The Vedic Marriage: A Life-long Commitment
Controversies apart, marriages are still made in heaven for the average Hindu couple. Hindus regard the institution of marriage as a sacrosanct sacrament and not just a contract between two persons of opposite sex. What is matchless about a Hindu alliance is that it's as much a union of two families as between two individuals. It's a lifelong commitment and is the strongest social bond between a man and a woman.
Marriage is sacrosanct, for the Hindus believe that marriage is not only a means of continuing the family but also a way of repaying one's debt to the ancestors. The Vedas too affirm that a person after the completion of his student life should enter the second stage of life, that is, the Grihastha or life of a householder.
Most people tend to equate Hindu marriage with arranged marriage. The parents in order to meet this domestic obligation prepare themselves mentally and, more importantly, financially when their child reaches marriageable age. They search for a suitable partner keeping in mind the societal rules regarding cast, creed, natal chart, and financial and social status of the family. Traditionally, it is the girl's parents who bear the cost of the wedding and to jumpstart their daughter's married life they shower her with gifts and ornaments to take to her in-laws. Unfortunately, this has aggravated people's greed culminating in the many evils of dowry system.
Arranged marriages in India differ from community to community and from place to place. These ceremonies are indispensable, highly religious and significant. The rites of marriage are also social and are meant to increase intimacy between the two families. However, with a little variation, the usual wedding rituals are more or the less the same throughout India.
What if the girl or the boy refuses to marry the person chosen by their parents? What if they choose a partner of their own liking and opt for a love marriage? Will the Hindu society rule out such a marriage?
The average Hindu - anchored to the age-old rules of an arranged marriage - would embark on a love marriage with immense caution. Even today, love marriage is looked down upon and the orthodox Hindu priests interdict a love marriage. This is mainly because such a wedlock usually defies the barriers of caste, creed and age.
However, Indian history is witness to the fact that time and again, Indian princesses chose their life mates in Swayamvaras - an occasion when princes and noble men from all over the kingdom were invited to assemble in a bridegroom choosing ceremony. It is also interesting to note that Bhishma in the greatest of Hindu epics - the Mahabharata (Anusashana Parva, Section XLIV) - perspicaciously hints at 'love marriage': "After the appearance of puberty, the girl should wait for three years. During the fourth year, she should look for a husband herself (without waiting any longer for her kinsmen to select one for her)."
Polygamy In Hinduism
According to the scriptures, a Hindu marriage is indissolvable in life. Nevertheless, polygamy was rampantly practised in ancient Hindu society. An address by Bhishma to King Yudhishthira in the Mahabharata, succinctly endorses this fact: "A Brahmana can take three wives. A Kshatriya can take two wives. As regards the Vaishya, he should take a wife from only his own order. The children born of these wives should be regarded as equal." (Anusasana Parva, Section XLIV). But now that polygamy has been completely gutted out by law, monogamy is the only option for Hindus.