Marriage is the most important ritual of any culture. Also called matrimony or wedlock, marriage is a socially or ritually recognized union between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them and their families. It is the most important institution in human society for regulating sex relations and also for determining the relation of a child to the community. A famous historian Kane points out that the purpose of marriage,according to Rig Veda, was to enable a man by becoming a householder to perform sacrifices to the Gods and to procreate sons. Thid ideal was followed by both Dharmasastra and Arthasastra, but with one significant difference. According to the Dharmasastra it was a sacrament, while the Arthasastra calls it a contract.
Yajnavalkya,whose records are used for writing early Indian history, made an interesting observation that even having given a girl in marriage,the father might take her back,if a better qualified suitor arrives. The women to marries again in such situations were called ‘punarbhu’. This shows that he viewed marriage as a contract. An orthodox commentator like Vijnanesvara explains Yajnavalkya’s view by saying that this was to be understood to be the case before marriage ceremonies were completed by moving seven steps or ‘saptapadi’.
Marriages can be broadly divided into monogamy,polygamy,endogamy,
Yajnavalkya speaks of eight different forms of marriage in the society. The ‘brahma’ marriage is the form of marriage where the bridegroom is invited. The bride is given away to him bedecked to the giver’s means. The son born from her purifies twenty-one persons on both sides. The giving away of a bride to the Ritvi(rishi/sage) officiating at a sacrifice is the ‘daiva’ form of marriage. The giving of a bride after taking two cows is the ‘arsa’ marriage. The son born of the ‘daiva’ marriage purifies fourteen generations and that born of ‘arsa’ marriage purifies six generations. Where the daughter is given away to a bridegroom by saying to the couple “may both of you perform together your duties” is the ‘kaya’ form of marriage. The son born of her purifies six generations on each side. The ‘asura’ form of marriage is by giving large sum of money, ‘gandharva’ by mutual consent, the ‘rakshasa’ by forcibly taking the bride by waging a war and ‘paisaca’ by deceiving the girl.
Yajnavalkya here clearly follows Manu’s account with the exception that he calls Manu’s ‘prajapatya’ form of marriage ‘kaya’. Moreover, while Manu says that when a man by stealth seduces a girl who is sleeping, intoxicated or disorder in intellect than it was the eight form and a sinful rite of the ‘paisacas’. It is interesting that out of the eight forms of marriage, the first four were considered as ‘good’ while the remaining were condemned. It is possible that these were practised by those who did not accept Brahmanical norms.
One brahmanical practice, evident from c. 1000 BCE onwards was to classify people in terms of gotras. Each gotra was named after a vedic seer, and all those who belonged to the same gotra were regarded as his descendents. Two rules about gotras were particularly important-women were expected to give up their father’s gotra and adopt that of their husband on marriage and members of the same gotra could not marry.
Many social norms were associated with marriage,but it is difficult to speak of them with certainty. Moreover there existed widow remarriage and sati. Although it was limited to certain section of the society it will be improper not to mention about it.