Marriage is one of those institutions that distinguishes society from simply a herd of human beings. Marriage among the Hindus is a sacrament since time immemorial; it is almost obligatory and unavoidable for an average Hindu. Every Hindu is committed to marriage, as it is regarded as a great sacrament.
With the marriage sacrament, husband and wife enter Grihasthashrama to establish family life. The basic aim of marriage is dharma for it is necessary for fulfillment of number of moral duties. The desire to have progeny or praja is also regarded as one of the sacred purposes of Hindu marriage. To attain moksha, every Hindu male must have a son behind him to perform the rites at his funeral pyre and to perform parental obligations. Such a son must be from his marriage and not illicit relationships. This was considered as a social duty towards the family and community. Thus, the prime goal in a marriage was to become united in purpose and spirit.
There are certain rites which must take place to complete a Hindu marriage. The three main rites associated with marriage are: offerings to the sacred fire, taking of the hand of the bride and taking of the seven steps around the fire by bride and bridegroom together. During the nuptial ceremony in a Vedic marriage, both the bride and the bridegroom take oath for the practice of self-restraint, to work together for the welfare of the family and to help each other to attain spiritual peace. This lofty ideal of sanctity is a great gift of Hinduism to the world at large. Marriage holds much importance for a woman, as observed by K.M.Kapadia, that it is the only sacrament that can be performed by her. It involves sacrifices on the part of both. So, it is indissoluble, as the bond of marriage once tied can never be broken, eternal – a relationship for seven births and religious, which can be said to be complete only on the performance of certain rites by a Brahmin.
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1956 by permitting divorce, whether by court or by the parties through mutual consent, has allowed the institution to loose its permanence. The Widow’s Remarriage Act, 1856 has changed the notion of pativrata. Lastly, marriage is given a status of life-long companionship by the society. Modernization has allowed the differences to creep in men and women’s expectations from a marriage, by entrusting women with double roles, both inside and outside home. Dr.Thara Srinivasan, Marriage Counsellor and Director, Schizophrenia Research Foundation, Chennai (SCARF), observed that marriage is no longer held to be a “divine match” or a “sacred union”. Further, she found that there is disenchantment with the system of arranged marriages and a reluctance to “take the matrimonial plunge.” She added that marriage must be regarded as a life-long process of cementing a relationship in the face of several adversities and an ongoing process of physical and emotional accommodation, sharing and loving.
All imitation marriages, which are flourishing are leading to erosion of values in matrimonial life and increase in the instability in relationships. If the trend towards living-together arrangements gains momentum, tense relationships between children and parents could develop and problems in dividing parenting responsibilities may increase. They accompany with themselves lack of respect and integrity for each other. The only advantage that can be predicted is that the partners are free from the pain of separating or continuing a painful relationship.
There is increase in the number of extra-marital relationships, including open gay and lesbian relationships, a delay in the age of getting married and more egalitarian gender-role attitudes among men and women, where norms and values have been totally restructured. In 1993, Popenoe characterized marriage as more flexible and as a path towards self-fulfillment – a voluntary relationship that people can make or break at will. A study of historical traditions of religion may help in understanding the importance of marriage. The institution of marriage must be accorded recognition and accepted, as it enjoys social recognition and cultural support in Hindu society. As a beautifully sculpted institution, soaked in the acute deep and careful understanding of human nature, a samaskar must continue the way it has been for centuries by recognizing its ever-increasing role in the society.