथ य इच्छेद्दुहिता मे पण्डिता जायेत, सर्वमायुरियादिति, तिलौदनं पाचयित्वा सर्पिष्मन्तमश्नीयाताम्; ईश्वरौ जनयितवै ॥ १७ ॥

atha ya icchedduhitā me paṇḍitā jāyeta, sarvamāyuriyāditi, tilaudanaṃ pācayitvā sarpiṣmantamaśnīyātām; īśvarau janayitavai || 17 ||

“One who wishes that a daughter should be born who would be a scholar and attain a full term of life, should have rice cooked with sesamum, and both should eat it with clarified butter. Then the creators (would-be parents) would indeed be able to produce such a daughter.”

Will Durant (1885-1981) American historian says in his book Story of Civilization:

“Women enjoyed far greater freedom in the Vedic period than in later India. She had more to say in the choice of her mate than the forms of marriage might suggest. She appeared freely at feasts and dances, and joined with men in religious sacrifice. She could study, and like Gargi, engage in philosophical disputation. If she was left a widow there were no restrictions upon her remarriage.”


A wedding is one of the most significant personal ritual a Hindu woman undertakes in her life. The details and dress vary regionally among Hindu women, but share common ritual grammar. A Meitei Hindu bride in Manipur (left), an Amla Hindu bride in Madhya Pradesh (middle) and a Himalayan Hindu bride in Nepal (right).


The Asvalayana Grhyasutra text of Hinduism identifies eight forms of marriages. Of these first four – Brahma, Daiva, Arsha and Prajapatya – are declared appropriate and recommended by the text, next two – Gandharva and Asura – are declared inappropriate but acceptable, and the last two – Rakshasa and Paishacha – are declared evil and unacceptable (but any children resulting were granted legal rights).

Brahma marriage – considered the religiously most appropriate marriage, where the father finds an educated man, proposes the marriage of his daughter to him. The groom, bride, and families willingly concur with the proposal. The two families and relatives meet, the girl is ceremoniously decorated, the father gifts away his daughter in betrothal, and a Vedic marriage ceremony is conducted. This type of wedding is now most prevalent among Hindus in modern India.

Daiva marriage – in this type of marriage, the father gives away his daughter along with ornaments to a priest.

Arsha marriage – in this type of marriage, the groom gives a cow and a bull to the father of the bride and the father exchanges his daughter in marriage. The groom took a vow to fulfill his obligations to the bride and family life (Grihasthashram).

Prajapatya marriage – in this type of marriage, a couple agree to get married by exchanging some Sanskrit mantras (vows to each other). This form of marriage was akin to a civil ceremony.

Gandharva marriage – in this type of marriage, the couple simply lives together out of love, by mutual consent, consensually consummating their relationship. This marriage is entered into without religious ceremonies, and was akin to the Western concept of Common-law marriage. Kama Sutra, as well as Rishi Kanva – the foster-father of Shakuntala – in the Mahabharata, claimed this kind of marriage to be an ideal one.

Asura marriage – in this type of marriage, the groom offered a dowry to the father of the bride and the bride, both accepted the dowry out of free will, and he received the bride in exchange. This was akin to marrying off a daughter for money. This marriage was considered inappropriate by Hindu Smriti-writers because greed, not what is best for the girl, can corrupt the selection process. Manusmriti verses 3.51 and 3.52, for example, states that a father or relatives must never accept any brideprice because that amounts to trafficking of the daughter.

Rakshasa marriage – where the groom forcibly abducted the girl against her and her family’s will. The word Rakshasa means ‘devil’.

Paishacha marriage – where the man forces himself on a woman when she is insentient, that is drugged or drunken or unconscious.

James Lochtefeld finds that the last two forms of marriage were forbidden yet recognized in ancient Hindu societies, not to encourage these acts, but to provide the woman and any children with legal protection in the society.

“A woman can choose her own husband after attaining maturity. If her parents are unable to choose a deserving groom, she can herself choose her husband.” (Manu Smriti IX 90 – 91)


The concept and practice of dowry in ancient and medieval Hindu society is unclear. Some scholars believe dowry was practiced in historic Hindu society, but some do not. Historical eyewitness reports (discussed below), suggest dowry in pre-11th century CE Hindu society was insignificant, and daughters had inheritance rights, which by custom were exercised at the time of her marriage.

Stanley J. Tambiah states the ancient Code of Manu sanctioned dowry and bridewealth in ancient India, but dowry was the more prestigious form and associated with the Brahmanic (priestly) caste. Bridewealth was restricted to the lower castes, who were not allowed to give dowry. He cites two studies from the early 20th century with data to suggest that this pattern of dowry in upper castes and bridewealth in lower castes has persisted through the first half of the 20th century.

Michael Witzel, in contrast, states the ancient Indian literature suggests dowry practices were not significant during the Vedic period. Witzel also notes that women in ancient India had property inheritance rights either by appointment or when they had no brothers. Kane states ancient literature suggests bridewealth was paid only in the asura-type of marriage that was considered reprehensible and forbidden by Manu and other ancient Indian scribes. Lochtefeld suggests that religious duties listed by Manu and others, such as ‘the bride be richly adorned to celebrate marriage’ were ceremonial dress and jewelry along with gifts that were her property, not property demanded by or meant for the groom; Lochtefeld further notes that bridal adornment is not currently considered as dowry in most people’s mind.

Historical and epigraphical evidence from ancient India suggests dowry was not the standard practice in ancient Hindu society. Arrian of Alexander the Great’s conquest era, in his first book, mentions a lack of dowry, or infrequent enough to be noticed by Arrian.

They (these ancient Indian people) make their marriages accordance with this principle, for in selecting a bride they care nothing whether she has a dowry and a handsome fortune, but look only to her beauty and other advantages of the outward person.

— Arrian, The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great, 3rd Century BC

Arrian’s second book similarly notes,

They (Indians) marry without either giving or taking dowries, but the women as soon as they are marriageable are brought forward by their fathers in public, to be selected by the victor in wrestling or boxing or running or someone who excels in any other manly exercise.

— Arrian, Indika, Megasthenes and Arrian, 3rd Century BC

About 1200 years after Arrian’s visit, Al-Biruni a Persian scholar who went and lived in India for 16 years in 11th century CE, wrote,

The implements of the wedding rejoicings are brought forward. No gift (dower or dowry) is settled between them. The man gives only a present to the wife, as he thinks fit, and a marriage gift in advance, which he has no right to claim back, but the (proposed) wife may give it back to him of her own will (if she does not want to marry).

— Al-Biruni, Chapter on Matrimony in India, about 1035 AD

Widowhood and remarriage

Widows were traditionally expected to pursue a spiritual, ascetic life, particularly the higher castes such as Brahmins, though this seems more prevalent in texts and culture in the common era than the Vedic era. There were restrictions on remarriage as well. Such restrictions are now strictly observed only by a small minority of widows, yet the belief continues that “a good wife predeceases her husband”.

During the debate before the passage of the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856, some communities asserted that it was their ancient custom that prohibited widow remarriage. Hindu scholars and colonial British authorities rejected this argument, states Lucy Carroll, because the alleged custom prohibiting widow remarriage was “far from ancient”, and was already in practice among the Hindu communities such as the Rajbansi whose members had petitioned for the prohibition of widow remarriage. Thus, it failed the “customary law” protections under the British colonial era laws. However, this issue lingered in colonial courts for decades, because of the related issue of property left by the deceased husband, and whether the widow keeps or forfeits all rights to deceased Hindu husband’s estate and thereby transfers the property from the deceased husband to her new husband. While Hindu community did not object to widow remarriage, it contested the property rights and transfer of property from her earlier husband’s family to the later husband’s family, particularly after the death of the remarried widow, in the 20th-century.


Sati (practice) is an obsolete Indian funeral custom where a widow immolated herself on her husband’s pyre, or committed suicide in another fashion shortly after her husband’s death. Michael Witzel states there is no evidence of Sati practice in ancient Indian literature during the Vedic period. John Stratton Hawley however states that the earliest reference to Sati occurs in the Mahabharata, written between 400 BC to 400 AD, but is an isolated incident.

David Brick, in his 2010 review of ancient Indian literature, states “There is no mention of Sahagamana (Sati) whatsoever in either Vedic literature or any of the early Dharmasutras or Dharmasastras.” only the later Vishnu Smriti and Parashara Smriti mention the practice.

The extent to which sati was practised in history is not known with clarity; however, during the early modern Mughal period, it was notably associated with elite Hindu Rajput clans in western India, marking one of the points of divergence between Rajput culture and Islamic Mughal culture, which allowed widow remarriage. The first inscriptional evidence of the practice is from Nepal in 464 CE, and in India from 510 CE. Widow-burning is documented for the first time by Megasthenes.

The earliest scholarly discussion of Sati, whether it is right or wrong, is found in the Sanskrit literature dated to 10th- to 12th-century. The earliest known commentary on Sati by Medhātithi of Kashmir argues that Sati is a form of suicide, which is prohibited by the Vedic tradition. Vijñāneśvara, of the 12th-century Chalukya court, and the 13th-century Madhvacharya, argue that sati should not to be considered suicide, which was otherwise variously banned or discouraged in the scriptures. They offer a combination of reasons, both in favor and against sati. However, according to the textbook, “Religions in the Modern World”, after the death of Roop Kanwar on her husband’s funeral pyre in 1987, thousands saw this as cruel murder. Committing sati was then made a crime, with consequences worse than murder.

Another historical practice observed among women in Hinduism, was the Rajput practice of Jauhar, particularly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where they collectively committed suicide during war. They preferred death rather than being captured alive and dishonored by victorious Muslim soldiers in a war. According to Bose, jauhar practice grew in the 14th and 15th century with Hindu-Muslim wars of northwest India, where the Hindu women preferred death than slavery or rape they faced if captured. Sati-style jauhar custom among Hindu women was observed only during Hindu-Muslim wars in medieval India, but not during internecine Hindu-Hindu wars among the Rajputs.

Daniel Grey states that the understanding of origins and spread of sati were distorted in the colonial era because of a concerted effort to push “problem Hindu” theories in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


The Vedas and Upanishads mention girls could be a Brahmacharini, that is getting an education. Atharva Veda, for example, states

ब्रह्मचर्येण कन्या युवानं विन्दते पतिम् | A youthful Kanya (कन्या, girl) who graduates from Brahmacharya, obtains a suitable husband.

— Atharva Veda, 11.5.18

The Harita Dharmasutra, a later era Hindu text states there are two kind of women: sadhyavadhu who marry without going to school, and the brahmavadini who go to school first to study the Vedas and speak of Brahman. The Hindu Sastras and Smritis describe varying number of Sanskara (rite of passage). Upanayana rite of passage symbolized the start of education process. Like the Vedas, the ancient Sutras and Shastra Sanskrit texts extended education right to women, and the girls who underwent this rite of passage then pursued studies were called Brahmavadini. Those who didn’t, performed Upanayana ceremony at the time of their wedding. Instead of sacred thread, girls would wear their robe (now called sari or saree) in the manner of the sacred thread, that is over her left shoulder during this rite of passage.

Sex and relationships

The Smriti texts of Hinduism provide a conflicting view on sex outside marriage. Most texts leave sexual matters to the judgment of the woman and man, but discuss what rights the children have who result from such sexual union. For example,

If a man has intercourse with an unmarried woman, who consents to it, it is no offense, but he shall deck her with ornaments, worship her, and thus bring her to his house as his bride.

— Nāradasmṛti 13.71 – 13.72,

If a man has intercourse with an attached woman somewhere other than his own house, it is known as adultery by the experts, but not if she came to his house on her own. It is not a punishable crime when someone has intercourse with the wife of a man who has abandoned her because she is wicked, or with the wife of a eunuch or of a man who does not care, provided the wife has initiated it, of her own volition.

— Nāradasmṛti 13.60 – 61,

The Dharmsastras provide penances as a punishment for adultery. The Narada Smriti, in verse 91 of Stripumsa states that a woman involved in adultery should be punished by having her her head shaved, living in poverty and should regularly clean her house. In the Arthashastra, the punishment for adultery is such: “If the husband were to forgive her, both should be set free. If she is not forgiven, the women’s nose and ears should be cut off, and her paramour should be put to death.” Vatsayana in his Kamasutra explains why women commit adultery, stating it provides them something their marriage doesn’t despite it being punishable.

The term “attached woman” in the above verse, states Richard Lariviere, includes a woman who is either married and protected by her husband, or a woman is not married and protected by her father. Manusmriti states that adultery is a source of trauma and disorder to all affected, but dedicates many verses commenting on the proper rights of offspring produced from sex outside marriage. Marco Polo, after visiting Hindu kingdoms in 13th century India, wrote in his memoir, according to Ronald Latham translation, that “they [Hindus] consider sex within marriage as proper and virtuous, but don’t consider any other sexual gratification to be a sin”.


Information on ancient and medieval era dressing traditions of women in Hinduism is unclear. Textiles are commonly mentioned in ancient Indian texts. The Arthashastra (~200 BCE to 300 CE) mentions a range of clothing and plant-based, muslin-based, wool-based textiles that are partially or fully dyed, knitted and woven. It is, however, uncertain how women wore these clothing, and scholars have attempted to discern the dress from study of murti (statues), wall reliefs, and ancient literature. In ancient and medieval Hindu traditions, covering the head or face was neither mandated nor common, but Ushnisha – a regional ceremonial occasion headdress is mentioned, as is Dupatta in colder, drier northern parts of Indian subcontinent.

Regardless of economic status, the costume of ancient Hindu women was formed of two separate sheets of cloth, one wrapping the lower part of the body, below the waist, and another larger wrap around piece called Dhoti (modern-day Saree) in texts. Some Murti and relief carvings suggest that pleats were used, probably to ease movement, but the pleats were tucked to reveal the contour of the body. However, where the pleats were tucked, front or side or back varied regionally. The predominant style observed in the ancient texts and artwork is the wrapping of the excess of the Dhoti from right waist over the left shoulder, in the Vedic Upanayana style. The breasts were covered with a stitched, tight fitting bodice named Kurpasaka (Sanskrit: कूर्पासक) or Stanamsuka (Sanskrit: स्तनांशुक), but this was not common in extreme south India or in eastern states such as Orissa and Bengal. Regional variations were great, to suit local weather and traditions, in terms of the length, number of pleats, placement of pleats, style of bodice used for bosom, and the dimension or wrapping of the upper excess length of the Dhoti. Greek records left by those who came to India with Alexander the Great mention that head and neck ornaments, ear rings, wrist and ankle ornaments were commonly worn by women.

Usually, the sari consists of a piece of cloth around 6 yards long, wrapped distinctly based on the prior mentioned factors. The choice of the quality and sophistication of the cloth is dependent on the income and affordability. Women across economic groups in colonial era, for example, wore a single piece of cloth in hot and humid Bengal. It was called Kapod by poorer women, while the more ornate version of the same was called a Saree. The material and cost varied, but nature was the same across income and social groups (caste/class) of Hindu women.

Sindoor or Kumkum has been a marker for women in Hinduism, since early times. A married Hindu woman typically wears a red pigment (vermilion) in the parting of her hair, while a never married, divorced or a widowed woman does not. A Hindu woman may wear a Bindi (also called Tip, Bindiya, Tilaka or Bottu) on her forehead. This represents the place of the inner eye, and signifies that she is spiritually turned inwards. In the past, this was worn by married women, but in the modern era, it is a fashion accessory and has no relation to the marital status for women in Hinduism.

Cultural customs such as Sindoor are similar to wedding ring in other cultures. Regionally, Hindu women may wear seasonal fresh flowers in their hair, during festivals, temple visits or other formal occasions. White color saree is common with aging widows, while red or other festive colors with embroidery is more common on festivals or social ceremonies such as weddings. These Hindu practices are cultural practices, and not required by its religious texts. Hinduism is a way of life, is diverse, has no binding book of rules of its faith, nor any that mandate any dress rules on Hindu women. The choice is left to the individual discretion.

Other ornaments worn by Hindu women are sometimes known as solah singar (sixteen decorations): “bindi, necklaces, earrings, flowers in the hair, rings, bangles, armlets (for the upper arm), waistbands, ankle-bells, kohl (or kajal – mascara), toe rings, henna, perfume, sandalwood paste, the upper garment, and the lower garment”.

Bernard Cohn (2001) states that clothing in India, during the colonial British era, was a form of authority exercised to highlight hierarchical patterns, subordination, and authoritative relations. Hindus in India were subject to rule under a range of other religious reigns, therefore influencing clothing choices. This was exemplified by a change in attire as a result of Mughal influence and later European influence resulting from British rule.

Arts: dance, drama, music

Hindu religious art encompasses performance arts as well as visual art, and women have been expressed in Hindu arts as prominently as men. Sanskrit literature has contributed to religious and spiritual expression of women, by its reverence for goddesses. The deity for arts, music, poetry, speech, culture, and learning is goddess Saraswati in the Hindu tradition. Baumer states that the resulting Sanskrit Theater has its origins in the Vedas, stemming from three principles: “The cosmic man (purusha), the self (atman), and the universal being (brahman)”. Some of the earliest references to women being active in dance, music and artistic performance in Hindu texts is found in 1st millennium BCE Taittiriya Samhita chapter 6.1 and 8th-century BCE Shatapatha Brahmana chapter 3.2.4. In religious ceremonies, such as the ancient Shrauta and Grihya sutras rituals, texts by Panini, Patanjali, Gobhila and others state that women sang hymns or uttered mantras along with men during the yajnas.

Music and dance, states Tracy Pintchman, are “intertwined in Hindu traditions”, and women in Hinduism have had an active creative and performance role in this tradition. While aspects of the Hindu traditions curtailed the freedoms of women, they also gave opportunities to create and express arts. The historical evidence, states Pintchman, suggests that the opportunities to create and participate in arts were available to women regardless of their caste or class. Classical vocal music was more prevalent among women upper classes, while public performances of arts such as dance were more prevalent among women in matrilineal Hindu traditions, particularly the Devadasi.

The Devadasi tradition women practiced their arts in a religious context. Young Devadasi women were trained in the arts of music, theater, and dance, and their lives revolved around Hindu temples. In south India, some of these women were courtesans, while others chaste. In 1909, the colonial government passed the first law banning the Devadasis practice in the state of Mysore; however, an attempt to ban Devadasis tradition in Tamil Nadu Hindu temples failed in Madras Presidency in 1927. In 1947, the government of Madras passed legislation forbidding Devadasi practices under pressure from activists that this was a ‘prostitution’ tradition. However, the tradition was revived by those who consider it to be a ‘nun’ tradition wherein a Devadasi was a chaste woman who considered herself married to God and used temple dance tradition to raise funds as well as helped continue the arts.

In poetry, 9th-century Andal became a well known Bhakti movement poetess, states Pintchman, and historical records suggest that by 12th-century she was a major inspiration to Hindu women in south India and elsewhere. Andal continues to inspire hundreds of classical dancers in modern times choreographing and dancing Andal’s songs. Andal is also called Goda, and her contributions to the arts have created Goda Mandali (circle of Andal) in the Vaishnava tradition. Many other women, such as Nagaatnammal, Balasaraswati, and Rukmini, states Pintchman, were instrumental in bringing “Carnatic music and Bharat Natyam to the public stage and making the performing arts accessible by the general public” by the 12th-century. Gathasaptasati is an anthology of Subhashita genre of poetry, from the first half of 1st millennium CE, many of which are attributed to Hindu women in central and western India.

Context: historical and modern developments

The role of women in Hinduism dates back to 3000 years of history, states Pechelis, incorporating ideas of Hindu philosophy, that is Prakrti (matter, femaleness) and Purusha (consciousness, maleness), coming together to interact and produce the current state of the universe. Hinduism considers the connection, interdependence, and complementary nature of these two concepts – Prakriti and Purusha, female and male – as the basis of all existence, which is a starting point of the position of women in Hindu traditions.

Although these ancient texts are the foundation upon which the position of women in Hinduism is founded, Hindu women participated in and were affected by cultural traditions and celebrations such as festivals, dance, arts, music and other aspects of daily life. Despite these liberating undercurrents emerging in its historical context, Sugirtharajah states that there is some reluctance to use the term “feminism” to describe historical developments in Hinduism.

In the colonial era 1800s, Hindu women were described by European scholars as being “naturally chaste” and “more virtuous” than other women.

In 20th-century history context, the position of women in Hinduism and more generally India, has many contradictions. Regional Hindu traditions are organized as matriarchal societies (such as in south India and northeast India), where the woman is the head of the household and inherits the wealth; yet, other Hindu traditions are patriarchal. God as a woman, and mother goddess ideas are revered in Hinduism, yet there are rituals that treats the female in a subordinate role.

The women’s rights movement in India, states Sharma, have been driven by two foundational Hindu concepts – lokasangraha and satyagraha. Lokasangraha is defined as “acting for the welfare of the world” and satyagraha “insisting on the truth”. These ideals were used to justify and spur movements among women for women’s rights and social change through a political and legal process. Fane remarks, in her article published in 1975, that it is the underlying Hindu beliefs of “women are honored, considered most capable of responsibility, strong” that made Indira Gandhi culturally acceptable as the prime minister of India, yet the country has in the recent centuries witnessed the development of diverse ideologies, both Hindu and non-Hindu, that has impacted the position of women in India. The women rights movement efforts, states Young, have been impeded by the “growing intensity of Muslim separatist politics”, the divergent positions of Indian Hindu women seeking separation of religion and women’s rights, secular universal laws (uniform civil code) applicable irrespective of religion, while Indian Muslim community seeking to preserve Sharia law in personal, family and other domains.

Western scholarship

There has been a pervasive and deeply held belief in modern era Western scholarship, states Kathleen Erndl, that “in Hinduism, women are universally subjugated and that feminism, however, it might be defined, is an artifact of the West”. Postmodern scholars question whether they have “unwittingly accepted” this colonial stereotype and long-standing assumption, particularly given the emerging understanding of Hindu Shakti tradition-related texts, and empirical studies of women in rural India who have had no exposure to Western thought or education but assert their Hindu (or Buddhist) goddess-inspired feminism.

Western feminism, states Vasudha Narayanan, has focussed on negotiating “issues of submission and power as it seeks to level the terrains of opportunity” and uses a language of “rights”. In Hinduism, the contextual and cultural word has been Dharma, which is about “duties” to oneself, to others, among other things. There has been a gap between Western books describing Hinduism and women’s struggle within the Hindu tradition based on texts that the colonial British era gave notoriety to, versus the reality of Hindu traditions and customs that did not follow these texts at all. Narayanan describes it as follows (abridged),

Many [Western] scholars point out quite correctly that women are accorded a fairly low status in the Hindu texts that deal with law and ethics (Dharma Shastra), what is not usually mentioned is that these texts were not well known and utilized in many parts of Hindu India. Custom and practice were far more important than the dictates of these legal texts. There were many legal texts and they were not in competition with each other; they were written at different times in different parts of the country, but all of them were superseded by local custom. (…) There is a sense of dissonance between scripture and practice in certain areas of dharma, and the role of women and Sudras sometimes falls in this category. Manu may have denied independence to women, but there were women of some castes and some economic classes who endowed money to temples. It is important to note that there is no direct correlation that one can generalize on between these texts and women’s status, rights or behavior.

— Vasudha Narayanan, Feminism and World Religions

Ancient and medieval era Hindu texts, and epics, discuss a woman’s position and role in society over a spectrum, such as one who is a self-sufficient, marriage-eschewing powerful Goddess, to one who is subordinate and whose identity is defined by men rather than her, and to one who sees herself as a human being and spiritual person while being neither feminine nor masculine. The 6th-century Devi Mahatmya text, for example, states Cynthia Humes, actually shares “the postmodern exaltation of embodiedness, divinizing it as does much of the Western feminist spirituality movement”. These texts are not theoretical nor disconnected from the lives of women in the historic Hindu society, but the verses assert that all “women are portions of the divine goddess”, states Humes. The Hindu goddess tradition inspired by these texts has been, notes Pintchman, one of the richest, compelling traditions worldwide, and its followers flock villages, towns, and cities all over India. Yet, adds Humes, other texts describe her creative potential not in her terms, but using the words of male virility and gendered dichotomy, possibly encouraging the heroic woman to abandon her female persona and impersonate the male.

Postmodern empirical scholarship about Hindu society, states Rita Gross, makes one question whether and to what extent there is pervasiveness of patriarchy in Hinduism. Patriarchal control is real, and the Hindu society admits this of itself, states Gross, yet the Hindu culture distinguishes between authority – which men hold, and power – which both men and women hold. Women in the Hindu tradition have the power, and they exercise that power to take control of situations that are important to them. The Goddess theology and humanity in the Hindu texts are a foundation of these values, a form that isn’t feminist by Western definition, but is feminist nevertheless, one with an empowering and self-liberating value structure with an added spiritual dimension that resonates with Hindu (and Buddhist) goddesses.

Kathleen Erndl states that texts such as Manusmriti do not necessarily portray what women in Hinduism were or are, but it represents an ideology, and that “the task of Hindu feminists is to rescue Shakti from its patriarchal prison”. Her metaphor, explains Erndl, does not mean that Shakti never was free nor that she is tightly locked up now, because patriarchy is neither monolithic nor ossified in Hindu culture. The Shakti concept and associated extensive philosophy in Hindu texts provide a foundation to both spiritual and social liberation.

The dharmasastras, including the Manusmrti, mention eight forms of marriage.


prajapatya-statha ‘surah

Gandharvo raksasascaiva

Paisavastamah smrtah

—-Manusmrti, 3. 21

The eight types are: brahma, daiva, arsa, prajapatya, asura, gandharva, raksasa and paisaca.

After the student bachelor has completed his gurukulavasa, his parents approach the parents of a girl belonging to a good family and ask them to give away their daughter in marriage to their son–to make a gift of their daughter (kanyadana) to him. A marriage arranged like this is brahma. In it this girl’s family does not give any dowry or jewellery to the boy’s family. There is no “commercial transaction” and the goal of a brahma marriage is the dharmic advancement of two families. Of the eight forms of marriage the dharmasastras regard this as the highest.

Marrying a girl to a rtvik (priest) during a sacrifice is called “daiva”. The parents, in this type, after waiting in vain for a young man to turn up and ask for their daughter’s hand, go looking for a groom for her in a place where a sacrifice is being conducted. This type of marriage is considered inferior to brahma. In the sastras womanhood is elevated in that it is the groom’s family that has to seeking bride for their son.

The third form, “arsa” suggests that it is concerned with the rsis, sages. It seems the marriage of Sukanya to Cyavana Maharsi was of this type. But from the dharmasastras we learn that in arsa the bride is given in exchange for two cows received from the groom. If the term is taken to mean “giving away a girl in marriage to a rsi”, we must take it that the girl is married off to an old sage because the parents could not celebrate her marriage according to the brahma rite at the right time. The fact that cows are taken in exchange for the bride shows that the groom does not possess any remarkable qualities. According to the sastras, in marriages of noble kind there is no place for money or anything smacking of a business transaction.

In prajapatya there is no trading and kanyadana is a part of it as in the brahma ceremony. But from the name prajapatya it must be inferred that the bride’s menarche is imminent and that a child must be begotten soon after the marriage. For this reason the bride’s father goes in search of a groom, unlike in the brahma type. The brahma type is a better type of marriage than prajapatya since, in it, the groom’s people go seeking a bride who is to be the Grahalaksmi of their household.

In the asura type the groom is in no way a match for the girl, but her father or her relatives receive a good deal of money from the man who forces them to marry her to him. In arsa in which cows are given in exchange for the bride there is no compulsion. Nor is the groom wealthy or powerful like his counterpart in the asura type. Many rich men must have taken a second wife according to the asura type of marriage.

The next is gandharva. The very mention of it calls to mind Sakuntala and Dusyanta. The gandharva type is the “love marriage” that has such enthusiastic support these days.

In the raksasa form the groom battles with the girl’s family, overcomes them and carries her away. It was in this manner that krsna Paramatman married Rukmini.

The eighth and last is paisaca. In asura even though the girl’s willingness to marry the man is of no consequence, at least her people are given money. In raksasa, though violence is done to the girl’s family, the marriage itself is not against her wish. Rukmini loved Krsna, did she not? In paisaca the girl’s wish does not count, nor is any money or material given to her parents. She is seized against her wish and her family antagonised.

We have the brahma type at one end and the paisaca at the other. There cannot be the same system or the same arrangement for everybody. Our sastras have taken into account the differences in temperament and attitude among various sections of people and it is in keeping with the same that they have assigned them different rites, vocations, etc. All our present trouble arises from the failure on the part of men, who advocate the same system for all, to recognise this fact.

There are tribals living in the forests who look fierce and have a harsh way of life. But at heart they may be more cultured than townspeople, not to speak of the fact that they are useful to society in many ways. They have frequent family feuds. In consideration of this raksasa and paisava marriages may have to be permitted in their case. After the marriage, they are likely to forget their quarrels and live in peace with each other. Ksatriyas who are physically strong and are used to material pleasure are allowed the gandharva form of marriage and their girls have even the right to choose their husbands as in the svayamvara ceremony.

It is for these reasons that the dharmasastras, which are based on the Vedas and which constitute Hindu law, permit eight forms of marriage. In all these eight, the bride and groom have the right to be united in wedlock with the chanting of mantras. But brahma is the highest of the eight forms. In it the bride must not have attained puberty. “Pradanam prak rtoh”: — this statement is in the dharmasastras themselves. A girl’s marriage, which has same significance for her that the upanayana has for a boy, must be performed when she is seven years old (or eight years from conception)

Unfortunately, in the case of some girls, a groom does not turn up in time for a brahma marriage to be performed. Meanwhile, they grow old and their marriage is conducted in the arsa, daiva, or prajapatya way. Only these types are permitted for Brahmins. But for the rest other types are also allowed. They may marry a girl who has come of age either in the gandharva way or in a svayamvara.

The marriage mantras are intended for all the eight forms. It means that they are employed even in the marriage rite of girls who have attained puberty. The two mantras quoted above are recited in all the eight types of marriage. They are addressed by the groom to the bride who comes to him after she has attained puberty and after she has been under the guardianship successively of Soma, gandharva and Agni. The mantras are chanted not only in brahma marriages but also in all other forms. The same are addressed by the groom to his child bride also. Though his marriage is being solemnised to the child bride now, he will start living with her only after she comes of age, after she becomes a young woman. He will bring her home to live with him only after she has come successively under Soma, gandharva and Agni. So he chants the mantras in advance.

Nowadays we sometimes perform a number of samskaras together long after they are due according to the sastras. For example, we perform the jatakarma if a son as well as his namakarana and caula during his upanayana when he is 20 or 22 years old and not long before his marriage. Similarly, instead of such postponement of the rites, in the brahma marriage the mantras mentioned above are chanted in advance.

I will give you an example in this context. When the brahmacarin performs the samidadhana he prays before Agni to grant him good children. How absurd would it be for our reformers to argue, on the basis of this prayer, that a young boy must have children when he is yet a celibate-student and that he may become a householder only later. The point to note is that the boy prays on advance for good children. The Vedic mantras cited by reformers must be seen in the same light.

The mantras [quoted by reformers] are appropriate for the marriage of a girl who has come of age also.

This is our reply to the school of opinion represented by the Rt Hon’ble Srinivasa Sastri. If the mantras in question are chanted at the time of the marriage of girls who have come of age, it does not mean that all marriages are to be celebrated after the girls have attained puberty. According to the brahma form of marriage, the girl must not have had her menarche. There is incontrovertible proof for this in the Vedic mantra chanted at the end of the marriage rite. .

I told that a girl is under the sway of a gandharva between the time she is able to wear her clothes without anybody’s help and her menarche. His name is Visvavasu. The mantra I referred to is chanted by the groom addressing this demigod. “o Visvasu, ” it says, ” I bow to you. Leave this girl and go. Go to another girl child. Have I not become the husband of this girl? So give her over to me and go to another girl who is not married and lives with her father. ” During the wedding the groom performs a puja to this gandharva and prays to him to free the girl from his control. Here is proof that the bride is not under Agni and has not had her menarche

The question now is about the verse (from the Manusmrti) cited by the reformists. According to it, a girl may wait three years after her menarche and then seek her husband on her own.

There is an answer to this. The general rule according to the dharmasastras is that a girl must be married before she attains puberty: “Pradanam prak rtoh. ” What happens if this injunction is not followed? If groom does not come on his own, seeking the girl’s hand, her father or brother must look for a groom and marry her off. But if they turn out to be irresponsible or otherwise fail to find a groom? Or if the girl has no guardian, no one to care for her? The lines quoted by the reformers from the Manusmrti apply to such a girl. She may look for a husband on her if none of her relatives, neighbours or well-wishers take the trouble of finding her a groom even after she has attained puberty.

Though the reformists quote from the Vedas and sastras in support of their view, they fail to take into account the context in which the relevant passages occur. They see them in isolation. That is why they keep arguing that the customs followed by people steeped in our traditions are contrary to the sastras.

In the Chandogya Upanisad there is mention of a sage called Cakrayana Usasti whose wife had not come of age. The reformists do not examine such references in our ancient texts with a cool head but are carried away by their emotions.

In the past the common people did not know how to counter the arguments of the reformists. Even so they did not accept their views thinking it best to follow the practices of their elders, of great men. That is why the bill brought twice by the Rt Hon’ble Srinivasa sastri before the legislative council to amend the marriage act (with reference to the age of marriage) did not receive enough support. Later (Harbilas) Sarda introduced the bill which [on its passage] came to be called the Sarda Act. Many people (in the South) think Sarda was a women and call the law named after him the “Sarda Act”. The Central legislative assembly was equally divided on the bill — 50 percent for and 50 per cent against. Then the British asked one of the nominated members to vote in favour of the bill; and thus the minimum age of marriage for girls was raised by a legal enactment. The bill was passed not on the strength of public opinion but because if the government’s intervention. The mind of our British rulers worked thus: “Th

e Congress has been demanding svaraj but we have refused to grant it. Let us give it some satisfaction by being of help in inflicting an injury on the (Hindu) religion. “

Now things have changed. There is no respect any longer for old customs and traditions. When the Sarda Act came into force in British India, some Sanskrit scholars returned the “Mahamahopadhyaya” title conferred on them by the government. Among them were Pancanana Tarkaratna Bhattacarya of Bengal and Laksmana Sastri Dravid. The latter was settled in Kasi and had the “Dravid” tagged on to his name to make it known that he belonged to the land of the Tamils. How many people today are inspired to rise in protest against the changes introduced by our government in our sastric observances.

Our children must be taught the substance and meaning of the sastras in a comprehensive manner. To speak to them about one aspect here and another there will lead to a haphazard and confused view. The half-baked research carried on in the Vedas has given rise to the opinion that the scriptures favour love marriage. The canonical texts must be seen in their entirety. When a subject is examined, its underlying meaning and purpose must be grasped. Also they must be seen in the light of other relevant passages occurring elsewhere. A conclusion must be arrived at only after a thorough inquiry into all points.

The brahma marriage is for all castes. Other forms of marriage are also permitted for non-Brahmins, also post-puberty marriage. If the idea is to give importance to carnal pleasure these other forms may be permitted. But brahma is the best if the purpose of the marriage samskara is the advancement of the Self.

“Hindu Dharma” is a book which contains English translation of certain invaluable and engrossing speeches of Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji (at various times during the years 1907 to 1994).

What do Manusmriti and Dharmashastra have to say about homosexuality?

In the Puranas, God changes gender constantly: Every god has a female Shakti: thus Vinayaka has Vinayaki, Varaha has Varahi.

Devdutt Pattanaik

Before we answer this question, we must keep in mind that the current laws against homosexuality in India are based on colonial laws, which are based on Abrahamic mythology. It involves a reading – some would say a deliberate misreading – of a tale where God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone because they perform acts that go against God’s commandment.

What these acts were is open to interpretation, depending on how you read the old Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek scripts. The anti-queer lobby says city dwellers indulged in homosexuality. The queer supporters interpret the story differently, that the city dwellers were not good hosts, and that they raped their guests.

Take your pick. What is curious is that shortly after this incident, the patriarch Lot, who flees Sodom and Gomorrah before they are destroyed, has sex with his daughters, and his incestuous act is not punished by God.

Such tales, of God prohibiting certain sexual acts but allowing others, are not found in Hindu mythology. While in many (not all) Abrahamic traditions, homosexuality is seen as an act against God, in Hindu traditions, homosexuality is seen as part of karma.

We are creatures of karma, and our actions contribute to our future karma. Thus homosexuality is seen as a manifestation of karma. We cannot fight it. We have to deal with it. Just as heterosexual desire needs to be regulated, so does homosexual desire. The extent of regulation varies depending on context.

Some believe sex must be only for producing children, some believe sex should only be between people in love, while some believe sex is just a form of pleasure and must not be taken too seriously.

The Vedas speak of Agni, the fire god, having two mothers! Must this be taken literally or metaphorically? Metaphorically, it refers to the fire-sticks that are drilled to create the fire for the yagna.

In the Puranas, God changes gender constantly: Every god has a female Shakti: thus Vinayaka has Vinayaki, Varaha has Varahi. Shiva becomes Ardhanareshwara, or half a woman, to make the Goddess happy.

He becomes Gopeshwar – milkmaid or cow-girl form of Shiva – to join Krishna in the raas-leela. When Kali decides to become Krishna, Shiva takes the form of Radha, as per Baul traditions. Vishnu becomes the damsel Mohini to enchant demons and sages.

In Tulsidas’ Ram-charit-manas, God says that he loves all creatures: plants, animals, males, females and queers (napunsaka), who give up malice and surrender to his grace. How does one read this? A comfort with gender and sexual fluidity? An acceptance of karma?

Medical texts, such as Shushruta Samhita, subscribe to the Tantrik belief that when a man and woman have sex, the gender and sexuality depends on the proportion of the male white seed and female red seed. If the male white seed is stronger then heterosexual men are born; when the female red seed is stronger, then heterosexual females are born.

When both seeds are equally strong, the child becomes queer (kliba, napunsaka, kinnara). Sanskrit texts on astrology, architecture and music all refer to three genders: male, female and queer. Thus the condition is seen as physiological, not pathological.

The Dharmashastras need to be located in this context. They were books that speculated on appropriate human conduct. They focussed more on “upper” castes and were relatively indifferent to “lower” castes.

Written by Brahmins in the period that saw the composition of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, they have a relatively casual attitude towards non-vaginal (ayoni) sex. This could even refer to anal/oral sex between adult consenting men and women, not just between men, or between women.

The Arthashastra of Kautilya, charges a fine, similar to fines for minor thefts. Women are fined more than men. The fine increases if one of the partners is not consenting. (IV.XIII.236)

The Manusmriti equates homosexual sex to a man having sex with a menstruating woman, or having sex during the day, and the punishment involves purification rites: bathing with clothes on, and fasting for a night, and eating specific cow milk and urine related products.

Failure to purify can result in loss of caste. The crimes of heterosexual adultery and rape, and deflowering a virgin, have much higher fines and more intense purification rituals. (XI:175)

The Dharmashastras clearly value heterosexual marriage and sex that results in production of sons. However, they do acknowledge, albeit grudgingly, the existence of other forms of non-vaginal sex, heterosexual as well as homosexual, and seek to restrain them with fines and penance, without overtly condemning them in religious or moral terms.

Not everything in Hinduism or India was governed by Brahmin texts and that is important to remember. In monastic orders like Buddhism and Jainism where celibacy is celebrated, sexual desire – be it homosexual or heterosexual – is seen as an obstacle to the spiritual path.

In Charvaka, or materialistic traditions, the intrinsic nature (svabhava) of living creatures must be respected and celebrated, rather than judged. Thus India has had a very diverse, generally liberal, range of attitudes towards all kinds of sex, including homosexuality, with warnings about addiction, attachment and obsession.

The Hindu Marriage – Vivaha Sanskara

Booking the hall, deciding on caterers, choosing the mandap and decorations, sending out the invitations, finding photographers, choosing the Priest – music, bridal outfits, nails, makeup, jewellery, matching colour schemes, groom’s outfit — Aaaaaaaah!! As the stress levels escalate and we strive to organise the wedding of the year, how much time do we get to step back and think about the rituals we are about to perform and appreciate the true meaning of the Hindu marriage ceremony?

According to Hindu Dharma, marriage is a sacrament. Its purpose is to create and develop a religious and spiritual outlook in life. Marriage influences the personality of man and woman as life partners, enabling them to take their rightful place in society.

Hindu marriage is solemnised in accordance with an approved ritual instructed by the VEDAS, the holy scriptures of the Hindus. According to Hindu Dharma the ceremony of marriage is a firm uniting of two souls such that after marriage the individual bodies remain as separate entities but the souls merge into one harmonious whole. The idea behind the institution of marriage in Hindu Dharma is to foster not self-interest, but love for the entire family (and society). It is the love and duty cultivated for the entire family that prevents break-ups. During the nuptial ceremony in a Vedic marriage, both the bride and the bridegroom take an oath for the practice of self-restraint, to work together for the welfare of the family & Dharma and to help each other attain spiritual peace. This lofty ideal of sanctity is a great gift of Hindu Dharma to the world at large.

The majority of a Hindu marriage ceremony takes place inside a four-pole canopy termed the mandap and takes place in different stages.

Stages of the Hindu Marriage Ceremony

Vara Satkaarah: As soon as the bridegroom’s party arrives, they are warmly welcomed by the bride’s family. At the entrance of the hall the bride’s mother receives the groom by applying a tilak (red kumkum powder and uncooked rice) to signify good luck on the groom’s forehead and blesses him. The bridegroom is welcomed and treated like Mahavishnu (Supreme God) as will the bride be treated as Laxmi (Supreme Goddess). The priest and the bride’s parent lead the bridegroom and his parents to the stage where they are given appropriate seats.

The bride then enters at the mandap escorted by her maternal uncles after which she is seated to the right hand side of the bridegroom.

Achamana and Angasparsha: All Hindu religious ceremonies begin with two observances, namely Achaman or sipping a small amount of water and Angasparsha or touching one’s limbs with one’s right hand middle two fingers with a little water. Achaman is purificatory and conducive to peaceful attitude of mind. Angasparsha is intended to pray for physical strength and alertness.

Madhuparka ceremony: Madhuparka is a nutritious drink composed of honey, curd and ghee or clarified butter. The Madhuparka ceremony dates back thousands of years when Rishis and sages used it as a means of welcoming guests. In the wedding ceremony, madhuparka is offered to the bridegroom by the bride’s parents. This act is symbolic of the sweetness and joy that the bridegroom hopes will be a part of his and his new bride’s life together.

Kanya Daan: This is probably the most important and most symbolic part of a wedding ceremony. ‘Kanya’ means daughter and ‘Daan’ means giving away, hence in this part of the wedding ceremony the bride’s parents give her away by entrusting her to the bridegroom. The officiating priest chants appropriate verses in Sanskrit, to notify that the parents have not willingly expressed their wish and consent, by requesting the groom to accept their daughter as his bride.

Vivah-homa: All solemn rites and ceremonies commence with the performance of Homa (sacred fire ceremony or Havan yajna) among the followers of Vedic religion. The idea is to begin all auspicious undertakings in an atmosphere of purity and spirituality. This atmosphere is created by the burning of fragrant herbs and ghee and by the recitation of suitable Mantras. The Achaman and Angasparsha are performed for the second time, with the bride also participating.

Pani-Grahanam: This is the acceptance of the bride by the bridegroom as his wife. The bridegroom raises the bride’s hand with his left hand, clasps it and promises to protect her and their progeny, follow in the path of virtue with her and overcome all obstacles so that they may live a life of happiness and attain their spiritual goals together.

Pratigna-karanam: At this stage the couple walk around the fire and take solemn vows of loyalty, steadfast love and life-long fidelity to each other.

Shilarohanam: ‘Shila’ means stone. ‘Arohan’ means ascending or stepping upon. The mother of the bride assists her to step onto a stone and counsels her to prepare herself for a new life. A married couple are likely to encounter ups and downs, joys and sorrows, sickness and health. In spite of difficulties facing them they are enjoined to remain steadfast and true to each other.

Laja Homa: During this stage of the ceremony, oblations are offered to the sacred fire. The brother of the bride puts fried rice into her hands, half of which slips into the bridegroom’s hands under hers, which then slips into the fire. This is done three times over whilst the bride prays to Yama, the God of death, for the long life, happiness and prosperity of her new husband.

Agni-Parikrama/Mangal Fera/Pradakshina: This stage is one of the most auspicious parts of the ceremony and consists of the couple walking around the fire clockwise four times. It is believed that the moon protects the bride for the first seven years of her life followed by the sun in the next seven years of her life after which agni (fire) acts as her custodian. Hence appropriate respect is given to agni by carrying out this custom of walking around the fire. This custom coupled with that of saptapadi establishes an indissoluble matrimonial bond between the couple. In the first three rounds the groom leads the bride around the fire during which God’s blessings and help are sought; loyalty to each other is emphasised and a promise for the well-being and care of their future children is made. In the final round the bride leads the groom around the sacred fire and she promises that she will lead her life according to Dharma and Satya (devotion and truth). At the end of the four rounds they exchange seats, the bride taking her seat to the left of the bridegroom.

Saptapadi: The ends of the bridegroom’s scarf and upper garment of the bride are tied together by the priest, signifying the marriage knot. Then both stand facing the north ready to take seven steps. The bridegroom places his right hand on the right shoulder of the bride and they take the first step in the northeasterly direction.

Uncooked grains of rice are placed in a line at equal distance at seven places. The bride and the groom take seven steps together as the priest recites mantras – each step signifies a different aspect of marriage that they hope to uphold together with the final goal of being true companions and remaining life-long partners through wedlock.

The wife takes her rightful place on the left side of her husband as the marriage is now religiously solemnized in its entirety. Now the couple are husband and wife. The husband garlands the wife and she in turn garlands her husband.

Saubhagya-chinha: The bridegroom blesses his bride by putting sindhur (vermillion powder) at the parting of her hair on her forehead and by giving her a mangalsutra (sacred necklace).

Abhishekh, Surya Darshan & Dhruva Dhyaanam Darshanam va: The priest sprinkles water on the bride and groom after which they both meditate on the sun to give them power to lead a creative, useful and meaningful life. Finally they both meditate on the pole star and the Arundhati star (Dhruva Dhyaanam Darshanam va). The Pole Star is stationary and fixed in its position; likewise the couple is expected to be steadfast and firm in fulfilling their vows and responsibilities . Arundhati was the devoted wife of the sage Vashishtha, therefore by meditating on the Arundhati star they both consolidate their devotion for each other.

Anna Prashanam: In the last symbolic rite the couple make offerings of food into the sacred fire with chantings of Vedic Havan Mantras. Having done this, the couple feed a morsel of food to each other – symbolic of mutual love and affection.

Aashirvaadah: This is the final stage where there is benediction by the elders. Firstly the priest blesses the newly wed couple, after which other elders do the same.

What role does a Hindu marriage play in the UK?

Living in the western world, many third generation British Hindus have ruled out the Hindu marriage ceremony opting for the quicker, more westernised ceremony of being married by a registrar. Is the traditional wedding ceremony still necessary in a land far away from out Motherland? The answer most definitely lies in the actual significance of the Hindu marriage. According to Sanatan Dharma, marriage is not just a social contract in the modern sense of the word, but a religious or spiritual institution; a sacrament. As Hindus we must recognise that besides the two human parties, the bride and the bridegroom, there is a third superhuman, spiritual or divine element in marriage. In Hindu Dharma, a marriage between two persons is a sacred relationship that is not limited to this life alone. It extends across seven or more lives, during which the couple help each other evolve spiritually. It seems fitting therefore that the marriage of a Hindu couple be solemnised at a high spiritual level and in a spiritual atmosphere.

Hindu seers and sages were responsible for the advent of Marriage as institution to regulate the good order in society. It was the beginning of civilisation as we know it and ruled out women being regarded as just objects of pleasure. God is worshipped as Shakti, the mother of all creation. The rites and rituals of Hindu marriage date back to our forefather Manu. In Manu Smriti it has been laid down that Hindus should conceive of marriage as a union meant for the performance of religious and spiritual duties. It could not take place without the performance of sacred rites and ceremonies. Although the modern age has given rise to adaptations to the way in which we carry out Hindu weddings, it seems appropriate that we continue passing down certain traditions that have been with us since time immemorial.

MANUSMRITI: THE LAWS OF MANU (ca. 1500 BC -or later-)
(translated by G. Buhler)

Chapter IX:

  1. I will now propound the eternal laws for a husband and his wife who keep to the path of duty, whether they be united or separated.
  2. Day and night woman must be kept in dependence by the males (of) their (families), and, if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one’s control.
  3. Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.
  4. Reprehensible is the father who gives not (his daughter in marriage) at the proper time; reprehensible is the husband who approaches not (his wife in due season), and reprehensible is the son who does not protect his mother after her husband has died.
  5. Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling (they may appear); for, if they are not guarded, they will bring sorrow on two families.
  6. Considering that the highest duty of all castes, even weak husbands (must) strive to guard their wives.
  7. He who carefully guards his wife, preserves (the purity of) his offspring, virtuous conduct, his family, himself, and his (means of acquiring) merit.
  8. The husband, after conception by his wife, becomes an embryo and is born again of her; for that is the wifehood of a wife (gaya), that he is born (gayate) again by her.
  9. As the male is to whom a wife cleaves, even so is the son whom she brings forth; let him therefore carefully guard his wife, in order to keep his offspring pure.
  10. No man can completely guard women by force; but they can be guarded by the employment of the (following) expedients:
  11. Let the (husband) employ his (wife) in the collection and expenditure of his wealth, in keeping (everything) clean, in (the fulfilment of) religious duties, in the preparation of his food, and in looking after the household utensils.
  12. Women, confined in the house under trustworthy and obedient servants, are not (well) guarded; but those who of their own accord keep guard over themselves, are well guarded.
  13. Drinking (spirituous liquor), associating with wicked people, separation from the husband, rambling abroad, sleeping (at unseasonable hours), and dwelling in other men’s houses, are the six causes of the ruin of women.
  14. Women do not care for beauty, nor is their attention fixed on age; (thinking), ‘(It is enough that) he is a man,’ they give themselves to the handsome and to the ugly.
  15. Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper, through their natural heartlessness, they become disloyal towards their husbands, however carefully they may be guarded in this (world).
  16. Knowing their disposition, which the Lord of creatures laid in them at the creation, to be such, (every) man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them.
  17. (When creating them) Manu allotted to women (a love of their) bed, (of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice, and bad conduct.
  18. For women no (sacramental) rite (is performed) with sacred texts, thus the law is settled; women (who are) destitute of strength and destitute of (the knowledge of) Vedic texts, (are as

impure as) falsehood (itself), that is a fixed rule.

  1. And to this effect many sacred texts are sung also in the Vedas, in order to (make) fully known the true disposition (of women); hear (now those texts which refer to) the expiation of their (sins).
  2. ‘If my mother, going astray and unfaithful, conceived illicit desires, may my father keep that seed from me,’ that is the scriptural text.
  3. If a woman thinks in her heart of anything that would pain her husband, the (above-mentioned text) is declared (to be a means for) completely removing such infidelity.
  4. Whatever be the qualities of the man with whom a woman is united according to the law, such qualities even she assumes, like a river (united) with the ocean.
  5. Akshamala, a woman of the lowest birth, being united to Vasishtha and Sarangi, (being united) to Mandapala, became worthy of honour.
  6. These and other females of low birth have attained eminence in this world by the respective good qualities of their husbands.
  7. Thus has been declared the ever pure popular usage (which regulates the relations) between husband and wife; hear (next) the laws concerning children which are the cause of happiness in this world and after death.
  8. Between wives (striyah) who (are destined) to bear children, who secure many blessings, who are worthy of worship and irradiate (their) dwellings, and between the goddesses of fortune (sriyah, who reside) in the houses (of men), there is no difference whatsoever.
  9. The production of children, the nurture of those born, and the daily life of men, (of these matters) woman is visibly the cause.
  10. Offspring, (the due performance on religious rites, faithful service, highest conjugal happiness and heavenly bliss for the ancestors and oneself, depend on one’s wife alone.
  11. She who, controlling her thoughts, speech, and acts, violates not her duty towards her lord, dwells with him (after death) in heaven, and in this world is called by the virtuous a faithful (wife, sadhvi)
  12. But for disloyalty to her husband a wife is censured among men, and (in her next life) she is born in the womb of a jackal and tormented by diseases, the punishment of her sin.
  13. Listen (now) to the following holy discussion, salutary to all men, which the virtuous (of the present day) and the ancient great sages have held concerning male offspring.
  14. They (all) say that the male issue (of a woman) belongs to the lord, but with respect to the (meaning of the term) lord the revealed texts differ; some call the begetter (of the child the lord),

others declare (that it is) the owner of the soil.

  1. By the sacred tradition the woman is declared to be the soil, the man is declared to be the seed; the production of all corporeal beings (takes place) through the union of the soil with the seed.
  2. In some cases the seed is more distinguished, and in some the womb of the female; but when both are equal, the offspring is most highly esteemed.
  3. On comparing the seed and the receptacle (of the seed), the seed is declared to be more important; for the offspring of all created beings is marked by the characteristics of the seed.
  4. Whatever (kind on seed is sown in a field, prepared in due season, (a plant) of that same kind, marked with the peculiar qualities of the seed, springs up in it.
  5. This earth, indeed, is called the primeval womb of created beings; but the seed develops not in its development any properties of the womb.
  6. In this world seeds of different kinds, sown at the proper time in the land, even in one field, come forth (each) according to its kind.
  7. The rice (called) vrihi and (that called) sali, mudga-beans, sesamum, masha-beans, barley, leeks, and sugar-cane, (all) spring up according to their seed.
  8. That one (plant) should be sown and another be produced cannot happen; whatever seed is sown, (a plant of) that kind even comes forth.
  9. Never therefore must a prudent well-trained man, who knows the Veda and its Angas and desires long life, cohabit with another’s wife.
  10. With respect to this (matter), those acquainted with the past recite some stanzas, sung by Vayu (the Wind, to show) that seed must not be sown by (any) man on that which belongs to another.
  11. As the arrow, shot by (a hunter) who afterwards hits a wounded (deer) in the wound (made by another), is shot in vain, even so the seed, sown on what belongs to another, is quickly lost (to the sower).
  12. (Sages) who know the past call this earth (prithivi) even the wife of Prithu; they declare a field to belong to him who cleared away the timber, and a deer to him who (first) wounded it.
  13. He only is a perfect man who consists (of three persons united), his wife, himself, and his offspring; thus (says the Veda), and (learned) Brahmanas propound this (maxim) likewise, ‘The husband is declared to be one with the wife.’
  14. Neither by sale nor by repudiation is a wife released from her husband; such we know the law to be, which the Lord of creatures (Pragapati) made of old.
  15. Once is the partition (of the inheritance) made, (once is) a maiden given in marriage, (and) once does (a man) say,’ I will give;’ each of those three (acts is done) once only.
  16. As with cows, mares, female camels, slave-girls, buffalo-cows, she-goats, and ewes, it is not the begetter (or his owner) who obtains the offspring, even thus (it is) with the wives of others.
  17. Those who, having no property in a field, but possessing seed-corn, sow it in another’s soil, do indeed not receive the grain of the crop which may spring up.
  18. If (one man’s) bull were to beget a hundred calves on another man’s cows, they would belong to the owner of the cows; in vain would the bull have spent his strength.
  19. Thus men who have no marital property in women, but sow their seed in the soil of others, benefit the owner of the woman; but the giver of the seed reaps no advantage.
  20. If no agreement with respect to the crop has been made between the owner of the field and the owner of the seed, the benefit clearly belongs to the owner of the field; the receptacle is more important than the seed.
  21. But if by a special contract (a field) is made over (to another) for sowing, then the owner of the seed and the owner of the soil are both considered in this world as sharers of the (crop).
  22. If seed be carried by water or wind into somebody’s field and germinates (there), the (plant sprung from that) seed belongs even to the owner of the field, the owner of the seed does not receive the crop.
  23. Know that such is the law concerning the offspring of cows, mares, slave-girls, female camels, she-goats, and ewes, as well as of females of birds and buffalo-cows.
  24. Thus the comparative importance of the seed and of the womb has been declared to you; I will next propound the law (applicable) to women in times of misfortune.
  25. The wife of an elder brother is for his younger (brother) the wife of a Guru; but the wife of the younger is declared (to be) the daughter-in-law of the elder.
  26. An elder (brother) who approaches the wife of the younger, and a younger (brother who approaches) the wife of the elder, except in times of misfortune, both become outcasts, even though (they were duly) authorised.
  27. On failure of issue (by her husband) a woman who has been authorised, may obtain, (in the) proper (manner prescribed), the desired offspring by (cohabitation with) a brother-in-law or (with some other) Sapinda (of the husband).
  28. He (who is) appointed to (cohabit with) the widow shall (approach her) at night anointed with clarified butter and silent, (and) beget one son, by no means a second.
  29. Some (sages), versed in the law, considering the purpose of the appointment not to have been attained by those two (on the birth of the first), think that a second (son) may be lawfully procreated on (such) women.
  30. But when the purpose of the appointment to (cohabit with) the widow bas been attained in accordance with the law, those two shall behave towards each other like a father and a daughter-in-law.
  31. If those two (being thus) appointed deviate from the rule and act from carnal desire, they will both become outcasts, (as men) who defile the bed of a daughter-in-law or of a Guru.
  32. By twice-born men a widow must not be appointed to (cohabit with) any other (than her husband); for they who appoint (her) to another (man), will violate the eternal law.
  33. In the sacred texts which refer to marriage the appointment (of widows) is nowhere mentioned, nor is the re-marriage of widows prescribed in the rules concerning marriage.
  34. This practice which is reprehended by the learned of the twice-born castes as fit for cattle is said (to have occurred) even among men, while Vena ruled.
  35. That chief of royal sages who formerly possessed the whole world, caused a confusion of the castes (varna), his intellect being destroyed by lust.
  36. Since that (time) the virtuous censure that (man) who in his folly appoints a woman, whose husband died, to (bear) children (to another man).
  37. If the (future) husband of a maiden dies after troth verbally plighted, her brother-in-law shall wed her according to the following rule.
  38. Having, according to the rule, espoused her (who must be) clad in white garments and be intent on purity, he shall approach her once in each proper season until issue (be had).
  39. Let no prudent man, after giving his daughter to one (man), give her again to another; for he who gives (his daughter) whom he had before given, incurs (the guilt of) speaking falsely regarding a human being.
  40. Though (a man) may have accepted a damsel in due form, he may abandon (her if she be) blemished, diseased, or deflowered, and (if she have been) given with fraud.
  41. If anybody gives away a maiden possessing blemishes without declaring them, (the bridegroom) may annul that (contract) with the evil-minded giver.
  42. A man who has business (abroad) may depart after securing a maintenance for his wife; for a wife, even though virtuous, may be corrupted if she be distressed by want of subsistence.
  43. If (the husband) went on a journey after providing (for her), the wife shall subject herself to restraints in her daily life; but if he departed without providing (for her), she may subsist by blameless manual work.
  44. If the husband went abroad for some sacred duty, (she) must wait for him eight years, if (he went) to (acquire) learning or fame six (years), if (he went) for pleasure three years.
  45. For one year let a husband bear with a wife who hates him; but after (the lapse of) a year let him deprive her of her property and cease to cohabit with her.
  46. She who shows disrespect to (a husband) who is addicted to (some evil) passion, is a drunkard, or diseased, shall be deserted for three months (and be) deprived of her ornaments and furniture.
  47. But she who shows aversion towards a mad or outcast (husband), a eunuch, one destitute of manly strength, or one afflicted with such diseases as punish crimes, shall neither be cast off nor be deprived of her property.
  48. She who drinks spirituous liquor, is of bad conduct, rebellious, diseased, mischievous, or wasteful, may at any time be superseded (by another wife).
  49. A barren wife may be superseded in the eighth year, she whose children (all) die in the tenth, she who bears only daughters in the eleventh, but she who is quarrelsome without delay.
  50. But a sick wife who is kind (to her husband) and virtuous in her conduct, may be superseded (only) with her own consent and must never be disgraced.
  51. A wife who, being superseded, in anger departs from (her husband’s) house, must either be instantly confined or cast off in the presence of the family.
  52. But she who, though having been forbidden, drinks spirituous liquor even at festivals, or goes to public spectacles or assemblies, shall be fined six krishnalas.
  53. If twice-born men wed women of their own and of other (lower castes), the seniority, honour, and habitation of those (wives) must be (settled) according to the order of the castes (varna).
  54. Among all (twice-born men) the wife of equal caste alone, not a wife of a different caste by any means, shall personally attend her husband and assist him in his daily sacred rites.
  55. But he who foolishly causes that (duty) to be performed by another, while his wife of equal caste is alive, is declared by the ancients (to be) as (despicable) as a Kandala (sprung from the) Brahmana (caste).
  56. To a distinguished, handsome suitor (of) equal (caste) should (a father) give his daughter in accordance with the prescribed rule, though she have not attained (the proper age).
  57. (But) the maiden, though marriageable, should rather stop in (the father’s) house until death, than that he should ever give her to a man destitute of good qualities.
  58. Three years let a damsel wait, though she be marriageable; but after that time let her choose for herself a bridegroom (of) equal (caste and rank).
  59. If, being not given in marriage, she herself seeks a husband, she incurs no guilt, nor (does) he whom she weds.
  60. A maiden who choses for herself, shall not take with her any ornaments, given by her father or her mother, or her brothers; if she carries them away, it will be theft.
  61. But he who takes (to wife) a marriageable damsel, shall not pay any nuptial fee to her father; for the (latter) will lose his dominion over her in consequence of his preventing (the legitimate result of the appearance of) her enemies.
  62. A man, aged thirty years, shall marry a maiden of twelve who pleases him, or a man of twenty-four a girl eight years of age; if (the performance of) his duties would (otherwise) be impeded, (he must marry) sooner.
  63. The husband receives his wife from the gods, (he does not wed her) according to his own will; doing what is agreeable to the gods, he must always support her (while she is) faithful.
  64. To be mothers were women created, and to be fathers men; religious rites, therefore, are ordained in the Veda to be performed (by the husband) together with the wife.
  65. If, after the nuptial fee has been paid for a maiden, the giver of the fee dies, she shall be given in marriage to his brother, in case she consents.
  66. Even a Sudra ought not to take a nuptial fee, when he gives away his daughter; for he who takes a fee sell his daughter, covering (the transaction by another name).
  67. Neither ancients nor moderns who were good men have done such (a deed) that, after promising (a daughter) to one man, they have her to another;
  68. Nor, indeed, have we heard, even in former creations, of such (a thing as) the covert sale of a daughter for a fixed price, called a nuptial fee.
  69. ‘Let mutual fidelity continue until death,’ this may be considered as the summary of the highest law for husband and wife.
  70. Let man and woman, united in marriage, constantly exert themselves, that (they may not be) disunited (and) may not violate their mutual fidelity.
  71. Thus has been declared to you the law for a husband and his wife, which is intimately connected with conjugal happiness, and the manner of raising offspring in times of calamity; learn (now the law concerning) the division of the inheritance.
  72. After the death of the father and of the mother, the brothers, being assembled, may divide among themselves in equal shares the paternal (and the maternal) estate; for, they have no power (over it) while the parents live.
  73. (Or) the eldest alone may take the whole paternal estate, the others shall live under him just as (they lived) under their father.
  74. Immediately on the birth of his first-born a man is (called) the father of a son and is freed from the debt to the manes; that (son), therefore, is worthy (to receive) the whole estate.
  75. That son alone on whom he throws his debt and through whom he obtains immortality, is begotten for (the fulfilment of) the law; all the rest they consider the offspring of desire.
  76. As a father (supports) his sons, so let the eldest support his younger brothers, and let them also in accordance with the law behave towards their eldest brother as sons (behave towards their father).
  77. The eldest (son) makes the family prosperous or, on the contrary, brings it to ruin; the eldest (is considered) among men most worthy of honour, the eldest is not treated with disrespect by the virtuous.
  78. If the eldest brother behaves as an eldest brother (ought to do), he (must be treated) like a mother and like a father; but if he behaves in a manner unworthy of an eldest brother, he should yet be honoured like a kinsman.
  79. Either let them thus live together, or apart, if (each) desires (to gain) spiritual merit; for (by their living) separate (their) merit increases, hence separation is meritorious.
  80. The additional share (deducted) for the eldest shall be one-twentieth (of the estate) and the best of all chattels, for the middlemost half of that, but for the youngest one-fourth.
  81. Both the eldest and the youngest shall take (their shares) according to (the rule just) stated (each of) those who are between the eldest and the youngest, shall have the share (prescribed for the) middlemost.
  82. Among the goods of every kind the eldest shall take the best (article), and (even a single chattel) which is particularly good, as well as the best of ten (animals).
  83. But among (brothers) equally skilled in their occupations, there is no additional share, (consisting of the best animal) among ten; some trifle only shall be given to the eldest as a token of respect.
  84. If additional shares are thus deducted, one must allot equal shares (out of the residue to each); but if no deduction is made, the allotment of the shares among them shall be (made) in the following manner.
  85. Let the eldest son take one share in excess, the (brother) born next after him one (share) and a half, the younger ones one share each; thus the law is settled.
  86. But to the maiden (sisters) the brothers shall severally give (portions) out of their shares, each out of his share one-fourth part; those who refuse to give (it), will become outcasts.
  87. Let him never divide (the value of) a single goat or sheep, or a (single beast) with uncloven hoofs; it is prescribed (that) a single goat or sheep (remaining after an equal division, belongs) to the eldest alone.
  88. If a younger brother begets a son on the wife of the elder, the division must then be made equally; this the law is settled.
  89. The representative (the son begotten on the wife) is not invested with the right of the principal (the eldest brother to an additional share); the principal (became) a father on the

procreation (of a son by his younger brother); hence one should give a share to the (son begotten on the wife of the elder brother) according to the rule (stated above).

  1. If there be a doubt, how the division shall be made, in case the younger son is born of the elder wife and the elder son of the younger wife,
  2. (Then the son) born of the first wife shall take as his additional share one (most excellent) bull; the next best bulls (shall belong) to those (who are) inferior on account of their mothers.
  3. But the eldest (son, being) born of the eldest wife, shall receive fifteen cows and a bull, the other sons may then take shares according to (the seniority of) their mothers; that is a settled rule.
  4. Between sons born of wives equal (in caste) (and) without (any other) distinction no seniority in right of the mother exists; seniority is declared (to be) according to birth.
  5. And with respect to the Subrahmanya (texts) also it is recorded that the invocation (of Indra shall be made) by the first-born, of twins likewise, (conceived at one time) in the wombs

(of their mothers) the seniority is declared (to depend) on (actual) birth.

  1. He who has no son may make his daughter in the following manner an appointed daughter (putrika, saying to her husband), ‘The (male) child, born of her, shall perform my funeral rites.’
  2. According to this rule Daksha, himself, lord of created beings, formerly made (all his female offspring) appointed daughters in order to multiply his race.
  3. He gave ten to Dharma, thirteen to Kasyapa, twenty-seven to King Soma, honouring (them) with an affectionate heart.
  4. A son is even (as) oneself, (such) a daughter is equal to a son; how can another (heir) take the estate, while such (an appointed daughter who is even) oneself, lives?
  5. But whatever may be the separate property of the mother, that is the share of the unmarried daughter alone; and the son of an (appointed) daughter shall take the whole estate of (his maternal grandfather) who leaves no son.
  6. The son of an (appointed) daughter, indeed, shall (also) take the estate of his (own) father, who leaves no (other) son; he shall (then) present two funeral cakes to his own father and to his maternal grandfather.
  7. Between a son’s son and the son of an (appointed) daughter there is no difference, neither with respect to worldly matters nor to sacred duties; for their father and mother both sprang from the body of the same (man).
  8. But if, after a daughter has been appointed, a son be born (to her father), the division (of the inheritance) must in that (case) be equal; for there is no right of primogeniture for a woman.
  9. But if an appointed daughter by accident dies without (leaving) a son, the husband of the appointed daughter may, without hesitation, take that estate.
  10. Through that son whom (a daughter), either not appointed or appointed, may bear to (a husband) of equal (caste), his maternal grandfather (has) a son’s son; he shall present the funeral cake and take the estate.
  11. Through a son he conquers the worlds, through a son’s son he obtains immortality, but through his son’s grandson he gains the world of the sun.
  12. Because a son delivers (trayate) his father from the hell called Put, he was therefore called put-tra (a deliverer from Put) by the Self-existent (Svayambhu) himself.
  13. Between a son’s son and the son of a daughter there exists in this world no difference; for even the son of a daughter saves him (who has no sons) in the next world, like the son’s son.
  14. Let the son of an appointed daughter first present a funeral cake to his mother, the second to her father, the funeral to his father’s father.
  15. Of the man who has an adopted (Datrima) son possessing all good qualities, that same (son) shall take the inheritance, though brought from another family.
  16. An adopted son shall never take the family (name) and the estate of his natural father; the funeral cake follows the family (name) and the estate, the funeral offerings of him who gives (his son in adoption) cease (as far as that son is concerned).
  17. The son of a wife, not appointed (to have issue by another), and he whom (an appointed female, already) the mother of a son, bears to her brother-in-law, are both unworthy of a share, (one being) the son of an adulterer and (the other) produced through (mere) lust.
  18. Even the male (child) of a female (duly) appointed, not begotten according to the rule (given above), is unworthy of the paternal estate; for he was procreated by an outcast.
  19. A son (legally) begotten on such an appointed female shall inherit like a legitimate son of the body; for that seed and the produce belong, according to the law, to the owner of the soil.
  20. He who takes care of his deceased brother’s estate and of his widow, shall, after raising up a son for his brother, give that property even to that (son).
  21. If a woman (duly) appointed bears a son to her brother-in-law or to another (Sapinda), that (son, if he is) begotten through desire, they declare (to be) incapable of inheriting and to be produced in vain.
  22. The rules (given above) must be understood (to apply) to a distribution among sons of women of the same (caste); hear (now the law) concerning those begotten by one man on many wives of different (castes).
  23. If there be four wives of a Brahmana in the direct order of the castes, the rule for the division (of the estate) among the sons born of them is as follows:
  24. The (slave) who tills (the field), the bull kept for impregnating cows, the vehicle, the ornaments, and the house shall be given as an additional portion to the Brahmana (son), and one most excellent share.
  25. Let the son of the Brahmana (wife) take three shares of the (remainder of the) estate, the son of the Kshatriya two, the son of the Vaisya a share and a half, and the son of the Sudra may take one share.
  26. Or let him who knows the law make ten shares of the whole estate, and justly distribute them according to the following rule:
  27. The Brahmana (son) shall take four shares, son of the Kshatriya (wife) three, the son of the Vaisya shall have two parts, the son of the Sudra may take one share.
  28. Whether (a Brahmana) have sons or have no sons (by wives of the twice-born castes), the (heir) must, according to the law, give to the son of a Sudra (wife) no more than a tenth (part of his estate).
  29. The son of a Brahmana, a Kshatriya, and a Vaisya by a Sudra (wife) receives no share of the inheritance; whatever his father may give to him, that shall be his property.
  30. All the sons of twice-born men, born of wives of the same caste, shall equally divide the estate, after the others have given to the eldest an additional share.
  31. For a Sudra is ordained a wife of his own caste only (and) no other; those born of her shall have equal shares, even if there be a hundred sons.
  32. Among the twelve sons of men whom Manu, sprung from the Self-existent (Svayambhu), enumerates, six are kinsmen and heirs, and six not heirs, (but) kinsmen.
  33. The legitimate son of the body, the son begotten on a wife, the son adopted, the son made, the son secretly born, and the son cast off, (are) the six heirs and kinsmen.
  34. The son of an unmarried damsel, the son received with the wife, the son bought, the son begotten on a re-married woman, the son self-given, and the son of a Sudra female, (are) the six (who are) not heirs, (but) kinsmen.
  35. Whatever result a man obtains who (tries to) cross a (sheet of) water in an unsafe boat, even that result obtains he who (tries to) pass the gloom (of the next world) with (the help of) bad (substitutes for a real) son.
  36. If the two heirs of one man be a legitimate son of his body and a son begotten on his wife, each (of the two sons), to the exclusion of the other, shall take the estate of his (natural) father.
  37. The legitimate son of the body alone (shall be) the owner of the paternal estate; but, in order to avoid harshness, let him allow a maintenance to the rest.
  38. But when the legitimate son of the body divides the paternal estate, he shall give one-sixth or one-fifth part of his father’s property to the son begotten on the wife.
  39. The legitimate son and the son of the wife (thus) share the father’s estate; but the other tell become members of the family, and inherit according to their order (each later named on failure of those named earlier).
  40. Him whom a man begets on his own wedded wife, let him know to be a legitimate son of the body (Aurasa), the first in rank.
  41. He who was begotten according to the peculiar law (of the Niyoga) on the appointed wife of a dead man, of a eunuch, or of one diseased, is called a son begotten on a wife (Kshetraga).
  42. That (boy) equal (by caste) whom his mother or his father affectionately give, (confirming the gift) with (a libation of) water, in times of distress (to a man) as his son, must be considered as an adopted son (Datrima).
  43. But he is considered a son made (Kritrima) whom (a man) makes his son, (he being) equal (by caste), acquainted with (the distinctions between) right and wrong, (and) endowed with filial virtues.
  44. If (a child) be born in a man’s house and his father be not known, he is a son born secretly in the house (Gudhotpanna), and shall belong to him of whose wife he was born.
  45. He whom (a man) receives as his son, (after he has been) deserted by his parents or by either of them, is called a son cast off (Apaviddha).
  46. A son whom a damsel secretly bears in the house of her father, one shall name the son of an unmarried damsel (Kanina, and declare) such offspring of an unmarried girl (to belong) to him who weds her (afterwards).
  47. If one marries, either knowingly or unknowingly, a pregnant (bride), the child in her womb belongs to him who weds her, and is called (a son) received with the bride (Sahodha).
  48. If a man buys a (boy), whether equal or unequal (in good qualities), from his father and mother for the sake of having a son, that (child) is called a (son) bought (Kritaka).
  49. If a woman abandoned by her husband, or a widow, of her own accord contracts a second marriage and bears (a son), he is called the son of a re-married woman (Paunarbhava).
  50. If she be (still) a virgin, or one who returned (to her first husband) after leaving him, she is worthy to again perform with her second (or first deserted) husband the (nuptial) ceremony.
  51. He who, having lost his parents or being abandoned (by them) without (just) cause, gives himself to a (man), is called a son self-given (Svayamdatta).
  52. The son whom a Brahmana begets through lust on a Sudra female is, (though) alive (parayan), a corpse (sava), and hence called a Parasava (a living corpse).
  53. A son who is (begotten) by a Sudra on a female slave, or on the female slave of his slave, may, if permitted (by his father), take a share (of the inheritance); thus the law is settled.
  54. These eleven, the son begotten on the wife and the rest as enumerated (above), the wise call substitutes for a son, (taken) in order (to prevent) a failure of the (funeral) ceremonies.
  55. Those sons, who have been mentioned in connection with (the legitimate son of the body), being begotten by strangers, belong (in reality) to him from whose seed they sprang, but not to the other (man who took them).
  56. If among brothers, sprung from one (father), one have a son, Manu has declared them all to have male offspring through that son.
  57. If among all the wives of one husband one have a son, Manu declares them all (to be) mothers of male children through that son.
  58. On failure of each better (son), each next inferior (one) is worthy of the inheritance; but if there be many (of) equal (rank), they shall all share the estate.
  59. Not brothers, nor fathers, (but) sons take the paternal estate; but the father shall take the inheritance of (a son) who leaves no male issue, and his brothers.
  60. To three (ancestors) water must be offered, to three the funeral cake is given, the fourth (descendant is) the giver of these (oblations), the fifth has no connection (with them).
  61. Always to that (relative within three degrees) who is nearest to the (deceased) Sapinda the estate shall belong; afterwards a Sakulya shall be (the heir, then) the spiritual teacher or the pupil.
  62. But on failure of all (heirs) Brahmanas (shall) share the estate, (who are) versed the in the three Vedas, pure and self-controlled; thus the law is not violated.
  63. The property of a Brahmana must never be taken by the king, that is a settled rule; but (the property of men) of other castes the king may take on failure of all (heirs).
  64. (If the widow) of (a man) who died without leaving issue, raises up to him a son by a member of the family (Sagotra), she shall deliver to that (son) the whole property which belonged to the (deceased).
  65. But if two (sons), begotten by two (different men), contend for the property (in the hands) of their mother, each shall take, to the exclusion of the other, what belonged to his father.
  66. But when the mother has died, all the uterine brothers and the uterine sisters shall equally divide the mother’s estate.
  67. Even to the daughters of those (daughters) something should be given, as is seemly, out of the estate of their maternal grandmother, on the score of affection.
  68. What (was given) before the (nuptial) fire, what (was given) on the bridal procession, what was given in token of love, and what was received from her brother, mother, or father, that is called the sixfold property of a woman.
  69. (Such property), as well as a gift subsequent and what was given (to her) by her affectionate husband, shall go to her offspring, (even) if she dies in the lifetime of her husband.
  70. It is ordained that the property (of a woman married) according to the Brahma, the Daiva, the Arsha, the Gandharva, or the Pragapatya rite (shall belong) to her husband alone, if she dies without issue.
  71. But it is prescribed that the property which may have been given to a (wife) on an Asura marriage or (one of the) other (blamable marriages, shall go) to her mother and to her father, if she dies without issue.
  72. Whatever property may have been given by her father to a wife (who has co-wives of different castes), that the daughter (of the) Brahmani (wife) shall take, or that (daughter’s) issue.
  73. Women should never make a hoard from (the property of) their families which is common to many, nor from their own (husbands’ particular) property without permission.
  74. The ornaments which may have been worn by women during their husbands’ lifetime, his heirs shall not divide; those who divide them become outcasts.
  75. Eunuchs and outcasts, (persons) born blind or deaf, the insane, idiots and the dumb, as well as those deficient in any organ (of action or sensation), receive no share.
  76. But it is just that (a man) who knows (the law) should give even to all of them food and raiment without stint, according to his ability; he who gives it not will become all outcast.
  77. If the eunuch and the rest should somehow or other desire to (take) wives, the offspring of such among them as have children is worthy of a share.
  78. Whatever property the eldest (son) acquires (by his own exertion) after the father’s death, a share of that (shall belong) to his younger (brothers), provided they have made a due progress in learning.
  79. But if all of them, being unlearned, acquire property by their labour, the division of that shall be equal, (as it is) not property acquired by the father; that is a settled rule.
  80. Property (acquired) by learning belongs solely to him to whom (it was given), likewise the gift of a friend, a present received on marriage or with the honey-mixture.
  81. But if one of the brothers, being able (to maintain himself) by his own occupation, does not desire (a share of the family) property, he may be made separate (by the others) receiving a trifle out of his share to live upon.
  82. What one (brother) may acquire by his labour without using the patrimony, that acquisition, (made solely) by his own effort, he shall not share unless by his own will (with his brothers).
  83. But if a father recovers lost ancestral property, he shall not divide it, unless by his own will, with his sons, (for it is) self-acquired (property).

Seven Vows in Hindu Wedding and its Religious and Social Importance

Marriages, around the world in every culture and religion, is considered a sacred institution. The wedding celebrations are always exuberant, even though the rituals and customs vary from each other. Similarly, Hindu weddings are one grand affair with the main attraction being varied rituals and traditions that have both religious as well as social significance. Amongst the most prominent Hindu wedding ritual is ‘seven vows or Saptapadi which are performed along with Mangal Pheras (walking around the sacred fire). Even though the vows were curated ages ago, they have an essence of modern values where couple stand equally and promises each other lifelong companionship. Each pledge revolves the necessary elements required to make the marriage successful and the bond between the partners stronger. Here’s all you should know about the seven vows of a Hindu wedding and its social importance.

The beauty of Hindu weddings lies in the fact that even the smallest gesture has some cultural or religious significance. For the seven vows to take place, the holy fire is lit using wood, ghee, and cow manure in the havan kund (sacred fireplace). The combustion of wood and ghee is said to protect the ozone layer and doing this during the holy matrimony is reckoned to be a gesture of care towards the environment.

According to Hindu mythology, fire is one of five natural elements (Panch Tatva) that make the human body, and thus, considered important. It is believed that fire is capable of tying the couple in an eternal bond of marriage since fire is one thing that separates them from each other. In Hindu religion, the body is burnt after the death of a person.

The seating arrangement during the seven vows had also been carefully decided. According to Vedas, the bride is initially seated on the right-hand side of the groom; after the completion of the vows, she is asked to sit on the left side of the groom indicating is now closer to his heart.

Now that you have understood the relevance of the ritual, let us move forward to the seven vows and what they mean:

First Vow:

“Om esha ekapadi bhava iti prathaman,” the groom says.
“Dhanam dhanyam pade vadet,” the bride complies.

In the first vow, the groom says I will provide welfare and happiness for you and the children that we bear and you shall offer me food and help whenever it is required. In response to this, the bride promises to be responsible for the complete household management.

The vow beckons the willingness of both the partners to bring prosperity in their lives; each is agreeing to fulfil their respective role.

Second Vow:

“Om oorje jara dastayaha,” the groom says.
“Kutumbum rakshayishyammi sa aravindharam,” the bride replies.

In the second vow, the groom says that together, we will protect our children and home, and the bride in return promises to stand with her husband as his strength and courage. She pledges to rejoice in his happiness and in return, demands him to be loyal to her.

The second vow is where the couple seeks union on emotional, mental, and spiritual levels. Since they will be partners, they seek strength for protecting each other through all phases of life.

Third Vow:

“Om rayas santu joradastayaha,” the groom says.
“Rava bhakti as vadedvachacha,” the bride assures.

In the third vow, the groom hopes for a wealthy and prosperous future for both of them and their children. The bride responses by giving an assurance of staying loyal to her husband and putting every other man in her life as secondary.

The third sacred vow of Hindu wedding is where the bride and the groom pray together for wealth and prosperity and promises to fulfil their spiritual obligations. They also seek blessings for the ability to educate their children and look after all their needs. The vow beckons physical and spiritual loyalty of the bride and groom towards each other throughout their lives.

Fourth Vow:

“Om mayo bhavyas jaradastaya ha,” the groom says.
“Lalayami cha pade vadet,” the bride responses.

In the fourth vow, the groom declares to the bride that she has made her life complete and promises to respect her. He hopes for their children to be obedient and noble. He also hopes for a long life of their children and expresses interest in striving for their education. The bride promises her husband to shower with joy and happiness and do everything possible to please him.

The fourth vow of the Hindu wedding ritual indicated the importance of a family in Indian society. The couple pledges to strengthen their family together by upholding family values. The couple also expresses gratitude towards each other as well and seeks blessings for their future progeny pray to be noble and obedient. They also vow to be responsible parents to the children and provide them with education and correct upbringing.

Fifth Vow:

“Om prajabhyaha santu jaradastayaha,” the groom declares.
“Arte arba sapade vadet,” the bride replies.

In the fifth vow, the groom calls the bride his best friend and a well-wisher. He thanks her, and asks God to bless her. To this, the bride promises to love and cherish him all her life. She says that his happiness and sorrows are now her happiness and sorrows. The bride promises to the groom to honour him and strive to fulfill his wishes.

The fifth vow of the wedding beckons the importance of loyalty and dependency on each other. The groom expresses his gratitude and calls the bride his best friend, whereas, the bride, in return, promises to love and cherish their relationship forever.

Sixth Vow:

“Rutubhyah shat padi bhava,” the groom says.
“Yajna hom shashthe vacho vadet,” the bride promises.

In the sixth vow, the groom says to the bride “Now that you have taken six steps with me and I am delighted. Would you promise to fill my heart with the same happiness for the lifetime?” To this, the bride promises to be by her husband all her life. Together they pray to seek the blessings of God to bestow them with a long and healthy life that is replete with peace and prosperity.

The sixth vow gives the groom the opportunity to tell his bride the depth of his happiness to be able to find her. The bride affirms her affection towards the groom promises to stand by him forever. This vow also beckons the importance of health, peace, and prosperity in one’s life.

Seventh Vow:

“Om sakhi jaradastayahga,” the groom says.
“Attramshe sakshino vadet pade,” the bride replies.

In the seventh and last vow, the groom declares “we are now husband and wife, and now we will stay together for eternity.” In its reply, the bride says that with God being the witness, she is now his wife and says that both of them will cherish and honour each other forever.

The final vow that beckons the completion of the holy union is sealed with a pledge of being companions for life. The couple promises to stand by each other and be true in their relationship always. The oath of loyalty and the willingness to spend a life with not another human being but with a friend, are the things that make the last vow a special one.

The Seven Vows of Hindu Marriage

Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest and most diverse religions, with a rich cultural heritage and traditions passed down through generations. One of the most important aspects of Hinduism is the institution of marriage, which is considered a sacred bond between two individuals, not just for this life but for many lifetimes to come. The Seven Vows of Hindu Marriage, also known as the Saptapadi, are an integral part of the Hindu wedding ceremony and represent the seven promises the bride and groom make to each other.

What is Saptapadi?

The Saptapadi is a symbolic ritual with more profound spiritual and philosophical significance. Each vow represents a particular virtue or values the couple must imbibe to lead a fulfilling life. These vows are not confined to the marriage ceremony but should be followed throughout their life together. In ancient times, the Saptapadi was performed by the couple walking around a sacred fire seven times, each taking one of the seven vows. In modern times, the Saptapadi is performed by the couple taking seven steps together, each symbolizing one of the seven vows. The priest recites the vows, and the couple repeats them after him.

Seven Vows of Hindu Marriage

The Seven Vows or Seven Phere is a significant ritual in Hindu wedding ceremonies. The bride and groom take seven vows during this ritual while circumambulating around the sacred fire (Agni). The seven vows represent the couple’s promises to each other for a happy and prosperous married life. Here are the seven vows of Hindu marriage:

The First Vow: The Vow of Spiritual Union

The first vow, the Vow of Spiritual Union, represents the couple’s commitment to each other and the divine. The bride and groom promise to respect and honour each other’s spiritual beliefs and to support each other on their spiritual journeys.

The Second Vow: The Vow of Strength

The second vow, also known as the Vow of Strength, represents the couple’s commitment to each other during times of joy and sorrow. The bride and groom promise to provide each other with strength and support in times of need and to work together to overcome any obstacles that may come their way.

The Third Vow: The Vow of Prosperity

The third vow, also known as the Vow of Prosperity, represents the couple’s commitment to building a life of prosperity together. The bride and groom promise to share their wealth and resources and to work together to create a home filled with love, abundance, and happiness.

The Fourth Vow: The Vow of Happiness

The fourth vow, the Vow of Happiness, represents the couple’s commitment to each other’s happiness. The bride and groom promise to support each other’s dreams and aspirations and to create a life filled with joy, laughter, and love.

The Fifth Vow: The Vow of Offspring

The fifth vow, the Vow of Offspring, represents the couple’s commitment to building a family together. The bride and groom promise to love and care for their children and to provide them with a life filled with love, education, and support.

The Sixth Vow: The Vow of Harmony

The sixth vow, also known as the Vow of Harmony, represents the couple’s commitment to living in harmony with each other and the world around them. The bride and groom promise to respect and honour each other’s differences and work together to create a peaceful and harmonious life.

The Seventh Vow: The Vow of Unity

The seventh vow, also known as the Vow of Unity, represents the couple’s commitment to each other for all eternity. The bride and groom promise to remain faithful and loyal to each other and to love each other unconditionally for all lifetimes.


The Seven Vows of Hindu Marriage is a beautiful and meaningful representation of a couple’s commitment and love. Each vow represents a different aspect of a successful and fulfilling marriage, and together they form a strong foundation for a lifetime of happiness and love. The Seven Vows is an essential part of the Hindu wedding ceremony and remind the couple of their promises to each other and the divine.

Experienced marriage lawyers in Dubai

Marriage is a sacred union, and we understand that every couple wishes to celebrate their love especially. At Dubai Court Marriage, our experienced marriage lawyers specialize in facilitating Hindu marriages and ensuring that the ceremony follows the couple’s customs and traditions. Our marriage lawyer will assist you with all the legal documentation required for the wedding, ensuring that everything is done promptly and efficiently. From drafting the marriage contract to arranging for witnesses, our marriage lawyers will take care of all the legal formalities so you can focus on enjoying your special day.

Significance And Meaning Of 7 Vows Of Marriage

Married or not, we are all aware of the 7 vows of marriage. In Hindu marriages, these 7 vows of marriage are called saath phere. These saath phere are the sacred rounds taken by the bride and groom take around the holy fire. Each of these seven rounds stands for a vow or promise that the bride and groom make towards each other. So, here we are to tell you the meaning and significance of these 7 vows of marriage or saath phere that bind the couple together for eternity.

Here Are What The 7 Vows Of Marriage Signifies And Symbolizes:

7 Vows Of Marriage: 1st Phera Signifies – Nourishment

Groom: “Om Esha Ekapadi Bhava Iti Prathaman”

This means that the groom promises that he would provide happiness, nourish and bring food to the table.

Bride: “Dhanam Dhanyam Pade Vadet”

In response, the bride promises to take care of the household whilst sharing the groom’s responsibility unitedly.

The first phera signifies the bride and groom’s willingness to bring prosperity in their lives while fulfilling their respective responsibilities.

7 Vows Of Marriage: 2nd Phera Signifies – Strength

Groom: “Om Oorje Jara Dastayaha”

The groom seeks from God the physical and mental strength to face life’s challenges. He also promises to support his wife in ups and down that life puts them through and ensures to protect their house, family and children.

Bride: “Kutumburn Rakshayishyammi Sa Aravindharam”

In response, the bride ensures that she will be by his side to encourage him in all his endeavours. Also, in return, she asks the groom to love her solely.

In the second phera the couple prays to God for physical and mental strength to lead a blissful life.

7 Vows Of Marriage: 3rd Phera Signifies – Wealth and Prosperity

Groom: “Om Rayas Santu Joraa Dastayaha”

The groom promises to work to ensure that he brings prosperity to his family and provide good education to our children. He also promises to be faithful to his wife and lead a spiritual life.

Bride: “Tava Bhakti as Vadedvachacha”

The bride promises that she will whole heartedly love him and will be devoted to their family and every other man in her life will be hereon secondary to her.

In this phera, the couple asks God to bless them in the abundance of everything that they need to live a comfortable and prosperous life.

7 Vows Of Marriage: 4th Phera Signifies – Family

Groom’s Promise: “Om Mayo Bhavyas Jaradastaya Ha”

The Groom promises the bride that hereon their family will be his utmost priority. He thanks his bride for making his life full of happiness and good fortune. He further prays to God to bless them with obedient children.

Bride’s Promise: “Lalayami Cha Pade Vadet.”

The bride promises to love her husband and shower him with joy and happiness. She says she will stick by him through thick and thin.

The fourth phera is for the couple to promise each other that they will shower happiness, love and respect on each other.

Also, here is all you need to know about the Hindu wedding rituals and customs.

7 Vows Of Marriage: 5th Phera Signifies – Progeny And Children

Groom: “Om Prajabhayaha Santu Jaradastayaha”

The Groom prays to the Almighty for healthy, obedient, righteous and brave children. He promises that he and his better half will be good parents and will raise the children well and provide them with all necessities. Further, the groom promises the bride that he will nourish their relationship with respect and love and expresses gratitude for her presence in his life.

Bride: “Arte Arba Sapade Vadet”

To this, the bride responds that she will trust him, love him and respect him till her last breath. Promises that her happiness lies in his happiness and she will build a happy home for their children.

The fifth phera is all about praying for noble and loving children. The couple wishes and promises to each other to lead a love-filled life, support their dreams, and accept them for who they are.

7 Vows Of Marriage: 6th Phera Signifies – Health And Happiness

Groom: “Rutubhyah Shat Padi Bhava”

For the sixth phera, the groom expresses that he is overwhelmed with joy that his bride is taking the sixth phera with him. He asks the bride if she promises to fill his heart with the same happiness for a lifetime?

Bride: “Yajna Hom Shashthe Vacho Vadet”

The bride promises to be always by his side and stand together through all the joys and sorrows of life.

The sixth phera is all about happy and harmonious life together. It gives the groom the opportunity to tell his bride the depth of his love and the happiness he has felt after finding her. While the bride affirms her affection towards the groom and promises to stand by him forever. This vow beckons the importance of health, peace, and prosperity in one’s life.

7 Vows Of Marriage: 7th Phera Signifies – Love And Friendship

Groom: “Om Sakhi Jaradastayahga”

The groom declares each other as man and wife by reciting the mantra. He promises his wife that he is hers and she is his for eternity. With the last phera, he promises that they both will be a single entity and he will be devoted to her.

Bride: “Attramshe Sakshino Vadet Pade”

The bride accepts the vow and promises, with God and the holy fire being our witness, she is now his wife. She vows to live and love with honor and cherish each other forever. She proclaims that she will do all the possible things to keep up the promises that have been made during the holy rituals.

In the seventh and the last phera together, the couple seals the bond and promises to be faithful companions.

The Hindu Wedding

In the ceremony, the Groom and Bride represent Lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi. They sit on an elevated platform above the congregation. Below them lies the holy ground, the ceremonial area (Manavari). Here the Priest chants sacred, ancient prayers (Mantras) throughout the ceremony to invoke deities to be present.

  1. Arrival Of The Groom

The Groom is accompanied by his Tholan (akin to a best man) who is the Bride’s brother. As a token of appreciation, he presents the Tholan with a gold ring. Aarathi (a tray of light that is circled) is then performed in order to welcome him and to forestall any mishaps in the proceedings. The Groom is received by the Bride’s father who adorns him with a garland and is then led to Manavarai.

  1. Santification And Protection

The Priest offers a prayer to Lord Ganesh, invoking his blessings for the wedding to take place without any hindrances. The Priest begins the purification of the Groom by placing a Thetpai (ceremonial ring) on his finger and fastening a saffron thread around his wrist to enlist divine protection from the unforeseen. A coconut is broken by one of the Groom’s accompanied relatives.

  1. Arrival of The Bride

The Bride is led to the Manavarai by the Tholi (akin to a Best Friend), Groom’s sister, her parents and the bridesmaids. The Priest then conducts the same purification and protection rituals for Bride, as he had conducted for the Groom. He lights Agni (the sacred fir), to witness the ceremony, bless the couple and give radiance and strength to their marriage.

  1. Giving Away The Bride

Kannika Dhaanam is the ceremony in which the Bride’s parents give their daughter’s hand in marriage to the Groom. Performs the rituals by placing the Bride’s right hand in the palm of the Groom’s right hand together with a gold bracelet, symbolic of a proud possesion. The koorai saree (bridal saree) and thaali kodi (wedding chain) taken around the congregation for their blessings. Groom then presents the koorai saree to the Bride, who leaves to change into it.

  1. Seven Steps And Pradakshanam

The couple take seven symbolic steps (sapta padi). The first step to nourish each other. The second step to grow together instrength. The third step to perform religious duties together. The fourth step to share joys and sorrow through mutal love and trust. The fifth step to be blessed with children. The sixth step to remain lifelong friends. The seventh step to fulfuill all duties together. The Groom places the Bride’s right foot on an ammi (granite stone), represnting a strong foundation in life and places a silver ring on her second toe. He does the same for her left foot.

  1. The Thaali Ceremony

Bride returns to the manavarai wearing her koorai saree and places a garland around Groom signifying her choice. This is the most important part of the wedding. To the resounding melam (drum beat) and nadaswaram (classical music) rising to a crescendo, the groom ties the thaali around the Bride’s neck. This act is timed precisely to the auspicous moment (muhurtham), which is determined, by astrologers and Priests prior to the wedding. All those assembled shower them with saffron, coloured rice and flowerpetals as an act of blessing. Bride then takes her seat, this time to the left of the Groom. Red powder (kumkum) is placed on the Bride’s forehead symbolising that she is now a married woman. The new positions of the Bride and Groom symbolise the union of Lord Shiva and Parvathi – the union between two souls into one. In the eyes of God, Groom, and Bride are now united as husband and wife.

  1. Exchange of Garlands

This exchange of garlands (maalai maathal) represents the symbolic unification of the wedded couple.

  1. Finding The Ring

The Priest drops a gold ring into a pot filled with water. Bride and Groom put their hands into the pot, taking turns to find the ring. This symbolises the giving and taking necessary in marriage, which is important to overcome and of life’s difficulties.

Hindu Symbolism

The Welcome –

Guest are welcomed with the sparkeling of rosewater sandalwood paste and red saffron (kumkum). A sugary sweet is presented to guests so that all words uttered of this occasion may be sweet.

Kolam –

These designs are usually drawn using rice flour. It symbolises welcome protective prayers and auspicous beginnings.

Water –

The element that gives life. Represents the dispelling of evil spirits.

Fire –

The element that dispels darkness.

Coconut –

Represents fertility.

Are Hindu Marriage Vows Misogynistic?

Should Hindu Marriage vows be rewritten to suit the times? The answer, as a study of the shastras show, is an emphatic No.

As quoted by Swami Vivekananda, in the Ramayana, once Rama and Sita had gone to visit a female sage in the forest during their banishment:

“Sita approached this sage and bowed down before her. The sage placed her hand on the head of Sita and said: “It is a great blessing to possess a beautiful body; you have that. It is a greater blessing to have a noble husband; you have that. It is the greatest blessing to be perfectly obedient to such a husband; you are that. You must be happy.”

Sita replied, “Mother, I am glad that God has given me a beautiful body and that I have so devoted a husband. But as to the third blessing, I do not know whether I obey him or he obeys me. One thing alone I remember, that when he took me by the hand before the sacrificial fire — whether it was a reflection of the fire or whether God himself made it appear to me — I found that I was his and he was mine. And since then, I have found that I am the complement of his life, and he of mine.”

Groom to Bride during the Hindu wedding ceremony (translated from Sanskrit):

“I am the sky, you are the earth. I am a song of the Samaveda, you are a Rik, a couplet of the Rigveda; I am thee and thou art me. We are married. Let us get virtuous progeny, who will be lovable, lustrous for us. Let us lead a long life in togetherness to enjoy one hundred autumnal seasons.”

In a recent column in Business Standard, Mitali Saran argues that Hindu wedding vows should be updated or rewritten by couples for the sake of gender equality. Her basic complaint is that the Sanskrit shlokas used for the wedding ceremony envision a specific division of labour (the woman doing the household work and the man earning for the family while being served by his wife at home) that is unfair to working women in today’s world. The column is rather shallow and gratuitously provocative, but raises two serious questions that deserve to be answered:

  1. Are the Hindu marriage vows inherently misogynistic?
  2. Even if those vows were once appropriate, have they become obsolete today?

There is enormous intricacy and subtlety in the rites of Hindu marriage, and there is also significant variation across different regions, sampradayas (religious traditions), and jatis (clans / socioeconomic groups). The importance of various rites and their different layers of meaning and symbolism deserves its own series of articles, but the focus of this piece will be on the saptapadi mantras, which are the mantras uttered during the seven rounds taken by the bride and groom around the consecrated fire.

The groom leads the bride around the fire for the first three rounds; the bride leads during the last four (which also shows their inherent equality in stature—sometimes the husband leads, sometimes the wife).

The vows themselves are as follows:

Bride and Groom together:

Let us walk together, hand in hand, the seven steps symbolic of the aspirations below:

May We take the first step together for sap (nourishment),

May We take the second step together for vigour,

May We take the third step together for thriving wealth,

May We take the fourth step together for comfort,

May We take the fifth step together for offspring,

May We take the sixth step together for the various seasons,

May We take the seventh step together for everlasting friendship.

You be my unswerving partner; (let us have many auspicious progeny who shall see long life crossing 80 years)

Personally, I find these vows to be extraordinarily rich and multifaceted, reflecting deep psychological and sociological insight into the various needs and phases that a married couple goes through. We do not see in these vows the misogyny alleged by Saran.

However, there is variation in the exact customs followed across regions and sociocultural groups according to various Grihya Sutras, and there appear to be certain interpretations or variations of these vows where the bride promises to cook for and please the groom, which is Saran’s main grievance.

Without getting into a lot of arcane debate about whether these alternative interpretations are authentic or interpolations, let us assume for the sake of argument that Saran is correct that in these vows there is emphasis on the bride’s promise to take care of the family, feed the family and serve and please her husband with no such corresponding vow required on the husband’s part. Even in such a scenario, the basic point is that a division of labour is not in and of itself unequal or derogatory towards woman.

There are differences in male and female psyches that lead to certain qualities predominating in men and others in women—as a general matter, not to be taken to extremes—and specialization in certain roles tends to optimize the different qualities in men and women for the benefit of all. (In fact, to characterize the role of women in the household as being secondary to office work or business is based on the sexist premise that the domain of the home is inferior to the domain of the workplace. Perhaps it is the husband who should be considered oppressed because he does not get to spend enough time at home!)

This does not mean that those gender roles are ossified for all times and in all circumstances—this is one model for society, and in the context of that model, these vows are entirely appropriate and cannot be considered to be derogatory towards women.

Saran’s chief complaint is that the bride is reduced to the lowly status of a maidservant. But in the Hindu conception of marriage and womanhood, as reflected in the shastras and the ordained rites, the bride is not at all a maidservant—rather, she is the one who reigns over the household.

The Sanskrit term for a wife is grhini, which means the owner of the house, whereas the term for husband, grhastha, means a mere resident of the house. If the wife were to have the same status as the husband, she would be known as a grhasthaa. In Tamil, too, the wife is illaal, one who owns the house, whereas the husband is illarattaan, one who performs the dharmic rites in the house.

The conception of the wife as reigning over the household stems from the Vedas themselves. In the Rg Veda, we find these beautiful quotations:

“Happy be you (as wife) and prosper with your children here (in the house): be vigilant to rule your household in this home (i.e. exercise your authority as the main figure in your home). Closely unite (be an active participant) in marriage with your husband. So shall you, full of years, address your company (i.e. have authority to speak over household matters).” (10.85.27);

“O Bride! May your father-in-law treat you as a queen. May your mother-in-law treat you as a Samrajni (queen). May the sisters and brothers of your husband treat you as a queen.” (10.85.46).

If we have fallen away from these ideals in the recent past, the fault lies in social decay and not in the beliefs and traditions that our rishis have passed down to us.

Unlike Saran, who seems to think that the work a woman does at home is demeaning, our acharyas and rishis held women in great reverence for the importance of their work and role, not just in the family but in society, and for the depth of their devotion and sacrifice.

In traditional Hinduism, the wife plays a fourfold role: she is ardhangini (the other half of her husband, metaphorically speaking); sahadharmini (partner in the fulfilment of human and divine goals—principally, the four purushartha, or aims of human life: dharma, artha (accumulation of wealth through righteous means), kama (fulfillment of desire through appropriate means) and moksha (self-realization; liberation from the cycle of birth and death)); sahakarmini, (partner in all acts and actions), and sahayogini (partner in all ventures).

Moreover, the wife’s role was not merely to ‘please’ her husband:

“It must be noted that a wife creates well-being for the world even as she does the work of cooking or as a source of sensual gratification for her husband… It is not that she cooks for the husband alone. She has to provide food every day to the guests, to the sick and to the birds and beasts and other creatures. This is how she serves the purpose of atithyam (serving unexpected guests) and vaisvadevam (serving sentient beings).”

In Hinduism, the role of cooking and feeding is not that of a lowly servant—it is a divine role manifested in the form of Annapurna Devi, the goddess of food and nourishment, from whom even Lord Shiva receives bhiksha (food gathered as alms through begging).

As eloquently explained by Swami Vivekananda:

“Why should the Hindu mother be worshipped? Our philosophers try to find a reason and they come to this definition: We call ourselves the Aryan race. What is an Aryan? He is a man whose birth is through religion. This is a peculiar subject, perhaps, in this country; but the idea is that a man must be born through religion, through prayers. If you take up our law books you will find chapters devoted to this—the prenatal influence of a mother on the child.

I know that before I was born, my mother would fast and pray and do hundreds of things which I could not even do for five minutes. She did that for two years. I believe that whatever religious culture I have, I owe to that. It was consciously that my mother brought me into the world to be what I am. Whatever good impulse I have was given to me by my mother—and consciously, not unconsciously.

The mother has to eat last. I have been asked many times in your country (the United States) why the (Hindu) husband does not sit with his wife to eat—if the idea is, perhaps, that the husband thinks she is too low a being. This explanation is not at all right.

The first part of the food—when it is ready—belongs to the guests and the poor, the second to the lower animals, the third to the children, the fourth to the husband, and last comes the mother. How many times I have seen my mother going to take her first meal when it was two o’clock. We took ours at ten and she at two because she had so many things to attend to. [For example], someone knocks at the door and says, “Guest”, and there is no food except what was for my mother. She would give that to him willingly and then wait for her own. That was her life and she liked it. And that is why we worship mothers as gods.”

The late Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Svami, explains that one of the three objectives of marriage is “to create a means for women (and men) to be freed from worldly existence. A man who is not yet fully mature inwardly is assisted in his karma by his wife. By doing so, by being totally devoted to her husband, she achieves maturity to a degree greater than he does.”

In return for the indispensable help a dharma-patni renders to her husband in carrying out his dharma and evolving spiritually, half of whatever punya karma (spiritual merit) the husband attains is transferred to her. On the other hand, none of the paapakarma (spiritual demerit) of her husband inures to her, and none of the punya karma of the wife is transferred to the husband.

So we see that in the marriage vows themselves and in the Hindu conception of woman and her role as a wife, she was in no way a mere maidservant or meant to be an appendage to serve her husband. Her role was much greater than that, and she was given due respect, reverence and recognition for her devotion and sacrifice that benefitted not just her husband, but also her own spiritual evolution and the society at large.

We now come to the second question, which is whether changes in the modern woman’s role at home and in the workforce render the Hindu wedding vows somehow obsolete. The question itself is based on a false premise that these vows are meant to be prescriptive in a literal sense. The Hindu conception of marriage is much more nuanced and diverse than that.

Traditionally, Hinduism recognizes eight forms of marriage: brahma (considered to be the highest form of marriage, where the groom’s parents approach the bride’s parents for kanyadana (giving away of their daughter to the others’ son)—here, the bride is sought out by the groom’s family); daiva (where the bride’s parents seek a groom in the area where sacrifices are performed and marry her to a priest who officiates the yajna); arsa (where the bride is given in exchange for two cows from the groom’s family, or alternatively, where the bride is married to a rishi); prajapatya (the same as the brahma style, but the bride’s parents must approach the groom’s parents instead); asura (where the groom is not a match for the bride, but money is given to the bride and her family in exchange); gandharva (where the bride and groom unite out of their own desires); raksasa (forcible abduction of the bride against the wishes of her family (but not necessarily of the bride herself)—this is the form in which Sri Krishna married Rukmini); and paisaca (where the bride does not or is unable to consent—for example, when a man seduces a girl who is unconscious or mentally incapacitated).

Even though the last two forms of marriage are generally discouraged by the shastras and our acharyas, they are recognized for a reason. In Hinduism, shastras are made for man; man is not made for the shastras. In other words, the shastras are developed based on the sociological reality of the day. That is why the smrti are ever-changing, and it is only the Vedas (sruti, that which has been revealed or heard) that are unchanging and eternal.

The Dharmashastras are meant to apply based on time, place and circumstance. Our shastras are not meant to be one-size-fits-all, and thus provision is made for diversity in cultures, customs and personality types. For example, those who are more accustomed to pleasure and sense gratification would be more likely to engage in the gandharva form of marriage.

Similarly, even though the raksasa and paisaca forms of marriage may be unethical, our shastras grant them some recognition so that, to the extent they occur, some provisions may be made for safeguarding the honour and dignity of the woman; however, because they are expressly disapproved of, their occurrence is meant to be minimized as much as possible.

No matter which form of marriage applies, the marriage vows are, at the core, the same. Why? Because there is a bhavana (feeling / state of mind / attitude) and code of values that underlies these Sanskrit shlokas that is universal—they are meant to promote certain vrttis (waves within our consciousness) and lakshanas (qualities that promote masculine virtues for the groom and feminine virtues for the bride).

The vows are not just the bride and groom promising fidelity to each other, but, at a deeper level, are a commitment to being partners who will together care for their families, observe together all of the rites and sacrifices enjoined by the Vedas in the spirit of loka sangraha (wellbeing for the world/ cosmos) and be companions who give comfort and strength to each other. These mantras sanctify and cement a bond between husband and wife and their respective families, and they promote social harmony by guiding couples on how to perform their individual and familial dharma.

No matter what form of marriage is chosen or what socioeconomic roles are assumed by the husband and wife, these core vows are applicable to all—they are the bonds through which a lifelong partnership are formed.

These mantras encode the blessings and tapasya (spiritual power) of our ancestors and devas, our rishis and acharyas, who are invoked through the marriage ceremony, and such mantras are not to be tampered with lightly.

It is not equivalent to the modern practice of couples writing vows to each other based on their personal feelings—there is nothing wrong with that practice but such vows should supplement, not supplant, the core mantras from the vivah samskara (the Hindu marriage rites).

There is a current of energy, of blessings and power in these mantras and rites, which transforms a marriage from a social contract and emotional bonding to a sacred covenant that is strong and lifelong (or, rather, seven lifetimes long).

The taking of Hindu marriage vows with utter sincerity and faith does not preclude a husband and wife from arranging (and rearranging) between themselves their roles within and without the household in new ways.

Hinduism does not promote a cookie cutter mould of our marriage—ours is a tradition that honours the Panchakanya (Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita or Kunti, Tara and Mandodari), venerated as the five ideal Hindu wives, although, in their own way, each of them led an unconventional married life.

The conception of Hindu marriage does not preclude a woman from working or a man from being a house husband. But there needs to be serious reflection on all of the important roles played by a married couple in the Hindu conception of society and how those roles and responsibilities may be carried out equitably in these new scenarios.

We cannot just discard those duties that have been enjoined upon as, but we can find new ways of carrying out those duties—for example, if people feel that Karva Chauth is too one-sided, nothing stops the husband from also fasting on that day (as I know many men do nowadays).

That would be a much healthier alternative than simply stopping the observance of Karva Chauth, as this is a vrata that strengthens the marital bond and also the bond between the bride and her new family. The integration of worship with the marital relationship in Hinduism makes Hindu marriages uniquely sacred and powerful, and we cannot lose that sacred link out of some cheap politicization of the gender wars.

When we understand the spirit of the Hindu wedding rites and mantras, the depth of feeling and philosophical intent behind them, it is impossible to think that they are inherently misogynistic.

Yes, it is true that the rites and mantras have been, through social custom, often interpreted in misogynistic ways. But that was not the original intent of the vivaha mantras. These mantras can be and should be understood, in spirit, in a way that is in harmony with the world in which we live today. That has always been the Hindu way.

That is why there are so many different Dharmashastras / Grihya Sutras—they have to be relevant to differing times, places and circumstances. That is what makes our spiritual tradition so unique—the flexibility of our shastras to encompass a wide variety of practices, beliefs and traditions while still retaining a universal framework of principles and values that applies to them all.

12+ Indian Wedding Traditions To Know

When most people think of Indian weddings, they think of saris with vibrant colors, mehndi (or mehendi), beautiful jewelry, and elaborate ceremonies. While these are all part of Indian weddings, there are many other traditions that play a role in the celebration.

From ceremonial fires to the exchanging of gifts, these traditions add an extra layer of excitement to the big day (or days!). In this post, we’ll focus on some of the more common Indian wedding traditions.


The period leading up to Indian weddings is just as important as the wedding itself. In fact, many of the traditions take place during this time. Here are some common pre-wedding Indian traditions:

Determining the Muhurat: Auspicious Date & Time

The first step in any Indian wedding is to consult with a pandit or Hindu priest. Based on the couple’s horoscopes, the pandit will help determine the “Muhurat” – the auspicious date and time for the wedding. This is an important step because it is believed that the wedding date and time can significantly impact the couple’s future.

After the date and time have been set, it’s time to send out the wedding invitations. In the old custom, the bride’s family pays for the wedding costs. In this case, the bride’s side would be in charge of coming up with the guest list and sending out the invitations.

Indian Wedding Traditions –
Today, the wedding is a celebration for both bride’s and groom’s families. Both sides will hand out invitations to their own guest list. Just like in American culture, it is customary to send out the invitations either by hand or through the mail.

The invitation suite often includes a list of all events that will take place during the wedding celebrations, similar to a wedding program, but more comprehensive and spanning multiple days.

Puja or Path – Prayers
Most weddings usually start their festivities with a religious ceremony at home or in a place of religious procession (a temple or gurudwara). “Puja” (Hinduism) or “Path” (Sikhism) means prayer offerings, and are often made to Lord Ganesh, the god of wisdom and salvation, and Lord Vruna, the god of Water.

Mehndi Party
An incredibly important event for the bride, the Mehndi party is usually held the night before the wedding. The bride gets her hands and feet decorated with beautiful Mehndi (henna) designs by professional mehndi artists, and her friends and family. These designs often take between four and ten hours to complete.

This event is usually a day before the wedding, since henna is usually brightest the day after an application. The bride will be careful not to submerge the henna in water so she doesn’t lose any color before the wedding.

This is a fun-filled event where the bride can relax and enjoy quality time with her friends, bridesmaids, and family. The Mehndi party celebrations traditionally involve singing and dancing in the bride’s home.

Indian Wedding Traditions –
A Mehndi invitation card is included in the invitation suite to send out to the guests. At Minted, all South Asian invitations have matching Sangeet and Mehndi invitation cards. If there is another design that you like that does not come with matching designs, each enclosure card can be modified to fit your needs with the help of a dedicated designer.

Once you have selected your Invitation design, you can carry through your theme from the invitations & wedding websites to the day-of stationery with menu cards, table numbers, place cards, and programs that correspond to your invitation design.

Sangeet and Tilak Ceremonies
Sangeet means “to sing together.” It’s a musical party typically held the night before the wedding. Even though the bride and groom are already engaged, the actual exchange of rings happens the night before the religious wedding.

The evening starts with the Tilak ceremony, where religious prayers are shared and a red dot is placed on the groom’s forehead by a family member (traditionally a maternal uncle). This red dot is called a tilak and is said to protect the groom from evil spirits.

Besides the religious prayer, an exchange of gifts between both sides of the families also takes place during this ceremony. Then, the family and friends prepare performances and/or skits full of singing and dancing to entertain the bride, groom, and guests.

Indian Wedding Traditions –

This event is an excellent opportunity to let loose and have fun before the big day, and a chance for the families to get to know each other better. The evening usually ends with an open dance floor that can last until late into the night.

Like the Mehndi party, the Sangeet parties can have their own invitations too, since each are discrete events


While the following are standard traditions on Indian wedding days, each culture within India has their own set of traditions depending on where you are in the country: North, South, East, or West.

No matter how many Indian weddings you go to, there is always a new tradition to witness, — part of what makes them such incredible and memorable experiences.

The Haldi Ceremony

The Haldi ceremony involves anointing the bride’s and groom’s skin with a paste of turmeric, sandalwood, and rosewater. It is traditionally believed that this paste will help them get rid of pre-wedding nerves and look their best on the big day.

Occurring the morning of the wedding, it’s a fun event with family members applying the paste on the bride and the groom – it can get messy! It lasts a few hours, is followed by lunch, and then families begin getting ready for evening festivities.

Traditionally, the ceremony is separate for the bride or groom since they’re not supposed to see each other until the wedding ceremony. Today this is followed less closely, and some brides and grooms decide to have a shared Haldi event.

Baraat & Kanya Aagaman – The Wedding Processions

The wedding procession, or Baraat, is the event that commences the start of the wedding and is one of the most important and exciting parts of the day. Traditionally, the groom arrives at the wedding venue on a decorated horse–or even an elephant–and it can take more than an hour. Nowadays, for practical reasons, some grooms opt to arrive in a flashy car, accompanied by his family and friends.

The groom’s side of the family is formally received by the bride’s side with garlands, lit candles, and vermillion bindis.

They may include the tradition where the groom pays money to his bride’s siblings and cousins to get into the wedding venue. Or the Joota Chupai custom, where the bride’s sisters and female relatives steal the groom’s shoes and demand a ransom for their return. The groom usually has to pay money or do a funny dance to get his shoes back after the ceremony. This playful tradition adds more light-hearted fun to the wedding festivities.

After the Baraat is received, the bride arrives at the mandap with her own procession of her parents, family, and close friends. During the bride’s arrival, or Kanya Aagaman, she is traditionally carried in a dolhi – which can range from a basic canopy or a highly ornate carriage – by her brothers and male cousins who also hold a large mesh of fresh flowers over her head.

Jai Mala – The Exchange of Garlands

This is more fun and games where the bride and groom exchange floral garlands – that represent commitment, happiness, and excitement – before the wedding ceremony officially begins. It happens on a stage different from the “mandap” (like an altar) where the religious ceremony will take place.

Like the rest of the wedding events, there is fun competition between the families during the Jai Mala. The groom’s side and bride’s side might playfully hinder the two while they’re trying to place the garlands on one another, and often they’re lifted off the ground to make it more difficult!

Pheras – The Ceremony Under the Wedding Mandap

After the garlands are exchanged and many photos are taken, the bride and groom proceed to the wedding mandap at the predetermined “mahurat.” (Depending on the mahurat the priest has determined, the ceremony could take time at any place during the day, so sometimes dinner is held before the Pheras.)

The wedding mandap is a special structure where the ceremony takes place. It’s usually decorated with flowers and sometimes has four pillars to symbolize the four stages of life according to Hindu Vedas.

The mandap is laid out as a square, with each side being occupied separately by the bride and groom, the parents of the bride, the parents of the groom, and the priest. In the center of the mandap is a small fire. The bride and groom will hold hands and walk around the lit fire four to seven times (Pheras) while they take their vows.

The priest here performs the “Puja” (prayers and rituals), with this part of the wedding lasting for a couple of hours or more, depending on specific subcultures. You’ll see both tears and smiles during this emotional time.

A critical point of the ceremony is when the groom places a line of “sindhoor” from the top of the forehead to the parting of her hair. This action marks the bride as a married woman. The Sindhoor is a vermillion or red-orange powder that’s mixed with some water to form a paste, and the line can be adorned with bindis or other decorative stones.

The groom will also tie a mangalsutra, or sacred necklace, around the bride’s neck as a symbol of their marital status and commitment to each other. The mangalsutra is usually made of gold and has black beads.

The Reception

After the ceremony, it’s time to celebrate! The reception is a grand affair, with lots of food and dancing. The bride and groom usually make a grand entrance into the reception hall, where their guests greet them.

They take turns dancing with each other and with their families and friends. Guests bring gifts for the couple, usually placed in a special box at the reception, ranging from clothes to jewelry to money.

Indian weddings are traditionally huge, with hundreds or even thousands of guests. So be prepared for a big party!

The Food

Indian weddings are known for their fantastic food served buffet-style. There will be plenty of delicious dishes that are primarily vegetarian.

And make sure you save room for seconds! There are often many different kinds of desserts, such as jalebi (a sweet fried pastry) and gulab jamun (similar to fried donuts in sugar syrup).

While the core families eat after the phera ceremony, a large number of guests can eat from the buffet before the religious ceremony is over – especially since the mahurat can be at any time in the evening.


Just because the wedding day is over doesn’t mean the festivities are! There are still many traditions that take place after the wedding.

Aashirwad Ceremony

The Aashirwad ceremony is when the elders bless the couple and give them their best wishes for a happy and prosperous life together. This is usually done by the parents, grandparents, or other close relatives.

After the Aashirwad ceremony, it’s time for the couple to leave for their new home! But before they do, the bride’s mother will break a coconut at the doorstep. This is considered good luck for the newlyweds.

Vidaai After this is the Vidaai, which is a very emotional moment for the bride and her family. It’s when the bride says goodbye to her family as she leaves to start her new life with her husband.

The bride will toss rice behind her as a sacred way to bless her family and thank them for all the years of nurturing. The Vidaai ceremony is often accompanied by tears, laughter, and lots of hugs and kisses as a happy ending to many beautiful events.

6 Pre-marriage Rituals in Hindu Culture: A Glimpse Into Indian Weddings

Indian weddings, especially in Hindu culture, is a sacred ceremony that unites two people to start their lives together. In the Vedas (the oldest scriptures of Hinduism), a Hindu marriage is for life and is considered as a union between two families, not just the couple. In general, Hindu marriages involve rituals and pre-wedding parties, which extend over several days but differ from community to community.

Every Hindu pre-wedding ritual prepares the bride and groom, and their respective families, for their big wedding day. These traditional rituals and ceremonies last for at least four to five days until the marriage day. To name the wedding ceremony in order, some of the most important rituals and customs are Sagai or ring ceremony, Sangeet ceremonyTilakMehendi, and Ganesh Puja ceremony, and each of them has its own symbolic importance in Indian weddings.

Read on to know more about pre-marriage rituals in Hinduism and the significance behind Hindu wedding traditions.

 1.Sagai (Ring Ceremony)

The Sagai or the Ring ceremony is the first in the wedding ceremony order. It marks the beginning of the wedding preparations and is considered an integral part of Indian weddings. It is celebrated in the presence of a Hindu priest (pujari) as well as close family members. The ring ceremony symbolizes that both the bride and groom are a couple now and willing to embark on their life together.

Typically, the sagai takes place a few months before the Hindu wedding. For the sagai, some families ask a priest to decide the auspicious time for the wedding ceremony. Both families exchange gifts like sweets, clothes, and jewelry as a tradition.

Apart from this, the date of the wedding is decided while parents and other elderly people bless the couple.

2. Tilak (Groom Acceptance Ceremony)

In the wedding ceremony order of events, perhaps the most essential pre-wedding function is the Tilak ceremony (the application of a red paste of kumkum on the groom’s forehead). It holds a significant position among all wedding ceremony rituals and customs. 

This particular Hindu wedding ceremony is performed differently across India (depending on the caste of the family). Tilak is mostly held at the groom’s residence and is usually attended by the male members of the family.

In this ceremony, the father or the brother of the bride applies tilak on the groom’s forehead. This signifies that the Hindu bride’s family has accepted him. They consider that he would be a loving husband and a responsible father in the future. It is also customary for both families to exchange gifts during the event. The tilak establishes a unique bond between both families.

3. Haldi(Turmeric Ceremony)

‘Haldi’ or turmeric holds a special place among many Indian wedding traditions. The Haldi ceremony is usually held a couple of days prior to the wedding at the couple’s respective residences. A Haldi or turmeric paste mixed with sandalwood, milk and rose water is applied to the bride and groom’s face, neck, hands, and feet by family members.

In general, Haldi holds significance in daily life as well. It is believed that the yellow color of turmeric brightens the skin color of the couple. Its medicinal properties protect them from all kinds of ailments.

Haldi ceremony holds a great significance. Hindus also believe that turmeric’s application keeps the couple away from all ‘evil eyes.’ It alleviates their nervousness before the wedding.

4. Ganesh Puja (Worshipping Lord Ganesh)

Following the wedding ceremony order is the Puja ceremony. It is an Indian wedding tradition to worship Lord Ganesh before auspicious occasions. Ganesh Puja ceremony is mainly performed in Hindu families. It is held a day before the wedding to bless the proceedings. 

This puja (prayer) is performed mainly for good luck. Lord Ganesh is believed to be the destroyer of obstacles and evils. The bride and her parents are a part of this Puja ceremony. The priest guides them to offer sweets and flowers to the deity. The ceremony prepares the couple for a new beginning. Traditional Indian weddings are incomplete without Ganesh Puja.

5. Mehndi (Henna Ceremony)

Mehendi is a fun Hindu marriage ritual of Indian weddings that are organized by the family of the Hindu bride at her house. It is attended by all family members and held a couple of days before the wedding. The hands and feet of the bride are decorated in elaborate design with a henna application.

The ritual varies from state to state in India. For instance, in a Kerala wedding, the aunt of the bride begins the ritual by drawing pretty designs on the bride’s palm before the artist takes over.

All the members of the family sing, dance, and make merry during the event. It is said that if the resulting color of the henna application is dark and beautiful, then she will be blessed with a loving husband. After the significant Mehendi ceremony, the bride must not step out of the house until her wedding.

6. Sangeet (Music & Singing Ceremony)

The Sangeet ceremony is all about music and celebration! Mostly celebrated in North India, this one’s especially important in a Punjabi wedding. Of all the Hindu wedding rituals and ceremonies, the sangeet ceremony is the most enjoyable one. Some families organize it as a separate event or even club it together with the Mehendi ceremony.

Final Thoughts

Indian wedding ceremonies are elaborate and incredibly distinctive! Going beyond decorations and celebrations, they are a union between two families. A traditional Hindu wedding ceremony order of events entails a series of elaborate rituals and wedding events. These are both enjoyable and have great significance before the big day.

A typical Hindu marriage is the coming together of two souls in the presence of God and their families. In Indian weddings, couples finally exchange vows, as they marry, and are united forever.