The concept of the Hindu marriage is the result of the evolution of long experience, dogmas and thoughts spread over centuries. Marriage under Hindu Law was never considered a contract between man and wife, but a holy sacrament enjoined by religion for purifying the body and regeneration of man. Hindu marriage is a sanskar as conceived in Yjanvalkya Smriti and is distinguished from Christian or Muslim marriage. The Hindu marriage is thus once a marriage always a marriage. Fundamental concept underlying the law of marriage amongst Hindus is that marriage is regarded as a sort of sacrament and not a matter of free contract between the parties.
The institution of marriage is a recognized time old institution. It was essential and necessary for the civilized human society. The peace clergy personalities and legislators have been bringing about the changes necessary in the institution. The marriage has been centre of activity religiously, legally and for the human biological urges. The marriages were governed by pre-determined rules worked out by the saints, philosophers, law givers, courts as well as the legislatures. The laws and the customs varied from time to time, place to place and community to community etc.1)
From the very commencement of the Rigvedic age, marriage was a well-established institution, and the Aryan ideal of marriage was very high. Monogamy was the approved rule, though polygamy existed to some extent. It is said that there is no real evidence of existence of polyandry and matriarchy in Vedic times. Marriage life was a strict bond and certain matrimonial offences like adultery etc. were viewed seriously and for such an offence, either of the concerned spouse could be held guilty and punished. Dissolution of marriage was normally not an accepted concept. Men were expected to honour women. She was associated in all religious offerings and rituals with her husband.
The status of a husband and a wife was considered to be religious and one of the most pious relationships. According to various schools of thought life demanded certain minimum civilized existence. The marriage was an institution wherein the parties to it consolidated their social and economic gains and passed those on to their progeny. The marriage builds the dynastic units. Marriages are arranged with great solemnity and with certain ceremonies recognized by custom are by law. A healthy, and happy marriage provides a good progeny which would prove an asset to the nation. According to the ancient philosophy marriage was considered to be a spiritual ideal for the guidance of the believers. Marriage was one of the means to check immorality and further save the women from exploitation. It has psychological, biological, civil and human considerations. It was one of the essential institutions in order to protect the progeny, who would be the future citizens of the country. 2)
Foundation of eternal tie—Hindu idea of marriage has always involved the creation of permanent tie irrespective of the fact how it came into being. Hindus had been treating the marriage as a sacrosanct act. In order to bring about the marriage, in view of the sacrosanctity attached to it, various ceremonies were provided by the Hindu philosophers in order to attain the status of husband and wife and keeping the same at the highest pedestal. The marriage carried along with it divine blessings. It was deeply rooted belief that peace and prosperity used to dwell in the house where female members received due respect and honour. It was observed by various jurists and psychologists that woman by nature is weak and is unable to bear the turmoil of the world and marriage is status fulfilling, an irrevocable intention of living together, sharing the experiences of life, taking the wear and tear of life jointly. The public used to maintain and respect the status of married life. It bore a legal condition of status. The termination of marriage was unknown except in a few and a particular class of people and conditions. Marriage was considered to be essential for spiritual welfare. In the ancient society monogamy was considered a virtue in spite of the fact that in some class of people and under certain circumstances polygamy was permissible.
With the passage of time changes in social conditions, the reforms suggested by various saints, philosophers, law givers. Courts as well as the legislatures and the influence of the Western Society have eroded the concept of Hindu marriage being a sacrosanct. Resultantly, the marriage is now considered partly as a sacrosanct and partly as a contract. Monogamy has been considered to be decorous in view of the fact that the females are being considered as equals. 3)
Marriage, whether considered as a contract or sacrament, confers, a status of husband and wife on the parties to the marriage, of legitimacy on the children of the marriage, and gives rise to certain mutual rights and obligations of spouses. All over the Hindu and Christian worlds, marriage began as a sacrament. Marriage, as a Sacramental, necessarily implied a permanent and indissoluble union. Hindus took the notion of indissolubility of marriage, a step further and laid down that even death did not put the marriage asunder. It was a union not merely in this life but also in all lives to come an eternal union. Thus, Hindus conceived their marriage as a holy and sacramental tie and not a contractual union. The intention of the sacrament is to make the husband and the wife one, physically and psychically, for secular and spiritual purposes, for this life and for after lives.4)
The man is incomplete without his wife, and it is wife completes him. She is ardhangi (half of him). The wife is verily the half of the husband. Those who have wives can fulfill their due obligations in this world; those that have wives can be happy; those that have wives can lead a full life. Wife is not just a patni, but dharmapatni - (partner in the performance of spiritual as well as secular duties). Thus, Hindus conceived of their marriage a sacramental union, - a sacrosanct, permanent, indissoluble and eternal union. For Hindus, the marriage is not a contract, but it is a tie which once tied cannot be untied.5)
Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on various subjects including Jurisprudence, Hindu Law and Environmental Laws.