Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Forms of Marriage’ of the study on the Vyavaharadhyaya of the Yajnavalkya-smriti: one of the most prominent Smritis dealing with Dharmashastra (ancient Indian science of law), dating to the 1st century B.C. The Yajnavalkyasmriti scientifically arranges its contents in three sections: Acara (proper conduct), Vyavahara (proper law) and Prayashcitta (expiation). Vyavahara deals with judicial procedure and legal system such as substantive law and procedural law.

From the dawn of the Vedic civilization to the present time, marriage is one of the most important social institutions. A clear and distinct sign of this institution of marriage is to be found even in the Sūryāsūkta of the Ṛgveda[1] , which is considered the earliest of all the Vedas. It has been established as one of the necessary saṃskāras for all Hindus, except those who vow for a lifelong celibacy or sannyāsī. The Smṛtis, in general, lays down the various aspects of marriage with great details. Here, it is to be noted that the section on marriage is incorporated by the author of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti in the Ācārādhyāya, which deals with ritual, but not in the Vyavahārādhyāya. Therefore, the study of the Vyavahārādhyāya does not provide direct information concerning the rules of marriage, prevalent at that time. However, it suggests the forms of marriage prevalent in the society. While declaring the heir of the property of a childless woman, the author enumerates that if the woman is married according to any of the four forms of the marriage such as, the Brāhma, etc., then the property goes to her husband and in other forms of marriage it belongs to her parents.[2]

The Mitākṣarā commenting on it, clarifies the names of the first four types of marriage as:

  1. Brāhma,
  2. Daiva,
  3. Ārṣa and
  4. Prājāpatya.

The other forms of marriage are those denominated to be the:

  1. Āsura,
  2. Gāndharva,
  3. Rākṣasa and
  4. Paiśāca.[3]

Thus, the eight forms of marriage are referred. The legal criterion to determine the merit of first four forms of marriage with reference to remaining four types of marriage are found therein. It appears that the first four forms of marriage are considered good or approved, for which reason, the husband is entitled to inherit, whereas, the other four forms of marriage are supposed to be not desirable, i.e. unapproved and so, the right of the husband to inherit is denied, rather it reverts to her parents as if no marriage has taken place. Therefore, all the eight forms of marriage seem to have existed during the time of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti. In the Nāradasmṛti, these eight forms of marriage are expressly classified into two groups viz., approved and unapproved. The first four beginning with Brāhma form are declared to be approved or lawful.[4]

The nature of these eight forms of marriage may clear the basis for which these are categorised so.

(1) The Brāhma marriage:

Yājñavalkya explains the Brāhma marriage to be that where the bridegroom being invited, the bride adorned according to the capacity of the giver is given away.58

(2) The Daiva marriage:

That is known as Daiva marriage in which a maiden is given to the ṛtvij, i.e. the priest in course of officiating at a sacrifice.

(3) The Ārṣa marriage:

If a bride is given after taking a pair of cows is called an Ārṣa marriage.[5]

(4) The Prājāpatya marriage:

Kāya otherwise called Prājāpatya is constituted where the daughter is given to a soliciting bridegroom by saying that may both of them perform together their duties.[6]

(5) The Āsura marriage:

In the Āsura form of marriage, the bride is given away by taking wealth or money.

(6) The Gāndharva marriage:

Gāndharva marriage takes place through mutual love of the parties.

(7) The Rākṣasa marriage:

Rākṣasa marriage is that form of marriage, in which the bride is taken away forcibly by waging war.[7]

(8) The Paiśāca marriage:

When the bride is taken away by practising fraud or deceit upon the girl, it is called Paiśāca marriage.

It may be noticed that in case of the first four forms of marriage, dominion of the parents over the daughter is recognized and the marriage is founded on a formal transfer of dominion by way of gift of the daughter to the husband. In case of other forms of marriage, absence of recognition or transfer of parental authority, in the first instance, may be marked. According to these forms, the union does not appear to be considered perfect, as it is associated with antisocial means such as wealth, muscle, strength or deceit. Therefore, in the matter of succession to women’s property as laid down by Yājñavalkya, the principal difference between the approved and unapproved marriage is established. J.D. Mayne holds the reason that originally in case of approved marriage, a bride passes into her husband’s gotra and she does not pass in unapproved marriage.[8] B.K. Swain finds out the practical reason that, in this way, the lawmakers and the society try to care to a certain extant the mental agony of the parents received from the double pain of the irreligious marriage and the untimely death of the daughter.[9]

Another important aspect, revealed by Yājñavalkya, is that the promise to give away daughter in marriage with one man is enforceable by law. It renders to a contract of the verbal acceptance to the bridegroom by the father of the daughter. If the father breaks his promise to give away his daughter without sufficient cause, he becomes liable to be punished. Moreover, the father or the affiancer is found under obligation to repay with interest whatever, has been expended by the intended bridegroom on account of the espousal. If the maiden promised to be given in marriage, dies, the bridegroom shall be entitled to take back what has been given by him after deducting the expenses on both sides.[10] Thus, the agreement of marriage between the father of the daughter and intended bridegroom is given legal status, and treated as binding promise that cannot be revoked except some unavoidable circumstances. This provision of Yājñavalkya suggest that some of the parents of bride, appear to have exercised deceptive means to defraud the bridegroom.

Footnotes and references:


Ṛgveda, 10.85


aprajastrīdhanaṃ bhaturbrāhmādiṣu aturṣvapi/ duhitṛṇāṃ prsūtā ceccheṣeṣu pitṛgāmi tat// Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.145


… pūrvoktāyāḥ brāhmadaivārṣaprājāpatyeṣu caturṣu vivāheṣu…/śeṣevāsuragāndharvarākṣasapaiśāceṣu vivāheṣu …/ Mitākṣarā, Ibid.


eṣāṃ tu dharmyaścatvāro brāhmādyaḥ sādhāraṇaḥ/ syād gandharvasrayo’dharmyāstataḥ pare// Nāradasmṛti, 4.12.4458 brāhmo vivāha āhūya dīyate śaktyalaṃkṛtā/ Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 1.58


yajñasthaṛtvije daiva ādāyārṣastu godvayam/ Ibid., 1.59


ityuktvā carataṃ dharma saha yā dīyate’rthine/ Ibid., 1.60


āsuro draviṇādānādgāndharvaḥ samayānmithaḥ/ rākṣaso yuddhaharaṇātpaiśācaḥ kanyakāchalāt// Ibid., 1.61


Mayne, J.D., A Treatise on Hindu Law and Usage, page116


Swain, B. K., The Voice of Verdict-A Study on Vyavahāradharma in Dharmaśāstra, page350


dattvā kanyāṃ harandaṇḍyo vyayaṃ dadyācca sodayam/ mṛtāyāṃ dattamādadyātapariśodhyobhaya vyayam// Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.146

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