Why Child Marriage from Hindu Dharma
The samskara called marriage has a manifold purpose. One of its important ideals is to make women inwardly pure through their attachment to their husbands. With such attachment and devotion alone will they made their way to the Ultimate. The disciple cleanses his mind by surrendering to his guru. The wife must surrender to her husband for the same purpose.
Our karma and the cycle of births and deaths we are subject to stem from the unceasing activity of our mind. We sin by pandering to the desires of the mind and are born again and again. When the mind becomes still there will be neither karma nor janma (birth)--this state is liberation. Stilling the mind is extremely difficult. It may be possible to attain the eight great siddhis; but it is impossible to still the mind and be oneself, so says the Tamil saint-poet Tayumanavar.
If we cannot control or still our mind on our own, the next best thing is to dedicate it to another person, not allowing it to sway according to our likes and dislikes. We shall not then be subject to the consequences of doing things on our own which means we shall not be subject either to sin or rebirth. If we lay our mind at the feet of another person we will absolve ourselves of the responsibility of being a "karta' or doer. So we will not suffer the consequences that we will otherwise have to suffer for our actions like papa, punya or another birth. We are taught to dedicate ourselves to Isvara in an attitude of surrender, implying that we do not do anything on our own. But only one in a million is disposed in this way. However, there are a large number of examples in the history of our religion of women who have shown that a wife can be liberated by looking upon her husband as Isvara. The husband is the Lord in flesh and blood; even if he be a stone the husband is a husband. Total loyalty to him and the desire to die a "sumangali" are the ideals that have inspired the dharma of our womanhood from time immemorial.
It is true that all countries have produced great women. All religions too have given birth to men and women of exemplary character. But it cannot be claimed that the qualities mentioned above are as much a charecteristic of life in other countries as it is in our own, in our religion and in our culture. To think of changing all this in the name of civilization or modernity would be to cut at the very roots of our great cultural and religious heritage.
A girl must become attached to her husband [that is she must be married] before her mind is distributed by thoughts of love and desire and before she begins to take an interest in her body. The innocent child that she is now, she will have the humility to regard her husband in an attitude of surrender in the thoughts that he alone is her guru and that he alone is her Isvara
Women in Andhra Prades and Maharastra even today observe many vratas. Unmarried girls in these parts of the country worship Siva, looking upon him as their husband. When they get married they worship the husband as Siva. First a girl, before her marriage, worships Siva as her husband; later whoever comes into her life as her husband she looks upon as Siva.
In childhood a girl does not ask questions. It is now that she will, out of her simple faith, look upon her husband as Paramesvara. This faith, formed in her innocence, will take firm root in her mind when she becomes older and begins to understand things. It is all the influence of our ages-old dharma of womanhood. A woman's devotion to her husband will now be enduring and she will always look upon him as Paramesvara. When a wife dedicates herself to her husband and does not nurse any feelings of honour or dishonour so far as she herself is concerned, her ego will become extinct. And that means cessation from wordlly existence; in other words, liberation. Devotion, jnana, austerites, worship, sacrifices, yoga -- all these have for their goal the eradication of the ego. This a woman obtains naturally and with ease through devotion to her husband.
There are such examples of womanhood in our land, women who were totally dedicated to the husband. In the ethos of our nation they are exalted even above the gods. Among them are Nalayani, Anasuya, Sitadevi who was Mahalaksmi herself, Daksa's daughter Sati who was indeed Parasakti (the Supreme Goddess), Savitri, Kannagi, Vasuki (wife of Tiruvalluvar). To think of them is to feel ecstatic with a sense of pride. We bow to them in respect at the very mention of their names. Why it is so we cannot say.
We often hear critics of our traditions exclaim thus: "The husband is God to the wife? It's just babble. It's all superstition. It's suppression of woman. An outrage. " Whatever the criticism be, this is the custom of our land. In this land called Bharata we have the Himalaya and the Ganga. If you ask why they should be there, is there any answer? It is the same with the woman who were queens of chastity. Do Europeans think of the Alps as we think of Kailasa? Do we think of the Ganga in the same way as the Americans think of Mississippi? Don't we experience in our hearts the divinity of our mountains and our rivers? For people in other countries marriage is only a family arrangement. Our sastras have inspired our conjugal life with the ideal of surrender to the husband as the supreme means for the wife to obtain purity of the Self. If the system of child marriage is opposed and changed on the pretext of bringing about the social advancement of women, it will only serve the purpose of causing injury to their Atmic advancement. It would mean creating a small convenience for our women at the expense of the very great spritual reward that is theirs as the inheritors of our traditions.
To say that child marriage is harmful to a woman's body is empty talk. Tough the girl is married as a child she will be ready for conjugal life only after she becomes physically mature. Besides on many days like the full moon and the new moon the couple will have to practice continence. Now such restrictions are not observed. Physical weakness has become more common among people and neurophysicians prosper at their expense.
That the system of early marriage led to the existence of child widows is said to be a blot on the Hindu religion. But the number of children who become widows is exaggerated, and the implication is that their husbands must have died when they were in the age-group of 15-25. From what I have heard there are few deaths in this age-group. So the number of child widows cannot be many. I would not deny their existence altogether. It is painful to see even one child becoming a widow. But considering the great benefits that child marriage brings we must made an allowance for misfortunes like young girls being widowed.
Even now, if she is so fated, where is the assurance that a girl married at the age of 20 or more will not become a widow when she is still young? We hear reports of couples who have been married only for two or three months being killed in rail or plane accidents. Such tragedies do create anguish. If the reason for banning child marriage is the phenomenon of child widows, what is the guarantee that girls married when they are older in years will not become widows?
If, according to the custom of our land, women are to look upon the husband as the Lord in order to be released from worldly existence, the only way to accomplish it is by following the sastras. "Our women receive high education, manage jobs, marry as they like. All this means progress, " we often hear such talk. But that they are exposed to the gaze of all and sundry, become mentally and emotionally disturbed and are trapped in awkward situations is a matter of constant worry to me, even fear.
Reformists rise in protest against child marriages and cry angrily: "women are supressed and are subjected to cruelties like marriage. They are denied their social rights. " But I feel angrier when I think of the fact that conditions created in the name of social reform have put the great family treasure of women in jeopardy. I mean their prized possession of chastity. In fact I feel like shedding tears. Like Arjuna I too feel like crying that "when women are spoiled the family, the clan, declines. No, the whole world will go to rot. And all will go to hell (Strisu dustasu Varsneya jayate varnasamkarah. . . Samkaro narakay'aiva)"
That women agree to be exposed like this, that their parents look on this with approval, burns me with anguish.
Leave aside all talk of progress or advancement. My constant worry is that our girls must not be exposed to risks to their character. People try to console me with the assurance that nothing happens to our women because they go to school or college or because they work in offices. I too have not lost faith in our women. But I see that they go about as they please and that they have many opportunities to go astray. Cinema, fiction, newspapers -- all these diversions are such as are calculated to cause them injury. All such things fill me with fear.
Now and then I do hear reports of unpleasant happenings involving women. How can we right a wrong, what can we do after all the damage has been done? Can we allow even a single incident to happen in this land of ours that brings a taint to its womanhood? It makes my blood boil to think of what is happening to women in society. I seem to suffer all the worry and all the fear that parents ought to suffer about their daughters. I do not believe that all woman will go astray or will be corrupted. Reformists say that the presence of even one child widow is a blot on on our society. I am afraid that even if one woman goes astray or is corrupted it should be a blot on our society that is a thousand times worse.
Vedam odiya Vediyarkkoru mazhai
Niti mannar neriyinukkor mazhai
Madar karpudai mangayarkkor mazhai
Madam munru mazhaiyenappeyume
To ensure that the king or the government will rule justify ("Niti mannanneri") is not in my jurisdiction. But it is my responsibility to see that the Brahman chants the Vedas ("Bedam odiya Vediyarkkoru. . "). It is also my duty to see that women are not afforded the "chance" to stray from the path of virtue and chastity and that before a girl feels the urge of kama she will learn to look upon her husband as Isvara. Yes, it is my responsibility to see that women do not deviate a bit from pativratya. I feel that I must do all I can for this and I keep drawing up plans for the same. The goal is far off and it is receding faster than the speed with which I try to reach it. But I will not give up the race. Nor will I nod in approval of what is happening in the name of modernity. I have not been installed on this Pitha to watch helplessly the world go by and cry in despair:"What is lost is lost. It is impossible to stem the tide of Kali and change things. "
From the remote past the Vedic tradition has flourished in this land, so too stridharma. These have been nourished by this Matha for some two thousand years. I have the title of "Jagadguru" and bear the name of Sankara Bhagavadpada. I cannot therefore keep my mouth shut as this heritage of ours is being destroyed. There will be no greater offence than it. As Bhagavan says in the Gita I must do my work in the belief that victory or failure is in his hands. I will not retrace my steps and shall keep exerting myself to achieve the goal. The result will depend on my sincerity, on my inner purity and on the intensity of my austerities. If no appreciable results are seen so far, it means that I am lacking in sincerity of purpose, mental purity and austereness. I feel so however much I am applauded by the world.
Had we lost all, I would not have spoken on this subject. If all is lost where is the need to put in any effort? The Matha itself may be disbanded. But all is not lost. A spark still remains. Proof of it is the presence of so many of you here wanting to listen to me. It does not matter whether or not you will do what I ask you to do. The fact is you keep listening to me patiently. That is why I tell you that there is a spark still left. I am trying to find out whether it could be fanned into a bright flame. If I too go the way that people go -- that is the way -- I should be disloyal to Sankara Bhagavatpada.
It does good -- does it not? -- to speak my mind and unburden myself of my feelings. You will remain devoted to me and I shall keep giving you my blessings: this relationship between us will continue. But if I fail to bring you to the path for which the Matha exists and yet accept money from you, it means that I am guilty of extortion. That is why I gave candid expression to my feelings.
With the grace of the Supreme Goddess we have had some success in implementing the plans drawn up for the preservation of our Vedic heritage. True we far from having achieved the goal of ensuring that the scriptures are chanted in every home. But the fear that we once had felt that Vedic learning might become extinct by the next generation or so no longer exists. Today all over the country many students are learning not only to chant the Vedas but also to understand their meaning.
The Child Marriage Act has my hands tied. According to the Dharmasastra, a girl must be entrusted in the hands of a man, that is her husband, before she starts feeling the urge of kama. She will then become steeped in the belief that he is her Lord. And when she begins to feel the natural urges she will dedicate her body to him. This is the law of the Dharmasastra. But the law of state is contrary to the law of the Dharmasastra. Even so I will not ask you to disobey it. However, we must keep speaking untiringly of the law of the Dharmasastra and wait and see whether the government changes its mind.
Adharmabhibhavat Krsna pradusyanti kula-striyah
Strisu dustasu Varsneya jayete varnasamkarah
Samkaro narakay'aiva kulaghnanam kulasya ca
Ptanti pitaro hyesam luptapind'o'daka-kriyah
- Bhagavadgita, 1. 41 & 42
The following verses and translations with purports are from the Vaishnava Acharya Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta swami Prabhupada:
stréñu duñöäsu värñëeya
adharma—irreligion; abhibhavät—having become predominant; kåñëa—O Kåñëa; praduñyanti—become polluted; kula-striyaù—family ladies; stréñu—by the womanhood; duñöäsu—being so polluted; värñëeya—O descendant of Våñëi; jäyate—comes into being; varëa-saìkaraù—unwanted progeny.
When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Kåñëa, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Våñëi, comes unwanted progeny.
Good population in human society is the basic principle for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress in life. The varëäçrama religion’s principles were so designed that the good population would prevail in society for the general spiritual progress of state and community. Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood. As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultery. According to Cäëakya Paëòita, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy. So the different family traditions of religious activities should always engage them, and thus their chastity and devotion will give birth to a good population eligible for participating in the varëäçrama system. On the failure of such varëäçrama-dharma, naturally the women become free to act and mix with men, and thus adultery is indulged in at the risk of unwanted population. Irresponsible men also provoke adultery in society, and thus unwanted children flood the human race at the risk of war and pestilence.
kula-ghnänäà kulasya ca
patanti pitaro hy eñäà
saìkaraù—such unwanted children; narakäya—make for hellish life; eva—certainly; kula-ghnänäm—for those who are killers of the family; kulasya—for the family; ca—also; patanti—fall down; pitaraù—forefathers; hi—certainly; eñäm—of them; lupta—stopped; piëòa—of offerings of food; udaka—and water; kriyäù—performances.
An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped.
According to the rules and regulations of fruitive activities, there is a need to offer periodical food and water to the forefathers of the family. This offering is performed by worship of Viñëu, because eating the remnants of food offered to Viñëu can deliver one from all kinds of sinful actions. Sometimes the forefathers may be suffering from various types of sinful reactions, and sometimes some of them cannot even acquire a gross material body and are forced to remain in subtle bodies as ghosts. Thus, when remnants of prasädam food are offered to forefathers by descendants, the forefathers are released from ghostly or other kinds of miserable life. Such help rendered to forefathers is a family tradition, and those who are not in devotional life are required to perform such rituals. One who is engaged in the devotional life is not required to perform such actions. Simply by performing devotional service, one can deliver hundreds and thousands of forefathers from all kinds of misery. It is stated in the Bhägavatam (11.5.41):
na kiìkaro näyam åëé ca räjan
sarvätmanä yaù çaraëaà çaraëyaà
gato mukundaà parihåtya kartam
“Anyone who has taken shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, the giver of liberation, giving up all kinds of obligation, and has taken to the path in all seriousness, owes neither duties nor obligations to the demigods, sages, general living entities, family members, humankind or forefathers.” Such obligations are automatically fulfilled by performance of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.