A Bengali Hindu couple during their wedding ceremony
A North Indian couple wearing traditional attire during a ring ceremony
A Rajput Hindu couple making an offering during their wedding ceremony
A Tamil Hindu couple during their wedding ceremony

The Hindu marriage (Sanskrit: विवाह, romanizedVivāha, lit.'Marriage') is the most important of all the samskaras, the rites of passage described in the Dharmashastra texts.[1]

Variously defined, it is generally described to be a social institution for the establishment and regulation of a proper relationship between the sexes, as stated by Manu. Marriage is regarded to be a sacrament by Hindus, rather than a form of social contract, since they believe that all men and women are created to be parents, and practise dharma together, as ordained by the Vedas.[2] The Brahmanas state that a man is only said to be "complete" after marrying a woman, and acquiring progeny.[3]



The ideal conception of marriage that was laid down by the ancient Indians is one in which it is a ceremonial gift of a bride (Vadhū) by her father, or another appropriate family member, to a bride-groom (Vara), so that they may fulfil the purposes of human existence together. In such a conception, vivaha, which originally meant the wedding ceremony, but has to acquire the definition of marriage as a whole, is meant for procreation, and the establishment of a family (kutumba). After one's wedding, one is believed to have entered the second stage of life, the grihastha ashrama, performing the duties of a householder.[4]


In Hinduism, the four goals of life (Purusarthas) are regarded to be righteousness (dharma), wealth (artha), pleasure (kama), and liberation (moksha). Marriage is considered to be necessary to fulfil these goals. The three goals of marriage include allowing a husband and a wife to fulfil their dharma, bearing progeny (praja), and experiencing pleasure (rati). Sexual intercourse between a husband and wife is regarded to be important in order to produce children, but is the least desirable purpose of marriage in traditional Hindu schools of thought.[5]


The Naradasmirti states a daughter should be given away for once and all, as soon as her menses appear.[6] The Manusmriti states that following menarche, a maiden may wait for three years, after which she may marry.[7] Girls are usually considered to have achieved puberty when they are 12 years old, and are allowed to choose their own husbands if a suitable groom is not procured for them.[8]


While Hindu texts prescribe marrying within one's own community, they prohibit individuals from marrying those who belong to their own gotra, or lineage from the same Vedic sage:[9]

One should not choose (the bride) from the same gotra or born in the line of same sage. (One may choose) from (descendants of) more than seven (generations) on the paternal side and more than five (generations) on the maternal side.

— Agni Purana, Chapter 154


See also: Hindu astrology

The use of jatakam or janmakundali (natal and astrological chart at the time of birth) of one's son or daughter to arrange a marriage with the help of a priest is common, but not universal. Parents also take advice from Brahmin astrologers called 'Jothidar' in Tamil, 'Panthulu or Siddanthi' in Telugu, and Kundali Milan in Hindi, who holds astrological data of those individuals looking to get married. Some communities, like the Brahmins in Mithila, use genealogical records ("Panjikas") maintained by the specialists.

A jatakam or kundali chart is drawn based on the placement of the stars and planets at the time of one's birth. Those individuals who subscribe to Hindu astrology believe that the position of these celestial objects at the time of their birth, and their benefic or malefic influence, influence the auspicious compatibility between a bride and groom. For instance, the planet Venus is believed to be a benefic planet, and influential in terms of marriage.[10] The maximum points for any match can be 36, and the minimum points for matching is 18.[11] Any match with points under 18 is not considered as an auspicious match for a harmonious relationship, but they may still marry if they so choose. If the astrological chart of the two individuals (male and female) achieve the required threshold in points, then further talks are considered for a prospective marriage. The man and woman are given a chance to talk, and understand each other. If both parties consent, an auspicious time is chosen for the wedding to take place.

Types of marriages

Hindu texts such as the Atharvaveda[12] and the Manusmriti III.20-34,[13] identify eight forms of marriage. They are traditionally presented, as here, in order of their religious appropriateness (prashasta). They also differ very widely in social acceptability.[14][15]

While all of these marriages are recognised, not all have religious sanction; four of them are declared to be righteous, and the other four are stated to be non-righteous.[16][17][18][19]

Brahma marriage

The Brahmavivaha is a righteous form of marriage. It refers to the marriage of one's daughter to a man of good conduct, learned in the Vedas, and invited by oneself. Brahma marriage is where a boy is able to get married once he has completed his education in the first stage of life, the Brahmacharya. Brahma marriage holds the supreme position of the eight types of Hindu matrimony. When the parents of a boy seek a suitable bride, they consider her family background, and the girl's father would ensure that his daughter's prospective groom is a scholar, one who is well-versed in the Vedas.[20]

Daiva marriage

The Daivavivaha is a righteous form of marriage. It is a form of marriage unique to the ancient Brahmins, where a man gifts his richly bedecked daughter's hand in marriage to a priest who officiates at the former's sacrifice ceremony, in lieu of paying the latter a nominal sacrificial fee. This form of a marriage, ranked as the second most meritorious, is regarded to redeem the sins of seven ascendants and descendants. It is called such because it is believed to be worthy of the devas themselves.[21]

Arsha marriage

The Arshavivaha is a righteous form of marriage. It is a form of marriage where a man gifts his daughter as a bride, after receiving one pair of cattle, a cow and a bull, or two pairs from a groom, the exchange being perceived as a matter of the law, rather than the sale of the former's daughter. The sage Yajnavalkya prescribes offering one's maiden daughter as a bride in exchange for a pair of cows.[22]

Prajapatya marriage

M.V. Dhurandhar’s depiction of a Hindu wedding ceremony

The Prajapatyavivaha is a righteous form of marriage. It is a form of marriage where a girl's father gives her hand in marriage to a bridegroom, treating him with respect, and addressing them with the following words: 'May both of you perform together your religious duties' (Sanskrit: Hyā kanyēśīṃ dharmācēṃ ācaraṇa kara, or Prajōtpādanārtha kanyārpaṇa). In a Prajapatya marriage, the bride's father goes in search of a groom, rather than the other way around, which makes it inferior to a Brahma marriage.[23]

An eloping couple exchange garlands under a tree. Illustration from Sougandhika Parinaya

Gandharva marriage

The Gandharvavivaha is a form of marriage classified as non-righteous in general.[24][25] It is cohabitation that arises out of the mutual love shared between a youth and a maiden, where the primary purpose is sexual intercourse. No consultation of one's family members or the performance of ritual ceremonies take place. The marriage of Dushyanta and Shakuntala was a historically celebrated example of this class of marriage.[26] It is generally considered to be permissible to the members of the Kshatriya varna, and only the Vaishya and the Shudra varnas according to Smriti texts,[27] though it has grown increasingly common in the present-day due to the practice of dating among the newer generations.[28][29]

Asura marriage

The Asuravivaha is a non-righteous form of marriage. It is a form of marriage where a bridegroom receives a maiden, after having given of his own free will as much wealth as he can afford, to the bride, and her kinsmen. As a form of marriage performed by paying a bride price, it is generally stated to be forbidden, though it is sometimes cited to be allowed for members of the Vaishya and Shudra varnas.[30][31]

Rakshasa marriage

The Rakshasavivaha is a non-righteous form of marriage. It is the marriage performed after a non-consenting maiden is seized by force or abducted by a man. When such a maiden is abducted, she is described to weep as her relatives are assaulted and slain, and their house is wrecked. The marriage is then celebrated in the absence of the father of the bride by the family of her abductor. It is a reprehensible form of a marriage that is condemned by the Manusmriti, and is punished by law in society in the present-day.[32][33]

Paishacha marriage

The Paishachavivaha is a non-righteous form of marriage. When a man stealthily rapes a woman who is asleep, intoxicated, or mentally challenged, it is regarded to be a marriage, though only to preserve the honour of the woman. This is condemned in the Manusmriti as a sinful act. In modern times, this is classified as a form of date rape, and is a crime in most countries.[34][35]

James Lochtefeld comments that these last two forms were forbidden, but the marriages themselves were still recognised in ancient Hindu societies, not to allow these acts, but rather to provide the woman and any resulting children with legal protection in the society.[14]

Conjugal forms

While most Hindus of the Indian subcontinent predominantly practise monogamy today, polygamous marriages have also characterised Hindu society for millennia.


Polygyny refers to a form of marriage where a man is married to more than one woman during the same period of time. While polygyny was not the norm of mainstream Hindu society, having more than one wife was a social custom that was believed to increase the prestige of a man. Members of royalty and aristocracy were often polygynous, and they were among the few who could afford to support more than one wife in their households. Polygyny was sanctioned by the Manusmriti among members of the dvija (twice-born) varnas: Brahmins were allowed to have up to four wives,[36] Kshatriyas could have three wives, and the Vaishyas could have two wives; the Shudras, however, were permitted to have only one wife.[37] The Apastamba Dharmasutra allows a man to take a new wife after ten years if his present wife was judged to be barren, and could marry after thirteen or fourteen years if his wife only produced daughters, and he desired a son. The Vasishtha Dharmsutra states a husband may take another wife if his wife engages in extramarital sex. Until the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, every Hindu in India was theoretically allowed to have multiple wives.[38][39]


Polyandry refers to a marriage where a woman is married to more than one man during the same period of time. This form of marriage was exceedingly rare among Hindu society in Indian history, and the Mahabharata's polyandrous marriage of Draupadi to the five Pandava brothers is the most cited example of this custom. The Mahabharata, however, does state that it is a great adharma for a woman to have multiple husbands. The Aitareya Brahmana prohibits a woman from having two husbands. The practice of polyandry has historically existed among the Nair community of Kerala, called Sambandam, though its practice is very rare in the modern period. The Todas of the Nilgiris, the Khasa of Dehradun, and a few communities of northern India are also cited to have been polyandrous.[40] Polyandry is viewed with contempt in India today, a practice little removed from promiscuity on the part of a woman.[41]


Monogamy refers to a marriage where a man is married to only one woman during a given period of time. Ever since the Vedic period, monogamy has been the dominant form of conjugal relationship and form of marriage in India. Monogamy is counselled to men by Vatsyayana, a philosopher and an authority of the Kama Sutra, with the belief that a man is only capable of physically, psychologically, and spiritually pleasing one woman at a time. Hindu texts that permit bigamy and polygyny recommend the monogamous marriage as the most appropriate form of the concept.[42] It is exemplified in Hindu texts such as Ramayana, where Rama is believed to have taken the ekapatnivrata, literally meaning the, 'vow of one wife', the act of fidelity to one wife, Sita, and forbidding himself from engaging in sexual relations with other women.[43][44]


For most of Indian history, women were seen as subservient to the will of her father, and it was thought that unmarried women could not be kept at home – this belief is still held by some. It was – and in some places, still is – thought that one's daughter is only temporary, and that she is meant to be her husband's. The main duty of a girl's parents was, and is, regarded to arrange her marriage. After marriage, a woman is seen as a guest when visiting her natal home, and no longer a member of that family. In Hinduism, the main duty of a woman is serving her husband and family, and several Hindu festivals reflect this, by reinforcing the tradition of a woman fasting, or performing other rituals, to pray for her husband's long life. Dowry, the practice of the bride's family gifting property or money to her husband, is still prevalent despite the enactment of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. Historically, if the amount of dowry was seen as insufficient, the groom's family would take it as an insult, and harass the new bride to ask her family for more dowry.[45]

Contemporary period

Many people believe that arranged marriage is the traditional form of marriage in India; however, the concept of love marriage has gained popularity as well, especially in urban areas. Love marriage differs from arranged marriage in that the couple, rather than the parents, choose their own partner, and that the consent of their parents is not asked for before marrying. The concept of a love marriage is not a novelty in India, as it is regarded to be the equivalent of the gandharva marriage, which is still perceived as not righteous today. Hindu literature does indicate that love marriages were recognised and accepted in ancient times, for example, the legend of Dushyanta and Shakuntala in the Mahabharata. Somewhere in the course of time, arranged marriages became predominant, and love marriages became unacceptable or at least frowned upon.

Despite the rise in the count of Hindus marrying for love, arranged marriages still remain the norm: In a 2012 survey conducted by Ipsos for the TV channel NDTV, 74% of the respondents said that they preferred an arranged marriage.[46] While the vast majority of Hindus continue to have arranged marriages, the prospective spouses usually have more agency in the match today than they did historically.

In a 2014 survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund and International Center for Research on Women, 11.7% of men and 8.5% of women in India surveyed claimed that they chose their partners, and married with, or without, the consent of their families.[47] The boundaries between the two types of marriage are believed to have started to blur.[48] The term love-arranged marriage is used to describe a new emerging form of marriage, which contains elements of both an arranged marriage and a love marriage.[49] Love marriages are sometimes seen as imposition of the younger generation's will over the older generation's wishes.[50][51]


In India, when a Hindu and a non-Hindu marry under the Hindu Marriage Act and for the Hindu marriage to be valid, both partners must be Hindu amongst other conditions that also need to be fulfilled, and the non-Hindu partner must convert to Hinduism. A specific kind of ancient ritual is performed before the Hindu marriage called Shuddhikaran which is also practised by members of the Arya Samaj community who started the socio-political Shuddhi Movement that was derived from this ancient rite.[52] The non-Hindu partner is converted to Hinduism through this purification rite before marrying, or else the marriage is regarded to be void, or not legally binding.[53] The Hindu wedding ceremony that follows includes the vows and the saptapadi, the ritual of circling the sacred fire seven times; the completion of the seventh round binds the marriage.[54] This is accepted as a complete, valid marriage in all states of India, and needs no registration with the exception of Goa, that is governed by a single code called Goa civil code, where the registration of marriage is made compulsory as it is accepted as the only proof of marriage.

Same-sex marriage

Gandharva in Thailand

There have been reports of Hindu gurus performing same-sex marriages in India since at least the 1980s.[55]

See also


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