From Sacrament to Contract – The Changing Nature of Hindu Marriages in India

By Sandhya Shyamsundar, WBNUJS, Kolkata.

Marriage has been, since the ancient times, one of the most important social institutions. It implies the union of man and woman in body and soul. Sociologists have offered various definitions of marriage, among them being Malinowski’s i.e ‘a contract for the production and maintenance of children’ whereas according to Robert H Lowie, marriage is ‘a relatively permanent bond between permissible mates.’

The Hindus attach religious sentiments to marriage. To them, marriage is a sacrament which must be performed in order to attain salvation. Being catalyzed by the explosive economic, social and cultural changes that have molded the needs of people in Indian society, the aims, functions and motives of Hindu marriages have kept on evolving with the demand of its constituent members. Arranged marriages are shattering, divorce rates soaring and new paradigms of sex and relationships are being explored. New norms are being formed and we live in a constant molten state of confusion. The concept of Hindu marriage has undergone a drastic change – the entire focus has now shifted from marriage being a holy sacrament to a formal contract.