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Kanyasulkam – Bride Price In Hinduism

Kanyasulkam, in Hinduism, is the custom of a price being paid by the bridegroom to the bride’s family. This practice of bride price comes under the asura vivaha, one of the eight forms of marriage recognized by the Smritis (non-Vedic sacred literature).

According to Manu and Yajnavalkya, the ancient law givers in Hindu religion, the asura rite refers only to the money or gifts given to the girl’s family as a condition precedent to the marriage. It is not known how the term asura, literally meaning ‘a demon,’ came to be associated with the form of marriage involving bride price.

Marriage by purchase was the order of the day among the ancient Assyrians and, perhaps the term asura could be traced to this Assyrian custom.

The price paid by the bridegroom was originally a compensation to the bride’s family for her loss, a certain portion was given to the bride as a marriage gift. The bride price was usually paid in cash or kind among the Tamils of the Sangam Age (agama works 90: 280). Referred to as paricam, this practice has lingered up to the 20th century as kanyasulkam.

Bride price implies that society recognizes that the woman has a value. The custom of bride price is not favored in Hindu knowledge texts, though Arthashastra allows it without criticism. In the epics we find that at the time of the marriage of Kaikeyi, Gandhari and Madri, a heavy bride price was paid to the guardians. Dhammapada mentions this custom (V.215 and commentary).

The writers of Dharmashastra literature condemn this practice. Baudhayana doubts the legality of such marriages. Padma Purana speaks contemptuously of bride price. A 15th century inscription from Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) records an agreement among the Brahmins of the region that they would excommunicate anybody who accepted bride price for marriage.

Source – Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume II – page 431 – IHRF