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Art. VIII.-Of Marriages and Marriage Ceremonies among the
Hindoos, [From the · Description of the Character, Manders, and Customs of the People of
India,' &c., by the Abbe J. A. Dubois, Missionary n tbe Mysore.] MARRIAGE is to a Hindu the great, the most essential of all
objects; that of which he speaks the most and looks forward to from
the remotest distance. A man who is not married is considered to be a person without establishment, and almost as a useless member of society. Until he arrives at this state he is consulted on no great affairs, nor employed on any important trust. In short, he is looked upon as a man out of the pale of nature, A Brahman who becomes a widower is likewise held to have fallen from his station; and nothing is more urgent upon him than to resume the marriage state.
The case is quite different with respect to widows. It never enters into their view to procure a new establishment, even when they lose their husbands at the age of six or seven: for it is not rare to see widows no older, particularly among the Brahmans (as has already been mentioned), where an old man of sixty or upwards takes for his second wife a child of that tender age.
Their prejudices, however, on this subject, have taken such firm root in their minds, that the bare mentioning of remarrying these young widows would be considered by their relations and by themselves as the greatest of insults. Yet they are despised through all India. The very name of widow is a reproach; and the greatest possible calamity that can befal a woman is to survive her husband; although to marry with another would be held a thousand times more to be dreaded. From that moment she would be hunted out of society, and no decent person would venture at any time to have the slightest intercourse with her.
Though marriage be considered the natural condition of man, yet celibacy is not unknown in India. It is even a state respected; and those of their Sannyasis who are known to lead their lives in perfect celibacy, receive on that account, marks of distinguished honour and respect. But this condition cannot be embraced excepting by those who devote themselves to a life of seclusion from the world, and of perpetual contemplation, such as that class of enthusiasts do; or by such as are bound by their profession to discharge the duties of religion towards their neighbours, such as the Gurus. The Hindus seem to have felt that the duties of penitent and Guru were incompatible with those of the master of a family, and that a man ought to be free from the embarrassment and anxiety of one of these stations to be fully able to acquit himself properly of the other. This was perhaps the chief reason for allowing the Sannyasis and the greater part of the Gurus to live in a single state.
The greater number, however, are bachelors only in name. No virtue is less familiar to them than chastity. It is publicly
known that they keep women, and commit breaches of that virtue which they profess, that would disgrace the most profane. But their sacred title of Sannyasi or Guru raises them above the attacks of the wicked; and such human failings, if not carried to great excess, scarcely diminish the outward reverence and respect which they receive from the silly vulgar.
At the same time, I cannot but believe that the small number of real Sannyasis or penitents who are still found living in woods and deserts, wholly retired from the world, and who, through vanity or fanaticism, condemn themselves to all sorts of privations, and inure their bodies to the harshest austerities, actually live in celibacy, and altogether unconnected with women. The severe life which they lead scarcely allows the body to war against the spirit. But, as far as concerns the Gurus and Sannyasis, who scour the country to live on the public credulity, or those who shut themselves up in a sort of monasteries and lead a lazy and voluptuous life, with no other occupation than that of receiving the presents and offerings which their numerous votaries, deceived by their false reputation for sanctity, bring to them from all quarters; such men are to be considered as mere impostors, or knaves, who abuse the credulous populace, under the guise of celibacy, while they are revelling in every species of luxury. All that I have heard from various persons who have lived in their service as domestics, and have been admitted to familiar intercourse with them, confirms me in the opinion which I have always entertained, that nothing is more foreign to them than that virtue which they chiefly affect.
Athough the state of celibacy be allowed to those who devote themselves to a life of contemplation, it is not so with regard to any class of women. They cannot profess virginity, however much they may be attached to that condition. In ancient times, however, it seems to have been known among the Hindus: as frequent mention is made in their books of the five celebrated virgins, who are almost as famous as the seven celebrated rishi. The Hindu authors speak in lofty terms of commendation of the care with which they preserved themselves spotless, and of the inflexible firmness with which they resisted the solicitations of some powerful seducers, who used every means to overcome them. Even the most powerful of the gods tried to corrupt them, and were foiled. Many other particulars of these five virgins may be found in the Bhagavata and some other Hindu books.
Now, however, it is not permitted to women to embrace this holy profession. The state of subjection and servitude in which they are held in India cannot admit of their following any employment which would make them independent, and place them beyond the power of the men.
It is an established national rule that women are designed for no other end than to be subservient to the wants and pleasures of the males. Accordingly, all females without exception, are obliged to marry when husbands can be found for them. They always try to bring it about before they become really marriageable; and those who arrive at that period without finding a husband, seldom preserve their innocence long. Constant experience proves that Hindu girls have neither sufficient firmness nor discretion to resist, for any length of time, the solicitations of a seducer; which is no doubt a strong reason for disposing of them in marriage so soon.
Those who cannot find a husband fall into the state of concu. binage with those who choose to keep them, or secretly indulge in those enjoyments which if known would expose them to shame.
I have taken great pains to learn what is the real spirit of Hindu jurisprudence on the subject of Polygamy, and the indissolubility of marriage; and although I have not arrived at any absolute certainty, all that I have observed appears to demonstrate that the former is prohibited and the latter established. Persons well acquainted with the usages of the country have confirmed me in this conclusion, and have assured me that if there be many instances of polygamy, particularly among the great, who are suffered to have a plurality of wives, yet it is really an abuse and an open violation of the customs of the Hindus, amongst whom marriage has been always confined to couples; though in all places the powerful will set themselves above the law.
The custom or law in India which limits marriage to one pair has been followed by the principal divinities whom the Hindus acknowledge. They were married but to one lawful wife. They have given Saraswati only to Brahma; Lakshmiu to Vishnu; and Parvati to Siva. Sita-devi, the wife of Rama, having proved un, faithful to him, was carried off by the giant Ravana; but he did not repudiate her on that account, nor marry another wife. He went in pursuit of the ravisher, and commenced a long war against him, in which, after sustaining defeats and gaining victories, he at last subdued his enemy and regained his consort,
All these stories, and many more of the same kind which I could adduce, seem to prove that a plurality of legitimate wives was in ancient times unknown and rejected. It is clear that conjugal fidelity was not one of the attributes of those fabulous gods; but it is no less certain that they never assign to them more than one woman under the appellation of wife. Even in modern times polygamy is not tolerated; although, as we have already remarked, kings and persons of high rank are permitted to take two wives, sometimes three, and in some instances as many as five. Still, this is considered an abuse, although it is not safe to complain against authority.
Where persons in private life are seen to live with several women, they are only concubines; one only being married to him and bearing the title of wife. The children from her alone are considered legitimate. The rest are bastards; whom the law would exclude from any share in their father's property, if he died without a will.
I know of one case only, where a man already married may lawfully espouse a second wife; which is, when the first, after long
cohabitation, is pronounced barren. But even in this case, the consent of the first wife is necessary, and she always continues to be considered as the man's principal wife, and as superior to the second. Neither is this second marriage conducted with half the ceremony as the former.
It was for this reason, and for the purpose of raising up a progeny, that Abraham espoused Hagar, in the life time and with the consent of his first wife Sarah. The troubles which were brought upon this holy patriarch by bringing two legitimate wives into his house are recorded in the sacred Scriptures. (Gen. xxi.) The same inconveniences and still worse occur amongst the Hindus who marry two women. It is not therefore an enviable privilege; and the greater number of those who have barren spouses, choose rather to abandon the hopes of children than to be obliged to live with two wives.
The indissoluble nature of marriage is also, as far as I can judge, equally well established among the Hindus as that of the marriage of a couple of persons. A man cannot divorce his wife on any ground whatever. If there are any examples of an opposite kind, it is only amongst people of the lowest casts, or of disreputable lives; or because the previous marriage had been attended by such impediments as to render it invalid by the laws of the country. But marriages legally solemnized can never be dissolved amongst persons of a reputable cast, particularly amongst the Brahmans.
If the husband insists on a separation from his wife on account of adultery, it can only be effected, as with us, quoad mensam et torum; and the marriage is not dissolved by it. The woman, after being so discarded, continues to wear the tahli or symbol of marriage, and is not treated otherwise than as the lawful wife of the man from whom she is separated. He is also obliged to support her as long as she lives; and, during that time, he can have no other woman but as a concubine.
After these general remarks upon the marriage state, let us now attend to the ceremonies and pageantry which the Hindus employ in the celebration of this solemn contract, which elevates both parties into their proper sphere, and, by connecting them with sacred and irdissoluble bands, keeps up the renovation of the world. But, of the great variety of ceremonies which precede and accompany the celebration of marriage, the most important and solemn circumstance in life, we shall content ourselves with tracing the most prominent.
The father of a young Brahmanari, if he be rich and liberal, takes upon himself all the expense of the marriage of his daughter. Some divide the burthen with the father of the intended husband; but in general they take from him a considerable sum of money in return for having given him their daughter, and oblige him besides to bear the whole charge of the marriage. To
marry, or to buy a wife, are synonymous terms in this country. Almost every parent makes his daughter an article of traffic, obstinately refusing to give her up to her lawful husband until he has rigorously paid down the sum of money which he was bound for, according to the custom of the cast. This practice of purchasing the young women whom they are to marry, is an inexhaustible source of disputes and litigation, particularly among the poorer people. These, after the marriage is solemnized, not finding it convenient to pay the stipulated sum, the father in-law commences an action, or more commonly recals his daughter home, in the expectation that the desire of getting her back may stimulate the son in-law to procure the money. This sometimes succeeds; but if the young man is incapable of satisfying the avarice of his father in-law, he is obliged to leave his wife with him in pledge. Now, there is time for reflection; and the father in-law, finding that the sum cannot be raised, and that his daughter from her youth is exposed to great temptations which might lead to the disgrace of all his family, relates a little, and takes what the son in-law is able to pay. A reconciliation is thus effected, and the young man conducts his wife quietly home.
Men of distinction do not appropriate to their common purposes the money thus acquired by giving their daughters in marriage, but lay it out in jewels, which they present to the lady on the wedding day. These are her private property as long as she lives, and on no account can be disposed of by her husband.
In negotiating a marriage, the inclinations of the future spouses are never attended to. Indeed it would be ridiculous to consult girls of that age; and accordingly the choice entirely devolves upon the parents. Those of the husband attend principally to the purity of the cast; while those of the wife are more solicitous about the fortune of the young man, and the disposition of the intended mother-in-law of their daughter.
When a man, with this view, casts his eyes on a young girl, he begins by satisfying himself through some friend, concerning the inclinations of her kindred. When he has ascertained that he is not likely to suffer the affront of a refusal, he selects a fortunate day to visit them, and to solicit her in form, carrying with him a piece of new cloth for women, a cocoa nut, five bananas, some saffron and other articles of that nature. If he should meet on his way any object of evil omen; if a cat, for example, or a fox, or a serpent should cross the road before him, so as to intercept his progress, he would instantly return home, and postpone the journey to a more fortunate day.
All the Hindus have their minds so filled with these silly superstitions, that, however necessary any expedition or journey may be, they will surely defer it, if at the first onset they should be crossed by any of the creatures above mentioned. I have repeatedly seen labourers take back their cattle to their stalls, and spend the whole day in idleness, because in setting out in the morning, they found that a serpent had crossed their road.