Notes on Family and Marriage System in Ancient India

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The family was the basic unit of social organization in ancient India. The family at that time was unusually a joint family. The rite of Saraddha played an important part in binding the members from the common ancestors. Usually the eldest male member was the head of the house and administered joint property. However, in Kerala the headship rested with the eldest female member. The head of the family usually enjoyed very extensive powers.

Marriage was considered to be a sacred bond of union between a male and a female for their eternal progress through the performance of their duties, through dharma. The martial union was considered to be a divine dispensation which none of the two parties could dissolve. The marriage usually took place when a person became sanatak after the completion of education. It was considered to be a positive duty and was undertaken for three reasons- promotion of religion by performance of household sacrifices, progeny for the continuation of the lineage, and rati or sexual pleasure.

The marriage was generally arranged by the parents of the couple in consultation with the Brahmans taking into account the various omens, horoscopes and auspicious physical characteristics. Usually marriages were held within the same class and caste. The marriages took place when the boy completed his education and the girl had not reached the age of puberty. The father of the bride formally gave the daughter to the groom, who promises to observe the principles of piety, wealth and pleasure. Divorce was practically impossible.

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