Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Brief History of Hindu Marriage - 2 - Significance and Story of Core Marriage Ritual

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

Continued from part 1

As man progressed the vedic era, the ritual for marriage became fixed. The ritual itself is highly revealing and are found in Ashvalaayan Grihya sutra. The three core rituals of Hindu marriage are

1. Shila Aarohanam
2. Lajjaa Homam
3. Sapta padi. 

The sequence of other rituals changes in different cultures, times, places, castes etc. But these three are somewhat universal. 

When a girl child is born, she is "owned" by different Devatas until she crosses her different ages. It seems like Devas being powerful had the right of Prelibation (Agra-Upabhoga). Prelibation means right of "first taste". Right to have first Upabhoga of a woman was by Devas. Young fertile bride of marriageable age is under the bondage of three devatas (Aaryaman, Varuna and Pushan) because they have right "taste her first". 

Groom asks permission from bride's father and father gives away his daughter to the groom (Kanyaadaan). But what about the devatas? they will not give her up so easily. Vara (Groom) frees the bride from the bondage (Paasha) of three devatas by his valor at an opportune time (Muhurtam). This is the reason why Hindu marriage emphasizes on Muhurta.  It was deliberate planning by the groom to liberate the one whom he desires at an auspicious time when he thinks the chances of slipping past the guard of devatas are highest. On predetermined time, the bride agrees to elope with groom from bondage of devatas. This is signified by exchanging garlands which symbolizes her consent.

The three Devatas are angered by this insolence and attack the "Vara" to get back, what they think is rightfully theirs. Here comes the ritual of "Shilaa Aarohanam" where groom asks bride to climb a rock and hold it tight and stay in his life like that immovable rock. Remember, Varuna is water-god and only climbing on a tall, firm and immovable rock can save one from wrath of Varuna. This also affirms the commitment of bride. Since groom has angered three powerful devatas for this lady and has picked fight with them, he needs to be sure that all this was worth it. The bride promises him that she shall hold on firmly to the rock and hold on in his life like that firm immovable rock.

As angry Devatas approached the Vara, and seeing that bride safe on rock (Shilaa), her brother rushes to help the groom. He indulges in negotiations with three devatas. Here begins the ritual of "Laajaa Homa". He offers the three gods parched rice grains (which is more valuable than raw rice grains, hence an expensive gift). Not only this, he coats the Laajaa (parched rice) with ghee, thus making it a valuable offering. He offers Parched rice coated with ghee thrice in Agni as "fine" to the devatas. This ritual is called "Avadaana". While giving this "fine" to three devatas thrice, the brother warns three of them to leave his sister alone else he will join hands with her husband in war against them. He "calls" three devatas individually and gifts them and warns them separately. Thus both groom and bride's brother bribe and threaten each of the three gods individually and separately. They circled around agni to confuse the devatas. While encircling the sacred agni, couple made vows to each other of mutual good conduct. This shows how cunning brother was.

In spite of bribing, Varuna still held on to the hair of bride. Groom symbolically touches the hair of bride and releases her from clutches of Varuna, setting her completely free. 

Hereafter we approach the main ritual of "Sapta Padi". Hindu Jurisprudence has considered this ritual as the one which cements the wedding since ancient times. Even modern hindu civil code asks for performance of sapta-padi as proof that marriage has materialized. After victoriously liberating his beloved from clutches of devatas, they take seven steps together towards Ishanya (north-east) direction which is considered direction of devatas. They make joint declaration of their wishes and expectations from each other. 

This ritual of Hindu Marriage is itself a signification of evolution of man, assertion of man over something that belongs to him and drive of man to achieve it, even if it means angering omnipotent Devas. It also shows how important brother is in life of a woman. It also shows that the relationship of "brother-sister" is well defined and established and sibling-cohabitation had by this time, had became "Off-limits". It also shows that woman was yearning to be liberated by a "hero" and becomes his wife in defiance of gods. 

The ritual continues only if woman swears the oath of fidelity by climbing the rock. This shows the beginning of patriarchal system and stable pair-bonding where children were (and are) identified by their father. The relations like Maamaa (maternal uncle), Mausi (maternal aunt), mother, sibling were defined earlier during matriarchal times. With establishment of marriage-institution the relatively distant relations like Chacha (paternal uncle), Bua (paternal aunt), their kids (cousins), were also defined.

The story of evolution of human pair-bonding and marriage institution of India and Hindus continues in part 3. 


mandar said...

Both parts are well articulated. The first part is more logical presentation though. Can you please put some light on if there is some logical reasoning of evolution of the story told in part 2? what were the different socio-eoconomic factors responsible for transition in marriage system?

Kal_Chiron said...

Dear Mandar ji,

Thanks for the comment. I am working on a draft for evolutionary reasoning of second part.. Will be up by end of coming week..


Amatya Rakshas said...

Most interesting and thought provoking; learned a lot of new things, the evolutionary basis of rituals/tantra is also a topic the great acharya of manastaramgini often refers to.

Great work, keep it up my friend!


Dipak Dholakia said...

Dear Kal_Chiron ji,
I got the link from a friend and read all the three articles. very interesting. The story in the second part, perhaps belong to the times when Aryans - followers of Indra and those of Varuna had not separated. In Rgvedic times varuna was relegated to the secondary status compared to Indra. Moreover Aryaman name too sounds Avestan.
Please clarify, if I am mistaken in my understanding.