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Why do people marry? It is sometimes said that it is for the procreation of mankind. But procreation is a thing found in all living creatures. It is not special to man. The question is which came first, desire or creation. The problem is similar to the problem as to whether the fowl came first or the egg. These are questions beyond man’s comprehension and may have to be left unanswered.

Liberty denied to women

periyarr 450Is monogamy a natural instinct in a man? There is no monogamy in the lower animal world. They unite indiscriminately and with different partners at different times. It is said that some birds, like the dove and the maina practise monogamy. To what species does man belong in this respect? The double standard is the rule in mankind in general. Man has no compunction to cohabit with many women, but the same liberty is denied to women.

Origin of marriage

In the beginning, man must have lived and cohabited like the animals in a promiscuous manner. It was only when man acquired property and settled down to live in a specified place that the idea of husband and wife arose. The idea of private property led to separatism and individualism. Property thus gathered is owned by the man till his death, and after him, it is to be used by somebody else. Who should that somebody be? Man desired that somebody should be someone intimately connected to him alone. That somebody had therefore to be his own undisputed son. There should be no dispute about the seed being his own. Hence arose the principle of husband and wife and a marriage system making it known to the people and to themselves.

Infidelity of husband

Property exclusive to man, therefore, gave birth to marriage and chastity on the part of the wife to make sure that she bore children to her married husband alone. The infidelity of the husband does not affect the legitimacy o the children born to the wife. If women had owned the property from the beginning and passed it to their children, things would perhaps have been different, leading to a single standard (i.e., the same standard of chastity or fidelity to man and woman.)

Connected with religion

Man has changed his environment beyond recognition. Railway, Post and Telegraph, telephone, cinema, radio, television, aero plane have all changed living conditions and the relations of man and man vastly. Even in India, we have adopted all these Western scientific achievements to enhance our material comfort. The practices connected with marriage are one of the things not yet subjected to change. This is because marriage is largely connected with religion, and there is a group benefited by religion and largely living by it, and refusing to lose its grip on the traditional practices. Furthermore, the custom is a hard thing to overcome, however degrading or obsolete some of the practices may be.

Priest sporting cross-thread (poonul or Yagnopavitham)

Hindu marriages emphasis caste differences and the hierarchy in society. The priest comes in as belonging to the highest caste, sporting the cross-thread on his body and refusing to dine with the marriage party of other castes. The marriage party invites the Brahmin priest on this basis and therefore shamelessly admits that it belong to the lower Sudra caste. Scarcely any thought has been given to this aspect of the situation by our people, albeit educated and wealthy. All sorts of rituals will be done in the marriage hall; and nobody will ask whether they are still necessary and whether there is still any meaning in them. It is only of late that some marriages devoid of the priest and his rituals are taking place in a very simple manner under the pressure of our Self-Respect movement’s propaganda. But then, such reformed marriages are few and far between.

Husband not her lord or god

These are days when women are gaining their freedom and caste is losing its stranglehold. In accordance with this progress, Self-Respect Marriages are taking place in which the principle of equality between the husband and wife is accepted. The bride here is not asked to promise that she will accept the husband as her lord and god and that she will serve him always as a slave and obey him without question at all times. Self-Respect Marriages are, in a way companionate marriages.

Thali, Symbol of wife’s slavery

Is the “Thali” or “Mangalyasutra” (the yellow thread with gold badge) absolutely necessary for the performance of a marriage? What does it stand for? It is said that the “Thali” is a symbol to indicate the married status of a woman like many other symbols of married women. This symbolism is good in so far as it will separate the married women from the unmarried and thus prevent them from being pestered by the gallant youths. The objection, however, is that similar symbols are not given to married men, thus once again introducing the double standard for the male and female sexes. Furthermore, as for love marriages, people do not obtain sanctions in India, and all marriages are arranged by the parents, there does not appear to be any need to symbolically indicate the married folk. It is true that in village communities, even the bridegroom was given some symbols like the silver ring for the third finger of the left hand. But the bridegrooms took courage to discard these symbols of men’s married state, while women failed to do so. Hence, it is that the Self-Respecters regard the “Thali” as a symbol of the wife’s slavery to the husband and hence plead for its omission.

Pandit’s explanation

Our pandits (religious scholars) tell us that the Thali had its origin in ancient days in the context of brides giving their hand only to heroic youths who would be brave enough to kill tigers and bring back as a souvenir of their adventure, a tooth or a nail of the beast and tie the same to the neck of their bride. If such a test is prescribed for the modern youth, it is doubtful if even one in a million would prove fit for marriage. The pandits further explain that in later times, with the advance of civilization, the tiger’s tooth or nail got replaced by a silver or gold ornament. Whatever the origin of the ‘Thali’, it is incontrovertible that all along, it has stood for the total dedication of the bride as a slave to the groom, who can do what he likes with the wife. The practice is bound to change, either because the woman has now gained equality of rights or because the meaning of the Thali has changed. It all depends on the strength and courage of our women-folk in future.

No auspicious day or time

For Self-Respect Marriages, there is no such thing as an auspicious day or time. All days and all times are good for us. But for Vedic marriages, elaborate precautions are taken to select an auspicious day and time in consultation with the priest or an astrologer. To effect a marriage match, the horoscopes are got tallied, the names of the boy and girl must be appropriate, and then the day and time selected for the marriage must suit the particular bride and bridegroom according to the so-called astrological science. It must be noted that all this has been invented to fool the people, exploit their ignorance, and make money in the process. In spite of our people’s faith in astrology, there are perhaps more widows in India than elsewhere. The expert priest or astrologer who casts the horoscopes and tallies has perhaps half a dozen tonsured women in his house.

Tamil literature of two thousand years ago does not disclose the presence of the Brahmin at marriages, much less the barbaric ritualism of modern days. Tamil literature prior to Tholkappiam is lost to us. No people can produce any literary work like Tholkappiam without a thousand years of history behind it. All that work is lost.

Companionate agreement

Self-Respect Marriage is called “Companionate Agreement” This is a term that we find in the Kural, the Bible of the Tamils, written two thousand or more years ago by Thiruvalluvar, and it is the most appropriate word for the contract. The Vedic weddings speak of “kannikadhanam” or “thara- muhurtham”, to mean that the girl is taken over or given away to serve as a slave of the bridegroom. The bride is handed over like any other chattel, a cow or a vessel, with no rights of its own. This is essentially an Aryan practice imposed on the Dravidian race.

Why should a girl, after being bred lovingly for years, be given as “dhan” (alms) or charity? The purpose is to give her no rights and to treat her as private property. The husband is entitled to give or hire her to anybody, and the girl shall not question it. Our Puranas are full of such stories.

The ‘thara-muhurtham’ (Donating Marriage) consists of a worse and more cruel procedure. In this wedding, the bride’s hand is placed on that of the bridegroom and water is poured on top of it muttering the words Krishna- Krishna. Thereafter without even looking back, the girl’s parents and relatives get away quickly.

No God in Self-Respect Marriage

Self-Respect Marriages are not anything revolutionary. Here also, we get a young man and a young woman married to each other in the presence of a large body of friends and relatives. All rituals known to tradition are avoided.

The boy and the girl ex-change garlands and pledge to each other that they will love one another, stand together in adversity as well as prosperity, share with equanimity the pains and pleasures that would be their lot, and serve the world to make it a better world than they found it. The marriage is therefore rational, simple, secular and economical. These marriages are described by the traditionalists as atheistic. If rationalism, a system by which everything is reasoned out, is atheism, we shall not hesitate to admit ourselves atheists. But the fact is that we have nothing to do with god. We do not bring in god on the occasion of Self-Respect Marriage, as we do not bring him in for many other social and political functions or contracts.

Hindu Doctrines no authority for us

The first victory achieved by the Self-Respecters is that the Brahmin priest is not permitted to conduct the wedding. There can be no honour in inviting a man to perform a marriage when he can come only as a superior being who will not desire to touch us or eat with us. Hence it is that these marriages are called Self-Respect Marriages. We do not allow anyone here who thinks of himself as belonging to a high caste, and we do not permit ourselves to behave as inferior people. There is an atmosphere of perfect equality in Self-Respect Marriages.

The second victory obtained is that this is a rational wedding. The Sastras (Hindu Religious regulations) are no authority for us, the Dravidians. We are free to criticize and discard the agama injunctions as being superstitious, obsolete and barbaric. We have therefore abandoned all unnecessary antics. The boy and the girl to marry here are absolutely equal in status. It may be noted that in none of the eight types of Aryan marriages, there is equality of status between the sexes, for the woman is always treated as a lower and inferior being subject to the power of man.

Where is the need to invite the Brahmin to perform the marriage? In the first place, he is not one of the Dravidian people. In the second place, he does not consider himself one amongst the people. In the third place, he regards himself as belonging to the top caste and the other people as belonging to the low caste. To follow the Puranas is purohitam. To adhere to the Vedas is Vaideekam. In both cases, the Dravidian people are treated as Sudras, meaning heirs of prostitutes. Why then follow either the Puranas or the Vedas? Should one take a line of action only to be ill-treated and insulted? Contact with the Vedas, Puranas, the Aryan gods and the Brahmin automatically means dishonor and insult to the people. Religion is expected to ennoble and elevate people; but Hinduism insults and injures Non-Brahmin people. The presence of the Brahmin at the wedding is an admission of our low status and an encouragement to the Brahmin to exercise his aggressive superiority.

Bride and bridegroom shedding tears

The Dravidian people are, in fact, in no way inferior to the Brahmins. This feeling has now largely come to stay. There is no avocation or occupation barred to the people. The Brahmin competes with the Dravidian people in all places on a footing of equality, thanks to Western democratic principles implanted in India. In the circumstances, why should we accept our inferiority and the Brahmin’s superiority at the important occasion of marriage by inviting him to act as a priest? Why invite and stand aloof in order not to pollute him? Are we to admit that we are dirty people? Why invite him and call him “Swami”? Is he a God? And what does he do, after all, beyond collecting some provisions and vegetables for his tummy? Where is the need to light the big fire in the thatched pandal when it only smokes up the place and makes the invites rub their eyes? The bride and bridegroom appear as though they are crying when the smoke stings their eyes. Is God to be found only in the fire? Is he not everywhere and in everything? Is he not be found in the electric light?

The third victory achieved in the Self-Respect Marriages as above is the elimination of the Brahmin priest and with him all ideas or notions of graded caste and separatism in Hindu Society.

Why should we hold on to a corpse?

The fourth victory obtained is the elimination of the Sanskrit language, a language unknown to all, a language that is dead and gone. Sanskrit is used only to belittle and insult our living mother tongues. There was a time when the Western nations also performed their marriages with a dead language, Latin. But as soon as self-respect and regard for their mother tongues grow amongst them, they gave up Latin. Why should we hold on to a corpse? Some people will say Sanskrit is not dead, because it is still being studied and used by the priests. In that case, it is to be regarded as dead but now buried. It is, therefore, a corpse. When our Dravidian languages are flourishing and living in all glory and when Tamil, in particular, is older and more classical than Sanskrit, why then insult the “MOTHER” by keeping her away from the most important of our functions? In all Self-Respect Marriages, Tamil or the mother tongue of the parties concerned is used. The pledge is taken in Tamil, and the leaders who preside at the marriages speak and explain things in Tamil.

Fantastic Nonsense

Furthermore, the hymns called mantras uttered by the Brahmin priest in Sanskrit contain a lot of nonsense. In one of the slokas, the bride is stated to have so long been married to Devas, Rishis, Kinnarars and Kimburudars and now is married to the bridegroom. Many other meaningless things are said and done by the priest at the pandal, which, if translated into simple Tamil, would appear as so much fantastic nonsense absolutely needless for the wedding occasion.

According to court decisions, the important requirements of a Vedic marriage are the Fire worship ‘Agni pujaa’ and the seven steps taken together by bride and bridegroom after they are declared husband and wife. The presence of the Brahmin priest and the tying of the tali or mangalyasutra do not seem to be important though these are invariably part of the ceremonies. The presence of the Brahmin priest is perhaps not absolutely essential because many communities perform weddings with their own elders, and the Brahmin does not go to the Untouchables’ (adidravida) marriages.

Legal validity by the D.M.K. Govt.

The courts once had not recognized Self-Respect marriages, and the people who conducted marriages in this style were sometimes put to inconvenience. However, the law did not affect the poor. It was only operative for the transfer of property. Now thanks to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (D.M.K.) Government in Tamilnadu and the late lamented Former Chief Minister Arignar Anna, Self-Respect marriages are legally validated. It will not be long before the State asks for all marriages to be registered, and the speciality in the Vedic marriages will then automatically Vanish. I also visualize a day when a simple announcement in the newspapers to say that two persons have agreed to live husband and wife will suffice for the purpose of marriage. As it is, the Government is giving recognition to Vedic marriages, thereby admitting the existence and perpetuation of the undemocratic caste system, the meaningless rituals and superstition and the superiority of the Brahmin priest.

By refusing to recognize Self-Respect marriages, the former Governments exposed themselves as irrational and opposed to democracy, secularism and simplicity, all of which the then ruling party was supposed to espouse.

The undemocratic caste system persists mostly because of the bankruptcy of intelligence on our part. A Non-Brahmin learned in the law will be a High Court judge or an advocate. He is expected to be aware of the humiliation cast on him by the hoary caste hierarchy. Yet, he will get the Brahmin priest for his son’s or daughter’s marriage and fall at his feet like any other humble Sudra (Backward Dravidian). His education and his law, in particular, have been all a waste. Similar is the wretched fate of many honourable Judges. They still behave in the temples and in their marriage pandals as humble Sudras. The fact is they give very little thought to the subject, and are loth to fight tradition, for even a little change in custom brings on their heads the change of atheism, disaster and death. The line of least resistance, whatever the humiliation involved, seems to be the ignoble criterion in their lives.

Same priest but language different

Perhaps many do not know that the purohit (priest) who visits Brahmin houses is different from the purohit (priest) who visits other houses, although they are both Brahmins. It is said that the Sanskrit language used in these two houses is also different. The mantras (hymns) used in Brahmin houses are from the Vedas, while that used in Non-Brahmin houses is from the Puranas. This is one more instance to emphasise the gradation in the Hindu caste system.

The Self-Respect movement has given great encouragement to inter-caste marriages, and many have taken place. This is one more victory for the movement in its fight against Aryan orthodoxy. According to Brahminism, a marriage is said to be intercaste if it is between a Brahmin and a non- Brahmin and not when it is between two non-Brahmin castes. But caste separatism has become so rigid that marriages between the sub-castes are taken as revolutionary in character as those between the so-called four major castes.

Different standards for men and women

The opposition that faced the parties to an inter-caste marriage and the troubles they were subjected to later in life were so great as to shake out very faith in the no-caste movement of the Self-Respecters. All honour, therefore, to those who braved the ordeal in the early days. Things are much easier now, and very soon, inter-caste marriages are bound to be more popular than ever before.

Widow marriage is another item in which the Self-Respect movement is interested. Here again, there is one standard for men and another for women. It is unsocial and undemocratic. Even in our Puranas (mythologies), widows have married again. This proves that in ancient days the practice was not taboo. Even now, the practice is found in many of the Backward Communities.

Inter-caste marriage, Order of the day

It is a matter for congratulation that the Government has now reformed Hindu law. The part played by the Self-Respect movement since 1925 in this regard is not small. Monogamy has been made the law. Widow marriage and divorce are permitted. Women have obtained property rights, and their share with men in the estate succession is equal. No man can take more than one wife, much less add a concubine to the household.

But unless people are properly educated and modernized, the law may become a dead letter. Women’s education and liberty should advance to such an extent as to make them choose their own husbands. When this situation is reached, much of our backwardness and superstition will vanish. Inter-caste marriage will be the order of the day, and no parent will run after a priest or an astrologer to see if the horoscopes tally, names tally, dates tally, and so on.

Priest gangs will lose loot

India is perhaps one of the few countries in the world in which marriages are not required to be registered. Quite a lot of disputes and litigation in this country may be traced to this lacuna in the law. Marriages must be registered like births and deaths. Today only marriages performed under the Special Marriage Act are registered. This is not enough. All marriages must be ordered to be registered. When that is done, the ceremony before the Government Registrar will become all important and the gang of priests will lose its lure and loot.

Children not God’s gift

While speaking of marriage, a word about family planning will not be out of place. I wrote about birth control in 1932. Today Government of India itself has taken an interest in it and opened thousands of clinics all over the country. It is necessary that care is taken by the newly married to see that they have no childbirth for at least five years after marriage. After that, it is enough they have one or two children. Getting a child in less than a year is not uncommon. What is the husband to do then? Caress the wife or the child? He will find time for neither, as he will be burdened with worries and wants.

Times have now changed, and religion no longer threatens the young couple at every step. People have come to realize that children are no longer God’s gift and also not God’s responsibility for rearing. It is within the power of the married couple to delay, space or stop child-birth. God is out of the picture now and for good.

Economy overcomes religion

Unlike the olden days, the marriage ceremony is now restricted to one day. Even the most orthodox Hindus do not hesitate to do this. The economy has overcome religion and for good gain. It is madness to waste money on pageantry and paraphernalia. The money saved would serve the young couple if invested in a bank or a house.

One last word. Selfishness should not rule the lives of the married couple. To earn and live for themselves is not a good rule in the present-day socialist world. There must always be something for the outsider either in money, kind of effort. The individual is linked to the society, and unless they intermix, co-operate and combine, there can be no general happiness or uniform progress.

Translation by Prof. A. M. Dharmalingam

(From 'Collected Works of Periyar E.V.R.', compiled by Dr. K. Veeramani, published by 'The Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution')


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