The Eight Types of Marriage

Posted on July 30, 2010

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Mahabharata classifies marriage into eight types. They are Bráhma, Daiva, Ársha, Prájápatya, Asura, Gándharva, Rákshasa and Paisácha.

  1. Bráhma: In this mode of marriage, the conduct,disposition, learning, lineage, respect and achievements of the groom are considered before bestowing one’s daughter in marriage.  (This is regarded as the best form of marriage by scriptures, and no exchange of wealth or dowry is involved)
  2. Daiva: (Here the bride is offered in marriage to the the priest after a yagna. This happens typically after the bride’s family waits in vain for a suitable groom to turn up)
  3. Ársha: The bride is offered in exchange in exchange of two cows. The groom in this case is typically a rishi. (This is probably because the parents could not celebrate the marriage according to the Brahma rite at the right time. The exchange of two cows indicate that the groom does not possess extraordinary wealth)
  4. Prájápatya: The groom, once identified is enticed with wealth and presents of various to win the groom’s hand. This method is best for Kshatriyas, and is also called the Kshátra mode of marriage
  5. Gándharva: The parent(s) gets the bride married to the groom of her choice, even if it is against their preferences. (This is the precursor to the modern ‘love’ marriage. The marriage of Dushyanta and Shakuntala is of this type)
  6. Asura: The bride’s parents and kinsmen are enticed with wealth, in return for offering their girl in wedlock. (This usually happens when the groom is rich and the bride’s family is not)
  7. Rákshasa: In this form, the bride’s kinsmen are killed or beaten (often in a battle), and force is utilized to take away the girl. (Krishna’s abduction of Rukmini and their subsequent marriage is of this type. Note that the bride does not object to marry the groom in this case)
  8. Paisácha: In this form, the bride is taken away forcibly (against her wishes), sometimes in a state of unconsciousness (The bride’s opinion does not count. This is considered the lowest form of marriage)

Arjuna hits the target at Draupadi's Svayamvara (Chennakeshava temple, Belur)

Of the above, the first five forms are considered righteous. The Rákshasa type is acceptable for Kings. The Asura and Paisácha modes are however condemned by scriptures, and should never be resorted to. (Some interpret the term ‘Asura’ in this verse to also encompass the Rákshasa mode of marriage as well, effectively making the injunction effective against the last three forms of marriage – Asura, Rákshasa and Paisácha. By this interpretation, the first five forms are righteous, and the last three are not)

In addition to the above, the Svayamvara mode of marriage is considered worthy for the Kings.  (Svayamvara – translated as ‘self-choice’, while not covered in the above eight forms, may be seen to overlap with some of the other forms of marriage. An example is Draupadi’s marriage, where Drupada offers a lot of wealth to the Pandavas, indicating Prájápatya. It is interesting to note that Draupadi asserts her ‘choice’ in the Svayamvara when Karna comes to pick up the bow – she says she will not marry a Suta, even if he hits the target. Another example is Bhishma, who on behalf of Vichitravirya forcibly takes away Amba, Ambika and Ambalika during their Svayamvara and wages a battle with other Kings, indicating Rákshasa form of marriage. It is to be noted that while generally condemned, the Rákshasa form of marriage, as said before, is considered appropriate for Kings)

Sources:

Note: The statements above within parentheses are not from Mahabharata.

1. Mbh. Adi Parva, Chapter 73: Dushyanta mentions the eight types of marriages to Shankuntala, and reasons that being kshatriyas, the Gandharva mode of marriage is apt for them

2. Mbh. Adi Parva, Chapter 102: Bhishma details the eight types of marriages when he is taking Amba, Ambika and Ambalika by force

3. Mbh. Anusasana Parva, Chapter 44: Bhismha narrates the types of marriages to Yudhishtira

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Posted in: Mahabharata, Marriage