Hindus arrived in Trinidad as indentured workers on May 30, 1845, and for 100 years their marriages, although solemnised by a pundit and consented to by the parents, their marriages were never recognised by the state. It took another 100 years before the colonial government recognised the Hindu marriage by its proclamation of the Hindu Marriage Act. Chapter 45:03 of 1945. This act has served the Hindu community well and we have not requested that any change be made to it.
We, however, have responded to the Attorney General, who has expressed his intention to change the act, by presenting a paper, Part 1, expressing our position. I hereunder, quote from our presentation:
"The rites and rituals of Hindus (including marriage) are detailed in various Hindu scriptures. Sruti scriptures (that which is heard) include the main Hindu texts such as the Vedas and the Bhagwad Gita. Smriti scriptures (that which is remembered) are derived from the Vedas and are considered to be of human origin and not necessarily of divine origin (though they are usually treated as such).
Collectively, these scriptures are the most ancient and extensive religious writings in the world. Some Smritis were written to explain or elaborate on other scriptures, particularly Sruti scriptures. The existence of so many scriptures, as well as the interplay between them, has resulted in different philosophies of Hinduism, different versions of conducting Hindu rituals and even the formation of different sects of Hindus.
Hindu Samskaars are sacraments which are fulfilled by the performance of rites or practices enshrined and ordained in Hindu scriptures. They are aimed at assisting an individual in understanding his/her duty and obligation during various stages of life. Samskaars for individuals begin prior to birth and ends with the anthesti rites performed upon his/her death.
It assists the individuals in their worldly pursuits as well as their spiritual upliftment. Sanatanist Hindus subscribe to 16 Samskaars, the most important being the Vivaha (marriage) Samskaar. One of the debts borne by all Hindus is the debt to the Sages and Saints. This is repaid by observing the Samskaars.
Sanatanist Hindus view marriage as a sacrament and not a contract. It is a life-long commitment created by a strong social bond that takes place between a man and woman in the presence of their parents, relatives, friends and society. It has always been, and it continues to be, the Hindu belief and norm that sexual relations should take place within wedlock and that children should be born within marriage.
As a consequence, throughout history, Hinduism recognised different forms of marriage to accommodate differing socio-religious conditions. The Smritis recognise eight forms of marriage, namely, Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajaapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paisacha.
There were instances in Indian history where primitive savage tribes captured girls and ravished them in a most revolting manner. This was akin to the Paisacha method and was ultimately disapproved altogether. In some instances of war, captive women were married in the Rakshasa method. During the Vedic times, the Indo-Aryans were not always warring and the old savage customs mentioned before were disappearing.
The capture of a girl against her wishes was falling into disuse and in the majority of cases the girl was carried away with her own consent, though against the consent of her parents. Sometimes the lovers came into conflict with their parents and eloping or some form of pre-arranged capture was planned by the bride and the groom. The lack of consent of the parents is what distinguished this type of marriage from Paisacha and Rakshasa methods. As societies settled, marriage by capture generally disappeared. This custom was current up to the Rajput period of Indian history, though with the passage of time, the majority of the captured wives were willing to be married. Subsequent to the twelfth century of the Christian era, this custom disappeared as the political power of the Rajputs dwindled away and the Hindus became more and more an agricultural people.
As societies advanced, brides and grooms came to enjoy one another's company in their ordinary village life. This led to the Gandharva type of marriage. In the patriarchal system of family, children had come to be viewed as property. Brides were practically sold for a heavy price and sometimes out of greed; the brides themselves selected wealthy though otherwise unfit husbands for money.
Then came the practice of Prajaapatya marriages. Educated men and women resorted to these marriages in the advanced stages of society, where there was no seclusion of women and the groom would come forward to take the hand of the bride. This form of marriage declined at the introduction of "child marriage" because it involved grown-up individuals who could understand the implications of the bond they were embarking upon.
The next type of marriage is Brahma Vivaha. It should be noted that this type of marriage ceremony represents the pinnacle of all eight forms of marriage. It is a Vedic practice in which the parties exercise a free and informed right to consent to marriage. It is this type of wedding that is exclusively practiced in Trinidad and Tobago."
Next week, Part 2