Indian religions and cultures are diverse and have always influenced the way people live in this part of the world.
Religion has been a very dominant influence in marriage, choice of marital partner and cohabitation. This blog looks at various religions in India and their influence on the institution of marriage. Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and the Hindu faith with its influence on marriage are reviewed. Christian values and the role they play in shaping Christian marriage traditions are explored. We shall also discuss the influences Islam has had on marriage.
At the time of marriage, the husband is expected to give a nuptial gift (dowry) to his bride which is her personal asset. This is a very applauded and celebrated custom which safeguards the maintenance of a woman in the event of an unfortunate incident. Controversy surrounds the issue of contraception; it can be practised when conception can be a risk to the health of the mother. Whether or not the availability of resources to provide is a reason for considering contraception is an illusion. Some believe providing for a child is the responsibility of the Almighty, and one must produce as many children as possible.
Talaq or divorce is based on a very stringent and rule-bound format. Divorce or talaq to be proclaimed by the man on 3 separate occasions. Marriage is not dissolved the 1st two times. After the 3rd proclamation, there is a waiting period of 3 months during which the maintenance of the wife and children is the responsibility of the husband. If the differences persist divorce may be finalized after 3 months. At the time of parting, he has to give her the promised mehr or dowry and supplementary ways to support herself and children. After the third proclamation, if the man wishes to marry the same woman again, it is permissible only after she has consummated a marriage with another man.
Like many other communities, Jains also prefer to get their sons and daughters married within the community so that the children thus produced would follow the same dharma. They criticize the practice of dowry. Jainism sets celibacy-chaste living (Bramacharya) as the norm. The highest ideals of classical or traditional Jainism are represented by the ascetics-the members of the faith who devote their whole lives to living the Jain code of ethics in its strictest forms. Jain monks and nuns are expected to remain completely celibate in body and mind. Chaste living is important to Jains because sexual indulgence gets in the way of the road to liberation. Jain monks and nuns practise strict asceticism and strive to make their current birth their last, thus ending their cycle of transmigration.
The Sikh marriage ceremony typically takes place at the Gurudwara (the Sikh temple) or at bride’s home in front of the Holy Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. The religion does not allow for the wedding to take place at a commercial location such as a hotel or a banquet hall. The Sikh marriage is a monogamous affair and separation per SE is not allowed. However, divorce can be obtained in the civil court of law. The concept of “Anand Karaj” was introduced by Guru Ram Das, the fourth of the ten Sikh Gurus. The marriage process involves taking four revolutions around the Guru Granth Sahib with the recitation of laavan (hymns) in the background. The Guru Granth Sahib is representative of the Sikh Gurus. Hence, this ritual of revolving around the Granth signifies the newlywed couple making commitments in the presence of their Guru. In terms of the law, the Sikh marriages are legalized by the Sikh Marriage Act of 1909, which has been amended in 2012 and passed in parliament. Under this Act, the marriages conducted through the “Anand Karaj” ritual have to be compulsorily registered with the Marriage Bureau/Local Authorities. To conclude, Sikhism, being the youngest religions, has a strong value system that believes in bringing reforms in the society by opposing all the malpractices and proclaiming equal rights for both the sexes as individuals as well as when in wedlock.
Marriage in Hinduism is not just a mutual contract between two individuals or a relationship of convenience, but a social contract and moral expediency, in which the couple agree to live together and share their lives, doing their respective duties, to keep the divine order (RTA) and the institution of the family intact. As the torchbearers of Hindu dharma, in their capacity as individual souls, whose destinies are intertwined by their previous karmas, a married couple have a responsibility towards their society, the gods, other living beings and their ancestors. In short, in Hinduism marriage is a social and family obligation to perpetuate a divine centred life in which self-realization rather than sexual gratification is the reason for its continuation.
The concept of divorce is alien to Hinduism, as marriages are meant to last for a lifetime. Neither men nor women can throw away their marital relationships on some flimsy or selfish or whimsical grounds. Remarriage is permitted only under exceptional circumstances. Polygamy was a normal practise among Hindus just a few centuries ago. Presently, in India, the Hindu Marriage Act not only prohibits it but also makes it a punishable offence.
In a church service, there are readings from the Bible which explain the nature and significance of marriage. The couple makes promises to stay together ‘for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death us do part’. It is a commitment for life, and not just for the times which are easy. Prayers are said for the newlyweds, which recognise both the joys and difficulties ahead and ask God’s blessing on the couple.
While marriage is honoured and affirmed among Christians, there is no suggestion that it is necessary for everyone. Singleness, with its freedom and flexibility, is described as ‘a gift’ in the Bible. And Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith, was himself unmarried.
Some Christians believe that marriage vows are unbreakable so that even in the distressing circumstances in which a couple separates, they are still married from God’s point of view. This is so in the Roman Catholic church, although occasionally a marriage is declared to be null (in other words, it never really was a marriage). Other Christians have accepted divorce and remarriage in some circumstances – for example, to relieve one partner of intolerable hardship, unfaithfulness or desertion.
There is rarely divorce without pain. Even when divorce comes as a relief, it follows the pain of broken relationships and dreams, and great anxiety about the impact on children. Christians seek to uphold the seriousness of wedding vows while responding with compassion to deep hurts by recognising that divorce is sometimes necessary. God grieves alongside the people for whom such a painful separation is taking place.
There is no obligation for Buddhists to marry and most Buddhists believe marriage is a choice. As long as they are both happy to do so, Buddhists are allowed to cohabit. As a result, Buddhists do not have any formal teachings on what the marriage ceremony should consist of. The closest that Buddhists come to one is to hold a blessing or celebration but there are no religious elements to the event.
Most Buddhists believe the purpose of marriage is to:
- unite with someone they love or who is a good partner in other respects
- have children
- create a sound basis for their extended family, including their parents
Buddhists accept that marriage may cause suffering and should be aware of this before getting married. The second Noble Truth, ‘The truth of the cause of suffering’, refers to desires which can cause frustration. Therefore, a Buddhist will try to practise teachings such as metta and ahimsa within the marriage so that the couple can sustain a positive relationship.
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