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I remember reading that girls should be married within the age of 12. The intention of the question is not to incite a debate on the ideal age for marriage in today's world, but to know what our scriptures recommend.

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    Swami Vivekananda was intensely against child marriage. The only place I have ever seen him use the word hatred about his own personal feelings was when he wrote that he had a strong hatred for it and would have nothing to do with it or anyone that condoned it. There is nothing in Sruti to condone it. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 10:27
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    See what is said about that in the Vasishtha Dharma Shastra: sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe14/sbe1420.htm Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 0:31
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    @VineetMenon Smriti, though written by man, are intended to be always remembered and followed. They are the definitive guidelines for mankind for the well being to prevent wrongdoings. For each yuga, different smriti is suited. For example for kritha yuga, manu smriti is suited, for kali yuga parashara smriti is suited. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 15:24
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    @SwamiVishwananda, "There is nothing in Sruti to condone it. " - have you read and understood all the 'Sruti's, at least the ones that survived given that majority have been lost to time?
    – ram
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 17:15
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    @SwamiVishwananda, saying 'Smritis change over time, place and circumstances' is like saying Time changes between Delhi, London & Tokyo. only clock does. Smriti do not 'change'. They are already set, BUT they are different for the different yugas. At beginning of creation, different laws are laid down for each yuga. Instead of saying 'Laws change over time', you should say 'Laws differ for each time'. Srutis are NOT just about Brahman, that is the Upanishads part only. Several parts of Vedas (atharva) talk about mundane events like vanquishing an enemy.
    – ram
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 1:31

7 Answers 7

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Here is what this chapter of the Manu Smriti recommends:

  1. A man, aged thirty years, shall marry a maiden of twelve who pleases him, or a man of twenty-four a girl eight years of age; if (the performance of) his duties would (otherwise) be impeded, (he must marry) sooner.

Bhishma says much the same thing in this chapter of the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata:

A person of thirty years of age should wed a girl of ten years of age called a Nagnika. Or, a person of one and twenty years of age should wed a girl of seven years of age.

Note that these recommendations are more binding for the lower bound rather than the upper bound. Here is what the Mahabharata translator says in a footnote:

Nagnika is said to be one who wears a single piece of cloth. A girl in whom the signs of puberty have not appeared does not require more than a single piece of cloth to cover her. The mention of Nagnika, the commentator thinks, is due to an interdiction about wedding a girl of even ten years in whom signs of puberty have appeared.

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  • what if a girl is say 24 or 25 years old ,scientifically she is fully grown (even at 21 she is), and the boy is 25 or 26 years old, what is problem with such marriges? Why are child marriges advocated in shastras?
    – Yogi
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 19:31
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    @Yogi That's why I said these recommendations are more binding for the lower bound than the upper bound. Once both the bride and groom are relatively old, then the age difference doesn't really matter (although the groom should still be older than the bride). As far as why child marriages are allowed, for one thing it's a way of ensuring that nothing bad happens; an unmarried girl is more likely to run off with some boy, as opposed to a girl who is already at her husband's house. Also, it allows the bride to develop a Platonic attachment to her husband before puberty. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 19:39
  • I am not sure if there is no upper bound for age. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 14:44
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    In the kali yuga, parashara smriti is to be taken as authority. Manu smriti is suited for Krita yuga. Referring to seventh chapter, second verse of parashara smriti: "The mother, and the father, and likewise the eldest brother, all these three relatives will go to hell, if before menstruation they neglect to marry the girl." Reference: Parashara Smriti Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 15:03
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    @SridharJammalamadaka, upper bound is probably before menopause ;)
    – ram
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 0:29
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From kamakoti.org - Kanchi Periyavar - "Pradanam prak rtuh" - before puberty, which is normally around age 12 for girls.

There is also a prayaschittam for performing after puberty. You can ask your brihaspati/purohit.

The aim is to ensure that the foundation of marriage is based on innocent attraction and attachment before kama/carnal desire enters mind. In olden days, the concept of 'child marriage' did not mean 'child physical relations' which is what most people who deride it today think of.
The bride would only be sent to groom's house after puberty. Source - personal family ancestors.

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  • I agree that child marriage didn't mean that becoming physical with the child bride is mandatory, but in a society where the status of women in the minds of the majority was (& is in certain cases) paraphrased into पुत्रार्थे क्रियते भार्या, I doubt people would even bother to restain their urges towards child brides.
    – অনু
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 14:50
  • it's obvious knowledge to even laymen that pre-puberty girls cannot give birth. so, those who are intent solely on progeny as per the statement पुत्रार्थे are definitely not going to have (or apply) that urge on child brides
    – ram
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 17:34
  • Theoritically that's also true but a large majority of people don't tend to observe every single word of shastras & it is not uncommon for such people to hide their own sexual cravings in the name of obtaining progeny. When such people can indluge in unsavoury acts like prostitution & masturbation, there is no guarantee that they will not engage in pedophilia with child brides, especially when the dharmasastras are completely silent on the issue of the wife's consent to the act.
    – অনু
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 18:12
  • @অনু well that's illegal and there is punishment for such I believe and the Ayurvedic practitioners should know anyhow. This is why the Brahminas were important we cultured an otherwise unruly class and spread the orthodoxy.
    – Haridasa
    Commented May 3 at 15:43
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According to the Vishnu Purana, it is recommended for grooms to choose brides who are a third of their age:

If he must marry, he must select a maiden who is third of his age, one who has not too much hair but is not without any, one who is not very black nor yellow complexioned and who is not from birth a cripple or deformed. (Vishnu Purana, Book III, Chapter X)

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I don't have any opinion for this Qn. Just to be clear that, "marriage" doesn't necessarily mean "sex" with a girl. It's more of a mental bonding, where girl starts seeing her husband as her protector and master.

Presenting a reference from Mahabharata AnushAsana parva:

A person of thirty years of age should wed a girl of ten years of age called a Nagnika.1 Or, a person of one and twenty years of age should wed a girl of seven years of age. That girl who has no brother nor father should not be wed, O chief of Bharata's race, for she may be intended as Putrika of her sire.2 After the appearance of puberty, the girl (if not married) should wait for three years. On the fourth year, she should look for a husband herself (without waiting any longer for her kinsmen to select one for her). The offspring of such a girl do not lose their respectability, nor does union with such a girl become disgraceful. If, instead of selecting a husband for herself, she acts otherwise, she incurs the reproach of Prajapati herself. One should wed that girl who is not a Sapinda of one's mother or of the same Gotra with one's father. Even this is the usage (consistent with the sacred law) which Manu has declared.'3


1: Nagnika is said to be one who wears a single piece of cloth. A girl in whom the signs of puberty have not appeared does not require more than a single piece of cloth to cover her. The mention of Nagnika, the commentator thinks, is due to an interdiction about wedding a girl of even ten years in whom signs of puberty have appeared.
2 When a father happens to have an only daughter, he frequently bestows her in marriage upon some eligible youth on the understanding that the son born of her shall be the son, for purposes of both Sraddha rites and inheritance, not of the husband begetting him but of the girl's father. Such a contract would be valid whether expressed or not at the time of marriage. The mere wish of the girl's father, unexpressed at the time of marriage, would convert the son into a son not of the father who begets him but of the father of the girl herself. A daughter reserved for such a purpose is said to be a putrikadharmini or 'invested with the character of a son.' To wed such a girl was not honourable. It was in effect an abandonment of the fruits of marriage. Even if dead at the time of marriage, still if the father had, while living, cherished such a wish, that would convert the girl into a putrikadharmini. The repugnance to wedding girls without father and brothers exists to this day.
3 For understanding the meanings of Sapinda and Sagotra see any work on Hindu law civil or canonical.

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    I added the answer to under limit for age of procreation in my answer feel free to look at it and add it to yours!
    – Haridasa
    Commented May 3 at 15:41
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Marriage age for dvija women is given in this chapter of skanda purANa:

82. Gaurī virgin is the best and most important. Rohiṇī is considered as Madhyama (middling). Rajasvalā should be known as the basest though equal to her (Rohiṇī) image.

83. When there is no menstrual flow, she is Gaurī. When there is the flow she is Rohiṇī. If the girlhood has not fully developed she is Kanyā. One without breasts is Nagnikā.

84. A seven-year old girl is Gaurī; nine year old is Nagnikā. Ten year old shall be Kanyā; above that she is Rajasvalā.

For dvija women, this is the "nagnika" age mentioned for marriage in anushAsana Parva of the Mahabharata and smritI texts.

Amongst dvija women, brahmana women have an option of choosing to become brahmavadini and their marriage age is given in harita smriti 30.21 :

‘There are two sorts of women. Those who are bramavadinis (students of sacred lore) and those that are sadyovadhus (who marry straightaway). Out of these, brahmavadinis have to go through upanayana, keeping fire, Vedic study and begging in one’s house (under the parents’ roof). But in the case of sadyovadhus, when their marriage is drawing near, the mere ceremony of upanayana should somehow be performed and then their marriage should be celebrated. Therefore bramavadini women had upanayana performed in the eighth year from conception, then studied Vedic lore and finished student-hood at the age of puberty.’ ”

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त्रिंशद्वर्षो वहेत्कन्यां हृद्यां द्वादशवार्षिकीम् ।

त्र्यष्टवर्षोऽष्टवर्षां वा धर्मे सीदति सत्वरः ॥ ९.९४॥

This is the relevant shloka from Manusmriti which you seem to be referring to. However, the root used is वह् which means 'to bear' and not वृ which is root for 'to marry'. So the grammatically correct meaning of the shloka is talking about conception of girl and not marriage. A man should conceive a girl in such a way that their age differences are 18 or 16 years.

However, in the case of Mahabharata, Anushashana Parva, 44th Adhyaya

त्रिंशद्वर्षो दशवर्षां भार्यां विन्देत नग्निकाम् ।

एकविंशतिवर्षो वा सप्तवर्षामवाप्नुयात् ॥ १३ ॥

The recommendations are indeed 10 years for a girl with a 30 year old man or 7 years with a 21 years old man. However, in the same Adhyaya shloka 15 says

त्रीणि वर्षाण्युदीक्षेत कन्या ऋतुमती सती ।

चतुर्थे त्वथ संप्राप्ते स्वयं भर्तारमर्जयेत् ॥ १५ ॥

Which translates to

Three years the Kanya being menstrual may see |

In fourth then certainly by herself a husband she may find ||

So, that means after 14 years a girl has the right to look for a husband by herself. That means there is a very short 4 year period in which the family of the girl may find a suitable husband for their daughter after which the right falls upon the girl herself.

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  • We use English on this site primarily, so please if the translation is wrong please provide your own for the verse or where the translation deviates from the original source and proof for this correction.
    – Haridasa
    Commented May 5 at 2:38
  • @Haridasa Yes, but Hindu scriptures are not written in English. I have already provided a grammatical exposition on the correct translation and my own translation wherever needed. Commented May 5 at 12:45
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Firstly, let's look at Ayurveda and its rules,

"An offspring of a girl below the age of sixteen by a man below twenty-five is usually found to die in the womb. Such a child, in the event of its being born alive, dies a premature death or else becomes weak in organs (Indriyas). Hence a girl of extremely tender age should not be fecundated at all. An extremely old woman, or one suffering from a chronic affection (of the generative organ), or afflicted with any other disease, should not be likewise impregnated. A man with similar disabilities should be held likewise unfit. 40–44." --sharirasthana Chap X

"The education of a child should be commenced at a suitable age and with subjects proper to the particular social Varna or order it belongs to. On attaining the twenty-fifth year he should marry a girl of twelve. A conformity to these rules, is sure to crown him with health, satisfaction, progeny and a capacity for fully discharging the religious rites and paying off his parental debts. 42." --sharirasthana Chap X

Next, let's move to Manusmriti,

"A man thirty years old shall marry a charming maiden twelve years old; or one twenty four years old, a damsel eight years old; in the event of his duties suffering, he may do it sooner.—(94)" Verse 9.94

"What the injunction means is that the maiden married should be so much younger than the man;—and not that marriage must be done only at. the age stated. Nor is any stress meant to be laid upon the exact number of years mentioned; all that is meant is that one should many a girl very much younger than himself."

"One shall give his daughter in the proper form, even though she may not have attained (the age), to a bridegroom who is of exceptionally distinguished appearance, and her equal.—(88)" Verse 9.98

"She who has not attained’;—i.e., who has no carnal desires aroused, who is still too young, not having reached the youthful age,—called ‘nagnikā’ in another Smṛti-text; i.e., one in whom the sexual instinct has not arisen, who is only eight or six years old,—but not a mere infant; as is indicated by the qualifications (elsewhere)—‘one who is eight years old.’ This same qualification may also be indicative of the fact that marriage is meant to be conducive to spiritual merit If mere Lust were the sole inducement to Marriage, wherefore could there be any marriage of the girl ‘who has not attained her age"

Reasoning: Now one shouldn't be asking why such marriage doesn't conform with today's times. That would be madness as morality constantly changes in today's world based on the mases opinion which is incompatible with Dharmashastras. Instead one should ask simply why it is done. Referring to Manu 3.32 and Medhatithi's commentary above we can see that lust even then was propagated by marriage based on similar ages. This is done today and we can see that there are strict rules to when actual procreation is allowed based on Ayurveda. The age of 16 was decided as the under-limit because the medical professionals of those times observed the body to be mature enough to handle labor then. So, lust is out of the question as to why this practice was done due to the meaning of this practice is literally to prevent lust and unwanted birth. Keep in mind though that Medhatithi also notes (also stated above) that there is no definite restriction on when one can marry and many communities have their customs in this regard only that marriage must have a younger woman and an older man.

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  • Note: I am speaking as to why this practice was done in the past in endorsement of it. I don't support this practice in today's world where men overall have sadly degraded to some of the most lusty beings on this entire planet. ;-;
    – Haridasa
    Commented May 3 at 15:37
  • what is this obsession with lust and not a child's rights? You mean to say that thousand years ago it was OK to marry off a little girl? How were ancient Hindus different from Muslims then? Does a little girl deserve to be just married off in any era? Commented Jun 5 at 5:28
  • @SuradoeUchiha I generally choose not to compare one religion with another unlike Liberal Hindus. Also, the indivitual doesn't matter the society does and the shastras were made for society and not an indivitual. Also, I forgot the exact verse in Manu commented by Medhaithi where it states that the Gandharva marriage which is the one done today and produced out of lust, it's essentially dating was done amongst similair age groups and resulted in unwanted children. ...
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:02
  • So, the Vedic view is quite simple once the girl attains an age where she can safely and healthily bear children based on what was observed, then intercourse is permitted. However, the ages of marriage had to have a good age gap, otherwise it was observed that lust would take place and the Man and Woman would commit intercourse to early resulting in unwanted birth. The man had to be stronger and able to provide for the family, so he was generally older. Where is the lust in this I should ask, this is a different system.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:05
  • This is a system based on direct observation and combating a psychological practice which was generally the social norm if similar ages were allowed to marry. You may not like it and it isn't the modern norm and nor did 99% of all societies in the world have this modern norm. Also the woman could and would frequently see and have connections with her parents I also believe only after a certain age she would go to the man's home although I am not sure.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:08

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