Category Archives: Hindu Rites of Passage (Samskara)

Women and Marriage in Hinduism

Throughout Hindu history there has been a noticeable inequality of the sexes; when considering how ancient the Hindu tradition is, it is only recently that reforms have been made in order to accommodate women as more equal to their male counterparts. One major area of life that has been under reformation when taking into account inequality is the marriage ceremony and life as a married woman. It was not until the passing of the Special Marriage Act in 1954 that there were any reforms to family law in Hindu society (Agnes 91). Before these reforms to Hindu law, women were typically treated as if they were a form of “property” that were owned by their fathers up until their marriage; after marriage the responsibility for such “property” was passed from a woman’s father to her husband (Agnes 11). Manu (the quintessential giver of Hindu law) stated that women “should never be free” in their lifetime, for a woman should be dependent on her father, then her husband, and then her sons as she progresses throughout her lifetime (Agnes 11). Although there have been recent reforms to Hindu law in regards to equality, the genders are still not considered as equals.

For women in the Hindu tradition, marriage is their rite of passage and their official entry into religious life and it can be likened to the upanayana ceremony for males (Rodrigues 135). It has been viewed as a religious ceremony throughout all of Hindu history, dating back to the Vedas (Mitter 208). It was (and still is) a woman’s duty to marry and produce offspring, most notably a male heir; thus we can conclude that the majority of women who entered into marriage had experienced puberty, for it was their responsibility to produce children soon after marriage (Mitter 195-198). Although it was not uncommon for girls to be married before experiencing puberty (infant marriages), most textual sources show that the majority of ancient marriages were between a couple who were of appropriate age to bear children (Mitter 198). Infant marriages were looked upon with disfavour as the union of two immature children rarely resulted in favourable conditions for either the husband or the wife. It was customary for a girl to end her education when she entered into marriage; although this was not always the case, it had the potential to create uneducated women in Hindu society (Chandra 17). Eventually the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 and the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 were passed which both outlawed the practice of child marriage and required that the potential husband and wife both be of sufficient age (Sarkar 107).

Entering into a Hindu marriage in ancient times took place in one of eight forms as described by Manu in the Smritis; Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paisacha. Of these eight forms, only the first four are considered as appropriate for a Brahmin, whereas the last four are considered as inappropriate practices (Mitter 210). While all of these forms are still seen in Hindu life today, there are two forms that are the most prevalent today: the Brahma and the Asura marriages. All of these forms of marriage can be (and most often are) arranged by the fathers of the bride and groom. Arranged marriage holds for nearly all marriages in earlier times and is still very prevalent among Hindus today. Marriages in Hindu society are not taken lightly, for they are about more than just bringing together a man and a woman; Hindu marriages are considered links between family lineages and can even enhance a family’s jati (Rodrigues 138). The linking of family lineages is why careful consideration is taken with regards as to who is compatible and who is not. Although the “love-marriage” is becoming more popular in Hindu society, the traditional arranged marriage rarely takes into account the opinions of the woman or the man (Gupta 92). The European and Western ideal of a marriage, which is termed a “love-marriage”, is one in which there is an independent decision by two people to marry based on common feelings of romantic love (Gupta 83). Although the practice of the “love-marriage” is the norm in western countries, it is viewed as somewhat unacceptable for Hindu society; “love-marriages” may disregard all formal practice of arranged marriages and the linking of family lineages which are characteristically so important to ancient Hindu tradition.

Another custom found in Hindu history is polygamy, the practice of having more than one wife. Polygamy was prevalent in the Vedic period, even though it was looked upon with disapproval (Mitter 207). In ancient Hindu society, polygamy was customary among the upper classes of Hindus; the higher a Hindu male’s rank in society was an indication they were “allowed” more wives than a Hindu male of lower social rank (Gupta 35). On the other hand, while polygamy was widely prevalent, polyandry (the practice of more than one husband) was considered malevolence (Gupta 36). The most extreme case of polygamy in Hindu history was among the Kulin Brahmins of Bengal; it is recorded that thirty-three Kulin Brahmins were married to two thousand and fifty-one women (Basu 9). Wives in such polygamous marriages did not receive the same amount of love and devotion that a monogamous marriage had to offer and they neither held the same social status that a woman in a monogamous marriage would have. A wife in a polygamous marriage lived in their parent’s household instead of their husband’s, for their husband was always travelling from one wife to the next (Basu 10). The enactment of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955 made it illegal to practice polygamy and polyandry in Hindu society.

Since Hindu marriages undergo such careful consideration and planning between the families that are about to be joined, there were no methods for terminating such a union through divorce (Gupta 67). Hindu marriages were considered to be permanent and anyone who did divorce their significant other was viewed as being unrespectable; divorce in Hindu society was viewed as the ultimate tragedy in a married household (Gupta 68). More recent reforms in Hindu law have since accepted that some marriages are not meant to work, and divorce is now a more common occurrence among the Hindu community than it had previously been. Although divorce is now allowed among Hindus, it is somewhat difficult to obtain grounds for a divorce as it is still viewed as being moderately disgraceful (Gupta 73).

It was not until the passing of the Special Marriage act in 1954 that there was an attempt to address some of the problems associated with marriage and family law in Hindu society (Agnes 95-96). Although this act did not fully take into account the problem of gender inequality, it was the first significant step toward the future creation of a unified policy for marriage and divorce that had the ability to protect the rights of women (Agnes 96-97). Under the Special Marriage Act, divorce was only attainable by mutual consent thus making the Act a minor step forward in creating the grounds for a future comprehensive code for obtaining divorce (Agnes 96-97). Consent between concerned parties was a major stipulation of the Special Marriage Act; divorce was only possible if both parties were mutually agreeable to such an occurrence (Agnes 97). Without such consent, divorce was not possible. Since this act only addressed family laws, another act was instituted to address the problems of gender inequalities in Hindu society: the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.

The Hindu Marriage act of 1955 deemed spouses as equals in a monogamous relationship and stated they had equal rights and responsibilities to each other (Agnes 83). When the Hindu Marriage Act was first passed in 1955, it did not address divorce. It was not until major amendments were made to the Hindu Marriage Act in 1976 that divorce by mutual consent was granted (Agnes 97). Although the amendments allowed for couples to obtain grounds for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, cruelty was not seen as a viable reason for divorce, which is seen as one of the fundamental problems of the act (Sarkar 107).

The future of Hindu marriage and gender equality is unclear; while there have been major breakthroughs in law and reform for gender equality, it is difficult to predict whether Hindu society will continue moving towards equality between the genders. Marriage is still viewed as a very traditional and religious aspect of Hindu life as it was in ancient times. New reforms to Hindu laws and traditions have outlawed certain practices like polygamy and polyandry and have allowed for other practices such as divorce. While it is difficult to say where Hindu marriage is to go from here, one can definitely say that it has come a long way from its ancient roots.

Bibliography

Agnes, Flavia (1999) Law and Gender Inequality: The Politics and Women’s Rights in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Basu, Monmayee (2001) Hindu Women and Marriage Law: From Sacrament to Contract. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chandra, Sudhir (1998) Enslaved Daughters: Colonialism, Law and Women’s Rights. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Gupta, A.R. (1982) Women in Hindu Society: A Study of Tradition and Transition. New Delhi: Jyotsna Prakashan.

Mitter, Dwarka Nath (1913) The Position of Women in Hindu Law. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2005) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics; Online Books, Ltd.

Sarkar, Lotika (1999) “Reform of Hindu Marriage and Succession Laws: Still the Unequal Sex.” In From Independence Towards Freedom: Indian Women Since 1947, edited by Bharati Ray and Aparna Basu, 100-119. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Related Readings

Hindu divorce

Hindu Marriage Act

Child marriages

Polygamy and polyandry

Gender inequality

Brahma marriage

Daiva marriage

Arsha marriage

Prajapatya marriage

Asura marriage

Gandharva marriage

Rakshasa marriage

Paisacha marriage

Pativrata

Related Websites

http://www.vivaaha.org/

http://www.expressindia.com/

http://www.sudhirlaw.com/

http://www.vakilno1.com/

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/

Written by Jerri-Lynn Winters (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Marriage (Vivaha) Samskara

Introduction:

Vivaha refers to marriage within the Hindu tradition. Because of the great importance attached to married couples and their roles within society, vivaha is considered the most important samskara (life cycle rite) undertaken by individuals (Harman 126). Marriage and the ensuing ghrastha (householder) stage is deemed crucial within Hindu society for a variety of reasons. During their marriage the couple is expected to cultivate three of the four goals of life. The first goal is dharma (duty), and is achieved through their joint performance of sacrificial offerings to the gods. The art of love, pleasure, and fulfillment of sexual desire is known as kama and facilitates procreation. This enables the couple to repay their debt to the ancestors. Finally, as householders they participate in the greater social order by pursuing artha (the pursuit of wealth and material possessions) (Sharma 75).

Importance & Symbolism of Marriage:

In many ways, marriage symbolizes the beginning of social life for both women and men. For women, it also enables their participation in religious matters. The vivaha samskara is akin to the upanayana (sacred thread) ceremony undergone by males during the sisya (student) stage (Harman 131-132). Thus, after marriage, a woman may fulfill her religious duties. The importance of marriage for women is paralleled in Hindu literature. Unmarried goddesses are often portrayed as dangerous and uncontrollable (as in the case of Mariyamman – the fever goddess), reinforcing beliefs surrounding the inauspiciousness of unmarried, divorced, or widowed women [See Harman (1989) for an interesting analysis of the symbolism and role of marriage within Hindu religious mythology]. Comparatively, in the epic, Ramayana, the hero Rama and his wife Sita represent an idealization of marriage that is upheld for Hindu couples to aspire to (Sharma 72).

Marriage is of near equal importance for men. Within the social realm, vivaha is especially important for males of lower class varnas. It may be one of the few samskaras performed for lower class males or combined with several other life cycle rites to reduce the associated costs. With few exceptions, males cannot perform sacrificial offerings without a wife and marriage is seen as necessary to live in accordance with dharma (Harman 128-132; Sharma 75). This importance is likewise symbolized within Hindu religious mythology and unmarried gods may be depicted as powerless. For example, in one of the representations, the god Siva is a corpse until his marriage to Sakti animates him (Harman 9). Hence, vivaha serves both religious and societal functions within Hinduism that are mirrored within the religious literature itself.

Betrothal:

In India, arranged marriages are still the norm (Harman 126). Within the upper varnas (classes), it is traditionally the bride’s family who initiates the search for an appropriate partner. Interclass marriage (unions between different varnas) is generally not tolerated. However, hypergamy, or marrying up for women within one’s own varna is usually the goal of the bride’s family (Sharma 73; Fowler 54). The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 made dowry (payment to the groom’s family by the bride’s family) illegal in India. Nevertheless, expensive gifts or other financial arrangements are still made (Fowler 54). Polygamy and caste restrictions in India were also abolished by the Hindu Marriage Act, along with child marriages and restrictions on divorce [See Sharma (1985) for a more detailed discussion of the Hindu Marriage Act]. Despite these legal amendments, many of these traditions are still observed in rural areas (Fowler 54).

Parental consent to marriage is important within Hindu society as marriage links not only individuals, but lineages as well (Harman 126). There are eight types of marriages recognized within the influential Dharma Sastras: brahma, daiva, arsa, prajapatya, asura, gandharva, raksasa, and paisaca. The first four are arranged with the approval of the bride’s family and are considered the most desirable (Harman 13). To illustrate, the marriage category of brahma is an arrangement where a father gives his daughter to a man who has studied the sacred literature. Typically, this type of marriage is the most highly regarded and would be preferable for individuals within the brahmana (priestly) class [See Harman (1989) and Rodrigues (2006) for further details pertaining to marriage types]. Within the remaining four types where consent is not always issued, raksasa refers to the abduction of a bride against her will and is considered suitable for ksatriyas (warrior classes), whereas gandharva describes a love match between the bride and groom and is generally thought to be inauspicious (Harman 13).

Auspiciousness is of great concern in Hindu society and marriages are no exception. Before a marriage can be arranged, the families involved must consult the astrological charts of both the bride and groom to determine the auspiciousness of the match, as well as to determine the best time for the ceremony to take place (Sharma 73). Great care is taken in determining auspiciousness and a union considered inauspicious is abandoned (Rodrigues 81). Once a suitable partner and time is found, preparations can be made for the ceremony itself.

Ceremony & Associated Rituals:

Weddings are lavish affairs, meant to display the families’ social status within the community (Harman 127). The rituals associated with vivaha may carry on as long as twelve days, however, the wedding ceremony alone generally lasts only a few hours and traditionally should be performed at night. A great canopy is set up where the rituals and ceremony will take place and the canopy is elaborately decorated with lights and other ornaments (Fowler 52-4). Weddings are considered a time of great ritual purity. Persons deemed inauspicious or polluted (such as widows) are forbidden to attend. During this time the bride and groom are treated as if they were deities and are thought to be living embodiments of gods and goddesses. Their status is elevated to such a point it is said the couple receives the right of way over individuals who normally carry a higher status than themselves (Harman 128-31). The bride and groom are ritually bathed and anointed with oils. The bride will be dressed in her finest jewels and sari and will have her hands and feet colored with henna. A brahmin priest is contracted to preside over the rituals (Fowler 55-6).

The actual wedding ceremony varies considerably from place to place, however, Sharma (1985) outlines six rites commonly observed. The first is madhuparka in which the groom and his party arrive at the bride’s house, traditionally on horseback. They are received by the bride’s family and the groom is honored as a deity. The second element is that of kanyadana. This is where the father gives his daughter to the groom and the couple lights a fire in the sacrificial pit. During panigrahana, the groom takes the bride by the hand and presents her with a mangalasutra, or pendant, that is tied around her neck (73-5). [Rodrigues (2006) describes this pendant to be similar in nature to the yajnopavita (sacred thread) that is given to twice born males at their upanayana ceremony].

Following the ritual of panigrahana, the bride steps on the north stone by the sacrificial fire. This is known as asmarohana and symbolizes the couple’s strength against their enemies. During asmorahana, the bride throws three oblations of rice into the fire (lajahoma). The final rite during the wedding ceremony is considered the most important and is what legally seals the marriage. Referred to as saptapadi, the bride and groom circle the sacred fire seven times with corners of their garments tied together. Also known as the seven steps, each step symbolizes a different aspect of the marriage such as friendship, wealth, and fertility. By taking the seventh and final step, the marriage is made official. After completion of the ceremonies, there is typically a celebration held that includes dancing, singing, and feasting. Varagrhaprasthana marks the bride’s departure from her family’s home to her husband’s, where she will remain during the course of her marriage under her in-laws care. Consummation of the marriage does not take place until 3 days after the marriage ceremony and is known as caturthikarma (Sharma 73-5).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Fowler, Jeaneane (1997) Hinduism: Beliefs and practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

Harman, William P (1989) Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary P (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Sharma, Arvind (1985) Marriage in the Hindu religious tradition. Journal of Ecumenical Studies: 22(1): 69-80.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Asramas

Auspiciousness / inauspiciousness

Deities & marriage

Divorce

Dowry Traditions

Ekapatnivrati

Grhastha

Mariyamman

The Marriage Act

Pativrata

Polygamy

Rama & Sita

Same-sex marriage

Samskaras

Siva & Sakti

Widowhood

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.bangalinet.com/bengali_marriage.htm

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_marriage.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_wedding

http://www.hinduism.co.za/marriage.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/matrimonial1/a/wedding_rituals.htm

http://www.vivaaha.org/newpage3.htm

Article written by: Katherine Mitchell (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Death and Cremation

Cremation in Hinduism is classified as the last samskara (life cycle rites); the last ritual to perform that concludes a life. Cremation is considered a samskara because it is changing the state of the person from one realm to another; it is viewed as a medium between life and the ancestral realm (pitr-loka). There are many different frameworks as to how the cremation ritual is completed, yet the outcome is always the same. Cremation is an important aspect of Hinduism because it is freeing the spirit from the current world. Sacrifices, transformations, and the knowledge of how to perform the ritual surrounding the cremation are all aspects of this particular samskara.

Knipe, as quoted in Richard Davis’ Cremation and Liberation: The Revision Of A Hindu Ritual states, “ With few exceptions, the Hindu rites at the time of death and the procedures for cremation (antyesti) are fairly uniform throughout the regions of India…This conformity in ritual across vedic, epic, pursnic, and agamic periods, and on into modern practice, is remarkable”
(39). A basic intention of the cremation ritual is to prevent the spirit from coming back and haunting its family. This basic intention can be known as a Preta (spirits that are not properly installed in the ancestral realm) [haunting/harassing the family- this information can be found and expanded upon in the Hinduism eBook (177)]. Death throughout the Hindu tradition is looked upon as dangerous because it is during this time that the body is between cycles of life and rebirth. Weightman states that in Hinduism, the prevailing “fire and its illumination symbolize either the cosmic cycle of creation and dissolution or samsara [To flow together; to wander; the cycle of repeated rebirths], the earthly cycle of birth and death” (1).

Davis further support the notion of birth and death cycles, as stated above by Weightman, by illustrating another aspect of the cremation ritual. This aspect is known as the third birth. Davis argues, “A person is indeed born three times, as follows: First he is born from his mother and father. One whose lot is to sacrifice is born a second time when he performs sacrifice. He is born a third time when he dies, and is placed upon the fire, and he arises again…” (41). Death and cremation are the processes that allow the spirit from the dead body to leave this world and enter the ancestral realm, where the bodies “…receive nourishment through the sraddha [funerary rites] offerings made by his descendants” (Davis 41). Death is not viewed as the final stage in Hinduism; it is merely a transition from one place to another.

Cremation is the main ritual for disposing of a body in Hinduism (Davis 44). “[T]his same basic physical and ritual act of cremation has been very differently conceived and has performed very different functions within different metaphysical frameworks”(Davis 44-45). In other words, although cremation is the preferred method, there are numerous different ways to understand this last samskara (Davis 44). For example, cremation is a path for some into the ancestral realm, while for others, like the Saiva Siddhanta [a group of people who worship the god Siva above all others; Siva centered groups] it is defined as the souls last barrier on the path to moksa [liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth] (Davis 45). In both instances the rituals performed are designed so each individual can be set in the right direction for the next stage of the transformation (Davis 45). Both Weightman and Davis emphasize the importance of the life cycle rites; the importance of death and rebirth in the Hinduism tradition.

Funerary Pyres at Pasupatinath Temple near Kathmandu, Nepal
Funerary Pyres at Pasupatinath Temple near Kathmandu, Nepal

In contradiction with dominant western religions, funerals in the Hindu religion can take place only hours after the death has occurred. The funerals are performed after the purification rites have been performed [purification rituals are performed on the deceased to rid him or her of all impurities before the transformation into the other realm occurs]. However, “[T]he waiting period from ascertained death to the elimination of the corpse by cremation, can extend up to three and a half days” (Filippi 131). This promptness is due in large part to the fact that there is a fear among those close to the deceased that something could happen to the body. This is also why it is now routine to carry the body to the cremation site (Filippi 131).

Royal Cremation in Bali

Once it is certain that the individual has passed away, kinsmen care for the body by first cleaning it and then decorating it. It is at this point in time that the body is transferred to the cremation grounds [cremation grounds are called smasana and are often located outside of the city. More information can be found in Dying the Good Death by Christopher Justice]. Davis describes the intricacies of the beginning of the cremation ritual as follows, “Like any sacrificial terrain, the place of cremation must be ritually constituted. The officiant, preferably the eldest son of the deceased, purifies the ground by sprinkling water, circling the spot counterclockwise…” (45). Once all of this has been completed and the body is facing south [this is done so the deceased is facing the kingdom of Yama; more information can be found in Gian Giuseppe Filippi’s MRYTU: Conecpt of Death In Indian Traditions], the sacrificial wood is brought in and fires are started in three different places around the pyre (Davis 45). The body is then laid upon the pyre with the individual’s personal sacrificial offerings placed around and on the being (Davis 44). Davis provides examples of items placed on the individual by stating how, “The sacrificial spoon [is] in his right hand, the wooden ladle in his left, the wooden stirring sword on his right side, the ladle used in fire oblation on his left…” (45). In accordance with Davis, Filippi states that depending on which class you are from, a certain item will be placed into the individuals hand. For example, if one were born into the Brahmin [priests and scholars] class, a piece of gold is placed in the hand, but if one were born into the vaisya [merchant] class, a jewel would be placed in the hand [more information can be found in Gian Giuseppe Filippi’s MRYTU: Concept of Death In Indian Traditions 137]. Certain items are placed around the body on the pyre because it is these items that the deceased has previously practiced sacrificial rituals with. They are returned back to him during the cremation ritual (Davis 45). Normally the eldest son (the officiate) will then contribute his own offering into the ritual in support of certain gods and a Rg mantra will also be recited while the pyre is lit from the three sacrificial fires (Davis 45). The reason the cremation ritual is often performed by someone the deceased has known is because it is assumed that the individual will undeniably arrive in heaven along with the smoke of the fires if the ritual is performed this way (Davis 45).

Once the cremation has taken place the officiate circles the ritual site three times (in reverse direction) with a jar that sits upon his left shoulder. The officiant will then moisten the ground by drizzling droplets of water and when he reaches a position that is near the head of the dead body, he will break the jar and leave. He will then be followed by the others at the ritual (Davis 45). After the ritual has been performed the individuals who knew the deceased will experience a period of impurity (savasauca). The length of the period of impurity varies depending on how well they knew the deceased. After this is done, the family will then perform the sraddha rites that will ritually place the body into another realm. The reason sraddha is performed is because it replaces the old body that was cremated (Davis 46).

After the cremation ritual, Parry states that “A funeral priest presides over the rituals performed by relatives for the “ghost” of the departed for eleven days after cremation, accepting gifts from the deceased’s family. It is his [funeral priest] job to confer salvation and allow the soul of the departed to “swim across” to the other world” (Gesler and Pierce 1). The rituals that are performed post cremation are just as important as the cremation ritual itself because it is these rituals that send the ghost or spirit of the deceased to the ancestral pitr-loka [world of ancestors] (Gesler and Pierce). This is why eating is seen as an important aspect of the post cremation ritual; the old body must be “eaten” when the soul of the deceased attains a new body (Gesler, Pierce). “The Brahman priest who performs the ceremonies is likened to a medieval European alchemist who, using a philosopher’s stone, can turn base metal into gold, or to the Ganges, which transforms the city’s sewage into holy water” (Gesler and Pierce 1). Cremation rituals and post cremation rituals are equally important.

Cremation Pyres in Varanasi (Harischandra Ghat)

Banaras is thought to be a place in India that is very important for cremation. Thousands upon thousands of bodies are brought there every year to be cremated. In 1989 alone 24,000 bodies were brought in from around the world to be cremated there [more information can be found in Dying The Good Death by Christopher Justice]. It was also found that many will make a one way trip to Banaras to die there and be thrown into the Ganges River (Justice 21). Some families even send the cremated remains to Banaras in order for their loved ones to be placed in the Ganges River; this is common when the whole funeral procession cannot be done there due to external circumstances (Justice 21). Varanasi also holds an extremely elevated position in the eyes of many Hindus for their final resting place. However, no matter where the cremation takes place, the ritual is believed to be equally important.

Bibliography

Davis, Richard (1988) “Cremation and Liberation: The Revision Of A Hindu Ritual”. History of Religions, Vol.27, No. 1, pp.37-53.

Filippi, Gian (1996) MRTYU Concept of Death In Indian Traditions. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Gesler, Wilbert M.and Pierce, Margaret (2000) Hindu Varanasi. Geographical Review, Vol. 90 Issue 2. P222, 16p.

Justice, Christopher (1997) Dying the Good Death. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Related Topics

Antyesti

Moksa

Pitr-loka

Preta

Samsara

Samskara

Shmashana

Sraddha Rites/Rituals

Related Websites

http://www.geocities.com/lamberdar/cremation.html

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_death.asp

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/samskara.asp

http://www.experiencefestival.com/hindu_rituals_dictionary

http://www.hindugateway.com/library/rituals/

Written by Rachel Jose (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Arranged Marriage

In the Hindu tradition arranged marriage is the most prevalent form of marriage. Rather than a man or woman seeking a relationship with a partner, family members, kin or community elders will select a mate based on particular criteria and the couple will enter into a marriage. Mate selection is not taken lightly; it requires a certain amount of expertise and can take anywhere from six months to over three years to successfully arrange a marriage (Dhruvarajan 36). Although some may think that this is an ancient or outdated practice, the majority of marriages in India are still arranged, even among the educated middle class population of modern India (Medora, Larson & Dave 414).

In Hindu society, marriage is not only a union between two individuals; it is also the joining together of two families. The primary importance of a marriage is the sharing of common goals among families rather than merely achieving personal happiness (Hamon & Ingoldsby 214). Marriage in Hindu tradition is not only a ritual celebration but a religious, economic, political and social event for both the couple being married as well as their family and community (Mullati 18).

India is a collectivist culture in which emphasis is placed on the needs and goals of a group, particularly the family and extended family, rather than on the individual. In Hindu tradition the extended family system is considered to be the most essential institution and it thereby defines the social norms and values (Hamon & Ingoldsby 211). Due to the nature of collectivism there is greater emphasis placed on the needs of the family as a unit. Arranged marriages have the potential to benefit one’s family and therefore it is one’s duty to allow their family members to select a mate for them. In comparison, western cultures are individualistic and place a larger priority on individual happiness and success. In individualistic cultures love and romance are considered to be of vital importance when choosing a marriage partner (Hamon & Ingoldsby 213), whereas among Hindus, intense emotional affection can be viewed as threatening the structure of the family (Levine, Sato, Hashimoto & Verma 3).

In Hindu tradition, love and romance are not considered prerequisites for marriage. In fact, love is often considered a weak foundation for marriage and is expected to develop after marriage takes place (Hamon & Ingoldsby 213). Many Hindus believe that feelings of love or romantic attraction can overtake more appropriate traits in a spouse and hinder the traditional purpose of arranged marriage (Hamon & Ingoldsby 213). In arranged marriage dating is not considered to be a necessary step, however feelings toward this may be changing among modern Hindus.

In mate selection there are many factors to be considered and potential partners are carefully screened to ensure compatibility. Family ideals, values, history, and background are assessed as well as social, educational and economic statuses to ensure they are compatible with one’s own (Hamon & Ingoldsby 215, Mullatti 19). Religious and caste endogamy are also considered to be vital factors (Mullatti 18). In Hindu tradition, individuals believe that their marriage partner is predestined (Gupta 77). Many Hindu families will consult an astrologer to ensure that prospective partners are indeed compatible. The astrologer will match the partners’ horoscopes and predict important aspects such as financial success and future children (Hamon & Ingoldsby 218).

The most important consideration in a Hindu marriage is caste endogamy, in which members belonging to a certain caste marries within that caste (Hamon & Ingoldsby 214). Following traditional endogamous rules, a girl’s family status may be improved if she marries a boy of a higher sub-caste; such a match is known as Anuloma. However, Pratiloma matches, which refers to a girl marrying a boy of lower sub-caste, are considered taboo (Mullatti 19). To marry outside of one’s caste or religion is often still considered taboo, however the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 legalized inter-religion and inter-caste marriages (Mullatti 18).

Most young Indian adults prefer arranged marriage because they believe that their elders have more wisdom and knowledge than they do, and therefore are better equipped to select prospective mates. It is believed that choosing a spouse is a significant issue, which is better left to more responsible members of the extended family (Gupta 77). In modern Hindu society there is an increasing trend to consult the young adults and obtain input regarding their prospective mates, this trend is leading to marriages that are semi-arranged (Hamon & Ingoldsby 216).

The influence of western media (movies, television, Internet, etc.), widespread education, urbanization and technological progress has resulted in transformations among youth in modern India regarding their values, ideals, attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. These influences have caused many young people to desire greater freedom and independence to express themselves and make their own decisions, including the decision of whom they marry (Hamon & Ingoldsby 219). A minority of Indian youth who are influenced by western ideals are opting to select their own marriage partners and are therefore choosing to be in love marriages, against the approval of their parents.

In order to find the perfect mate, the use of matrimonial advertisements is becoming increasingly popular, so much so that they are becoming routine in major Indian newspapers (Hamon & Ingoldsby 216). As respondents reply to these advertisements the pool of prospective partners are narrowed down and the young adults may meet, talk on the phone and occasionally go on a chaperoned date. After a few encounters the man typically proposes to the woman. If the woman accepts the proposal the extended families are informed of their decision to marry (Hamon & Ingoldsby 217).

Arranged marriages have been prominent throughout Hindu tradition and continue to be prevalent in modern times. A marriage that is arranged by one’s family and elders in the community is not based on love; rather it is based on the needs of the family as a collective unit. Great consideration is put into the pairing of individuals to allow for the best possible union for both the couple being married and the extended family. Although attitudes may be shifting somewhat, modern Hindu young adults still prefer arranged marriages, as they feel that they do not possess the necessary knowledge and wisdom to choose their own mate. The attitude change that has occurred has allowed young adults to be consulted regarding their potential partners and allowed them more control over their final marriage partner.


REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Dhruvarajan, V. (1989) Hindu women & the power of ideology. Granby, Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey Publishers Inc.

Gupta, G. R. (1976) Love, arranged marriage, and the Indian social structure. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 7, 75-85.

Hamon, R. R., & Ingoldsby, B. B. (Eds.) (2003) Mate selection across cultures. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications Inc.

Levine, R., Sato, S., Hashimoto, S., and Verma, J. (1995) Love and marriage in eleven cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 26, 554-571.

Medora, N.P., Larson, J.H., & Dave, P.B. (2000) East-Indian college student’s perceptions of family strength. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 31, 407-425.

Mullatti, L. (1995) Families in India: Beliefs and realities. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 26, 11-25.

Related Topics For Further Investigation

Hypergamy

Samskaras

Vivaha

Hindu Marriage Act of 1955

Brahma

Daiva

Arsa

Prajapatya

Asura

Gandharva

Raksasa

Paisaca

Dowry System

Noteworthy Websites Related To The Topic

http://www.kamat.com/indica/culture/sub-cultures/arranged_marriage.htm

http://weddings.iloveindia.com/features/arranged-marriages.html

http://www.aryashaadi.com/UserArticle/Article/love_vs_arranged.aspx

http://www.indianetzone.com/2/classification_marriages.htm

http://www.pardesiservices.com/tradition/arrangedmarg.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriage

Written by Lisa Foster (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Birth Samskaras

Samskaras are sacraments that pertain to the rites of passage in Hinduism. Sacraments are evident in many religious traditions, for example the baptismal rites within the Catholic Church. Sacrament refers to a “religious ceremony or act regarded as outward with a visible sign of inward and spiritual grace” (Pandey 15). As they appear in the Sanskrit language, sacraments are necessary for the successful membership of an individual into their society. Samskaras are important to orthodox Hindus, in that they certify one as a member of the tradition (Rodrigues 131). According to Sanskrit, scriptures such as the Grhya Sutras, the sacraments prepare an individual for the four stages of life, which are student, householder, forest-dweller and renouner. They form an important section of the “Karma-kanda or action branch since they mark the various occasions of one’s life from conception in the mother’s womb to the cremation of the body at death” (Sankar 4).

The Samskaras are said to be forty in number, beginning with the ceremonies that take place from conception (garbhadhana) and ending with the funeral (antyesti) (Sankar 4). However, the following article will describe those pertaining to the birth rites alone. The birth and babyhood of a Brahmin, as prescribed in the Grhya Sutras, present significant transitional points for children as they eventually grow to be independent of their parents’ care. The article will describe prenatal customs common among Indian women that include the simantonnayana sacrament, the welcoming of the newborn within the birthing rites (jatakarman) and the naming of the child (namakarana).

Prenatal Care and the Simantonnayana Samskara

In the nine months it takes to create a life there are many customs in which Indian women like to partake in order to make the pregnancy a happy and healthy one. In India, pregnant women will often find solace from strenuous work and potential harm within the walls of their family home. Not only may a pregnant women do no housework, “but she must do no sewing, or anything else that binds things together: for instance, she must not close up the outlet of the great grain jar, or replaster the earth” (Stevenson 1). Here she will get ready for the baby’s arrival, by preparing a birth chamber where the child will be welcomed into the world. There is much care taken in preparation of the room. The room, if possible, is separated from the common rooms of the home, with the blinds drawn and the bed carefully aligned. For example, “great care is taken that the bedstead not lie exactly under the great beam that holds the house together, since some Hindus believe that the god of death perches on this” (Stevenson 2). In order to ensure the longevity of the mother and child, evil spirits are warded off with the simantonnayana sacrament in which the hair of the wife is parted by her husband.

This sacrament is performed to ensure the physical and spiritual health of the baby by keeping the mother in good morale. In order to keep her content, “she is addressed as full moon and one with beautiful limbs” (Sankar 5). As the husband begins to part the hair of his wife, he ties a small branch of the fig tree around her neck with the words “Rich in sap is this tree; like the tree rich in sap, be thou fruitful” (Sankar 5). Then the following blessings are uttered, “be the mother of heroic sons and be the mother of living sons” (Sankar 5). The seemantonnayana samskara and the prenatal precautions that take place prior to birth promote the well being of both mother and child. The child is brought into the world through the delivery and the welcoming ceremonies which include the Jatakarman sacrament.

Welcoming the newborn: Jatakarman Samskara

Present at the birth is the women’s mother and midwife whom delivers the child and offers spiritual and medical remedies to ease the pain. A medical remedy the midwife may turn to may include, “tearing down the cobweb of a spider, which she will roll into a ball, fill with cloves and place in the womb” (Stevenson 3). After the birth the Jatakarman sacraments take place and are usually performed prior to the umbilical cord being severed. The ceremonies include a series of verses to inspire strength, intelligence, and long life. During this Vedic ceremony, the child is given a gold coin to lick, besmeared with honey and clarified butter (Stevenson 6). The father recites words of strength to his newborn child, “Be a stone, be an axe, and be an imperishable god. From each limb of mine you are born, you are born especially from my heart. You are my own self bearing the name ‘son’; may you live for a hundred years” (Sankar, 5).

It is important to note here that it is not common practice for the man to be present within the birthing chamber so often this ritual is omitted. However, one custom preceding the birth which continues to be popular is the three day feeding of molasses and water, referred to as galasodi. The woman who is in charge of preparing the mixture is evaluated based on her personal characteristics, since it is believed her qualities will be shared with the newborn. Later on in life “if the child turns out badly, its friends reproach it by reminding it of the noble character of the women who gave it its first molasses” (Stevenson 7). Preceding the three day feeding custom, the child is bathed and given to the mother to begin nursing.

As the child is welcomed into the world the precise date and time are carefully noted in order to foretell the child’s life path. Astrology plays a key role in deciding auspiciousness, that is, the fortitude of the child’s future endeavours. For example, a proverb claims “that a girl born on a Wednesday will result in her father or brother dying or suffering loss within a year (she is called their Bhara or burden), but she herself will be very rich” (Stevenson 8). Each day and month within the year is regarded as either auspicious or inauspicious depending on the various proverbs. Should the predictions assume misfortune the parents may take preventive action. For example, “a bronze cup is filled with clarified butter, and a silver coin is put in it. The child is made to look into the cup, which is then taken to the father, who also gazes at his reflection” (Stevenson 8). After which the cup is given to a Brahmin, is it safe for the father to embrace his son. This kind of preventative action allows the son or daughter to overcome their ill-fate of being born on an inauspicious day. Astrology also plays a vital role is determining an auspicious day for the wedding ceremony further on in the child’s life.

The birth of a child is always considered auspicious. However, historically in Hindu culture a first born male seems to induce a more positive celebration by the relatives and especially the parents. The desire for a boy results from the male’s ability to pass on the family name and his ability to save the father from hell by performing his funeral ceremonies. Therefore, the wife bearing a boy ensures her place within the home of her husband. Nevertheless the birth of a girl is also an auspicious event and the parents still rejoice and welcome her however differently. If the first born be a girl the parents will rejoice and claim “Laksmi has come” (Stevenson 4). Laksmi is the Hindu goddess of prosperity. When the girl later takes a husband this “brings her parents as much merit as the performance of a great sacrifice” (Stevenson, 4).

Naming of the Child: Namakarana Samskara

The naming ceremony namakarana occurs on the twelfth day after birth. However this can vary depending in gender as to which day is auspicious for the child whether it is an even or odd day. After the day is chosen the parents invite all the relatives over to share in ceremony, “where a mixture of millet, coconut and sugar is distributed amongst the guests present and sent to the houses of those who are not able to attend”(Stevenson 13). There is a threading procedure that takes place which joins the child to his/her cradle in protection against the Evil eye. The aunt who performs the threading also brings with her two pieces of gold, each weighing perhaps half a gram, one of which she ties on the cradle and one at the waist of the child for luck (Stevenson 13).

As this is taking place, within the common room of the house the family gathers to prepare for the aunt to announce the name of the child. Within the room a “square portion of the floor has been smeared with red clay, and on this pipal leaves have been placed” (Stevenson 13). The naming sacrament is also symbolic of the baby’s transition from the birthing room into the rest of the rooms within their new home. The baby girl is dressed in a red sari and placed in a hammock above the smeared red clay square. The corners of the sari “are held by the four nearest relatives of the child, they sing, and at the strategic moment the aunt pronounces the name” (Stevenson 14). The song runs (in Gujarati), “Cradle and pipala tree and leaves of the same, Aunt has chosen a name (Rama) as the baby’s name” (Stevenson 14). The child’s name takes much consideration. Not only do the first letters have to be synonymous with that belonging to the constellation under which he was born, it should also represent a great god. The child is given two additional names, one of which related to his fathers and that of his family.

Conclusion

The article has provided a detailed description of the preliminaries and celebrations that take place within a traditional orthodox Hindu household throughout birth and babyhood. The article only mentions three of approximately fifteen of those described/prescribed within the Dharma and Grhya Sutras. The first of which was the simantonnayana samskara which highlight the prenatal care of the mother and unborn child. More specifically, the protection of the pregnant mother is emphasized through the parting of the hair from superstitions and the promotion of longevity. As the child is welcomed into the world he/she is celebrated with the jatakarman samskara which inspires strength, intelligence and long life. The three day feeding ritual referred to as galasodi which often takes place after the jatakarman samskara is also a reflection of the child’s character. The final samskara mentioned in relation to birth rites is the namakarana samskara; the naming of the child. This sacrament provides the child with a name of which is symbolic of its astrological sign, the Hindu gods and his/her family name.


REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Pandey, Bali Raj (1969) Hindu Samskaras. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethic Online Books.

Saskar, Priyamvada (1992). “The Rites of Passage in Hinduism: Sacraments Relating to the Birth.” Ecumenism No. 108 p. 4-6.

Stevenson, Sinclair (1971) The Rites of The Twice Born. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Astrology

Smarta Brahmins

Upanayana

Dvija

Student (sisya)

Householder (grhasta)

Forest-dweller (vanaprastha)

Renouncer (samnyasin)

Moksa

Atman/ Brahman

First Tonsure

Gayatri Mantras

Marriage (vivaha)

Laws of Manu

Laksmi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

http://hinduism.iskcon.com/practice/600.htm

http://www.amritapuri.org/cultural/samskara/shodasha.php

http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-59788/Hinduism

http://www.sanskrit.org/www/Rites%20of%20Passage/RitesPassageIndex.htm

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/samskara.asp

Article written by Barbara Edwards (March, 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Hindu Dowry System (Origins)

Although the tradition of a bride/groom price is not common in the Western world, many different religious groups still continue to practice it. Currently, the dowry refers to the wealth that the bride brings with her into her marriage. This wealth can vary from gifts to material goods, in addition to anything the groom and his family may ask for. It usually occurs within patriarchal societies. Despite the establishment of laws prohibiting such practices, the dowry tradition still occurs in the Hindu religion. It is quite surprising that it is prevalent (in South Asia), since the sex ratio is skewed towards males. In turn, it can also result in abortions (of female fetuses), infanticide, and parents holding the belief that females seem to be a burden (Arunachalam and Logan 1). If families are not able to live up to the expectations of the groom and his family, weddings can be broken off and cause humiliation for the bride and her family (Sharma 137). This makes it hard for the bride to remarry in the future.

Not only has the practice of dowry been incorporated within the ancient Indian traditions of marriage, but scholars also believe that its practice is constantly legitimized by references made to ancient texts of the Hindu religion. It is also believed that the misinterpretations of some of these historical texts lead to the continued practice of such a tradition (Sheel 33). The first occurrence of the dowry practice (in South Asia) dates back approximately 2,000 years to Manu asserting stridhan (Arunachalam and Logan 2006:10), which is distinguished from the modern dowry. Kishwar explains that the stridhan consists of gifts that are voluntarily and exclusively given to the bride from her household. Therefore, it is seen as the bride’s parents signing off part of their will to her. Although the dowry is prohibited in India, the notion of stridhan is not what makes it difficult for people to distinguish the two (121). Historians trace back the tradition of dowry to the kanyadana concept along with the moral basis of stridhana. The kanyadana practice arose from the dana tradition which held the belief that gift giving was one of the ways to achieve high cultural and spiritual recognition. Initially, marriage incorporated kanyadana in the sense that the father presented his daughter as a gift to the groom at the time of their marriage. In addition to the bride, the accompanying of gifts enhanced the social status of the bride’s family; however, it was not necessary (Sheel 19).

The early origins of the dowry practice suggest it was used as a form of inheritance from the father to the bride for security purposes (Arunachalam and Logan 2). As with most patriarchal societies, Hindu society practiced the tradition of transferring property (movable or non-movable) to the bride at the time of marriage. The Codes of Manu incorporated the earliest account of property rights. “It subscribed to the view that the unmarried daughters were to be given a quarter of their brothers’ share of patrimony for the purposes of their marriage,” according to Sheel (46). The Patrimony consisted of the property that the father granted his sons. Each brother was to give one-fourth of his share to his maiden sister, as described by Manu. In Hindu law, sons are granted a share of ancestral property, independent of their family. Alternatively, daughters can only be given the right to property from their fathers. Therefore it makes it possible for a father to deny access of his property to his daughter but not his son (Sharma 47). The form in which a bride is wed is reflected by her caste and class status, which in turn determines the value of the dowry. Marriage validation required gift giving even though a woman’s right to property was dependent on marital status. The patriarchal system continued to be strengthened in the various varnas of Hinduism, while marriage was not given a simple structure. Eventually, it became the norm to forbid the passing down of non movable property due to the exploiting motives of the groom and his family. Instead, brides were given movable property as a form of dowry. As the act of inheriting property began to decline, other attempts were made to instill the dowry (Sheel 37).

Along with the notions such as stridhan, the development of the dowry system is thought to be linked to the societal structure. Scholars believe that during the Rgvedic period societies were grouped in tribal constituents, rather than on a caste system. Not only did women have reproductive roles, but they were also able to perform many other duties while the men were active in tribal battle. Although some historians suggest that the Rgvedic period did not contribute to sexual discrimination, others feel that it was crucial in establishing a hierarchy based on gender. For instance, Uma Chakravarty argues that class and gender order were established during this significant period and marked the beginning of the male dominated Hindu culture. However, rituals and practices had not yet lowered the status of women (Sheel 35). As the Vedic period passed, there was a decline in women working in the field of production. As they moved into the private sector, the family structure and patrilineal progression resulted in further caste and gender segregation. As argued by R.S. Sharma, the establishment of varna occurred during the end of the Vedic period, at the time of the Buddha. Many rituals such as rajasuya were established as a result of these rigid changes in the social structure (Sheel 36). In turn, these rituals served to authorize “the existing and emerging hierarchies based on varna, gender, and patrilineal kinship structure” (Roy 136). Prescriptive and normative literature (from that time) gave rise to notions such as caste purity via marriage, rules prohibiting adultery, and patrilineal succession. The caste system was an attempt to validate the newly emerged socio-political structure of the society. In this sense, it seems appropriate to associate marriage with property. As stated by Sheel (36), a huge quantity of Brahmin literature holds laws and customs that attempt to keep women within a patriarchal system. It was clear who the victims of such a movement were—the women. Brahmins adapted the principle of stri-dharma and not only did the women accept it, but they honored it.

Not only did the dowry originally represent affection but it also meant superior morality within the higher Hindu classes (Sheel 41). Simply put, “a better status fetches larger amount of dowry” (Sheel 18). As Nath observes, “making gifts was a visible sign of prosperity…either for distributing tribal wealth or for gaining prestige and dominant status” (85-86). One of the oldest examples of this occurs in the Ramayana (one of the most influential texts of Hinduism), where a dowry follows the marriage of Rama and Sita (Sheel 41). The Smritis validate the dowry practice by arguing that a girl “was honoured by the giving of gifts” (Sheel 44).

The most ancient record of marriage dates back to the tenth book of Rg Veda. In this ancient record, marriage was described as a ceremony of the groom holding the bride’s hand followed by prayers aimed at offspring, well being, and long life while praising Gods. The bride and groom both seemed to have freedom in picking their partners, who had to be outside of the family. Thus, this literature reflects a society where rigid social structure had not yet been established (Sheel 38). But such an egalitarian society surrendered to a government system aimed to address social issues, halfway into the first millennium. For example, the purity-pollution dichotomy became established which was unheard of. The varna system became more complex and led to the creation of the Dharma sutras (Sheel 39).

Furthermore, the complexities resulted in diversification of marriage forms and practices (Sheel 39). The Mahabharata is a text that displays the transition of marriage. Talbot points out that the “epic progresses from extolling purely ksatriya forms to recommending kanyadana for Brahmins and kanyadana or warrior like marriages to ksatriyas and in the final phase advocates kanyadana for everyone” (Talbot 61). However, discrete forms of marriage were described following the Smrti period, with a large influence from the Brahmin class. The various wedding forms were prescribed in the Manusmriti into two typical categories; either they were dharmya (socially acceptable) or adharmya (not socially acceptable). The dharmya types emphasized on the father whose duty was to arrange the marriage and present his daughter as a gift, in the way that was specified according to the type of marriage it was. By following the dharmya tradition, the father and his daughter both gained respect. This represented the kanyadana ideal which says the virgin bride is the gift. On the other hand, the socially unacceptable adharmya types of marriages were identified as not following a patriarchal system. Their marriages did not necessarily require the participation of the bride’s father. These forms of marriage were nonexistent in the upper classes and only permitted for the lower classes. However, historians noticed that the majority of these adharmya types of weddings were approved for ksatriyas. In the Mahabharata, Krishna permits and encourages Arjuna to abduct his sister, Subhadra. Yet, in the latter part of the epic, these types of weddings are inappropriate for all Hindu castes. One of these adharmya marriages includes the Asura rite which consists of the groom choosing to acquire the bride by passing on as much wealth possible to the bride and her family. It was disapproved because it was believed that a “purchased wife” was unable to perform sacrificial rites and would destroy the groom’s family (Sheel 43).

As the Dharma shastras illustrated the importance in the idea of kanyadana, they varied on the legitimacy of providing wealth after marriage. For example, the Asura marriage has been approved and/or disapproved in many different parts of Hindu history. The adharmya marriages were criticized, perhaps to help spread the Brahminical dharmya which considered daughters as being gifts. The influence that the Brahmin class had on the Hindu culture was enormous, as gift giving gained importance in the marriage tradition. However, both the dharmya and adharmya forms of marriage co-existed as they applied to different castes (Sheel 44).

Thus it is possible to understand how the kanyadana and Asura notions lead to the modern practice of dowry. The kanyadana form dominated the Hindu culture in ancient times. It involved the father gifting his daughter at the time of her marriage. With time, the transferring of property, hypergamy, and caste rules lead to the dowry representing currency transfer. Hypergamy is the practice of Hindu women marrying males whose caste is at least as high as theirs. Das (1975) explains that “stratification in status, wealth and power determines the rank and lineage within a caste group and gave impetus to hypergamous marriage to gain social prestige”. However, it is surprising that the dowry system was not heavily incorporated into Hinduism during the pre-modern times. A major factor that delayed such a movement included the fact that the kanyadana ideal did not deny other forms of marriage. It allowed for the existence of various forms of marriage, although the upper classes took it to an extreme. Secondly, although the kanyadana was particularly directed to the upper castes, the dowry custom was restricted to a small group of the society. This group was of elite status because it consisted of wealthy individuals that were able to afford gift giving. As the kanyadana ideal began to spread to other castes, the dowry came to represent a burden (Sheel 45-46).

Presently, the dowry is known to serve as a way of acquiring a fine husband and represents good social status. Rather than being voluntary as it was in its ancient context, it became mandatory. The gifts that are now presented for marriage are assessed in terms of how much cash they represent. Usually, a mediator is required to make a compromise and set a price for the dowry that the two families agree on. It is hard to determine the extent to which the dowry tradition still occurs because “those giving as well as those accepting dowry are punishable under the existing law” (Sharma 46). In fact, the only way to catch the public’s attention is through the controversy caused by “dowry deaths.” Therefore, scholars make use of indirect methods in order to evaluate trends and determine why it is still occurring (Arunachalam and Logan 3). Although a dowry system is followed by the various Hindu classes, it is important to realize that there are some exceptions. There are established societies based on matrilineal structures which helps explain the variations in the regional trends of the dowry tradition.

Ultimately, the inheritance practice changed to the price of maintaining high quality husbands during the later part of the nineteenth century. Although it is difficult to determine who benefits most from the dowry, current data reveals that a practice arose in the 1950’s where bachelors began to prescribe a list of objects for exchange in marriage (Arunachalam and Logan 12). According to the Institute of Development and Communication, although the dowry system originates with the brahmin class, eight percent of dowry deaths and abuse cases occur in the middle and lower classes of the Hindu society (Sharma 46). When the daughter agrees to marriage, she is still assured that she will be offered security and an improved quality of life. The relocation of wealth from the brides’ to the grooms’ families still takes place today and is often thought to ensure a good match. Furthermore, marriage became mandatory in the Hindu tradition even if it meant spending vast amounts of money (Sheel 47). The bride’s family eventually agrees to the amount that the groom and his family ask for mainly due to the dishonor that can arise from having an unmarried girl living in her parents’ household while her age is appropriate for marriage. If the bride’s family cannot fully pay the dowry price within a single payment, installments can be made to reach the price. Therefore, there have been two major changes from the traditional practice of dowry to the one of today. The first has been a shift from the dowry tradition being optional to it becoming mandatory; and the second has been the new role of negotiation in determining the amount of the dowry (Sheel 18).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Arunachalam R., and Logan, T.D. (2006) On the Heterogeneity of Dowry Movements.

Cambridge: NBER Working Paper Series.

Das, Veena (1975) Marriage among Hindus. Devaki Jain.

Kishwar, Madhu (2003) Laws Against Domestic Violence: Underused or Abused? New

Delhi: NWSA Journal.

Nath, Vijay (1989) Ritual Symbolism and Status Conferring Role of Dana. Gorakhpur:

PIHC.

Roy, Kumkum (1985) Legitimation and Brahmanical Tradition: The Upanayana and the

Brahmacharya in the Dharma Sutras. Amritsar: PIHC.

Sharma, Usha (2003) Women in South Asia: Employment, Empowerment, and Human

Development. Laxmi Nagar: Authorspress.

Sheel, Ranjana (1999) The Political Economy of Dowry. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers

& Distributors.

Talbot, Cynthia (1980) How to Get a Wife: Marriage Strategies in the Mahabharata. Ann

Arbor: University of Michigan.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Laws of Manu

Stridhan

Dana

Kanyadana

Varnas

Mahabharata,

Dharmya/Adharmya

Asura rite of marriage

Dharmashastras

Mahabharata

Hypergamy

Ramayana

The Dowry Prohibition Act

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowry_law_in_India

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/crossing_continents/3071963.stm

http://www.indiatogether.org/2006/mar/ksh-marriage.htm

http://mynation.net/dowry.htm

http://www.hindunet.org/srh_home/1996_2/msg00193.html

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_caste.asp

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/jul2001/ind-j04.shtml

Article written by: Amarpal Dhillon (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Samskaras and Pregnancy

Pregnancy in the Hindu tradition is a very important time for a woman, especially if it is her first pregnancy, which it is hoped will take place as soon after marriage as possible. A new bride goes to live with her husband’s family, and in many cases, she has never met them before, so as a newcomer to the household, she has a low status and often feels isolated, homesick and awkward socially and sexually. Pregnancy helps welcome the wife into the husband’s family, and she is made to feel comfortable; eating well, resting often and being relieved of certain tiresome tasks (see Kakar 26 – 27).

Before conception, during pregnancy and following birth, there are many Samskara performed in the Hindu tradition. “Samskara” is a term generally translated as “rite of passage”, but it can also mean, “to perfect, refine, polish, prepare, educate, cultivate and train” (McGee 333). The Samskara performed around and during pregnancy have different purposes, but all are to aid in a healthy, auspicious pregnancy (preferably that of a son). These Samskaras are prescribed in the Grhya Sutras (ancient Hindu texts of householder rites) and are also in current ritual handbooks, even though they are not used very often anymore. The first three Samskaras I will be discussing take place from before conception to birth, and the last two take place within two weeks of the birth.

The first Samskara that is involved in pregnancy is called the Garbhadhana, also known as the niseka (see McGee 339) and relates to conception. Garbhadhana is sometimes thought to be the Garbha Samskara (the Samskara of the embryo) but is generally assumed to be the Ksetra Samskara (the consecration of the wife) (see Tachikawa et. al. 101). In the present day, this Samskara is not performed as a separate ritual but is usually absorbed into the wedding rituals (see McGee 341).

The Garbhadhana is also called the rite of insemination (see McGee 335) and it involves the husband’s seed being placed into the wife’s womb in order to secure the production of offspring. The Garbhadhana should be performed immediately after wedding, but one may also wait until the fourth day after the beginning of the first menstruation after the wedding. This latter time is thought to be when the wife’s womb is ripe for the planting of the husband’s seed. This ritual should be performed on a day that is considered auspicious (see McGee 340).

If a male child is preferred, which is often the case as a son is expected to perform his father’s funeral rites, an even numbered lunar day is considered auspicious. A full moon or new moon are considered inauspicious, as is performing Garbhadhana under Mula or Magha (see McGee 340) which are lunar mansions, or the moon one is born under (see Kapoor 215 & 238). When the night has been chosen, the husband asks his wife to accompany him and recites nine specific Mantras that accompany the husband’s different actions during the act (see Tachikawa et. al. 101). When “a learned daughter who will live out her full life span” is desired, the wife is supposed to cook rice with sesame seeds for them both to eat, together with ghee (see McGee 340).

Ancient texts assumed that gender was not determined when conception took place, but at about half way through the pregnancy. Therefore another way to ensure the foetus was a boy was to perform Pumsavana, “meant to stimulate, consecrate, and influence the fetus [sic] bringing about a male child” (McGee 340), during the third or fourth month, before the foetus could be felt moving. The day for this Samskara must be auspicious and under a male constellation, and the wife must fast and bathe before the ritual begins (see McGee 340).

Pumsavana ought to be performed in a round apartment with the wife facing east (an auspicious direction). The husband places a grain of barley on the wife’s right hand and then places a mustard seed on either side and pours curds or yogurt on top of them. The wife is to eat this mixture without repeating any Mantras. The wife is then to sip some water and the husband places his hands on her belly and recites a Mantra about his seed entering his wife’s womb and a male son being delivered in the tenth month. The husband then pounds shoots or sprouts of a Nyagrodha tree (or for “followers of the Rg Vedic Grhya Sutras, Durva or Asvagandha ‘bent grass’” (Tachikawa et. al. 103)) and mixes the resulting juices with ghee and shoves it up his wife’s right nostril while he stands behind her and she sits with her head against his lap (see Tachikawa et. al. 101 – 103 and McGee 340 – 341).

A Hindu goddess, probably Parvati because she holds a trident and is flanked by lions, is depicted pregnant on this wall at Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore
A Hindu goddess, probably Parvati because she holds a trident and is flanked by lions, is depicted pregnant on this wall at Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore

The next Samskara that is performed is Simantonnayana, which is prescribed for the fourth month and is the only Samskara during pregnancy that need only be performed once, as the other Samskara are thought to be performed on the embryo, while the Simantonnayana is thought to be performed on the mother (see McGee 341 and Tachikawa et. al. 103). The Simantonnayana could be performed in order to smooth the progress of labour and delivery or to ensure the foetus develops properly and is safely delivered in the final trimester, and is also thought to remove any pollution of the foetus that may have been a result of the pollution of its parents (see McGee 341 and Rodrigues 141). Either way, it is performed by the husband’s symbolic parting of the wife’s hair. In this ritual, the wife is to be facing west, while the husband parts her hair, starting at her forehead and moving toward the back of her head using a porcupine’s quill that has three white spots on it. As the husband parts his wife’s hair, he is to repeat two Mantras and three Vyahrtis (see Tachikawa et. al. 103.) The three Vyahrtis are Bhuh, Bhuvar and Swar, which roughly translate as earth, sky and heaven and are considered a form of Brahma (see Kapoor 420).

The Pumsavana and Simantonnayana are rarely performed today and taking their place is dohala-jevana, which takes place in the seventh month of pregnancy. The dohala-jevana involves a gathering of women who prepare a feast for the pregnant woman of food that she likes (or craves). They also adorn her with flowers or unripe fruits, sing her songs, shower her with gifts, anoint her, massage her, and generally create a high-spirited atmosphere (see McGee 341 and Tachikawa et. al. 104). This can be seen as similar to a baby shower in North America. In her final trimester, the pregnant woman is to be well taken care of and protected and should avoid inauspicious activities, as should her husband, in the interest of the welfare of the foetus (see McGee 341). She should also temporarily move back in with her mother so that she can become closer to her mother and learn from her so that she may be a good mother also (see Kakar 27).

The day and constellation under which the infant is born is noted for the purposes of jyotisa (see Rodrigues 142), which are important for marriage and naming, among other things. Immediately after the infant is born and preferably before the umbilical cord is cut, the Samskara Jatakarman, the birth ceremony, is to be performed. Jatakarman is supposed to give the child intelligence and strength and help him live a long life. Jatakarman is made up of several niceties. There are four preliminaries and then the father places some gold on an axe that has been placed on a stone, and turns them upside down so that the stone is now on the axe. The father then holds the infant over the stone with its head facing east and says two Mantras about his son being strong like the stone, sharp (intelligent) like the axe, and worthy like the gold (see Tachikawa et. al. 104).

The Aupasanagni (household fire) is then taken away, the Sutikagni (birth fire or confinement fire) is brought in, and the father throws rice grains and mustard seeds into the fire eleven times, repeating eleven Mantras as he does so in order to keep away evil spirits (see Tachikawa et. al. 104). The father than washes his hands and touches the earth giving thanks to it for delivering his child safe and healthy. The father then performs medhajanana in order that the infant may gain intelligence and strength. The rite of medhajanana involves mixing ghee with gold and Darbha grass or honey and placing it on the lips of the infant while reciting three Mantras. The father also performs Ayusya, in which he whispers the names into the infant’s ear of people who have had long lives in order to ascertain a long life for the child (see McGee 341 and Tachikawa et. al. 104). The father then bathes the infant in lukewarm water while reciting certain Mantras. He then performs the rite of stanapratidhana, the giving of the breast, where he places the infant on the mother in order that the baby might breastfeed, while he recites another Mantra. He then praises a pot of water that is placed near the head of the mother and infant to protect them both. Jatakarman is rarely, if ever performed nowadays (see McGee 342 and Tachikawa 104).

Although birth is considered an auspicious event, the actual act of giving birth is inauspicious and the naming of the infant, Namakarana, is not to take place until after purification rites, which take place on the eleventh day after birth and include ritual bathing and prayers. Therefore, Namakarana should take place on the twelfth day (see McGee 342 and Tachikawa 105).

The infant has been bathed and is dressed in new clothes and then the Namakarana begins. The father writes ‘salutation to lord Ganapati’ then the four names of his son on a bronze vessel filled with grains of rice. The first name is called the kuladevatanama (‘family-deity-name’) and is based on the family deity. The second name comes from the deity of the month the infant is born in and is called the masanama (‘month-name’). The third name is the name people are to use with him in public and is called the vyavaharikanama (‘ordinary-affairs-name’). The fourth name is based on the constellation under which the infant was born and is called naksatranama (‘constellation-name’). The father then gives honour and praise to the namadevatas, the deities who are in charge of names and then whispers the names in his son’s right ear as the infant sits on his mother’s lap. After the names have been whispered in the son’s ear, the Brahmins gathered are to make a statement about the names being “established” and address him by his names and bless him (see Tachikawa 105).

The Grhya Sutras and Dharma Sastras advise that boys’ names should have an even number of syllables and girls’ names should have an odd number. They also suggest that boys’ names end in an unvoiced aspiration or a short sound, while girls’ names should end in a long vowel such as [i] or [a] and should be easily pronounceable and feminine (see McGee 342 and Rodrigues 142). Naming the infant is thought to release it from sin (see McGee 342).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Kakar, Sudhir (2001) The Essential Writings of Sudhir Kakar. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kapoor, Subodh (ed.) (2000) The Hindus Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications

McGee, Mary (2004) “Samskara.” In The Hindu World. Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby (eds.). New York: Routledge. pp. 332 – 356.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – the eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Limited.

Tachikawa, Musashi, Hino, Shoun, and Deodhar, Lalita (2001) Puja and Samskara. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sapinda

Naksatra

Gotra

Annaprasana/ Gannaprasana

Niskramana

Tithi

Cudakarana/ Caula

Dohada

Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

Jyotisa

Sutikagni

Medhajanana

Ayusya

Namadevatas

Vyahrtis

Nakshatra/ Nakshastra

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.shyamasundaradasa.com/

http://www.sanathanadharma.com/samskaras/

http://www.hindunet.com/

http://www.commsp.ee.ic.ac.uk/~pancham/articles/the%20sixteen%20samskaras.pdf

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe29/sbe29018.htm (keep reading until 25)

Article written by Jenna Boyd (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Birth Rituals in Hinduism

Hindu culture is full of rituals, traditions, and daily routines that seek to enhance and create the best circumstances for an individual while alive. These rituals are very orderly, taking place to move the individual from one stage of life to another. This personal movement, known as samskara, is ultimately to help the individual obtain liberation (moksa), and become free from the birth, death, and re-birth cycle. It is no surprise that birth would have many rituals surrounding it, as parents, extended family, and those involved with a new born would want to provide the best possible conditions for a baby to progress in life and achieve moksa. From the time of pregnancy until the child (if a boy) is ‘born again’ by the performance of the upanayana ritual, people near the new born perform many rituals and rites for the benefit the infant since it is not able to do so for itself. It is the purpose of this paper to describe some of these rituals that are preformed from the beginning of pregnancy until the delivery, as observance to these rituals plays a key part in an individuals life.

Women in Hindu society are complex as they have a duality in their roles. On one hand they are viewed as fertile, compassionate caregivers, yet on the other hand, they can be viewed as hostile, malicious destroyers (Wadley 113).An examination of Hindu women in the context of caregiver shows that along with caring for herself, her primary role is to care for her husband and children; this is why we see such concern surrounding childbearing. When a women suspects she is pregnant, it is not announced immediately, but rather the women leaves it to those around her to notice that, “she has not observed the usual monthly pollution period, is sometimes nauseous, or is widening at the waist”(Jacobson and Wadley 143). Once a women’s pregnancy is known, it is common that her brothers will take her to her parents home for the pregnancy (Tewari 259), however this is not always the case. No matter where the mother is located, she is treated and cared for in a special way to prepare for the coming child. Attention is paid to protect her and her unborn child from coming into contact with evil spirits, even to the point of abstaining from foods that could harm the baby (Jacobson and Wadley 143). The pregnant women, or jacca, is not to be our after dark, is not supposed to walk past pipal, or babul trees (since they are supposed to house evil spirits), and should always keep a piece of iron with her to ward off any spirits (Tewari 258).Upon learing of the pregnancy, one of the first rituals preformed for the jacca is called arathi. Arathi serves the purpose of removing the evil eye, and is similar to a western baby shower, since it primarily centers on the jacca receiving gifts of good fortune, as well as special foods to eat (Dhruvarajan 88).

When the jacca enters into the seventh month of pregnancy, arathi is again preformed, and further attention is given to prepare for the coming of the child. Other rituals such as rit, and kanji may also be preformed, which are very similar in the gift giving nature of arathi. In preparation for the delivery, a special birth-chamber, or sovar, is set up for the jacca and her baby. The sovar is a room that is separate from the rest of the house, preferably without windows, as the delivery should be completely private and away from the public. Much care is taken in the placement of the bed, making sure that it is not placed under the main beam of the house, and that it is not facing south, as these are believed to have a bad effect on the jacca (Stevenson 2).

When the time of delivery has arrives, the jacca enters the birth-chamber accompanied by her midwife (dai), and separates herself from everyone else in the household. This is because labor is a highly polluting experience, so polluting that the jacca is now referred to as a jachcha, or one in “a highly polluted and polluting state, similar to that of the lowest untouchable castes”(Jacobson, 144). Because of the highly polluting nature of delivery, the dai usually lives in a nearby low caste village, and travels to the home of the jacca at the time of delivery (Jacobson and Wadley, 144). If complications arise during delivery, a wide range of action may be taken, from breaking open the mouth of the great grain jar, to putting a lotus flower in water, hoping that as its petals expand, the mouth of the womb will also expand (Stevenson 2). While such traditional methods are preferred, if the jachcha faces complicated problems the dai may turn the pregnancy over to professional medical treatment.

Once the baby has been delivered, attention is given to what time the birth took place, as this will determine an accurate horoscope for the child, which, to a certain extent, will determine when other samskara rituals are preformed. On the day of birth itself, the family Brahmin priest typically holds a small ceremony for the new mother, in which he ritually brews an herbal tea in the company of the women of the extended family (Jacobson and Wadley 146). During the time following the delivery, the mother and child continue to be separated from the rest of the household (as mother and child are still regarded as being in a highly polluted state). It is believed that nine months worth of polluted menstrual blood is discharged at the time of birth, and therefore the mother and child must be purified before the return to the household. The main actions taken during this purification process called sor, are a series of baths and oil massages preformed by the dai, each progressively removing more pollution (Jacobson and Wadley 147). When the mother and child are believed to have been sufficiently cleansed, the dai, “breaks the mother’s old glass bangles…[and] rubs the mother with an ointment of turmeric, wheat flower, oil, and water to cleanse her skin” (Jacobson and Wadley 147). The baby itself is similarly cleansed by being rubbed with a ball of turmeric and dough, and receives an oil message. The mother and child are then changed into clean clothes, with the dirty, polluted clothes and bedding being thrown away. The birth-chamber itself also undergoes a purification by the dai, who “[applies] cow-dung slip to the floor and up onto the base of the walls.”

Upon the completion of sor, the mother and newborn are returned into their household and further rituals are planned, depending largely on the gender of the baby. In the case of a boy being born family and friends are invited to celebrate with the family, however in some instances the birth of a girl has limited celebration, or none at all (Tewari 260). This is based on the fact that a boy is seen as being able to perpetuate the family line and be a provider, where the girl’s role is traditionally less dominant. However while further life rituals are conditional, the birth rituals observed are unconditional as they seek to provide the best conditions for the baby to born into.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Dhruvarajan, V. (1989) Hindu Women and the Power of Ideology. Granby, Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvery Publishers Inc.

Jacobson, D., & Wadley, S. (1977) Women in India . Daryaganj, New Delhi: Manohar.

Jamison, Stephanie (1996) Sacrificed/ Wife Sacrificer’s Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Rose, H.A. “Hindu Pregnancy Observances in the Punjab.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britian and Ireland Jul-Dec 1905: 271-278.

Stevenson, S. (1971) The Rites of the Twice-Born. New Dehli: Oriental Books Corporation.

Tewari, Laxmi. “’Sohar’: Childbirth Songs of Joy.” Asian Folklore Studies 1988: 257-276.

Vats, S., & Mudgal, S. (1998) Development of Women in Modern India. Faridabad: OM Publications.

Wadley, Susan. “Women and Symbolic Systems: Women and the Hindu Tradition.” Signs Autumn 1977: 113-125.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Samskara

Moksa

Dharma

Jacca

Jachcha

Sor

Arathi

Dai

Sovar

Upanayana

Vivaha

Antyesti

Purusartha

Asrama

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.deekaypages.com/samskara/default.htm

http://asms.k12.ar.us/classes/humanities/worldstud/97-98/religion/hinduism/Rituals.htm

http://atheism.about.com/od/hindusandhinduism/a/IndiaRituals.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/a/rites_rituals_3.htm

http://www.hindugateway.com/library/rituals/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samskara

Article written by: Ken Baker (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

Death Hospitals in Kashi (Kasi)

The people of the Hindu tradition travel from near and far on the brink of death to inhale their final breath in their sacred City of Banaras. Banaras’ city circumference is marked by the panch-kroshi (also spelled, panch-kosi), a pilgrimage route that, at times, has approximately tens of thousands of pilgrims walking along its paths. The entire route of the panch-kroshi is about 50 miles long and generally takes five days to complete (Parry 15). The pilgrimage route of panch-kroshi is deemed so extraordinary due to the belief of the Hindu’s that all who die within this boundary will attain moksa, a Hindu’s lifelong quest for liberation (Justice 20). Hindu’s refer to the sacred city of Banaras as Kashi and speak of the attainment of moksa as ending the unwanted cycle of birth, death and rebirth. This continuous cycle, known as mukti, exists for each Hindu until moksa is accomplished (Justice 49). Kashyam marnam mukti means ‘death in Kashi is liberation’; this often quoted Sanskrit tag beautifully sums up the almost universal belief of a Hindu (Parry 21). Once this liberation has been attained, mukti ceases and the ghost of the dead is able to rise up past hell and rebirth, into heaven where it stays unchanging forever. Exceptions and regulations exist for proper attainment of moksa; a few exceptions to reaching moksa HoweverHmay be ones final thoughts, and which riverbank in Banaras one dies. The city of Banaras is located between Delhi and Calcutta in the middle of the Ganges valley (Parry 33). The Ganges River separates Banaras into two riverbanks, the west and the east. The west bank is where one will find the Manikarnika Ghat, which is the center of Kashi where it is often believed that on the west bank of Banaras, “[the] universe is created at the beginning of time and the universe burns at the end of time” (Justice 20). It is on the west bank that moksa is granted (provided the right frame of mind and other requirements have been met). The east bank is usually vacant due to people’s fear of dying on that side of the bank because of the belief that those who expire on the east bank will not attain moksa; instead, rebirth as a jackass will occur (Justice16).

As previously mentioned, there are regulations to the attainment of moksa for a Hindu. It is sometimes said that the physical act of dying in Kashi is, in fact, not a direct guarantee to mukti. Also, it is not guaranteed that one will attain mukti immediately after death. The mindset at the moment of death is what determines the speed and level of mukti that the dying will achieve. If one dies in Kashi but does not have the proper mindset at the moment of passing to achieve immediate mukti, then they will be reborn again a specified number of times before the process is ended, finally allowing them to proceed to heaven (Justice 172). There are four levels of mukti that one can arrive at, which level is attained is based on the dying thoughts one produces. Salokya is when one resides in the same world as god; samipya, the dead remain near to god; sarupya, one will take the same form of god and in sayuja, the highest level, one actually becomes merged with god (Justice173).

Within the City of Banaras there are places set up where people and a few of their loved ones are welcome to stay while they await the final breath of a family member. These places are similar to a hospital but instead of the goal of saving the dying, their purpose is to let people die in a way that allows them to attain immediate, and the highest-level of, mukti while in Kashi. Two of the hospitals that will be discussed still exist in Kashi today, although unfortunately with declining popularity. The Ganga-labh Bhavan, the first of these death hospitals, is located in the most populous area of Manikarnika and is unfortunately difficult to travel to, especially when attempted by those who are weakened by encroaching death. The three-story Ganga-labh Bhavan was once used as a Manikarnika police station; it began by two rich capitalist families, one of which traveled to Kashi bringing their grandmother for kashi-labh (promise of salvation). They found it difficult to locate a place to settle while they stayed in Manikarnika and began to wonder how anyone lower than their financial situation would find accommodation either. This capitalist family joined with another, together, they chose to lease this former police station and begin running it as a hostel where people are welcome to stay while they, or a loved one dies (Justice 59). It is thought that since the beginning of the Ganga-labh Bhavan approximately 10 000 people have died and 12 000 have registered between the walls of this three-story building (Justice 58). Since the introduction of the Ganga-labh Bhavan there are a number of rules to be followed to maintain order and allow the ghat (river frontage) to function the way it was intended to. Some of these rules include: a dying pilgrim can stay at most fifteen days; untouchables and those with infectious diseases are not permitted to stay; do not associate with the noble people staying at the rest house next door; pay special attention that you do not do things which may trouble or inconvenience others; within twenty-four hours of the pilgrim becoming Kashi-labh (‘the profit of Kashi’, attainment of salvation), the accompanying people must free up the Bhavan (Justice 60-61). It is evident through these rules that a caste system exists up until the moment of death and that the ghat is there for a purpose. Even the dying are not equal, although their bodies are deteriorating in the same fashion, some Hindu’s are still seen as more prestigious and noble than others; the act of dying itself does not even change the rules and roles of a caste system.

The second, and currently the most favoured of these hospitals of death is the Kashi-labh Muktibhavan. A man named Jaydal Dalmia, whose mother happily passed away within the boundary of Kashi, founded the Muktibhavan. After their mother’s death and death ceremonies were completed, Dalmia and his brother used the left over rupees for religious purposes and purchased a building with the intention to provide a satsang where music, religious chanting and recitation of the Bhagavad-Gita would take place. Dalmia and his brother had no intention of producing a home for the dying, but they did invite those who were fading from life to join them in their satsang. After a year or more, people started to travel to the Muktibhavan for the purpose of dying, and thus, the death hospital that it is today began (Justice 63-65). Muktibhavan is not in the center of Manikarnika as the Ganga-labh Bhavan is, yet it is the more used of the two; this is because Muktibhavan is in a less crowded area and has easier access from the railway station (Justice 126). Although Muktibhavan is further from the “center of the universe” it is said to have a more religious feel due to the constant spiritual chants, music, and the reading of the Bhagavad-Gita (Justice 126). A major objective of the Muktibhavan is to yield the maximum spiritual benefit of each guest by providing amenities that capitalize on the spiritual atmosphere for the dying. The services offered by the Muktibhavan include specific rituals and a list of rules and restrictions designed to create a religious environment. A number of these regulations include: only those faithful believers and sick on the brink of death are allowed to stay; a place to stay will be available for fifteen days, if there is a special need, with the permission from the manager, one will be able to stay; the making of food must be done on a closed stove using charcoal, there should not be any type of smoke in the rooms or verandas; those infected with infectious diseases cannot stay; incompatible, indecent or reprehensible behaviour will not be tolerated (Justice 174). The underlying rules of each of the hospitals of death within Kashi are quite similar which makes sense since they each are vying for the same purpose.

The Holy City of Banaras has been around in the eyes of believers since existence itself began. The tradition of dying within the panch-kroshi will continue for as long as the belief of dying within the boundaries of panch-kroshi attains that moksa. As travel to Kashi continues the sacredness of each of the death hospitals, Ganga-labh Bhavan and Kashi Labh Muktibhavan, will persist. They will continue aiding the dying on their journey to their sacred space in heaven through achieving the highest level of mukti. As the tradition of dying in Kashi continues, so will it also draw in new believers through the popularity that it has attained, and so on the cycle will continue.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Justice, Christopher (1997) Dying the good death: the pilgrimage to die in India’s Holy

City. Shakti Nagar: Sri Satguru Publications

Parry, Jonathan P. (1994) Death in Banaras. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University

Press

Further Recommended Readings

Filippi, Gian Giuseppe (1996) Mrtyu: concept of death in Indian traditions:

transformation of the body and funeral rites. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld

Oestigaard, Terje (2005) Death and Life – giving waters: cremation, caste and

cosmogony in karmic traditions. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Prakash, Satya (1985) Hindu Religion and Mortality. New Delhi: Asian Publication

Services

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Bhagavad-Gita

Panch-kroshi

Banaras

Moksa/Mukti

Ganges Valley

Delhi

Calcutta

Manikarnika Ghat

Salokya

Sarupya

Satsang

Sayuja

Samipya

Kashi-labh

Ghat

Rogi

Jaydal Dalmia

Death Rites

Samskara

Notable Websites

http://www.globalideasbank.org/soonlat/SL-5.HTML

http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/Moo/death.html

http://www.sacredsites.com/asia/india/banaras.html

http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch05.htm

Written by Sarah Richardson (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.