Hindu society has always acknowledged various types of marriage. Love marriage is not new. It was called Gandharva vivaha. Considering the various scenarios and objectives, the dharmshastra classifies marriage into 8 types.
Before we deep dive into the various types of marriage it is important to understand the Hindu world view. The Hindu society has always held that attaining self realisation is the ultimate goal of all humans. Having set the goal thus, the rituals and the lifestyle prescribed are nothing but aids that enable a seeker attain his goal. Marriage, is one of the 16 samskaras prescribed, that enable a person to conduct his wordly life ideally and also attain his ultimate goal of self realisation. Given our current sense of civility and human rights, some ideas enjoined by the shasthras may initially seem odd. One needs to understand the Hindu world view (concept of karma and rebirth, concept of time and its cyclicity, etc.) to fully appreciate the content of this article.
What are the different types of wedding in India?
Ancient Hindu literature, for example the Asvalayana Grhyasutra and Atharvaveda or the Manu Smrti III.20-34, identifies eight forms of marriage. They are traditionally presented, as here, in order of religious appropriateness (prashasta). They also differ very widely in social acceptability. In all these types of marriage, an eligible groom is one who has completed his Brahmacharya Ashram (student hood) and an eligible bride is a never-married virgin who has recently attained puberty.
The dharmasastras, including the Manusmrti, mention eight forms of marriage.
Brahmo-daivastathaivarsah-Manusmrti, 3. 21
How many types of Hindu weddings are there?
These are 8 types of marriage: Brahma Marriage, Daiva Marriage, Arsha Marriage, Prajapatya Marriage, Gandharva Marriage, Asura Marriage, Rakshasa Marriage, Paishacha Marriage.
What are the 8 types of marriage in Hinduism?
Brahma Marriage, Daiva Marriage, Arsha Marriage, Prajapatya Marriage, Gandharva Marriage, Asura Marriage, Rakshasa Marriage, Paishacha Marriage.
Which type of marriage is best?
Brahma marriage – considered the religious marriage, and the most prevalent among Hindus in modern day India.
This type of marriage has the supreme position and most prevalent type of marriage within Hindu society within the eight types according to the ancient Indian scriptures like Manu Smriti, Mahabharata and Veda, etc., and as specifically mentioned in Manu Smriti (Verse 3.21),
Brāhmo daivastathaivārṣaḥ prājāpatyastathā’suraḥ |
Gāndharvo rākṣasaścaiva paiśācaścāṣṭamo’dhamaḥ || 21 ||
Brahma marriage or Brahma Vivaha
Considered the religious marriage, and the most prevalent among Hindus in modern day India. After the student bachelor has completed his gurukulavasa, his parents approach the parents of a girl belonging to a good family and ask them to give away their daughter in marriage to their son–to make a gift of their daughter (kanyadana) to him. A marriage arranged like this is brahma. In it this girl’s family does not give any dowry or jewellery to the boy’s family. There is no “commercial transaction” and the goal of a brahma marriage is the dharmic advancement of two families. Of the eight forms of marriage the dharmasastras regard this as the highest.
आच्छाद्य चार्चयित्वा च श्रुतशीलवते स्वयम् ।
आहूय दानं कन्याया ब्राह्मो धर्मः प्रकीर्तितः ॥
This means that when bride’s father himself invites a man as groom, who is endowed with learning and character and decides to give his daughter to him, this is called Brahma marriage. Before giving away his daughter, she is suitably dressed (preferably with some ornaments), he worship the couple (bride and groom).
Daiva marriage or Daiva Vivaha
The father gives away his daughter along with ornaments to a priest as a sacrificial fee. This form of marriage occurred in ancient times when yajna sacrifices were prevalent. In this type of wedding, there are no feasts or celebrations that are specific to the wedding, but the wedding of the daughter of a poor family is held as an act of charity by wealthy people.
It was customary for kings, landlords and rich merchants to facilitate rituals for social upliftment where charity would be given to all. During these great events, a poor man would sometimes approach the wealthy host and seek the charity that his daughter’s wedding be performed at this time. This type of marriage may take place if the girl’s parents are unable to locate a suitable groom within a reasonable period (several years) after the girl has attained puberty. Often, the reason for this would be that the parents of the bride cannot afford the expense of their daughter’s marriage.
It was considered improper or unsafe to keep a girl unwed past her teens, and anyway the chances of an aging girl getting a good husband were not better than the same girl getting a good husband at a younger age. So the girl would be bedecked with flowers and whatever small ornaments the parents could provide and taken to the venue of the religious ceremony or sacrifice being performed by a rich magnate. She would be offered in marriage to any willing man and generally this would be one of the priests, young or old.
The wedding ceremony would be performed in short order and the feasts which were anyway being hosted as part of the festivities would suffice for this extra wedding also. According to the Dharmashastra, Daiva marriage is considered avoidable but is still respectable since poverty is not culpable; lack of virtue is reprehensible but honest poverty is acceptable.
Arsha marriage or Arsha Vivaha
In this type of marriage, the groom gives a cow and a bull (kanya-shulkam or bride-price) to the father of the bride and the father exchanges his daughter in marriage. The groom takes a vow to fulfill his obligations to the bride and his commitment to family life and the home (Grihasthashram, ‘householder’).
According to certain texts, the prescribed bride-price is a cow with a calf and a pair of bulls. The sacred texts provide various lists of specific communities where this custom prevailed and imply that it is unfitting in general society. However, several instances are found in the puranas of marriage between a man from mainstream communities and a woman from one of the bride-price seeking communities (Pandu-Madri; Dasharatha-Kaikeyi, etc.). In nearly all cases, the man willingly pays the bride-price and brings his bride home.
Prajapatya marriage or Prajapatya Vivaha
It’s similar to the Brahma vivaah, except that the bride’s father gives her away as a gift, not to the groom, but to the groom’s father. This type of marriage is resorted to when the groom and bride are both very young. Thus, the protection of the bride or daughter is handed over by her father to the groom’s father during the Panigrahan (hand-receiving) ceremony. The wedding ceremony involving the young bride and groom may take place immediately afterwards, but the wedding may not be consummated for several years, until the bride and groom are old enough.
Gandharva marriage or Gandharva Vivaha
In this, the couple simply choose to marry by mutual consent. The marriage is entered into without religious ceremonies and sometimes with vows involving Agni as in the case of a Brahma marriage. The Hindu Shastras, Naradsmriti, and, in the Mahabharata, Rishi Kanva, the foster-father of Shakuntala, claim that this form of marriage is the most ideal. Examples of such Vivaah were Dushyanta-Shakuntala, Krishna-Rukmini and Arjuna-Subhadra from Mahabharata, where the marriages were performed because of the love between bride and groom, and without consents from all family members of two-sides. Opposing this type of marriage was considered sinful in many Hindu texts.
According to Apastamba Grhyasutra, an ancient Hindu literature, Gandharva marriage is a types of marriage where the woman chooses her own husband. They meet each other of their own accord, consent to live together, and their relationship is consummated in copulation born of passion. This form of marriage did not require consent of parents or anyone else. According to Vedic texts, this is one of earliest and common forms of marriage in Rig Vedic times.
In Rig vedic opinions and classical literature, the commonly described marriage type was Gandharva, where the bride and the groom had met each other in their ordinary village life, or in various other places such as regional festivals and fairs, begun to enjoy each other’s company, and decided to be together. This free choice and mutual attraction were generally approved by their kinsmen.
Asura marriage or Asura Vivaha
In this, the groom offers a dowry to the father of the bride and the bride; both accept the dowry out of free will, and he receives the bride in exchange. This is akin to marrying off a daughter for money and is considered inappropriate by Hindu Smriti-writers because greed, not what is best for the woman, can corrupt the selection process. Generally, the groom is of lower social rank or caste than the bride.
The last two forms of marriage were not only inappropriate, but religiously forbidden:
Rakshasa marriage or Rakshasa Vivaha
This is the on in which the groom forcibly abducts the bride against her will and her family’s will. (The word Rakshasa means “devil”.) This is essentially marriage by abduction. In cases where the girl is willing to marry the boy but her family is against the alliance, the girl may be abducted and married. It is essential that the girl be willing, because otherwise, the puranas and shastras in The Scripture treat the incident of abduction as with consequent cosmic vengeance and retribution. Although the marriages of Krishna-Rukmini and Arjuna-Subhadra seem like Rakshasa Vivaah, they were actually Gandharva Vivahaah, because in all of which cases the girl was willing and the results were good.
Paishacha marriage or Paishacha Vivaha
Here, the man forces himself on a woman when she is insentient: when she is drugged or drunken, possessed or unconscious and thus is married unwillingly, and which has been outlawed by Manu.
James Lochtefeld comments that these last two forms were forbidden but the marriages themselves were still recognized in ancient Hindu societies, not to allow these acts but rather to provide the woman and any resulting children with legal protection in the society.