Category Archives: E. Dharma and the Individual

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.

Women’s Roles in Hinduism

Women have fought for their status and role in communities, religions, and the nation for years. And women in Hinduism are no different. Women traditionally would live the life of a mother and a wife following the footsteps of their ancestors. Women’s roles were laid out in Hindu law books such as the Dharma-Sastras, however basic rules in the Laws of Manu (200 C.E.) lays out how a women or wife should behave in the household and towards her husband. Nevertheless women’s roles have evolved over time and women are going against the social norm of their tradition and even their way of life.

Hinduism is a complex religion and unlike many western religions it is also a way of life. Family is very important in Hinduism and as keeper of the household women play an important role in the tradition. Women are revealed in the sacred scriptures as presenting a duality of being benevolent and malevolent exposing her with great contrasting powers. “In times of prosperity she indeed is Laksmi, [goddess of wealth] who bestows prosperity in the homes of men; and in times of misfortune, she herself becomes the goddess of misfortune, and brings about ruin” (see Wadley 113) Because of this changing power that a women possesses it is rational that man should want to control this mysterious power. Then, perhaps it may have been interpreted that women should remain stagnate, running the household, rearing the children, and participate in religious rituals as an assistant to their husband.

It is the female’s role as a wife to bear her husband’s children and educate them in their traditional practices. To maintain there dominance over the women men have their wives maintain the home and the family that he has made and provided for. The female’s prakrti,(nature), is like the soil where the male plants his seed to grow into “conjoined images”.(see Wadley 115 for in depth description). And therefore “the male controls the female; that Nature is controlled by Culture”(Wadley 115-116). Culture or society controls nature as it is motivated to change and evolve just as the man tries to control the women. Prior to marriage the female is regulated by her father and then when she is married she is controlled by her husband. During the marriage the wife must then be truly devoted to her husband and it is believed that she is able to transfer her natural female power to the husband for daily rituals and caring for his family.

Daily roles and activities of the wife involve more then just caring for the household; they also involve religious rituals. Although, only Brahman men can do the Vedic rituals women still play an important role in devotional rituals. The wives of Brahmin priests can act as assistants to their husbands on ritual occasions because there are no scriptural sanctions against such female ritual behavior. Many Hindu scriptures say women are to be honored, “religious deeds are said to be useless if women are not honored and cherished” (Pinkham 190). So, in a small village in North India, “women instigate and participate in twenty-one of the thirty-three annual rites…[and] dominate nine of the twenty-one annual rites” (Wadley 123). Although women have developed a stronger religious status they are still considered dangerous to men; whether it is because their inner power or another reason we cannot be certain and therefore they are accepted as active participants in the Vedic rituals.

Hindu women’s traditional roles in the household in India have changed a great deal over the past fifty or even hundred years. Western countries have had an influence on these changes. Scholars traveling to India are wanting to learn and study the Indian Hindu culture. And, therefore they have written many articles and books on the sacred scriptures including reviews on the Vedas and other religious scriptures that were once restricted from women. Because of the these reviews a new age has come and has been recognized by the world bring scholars from all over the world. The ongoing reconstruction of the social status of women has brought about many new changes in, “Education, health measures, rural and industrial welfare schemes, problems of early marriage, purdah, the positions of widows, women’s franchise rights, and the representation of women in governing bodies” (Pinkham 191).

The schools now allow young women to learn the Vedas and sacred scriptures that were formally restricted to only men of a certain class/caste. With this new revelation many people have spoke out saying, “No society can prosper without education for its women. By treating women as the lowest caste, …. you don’t raise them to a level of vidya shakti [educated power], they will end up being avidya shakti [ignorant power]”(Pechilis 77). Due to this modification of women roles in society infant mortality has reduced with better health measures. Young girls will are no longer forced to marry before they hit puberty, and widows are able to re-marry. Although there is more men then women being born in India the change in women’s status as independent women in governing bodies is expected bring a change to this as well.

To most women these changes seem radical and the feel that they are disrespecting their tradition. By accepting the changes as a new improvement to their past traditions they can keep their traditional values as well as become revolutionalized. Many women have accepted the lifestyles of their ancestors as the social norm. Many women have stepped out of the norm and made a difference in their village, society, and their country giving other women everywhere someone the look up to and follow in their leadership. The life of asceticism is now not only a part of coming of age for a man but women are more commonly choosing this lifestyle as well. An example of this growth and leadership is evident through the rise of the female guru.

Female guru’s are not traditionally accepted and the social norm in Hinduism. “The most radical challenge of the female gurus is not directed toward the received guru tradition but rather the received social expectations” (Pechilis 6). For instance, many female gurus are or were married that are some that have not been married which has created some conflict with their families who want them to adopt the traditional role of a women to be a wife and mother. Instead they live an ascetic lifestyle and do not try to define the difference between female or male gurus. Both are trying to attain the same goal, and gender does not affect how they come to their attainment. However, “[a]ll of the female gurus are associated with the Goddess through the concept of shakti, for they, like the Goddess, are paramount embodiments of shakti”(Pechilis 8). Female gurus are, for the most part, understood and accepted by their followers. The work they do with the people teaching and connecting with their students, illustrates the growing influence of women in Hinduism.

Although change has challenged the idea of the proper wife who remains under her husband’s control, change has also brought about many beneficiary factors. Women are much more able think and act independently should they choose to. They may better educate themselves not only in the religious texts, such as the Vedas, but in social inclement and activities as well. Women have a choice between becoming a wife who obeys her husband’s wishes and or “the Mother, the goddess who epitomizes the dual character of the Hindu female”(Wadley 124). Although most Hindu women will probably continue to follow their tradition and be a proper wife change has created possibilities for those women who want a different lifestyle involving religious power or as a business women, for example, should they choose it. The opportunity for change is among us all should we choose it. “women as [a] mother in Hindu thought controls others and becomes the Hindu woman in control of herself”(Wadley 125)

Bibliography

Pechilis, Karen (2004) The Graceful guru: Hindu female gurus in India and the United States. New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press

Pinkham, Mildred Worth (1967) Women in the sacred scriptures of Hinduism. New York: AMS press

Wadley, Susan S.(1977)Women and Hindu Tradition.” Signs, Vol. 3, No. 1; Chicago: University of Chicago Press

References and Further Recommended Readings

Bose, Mandarins (2000) Faces of the feminine in ancient, medieval, and modern India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking goddesses: gender politics in Indian religion. New Delhi: Shakti Books.

Denton, Lynn Teskey (2004) Female ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Desai, Usha & Goodall, Sallyann (1995) “Hindu Women Talk Out.” Agenda: No. 25; Agenda Feminist Media.

Hiltebeitel, Alf & Erndl, Kathleen (2002) Is the goddess a feminist?: the politics of South Asian goddesses. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

King, Ursula (1987) World Religions, Women and Education. Comparative Education: Vol. 3, No. 1; Taylor & Francis. Ltd.

Sarkar, Tanika (2003) Hindu wife, Hindu nation: community, religion, and cultural nationalism. New Delhi: Permanent Black.

Sered, Susan Starr (1990) “Women, Religion, and Modernization: Tradition and Transformation among Elderly Jews in Israel.” American Anthropologist: Vol. 92, No. 2.

Sharma, Arvind (2002) Women in Indian religions. Toronto: Oxford University Press

Related Topics

Women and Indian History

Women and Religious aspects and India

Hindu women and social conditions

Women in Hinduism and India

India and religious life and customs

Monastic and Religious life in Hinduism

Women and Rituals

Women’s Roles

Goddesses

Goddess Laksmi

Prakrti

Related Websites

http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2001.00687.x

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduwomen.asp

http://hinduism.iskcon.com/practice/703.htm

http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Women_in_Hinduism.htm

http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Hinduism_and_Women/id/54155

http://www.religiousconsultation.org/liberation.htm

Article written by Jara Van Ham (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Hijras

I hope to send “through the thickets of our separateness” the very human voices of individuals who seem, at first glance, very different from most people, exotic, perhaps even bizarre, but who share in our common humanity (Nanda 1999:xxi).

The hijras are a religious community of men who dress and act like women and whose culture centers on the worship of Bahuchara Mata, one of the many versions of the Mother Goddess worshiped throughout India (Nanda 1999:ix). There are many myths, legends, rituals, religious roles and themes in Hinduism which entertain the notion of “sexually ambiguous or dual gender manifestations” (Nanda 1999:20).

A true hijra is born intersex, that is, an individual displaying both male and female sexual characteristics and organs. While being intersex is rare, true hijras are also considered individuals that have had an emasculation operation, referred to as nirvana (cessation of rebirth) by hijras. During this operation, their genitals are removed to “become vehicles of the Mother Goddess’s power” (Nanda 1999:25). The emasculation ritual is considered a rite of passage for hijras as they are reborn from an impotent male into a hijra, an individual endowed with sakti (power).

In India, the emasculation operation is illegal, but it is still performed secretly in spite of potential urological consequences and operative mortality [Master and Santucci (2003) report on a case of male genital self-mutilation in America related to the desire to become a hijra]. A hijra, called a dai ma (midwife), performs the operation. The dai ma has no medical training, but believes that Bahuchara Mata gives them the power to perform the operation. Bahuchara Mata’s blessing is always sought prior to the operation by way of a puja (devotional worship). In addition, positive omens are sought after. For instance, the dai ma breaks a coconut; if it breaks evenly in half, the operation can take place, and if it breaks unevenly, the operation will be postponed (Nanda 1999:27).

The relationship between hijras, emasculation and Bahuchara Mata is told in the following legend of the origin of Bahuchara Mata’s worship.

Bahuchara was a pretty, young maiden in a party of travelers passing through the forest in Gujarat. The party was attacked by thieves, and, fearing that they would outrage her modesty, Bahuchara drew her dagger and cut off her breast, offering it to the outlaws in place of her virtue. This act, and her ensuing death, led to Bahuchara’s deification and the practice of self-mutilation and sexual abstinence by her devotees to secure her favour (Nanda 1999:25).

Hijras also refer to Indian epic literature in order to legitimize their existence and to gain respect in Indian society. From the Ramayana, hijras often allude to the following story.

In the time of the Ramayana, Rama fought with the demon Ravana and went to Sri Lanka to bring his wife, Sita, back to India. Before this, his father commanded Rama to leave Ayodhya [his native city] and go into the forest for 14 years. As he went, the whole city followed him because they loved him so. As Rama came to the banks of the river at the edge of the forest, he turned to the people and said, ‘Ladies and gents, please wipe your tears and go away.’ But those people who were not men and not women did not know what to do. So they stayed there because Rama did not ask them to go. They remained there 14 years and when Rama returned from Lanka he found those people there, all meditating. And so they were blessed by Rama (Nanda 1999:13).

Within the Mahabharata, hijras point to the following story involving Arjuna as the story of their origin.

Yudhisthira, one of the Pandava brothers, is seduced by his enemies into a game of dice in which the stake is that the defeated party should go with his brothers into exile for 12 years and remain incognito for the 13th year. The Pandavas lose and go into exile as required. When the 13th year comes around, Yudhisthira asks Arjuna what disguise he will take up for the 13th year in order to remain undiscovered. Arjuna answers that he will hide himself in the guise of a eunuch and serve the ladies of the court. He describes how he will spend the year, wearing white conch shell bangles, braiding his hair like a woman, dressing in female attire, engaging in menial works in the inner apartments of the queens, and teaching the women of the court singing and dancing (Nanda 1999:30) [See Lal (1999) for more accounts on the mythic dimensions of hijra origin stories].

Just as Arjuna participated in births and weddings as a eunuch (castrated man), hijras fulfill their traditional ritual roles by dancing and singing at auspicious occasions and by “conferring blessings of fertility on newborn males and on newlyweds” (Nanda 1999:5). In the process of conferring blessings in the name of Bahuchara Mata, hijras are able to give what they do not have, that is, “the power of creating new life, of having many sons, and of carrying on the continuity of [the] family line” (Nanda 1999:3). The faith in the powers of the hijras rests on the Hindu belief in sakti (Nanda 1999:5).

In addition to having the power to bless, hijras are also known to have the power to curse. If hijras feel that they have not been compensated (badhai) fully for their performance their audiences may face some extremely outrageous behaviour. The effectiveness of extortion through public shaming by hijras is legendary (Nanda 1999:49) [See Hall (1997) for a discussion on hijras and their use of insults].

As in Indian society, a hierarchical system is also evident in hijra communities. The relationships of gurus (teachers) and chelas (disciples) not only support social and family needs, but economic needs as well. In order to become part of a hijra community, one must be sponsored by a guru and a dand (fee) must be paid. For the most part, hijras live together in a household that is run by a particular guru. They are expected to contribute part or all of their earnings to the household as well as assist with household chores. In return they get a roof over their heads, food, protection from the police, and a place to carry on their business, whether this is performing, begging, or prostitution (Nanda 1999:39).

In addition to hijra households, hijras are also organized into seven houses, which are in essence symbolic descent groups. For each house within a region there is a leader called a naik (chief). These leaders get together in a jamat (meeting of the elders – modeled after the Muslim jamat) when there are new initiations as well as important decisions to be made, such as, “sanctioning hijras who violate community rules” (Nanda 1999:40). One of the most important norms in every hijra commune is honesty with respect to property (Nanda 1999:40) [Bockrath (2003) further explores the code and structure that hijras adhere to].

Considering hijras are unable to reproduce they engage in various patterns of recruitment in order to sustain their lineage. For instance, parents themselves may give a child to the hijras (especially one that is intersex), or upon growing up, individuals themselves may join the hijras, or in rare cases hijras may claim an intersex child as their right [Agrawal (1997) analyzes various recruitment practices of hijras as discussed in colonial literature].

As mentioned above, in addition to performing at auspicious occasions, hijras also earn a living by begging or prostitution [See Reddy (2003) for a discussion regarding hijras rapidly gaining visibility in contemporary Indian politics]. Hijras who earn a living performing at births and weddings are the elite of their community (Nanda 1992:10). Unfortunately the opportunities for these traditional ritual roles are declining, especially in light of the family planning programs the Indian government has been supporting, as such hijras have been required to find other means to support themselves. Hijras commonly view themselves as samnyasins (renouncers) since they have renounced all sexual desire and family life, and as such a second traditional and public occupation of hijras is that of asking for alms either from passersby on the streets or, more commonly, from shopkeepers (Nanda 1999:50).

Prostitution has also become a means of supporting hijras even though it contravenes the cultural ideal of the hijra as a samnyasin and it goes against the wishes of the hijra Mother Goddess, who is herself celibate (Nanda 1999:53). Hijras who are forced into prostitution as a way to earn a living are not only looked down upon by Indian society in general, but by their own hijra community as well. As one of the most marginalized groups in Indian society, “whether as performers or as prostitutes, hijras have effectively adapted to the society that surrounds them” (Nanda 1999:54), and in effect, they have created a place for themselves and will continue to survive as they fight to legitimize their existence and to gain respect [Bakshi (2004) further explores the possibilities and limits of the gendered performances that hijras undertake, including ritualistic and religious aspects].

References and Further Recommended Reading

Agrawal, Anuja (1997) “Gendered Bodies: The Case of the ‘Third Gender’ in India.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 31, no. 2, 273-297.

Bakshi, Sandeep (2004) “A Comparative Analysis of Hijras and Drag Queens: The Subversive Possibilities and Limits of Parading Effeminacy and Negotiating Masculinity.” Journal of Homosexuality 46, no. 3, 211-223.

Boccia, Maria (1995) “Physical Sex and Psychological Gender: Neither Man nor Woman, The Hijras of India.” Journal of Developing Societies 11, no. 2 (December): 276-278.

Bockrath, Joseph T. (2003) “Bhartia Hijro Ka Dharma: The Code of India’s Hijra.” Legal Studies Forum 27, 83-95.

Cohen, Lawrence (1995) “The Pleasures of Castration: The Postoperative Status of Hijras, Jankhas and Academics.” In Abramson, Paul & Pinkerton, Steven (Eds.), Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hall, Kira (1997) “’Go Suck Your Husband’s Sugarcane!’ Hijras and the Use of Sexual Insult.” Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender & Sexuality 430-460.

Hall, Kira & O’Donovan, Veronica (1996) “Shifting Gender Positions Among Hindi-Speaking Hijras.” In Bergvall, Victoria L., Bing, Janet M. & Freed, Alice F. (Eds.), Rethinking Language and Gender Research: Theory and Practice. London: Longman.

Khemka, Anita (2006) “Munna Guru: Portrait of a Eunuch.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 7, 2.

Lal, Vinay (1999) “Not This, Not That: The Hijras of India and the Cultural Politics of Sexuality.” Social Text 61, 17, no. 4, 119-140.

Master, Viraj & Santucci, Richard (2003) “An American Hijra: A Report of a Case of Genital Self-Mutilation to Become India’s ‘Third Sex’.” Urology 62, no. 3 (December): 1121.

Nanda, Serena (1984) “The Hijras of India: A Preliminary Report.” Medicine and Law 3, no. 1 (January): 59-75.

Nanda, Serena (1992) “Third Gender: Hijra Community in India.” Manushi: A Journal About Women and Society 72 (September): 9-16.

Nanda, Serena (1999) Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Toronto: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Ould, Patricia J. (2003) “Passing in India.” The Gay & Lesbian Review (May-June): 27-28.

Reddy, Gayatri (2003) “’Men’ Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation, and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics.” Social Research 70, no. 1, 163-200.

Towle, Evan B. & Morgan, Lynn M. (2002) “Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the ‘Third Gender’ Concept.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8, no. 4, 469-497.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bahuchara Mata

Intersex

Emasculation

Nirvana

Sakti

Puja

Ramayana

Mahabharata

Arjuna

Eunuch

Auspicious

Badhai

Gurus

Chelas

Jamat

Commune

Samnyasins

Alms

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/hijras

http://www.thewe.cc/contents/more/archive/aruvani.html

http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/hijras.html

http://www.librarygirl.org/portfolio/hijra/hijras.html

Article written by: Brooke Somers (April 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Women’s Roles in Vedic Rituals

The role and importance of women in earlier Vedic literature is much more apparent, and observable than it is today. The participation of women was vital, and much more significant in previous centuries, during Vedic srauta [an extensive body of sacrifices performed on specific occasions; see Leslie (1992)] ritual (Leslie 1992:21). Two myths that are said to be the main cause of women’s restrictions in sacred Vedic ritual are Varuna’s noose and Indra’s curse (Leslie 1992:20). Indra’s curse is said to be the mythic catalyst that led to restrictive rituals that must be adhered to when a woman is participating in religious sacrifice. The Taittariya Samhita reveals that when Indra (God of lightning and thunder) killed Visvarupa, he transferred one third of the “stain” of murdering a Brahmin to women ( 2.5.1). The “stain” that was transferred to women comes in the form of menstrual blood, and is seen as dangerous and impure. It is regarded in this way because the menstrual blood is literally Indra’s curse. Therefore when a woman is menstruating she is not able to perform her religious duty; a ritual must be postponed or a substitution is made in her place. The Taittariya Brahmana states that half the ritual dies if it is performed while the wife is menstruating (3.7.1.9) and for this reason she is prohibited from entering the sacrificial area.

Varuna’s noose is the other mythic tale that has given authority to the types of restriction that women must endure. Although the notion of Varuna’s noose is to restrain the power of women, it also represents the many aspects of femininity that are crucial for worship and religious sacrifices. The wife of the sacrificer is bound with a species of grass called munja, which occurs once the wife enters the sacrificial area. She is bound while sitting because it is said that she becomes virile while in this type of position (Leslie 1992: 25). The binding of the waist is a symbolic representation of Varuna’s noose, which he uses to ensure that the propagation of the created world occurs within the bounds of a properly conceived cosmic order (Leslie 1992:20). Women are an important aspect because they contain a certain kind of power that is attributed exclusively to females, and is expressed primarily through their sexuality and reproductive capacity. Leslie has found support for this notion in the Taittiriya Brahmana, declaring that a sacrifice without the wife is no sacrifice at all; her presence in the ritual assures effective cosmic reproduction which coincides with human reproduction (1992:24). The tying of the “noose” symbolically ties the wife to her husband, and brings her into a meaningful relationship with the gods. The Taittiriya Brahmana concludes that through this working relationship with the gods the wife causes the sacrifice to copulate with her; bringing the sacrifice within her thereby intensifies and expands her feminine creative power (3.3.3.5). Since many Vedic sacrifices include the element of reproduction, the woman is an essential participant. It is through her feminine creative power and the symbolic tying of the rope, which promotes proper or controlled human procreation (Leslie 1992:26).

The asvamedha (horse-sacrifice) is one of the most well known Vedic rituals and has been in existence since the time of the Rg Veda. (Dange 361) Although this ritual has not been performed for centuries, it exemplifies the importance that the wife plays in relation to its concerns with reproduction. Historically the asvamedha is performed by a king partly to gain offspring and gain royal glory [see Dange (2000) for the complete process and variations of the asvamedha]. At one point in the beginning of the ritual the king lies between the thighs of the wife who is named vavata (who is the beloved one) (Dange 377). This physical action between husband and wife is a symbolic act, to bring fertility to the wife; it also mimics the action that the queen performs with the horse after one year. At the end of the year, with the finishing of the ritual, the king’s queens perform a short ritual after the horse has been exterminated, which infuses the horse with vital breath, and brings fertility. As Dange has briefly explained, the three wives circle the horse clockwise and then counter-clockwise, repeating this three times on both sides for a total of nine times. While they are circling the horse they are also fanning it which is said to instil vital breath within themselves and the horse. After this is completed the mahisi (chief queen) lies near the horse, is covered with a large cloth, and performs a mock copulation. This mock copulation is supposed to infuse the queen with the symbolic seed of her husband in hopes that she will produce children. The ability to produce offspring is very important in Vedic tradition, especially in terms of producing a male heir. The need for the presence of the wife is undeniable; without the female power, ritual reproduction would not be possible.

The Rg Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda are the earliest known texts of Indian religion that mention the involvement of women (Leslie 1992:17). Although women are present during sacrifice and play a role in the ritual, they are not able to offer sacrifice. This restriction placed upon women is reinforced by The Laws of Manu. It is stated that sacrifice performed by a woman is displeasing to the gods and inauspicious for men (Manu IV. 205-6). In orthodox Hindu tradition, women are not educated in Vedic verse or ritual; therefore they are not able to perform sacrifice due to lack of experience and understanding. A wife attempting to make a sacrificial offering on her own could bring on a multitude of negative effects to herself and those around her, especially her husband, because of her inexperience. While a woman is not “traditionally” able to perform sacrifice on her own, her presence is essential for her husband to properly perform the ritual. Julia Leslie has found that although The Laws of Manu prohibits women from performing the role of sacrificer, the laws insist that a wife is ordained to take part in joint religious rituals (1989:109). The epics and puranas also have textual evidence that enforces the role of the wife as the individual who shares in her husband’s religious duties (Leslie 1989:110). The magnitude of the woman’s presence is compounded by the fact that a man has no authority to act alone. A man cannot fulfil his religious duties to gods, ancestors and guests without a wife: for the wife shares the sacrifice, bears the children and prepares the food ( Markandeyapurana 21.70-2). The relationship between husband and wife may seem unequal in the orthodox tradition of Vedic rituals, but it is a shared partnership; one may not act without the other.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Buhler, Georg (1964) Laws of Manu/ translated with extracts from seven commentaries. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Dange, Sadashw Ambodas (2000) Vedic Sacrifices Early Nature.New Delhi: Aryan Books International

Leslie, Julia (editor) (1992) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Rutherford; Madison; Teaneck; Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

Leslie, Julia (1989) The Perfect Wife. Delhi: Oxford University Press

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

Vesci, Uma Marina (1992) Heat and Sacrifice in the Vedas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Asvamedha (Horse-sacrifice)

Atharvaveda

Brahmana

Indra’s Curse

Laws of Manu

Rg Veda Samhita

Sama Veda

Satapatha Brahmana

Srauta

Taittiriya Brahmana

Taittiriya Samhita

Vajasaneyi Samhita

Varuna’s Noose

Noteworthy websites related to the topic

www.srivaishnava.org/scripts/veda/rv/rvtop.htm

www.sanskritweb.org/yajurveda/index.html

www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra

www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbr/sbe12/sbe1257.htm

Written by Danielle Nail (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.

Samnyasa (Renunciation)

Hindu renouncers from the Vaisnava sect on their way to the Kumbha Mela in Nasik
Hindu renouncers from the Vaisnava sect on their way to the Kumbha Mela in Nasik

 The exact roots of samnyasa (renunciation) in the Hindu tradition have been a subject of some debate by scholars. Many scholars propose that the roots of renunciation are found in the Vedas, specifically the Rg Veda [For a list of conclusions linking renunciation to the Vedas, see Tiwari (1977)]. With the creation of the Upanisads (c. 8th century BCE) and the philosophy expounded in them(Vedanta) , there was a switch in paradigm which focused not solely on the external merit provided by completing sacrificial rituals, but rather on the internal experience of individuals and the ultimate attainment of moksa (liberation from cyclic worldly existence). The Upanisads introduced moksa as the idea of atman (individual soul) seeking union with Brahman (the universal soul). Moksa was an individual concern, which needed no deities or intermediaries and, therefore renunciation was a release of bonds from both the indenture of society to the brahmins (the priestly caste) for spiritual mediation and the body (see Thapar 843-852). In Brahmanism, samnyasa is the fourth asrama (stage of life) in which the samnaysin (renouncer) turns his [the Vedas and Vedanta texts were most likely written by men and so reflect a male perspective, for a female perspective on renunciation, see Olivelle 84-85] or her focus away from the attainment of worldly concerns, such as artha (wealth) and kama (pleasure) to the pursuit of moksa (liberation) (see Rodrigues 89-94).

Introspection and the growing urbanization broke the system of control and reciprocity established by Vedic ritual, namely the payment of daksina (payment given to a priest so that the merit from the ritual will transfer from the priest to the patron). In theory, the idea of renunciation could negate the class system altogether, as it was the jnana (knowledge) motivated karma (action) of an individual and not status which determined salvation. In some cases this new doctrine took a path of heterodoxy rejecting the supremacy of the Vedas. Some of the major sects which rejected the Vedas and promoted asceticism and renunciation were Jainism and Buddhism, both of which stressed that knowledge could not be given by a deity and that it must be gained by the individual (ultimately through the distancing of an individual from society in order to attain liberation). The formation of such sects caused a disruption of the power the brahmins held over the other classes and eventually the doctrine of renunciation was incorporated into Brahmanism as one of the four asramas. The asramas linked the samnyasins to a socially productive life through delineating an ideal sequence to life, each stage aiming at specific goals (see Thapar 840-848) [There is debate as to whether or not samnyasa was included in the original creation of the asrama system, for more information, see Kaelber 110-124].

The asramas begin with the brahmacarya (student life) and are followed by the grhasta (the householder’s life), the vanaprastha (the retired life, also called the forest dweller stage) and the fourth and final stage in the asrama system is the samnyasa (life of complete renunciation) (see Tiwari 121,). The goals associated with the stages are dharma (righteousness) attributed to the student, kama (pleasure) and artha (skill, wealth) to the householder, and moksa, being the ultimate goal of all the stages but only being truly attainable after leaving retired life and entering samnyasa. In the Asrama Upanisad, the asramas are further divided into four subsections each, with the goal of each stage being to seek self through the completion of sacrifices. In the last asrama true liberation is found by the mendicant that abandons all perceptions of the world gathered throughout the prior stages, viewing all experiences and people (regardless of class) with lack of judgement. In this way, the samnyasin enacts a final sacrifice, that of her or his worldly self and bridges the notion of sacrifice associated with the Vedas and the complete renunciation of the world elevated in Vedanta (see Olivelle 154-157).

Before the new philosophy of moksa and samnyasa had become established, karma (action) alone was seen to be the way to immortality. The performance of sacrificial offerings of Vedic ritual, was considered to be right action, however without the proper jnana (knowledge) of proper ritual action, as was known to a brahmin priest, ritual action was ineffective. [Texts such as the Brahmanas, Srauta Sutras, and the Dharma Sutras stress the importance of karma and performance of proper ritual, see Kaebler 75] By knowing Brahman, as the brahmin priest claimed to know, one could know all. Moksa and the necessary renunciation to attain it were then dependent on jnana (knowledge) of Brahman and the meaning of karma was extended to cover every action, not just the right action of sacrificial offering. This view coupled with the notion of samsara (the view that a person was part of a cyclic existence of death, rebirth, sorrow, and suffering) illustrated the ineffectiveness of karma to truly attain immortality. All actions are tied to results and are motivated by worldly desires, such as kama and artha, thus only true knowledge could motivate true actions and liberate one from the fruits of their actions (see Kaebler 73-79). Karma, to the elightened one, would be nullified of its imprint as all actions would be filtered through true jnana in its purest sense. The knowledge of Brahman could not be gained through intellectual learning alone, it could only be fully understood through the revelation of self through deep introspection into atman itself. It is here that dhyana (meditation) becomes paramount to the person who wishes to attain moksa. This is evident in a passage from the Katha Upanisad: “This self cannot be attained by instruction nor by intellectual power, nor even through much hearing. It is to be attained only by the one whom he chooses. To such a one the self reveals its own nature” (see Tiwari 68).

So the task of the samnyasin becomes to uncover the forgotten knowledge of self through sruti (revelation) of self in relation as Brahma. In this way, renunciation is not of the true self; it is a renunciation of avidya (ignorance) of the self, and thus, the cause of errors through karma (actions). Renunciation is then directed to the world and its phenomena, or rather the attachment one feels toward the worldly occurrences. This philosophy seems to suggest the outright rejection of the world as a whole, however it is actually a reinterpretation of it. Brahman is the ultimate reality of the universe, so removing the falseness of the self removes the false view of the world, leaving only the absolute reality of both self and the world. Brahman as the pure world also illuminates the goals of the asrama system (dharma, artha, kama, and moksa) as legitimate goals provided by the world, provided that the individual does not become attached to the fruits of their actions in order to obtain them (see Tiwari 67-73, 73-85).

Accomplishment of moksa through self realisation can only be achieved by ridding the self of all of the passions and judgements that make up human conditioning. Realising the atman (self) will free the self from egoism and the desires of the self for gratification, and will also unite the samnyasin with all humankind as atman is seen to be synonymous with Brahman. In this way the samnyasin can turn their focus outward and love all others as one being, regardless of caste, gender, race, or any other social marker. In order to cultivate this, one must rid themselves of the illusions of the mind which give rise to ego and the latent desires which constitute emotional response to one’s experiences (see Tiwari 91-97). In ridding the self of its human conditioning, the Vedanta teaches the overcoming of egoism, as do other renuncitory traditions such as Buddhism, which deny the self as being permanent. As mentioned, this also allows individuals to find their existence in the existence of all living beings. This functions to remove the rights of the individual and still allow the person to fulfill their obligations without the satisfaction of self.

The true self is also revealed by ridding the self of vasanaksaya (latent desires and emotions that give rise to mental conditioning such as anger, jealousy, covetness). In other words, the samnyasin is expected renounce their attachment to ego and to the external phenomena of the world which prevent one from reaching liberation (see Tiwari 97-103). Within the Bhagavad Gita, Krisna tells Arjuna of the importance of meditation to rid the self of passions and ego, “Who puts desire aside without reserve, together with their aims, and binds the senses fast on every side, with intellect held firm, he comes to rest, keeping his mind intent upon the self, thinking of nothing; but, then if the mind should wander needlessly, he leads it back towards the jurisdiction of the self. The highest bliss awaits the taintless man whose passions are subdued, of peaceful mind, for whom all things are Brahman and nothing else” (Hodgkinson 69-70).

The renunciation of society poses some interesting concerns about the progress of society, as a person is given the freedom to leave the obligations of society and no longer is bound by the institutions set up to contain society. The importance of sacrifice in order to sustain rta (cosmic order) is compromised, as the samnyasin is expected to abandon their family ties and to discard the sacrificial string and topknot, extinguish the sacred fire [they are important symbols of the status of a dvija (twice born) and of ritual obligation], and give up any other material possessions that they have acquired during their life (see Rodrigues 78-80). The samnyasin then dons a begging bowl, a staff and an ochre robe as their only possessions and spends the remainder of their life as a vagabond, depending solely on the charity of others for food. It is in this dependency on and opposition to the goals of the grhastha (householder) that highlights the connection of the samnyasin to society. The samnyasin depends on the alms given by the grhastha and, in exchange the grhastha receives the merit from helping a samnyasin in their holy pilgrimage, and also teachings from the samnyasin about the righteous path of life. The acquisition of samnyasa into the asrama system, particularly as the terminal and most noble asrama, affirms the samnyasin as a model of ideal selfless behaviour and also prevents young people from leaving their obligations prematurely (Thapar 882-890,891-900).

The requirement of the samnyasin to leave all accumulated wealth to their loved ones serves as a tool for the smooth transfer of wealth to kin and promotes a work ethic for Indian society which mirrors the Protestant ethic. A person should then work hard with true detachment from the fruits of their actions and yet work hard to attain the fruits for the purpose of passing them on to kin. This is an effective way of dispelling greed, ego, domination and exploitation while reinforcing commitment. As an institution, the renunciants serve to correct social problems, being that samnyasins are renowned for their spiritual discipline and control over their personal behaviour. Samnyasa serves a similar purpose to religious founders in other religions, as it unites followers in a common practice with a universal goal and makes the institution accessible to all persons. This universality can be seen through the reoccurring theme of renunciation in the popular stories of both Rama, and of the Pandavas, which are known to the majority of Indians. These stories reinforce the righteousness of renunciation, even in the life of kings. The universal goal of samnyasa, by recognition of the true self as manifest in all being, also warns society against murder, lying, and other actions which harm others (see Tiwari 118-126,132).

Samnyasa promotes the spiritual growth of the individual, but also allows for the individual to participate in social cohesion. Its institutionalisation through incorporation in the Vedanta literature, helps to make the ideas of renunciation both universal and still remain a profoundly individual endeavour. Jivanmukti (attainment of moksa in one`s lifetime) is obviously a difficult goal, and must be looked at as an ideal to be attained through faith and dedication and not as a guaranteed attainment . The significance of samnyasa lies in the recognition of the actual possibility to reach a stage in this life in which ultimate peace is found. It becomes an enlightened view of the world and the individual as part of it (see Tiwari 111).

References and Related Reading

Hodgkinson, Brian (2003) The Bhagavad Gita: A verse Translation. Delhi: Books For All.

Kaelber, Walter, O (1989) Tapta Marga: Asceticism and Initiation in Vedic India. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

Olivelle, Patrick (1992) Samnyasa Upanisads: Hindu Scriptures on Asceticism and Renunciation. New York: Oxford University Press.

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

Thapar, Romila (2000) Cultural Pasts: Essays in Early Indian History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press

Tiwari, K.N (1977) Dimensions of Renunciation in Advaita Vedanta. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Related topics For Further Investigation

Asceticism

Bhakti Yoga (Loving devotion as the path to liberation)

Gayatri mantra (Vedic verse to be chanted thrice daily for twice born classes)

Jati (Hereditary Occupational Caste)

Jnana Yoga (Knowledge as a path to liberation)

Karma Yoga (selfless action as a way to liberation)

Monastic renunciation

Pativrata ideal (renunciation of self for the well-being of one’s husband)

Renunciation specific to Buddhism or Jainism

Rg Veda evidence of asceticism and renunciation

Rsis

Samsara (Cyclic worldly existence)

Samskaras (rites of passage)

Sraddha ritual (death ritual)

The asrama system (four life stages)

The Bhagavad Gita

Upanayana (Investiture with the sacred thread)

Upanisads

Vanaprastha (forest-dweller stage)

Varna system (class system)

Women as samnyasin

Helpful Related Websites

http://www.yogavidya.com (The Bhagavad Gita and the Siva Samhita online)

http://www.astro.uni.torun.pl/~kb/hinduism.html (Directory of sites related to numerous Hindu topics)

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/index.htm#maha (online versions of many texts)

http://www.yogapoint.com (insider views on Yoga and philosophy)

http://www.hinduismtoday.com (archived articles about renunciation and other topics

Article written by Daniel Manson (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.

Women and Fertility



The Maiden
Ideals about women have not changed drastically throughout the centuries. For example, information about women’s rituals wasn’t much valued as a high priority for scribes to write down, although interest in this subject is growing little is still known. One of the most widely known texts that have sections dedicated to women, was written of, and looked to as an enforcing factor on norm stability are The Laws Of Manu. What was suitable for women and what was not is still looked up to today for what is suitable and is not. A good example would be to quote Manu (Manu 76-77) on the strict specifications oh how to choose a suitable bride;

Let him not marry a maiden (with) reddish (hair), nor one who has a redundant member, nor one who is sickly, nor one either with too little hair (on body) or too much, nor one who is garrulous or has red (eyes), nor one named after a constellation, a tree, or a river, nor one named of a low caste, or a mountain, nor one named after a bird, a snake, or a slave, nor one whose name inspires terror. Let him wed a female free of bodily defects, who has an agreeable name, the (graceful) gait of an elephant, a moderate (quantity of) hair on the body and on the head, small teeth, and soft limbs. But a prudent man should not marry (a maiden) who has no brother, nor one whose father is not known, through fear lest (in the former case she be made) an appointed daughter (and in the latter) lest (he commit) to sin.


In the first part of this passage Manu is very specific about how high the importance of beauty is among choosing a bride. A “homely” woman would have a hard time finding a husband without an arranged marriage. It is said that the bride must be beautiful in order to invoke her husband’s desire for her. If she were not desirable to him, he would have a hard time finding the will to produce a child with her (Fruzzetti 46). With the latter part, it is assumed that a young Hindu man would not want to marry a woman with no brother because if he did then responsibility would fall upon him to take care of her mother (if she is still around). To marry a women to whom the father is unknown, the young man would not know who or of what caste her father was, or even if she was a legitimate child, either of these could lead to very bad things, even as severe as being disowned/disgracing his family.

Coming Of Age
Menstrual blood is considered to be especially polluting, although there is ambiguity here since some classical texts treat menstrual blood as the female seed which joins with the male semen to produce a child. Some tantric practices take the approach of using female discharges, such as menstrual blood, as a ritual drink- the idea being to use the most powerful female pollution to overcome all other pollutions (Coward 3) .

It is felt that the coming of a girl’s menstruation is a sure sign of her readiness for marriage.
(Fruzzetti 69-67) Even though this is a welcoming sign of the daughter’s fertility it also becomes a fear. The fear blooms from the idea that now the young girl is fertile [viewed as being fully grown] she will now be a temptation to the other men of the house. Marriage is the only way of removing the potential occurrence of impure acts. (Fruzzetti 96-97)

As hinted above, a girl’s chastity is viewed as very important; this stress on keeping your daughter chaste also goes into marrying her off to a suitable son of an equal, or possibly higher, caste as soon as possible to limit the time in between that she could tempt other males (Coward 18).

A Male Heir

Not in all cases is menstruation viewed as impure or polluting. It is sometimes viewed as the female creative power, paralleling that of the male semen. In Post-Vedic mythology, menstrual blood sometimes appears as a symbol of the passion of women. In primitive physiology, menstrual blood, rather than the ovum was viewed as the female component which combined with the male seed to produce conception (Coward 29). The most common reference is viewed as the cultivation of a field. The women being the field, men being the farmers which plough, seed, and farm [like Sita- who is born of the earth and goes back into the earth. Women regard themselves as mother earth] (Coward 36).

Conceptualization of a child is a very important goal among the Hindus’ householder stage, marriage. Even though the birth of the first child is a splendid occasion, it tends to be even more splendid if it is a baby boy. There is a type of equation that Manu (83-87) had figured out. In which he had come to the conclusion that there were certain days a women was in season, 16 days and nights – including four days which are censured by the virtuous, among these days he believed that the numerology of the days also contribute to determining the sex of the child. If the child was conceived in an even day it would end up being a boy; if the child was conceived on an odd day it would come out being a girl. Manu also believed that a son is produced by a larger amount of male seed- leading to the unwritten conclusion that a male with a low sperm count will only be able to produce females, if any children at all.

The importance of birthing a son is captured wholly in the idea that the male blood line is continued through the sons using the wife’s body as a vessel. Blood transmission is made possible by the wife’s body being a receptacle and a transmitter. Women then are thought of as being the only means in which a man can continue his line and transmit his ancestral blood. This immortality of the line is made possible by the birth of male children through the wife (Fruzzetti 24).








Bibliography and Other Recommended Readings


Fruzzetti, Lina (1989) The gift of a virgin: women, marriage, and ritual in a Bengali Society. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Coward, Harold G (1989) Hindu ethics: purity, abortion, and euthanasia. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking goddesses: gender politics in Indian religion. New Delhi: Shakti Books.



Buhler, G.[translated by Buhler from Manu’s original work] (1964) Laws of Manu. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.



Everett, Jana Matson (1979) Women and social change in India. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Desai, Neera (1987) Women and society in India. Delhi: Ajanta Publications.

Dhruvarajan, Vanaja (1989) Hindu women and the power of ideology. Granby, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey.

Related Topics for further investigation


Anandamayi Ma
Sita
Sita as Mother Earth
Ramayana
Caste system
Manu
Vedic Numerology


Related websites
http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl-lawsofmanu10.htm

Written by Phelicia Hamilton (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.

Jivitputrika Vrata

In the Hindu society there are many rites of passage (samskara) that are performed throughout the year. These rites of passage come in many forms, such as, birth, leaving the birth chamber, giving a child a name, first feeding of solid food, puberty, marriage, and cremation. To accompany these rites are the vrats, an ascetic ritual that involves women fasting for the welfare of their husbands and children. As stated by Pearson “Varts [are] a rite…performed on a regular basis to achieve particular objective, following respective rule that have been transmitted from one generation to the next” (Pearson 45). The tradition of vrats can be traced back to the Vedic period which makes them over three thousand years old in nature. Most vrats are performed by women in Hindu society because they are believed to enhance a women’s power (sakti). This power can then be transferred to her loved ones. This idea of women performing vrats is common because they are a part of the domestic rituals, over which Hindu women have control and power. Some vrats are performed for a woman’s individual needs, so she can focus on herself and then be attentive to her family needs.

Many vrats tie in with marriage ideals and are seen as part of dharma (righteousness); they represent the fidelity to a husband and demonstrate their service until the day he passes on. As stated by Rodrigues, “Vrats emanate from ancient Hindu ideas of asceticism as intrinsic to spiritual attainment, meshes with the obligatory duties of married women in the Pativrata ideal” (Rodrigues 61). It is believed that if a Hindu woman performs a certain type of vrat that is for their husband then they will be forever protected by the husband. Also when the vrat is performed it shows to the husband her loyalty which will allow the women to live in harmony with her family.

The different kinds of vrats have various purposes; some are for good health, prosperity, for a son to be born, for a loved one, and protection for the family. Pintchman in her study, “Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition,” states: “these rituals are usually undertaken annually, on days sacred to the particular god (deity) whose blessings are sought” (110). This day is of great importance when performing a vrats because Hindu women believe that they will receive what they are asking for if they perform the right ritual, to the right deity (god). There are men who perform vratas but, it is not regarded as a norm; it is more popular among Hindu women. Vartas are very organized into castes and regions of India. There are many vrats that only upper class women perform or that are only performed in certain areas of India. Despite these differences they are similar in that they are performed in the domestic realm and for the domestic realm (Pintchman 65).

Jivitputrika vrats, also called the Jiutiya (a contraction or jiwit-putra), is one of many popular family vratas. It is often compared to other family vrats, such as Halsathi and Ganes Cauth. Women perform these vrats for the wellbeing and protection of certain areas of the family life; there is no male involvement. The Jivitputrika vrat are performed by the mother where she wishes for the wellbeing and a long life of her sons. The actual English translation of the word Jivitputrika is “living son”. This translation demonstrates a mothers’ wish for her son to live a long, prosperous life. This vrat is known as the most difficult one to perform. It is also the most important because it determines the life of a Hindu women’s son. Jivitputrika can be the most effective vrat because it is believed by Hindu mothers to work; it also changes a son’s life (Pearson 38). Hindu women pass this ritual on to younger female generations- in most cases their daughters. If the mother does not have any daughters she will pass it onto her younger sisters. This vrat has been done for generations, but has not been explored by scholars as to its procedure. There have been many hypotheses, but the integral details remain unknown. A lot of the details remain unknown because the ritual is only is performed by women who have sons or amongst others who practice Hinduism (Pearson 163).

Jivitputrika, is popular among women because Hindu women play a central role in the household; they are responsible for the protection of their children and husband. Hindu women are said to be responsible for three goals: Artha (profit), Kama (pleasure), and Dharma (religion or virtue). All three of these goals are incorporated in the domestic realm over which Hindu women are responsible (Dhavamony 196). As Tripathi states, “the Puranas (literature consisting of ancient myths) say that women who observe this vrat never suffer on account of their sons” (188). If Hindu women perform Jivitputrika, it is believed that they will be forever protected by their sons. The role of the son once the husband has passed on is to protect their mother, so if the mother protects her son while he is young then the mother has returned the favor (Bhattacharyya 57).

The Jivitputrika vrat takes place on the eighth of the waning fortnight of the month of Asvin (September and October). On the day of the vrat a Hindu mother will wake up early, complete her chores, and then purify herself in a tirtha (pool). She must be fully purified to be able to continue with the vrat or it will not work. Once she has bathed she proceeds to make a sankalpa (statement of intent before starting the vrat) for the wellbeing and protection for her son. She enters into a fast, where she cannot have food or water for a day. On the eve of the first day, fasting mothers sing Jivtiya (song to the deties) and tell or listen to kirtan (song expressing glory to deities). It is unclear what deity that each mother praises because it changes with each request they make for their son and the diety that they worship at their home puja (worship, shrine). In the late night they tell a meritorious (story of deserving praise, reward, esteem) and again perform a kitana. On the second day of the ritual they will bathe and give a dan-daksina (payment given to Brahmans for ritual service) to a Brahman woman, whose husband is still living and blessed with sons. There are offerings made to the puja (worship, shrine). These can be items such as food, or material goods. Once the offerings have been made the Brahmin women blesses the mother by giving her Jiutya (red and yellow threads to wear on their necks). This Jiutya symbolize that the mother has performed the ritual and that she is protecting her son. The Jiutya is worn for months after the ritual. In some cases the mother may never take it off, symbolizing her gratitude to the deity that granted her request. The women continue to fast and go home singing, carrying baskets on their head or hands. The baskets contain the food from the offerings and are chopped and offered as prasada those not keeping the vrat. She will continue fasting until the next day when she will rises before dawn, bathes and eats. The Jivitputrika, vrat is not always performed alone; there are times when women who have been blessed with sons perform the ritual as a group. In these cases the meritorious stories are told by the older women and food offerings are performed by them (Pearson 163-165).

The meritorious stories are very important to the Jivitputrika vrat because it allows for information to be passed from generation to generation. The most popular story is about a “noble king, Jimutavahan and his self sacrifice to Garuda, the half- man , half-vulture king of the birds, for the sake of Nag ( snake) and his mother”(Pearson 164). There are three reasons why this story is relevant to Jivitputrika vrat. The first being that the happy ending occurs on the eighth of the dark half of Asvin. The second is that the King Jimutavahan demonstrates a model of what Hindu women wish for their son. The last reason is that snakes are thought to be protectors of children, which portrays protection in the Jivitputrika vrat. There are many versions of this story but, in every version there is an appearance of Siva (lord of the yogi, ultimate reality) and Parvati (wife of Siva), who gives blessings to the sons or ensures their safety.

The Jivitputrika vrat demonstrated the limitless love and affection of a mother for her son. This vrat is done differently in houses across India but the main message is consistent across the country. The Jivitputrika vrat will be performed for many generations and with each generation altering its performance to better meet their needs and values.

References and further recommended readings

Bhattacharyya, M. (1988)Hindu religion and women’s rights. Religion and Society. 35, 52-61.

Dhavamony, M. (1991)The position of women in Hindu society. Studia Missionalia. 40, 195-223

Pearson, Anne. (1996) Because it gives me peace of mind: ritual fasts in the religious lives of hindu women. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, T. (2007) Women’s lives, women’s rituals in the Hindu tradition. England: Oxford Univ Press

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Hinduism, the e book, the online introduction. Journal of buddhist ethics Online Book Ltd.

Tripathi, R (1978) Hinduon ke Vrat, Parv aur Tyauhar. Allahabad: Lokbharti Packasan. Depiction by Pearson, Anne (1996) Because it gives me peace of mind: ritual fasts in the religious lives of hindu women. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Navaratri Vrata
Sivaratari Vrata
Ekadashi Vrata
Karva Chautha Vrata
Nagpanchami Vrata
Agni
Dharma
Karma
Rta
Santosi Ma
Durga Ma
Somvara Vrata
Dipavali
Rama Navami
Vrata Kathas
Sukravar Vrata
Swarna-Gauri-Vrata
Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata
Satya NarayanaVrata
Janmastami

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.brihaspati.net/vratas.htm

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2583/fesinf_f.html

http://members.tripod.com/~esh/fesinf_f.html

http://www.svbf.org/sringeri/journal/vol1no4/festivals.pdf

http://www.integraldesign.abk-stuttgart.de/wildenstein/lectures/BW_2002/pdf/Vrata.PDF

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/db/bk09ch08.htm

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

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

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

http://www.patnadaily.com/festival2008.html

http://www.bihartimes.com/festivals/FESTIVALS_2006.HTML

http://books.google.ca/books

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Search?search=Jivitputrika+vrats

 

Written by Vanessa Fahie (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.