In Ancient India, the marriages of girls took place in their teens mostly. In matrilineal societies women had the freedom of choice .Our sacred texts mention the weddings of royal princesses such as Draupadi and Kunti, where the eligible young men of royal descent gathered and the princess would garland someone as per her choice, followed by a proper wedding of the couple. There were certain tests to test the young men and the one who succeeded in all the tests, was deemed worthy of the princess.
At times the swayambars would lead to quarrels between the princes, which would further lead to a bloodbath. But, it must be remembered that only princesses had their ‘swayambars’ ; there is no mention of the lives of the common men and women in the texts, which implies that perhaps the ordinary young girl was bound to wed someone pointed out by her family, or (if she was lucky) could marry someone she loved.
However with the passage of time certain things were rigidly comparmentalised. The Smrtis brought down the marriageable age still lower by dividing the marriageable girls into five classes:
(1) Nagnika or naked,
(2) Gauri, 8 years old,
(3) Rohini, 9 years old,
(4) Kanya, 10 years old and
(5) Rajasvala, above ten years.
Nagnika was regarded as the best stage, hence many girls were married at that stage itself.
It did not help that in Medieval Era invaders invaded India and looted and plundered everything. Education for women was completely forgotten: they remained confined to homes from birth to death, married off in childhood itself and deprived of all opportunities. Moreover, there was a belief that girls must be married before puberty. As a result girls who did not get married early remained unmarried forever. They were considered a burden on their families and some of them turned to prostitution in order to support themselves.
This post was written by Jayshree Sharma and originally appeared on her blog titbits of life. Republished with permission
Image Source: Christian Haugen