8 Types of Hindu Marriage in the Laws of Manu

Tamil Brahmin Hindu Marriage
Karthikeyan.pandian/Wikimedia Commons

The Laws of Manu (Manusmriti) is considered to be one of the standard religious texts for Hindus. Also called the Manava Dharma Shastra, it is regarded as a supplemental text to the Vedas and is an authoritative source of guidance for the norms of domestic and religious living for ancient Hindus.  It crucial to understanding how ancient Indian life was structured and still has a considerable impact on many modern Hindus.

The Laws of Manu outline eight types of marriage that existed in ancient Hindu life. The first four forms of marriage were known as Prashasta forms. All four were regarded as approved forms, although the approval existed in different degrees, with Brahmana clearly superior to the other three. The last four forms of marriage were known as Aprashasta forms, and all were regarded as undesirable, for reasons that will become clear.

Prashasta Forms of Marriage

  • Rite of Brahmana (Brahma): In this form of marriage, the father of the bride choses a man learned in the Vedas and known for his good conduct, and gives his daughter in marriage to him after decking her with jewels and costly garments. This is considered the best type of marriage. It still exists in modern India, where carefully arranged marriages are the norm. Brahmana is sullied somewhat through the practice of dowry payments among some groups.  

  • Rite of the Gods (Daiva): In this form,  the daughter is groomed with ornaments and "gifted" to a priest who duly officiates the wedding ceremony, during which a sacrifice is performed. Even in ancient times, this form of marriage was considered inferior to Brahmana, and was largely discontinued. 
  • Rite of the Rishis (Arsha): In this variation, the father gives away his daughter after receiving a cow and a bull from the bridegroom. This was not considered a form of payment or dowry, however, but a gift of appreciation. But because it resembled a "sale" of the bride, it was considered an inferior form of marriage to Brahmana ,and gradually was discontinued. 
  • Rite of the Prajapati (Prajapatya): Here, the father gives away his daughter after blessing the couple by reciting the words "May both of you perform together your dharma." The couple is expected to perform civic and religious duties together, and because these duties are imposed on the couple as a condition of marriage, Prajapati is considered the least desirable of the four Prashasta forms. 

Aprashast Forms of Marriage

  • Rite of the Asuras (Demons): In this form of marriage, the bridegroom receives a maiden after bestowing wealth to the bride and her kinsmen. It is widely regarded as the "selling" of a bride, and was considered greatly inferior to the four Prashasta forms of marriage. It is no longer practiced among Hindus. 
  • Rite of the Gandharva: This form of marriage involves the voluntary union of a maiden and her lover arising out of physical desire and sexual intercourse. Although it resembles western marriage in that it arises out of the free choice of the couples without the participation of any other family members, it is not in practice in modern India, although a similar type of marriage commonly known as a "love marriage" does exist. 
  • Rite of the Rakshasa: This is the forcible abduction of a maiden from her home after her kinsmen have been slain or wounded and their houses invaded. This violent, forcible form of marriage thankfully no longer exists. 
  • Rite of the Pisaka: In this form, a  man uses stealth to seduce a girl who is sleeping or intoxicated or who is mentally imbalanced or handicapped. It is hard to distinguish such a form of "marriage" from rape, and thankfully it does not exist in modern India.