Family life has been considered as a very important unit constituting the social structure of a mankind. Marriage is the central ceremony of this institution. It is the most significant event of life span between life and death .It is generally a union between a male and a female with a commitment. It is at once a gateway to earthly life of pleasure, progress, prosperity and joy as it is also an altar of elevation to a level of spiritual experience. . So every society recognizes and controls it as it results in the procreation and nurture of future generation and thereby influences the social and cultural growth of society. Surprisingly all the world scriptures have expressed mostly similar views on marriage. Hebrew scripture (Genesis2-18) says that the institution of marriage is sanctioned by God because, ‘it is not good that the man should be alone.’ The Rabbis argued, ‘ He who has no wife is not a proper man.’The Christians also consider marriage as an “honorable state, instituted by God in the time of man’ innocency.’ (Genesis 1) They believe that the causes of marriage are three---procreation of children and their nurture, the remedy against sin and social commitment and charity In Islam, Quran 30-31 says that though marriage is a civil matter, it is one of the signs of God. “Among His signs is this, that He created for you mates among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them.’ Among Muslims it is debatable that marriage is a compulsory obligation. Men are considered superior to wives, ‘stand over them’. Marriage with non-Muslim is almost prohibited. Among Hindus, marriage is an inevitable part of the four goals of life, only the ascetics and the renouncers are exempt. The Hindus consider that marriage is destined and is made in heaven It serves three purposes—1-Dharma (duty towards family and society), 2- procreation, progeny and sex 3 -Performance of holy rites. In Hinduism no ritual can be performed with out wife. Marriage facilitates a representation of woman in rituals. Theologically the Hindus regard the marriage as a spiritual journey and a quest to be one with the Infinite.Husband and wife are like a single spirit in the two bodies. Hindu stresses upon the spiritual equality of man and woman. Siva says to Parvati,’ Half of my body is created from half of your body.’ This is Arthangani; based on equal partnership. The Christians too have the idea. They believe that the man was born first and from his ribs was born a woman. The Samkhya theory is that Man (Purush) and Woman (Prakriti) are eternal and there exists spirituality in the two. Brahman appears both as a male and a female. Motherhood is considered supreme. It is the woman, who bears a child, cares and nurses it, trains it with her tender hands. So it is said that the hands that rock the cradle rule the world.’ There is no position to match a mother. Saint Yajnavalkya extols woman, ‘Soma gave woman purification, the Gandharva, sweet speech, Agni, perfection and purity; thereafter, verily, woman is always pure.’
Every marriage is performed by a representative of religion. A pundit or purohit performs the Hindu marriage and a Granthi, the Sikh marriage. An Imam or Quazi performs the marriage among Muslims. . The priest conducts the Christian marriage. The giving away of the daughter is likewise mostly similar. The parents or the guardians are involved. Among the Christians, the father of the bride while walking down the aisle gives away his daughter to the groom. In the 17thy Century England, as a token of transfer of authority, the father of the girl, as a custom, would give his son-in- law one of the brides shoes. Among Muslims, the elders of both the sides settle Mehar (Nuptial Gift) beforehand to be given to the bride family by the groom family and it is signed by the bride and groom and the Wallis (Parents etc) It becomes an official document and is registered with them as it gives right to divorce. Among Hindus this ceremony is called Kanya Dan. By this gift, the father or the guardian feels himself as a fortunate and fulfilled man. The close elders of the bride side touch the feet of the groom and offer presents .It is on this occasion that the couple first gets a chance to clasp each other’s hands. In every religion, on this occasion, relatives and friends are invited and the participation of community is ensured.
Another common thread in the marriages of all religions is the importance and place of flowers, sweets, rice and fruits. The Muslims shower rice on bride during the departing ceremony called Ruksat, when she leaves her own house. The Hindus throw rice and flowers on couple when the bride departs for her husbands home. The guests throw rice while they leave church after the wedding ceremony. In the 17th century England, it was customary to throw wheat over the head of the bride when she came to church. Rice is considered a symbol of prosperity, fertility and harvest, flower ,of bloom, freshness, fragrance and tenderness. The first born of Hindu gods, Kamadeva, the God of Love, the C-In-C of Spring, is the divine Eros of Hesiod in Plato’ dialogues, and is possessed of a bow and arrow entwined with fragrant flowers (Pushpa ban) to prey upon victims of love. The red color is also a universal preference on this occasion. It charges the blood-veins easily and it is the symbol of love, joy and vitality. Hindu brides wear red Lahga, so the Muslims Even the Christians in India prefer colorful red sari. The Sikh bride wears red dress and the groom pink turban. While taking vow, the couple is linked with a pink scarf. The application of mehdi on bride’s palms is common among Hindus and Muslims and is gaining ground among others as well.
The main ceremony among Muslims is worth witnessing. The authorized maulavi first reads out selective verses from quran. Then there is the significant ceremony of Janab-E- Qubul. The groom proposes the marriage and the bride assents. Unless there is assent from the bride, no marriage can be performed. This assent comes in presence of a number of invitees and relatives. Mutual consent is paramount for a wedding to legalize. Only then the Nikah (wedding) is complete. Many Sikhs weddings are still influenced by Hindu practices. They are more simple but the betrothal ceremony is full of life. During main marriage ceremony, the couple sit before the Adi Granth, the bride on the left of the groom. Ardas is said and the Granthi explains the significance of marriage and asks them to show loyalty and love. The couple, linked with a pink scarf, bow in assent to Adi Granth, the Guru. The groom goes around the Adi Granth clockwise four times, followed each time by the bride. Lavan stanza is read out, ragis sing as the couple walk around . The ceremony ends with six verses of Anand sahib, the Ardas and Karah Parsad. The voyage of a Hindu marriage is packed with rituals and invocations of deities. It commences with the invocation of Lord Ganesh. The whole marriage process lasts for several days. On one day the married women are honored. Seven married women, representing the seven days of the week, come together, sit in a clockwise design, with red powder and misri (crystalline sugar) and pray. This is the first step of the commencement of marriage ceremony. On the wedding day, the garlands are exchanged. Couple invites each other and the invitees eagerly watch who garlands first and how. It is very impressive to observe the well-dressed bride’s steps towards the dais, with garland in her shaky hands. When they come face to face, the couple stand for a while, waiting for the first to bow for the garland. It is generally the groom. There is also a ring exchange ceremony. It is mostly performed at the time of betrothal. Generally gold rings are exchanged. The bride wears the ring given by the groom on the fourth finger of her left hand. The groom wears the ring given by the bride on the fourth finger of his right hand. The rings are considered the most valuable possessions of life.
The most significant ceremony of a Hindu marriage is the Vow- taking ceremony in front of the Fire- witness. The Grah Sutra describes that the groom causes the bride to step forward in NE direction seven steps with the words, For sap with one step, for juice with 2 steps, for thriving 5 steps, for the seasons with 6 steps. Be friends with 7 steps. So be thou devoted to me. Let us acquire many sons who may reach old age,’ Saying this, they both join their heads together and the groom sprinkles them with water. This is the vow of duty, fidelity, respect, love, and for a fruitful union on equal footing. In a different performance, the couple moves round the Agni seven times, vowing each time a vow of future unison. They vow, ‘Let us live with mutual respect and honor so that we get food. This is the first step of vow. So are the other steps. as let us live with happiness and enjoy life so that we get strength. Let us share joy and pain so that we get wealth. Let us not forget elders so that we get happiness. Let us not forget to observe chastity so that we have family life. Let us live long and peaceful life and walk together so that we have joy. Let us live with love and sacrifice so that we get friendship. Thereafter the groom applies vermilion (sindur) on the central parting of hairs of bride’s head. This is the most pious ceremony. Now she becomes a married woman. The Dampati (newly weds) enters a married life of joint efforts and responsibilities. The friends give good wishes and the elders Ashirvad (blessings). Thus ends the ceremony.
Superstitions and astrology also play important part in the determination of marriage. It is believed in France that the wife of a person married on Wednesday is likely to prove unfaithful. According to English tradition, it is unlucky to marry on Tuesday. In Greece the month of May is avoided for marriages. Scotland considers marriage on the last day of the year as lucky. The Hindus think that Caitra and Bhadra are unfavorable for marriages. In all cultures, the spring season is considered to be the best one for marriage performances. The Hindus also consider that during Nava Ratri, any celeberation can be performed. Astrological considerations are treated as very important among the Hindus. Most of the Hindus believe in matching the horoscopes. This gives an idea of the future partnership to some extent. Gotra, Rashi, Nakshatra and Gana and the famous mars- dosha (Mangalee), Lagna and the position of planets, all these things are minutely observed in marriages.
In some societies polygamy and celibacy are prevalent. Polygamy means having more than one spouse at the same time by way of marriage. In Islam polygamy is allowed. In ancient India wealthy Hindus practiced polygamy in some unusual circumstances.eg. if the wife was barren, The Hindu ideal always has been monogamy. They believe that there is one woman in life as wife and all the rest are mothers and sisters, unlike the west that thinks that there is only a woman as mother and the rest can be friends and partners. The Sikh Gurus also advocated fidelity in marriage and stressed on monogamy, the exceptions being Guru Har Gobind and Guru Gobind Singh with more wives, because of political compulsions. The Christians practice monogamy, ‘no longer is allowed to have more than one wife living.” Polyandry is a marriage of a woman to more than one man at the same time. However it is very rare. Celibacy is a state of life without marriage. It is accepted under religious and spiritual considerations. The Jews never accepted it. They considered that, “Every one is obliged to marry in order to fulfil the duty of procreation.’ (Genesis1-28) In Orthodox Church, the bishop has to remain unmarried. Celibacy was imposed but it is on fire these days. Buddhist monks observe celibacy. The Sikh Gurus emphasized on ideals of a family life. Though Bhai Guru das and Mani Singh remained celibate. Among the Hindus the spiritualists or sanyasi takes to the life of a celibate, though we know of Ram Krsna Paramhansa, Tulsidas, Kabir and others who were married. Hindus pay deep regards and adore the celibates and the spiritualists. Their saffron -dress symbol has become the symbol of renunciation and sacrifice. This is the greatest gift Hinduism has given to mankind.
All the world religions have expressed disinclination towards divorce in their own ways. Divorce is regretted and unwanted. Roman Catholics think that marriage is a sacrament, which creates an unbreakable bond. It can only be brought to an end by annulment. Some Christians think that divorce or any setting apart of marriage is definitely going against the conditions of creation. Still it is said that Jesus allowed divorce under certain conditions. Among Jews divorce is a matter of great regret and it is desirable to have a long-term continuity of marriage yet divorce is permitted. In Christianity divorce and remarriage is allowed. Islam is of opinion that divorce is most hated by God. It lays down very difficult conditions. Divorce must have a waiting period (idda) In Talaq, the request has to be made at three consecutive pronouncements of groom during three consecutive periods of purity (not at all at the same time) Even wife can divorce if there is a case but there are many impediments in remarriage. The Hindus view it differently. Marriage is a life long union with a purpose and even a union in past and future lives. It is destined. It can in no way be dissolved. There are practical exceptions too. In case of defects in bride or groom (lack of fertility or virility) prolonged absence, desertion or cruelty, sufficient grounds exist for separation. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 allows divorce but the society in general welcomes ‘ till- death- do us- apart’ union. There was a provision of widow marriage even in ancient India.She was allowed to marry her husband’s brother or beget children by Niyoga. Kunti of Mahabharat was a widow held in high esteem. Jabali’s mother was a single mother accepted in society as an intelligent caretaker. However during foreign invasion, Sati and Jauhar system cropped up alive to safeguard the honor and chastity of women but it is history now. Sometimes topics critical of Hinduism get over emphasized beyond ground realities and without the study and adequate consideration of the influence of non-Hindu historical factors.
Unfortunately the institution of marriage, upon which the solid structure of society is based, is dwindling, shaking and tumbling. An English daily of San Jose on March 24, 02, reports that the west is now shrugging out at marriages. It is a very depressing and dejecting news. It is indeed shocking to note that the number of children born out of the wedlock is gradually going up in the west. They are being accepted, as they do not now carry any stigma as they used to have formerly. Such children are no more harassed or scolded in schools. People have given up .and have yielded as they watch entire Europe shrugging at marriage. In Norway, 49% are born out of unwed parents, single or living together. Nordic countries like France, Britain and Iceland have a rate of 41,38,and 62% respectively. The British seem no longer capable of keeping a well-knit family unit. The British Cabinet split on the point that the marriage institution be promoted and kept alive. It was amazing to know that the PM Tony Blair’ officer Campbell had three children with his companion Fione Miller (Chief aide to Blair’ wife) The Irish think that the quality of relationship is important and not the marriage. It is only the USA that is stressing on the values of a family life and wants to keep intact the family and promote marriages The economic advantages to single parents however retards any such move. A world super power, as USA is, it has its weakest link in family life and needs to strength it. Italy, the Roman Catholic country, has a few children (9%) born out of wedlock. It is a common sight to see pre-marriage living together of couple but they marry after the first issue. The growing tendency is unhelpful for social life and individual welfare. It is mainly due to the ego- centric approach to life. The rise in wealth and prosperity has made man individualistic. He has started thinking of his own ease and comfort, becoming intolerant of any thing that does not suit his mood .He has lost even the feeling of neighborhood. Marriage is also a social obligation and the modern man is in no mood to fulfil it. Out of personal whims and desires, they want to make a world of free permissive mixing to indulge in relentless lust. This is a blind lane. The quality of mutual relationship does not confine in the two alone but it also depends upon their relationship with the society, which they at present ignore. This is the reason that the marriages or the unions do not last long unlike the Hindu marriage, which has also a religious metaphor, the union with God. A believe in the union in consequent births till final salvation makes the marriage a lifelong sacrifice. It is true that not all marriages are realized in relation to the goals in all religions, yet the norms stand. A belief in these religious norms has made life easier and worth living and the society a pleasant abode of dedication with love and compassion leading to equanimity.