Monday, April 16, 2012

Brief history of Hindu Marriage - 3 - The flux of Yugas

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In previous part, we saw the description of Hindu Marriage ritual and symbolism associated with the three central rites which are more or less common across the Hindus throughout the subcontinent. But one interesting doubt which emerges from part 1 of this series is how did this symbolism evolve? Why did it became necessary to place a unwed girl in the bondage of Devatas like Varuna, Aryaman et al? Why did this story of heroic rescue stuck at all? Again the main reference here is Acharya V.K.Rajwade's book - Bhaartiya Vivaha Sansthecha Itihaas. I have composed this article taking help from references cited in this book.

To get first clue, let us revisit the verse by Bhishma Pitamaha from Mahabharat cited in part 1 of this series. In Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, Chapter 207, Bhishma says,

न चैषां मैथुनो धर्मो बभूव भरतर्षभ  
संकल्पादेवैतेषां अपत्यं उपपद्यते  - 37
ततः त्रेतायुगेकाले संस्पर्शात् जायते प्रजान 
ह्य भूः मैथुनो धर्मस्तेषां अपि जनाधिप - 38 
द्वापरे मैथुनो धर्म प्रजानां भवन्नृपःतथा 
कलियुगे राजन द्वन्द्व मापेदिरे जनाः - 39 
"In satya yuga, intercourse happened as desire arose in minds of fertile men and women. There were no words for mother, father, sibling etc. In Treta Yuga, when men and women touched each other and welcomed the touch, dharma allowed them to copulate for time-being. (this is stage where concept of "favourite" mate started emerging). IN Dwapara Yuga, Men and women started cohabiting as couples but not as stable and committed pair-bonding couples. In Kali Yuga, the stable pair-bonding (what we refer to as institution of marriage) emerged."
According to Bhishma, in Satyayuga, the intercourse happened as desire arose in the minds of men and women. In Treta Yuga, there began elaborate ritual of expressing the desire to have coitus. They included the rituals of making hand-gestures and touching the potential mates symbolically to invite them for coitus. What were those rituals of symbolic touching? Let us refer to Ashwalaayan Grihya Sutra. Most of Hindu marriage rituals are present in 7th volume of first chapter of Ashwalayan Grihya Sutra (AGS). Therein, the priest asks groom to 

गृम्भाणि ते सौभागत्वाय हस्तं इति अङ्गुष्ठमेव गृहणियाद् यदि कामयति पुमांस एव मे पुत्रा जायेरन्निति, अन्गुलिरेव स्त्रीकामः , रोमान्ते हस्तं सान्गुष्ठं उभयकाम. इति त्रय पाणिपीडनं 
There are three types of Paani-Peedanam (hand-hurting/clasping). If Groom wishes to beget son, he should clasp the thumb (of the bride's hand) first and then rest of the hand. If groom wishes to beget a daughter, he should clasp her four fingers first (barring thumb). If groom wishes to beget both son and daughter, he should clasp entire palm of the bride and hand too as long as her hair are. That is, he should clasp entire palm and also the hand at the point where her hair (Veni) reach.
This refers to the Sparsha (touch) ritual described by Bhishma from Treta Yuga. While this is supposed to be done prior to every coital session, we now a days do it during the ritual of "Paani-Grahanam". 

This is also perhaps a remnant tradition of various clans from Treta-Yuga following patriarchal, matriarchal and dual system of inheritance and precedence described in part one of this series. The patriarchal system following tribes forcibly held the thumb of woman (either captured OR reared from within the tribe). In matriarchal systems where men wooed women to get coital consent held the fingers of the women they wished to indulge in coitus with. While those societies which were not preferentially patriarchal OR matriarchal held hand and wrist (typically woman is described "Sukeshaa" (one with beautiful long hair) in Indic narrative, hence it was and is common to have a wife with long hair until her wrist).

Indic society was made up of all three systems described above. The composer of AGS, Sage Shaunaka has chronicled these ancient mating gestures for our privilege.

With beckoning of Dwaapara-Yuga, the process of stable pair-bonding started emerging in Indic society. As opposed to treta-Yuga, wherein kids belonged to entire tribe, in Dvaapara yuga, the ownership of kids started emerging in parents. Identity of child was based on parentage primarily and not on clan or tribe. In Kaliyuga, the institution of marriage came into existence with formation of stable pair-bonding. Along with this, emerged definition of various relations which we use today (like cousins, uncles and aunts etc). 

The cyclic nature of Yuga and time

In one older articles, I have discussed how time is viewed "cyclical" in Indian world-view. When Bhishma was on his death-bed giving this final advise to Yudhishthira, the world was still in Dvaapara-Yuga. Kali-Yuga had not started. Yet Bhishma speaks of Kali-yuga in past-tense. This is because the four-yugas are symbolic terms used for growth in complexity of any organization OR institution.

By the time of Ramayana, the stable-pair bonding was already in place. After all, the whole story of Ramayana is about Rama's and Seeta's commitment towards each other. This means that the "institution of marriage" was already in late Dvapara Yuga and Kali-yuga while the story of Ramayana happened. However, politically the age was treta.

In Indian narrative, time is relative. What is one day for Brahmadeva is millions of years for human being. Hence when we see the verses pertaining to time and four yugas, one should examine the context in which they are being spoken. The increasing level of organizational structure and complexity of any system (be in dhaarmik, aarthik, Kaamik OR Mokshik) is denoted by progress of that system in four yugas.

While things are completely flexible in any institution when in Satya-yuga stage (like a small start-up company), they become increasingly bureaucratic and complex as the organization grows and becomes rigidly rule-based in Kali-yuga phase. While it is good for a while, too much of rigidity causes stagnation of evolution, hence the system breaks down and new cycle of 4 yugas start. This point when a system breaks down owing to its extreme rigidity (in peak of kali-yuga) is termed as "pralaya".

Speaking with respect to Marriage institution, one has to answer, does choice of partner need to be strictly rule-based in given time? In west, the institution of marriage is collapsing. Or rather we can say it is getting more "open". Some even find this "open-ness" abhorrently repulsive. But one must understand that western civilization is merely transiting from Kali-Yuga to Dvaapara-Yuga. Perhaps even Treta-yuga where one-night stands are increasing and so are the instances of single-parents. This is nothing but the system reverting to times described in Puranas when children were identified by mother and not father. We have seen this in part 1 of this series.

In India, in recent times, we are slowly transiting from Kali-Yuga to Dvaapara Yuga. The "live-in" relationships are seen relatively in higher frequency in urban India. This was not the case ever since we entered Kaliyuga (of marriage institution). The institution and the rigidity of marriage was further cemented by Islamic invasions when women were made forcibly to stay in homes. In my opinion, the Kali-yuga accelerated in India with stabilization of Islamic rule in past 1000 years followed by Victorian British rule where our moral values were severely engineered. Prior to this, as long as the system of "Svayamvara" was in place, we were still in "Dvaapara-Yuga". At least not in deep kali-yuga as we were post Ghurid invasions.

I am not making any moral judgments on this change. I am simply acknowledging and making gentle readers aware of the fact that Indian scenario (of marriage institution and Kaama) is in flux and this flux has been documented by our ancestors. One has to understand that time is relative and cyclic. We are undergoing cycles of 4 yugas in one's own lifetime too.

Since we are discussing the most important "Kaama" purushartha of human life, one has to look at Yuga-transition from this perspective.

Shubham astu !!!

In next part we will learn about the ancient meaning of the word "Atithi" (guest) and how it is intimately associated with institution of stable pair-bonding.


Santosh Kumar P said...

Dear Kalchiron

It is a very interesting article. So, what do you suggest for the youth?
Whether to go for inter caste marriages and for livins, one night stands or to stay within the traditional structure of arranged marriages?
Also, how to revert back to the society before the islamic rule ...which was more lenient and "cool"?

काय चालूये.. said...

Dear Santosh Kumar ji,

I preferred being Morally neutral while writing this series. However, since you have asked here are my two paisa.

1. Usually any transition meets resistance.

2. When things are favorable, human minds in general and Indian mind in particular tend to reject "bondages". Indic people who refuse the bondage of life-death-rebirth, it is difficult to expect from them to accept to be bonded by any other bonds.

3. Stable Pair-bond is one of the reasons why society evolved to current heights and growing. Partially because Human being is only species in which "puberty" is artificially delayed by nature by 10-12 years. While other mammals hit puberty much much earlier (2-3 years old tiger starts looking out for mates), in Humans, this phase hits at the age of 14 (boys) and 12 (girls). This is phase when brain develops.

4. This "investment" in rearing child is very high, speaking in evolutionary biological terms. Yet, Humans have accepted this risk and looking back, it looks that it paid off well.

5. The reason for this is the fact that humans gradually found a "model" to ensure that this investment is secured. One is living in groups, second is gradual development of "pair-bond". This gradual development of pair-bond is what we are looking at in this series.

6. Calling this stable pair bond of fertile man and woman (monogamous OR polygamous, depending on space and time) by which name, is prerogative of times and cultures.

काय चालूये.. said...

7. There are two ways ahead IMO.

A. If you have read a fictional novel "brave new world" by Aldos Huxley, in it, all births are "invitro (in lab)" and this is when society will truly hit the point when it will be poised to enter Treta Yuga OR even Satya-Yuga of marriage institution.

B. While above is credible scenario, the technology is still far behind for even trying complete in-vitro pregnancy in animal models, forget humans. It will take at least 60-100 years to reach the knowledge-pool to materialize this. It is possible that before reaching that point, humans will annihilate each other thus bringing their population to much lower levels than today's. This will make the need to procreate through in-vitro fertilization redundant as well as difficult (due to lack of skilled manpower).

8. Looking at Indian civil law, the decisions of government of India, increasing self-sufficiency of women, ease with which divorce can now be materialized (recent orders), compulsion to register the marriage and corruption and difficulty in having marriage registered by the bureaucracy, I feel that GOI is creating pressure for more and more couples opting for "live-in" relationships in future.

9. West hit this point in 1970s (feminist movements, discovery of birth-control pill etc). We are hitting it now.

10. Now, west is far more "homogeneous" society than Indian society. In India, those religious and social groups which are slightly "behind the curve" and do not heed to "birth-control" as yet, will perhaps emerge as evolutionary winners in this process. For Eg, in Europe, native whites have a drastically reduced birth-rates, whereas immigrants, especially from Islamic countries, have much higher birth rates. This is causing the society to move towards a state of confrontation.

11. One should study how society actually fell to Islamic raids? Prior to than Kushan and Hunnic raids. The demographics were in favor of invaders (more people being born) at those points. Hence searching for "pre-islamic golden era" will be akin to searching for "Mriga-Jala". There is no "one such point".

12. But overall, the trend looks like we are rapidly moving towards our "pre-islamic" status of political and economic power. How will that reflect in our "family", needs to be seen.

13. As far as my personal opinion goes, I love the Vedic Vivaaha ritual and philosophy behind it. A family can stay together, even with greater freedoms to both partners in marriage. Of course there are some compromises involved, but then it is the case in all systems of "pair-bondings".

So even if government makes it difficult for Hindus to get married and "live-in" sounds lucrative (and actually is, in some instances), I would recommend getting married in traditional way. This is what I would advise my children. :-)

काय चालूये.. said...

Of course, with government forcing to "register" all marriages, and corrupt bureaucracy, all "religious" marriages will be considered "live-in relationships" by law..

Anonymous said...

Superb stuff.

Any pointers on raising kids in a dharmic way. I am switched on on this aspect. but how to ensure it will be successful.

Unknown said...

Is interesting but I want to know past 3 yuga either dey see astrology or not for getting marrige

Unknown said...

Can u reply me to my mail is