Saturday, September 24, 2011

Marriage: An Oriental Perspective - Loose Bloggers' Consortium (LBC)

Welcome to the Loose Bloggers Consortium, where AkankshaAnuAshokConradDeliriousgaelikaaGrannymarOrdinary JoeMagpie11Maria the Silver FoxNemaNoorPadmumPaulRamana SirWill knotand I write on the same topic. Please visit the other blogs to get seventeen different takes on today's topic, chosen by Conrad.


The concept of marriage in Indian culture is rooted in the philosophy expounded by the Vedas which practically touch every aspect of human life and the sphere of activities. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing religious about them, at least as far as the traditional western conception of religion goes. You may just be surprised to see the similarities with what it means in other cultures. Moreover, some of the things they talk about are so generic, they really can be applied right across the board no matter what one's faith is. Marriage is considered to be the fundamental unit of society. To use an analogy, married couple and their family is like the cell in our body, several such cells make tissue (several married couples/families = local community). A group of such tissues forms our organs (several local communities = society). Several organs with certain similarities form organ systems, e.g. nose, wind pipe, lungs form the respiratory system (many societies with similar belief systems, customs and traditions = region). Several organ systems ultimately form our body (several diverse regions = nation). In our body, mutation in a single cell may give rise to a tumour which if unchecked, can spread across the body with systemic manifestations and this cancer ultimately leads to destruction. Dysfunctional marriages break down families, broken families lead to displaced individuals who having lost their way in life are vulnerable to follow wrong paths. This is the beginning of cancer. If it spreads, the society is driven on a course of self-destruction. Destroyed societies lead to downfall of nations or civilisations. Therefore, the bottom line is that saying whether or not one should marry is a personal choice and nobody else has the right to interfere with it is not good enough. When individual liberties encroach upon the social welfare, the forces that bind such societies together have every right to check these freedoms in question. A common approach in treating cancer is killing all tumour cells. Similarly, the only effective approach to prevent, avoid and avert societal disintegration can only be nipping the tumour of dysfunctional marriages in the bud, by eradicating ideologies which give rise to such tendencies. Unfortunately the case in India today is quite the opposite.

In Indian culture, even marriage is based on the concept of "detachment in attachment". One of the treatises that deal with structure and functioning of an ideal society ("Manusmiriti" or The Code of Manu) describe it thus: Human life (assuming a life span of a 100 years) is divided in 4 quarters, each lasting roughly 25 years. The first quarter is all about following complete chastity, purity of thought, word and deed, gaining knowledge and skills necessary for one's chosen profession and so forth. In ancient times, when a child was between seven to eight years old, he would be sent to the teacher's house for a period of 18 years to gain knowledge and learn the importance of service and surrender. The child was not allowed to ever see his parents for this 18 years period and was expected to treat the teacher and his or her family as his own. At 25, the child would return home to his parents, get married and start his own family. Bear in mind that by the time a child turns 25, the parents are about 50 years old. Between 25-50, a person would be expected to enjoy all aspects of marital life and engage in productive work. By doing so, one should earn wealth with an aim to distribute it for the needy once the family needs are taken care of. Such a householder is the foundation of society where every act one performs is supposed to be selfless. If one earns money, it should be with a desire to use it for right purposes; if one begets offspring, it should be with an intention that these children are a debt I owe to the society - my duty is to raise them such that they continue the tradition of self-less service to their society, nation and the whole world. At 50, one would be expected to leave family, possessions and society and depart for pilgrimage, following which they must dedicate the next 20-25 years in self-less service to the society in any capacity feasible. When they eventually become old and unable to work, at about 75 years old or so, they should retire to a secluded place, and spend their remaining days in spiritual pursuit. This could then involve following whichever means of praying one feels strongly about. Some would choose meditation and silence, others would choose another form of praying, yet others who are still able bodied may decide to continue with selfless service.

I must highlight a few things here. The above mentioned things were only and only expected of a male child. Patriarchal society to blame? Not quite. All spiritual traditions in the spectrum of Indian philosophy have one thing in common, a belief in complete surrender and respect to women. This is because above all, Mother is considered to be the supreme most object of respect because she is the one who brings life to this plane and sustains it. Women are not required to undergo such austerities and it is said in the scriptures that for women, the easiest way to reach the "kingdom of God" is to simply engage in what comes to them naturally, things such as being true to their caring and affectionate nature regardless of the activities they are involved in. For this reason alone, if one observes carefully, in the 4 divisions of life, women only leave their parents to live with their husbands at the age of 25. Until then they enjoy all the happiness and luxuries of being with their families. However, in those times, as parents would leave the house at 50, it only made sense that the woman moves in with her husband. As the husbands parents would leave their house soon after anyway, the net effect is that the husband and wife stay together by themselves with their children.

Another very interesting thing is the words in Sanskrit for a married man and woman. A married man is known as "grihastha" literally meaning "the one who lives in the house". A married woman, however, is called "grihini" literally meaning "the one who possesses (owns) the house". What's more, it is considered a sin for a married man to be at home between the hours of sunrise and sunset, a bigger sin yet to rest while at work unless for genuine reasons and an even bigger sin if he doesn't treat his wife as an equal. Whoever says women are powerless in Indian society due to cultural reasons, here is the answer. It is a lack of awareness and understanding of the culture by the people which causes the problems we see today. It is a complete disregard for scriptural injunctions and a know-it-all attitude with a tendency to follow one's own whims and fancies more than what is morally and culturally appropriate that is to blame. The divisions of society and of human life are balanced. Any deviation from this is perversion at best and sacrilege at worse!

6 comments:

Rummuser said...

I am delighted beyond my ability to express at your understanding of the Indian interpretation of the institution. Aayushmaanubhava, Sada sukhi bhava.

Delirious said...

Wow, this is quite an education! My own culture's expectations pale in comparison!

Grannymar said...

I think I need to reread this piece to absorb it properly. Coffee time, I think!

padmum said...

Rohit--beta thera jawab nahin. We know all this in our being...but the way you have presented it made it a fresh reading/knowing.

Regarding your interpretation of Indian women and their place--a lot of this was implied, in place. The power behind the walls of homes was the woman's. Sadly with the Mughal invasions, the need to protect her took supremacy and it gradually led to her total subservience.

Now society is in a manthan and what si happening is that women are becoming aggressive and demanding rights so far denied to them. This aggression, instead of assertion is giving young girls bad press! We should talk about this soon.

God bless you.

blackwatertown said...

Very interesting - glad I wasn't subjected to it myself though.
It's always interesting to balance the interests and freedom of the individual against the more general social good. The balance shifts over time - and what once seemed self-evident prompts horror later on.

Rohit said...

Sorry for the delay in reply everyone..better late than never though I guess :)

@ Sir Ramana: Thank you but what use is knowing the facts if when it would actually come to living it I can't live it up to them! All I can do is hope I can..

@ Delirious: Haha..I know the rules are very stringent, but well that's how it is.

@ Grannymar: :)

@ Padmum: Thank you for the kind words. I agree completely with what you mean by the present times of confusion where nobody really knows anything but still insists on thinking that they do. I couldn't have aid it better, assertion is what is required not aggression. Sadly though it seems to me this is here to stay at least for a considerable period of time..unless something radical happens.

@ Blackwatertown: Its just that in our current times this seems horrid or perhaps even impossible to follow. Again everyone is free to follow it or not nowadays but its one of those things which you can either agree with or disagree with but can never ignore..the fact that the values this system tried to inculcate aspired for a very higher level of achievements than what we are used to materialistically speaking..