Hindu Philosophy of Marriage

Centuries ago, civilized societies recognized and acknowledged the most basic instincts of all- i.e. the need for companionship – and founded an honorable institution known as marriage. Experience has shown that life is full of conflicts, questions, concerns, temptations, joys, sorrows, ups and downs and the Hindus believe that this institution of marriage can help navigate the complex ocean of life. Your ancestors, who were great thinkers set aside some guidelines to make sure that this institution is a permanent one capable of not only bringing happiness to two young people but also providing a delicate balance so that the family enjoys the fullness of life within the framework of what they called Dharma, the Hindu code of right conduct.

The subject matter of marriage has been discussed and debated ever since and you may be assured that even as we assemble here, there are perhaps a dozen or more such places in a 50 mile radius where one ethnic community or an other in this great land is imparting its own ideas to their sons and daughters as we are doing now. Therefore, you should feel quite normal about this event and consider this activity as an in-thing to do and learn.

The July 1989 issue of Readers Digest has an article entitled “Surprising Key to the Happiest Couples” written by two psychologists who conclude that ” Romance “talks” about love but it is friendship that puts love to the ultimate test”. They continue and say ” If there is one prevailing wish that husbands and wives have for their marriage, it is to be close companions for life. While many men and women know that love is essential for such a lifelong bond, they often don’t realize that love without close friendship is only a harmonal illusion. One cannot desire another person over the long haul without really being best friends with that person”.

This may be a newly discovered concept by modern psychologists but one of your ancestors known as Yudhishtira revealed this “secret” about 4000 years ago. In the Aranya Parva of that great epic of the Hindus known as the Mahabharata, one of the 120 questions the Yaksha asked Yudhishtira was “kimsvin mitram grihesatah?” i.e. Who is the friend of a householder? To which the prince answered ” bhaaryaa mitram grihesatah” i.e. the friend of a householder is his spouse. According to Hindus, therefore, the basis for marriage is friendship. According to Hindus, this friendship is the understanding, the promise and the commitment that unites a man and a woman. There is absolutely no question about the role of a woman, her importance, her position in this equation that binds them together.

Let me explain. In most Hindu wedding ceremonies, the greatest height is reached when a particular event takes place. That peak in the ceremony known as Maangalyaddhaaranam confirms for ever and seals the bond between the bride and the groom through the tying of a golden necklace around the bride’s neck by the groom. Legally, ethically and morally that moment is the sacred moment in the wedding when they become husband and wife. But what happens immediately after is truly the most significant and meaningful for the rest of their marriage. Because, immediately after the maangalyaddhaaranam, the bride and the groom hold hands and take seven steps together as husband and wife as they walk around Agni, the God of fire and pledge to each other their eternal friendship. What they say after they have taken those seven steps is unquestionably the foundation for a successful marriage. Together they chant:

sakhaa sapta padi bhava
sakhyam te gameyam
sakhyam te mayoshah
sakhyam te mayoshtah

“With these seven steps you have become my friend. May I deserve your friendship. May my friendship make me one with you. May your friendship make you one with me.” Anyone who has any question about the role of a woman in Hindu marriage should pay special attention to the charge and blessing by the presiding priest at the end of the sapta padi. He recites:

Samraajni shvashurebhava   Be queenly with your father-in-law
Samraajni shvashruvaambhava   Be queenly with your mother-in-law
Nanandaari saamraajnibhava   Be queenly with his sisters
Saamraajni adhidevrshu   Be queenly with his brothers

Nothing short of the status of a queen is what the scriptures prescribe. Our ancestors went even further: they blessed the bride by saying;” murdhaanam patyuraroha”.” May your husband keep you on his head” meaning “let him respect you”. As a society, we owe it to ourselves to realize the wisdom in these ancient truths spoken by our ancestors. There are in fact two more questions in the Yaksha Prashna where this subject matter comes up. In another question the Yaksha asks Yudhishtira: kimsvid daiva krita sakha? Who is man’s god-given friend? Yudhishtira’s answer was: bhaaryaa daivakrita sakha- a man’s God-given friend is his wife. Again the basis of friendship in marriage is emphasized.

If we, as parents expect you to adopt and adapt what we consider a great heritage, we cannot simply ask you to accept these ideas but we have to be able to articulate these ideas and ask that you consider, understand and assimilate these thoughts.

Our religion and culture are rooted in the Vedas composed around 1500 B.C. or earlier. The Vedic ideal of marriage, according to Abhinash Chandra Bose (The Call of the Vedas, page 259, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970) “is that of perfect monogomy, the life-long companionship of two people. This practice must have been well established, as is evident from the fact that the Vedic Rishi, seeking comparisons for perfect duality for the Twin Deities, Ashvins, gives along with examples of two eyes, two lips etc. that of a married couple”.

Popular misconceptions notwithstanding, a serious study of the Vedas reveals how practical the findings of the ancient sages truly are. Vedic sages are positive in their acceptance of life and death, life’s struggles and imperfections, positive in their acceptance of the ultimate values- of truth, goodness and beauty. Vedic sages loved life as well as God and every wish of theirs for the good things of the earth took the form of an ardent prayer. Such prayers are blended into a Vedic wedding ceremony. Certain Vedic prayers are directed towards acquiring intellectual power, wisdom, efficiency, spiritual vigor, higher talent etc. leading to the acquisition of what is known as Brahmateja- the radiance of intellect. Certain other prayers are for strength, valor, spiritual power, conquering power, fearlessness and other qualities of heroism known as Kshaatraveerya- the physical prowess. The Vedas proclaim that the true goal of life is freedom and this freedom from attachment, freedom from our lower selves brings such joy that it is simply incomparable to the usual kinds of joy most recognize. Therefore, Hindus considered that fulfillment in life comes when one accomplishes four aspects of life known as Dharma, Artha and Kama leading to the fourth- the complete release of bondage and to total freedom known as Moksha. We have defined Dharma before and it truly forms the very core of Hindu philosophy. The inclusion of Artha (financial aspect) and Kama (aspects of love) in this series confirms the practicality of Vedic thought. The demands of Artha and Kama in the life of married people are in apparent conflict with the dictates of Dharma and Moksha. How does the Hindu resolve this apparent contradiction? This in fact was the third question on the subject asked of Yudhishtira by the Yaksha:

dharmashcaarthasca aamashca paraspara virodhinah
eshaam nitya viruddhaanam katthamekatra sangamah

Dharma, artha and kama conflict with each other. How can these contraries be reconciled? How can a householder necessarily involved in the pursuit of good life seeking arttha and kaama in raising a family and serving a community not find himself in conflict with Dharma and how can he strive for moksha? Notice that Artha and Kama are safely sandwiched between Dharma and Moksha. If salvation is to be your goal, the ancient Hindus said, then by all means practice fully in the affairs of the society, raise a family, enjoy the good life in a responsible way, serve the community- all within the framework of Dharma.

How does a grihasttha reconcile these contrary requirements? According to Yudhishtira, there is only one way and that is

yada dharmasca bharyaca paraspara vashanugau
tada dharmartha kamanam trayanamapi sangamah

“When dharma and one’s wife are in harmony, then dharma, artha and kama are reconciled.”

That means, a person, in order to keep that delicate balance among the attributes of arttha and kaama, has to have a spouse who is dhaarmic. It is that protection coming from such a spouse, that torch light, that spirit of friendship and cooperation and sacrifice that gives a reasonable chance for a couple to succeed in meeting this challenge of conflicting attributes.

Our elders wanted us to get married in a Vedic ceremony so that the various vows are properly uttered and understood. Each step in the ceremony conveyed implicitly or explicitly an understanding between the two. The life companion inherited this burden of providing the umbrella of Dharma so that the family she was going to raise -her own family- would be a Dhaarmic one. That is why a wife is not simply called a patni but she is always referred to as Dhrmapatni, wife-in Dharma. This then is the reason for that very special, very unique, very necessary role a woman was called upon to play in the Hindu household.

We parents were fortunate in one sense when we were growing up in India. We had a support system when we were children: parents, relatives by the dozens, teachers, friends, and they all tried to mould our character silently, patiently and naturally. Without that strength of character, we could not be what we are today in a land that is foreign to us. We received our strengths without the assistance of any organized effort, gradually, unconsciously and unmistakably because all the supporting components, i.e. family, relatives, festivals, social and religious gatherings, music, stories, temples, people around in the community, schools, teachers, all contributed to that strength. It is the combination of that rich background and the education received both at home and abroad that has put the Indian community in the top 6% of the economic ladder in the U.S. God has been kind to the Indian communities across this nation and we have every reason to be grateful and to celebrate and enjoy the good life. That is our earned right.

We as your parents want you to be fine young people but we also want you to be strong in spirit, cheerful and outstanding citizens of this great country. I say this not only because it is the obvious wish of any parent but mostly because you are the legitimate inheritors of Hindu Dharma and therefore have the potential to develop a combination of qualities so powerful that can help you to be, in modern parlance, awesome. Because, there is, to my knowledge, nothing that can equal the combination of Brahmateja and Kshaatraveerya.

The activities of the Connecticut Valley Hindu Temple Society in the past 20 years in this great state have been directed to secure the future of our children. We want to help lay the foundation upon which a confident and stable Indian community can grow. Our point of view is simply this: We believe that the equation of life is complete only when we bring Dharma into it. That is what has sustained us for over 5000 years in good and bad times and that is what we believe will sustain our children. We want the future generations of American Hindus to receive the same nourishment we received from our philosophy. We want you to grow up with a strength of character that will more than equal the material prosperity into which you are born. It is my conviction that our endeavors in this State, including our plans to build a Hindu Temple complex will be the source of such strength and nourishment. I hope you share my optimism.