The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, "Tell me of that, O grandsire, which is the root of all duties, which is the root of kinsmen, of home, of the Pitris and of guests. I think this should be regarded as the foremost of all duties, (viz., the marriage of one's daughter). Tell me, however, O king, upon what sort of a person should one bestow one's daughter?'
"Bhishma said, 'Having enquired into the conduct and disposition of the person, his learning and acquirements, his birth, and his acts, good people should then bestow their daughter upon accomplished bridegrooms. All righteous Brahmanas, O Yudhishthira, act in this way (in the matter of the bestowal of their daughters). This is known as the Brahma marriage, O Yudhishthira! Selecting an eligible bridegroom, the father of the girl should cause him to marry his daughter, having, by presents of diverse kinds, induced the bridegroom to that act. This form of marriage constitutes the eternal practice of all good Kshatriyas. When the father of the girl', disregarding his own wishes, bestows his daughter upon a person whom the daughter likes and who reciprocates the girl's sentiments, the form of marriage, O Yudhishthira, is called Gandharva by those that are conversant with the Vedas. The wise have said this, O king, to be the practice of the Asuras, viz., wedding a girl after purchasing her at a high cost and after gratifying the cupidity of her kinsmen. Slaying and cutting off the heads of weeping kinsmen, the bridegroom sometimes forcibly takes away the girl he would wed. Such wedding, O son, is called by the name of Rakshasa. Of these five (the Brahma, the Kshatra, the Gandharva, the Asura, and the Rakshasa), three are righteous, O Yudhishthira, and two are unrighteous. The Paisacha and the Asura forms should never be resorted to. 1 The Brahma, Kshatra, and Gandharva forms are righteous, O prince of men! Pure or mixed, these forms should be resorted to, without doubt. A Brahmana can take three wives. A Kshatriya can take two wives. As regards the Vaisya, he should take a wife from only his own order. The children born of these wives should all be regarded as equal. 2 Of the three wives of a Brahmana, she taken from his own order should be regarded as the foremost. Similarly, of the two wives permitted to the Kshatriya, she taken from his own order should be regarded as superior. Some say that persons belonging to the three higher orders may
take, only for purposes of enjoyment (and not for those of virtue), wives from the lowest or the Sudra order. Others, however, forbid the practice.
The righteous condemn the practice of begetting issue upon Sudra women. A Brahmana, by begetting children upon a Sudra woman, incurs the liability of performing an expiation. A person of thirty years of age should wed a girl of ten years of age called a Nagnika. 1 Or, a person of one and twenty years of age should wed a girl of seven years of age. That girl who has no brother nor father should not be wed, O chief of Bharata's race, for she may be intended as Putrika of her sire. 2 After the appearance of puberty, the girl (if not married) should wait for three years. On the fourth year, she should look for a husband herself (without waiting any longer for her kinsmen to select one for her). The offspring of such a girl do not lose their respectability, nor does union with such a girl become disgraceful. If, instead of selecting a husband for herself, she acts otherwise, she incurs the reproach of Prajapati herself. One should wed that girl who is not a Sapinda of one's mother or of the same Gotra with one's father. Even this is the usage (consistent with the sacred law) which Manu has declared.' 3
"Yudhishthira said, 'Desirous of marriage someone actually gives a dower to the girl's kinsmen; someone says, the girl's kinsmen consenting promises to give a dower; someone says, 'I shall abduct the girl by force;' someone simply displays his wealth (to the girl's kinsmen, intending to offer a portion thereof as dower for her); someone, again, actually takes the hand of the girl with rites of wedding. I ask thee, O grandsire, whose wife does the girl actually become? Unto its that are desirous of knowing the truth, thou art the eye with which to behold.'
"Bhishma said, 'Whatever acts of men have been approved or settled in consultation by the wise, are seen to be productive of good. False speech, however, is always sinful. 4 The girl himself that becomes wife, the sons
born of her, the Ritwiks and preceptors and disciples and Upadhyayas present at the marriage all become liable to expiation if the girl bestow her hand upon a person other than he whom she had promised to wed. Some are of opinion that no expiation is necessary for such conduct. Manu does not applaud the practice of a girl living with a person whom she does not like. 1 Living as wife with a person whom she does not like, leads to disgrace and sin. No one incurs much sin in any of these cases that follow. In forcibly abducting for marriage a girl that is bestowed upon the abductor by the girl's kinsmen, with due rites, as also a girl for whom dower has been paid and accepted, there is no great sin. Upon the girl's kinsmen having expressed their consent, Mantras and Homa should be resorted to. Such Mantras truly accomplish their purpose. Mantras and Homa recited and performed in the case of a girl that has not been bestowed by her kinsmen, do not accomplish their purpose. The engagement made by the kinsmen of a girl is, no doubt, binding and sacred. But the engagement that is entered into by the wedder and wedded, with the aid of Mantras, is very much more so (for it is this engagement that really creates the relationship of husband and wife). According to the dictates of the scriptures, the husband should regard his wife as an acquisition due to his own acts of a previous life or to what has been ordained by God. One, therefore, incurs no reproach by accepting for wife a girl that had been promised to another by her kinsmen or for whom dower had been accepted by them from another.'
"Yudhishthira said, 'When after the receipt of dower for a girl, the girl's sire sees a more eligible person present himself for her hand,--one, that is who is endued with the aggregate of Three in judicious proportions, does the girl's sire incur reproach by rejecting the person from whom dower had been received in favour of him that is more eligible? In such a case either alternative seems to be fraught with fault, for to discard the person to whom the girl has been promised can never be honourable, while to reject the person that is more eligible can never be good (considering the solemn obligation there is of bestowing one's daughter on the most eligible person). I ask, how should the sire conduct himself so that he might be said to do that which is beneficial? To us, of all duties this seems to demand the utmost measure of deliberation. We are desirous of ascertaining the truth. Thou, indeed, art our eyes! Do thou explain this to us. I am never satiated with listening to thee!'
'Bhishma said, 'The gift of the dower does not cause the status of wife
to attach to the girl. This is well-known to the person paying it. He pays it simply as the price of the girl. Then again they that are good never bestow their daughters, led by the dowers that others may offer. When the person desirous of wedding happens to be endued with such qualities as do not go down with the girl's kinsmen, it is then that kinsmen demand dower from him. That person, however, who won over by another's accomplishments, addresses him, saying, 'Do thou wed my girl, adorning her with proper ornaments of gold and gems,'--and that person who complies with this request, cannot be said to demand dower or give it, for such a transaction is not really a sale. The bestowal of a daughter upon acceptance of what may strictly be regarded as gifts (of affection or love) is the eternal practice. In matters of marriage some fathers say, 'I shall not bestow my daughter upon such and such a person;' some say, 'I shall bestow my daughter upon such a one.'--Some again say with vehemence, 'I must bestow my daughter upon such an individual.' These declarations do not amount to actual marriage. People are seen to solicit one another for the hands of maidens (and promise and retreat). Till the hand is actually taken with due rites, marriage cannot be said to take place. It has been beard by us that' even this was the boon granted to men in days of old by the Maruts in respect of maidens 1. The Rishis have laid the command upon all men that maidens should never be bestowed upon persons unless the latter happen to be most fit or eligible. The daughter is the root of desire and of descendants of the collateral line. Even this is what I think. 2 The practice has been known to human beings from a long time,--the practice, of sale and purchase of the daughter. In consequence of such familiarity with the practice, thou mayst be able, upon careful examination, to find innumerable faults in it. The gift or acceptance of dower alone could not be regarded as creating the status of husband and wife. Listen to what I say on this head.
"Formerly, having defeated all the Magadhas, the Kasis, and the Kosalas, I brought away by force two maidens for Vichitravirya. One of those two maidens was wedded with due rites. The other maiden was not formally wedded on the ground that she was one for whom dowry had been paid in the form of valour. My uncle of Kuru's race, viz., king Valhika, said that the maiden so brought away and not wedded with due rites should be set free. That maiden, therefore, was recommended to Vichitravirya for being married by him according to due rites. Doubting my father's words I repaired to others for asking their opinion. I thought that my sire was exceedingly punctilious in matters of morality. I then went to my sire himself, O king, and addressed him these words from
desire of knowing something about the practices of righteous people in respect of marriage, 'I desire, O sire, to know what in truth the practices are of righteous people.' I repeated the expression of my wish several times, so great was my eagerness and curiosity. After I had uttered those words, that foremost of righteous men, viz., my sire, Valhika answered me, saying, 'If in your opinion the status of husband and wife be taken to attach on account of the gift and acceptance of dowry and not from the actual taking of the maiden's hand with due rites, the father of the maiden (by permitting his daughter to go away with the giver of the dowry) would so himself to be the follower of a creed other than that which is derivable from the ordinary scriptures. Even this is what the accepted scriptures declare. Persons conversant with morality and duty do not allow that their words are at all authoritative who say that the status of husband and wife arises from the gift and acceptance of dowry, and not from the actual taking of the hand with due rites. The saying is well-known that the status of husband and wife is created by actual bestowal of the daughter by the sire (and her acceptance by the husband with due rites). The status of wife cannot attach to maidens through sale and purchase. They who regard such status to be due to sale and the gift of dowry are persons that are certainly unacquainted with the scriptures. No one should bestow his daughter upon such persons. In fact, they are not men to whom one may marry his daughter. A wife should never be purchased. Nor should a father sell his daughter. Only those persons of sinful soul who are possessed, besides, by cupidity, and who sell and purchase female slaves for making serving women, regard the status of wife as capable of arising from the gift and acceptance of a dowry. On this subject some people on one occasion had asked prince Satyavat the following question, 'If the giver of a dowry unto the kinsmen of a maiden happens to die before marriage, can another person take the hand of that maiden in marriage? We have doubts on this matter. Do thou remove these doubts of ours, for thou art endued with great wisdom and art honoured by the wise. Be thou the organ of vision unto ourselves that are desirous of learning the truth.' Prince Satyavat answered saying, 'The kinsmen of the maiden should bestow her upon him whom they consider eligible. There need be no scruples in this. The righteous act in this way without taking note of the giver of the dower even if he be alive; while, as regards the giver that is dead, there is not the slightest doubt. Some say that the virgin wife or widow,--one, that is, whose marriage has not been consummated with her husband by actual sexual congress in consequence of his absence or death,--may be allowed to unite herself with her husband's younger brother or such other relation. The husband dying before such consummation, the virgin-widow may either surrender herself to her husband's younger brother or betake herself to the practice of penances. In the opinion of some, the younger brother of the husband or such other relation may thus use the unused wife or widow, though others maintain that such practice, notwithstanding
its prevalence, springs from desire instead of being a scriptural ordinance. They that say so are clearly of opinion that the father of a maiden has the right to bestow her upon any eligible person, disregarding the dowry previously given by another and accepted by himself. If after the hand of a maiden has been promised all the initial rites before marriage be performed, the maiden may still be bestowed upon a person other than the one unto whom she had been promised. Only the giver incurs the sin of falsehood: so far, however, as the status of wife is concerned, no injury can occur thereto. The Mantras in respect of marriage accomplish their object of bringing about the indissoluble union of marriage at the seventh step. The maiden becomes the wife of him unto whom the gift is actually made with water. 1 The gift of maidens should be made in the following way. The wise know it for certain. A superior Brahmana should wed a maiden that is not unwilling, that belongs to a family equal to his own in purity or status, and that is given away by her brother. Such a girl should be wed in the presence of fire, with due rites, causing her, amongst other things, to circumambulate for the usual number of times."
17:1 It would be curious to see how the commentator Nilakantha seeks to include within these five the eight forms of marriage mentioned by Manu. The fact is, such parts of the Mahabharata are unquestionably more ancient than Manu. The mention of Manu is either an instance of interpolation or there must have been an older Manu upon whose work the Manu we know has been based. The Asura and the Rakshasa forms are unequivocally condemned. Yet the commentator seeks to make out that the Rakshasa form is open to the Kshatriyas. The fact is, the Rakshasa was sometimes called the Paisacha. The distinction between those two forms was certainly of later origin.
17:2 Thus, there was no difference, in status, in ancient times, between children born of a Brahmana, a Kshatriya or a Vaisya mother. The difference of status was of later origin.
18:1 Nagnika is said to be one who wears a single piece of cloth. A girl in whom the signs of puberty have not appeared does not require more than a single piece of cloth to cover her. The mention of Nagnika, the commentator thinks, is due to an interdiction about wedding a girl of even ten years in whom signs of puberty have appeared.
18:2 When a father happens to have an only daughter, he frequently bestows her in marriage upon some eligible youth on the understanding that the son born of her shall be the son, for purposes of both Sraddha rites and inheritance, not of the husband begetting him but of the girl's father. Such a contract would be valid whether expressed or not at the time of marriage. The mere wish of the girl's father, unexpressed at the time of marriage, would convert the son into a son not of the father who begets him but of the father of the girl herself. A daughter reserved for such a purpose is said to be a putrikadharmini or 'invested with the character of a son.' To wed such a girl was not honourable. It was in effect an abandonment of the fruits of marriage. Even if dead at the time of marriage, still if the father had, while living, cherished such a wish, that would convert the girl into a putrikadharmini. The repugnance to wedding girls without father and brothers exists to this day.
18:3 For understanding the meanings of Sapinda and Sagotra see any work on Hindu law civil or canonical.
18:4 These verses are exceedingly terse. The commentator explains that what is intended is that under the third and fourth circumstances the giver of the girl incurs no sin; under p. 19 the second, the bestower of the girl (upon a person other than he unto whom a promise had been made) incurs fault. The status of wife, however, cannot attach simply in consequence of the promise to bestow upon the promiser of the dower. The relationship of husband and wife arises from actual wedding. For all that, when the kinsmen meet and say, with due rites, 'This girl is this one's wife,' the marriage becomes complete. Only the giver incurs sin by not giving her to the promised person.
19:1 Hence, having promised to wed such a one, she is at liberty to give him over and wed another whom she likes.
20:1 In consequence of that boon no one incurs sin by retracting promises of bestowing daughters upon others in view of more eligible husbands.
20:2 Hence, no one should bestow his daughter upon a person that is not eligible, for the offspring of such marriage can never be good and such a marriage can never make the daughter's sire or kinsmen happy.
22:1 One of the most important rites of marriage is the ceremony of circumambulation. The girl is now borne around the bride-groom by her kinsmen. Formerly, she used to walk herself. All gifts, again, are made with water. The fact is, when a thing is given away, the giver, uttering the formula, sprinkles a drop of water upon it with a blade of Kusa grass.
Next: Section XLV