Dharma of husband and wife and family life

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Dharma of Marriage and Family life

Marriage a Samskara

Vivaha (marriage) was one of the most important of the several 'samskaras' (sacraments) prescribed by Dharmasastras for the individual. The object and purpose of marriage as declared by Dharmasastras was not merely to satisfy the carnal desire of a man and woman though it did constitute the basis of the desire for marriage. The propounders of Dharma, after deep thought and consideration, deliberately relegated the natural carnal desire to a secondary position as they considered that greater stress on this aspect would result in the 'throw away attitude' ie., an attitude to give up the wife or husband, as the case may be, at the whim and fancy of either of them and go in for a new one, just as one discards an article meant for use or enjoyment after some use and goes after a new one. This they considered was injurious to the interests of the individual and society. They stressed that coming together of a man and woman was necessary for the fulfillment of the threefold ideals of life, ie., Dharma, Artha and Kama. The sum and substance of these three goals was that the husband and the wife, remaining loyal to each other throughout their life, should restrain their desire (kama) for material pleasure, wealth and prosperity (Artha) by Dharma (righteous rules of conduct) and should share the happiness and misery and discharge their prescribed duties towards the family and society throughout their life. This is highlighted by a promise which a bridegroom was required to make while undergoing the vivaha Samskara. While giving the girl in marriage, the father, or in his absence the guardian, addresses the bridegroom with the following words:

"धर्मे चार्थे च कामे नातिचरितव्या त्वयेयम् || "

Meaning : You shall not transgress Dharma in the attainment of Artha and Kama. The bridegroom accepts the condition with these words:

"नातिचरामि || "

Meaning : I shall not transgress Dharma, in matters of Artha and Kama.

The promise taken indicates that the purpose of marriage was the fulfillment of Trivarga doctrine throughout the life of husband and wife. This aspect is brought out in the' Saptapadi ', (the ceremony of taking seven steps by the bride) at the end of which there is a declaration that they become life long friends. Though the 'Saptapadhi' ceremony was an essential precondition for an orthodox Hindu Marriage, the spirit and purpose of 'Vivaha Samskara' in whatever manner performed was one and the same, The husband and the wife, were regarded as one soul with two bodies. Like real friends, they had to share the joy or suffering of life and live together with mutual adjustments disregarding momentary anger or likes or dislikes arising out of temperamental or other differences. This attitude was not only for their happiness but also for the purpose of discharging the onerous responsibilities of upbringing and educating their children. In order to impress upon the minds of the bride and bridegroom the sanctity and permanence of marriage bond and to make them to commit publicly, in the presence of relatives and guests, that they would fulfill the obligations of married life towards the society vivaha was prescribed as a Samskara. which is one of the most important and basic aspects of the social system based on Dharma. It was regarded as the foundation of family life. After marriage the husband and the wife would enter the stage in life, which was called "Grihasthashrama" (Householder) ie., family life, during which it was the duty of every family to discharge its social obligation. The relationship was not merely sexual. The husband and the wife were together required to observe a code of conduct, and they had to discharge their responsibility jointly.

The four Pious Obligations

The Vedas laid down that every individual should discharge three pious obligations. This concept of pious obligations emanated from one of the basic values of life evolved as part of Dharma, namely, "Gratitude", in that every individual has an obligation to the source from which every type of benefit was received by him including his own coming into existence. The three pious obligations were

  1. Towards God (Devaruna),
  2. Towards Parents (Pitruruna)
  3. Towards Rishis (Rishi Runa).
  4. Towards humanity.

This could be discharged only by living together with mutual love and fidelity throughout their life which is the sum and substance of dharma of husband and wife. To impress upon every couple this aspect Manusmriti -IX -101 and III-60 declared thus:

"अन्योन्यस्याव्यभिचारो भवेदामरणान्तिक: |

एष धर्म: समासेन ज्ञेय: स्त्रीपुंसयो: पर: ||

संतुष्टो भार्यया भर्ता भर्त्रा भार्या तथैव च |

यस्मिन्नैव कुले नित्यं कल्याणं तत्र वै ध्रुवम् || "

Meaning : Mutual friendship and fidelity is the highest Dharma to be observed by husband and wife, throughout their life. The family in which husband and wife have mutual affection and respect always secures happiness and prosperity. The validity and utility of the directive for all and its eternal value are unexceptionable. The observance of the above directive throughout life by the husband and the wife is not only conducive to happiness and harmony in family life, but also essential for national or social life.

Destruction of our social Systems-Colonisation and Westernisation

One of the serious problems human society is facing particularly in the west and which is spreading like an epidemic disease to our country also is disregarding the 'Dharma' of husband and wife, which brings about disruption of family life resulting in serious consequences to the children, their upbringing, their character and ultimately their whole life and attitude of life which not only ruins individual life and family life but also adversely affects national life as also humanity. This is due to the 'Throwaway attitude' which is replacing the value of gratitude. This is becoming a menace to human society. In view of this every individual is becoming totally selfish in that there is no attachment to anyone not even to parents, the spouse or even children or to any thing. Every individual wants to use an article so long as he pleases and the moment he finds a better article, he throws away the first and take the second and so on. This attitude towards articles of use ie., consumerism is posing a serious economic problem to human society. That itself is sufficiently disastrous. But unfortunately it is being extended to family life also. The resultant position is, in many cases husband and wife instead of realising that marriage is a life long bond with onerous responsibilities of begetting children, educating them and providing good citizens to the nation, think that marriage is only for physical enjoyment and the spouse can be replaced by another of ones liking at any time and for any reason whatsoever. In view of this, human beings are fast losing sexual morality, and as a result are becoming no better than animals.

Such an attitude is wholly contrary to Dharma. It gives rise to serious social problems particularly in cases where husband and wife after marriage have children and thereafter each prefers to go for a new spouse. They do not care what happens to their children, about their education and their upbringing. Such an attitude also results in making a child an orphan when the parents are alive. A recent press report as to what has happened in U.S.A. is heart-rending. The report reads: Millions of children in the United States are suffering as a result of increasing divorces which have swept the country in recent years, reports DPA. Experts believe that the children are paying the price for the fact that the institution of marriage has been undermined. "Until death do us part" has now been replaced by ''as long as I am happy". Anybody marrying in the U.S. today has a 60% chance of eventually being divorced. The results can be seen in the dramatic rise in crime among the young, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, depression and poverty. According to experts at the council of families in America, based in New York, the children and youth of today are the first generation in the history of the U.S. who are psychologically, morally and economically worse off than their parents were at the same age. Experts say U.S. society has utterly failed to convince the next generation that marriage is a good thing.

The study, entitled, "Marriage in America -a Report to the Nation", was issued recently by the council, which is an independent body. It warns that should this trend continue, it would represent nothing less than an act of cultural suicide. This pessimistic point of view is not being expressed by conservative politicians, but by men and women with mainly middle-of-the-road political ideals and values. Within just two decades, from 1970-1990, the percentage of adults in the U.S. who are married has dropped from 72 to 62. The mothers of over two-thirds of the black babies born today in the U.S. are unmarried. Over one-third (36%) of all children today live without their fathers (17%). Violent crime by youth has increased sixfold since 1960. 38% of Americans living in poverty are children". The situation is alarming. The throwaway attitude which is the major cause of divorce, is spreading like an epidemic to all nations of the world. Only a sense of dharma of the husband and the wife can act as a check. If it goes unchecked the abandoned children become a menace and burden to the society. Particularly being unprotected by parents and parental affection, they become victims of bad habits and develop undesirable qualities, as a result they will have neither the moral nor the physical strength to bear the onerous responsibilities of the family and/or of the nation. The deterioration has not stopped at this only. The importance given only to sexual enjoyment has already led to a dangerous situation. Man and woman enjoy sex without marriage for a contractual period, so that they need not go to court to seek decree of divorce. What should happen to the children produced during the contractual period or before divorce in cases where they had married?

The same throwaway attitude is also being extended to parents and other dependents. When utter selfishness overpowers selflessness ie., sacrifice which is one of the basic values of life and the throwaway attitude takes over, this is what happens. So long as parents are helpful by way of providing food and seva (सेवा | selfless service) and education, they are good, but the moment owing to old age and/or illness they require the support of their children they are regarded as a liability and burden and are being thrown away. They have to spend the evening of their life in "Vridhashramas". (Old Age Rescue Homes). This throwaway attitude is totally alien to Dharma, one of the values of which is gratitude. A man or a woman without a sense of gratitude towards his/her spouse, parents and towards all those who have given a helping hand in various ways, is really inhuman. Therefore, it is necessary to check the growth of the throwaway attitude and resurrect the sense of the "Dharma" of the husband and the wife so that they lead a purposeful family life. It is also pertinent to point out that the great importance attached to family life, as constituting the social edifice, and as a basic unit on which the strength of a nation depends, which was regarded as part of dharma, has been recognized by the United Nations under article 23(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the General Assembly on 16th December 1966. It reads: The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State. The above article is a clear recognition of the efficacy and necessity of the Dharma of the husband and the wife evolved in this land from the most ancient times as the foundation of social life.

 Ashrama Dharma - for human excellence

The individual is the real foundation of a sound society. The general moral standard and quality of a human society or nation are directly proportional to the number of individuals who are well educated and bear good character. The aim of "Dharma" was to mould the character and personality of individuals to produce more number of such individuals. The four pious obligations indicated above were required to be discharged by an individual throughout his life time. However, all the obligations could not be fully discharged or be given the same importance at all points of time in the life of an individual. Therefore, the life span of an individual was divided into four parts or stages {Ashramas). Explaining the object and purpose of Ashrama Dharma and its applicability to all, irrespective of the varna or class or caste of an individual Pujya Sri. Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamiji, the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, said thus:

Ashrama Dharma deals with the conduct of an individual during different stages of his life. In the first stage, as a brahmacarin, he devotes himself to studies in a gurukula. In the second stage, as a youth, he takes a wife, settles down in life and begets children. In the third, as he ages, further, he becomes a forest recluse and, without much attachment to worldly life, engages himself in Vedic Karma. In the fourth stage, he forsakes even Vedic works, renounces the world utterly to become a sannyasin and turns his mind towards the Paramatman. These four stages of life or asramas are called Brahmacarya, Garhasthya, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa. During each one of these, greater importance was required to be given to one particular obligations while discharging other obligations as well. Briefly stated the period of life of an individual and the purpose pertaining to each of the Ashrama were: I. Brahmacharyashrama: Importance to acquisition of knowledge and securing physical and moral fitness ie., strengthening of body, mind and intellect. 2. Grihasthasrama : Importance to honest and purposeful married life and family life, earning legitimate income and through it to serve the family and the society. 3. Vanaprasthashrama: Importance to withdrawing from earning activities and devoting oneself more to the seva (सेवा | selfless service) of society. 4. Sanyasashrama : Importance to worship of God by renunciation of worldly desires. The period, significance and purpose of these Ashramas were: 1. Brahmacharyashrama : After the completion of childhood (around eight or nine years), an individual was required to take to higher education and to maintain celibacy to conserve physical, moral and mental energy and to devote himself to the studies for a period of about twelve to fifteen years. During this period the main obligation of an individual was to acquire knowledge and to increase his knowledge by research. This ashrama was not only intended to earn knowledge to earn for a comfortable life, but also to enable the discharge of one of the pious obligations, 'Rishiruna' ( debt due to teachers) namely acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. An individual was also required to cultivate moral character and discipline which would enable him to develop his personality so that he would not only be useful to himself but also to the members of the family and to society as well. 2. Grihasthasrama : In this second stage of life after the acquisition of knowledge or completing education, an individual had to get married and commence family life. During this stage, it was the joint responsibility of husband and wife to lead a pure and simple family life, to maintain sexual morality and to discharge the 'Pitruruna' by begetting children, educating them and making them good citizens. To do this effectively, they had to adjust to each other and live together. Further it was necessary for an individual to earn his livelihood by legitimate methods and to spend whatever he had earned not only for his benefit but also for the benefit of the other members of the family, and also to utilise his income/resources and energy for the benefit of society having due regard to his capacity and aptitude and thereby discharge the fourth pious obligation namely 'Manavaruna' .Also it was the duty of every individual to serve the society, of which he was part and parcel. It was the special responsibility of those undertaking the teaching profession or literary pursuits to enrich and disseminate knowledge to the younger generation as part of the discharge of Rishiruna -the debt due to teachers. 3. Vanaprasthashrama : The next stage was the Vanaprastha-shrama, (retirement to forest) which meant the life after retirement (around the age of sixty) from profession and avocation. During this period, an individual was required to entrust the family responsibility to his grown up sons/ daughters as the case may be, and to devote himself mainly to the seva (सेवा | selfless service) of the society. During this period an individual was required to discharge his obligation to society, i.e., 'Manavaruna' to a greater extent by rendering various types of social services. 4. Sanyasashrama : The last one was Sanyasashrama, life of a recluse. During this period, the evening of his life an individual was expected to renounce the world completely and turn his mind towards God or Paramatma. During this period the individual was required to engage himself mainly in the worship of God in whatever manner he pleased and discharge the pious obligation of 'Devaruna'. Thus, the four Ashramas were by and large intended to secure human excellence by requiring an individual to discharge the four pious obligations in an effective manner, and by leading a purposeful life. This arrangement was intended not only to ensure that an individual would not go astray but also that he would follow the path of righteousness through out his life. It is true that strict observance of these Ashramas was impracticable for many. But that was the ideal, even if followed by a few it would be of great benefit to society. Further, even observance of these guide lines to some extent by others would result in the development of the personality of individuals. Therefore these ideals were placed before individuals. It is also true that in the present state of the world, the observance of four Ashramas as indicated above is impracticable for many, But a closer examination of the aims and objects of the four Ashramas would indicate, that even in the present state of the world, the guidance available in the form of the four pious obligations and the four Ashramas helps the development of the personality of individuals and through it, the development of human resources, on which alone the welfare and prosperity of a nation depends. Firstly, it cannot be denied that the observance of celibacy and devoting of substantial time and energy to the acquisition of knowledge and keeping away from bad habits during the period of studentship, is highly conducive to the acquisition of knowledge and excellence in education and the development of moral character as there is every possibility of an individual going astray resulting in both moral and material abandonment during this important formative period of life. If such things happen, then an individual instead of becoming an asset to human society, might become a liability. In fact, this has actually happened. Substantial numbers of youths fall a prey to bad and immoral habits resulting in moral and material abandonment and become a liability instead of assets and bring misery to themselves, to their family and to the nation. Therefore, Brahmacharya Shrama was an excellent method evolved for human resources development, so that youth become a real asset of society. Similarly, family life is important. During this period, an individual undoubtedly has to carry on an avocation, profession, trade, business etc., to earn money necessary to lead a happy family life. But at the same time, it is the duty of every individual to carryon his profession or avocation conforming to ethics so that he will be useful not only to himself but also to society. Further, leading a moral life during this period, and observing sexual morality is also essential to ensure proper guidance, education and inspiration to the children. The disastrous consequences of the weakenning of the family bond resulting in rendering millions of children orphans even when the parents are alive is dwelt upon in detail in chapter -VI. Unless husband and wife lead a harmonious family life with mutual affection, and do not get separated, they will not be able to give proper education, environment and guidance to their children. Therefore, 'Grihasthasrama' was the period during which an individual had to discharge the pious obligations of 'Pitruruna , and 'Manavaruna' at the same time devoting some time to worshipping God, which helps to lead a proper and happy life. The Grihasthashrama is also the sustainer of other Ashramas: It is hailed as the most important, as it carries with it onerous responsibilities of maintaining and sustaining persons belonging to the other three ashramas. It is the foundation of family the structure based on 'Dharma'. Hence the saying "Dhanyo Grihastramam". It is during this ashrama the husband and wife discharge both economic and social responsibilities jointly. It is during the Grihastashrama the husband and/or wife undertakes any profession or avocation or employment private or public and through it earn money and also serve society. They bear the economic responsibility of providing maintenance to those who belong to the other three ashramas ie., financing the education of their children as well as younger brothers and sisters etc., maintaining those who have crossed the stage of Grihasthasrama and have ceased to earn income, and/or have entered 'Vanaprasthashrama' as also those who have entered the fourth stage ie., 'Sanyasa', whether they are members of their family or not. Thus it constituted the best form of private sector social security. Further, the housewife looks after all their needs such as food, health, and the upkeep of the house providing a proper environment. Both together are responsible to educate their children not only from inception but also after school hours, to watch their conduct and behaviour all the time and give proper guidance and ingrain good qualities and to prevent them from becoming victims of bad habits. Discharging such obligations alone can help the children to become good individuals and an asset to the family and the nation. This wholesome arrangement is being upset by the purely selfish attitude of individuals under the influence of the set up of modern civilization. As a result in the modern welfare state the burden of providing maintenance to old parents having no income, by way of old age pension and to the unemployed brothers and sisters by way of unemployment allowance and financial assistance to the children who have become destitutes on account of their parents taking divorce abdicating their duty falls on the state. But it is already being realised in many western countries that the financial burden on the state by way of providing social security is becoming unbearable. Apart from this the throwaway attitude on account of which an individual abdicates his 'Dharma' arising out of the sense of gratitude, to look after his/her parents, in old age or his duty towards his unemployed brother or sister, is nothing but an indication of loss of human values in family management. Further, the same purely selfish, throwaway attitude is resulting in increasing divorces as also sexual life without marriage, resulting in making young children destitutes, which in turn is becoming a menace to human society on account of social problems created by those who go astray by becoming immoral or amoral. It is now being realised that for all these innumerable social and economic problems, the Hindu family structure based on 'Grihastashrama Dharma' alone is the solution. Therefore, it is essential that' Grihasthasrama Dharma' which means value based family structure which also strengthens the bond between husband and wife and also between individual members of the family and which provides education to children, moulds their character, and also provides social security to non-earning members of the family which reduces the economic burden on the state enormously and which forms the foundation and strength of a nation, should be resurrected with due modifications necessary in the present context. Similarly during the Vanaprasthashrama or life after retiring from earning activity, devoting time and energy to any activity useful for the society is essential. It is by this process that a sufficient number of people become available for seva (सेवा | selfless service) in various service organisations. This was regarded essential even for kings and they were required to renounce power and serve the society. There are innumerable examples of kings renouncing power. Nowadays this value of life is totally forgotten. As a result, the tendency among many individuals is to go on earning money till their death. Similarly the tendency among many who acquire political power is "once in the power always in power"- They want to enjoy it till the last breath of their life. This is good neither for the individual nor for the nation as a whole. At some point of time an individual should give up power and devote himself in the seva (सेवा | selfless service) of the society, whatever be the field of his choice. Further, the desire should be to see that during his life time youngsters take over charge and manage the affairs of the state successfully. It is such people who retire from power politics and devote themselves to the seva (सेवा | selfless service) of the Nation, who will be in a better position to give proper advice to the youngsters who occupy the positions of power. In this regard we have the inspiring example of Chanakya who renounced the Prime Ministership of the most powerful Maghada Empire after securing the seva (सेवा | selfless service) of Amatya Rakshasa for that high office and gave Nation his invaluable , Artha Sastra'. It is true that the observance of 'Ashramas' as it was prescribed and practiced in ancient times in this land has become impracticable. But the observance of the four Ashramas, with the modifications demanded by the present state of the world, giving importance to the following ideals, is essential to the welfare of humanity: (1) Education including physical fitness and moral education during the first period-(Studentship ) (2) A harmonious and honest married life, conforming to professional/ vocational ethics, and maintaining persons in the other three Ashramas during the second period -(FAMILY LIFE). (3) Social service during the third period by giving up earning actiyity to the extent possible (SOCIAL WORKER). ( 4) In meditation and worship of God in the evening of life and giving advice and the benefit of one's experience to the younger generation (Devotion to divinity and humanity). With the necessary modifications suited to the present state of the World is essential for the welfare of humanity. This, could therefore form the blue print for human resources development programmes for all nations.


  1. M. RAMA JOIS, DHARMA - The Global Ethic, Published by "Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan