and Rites of Marriage
a nine year old girl refused to be married and demanded a
chance to pursue her education. But her mother, being dissatisfied
with her decision, brought the girl to the Holy Mother Sarada
Devi to convince her, and to perhaps scold her, for being
a nuisance. Instead of scolding the little girl, the Holy
Mother scolded her mother for taking the decision on the girl's
behalf and recommended that the girl be allowed to pursue
her education, by which she could become capable of deciding
her own fate, good or bad.
is but one example of the subordination that the majority
of women in India have had to suffer from a very young age.
The Holy Mother lived from 1853 to 1920, but the subordination
and fate of Indian women have not improved much since then.
Instead, there has been a sharp rise in crimes against women.
For example, one of India's leading dailies has reported that
crimes against women were on the rise in the state of West
Bengal. The figures available from the State Crime Record
Bureau (scrb) stated that the crime rate had shot up by 83
per cent in 2005 as compared to 2001-2. The cases were related
mostly to domestic violence - dowry murder, rape, brideburning,
forcible suicide, and the like. According to the Twelfth Planning
Commission's draft on the social sector, an allIndia
average of domestic violence is 33.5 per cent.3 This sharp
increase implies a lack of awareness about gender equality
and the sanctity of marriage. If we present a correct picture
of a woman and the rites of marriage, in the Indian context,
we may contribute to a general awareness of the importance
of women's welfare within society.
and Their Status
word "woman" is derived from the old English term
wifman(n), or wifmon(n) - wif meaning
"wife" or "woman", and man(n),
meaning "man"or "human being". Thus, in
the English language, the concept of woman is defined as subordinate
to man, her reproductive functions, and her family and society.
This subordination has been an important issue for the social
sciences and feminism.
the biological point of view, it is argued that the human
female, like in many other species, is physically weaker than
her male counterpart. It is for this reason that the male
dominates the female at the physical level. The same biological
determinism is operative at the psychological level, wherein
certain specific tendencies are attributed to women and certain
others to men. It is believed that there are necessary, unique,
and exclusive qualities of men and women. For Sigmund Freud,
femininity is neither inborn nor culturally conditioned, but
in every culture the process of becoming a woman requires
the repression of the active - masculine - side of her sexuality.
This repression almost becomes natural and inherent in women.
theories emphasize the social aspect of human life explaining
the subordination of women in the context of the sociocultural
environment. Friedrich Engels holds that women became subordinate
due to the rise of the institution of private property. Claude
LeviStrauss states that subordination is the result of
social dynamics. According to LeviStrauss, the fundamental
bonds of society are the bonds between men, or groups of men,
by means of exchange of women. It is the men who exchange
women and not viceversa. Thus the social relationship
is established not between a man and a woman but between groups
of men, and a woman is not a partner but an object of exchange.
addition to these theories, the concept underlying the physiological
theories is the most important and valuable, as women are
invariably related to this concept through the concept of
reproduction. In many Indian texts the concepts of bija,
seed, and kshetra, field, have been applied to human
reproduction. The male was compared with a seedgiver
and the female with the field. It was thought that the female
cannot create life, just as a field or land cannot create
life - as the field nourishes the seed, the female nourishes
the embryo. The bijakshetra nyaya is presented
in the Manusmrti, 9.32-52 and 10.68-70. Manu accepts that
bija is superior to kshetra. A seed sown in
a defective field gets destroyed without producing any result.
The Manusmrti speaks much of the supreme importance of bija.
concepts were prevalent among the Greeks. Pythagoras and Aristotle
explained that biologically the male is superior to the female
(32). Among the Armenians the earth was thought of as a material
womb, from whence men came forth. The culture and custom of
recognizing the earth as mother, seeing a similarity between
the two, was prevalent in ancient Greece as well. Thus one
of the first theophanies of the earth, particularly of the
earth as soil, was its motherhood, its inexhaustible power
of fruitfulness. Smohalla, an American Indian prophet of the
Umatilla tribe, forbade his followers to dig the earth, for,
he said, it is a sin to wound or cut, tear or scratch our
common mother by the labour of farming.
a mystical devotion to the Mother Earth is not an isolated
instance. In some form or other it was and is present in many
other cultures. The members of a primitive Dravidian tribe
of central India, the Baiga, carried on a nomadic way of agriculture,
sowing only in the ashes left after part of the jungle had
been burnt away, thinking it a sin to tear their mother?s
bosom with a plough (ibid.). In parts of Assam, Bengal, and
also in the state of Odisha, on the first three days of the
monsoon, Mother Earth is given total rest, as she is believed
to be menstruating. During this time the rains wash part of
the top-soil away making the rivers reddish in colour. This
is called ambhuvachi, and during these three days no ploughing
or farming takes place, while some fertility rites and rituals
are practised only by the women. Whatever the rituals may
be, the underlying belief in these cases is that the earth
emerges as a mother, giving birth to living forms that it
draws out of its own substance. Through these beliefs the
idea of motherhood is respected, even considered sacred, and
therefore women can have their right status in society.
the change from hoeagriculture to bullockplough
agriculture in the IndoGangetic plains, men's role in
agriculture increased and women continued to be unrecognized
farmers. Moreover, the spread of the concept of the bijakshetra,
devalued and distorted the role and function of women. Society
gradually became patriarchal; males were thought of having
a potency to create and provide new life. Giving life was
thought of as more important than nourishing it, because nourishing
consisted in helping and supplementing the growth of life,
a secondary activity (ibid.). This kind of comparison between
man and woman started with the advancement of civilization
and the building up of societies, when people started to settle
down by forming families through the institution of marriage.
culture of the world recognizes some form of marriage. In
most cultures and religions neither men nor women are considered
complete, after reaching maturity, without marriage. Marriage
is defined as a formalized union, governed by the customs
of a specific society. It has significance as a religious
sacrament and as a social institution with economic, educational,
and other functions crucial to the maintenance of modern societies.
Anyone entering into it is linked to an extensive network
of moral functions, rights, and obligations. Therefore, marriage
underlies a belief.
the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad it is said: "Sa
imam-evatmanam dvedhapatayat tatah patishcha patni chabhavatam
tasmad-idam-ardhavrigalam-iva sva iti ha smah yajnavalkyah;
He (the Divine Person) parted this very body into two. From
that came husband and wife. Therefore, said Yajnavalkya, this
(body) is onehalf of oneself, like one of the two halves
of a split pea."
for the Hindus, marriage is a sacred institution through which
men and women become one in spirit. Hindu marriage is also
a social duty, and in the Vedic period it was a moral and
religious obligation as well. Marriage and the grooming of
male children was the only way through which a man could repay
his debt to his ancestors.
the Zinacantecos, a Maya Indian group in Central Mexico, marriage
is the only means to attain heaven at death. Marriage here
takes place on two levels. It is not simply the relationship
between two individuals and their families, but it is also
a bond between the souls of the bride and the groom. Among
the Hopi Indians in the southwest of the US, a woman
initiates a marriage and brings a husband to her father's
house. The marriage is necessary for the girl's life after
death. The wedding clothes that are provided by her husband's
male relatives will become her shroud upon her death and will
transport her spirit into the afterworld. And so, without
entering marriage, one cannot truly die (ibid.).
belief traces the origin of marriage to Adam and Eve and views
their union as a part of creation's fabric. The nuptial blessings
emphasize marriage in the scheme of creation and speak of
the state of marriage as paradise regained. As a blessing
from God, Jewish marriage should not only perpetuate humankind
but should also enhance and complete the partners' personal
growth (ibid.). Christian marriage is also regarded as a sacrament.
The ceremony joins the bride and groom into one spirit in
union with God.
also underlies the belief in the continuation of society.
The institution of marriage perpetuates society by socially
recognizing the union of men and women and by incorporating
their offspring into social life. There are even provisions
in several cultures and religions for remarriage in case one
of the partners passes away, thus granting the continuation
of the institution of family and society. The two best known
forms of this are the levirate and the sororate. In the levirate,
when a husband dies, an approved male relative of his may
live with the widow and the children. This substitute husband
will conceive more children as if he was the deceased. In
the sororate, the place of a deceased wife is taken by her
unmarried sister (9.219).
Nur and Zulu societies of Africa practise "ghost marriages",
which are of two types. If a man is engaged and dies before
marriage, his fiancé should marry one of his kinsmen
and conceive children for the dead man'this is similar to
the levirate. A man may also "waken" a dead relative
who has never married by marrying a wife to his name and conceiving
children for him. Also, among these two groups, women may
"become" men to carry on the male line. A rich woman
or the eldest daughter in a family with no sons can marry
another woman and become the father of her wife's children
who are conceived by some male relative of the female husband
(ibid.). The importance of all these forms of marriage is
that they allow for the perpetuation of the family line and
indirectly the entire society through the existing structure
of social relations.
these forms of marriage perpetuate society through those who
have died, many societies ensure their continuation into the
future by marrying those individuals not yet born. Among the
Tiwi of Australia a young girl is contracted for her future
marriage before her birth, at her mother's wedding ceremony.
When the girl enters puberty, her wedding ceremony is held.
This ceremony is attended by the girl, her father, and her
husband as well as her future sonsin-laws (ibid.).
form of belief in the institution of marriage is that it creates
an alliance and helps social integration. Marriage is the
starting point for the kinship ties that run across and between
different and independent kinship or descent groups. Such
marriages are used to create an alliance between two lines
of descent with very little focus upon the relationship between
the bride and groom. In many cases these are arranged marriages,
often making an agreement between the two families. Love is
not a requirement here, but the affection that develops after
many years of successful marriage is a product of that marriage.
the Georgian Jews, when a dowry is unavailable, a love marriage
may take place by elopement, the legitimacy of which is later
recognized if the match appears to be successful.
the final category of marriage beliefs, marriage represents
a gift, or a system of exchange of women between two descent
groups. The position of giving or receiving wives sets up
a mechanism, by which status is expressed and validated, between
the two kinship groups. The ideal exchange is for both descent
groups to exchange sisters, thereby acknowledging the status
of each group to be equal.
women are not exchanged equally, the balance between the two
groups remains unequal and the equality must be achieved through
other means: payments made by the husband to the family who
has given him the wife. These payments are viewed as equivalent
to the reproductive powers of the woman, who is being given
to another group, as well as a return on the labour and usefulness
that the bride's family will lose upon her marriage. These
payments are known as "brideprice" or "bridewealth".
Thus, in some societies, women are the medium of exchange
by which powers can be gained and shown. Service may be used
as brideprice or may even be combined with bridewealth
payments. To repay the bride's family for the loss of a daughter,
the groom will serve his inlaws for an agreed period
of time. In the Hebrew scripture, for example, this type of
service is described in Genesis 29, which tells of
Jacob's service to his fatherinlaw for seven years,
for each of his wives, Leah and Rachael.
as a system of exchange is prevalent in modern societies in
some form or other. Of these, the most popular form is that
of the dowry. It is not the opposite of brideprice, rather,
it is generally viewed as her share of the family inheritance.
In some instances, however, the dowry may closely resemble
the practice of paying brideprice, as it takes place
in marriages in India and Sri Lanka. Most Hindu marriages
are traditionally made between members of the same caste and
no dowries are given. However, when a girl marries into a
higher caste, she should be accompanied by a substantial dowry
as a symbolic payment for her movement to a higher status.
This practice is known as hypergamy.
relationships at marriage may be composed primarily through
the flow of gifts between families, and frequently these expenses
will be about equal on both sides. The power of the gift is
not only in the object gifted but in the relationship that
lie behind gifts. It is the exchange itself that is essential
to the completion and success of a marriage. This exchange
of gifts is often an important part of the religious ceremony
of marriage. Alas! It is often misunderstood and the true
purpose of marriage is mistaken.