On the one hand, it is claimed that women were oppressed in Hinduism and kept away from education, and on the other hand, all forms of knowledge passed down from mother to daughters, or mother-in-laws to daughter-in-laws are branded as superstition and products of patriarchy from which women must be liberated!
1. Cooking food, which in our tradition is considered as “Paaka-Shastra” or the science of cooking is today perceived as an inferior & oppressive activity!
2. Rajaswala-dharma, which comes under Stri-dharma is a knowledge about practice of Dharma as applicable to women. This is nothing but a particularly important portion of Dharmashastra, which again is branded as superstition.
3. Knowledge of festivals, Vratams, and family traditions, which again is an important portion of Dharma-Shastra, with many texts dedicated specifically to dealing with various Vrathams, and which was passed from women to women in a family, is now considered a patriarchial practice and superstition.
4. Drawing Rangoli, playing any kind of classical music & dance, which all form parts of various vidyas are also generally looked down upon. Thankfully, dance & music still have some importance. Women drawing Rangoli is considered as patriarchial imposition!
5. Thanks to Islamic invasions & Colonial imposition of Victorian mentality, both men and women have lost touch of Indian tradition of Kama-shastra, which in any case, today is not considered “knowledge”!
6. Other skills which are often looked down upon include running a household, sewing and other such things that traditionally women used to do.
7. Ayurveda, Home sciences, Jyotishya, etc.
In short, on one hand, all the branches of knowledge which were vested with women and of which women were custodians in a traditional Hindu society, have been branded superstitious and been demoted from the high position of “Vidya” they held in traditional society to an insignificant position of being “useless skills”, at worst branded as chains of patriarchy; and on the other hand, this same section complain that Hindu society kept women away from education!
A large section of Hindus, especially Hindu parents have a serious aversion to the notion of love marriage. A certain section even believe that love marriages are not according to tenets of dharma. Some others believe that while love marriages are okay for Kshatriyas, it is prohibited for Brahmanas. But, all of these positions are incorrect and does not reflect the position of Dharmashastras.
Narada Smriti for example says in verse 12.44: “Of these (i.e. of 8 forms of marriage), the (first) four, beginning with the Brahma form, are declared to be Dharma; the Gândharva form is sādhāraṇaḥ or common to everyone; the three forms, which come after it, are unlawful.”
The eight forms of marriage are: brahma, daiva, ārśa, prājāpatya, gandharva, asura, rākṣasa and piśāca.
Thus, we have a clear and explicit evidence from Nāradasmṛti that not only are love marriages according to tenets of dharma, but also that it could be opted by all people. But, an objection could be raised here regarding the translation of “Sadharana” in the verse as “common to all varnas”. Since, it is possible to understand the term as referring to “neither dharma, nor adharma”, which is a valid interpretation. Though, I personally believe that there is a play of words here, with two layers of meaning– One giving the sense of “ordinary” and the other giving the sense of “common to all”– nevertheless we have even more stronger evidence to show the Dharmic validity of Gandharva Vivaha for people of all Varnas.
For one, unmarried women after puberty (3 years after puberty pecifically) were free to choose their own husbands, as per one of the smritis.
Secondly, we have stronger evidence for Gandharva marriage from Manusmriti. Manu says at 3.23: “One may know that the first six according to the order (followed above) are lawful for a Brahmana, the four last for a Kshatriya, and the same four, excepting the Rakshasa rite, for a Vaisya and a Sudra.” In short, Gandharva is considered lawful for everyone. Point to note here is, while in verse 3.23 it uses the term “Dharma”, in verse 3.24, it says only first four are “Prashasta” or better for Brahmanas. That is, while the first six kinds of marriages which includes Gandharva are Dharmic marriages, among them, the first four are a better option for Brahmanas.
Third, Gautama Dharmasutra (4.14-15) note that some consider only the first four (Brahma, Prajapatya, Arsha, Daiva) as Dharmic, while others consider the first six (including Gandharva & Asura) as dharmic marriages.
Fourth, Baudhayana Dharmasutras (1.20.10-16) says “Of these, only the first four are suitable for Brahmins, and even among these each preceding type is better than each following. Of the last four, each subsequent type is worse than each preceding. Among the latter, moreover, the sixth and seventh flow from the Ks.atriya nature, because that is the dominant feature of Ks.atriyas; while the fifth and the eighth are suitable for Vaisyas and Sudras, for Vaisyas and Sudras are lax about their wives, because they are occupied with agricultural and servile work. Some commend the ‘Gandharva’ form of marriage for all, because it flows from love.”.
The verse number 16 of Baudhayana, the final portion of the quoted text above is significant, as it actually uses the term “sarvesham” or “for all”. Thus, it clearly shows that Gandharva Vivaha was for all Varnas and this is one of the authentic Dharmashastric positions, though some individual authors may not have agreed.
Fifth, we have following citation from the Dharmashastra text “GRuhastharatnAkara”: “ārṣaprājāpatyagāndharvāṇāṃ tu sarvvavarṇasādhāraṇyasambhavāt nindāvirahāt ca” meaning “Since the ArSha, prAjApatya, and gAndarva can be common to all varNa-s and are free of censure” [I thank my friend Shankar Rajaraman for this citation]
I think from the above evidence, it is very clear that Gandharva marriage is lawful and dharmic for everyone.
We are in a messy situation. On the one extreme, we have the youngsters’ romanticism about modern-day love marriage and on the other extreme, we have parents’ romanticism about arranged marriage! The real issue here actually is the arbitrary fixing of marriage age at 18 and 21 and our judging of people as young or young to love or as young to marry based on this arbitrary number which has little basis in biology.
Our ancients, being much better on these issues, had a social system, where early marriage was promoted, if not imposed. The boys loved, married, or did both a few years after finishing Gurukula at the age of 16 or 18. The girls married within a few years of menarche say by 15-16. The Smritis are clear that a girl who is not married even after 3 years after menarche, she can choose her own husband. This recognizes both the biological reality of development of love and sexuality in people. So, if we go by the Dharmashastras, then we can clearly make a case for love marriage in today’s times, since, the legal age for marriage is fixed at many years after puberty!
Besides, I find it problematic that a lot of people view love marriage very poorly. This again was very different in ancient India, where Gandharva Vivaha was not only among the acceptable forms of marriage, but it was also widely prevalent (considering the evidence from texts like Kamasutra)! So, I don’t see why there needs to be shaming of love marriages.
But, having said that, there is a deeper problem in the current Indian society. It is the problem of how man-woman relationship is perceived and carried on today. It is this issue which is causing not only the breakdown of love marriages but also of arranged marriages. Few years into a marriage, in both love and arranged, couples discover they are incompatible and regret the decision. The root of the problem does not lie in youngsters developing “rati” in their age or pursuing it, which is quite natural, but it lies elsewhere, in the kind of social restrictions, a little bit of parental hypocrisy if I may say so, a lack of communication, a lack of sex education including education on sexuality and sexual restraint, and finally, the imposition of arbitrary age of marriage.
Of all the things above, I believe the lack of sex education is the greatest culprit. And here, by sex-education, I do not mean what has been constructed in contemporary times and involves education about using contraception and such! What I mean is a thorough education on the conception of Rati, Kaama, and Shringara using the framework of Purusharthas. An education, which neither suppresses eroticism nor promotes recklessness. But, instead teaches both sexual responsibility and the need for sexual restraint (indriya nigraha). In short, an education rooted in Indian tradition which promotes healthy sexuality in a restrained and responsible manner, and not a teaching of morality based on Biblical worldview.
In 2.6, Manu declares “Vedo Akhila Dharma Moolam” i.e. the Veda in its entirity is the source of Dharma. But, what is Veda? There is an great disparity between how Hindu tradition perceives Veda and how it is understood and taught to people in modern scholarship.
All modern scholarship posit Veda as a collection of four books which were composed and compiled across many centuries in layers. That is, two fundamental assertions or positions are held about Veda in modern scholarship:
1. They define Veda as a reference to four particular books: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda and that only the verses available in these four available texts are Veda.
2. They posit these four books as having been composed in layers over a period of many centuries.
But, both these positions are untenable, when we try to understand what Veda truly is and how Hindu tradition conceive of the Veda.
Let us now look into Manusmriti about what it has to say about Veda.
In 1.23, Maharshi Manu says “From Agni, Vayu, and Surya respectively, He (Brahmaa) drew forth the threefold eternal Vedas”. The threefold refers to Riks, Yajus, Samans, which are the three kinds of mantras found in the Veda. The verse is significant in many ways.
First, it calls Veda as “eternal” and hence, uncreated and hence cannot be spoken as mere poetic composition or historical development.
Second, it says, Brahmaa, the source of entire cosmos Himself, drew forth this Veda at the very beginning of this cycle of manifestation. And the word he uses to denote drew forth is “Duhoti” which means, Brahmaa drew forth the Veda the way a person extracts the milk from a cow. That is, the Veda was preexisting in the form of Agni, Vayu, and Surya, which are the building blocks or primary tattvas of the universe.
Third, the usage Duhoti also implies that just as milk can be considered as the essence or defining element of cow and its motherly place it occupies in Hindu thought, the Trayi Veda are the essence of Agni, Vayu, and Surya. The three tattvas are also three deities which preside over the three lokas- Bhu, Bhuva, Svar or of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep.
In short, in the Hindu understanding, the definition of Veda are not limited to merely a bunch of verses in the available text or oral tradition. But, they are the essence of Agni, Vayu, and Surya, which inturn are the embodiment of the entire cosmos. That is why, in 1.21, Manu says that Brahmaa created various objects and designated their names and their actions based on Veda.
Does it mean, the texts which are available to us are not Vedas? No. That is not what is meant by above. What is available in tradition as Sruti and has been preserved in the oral tradition and which was compiled and divided by Vyasa into four divisions, they are but only a fraction of the infinite Veda. While these particular mantras would have been revealed to particular Rishis at different times, they were all later compiled and instituted into four distinct oral traditions and into further branches by Veda Vyasa. But, when we say Veda is eternal or Apaurusheya, it implies that the reference is not only to what is available to us as Veda, but to Veda in its entirity, which is governing and upholding the entire cosmos. This is also the reason why there is insistence on chanting of Veda. The Vedic sound are premordial sounds of energy which are building blocks of this universe.
Is this understanding of Veda a later development? Not at all. The commentator on Manusmriti, Sri Kulluka Bhatta, quotes a mantra from Veda (Aitereya Brahmana to be precise) itself which speaks about Rik, Yajus, and Samans arising from Agni, Vayu, and Surya. Therefore, the notion of Veda being Apaurusheya is as old as Veda itself!
Therefore, there is no question of Vedas being composed in layers or through historical periods. Instead, Vedic mantras have been revealed to various Rishis at various times not only in ancient history but also in present, though such revelations have gone unrecorded. Our oral tradition of Veda derives from Vyasa, who imparted four different compilation of mantras, revealed to various Rishis both before and during his time to his four students and Mahabharata to the fifth. These four compilations are the four divisions of Veda and these inturn were transmitted through thousands of branches. [Sri Mrugendra Vinod ji gave a wonderful talk recently on Veda Pravachana tradition in Srijan Foundation]
The modern scholarship will be roaming blindly as long as it does not align its assumptions to the correct vision of Vedas as understood in the Vaidika Parampara. Any useful historical or geographical information can be extracted from the Vedic texts only after such alignment.
Some thoughts on early marriage in Hindu Shastras and the current social condition- Clarification on Shastric injunctions
1. Shastric injunction: Shastras say Sadyovadini women (not Brahmavadini women) must be married after 8 years of age and latest by 3 years after puberty. By three years after puberty if the parents do not get her married, she is free to find a suitable husband for herself.
There are many aspects to this injunction: One, the suggested age of marriage for Sadyovadini is same as age of Upanayana for boys. The reason is marriage served as Upanayana for girls and husbands became their Gurus from whom they learnt Shastras, Anushtanas, and everything else.
Two, in cultures across the world, puberty is recognized as a transition from childhood to adulthood. This is a biological fact that after puberty both boys and girls will start developing sexual desires, attractions, etc. and would become biologically ready and capable of entering fatherhood and motherhood respectively. Therefore, most cultures across the world have aligned the social institute of marriage and relationship with puberty so as to align with this natural biological process. The institution of marriage provides a socially legitimate and a safe way for couples to fulfill their sexual desires without resulting in harmful side effects like trauma, abortion, and such.
Three, Hindu concept of Vivaha stands on three pillars of Dharma, Prajaa and Rati. In the case of boys, Upanayana gives the right/competancy for Dharma and Samvarthana which is performed after completion of Gurukula vasa gives rights/competancy for Prajaa and Rati. The same is true for Brahmavadini women. For Sadyovadini women, Vivaha itself gives competancy for Dharma, Prajaa, and Rati. Hence, Manu says Vivaha itself is the Vaidika Samskara for women.
Four, while Sadyovadinis are suggested to enter into Vivaha before or soon after puberty and hence, they do not need to learn to control their sexual desires, the boys who enter Gurukula, are taught to practice Brahmacharya and Indriya Nigraha, so that they restrain their sexual desires and develop self control. Only when they later enter marriage, would they fulfil these desires.
Five, in case the Sadyovadini woman, if her parents are unable to find a suitable partner to her by 3 years after her attaining puberty, say by 15 or 16, then being an adult, she can herself choose her partner. While it is the duty of the parents to choose a proper bridegroom in case marriage happens early, but when she has become adult, her wish, her decision is most important.
Six, the suggestion about early marriage must be seen only in the context of biological duties of men and women. It is women who can be mothers, they have been endowed with special biology and hence, require special care for their health and body, which is distinct from those required for men. Thus, Dharma or duty which is always aligned with Prakriti and Svabhava, makes it a duty of men to become fathers, while duty of women is to become mothers. It is in this context, it is said, if the parents to not get the girl married, then every time menstruation happens, which indicates unfertilization of the egg and hence a loss of an oppurtunity for a jiva to take birth, they would incur a papam.
Seventh, while parents are adviced to marry the daughters early, they also advice them to marry them to suitable bridegrooms. Some texts even go to the extent and say it is better the girl remains unmarried than marry a wrong person. Further, once the girl becomes adult, she herself can choose a proper partner for her. Gandharva Vivaha is a Dharmically legitimate form of marriage.
2. Current Social Situation: While we celebrate today’s society as free and liberal, which it is in some manner, it has also given rise to large number of issues which were previously not present in traditional societies. Take the case of pre-marital pregnancies and abortions, which are widely prevalent in the West, and slowly becoming common in Indian society as well. Consider this, when women married early, the issue of premarital pregnancy or subsequent abortions would not arise.
A teenage pregnancy without any support from family or an abortion or a series of abortions is a traumatic experience to women which can affect them deeply and leave a permanent mark on their lives. Similarly, today it is very common to see people having boyfriends and girlfriends and breaking and making up day in and day out. What about mental stress this causes on the individuals involved? Please dont tell me none of these cases take emotional toll on people. They do. They take huge emotiona toll, such that many people commit suicide.
The issue is, in the traditional society while Sadyovadinis married early and hence, were able to fulfill their desires within a marriage which provides social safety and security, the Brahmavadinis and Brahmachari boys learned to control their senses till marriage. They learned Indriya Nigraha. But, today, while we have abandoned the traditional system of early marriage, partly for right reasons since, over the years, it had become delinked from education; the new system we have adopted wherein the legal marriage age is arbritarily set up at 18 & 21 for women and men and where people usually marry between 25 and 35 years of age, the education system has no mechanism to teach Indriya Nigraha. The result is disastrous as can be seen. Some people- boys & girls- loose virginity at 13 or 14 out of sheer curiosity. Not blaming them, they are just following their biological urges. But, the society is not providing them a Safe and Dharmic means for dealing with those biological urges such that they neither harm themselves nor others. If our education system today includes sex education which is strongly stringed with an education on sexual responsibility and sexual restraint, it will go a long way with dealing a lot of social issues and unnecessray trauma being faced by young people.
Since, there is a chance that I am accused of suporting so called regressive child mariage, let me clarify more on this here. The early marriage as prescribed in Shastra were neither regressive nor oppressive. It was in alignment to biological realities and closely linked to education and also provided a safe mechanism for girls to become women and fulfill their desires and their Stri-duties. The husband acted as the Guru who taught his wife and she had full freedom to pursue arts, skills, studies, etc. whatever was needed for her self-actualization.
This is anyways the ideal. It is only when this ideal was forgotten and the education became delinked from marriage, that girls who married early in many instances became confined to their homes and found their expressions limited, that such marriages became problematic. Thus, the issue lies with the deterioration of the early marriage system and not with the system itself.
The system itself in its archetype form presented in the Shastra is neither rigid nor regressive. It provides a good system wherein the Sadyovadinis could attain education as well as fulfill their legitimate sensual desires in a safe format without even having to put effort at developing Indriya Nigraha. At the same time, there was a provision for girls who have become adult enough to choose their husbands responsibly and perform either an arranged marriage with permission of parents or a Gandharva/love marriage on their own. This system managed to avoid a large number of social issues that is creating havoc in our society today such as pre-marital pregnancies, abortions, trauma associated with it, mental trauma associated with multiple relationships and breakups, breakdown of family support system, so on and so forth.
Every social institution will have its positives and negatives. A lot of child marriages performed in last many decades, even to this day has many problematic areas, most important of them being its unsuitability to current social conditions, and its delinking from education.
Dharmashastra texts clearly note what is Dharma in one situation may become Adharma if it goes against prevailing social conditions and people’s consensus. Further, the fact that child marriages had long been divorced from education and that the traditional system of inherited skills prevalent in families and jatis no longer exist, also makes child marriage largely unsuitable, in fact, problematic in certain situations wherein it is forcibly superimposed.
In short, the world is not always black and white, it is mostly different shades of grey
In any case, what is important to note is that we must learn to differentiate between an archetype and the Dharmic principles behind it and the actual implementation itself. There is great value in the archetype of early marriage presented in the Shastras. The Dharmic principles that guided the formulation of this archetype are eternal and will remain applicable even today.
For example, the fact that every unfertilized egg at the end of menstrual cycle causes a Karmic papam is a Dharmic fact. Similarly, the Dharmic principle that women’s choice must be taken into account in marriage once she crosses 3 years from puberty is applicable even today. That, Vivaha has three pillars of Dharma, Prajaa, Rati will always be relevant.
The question is how best can we implement the best of these Dharmic principles for today’s social conditions?
Five suggestions towards this direction:
1. Impart Sex education to young kids after their puberty. By Sex education I mean an education into Rati Shastra which not only involves education about biology of sex, but also about importance of sexual restraint (Indriya Nigraha) and sexual responsibility.
2. Parents should not be opposed to the idea of love marriage. Love or arranged, marriage is a marriage of which Rati or love is one of the intrinsic pillars. While a lot of parents are rigidly opposed to any idea of love and often thus end of alienating children, A lot of parents today also exhibit hypocritical behavior. They do not oppose their children having affairs with others, but have laid down iron clad rule that such children must marry only according to parents’s choice. This for example, goes completely against Dharmic principles and pure common sense. So much trauma they are putting the children into. It is better to make the children responsible in life and support them, and trust them in their decisions. Be open to them, such that as Shastras say the parents become best friends of their adult children.
3. This is not to suggest that there is no scope for arranged marriage or its institution. The Parents may of course, consider marrying their kids as soon as they attain legal age for marriage but only with the consultation of the children and taking into account their wishes and wills into full consideration. The system of arranged marriage has been very successful in Indian society, there is no reason to abandon it, as long as the children getting married have their say in the process.
4. It is more important for parents to focus on teaching Dharmic values, responsibility, Svadharma or duties to children, and encourage them to pursue their own path towards self-actualization within the framework of Purusharthas than managing each and every aspect of children’s life, which they anyways cannot do.
5. Let parents teach their girl children to practice Rajaswala Paricharya which not only assists in getting rid of Dosha that arises from unfertilization of egg which is equated to 1/3rd Brahmahatya, but is also a great tool of austerity, rest, and self-purification.
In the very beginning of Krida-Khanda of Ganesha Purana, the sages say:
“For as long as this Purana is recited, our desire to hear it increases and the entire world becomes free from the ocean of transmigration”.
While at a first glance, it appears as mere eulogy of the said Purana. There is a deep philosophy embedded in this. The key phrases here are “desire to hear increases” and that one will become “free from Samsara”. The recitation and hearing of this Purana constitutes what is called as “Kirtana” and “Sravana” in Bhakti Yoga.
In Bhagavata Purana, nine forms of Bhakti are mentioned:
Shravanam – Hearing the names and glories of the Lord
Keertanam – Chanting His glories
Smaranam – Remembering the Lord
Paada sevanam – Serving the Lord’s feet
Archanam – Worshiping the Lord
Vandanam – Offering obeisance unto the Lord
Daasyam – Serving the Lord as His servant
Sakhyam – Developing friendship with the Lord
Atma Nivedanam – Total surrender of oneself to the Lord
The Ganesha Purana is actually referring to this Shravanam, when it says that hearing this Purana, one’s desire to hear more increases. The phrase “desire to hear more increases” refers to the maturing of Bhakti, with the mind becoming one-pointedly focussed towards Ganesha in order to enjoy the glory and Rasa of Bhakti. In Bhagavad-Bhakti-Rasayana, Madhusudhana Saraswati classifies all these nine forms of Bhakti as Sadhana bhakti or the means through which one attains true Bhakti or the Bhakti which is goal. He says that Sravana etc. which are called Bhagavad Dharma lead to sprouting of love for the deity, which inturn leads to increase of prema. The phrase “desire to hear (the glory of Ganesha) increases” refers to this stage of the “increase of prema”. This stage constitutes the 7th stage of Bhakti Yoga in the scheme given by Madhusudhana Saraswati, while Shravana etc. forms 4th stage. The 7th stage gives rise to manifestation of divine in the form it is worshipped, in this case, Ganapati, which will untimately results in complete union with the divinity, which is Moksha (this constitutes 11th and final stage of Bhakti).
In other words, the sages are eulogizing the said Purana as a perfect tool for Bhakti Yoga, which leads one to Moksha. They are also making a reference to Rasopasana, which is an aspect of Bhakti-yoga by the reference to “desire to hear being increasing”. Today, Rasopasana is mostly associated with Krishna-Radha. But, I believe it is equally possible with all deities. One of the purpose or Prayojana of genre of Puranas is to facilitate Bhakti Yoga and this is being stated at the veery beginning of the Krida-Khanda of Ganesha Purana as well.
Anupalabdhi or non-perception is one of the valid means of knowledge accepted in Advaita Vedanta and Bhatta Mimamsa. According to these schools, the non-perception of an object at a place can be used to perceive its non-existence there. Example. If a chair is not perceived in a room, then we can safely conclude that the chair is not present in a room.
What is interesting is that the validity of non-perception as a valid means for understanding non-existence of an object is subject to certain conditions. The most important of them being: It cannot be applied to all objects and all contexts. It is valid and can be applied only to those objects and in those circumstances, in which such an object could otherwise have been perceived had it been present. That is, the absence of a chair in a room can be perceived from non-perception of a chair owing to the fact that if the chair were to be present, it would have led to its perception. In other words, this means of knowledge (pramana) is not valid and not applicable to objects like atoms, prana, kundalini, or to realms like svarga or to Ishwara.
A very common meme touted touted these days by the atheists and agnostics, is to provide proof or show Ishwara to them. What they are actually saying is since Ishwara or any deity cannot be perceived by our sense organs, they do not exist. They are in effect taking refuge in Pratyaksha pramana to refute existence of Ishwara. This argument is then portrayed as a “rationalitic” and logical, compared to theists who are considered superstitious!
But, the very basis of this argument is irrational. As the discussion in the beginning of the post shows, non-perception can imply non-existence only in cases where the objects can normally be perceived while present. But, this does not apply to the case of Ishwara who is by definition the cause, sustainer and destroyer of the universe and hence, is beyond the grasp of the senses. The Shastras repeatedly describe Ishwara as beyond the reach of the senses. Therefore, any argument which uses this Pramana of Anupalabdhi to prove non-existence of Ishwara is an irrational argument and must be rejected.
Having said this, it is of-course possible for the Yogis and Bhaktas to perceive Ishwara and the deities in the Hrdayas and it is also possible for Ishwara to manifest in meditation or as Avataras in the human form or inhibit as Shakti in the Murtis in a temple. Or for the mind to meditate on the form of deity embedded in dhyana mantras. But, except for the case of Avataras, in no other case is Ishwara visible to the naked eyes as a objective reality to everyone, so to speak.
In any case, the point is, non-perception of Ishwara to sense organs cannot be a rational basis for arguing for the non-existence of Ishwara.