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8 Different Forms of Marriage According to Hindu Law

The wife in the approved forms of marriage enjoyed the status of Dharmpatni and all its consequential rights whereas the wife in an unapproved form does not enjoy such status. Moreover the approved forms of marriage were viewed with respect while the unapproved forms were considered to be disgraceful.

The eight forms of marriage were as under:

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(1) Brahma,

(2) Daiva,

(3) Arsha,

(4) Prajapatya,

(5) Asur,

(6) Gandharva,

(7) Rakshas,

(8) Paishach.

The first four of the above (i.e. 1 to 4) were considered to be approved and the latter four (i.e. 5 to 8) were unapproved forms.

Approved Forms:

1. Brahma Form:

In this form of marriage the father of the girl respectfully invites the bridegroom at his residence, worships him and offers him the girl as his wife along with a pair of fine clothes and ornaments etc. Here the father does not accept any consideration in exchange of bride and does not select the bridegroom with a view to augment his own profession etc. A widow could not be remarried under this form of marriage.

2. Daiva:

In this form of marriage, a well decorated bride is offered to the priest who performs religious acts and rituals for the spiritual benefits of the father of the bride.3

3. Arsha:

In this form of marriage the bride is offered to a person, from whom the father has accepted a pair of cow or bull for religious rituals only.

4. Prajapatya:

In this form the bride’s father, decorates the bride with colourful attires and after worshipping her, offers her to the bridegroom, making a recitation to the effect that they (bride and bridegroom) together may act religiously throughout and prosper and flourish in life. In this form of marriage it is not necessary that the bridegroom should be a bachelor as in the Brahma form.

Unapproved Forms:

5. Asura Form:

In this form of marriage the bridegroom after having given wealth as much as it is within his means to the father and paternal kinsman or to the damsel herself takes her voluntarily as his bride obviously with the consent of her father. This form of marriage has a striking resemblance with a kind of purchase of bride as the father or the girl herself has already taken money and the father or guardian later giving his consent to marry the girl in lieu of money taken.

Sometimes it is said that in this type of marriage the girl is sold out. The price which the father of the bride gets in consideration of offering bride constitutes his compensation. This type of marriage is practised widely amongst Sudras of Southern India.

6. Gandharava:

In this form of marriage there is a union of the bride and bridegroom by mutual consent motivated by their mutual love and sexual instincts. Infatuated by their bond of love, the bride and the groom establish a bodily union without having performed any religious rites and ceremonies.

One of the leading examples of this type of marriage is found in the famous love story of Dushyant and Shakuntala. Amongst Kshatriyas, this type of marriage was quite prevalent. But now it has become very uncommon, although the Madras High Court has recently observed that this form of marriage has not yet fallen into disuse.

7. Rakshasa:

In this form of marriage the girl is forcibly kidnapped and married to a person, who intends to marry her but her father is not willing. There is an attack on the bride’s parents or guardian who is either killed or wounded and thereafter breaking open the door or securing forcible entry into the house, the people at the groom’s side take away the girl, weeping, vailing and crying for help. This type of marriage is still prevalent in the Gonda castes of Barrar and Betul (Madhya Pradesh).

8. Paishach:

According to Dharmashastras this is the most condemnable form of marriage. In this type of marriage sexual intercourse is done with a girl, while she is asleep, or brought in a state of drunk or after she is administered some drug and has lost consciousness temporarily or who is of immature understanding. After the girl is ravished, she is married to one, who has been guilty of such heinous crime.

The Brahma form of marriage amongst the approved ones and Asura amongst the unapproved forms of marriage were generally in vogue. All the rest forms of marriage were viewed as degrading and became non-prevalent. It is worthwhile to note that neither in Gandharva nor in Rakshasa and Paishach forms of marriage, mere dominion over the girl either through persuation, use of force or act of ravishing, marriage was taken for granted. Marriage was taken to be complete only after the father or the guardian has decided with the consent of his daughter in the latter two cases to give her away in marriage after performing religious rites and ceremonies.

Otherwise it could have been said that ancient Hindu law had legalised seduction, kidnapping and rape by extending recognition to Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paisach forms of marriage. In fact under old law they were considered to be serious crimes as they are regarded today and there was provision for severest penalties. The ancient Hindu jurists had intended to confer a respectable status to such ill-fated girls i.e., the status of wifehood besides providing severe penalty for the wrong-doers, if the girl so wished and her father gave her duly in marriage by performing marital ceremonies.

If the ill-fated girl is not provided with this kind of status, she would have remained unmarried throughout and left no option except to lead a life of sorrows and miseries, as in the Hindu society hardly any male member would be agreeable to marry such unfortunate girl. The Hindu mentality is well known that a girl for marriage should be not only free from stains but free from all suspicions of stain.

The above division of approved and unapproved forms of marriage became relevant also in those cases where a woman died issueless leaving her own property. Where the marriage was solemnised in any of the approved forms, the entire property belonging to the wife devolved upon her husband or his collateral on her death, but in case of unapproved forms of marriage, the property of the wife on her death devolved upon her own relatives from father’s side in absence of her own children.

These eight forms of marriage did not find any place in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. It proscribes only five essential conditions of a valid marriage, i.e., (1) Monogamy; (2) Soundness of mind; (3) Age of marriage; (4) Beyond Prohibited degree; and (5) Beyond sapinda relationship.

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