Young unmarried people in their twenties are often asked the very Indian phrase ‘ When are you going to settle down’?. They shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Give me some time’.
If one persists in the conversation with them, they are not sure about the purpose of marriage.
In a recent conversation, K, a young smart woman in her twenties opened her heart to me, ‘ I don’t need to marry for sex. I don’t need to marry for money either. If I can have both without marriage, then why get into a commitment?
I said, ‘You are right! If it is just for money and sex, Artha and Kaama there is no need to marry.’
K was shocked at my response, ‘What? I knew monks were rebels but Swaminiji..’
K continued softening her stance, ‘Well actually I am not totally opposed to marriage. Since I would like to try out everything in life atleast once, I don’t mind marrying. I would love to dress up and have a typical Bollywood wedding. With choreographed dancing, my friends from all over, clothes befitting a queen all in an exotic destination, it will be an event of a lifetime for sure.
I said – Well, you are confusing marriage for the event of the wedding. The wedding and related rituals and parties are just for a few days while marriage is a lifetime commitment.
K said – Hmm…Wedding and marriage..I did not think about that. Can you say more?
I said – These days the engaged couple have more conversations and arguments about the wedding destination, the menu for different days of the festivities and the logistics than important conversations about their attitudes towards money, sex, children, living with elders and what they want from life.
For instance, let’s say you grew up in a family where y’all took a lot of family vacations and invested probably 10-20% of the family income in savings. On the other hand your partner grew up in a family where atleast 40-50 % of the family income was invested and vacations were taken rarely. The differences become a potential for a conflict situation. The conflict will arise because you have taken certain ways of living as a norm just like your partner. One has to resolve this friction of differences and look towards the life that you are building together and come up with a decision that works for both.
K – Hmm..Marriage just seems like a lot of hard work. Even my friends who have been married are struggling. My friend who got married last year has already filed for a divorce and the other friend just got divorced and is now a single mother.
This long-term commitment is really scary. I have commitment phobia. What if my marriage does not work out? I ‘d rather not marry than have a failed marriage.
I – Well, more than commitment it sounds more like having a responsibility problem. At work you have no issues of taking on more responsibility. It is exciting to create change. At a personal level too, how lovely it is to take responsibility to contribute to the other’s happiness, well-being and growth. I said ‘contribute’ and not control.
K – Now you are sounding like my mother. What is the purpose of marriage in the Vedic tradition?
I – Marriage is primarily seen as a sacred union with a deeper spiritual purpose. It is considered a means for fulfilling your Dharma and advancing on the path of moksha. One can certainly build a life together based on companionship and Dharma.
Do you remember seeing the ceremony of Kashi Yatra in a Hindu wedding? In this ceremony before the traditional Hindu vivaah, the bridegroom expresses the desire to become a sannyasi and undertake a pilgrimage to Kashi. Kashi or Varanasi represents mukti or freedom from samsara. The bridegroom may be barefoot or wearing slippers, is given an umbrella, a bamboo fan, and some objects in a small bag. As he walks away from the wedding mandap, the bride’s father persuades the bridegroom to return, and marry his daughter. Needless to say, the bridegroom agrees and goes ahead with the marriage.
While this ceremony is met with a lot of laughter, it’s significance lies in the articulated purpose of life which is moksha, freedom from a sense of bondage while living. Even during the event of a lifetime, one’s wedding, the ultimate purpose of goal is not forgotten but rather reminded in the presence of all.
Marriage is looked upon as a sadhana, a means for your growth such that you perform your svadharma, purify your mind and develop the readiness for Vedanta.
K said – I am not sure if I want this moksha thing. I just want someone who will unconditionally love me, accept me and be there for me.
I said – Ah! So you want a best friend, a lover, a cook, a confidante, a healer, a guide, a philosopher, your adventure buddy, a parent, a colleague all rolled into one!
Reality check – Such a creature does not exist.
K (stubbornly says) – That’s why I am not sure about marriage. I am not willing to lower my expectations.
I said – Do not lower your expectations but have realistic expectations. The long list of sterling qualities that you want just point to what you really have been searching for all your life – a being who is infallible, who is capable of no defect.
You have looked for Bhagavan in the eyes of your parents, partner, friends, work – so that those eyes say you have no lack, you are completely acceptable and lovable. But then your parents, partner, friends etc are also looking for the same eyes of love and acceptance. You are looking for Bhagavan who is infallible and you did not even know it.
The truth is that adult relationships are conditional. It is better to release the burden of unconditionality from a relationship that is conditional.
Any relationship is conditioned by time and place and has limits. Sure, the range of conditionality varies – love of a parent for the child or the love of lovers for each other.
Once you understand the conditionality of relationships and drop the burden of unconditionality, then, you can enjoy the relationship as well as the person.
You can grow to love and accept the other person deeply.
K –Hmm..Marriage sounds more like a contractual agreement. How romantic to write my own wedding vows. You said marriage is a sacred union. Say more.
I – You can write your own wedding vows also. It is still worth looking into the mantras and their meaning in a traditional Vivaah.
Vivaah is one of the 16 important Hindu samskaaras, sanctified by mantras in which devatas are invited to bless the couple.
See how profound these vows are. Saptapadi or the seven steps that the couple take around Agni are done by invoking the grace of Vishnu and asking for the following blessings.
Chanting this mantra, the bridegroom helps the bride take seven steps with her right leg.
These are –
May Lord Visnu follow you in your first step to give us plenty of food.
May Lord Visnu follow you in your second step to give us urja, strength.
May Lord Visnu follow you in your third step to help us do vrata, austerities.
May Lord Visnu follow you in your fourth step to give us sukha, happiness.
May Lord Visnu follow you in your fifth step to give us pashu, cattle-wealth.
May Lord Visnu follow you in your sixth step to make all the shadrtu, six seasons favourable to us.
May Lord Visnu follow you in your seventh step to help us perform all Vedic sacrifices.
After the seventh step is taken, the groom looks at her and chants some mantras which mean the following –
Oh bride! You, who have walked seven steps with me, are now my companion.
Though these seven steps, we have mutually become companions. I have attained your companionship. I will not let down this companionship. May you also not let down this companionship. Hereafter we shall live together.
Let us decide together about our obligations and undertakings. Le us live together with mutual love and goodwill.
May we enjoy together good food, strength,etc. Let our minds join together with a common vision.
Let us perform austerities together.
You are Rg-mantra; I am Sama-mantra. You are the earth; I am the sky. I am the semen; you are its bearer. I am the mind; you are speech. You are ; I am Sama. May you be favourable to my pursuits.
Oh lady of sweet words! Come, let us have a lot of wealth and children and live happily
Are n’t these great?
K – I had no idea.
I said – Yes, most modern day couples want to rush the marriage rituals and even tell the pandit to do shortcuts. You would not negotiate to have just a two hour cocktail party, would you?
K – What else do our shaastras say about marriage?
Let me give you 9 key learnings from the Vedic tradition about marriage. These are
Sacred Union: The Vedic tradition sees marriage as a sacred union between two individuals, intended to be a lifelong commitment and to also fulfil a rnanubandha – karmic debt. This was covered in a previous episode.
Purposes of Marriage: The primary purpose of marriage is to honor the commitment, procreation of children, continuation of lineage, and the performance of religious and social duties.
Since the universe is based on reciprocity, one must contribute to the symphony of life. Marriage is a sadhana for the ultimate purpose of moksha.
Centrality of Dharma to marriage – Embodying values of Dharma such as ahimsa, non harming, satyam, truthfulness, daya, kindness, Kshama, accommodation and santosha, contentment helps the couple be happy with each other.
Dharma makes us happy.
Despite anger and frustration at the other, one grows into a Dharmika person who can respect and accept the other. One grows in kaushalam, competence in handling different situations aligning with Dharma and a gracious acceptance of the other.
If you want to apply Karma Yoga, there is no better test than marriage.
Family and social Harmony: The institution of marriage is seen as the foundation of family and social harmony. It promotes a stable and structured society.
Around the world we see economies crumbling as families are breaking up. Single parent families, increased costs of living, inability to care for elders and costs to government for health care are increasing.
All the services provided by the family – care for children, care for elders are now being outsourced to the state or being privatised. Governments are waking up to ensuring the stability of the family unit and rightly so.
Mutual Responsibility: The partners have a commitment to uphold mutual respect, fidelity, support, and cooperation to each other.
The husband is expected to protect and provide for his wife, as well as treat her with kindness and understanding. The wife is seen as the heart of the home and is responsible for creating a nurturing and harmonious environment within the family.
One is not seen as less for fulfilling one or the other responsibility.
There is scope for flexibility in these roles depending on what the couple mutually decide.
Conflict Resolution: The Vedic tradition offers guidance on resolving conflicts and misunderstandings within the marital relationship through dialogue and understanding.
If a marriage is based only on Kaama, pleasure then every conflict is seen as an indication to walk away.
Further, with a Kaama based mindset which wants to feel good all the time, you will eventually get bored by the person and look for stimulation and feeling alive outside.
On the other hand, if marriage is seen as a Dharmika relationship then pleasure is as important as loyalty, commitment, compatibility, accommodation of the other.
The couple learn to accept and forgive each other and heal from past wounds together.
They create a safe space to tell the truth and learn to work through conflicts as they learn to be home for each other.
Respect for elders and seeking their guidance in matters of marriage is emphasized.
Support for Each Other’s Dharma: Partners are expected to support each other in fulfilling their respective dharmas (duties) and responsibilities.
In the Vedic tradition, svadharma is emphasised which involves one’s dharma not only to the immediate family and the partner’s family but also to Devatas, Pitrs, Acharyas, Manushyah and Bhutas.
Generational Continuity and Pitr Rnam: The Vedic tradition highlights the importance of having children to continue family traditions and carry on the lineage.
It is also said that one could not possibly repay one’s parents for all that they have done for us and the best way to fulfil the sacred debt to our parents and ancestors is to take the lineage forward by having children.
Performing Vedic Rituals: The eligibility for a lot of Vedic rituals is to be married. Some specifically say that the one who has krishna kesha, black hair can perform the ritual and this is not black hair that comes out of a hair dye bottle.