Aryan Rites

After the conquest of the Indian aborigines (or “dasyus”) ancient Aryans organized society hierarchically into four estates, or castes: the priests, the warriors (from whom came the rulers), the workers (farmers, craftsmen, and merchants), and the hewers of wood or fetchers of water.

The members of the first three castes, now called Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), and Vaishyas (workers), were Aryans. The members of the fourth caste, the Shudras (servants), were dasyus. Not only intermarriage, but every form of social intercourse between the castes except that absolutely necessary for the functioning of society, was banned, and the ban had the authority of religion as well as of law.

The Laws of Manu, the most ancient legal code to have come down to us from Aryan India, spell out explicitly the duties of the castes:

“To Brahmans he (Brahma, the Creator, the soul of the universe) assigned teaching and studying the Veda, sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting of alms. [The Vedas (the name comes from the Aryan word meaning “knowledge”) are the collections of sacred writings of the ancient Aryans from the period shortly after the conquest. They are the white man’s bible. The particular Veda referred to here is the Rig-Veda.]

“The Kshatriya he commanded protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study the Veda, and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual measures.

“The Vaishya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study the Veda, to trade, to lend money, and to cultivate land.

“One occupation only Brahma prescribed to the Shudra: to serve meekly the other three castes.”

The dasyus were excluded not only from social intercourse with Aryans and from occupations reserved for Aryans, but also from any participation in the Aryan religion; the Shudra caste the only one not enjoined to study the Veda. Young Aryans were initiated into the adult religious community in special rites, the initiation being considered a “second birth.” The Laws of Manu say: “The Brahman, the Kshatriya, and the Vaishya castes are the twice-born ones, but the fourth, the Shudra, has no second birth.”

The Sanskrit literature of the ancient Aryans is filled with references to the distaste the Nordic conquerors felt for the dark, flat-nosed natives. Poets referred to the dasyus as “the noseless ones” and “the blackskins.” One poet wrote, “Destroying the dasyus, Indra (the ancient Aryan god of the sky, cognate with the Hellenic Zeus and Roman Jupiter, head of the Aryan pantheon prior to the rise of Brahmanism) protected the Aryan color.” According to another poet, “Indra protected in battle the Aryan worshipper … he conquered the blackskin.” And still another: “He (Indra) beat the dasyus as is his wont…. He conquered the land with his white friends.”

Among the Hindus, vivaha or marriage is considered a sarira samskara, i.e., sacraments sanctifying the body, which every individual has to go through in life. Parents are the ones who decide on the groom and the bride has no say in the marriage

When you watch elaborate Indian arranged marriages and analyze the complexity and effort involved to make it successful, you may wonder how and when this practice started.

Interestingly, a recent research conducted by a post graduate student of Amity University, New Delhi has brought to light the finding that arranged marriages in India originated during the Vedic period of Indian history. The ceremony and the institution of arranged marriages also took its shape during this time. Long before the word “Hindu” came to be associated with religion. “Hindu” was simply an evolved Persian word for the people who lived across the river “Indus” or “Indu”.

The Manu Samhita that was written in around 200 BC laid down the marital laws. Manu, one of the most influential interpreters of these scriptures, documented the Manu Samhita. Traditionally accepted as one of the supplementary arms of the Vedas, The Laws of Manu or Manava Dharma Shastra is one of the standard books in the Hindu canon, presenting the norms of domestic, social, and religious life in India.

Caste is an important determinant in an arranged marriage. Manu recognized the possibility of marriage with the next lower caste as producing legitimate children but condemned the marriage of an Aryan with a woman of lower caste. Endogamy (a rule requiring marriage within a specified kinship group) was the rule which governed Vedic society.

According to the Vedic scriptures, a marriage is indissolvable in life. Nevertheless, polygamy was rampantly practised in ancient Vedic society. An address by Bhishma to King Yudhishthira in the Mahabharata, succinctly endorses this fact: “A Brahmana can take three wives. A Kshatriya can take two wives. As regards the Vaishya, he should take only one.” (Anusasana Parva) The seven vows of a Hindu marriage are also mentioned in the Vedic texts.