Vivah Sanskar: Understanding the Eight Forms

Our dharma believes that individuals should observe sixteen sanskaras (inc. vivah sanskara), in their live to signify various stages of human life cycle. These rituals mark the transition to different Ashrams, or stages of life, celebrated as auspicious occasions. The practice of these sanskaras is pivotal, as they contribute to one’s personality development and effectiveness. 

Vivah sanskara, or the Marriage is a vital sanskara in a human’s life. It marks the initiation into the second Ashram, signifying beginning of a new stage in life as a married couple. In Hindu-Vedic tradition, marriage is as a sacred sacrament, symbolizing the lifelong commitment between a husband and wife. 

It is the most profound bond between a man and a woman in the presence of their families and loved ones. Proceeding to this sanskara, the bride and groom ceremonially circle the sacred fire, symbolizing their union and commitment. The bride offers grains into the fire and recites sacred mantras as part of the ritual. 

According to Manusmriti, there are eigth forms of marriages, brahma, daiva, arsa, prajapatya, asura, gandharva, raksasa and paisaca.


प्रजापत्य-स्तथा ‘सूरः

गन्धर्वो रक्सससचैव

पैसवस्तमः स्मृतः ।।


prajapatya-statha ‘surah

Gandharvo raksasascaiva

Paisavastamah smrtah

—-Manusmrti, 3. 21

Vivah Sanskar

Brahma Vivah

In tradition of Brahma Vivah, a pivotal moment occurs upon the completion of a student’s bachelor’s education at the Gurukul. At this juncture, the groom’s parents approach the family of a suitable girl with respect and humility. They formally request their daughter’s hand for their son, symbolically offering her as a gift (kanyadana). This sacred union, devoid of any material exchange, such as dowry or jewellery, exemplifies the essence of Brahma Vivah. 

Unlike other forms of marriage, Brahma Vivah transcends worldly transactions, focusing on spirituality and the moral elevation. As the highest form of marriage in the dharmasastras, Brahma Vivah has the importance of upholding dharma and virtuous conduct in the sacred union between husband and wife.

Daiva Vivah

Daiva Vivah involves the marriage of a girl to a rtvik, or priest, during a sacrificial ritual. In this marriage, the bride’s parents, having waited for a suitable groom to approach them, take the initiative to find a husband for their daughter during a sacrificial ceremony. This form of marriage is inferior to Brahma Vivah, where the groom is chosen based on his knowledge and virtuousness.

According to scriptures, there is a special significance in the fact that the groom’s family must seek out a bride for their son. It elevates the status of womanhood, as it emphasizes the importance of the groom’s family actively seeking a suitable match for their son rather than the bride’s family solely taking the initiative.

While Daiva Vivah may be inferior to Brahma Vivah in terms of societal status. It still holds religious and cultural significance within the context of sacrificial rituals and traditional practices.

Arsa Vivah

Arsa Vivah, the third form of marriage in Vedic tradition, is closely associated with the rishis or sages. An example often cited is the marriage of Sukanya to Cyavana Maharsi. In this marriage, the bride is married to a rishi in exchange for two cows given by the groom. However, it is essential to note that Arsa Vivah is not a transaction based on monetary exchange or material possessions.

It signifies a marriage where bride marries a sage, usually because parents could not perform her marriage according to Brahma rite. The exchange of cows symbolizes the absence of extraordinary qualities or wealth possessed by the groom.

In marriages of noble stature, there is no room for financial transactions or any semblance of a business deal. Arsa Vivah, therefore, represents a sacred union guided by spiritual principles rather than material considerations.

Prajapatya Vivah

Prajapatya Vivah is a sacred form of marriage that emphasizes familial and societal duties rather than material transactions. Like the Brahma ceremony, Prajapatya Vivah also includes the ritual of Kanyadana. The bride performs the marriage ceremony with her father’s blessings and best wishes. However, the significance of Prajapatya Vivah lies in its name. It signifies the imminent arrival of the bride’s menarche and the expectation of procreation soon after the marriage.

In Prajapatya Vivah, it is customary for the bride’s father in seeking a suitable groom for his daughter. Unlike the Brahma type of marriage, where the groom’s family typically initiates the search for a bride, Prajapatya Vivah, the responsibility falls on the bride’s family to find a compatible match. It reflects the belief that the bride’s father plays a pivotal role in the well-being and future prosperity of the daughter by securing a suitable husband for her.

While both Brahma and Prajapatya Vivah are sacred unions that symbolize the lifelong commitment between a husband and wife, the Brahma type is superior due to the emphasis on the groom’s family seeking a bride who will bring prosperity and blessings to their household as Grahalakshmi. Nevertheless, Prajapatya Vivah holds its significance as a solemn and sacred union rooted in traditional values and familial duties.

Asura Marriage

The Asura Vivah, according to ancient scriptures like Manusmriti, represents a type of marriage where the groom is unworthy of the bride, lacking in compatibility or stature. Instead, the bride’s father or relatives accept money from the groom, effectively compelling them to agree to the marriage. 

Unlike other forms of marriage, such as Arsha Vivah, where cows get exchanged for the bride, there is no sense of mutual consent or willingness in Asura marriage. The groom is wealthy and powerful but is not a suitable match for the bride in terms of character or suitability. This type of marriage often occurs when financial gain outweighs consideration of compatibility or mutual respect. 

As a result, many affluent individuals may resort to taking a second wife through the Asura Vivah, perpetuating a transactional approach to marriage that undermines its sacredness and ethical principles.

Gandharva Vivah

Gandharva Vivah, as described in ancient scriptures, is reminiscent of the legendary tale of Sakuntala and Dusyanta. This form of marriage is known as the “love marriage.” It is often known for its romantic essence.

In Gandharva Vivah, the union between a man and a woman is a mutual affection and attraction without the need for elaborate ceremonies or parental consent. Instead, the couple chooses to unite out of their own free will and deep affection for each other.

It is a form of marriage characterized by the genuine bond and love shared between the partners, mirroring the timeless tales of romance in ancient texts. While it may lack the formalities of traditional weddings, Gandharva Vivah celebrates the essence of love and companionship, emphasizing the importance of personal choice and emotional connection in marital unions.

Rakshasa Marriage

In the Rakshasa Vivah, the groom engages in a battle with the family of the bride, triumphs over them, and forcibly takes her away. This form of marriage has aggression and coercion, where the groom asserts dominance over the bride’s family to claim her as his own. 

An example often cited is the marriage of Bhagwan Krishna to Rukmini, where Krishna bravely fought against Rukmini’s family and whisked her away to marry her against their wishes. While this form of marriage may have historical significance in ancient texts, society condemns such marriages for their lack of consent and disregard for the rights and autonomy of the bride.

Paisaca Vivah

The eighth and final form of marriage described in ancient scriptures is paisaca Vivah. Unlike the previous forms, such as asura and rakshasa Vivah, where there may be some semblance of consent or compensation, paisaca Vivah has neither consent nor compensation. In Asura Vivah, while the girl’s willingness to marry is not considered, her family at least receives monetary compensation. Similarly, in rakshasa Vivah, although violence may take upon the girl’s family, the marriage itself may not necessarily be against her wishes, as seen in the case of Rukmini’s love for Krishna.

However, paisaca Vivah represents a scenario where the girl’s wishes hold no significance and no compensation or material goods to her family. Instead, against her will and of her family, she gets forced to marry. This form of marriage is highly unethical and reprehensible, as it violates the fundamental rights and dignity of the girl and her family.

In the context of ancient Indian scriptures and societal norms, paisaca Vivah serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the importance of respecting the autonomy and consent of individuals, particularly women, in matters of marriage and union. It underscores the need for ethical conduct and the protection of human rights in relationships, emphasizing the values of compassion, fairness, and mutual respect.

The marriage mantras hold significance across all eight forms of marriage, including ceremonies involving brides who have reached puberty. The groom recites mantras to the bride, irrespective of the type of marriage, even if the bride is a young girl. The verses are towards the bride who, after reaching puberty, has been under the guardianship of Soma, Gandharva, and Agni in succession.

It is important to note that these mantras are not limited to Brahmic marriages but are integral to all marriage ceremonies. In the case of child brides, the groom recites these mantras, symbolizing his commitment to the bride. Although the marriage is at a young age, the groom pledges to begin living with the bride only after she matures into a young woman. He anticipates this transition by chanting the mantras in advance, signifying his readiness to embrace marital life with her when the time is right.

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