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Hindu Marriage Implies Equality Not Submission

In the Hindu rite of marriage, when the bridegroom holds the hand of the bride, he in a way promises his companionship on equal terms. When he asks her to tread on the stone, he wants her to be strong like it and not show weakness of any kind in any situation. ‘Resist the enemies; overcome those who attack you.’ (Sankhayana Grihya Sutras, 1.13.12.) Subsequent rites of marriage like the oblation of parched grain, circumambulation of fire and the taking of seven steps by the bride are equally dignifying for the girl. After the seventh step is taken the bride groom tells her that they have come closer to each other. ‘With seven steps we become friends. Let me reach your friendship. Let me not be severed from your friendship. Let not your friendship be severed from me.’ (Hiranyakeshi Grihya Sutras, Obviously ‘friendship implies equality, not submission’.

Before the departure of the bride from her parental home, the bridegroom touches her heart and reiterates the same feelings, adding that Bhagavan has brought them together: ‘I hold your heart in serving fellowship. … You are joined to me by Bhagavan of all creatures.’ (Paraskara Grihya Sutras, 1.8.8.) After reaching her husband’s home, the bridegroom makes her look at the polar star after sunset and exhorts her to ‘be firm with me’, ‘bear children’ and stay together ‘a hundred years’ (Rig Veda 1.8.19).

All this shows that in an ideal Hindu marriage the girl is not a commodity but a respectable human being. Al though monogamy is preferred and divorce discouraged, as the couple is believed to be united for ever in this and the next world, the smritikaras and others like Kautilya allow the dissolution of some forms of marriage such as the brahma, daiva, arsha and prajapatya with the consent of both parties in certain circumstances.

Source - Excerpts from article titled 'Hindu Woman as Life Partner' by Dr Usha Kapoor in the Prabuddha Bharata Magazine July 2005 issue