When you watch elaborate Indian arranged marriages and analyze the complexity and effort involved to make it successful, you may wonder how and when this practice started.
Interestingly, a recent research conducted by a post graduate student of Amity University, New Delhi has brought to light the finding that arranged marriages in India originated during the Vedic period of Indian history. The ceremony and the institution of arranged marriages also took its shape during this time.
The Hindu Dharmashastras
According to the research, Hindu marriage is said to be derived from laws interpreted in the Dharmashastras or sacred texts,which has its roots in the Vedas, the oldest surviving documents from the Vedic era. Therefore, arranged marriages can be said to have initially risen to prominence in the Indian subcontinent when the historical Vedic religion gradually gave way to classical Hinduism.
These scriptures are said to have been written by male Aryan sages who inhabited the areas across the Indus river, long before the word "Hindu" came to be associated with religion. "Hindu" was simply an evolved Persian word for the people who lived across the river "Indus" or "Indu".
The Laws of Manu Samhita
The Manu Samhita that was written in around 200 BC, is known to have laid down the marital laws, which is followed even today. Manu, one of the most influential interpreters of these scriptures, documented the Manu Samhita. Traditionally accepted as one of the supplementary arms of the Vedas, The Laws of Manu or Manava Dharma Shastra is one of the standard books in the Hindu canon, presenting the norms of domestic, social, and religious life in India.
The Four Aims of Life
These texts mention the four main aims of Hindu life: Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Dharma represented the harmony between "temporal interests and spiritual freedom".Artha referred to the "acquisitive instinct, and signified man's enjoyment of wealth". Kamarepresented the instinctive, and was connected with satisfying the emotional, sexual, and aesthetic urges of man.Moksharepresented the end of life and the realization of an inner spirituality in man.
The Four Stages of Life
It further mentions that these four aims of life were to be accomplished by conducting life in four stages which were - "bhramacharya, grihastha, vanaspratha and samnyasa".The second stage grihastha dealt with marriage and included the goals of dharma, progeny and sex.The Vedas and the Smritis thus gave an authentic written foundation to the institution of marriage. As Vedas and the Manu Samhita is the earliest available document it can be ascertained that marriage started with this era.
The Four Hindu Castes
The Law of Manu divided the society into four castes: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudras. In India, the maintenance of caste system depends on a system of arranged marriages. Caste is an important determinant in an arranged marriage. Manu recognized the possibility of marriage with the next lower caste as producing legitimate children but condemned the marriage of an Aryan with a woman of lower caste. Endogamy (a rule requiring marriage within a specified social or kinship group) was the rule which governed the Hindu society as it was believed that marrying outside ones caste would result in some serious ritual pollution.
Hindu Wedding Rituals
Hindu marriage ceremony is essentially a Vedic yajna or fire-sacrifice, in which the Aryan deities are invoked in the archaic Indo-Aryan style. The primary witness of a Hindu marriage is the fire-deity or Agni, and by law and tradition, no Hindu marriage is deemed complete unless in the presence of the Sacred Fire, and seven circumbulation have been made around it by the bride and the groom together. The Vedas set out in detail the ritualistic importance of the nuptial ceremony. The seven vows of a Hindu marriage are also mentioned in the Vedic texts.
The 8 Forms of Marriage
It was the Vedas that described the eight forms of marriages in Hinduism: The Brahma, Prajapatya, Arsa, Daiva, Asuras, Gandharva, Rakshasas and Pisaka marriages. The first four forms of marriages combined together can be classified as arranged marriages, because these forms actively involve the parents. They are the ones who decide on the groom and the bride has no say in the marriage, characteristics generic to the arranged marriages practiced among the Hindus.
Role of Astrology in Arranged Marriage
Hindus believe in astrology. The prospective couple's horoscopes have to be analyzed and "suitably matched" for the marriage to take place. Hindu astrology, a system that originated in ancient India, was documented by sages in the Vedic scriptures. The origin of arranged marriages in India and its dignified past hence comes from the amazing specificity of Vedic astrology.
So, the evolution of arranged marriages has been a gradual process with its roots in the Vedic period. The period prior to it, i.e., the Indus Valley Civilization has no written scriptures or scripts relating to this period. Hence there is an extensive need for deciphering the script of the Indus civilization to have an idea about the society and marriage customs of this period to open avenues for further research.