Hinduism and Premarital Relationships by Jayaram V This article presents a historical analysis of premarital sex, caste distinctions, and sexual mores of ancient Hindu communities in the context of changing traditional values among the youth and the new social challenges that may impact Hindu society. This subject is complex. Hence it may be revised further if research brings out new information. Hinduism is a complex religion. Its beliefs and practices evolved over a long time. Hence, the rules governing the conduct of individuals in Hinduism are also very complex and at times ambiguous.
In many respects, the rules are also specific to individuals according to their gender, caste, and social status. Therefore, what holds true for one group may not hold true for all. The Hindu law books suggest austerities for those who pursue liberation, and a balanced, holistic life for those who pursue worldly desires.
In Hinduism you will find support for both, with a range of intermediate approaches and mixed attitudes in between. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize social and religious practices of Hinduism, or any historical truths pertaining to them. Since Hinduism is a pluralistic faith with many variations and approaches in its beliefs and practices, you have to be careful in drawing conclusions about what Hindus may believe or may not believe or what they may practice or may not practice. In addition, you have to be also careful about any generalizations or conclusions you may draw, because there can be exceptions and variations.
Unless you understand the subtle nuances of its traditions and customs and lived for long among Hindus, you may not grasp its beliefs and practices or essential doctrines. The problem with Hinduism is that you can argue from every angle and support different standpoints, depending upon how you may view them.
Therefore, those who write about Hinduism cannot escape criticism from those whose knowledge is limited, biased, or who cannot see or understand the complexity of Hinduism itself. There can be conflicts with regards to not only opinions and interpretations, but also facts, since Indian history has become a mess with ideological slant dominating the minds of historians and scholars alike.
One such complex issue about which there can be divergent opinions and multiple realities in Hinduism is its stand with regard to premarital sex. In the following discussion we will examine this subject and see whether it was practiced at all in ancient India. Although this subject has been treated here in some detail, it may be still incomplete in some respects, and the conclusions drawn here may not satisfy all.
Readers are therefore requested to bear with any interpretations they may find here. The essay will be refined further in future depending upon any new findings and conclusions that may emerge. How sex is viewed in Hinduism In Hinduism, sex is not a taboo. Hinduism, unlike some other faiths, does not regard sexual desire as evil or impure.
Still it is a puritanical faith, because it puts heavy emphasis upon virtuous living and the importance of purity and austerity. Sexual desire is personified in Hinduism as a deity kamadeva who instills the passion of love in those whom he chooses to torment. According to its beliefs, sexual desire is the basis of virility, spirituality, austerity, creation, procreation, rebirth, and continuation of existence.
The worlds cannot exist or continue without sexual desire, and God cannot ensure the order and regularity of his creation unless beings procreate and support the gods in heaven. Since it is central to our existence, fulfillment of sexual desire is considered in Hinduism one of the chief aims of human life, without which a householder cannot attain the fourth aim, namely liberation, or ensure his existence or that of his ancestors in the ancestral heaven.
However, as in all other matters in Hinduism, intention is important to determine whether the sexual conduct of a person is lawful dharma or unlawful adharma and whether the sexual desire is pursued for the right ends. If a person pursues it purely for pleasure and selfish enjoyment, it is considered evil and unlawful. On the contrary, if it is pursued for procreation, as part of one's householder duties, the tradition upholds it as dutiful, moral and lawful.
Without procreation, the worlds cannot continue and gods cannot be served. Hence, sexual desire has a divine purpose. Hinduism also permits the use of sexual intercourse in certain Tantric practices for self-realization or to sublimate the sexual energy into spiritual energy.
Even the Upanishads hint at the faint connection between the supreme bliss of Brahman and the bliss arising from sexual union, which is a billion times less intense, but all the same divine. Thus, sex is not evil in Hinduism as long as it is pursued as the means to righteous ends, and not considered an end in itself.
The Hindu law books are consistent in using this interpretation as the standard to determine the lawfulness or unlawfulness of human conduct. Hence, you will find in them approval for certain practices, which present day society may not appreciate. For example, young widows who were still maidens or whose husbands died without leaving behind heirs were permitted in some places in the past to approach other men in their families or even god-men to bear children. Hinduism draws a clear distinction between normal sexual desire and lust.
While pursuit of sexual desire for procreation is considered one of the chief aims of human life, lust is considered one of the chief enemies of human life. Both men and women are urged to guard themselves against it to avoid sinful karma. The law books prescribe rules for both men and women to avoid lustful thoughts.
In that they display a clear bias against women, holding them as weaker of the two and more culpable in inciting lust in men. Hence, they vehemently advise men to curtail the freedom of their women and keep them within bounds so that they will not distract men from performing their obligatory duties or succumb to temptations and cause the intermixture of castes and decline of their families. Premarital sex and sexual morality in ancient India Sexual mores of ancient India were determined largely by social structure, caste rules, and the caste status of the individuals.
The scope for premarital sex was virtually absent in Brahmana families as their lives were guided by the law books and strict moral conduct. However, we cannot say the same about the princely families, feudal lords, land owning communities, lower castes, and people who were outcastes or lived in the forests.
These communities enjoyed considerable freedom, especially if they were not subject to Vedic morality or traditional Vedic laws. While we do not know whether the Hindu law books were really enforced by the rulers, or they just painted a world of ethical idealism, we can safely assume that the priestly families adhered to righteous conduct and followed the moral percepts of the Vedic religion.
Therefore, although they treated women with considerable respect and gave them a place of honor in their families, they ensured that neither their conduct nor the conduct of their woman would result in the decline of their families and the order and regularity of society.
A Brahmana was supposed to live virtuously, as a paragon virtue and express the ideals of God's creation through his words and deeds. Those who took liberties were either excommunicated or subjected to social humiliation. However, since the Vedic laws were not universally practiced or promulgated, people in ancient India did not adhere to the same sexual morality or moral conduct everywhere. It was probably true even with regard to even premarital sex. For example, as we learned from Greek sources that unmarried women were often auctioned off by their fathers and sold into slavery or bonded labor.
Such women probably lived at the whims of their masters and earned their freedom by paying off the debt or earning the favors of their masters. Women were also abducted or captured during wars and sold into slavery or forced into marriage.
Since the kings enforced the laws, they often considered themselves above law. They married many women and received maidens as gifts from other kings, vassals, and local princes. The princes must have also enjoyed considerable freedom in choosing their sexual partners before marriage and eligible princesses for their marriage. Megasthanese, the Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya recorded that men practiced polygamy. They married many women and kept many women, some for work, some as wives and some for pleasure.
As a result their houses were full of children. Polygamy was the common practice in ancient India. People from all classes engaged in it. The following are a few exceptions to what the law books suggested, which are worth mentioning in this regard. Tantric practices allowed sexual intercourse with virgins as part of initiation ceremonies. Certain tantric practices required the presence of lawful wives and unlawful partners for the sexual rituals.
Prostitution was a recognized profession in ancient India and some of them had access to the royal court. The Devdasi or Jogini tradition was prevalent in certain regions of southern India.
It went by many names. The women who were part of the tradition served the gods in the temples as their earthly partners. They also worked as dancers, singers, menial servants, etc. Outside the temples, in their private lives, they served the men whom they chose as their husbands or life partners. We have to believe that cases of adultery were common since the law books prescribed punishments for the same.
Women engaged in various professions as bodyguards to the king, soldiers, spies, artisans, entertainers, teachers, singers, dancers, fisher women, boat-women, prostitutes, and farm wokers. It meant that the usual rules of seclusion and isolation of women which were common in some families were not enforced or practiced in their case.
However, circumstantial evidence strongly favors the view that the kings as well as the people in ancient India upheld morality, believed in karmic repercussions, fate and divine justice, and adhered to their caste laws, duties, and moral responsibilities.
Families protected their children to uphold and continue their lineages and family traditions. Faith provided basis for their conduct and morality, while caste rules limited their ability to disobey their elders who held the key to occupational knowledge. The laws and punitive punishments were mostly disproportionate to the crime if the accused were lower castes.
Since they formed the majority, it deterred them from breaking the laws. As observed by Megasthanese and later by Hieun Tsang, people in ancient India lived frugally and led simple but virtuous lives. They upheld virtue, truth and morality. Thefts were exceedingly rare, since the punishments were severe.
In such a morally sensitive and restrictive environment that showed no lenience for the weak and the poor, there was hardly any incentive for people to engage in any sexual misconduct or immorality. Marriage types and traditions of ancient Hindu society The complex nature of Hinduism and the privileges that were enjoyed by the higher castes and by men of status in society also led to a complex set of marriages laws, customs and traditions.
They prescribed the ground rules for people of different castes, governed their public conduct, and gave them an opportunity to legitimize and sublimate their sexual mores, desires, preferences and indulgences through scriptural authority and the backing of an established tradition. They suggested the manner in which men of different social backgrounds could marry and raise their families according to their wealth, power, status, and strength and how they could channel their desires in permissible ways without disrupting the orderly progression of society.
The Hindu law books thus approached the institution of marriage from a very broad perspective to reflect the diverse ways and circumstances in which men could enter marital relationships or consummate their marriages. In doing so, they used human conduct as the criteria and considered the extremes to which men could go in their pursuit of marriage and relationships with women.
Indeed, it was a unique feature of Hinduism, which is not found in any other culture or tradition outside India. The Hindu law books recognize either six Apastamba or eight types of marriages Manusmriti by which men could marry and become householders. All the eight types were prevalent in ancient India since the Vedic times. It was probably not true that the law books invented the eight types.
They might be prevailing practices to which the law books might have given their stamp of approval. The classification was done mainly according to the manner in which the bride was chosen by the groom and the specific rituals and practices that were associated with each type of marriage.