Forms of Hindu Marriage (Vivaah)

Forms and Types of Hindu Marriage

The expression ‘forms of marriage” normally refers to the four major forms of marriage such as — Monogamy, Polygamy, Polyandry and Group Marriage — as mentioned by anthropologist Malinowski.

But in the context of the Hindu Marriage System the expression “forms of marriage” denotes “the method of consecrating a marriage union.”

Eight Forms of Hindu Marriage mentioned by Manu

The following types and forms of Hindu marriage (Vivaah) are mentioned by Manu :

  1. Brahma Marriage
  2. Daiva Marriage
  3. Arsha Marriage
  4. Prajapatya Marriage
  5. Asura Marriage
  6. Gandharva Marriage
  7. Rakshasa Marriage, and
  8. Paisacha Marriage.

The Smritis including the Manu Smriti have brought together these eight forms of marriage into two main groups, namely,

  1. Prashasta or Approved or Desirable marriages and
  2. Aprashasta or Disapproved or Undesirable marriages.

A. “Prashasta” Form of Hindu Marriages

Prashasta form of hindu marriages includes the first four types, namely, Brahma, Daiva, Arsha and Prajapatya.

1. Brahma Vivah ( Marriage)

Brahma marriage is the purest form of hindu marriage. In this form of marriage the father offers his daughter to a man of good character and learning. The daughter who is decked with ornaments and richly dressed is given as a kind of gift [danam] to a man of good character [srutisilavan] and high learning. The smritis regard this as the most honorable type of marriage. This form can be traced back to the Vedic times. It is still in currency and popular in India though often disfigured with the ugly practice of dowry.

2. Daivya Vivah

In the Daiva form of marriage the father gives away his daughter as a dakshina [sacrificial fee] to a young priest who officiates the yajna which is arranged by him. This form of marriage is called daiva because the girl is gifted to a priest as sacrifice to a daiva or god. These girls are maidens who are offered as dakshina. They are called “vadhus”. Though this form of marriage was in practice during the early period, during the later days it was considered improper. Hence daiva form of marriage was considered inferior to Brahma marriage.

3. Arsha Vivah

In this form of hindu marriage, the father gives his daughter in marriage to the bridegroom after receiving a cow and a bull or two pairs of these from the bridegroom in accordance with the requirements of dharma. But this form of marriage should not be confused with the form of the bride-price or with that of the dowry. The gift of cow and bull is to be made as a token of gratitude to the man who offers his daughter to the groom to enable him to fulfill his grihasthashrama obligations. In course of time, with the decline of rituals, this form of marriage became out of date. Manu Smriti states that “some prescribe the acceptance of one pair of cows in the arsha vivah, but it is improper. It is a sale; it matters little whether one accepts a large sum or a small one.”

4. Prajapatya Vivah

In this form of hindu marriage, the father makes a gift of the daughter by addressing the couple with the mantram “may both of you perform together your dharma.” The girl is given as a gift with a clear understanding that the couple will fulfill the religious and civic duties together. This form of marriage is inferior to the first three because the bride is not a free gift but a condition is laid on both the bride and the bridegroom.

In the four forms mentioned above, the important point to be noted is that it is the father [or a person in his place] who makes a gift [dana] of the bride to the bridegroom.

B. “Aprashasta” Form of Marriages

Aprashasta forms of marriages include the last four forms, namely, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paisacha. The shastrakaras have approved of Prashasta form of marriages while the Aprashasta marriages are forbidden or disapproved of.

5. Asura Vivah

Unlike the first four types of the marriage mentioned above, the Asura type of marriage is one in which the bridegroom has to give money to the father or kinsman of the bride. The main consideration of this form of marriage is money. The bride, in this form of marriage, is virtually purchased. The Smriti writers consider the asura marriage either a traditional custom or a necessary evil. According to Manu, the learned father of the girl should not accept even the least amount of price. If he accepts it, he comes to be regarded as the seller of children. In the present day Indian society the asura form of marriage mostly does not exist.

6. Gandharva Vivah

The Gandharva type of marriage is the one in which a girl selects her husband by herself. The marriage of Shakuntala and Dushyantha is a classical example of this kind of marriage. Mann gives a comprehensive definition of it in the following manner — “where the bride and the bridegroom meet each other of their own accord and the meeting is consummated in copulation born of passion, that form is called gandharva.”

It can also be considered a kind of marriage wherein the mutual love and consent of the bride and the bridegroom is the only condition required to bring about the union. Neither the father nor the kinsmen need have a hand in bringing about the marriage. This type of marriage is called gandharva, because it was in practice in the Gandharva tribe living on the slopes of the Himalayas.

During the early days it was in practice among the Kshatriyas in which the kings used to arrange swayamvaras inviting princes from different places so that their daughters may get a wide selection to choose their husbands. By swayamvara we mean the selection of the bridegroom by the bride herself. The marriage of Damayanthi with Nala, and Prithviraj Chauhan with Samyukta can be mentioned here as examples. The gandharva vivaha in its original style is not in practice today but it has assumed a new form called “love marriage.”

7. Rakshasa Vivah

The rakshasa form is described in the Hindu scriptures when girls were the forcible were forcible abducted. It is the capture of bride by force. Here the bridegroom does not take the consent of the girl but simply forces her to marry him. It is to be noted that rakshasa form of marriage disappeared in course of time. But in its place the practice of girls eloping with heroes with whom they fall in love started taking place. The examples of Rukmini and Subhadra [in the epic age] eloping with Lord Krishna and Arjuna respectively and Samyukta eloping with Prithviraj Chauhan [in the Medieval age], can be cited here.

8. Paisacha Vivah

Paisacha form of marriage is one in which the man seduces by force a girl who is sleeping or intoxicated or disordered in intellect. Dharmashastra writers like Gauthama and Vishnu define it as “co-habiting with a girl who is unconscious, sleepy or intoxicated.” This form of marriage, however, has disappeared altogether in India.

Of these eight forms of marriages, Brahma vivaha is considered to be the best form of marriage where a girl is given to a boy of merit in the same caste or in a cast of equal status. Both bride and bridegroom in this marriage are supposed to be mutually agreeable for the marriage. In the present day Hindu society also the Brahma vivaha is considered the most preferable one in which the father gifts his daughter to a suitable bridegroom through the ritual of kanyadana.

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